University Heights City Council meeting 2-6-23
FEBRUARY 6, 2023, regular meeting
- Mayor’s report
- Lobbying firm
- Contracting procedures
- Other council actions
- Staff reports
Present were Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan, Vice Mayor Michelle Weiss, and Council Members Barbara Blankfeld, Christopher Cooney, Justin Gould, Brian J. King, John P. Rach, and Sheri Sax. Also present were Kelly Thomas, clerk of council; Luke McConville, law director; Dennis Kennedy, finance director; and Joseph Ciuni, city engineer. The meeting ran three hours.
The State of the City Address will be held on Feb. 15, 2023 at 6 p.m. in the Dolan Science Center at John Carroll University.
Applicants from architects and those in related professions. are being accepted for a vacancy on the architecture review board.
Vice-Mayor Michelle Weiss reported that the joint facilities committee has looked at the proposed new municipal center plan and in consultation with the police, fire, and service departments. Those departments have recommended changes that would decrease the spaces allotted to each. The mayor has been asked to obtain a contract for space at Wiley and to move forward with plans for the property adjacent to city hall that is the subject of the adverse possession litigation.
Council authorized a contract with LNE Group, a lobbying firm, for an amount not to exceed $30,000. Lee Weingart, president of LNE Group, the oldest and largest lobbying firm in Ohio, presented the firm’s business model and how it could help University Heights obtain federal funds for sewer infrastructure. The cost would be $10,000 to lobby Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Shontel Brown, an additional $10,000 if the proposed federal budget includes the funds desired, and another $10,000 if that budget is passed.
A May, 2020, study by the NEORSD (Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District) indicates that needed upgrades for University Heights would cost $178 million to comply with Clean Water Act requirements. If all the money comes from the city, each household would pay an additional $42,000. By seeking federal funding, the city will be demonstrating ongoing attempts to comply with its obligations. Two years ago, the administration unsuccessfully attempted to do this on its own and is now seeking the assistance of a lobbying firm. The plan is to obtain funding for a $1-2 million project that would jump start the infrastructure work and deal with ongoing problems of flooding due to inadequate sewers. Mr. Gould questioned why only LNE Group was presenting a proposal as council wants competitive bidding processes for outside services. However, he added that he supports the use of professional advocacy for this issue.
Ms. Sax presented a first reading of legislation entitled Loose Recycling Services and read a lengthy analysis. After reviewing the results of the solid waste surveys, the Service and Utilities Committee, which includes councilmen Rach, Gould, and Cooney, is making recommendations consistent with the will of city residents. The goal is to increase recycling while maintaining side/back door service. The proposed ordinance calls for the current methods of solid waste collection to remain in place while the city transitions to loose recycling; that the administration increase the quality of recycling by requiring an opt-in recycling program; and that the administration purchase 32-gallon bins for citizens who opt in.
Mr. King expressed opposition to the opt-in proposal. He questioned statistics showing that wheeled carts increase the amount of recycling per household by over 100 pounds per year, asked about data that opt-in requirements are detrimental, and asked how pickup routes would be managed as some households opt-in while others opt out.
Ms. Sax was unable to address these items directly but indicated she looks forward to working with the administration and other council members on this.
Council approved on emergency an ordinance entitled Contracting Procedures after amending it to exclude the city engineer. This item became quite contentious. First discussed one year ago, the ordinance requires competitive bids for service contracts over $50,000. A working group convened and included the city engineer, as the ordinance would affect engineering and legal contracts. The group’s work was apparently interrupted over a misunderstanding of when Mr. Ciuni’s contract at that time ended. Mr. Ciuni said that this ordinance, as introduced, does not reflect his understanding of the process that had been discussed. Mr. McConville said the ordinance was modeled after the Shaker Heights ordinance with the difference that in Shaker the city engineer is an employee with a staff. Mr. Ciuni claimed that the proposed ordinance has pragmatic problems that change the way the city engineer can function and if passed, he would resign. After further discussion, council amended the ordinance to exclude the city engineer’s contract.
Other council actions
Previously the motion to authorize the mayor to enter into a contract with Senior Transportation Connection was tabled because of an error in the proposed contract. It was again tabled because the fuel escalation clause was unclear.
Council approved celebrating Black History Month.
On second reading and on emergency, council approved acceptance of contributions from the opioid settlement. Mr. McConville researched and affirmed that acceptance of the funds -- $2,000 received in 2022 and two smaller contributions received in 2023 -- could be applied to existing programs.
On emergency, council authorized a new contract for compensation for assistant law director/prosecutor Michael Cicero.
On emergency, council passed ordinances to codify payments and compensation to members of the civil service commission, the board of zoning appeals, and the planning commission and to increase the hourly rates to bring them in line with those paid in other communities.
Council approved flexible police and fire contracts and authorized GPD Group to re-bid the annual pavement marking contract. These items were added to the agenda and based on recommendations from the recent meeting of the Safety Committee.
Council confirmed Timothy Lloyd and Kelly Jablonski for additional two-year terms on the board of zoning appeals.
Mr. Kennedy said that the lobbying contract would require an amendment to the budget. City property tax collection is behind because county collection is delayed. A resulting cash flow problem will be remedied when the tax revenue is received.
Mr. McConville reported that an offsite viewing room for council meetings might comply with ADA provisions if the technology guaranteed real-time participation for those not in the council chamber. He is concerned about the technology, which may be an ADA violation if it doesn’t work.
Fire Chief Robert Perko said that the Cleveland Heights Fire Department thanked the University Heights Fire Department for assistance in covering shifts while Cleveland Heights was honoring a firefighter killed in the line of duty in Nov. 2022
Geoff Englebrecht, director of housing and community development, advised that a NOACA (Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency) committee posted the proposal for phase I of greenway plans for University Heights, Cleveland Heights and South Euclid. The NOACA board has to vote on this proposal.
Mr. Ciuni said the ODOT project on Cedar Road came in under budget and the city will receive a refund of over $300,000.
At the end of the public session, council went into executive session to discuss legal and real estate matters.
The next council meeting is Tuesday Feb. 21 to accommodate the President’s Day holiday. The Building and Housing Committee will also meet Feb. 21. There is a meeting of the joint committee regarding the zoning regulations on Mar. 22 at 6 p.m. in the Jardine Room at John Carroll University.
LWV Observer: Marilyn Singer.
Note: State representative Juanita Bryant was present to observe the meeting and gave council and the mayor a handout about voter suppression.
Meeting packets, legislation, and other information can be found on the city website at: https://www.universityheights.com/council/
Videos of council meetings can be viewed on the “City of University Heights” YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCA82j5L_CkQxK9cXP_qrXvw/videos