Building bridges

Danny Williams returns calls. That’s the first thing we learned when Cleveland Heights’ new city administrator agreed to a Zoom interview with us shortly after the start of the year. He spoke with us for nearly an hour and promptly answered e-mailed follow-up questions. Here are some highlights:

"My ultimate goal is for the public to look back on the first elected mayoral administration as the most productive in anyone's memory," Williams stated. He cited the following as examples of what such productivity might include: "a more integrated and comprehensive approach to public safety, incorporating mental health and violence interrupter interventions; demonstrable and significant improvement in delivery of basic city services; continued strong support of business districts; demonstrated support of homeowners seeking to preserve or improve our housing stock; and growth of our population."

He described himself as primary advisor to Mayor Kahlil Seren, "assist[ing] in carrying out his strategic vision."

Williams is chief operating officer, and five department heads report to him: Colette Clinkscale, public works; Kelly Ledbetter, parks and recreation; Ryan Prosser, information technology; Tara Schuster (acting head), finance; and Mike Thomas, communications. The directors of the law, public safety, and planning and development report directly to the mayor.

Seren and Williams meet weekly with each department head, and with the president and vice president of city council. They meet monthly with all department heads together, to discuss "the status of major projects and key strategic priorities,” and to “take advantage of collective experience and judgment.”

Williams also serves as a liaison between the administration and council, "[to keep them] well-informed about each other." Every council meeting agenda now includes City Administrator's Report; but this will be of little benefit to the public unless he regularly takes the opportunity to present substantive information.

Asked about the greatest challenges facing the city, Williams cited: (1) public safety; (2) economic and community development; (3) growing the population; and (4) preserving and improving upon civic amenities.

Regarding public safety, Williams said, “The city can’t address access to guns, but is working to stem root causes of violence. We are collaborating with Shaker Heights on pairing mental health professionals with police.” He alluded also to "the need to attract talent to our safety forces."

Civic amenities include the community center and Cumberland Pool, which Williams said require "community input and buy-in.”

“In addition,” Williams said, “we must take steps to . . . grow our tree canopy, which has been declining over the years. Finally, our parks require attention."

In a follow-up, Williams added a fifth challenge to those facing the city: "Misinformation that is propagated suggesting nefarious plots and conspiracies behind administration or council actions.”

The best way to head off rumors and misinformation, we maintain, is to build trust by providing consistently excellent services, including issuing timely, reliable information to the community and the media.

We brought up the long-neglected city website,, which is outdated, often inaccurate, and frustrating to navigate. (Frankly, it’s an embarrassment.) Williams referred us to Communications Director Thomas, whose own department is not listed on the site. Thomas told us a revamp is underway, and improvements will roll out in stages beginning later this year. The communications department will soon be adding two new staff members, which Thomas feels should facilitate routine and timely updating.

Another way to build trust is by ensuring that residents receive prompt answers to their queries. Williams is promoting a staff philosophy of "no wrong doors," meaning that even if you call or wander into the wrong department, you [should] receive a helpful response.

We reminded him that residents still complain about not getting return calls from City Hall. Recently this happened to one of us. "If you don't get a call back, call me," said Williams, on the record. His number: 216-291-4995.

[Editor's note: The online version of this article has been corrected to note that Ryan Prosser is the head of Cleveland Heights' Information Technology Department.]

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are writers, editors and longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at

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Volume 17, Issue 2, Posted 4:53 PM, 01.30.2024