Cleveland Heights Council Approves Elected Mayor Ballot Question

Cleveland Heights residents will decide this November if they want to change a 100-year-old precedent in its city management structure. City Council voted Monday night to place an initiative on the ballot to elect the city’s mayor.

Council also decided to table indefinitely another ballot proposal to change parts of the city’s charter that would have strengthened the current city manager form of government. Council was one vote short of the five votes needed to place the second measure on the ballot.

“We’re pleased that we’re going to be on the ballot by ourselves. No confusion,” said Tony Cuda, campaign manager for Citizens for an Elected Mayor.

The group collected more than 4,000 signatures to put the issue to voters. 

Cleveland Heights is currently run by a city manager appointed by the city council. The mayor is the council president. 

Citizens for an Elected Mayor wants an elected mayor who would be more responsive to resident concerns, Cuda said.

“We want to see economic development that has been sorely lacking in Cleveland Heights but has happened all around us. We want to see our housing values go back up,” Cuda said. “We’d like to see much quicker action. We’d like to see responsiveness from City Hall. A lot of people don’t get their phone calls returned. We’d like to see all the foreclosed and abandoned properties tended to… There’s no shortage of things to do here.”

The decision to place only one proposal before voters came down to Councilman Craig Cobb. He served on the Charter Review Commission and supports its recommendation that the city stick with its manager form of government. The commission made additional recommendations, including an ethics provision and gender-neutral language, but none of those recommendations will appear on the November ballot. 

Cobb said when he was appointed to the city council in April, he heard from dissatisfied residents who wanted the option to elect the mayor.

“I was committed to the voters being able to decide this issue in November and to decide it fairly,” said Cobb. “And so for me in the end, notwithstanding my allegiance to the Charter Review Commission and my belief in the current form of government, that did not supersede my belief that the will of the voters should be honored and they should have the opportunity to vote on one ballot proposal this fall.”

Cobb expects the commission’s recommended charter changes will likely appear on the ballot in March after voters decide on the elected mayor initiative.

Citizens for an Elected Mayor will now focus on fundraising as will Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government, a political action committee formed to support the city manager form of government. Cleveland Heights Vice Mayor Melissa Yasinow is a contributing member.

“We believe that it is very important for our city to have nonpartisan, professional and apolitical management handling the day-to-day operations of our city with an annual budget of over $80 million and over 600 employees,” Yasinow said. “We wanted to make sure that a qualified individual was doing that, that city services were being delivered efficiently, effectively, and that the hiring and firing of our employees would be based on expertise and experience, not upon partisanship or personal agendas.”

The group’s fundraising efforts will be matched to an extent by the International City Management Association, Yasinow said, though so far, the ICMA has not contributed to the PAC.

“I believe in and am proud of the city of Cleveland Heights and everything that we have accomplished. And I am proud that we have accomplished it with our form of government,” she said.

If voters approve the ballot initiative this November, the first election for Cleveland Heights mayor would take place in 2021 — 100 years after voters ratified the city's charter in 1921.

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