Opinion

CH resident issues plea for access to information

In 2019, I voted for an elected-mayor form of city government, and the following year I voted for Kahlil Seren. I want him to succeed because, if he does a good job, we all win. I supported his candidacy because of positions he took regarding accountability to voters, community involvement, and an effective working relationship with city council. 

I don’t know where that candidate went when he became mayor, but I want that first guy back. Although he’s been on the job for a short time, it is important to many of us that his current approaches to leadership be re-evaluated and improved.

Candidate Seren was an avid supporter of resident involvement, but Mayor Seren seems less so.

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Volume 15, Issue 10, Posted 11:16 AM, 10.01.2022

CH council members have the right to inquire

A major problem with the operation of government in Cleveland Heights needs immediate correction.

The CH City Charter grants council members a right of inquiry. They cannot order city employees to take actions, but they can approach any city employee privately to ask questions.

This right of inquiry is necessary and beneficial. It allows council members to make informed decisions. It allows them to monitor the performance of city departments. It helps them decide how to allocate financial resources. It prevents them from being totally dependent on what the mayor chooses to tell them.

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Volume 15, Issue 10, Posted 11:15 AM, 10.01.2022

Correcting the record on Doan Brook

I am writing in response to Bert Stratton's opinion, "Hey, where's my lake?" (Heights Observer, September 2022.) He made a number of points which were either misleading or simply factually inaccurate, and which bear correcting.

The author takes issue with restoring Horseshoe Lake to, as he puts it, a "primordial" natural environment. Obviously, nobody is advocating goatskin lean-tos as a return to the natural environment, as Stratton suggested. When we talk about restoring a natural environment, it is specifically about mitigating those problems that artificially created reservoirs can cause, and being careful and intentional when we make significant alterations to existing ecosystems. It is expressly not a slippery slope on the way to eschewing modern life and returning to our agrarian pre-historic roots.

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Volume 15, Issue 10, Posted 11:12 AM, 10.01.2022

Nostalgia doesn't save lives

I'm writing in response to Bert Stratton's opinion [published in the September 2022 Heights Observer], and the "Save Horseshoe Lake" movement, who argue [for] keep[ing] Horseshoe Lake a lake, providing no practical reasons other than pure nostalgia.

There's a reason the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) is concerned about flooding. If Stratton has been following the goings-on around our country and the world, he'd notice that severe flooding due to climate change and the effect of increasing impervious surfaces is happening more and more.

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Volume 15, Issue 10, Posted 11:07 AM, 10.01.2022

Vote for more Heights representation

As city leader for the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, one of my tasks is to look at voting patterns in Cleveland Heights. For example, in November 2018, more than 21,000 people voted in the Senate race won by Sherrod Brown. That vote was overwhelmingly Democratic—21,438 for Brown and 266 for his opponent. There were 35,474 registered voters, so our turnout was 61 percent. This makes Cleveland Heights a political powerhouse whose votes are necessary to elect state Democratic leadership.

In Cleveland Heights we already have two sitting Supreme Court Justices elected in a statewide election, and now we have our own Cheryl Stephens on the Democratic ticket for Lieutenant Governor.

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Volume 15, Issue 10, Posted 11:10 AM, 10.01.2022

Hey, where's my lake?

Last month the circus came to town. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District had a “public-engagement” open house at Shaker Lakes, complete with seven tents.

“Join the design team as we envision how we can bring the natural environment back to the Brook,” read the sewer district’s publicity. 

So now we’re supposed to call Horseshoe Lake a Brook (capital B, at that) to get back to the primordial “natural environment.” Should we all live in goatskin lean-tos and get rid of our paved roads, too? Cain Park should be a brook, too.

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Volume 15, Issue 9, Posted 11:20 AM, 08.31.2022

Sewer district seeks input on Horseshoe Lake project

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, in partnership with LAND studio, is seeking resident input for its Doan Brook Restoration Near Horseshoe Lake project.

This project will remove Horseshoe Lake Dam, a failing earthen dam constructed more than 170 years ago, restore Doan Brook to its natural state, and the free-flowing stream corridors will be planted with trees and native vegetation. This will help manage stormwater throughout the watershed, reducing flooding along area roads and downstream.

Along with the sewer district's work, the design team has an opportunity to work with the cities of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights to develop a park plan with other key stakeholders.

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Volume 15, Issue 9, Posted 11:23 AM, 08.31.2022

Ordinance No. 75 means 'all are welcome'

In last month's Heights Observer, I read Alan Rapoport’s opinion ["There's a culture war in Cleveland Heights'] criticizing recently passed Ordinance No. 75-2022. In it, he takes issue with the ordinance for banning conversion therapy, a practice that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. He argues that the law is “one sided,” noting that it bans efforts to change same-gender attraction but does not prohibit school counselors from “advising minors to adopt a homosexual lifestyle.”

It’s worth noting that the ordinance is largely agnostic on a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity—it protects LGBTQ kids just as it protects straight and cisgender kids. Even if Mr. Rapoport were correct, though, and the ordinance only protected LGBTQ children, he invents a fake problem to distract from a real one.

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Volume 15, Issue 9, Posted 11:17 AM, 08.31.2022

CH mayor attempts power grab

Mayor Seren recently tried to sneak past Cleveland Heights City Council an “emergency request” to remove police and fire chiefs from the list of classified employees. That removal would deny them protections of civil service status. It would be a naked power grab that city council properly balked at approving too quickly. Hopefully, reasons for the present system will be considered carefully by city council before any changes to it are made.

Civil service resulted from a reform movement in the 1880s, which sought to reduce or eliminate the system of spoils, patronage, and corruption that characterized many governments. It instituted hiring based on merit. This improved the performance of government services.

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Volume 15, Issue 9, Posted 11:12 AM, 08.31.2022

Council members call for CH City Charter review

On Aug. 15, Cleveland Heights City Council voted 4-3 in favor of amending our city charter to clarify council’s right to inquiry. However, we needed 5 votes for a charter amendment to appear on the ballot. Council members Davida Russell, Gail Larson, Josie Moore and myself voted yes; Council members Melody Joy Hart, Craig Cobb and Anthony Mattox Jr. voted no. 

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Volume 15, Issue 9, Posted 10:15 AM, 08.23.2022

There's a culture war in Cleveland Heights

A culture war has been declared in Cleveland Heights by the mayor and city council, as evidenced in an [ordinance] passed as an “emergency” measure.

Ordinance No. 75-2022 prohibits any treatment by a mental health professional the purpose of which is “an attempt to change an individual’s sexual orientation.” It is called a protection of minors. Its main target is so-called “conversion therapy.” [The ordinance states] engaging in such therapy with a minor [is] “an Unlawful Discriminatory Practice.” It could result in a substantial penalty.

Protecting minors is a worthy goal. But this ordinance clearly is aimed at those considered as political enemies. It pertains to “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”

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Volume 15, Issue 8, Posted 10:30 AM, 07.29.2022

Did Mayor Seren excuse rioting?

Mayor Kahlil Seren’s opinion in the June issue of the Heights Observer ("Pride is insistence in the face of intense resistance") issues an overwrought clarion call for fight, protest and action against an enemy coalition of bigots, theocrats and others who might kill you if you are gay or lesbian.

He describes the United States as if it were Iran, or some other dozen Islamic territories, where speaking about LGBT rights does bring a death sentence.

Because the U.S. Supreme Court has tossed the abortion issue back to the people and their representatives, he then includes the Supreme Court in the enemy category and seems to excuse or expect “rage and riot” against our most vulnerable democratic institution, which would put him somewhere on par rhetorically with the Jan. 6 rioters. He also mentions the earlier “brave humans who put themselves on the line in riots, parades . . . and legal battles.”

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Volume 15, Issue 8, Posted 10:28 AM, 07.29.2022

Bremer Fisher's accomplishments merit an article

I read with great surprise, concern and disappointment that Deanna Bremer Fisher resigned, effective immediately, from FutureHeights. 

My husband and I moved to Cleveland Heights almost 16 years ago, so our experience living here has been very much impacted by the work of FutureHeights. We have supported it financially for many years. 

During the more than 14 years that Bremer Fisher worked for FutureHeights, she accomplished many things, including:

  • Publishing the Heights Observer community newspaper, which has become a trusted source of information and has received several Excellence in Journalism Awards from the Press Club of Cleveland.
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Volume 15, Issue 7, Posted 5:19 AM, 06.30.2022

There's a cost-effective plan to save Horseshoe Lake

If there [were] a plan to save Horseshoe Lake that addressed stormwater issues, controlled flooding, cost less, and also saved the lake, why wouldn’t our public officials request that the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) implement that plan?

The NEORSD’s plan for destroying Horseshoe Lake and turning it into wetlands is no longer the only option on the table. Now is the time to consider the alternate plan, and pause before we irrevocably damage a part of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights that we will regret for generations. 

Friends of Horseshoe Lake (FOHSL), a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving Horseshoe Lake, retained a team of engineering and dam experts from TRC Companies, as well as land use experts, to explore alternatives and develop a financially viable plan to preserve the lake and manage floodwater.

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Volume 15, Issue 7, Posted 5:15 AM, 06.30.2022

Pride is insistence in the face of intense resistance

Pride is not a month. Pride is the insistence that the LGBTQ+ community deserves real respect and substantive access to the rights that we all expect to enjoy.

The United States of America is still a place where the simple act of outwardly expressing who you are inside can be, and has been, a death sentence—where choosing not to hide who you love can lead to a violent response. It is for that reason that Pride is, and has to be, every day of our lives.

I was raised by two moms, out lesbians, who have been unashamed of who they are for as long as I’ve known them. They taught me that our silence will not protect us (thank you Audre Lorde).

In fact, if you are shamed or scared into silence, it won’t just hurt you. It will harm everyone who may otherwise have relied on your bravery and used your Pride as an example to follow.

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Volume 15, Issue 6, Posted 2:49 PM, 05.27.2022

Ballot Issue 9 provides a lesson about petitions

There is a lesson to be learned from the fiasco of the Issue 9 vote, which created much gratuitous expense and effort to defeat a dubious referendum. Fortunately, voters steered clear of the reputational harm a "yes" vote would have caused. Next time, as you are walking to your car and approached by an earnest petitioner with a clipboard, do not sign it—at least, not without asking some questions.

Let’s not make a habit of government by referendum. Petitions and referendums have saddled Cleveland Heights with such time-wasting and misguided resolutions as a day devoted to anti-business speeches (deceptively named "Democracy Day"), and the [designation of the city as a] “Nuclear-Free” zone.

Our republic has moved beyond the ancient Greek-style of democracy by referendum. We elect representatives—a mayor and city council—and they hire professional staff and outside experts, as needed, to study issues.

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Volume 15, Issue 6, Posted 2:51 PM, 05.27.2022

CH should not invest in broadband Internet

You may remember Betamax. It was fine for recording and playing videos. But then along came VHS, and Betamax went the way of the dinosaurs. Then the DVD effectively replaced VHS. Now streaming video is making the DVD obsolete.

All this brings to mind a recent presentation before the Municipal Services Committee of Cleveland Heights City Council by the Citizens for Heights Municipal Broadband. As it states on its website [https://heightsbroadband.com], this group wishes the city to pay for “a new utility, a publicly owned Internet Service Provider (ISP) connecting fiber Internet to 100% of Cleveland Heights residents, businesses, and municipal services.” It wants the city to make a major financial commitment to an old technology at taxpayer expense.

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Volume 15, Issue 6, Posted 2:46 PM, 05.27.2022

GCC CH Housing Team ends its formal work

The Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC) Cleveland Heights Housing Team grew from a listening event held in January 2016, in which 100 GCC members identified blighted properties as a major issue. Subsequently, a core group formed and decided to focus the team’s efforts on seriously blighted investor- or bank-owned properties in the Noble neighborhood. Now, six years later, the team is ready to conclude its work.

The team began by confronting U.S. Bank regarding the condition and number of its foreclosed properties in Noble, which resulted in the bank donating $125,000 to two neighborhood projects. We took city officials on a trolley tour of blighted properties, which resulted in Cleveland Heights City Council voting housing its number-one priority.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 11:10 AM, 04.29.2022

Cleveland Heights needs a climate action plan

In the April Heights Observer, Alan Rapoport expressed the opinion that the city needs to focus on quality city services and not waste time and resources on issues that are, in his view, unrelated to these services.

He pointed out that one of the first actions of the new city council was passage of an ordinance to adopt a climate action plan. He stated, “That plan will sound good to some who want to save the planet, but it will not improve life on the local level. Such planning will consume time that could be spent on other projects.”

Unfortunately, such an ordinance was never passed by the council. Further, his dismissive comment betrays an elementary understanding of climate issues, what is at stake, and who the stakeholders are. These issues demand more thoughtful attention.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 11:08 AM, 04.29.2022

How to save Severance Center

Severance Center is a mess. The owner of the mall portion of that mess is a company called Namdar. Namdar bought this property at a distress sale. It may think the old mall is profitable enough in its current condition. It does not seem inclined to invest nearly enough to make needed improvements.

The city commissioned a plan for improvements. To date, it has had no success getting Namdar to cooperate with this plan. And so, Severance Center remains a mess.

In 1963, Severance Town Center was one of the first shopping malls built anywhere in the entire country.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 11:00 AM, 04.29.2022

Heights High alum asks district to 'stop counting us out'

On Dec. 10, 2021, I was back at Cleveland Heights High School, my alma mater. I was hosting, running, and speaking at a protest, which I and several other students and alumni coordinated in response to an Instagram post by a girl who’d recently been a victim of sexual assault.

Exactly four months since then, two days before my 20th birthday, here I am writing this. Since that first protest, we’ve continued keeping in touch through a handful of group chats, and the most avid and available of us attending weekly zoom meetings to discuss strategy and develop demands.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 10:58 AM, 04.29.2022

Issue 9, the Constitution, precedent, and all that legal mumbo jumbo

OPINION

In the Height’s Observer’s April issue, Fran Mentch, in her [opinion, “FAQs: In support of public park Issue 9”], stated that Ohio Supreme Court held that the Retroactivity Clause of Article II, Section 28 of the Ohio Constitution does not extend to political subdivisions. The case she referenced is Toledo City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. State Bd. of Educ. of Ohio, 146 Ohio St. 3d 356 (Ohio 2016) (“Toledo Case”). And while that was the holding of the court, it does not apply to Issue 9 and the ordinance to “create a public activity park on the 1.07 acres of city owned land at the corner of Lee Road, Tullamore Road and Meadowbrook Boulevard.”

Simply put, the Retroactivity Clause in the Ohio Constitution prevents an “impairment of contract.” An impairment of contract occurs when contravening legislation is enacted to prevent the parties from meeting the obligations of a contract. The leading case on this issue in Ohio is Middletown v. Ferguson, 25 Ohio St. 3d 71 (Ohio 1986) (“Middletown”), which has not been overturned by the Toledo Case.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 3:04 PM, 04.27.2022

Yes on Issue 9 will protect your wealth and Cedar Lee's future

OPINION

On May 3 [Cleveland Heights residents] can vote for a public park to be built on the 1.07 acres of city-owned land at Meadowbrook-Lee. Plans for the public park include restrooms, a water fountain, free Wi-Fi, a small stage, trees, plants, and small play area for children. The developer’s “park” is one-third acre and will have none of these amenities, other than trees and plants. The developer refused to put the restrooms and play area in the “park” when asked to do so by the planning commission. (You can watch [meeting video] online.)

Will the PUBLIC park be built when Issue 9 passes? Yes. The city will be obligated by the initiative to do so. Lots of people want this park, and we will work with the city to raise the funds (private and public) to build the park; the city will maintain it. Based on the city’s maintenance costs for other parks, [Issue 9 supporters estimate that] maintaining this one will cost between $20,000 to $40,000 a year, depending on activities held there.

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 3:03 PM, 04.27.2022

Vote 'yes' on Issue 10 for a more productive CH City Council

As part of the transition to an elected mayor–council form of government, CH City Council is asking for your support for an important amendment to our city charter. A YES vote on May 3 will allow the clerk of council to work directly for the legislative branch of government, rather than the executive branch.

Currently, the clerk of council, who is also the finance director, works for and serves at the pleasure of the mayor. The finance director, in turn, hires an assistant clerk of council. This outdated provision not only greatly burdens our finance director, but also provides city council members with no staff to support them with their legislative duties. With this charter amendment, that position will be shifted to work directly for, and to serve, city council.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 11:56 AM, 04.02.2022

Russell reports on Noble/Taylor ARPA meetings

Residents of the Noble/Taylor communities came out in force to attend meetings in my “You Talk, I Listen” series, to address concerns in their respective neighborhoods and narrow down their “wishlists” for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funds earmarked for them, in a continuation of two fall meetings.

The first meeting focused on the use of ARPA Funds earmarked for the area. Representatives from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown's office, the Center for Community Solutions, and Policy Matters Ohio participated. The second focused on gaining the perspective of Noble/Taylor residents, and learning what they want to see accomplished. Residents discovered that each neighborhood has different visions, but also commonalities around serious issues affecting both.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:25 PM, 04.01.2022

Public should control development

Residents know best what they need—what their lives are missing, what stands between them and their goals, what they would change (if they could) to improve their quality of life.

That’s why Cleveland Heights Council Member Davida Russell is asking Noble and Taylor residents directly how to spend those neighborhoods’ designated American Rescue Plan Act funds during her “You Talk, I Listen” sessions. It’s why Cleveland has done the same through online polls.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 11:45 AM, 04.02.2022

Student safety is district's first priority

Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our children in CH-UH schools. Sexual harassment in schools has been a topic of much concern and conversation recently, both here in the Heights and across the nation. As a mother and as president of our CH-UH Board of Education (BOE), I take this matter extremely seriously. I know that our community members, staff, and board members do, too. 

I want to share a few of the steps we are taking in order to create the safest school environment possible for our students:

  • Education is a key to preventing sexual misconduct. The district is currently investigating a comprehensive, age-appropriate sex-education curriculum. 
  • We are exploring changes to our dress code to make it forward-thinking and appropriate for 2022, utilizing best-practice examples from school districts that have successfully instituted such changes.
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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:28 PM, 04.01.2022

FAQs: In support of public park Issue 9

May 3 will be the only time that CH residents have been able to vote directly on a local land-use issue—it’s an opportunity to decide what kind of community we want to live in, and the future we want to create. Here are some FAQs about the [proposed] public park, Issue 9:

Will the park bring money to the city? Yes! Based on research by city planners and economists, the right-size public space, in the right place, brings feet to the street. And money follows feet. This park is the right size in the right context. Lee Road business owners told us they do their best business during the music festival. The CH Master Plan recommends more activities to attract people who will dine, shop, and attend performances. Imagine how a concert in the public park every Friday night would help Lee Road businesses!

How much will it cost? The park will be designed by a community process; the more complicated the design, the more costly.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:18 PM, 04.01.2022

Build CLM PAC forms to oppose Issue 9

On March 6, 50 residents gathered at The Wine Spot, kicking off Friends of Build CLM's official PAC campaign. The PAC is working to ensure that the approved residential, commercial, and public-access green-space development at Cedar, Lee and Meadowbrook is not halted by a ballot initiative to mandate a park on part of the site.

“Issue 9 is an ill-conceived initiative to block development in the guise of a 1.07 acre ’public activity park,’” said Jeanne Gordon, one of the PAC’s organizers. “The park proposal is an unfunded mandate that proponents say the city can pay for. The city has no funds to build or maintain it. The developer is planning to create a park there as part of more than 2 acres of green space—plus apartments and storefronts that will attract new residents and visitors, bring in new income and sales tax revenue, and renew vibrancy to the district.”

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 11:37 AM, 04.02.2022

New council, same problems

In the debate over the Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook (CLM) development—a contest between a coterie of malcontent gadflies and civic cheerleaders who buy whatever borscht is served by City Hall—two simple yet vital math equations are unanswered, no matter how many times I ask 40 Severance Circle. In fact, I asked just the other day and, as of the time of my writing this, March 16, no one has answered the two simple questions—not our mayor, who has been in office the entire time this latest development has been negotiated, nor our council president, whose e-mail address has several abbreviations that intimate a more than basic understanding of math.

My first question has been: How long will it take for the city to recoup the cost of the land that it is leasing (and then maybe selling) to the developer for less than $500?

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:13 PM, 04.01.2022

CH council should prioritize city services

The most important question in Cleveland Heights is, will city council give proper priority to delivering quality city services that protect health, safety and welfare?

[In his January 2022 Heights Observer opinion, in which he summed up the “top issues” candidates who ran for CH City Council in 2021 heard about from residents,] Council Member Tony Cuda noted that high taxes are a common complaint, but many residents said they would not mind paying them if city services were better. What he and his colleagues should ask is, to what “city services” were residents referring?  And how can these services be performed better?

Candidates during the recent election campaign were more concerned about “equity and inclusion.” I do not doubt their sincerity, but I question their priorities.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:27 PM, 04.01.2022

Don't wait for legislation to make sustainability changes

Sustainability is a broad concept, understood and interpreted at different scales. Cleveland Heights residents want the city to develop a sustainability plan—a huge and expensive task for an understaffed city. Just hammering out what aspects of sustainability to tackle will take research, analysis and agreement. Success will depend on passage of legislation, followed by implementation and enforcement. It could take years to realize positive impacts. How can we hasten mitigation of emissions-caused climate change?

Cleveland Heights doesn’t have much industry requiring air-quality control. We don’t have major highways, interstates, rail, or air traffic as emissions sources. We mostly have small, non-manufacturing businesses and residential properties—with a lot trees, leaves and lawns, and thousands of privately owned gas-powered vehicles and equipment.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:24 PM, 04.01.2022

CH judge provides municipal court annual report highlights

At the end of March of each year, Ohio’s municipal courts must submit to their city and county governments a report of their operations, including a statement of receipts and expenditures. The full 2021 Annual Report for the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court, along with reports from years past, can be found on the court’s website at www.clevelandheightscourt.com.

Transparency in the judiciary promotes confidence in the system, upholds the fair administration of justice, and leads to increased efficiency and effectiveness. It is worthwhile to highlight [here] some of the work performed by the court, and the improvements and community collaborations it has undertaken.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:21 PM, 04.01.2022

Cedar Lee business owner urges 'no' vote on park

On behalf of myself and other small businesses owners of the Cedar Lee Business District, I urge Cleveland Heights residents to come out to the polls on May 3 and VOTE NO on the ballot initiative (Issue 9) to create an unfunded public activity park at the corner of Lee, Meadowbrook and Tullamore. This is a critical moment in our city’s history, and we need your support.

Here are the relevant facts everyone should know:

  • The Cleveland Heights Master Plan, developed with significant community input, designated the Lee-Meadowbrook vacant lot’s best use as mixed development, not parkland.
  • The city has already made significant investments in the Lee-Meadowbrook vacant lot and in the adjacent parking garage in anticipation of, and preparation for, this development project.
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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 2:16 PM, 04.01.2022

School district leaders are failing to protect students

CH-UH teachers and building-level staff provide our community’s children with a nurturing, comprehensive education. While the pandemic forced our school district to re-think public education, the pandemic cannot be an excuse for long-standing problems.

Since August 2020, a group of 500-plus CH-UH school district parents and staff have collaborated to share information, and communicate issues to our elected and paid district leaders.

In 170-plus pages of routine reports, we have documented an array of community concerns and begged for solutions. We convened forums, spoke at school board meetings, and regularly communicated with leadership to activate change. Most of these issues remain unaddressed, leaving students unprotected in myriad ways.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 12:23 PM, 03.14.2022

Telling the truth to our children

I write in response to Alan Rapoport’s opinion piece about The 1619 Project in the January 2022 Heights Observer. He asserts that “many qualified scholars” have questioned the veracity of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s work. I have searched many online sources to locate the “many” but have found only a few. Even those few, for the most part, do not question the entire project, just certain interpretations made by Hannah-Jones. The major dispute seems to be over the notion that we fought the Revolutionary War to maintain slavery. My understanding is that she reworked that section before her book was published. (However, I would note that a paragraph opposing slavery was omitted from the Declaration of Independence, an indication of the institution’s strong hold on the colonies.)

It is fascinating that Mr. Rapoport fears a “one-sided, biased, and ideological approach” in The 1619 Project. I took American History in high school and in college. The details presented by Hannah-Jones and many other scholars about the history of enslaved peoples and their descendants rarely, if ever, appeared in my textbooks or in lectures.

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Volume 15, Issue 3, Posted 1:53 PM, 02.28.2022

CH council infringes on landlords' rights

Almost the very last action taken in Cleveland Heights last year by city council was poorly conceived. It was an unwarranted infringement upon legal rights of private property owners. It was a misstep. It may prove a sign of worse yet to come.

In December, council enacted a “Tenant’s Right to Pay to Stay” ordinance. It was designed to benefit tenants with financial problems. It provided that, at any time prior to the filing of an action to evict for nonpayment of rent, a tenant shall have the right to pay the landlord all past due rent along with what it defined as “reasonable” late fees. If the tenant takes such action, or at least tenders money, the ordinance purports to give the tenant an affirmative defense against eviction. It claims to be justified by a public health crisis.

The ordinance was well intentioned. But council ignored the harm it will be doing to landlords.

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Volume 15, Issue 3, Posted 1:45 PM, 02.28.2022

The war on winter fun in the Heights

Wintertime is the best season, or at least it could be. With the cold and snow comes ice that is a terror on the roads, but a blessing on our ponds and lakes. One of the Heights' great traditions in the winter could have been ice skating between trees and snowbanks. However, the local government will do everything in its power to prevent you from indulging in the graces of a winter wonderland.

In early January, my friends and I (recent college graduates) attempted to play hockey on Lower Shaker Lake. We measured the ice to be 4 inches deep, so we began to shovel and put on skates. A man started yelling at us from the edge of the ice.

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Volume 15, Issue 3, Posted 11:30 AM, 02.28.2022

CH City Council should respect citizens' park initiative

Congratulations to Cleveland Heights residents for a successful exercise in democracy! We were able to gather 4,619 signatures (a Herculean task) in support of a public park on the 1.07 acres at the corner of Meadowbrook Boulevard and Lee Road. A sufficient number of the signatures were valid, so we can take the next step to place the initiative on the ballot.

Every one of those signatures required one person talking to another and explaining what the petition was about—so there were 4,619 conversations, and we shared lots of concerns and suggestions about our community and our local government. Democracy is a long hard slog; democracy always has been and always will be one person talking to another and getting a signature on a paper petition. Our initiative proves that if you care about something, you must act. Everyone who helped mattered, and everyone who acted owns this success.

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Volume 15, Issue 2, Posted 10:11 AM, 02.01.2022

An open letter to 'People for the Park' petition signers

To anyone who signed the “People for the Park” petition—I want to make sure you understand what you signed.

I believe this effort, championed by a small group of Cleveland Heights activists, is not really about trying to create another park on a commercially zoned piece of city-owned property in the middle of a business district located on a major traffic thoroughfare. I believe this is actually about trying to stop economic development and progress in our city. Here are some reasons why I believe this:

  • There is NO funding in city budgets for the creation, nor the maintenance, of a new park within the Cedar Lee district. It is relevant to note that FutureHeights has been seeking outside grants for years to bring a sustainable activity park to the city-owned Cedar-Lee Mini Park in the district. This new park the activists say they want would be a very expensive project—when you signed the petition, were you told how this park would be funded and maintained?
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Volume 15, Issue 2, Posted 10:04 AM, 02.01.2022

We need 'The 1619 Project'

In the January Heights Observer, Alan Rapoport wrote to tell us he is upset that Heights Libraries uses tax money to sponsor public seminars about The 1619 Project. He is concerned that this fosters “a one-sided, biased and ideological approach” that appears more authoritative than it actually is, and that, in dredging up the racial harms of the past, it “encourages the worst type of racial division.”

Mr. Rapoport has things backwards.     

I, too, am weary of so often having to hear that so much of American society is pervaded by racial antagonisms and tensions. But my weariness comes from the actual existence and continuation of these problems, not from efforts like The 1619 Project that may call attention to them.

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Volume 15, Issue 2, Posted 10:07 AM, 02.01.2022

Point-of-sale inspections are obsolete

After decades of experience, Cleveland Heights City Council should consider whether point-of-sale inspection of real property still makes sense.

In the early 1980s, I co-authored the Cleveland Heights ordinance, along with a past president of the Cleveland Area Board of Realtors who was a fellow council member. It incorporated best real estate practices. Its purpose was to incentivize the improvement of properties. A city inspection was required. If repairs were needed, the parties could negotiate some rebate to the buyer. The buyer then would purchase the property “as-is,” while receiving cash at closing to do repairs. It was a sensible arrangement.

Well-intentioned social engineers later changed the rules. The city now often demands money be withheld in escrow after closing, to be released only upon proof that repairs actually were completed.

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Volume 15, Issue 2, Posted 9:58 AM, 02.01.2022

A debrief of CH council candidates identifies city's top issues

There were 13 candidates running for Cleveland Heights City Council in 2021. Because most went door to door, and attended block parties and other civic events, I thought it might be instructive for us to get together and share our experiences in talking with residents. Maybe we could identify common issues/solutions, and share that information with our new mayor and city council.

Seven of the 13 candidates filled out a questionnaire, and five of us spoke via Zoom to expound on what we learned. What follows is a summary of the written and discussion responses from city council candidates Lee Barbee, Craig Cobb, Tony Cuda, Garry Kanter, Robert Koonce, Josie Moore and James Williams.

The top four issues that emerged in the candidates' responses are: housing, taxes (tied for second), crime/traffic violations (tied for second), lack from responsiveness from council and the city.

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Volume 15, Issue 1, Posted 11:06 AM, 01.01.2022

CH council should endorse democracy in filling vacancy

Congratulations to our newly elected Cleveland Heights mayor, Kahlil Seren, and to our newly elected CH City Council members. As our city transitions to a new form of government, with an elected mayor for the first time in its 100-year history, it will be for council and our first mayor to determine how that new form of government serves.  It might be helpful if, as part of this transition, council could operate at full strength.

With his election as mayor, Seren's seat on council will be vacated when he takes office in January. By ordinance it is now the task of council to appoint his replacement. 

When this last happened (2020) the process that unfolded was nothing short of an embarrassment for our city.

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Volume 15, Issue 1, Posted 11:17 AM, 01.01.2022

Taxpayers should not fund library's 1619 Project programs

I am concerned about the Cleveland Heights – University Heights Public Library System’s sponsorship of seminars on the history of race relations based on "The 1619 Project.”

Many qualified scholars believe The 1619 Project presents a highly questionable reading of history. They argue that it creates a false narrative out of racial grievance; and as a student of history, I agree with them. For this reason, I object to [Heights Libraries’] public seminar about The 1619 Project [presented] at taxpayer expense.  Such a seminar risks being a one-sided, biased, and ideological approach to an important social issue in a type of setting that makes that approach appear to many as more authoritative than it really is.

A library program on this subject cannot help but classify people based on the color of their skin rather than on the content of their character.

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Volume 15, Issue 1, Posted 11:24 AM, 01.01.2022

CH Mayor-elect Seren on election and government transition

Thank you, Cleveland Heights.

I am immensely grateful for the faith that you have placed in me, and acutely aware of the responsibility I’ve been given as the first mayor elected in Cleveland Heights.

It’s been about one month since one of the most consequential elections in our city’s history. Our community answered this historic question of leadership with resounding support for my candidacy. This support provided a clear mandate to govern and to lead our city through the necessary changes that make progress possible.

Our first mayoral election is over; now the work of creating an administration begins.

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Volume 14, Issue 12, Posted 4:10 PM, 12.01.2021

UH Mayor Brennan outlines his second-term agenda

In the November election, the voters of University Heights sent a message. They elected new and energetic council representation with diverse skills. And they gave me a decisive win, with more votes than I received four years ago. 

The residents of University Heights were given a clear choice. They chose for me to continue with my agenda of progress, sustainability, and redevelopment. They elected to city council people who support that agenda. With the new council, I look forward to resuming the people’s business and implementing our agenda.

Residents would seem to prefer that the mayor and council get along. But what they really care about is meaningful progress and action. Moving forward. Making University Heights an even greater place to live, work, and raise a family.

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Volume 14, Issue 12, Posted 4:08 PM, 12.01.2021

City urges public involvement in Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook process

The redevelopment of Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook has been a long time coming. In the past 15 years Cleveland Heights has adopted new zoning, included the redevelopment in the city’s Master Plan, and sought development partners more than once.

Earlier this year, CH City Council selected and engaged with Flaherty & Collins (the “Applicant”) to redevelop the site with a four-story, mixed-use development containing a mix of residential units, commercial, and green and gathering spaces (the “Project”). Since that time, there has been significant engagement with the community, including many community meetings and the creation of a dedicated project Web page, www.clevelandheights.com/clm.

In my discussions with various individuals over the past few months, there was uncertainty about the review and approval process, including the roles of various city boards.

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Volume 14, Issue 12, Posted 4:07 PM, 12.01.2021

Build the complex at Cedar Lee Meadowbrook

About the most ridiculous proposal during all my years of living in Cleveland Heights is for the building of yet another park on Lee Road, smack in the middle of what should be a vibrant district of shopping, restaurants, theater, and a public library! What a waste of prime property in a commercial zone! 

This has been my neighborhood for 36 years, and many pushing for the park don’t even live or work in the district. Besides the development complex’s long-term, great benefit for so many (prospective business owners, shoppers, residents), this is a personal issue for me, as I have grown extremely enthusiastic in the past 20 years about three mixed-use developments planned for the triangle, only to be devastated each time a plan dwindled down, then fizzled out altogether. How many times I’ve walked by that triangular wasteland and been disgusted—even uneasy when it’s dark. The flow of the entire district is spoiled.

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Volume 14, Issue 12, Posted 4:04 PM, 12.01.2021

Seeing the forest for the trees

Cleveland Heights has so many empty places where there ought to be large shade trees—as in our parks. Ever try sitting on a bench in the summer sun watching your child on playground equipment while baking uncomfortably because of a lack of shade? Not fun. This especially is strange in a city that has a tree in its logo.

Many large, old trees were lost in recent storms. Others, suffering from disease or pest infestation, have been taken down. New, large old trees do not just magically appear overnight. In olden days, our city cared about that. It planted trees that eventually would become big. Not dinky flowering trees, as on Fairmount Boulevard. And not sickly small trees, as on many of our tree lawns. Results often were quite visually striking. For instance, the view of large-growth trees as one drives down the Cedar Road hill toward University Circle is wonderful, especially as leaves turn color.

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Volume 14, Issue 12, Posted 4:06 PM, 12.01.2021

Councilwoman Russell Announces Bid for Council President

Cleveland Heights Residents! Thank you for putting your trust in me and re-electing me to Cleveland Heights City Council. I am truly humbled and honored to have earned your vote and your trust. I vow to work every day for the betterment of ALL of our residents, and to maintain the trust you all have placed in me.

On Nov. 15, I announced my interest in becoming president of CH City Council in 2022. I thank Council Member Melody Joy Hart, who asked me “to think about being council president" when she was running for mayor.

In my short time on council, many things have been accomplished for our city. To start, I made the 2020 Census a top priority, ensuring our city’s numbers were accurate so that we receive the government funding we deserve. Next, legislation was created, in conjunction with Council members Hart and Ungar, denoting systemic racism as a public health crisis, and a community Racial Justice Task Force was created to address this issue.

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Volume 14, Issue 12, Posted 2:07 PM, 11.23.2021

Reshaping Horseshoe Lake into a meadow is fantasy

A June 15 presentation by Frank Greenland of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD), “Shaker Lakes: Review and recommendations” (available online at https://bit.ly/3FYmaMb), contains a proposal for re-shaping the bed of Horseshoe Lake (slide 27). The slide suggests replacing the lakebed with two streams meandering between tree-lined banks in a meadow. It’s a very appealing picture. I’ve heard others describe this scene as, “the natural beauty that was here before the Shakers arrived.”

Doubtless, engineers and landscape architects can design such a place, and bulldozers can construct it. But physics will not abide it for long.

I’m no geologist. What I’m saying here isn’t authoritative. But if the questions I raise have any validity, they could remove from the debate the idea that Horseshoe Lake’s bed could ever be a park-like sanctuary.

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 11:14 AM, 10.29.2021

Reaching Heights declares anti-racism is its top priority

I run Reaching Heights, a small nonprofit that connects the community to the public schools in Cleveland Heights and University Heights, through information, programs and events. Ideally, all that we do also enriches students, supports school staff, and encourages people to value the students in our schools, and appreciate public education.

Like many organizations, Reaching Heights responded with an anti-racism statement to the horror of George Floyd’s murder by police. We knew that a statement was not enough, and chose to spend much of 2020 and 2021 working internally on anti-racism within our organization.

We added anti-racism training to each of our monthly board meetings, and offered the Racial Equity Institute’s Groundwater training to our staff and board. We collaborated with five other local nonprofits to hold the anti-racism event “Heights Conversations: Let’s Talk About Race.”

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 11:18 AM, 10.29.2021

There's trouble at Top of the Hill

In late 2019 and early 2020 I wrote several opinions, published in the Heights Observer, [in which I] promoted the Top of Hill (TOH) project, and debunked [objections to it]. In February 2020, I attended a meeting at CH City Hall and watched as many people spoke out against the project, and a few spoke for it.

Now, Cleveland Heights citizens are treated to a YouTube video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF4gueOlnAA&feature=share ) showing a waterfall within the TOH parking garage, and poor drainage, after a recent heavy rain.

After I saw this on Facebook, I visited the TOH parking garage and asked a construction worker about what was shown [in the video]. “It wasn’t a leak,” he said. “It was a waterfall.” Asked if this was normal, he said, “This is not normal.”

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 11:20 AM, 10.29.2021

Meadowbrook-Lee project should be reassessed

When People for the Park asks Cleveland Heights voters to sign our petition—to put on the ballot in May that the city build a park on the 1.07 acres of city-owned property on Lee Road between Tullamore Road and Meadowbrook Boulevard—we hear lots of reasons why people support it.

After hearing Don King speak at the Cleveland Heights City Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 4, we all have another reason to support the park. King lives at Buckingham Condominiums, right next to the Top of the Hill (TOH) project. At the meeting, he talked about two problems with the developer and the TOH buildings. One was the developer’s unwillingness to move the private dog park [away] from the entrance of the Buckingham. The other was the water leaking in the new TOH garage, and the lack of response to the leaking. (You can view his comments in the video of the council meeting, at https://youtu.be/U2_Jkasv8NQ?t=9264. He speaks at the 2:34:23 time mark.)

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 10:58 AM, 10.29.2021

Horseshoe Lake saved my soul

We in the Heights are grieving the possible loss of Horseshoe Lake. What can be measured, folded, and placed neatly in a box are environmental, stormwater management, and financial concerns. Quantifying what has served for years as a pillar of human spiritual sustenance is not so easy.

Since moving back to Shaker Heights, from Pittsburgh, 20-some years ago, Horseshoe Lake has served as my spiritual source—a place of indescribable respite, tranquility, and beauty. When I decided to address my alcoholism, Horseshoe Lake saved me. Teetering on the edge of spiritual death, I returned to Horseshoe Lake daily, filling up my cup—figuratively speaking—each visit, so that I could face one more day. Later, sober and with young daughters, I would walk to Horseshoe Lake, finding peace as a confused and harried working mom. Courage to go another day. This place helped me do that. Over and over, for two decades.

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 11:00 AM, 10.29.2021

Sometimes a park isn't just a park

On Nov. 2, Cleveland Heights voters will elect a mayor for the first time in a century. Issue 26, which gave residents the ability to decide whether they wanted to elect a mayor, was the first step in replacing an appointed city manager, accountable only to seven city council members, with a leader who is directly accountable to voters. 

An elected-mayor form of government, on its own, will not guarantee the outcomes we desire. We must continue to erode the power that small networks of privileged stakeholders wield over the rest of us, which they use to impose narrow visions of growth and well-being onto the physical landscape that we inhabit.

A growing association of residents is circulating a petition calling for the creation of a park at the corner of Lee and Meadowbrook, instead of new commercial space and apartments for “professionals . . . looking for a luxury living experience” (as described in the city’s RFQ/RFP for the site).

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 10:55 AM, 10.29.2021

One road, three cities

A few years ago, my commute from the Cedar Fairmount neighborhood did a "180," from downtown to Mayfield Heights—a straight shot up Cedar Road.

I soon noticed a stark difference in conditions once you cross Green Road and enter Beachwood. I realize that Beachwood enjoys newer infrastructure and a tax base boosted by a robust business community; that said, much of the difference in conditions can be attributed to the example the city sets maintaining its own properties, and the standard it holds its residents to.

I realize that not every [Heights] property owner has the means to keep their property in tip-top shape, but I'm talking about the basics here.

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 11:16 AM, 10.29.2021

Remember 'Just Say NO To Political Deals'?

Hard to believe, but things have gotten even nastier in just the two years since that negative ballot issue campaign, brought to us from the city council funded anti-elected mayor campaign and their $25,000 donor corporate lobbyist partners.

I was the one who discover the $25,000 lobbyist money via a public records request. Which actually became $30,000.

And with my help, they lost by nearly 2:1.

Let's all send that same message in 2021, and not support any candidates who rely on hate and misinformation.

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 10:20 AM, 10.26.2021

Give the outsiders a chance

One of our neighbors thought it was strange to see the bipartisan collection of signs in our front yard. I think it shows that democracy is alive, and we need to put aside party affiliations to support the best candidates. 

I am favoring the outsiders on Nov. 2.  I am supporting candidates who will bring new ideas and energy to Cleveland Heights. I’ll leave it to others to praise current incumbents, but I think we need some significant changes or we will certainly get more of the same, and probably much less.

Starting with mayoral candidate Barbara Danforth, her sign was the first in our yard. Her campaign people noticed that I had agreed with her online (Nextdoor), and offered us a sign. For the next sign, I actually worked with Tony Cuda on the popular transition to an elected mayor, so I was happy to support him.

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 10:19 AM, 10.26.2021