CH council president reports on transition and collaboration
In 2019, 60% voted for having an elected-mayor government in Cleveland Heights. The people then elected Kahlil Seren as mayor, by about a 60% vote, to implement the new government in 2022. As president of council, I had a vision of a council that works together harmoniously to enact a common vision. Since we were transitioning to an elected-mayor form of government, part of that vision and our responsibility is to make that transition go smoothly. The future of our city depends on it.
Day-to-day operations of council have gone well. City business is enacted, and some groundbreaking legislation passed. Economic development projects are also moving ahead. In-fill housing is being built in multiple neighborhoods.
We have much to be proud of and to look forward to.
There have been some bumps in the transition, but that is to be expected when you are undergoing a big change.
Communication between the two branches of government needed to be sorted out so that staff were not overburdened by council requests, but council members received information necessary to do their jobs. After some initial bumps, the administration provided e-mail access to directors of departments and [authorized] them to attend committee meetings when warranted by the agenda.
Council wanted additional access and spent [its] time working on a charter amendment to put on the ballot. It attempted to provide unfettered access to staff. In its drafting, the administration was not consulted to collaborate to ensure that access would not disrupt the workflow required to run the city and its services. Even had it succeeded, a process would have been needed.
The charter already gives council members the ability to inquire (Art. III, Section 6), while pointing out that the mayor is in charge of the administration, and council can give no instructions to a city staff member. This is a common-sense rule. These are the charter changes for which the residents voted—the mayor runs the city.
To address the process issue, the council vice president [Craig Cobb] and I worked with the mayor to create a written Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), establishing a process for council to get access to information and [department] directors without disrupting city services. The charter contains no process, it just provides the right of inquiry.
Council leadership, during several meetings, asked council members what they would like in the agreement. The MOU was completed, and was announced in September.
The MOU has a process. There is a dedicated e-mail address for all council members to contact the city staff with an inquiry. A response is required within seven days, which was not in the charter amendment. If the response is negative for any reason, the issue is discussed between council leadership and the mayor, and a resolution is reached. Additionally, the mayor can be contacted by council members via phone or text.
The MOU also included the budgetary process that will be followed. The mayor’s budget was received by council in mid-November, and hearings will be held individually with all the department heads regarding their budget requests. This is a much more rigorous process than ever conducted by council in the past.
The communication issue has been dealt with by working together collaboratively with the administration, rather than one party trying to force its will on the other. Each branch of our city government has a role, and both need to be successful for our city to continue to be a vibrant thriving community. Council and the mayor are a governing team. Working collaboratively going forward will benefit our city.
Melody Joy Hart is the Cleveland Heights City Council president. She has 35 years of experience in finance as an executive.