LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS / Cleveland Heights City Council meeting highlights

AUGUST 7, 2023 - regular meeting

  • Public comment
  • Mayor’s report
  • Clerk of council’s report
  • Council actions
  • Council member comments
  • Committee of the whole

Present were Mayor Kahlil Seren, Council President Melody Joy Hart, Council Vice President Craig Cobb, and Council Members Janine Boyd, Tony Cuda, Gail Larson, and Anthony Mattox Jr. Davida Russell was not present. Also present were Addie Balester, clerk of council, and William Hanna, law director. The meeting ran one hour and 15 minutes.

Public comment

Fifteen people spoke, mostly about Noble Station, store vacancies and other problems in the Coventry business district, and the custom among some in the Orthodox Jewish community of sacrificing chickens in a ritual prior to the Yom Kippur holiday. One man asked about no parking and other street signs to combat speeding on his street.

Several people commented in opposition to Noble Station, a proposed low-income housing development on Noble Road, claiming that the project has been fast-tracked to take advantage of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits. They claim the neighborhood is lower income and has a dearth of shopping and other essential services. They also characterized the design as cell-block construction and too concentrated. Noting that the area was “historically redlined” and had plenty of affordable housing available, they expressed preference for mixed income housing, rehabilitation of existing structures, and infill building. Mayor Seren said the project will be presented to the Planning Commission and the Architectural Board of Review before it comes to council.

Many current and former Coventry business district merchants including Steve Presser, Tom Fello, Kathy Blackman, Ash O’Connor, and Suzanne DeGaetano expressed concerns about the district, including numerous (18) vacancies and the condition of the city parking garage. They read a statement from the executive director of the Coventry Special Improvement District (SID) requesting active intervention and resources from the city. They claimed a lack of clarity about what they could request and expect from ARPA funds.

Several speakers maintained that the Jewish Orthodox custom of Kaparos, the ritual slaughtering of chicken in atonement for sin, was a public health concern that may supersede freedom of religion. They noted that coins may be used by some in the Orthodox community instead of animals. A group came to council with the same concern last year.

Steve Presser, a board member of Heights Arts, read a letter from Rachel Berman, Heights Arts executive director, claiming that the proposed city arts council is unnecessary as it would perform the same tasks as Heights Arts and could thus make Heights Arts redundant.

Mayor’s report

Mayor Seren presented several bids for projects and requested authorization to solicit bids for others. He discussed the Ohio Means Jobs Success Fair that attracted several applicants to the police academy, a federal grant for safe streets and roads, the Noble School traffic pattern study, and the first town hall meeting about recreation facilities.

Clerk of council’s report

Inn on Coventry has applied for a liquor permit transfer.

Council actions

On first reading, council:

  • Amended the appropriations and expenditures budget.
  • Approved implementation of the public services plan for the Coventry Village SID.
  • Confirmed the mayor’s appointment of Tas Nadas to the Civil Service Commission, for a term ending Aug. 31, 2029.
  • Authorized purchase of a recycling collection truck through the cooperative purchasing program, at a cost not to exceed $481,834.79. Recycling is up with implementation of the new bin system, and a grant from Ohio EPA will pay $200,000. 
  • Extended the term with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health for grant funding under the Lead Hazard Remediation Grant Program for lead remediation work in dwelling units to September 20, 2024.
  • Extended an agreement with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health to fund lead remediation on residential properties in the city through Sept. 30, 2024. This includes an award of $200,000 from the board of health’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Subsidy program.

Council heard first readings for:

  • A resolution to allocate $5,000 to FutureHeights to co-sponsor the Heights Music Hop. FutureHeights will present information about this request at the Aug. 21 council meeting.
  • An ordinance to establish an arts commission for the city and provide for appointment, powers, and duties of the commission. 
  • A resolution to confirm the appointment of Danny R. Williams as city administrator. There will be a public hearing Aug. 14 at 5:30 p.m.

Council member comments

Melody Joy Hart, council president, spoke about a council reset. She said all members are on "Team Cleveland Heights," working together for the residents.

Tony Cuda said he was moved by a room packed with passionate people, that he had heard everything that was said, and that ARPA funds for businesses and neighborhoods are his priorities. He concluded all should stay engaged and involved.

Gail Larson thanked the mayor for moving the Noble Elementary School traffic calming plan forward.

Anthony Mattox reported that the Planning and Development Committee met July 17 to discuss Dennison Park, the Noble Road Corridor, and other concerns about Noble Road.

Mattox also objected to public comments inferring that a majority Black council and a Black mayor were trying to redline development. He said he was tired of people using race in the way some public commenters did. The audience protested Mattox’s statements; raised voices ensued from the public and Mattox.

Committee of the Whole

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District presented plans for the Doan Brook Restoration project and requested that Cleveland Heights make a community decision about primary elements and amenities. Combining these with the NEORSD planning process would save money. The same presentation will take place at Shaker Heights City Council on Aug. 14.

Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance spoke about the violence intervention program they propose to implement in Cleveland Heights. This public health approach to gun violence works with 14– 24-year-old clients in the community, courts, and hospitals doing prevention, intervention, and restorative work.

Noble Elementary School Traffic Solutions proposed establishing a time-based one-way pattern around the school at pick up and drop off times, along with clear traffic signals, to reduce confusion. The cost would be approximately $39,000 for equipment and labor.

In addition to the presentations detailed above, the Committee of the Whole had a 20-minute executive session to discuss the appointment of a public official.

There was discussion of housing and building inspection. Building permit income is up. The administration is working to round out housing inspection with a goal of bringing it back in-house; staff is difficult to find, as all cities are looking for staff and little inspector training is available in Ohio. The city has hired a chief building inspector.

The next regular council meeting will be Aug. 21, 2023, 7:30 p.m. Other upcoming meetings include a Municipal Services and Environmental Sustainability Committee meeting on Aug. 21, 10 am.

LWV Observer: Blanche Valancy.

Meeting packets, legislation, and other information can be found at: https://www.clevelandheights.com/1142/2021-Agendas-and-Minutes.

Videos of council meetings can be viewed on the “City of Cleveland Heights, OH” YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/ClevelandHeightsOH.

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Volume 16, Issue 9, Posted 10:28 AM, 09.12.2023