In support of an elected mayor
When the city manager form of government emerged in the Progressive reform era, it often did serve as a good government response to political corruption and incompetence. I believe that it no longer serves as the best governance model for the city of Cleveland Heights. Our city has been challenged on many fronts as it has had to compete not only with exurbs in the region but also with some of Cleveland's inner-ring suburbs (e.g., Lakewood).
To compete successfully—to retain present, and attract new, residents and businesses in the face of factors such as population decline, more aging residents, a housing stock that has problems, and reliance upon a mostly residential tax base—the city needs to take more aggressive and innovative action. The city manager system does not readily lend itself to this.
Almost all other local governments in Cuyahoga County have elected "strong" mayors who can provide needed leadership. Shaker Heights provides a model of a strong elected mayor, while a chief administrative officer reporting to the mayor largely manages the city's affairs. Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM) proposes this type of governance on the November ballot.
As Cheryl Stephens, former Cleveland Heights City Council member and mayor, and now Cuyahoga County Council member, argued in her opinion in the September issue of the Heights Observer:
"Strong mayors . . . have responsibilities and can take action. They set priorities and build support for them. By combining administrative responsibility and political accountability, a strong mayor can engage and focus community attention in ways a city manager can't."
I agree with Stephens and also with her rejection of arguments that question the viability of the elected strong-mayor system. While admittedly not all such mayors will be the best leaders, I am confident that the voters of Cleveland Heights can and will choose among highly qualified choices of future candidates for the position of elected mayor.
Dennis Keating is a professor emeritus at Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs, a 36-year resident of Cleveland Heights, and a FutureHeights board member.