Justin Gould, candidate for University Heights City Council At Large
University Heights Age: 37
Education: J.D., Cleveland-Marshall College of Law
Current Occupation: Federal Attorney
Qualifications for Office: Member, University Heights Fair Housing Commission; Created neighbor-to-neighbor mediation program with University Heights administration; Member, Board of Directors, EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Academy; First Vice President, Board of Directors, LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland; Provides sound fiscal advice to local nonprofit boards to increase community impact; Former Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, has represented governments and their citizens as a courtroom trial attorney his entire professional life, over a decade of experience working collaboratively with law enforcement and first responders at the local, state, and federal levels; Former Municipal Court Mediator and Law Clerk, understand compromise and consensus building.
QUESTIONS and RESPONSES:
1. Top issues: 1. (Most Pressing) Council recently cleared special assessments to make way for development at University Square. What could be the gem at the center of University Heights’ business and entertainment district, has instead sat mostly vacant and crumbling month-by-month. It seems to me that if this property was anywhere else in our “city of beautiful homes” it would long ago have been declared a nuisance, condemned as an eyesore and a threat to public safety, and razed. 2. The newly-rezoned “Residential Attached District” near the Cedar-Taylor intersection offers an exciting opportunity to supplement the City’s housing portfolio with additional high-density residential housing. This will be an important addition to our ongoing efforts to make Cedar-Taylor the western gateway. We can do better to welcome people as they enter University Heights than a blighted former fried chicken joint. 3. As I have walked door-to-door speaking with our neighbors, I am pleased that people seem generally happy with the way the city is run. I have noted, however, that the concerns people share are not with City Hall but right in their own neighborhoods. I believe that when citizens work together to solve their problems our community is safer, happier, and more beautiful. That's why I have worked with the administration to create a neighbor-to-neighbor mediation program to help facilitate difficult conversations and settle disputes in our community when they arise.
2. City budget: The preparation of a responsible budget requires first that our decision-makers have full and accurate information. Instead, our elected council lamented for years at a lack of transparency from the previous administration. This included complaints of evasive responses to council’s questions about spending. I felt misled when I learned of the illusion of a surplus that was created by keeping the expenses for basic city functions (like road improvements) out of the actual budget. It is easy to say you "have a 2.5 million dollar surplus" when you do not actually account for all your debts and expenditures. In fact, as he reported in his State of the City address, Mayor Brennan was met with unpaid bills and debt collectors calling when he took office. That’s not the fiscal responsibility our citizens deserve. Now that council has an accurate view of our money, we have a budget that speaks to our shared vision. The decades-old machines we use to deliver city services have been updated. Speeders beware; Police Chief Rogers has a dedicated traffic safety officer back on our streets. Fire Chief Perko reopened the Fire Prevention Bureau to stop catastrophe before it ignites in our homes. We're actively pursuing new businesses and residents. Oh, and our bills are paid. Has all this required a budgeted investment? Yes. But, we are now operating with a genuine half-million dollar surplus. I feel we have made an appropriate investment in the things that our community values.
3. New residential and commercial development: Expanding our tax base with thriving businesses is important. I am grateful for Susan Drucker's work as our Economic Development Director. Not only for the businesses she has helped open and thrive here, but because she offers a competent eye on the future of business in our city. For confirmation that businesses succeed in University Heights, just look to Lox, Stock, and Brisket, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in April, the constant out-the-door lines at newcomer The Sauce Boiling Seafood, or Whole Foods' decision to undertake a massive investment to update and expand its University Heights location.We also need to diversify the types of housing available in University Heights. New construction with modern amenities is in-demand, and I think Housing and Community Development Director Patrick Grogan-Myers is doing a great job helping to form updated and unique housing options in our city. Notably, we now also have several programs to help residents maintain and update older homes, including a new grant program. But, we are undertaking these critical tasks at a time where every neighboring community has implemented or is developing plans for major retail or mixed-use space. I support ideas that steer us away from "cookie-cutter" construction, and instead honor the diverse and exciting community that is University Heights. I would like to see expanded entertainment offerings, and new construction that offers our elders additional options to age in place.
4. Regionalization efforts: I support common-sense collaboration with our neighboring communities. But, only when these efforts respect University Heights' values and keep our charm. For example, our firefighters successfully expand their talent and expertise at Beachwood's tactical training facility. I do not care much if our 9-1-1 calls are dispatched from Silsby or Severance (at the regionalized Heights Hillcrest Communication Center) so long as our police maintain, as they have, a minute-and-some-seconds response time. I support lowering costs by pooling our spending power with other communities when, for example, buying salt and vehicles. I do not support, however, the outsourcing of critical city services. Hundreds of University Heights citizens formerly received water from Cleveland Heights. I was one of them. We had to grapple with an appointed administrator who answered to a council we did not elect. All while our rates soared and the water infrastructure crumbled. That would have never happened under the watch of University Heights' elected officials. By and large, I think UH citizens see our council members as close neighbors who they trust to lead our city. We have a strong mayor who is directly accountable to each of us. That's why I believe our police, fire, and other critical city services should be managed and maintained right here in University Heights by the people who we have voted into office to oversee and implement these tasks.
5. Rental properties: When I first moved to University Heights I rented my home for two years before I decided to buy it. In these discussions, I think it is important to differentiate our demand that property owners maintain their homes to community standards, from the compassion and care we have for the people who rent those properties. They too are our neighbors and are a valued part of our diverse city. It makes no difference to a neighborhood if a neglected property is owner-occupied, renter-occupied, or unoccupied. None of our neighbors should have to live in or around a property with a negligent owner. In our city, property owners are legally responsible for exterior property upkeep whether that owner lives in or rents out her property. Council has made a violation of this requirement a misdemeanor in the third degree. Council has also directed the Building Commissioner to follow a procedure to initiate the revocation of any rental permit when the holder of her tenants have been cited three times for either peace disturbances or exterior maintenance violations. At the end of the day, rentals are businesses that must not disrupt the neighborhoods in which they operate. If they do, their permit to operate should be revoked. In this way, I think that council has provided University Heights administration with powerful criminal and civil/administrative tools to address problem rental properties when they arise.
League of Women Voters
The 2019 Voters Guide to Candidates and Issues is published as a public service by the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland, CH-UH and FutureHeights. The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization whose mission is to encourage the informed participation by citizens in government. FutureHeights is a nonprofit community development organization. Election Day is Nov. 5, 2019. Polls are open 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.