Monday, October 5, 2015

2015 Election Endorsements

2015 is an off-year election, meaning there are no Federal or State officials on the ballot.  Turnout in off-year elections tends to be low, so every vote counts.  This is a particularly important election for South Euclid: Not only is the mayor up for reelection, so are two incumbent at-large city councilors – with a third seat open after the retirement of Council President David Miller.  Additionally, there are several important Charter issues which will help determine the direction of South Euclid for the next generation.

For Mayor:

Georgine Welo is running for a fourth term as South Euclid’s mayor.  Her challenger is Ward 1 councilperson Ruth Gray.  Mayor Welo successfully shepherded South Euclid through the Great Recession, the worst economic storm to hit the United States in over 70 years, to safe economic harbor.  Welo’s steady leadership has been noted not just by her fellow mayors and members of the local Democratic Party, but by Ohio’s Republican State Auditor, Dave Yost, who presented South Euclid with an award for accurate and transparent record keeping practices.  South Euclid’s bond rating is currently Aa2 – meaning High Grade – which is another indicator of Welo’s fiscal leadership.

As I have noted elsewhere, my family moved to South Euclid in 1971.  Only someone delusional would deny that South Euclid is a very different community than it was then – as is every inner-ring suburb.  Population has been declining since the 1980s – although South Euclid’s rate of population loss is less than, for example, Cleveland Heights or Cuyahoga County as a whole.  No doubt, South Euclid has endured some tough times, but over the past three years I have noticed improvements.  I walk the streets of my neighborhood every day, and drive many other streets on a regular basis.  I see once distressed housing steadily being rehabbed or removed, fewer for sale signs, greater levels of occupancy – both residential and commercial, the creative rebranding of neighborhoods, and the creation of pocket parks - along with smaller amenities like the new Pump Track at Bexley Park.  South Euclid’s troubles will not be over tomorrow.  There are still important issues which need to be addressed more effectively, such as neglectful out of town residential and commercial landlords.  But the city is headed in the right direction.

Part of Mayor Welo’s leadership has required taking stands which have not been universally popular: the purchase and redevelopment of Cedar Center North; advocating for the Oakwood Commons development; and increasing property taxes to compensate for shortfalls caused by decreasing property values, declining population, and the elimination of State aid to Cities by Governor Kasich – which has been a problem throughout Cleveland’s inner-ring suburbs.  It’s very easy for politicians to say “Vote for me and I will lower your taxes”, but it’s not so easy to live with the consequences those tax cuts - which are often geared toward the wealthy - have on urban and inner-run suburban communities like South Euclid.

Some supporters of councilperson Gray have criticized Mayor Welo’s stances on these matters – while failing to note that Gray also favored the aforementioned efforts.  They also conveniently fail to note that councilperson Gray, in her position as Director of Community Life for Bedford Heights, was a co-defendant in a racial discrimination lawsuit which resulted in an award of $1.83 million to the plaintiffs.  The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and if such a suit were to happen in South Euclid it could have catastrophic consequences.

We feel Mayor Welo has performed as well as anyone could have, given the economic and demographic realities of the time.  Further, we see Mayor Welo’s vision and hard work that have gone into developing the city’s new Comprehensive Plan as the best way forward for our community.  We enthusiastically favor Mayor Welo’s reelection.

For City Council, at-large:

South Euclid’s three at-large council seats are up this cycle.  Two incumbents are running for reelection.

Marty Gelfand was elected to city council in 2011.  Marty, a Navy Veteran and former aide to Congressman Dennis Kucinich, has served the city ably over the past four years.  While some of his colleagues have engaged in divisive tactics, Marty has been a calming force in getting council to cooperate on several important issues, including the Safety Forces Levy.  Marty was of great assistance to the Telling Mansion Preservation Organization by drafting our by-laws and giving our group direction.  I am privileged to call Marty Gelfand a friend and I strongly recommend his reelection.

Dennis Fiorelli was appointed at large-councilor in 2010 when Sunny Simon stepped down to take her seat on Cuyahoga County Council, and was elected in his own right the following year.  He has served with distinction.  Fiorelli was the force behind South Euclid’s refuse collection contract with Kimble company.  This contract provided for separate refuse and recycling containers for each household – large enough to accommodate the needs of most residents – who do not have to sort between different types of recyclables (e.g., paper, plastic, cardboard).  The convenience of the Kimble program has resulted in a 40-60% increase in recycling citywide and a savings to the city of $280,000 from 2011-2013.  Recently, several cities, including Highland Heights, have adopted this method based on South Euclid’s success in this matter.  There are numerous candidates who like to boast how “green” they are.  Fiorelli has walked the talk, and deserves to be reelected.

There are four non-incumbent candidates for the council: John Currid, Ron Sabransky, Andre Reynolds, and Jason Russell. 

In 2014, John Currid unsuccessfully contested Sunny Simon’s reelection for County Council representative.  Currid hails from New Jersey and moved to South Euclid several years ago.  He has not served in elected office before.  In fact, I can find nothing Currid has done relating to public service – not even volunteer work.  Even though South Euclid’s local election is non-partisan, it should be noted that Currid is a very conservative Republican and leader of South Euclid’s Republican Club – so he’s already out of step with most voters in South Euclid.  In 2014, he called for removing Ohio from Common Core educational standards, railing against it as “anti-American” and “anti-Israel” – one of the Tea Party’s prime talking points.  But City County council has no jurisdiction over public education, so how does he propose to stop Common Core from within the boundaries of the office he seeks?  Although I’ve endorsed Republicans in the past, there’s no indication Currid is open minded enough to listen to South Euclid’s voters – most of whom do not share his philosophy.  

Ron Sabransky was a member of South Euclid’s Planning Commission until he was dismissed by Mayor Welo in 2014.  Sabransky threatened legal action in the wake of his termination, but nothing came of it.  He was also the Treasurer for John Currid’s unsuccessful 2014 campaign, which can be taken as an indicator of his political sympathies.  Sabransky doesn’t appear to have distinguished himself during his time on the Planning Commission and has not specified what he’d bring to the table as a member of city council.  His candidacy is a non-starter.

Andre Reynolds was an Accounting major at Howard University - available documentation does not state whether he received a degree.  Much of his career has been split between private sector banking and mid-level public management.  Reynolds advocates for the set-aside of $100,000 in safety levy monies for programs that focus on youth job creation and retention; for further infill housing/condominium development; and greater access to public parking.  I support the first effort – with the qualification that money should not be diverted from the Safety Levy, but rather obtained by aggressively pursuing grants.  Reynold’s other two proposals, however, leave me puzzled.  There is very little developable land remaining in South Euclid.  True, there are scattered single lots which dot the city – leftovers from the Recession.  Those are not candidates for condominiums or townhouses, but would be practical for single family houses.  There are also two larger parcels of land within the area bordered by Monticello, Parkview, Ammon, and Trebisky - which could contain small condo/townhouse communities.  Development of those parcels would be tricky, and previous proposals were unpopular.  Further, whatever was developed would doubtless be tax abated and fail to help fill city coffers in the near term.  Finally, with South Euclid’s population historically on the decline, it makes little sense to add to an already oversupplied housing stock.  Better to provide amenities that will draw more potential residents.  Regarding parking, for the most part South Euclid has a more than adequate supply of spaces.  Indeed, I have seldom seen the parking lot behind Maymore Shopping Plaza filled beyond one-third of its capacity.  While there are occasional storefronts on Mayfield Road which do not offer off-street parking, nearby side streets have plenty of spaces. 

Jason Russell, a native of Hudson, Ohio, also lived in various Ohio communities, including Shaker Heights, before moving to South Euclid.  As someone who has lived as far east as Haverhill, Massachusetts and as far west as Half Moon Bay, California, I consider diversity in life experience to be a positive thing.  Russell also holds a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from Cleveland State University, a skill which is greatly needed in a community which is trying to reverse decades of decline.  Currently, Russell is a member of the Planning Commission for both South Euclid and Lakewood, which puts him in a unique position to assess the situation and weigh options in two inner-ring, yet very different communities.  Russell advocates for thinking outside the box to incentivize small businesses to rent the empty storefronts along Mayfield Road.  In other words, Russell wishes to bring the amenities that make communities attractive to potential residents.  As I’ve said previously, the Mayfield-Green intersection, despite recent improvements, remains an embarrassment that needs to be addressed – and Russell seems to agree.  He has also stated the need for more rigorous code enforcement and I agree – particularly as it relates to commercial structures. 

For those reasons, we endorse Russell.

Ohio Constitutional Amendments:

Issue 1: Redistricting Reform: Ohio has some of the most gerrymandered districts in the nation, the result of the state’s current laws which allow the Governor, Secretary of State, and State Auditor to draw the district lines.  It will establish a seven member, bipartisan commission, and require public meetings and open display of proposed districts.  We favor passage of this amendment, which will put the needed tools in place to correct this problem.

Issue 2: Anti-Monopoly: This amendment would prevent “a monopoly or a special interest, privilege, benefit, right, or license of a commercial economic nature” from being enshrined in the state Constitution.  It was created in response to Responsible Ohio’s amendment (see Issue 3, below).  If both amendments were passed, the inevitable outcome would be a litany of litigation which would tie up both principles for years.  Whether for the legalization of Marijuana or in more standard business, monopolies are inherently bad for consumers.  One need look no further than the recent airline mergers - resulting in rising prices, declining service, and reduced choice – for an example of how lax and unenforced anti-trust laws have harmed the average American.  Thus, we strongly favor passage of this amendment. 

Issue 3: Marijuana legalization: Marijuana has been illegal under Federal Law since the 1930s.  For decades, advocates have called for legalization – a chorus which has risen over recent years.  On principle we have long agreed that Marijuana ought to be legalized, regulated, and taxed - more or less like alcohol and tobacco.  The fact that Colorado and Washington have legalized cultivation and possession of marijuana, with benefits which have outweighed adverse effects, further bolsters the case for legalization.   The snag with the amendment offered by Responsible Ohio is that it would restrict the cultivation and sale of Marijuana to a small group of investors – effectively giving them a monopoly over all but those who purchase a permit to grow a limited number of plants for strictly personal use.  For this reason, we urge a No vote on Responsible Ohio’s irresponsible amendment.  Then, we advise advocates for legalized marijuana go back to the drawing board and craft a legalization amendment more in the spirit of those from Colorado and Washington.

Cuyahoga County:

Issue 8 - Cuyahoga County Arts tax renewal: The so-called “sin tax” collects money from the sale of cigarettes (30 cents per pack).  Some have complained that this tax is regressive and amounts to “corporate welfare for the Arts.”  No one is being forced to smoke, and smoking cessation programs have never been so available or affordable.  If keeping the tax persuades one smoker that their habit has become too costly and that they should quit, then renewing the tax has merit - with support for the arts a worthy fringe benefit.  Making cigarettes more affordable by eliminating the tax benefits no one, except for tobacco farmers and corporations like Altria and R. J. Reynolds.  So eliminating the tax is its own form of “corporate welfare”.  The levy has raised over $125 million since 2008, which was resulted in over 1,200 grants through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture to more than 300 organizations within the County – not just large organizations like the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Museum of Art, but to smaller entities like the Near West Theatre which has used the funds to engage with low income kids.  With the crucial role the Arts have played in drawing visitors and residents to the county, and the importance of maintaining Cleveland’s status as a cultural center, we strongly favor its renewal.

Issue 9 – Proposed Charter Amendment: This will amend the County charter to require the County Audit committee consist of President of Council (or Council member appointed by the President), four residents with auditing experience – along with the County Executive and Fiscal Officer.  We favor passage of this amendment

South Euclid Levy:

Issue 102 - Road Tax Levy Renewal: Anyone who has driven in South Euclid, a community whose roads receive more use than most other suburbs, knows our roads need continuous maintenance.  The Road Levy Renewal is not a tax increase, merely a renewal of an existing levy and we endorse its passage

South Euclid Charter Amendments:

South Euclid, like most other communities, periodically updates its charter to meet the needs of changing times.  Here are the proposed amendments with our endorsements:

Amendment 103 changes pronouns in South Euclid’s charter from male to gender neutral.  The original language was doubtless drafted by men, and back in the day when women were supposed to confine themselves to birthing, cooking, and housework.  While some may feel this is a trivial matter not worth bothering over, it should be noted that the Founding Fathers strove to use gender neutral language in the American Constitution.  The current verbiage is an embarrassment and needs to change.  We favor passage of this amendment.

Amendment 104 changes the law director’s term from two years to four years.  Some background: for decades, South Euclid's law director has been appointed by the mayor, with council having no say.  In 2012, an amendment requiring council confirmation was drafted by a "committee" of two council people, their spouses, and a friend - placed on the ballot, and greatly trumped.  As the law director is an appointed, not elected position, requiring city council to confirm the appointment every four years is more logical, as it is concurrent with the mayor's term.  Therefore, we support this amendment.

Amendment 105 lowers the signature requirement for charter amendments to be on the ballot, from 10% of the total electorate to 10% of those who participated in the last election.  The proposed change would bring South Euclid in line with the Ohio Constitution, and would also lower barriers to participatory democracy.  We favor its passage.

Amendment 106 would bar elected officials from serving on future charter commissions, except the Mayor and Council President who could serve in an advisory position.  I can see why people feel the passage of this Amendment would encourage private citizen participation.  The sad reality is evidenced by what happened last year, when a very poor selection of private citizens was offered on the ballot – only two of whom I could bring myself to endorse (neither of whom I should have endorsed in retrospect).  Voters should have the freedom to elect anyone they want to the commission – from private citizen to Mayor to County Councilor.  We oppose this amendment.

Amendment 107 would require elected officials to sign a conflict of interest statement each year, and to disclose any potential conflicts of interest.  This is a no-brainer, and we favor its passage.