A message to CH's neighbor cities

Dear Neighbors:

Don’t worry—Cleveland Heights has not lost its collective mind. As a community, we’re struggling with how to improve our government. Some of us believe we need systemic change; others are convinced such change would be a mistake.

We who favor changing to the kind of government you have are optimistic. We look forward to electing a mayor as the full-time executive of our city, who will appoint a professional city administrator to manage daily operations. That mayoral administration will be checked and balanced by a legislative body, our elected city council.

Those who oppose the change to an elected mayor insist that it will bring corruption and “politics” into our city government. Meanwhile, they—a group that includes five sitting council members—sought and received a pledge of up to $25,000 in matching campaign funds from the International City/County Management Association, a Washington, D.C., lobbying organization. Yet they tout council/manager government as incorruptible and above politics!

Those resisting change are frightened. They can’t see that, when they loudly insist direct mayoral elections will inevitably lead to political corruption, they insult and demean your duly elected mayors and, by extension, your voters. If they were less attached to the status quo, they might be able to see the advantages of having a democratically elected leader—one who is actually on the job at city hall during business hours, with a finger on the pulse of the city, and accountable to the voters every four years.

Fear of change is insidious. Opponents of mayor/council government have adopted it as their primary weapon against the citizens’ initiative for an elected mayor, which will appear on our Nov. 5 ballot. We believe these opponents will fail, and this is why: Not only did 4,000 voters sign petitions saying they wanted to vote on this issue, but since Citizens for an Elected Mayor launched that petition drive, resident conversation about and interest in city government have skyrocketed.

That is all to the good. As we outlined in a three-part Heights of Democracy series earlier this year, it was far-sighted Cleveland Heights residents who led the way when our municipal government resisted racial integration in the 1960s and ‘70s.

More recently, in 2015, outraged citizens informed the city manager and council that we would not allow our water to be privatized. Dedicated neighborhood advocates pressed for foreclosure bond legislation for five long years before council finally passed it in 2018. That same year, artists and residents fought successfully to preserve the former Coventry school building as a center for arts and education.

A significant number of Cleveland Heights residents—a majority, we believe—are ready for systemic change. We’re tired of waiting for a solution to the civic disaster that is Severance Town Center. The fact that this is the location of our City Hall only aggravates an open sore. Plans for Top of the Hill—a council priority for more than five decades—may be threatened by mediocre design and sub-standard structural specs (cheaper pre-cast vs. superior poured-on-site concrete for the parking garage, for example). Although much of our housing stock is still distressed, today we have fewer inspectors than we did pre-2008.

So, neighbors, we aspire to our own version of what you already have, in Shaker Heights, South Euclid, University Heights and other area suburbs. We need, want and intend to elect a mayor who will communicate a vision, negotiate deals, and address the challenges of our aging infrastructure—while standing for election every four years.

Change is hard. Please bear with us, and wish us well.

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at heightsdemocracy@gmail.com.

Read More on Heights of Democracy
Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 12:47 PM, 09.02.2019