February 14, 2022 CoW Meeting

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Committee of the Whole

You can find the agenda HERE and the council packet for the week HERE. You can watch a video of the meeting HERE.

Council President Melody Hart called the meeting to order. The Clerk of Council called roll. Present: Hart, Cobb, Russell, Moore, Cuda, Mattox. Also in attendance: Council appointee (at that time not yet sworn in) Larson.

Agenda Item 1: Sustainability Committee Proposal (a draft of the proposed legislation to form an Environmental Sustainability Committee to create a Cleveland Heights–specific climate action plan can be found on pages 2–5 of the PACKET)

Councilmember Josie Moore opened by asking whether anyone had any questions about the “whereas” clauses of the proposed legislation. Councilmember Tony Cuda asked in regards to “WHEREAS, as part of the City’s commitment to working toward racial equity in all its actions, and the City’s established priorities, in particular housing quality and affordability as well as economic development, it is vital that the City’s climate-related actions thoroughly integrate these commitments,” whether it is possible that development projects might become prohibitively expensive. Moore responded that sustainable building practices are becoming the industry standard and most cities are now requiring energy efficiency and other green standards, so she does not anticipate that it will hinder needed development in the city.

Councilmember Cuda asked whether these building standards will make new construction unaffordable to many in our city. Moore pointed out that the resolution explicitly states that it must be a just transition and equity must be built into the climate action plan, and that she has confidence that the committee will ensure that quality, energy-efficient housing is affordable for all.

Councilmember Moore then distributed a list of anticipated possible subcommittees. She clarified that these subcommittees are not being codified in the resolution and that how the Sustainability Committee divides its work will be ultimately decided by them. Council President Hart noted that these subcommittees are similar to those of the Racial Justice Task Force as well as Council Committees. Moore responded that the Sustainability Committee will be looking at all of these issues solely through the lens of environmental sustainability (while the RJTF looks at these issues solely through a lens of racial justice).

Council President Hart referenced the resolution’s carbon goals (citywide carbon-free electricity by 2030, carbon neutrality of all City-owned properties by 2045, and citywide carbon neutrality by 2050) and asked whether Moore envisions this committee remaining until 2050. Moore responded that the 25-member committee would last for no longer than two years, but yes, because the climate crisis will be impacting us for centuries, the City should maintain a citizen Environmental Sustainability Committee for as long as it is facing environmental challenges.

Councilmember Russell asked whether the anticipated subcommittees would be duplicating Council Committees. Moore clarified that the Sustainability Committee is a citizen group being tasked with creating a comprehensive climate action plan, which needs to be wide ranging because the climate crisis is due to systemic unsustainability in every facet of our society. We need to address sustainability in every area, and these subcommittees will help create a comprehensive climate action plan to reach city-wide goals.

Moore also clarified that the target dates referenced by Hart earlier are the same target dates identified by the Biden administration. She stated that she chose those targets because, by tying our goals to federal goals, we will likely see resources to help us with our transition.

Russell again asked whether these subcommittees are needed as Council Committees already work in similar areas. Moore replied that the Sustainability Committee will be populated by citizens who are deeply knowledgeable in various areas of sustainability, noting that Cleveland Heights boasts a wealth of sustainability experts who know how to create a climate action plan for a city, which will provide a roadmap for our city to meet these large goals. Once this plan is in place, the second phase of the Sustainability Committee will provide to Council and the administration tasks to be accomplished to stay on track to meet our goals.

Council President Hart pointed out that the Transportation and Environmental Sustainability Committee already looks at environmental questions. Moore stated that creating a climate action is a formidable undertaking, noting that Lakewood has contracted with a consulting firm whom they are paying (she believes) $100,000 to create their city’s plan. She stated that the creation of a city-specific climate action plan requires a deep analysis of current conditions, including what a city has already accomplished, a breakdown of its GHG emissions, and a vulnerability assessment. The plan then needs to create a timeline of all actions that must be taken, not only by the local government but also by citizens, businesses, nonprofits, and other institutions across the city to meet overall benchmarks.

Council President Hart asked whether the committee will be bringing actions to Council to accomplish. Moore stated that the committee will bring to Council a comprehensive climate action plan for Council to adopt, and thereafter, the committee will bring annual reports on progress and action items to be accomplished in the coming year to remain compliant with the adopted plan.

Council President Hart asked how these will be implemented if they are not budgeted for. Moore replied that hopefully Council will adopt the climate action plan, and in so doing, will commit to budgeting each year for the annual steps laid out by the plan, noting as well that this will likely be a 30-year plan and, thus, will not be implemented all at once but instead in feasible, incremental steps.

Moore also stated that these steps need to be taken. Climate change is here and increasing, whether we like it or not. We can respond to and prepare for it, or we can ignore it at our own risk.

Gail Larson asked whether the carbon goals are realistic, given First Energy’s resistance to adopting renewable energy. Moore reiterated that, by tying our benchmarks to federal benchmarks, she is hoping this also means that the federal government will be mandating this transition from the top-down, so she hopes it will force First Energy to begin adopting more renewable energy sourcing.

Larson asked about Section 5, which discusses how Sustainability Committee members are appointed and whether it would burden Council to review applications. Moore stated she’s not married to how they are appointed by Council; she only wants to ensure that the committee members are experts in the area of environmental sustainability.

Council President Hart asked Mayor Seren whether he sees issues with staffing. The Mayor stated that very little in the document obligates the administration to a great deal of support. He said that he believes that any committee Council creates should add more than it takes from the administration. He does not know how the Council would like the administration to staff the committee. He noted that Council is discussing hiring its own staff, so perhaps Council can hire people who will staff the various committees.

Councilmember Mattox asked about Section 4, which makes available a seat on each Council Committee for a nonvoting advisory designated liaison from the Sustainability Committee. Moore stated that this is so there is a voice for sustainability in Council’s decision-making bodies. Mattox asked what would happen if the chair of the Council Committee disagrees with the designated liaison. Moore reiterated that these are nonvoting, advisory-only positions.

Council President Hart asked Law Director Bill Hanna whether he has seen this done in other cities. Hanna confirmed with Moore that the designated liaison is not be counted as a member of the Council Committee. Moore added that no Sustainability Committee member can serve on more than one Council Committee at the same time.

Councilmember Mattox asked about the appointment of the designated liaison—that the Sustainability Committee appoints, the Council Committee can reject that appointment, the Sustainability Committee then will choose another, and the Council Committee would need to accept that appointment. Moore replied that, basically, she gave each Council Committee one veto, as she does not want a Council Committee to continuously reject who the Sustainability Committee is putting forward to serve in these roles.

Councilmember Mattox stated that he’s concerned about Council Committee chairs not having control over who advises their committee. Moore responded that she would like to see discussions that propose solutions where people see issues, so she asked Mattox whether it would be a better solution if the Council Committees choose from among the Sustainability Committee who they would like to serve as their designated liaison; Mattox said that it would.

Law Director Hanna stated that the rights, responsibilities, and expectations of the designated liaison should be clarified; Moore agreed to work on doing so.

Mayor Seren questioned whether the Sustainability Committee would complicate and prolong sustainability work that Council would do anyway were the committee not in place. Councilmember Mattox stated that environmental issues are already being tackled in committees and being looked at by certain staff members, so he questioned whether this would create overlap.

Councilmember Moore replied that the purpose of a comprehensive climate action plan is to connect the piecemeal work that is already being done into a larger, interconnected, focused plan to meet our overall goals. While some initiatives may be completed by some committees or staff members, there needs to be someone or some group that establishes the ultimate vision for where we want to be and is continually looking at the big picture to know where we still need to accomplish work to meet our goals. Moore also pointed out that one of the anticipated subcommittees is ongoing policy work, so while the climate action plan is being created, sustainability work will not be halted in Cleveland Heights.

Councilmember Cuda clarified that this committee would provide sustainability guidance to advise everything we are doing; Moore confirmed this is so. Cuda clarified that this would not prolong our work; Moore stated that we can continue our sustainability work while creating a climate action plan, and those creating the plan can incorporate ongoing work as it occurs. Cuda asked about the designated liaison and whether a chair can decide how they are engaged in discussions; Moore agreed that those details can be negotiated at the discretion of the Council Committee chair.

Councilmember Russell suggested that, instead, the City hires a Sustainability Coordinator. Moore agreed that the City should have a Sustainability Director (or Coordinator or Manager) who will identify cost-savings and ensure best practices across City departments, arguing that the work they do could pay for their own salary within a year. However, Moore stated, the hiring of this position is a question for the Mayor.

Council Vice President Cobb stated that last August the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) expanded their scope to become the Transportation and Environmental Sustainability Committee (TESC), and the City has yet to staff that sustainability part. Cobb stated he believes we need a separate Environmental Sustainability Committee. He noted that the TESC would need to be revised to become the TAC again.

Councilmember Moore said the TAC took on the responsibility of environmental sustainability because they recognized that it needed to be done and it wasn’t being done, adding that it should be a dedicated committee.

Mayor Seren informed Council that he has been in discussion with his staff about this possibility, and while they do see it as a necessary position, it is not in the budget this year. Whether they will budget for it in one year or two years remains to be seen. He also noted that Cleveland Heights joined the Power a Clean Future Coalition, which focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to clean energy.

Council President Hart then tabled the discussion for the next Committee of the Whole meeting.

Agenda Item 2: Charter Amendment—Article III, Section 6—Council Clerk and other Council employees, etc. (The proposed charter amendment can be found on page 9 of the PACKET)

Council President Hart stated the two items for discussion is the reporting structure for a Clerk of Council and where the language establishing this reporting structure should be established—whether it should be in the charter amendment or in an ordinance.

Gail Larson said that she called the Clerk of Council for Lakewood, who told her that she reports to the council president; Larson added that the Lakewood clerk uses a software that tracks councilmembers requests for her assistance, and when she is overburdened, the council president decides which work should be prioritized. Larson emphasized that the clerk of council should be respected.

Councilmember Cuda reviewed how a couple of other cities have created their reporting structure. Councilmember Mattox stated that the language should be placed in the charter because it establishes structure so Council can focus on other work and concerns.

Councilmember Moore stated that she thinks the reporting structure should have the clerk report to the council vice president because the president already has so many responsibilities.

Councilmember Cuda shared a list of reasons why he believes the supervision structure should not be established in the charter but rather by ordinance.

Mayor Seren suggested that the charter add “or designee” language after “shall report to the President of Council” to add flexibility to the charter while retaining the structure.

Law Director Hanna stated the “designee” language is a good potential solution.

Councilmember Mattox asked whether this reporting structure would also apply to anyone Council hires for staff. Hanna stated that the charter amendment applies to the clerk of council and anyone else Council may hire.

Councilmember Cuda stated that there is a time to decide the reporting structure, but he plans to introduce an amendment to the charter amendment that will remove “as report to the President of Council as their supervisor” from the charter amendment, and then Council can establish the reporting structure either through council rules or an ordinance. He stated that he wants future councils to have the flexibility to decide what works best for them.

Council President Hart says we need to first decide on the reporting structure and then where (charter or ordinance) it should be established. Cuda responded that we should first decide whether it should go in the charter and then decide the details of the structure.

Mayor Seren asked why there is urgency to put this charter amendment on the May ballot if Council cannot decide on the clerk’s reporting structure. The Mayor argued that when Council chooses their president, they can do so with the consideration that the duties include supervising council staff.

Councilmember Russell asked Law Director Hanna what the president’s current duties are, as established by the charter; Hanna replied that the president presides over meetings and establishes meeting agendas.

Mayor Seren again stated that the reporting structure should be established in the charter. Councilmember Cuda emphasized that this is a Council decision. Mayor Seren responded that he recognizes that he does not get a vote in this decision but that he does have a right to participate in all Council discussions.

Councilmember Russell asked to clarify the process for Council to make a charter amendment. Hanna said that Council needs to pass with at least five votes an ordinance to put the amendment on the ballot, then the voters of Cleveland Heights would need to approve it. Russell then asked about changing an ordinance; Hanna stated that it is the normal legislative process of introducing legislation, getting multiple readings, and passing it with at least four votes.

Councilmember Mattox argued for trusting Council leadership to supervise the clerk and choosing their own leadership accordingly, and this should be solidified in the charter. He added that if Council leadership is not fulfilling their responsibilities, then the leadership should be changed, not the staff reporting structure.

Councilmember Russell asked whether there is a way to change Council leadership if Council is dissatisfied with the president’s service; Hanna said he does not see a provision for removing a Council president but that there is a provision for determining by a vote of four councilmembers that the president is unable to fulfill their duties. He further stated that the current provision in the charter amendment could be clarified further in an ordinance.

Councilmember Cuda stated that he errs on the side of flexibility and not including this structure in the charter because other cities don’t. Hanna stated he agrees that other cities don’t and, in seeing how their councils have struggled with supervision questions, he thinks that it should be included in the charter. Mayor Seren said that Council should first define success when looking to see what models they will follow.

Councilmember Russell returned to the suggestion of adding “designee” language to the current language of the charter amendment. Mayor Seren stated that because the president is responsible for setting the agenda, it would be efficient and appropriate for the clerk’s supervisor to be the president. Councilmember Mattox agreed.

Councilmember Russell asked whether the clerk would then be reporting to a different person every two years; Hanna stated that, potentially, yes.

Councilmember Moore suggested changing the charter amendment language to “shall report to the President of Council or the President’s designee as their supervisor” so that the president, if they require assistance, can choose someone they trust to work closely with them so that meeting agendas are executed in line with the president’s wishes.

Council Vice President Cobb stated that whether it is in the amendment or ordinance, we do need to establish a reporting structure. Cobb also questioned whether Council needs a full-time clerk. Councilmember Cuda disagreed; he believes the clerk will be kept busy.

Council President Hart said it sounds like there is consensus that the charter amendment should move forward with an amendment including “designee” language.

Agenda Item 3: Consideration of Special Charter Review Commission

Council President Hart moved this item to a later week.

Agenda Item 4: Committee Meetings

Council President Hart asked Council to schedule all Council Committee meetings for the year. She said that we should strive to put our meetings on Mondays so we don’t overlap with other commission, committee, and board meetings, and that we should try putting them all on first and third Mondays, as those are the days we currently have Council and Committee of the Whole meetings. Hart noted Council Committees that do not share members and could, therefore, schedule their meetings at the exact same day and time. Hart also noted that if a committee does need to meet on a scheduled meeting time, it can be canceled.

After much discussion, councilmembers scheduled their Council Committee meetings as follows:

  • Community Relations and Recreation: first Mondays, 5:30pm & 10:00am, every three months
  • Planning and Development: first Mondays, 5:30pm, every month
  • Administrative Services: fourth Mondays, 6:30pm, every month
  • Public Safety and Health: third Mondays, 5:00pm, every other month beginning in April
  • Municipal Services: third Mondays, 5:00pm, every other month beginning in March
  • Housing and Building: first Mondays, 5:00pm, every month
  • Finance: TBD
Agenda Item 5: Black History Month

Administration and Council will be honoring Black History Month at a Special City Council meeting on February 28. Council President Hart asked Mayor Seren, Council Vice President Cobb, and Councilmembers Russell and Mattox to prepare remarks.

There will also be three readings by high school students. Hart asked if councilmembers can reach out to other students to bring in more voices. Councilmember Moore stated she can contact Reaching Heights to help with outreach if needed, Councilmember Mattox stated that he can also reach out through his connections, and Councilmember Russell stated she can reach out to Superintendent Kirby.

Mayor Seren noted that it is remarkable that this is the first time in Cleveland Heights history that Council has three black councilmembers, and Russell noted that our first mayor is also a black man.

Agenda Item 6: Packet Delivery Issues

Council President Hart, noting that some councilmembers need printed copies of the packet, asked who needs paper copies. Councilmember Moore said that if Council gets laptops or tablets (next agenda item), she does not need paper copies, but she does not want to bring in her personal laptop. Russell stated she needs paper copies.

Mayor Seren stated that while the City will not resume packet delivery by police officers, packets will be printed and made available to councilmembers for pickup. If Council determines that they want home delivery once Council hires a clerk, they can do that, but the administration will not be tasking police officers anymore for this service.

Russell asked about when packets are available for pickup; Mayor Seren stated they are available end-of-day Friday. Hanna explained why it is difficult to have packets available earlier. Russell discussed that it is challenging to prepare for Monday Council meetings when we receive our packets Friday evening at the earliest.

Mayor Seren explained that one of the reasons he is striving to get legislation to Council early enough so that it can have multiple readings is so Council has at least two weeks to consider legislation, gather information, ask questions, and so on.

Councilmember Cuda asked how we know when Council packets are ready; the Mayor stated that it is when we receive the email from staff with the PDF. Cuda asked where we pick up the packet if we receive the email after office hours. The Mayor stated they can be placed at the desk next to the police entrance to City Hall.

Agenda Item 7: Laptops/iPads for Council

Councilmember Mattox argued for tablets or laptops for councilmembers for the sake of security and keeping City documents separate from personal documents.

Councilmember Moore asked Finance Director Himmelein whether we can afford these devices; Himmelein stated that it is currently not budgeted for. Council President Hart agreed that Council would need to pass an ordinance for a budget appropriation.

Gail Larson said that she would like to have a tablet or laptop for security and to keep City documents separate. Others agreed that it would be best to have devices.

Councilmember Russell brought up the need for phones for Council so councilmembers do not need to publicize their personal numbers. Mayor Seren said that the current City phone system allows for an app to be loaded onto councilmembers’ current phones that can provide access to a City phone number so that councilmembers can receive calls and messages without the cost of providing new physical phones to Council.

Council President Hart asked councilmembers where they stand. Councilmember Moore stated that it would be good to have these devices if the City can afford it.

Mayor Seren stated that he does see that laptops or tablets are necessary for councilmembers and will begin the conversation with staff to price out the purchase and programming of devices for councilmembers, and he will figure out the appropriation of funds within our budget for this purpose.

Agenda Item 8: Other

Council President Hart discussed the need to appoint new members of the Racial Justice Task Force (RJTF). However, as Gail Larson is the chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee, and Larson has not yet had a chance to review applications and RJTF recommendations, Hart stated that Committee of the Whole will hold an executive session at next week’s (February 22) meeting. Larson will hold a Public Safety and Health Committee meeting directly prior to that meeting. Law Director Hanna noted that Larson will need to be sworn in before chairing a Committee meeting, Larson asked if Hanna could swear her in before the Committee meeting, and he stated that he could.

Council President Hart then adjourned the meeting.