Wanted: Transparency

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Transparency was a frequent topic of discussion with voters during my campaign to win a seat on City Council in Cleveland Heights. If you attended this month’s special Municipal Services meeting on the Taylor Road resurfacing project, you got to witness a problem that resulted from a lack of it.
It has been about ten years since Cleveland Heights began efforts to re-design and resurface Taylor Rd., from Euclid Heights Blvd. (the south west entrance to Severance Town Center) to our north border with East Cleveland. Many people complain it is the worst road in our city. The potholes defy description, and I met many Taylor Rd. residents while campaigning who shared their stories of expensive car repairs suffered from driving on it. I also listened to their concerns about safety (only 52 inches separate pedestrians on the west sidewalk between Euclid Heights Blvd. and Mayfield Rd.), and the snowplows that push three lanes of heavy snow and ice onto residents’ yards. I have seen the winter walkers here in the roadway because our city has left it up to these homeowners to try and clear this heavy ice and snow from their sidewalk on this major thoroughfare. Not a good situation, from any perspective.
Recently, the city got funding from the state and federal government to fix the road and has signed contracts for the project to commence this coming spring. And a public forum was held. ODOT representatives were on hand to present the construction schedule and project details in the City Council Chambers, crowded with interested and concerned residents. However, it is a very different design than some residents prefer, based upon the last public forum on this project in 2002. And there is a transparency problem with this that has spurred a lawsuit Taylor Road resident files complaint with the city – The Heights against Cleveland Heights, which could possibly delay or stop this long overdue and much needed road repair.
According to published reports and detail from the lawsuit, residents were presented with multiple options for how the road should be reconstructed nine years ago. The plaintiffs contend that residents supported a design that added a minimum of ten feet from the planned road narrowing to the lawn extensions on the west side of Taylor Rd. between Euclid Heights Blvd. and Mayfield Rd., along with other improvements and enhancements to calm traffic and improve the quality of life for these residents adjacent Severance Town Center. Makes sense in a city that prides itself on protecting and preserving its neighborhoods.
City Manager, Bob Downey, told this month’s forum that the city could not get funding for this ambitious project, and had to go forward with a “barebones” plan, instead. He had the engineers explain that the recovered green space from the road narrowing would all be added to the Severance side of the road, due to cost. The other hoped for amenities, like traffic islands and upscale street lighting, were also eliminated. No one would discuss why our city hadn’t held a single public hearing on this issue since the forum in 2002, under instruction from Cleveland Heights Law Director, John Gibbons, who said there could be no comments and discussion of this question, due to the litigation, which he described as a ”process issue.”
All right, then. Here are two process questions.
At what point during the past nine years did our city officials decide to scrap the reconstruction design favored by residents, and instead opt for this ”barebones” plan to secure funding for a lower cost project?
And, why didn’t anyone have the courtesy to share this news with the affected and concerned residents before contracts were signed and work schedules planned?
Surely this “process” could have benefitted from another public forum during the past nine years to share the disappointment that we were unable to secure funding for the preferred project design. Minimally, the city was required to conduct a public hearing on the environmental aspects of the project, according to the lawsuit, which never happened.
Now a judge will decide whether to allow the project to proceed. And a lot of people will be very unhappy if the project is delayed or halted. We all want better quality and safer roads to drive on, and live adjacent to. We also care deeply about our quality of life, and can appreciate the dilemma we have between “barebones” cost to repair a major roadway, and trying to improve the plight of a neighborhood that has struggled for years to withstand the negative effects of a seven lane road so close to its front doors.
Might a bit more transparency have kept us out of court? I learned long ago it is better to be upfront with people and not withhold troubling or disappointing information they deserve to know. Well informed people routinely help create better outcomes than we may get in this case.

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