Wrapping up a challenging year

Weather predictions to the contrary, Cleveland Heights enjoyed a sunny, if brisk, Election Day on Nov. 2, with rain holding off until shortly before the polls closed.

We are grateful to the candidates who ran in this historic municipal election. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and without viable candidates and dedicated elected officials, it cannot exist. The 13 candidates who competed for five city council seats, the seven who ran for three school board positions, and the two mayoral finalists made these campaigns highly competitive.

Congratulations to Cleveland Heights’ first-ever mayor-elect Kahlil Seren, new council members-elect Tony Cuda, Anthony Mattox and Josie Moore, returning council members Craig Cobb and Davida Russell, and returning school board members Dan Heintz, Malia Lewis and Jodi Sourini.

Looking back over 2021, we admit we’ve been a little cranky. On top of the pandemic and a seemingly interminable election season, life in a city suspended between past and future makes for anxiety and impatience.

Unfortunately, Cleveland Heights has been in something of a holding pattern since November 2019, when we voted to change our form of government, beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

To be fair, the city has not been at a complete standstill. Several development initiatives have seen forward motion, pleasing some residents and dismaying others. As Top of the Hill rises, planning is underway for a residential and retail complex in Cedar Lee. A contract has been signed for infill housing on 23 city-owned lots in Caledonia.

Meanwhile, the planning department spearheaded a revision of zoning codes for residential parking and garages. This flexible policy accommodates the great variation in lot sizes throughout the city, and eliminates the imperative to expand paved surfaces, allowing for continued absorption of stormwater.

As we pointed out in May, June and July, inequity persists among our neighborhoods, with amenities particularly lacking in the Noble and Severance areas. Severance Center remains a particularly thorny problem, so we are glad to see MetroHealth Medical Center’s new behavioral health unit under construction, and a Netflix film in production in the former WalMart.

Of course, city staff and Planning Commission members should have sought to preserve all of Millikin Woods early in the approval process for MetroHealth’s expansion, when there was time to negotiate a better solution. But we are gratified that, at long last, our council members followed the example of their Shaker Heights peers, and voted to support the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s plan for the Shaker parklands.

We hope that in the future all proposed city policies and initiatives will undergo scrutiny through the lenses of racial and economic justice and environmental sustainability.

Last month, we wrote of waiting nearly a year for council and staff to make essential preparations for the approaching governmental change. Finally, the long-promised “transition book” has been delivered to the mayor-elect, and to the current and incoming council members. In November, the law department finally produced draft legislation updating our codified ordinances in accordance with the amended charter.

Getting back to our crankiness, we recognize the need for patience in the months ahead. Mayor-elect Seren will be building an administration virtually from scratch. Council, with three new members out of six, must reconstitute itself as a legislative and representative body, and choose a seventh member to fill Seren’s seat. Due to now-ubiquitous supply-chain issues, delivery of new garbage trucks and carts is delayed at least until spring. Years’ worth of pent-up frustration will not disappear overnight.

A grace period for our new government seems only fair. With great hope for the future of Cleveland Heights, we commit to it and invite you to do so as well. Happy holidays!

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

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

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Volume 14, Issue 12, Posted 4:03 PM, 12.01.2021