Cleveland Heights residents interested in sorting out Issue 26, a ballot issue that would change the charter to a strong mayor form of government, might find a legal notice and an oversized postcard on the issue a bit misleading.
First, a bit of background. Cleveland Heights City Council formed a charter commission in 2017 to research and propose changes to the government.
That group made its proposals to city council this year and then disbanded. City council decided not to bring forward the charter commission’s proposals to voters.
Meanwhile, Citizens for an Elected Mayor formed proposing a different set of charter changes. That group proposed Issue 26, which advocates changing the charter to a strong mayor form of government.
A doctored photo put out on an oversized postcard sent by Citizens for an Elected Mayor led to some confusion among residents, said Melissa Yasinow, vice mayor of Cleveland Heights. In that image, the community center’s electronic sign reads “Vote YES! 26.”.
“They Photoshopped that billboard on this mailer to read yes on 26, thereby giving residents the false impression that the city was speaking and endorsing issue 26,” Yasinow said. “That message was never on the community center’s billboard. The city does not endorse in any way shape or form in either direction on ballot issues. To do so would be unlawful electioneering. So this Photoshopped, doctored photograph on their mailer not only … suggested endorsement by the city, but illegality by the city as well.”
Yasinow, who is opposed to Issue 26, did not stop there.
“If they are putting false statements, intentionally or otherwise, on their official campaign literature, I think residents should be very wary about foundational changes to our city’s constitution,” she said.
Michael E. Bennett, secretary of Citizens for an Elected Mayor, said the doctored image was meant as a bit of humor.
“It was intended to be humorous and maybe a little ironic,” Bennett said. “Clearly it was a mistake. Especially since five of seven council members making active contributions to the say no campaign. We made a mistake. We’ve pulled it. Our current literature does not have that photoshopped picture.”
Mike Gaynier is deputy treasurer of Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government, which opposes the charter changes in Issue 26. He served on the city’s charter commission, and after the charter commission was disbanded, formed the group to oppose the charter changes in Issue 26.
“We’re trying to keep politics out of Cleveland Heights for a reason,” Gaynier said. “This may just be the beginning of that kind of stuff. “
In addition, he said the campaign noticed problems with a legal advertisement that was published in the Sun Press on Oct. 3.
The ad failed to indicate what language was being changed. In addition, it listed the proponents’ and opponents’ arguments under incorrect headings.
Gaynier said by the time he called the assistant city manager, the problem had already been addressed.
“They were already on top of it and had seen the mistake,” he said. “I can’t criticize them for it. it was just an unfortunate mistake.”
Mary Trupo, director of communications and public engagement for the city of Cleveland Heights, said the Sun Press legal ad debacle was “an unfortunate error” that was being rectified by running the corrected version online and in print in The Plain Dealer.
“Cleveland Heights residents have always been exceedingly passionate and engaged citizens,” Truop said. “We’re seeing that engagement on both sides. .... That is something we would expect and actually encourage.”