Cleveland Heights voters have decided to change the way the city has handled business since 1921, by approving Issue 26 in the Nov. 5 election.
With 6,922 citizens (64.1%) voting “yes” on Issue 26 and 3,877 citizens (36%) voting “no,” the ballot issue changes the charter to a strong mayor form of government.
Historically in Cleveland Heights, seven at-large city council members have been elected by the voters. The elected councilmembers then selected a council president and vice president, who hold respective titles as mayor and vice-mayor.
However, those titles are largely ceremonial and councilmembers serve in a part-time capacity. City council also appoints a nonpartisan city manager to handle the city’s business, day-to-day activities and answer to council.
Cleveland Heights and Bedford are two cities in the area that have used a city manager form of government.
As a result of this election, there will be a mayoral election in November 2021; the first directly elected mayor of Cleveland Heights will take office in January 2022.
Two groups were advocating in the city regarding this issue. Citizens for an Elected Mayor was attempting to change the charter to an elected mayor with a “yes” vote on the issue, while Cleveland Heights Citizens for Good Government was advocating for a “no” vote to maintain the appointed city manager.
According to Michael E. Bennett, secretary of Citizens for an Elected Mayor, when the new mayor takes office in 2022, Cleveland Heights will have two true branches of government.
“We’ll have an executive branch led by a person who is directly elected by the people to be the CEO, if you will,” Bennett said. The mayor will then appoint a city administrator who will function much like the current manager does.
“You know, bringing that level of professional operational experience and expertise to manage the city day to day,” Bennett said. “That leaves council with its responsibility as the legislative and policymaking body of the city.”
Noting council will continue to pass ordinances, create legislation, revise city code and provide budgetary oversight, Bennett explained, the mayor will choose the city administrator, and council must still approve the appointment.
“So really what we’ll get in 2022 is two branches of government with checks and balances,” Bennett said. “And a mayor who will be able to be the visible leader ... who can represent the city across the community, and across the region, as an equal with the mayors that they have in now 56 of the 57 municipalities in Cuyahoga County.”
Vice mayor Melissa A. Yasinow advocated for a “no” vote on the issue.
During the campaign, a doctored photo put out on an oversized postcard sent by Citizens for an Elected Mayor led to some confusion among residents, said Yasinow, who raised objections at a city council meeting. In addition, there was a glitch in advertising the proposed charter changes in The Sun Press.
“This was obviously not the result that I or the ‘no’ campaign had worked for,” Yasinow said. “But we, as a community, will now come together and do our best for the citizens of Cleveland Heights.”