Cleveland Heights City Council meeting highlights 12-18-2023

DECEMBER 18, 2023 - regular meeting

  • Public comment
  • Mayor’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, Anthony Mattox Jr., and Davida Russell. Also present was William Hanna, law director. The meeting ran for about two and one half hours.

Public comment

A resident expressed hope that ARPA funding and the Comprehensive & Equitable Safety Action Plan would include the needs of the Noble neighborhood.

A resident thanked the city for supporting the LGBTQ+ community and urged approval of the resolution contracting with Bellefaire JCB for law enforcement training. He also urged council to approve establishment of the Arts Commission and thanked outgoing Council President Hart for her service during a tumultuous transition.

Bellefaire JCB Executive Director Jeffrey Lox thanked council for considering working with Bellefaire to serve LGBTQIA+ youth. Another resident expressed support for the legislation.

Journey Center for Safety and Healing Board Chairman Eric Logan thanked council for considering the Journey Center legislation to support victims of domestic violence. A resident also expressed support for the legislation.

A resident complained about the frequent passage of legislation as emergency measures and also objected to using ARPA funds for shipping containers at Denison Park. Law Director Hanna explained that passing municipal legislation on “emergency” means the legislation takes effect immediately upon passage.

Heights Arts Executive Director Rachel Bernstein, Lake Erie Ink Executive Director Amy Rosenbluth, and a Heights Arts board member offered support for the legislation establishing an Arts Commission.

A resident spoke in support of the Arts Commission and the proposed changes to the Community Improvement Corporation board composition. He also asked the city to take a broad view of public art to include architectural design and asked for more information about the proposed Cain Park stramp and the Denison Park shipping containers.

State Rep. Juanita Brent expressed support for the legislation authorizing the Journey Center for Healing and Safety to provide a domestic violence victim advocate in the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court.

Seven residents opposed council’s Oct. 16, 2023, resolution expressing support for Israel and asked council to reconsider the resolution and call for a cease-fire.

Mayor’s report

Mayor Seren offered a proclamation expressing appreciation for outgoing Council President Hart’s leadership and service.

Council actions

On first reading, as emergency measures, council:

  • Adjusted the 2023 budget, transferring $18 million from the General Fund to other funds.
  • Authorized two agreements: 1) with Zupka & Associates to prepare annual audits of financial statements for 2023 through 2027, at a cost not to exceed $205,760; and 2) with Kimley-Horn to prepare a Comprehensive & Equitable Safety Action Plan (CESAP) as a step toward achieving the goals of Vision Zero. A Federal Safe Streets For All grant will cover all costs up to $198,710.
  • Renewed the city’s property, vehicle, law enforcement, general, employment practices, and public official liability coverage with the Public Entities Pool of Ohio for 2024, at a cost not to exceed $920,000. 
  • Extended the deadline for the Charter Review Commission to provide a report and recommendations to May 31, 2024.

On second reading council:

  • Authorized allocation, appropriation, and expenditure of $313,560 of ARPA funds to the Coventry Village Special Improvement District (SID) as an emergency measure. The award is conditioned to approval by Guidehouse Inc. and execution of a written agreement with the city. Mr. Cobb and Mr. Cuda recused themselves from the vote, as they serve on the Coventry SID’s Board.
  • Expanded the Cleveland Heights Community Improvement Corporation Board of Directors to include five members appointed by the mayor, subject to approval by council. Four of the appointed members must be Cleveland Heights residents. Appointed members must have a background and expertise in a field related to the corporation’s purpose, such as real estate development or marketing, finance, banking, accounting, construction, community development, business or economic development, property management, or law. Appointed members will serve three-year terms and may be appointed for multiple terms. The Department of Planning and Development director will replace the housing director as an ex-officio member. Ms. Russell and Mr. Cuda voted no. Mr. Cuda said he opposed the mayor appointing board members. 
  • Authorized changes to the 2024 budget, as an emergency measure. 
  • Authorized, as an emergency measure, an agreement with the Journey Center for Healing and Safety for a domestic abuse victim advocate in the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court and other programs, at a cost not to exceed $300,000.
  • Authorized, as an emergency measure, a two-year agreement with Bellefaire JCB for law enforcement training and updating the youth diversion and mentoring program to better serve transgender and other LGBTQIA+ youth, at a cost not to exceed $25,000.

On fourth reading council:

  • Established an Arts Commission to comprise between seven and 11 members, appointed by the mayor and subject to confirmation by council. Members should represent the diversity of arts disciplines in the community as well as demographic and geographic diversity. Members must be Cleveland Heights residents and have training and experience in the arts, such as presenting, producing, funding, managing, advocating, and promoting arts creation. The commission will advise council and the mayor on arts policies, programs, and projects. Before the vote, council removed the emergency measure clause. Mr. Cuda voted no explaining that he supports an Arts Commission but opposes the mayor appointing members. 
  • Authorized, on emergency, the allocation, appropriation, and expenditure of $15,014,749 of ARPA funds for programs related to housing, parks and recreation, business assistance, safety and health, youth services, and arts. Awards to third-party recipients are conditioned upon approval by Guidehouse Inc. and execution of a written agreement with the city.

Using a consent agenda, council proclaimed Jan. 11, 2024, as National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and January 2024 as National Poverty in American Awareness Month.

Council member comments

All members thanked outgoing Council President Hart for her service, praising her integrity, hard work, leadership, and collaborative approach in a difficult role during the challenging first two years of the new form of government.

Mr. Cobb reported a vacancy on the Architectural Board of Review and urged licensed architects who are Cleveland Heights residents to apply.

Ms. Hart committed to introducing a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. She also commented that it was a privilege to serve on council. She thanked city staff, Council Clerk Balester, Digital Coordinator Steve Barker, Law Director Hanna, Assistant Law Director Laure Wagner, council members, members of boards and commissions, and residents. She pointed to the housing diversion program and collaboration on city budgets and ARPA allocations as successes. She urged council to focus on the city’s residents and businesses and recommended Craig Cobb to lead the next council.

Committee of the whole

The Committee of the Whole meeting was largely devoted to a review of today’s legislation.

LWV Observer: Jill Tatem.

Meeting packets, legislation, and other information can be found on the city website 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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