I’ve been tough on South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo. Not unjustifiably, in my mind. But there is another side to the story that deserves mention.
I only realized this after learning last night (March 21) that Cleveland Heights City Councilmember Mark Tumeo has resigned from council because he’s leaving the area to accept the job as dean of the college of engineering at the University of North Florida.
Tumeo had been Cleveland Heights’ most vocal elected proponent of regionalism.
His pending departure helped me recall some facts about Mayor Welo.
Before Welo engineered the $17 million transformation of Cedar Center plaza into a vacant lot, and before Welo ran for Cuyahoga County Executive, and before she began the headlong rush to support Big Box commercial development on the old Oakwood golf course, she was the East Side’s most outspoken and aggressive proponent of regionalism.
Writing for Governing Magazine back in 2006, Alan Greenblatt referred to Welo as a cheerleader for regionalism. He cited her leadership in pursuing joint taxing authority with Lyndhurst and Richmond Heights; and in overcoming local discomfort about joining the Northeast Ohio Sourcing Office – a consortium of suburbs (now national and name shortened to Sourcing Office) to increase their purchasing power.
Greenblatt quotes Welo as saying, “Together, collectively, we’re great. Separately, we’re not going to be able to exist. Regionalism is definitely the way to go.”
In 2008, Cleveland Magazine annointed Welo one of four suburban leaders for regionalism.
Last year, Welo earned a brief appearance in The New Metropolis, a documentary about the difficulty of old suburbs, and the potential solution of regionalism.
In 2009, Welo was part of a panel discussion on collaborative government. At the time, the aforementioned Mark Tumeo and University Heights City Council Member Kevin Patrick Murphy had made local headlines by broaching the subject of increased cooperation – perhaps even a municipal merger – between their two communities.
One report on the event ended with Welo instead casually proposing a merger between University Heights and South Euclid. “We’re smaller (than Cleveland Heights),” she is quoted as saying. “We could start at a smaller scale and then move bigger.”
Meanwhile, Cleveland Heights’ own efforts at regionalism might fairly be referred to as ambivalent and dithering.
It’s true that for several years, CH, UH and Shaker Heights have shared a dispatch center. It was a big deal at the time. And Fire Chief Kevin Mohr is credited with spearheading the state’s first Regional Technical Rescue Team to spread the cost of training and equipment that is only used occasionally.
But in the what-have-you-done-lately department, CH Mayor Ed Kelley is proud to mention that this summer’s road work is being contracted, in part, through a joint-bidding process with UH and Shaker Heights. That’s good – but small in the context of the trends old suburbs like ours now face, and not terribly difficult; it’s what Sourcing Office has been doing for the past six years.
On the other hand, last year, when the police departments of South Euclid, Beachwood, University Heights and Shaker Heights (and later, Euclid) started planning how they might improve public safety by working together – including development of a regional SWAT team – Cleveland Heights sat it out. When asked why, Police Chief Martin Lentz responded: Cleveland Heights already has a SWAT team. In fact, that SWAT team is one of the innovations for which Lentz continues to be saluted even after his retirement; maintaining it on our own is evidently such a good idea that it requires no further consideration.
I suppose one could say that Cleveland Heights took a regional/collaborative step when it decided to shut down its income tax collection department this year, and instead join the Regional Income Tax Authority (on the occasion of RITA’s 40th anniversary).
A few years back, Cleveland Heights allowed South Euclid to share use of Denison Pool. That arrangement lasted a year, perhaps two, before CH temporarily closed the pool due to budget pressure. The closing has since been made permanent, which strikes me as perhaps fiscally prudent – though not very neighborly.
I credit the now-departing Tumeo for being Cleveland Heights’ loudest elected voice promoting regionalism. But even his stab at it was short-lived and, in the end, shallow.
Tumeo’s regionalism talk came in 2009, when he was running for reelection to City Council. In the Heights Observer, he wrote:I believe one of the most transformational things we could do as a City is to seriously consider the idea of merging with surrounding cities to form one, larger and more economically strong jurisdiction. Like the County, Cleveland Heights and its neighbors have steadily been loosing population over the past 20 years. At the same time, the cost of providing basic services and maintaining the quality of life that Cleveland Heights residents deserve and expect has increased… By merging jurisdictions, we can deliver services more efficiently (lower cost per person) while still maintaining high quality. Of course, merger is not the only way to achieve this, and it is politically more feasible to combine services such as Fire or public services (e.g. garbage collection, snow plowing). However, true transformation requires us to explore ideas that may not be politically easy.
Since he wrote that, every trend has picked up speed: the U.S. census has confirmed that the Heights region continues to lose population, and Gov. John Kasich has produced a state budget that cuts millions of dollars in funding here.
Tumeo was reelected in 2009, and that’s the last time I ever heard him speak about regionalism and doing things that may not be politically easy.
Then issues like the Oakwood development pop up and all of a sudden, we see how important it would be to have some doctoral-level regionalism going on.
A regional vision for the Heights-area communities, and linking of individual master plans to act on that vision, would do more than suggest to us what kind of use is most appropriate for Oakwood. It would also provide the blueprint for a process that is thoughtful, deliberate and fair to the people who live closest to that parcel of land.
It would reduce the kind of insular governing that promises to turn the South Euclid portion of Oakwood into a parking lot, and the Cleveland Heights portion into whatever else the developer decides will make him a buck.
For lack of regional dialogue at a meaningful level, what we have is much worse: Municipal governments so desperate that they’re willing to auction off their assets – not to the highest bidder, but to the first.
Welo, too, has suddenly become silent on regionalism. Since her campaign ended for County Executive, she appears to have put her head down and focused on balancing the South Euclid budget – even if it means steamrolling neighbors who she once looked to for collaboration.
She picked an interesting time to give up on regionalism. But considering the neighbor, who can blame her?