LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS / University Heights City Council meeting
JUNE 20, 2023 regular meeting
- Public comment
- Mayor’s report
- Council vacancy
- Charter Review Commission (CRC) proposals
- Council actions on emergency
- Other council action
- Staff reports
- Committee reports
Present were Mayor Dylan Brennan, Vice Mayor Michelle Weiss, and council members Christopher Cooney, Threse Marshall, Brian J. King, and Sheri Sax. John P. Rach was excused. Also present were Kelly Thomas, clerk of council; Luke McConville, law director; and Dennis Kennedy, finance director. The meeting ran for two and three quarter hours.
Public comment mostly addressed the recommendations of the Charter Review Commission (CRC). Two representatives of the commission spoke. Steve Wertheim, chair of the CRC, and Chris Myrick, vice chair, urged passage of all 10, which the commission approved by large majorities. Mr. Wertheim noted that if the proposed ranked choice voting (RCV) was adopted, the city could make history and create a dynamic future for the community. Mr. Myrick noted how the amendments would expand the democratic process. Half directly affect the election of officials, and, unlike Ohio Issue 1, which would shrink and restrict the rights of the people, would expand the control of the voters. Council should trust the work of the CRC and allow voters to accept or reject the amendments.
Wendy Deuring, chair of the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV), said that the LWV supports RCV, which assures a majority rule rather than a plurality. Also, RCV tends to increase the election of moderate candidates and decrease divisiveness. The League applauds University Heights for exploring RCV.
Several others spoke in support of the amendments, especially the RCV proposal, including Sean Logan of Lisbon, OH and a former member of the Ohio House of Representatives, Kyle Herman, exec. director of Rank the Vote Ohio, and several residents. Herman reported that the board of elections has confirmed that voting machines would be capable of tabulating ranked votes in 2025. One of the residents said that council should place all amendments on the ballot, noting that because council was not at full capacity tonight, only one negative vote could deprive the voters the opportunity to decide on these proposals.
The mayor commented on the success of city events including the second annual Juneteenth Celebration on June 18 and flying the Pride flag throughout June.
Allen Pennington, a licensed professional engineer, has been appointed the new service director and will start June 26. He managed the Mentor road program for 17 years and is a member of the NOACA advisory council, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Society of Highway Engineers.
Ms. Weiss nominated former Council Member Winifred “Win” Weizer to fill the council seat vacated by Barbara Blankfeld. The motion failed with Mr. Cooney and Mr. King voting no. [Ms. Weizer was re-nominated and appointed at a June 28 special meeting, when all four council members present, Weiss, Sax, Rach, and Marshall, voted yes.]
Charter Review Commission (CRC) proposals
Placing a charter amendment on the ballot requires five council votes. Therefore, due to Ms. Blankfeld’s resignation and Mr. Rach’s absence, all five members present at this meeting must vote yes to approve a charter amendment proposal. City ordinance precluded tabling any of the votes.
Ms. Sax read a general statement thanking the CRC but maintaining that the citizenry would not want council to rubber stamp all recommendations. Mr. King voiced his intention to respect the independence of the CRC by voting to place all proposed amendments on the ballot. Mayor Brennan also supported placing all on the ballot and said that council should trust the commission and the voters.
Council approved the first CRC amendment proposal to revise the charter to reflect gender neutrality and remove anachronistic references.
Council failed the second amendment proposal, which would eliminate term limits, with Council Members Weiss, Cooney, and Sax voting no.
Council failed the third amendment proposal, which called for the mayor to appoint the law director and remove council’s role in an appointment to an executive department. Council Members Cooney, Sax and Weiss voted no. Ms. Sax said this change would remove council’s role to provide checks and balances.
Council failed the fourth amendment proposal, which called for charter review no less than every 10 years. Ms. Weiss and Ms. Sax voted no. Ms. Sax said that every 10 years was too short a period as some council members could be in office for two reviews, which she claims would defeat the purpose.
Council approved the fifth amendment proposal to modernize the names of departments named in the charter to conform with modern usage. Ms. Sax said this change would allow the city to move forward with regionalism and collaboration.
Council failed the sixth amendment for ranked choice voting with council members Sax, Weiss and Cooney voting no. Mr. Cicero, the assistant law director, drafted the proposal ordinance and had spoken in its favor. He said that although the current voting machines in the county were not programmed to accommodate ranked choice voting, they would be by 2025. He stated that the board of elections (BOE) would be obligated to accommodate the process and by defeating this motion, council would be ceding the right of its citizens to home rule. Ms. Sax said she had conducted her own investigation into the ability of the BOE to deal with ranked choice voting and was told that it could not, and that the CRC had not contacted them to find out. [CRC chairman Wertheim walked out in the middle of Ms. Sax’s comments.] Law Director McConville said that, as a charter community, University Heights and its citizens have the right to decide how to conduct their elections and the state has to abide by their decision.
Council approved the seventh amendment for changing the recall process.
Council approved the eighth amendment proposal to modify the method to put initiatives and referenda on the ballot by basing the required number of petition signatures on the number of voters voting in the previous election.
Council approved the ninth amendment proposal changing the presiding officer at council meetings from the mayor to the vice mayor. The current system is a vestige of the village structure and was never changed.
Council approved the tenth amendment proposal to add anti-discrimination language to the charter. According to the law director, such language would not create exposure or liability to the city. Ms. Sax said she would not want residents think they have protections they are not entitled to. McConville responded that these protections exist in the law now and it gives no private cause of action to anyone.
Council actions on emergency
Council passed five items on emergency (i.e., they would be effective immediately) including:
- An ordinance to standardize the rental permitting process by creating uniform timing for requests. Housing and Community Development Director Geoff Englebrecht requested this law.
- An ordinance to modify a 2021 pilot program for use of electric scooters in the city by removing the pilot program language, changing time restrictions to 7 a.m.-7 p.m., and prohibiting more than one rider per scooter.
- An ordinance amendment adding enforcement regarding trash cans left out overnight.
- An ordinance giving the city the right to inspect common areas and dwelling units in a rental property for the purpose of fire prevention and protection of renters. It promotes collaboration between the fire department and the building department.
- A motion to extend IT support services from Starfish Computer for another month as the contract had not been ready in time.
Other council action
Council passed an alternate tax budget for tax purposes with no change to the tax rate.
Council tabled an agreement with SCS Engineers regarding compliance with the recently passed recycling ordinance to allow comment and input from the new service director.
Council agreed to enter executive session to discuss real estate matters.
The finance director reported he is finishing up the audit and hopes to have a draft by June 30 to be submitted to the state.
The Building and Housing Committee is preparing an ordinance regarding short term rentals
The Finance Committee will meet June 27 at 6 p.m.
The Recreation Committee announced that a memorial service for Mr. Ray Lancaster will take place June 25 at 9:30 a.m at Purvis Park. and that a Little Free Library will be installed near the pool.
LWV observer: Marilyn Singer
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