Decisions . . . and transitions

Regardless of how the Issue 26 vote goes on Nov. 5, we, the people of Cleveland Heights, will be called upon to help our city make a transition to more effective and accountable city government.

As residents, citizens and, most of all, as neighbors, it will be up to us to heal the rifts of a bruising campaign. We either will or will not have a charter amendment changing our municipal government from a council/manager to a mayor/council form; but certainly there will be disappointed and worried people on whichever is the losing side.

It is noteworthy that all three candidates challenging Cleveland Heights City Council incumbents publicly support this citizens’ initiative. The challengers—Melody Hart, Anthony Mattox Jr., and Davida Russell—all hope to contribute their talents to a part-time legislative body balanced by a full-time elected mayor.

Council Member Kahlil Seren is the sole incumbent among those seeking re-election to favor the mayor/council form of government. Carol Roe, Mary Dunbar, and the recently appointed Craig Cobb all oppose Issue 26.

Of course, voters will decide who wins council seats by weighing many factors: In the case of incumbents, judgment will rest heavily on their demonstrated abilities and past performance; challengers may advance based on some combination of their policy proposals, personal appeal, neighborhood connections and relevant experience, among other factors. A candidate’s position on Issue 26 may be only one element.

We find it refreshing and heartening to see how this hyper-local campaign differs starkly from the national political scene, where partisanship and identity politics are used cynically to pit citizens against each other. In contrast, supporters of Issue 26 reflect the true diversity of Cleveland Heights: Citizens of every race and gender identity; registered Republicans, Democrats, and Greens, along with independent voters; residents of the largest mansions and the smallest apartments; riders of buses and bikes, and drivers of Porsches; people of all faiths, and those unaffiliated with any religion.

This breadth of support is a source of encouragement and hope for the future of our city. We are all neighbors—citizens, council members and many city staff alike. After our Nov. 5 decision, whatever it may be, we will work together to carry it out constructively. Sitting and re-elected council members will continue to do their jobs, as will our dedicated and professional city staff.

If the initiative passes, city council and staff will be required to embark upon an intense two-year transition to the new mayor/council system, while keeping current projects and all city operations running smoothly. On July 31, council passed emergency legislation creating a golden parachute for the city manager, effective as soon as voters approve the charter change; so Tanisha Briley may choose to leave abruptly. In that case, council’s first job will be to appoint a qualified interim city manager. Citizens will have to closely monitor the actions of both council and the law department to make sure an orderly transition is not undermined. Council members who support the change to mayor/council government will be vital to this effort.

Should the initiative fail, citizens will be tasked with even more work than if it succeeds. We will have to find ways to make council/manager government directly accountable to residents, as well as compel it to conceive and communicate a coherent vision for our future, and exert political leadership within the city, the region and the state. Make no mistake, if our government were achieving these things now, Issue 26 would never have reached the ballot.

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

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

Read More on Heights of Democracy
Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 9:49 AM, 11.01.2019