Cleveland Heights voters to decide question of how they will be governed going forward

Posted at 10:04 AM, Nov 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-01 13:24:08-04

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — In 1921, the Cleveland Indians were the reigning World Series Champs, the City of Cleveland was the fifth largest in the country and the Village of Cleveland Heights became the City of Cleveland Heights and adopted a council - manager form of government. But after nearly a century, Cleveland Heights residents will decide this fall by way of a referendum whether to change that.

Council-manager is the most common form of government in communities with more than 2,500 residents according to the International City/County Management Association. In Cleveland Heights, there are seven council members elected to four year terms who then approve the hiring of a city manager, a full-time administrator to carry out the councils directives and oversee the day to day operations of the city. The mayor is simply one of the council members who is elected among the seven as council president.

What voters will decide in November is whether to replace the council-manager system with a strong mayor format with the mayor then carrying out the role of the city's chief executive both in title and in duties.

Supporters of the council-manager system argue the city manager is a non-partisan professional who is free to carry out day to day operations insulated from politics.

"It's a very progressive efficient form of government that has served this community well for 99 years and kept us out of all of the problems we typically see all around the county," said Mike Gaynier Co-Chair of the Vote No effort. "The research also shows us from IBM that our form of government operations are ten percent more efficient than elected mayor forms of government nationwide."

Those in favor of a strong mayor form of government argue insulated equals unaccountable to the people, only to council.

"We want the accountability to go to the voters not to 7 elected officials," said Tony Cuda, Campaign Manager of the Vote Yes effort. "We've had 98 years of no voting for leadership and people are hungry for leadership here and they want accountability that's what they want, they want to vote for their leadership and Issue 26 gives them that chance."

"We have a lot of good mayors around us and we see other cities flourishing with mayors and we want to make sure that we have those same opportunities," Cuda said. "Right now our city is lagging a little bit when it comes to economic development, housing values and so forth, we need that leadership that elected officials provide."

Gaynier disagrees.

"This thing really to me is a bait and switch, it is about gutting the form of government that we have now, it's about taking all of the power and consolidating it into the hands of one individual and then it's basically replacing qualified professional management with one politician."

While it's called a strong mayor form of government, the vote yes side points out it's actually a hybrid because the charter question also gives the new mayor the opportunity to hire a full-time administrator much like the system in place in neighboring Shaker Heights.

"We'll have a city administrator that runs day-to-day operations with the same qualifications as our current city manager so really it's the best of both worlds," Cuda said.

Gaynier though though believes it wouldn't be the same. "You would have a city administrator in a much diminished role with less accountability to the council," he said. "Most likely would come from somebody connected to the elected mayor and would not be answerable to the city council just solely to the elected mayor vs. now when they are accountable and hired by the city council."

This is the Issue 26 question as it will appear before Cleveland Heights voters on Tuesday:

"Shall various Articles of the Charter of the City of Cleveland Heights be amended to change the form of government from its current elected Council and appointed Manager form, to an elected Mayor and Council form, and to provide for the powers, duties, four-year term, qualifications, and removal process for the office of the Mayor, and to create the position of the City Administrator appointed by the Mayor and subject to Council approval who shall be responsible for assisting the Mayor in overseeing the administrative functions of the City, commencing with the initial election of the Mayor to occur at the regular municipal election occurring in the year 2021; and to eliminate the City Manager position?"

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