Safety, security and the secrets of improv

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First, some housekeeping. Do we have a approved safety plan, a Memorandum of Understanding between the district and a law enforcement body right now? No, we do not. The district meets with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s office and UH Police Chief Steven Hammett on October 21st. Given that the City Engineer and the Fire Chief both offered their departmental approval, a safety and security the Police Chief can support should make it possible for the Planning Commission’s vote on this project.

Is there a need for increased safety and security at Wiley? Yes. I do not deny that the size University Heights Police department is much smaller than Cleveland Heights, and that with an increase in daytime population at Wiley, more resources are needed. I have not heard anyone counter this, either.

Nor will I make claim that I have the expertise to decide between the district’s plan or the city’s plan, and which provides the right amount of service.’ The Police Chief has made his workload assessment findings known, and I do not question his expertise.

What I will say is this. If we can all agree that safety and security for our students, neighbors and community is a non-negotiable, why is the city unwilling to share even a modicum of the proposed costs of their own plan? If people are our first priority, which I still question, why not put some skin in the game, as a gesture of cooperation and shared commitment? [Edit 11/6: turns out the money is there, yet UH still refuses to help share the load.]

As it stands, the district has proposed to allocate funds for 3 officers for Wiley coverage. This is above what the district provides in the current agreement with Cleveland Heights Police, adding 1 in-uniform officer and 3 safety monitors at Wiley. Currently at CHHS, there are 2 CH officers and 12 safety monitors; at Wiley, it is proposed to increase those personnel to 3 and 15, respectively. Review the district plan here.

The district has said that it can only pay for police services used on site and in schools hours. They have not said that the UH plan to add 5 officers, 5 cruisers, promote a sergeant, and hire a clerk are unnecessary. But that the district cannot pay the entirety of those costs, given that those officers, cruisers, clerk and other resources—$1.7 million dollars over two years—will not be limited to district only duties, but essentially provide an increase in city services as well.

The addition of 5 officers, as proposed by the city, equates to 10,200 hours of time. The district needs about 5000 hours for daytime/school hours needs. The district has contended that paying to extend city services is not legal, under the Ohio revised code.

There are a few basic questions that need addressed.

What can the district and city agree is necessary?

Who will provide the services?

How we leverage current relationships for mutual gain?

How will it be funded?

These are hopefully some of the questions to be considered at the October 21st, meeting among the County Sheriff, UH Police Chief and the district. In the meantime, I think it’s time that we shift our thinking in University Heights from US and THEM to WE and OUR, from NO, BUT to YES, AND.

Welcome our students, don’t merely tolerate them

During the June 25th Planning Commission meeting the concern from the city was how ‘to keep our residents safe.’ At no point had I heard mention of students, keeping students safe, making it a welcoming environment for students. Once I pointed this omission out, the language changed to include students, and remained since.

But. You might not like the interpretation of ‘keeping students safe.’

I don’t believe that ‘safety’ means ‘as contained as possible.’ “How do we keep them out of the neighborhoods?” was a question raised by one UH resident at the June 25th meeting. Businesses, too. It makes me wonder who some of my neighbors think Heights students are. Where’s the WE, here?

Students spoke at the Planning Commission meeting on October 14th. Their *gorgeous* earnestness changed the tenor of the room from one of hostility and fear to one of admiration and respect. I found myself weeping and clapping furiously as each of them spoke. I am proud of our students, and bitterly disappointed in what some of my neighbors have implied about them. Here is some of what students had to say:

“We just want to come to Wiley and get an education and go about our business. We don’t want to cause trouble.”

“Heights is a lot more than people think it is. Everyone has always welcomed me.”

“People acknowledge the negatives more than the positives. We gotta get to college, so we’ll do our job.”

“Wiley will be a positive experience. It’s going to be an opportunity. It’s something we need to progress.”

Look at all those WE’s! Try this: apply what the students are saying to the greater WE, our community, and test out the truth of each statement for yourself.

WE don’t want to cause trouble. Goodness, could the adults could learn something by integrating this mantra. Stop fanning fear, start listening, use your voice and talents for the greatest possible good.

WE’ll do our job. Again, a great reminder for both city official and residents. What is our job where these students are concerned? If we were to get an annual review tomorrow, how would we do?

Everyone has always WElcomed me. Ok. A stretch, but a fair reminder for all of us. Cleveland Heights, both CHHS and the city have welcomed young University Heights men and women for their education for a century. It’s time we reciprocate. Because…

It’s something WE need to progress. Remember Councilman Sims’ comments? WE need these kids for our economic development. They deserve our respect for more reasons than this alone, but it’s a particularly compelling one.

The elephant on the 12-foot fence

I don’t think we are doing all that great in the respect department, and it pains me that the students are now fully aware of it. They were shocked by a few things at the October 14th meeting, and one said later than it ‘sounded like they were talking about a prison, not a high school.’

Planning Commission member Paul Siemborski’s question about the fence at the Purvis end of the Wiley property would be 6’ or 12’ raised many of eyebrows in the room. His question was because the district had included both of those measurements, and he was unclear which was the final one. But at what point was it decided that a 12’ fence was necessary? It’s completely possible that this was the district’s architect’s suggestion. What does it say about the tone of this process, that something so over the top might be proposed? It’s hard to predict what elements could stall approval of this plan, and the thought that a 12’ fence might be necessary, just to make it through, alarms me.

Director of Student Services Jeff Johnston, observed that, “we have expectations for our kids, and they have expectations for each other. What is being presented here is that every student entering that building has bad intentions.”

We might consider inviting members from the Student Union to run some of these public meetings…they showed the most maturity, respect and professionalism I have observed.

What leadership looks like

On Tuesday, the Mayor made a show of publicly shaming the district for ‘not thinking about safety and security in the three-and-a-half years you’ve been planning this project,’ It’s possible that she has forgotten the discarded invitation discuss the needs and limitations of the city before the preliminary plan was presented on March 19th.

Yes, there have been three and a half years of planning. Myriad invitations, private and public meetings. Articles and arguments and what ifs. And then this. A University Heights friend and CH-UH parent shared a response from the mayor’s office on Friday, where the Mayor noted out that, “the City has been meeting with the School District since the spring to address the Wiley site as the new, temporary home for the high school and the middle schools.”

Since spring. Setting aside for a moment the planning and meetings over the past 3 years…what about the meetings over the last 6 months, those meetings since spring? At what point was the city going to proactively speak up about safety and security and help create an adequate, approvable plan?

As a civic leader of a city affected so deeply by the changes at Wiley, wouldn’t you demand a seat, to ensure that all of your constituents were included, that logistical and fiscal needs were considered? Isn’t that how a professional and a leader inspires and gains trust? And later…gains votes?

I appreciated the Police Chief’s candor at the July 9th Zoning Board meeting, when he said that “there will be challenges, but I don’t see anything that’s insurmountable.” To be clear, I believe the chief created his most recent workload assessment in good faith. He seemed just as frustrated by this process on Tuesday. I offer that much of the issue lies with the city’s rebuffing the district’s early, frequent and timely invitation to the table, and in not insisting the Chief be included in the safety discussion.

How I’d love to resurrect that phrase, “not insurmountable.”

Getting what you want: how to win at marriage, improv and politics

There have been mistakes on both sides. Like a marriage, it is the duty of both parties to communicated needs, desires and limitations to each other. And like a marriage, I can’t speak to what took place behind closed doors.

I wrote about the myopic focus on buildings, and the rigid view of development in my second piece and the oppositional nature of this entire process is clear to most of us paying attention. We could do better, remembering two words, the golden rule of performance improv: YES, AND.

The skit, story or performance works best with a shared riff. I say ‘Wow, look at that hippo riding a bike down that hill.’ And my improv partner says ‘oh my goodness, is she wearing a boa and clogs?’ Agreement, creation, collaboration. That all ends when one party drops the narrative, or tries to change it with a NO, BUT. ‘Hippos don’t ride bikes. What are you talking about?’ Conversation, common ground, potential to create something interesting…over.

Collaboration from the start would have solved a lot of this back and forth, delay and critique. I expect a proactive city leader to reach out and say, ‘YES, we will do what we must to make this work for all our kids AND we have some needs that must be addressed.’ Instead we are left in emergency and recovery mode. Collateral damage from NO, BUT, a shift in narrative.

So what now?

The planning Commission might have chosen to vote on the plan with a contingency placed on finalizing a safety plan with either the County or are more modest [and legal] proposal with city of University Heights. They choose instead to table it.

So, we wait. The meeting among the district the county sheriff and UH police chief is slated for Tuesday, October 21st. After this meeting, time for review is needed, and then a meeting date can be set, with 10 days notice be given to residents. The fastest possible turnaround for another Planning Commission meeting we could hope for is at least mid-November.

The revised proposal from the district to contract with the Cuyahoga County sheriff, if approved, solves the jurisdictional issues brought forth by UH police when it was suggested that Cleveland Heights Police continue to cover the Wiley beat. And, since the County has the capacity, no further burden is put on the city of UH, officer, financial, paperwork or otherwise.

Hopefully, we can practice the YES, AND approach going forward. The burden of this oppositional process on the patience, trust and good faith of our citizens could become too much to bear.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5


  1. Garry Kanter says

    I think this would have more meaning if it were change from:
    “In the meantime, I think it’s time that we shift our thinking in University Heights from US and THEM to WE and OUR, from NO, BUT to YES, AND.”
    “In the meantime, I think it’s time that we shift our thinking at Reaching Heights/FutureHeights/The Heights Observer from US and THEM to WE and OUR, from NO, BUT to YES, AND.”

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