Cleveland Heights City Council meeting highlights 12-2-2019
DECEMBER 2, 2019
- First amendment rights of public officials
- Public comments
- Ash tree mitigation
- City manager’s report
- Fire equipment
- Recreation and parks 2020
- Tax and budget ordinances
- Intimate images protection
- Top of the Hill legislation
- Nuisance properties demolition
- Housekeeping legislation
- Mayor’s report
- Council members’ tributes
Prior to the meeting, two canine officers were sworn in by the police department. Dodo is handled by Investigator Brian Ondercin, and Rambo by Officer Justin Weir.
Council members present were Mayor Carol Roe, Vice Mayor Melissa Yasinow, Craig Cobb, Mary Dunbar, Kahlil Seren, Jason Stein and Michael N. Ungar. The meeting lasted from 7:35—9:44 pm.
First amendment rights of public officials
Law Director William Hanna responded to a citizen’s allegation at the November 18 council meeting that several members had “violated their oath of office” by contributing to a political action committee against Issue 26. Mr. Hanna stated that he could find no evidence of unlawful acts. He stated there is a long line of cases regarding public officials’ first amendment rights, which are protected and not given up by taking an oath of office. He added that the sunshine laws apply to the discussion of public business but not to discussion of political matters.
Ten residents spoke about a wide variety of concerns, including Top of the Hill and the adequacy of the housing and forestry budgets.
Appreciation for Mayor Roe: Jill Taylor expressed appreciation for Council member and Mayor Carol Roe, her style of leadership and respectful listening, her support for the community, especially the Noble Neighborhood, and the fact that she shows up and participates actively all year and not just when she is seeking votes.
Top of the Hill: Lee Chilcote spoke in support of the Top of the Hill (TOH) development project. He said he had reviewed the city’s tax increment financing (TIF) documents and is proud of the city’s balanced use of TIF as an incentive while also protecting the interests of the public schools and the city. He stated his familiarity with and admiration for projects in Indianapolis by Flaherty and Collins (F&C).
Joyce Rajke stated that, under the TOH development agreement, if F&C has not completed a list of items necessary for closing by December 31 of this year, then F&C can request a six-month extension. Given the likelihood of F&C requesting that delay, she urged a delay in authorizing amendments to the development agreement until the new council members take office.
Joan Mallick said that the discussion of the proposed TOH legislation at the last committee of the whole meeting left many questions unanswered, resulting in attendees, including council members, expressing confusion about the proposed legislation. She feels that the discussions did not provide crucial information necessary for council to take informed action on the TOH legislation. She criticized the process by which the city had previously agreed to pay $1.85 million toward the project from then available funds but was now planning to borrow funds for that purpose, which, with interest, would increase the city’s contribution to approximately $3 million. She noted that the legislation authorized repayment of that borrowing with nontax revenues but did not identify the nontax revenues. She requested that council delay action on the legislation until more information about the repayment source for the borrowing was available.
Susan Miller objected to what she sees as the city’s pledge of $1.85 million to the project so that F&C can make a profit. She sees other serious problems in Cleveland Heights that could benefit from this amount.
Robert Brown, FutureHeights board president, noted his organization is on record as supporting this development for the following reasons: it will add tax-paying households to the area; it will place mixed-use buildings, including retail and restaurants, on the Cedar Road corridor and residential on Euclid Heights Boulevard; it will place the tallest buildings on the west end; and it will replace the large asphalt parking lot.
Intimate images protection: Mallory McMaster thanked council for the Fair Practices ordinance to be presented this evening, which will add nonconsensual dissemination of intimate images (“revenge pornography”) to protections for citizens against discrimination in housing and employment.
Housing: Tony Cuda stated that he was troubled by the poor condition of some of the housing stock when he canvassed for Issue 26. He urged priority be given to housing department funding to protect our residential community.
Forestry: Laura Marks, representing Heights Tree People, advocated increasing forestry funding for Forest Hills and other areas in the north of the city including Severance, noting the current socioeconomic disparity of the tree canopy in the city as well as the need for substantial expansion of tree canopy to combat climate change. Increasing the canopy improves quality of life in many ways, including better health, lower crime rates, better water quality, and quality and longevity of street pavement. Given those benefits, she suggested increasing funding by taking small amounts from the police and streets budgets. Heights Tree People have planted over 100 trees in the city in recent months. What the forestry department most needs is additional funding to educate its staff in proper techniques for planting, pruning, and young tree care.
Council oath of office: Garry Kanter thanked Law Director Hanna for addressing his issue but is still concerned that some council members are not “impartial and faithful” to their oath of office. He singled out members by name for being culpable or not and called the campaign against Issue 26 “dishonest.”
Ash tree mitigation
At the city manager’s request, council unanimously authorized a request for proposals to implement the 2019 Ash Tree Mitigation Program, the costs of which will be funded through a county grant.
City manager’s report
Ms. Briley’s detailed update may be found on pages 4-12 of the council packet on the city website: government>2019 agendas and minutes.
- Budgeting for 2020 is conservative and fiscally responsible. The general fund budget is $45 plus million and balanced. The housing department is the only department to be funded to fill current vacancies, and it will be fully staffed. Current vacancies will continue in other departments including the police department and the city manager’s office; the forestry department is supported by an assessment of $1.08 per front foot per home. Additional forestry funding would require an increase in that assessment or a reduction of funding in other departments.
- Leaf collection was extended through December 6. Dates for all neighborhoods were published on the city’s website and additional information is available through the city’s Leaf Collection Progress Web App.
- The “All are Welcome” campaign has begun.
- Ms. Briley expressed appreciation of all the dedicated experts on city staff.
- The city is being interviewed about the much lauded “Complete and Green Streets” policy by the National League of Cities Center for City Solutions.
- The city’s economic development department has received a second Small Business in Performance Grant from the county in the amount of $127,500.
Unanimous approval was given for the city to purchase a new pumper truck for the fire department through the Houston-Galveston Area Council Cooperative Purchasing Program; total cost is $550,000.
Recreation and Parks 2020
Annual ordinances for Recreation and Parks programs, regulations, and rates received first readings. Specific details can be found on the city website.
Tax and budget ordinances
The appropriation ordinance for expenses and expenditures for Jan. 1—Dec. 31, 2020 passed unanimously, as did an ordinance to amend appropriations and expenditures to correct the budget for the 2019 fiscal year. Mr. Seren noted that city priorities are reflected in the budget but are not static and can be adjusted throughout the year.
Intimate Images Protection
Presented on first reading was an ordinance to amend the Fair Practices chapter of the city code to forbid the use of the nonconsensual dissemination of a person’s private sexual images as a reason to discriminate against that person to deny them employment, housing, or educational opportunity in the city.
Top of the Hill legislation
Four ordinances pertaining to the Top of the Hill project passed, with Mr. Seren voting against all.
- Ordinance 109-2019 conditionally determines and authorizes preliminary actions necessary to issue economic development revenue bonds, including nontax revenue (NTR) bonds of up to $2 million to pay for the city’s contribution to the project and tax increment financing (TIF) revenue bonds in the estimated amount of $30 million to finance project costs. The NTR bonds will be payable by the city from revenues such as fines, forfeitures, fees for services and other revenues that do not constitute taxes. The city will issue the TIF bonds, which will be payable solely from tax revenues generated from the project and project owners. The city will forego some tax revenues, but will not be obligated to make any payments on the TIF bonds.
- Ordinance 114-2019 amends the development agreement to clarify the respective obligations of the city and developer Flaherty & Collins Properties (F&C) to fund an expected gap between project costs and TIF financing proceeds.
- Ordinance 115-2019 designates the Cleveland Heights Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) as the agency of the city and makes various other changes to the CIC’s organizational documents for compliance with state law relating to the issuance of the NTR and TIF bonds.
- Ordinance 116-2019 replaces a prior ordinance that declared improvements to real property in the Top of the Hill to have a public purpose and therefore would be exempt from real property taxes. This ordinance (116) amends the development agreement and school district compensation agreement, primarily to change the effective date of the tax exemption from 2020 to 2021, in anticipation of the current construction schedule.
Council discussed these ordinances before the votes. Mr. Ungar thanked citizens for their thoughtful emails about Top of the Hill financing and other issues. He reviewed the legislative history of the project and invited Ms. Briley to address tonight’s issues, who presented a history and some background. The city has owned the land since Doctors Hospital was demolished in 1968. The current project began in April 2016 and 42 public meetings have taken place since in an effort to be responsive and transparent. F&C is a premier developer across the U.S. and a capable partner. The city has been well-advised with partners and outside legal counsel. They have looked at many funding sources and feel confident that the NTR bonds can be repaid without impacting the city’s budget. Top of the Hill funding is separate from the city’s capital improvement fund.
Ms. Dunbar, Mr. Stein, Ms Yasinow, and Mayor Roe expressed their support for the project. Ms. Dunbar noted that not everybody will be satisfied, and council is elected to make decisions for the greater good. There have been years of discussion and council has a responsibility to improve the city’s tax base to continue funding city services and public schools. Mr. Stein thanked citizens for contacting him with their opinions. He is voting in favor because this project is good for the city and its public schools and services. Ms. Yasinow said the project has been years in the making. She is grateful it is getting done under the leadership of City Manager Briley and Mayor Roe. She said staff has been inspirational through the 42 meetings. Mayor Roe will vote yes. She is empathetic to the concerns of the neighborhood but believes they must look at the greater good of our city, which has a 20 percent poverty rate. She said the income tax increase passed four years ago was only a band-aid.
Mr. Seren explained his dissenting votes on the four TOH items, which, he pointed out, would not change the outcome. He is not conceptually against the development. He works for Cuyahoga County developing policy on his day job. He is disappointed in the design for this project, which is not as diverse as he had hoped, but his main concern is how these bonds enable avoidance of prevailing wage requirements. By using the city rather than the County Port Authority as the bond issuer, F&C is skirting the Port Authority’s prevailing wage requirements. Mr. Seren said that the county would decline to issue the bonds if the purpose of the county’s involvement was to skirt the Port Authority’s prevailing wage requirements.
Nuisance properties demolition
Council declared three residential properties a nuisance and authorized abatement through demolition. These are:
- 983 Pembrook Road
- 3277 Desota Avenue
- 3650 Atherstone
Ms. Dunbar commented that demolition of homes represents failures at the national, local, and personal levels over many years. She pledged to work for faster resolution of problems in the future so there can be more renovation and less demolition, adding that on the other hand, “Empty lots are opportunities.”
Council amended various sections of the city code dealing with animals, theft and fraud, weapons and explosives, and rental halls to bring them into line with state law.
Council authorized the annual inspection of bridges and culverts by of the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Council unanimously approved an agreement with Arthur J. Gallagher & Company to continue its protected liability self-insurance program.
In an annual resolution, council suspended enforcement of overnight parking prohibition on five high-density streets.
Council suspended council meetings for the remainder of 2019.
Mayor Roe expressed her appreciation to the citizens for allowing her to serve for four years and to her colleagues for their confidence in her. She talked about the importance of active listening for leadership.
She congratulated both sides of the Issue 26 campaign and the newly elected council members. She stated that all are excited to move forward and council will begin to discuss transitions at its next committee of the whole meeting. She added that many in the community do need time to heal after a hard fought campaign. She also praised Heights Tree People for new tree planting around the community center on Sunday.
Council members’ tributes
Mr. Cobb thanked the community for his time on council.
Ms. Dunbar thanked voters for her reelection and said she looks forward to moving ahead. She paid tribute to Ms. Roe and Mr. Cobb for their service.
Mr. Seren thanked voters for their participation, applauded the decision on Issue 26, and expressed gratitude for his reelection.
Mr. Stein gave tributes to Ms. Roe and Mr. Cobb for their service.
Mr. Ungar commented that the recent election was historically important and congratulated leaders on both sides of Issue 26, stating there were phenomenal people on both sides. He added that it is not the form of government but who is governing that matters. He welcomed council members-elect Hart and Russell and praised outgoing members Cobb and Roe for their service to Cleveland Heights, stating he will miss them and enjoyed working with them.
Vice Mayor Yasinow paid tribute to outgoing members Cobb and Roe. Both were given proclamations and Mayor Roe was presented a traditional collage of photos of many of her public appearances.
The next regular council meeting will be Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, at 7:30 p.m.
LWV Observers: Blanche Valancy and Kathy Petrey>