As always, these elections are important. These are local and as such means that there is the smallest pool of people voting for each office that is up for election. That means your vote means even more this time. Issues like tax hikes, renewals and redistricting are all significant and this is your opportunity to show that you care about them and show the politicians that you count. When officials see we vote, they know they have to continue to earn it. As always, these are suggestions based on my research. I encourage everyone to know the issues and the candidates and make informed decisions. Please consider voting for the following and see the expanded explanations at the bottom.
City of Cleveland Heights Council At Large: vote for up to three out of six: Keba Sylla, Khalil Seren, and Tas Nadas
City of University Heights Council: (vote 4 of 3) There are 3 candidates running for 4 open seats and showing them our support makes good sense for our community and is certainly an easy choice in a race as uncontentious as this one with good candidates.
Cleveland Heights University Heights Board of Education: (vote 2/3) James Posch
State of OH Issue 1: Redistricting. This is the fairest version I’ve seen yet. Vote Yes
State of OH Issue 2: Anti-Monopoly. Good policy. Prevents the actualization of Issue 3 even if it passes. Vote Yes.
State of OH Issue 3: Legalization of Marijuana including recreational use in all forms, food, smoked, and medical compounds. I shouldn’t even have to say it but, Vote NO
Cuyahoga County Issue 8: Cigarette tax that is already in effect that supports the arts. No opinion, see comments
Cuyahoga County Issue 9: County Charter Revision improving auditing process with more outside oversight. Vote Yes
City of Cleveland Heights Issue 53: Income tax increase rate of .25% to a total of 2.25%. We need it and there is no way around it without cutting vital services. After researching claims to the contrary I have concluded that we need to Vote YES.
As always, thank you for your interest,
October 10, 2015
However you choose to vote, stand up and be counted and make our community a force to be counted with your vote!
City Council for Cleveland Heights: For the past 20 years, our city has had poor auditing, trusting the city manager, bringing us to a situation today where money is tight. The water department has been losing money, literally leaking it for decades. That city manager is gone and thanks in part to Mayor Wilcox, the oldest standing member who is now vacating his seat, the right questions have been asked and action taken. He has been supportive of our community over the years and deserves our thanks.
The longest serving member, Cheryl Stephens, is only in her second term with Jason Stein following at one and half. Yasinow and Coryell are serving their first. These are the people who identified the problems with the budget, held the old city manager to the fire, and have been working to save money through diligent staffing cuts. Mary Dunbar and Khallil Seren are in their first term, Seren being a very recent appointee.
What I looked for: reasoned approaches to what would happen if this tax passes (see issue 53) and what would happen if it didn’t; approaches toward city manager and the water problem; solutions that would work. The new council will need to work together to get things done. Decisions by council need to be made as a group with a majority vote, so the ability to work together as part of a team to improve the situation is crucial. They have a daunting task ahead of them to fix past problems and will need strong economic development and budget/auditing/business skills as well as coalition building and negotiating skills. They need to have a practical and realistic approach to how cities function and they need to be able to build and form consensus. Each of the candidates below brings something to that table.
Lastly, our community wants someone who will pick up the phone when we call, someone who knows us and will take our needs to heart. Part of being a councilman at large is responding to the needs of various neighborhoods. Pot hole filling is universal, but some neighborhoods have residential groups with their issues like dog walking near Cain park not too long ago. In ours, for example, it means being supportive of the kind of growth that Mosdos’s purchase of Millikin would have meant (past) and the needs of the Hebrew Academy and its (future) use of the Oakwood property including zoning, fencing, and preventing/creating cut-through traffic. Anchoring our community will grow the neighborhood which means a stronger tax base and stronger city. Each candidate below has expressed support and understanding of this concept. In short, we want someone we feel knows and values the stability and growth we bring as well as our uniqueness which means we want someone responsive to our community to win a seat.
With all the challengers new to the game, there is little track record to work from. I have met with candidates and feel that the following candidates are worth considering and will list why below.
Keba Sylla. Keba has worked on the Citizens Advisory Committee for years (and has been president for two) and has the background to do a good job as well as the most experience. He is the only candidate talking about reforming the archaic zoning code to make it easier for companies and individuals to locate and grow here without being pinned down to codes voted in from the 1950’s. Other cities are doing this, and this basic step has been overlooked here. He is clear on the need to maintain police and fire staffing levels. Thought not outspoken and unfortunately not a strong campaigner, he is the most qualified and one who most greatly understands our community. Though he supports the tax increase, he has varied suggestions to making sure it is a long time before we see one again.
T Nadas: No one stresses listening and learning as much as this newcomer. He is also the one with the big idea of how to generate revenue streams and make our community desirable to businesses and residents alike (through ultra-high-speed internet). With only business and no government experience, he has garnered little attention, but hearing him speak is a refreshing change reflecting an openness and real enthusiasm for working hard as councilman. He dismisses his early non-voting record as a function of being in his early twenties and not paying attention to the value of community leadership because of his focus on education, dating and career. Now 29 and recently married, this newly acquired value is here to stay. He was against the tax until he heard further information and now he is for it. While this sounds naïve, he comes across as sincerely learning and open to new points of view. Coming from his own ethnic community (Hungarian) he feels a kinship and understanding towards individual constituencies like ours, meaning he listens to our needs as they come up. To make sure we don’t need further tax, he hopes to use his project management skills at the Cleveland Clinic to streamline processes at the city level to eliminate redundancy. Yes, he will have a learning curve, but he also has the appeal (so popular in the presidential realm) of being the outsider. This could be a valuable asset on council.
Khalil Seren: An appointee recommended by Jason Stein. He is well thought out and experienced in policy. He is an advocate for hiring an economic development director as are both the above candidates. Though he voted for the tax, he supported doing so with a sunset clause, which means the tax would only be temporary. He was unsuccessful in making it happen, but it demonstrates his grasp of the impact of the tax on the citizenry and his desire to strengthen the budget within the short term. He is clear that maintaining services, safety and otherwise, is vital to keeping Cleveland Heights viable. He also understands the need, though the process may take time, to have a vital and professional use of the Severance property, demonstrating knowledge of what is important to us.
Unversity Heights City Council: In this case there are 4 open seats and only 3 candidates running making it a sure thing that they will get in. Voting for the candidates would show our hope of working well together in the future whereas not to vote for them would send an unintended negative message. It should also be mentioned that there is great hope that Michelle Weiss will be successful in her role and do good things on behalf of the city as whole and as a representative of our community. I would therefore urge you to vote FOR ALL the Candidates. The fourth will end up being an appointee.
State Issue 1: Redistricting Change. First, some background. After the every-10-year-census, when the numbers are in regarding who moved where and how many live in your area, any changes in numbers mean a change in how you will be grouped for representation in government. Redistricting happens by a committee made up of elected officials and appointees and, looking at the new numbers, they redraw the districts for electing who your state representatives will be.
Quick Vocabulary Quiz. How is redistricting different than reapportionment? If we are talking about who goes to Columbus, we are talking redistricting. If we are talking who goes DC we are talking reapportionment. So this issue addresses districts for state offices only, not Federal offices.
Why do it? Well, here’s another fun civics vocabulary word for you. Gerrymandering. Wikipedia’s definition: The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under Governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced /ˈɡɛri/) in 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.
So the answer to the question. why make a law addressing gerrymandering, is simply this. It looks an awful lot like cheating. And if it looks like cheating and smells like cheating, even though it is perfectly legal, we all know it is cheating… But is it fair? Well, it is fair in the sense that parties come in and out of favor and while drawing districts to create safe seats works, the sword cuts both ways and is equally used by both parties when they come to power.
So after the last redistricting and reapportionment occurred, Ohio ended up with a thin district that hugged the lake in what everyone acknowledged was one of the most egregious examples of gerrymandering imaginable. Since then, I have seen many versions of this kind of revision come up. Most were dismissed, either by voters, or even before getting to the ballot as partisan sour grapes by the minority, or paid for by outside interests hoping to influence the great swing state of Ohio.
This is the fairest version I’ve seen. It has bi-partisan support, support from every organization I’ve looked at and both a Democrat and Republican co-sponsor. It is significant that this came from our state legislature and not via citizen petition.
So what does this amendment do? Currently, the board includes 7 officers (4 elected) and requires that a minimum of 2 of its members be from the opposing party. The new law raises the minimum to three, upping the minority representation. So even if all four elected officials are with the same party, the other three would be minority party but also still minority of the board remaining true to the people’s vote (another reason showing up for elections matters.) Secondly, it requires that the demarcations look like they make sense and not cut through areas that should remain whole (NY fought a similar battle when their apportionment board tried to split the frum neighborhoods in Brooklyn, diluting their vote). So far so good. The big change is that if the board can’t get a BIPARTISAN majority to sign off on it, and the 4 who vote it in are from the same party, then the redistricting goes through, but only for 4 years, not all 10. This means districts could change quicker and is the downside of this. It may mean your representative keeps changing as lines are redrawn. More likely, the party in power will now be incentivized to be just a little more reasonable to get some bipartisan support so that they don’t risk losing their power after only four years. With intervening elections, the party who misuses this could be ousted and risk more than the one or two “safe seats”. The threat of that consequence is assumed to be enough to keep the craziest redrawings off the table.
The majority would still be the majority and still have its advantage honoring the people’s vote yet would be restrained from going overboard with it. It’s the best version of minimizing gerrymandering without changing the balance of power I’ve seen yet. Remember that the pendulum does swing between parties fairly regularly. So the party in control now may find itself on the other side of this too, so the principle of fair for one being fair for all would hold true then too. This is more transparent. If it works for Redistricting and if the Supreme Court decides on a similar plan for reapportionment in another state positively, then look to see another bill identical to this for the federal offices down the line. Vote Yes
Issue 2: Stops the use of the state constitution from creating monopolies. We already have them for the lottery and liquor. Recently Gambling was voted in using a monopoly. Those in that business became billionaires overnight. Crain’s Cleveland Business said it best in an editorial sarcastically suggesting that the best way for business owners to stop worrying about the competition is to get an amendment banning any. Issue 3 looks to create another monopoly – for the legalization of Marijuana. This law says enough is enough; monopolies do not belong enshrined in the constitution whose purpose is to protect the rights of the people, not special interest groups’ profits. If you really want a monopoly, you can still have one, but the new law would require the voters to go through a two-step process – one for the law and another for the monopoly aspect of it (on the same ballot)- before it would pass. It could also supersede Issue 3 in the event both pass. Maybe. It would likely go to the Ohio Supreme Court for a ruling. The only cons are that it would be harder to get such monopolies on the ballot, which seems obvious, but may obscure the will of the people in such an instance. It should be noted that the tax dollars from the aforementioned monopolies have not been the amounts promised at the time they were being campaigned. Vote YES
Issue 3: Legalization of Cannabis, i.e. marijuana. This law would allow, in certain locations, the growing of and then the dispensing of marijuana in any form including for medical and recreational use. I spoke with Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board (ADAMHS) who said they would not oppose Federal regulation of medical marijuana via the FDA. I agree that neurology patients -Parkinson’s, epilepsy, even glaucoma patients should not be denied its benefits but that it should be classified and regulated similarly to oxycodone (Percocet) . Notable is that treatments are usually in a tincture form, not smoked. Smoking it provides no health benefits. Although famous for taking the edge off the nausea caused by treatment for cancer, it may be splitting hairs to note that it does not make you healthy, and it does not treat the illness; only the side effects of another treatment. Most revealing was learning that it is only effective for a small percentage of cancer patients. A law providing for medical marijuana could cover that in any event. However, although marketing speaks about the medical aspect, this law allows for recreational use.
One of the arguments for its legalization is that our jails are filled with kids doing time for mere drug possession. President Obama has argued repeatedly that incarcerating youth long term for merely the nonviolent crime of smoking a joint is wrong. Decriminalize it and you save the prison system tons of money for “minor” offenses argue the proponents. But the facts are that Ohio has essentially already taken care of that problem by imposing fines on amounts for personal use. Up to 200 joints or so and the law is a small fine. Larger for between 200-400 rolls. More than that, and it’s not for personal use anymore; it’s for dealing/selling. That’s where the time comes in. There are just over 50,000 people in Ohio’s prisons. Only 1/10 of 1% are marijuana possession offenders with no prior sentences. So that’s only about 50 people. Though some still feel too much time is spent even handling the minor offenses, others feel we are where we should be on balance.
Colorado legalized it recreationally and the results there are telling. Arrests for Driving under Influence or DUI’s doubled in Denver and rose 41% state wide. Additionally, CO emergency rooms have seen pediatric deaths where children ate food laced with the drug. It would be available in candy and brownie form for example; toxic to children, but ever so enticing looking. It puts children at risk statewide.
Less obviously, COSE, a prominent organization representing small businesses, points out cost of loss of business due to hangovers and addictions and that legalizing it would make it harder to enforce drug testing and drug free policy – though they still could – just tougher read costlier if forced to defend the policy. Further, because it is enshrined as a monopoly, it would permanently unfairly lock out small businesses from what is projected to be a billion dollar business. Damage to young minds can be permanent: A study in mice from the University of Maryland School of Medicine reveals that regular use of marijuana during adolescence could damage brain function, potentially increasing the risk for schizophrenia and other psychiatric problems. National Institute of Drug Abuse reports the results of a large longitudinal study conducted in New Zealand, which found that frequent and persistent marijuana use starting in adolescence was associated with a loss of an average of 8 IQ points measured in mid-adulthood.26 Significantly, in that study, those who used marijuana heavily as teenagers and quit using as adults did not recover the lost IQ points And the argument that it is a gateway drug with more having access, becomes a greater concern.
It may seem obvious that there could be an increase in crime, but here’s one you may have overlooked. All banks with FDIC insurance must follow federal guidelines which prohibit doing business with businesses operating illegally by federal, not state standards. Since Cannibis is illegal at the Federal level, all THC related businesses cannot open bank accounts. They have no credit nor check writing ability. And as a cash-only business, they are an obvious target for money-laundering. Crime goes up. Because of all the risks to the public and individuals since the Issue allows recreational use, Vote NO
County Issue 8 This is a renewal, not a new tax. This sin tax is therefore not an increase, but to continue, it has to be voted upon again. It is only on cigarettes, something which poses health risks and should be avoided anyway. The tax supports the arts. Some good places. Some with values contrary to the Torah. The mix does include some youth programming, but also big organizations. No opinion
County Issue 9:. Here we go again: another Charter Amendment. To recap: Our county changed its form of government from three county commissioners to a county council made up of wards with one county executive and changed the county charter to make it so. While this form of government works better, going about the county’s business in line with the charter revealed many weaknesses in the original version. Any change must go to a vote.
With the County Executive and the Fiscal Officer on the auditing board, they are essentially auditing themselves. Also, the bosses of the other members of the committee members are on the committee potentially stifling honest evaluation. It’s like the restaurant owner being his own mashgiach. With this amendment the Fiscal Officer and County Executive will become non-voting members, essentially just making themselves available to explain why certain line items are there. The only voting board member on the panel remaining would be the president. The others would be residents making it a citizen’s oversight committee. The last time it was voted on, the move to change it didn’t pass probably because the Cleveland Plain Dealer said it didn’t go far enough. It would have changed the board to include three such residents as outside auditors. This new version makes it four i.e. four citizens and one president voting with input from the two nonvoting board members. Vote YES
Issue 53 Cleveland Heights income Tax increase. Gulp. There is no choice. Pardon all the details below, but I wouldn’t advocate increasing tax without backing it up. The history is that we had a City Manager who was not being audited by the city council as they should have been going back about 20 years. They were trusting that he was doing a good job and that the numbers were what he said they were. Even the state auditors didn’t notice the problems until the city did a line by line audit because the losses weren’t making sense. Council made appropriate, non-vital cuts as detailed below, but with the loss of the Estate tax and State monies cut from the recent budget, we will fall far short in 2016 without either this tax or draconian cuts.
Here are the specifics. We have all fairly new board members now who are stepping up and dealing with it. (see council information above) . A recently released independent financial study, paid for by the city, found that our current rate of revenue would leave a shortfall of 2.6 million dollars in 2016. They attribute that to population loss (i.e. loss of their income tax), the “Great Recession” causing falling income growth which translates to lower tax income bills, housing market collapse and the lower property valuation and foreclosures, and loss of state shared revenue which means less coming from the state for programs we might need, as well as loss of the Estate Tax in 2011. They note that Cleveland Heights council has already implemented many of the cost savings plans that would be recommended which include
- Pursue Income tax increase, which Council has put on this ballot.
- Reallocate General expenditures to other eligible funds, which will make the general fund healthier but not have a significant impact on the overall budget without appropriate cuts.
- Find efficient partnerships through regionalization such as the healthcare program, fire dispatch and gasoline and salt purchases, and using RITA instead of its own tax collection department. Regionalization has been something Jason Stein has been advocating. They recommend further utilization of this strategy such as more coordination for police and fire departments which requires careful evaluation to avoid decreased safety services –and, as we are in the process of moving forward with , the water department.
- Build and maintain a healthy general fund reserve balance to allow us to weather dips in the economy. To do this they will likely hire an economic development czar, a position currently vacant since the most recent one left.
- Advocate for our needs at the state level. Our participation in these efforts so far reduced the impact from the most recent state action.
- Diversify revenue streams, namely, bring in a variety of businesses and developers. There were several practical suggestions given including seed-financing in ways we already are for better positioning.
- Consider options to eliminate financial liability of the water fund. This is the big discussion of late and it seems like the regionalization through the city of Cleveland is the most viable option right now. For more on this topic, search Local Jewish News for Cleveland Heights Water. Truly this is just another example of regionalization being indicated, but the city is literally leaking so much money from this one program, that it deserves attention in its own right.
If this tax does not pass, there are proposed cuts, but even if those are made, the budget shortfall would catch up to us again by 2021. However, the cuts now proposed are vital to safety and maintaining basic services. Many cuts have been made in various departments by not rehiring after employees retire, asking for further employee contributions to retirement plans, combining jobs so that one person is now doing what was formerly done by two or three, wage freezes for non-union employees, collective bargaining agreement concessions and so on. The only raises given have been to those taking on more than one job. Fire and Police, for example have not seen an increase in city contributions to their retirement funds since 1986. Subsidies to Cain Park programming have dropped significantly as they make plans to make it self-sufficient in the near future.
In short, the city has been making the cuts as necessary, but even with those will fall short next year without the increase. Failure to pass this tax necessarily means more cuts, and those will include 12 firefighters, 8 police officers and 10 public works employees. Police staffing is where it needs to be to maintain safety. Cuts to that department would jeopardize response times, patrols, and crossing guards. The fire department faces a similar situation where cuts will mean taking one ambulance out of service, reducing EMS response times. Salt and recycling crews would also be affected. In short, services to the people would suffer should the increase fail. Already, phone calls to the housing, senior and other departments take a long time for response due to recent staffing decline.
It should be noted that this increase is in line with neighboring cities. This raise is a .255 raise to 2.25%. Shaker Heights recently raised theirs .50% to the same 2.25% and University Heights also pays 2.25%. South Euclid and Lyndhurst both pay 2%. City Hall has not dipped its hand into our pockets as often as has the School Board. Most of our tax increases (in fact most of our tax bill – 65%) comes from the public school system (the city’s portion is only 11% with library and county taking the rest.) Frustration with high taxes is understandable; however it is not the city that is the big offender in this area, but the School Board.
The con: Perhaps it could be handled as a property tax levy instead of an income tax increase, but it is not clear how that would be advantageous. There is speculation that the city agreed to ask for this kind of tax instead of a property tax to better enable the schools to pass their property tax increase in March when they asked them not to put it on this ballot.
There are those that feel that we can ride this out without the tax increase, but the places they are looking are either ideas for future revenue which can’t be actualized now or counted on, money already spent that cannot be recouped, or cuts that would be too small to avoid the vital cuts council is talking about. The main source of our taxation and overspending is from the schools which operate separately from the city. Unlike the School Board, the Council has been careful about coming to the people to raise taxes. They have made appropriate cuts and taken appropriate measures to get us this far along. In short, saying no to this tax will be saying no to ourselves because the inevitable cuts will come and they will hurt. I don’t like it any more than you do, but I think the only right vote is a YES