Cleveland Heights City Council regular meeting highlights 11-2-2020
NOVEMBER 2, 2020
- Public comments
- City manager’s report
- Police Chief’s report
- Racial Task Force
- Other council actions
- Council member comments
Present were Mayor Jason Stein, Vice Mayor Kahlil Seren, Mary Dunbar, Davida Russell, and Michael Ungar. Melody Joy Hart was absent. Also present were Acting City Manager Susanna O’Neil, Clerk of Council Amy Himmelein, and Law Director William Hanna.
Residents submitted emailed comments for the virtual meeting.
Three tenants of the apartment buildings at Lee and Yorkshire roads requested more overnight on-street parking permits to alleviate the lack of garage parking.
A writer appended to an email a television segment about a man walking around Cleveland Heights with a long gun, and stated this was threatening and the police did not appear to be doing anything. Chief of Police Mecklenberg responded in her report.
A resident, who recently moved from California to Cleveland Heights, supported the recycling item on the committee of the whole agenda.
An emailer asked how recommendations of the Racial Justice Task Force would be reported out to the community.
A long-time resident asked about progress on the problem of Severance Center.
The owner of Gigi’s on Fairmount said small businesses are suffering, and inquired about what and when loans would be offered from COVID CARES Act money. She said the mayor and other council members had not responded when she reached out. The city manager said $300,000 in grants is becoming available. Application information will be posted online by Wednesday, November 4.
City manager’s report
Ms. O’Neil stated the community center will not open yet, as the county is at the highest level (purple) of COVID infection.
She spoke eloquently about retiring Planning Director Richard Wong’s more than 20 years with the city. Saying it is so hard to say goodbye. She called him an architect, planner, Renaissance man, and a vital part of the city hall team. She appreciated his sense of humor and spoke of his many projects and staffing of the Architectural Board of Review, Board of Zoning Appeals, and Transportation Advisory Committee. She thanked Mr. Wong for making goals achievable, and for his dedication and friendship.
Police Chief’s report
Chief of Police Annette Mecklenberg reported that police are actively investigating two unsolved murders, but have no updates.
A shots-fired incident on Monticello that occurred over the weekend was a boyfriend/girlfriend situation; the man fired into the ground, but the injuries the woman suffered were not from the gun. The fugitive suspect is being sought.
A man presented at an emergency room with a gunshot wound to the thigh. He had changed clothes, would give no details, and continues to be uncooperative. There is suspicion that the wound was self-inflicted.
In the incident of the man carrying a gun on Blanche Avenue, residents have been “great” about reporting Internet threats, but there are no confirmed eyewitness reports to substantiate. Police are canvassing. This will be referred to the law department soon. Ms. Dunbar asked for clarification about the right to open carry. Chief Mecklenberg stated Ohio is one of 44 open carry states, so this is allowed, but threatening with, or pointing the gun at others is prohibited.
A fatal car crash began as a police pursuit out of East Cleveland. The driver succumbed to his wounds and the passengers suffered minor injuries. The East Cleveland police lost the car and were no longer pursuing when it crashed.
The contract with the Diversity Center at CSU is complete; the training program will start the week of November 9. Mr. Seren asked if interested council members can audit the training; the chief will inquire.
Racial Task Force
Council approved establishment of a Racial Justice Task Force, with a membership representing a diverse cross section of the city. Each council member will nominate one individual; 20 members will be city residents and five may be non-resident representatives of city businesses. Applications for all seats will be available soon. Members will elect a chair, vice chair, and secretary. The task force’s purpose is to analyze racial justice and equity within the city and to recommend processes, policies, and action steps to create an inclusive community, where opportunities are not based on race or ethnicity, law enforcement and the justice system operate free from bias, and diversity is recognized as a hallmark of a strong, resourceful, and resilient community. To accomplish this goal, the task force will meet in scheduled, open meetings and prepare a publicly available report summarizing its efforts and recommendations. It will examine whether the city should establish one or more commissions to continue the task force’s objectives. The task force shall complete its work no later than nine months after its first meeting, unless council extends this period. Ms. Russell commented that 25 is a large body, but it is intended to involve the whole community and will break into subcommittees to do its work.
Other council actions
Council authorized a 27th pay period in 2020. This is a circumstance that occurs occasionally based on the timing of bi-weekly pay periods.
November 28 was declared to be “Small Business Saturday.”
Council authorized an agreement with Cuyahoga County for services to maintain sanitary and storm sewers.This is the most efficient and least costly alternative, so no competitive bidding is required.
Council member comments
Mayor Stein expressed gratitude and best wishes to Richard Wong on his retirement. He urged citizens who had not yet voted to go to the polls on November 3.
Vice Mayor Seren presented, and council approved, a switch of positions on the Architectural Board of Review and Board of Zoning Appeals; Melissa Fliegel and Denver Brooker desired the change.
He thanked Richard Wong, whom he described as patient, kind, and calm, and wished him well.
Mr. Seren requested again that council consider deliberating the council vacancy in open session so the public can observe council member rationales for their choices. He acknowledged this may be an unusual approach, but hoped public scrutiny might propel the decision to conclusion. He then stated his personal choices and reasoning for placing Anthony Mattox and Tony Cuda as first and second on his list.
Ms. Dunbar reported that RTA presented a plan for changing bus routes at a recent Transportation Advisory Committee meeting; this will increase the frequency on most used lines. A new bus line from the Noble area to Cuyahoga Community College is proposed. Residents may contribute ideas through the RTA website.
She expressed heartfelt thanks to Richard Wong for herself and the Heights Bicycle Coalition, speaking of his inspiring actions to make the city a more bicycle friendly place. She concluded it was a delight to know and work with him and wished him a joyful retirement.
Ms. Russell read a text from Melody Hart, who regretted her absence as she was in Tennessee because her mother had a stroke. Ms. Hart said she has been working on the budget with staff and will schedule a Finance Committee meeting soon.
Mr. Ungar, reflecting on the man openly carrying the rifle, commented that many things that are legal and protected may not be sanctioned or tolerated by the community. He noted the progress on the Top of the Hill project. He requested an update on the Master Plan for the city. Mr. Ungar reflected on Richard Wong’s service, stating he came on board while Mr. Ungar was chairing the Planning Commission, and that his well-deserved retirement was a serious loss for the city.
The next council meeting will be Monday, November 16, 2020. All meetings are virtual, streamed on the city’s YouTube channel, and recorded for later viewing.
LWV Observer: Blanche Valancy.