Hart describes her experience and motivation in running for CH City Council

Let me introduce myself. I am Melody Joy Hart and I am running for Cleveland Heights City Council. I am running because I am concerned about the future of my city and, particularly, its housing stock and tax base. I believe that we are all neighbors in this city and we need to work together to make every neighborhood strong, vibrant, safe and stable.

I have been attending council meetings for over 3.5 years.

I am a member of the Greater Cleveland Congregation’s (GCC) Cleveland Heights Housing Committee. That committee was concerned that the Noble neighborhood was hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, and that the city was not paying enough attention to the beautiful housing stock in Noble.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 12:21 PM, 09.16.2019

In support of a directly elected mayor

Cleveland Heights' current system of government is an inefficient, outdated structure that is ill-equipped to meet the needs of a dynamic, growing city. The title of mayor in Cleveland Heights is simply an honorific, and the executive with actual power—the city manager—is an appointed role, not an elected one. This bureaucratic obfuscation is unnecessary, and only serves to dilute accountability.

The solution is a directly elected, full-time mayor. This mayor would be accountable directly to the public, and able to devote all of his or her energies into making our city a great(er) place [in which] to live and work.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 6:32 PM, 09.03.2019

We need an elected mayor, here and now

Cleveland Heights is having a healthy and long-overdue discussion about our form of government. This is a good thing: it has been 98 years since there has been any similar discussion.

Self-government is not easy. History has made this crystal clear, from our original Constitutional Congress to today’s news stories.

There are many examples of local governments that work well. There is also no shortage of examples where local governments have failed in their responsibilities. These examples include commission, council/manager and mayor/council forms of government.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 6:35 PM, 09.03.2019

Change to elected mayor is an unwarranted proposal

Here in Cleveland Heights there is a political scrum shaping up over the city’s type of government. “Citizens for an elected mayor” want to replace the city’s council-manager form of government with an elected full-time mayor to administer the city.

The council-manager plan of city government arose during the progressive era in American history, at a time when municipal corruption was rampant. Lincoln Steffens documented the nation’s civic sins in “The Shame of the Cities,” which appeared as a series of articles in McClure’s Magazine in 1904. 
Reformers sought a way to clean up the corruption that was led by big city mayors. They decided to replace the corrupt mayor-council governments with council-managers.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 6:29 PM, 09.03.2019

An elected mayor would empower citizens and bring opportunity

As a high school history teacher, I teach my students to find parallels between the world around them and the world in which we live. Brent Larkin, in his Aug. 1 Plain Dealer column, wrote something that resonated with me, as we approach the November ballot, where CH voters will be asked to decide if they’d like to directly elect a mayor: “Perhaps more than ever before, Cleveland needs leadership that can articulate and inspire a vision of what needs to be done. It needs a mayor who can explain in detail how government will partner with corporate and civic leaders to make it happen.”

Cleveland Heights also deserves leadership that can articulate and inspire a vision. To get there, we need to start by empowering voters with this one simple choice: Do you want to elect your mayor?

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 6:24 PM, 09.03.2019

With elected mayor, partisan politics would be the norm

Proponents of a new form of Cleveland Heights government offer several arguments. None justifies drastic change they advocate.

Argument One:  A full-time, elected mayor would appoint and work with a full-time professional city administrator. We already have talented city managers who are full-time professionals. Proponents of change insist that an elected mayor who also is a “chief executive” can focus on “the community, neighborhoods, residents, businesses, and our position in the region.” But such focus already exists. It comes from our city council with its proven record of working in cooperation with city managers and in-house professional staff to create and implement new strategic plans. The Top Of The Hill project is one good example and the project to redevelop the Noble Road commercial corridor is another.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:27 PM, 09.16.2019

Elected-mayor issue is really about discontent with status quo

First off, I want to say there are bright and conscientious people making some good arguments for why the city-manager system is right for our city.

Second, I'm not a political science expert, but I've researched this topic, and it is clear that successful and unsuccessful cities exist with a variety of structures.

Third, I want to say that the people arguing for preserving the system are utterly missing the bigger picture.

If people were largely content, there is no way a handful of part-time volunteers would have been able to get this far.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:16 PM, 09.02.2019

City managers are not immune to corruption

The August Heights Observer contained a series of opinions written by former members of the Cleveland Heights Charter Review Commission and members of the Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government PAC. They had headlines containing words like “risk,” “conflict,” “cronyism” and “politics.” The authors went heavy on the scare tactics, regaling readers with examples of directly elected mayors acting badly. They claim the only way to prevent scary outcomes and bad behavior is to rely on city managers and “professionalism.”

The problem with such a contention is that professionalism does not guarantee the absence of corruption, or cronyism, or conflict, or even politics. We all have read about corrupt professionals—doctors who scam Medicaid, business persons who skirt regulations, attorneys who embezzle client funds—professions of all sorts are at risk of having corrupt professionals in their ranks.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 2:15 PM, 09.02.2019

What about ethics?

A strong-mayor system of government in Cleveland Heights would concentrate power in a single politically elected ruler. The proposal on this November’s ballot to do that lacks a modern ethics provision putting boundaries on how this power can be exercised.

Currently, city council is the sole legislative authority, with substantial say over the structure and powers of the city’s administrative units. Executive authority is in the hands of a professional city manager educated for the task—an at-will city employee who is hired, monitored and, when called for, removed by council. This distribution of governing authority is completely upended by the strong-mayor initiative.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:45 PM, 09.02.2019

'Soul-crushing mediocrity' makes case for change

After reading opinions in the Heights Observer in defense of a city-manager system, I am confused. We need to maintain the status quo because the residents of Cleveland Heights are easily persuaded sheep apt to fall under a Tammany Hall style of corruption, which will lead us on a path of ruin? But these same voters are smart enough to elect a council that is a paragon of pure virtue?

I’ve been very much on the fence in regard to altering our form of government, not because I think it is hitting on all cylinders, addressing major challenges with a council and city manager who have a bold, comprehensive and viable vision for the future—they don’t. My reticence has been due to my concern regarding who might be waiting in the wings to run for mayor.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:33 PM, 09.02.2019

CH Citizens for Good Government supports CRC's conclusions

Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government (CHCGG) is a political action committee (PAC) created by former members of the Charter Review Commission (CRC). I co-chair this group with Jack Newman, former CRC chair, and Lee Chilcote, former CH City Council member.

We provide continuing support for the conclusions of the CRC—a group of 15 CH residents who worked for 16 months to make recommendations to improve our government. We are committed to the citizens of Cleveland Heights, to clarify what is at stake on Election Day this November.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:30 PM, 09.02.2019

Separating fact from fiction in the elected-mayor issue

Incorrect assumptions, false accusations and—dare I say it?—“alternative facts” populate political discourse. Let’s consider the facts and clear up misinformation about Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM) and the charter initiative on the November ballot in Cleveland Heights:

The mayor is full time. The initiative says the mayor “shall serve the city on a full-time basis” and allows for “limited outside employment” provided such “does not conflict or interfere with carrying out the duties assigned by this charter or general law.” The clause, similar to Lakewood’s charter, provides a limitation on outside employment since none exists in the current charter. Typically, when an item is not addressed, it is permitted. The clause protects against unchecked outside employment.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:22 PM, 09.02.2019

Get all the facts before you decide

As the Committee for an Elected Mayor (CEM) steps up its campaign for passage of its charter initiative, I urge everyone to look closely at what [supporters] have written and what they are saying. I have attended CEM public meetings and have read the complete text of the proposed charter amendment on CEM’s website. To put it in the kindest way possible, I have found many inconsistencies.

During public meetings, members of CEM claimed that Cleveland Heights needs a full-time, directly elected mayor to be fully focused on the needs of the city. But CEM’s proposal specifically permits outside employment for the mayor. CEM members also said the mayor should be at city hall full time to be available to respond immediately to resident requests, and also spend 80 percent of his/her time on economic development.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:30 PM, 09.02.2019

It's time for an elected mayor to lead CH

I was honored to be appointed to the CH Charter Review Commission (CRC) in 2017, and elected vice chair of that body a number of months later. Despite being distraught at what I had characterized as a lack of vision and leadership in the city,  I saw the CRC as an opportunity to learn more about the structure of our city’s government and determine for myself, based on the evidence presented, whether the lack of leadership in the city was a structural or personnel issue.

I was frustrated with the lack of attention to core infrastructure issues, such as water and sewer. Both issues got “cleaned up” only when it finally got so bad it was a crisis.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:16 PM, 09.02.2019

Elected mayor would be a slippery slope

A former African-American Cleveland Heights council member for eight years, and now pastor of StartRightChurch for 13 years, I have stayed away from politics for almost 15 years. I enjoy the ministry that we do in the Caledonia neighborhood.

However, I feel the need to give my thoughts on the upcoming ballot initiative.

I believe that changing our form of government to an elected mayor would be a big mistake and not serve our community well. That type of change, if successful, would take us down a slippery slope and eventually lead to another ballot initiative asking that our city council be changed to an elected ward system. This would also be a big mistake.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:58 PM, 09.02.2019

Support for elected-mayor charter initiative

I’m supporting the Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM) charter initiative because it is a citizen-led initiative powered by passion, leadership and vision from people right here in Cleveland Heights. 

We’ve recently learned that the PAC formed to oppose this measure, Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government, is being funded with up to $25,000 from a D.C.-based lobbying firm that fights to retain city-manager forms of government all over the world. They’re hiring Burges and Burges, well-known political strategists, to come to Cleveland Heights and craft a compelling message to convince voters not to change our current form of government.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:01 PM, 09.02.2019

To protect abortion rights, we need to say 'abortion'

I’ve recently been criticized for using the word abortion too much because it makes people uncomfortable. 

Well, you know what makes me uncomfortable? Abortion bans. Abortion stigma. People who have never been in my shoes, who don’t know what’s in my heart, ridiculing me, judging me, and calling me tunnel-visioned or clueless because I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to fighting for abortion access. 

I’m a small business owner in Cleveland Heights. I’m civically active. I’m a parent of a young child who will grow up in the Cleveland Heights–University Heights school system.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:11 PM, 09.02.2019

Heights Observer local candidate policy

With the November election approaching, the Heights Observer is publishing its policy for contributions by candidates for local office.

As a community newspaper committed to equal access for everyone, the Observer is unique among publications in providing opportunity for any member of the Cleveland Heights and University Heights communities to raise and discuss issues of local interest.

At election time, however, this commitment creates a challenge in managing the finite space that is available for community members who are running for public office.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 7:48 AM, 08.27.2019

CH needs strong responsive leadership

The campaign over the “strong mayor” charter amendment has barely begun, and the scare tactics that always accompany government-reform efforts are well underway. We are being warned that cronyism and corruption will descend upon us if we dare let people vote directly for Cleveland Heights mayor. Rumors of ulterior motives and conspiracies—some even involving me—have already begun making the rounds.

This is as silly as it is unfortunate. Cleveland Heights can't be afraid of voters. We can't fear our future. And we don't have any reason to be scared.

So, let me state my position and put speculation about my motives to rest: I strongly support and fully endorse the proposed charter amendment. Also, when the amendment passes, I will NOT run for the position.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 11:35 AM, 08.19.2019

Strong-mayor systems risk conflict and cronyism

Why uproot Cleveland Heights’ long-standing collaborative, professional government in favor of creating a one-person, political power center to face off with city council?

Proponents [of change] claim we need “checks and balances”—as if our seven separately elected citizen council members need to be “checked” or “balanced” by some other elected person who wields veto power and appoints (and removes) all city administrative personnel, including the very highest officials. As we see all around us, it is often a prescription for conflict, waste, and civic paralysis. A few nearby examples demonstrate the point.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 1:02 PM, 08.01.2019

Politics and the proposed change in CH government

Proponents of getting rid of the manager-council system of government in Cleveland Heights want a full-time elected mayor who will appoint a full-time professional city administrator. They believe this will result in a partnership between an administration focused on efficiency and an elected official focused on the big picture. But they ignore how poorly this system necessarily would work in practice because of politics.

The proponents want one supervising administrative official, hired by a mayor, to organize daily activities of government. At first, this sounds like not much of a change from the professionalism of the present manager-council system. But a city manager (CM) works for an entire city council. No one council member can fire a CM. The proposed new system instead would substitute a city administrator (CA) working only for one person. This CA would be a mere instrumentality of the mayor’s sole exercise of power. A CM will have the true formal education, training and experience of a public administrator. A CA, as a purely political hire, might not have any of that. What is proposed therefore would be very different from what we have now. City government would become more political and less professional.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 1:01 PM, 08.01.2019

TOH drawings lack details and warn of quality issues

The Flaherty & Collins (F&C) Top of the Hill (TOH) drawings (dated 6/21/19) available for citizen scrutiny at Cleveland Heights libraries are schematic design drawings, not construction documents.

What is missing is a construction document called “outline specifications” (outline specs), which will call out the quality of the major building materials in the project.

In order to make a value judgment on what's being proposed, the CH Architectural Board of Review (ABR) must insist that the architects provide outline specs along with their schematic drawings.

Construction documents are what everyone else is required to provide for the ABR.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:07 AM, 08.01.2019

Four problems CH voters should think about

Cleveland Heights voters will soon decide whether to replace our council-manager form of government with a mayor-council model.

If voters approve changing to an elected mayor this fall, the city’s first directly elected mayor would not take office until January 2022. During a time when Cleveland Heights is facing accelerating competition from its neighbors, and other daunting challenges, a caretaker government would run the city for more than two years. That’s a problem.

Our lack of a mayor-council government isn’t a problem, but the pervasive lack of understanding of our current council-manager government is, especially when the presence of an informed and involved citizenry is a hallmark of our city’s narrative.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:09 AM, 08.01.2019

Change or status quo?

Thanks to a loose coalition of nearly 4,000 Cleveland Heights voters who signed petitions this spring, all CH voters will be entitled to vote on whether to add an executive mayor to city government. An effort of this scale done in just a few weeks is itself an encouraging show of the vitality that characterizes the community.

Cleveland Heights provides residency for people of many different walks of life and heritages. It has highly regarded public facilities—think of the library system, exceptional public safety and emergency services, great parks and multiple recreation venues, and the arts. Its demographic profile reveals a rich mix of races, religions, cultures and levels of wealth. 

These valued features are all results of change, and the community’s sustainability depends on adapting to more change. 

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:12 AM, 08.01.2019

Powerful-mayor model carries risks

I lived in Cleveland Heights from 2006 to 2014. Moving here from a small town in the Pacific Northwest, I could not believe my good fortune in winding up in a community where there were more progressive, ethical leaders running for city council than open seats.

Cleveland Heights has a long history of engaged citizens and robust nonprofit organizations fighting for open housing, nondiscriminatory practices and preservation of the community’s unique character.

So there seems something off to me in the characterization of Cleveland Heights as a town in dire need of an immediate change in government structure.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:17 AM, 08.01.2019

Strong-mayor advocates omit details

In letters for a proposed ballot issue for a directly elected mayor, Citizens For an Elected Mayor (strong-mayor advocates) leave out important details about changes to our current form of government in Cleveland Heights.

In our current form we pay each of our democratically elected, part-time council persons a whopping $9,270 per year. Our council president earns an additional $2,570 per year to be a public face of council and to herd council members toward consensus, just like the speaker of the house for the Ohio House and the U.S. House of Representatives.

For the privilege of being council president, democratically elected by members of council, the city charter allows that person to be called the mayor. The mayor has a single vote on council, just like the other council members. We already democratically elect our ceremonial mayor.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:23 AM, 08.01.2019

CH and the strong-mayor dilemma

The room where it happens; The art of the compromise; Hold your nose and close your eyes; We want our leaders to save the day; But we don't get a say in what they trade away; We dream of a brand new start; But we dream in the dark for the most part.

—”The Room Where It Happens,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda

On June 11, Cleveland.com reported that Citizens For An Elected Mayor (CEM), which seeks to transform the governmental structure in Cleveland Heights to a strong-mayor model, met the signature quota required to place its initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot (“Citizens For Elected Mayor exceeds petition goal for possible November ballot initiative in Cleveland Heights”). This initiative will counter the city’s proposal to retain a city-manager model. If the move to a strong mayor passes, an entirely new organizational structure for city government will have to be created. It’s a resource-heavy undertaking that deserves discerned deliberation.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:27 AM, 08.01.2019

CH development projects should await November vote

Cleveland Heights is a community defined by its citizens' engagement and leadership. This is especially true in times of transition and even crisis. The citizens of Cleveland Heights look to the future and will, when needed, challenge conventional wisdom by speaking truth to power through words and action.

  • In the 1960s, members from Cleveland Heights’ churches and temples organized and led efforts to stop “block busting” real estate sales in Cleveland Heights. The subsequent work of the Heights Community Congress beginning in 1972 became a model for community stabilization and restoration.
  • Also in the 1960s, “the ladies in tennis shoes” from Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and Cleveland led the effort to stop the planned Clark, Lee and Heights freeways, which would have run through the heart of the North Park Shaker Lakes area, and the Cedar Lee, Coventry and Mayfield Lee neighborhoods.
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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:32 AM, 08.01.2019

City's original goals for TOH have been lost

What's refreshing about ascending Cedar Glen is that you're entering a new realm—a realm of greenery.

The city of Cleveland Heights and its Top of the Hill (TOH) developer have chosen to monetize the TOH land to the max by placing a confrontational wall-like structure at the city's most valuable and prominent property—a site which should be welcoming, not in-your-face.  

City council members, in desperation to get TOH done on their watch, somehow lost control of the design process and its original development goals. Goals included in April 2018, but now gone (or nearly so), were:

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:27 PM, 06.27.2019

Great? TOH design isn't even good

CH officials have repeatedly said that citizen input into the Top of the Hill (TOH) design is a matter of personal opinions and not worthy of serious consideration. They say design decisions should be left to credentialed architects and city planners who understand principles of good design. At the suggestion of a city official, I’ve read some key city planning texts. I found not only that the principles are easy to understand, but that the current TOH design violates at least four major principles of good design.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:24 PM, 06.27.2019

History proves council-manager plan works well

A proposal to change the Cleveland Heights form of government would reject the past. Before supporting such a drastic change, please consider the history of Frank Cain.

Cain came to Cleveland Heights when it still was a village. He was elected to village council in 1909, and became mayor in 1914. When Cleveland Heights became a city in 1921, Cain headed a charter commission that defined a new council-manager plan, still in use. Elected as first mayor under this new plan, Cain headed a slate of council members that went undefeated for 18 elections. He retired from city government in 1946.  The city had a population of 3,000 when he began service, and 60,000 when Cain retired from city government in 1946.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 11:56 AM, 06.27.2019

How long a shadow does a 50-foot dump pile cast?

Between 2014 and 2017, Arco Recycling in East Cleveland—on Noble Road, just minutes from the north side of Cleveland Heights—operated a dump that Diane Bickett, director of the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District (CCSWD), described as “a sham facility that was going to take in material, claim to be recycling it, make money off of having the material dumped there, and pocket the money and then abandon the site,” in an article by Nick Castele (www.ideastream.org/news/how-publicly-funded-demolitions-fed-an-east-cleveland-dump). Full of noxious waste, including carcinogenic drywall, the Arco site filled a space the equivalent of five football fields, in a residential area.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 11:54 AM, 06.27.2019

CH needs an elected mayor

Energy and excitement for a charter amendment enabling CH citizens to elect our mayor are building, buoyed by a wildly successful campaign to gather signatures to place the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Why? Cleveland Heights residents are not satisfied with the status quo or the city’s direction. They want a more dynamic, responsive and accountable government. They want a better future. The proposed amendment addresses these needs in several ways, outlined below.

The full-time, elected mayor would appoint and work with a full-time professional city administrator: The mayor will appoint the administrator on the basis of executive and administrative training and experience, subject to council’s confirmation.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:27 PM, 06.24.2019

Directly elected mayor would not be more accountable

Should we abandon our long-standing system of democratically shared power in Cleveland Heights? The group favoring centralized executive authority (including power of veto and political appointment) in a single directly elected mayor believes this will make our political leadership in Cleveland Heights more democratically accountable to voters. Let’s examine this contention.

A strong mayor would face election only once every four years. In Cleveland Heights, where political affiliation overwhelmingly favors a single party, a strong mayor would likely be from, and supported by, that party. It would be very difficult for any challenger to replace an incumbent, even if the office holder turned out to be less skilled, less effective, or less ethical than voters had originally believed.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:05 PM, 06.24.2019

CH residents should support our council-manager governance structure

The Heights Observer has published news articles and opinion pieces regarding Citizens for an Elected Mayor, a local group that advocates abandoning Cleveland Heights’ existing council-manager structure in favor of a “strong mayor-council” form of government. This position is inconsistent with the recommendation of the Charter Review Commission (CRC), which voted 10-2-1 (1 abstention) against adding a strong mayor, and 11-2 to retain our council-manager structure.

The CRC was tasked by Cleveland Heights City Council to answer the question: “What is in the best interest of the residents of Cleveland Heights?”

The CRC undertook an extensive 16-month study of our charter and best governance practices for Cleveland Heights, as we look toward our future.

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Volume 12, Issue 6, Posted 9:20 AM, 06.03.2019

A city manager form of government works well

A pending proposal seeks to change the Cleveland Heights city manager form of government to a strong mayor form, via a charter amendment proposed for the November 2019 ballot. Before any rush to judgment, we all should consider what our present form of government is.

The city manager system adopted in 1921 was a “good government” reform to put less emphasis on political decision-making. Our municipal corporation operates like a traditional corporation. Voters are “stockholders.” They elect a city council as a “board of directors.” Council members are elected at large, not by wards. This board elects one member as its presiding officer with the title of Mayor. It hires a city manager as the “chief executive officer.” Managers are chosen based upon qualifications and experience. Cleveland Heights has prospered with this system for almost 100 years.

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Volume 12, Issue 6, Posted 9:03 AM, 06.03.2019

Forest Hill Swim Club—My summer home

Most times when you hear people talk about spending the summer in Cleveland Heights, you hear the same remarks: “There’s nothing to do,” and, “When I’m older, I’m moving somewhere less boring.” Despite these common claims, I have never felt this way about my summer days here. This is because whenever I feel like I’m on the verge of being “bored,” I have a convenient place where I can go to change that. A place where I can spend my summer days and nights with my friends and family. A place where I can cool off, relax, and enjoy my dad’s famous grilled cheeseburgers. A place I call my summer home—more commonly known as, Forest Hills Swim Club (FHSC).

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 1:27 PM, 05.08.2019

Concerns about Top of the Hill

While the design and massing for Top of the Hill (TOH) are extremely disappointing, what irks me to no end is the math behind the project and the answers I receive from City Hall.

What no one has been able to explain to me is why—with land that is ostensibly “free” at the most developable site in the city, with a parking structure that makes the project viable, paid for with taxes that would otherwise go to the public schools—the developer is unable to secure financing and the city is covering a funding “gap.”

No one at City Hall is able to tell me why there is a “gap,” why the city is covering $1.85 million of this “gap,” or what $1.85 million in public money is paying for. As the city does not have $1.85 million sitting around, it is going to borrow this money, which means the cost will be around $2 million with interest.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:52 AM, 05.02.2019

CH Branding Survey needs second round

[The writer sent the following as a letter to Cleveland Heights City Council on April 17. City Manager Tanisha Briley responded promptly, and a possible meeting is in the works.]

The most recent issue of Focus magazine provided a synopsis of Cleveland Heights’ self-appointed Brand Steering Committee’s branding initiative findings, and the committee’s plans for translating those findings into a new city logo and tagline.

While no one should fault the committee for its intentions, there are deeply concerning issues with its approach, most especially regarding how it sought respondents for its online brand survey and subsequently reported those responses.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:47 AM, 05.02.2019

Cleveland Heights announces new council member

To the editor:

Last week, I was very pleased, on behalf of City Council, to announce the selection of Cleveland Heights resident Craig Cobb to fill the unexpired term of former Councilperson Cheryl Stephens.

It was a truly rewarding process with over 30 residents applying for the position, and each one bringing a variety of experiences and interests to the table. We are thrilled to welcome Craig to the Council and believe he will be a great asset to us and to the city. Craig’s knowledge and experience with city government will be immediately capitalized on as we go forward with a number of important issues.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 1:27 PM, 04.09.2019

Beaumont students need athletic fields

It was with great interest that I read Colin Compton’s opinion, “In opposition to Beaumont’s plans to demolish the Painter Mansion." As the president of Beaumont School, I’d like to add additional perspective on this issue.

The Painter family sold the building in 1942 to the Ursuline Sisters, who found the house in severely deteriorated condition when they assumed ownership. Most of the interior had been stripped bare, including wood paneling, the electrical system and even the doorknobs. While the Ursulines invested heavily to try and restore the property, it was a structure that required significant expenditures simply to maintain in habitable condition as a convent. Even before Beaumont assumed ownership in 2009, outside experts provided the opinion that the cost to renovate the building and convert it back to an academic use would be cost-prohibitive.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 2:08 PM, 04.01.2019

In opposition to Beaumont's plans to demolish the Painter Mansion

Stewardship is defined in many ways. Environmentalists may classify it as actions taken to protect natural resources. In financial terms, it could mean prudent supervision. A religious person (a nun, for example) may interpret it as responsibility to care for the world in order to leave it better off than how one found it. In a broad sense, Merriam-Webster defines stewardship as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”

Careful and responsible.

To these definitions, I’d add that stewardship is equally applicable to the ownership of historic buildings. The owner is a caretaker, not a sole beneficiary. This is why I oppose Beaumont School’s proposed demolition of the Painter Mansion.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:04 AM, 03.26.2019

A view from the bench: CH court cut budget and added cases in 2018

In 2018, the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court cost taxpayers almost $70,000 less than in 2017, while hearing about 1,500 more cases, according to our just-released annual report. The court managed the savings while improving its Web access and providing more services for defendants, thanks to good planning and management by our capable and dedicated staff.

Part-time magistrates replaced a full-time magistrate. Other cost savings in 2018 included reducing the number of vehicles from two to one, and spending less on books, because the same information was already available on existing electronic research services.

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Volume 12, Issue 4, Posted 1:37 PM, 04.01.2019

EdChoice vouchers more available as public school test performance dips

About 60 residents met at the Lee Road Library on Feb. 26 to learn about the EdChoice Scholarships that are becoming more available for students in Cleveland Heights, as state test results for Heights High have fallen to the “underperforming” category.

At the request of residents, Americans for Prosperity Foundation invited Alyson Miles, board chair of School Choice Ohio, to explain eligibility and the application process. School Choice Ohio (https://scohio.org/) is an independent not-for-profit that offers to assist parents in navigating the program. The Ohio Department of Education provides information about the program on its website: http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Other-Resources/Scholarships/.

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Volume 12, Issue 4, Posted 9:55 AM, 04.02.2019

Economic reports contradict latest TOH plan

As a 35-year resident of the Cedar Fairmount neighborhood, across Cedar Road from the Top of the Hill (TOH) proposed development, I was surprised to read a Jan. 25 article in the Plain Dealer“Cleveland Hotel Occupancy in 2018 Rebounds, Exceeds Republican National Convention Year”, which noted, “Hotel occupancy—that’s the percentage of hotel rooms that are filled—was 69.3 percent in 2018 for downtown Cleveland and University Circle. . . . That’s up from 66.5 percent in 2017, and the highest since 2015, before the city added several new hotels in anticipation of the RNC.”

My surprise arose from my attendance at a 2018 community meeting on TOH, when we were told by the city that the developers, Flaherty and Collins, had dropped the “nationally branded or boutique hotel” and office space from their original proposal submitted to the city, which formed part of their being chosen to develop this city property.

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Volume 12, Issue 3, Posted 10:55 AM, 03.04.2019

A consideration on Top of the Hill

I have been “sort of” aware of the Top of the Hill project, reading a few Web posting and local articles. Conversations with friends reveals a certain “ambiguity’ about the project. My initial consideration on the design and plan: “Is this the best the city could do?”

As rendered in photographs, the design does not say, at least to me, “Welcome to Cleveland Heights!” I would expect a driver arriving at the top of Cedar Hill would have the same impression. If I were a resident of the Buckingham condos, I would not appreciate having to look at the back end of this building. I think/hope something more creative and less automobile-centric is possible.

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Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 10:00 AM, 02.01.2019

In defense of density at Cedar Fairmount/Top of the Hill

Nighttown first opened for business in 1965. I started working there in 1992. When I bought the place in 2001, business was just so-so. Eighteen years later Nighttown thrives because we added three outdoor dining areas, a world-class music calendar, a changed menu and other innovations that have made Nighttown a regional destination for a diverse clientele which benefits all of Cedar Fairmount. However, with the cost of food, people and benefits constantly on the rise, as well as the addition of scores of new restaurants in Greater Cleveland (with a population that isn’t increasing), it’s a continual struggle to remain a destination location. So, too, do my fellow merchants and property owners face similar challenges in the Cedar-Fairmount area.

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Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 10:04 AM, 01.15.2019

Top of the Hill design fails CH

I was disappointed to see FutureHeights support the Top of the Hill (TOH) project in light of the current design. While I agree with FutureHeights on many points, and give the site plan an “A,” the TIF funding a “B” and the parking plan a “B-,“ I feel the design is so poor that it warrants a “D” and support should be withheld until a better one is presented.

The current design fails Cleveland Heights on multiple levels, both in process and appearance.

From a process standpoint, while city materials state community feedback will be included, in calendar year 2018, I know of no formal process to solicit this input from the general public. There have been no design charrettes and the only input from the public has been generated by questions when status updates on the project have been given. I have seen none of that feedback translated into the design, as the original images, which were reported to just be “massing studies,” have only been refined with more detail—they continue to be boring, bland, banal “Developer Modernism.”

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 11:50 AM, 01.02.2019

Change in state law offers 'fresh start' for some offenders

The new year is all about fresh starts. A recent change in Ohio law means that more people are now eligible to have their criminal records sealed. Effective Oct. 29, 2018, the definition of “eligible offender” changed and is now much broader.

In Ohio, an adult criminal record can be sealed so that the conviction or criminal charge is filed separately from a person’s record. However, the record can never be completely erased. It is still available to some; for instance, judges, law enforcement, certain employers (such as schools), and most professional licensing boards can gain access to the sealed record, but most employers, landlords, and the public cannot see the record.

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 11:46 AM, 01.02.2019

Addendum to December letter re: Top of the Hill

One of our readers alerted Heights Observer staff to the fact that in publishing a letter by Richard Bozic ["Top of the Hill design should reflect Cedar Fairmount style"] in the December issue, we failed to disclose that he was "a (very recent) former chair of the CH Architectural Board of Review."

We were unaware of that, and confirmed with Bozic that he was indeed a former member who "left the board at the end of 2016, almost 2 years ago . . . (and) was the chairman in 2016."

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 11:56 AM, 01.02.2019

Consider risks of the Top of the Hill Project

On Oct. 27, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported the upcoming closing of Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern. It's been a rocky couple of decades for "the Euc," but Happy Dog co-owner Sean Watterson, quoted in the Plain Dealer, summed up the current situation in University Circle by saying, "The area changed pretty quickly with building going up rather than through organic growth." [The Euclid Tavern is owned by University Circle Inc.]

This could serve as a cautionary tale for the Heights' Top of the Hill Project. Could any of our organically grown treasures, such as Appletree Books, Luna, or The Fairmount, suffer because of too much building, too fast?

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 11:11 AM, 12.04.2018

Forest Hill Church's 'new thing'

The sign in front of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church that proclaims “See, I am doing a new thing!” refers to the hiring of the Rev. Veronica Goines as the church's first African-American co-pastor.

The story of this historic call started in 2010, when a horrifying racial incident threatened one of the church’s young members. The young man, soliciting money for his football team, was searched at gunpoint by Pepper Pike police after a 911 caller reported a black youth trying to break into houses with a gun.

When church members demanded a public apology, the city of Pepper Pike refused, saying its response would have been the same if the call had been about a white youth with a gun.

The problem was, there wouldn’t have been a 911 call if the boy had been white. Only through the lens of implicit bias does a well-dressed, respectful and respectable young man with a cell phone, going door-to-door to raise money for his school, become a criminal suspect wielding a gun.

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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 12:25 PM, 11.01.2018

There is systemic racism in CH

When institutions give an unjust amount of resources, rights and political-economic power to white people while denying it to people of color, this is systemic racism. According to sociologist Joe Feagin, white elites and even people of color perpetuate systemic racism. The Cleveland Heights government is such an institution.

In 1972, it was revealed that the city had been redlining—limiting black families to homeownership only on the north side of the city. In 1993, city leaders acknowledged it had not invested in that area's infrastructure, housing stock and local business districts, and promised to change its ways. Today, after bearing the brunt of the foreclosure crisis in this city, the north side has yet to experience a change in the city's racist ways. It razes vacant and abandoned property and hopes to attract out-of-town property buyers and developers to build high-density, high-income residential buildings along the “Noble Corridor,” to bring in a more-gentrified class of people and businesses—forget the issues facing the low- to moderate-income, primarily black, residents currently living there.

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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 12:22 PM, 11.01.2018

Coventry School should be sold

While having an arts/nonprofit center is a wonderful idea and concept for our community, I don't feel the Coventry School site should be the location for it. A non-property tax generating building is not the highest and best use for this desirable location. It is a site that I presume would have a lot of interest from developers.

A site I presume won't have as much interest would be the Tudor buildings at the corner of S. Taylor Road and Superior Park Drive. These buildings are being transferred to the city of Cleveland Heights due to non-payment of property taxes. The first floor retail space in these buildings is essentially empty. Let's state some facts:

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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 12:19 PM, 11.01.2018

Show your pride in and gratitude for Heights schools

November is gratitude month. CH-UH school administrators and staff work continuously to bolster the educational experience and academic success of each of their students. While there are always ways to improve, there is also much to celebrate.

We want to hear your statements of pride and gratitude about the Cleveland Heights-University Heights public schools. Please go to www.reachingheights.org and complete the “Proud & Grateful” form. These statements will be compiled and shared on the Reaching Heights website, our Facebook page, and other media, to spread positive statements about the accomplishments of the students and staff of the CH-UH public schools.

Several Reaching Heights staff and board members shared statements of pride and gratitude for the community’s public schools:

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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 9:50 AM, 11.01.2018

Opinion: CDC: what does it stand for?

I would expect that when most folks think of what “CDC” stands for, they would think of Centers for Disease Control. But, for many of us who have had the opportunity to enjoy life in an established urban neighborhood, our response might more likely be “community development corporation” (CDC). So, what is a CDC, and why do we care?

Well, as the name suggests, the word “community” indicates a gathering and engagement of people with a common agenda or purpose—in this case, improving a place by taking action to remove or prevent deterioration, blight and decline.

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Volume 11, Issue 9, Posted 2:24 PM, 09.03.2018

Opinion: Tiger Nation wants you

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District has a tiger as the district mascot and is known as Tiger Nation. Current and past students and school staff are fondly known as Heights Tigers. Are you a Heights Tiger, too?

If you live within the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, your property taxes fund the public schools. You are a Heights Tiger. If you work for or own a business within the CH-UH school district, your business taxes support our public schools. You are a Heights Tiger, too.  

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Volume 11, Issue 9, Posted 2:22 PM, 09.03.2018

Opinion: I’m a proud member of the Forest Hill crank club

After 10 years of watching the alarming rise of vacant foreclosures in Forest Hill, I can no longer stomach our homeowners’ association’s (HOA) excuses for inaction. 

Anybody who lives in Forest Hill sees the vacant houses that sit and rot, impacting our quality of life and property values. If our HOA is “nurturing the historic serenity of this area” as it claims, why is it ignoring the eyesores at 1024 and 1315 Hereford Road, 15780 Cleviden Road, 15472 Brewster Road, 1400 Forest Hills Blvd., and 3045 Monticello Blvd.?

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Volume 11, Issue 9, Posted 2:18 PM, 09.03.2018

A well-defined brand can enhance a city's image

Each of us is passionate about our community and committed to sharing the story of what makes Cleveland Heights such a wonderful place [in which] to live, work, eat, shop and play. Developing clear messaging and engaging graphics will help shape our conversation and enhance our ability to clearly communicate who Cleveland Heights is and what it offers. The city made the strategic decision to invest in discovering and defining the brand of Cleveland Heights and establishing new tools and resources to help effectively promote the city brand to others.

A brand is much more than a logo or tag line. It is the DNA of the city and speaks to what Cleveland Heights stands for and what it offers visitors, business owners and residents alike. By discovering and defining the brand, the foundation for tools and resources will be developed to help us effectively promote this unique community to prospective residents and businesses, current residents and visitors.

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Volume 11, Issue 9, Posted 12:31 PM, 08.21.2018

Court holds that property manager breached its own contract

A Cleveland Heights property manager sued its client to recover management fees but the strategy backfired. Municipal Court Magistrate Gary Benjamin found that the property manager had breached its own property management agreement and rejected the company’s claim for compensation. Instead, the magistrate awarded damages to the property owner on his counterclaim.

The property manager, Transnational Property Investments, manages more than 350 properties out of its office on Fairmount Boulevard. A July 2016 property management agreement provided that Transnational would rent and manage a duplex in Cleveland owned by Rodolfo Encinas, a California resident. The agreement was terminated in October 2017 after both units had been vacant for ten months.

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Volume 11, Issue 9, Posted 10:51 AM, 09.05.2018