Looking back, and looking forward

As the winter solstice approaches, we consider events of the past year and our hopes for the future.

Cleveland Heights City Council kicked off 2019 by establishing the Refuse and Recycling Task Force. Composed of residents and city staff members, the group’s charge was to address the need to modernize our collection system, tackle the perennial debate over bags versus carts, and recommend future actions.

We urge everyone to read the task force’s findings, which will be released early in 2020. Meanwhile, the group’s agendas, minutes, e-mails and other documents are available at www.clevelandheights.com. As we said last year (“Heights of Democracy: Trash talk,” Heights Observer Vol. 11, Issue 12), we oppose privatizing this essential service.

During its abortive re-branding process (aired in March, and withdrawn shortly afterward), the city found that survey respondents valued diversity most among their city’s attributes. We spent several months writing about the residents and organizers who helped to transform Cleveland Heights from an all-white enclave to the community it is today (“Heights of Democracy: Before ‘diversity’—the integration of Cleveland Heights,” Heights Observer, Vol. 12, Issues 1, 2 and 3). Initially unsupportive, city government eventually took over many of the pro-integrative programs launched by grassroots organizations.

Now, as then, it is up to citizens to make our city what we want it to be.

Economic diversity is an inherent characteristic of Cleveland Heights, with its wide variety of housing stock. As we seek to improve our most distressed neighborhoods in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, economic disparities may be one of our greatest challenges. We must ensure that residents of the target areas are involved in all planning efforts. Anything else will amount to a gentrification scheme.

Last summer we wrote with pride of our city’s award-winning Complete and Green Streets plan. We look forward to a progress report early in the new year.

In October, the city completed a two-year, $6-million capital improvements project, expected to pay for itself through energy savings. Upgrades and repairs have eliminated 2,822 metric tons of carbon emissions per year, and reduced the community center’s energy use by 50 percent. We applaud these results, and hope to see Cleveland Heights become a regional leader in sustainability.

On Nov. 5, Cleveland Heights voters made history, with 64 percent voting for a charter amendment (Issue 26) to change the city’s government from a council/manager to a mayor/council form. Hundreds of residents contributed time and money to this grassroots effort, which succeeded despite well-funded, powerful opposition. A particular low point was Council Member Melissa Yasinow’s weaponizing of the firefighters’ union, by convincing a fraction of the membership who happened to be present at a union meeting to formally reject and campaign against Issue 26. This stunt demeaned our safety forces and ultimately backfired. We are proud of the thousands of Cleveland Heights voters who ignored constant fearmongering by the opposition and embraced the potential for positive change.

As the city embarks on a two-year transition, leading to the first mayoral election in 2021, a reconstituted city council will play a key role. Newly elected council members Melody Hart and Davida Russell will join re-elected council members Mary Dunbar and Kahlil Seren, along with Jason Stein, Michael Ungar and Melissa Yasinow, whose terms extend through 2021. We thank Carol Roe and Craig Cobb for their service.

We don’t know who the new council president will be, but expect him or her to set high standards for openness, civility and rigorous debate. We hope for a welcoming atmosphere when our first elected mayor assumes office in January 2022. Until then, we will be watching and sharing our observations, as will our friends from the successful Issue 26 campaign.

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

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

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 4:35 PM, 12.02.2019