Opinion

TOH critics not to blame for delay

After sitting through the final CH City Council meeting on the topic of Top of the Hill (TOH), on Feb. 18, I found it unfortunate that critics of the project were being blamed for how long it has taken for TOH to happen.

Was it critics who selected a prominent local developer with a history of quality projects, and then could not come to an agreement with the developer? No, that was the city of Cleveland Heights. Was it critics who orchestrated a Potemkin Village of "public engagement,” and then ignored that input? No, it was the city. Was it critics who crafted a poor design and submitted incomplete drawings to the Architectural Board of Review (ABR), drawing out the process? No, it was the developer. Was it critics who failed to conduct any sort of market survey, showing how this project will be a catalyst for the entire city, and post all relevant material on the city’s website? No, it was the city. Was it critics who failed to develop this site over the last 25 years and—by the way—are now on their third (or is it fourth?) developer at Lee and Meadowbrook? No, it was the city.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 9:10 AM, 03.11.2020

LWV Heights chapter endorses school levy Issue 26

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Greater Cleveland endorses passage of Issue 26, a proposed tax levy for current expenses of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District. 

Policies recently enacted by the Ohio state government have created a sudden financial crisis for our local public schools. Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program—which is based on school ratings using questionable testing practices and dated testing information—was expanded to affect more schools, and to provide vouchers to private-school students who had never attended public schools.

The state’s practice of paying for EdChoice vouchers through deductions from affected districts’ state aid, the unexpected inclusion of Heights High on the EdChoice school list, and the expansion of EdChoice eligibility to private school students with no prior connection to the public schools precluded the district’s ability to plan for the near-term financial impact of this program.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 11:32 AM, 03.09.2020

Smarter state policy would bring equality in education and taxation

Here comes another school levy. Here come the same letters and arguments we’ve heard over the past 20 or 30 years. And here comes the aftermath of the vote, with a small majority of voters relieved, and a large minority discouraged but determined to try again. This same drama has played out over and over for decades, with the local actors stuck playing roles defined by a tired old script. What would it take to change this predictable and unsatisfying plot?

Let’s set aside for the moment the effect of school vouchers siphoning off local school funding, or whether we think teachers and administrators are overpaid. Even without those factors, there is a kind of triple whammy with taxes and schools in a place like Cleveland Heights:

One, for any given amount the CH-UH district spends per student, that given amount will be a higher percentage of property value (thus a higher tax rate) compared to the Solons and Beachwoods of the world, because the average home in the CH-UH area costs less and thus is a shallower well for revenue generation.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 10:57 AM, 02.28.2020

TOH is a cautionary tale for future CH development

The city of Cleveland Heights passed an ordinance in December 2018 approving the purchase of a property on Euclid Heights Boulevard, to be added to the Top of the Hill (TOH) site. The city authorized Liberty Development—a partner of Flaherty & Collins (F&C), the main TOH developer—to buy the property from the owners, then turn it over to F&C, who would then sell it to the city for no more than the property’s purchase price, plus closing and due diligence fees.

The maximum amount the city authorized Liberty to pay for the property—known as the “Green House”—was $395,000. The actual total came to about $311,000 (the purchase price, plus closing and due diligence fees), yet the city paid $369,000.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 10:30 AM, 02.28.2020

We support CH-UH schools and the levy

We wanted to share our thoughts on the CH-UH school district, having lived in the Heights for over 25 years. I [Jeff] grew up in Shaker Heights and Susan traces her Heights’ roots back to the class of ’36 when her grandfather, Eric Knudson, graduated from Heights High. 

You may question how we compare to other schools, public and private, in the area. We challenge you to look at the universities our graduating students attend, examine the number of National Merit Scholars, and study the amount of educational scholarships that are awarded. Our schools do a wonderful job preparing our children to become productive members of society.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:37 AM, 02.28.2020

What happens if the school levy fails on March 17?

[If the tax levy fails on March 17,] for all of us who do support public education, the CH-UH school board will still have $100 million-plus high school building debt, and a budget in excess of $110 million to educate the roughly 5,000 students who come to school. (We have 20-percent chronic absenteeism.)

After adjustments in state formula funding (including EdChoice scholarships), the school board will still spend $20,000 per pupil, compared to $15,000 at “similar districts,” and to the $12,000 statewide average. District salaries for teachers, administrators and staff will still be at the top of the range in almost all categories, and fringe benefits will still add 49 percent on top of salaries.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:30 AM, 02.28.2020

Parent wishes she'd used Heights school sooner

When my son was ready for kindergarten, I looked at the school report card and, like many, decided that I would never send my son to Heights schools. After a long search, I enrolled him in a charter school where we had one problem after another. I felt like his teacher had written him off after just two months in class. She only listed problems without ever giving solutions. I felt like I was failing my son—the worst feeling in the world. 

After another year of poor (or nonexistent!) communication and the school constantly switching my son’s classroom, I was fed up! They made me feel like he was unable to learn, and I just didn’t believe that. 

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 10:08 AM, 02.28.2020

School levy threatens Tiger Nation

Voting for Issue 26, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights 7.9 mill school levy, will put our Tiger Nation on the list of endangered species.

In years past, it was unthinkable for anyone in my family to vote against a school levy. My husband spent his career as a Cleveland Heights elementary school principal. I was the Beachwood Schools communications coordinator for two decades. My sister taught at Shaker High. Our four children are Heights High graduates, and one became a school psychologist. We believed, and still do, in public education.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:34 AM, 02.28.2020

Issue 26 is symptom of larger problem

Voting against Issue 26 doesn’t mean that we don’t support our schools, nor that we don’t love our community. Voting against Issue 26 at this time will help ensure a bright future for the Heights. The CH-UH Board of Education (BOE) prefers to ask for more money before making a substantial effort to cut expenses. Furthermore, the state of Ohio has yet to determine the future of the voucher program for 2020, and to request a tax increase at this time is entirely premature.  

The BOE threatens that vouchers are robbing the public system to pay for the various school alternatives. The reality is that the impact of vouchers is minimal compared to poor budgeting and overspending by the BOE. [In its] own publications, the BOE cites it has cut $750,000 from its annual budget.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:56 AM, 02.28.2020

Public education and citizenship

Public education creates citizens. A public education is the most powerful, positive and transformative relationship a person will have with any government activity. It is the beating heartbeat of every community. The public education heartbeat of Cleveland Heights and University Heights is weak. This weakness is not from a lack of money, inadequate buildings, or poor teaching. It weakened over years, the consequence of the community’s diverging perception of its reality with the reality of many students in CH-UH schools.

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 11:17 AM, 02.10.2020

Flower power

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love. To quote Joyce, “love loves to love love.” Loving one’s partner, loving one’s grandmother, loving one’s self is a beautiful thing. And [people] can show their overabundant feelings for one another, or themselves, through a simple and economical token—flowers.

Flowers are great and definitely not overrated. They are perfect for any occasion, and more often than not look beautiful in any setting, involve little work (on the consumer’s end, at least), and often support local businesses such as nurseries and gardens.

But beware. Some are particular about the various kinds of flowers. It is essential to know what particular connotations a flower may have to a beloved friend or significant other.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 11:18 AM, 02.10.2020

University Heights passes Move to Amend Resolution

On Dec. 16, University Heights City Council unanimously approved Resolution 2019-70, “Calling on Congress to Amend The United States Constitution to Establish that Corporations are not People and Money is not Speech.”

Both of these constitutional doctrines—political money as free speech, and corporations are persons—have caused tremendous harm to people, to communities, and to democracy itself.

Move to Amend [seeks to reduce] the negative influence of big money on elections, [and to] reverse the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, [via] a constitutional amendment [that would end] corporate personhood and money as free speech.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 11:18 AM, 02.10.2020

CH-UH taxpayers don't slack in supporting our schools

The state of Ohio calculates a “local tax effort index” for each school district in the state, using a four-part formula (read the description of Item 39 at the Ohio Dept. of Education District Profile link below, for more information). The purpose of this measure is to assess how much effort the local community is putting into supporting its schools, in the context of residents’ ability to pay, measured by income. The state average is used as a baseline (set equal to 1.0000), so that every school district’s effort can be compared to the statewide average.

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights local tax effort index is 1.4567 for FY 2019, according to the district's profile. This data shows that we (CH-UH) are making a substantially greater effort to support our schools (given our income) than the state average as a whole (1.0000), and in comparison to “similar districts” (local tax effort: 1.2036) as defined by the state.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:13 PM, 02.01.2020

CH-UH schools are the foundation of our cities

We are rebuilding University Heights. After years of hearing it can’t be done, we’re redeveloping University Square. We are building new houses and townhomes. We have added bike lanes, improved our housing stock, rebranded our city, and worked together to build a sense of community through events such as Fall Fest, our revamped summer concert series, and our inaugural City Beautiful 5K run.

But the foundation of any successful city is a successful public school district. University Heights was established on the foundational strength of educational opportunities. We need to protect our foundation on March 17, by voting Yes on the CH-UH school levy.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:00 PM, 02.01.2020

TOH revenue bonds: more deceit and giveaways

CH city staff and some council members are determined to build the Top of the Hill (TOH) project regardless of the financial consequences to the city. Until now, the primary financial issues have been the loss of city revenues. However, now the city is trying to issue debt to pay for some of the costs of the project. The debt is being justified because all TIF developers ask for and receive financial commitments from governments as a show of good faith in a project.

In December 2018, CH City Council authorized giving $1.8 million to the TOH developer, Flaherty & Collins, to help it get a construction loan. At that time, the city finance director certified that the money was in the city treasury; it was not. So the city spent the last year unsuccessfully looking for outside funding. And it still could not find treasury money.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:31 PM, 02.01.2020

TOH 2016 to 2020: What has been lost?

In 2016, when interviewed by the city, developer Flaherty & Collins (F&C) presented to CH City Council the idea of an iconic development and community gathering place [for Top of the Hill (TOH)].

In April 2018, the signed development agreement stipulated 20 for-sale town homes (now gone from the plan), a five-story height maximum (gone), Port Authority financing (not chosen because it required prevailing wages), public gathering and green space (gone, with the nominal exception of a small knoll, intersected by a retaining wall, west of Nighttown).

F&C has been skilled in leading our city's project leaders down the primrose path ending in maximum monetization of a highly desirable 4-acre site.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:36 PM, 02.01.2020

Development without tax abatement isn't realistic

In a January 2020 opinion published in the Heights Observer, Cleveland Heights resident Joan Mallick advocated that CH City Council not approve the final “financial subsidies” required for the Top of the Hill (TOH) project to proceed.

According to Mallick, among the costs to the city that TOH would incur is a tax rebate of $1.2 million a year for a total of $36 million over 30 years, part of a total cost to the city of $43,970,000. She estimated a net loss to Cleveland Heights of $23,719,700 over 30 years.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:33 PM, 02.01.2020

Support our children and our community

The first time I took part in a school levy campaign, I was a toddler and my mom was holding a neighborhood meeting in support of the levy in our backyard on Bradford Road. From the time I could walk, I was knocking on doors and handing out literature in support of the levy.

My mom, a graduate of Cleveland Heights High School herself, impressed on me from an early age how deeply important it is that public education be free and excellent, and how crucial our public school system is for the health and strength of our community.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:04 PM, 02.01.2020

How Heights public schools shaped me

Have you spent time at Heights High in the past 10 years? I mean really spent time there—no meetings, no walk throughs, no stories on the news. The answer is probably not.

I spent every day of my life there from 2014–18, and every day of my life before that at Roxboro Middle School, and before that at Fairfax Elementary School. So, when I say that going to Cleveland Heights public schools was the best decision my parents could have ever made for me, I know what I am talking about.

I learned so much more at those schools than I could have anywhere else. I learned about cultures from all over the world from my peers, and how to be a brave and confident performer in countless well-produced concerts.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:06 PM, 02.01.2020

Neighbors' kindness inspires

Christmas 2019 has come and gone, but our family has a memory that will linger on. At 96, I can recall many past Christmases, but this memory stands out because it so beautifully expressed that true meaning of the season that we all seek, but that so often gets lost in our flurry of decorations, wrapping paper and tinsel.

I live with my granddaughter and her husband in University Heights. Two days before Christmas, they were rushing around the house, preoccupied with last-minute preparations for the big event. The doorbell rang, and we all wondered who or what was interrupting our Christmas “busyness.”

When my granddaughter opened the door, we were anticipating a plea for donations to a charity. Instead, before us stood two of our neighbors’ very young children.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 12:02 PM, 02.01.2020

Out-of-control school spending is destroying the Heights

The CH-UH school district spends money at astronomically high levels, and it’s devastating our community. The district’s budget shows that it plans to spend $615 million over the next five years. That is $200 million to $250 million more than every other comparable district in Greater Cleveland—other than Shaker; we are “only” spending $80 million more than them.

Do you have the income to pay more than $72,000 in property taxes, the highest rate in Ohio, on your $130,000 home over the next 12 years, or $132,000 on your $130,000 home over the next 20 years? This is what is coming down the pike if we don’t dramatically change course.

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:54 AM, 01.03.2020

TOH project uses doublespeak

Doublespeak, according to Wikipedia, is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.

Here in Cleveland Heights we're told that Top of the Hill (TOH) will provide luxury apartments. Examples of luxury are difficult to pick out, because the architectural drawings that have been provided to citizens are missing critical pages, and the pages that have been provided frequently lack detail. The developer says the lane between the tower building and the garage will be “stamped asphalt.” Stamped asphalt seems cheap. How can cheap be luxury?

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:52 AM, 01.03.2020

Empty nesters should flock to TOH

I’m pleased to learn that Cleveland Heights City Council, by a 6-1 vote, approved [what I understand to be] the proposed $84-million, 10-story Top of the Hill (TOH) project with 275 market-rate luxury apartments.

When I moved to Cleveland Heights in 1966, I lived near an eight-story brick building facing Cedar Road west of Fairmount Boulevard, a former apartment house that served as Doctors’ Hospital. Someone, I don’t recall who, startled me by saying, “Don’t go to that hospital. It is a bad hospital!”

Eventually Doctors' Hospital moved to Mayfield Heights, and now is Hillcrest Hospital, part of the Cleveland Clinic. From what I can tell, it is a good hospital. The former hospital site, however, has been a parking lot ever since.

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:46 AM, 01.03.2020

Requiem for responsible development in CH

Barring a miracle, CH City Council will pass financial legislation this month that will allow construction to begin on the Top of the Hill (TOH) project. This legislation will complete the package of financial transactions associated with the project. The city has yet to produce a comprehensive financial statement indicating revenues and costs to the city for TOH. At public meetings, city representatives discuss revenues but never costs. I searched council minutes, legislation, and TOH contracts to calculate the revenues and costs shown below. They show that TOH will be a major, long-term drain on city finances.

Total estimated revenues to CH over 30-year term of agreement: $20,250,300           

  • Land lease at $10/year: $300
  • Payment by developer in lieu of taxes (tax rebate) to schools of $400,000 per year: $12 million
  • Payroll taxes of new residents and employees of $275,000 per year: $8.250 million
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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:38 AM, 01.03.2020

Lake Erie Ink inspires growth

Just a few months after I graduated from college in 2018, I sat down for an interview with Amy Rosenbluth at Lake Erie Ink (LEI). I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but Amy listened to my ramblings and half-assured statements about my qualifications. I had experience as a writing tutor, working with children, and being a member of a team. I had never stood in front of a classroom or created a lesson plan. Instead of that being a problem, [Amy presented it] to me as an opportunity—a way to expand my professional skills. With each question, I replied with, “Sure, I could do that.” LEI seemed to fit my assortment of interests and proposed a new challenge, so I dove in.

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 9:30 AM, 01.03.2020

Beyond race, CH marketing video remains problematic

I have no doubt that the Cleveland Heights marketing department now has an understanding that race was mistakenly misrepresented in its initial marketing video. While the marketing staff is bound to fix it, it was unfortunate, and certainly preventable.

I have a profound concern that the original video failed for a second, and entirely different, reason, and I’m concerned that, for likely contractual reasons, it will not be fixed on the second go-round.

The video’s stagnant camera work, the rigidly scripted "older" voice of the voice-over talent, the editing, and music were ‘80s old-school and corporate in approach.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 4:55 PM, 12.02.2019

A modest proposal to participate in CH redevelopment

After presenting many rejected concerns about Top of the Hill (TOH) [to the city], I realize that it’s time to stop resisting and join the city in its redevelopment efforts. I’m offering the city a proposal: instead of selling my 100-year-old house, I will stay in Cleveland Heights and convert it and the house next door into a high-density, mixed-use residential property including a restaurant. In return, I expect the city to grant me the same financial and other assistance it gave to the Indiana-based developers for TOH.

My credentials are that I’ve lived in my house for 40 years, restored the interior to its original condition and added amenities, including a second-floor enclosed porch and a formal garden. I have successfully developed and sold property in Novelty, Ohio and Sedona, Ariz. Unlike the TOH developers, I know that the main road is called Cedar Road, not Cedar Street.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 4:45 PM, 12.02.2019

Top of the Hillóbottom of city council

For the last six issues of the Heights Observer, there have been two major subjects addressed in its pages—the first, the CH elected mayor and new council members; and the second, the Top of the Hill (TOH) development project at Cedar Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard. We have been relieved, after an election, of the first issue—and the right thing happened at the polls.

The second issue, not subject to election, or any other visible means of effective citizen response has, after nearly 40 meetings, and approaching 50 years, not been relieved, and portends even further absence of relief.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 4:38 PM, 12.02.2019

CEM says 'thank you, letís work together'

Cleveland Heights voters made history on Nov. 5, 2019. They voted—by a majority in every precinct across the city—to transform a nearly 100-year-old council-manager system to an elected-mayor form of government they believe will be more accountable to the voters.

They said they want a mayor who will spend full time leading Cleveland Heights in a new way to address our challenges and maximize our assets—a mayor who will be our voice across the region and state.

Now that voters have spoken, we need to pull together and make the transition as one community: city council, the administration, city employees and citizens need to collaborate to transform our government into one that is truly representative of the voters’ decision.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 10:09 AM, 11.26.2019

2019 Heights Observer Holiday Gift Guide: For the person who has it all

Find something for everyone on your list at the many independent merchants in the Heights. Most will gift wrap or ship your items, too.

For the month of December, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the city of Cleveland Heights is offering free parking in each of its business districts—one more incentive to visit the brick and mortar stores featured in the Gift Guide and beyond. 

Here are some of our favorites:

Pharaoh cylinders, a relaxation and meditation tool. ($60.00 to $350.00, Cleveland Rocks and Beads)

“Wind Breaks Over the Marsh.” Collector’s edition of 10; 24” by 16”. Archival pigment ink print on watercolor paper depicts winter in Northeast Ohio. ($895.00, Still Point Gallery & Boutique)  

Two Tickets to an upcoming Speakeasy Cocktail Class. ($80.00 plus tax, Quintanta’s Barber, Dream Spa and Speakeasy)

“Untitled 1”, framed embroidery by Katie Mongoven. ($920.00, Heights Arts)

French Macaron. ($2.00 each, Luna Bakery & Cafe) 

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 3:17 PM, 11.01.2019

2019 Heights Observer Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts more than $150.00

Find something for everyone on your list at the many independent merchants in the Heights. Most will gift wrap or ship your items, too.

For the month of December, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the city of Cleveland Heights is offering free parking in each of its business districts—one more incentive to visit the brick and mortar stores featured in the Gift Guide and beyond. 

Here are some of our favorites:

Natural amethyst point. ($520.00, Cleveland Rocks and Beads)

Necklace, Julie Cohn Design. Lapiz stone and bronze. ($495.00, Still Point Gallery & Boutique)

Tall serving bowl by Amy Halko. ($175.00, Heights Arts)

Italian leather handbag. ($175.00, Jubilee Gifts)

A gift certificate for an Aveda Signature Dream Ritual Package. Includes a 50 minute Aveda Customized Facial, 50 minute Swedish Relaxation Massage, Signature Manicure, and Dream Pedicure. (Quintana’s Barber and Dream Spa)

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 3:16 PM, 11.01.2019

2019 Heights Observer Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts from $50.00 to $150.00

Find something for everyone on your list at the many independent merchants in the Heights. Most will gift wrap or ship your items, too.

For the month of December, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the city of Cleveland Heights is offering free parking in each of its business districts—one more incentive to visit the brick and mortar stores featured in the Gift Guide and beyond. 

Here are some of our favorites:

“KongZilla.” ($65.00, Blank Canvas CLE)

Crocheted necklace. ($150.00 or learn to make your own for $35.00 plus the cost of materials, Cleveland Rocks and Beads)

Incense and ceramic hand holder. Made by Astier de Villatte from Paris. (Incense $50.00, ceramic hand holder $135.00, Still Point Gallery & Boutique)

Wine Spot customizable gift baskets featuring wine, craft beer, and locally-produced products. ($50.00 and up, The Wine Spot)

Aveda Rosemary Mint Hand and Body Wash. ($73.00, Quintana’s Barber and Dream Spa)

Framed print by Joan Lederer. ($75.00, Heights Arts)

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 3:14 PM, 11.01.2019

2019 Heights Observer Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts less than $50.00

Find something for everyone on your list at the many independent merchants in the Heights. Most will gift wrap or ship your items, too.

For the month of December, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the city of Cleveland Heights is offering free parking in each of its business districts—one more incentive to visit the brick and mortar stores featured in the Gift Guide and beyond. 

Here are some of our favorites:

“Welcome to Cleveland' coaster. ($20.00, Blank Canvas CLE)

Carved shungite pendants. ($24.00, Cleveland Rocks and Beads)

Tresi necklaces with variety of stones. ($38.00 each, Still Point Gallery & Boutique)

Mariposa frames. ($49.00, Jubilee Gifts)

Aveda Men’s Pure-Formance Grooming Clay. ($26.00, Quintana’s Barber and Dream Spa)

Red glass bird by Sue Berry. ($25.00, Heights Arts)

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 3:13 PM, 11.01.2019

What happens after the Issue 26 vote?

My wife and I moved to Cleveland Heights in August 2016, returning to Greater Cleveland after moving back and forth to Toronto on and off for about five years. (The company I work for moved me to Toronto several times on expat assignments.) This was difficult for my wife and I, but we made it work. When we moved back the last time, we were ready to settle down, find a home, and raise a family. We had several ideas of where we wanted to be but didn’t know exactly where that was. We wanted to be within the inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland as we both work in the city, but more importantly, we wanted to move somewhere that was conducive to raising a family, where you could feel the history when you drove through the city, somewhere that was walkable, and into a community that shared similar values.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 11:01 AM, 11.01.2019

Issue 26 is about competing in an ever-faster-paced future

Did you hear about that one guy who moved to Cleveland Heights because he wanted to live under a council-manager government? You didn’t because he doesn’t exist. There are lots of things that make Cleveland Heights special. Our plodding and dour system of municipal governance is the least of our appeal.

Cleveland Heights is blessed with innate advantages in terms of layout, housing stock and location. And yet we continue to be saddled with a seemingly incurable case of hidden-gem status, living in a self-imposed state of suspended animation, paralyzed at times by denial, fear and nostalgia. A “no” vote on Issue 26 is a vote to continue waiting around to be discovered.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:54 AM, 11.01.2019

TOH doesn't meet city's own stated goals

After many months of presentations, discussion and review, the developer, Flaherty & Collins (F&C), has revealed the fundamental architectural failure of the now-approved Top of the Hill (TOH) design.

From the TOH page of the city’s website, dated July 2, 2019:

“Goals Established for the Project: The Developer and the City seek to collaboratively create a signature mixed use destination district that serves as a gateway to the City and a link between the City and the adjacent University Circle area of Cleveland. The City’s goal is that the development of the Project Site shall, at a minimum:

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:44 AM, 11.01.2019

City fails community on TOH

Concerns expressed at Top of the Hill (TOH) Architectural Board of Review (ABR)  meetings have been ignored. At the Feb. 6 meeting, I represented the Historic Resources Committee of the American Institute of Architects Cleveland Chapter (AIACLE) and observed that the project, as designed, fails to follow any of the guidelines for new construction in a historic district. The project is fundamentally unchanged from that original design.

The U.S. Department of the Interior states that new construction in a historic district should “be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.”

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:42 AM, 11.01.2019

TOH process demonstrates city's lack of leadership and response

A change in the structure of Cleveland Heights city government is urgently needed for three reasons: the current council-manager structure does not provide leadership, transparency, or responsiveness to the citizens of Cleveland Heights.

Until recently, I thought our council-manager form of government was working fine. However, participating in the public meetings about Top of the Hill (TOH) changed my mind. After attending several meetings, I decided that the proposed TOH apartment project was ill-conceived, unattractive, and inappropriate to the Cedar-Fairmount neighborhood. But I was more dismayed by how the city related to the public during these meetings.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:49 AM, 11.01.2019

Noble corridor plan is not noble

The Noble Road Corridor Plan focuses not on Noble Road but instead functions as an extension of the city of Cleveland Heights’ Mayfield Road Corridor Plan.

For more than 50 years city leaders have not invested in or allocated city resources in an equitable way to the north side of the city. Numerous past city plans imply this, beginning with the 1976 Nine-Point Plan, which, among other goals, aimed to prevent re-segregation.

This time city leaders state Noble Road will not receive any city resources or investment until the area “stabilizes.”

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:28 AM, 11.01.2019

View from the bench: Bail reform

The Cleveland Heights Municipal Court is making dramatic changes to its bond schedule based on recommendations from a task force created by the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. The new schedule gives me more discretion in setting cash bail, putting fewer non-violent defendants in jail while awaiting trial. It's fairer and saves taxpayers money.

A person arrested will now be released on personal bond (a signed promise they will show up in court) unless charged with certain offenses, or where the prosecutor or police request a bond.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:09 AM, 11.01.2019

Reasons to fear a change

As an opponent of Issue 26, I fear what will happen if it passes and we lose our special system of local government.

I am afraid our current city manager will quit if she considers passage a vote of “no confidence.” City services have been good during her tenure. She deserves credit for that. During recent bad storms, she personally knocked on doors to make sure our fellow residents were safe. It would be good if she still is here when the next crisis happens.

I am afraid other high-level administrators will quit.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:58 PM, 10.30.2019

Reject the fear of voters

The current “NO on 26” campaign delivers a single message: “Don’t trust the voters.”

This distrust and fear of the voters was actually the genesis of the council-manager form of local government in the early 20th century, when establishment leaders reacted with horror to the prospect of universal suffrage.  It was a brilliant way to dilute the power of the electorate and keep those pesky voters away from government as much as possible.

I think a balance of power between the executive and legislative bodies in Cleveland Heights will be good for the city.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:53 PM, 10.30.2019

Yes on Issue 26 puts us in charge

Cleveland Heights is about to make history on Nov. 5. This is the first time in almost 100 years that our citizens have had the opportunity to decide how they want to be governed. This opportunity was provided by 10 ordinary citizens who formed a committee and started a petition drive by gathering 4,000 signatures (with a lot of help from volunteers) to put Issue 26 on the ballot.

Our committee of concerned citizens calls itself Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM); very simple, and self-explanatory. We wanted the voters of Cleveland Heights to be clear on two things:

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:51 PM, 10.30.2019

Whom should voters trust?

The campaign being waged in Cleveland Heights to discard our professional chief executive (city manager) in favor of a political mayor comes down to this: Trust us, it will be better. Why such a weak position? Because despite repeated challenges to make an evidence-based case, the proponents have never demonstrated that the daily circumstances of our residents would be safer, more prosperous, less taxed, or otherwise better under their replacement system. Hence there is only, "Trust Us."

Even if a position of this sort might ever work, it could only be when its proponents show worthiness of trust. Just the opposite has happened here. Here are two significant examples:  

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:41 PM, 10.30.2019

Power sharing is the opposite of power concentration

As a volunteer for Citizens for an Elected Mayor, I started out collecting signatures on the initiative petition and I now knock on doors—literally knock on them, because rare is the house with a working bell. I’m long retired, and while the walking is good for me, all this knocking is bad for my hands. But I keep doing it because I believe power sharing in government is a good thing, and the concentration of all political power in just one branch of government—as is currently the case in Cleveland Heights, where all power is vested in the legislative branch—is a not-so-good thing.

I have always thought of Issue 26 as a power-sharing ballot issue. Its passage would change our government so that political power is shared between the legislative branch (where all of it currently resides) and an executive branch.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:55 PM, 10.30.2019

CH government 'ain't broke'

Today there is a push to change the form of government for Cleveland Heights. I have lived in Cleveland Heights since about 1967. While attending Case, I rented an apartment in Coventry. After getting married, my wife and I bought a house near Severance center. Our children went to the Heights schools and graduated from Heights High. I have seen a lot of changes in this area over the years. Most of the changes made by the government have been for the good. I am not in favor of making any changes in government. I do not see where a change will affect any of our problems.

With the idea of “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” I have tried to think of what is broke. My trash gets picked up every Wednesday (not broke). The police do a good job of keeping us in line (not broke).

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:36 PM, 10.30.2019

Supporting Democracy by supporting Issue 26

Of late I’ve been re-reading The Federalist Papers, the essays written in 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay “to decide the important question, whether societies of men [sic] are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice.” I wanted to understand more deeply how our founders discussed the exercise in democracy they were launching—what they thought of its scope, its limitations, its benefits, its challenges.

We’re going through something like that original debate right now in Cleveland Heights. It’s not nearly as consequential as The Federalist Papers disputes, but our debate has been similarly passionate, widespread and fundamental.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:40 PM, 10.30.2019

Keep Cleveland Heights cooperative

If you ask folks what they like about Cleveland Heights, they almost always mention “the people.” We are a diverse, open, welcoming community.

At the core of that positive attitude is our form of government. About 100 years ago, the city chose to adopt a progressive, new form of government that was designed to prevent corruption and foster cooperation. It’s no coincidence its goodwill has spread throughout our community, like the trees that line our streets. That’s Cleveland Heights.

Our current council-manager form of government requires at least four members of our seven-person city council to agree with an idea before it moves forward to a professional city manager they control.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:31 PM, 10.30.2019

Does a campaign of "Say NO to Political Deals" build community?

A quorum of city council and the Washington D.C. city-manager lobby are spending $50,000 to promote "Say NO To Political Deals."

[They are doing so] for no reason other than to defeat the grassroots citizen-initiated (4,000+ petition signatures) Elected Mayor charter amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot.

  • Does that campaign make you proud of your city council and your community?
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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:48 PM, 10.30.2019

CH can elect a mayor under current form of government

Issue 26 asks Cleveland Heights voters to choose between electing a mayor and retaining its current form of government. That doesn't need to be a choice. We could elect a mayor under our council/manager government. Why is no one talking about that? Why would we throw away the proverbial baby with the bathwater?

If I'm listening correctly, the desire in the community is for a mayor who is a strong and visible presence, who articulates the city's vision, represents the people to council and staff, champions Cleveland Heights locally and regionally, and, perhaps most importantly for a mayor elected by voters, [is] not appointed by council. But Issue 26 abolishes our whole system of government.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:28 PM, 10.30.2019

An elected mayor provides essential pro-active leadership

I moved to Cleveland Heights 22 years ago with my wife and our two children because it embodied a vibrant, diverse community. Our city was a leader in the country for its diversity, beautiful, walkable neighborhoods, and vibrant business districts. Our children attended Coventry Elementary School, known as the “peace school” for the values it taught. Coventry Village was bustling and Severance Center was thriving. We were thrilled to be a part of a city on the rise.

Over the last decade, Cleveland Heights has fallen from its leadership role and is struggling to keep pace. The housing foreclosure crisis hit our entire region, but our home values have not recovered at the pace of many of our surrounding communities.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:35 PM, 10.30.2019

An elected mayor will be accountable

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, I will vote "Yes" on Issue 26 in support of an elected mayor for Cleveland Heights.

A mayoral candidate will speak directly to our citizens, public and private stakeholders, and declare “as mayor I will . . . .” That candidate will be forced to listen to all segments of our community—demographically and geographically—hearing our joys and frustrations alike. A mayoral candidate will be charged with articulating a vision that speaks at once to young people we want to attract, elders we want to retain, and everybody in between. A mayoral candidate will have to listen to our businesses while they describe what the city can reasonably do so that they can be as productive as they know they can be.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 6:26 PM, 10.30.2019

There is no 'magic mayor'

The strong mayor advocates want you to believe that the mayor-council style of government is the elixir that will cure the supposed ills of our city. That is simply not true.

What will work and is working today in Cleveland Heights is hard work by our city council, our city manager and our citizens, collaboratively, professionally and passionately. We are proud of and greatly encouraged by the work that all of us, together, are doing.

All of us, council, city manager and staff, and residents alike, are working mightily to support good economic development and services in our community. Look around you: We have more current commercial projects than we have had in years.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:10 AM, 10.29.2019

Two sides on Issue 26 have similar goals; different paths

When debating between two propositions, sometimes it helps to consider similarities. Citizens for an Elected Mayor (CEM), which supports Issue 26, and Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government (CHCGG), opposing Issue 26, actually share several goals—we just believe in different paths to attain them:

Strong executive leadership: The current CH City Charter defines the city manager as “chief administrative officer.” The amended charter that was tabled by city council elevates that position to “chief executive officer,” as does the revised agreement with the current city manager that council approved this summer. Both sides agree on the need for strong executive leadership. Issue 26 supporters just don’t think it’s practical or effective for that leader to be an employee of, and subordinate to, seven part-time council members; a city’s chief executive should be directly chosen by and accountable to all the people.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:10 AM, 10.29.2019

East Cleveland, mayors and the rest of the story

The opposition to an elected mayor in Cleveland Heights, in their continued fear-mongering, negative campaign, raise the specter of East Cleveland as a reason to vote against Issue 26. They cite the fact that East Cleveland was once a city run by council-manager form of government, that switched to an elected mayor-council form of government in 1986, and then . . . well, you know, East Cleveland fell apart.

However, their narrative leaves out significant context and facts; facts and context which lead to the conclusion that if any lesson is to be learned from East Cleveland it’s that remaining with the status quo and ignoring issues is far riskier than taking bold, transformative action.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:10 AM, 10.22.2019

Vote No on Issue 26

The League of Women Voters forum on Issue 26 clarified my thinking on the topic. Here are some reasons that I will vote to retain the city manager form of government by voting no on Issue 26:

First of all, I am dismayed that this issue is on the ballot at all. What message does it send to residents when a recommendation by a wide majority of a committee is co-opted by a minority who disagree? Will this be the fate of the Recycling Task Force and future citizen task forces as well?

The Charter Review Commission met for 16 months. Because the city manager form of government was adopted almost 100 years ago, it was a great idea for a citizen committee to review this choice.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:05 AM, 10.22.2019

CH City Council candidate Russell outlines her experience and priorities

My name is Davida Russell and I am asking for your vote on Tuesday, Nov. 5, for Cleveland Heights City Council. I have lived in Cleveland Heights for 37 years and this is where my family and I call home.

As a lifelong Democrat and labor leader at the national, state and local level, I have worked tirelessly on behalf of working men and women around this state, many of whom reside in Cleveland Heights. Now it is time that I bring my energy home. If elected, my top priorities as your next CH City Council representative will be to focus on:

  • Increasing the safety of our community
  • Attracting residential and business investment
  • Securing economic development opportunities
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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 9:05 AM, 10.21.2019

Elected mayor proposal lacks critical element

Elected mayor proponents want you to believe that a mayor with all administrative power in our city is the fix we need for what they claim is a “vacuum of administrative responsiveness.” Yet their proposal omits a critical element of good government that protects citizens from the Achilles heel that so often hinders the responsiveness and effectiveness of mayor-led governments.

Their proposal doesn’t forbid the mayor from appointing relatives or any individuals who contributed financially to the mayor’s election. It also fails to prohibit the mayor from soliciting or accepting campaign contributions from employees of the city, before, during, or after the campaign.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:17 AM, 10.03.2019

Where I disagree with Cheryl Stephens

Cheryl Stephens supports a “strong mayor” charter amendment on the November ballot. I am a good friend and big fan of Cheryl. She has been—and continues to be—an exceptional public servant. We each have served Cleveland Heights as mayors. We agree about much, but I disagree with some points she has made:

“Cleveland Heights can’t be afraid of voters.” I agree. But strong mayors too frequently are elected because of name recognition and political affiliation rather than their ability to govern effectively. City managers, on the other hand, are selected in a non-partisan manner based on merit, professional qualifications and experience. Voters elect to city council those who hire, retain or fire city managers. Nothing about such a system reflects a fear of voters.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 11:16 AM, 10.03.2019

Vote No to changing CH's form of government

I want to urge people to vote No on the issue of changing the Cleveland Heights system, [in which] the voted-in city council choose a qualified city manager to run the government, to that of a “strong mayor” who appoints his/her people to run the government.

I worked for the Cleveland Heights Division of Parks and Recreation for 33 years, and was head of the division for the final 17. During my tenure I was selected following an interview process, always worked hard, and had the best interests of our city at the forefront at all times. I was always supported by a qualified city manager and a strong, elected city council, and I always felt that they allowed me to promote our great city, and improve and build our second-to-none programs and facilities.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 10:37 AM, 10.03.2019