by Greg Coleridge
People the world over are increasingly demanding a greater voice in the decisions directly affecting their lives, communities, nations and natural world.
Many/most government, corporate, media, educational and religious “leaders” are increasingly publicly perceived as unaccountable, not transparent, captured by special interests, corrupt and disconnected from the problems affecting people in their everyday lives. Rather than exploring real alternatives to our fundamental problems, our “leaders” seem visionless.
Our own nation’s history is filled with profound movements to give greater voice to citizens over elites. These include a colonial revolution against a self-anointed king; popular resistance to a new Constitution until the Bill of Rights was added; and social movements to provide voting rights to freed slaves, women, indentured servants and indigenous people, as well as to directly elect senators (formerly appointed by legislatures). Those who strive to end voter suppression, gerrymandering, big money in elections, and corporate personhood represent this movement today for real democracy. So do those advocating for ranked choice voting, direct election of the U.S. President and, specifically at the local level, direct participatory governance.
It is this spirit for a greater public voice that drives the effort in Cleveland Heights to popularly elect a mayor.
Let’s be clear: there is no single solution to the challenges Cleveland Heights faces, some of which are rooted beyond our community and beyond our ability to directly influence. All we can do is maximize opportunities for both residents and elected representatives to be mutually heard and accountable.
There is also no single form of government that should be seen as forever, or blindly believed to be adequate. Times change. Conditions change.
Choosing a mayor and appointing a city manager should no longer be “in house” decisions—actions beyond the reach of voters. Let Cleveland Heights voters decide.
Having city council selecting who will be city manager and who will be mayor isn’t remotely the same as citizens directly electing who will represent us and our interests in running the city. Accountability and responsibility under the current system is too dispersed. It’s too easy to pass the buck. We need a full-time mayor (with professional staff) who is directly accountable to voters.
There are those with concerns that a reformed system will invite outside influence from special interests who could flood the local mayoral campaign with political contributions. This implies that special interests currently have no influence on public policy-making, which is not true, though it may be more hidden. It also ignores the reality that politically astute Cleveland Heights voters will see through and reject blatant attempts by special interests to manipulate our elections.
Direct voter election of a mayor is consistent with the current trend to provide residents and citizens a greater authentic voice—which is essential to improve civil skills and competence, to increase a sense of community, and to make people feel more personally responsible for public decisions.
There will be many possibilities to tap our collective skills as we face a future of uncharted political, economic, social and ecological challenges. An urgent first step, however, is to transform the “in-house” selection of the mayor to a public election. Cleveland Heights is our collective “house.” All who dwell here should have the right to decide who will represent us.
Greg Coleridge is national outreach director of Move to Amend Coalition, and a Cleveland Heights resident.