Ready or not
We started the year with high expectations for Cleveland Heights’ newly constituted city council. Following voters’ passage of Issue 26, the “elected mayor” charter amendment, we especially looked forward to seeing plans take shape for the city’s transition to a new form of government.
Of course, we had no idea what was coming. Since mid-March, the pandemic has swept away all notions of normal operations in our community, across the country, and around the globe. But in these extraordinary times, the work of local government is more essential than ever.
We applaud our elected officials and particularly the staffs of both University Heights and Cleveland Heights for their dedication to meeting residents’ needs. First responders, public works employees, and many others are giving their best under very difficult circumstances.
Simultaneously, however, most Cleveland Heights City Council activities appear to have ground to a halt. Since Gov. DeWine’s stay-at-home order, two council meetings, each focused on routine legislation, have been live-streamed with very poor audio. Council has scheduled no committee meetings, as City Manager Tanisha Briley said it would require the presence of three IT staff members to live-stream them.
We want to remind council and inform residents that the charter amendment contains six provisions that take effect on Jan. 1, 2021—just seven months from now. The remainder of the amendment is effective Jan. 1, 2022. By law, Cleveland Heights will make these changes, ready or not.
In our November 2019 column, “Decisions . . . and transitions” (written and published before election day), we noted: “If the initiative passes, city council and staff will be required to embark upon an intense two-year transition to the new mayor/council system, while keeping current projects and all city operations running smoothly . . . Citizens will have to closely monitor the actions of both council and the law department to make sure an orderly transition is not undermined. Council members who support the change to mayor/council government will be vital to this effort.”
So far, to our knowledge, council’s sole action has been this: after the 2019 election, council members directed Briley to “identify the steps necessary for the transition to our new form of government in 2022.” (Per Briley’s report on pp. 5 and 6 of the Council Packet dated Nov. 25, 2019, and archived under 2019 Agendas and Minutes at www.clevelandheights.com.)
We were surprised and disconcerted that council would delegate this vital responsibility to the city manager, but that was last year’s council; the decision was consistent with its style of operation. Now, we are even more concerned that the new council has failed to make the transition a priority.
We have spoken with several council members including Mayor Jason Stein to urge the immediate creation of a transition committee comprising council members, staff and residents. This committee must at a minimum:
- immediately draw up a timeline identifying priority action items and deadlines
- research the experience of other cities that have made this transition
- formulate specific recommendations for Cleveland Heights
This is a time of exceptional stress for everyone, but it is imperative that our local elected officials provide leadership on a matter of great importance to Cleveland Heights citizens. The Issue 26 margin of victory amazed, we think, pretty much everyone: a 64 percent “yes” vote, with pro-charter amendment votes prevailing in every single one of our city’s 33 precincts. The mandate is unassailable.
For a link to the charter amendment, go to the “Government” tab at www.clevelandheights.com and click on “Elected Mayor Charter Amendment.” It is also linked at “Form of Government.”
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg
Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.