LWV asks CH council to act

The Heights League of Women Voters (LWV), a chapter of the LWV of Greater Cleveland, has added its voice to those expressing frustration over Cleveland Heights City Council’s impasse on filling the council seat that has been vacant since March 2, 2020.

In a statement, read at the Jan. 19 CH council meeting during the public comments period, the Heights LWV noted that last spring, at council’s request, it conducted videotaped interviews of the many applicants for the council vacancy left by Melissa Yasinow’s resignation. Those interviews were completed April 30, 2020, but now, nearly 10 months later, no appointment has been made.

The statement, prepared by the Heights LWV Leadership Team, asked, “Because there has been no Executive Session on the agenda for this purpose since Oct. 5, 2020, we ask: Does council intend to leave the seat vacant until the next election?”

The statement went on to make three suggestions for council action:

  • “Publish a statement addressing council’s intent and why you no longer hold Executive Sessions to discuss the appointment.
  • Request permission from the four finalists to hold public discussions. We understand that it is council’s prerogative to discuss such appointments in a nonpublic session, but a public discussion may help Cleveland Heights residents understand the difficulties in agreeing on a replacement.
  • Above all, consider appointing a Task Force to review the charter section on vacancies (section III-4) and propose possible amendments to reform the process so that this lack of action by council never happens again. The Charter Review Commission presented suggestions in its report. In light of the coming change to an elected mayor, there may be further possibilities that would engage the mayor.”

The LWV’s statement noted how this failure to fill the vacancy has disturbed Cleveland Heights residents, who see this as a symptom of council dysfunction. The Heights LWV charged council to “please advise the citizens of Cleveland Heights of your next action on this matter and how you plan to address the challenge presented by this task.”

At city council’s subsequent Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, on Feb. 1, LWV observer Gail Larson noted that council members spent more than 30 minutes discussing a possible charter amendment pertaining to a council vacancy, with several ideas presented, but no conclusion.

In the packet for that meeting, staff had included information on the handling of vacancies in other local municipal charters. Council President Jason Stein finally asked to stop the discussion, saying they were “in the weeds” and getting nowhere. Council members acknowledged they have a problem, but are undecided on whether to wait until the election of the new mayor, or to propose a charter amendment now, to establish a deadline and a role for the mayor in the event of council indecision. The COW agenda had included an executive session, but one did not take place. There is still no resolution.

Maryann Barnes

Maryann Barnes is chair of the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland.

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Volume 14, Issue 3, Posted 8:04 AM, 02.23.2021