Mary Dunbar, candidate for Cleveland Heights City Council At Large
Cleveland Heights Age: 77
Education: Smith College, B.A.; Stanford University, M.A.; Case Western Reserve University, MBA
Current occupation: Member, Cleveland Heights City Council
Qualifications for office: Two four-year terms on City Council, starting in 2012. Have chaired almost all Council Committees, giving me a good overview of City operations. Have attended many community and informative meetings, giving me a good knowledge of community issues and potential solutions.
QUESTIONS and RESPONSES:
1. Top issues: Maintaining and improving our housing stock is #1. Based on my past success and current interests, Council created a new committee - Housing and Transportation - which I chair. Strides made in transportation include bike lanes on all roads connecting the Heights and University Circle (Mayfield, Edgehill and Cedar), a Complete and Green Streets Policy adopted in 2018 that has been recognized as best in the nation, almost $1 million in Safe Routes to School grants, bike racks and Share the Roads signage throughout the City, increasing Americans with Disabilities Act facilities at intersections citywide, and much more. In Housing, recent achievements include passage of a foreclosure bond ordinance and programs to renovate houses through partnering with a Community Development Corporation, for example. I will be working for faster resolution of problem properties, effective periodic and Point of Sale inspections, property tax compliance, modernization of the housing stock, and more options for downsizing. Economic development is #2 on my list. We need this to strengthen and increase our tax base so that we can continue to afford the quality of City services we currently enjoy. Guided by the City's Master Plan, we presently have five important development projects under way in our City; I support their completion. I also want to help residents who could benefit by moving up economically - develop "skills to pay the bills" - and will be looking for ways to advance that agenda item.
2. Position on form of city government ballot issue: I strongly oppose changing our form of government. City Council appointed a Charter Review Commission of 15 residents to consider making charter changes that would solve problems. This group worked for 16 months and, with few exceptions, recommended that retaining our Council/Manager form of government - with a few changes - so as to best serve the residents of Cleveland Heights. Council/Manager is now the predominant form of municipal government nationwide and sets the standard for accountability. It is also comparatively low cost. It evolved more than a century ago to professionalize city management and combat the corruption and cronyism so prevalent in cities with elected mayors. It is Council's job to hire a City Manager and to set policies to accomplish what needs doing. When I joined Council in 2012, we selected a new Manager. She has been on the job for six years now and has helped avoid looming deficits, negotiated more positive arrangements about sewers with the EPA, developed and is currently implementing a Master Plan to realize a positive vision for the City, and more. I want to keep the momentum we now have going. Changing our form of government would be destabilizing. Having an elected mayor could inject politics into our City. Having a nonpartisan Council/Manager government enables all residents to rally round. As in parliamentary democracies worldwide, legislators select a leader - in our case, a "mayor." Say NO to changing our form of government.
3. New residential and commercial development: I support the actions laid out in the City's Master Plan to sustain and strengthen vibrant neighborhoods and strong business districts. Our City has already taken steps to position neighborhoods and business districts for improvements. Council adopted and the State of Ohio approved creation of a City-wide Community Reinvestment Area that provides tax abatement incentives for both residential and commercial projects. The residential projects could be new or remodeling construction. The City and school district will negotiate commercial projects case-by-case to meet certain criteria. A program to market our City to diverse new residents is gaining momentum, and workshops to promote our neighborhoods to realtors are ongoing. The City gained approval from Ohio and the US Treasury for a Caledonia Park Opportunity Zone that will spur economic development in this residential area by providing tax benefits to investors. Ultimately, we'll be working to develop a tech corridor on Mayfield Road, to redevelop Severance Center, and to re-purpose underutilized retail space to other uses. Place-making and walkability improvements have roles to play in building up our neighborhoods and business districts; projects to reap the benefits of enhancements are already under way. These are just some highlights. In short, I am optimistic that as staff and citizens continue to implement the Master Plan and as we pursue new opportunities that arise, the future for Cleveland Heights is bright.
4. Privatization of city services: Council Members are elected to make decisions that are in the best interests of the residents of our City. There has been a traditional compact that municipal employees might be able to potentially earn more by working in the private sector but that public sector retirement, health care and other benefits make public service attractive in the long term. However, sustaining promises has become increasingly challenging in both the private and public sectors, as witnessed by the shift in the private sector from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution pension plans (which help individuals invest for their retirement but make them responsible for their own retirement resources). We are facing a challenge in garbage collection. Our City's garbage trucks are at the end of their use, and we currently have no funds to buy new ones. A task force is considering our options. We need to understand what our options will cost residents. For residents, it will come down to a choice of paying the costs of garbage collection as tax and rate payers or paying the costs as customers of a private supplier. Depending on how much garbage they generate, what's best for one set of residents may not be best for others. Council Members will have to make a decision that serves the greater good. We are awaiting information and recommendations of the task force and of our staff to make an informed decision. We also have an important responsibility to be as fair as possible to City employees.
5. Regionalization efforts: There are a ridiculous number of municipalities in Cuyahoga County. It makes sense to share resources instead of having each city, village and township try to maintain their own. Cleveland Heights recently began sharing police and fire dispatch services with University Heights, South Euclid, Shaker Heights and Richmond Heights. This collaboration makes it easier to maintain up-to-date equipment and programs. These safety force cooperate on responding to fires and other emergencies in the various cities, too. Until recently, Cleveland Heights maintained its own water service while buying water from Cleveland. This had its advantages but meant water cost more in our City. We switched to having residents supplied by the Cleveland Water Department directly to save all money long term. Sewer services are also shared in part through the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, though residents and the City are responsible for much of the infrastructure. Cleveland Heights originally had its own Public Health Department, but it was long ago outsourced to the County's Public Health Department. In short, our regionally shared services to date have been beneficial. We must be constantly looking for new opportunities that offer real benefits. At the same time, Cleveland Heights has a strong identity and high standards. Maintaining these is not something that can or should be outsourced. We must focus on, maintain and market our brand to remain a viable and strong part of our urban area.
League of Women Voters
The 2019 Voters Guide to Candidates and Issues is published as a public service by the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland, CH-UH and FutureHeights. The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization whose mission is to encourage the informed participation by citizens in government. FutureHeights is a nonprofit community development organization. Election Day is Nov. 5, 2019. Polls are open 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.