Seconding the call for an 'excellent' CH mayor

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg’s November column in the Heights Observer, “Wanted: An Excellent Mayor for Cleveland Heights,” listing the qualities we should seek in a new mayor, was accurate and on-point.     

Having worked in and around Cleveland Heights City Hall for 45 years, and serving a quarter-century on the faculty of the Leadership Academy at Cleveland State University, I can say from experience that the job of mayor of a large, diverse community, with a budget of $45 million per year, should not be held by anyone with a thin résumé. 

I voted against the CH charter change to eliminate the city manager form of government because of my belief that the deficiencies of that form of government could be mitigated with a strong city council led by a strong council president. But nature abhors a vacuum.

When you have a city council that is divided on a number of key issues, the city manager’s hand is strengthened. Because the city manager is focused narrowly on keeping at least four members of city council satisfied—rather than the entire community—you end up with a disconnect—one that Citizens for an Elected Mayor took to victory with the recent charter change. 

The other reason I voted to keep the city manager form of government intact was based on my belief that in Cleveland Heights we do not have a “civic infrastructure” in place that has a number of residents prepared to become mayor. Decades ago, we had something like that in place, but Coventry Neighbors, Oxford Neighbors, the Heights Community Congress and similar community organizations are either gone or are no longer incubating the kind of civic leadership enumerated in Van Kleef and Rautenberg’s column. 

Keep this in mind, too: while the amended charter says that the new “city administrator” will oversee daily operations, I doubt the search for that person will begin in earnest until the new mayor takes office—and it could indeed be many, many months before that person is hired—so the new mayor will have to be hands-on as administrator. And if the person who becomes mayor has few of the desired qualities mentioned in the November column (one with a “vision for the city”, “financial acumen”, “the self-confidence to make tough decisions, and the humility to ask for help”), what’s the likelihood we’ll attract a city administrator who is truly outstanding? 

Please, Deborah and Carla, keep the pressure on. It would be detrimental to the community if we elect a new mayor based on pure political clout rather than on qualifications.

Bruce Hennes

Bruce Hennes, a 47-year resident of Cleveland Heights, is a past president of Coventry Neighbors, past chairman of the 1980s-era Coventry Street Fair, and founder of the Coventry Village Special Improvement District.

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Volume 14, Issue 1, Posted 10:55 AM, 01.01.2021