CH council should endorse democracy in filling vacancy

Congratulations to our newly elected Cleveland Heights mayor, Kahlil Seren, and to our newly elected CH City Council members. As our city transitions to a new form of government, with an elected mayor for the first time in its 100-year history, it will be for council and our first mayor to determine how that new form of government serves.  It might be helpful if, as part of this transition, council could operate at full strength.

With his election as mayor, Seren's seat on council will be vacated when he takes office in January. By ordinance it is now the task of council to appoint his replacement. 

When this last happened (2020) the process that unfolded was nothing short of an embarrassment for our city. (After council took several weeks to determine a list of four finalists, infighting and conflict forced an unreasonably protracted period to name a winner. Eventually, Craig Cobb got the nod.)  To remedy this past embarrassment, on Nov. 2 the voters passed Issue 31, a charter amendment that prescribes the time limit (45 days) by which council is to appoint a member to a vacated seat; otherwise, it allows the mayor to make the appointment. This brings us to my proposal.

The process I propose is simple and applicable to not only this vacancy, but also to any future vacancies that should arise. It is clear, coherent, consistent, predictable, transparent, and, most importantly, conforms to that most formal tenet of democracy: that the people should decide.

On Nov. 2 ("the most recent election") there were two effective "runners-up" in the two separate contests for seats on council. Both runners-up ran with distinction, but in two very different races. In one, for full four-year terms on council, voters were asked to select "four of six" candidates. In the other, a special election to fill an unexpired two-year term, they were asked to choose "one of seven." So, while technically earning more votes than Robert Koonce, Allosious K. Snodgrass placed fifth (out of six candidates) in his race, whereas Koonce's placed second (out of seven) in his.

The point is not to advance or advocate for one or the other. Snodgrass received more pooled votes (3,796, 11.18%) while Koonce received a higher percentage of individual votes (13.11%, with 1,345 votes).

Both now-former candidates are known assets to their community and qualified candidates for the seat. They have the courage, conviction and capacity to run in a non-partisan local election. Through their efforts they have demonstrated both their desire to lead and their capacity to serve on council. Most importantly, they both have earned the endorsement of a compelling plurality of voters.

There are laws governing the process to unfold: Council must appoint a replacement. But why would council now appoint anyone else? To avoid any conflict on this and future elections, council should appoint that runner-up candidate with either the highest percentage of votes (Koonce), or that candidate with the highest net votes (Snodgrass).  Whichever candidate council appointed, [I] would hope that precedent [would] guide future appointments.

At the very least, council should select its appointee from the slate of candidates already voted upon by the citizens. The immediate-past candidate with the fewest votes (393) has already earned a more legitimate seat on council, in my mind, than any mere applicant for the position ever could. If council would seek to enforce that democracy is alive and worth fighting for, then council should let democracy decide.

Samuel Marcum

Samuel Marcum has been a happy Heights resident since 2012. Besides spending time with his family, he enjoys walking and working outdoors, and performing DIY home-renovation projects. He is an architect and personal finance coach.

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Volume 15, Issue 1, Posted 11:17 AM, 01.01.2022