January 24, 2022 CoW Meeting, with Public Hearing

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Committee of the Whole & Public Hearing

You can find the agenda 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: Cobb, Cuda, Hart, Mattox, Moore. EXCUSED: Russell

Council President Hart then began the public hearing. She explained that the purpose of the public hearing was to hear residents’ views on an ordinance presented to Council by a petitioning initiative.

Council President Hart established guidelines for submitting public comments, notably that comments are not to exceed three minutes, debating or arguing is not permitted, and that after those present have read their comments into the public record, the Clerk of Council will read into the public record comments submitted via email.

Council President Hart then asked City Law Director Bill Hanna to provide background for the hearing, a brief summary of the petition initiative, our City’s Charter requirements in regard to citizen-initiated legislation, and what Council needs to do now.

  • Hanna reviewed the subject of the hearing.
  • He stated that the Ohio revised code and our City’s Charter reserves the right for citizens to propose legislation or similar measures by collecting sufficient petition signatures. In Cleveland Heights, the number of required signatures is 10% of the persons registered to vote at the last general election for municipal offices.
  • In this case, the legislation that has been proposed would require that a public activity park be created on 1.07 acres of city-owned land at the corner of Lee Road, Tullamore Road and Meadowbrook Boulevard. (You can find the proposed ordinance on page 8 of the January 10, 2022 Council Packet HERE.)
  • The petition signatures and ordinance were initially submitted to the Clerk of Council on November 29, 2021; at that time, there were not sufficient valid signatures. There is a timetable that allows a petitioning committee to gather additional signatures, and on December 27, 2021, a final group of signatures was timely submitted to the City, and the sufficiency of the number of signatures on those petitions was certified by the Board of Elections. This initiated a process outlined in Article VIII, Section 1 of the City Charter.
  • On January 10, 2022, the Clerk of Council certified to Council the sufficiency of the signatures. Council was then obligated to refer the proposed ordinance to a Council committee; Council referred it to the Committee of the Whole. The Committee of the Whole must, by the second regular City Council meeting following that referral (February 7) make a report with a recommendation back to Council.
  • The Charter also says that the Committee may determine to hold public hearings on the measure, and last week, on January 18, 2022, the Committee of the Whole determined (and it was verified in the Council meeting) to hold a public hearing on January 24, 2022, on the question of this ordinance.
  • The purpose of a public hearing is to allow the public to express an opinion on a measure pending before City Council or, in this case, Committee of the Whole. It is not a debate, an argument, or an election; it is simply an opportunity for the Committee of the Whole to hear directly from residents whether Council should adopt this ordinance, amend and adopt it, or reject it.
  • If Council does either of the two latter options (amend & adopt or reject), the committee of petitioners has the ability within 10 days of Council’s action to require that an election be set, not less than 60 and not more than 120 days from that action.
  • Hanna noted that there is a primary election happening on May 3. So, if Council were to reject the ordinance or amend it and then adopt it, Council would need to pass a resolution to authorize the Board of Elections to put the ordinance on the ballot no later than March 3, 2022. (NOTE: Council does NOT have discretion as to whether or not to put the ordinance on the ballot. If Council votes to reject or amends and then adopts the ordinance, the committee of petitioners can then exercise their right to require Council to send the ordinance, by way of a resolution, to the Board of Elections. Our City Charter requires Council to do so.)
  • Hanna then noted that now we are hearing from residents about whether Council should adopt the proposed ordinance, amend and adopt it, or reject it.

Council President Hart then opened the floor for resident testimonies. (If you are interested in hearing all of the public comments in detail, they begin at 7:40 HERE.)

In summary, there were 22 total public testimonies submitted, 12 in person and 10 via email. Of those 22, 18 opposed the proposed ordinance, citing support for the currently contracted development project with Flaherty & Collins, and 4 supported the ordinance for the park and its inclusion on the ballot for the voters to decide.

At one point during the public testimonies, in response to some public comments advocating Council to not allow the ordinance to be put on the ballot, Law Director Hanna interjected to remind everyone present that Council is not deciding whether or not to allow the ordinance to go to the ballot but rather to adopt, amend & adopt, or reject the legislation to require a public activity park be created on the Lee-Meadowbrook-Tullamore vacant lot. After the public testimonies, Councilmember Josie Moore, also in response to calls to stop the ordinance from proceeding to the ballot, confirmed with Law Director Hanna that the only path Council would have to prevent the ordinance from appearing on the ballot would be to adopt it and, thus, enact the legislation.

Council President Hart then closed the public hearing and opened the floor to a discussion of the matter with the Committee of the Whole.

After discussion, the Committee of the Whole unanimously determined to report and recommend to Council on February 7 to reject the proposed ordinance. Councilmembers cited the following reasons as guiding their decision:

  • Cleveland Heights needs economic development. The current development project will bring vibrancy, new residents, and new businesses to the Cedar-Lee commercial district. This will increase our City’s tax revenues, enabling the City to improve and expand City services and amenities for our residents. The development will also help spur more investment in other areas of Cleveland Heights, which is critically needed.
  • The current development project incorporates a public activity park that is appropriately sized for a commercial corridor, as well as other public green space, such that the total public green space, which will be paid for and maintained by Flaherty & Collins, will be almost 2 acres and surpasses the 30% minimum of open space required by our City codes.
  • The current development project will increase density, which is a key quality for urban environmental sustainability, particularly as it decreases the need for car-reliance and increases residents’ access to amenities via walking, biking, and public transportation. It was also noted that the development will add a bus stop in front of the Lee-Meadowbrook-Tullamore site.
  • Council must honor the contract the City signed with Flaherty & Collins. We have been advised by our law director that the ordinance would very likely be ruled unconstitutional in a court of law, because both the Ohio Constitution and the U.S. Constitution forbid the impairment of a duly executed contract through retroactive legislation, passed either through a legislative body or by the electorate. Councilmembers took an oath to uphold the Constitutions of the State of Ohio and the United States.

Council President Hart asked Law Director Hanna to prepare the written report and recommendation that the Committee of the Whole will present to City Council on February 7, 2022, recommending that Council reject the proposed ordinance. That report will be made available to the public by February 7. The Committee of the Whole then moved to make the recommendation and direct the Law Department to draw up the report, and all councilmembers voted aye.

(To review, after Council votes on the ordinance on February 7, the committee of petitioners will then have 10 days to require Council to send the ordinance to the Board of Elections to be put on the ballot. Once Council receives that notice from the committee of petitioners, according to our City Charter, Council must pass a resolution authorizing the Board of Elections to do so. All of this needs to be done before March 3 for the ordinance to be placed on the May 3 ballot; otherwise, there would need to be a special election on a different date, which would incur greater costs from the Board of Elections for the City.)

Council President Hart then requested all councilmembers to email her dates they are available to reschedule the Council retreat.

Council President Hart thanked all public hearing participants for sharing their input with Council and then adjourned the meeting.