ORANGE — After Councilman Scott Bilsky recently learned about a meeting regarding development in the Chagrin Highlands, a discussion ensued with council and Mayor Kathy Mulcahy last week about transparency with her administration.
Mr. Bilsky said he was referring to one particular meeting between Mayor Mulcahy, Councilman Jud Kline and a potential developer two weeks ago. Mayor Mulcahy said that she meets with developers often and many of the meetings are preliminary discussions that generally do not lead to any major projects. Mayor Mulcahy said that she always takes Mr. Kline to her meetings with developers. Mr. Kline also is the council representative on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“I am not a secretive person. Council can know anything they want to,” she said at the June 5 council meeting.
Council President Brandon Duber said that the mayor used to keep him in the loop about everything going on in the village, but that has changed in the last 6 months. Mayor Mulcahy said that she invites Mr. Duber to all of her staff meetings and updates him on information she gathers from sessions with developers.
Mr. Duber said that he was often invited to meetings with developers and the mayor made an effort to schedule the meetings so he could attend. Recently, he said, she has lessened his involvement perhaps for political reasons.
Mr. Duber recently pulled a petition with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to run for mayor this fall, and would challenge Mayor Mulcahy, who has held this office for 23 years.
“I don’t expect the mayor to fill in everyone on every meeting. However as council president, I think I have a pulse on the community as well as a pulse on council,” Mr. Duber said. “A developer could come in and [the mayor] could give her opinion and it might not be in line with council.”
The council president said that it is appropriate for Mr. Kline to attend the meetings because of his role on the planning commission. But, he added, Mr. Kline’s opinion on development in the village is not always in line with the rest of the council.
Mayor Mulcahy said that Mr. Kline belongs at the meetings because he has been working with developments for 20 years and has experience in the field. She said that she is happy to inform Mr. Duber about any village business and he is welcomed to attend staff meetings.
“I like Brandon, I like them all,” the mayor said about council. “I want to stay on track and I’m a very open person.”
Mayor Mulcahy said that nothing has changed in the last six months. She continues to report updates on village development to Mr. Duber, who has attended staff meetings, the mayor said.
“The mayor, for political reasons as opposed to looking at the best interest of the village, has decided to lessen my involvement in those meetings,” Mr. Duber said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate and it’s not to the benefit of the village.”
Council members also weighed in on who should be involved in conversations about future village development.
“A lot of us feel like we’re finding out about things at the tail end rather than being part of the process,” Mr. Bilsky said.
Councilman Herb Braverman said that limiting the number of people at development meetings may be better. He noted that people who come to the village with an idea do not initially want to talk to seven council members.
Mr. Kline, a retired senior director and partner of Herschman Architects, recalled that when he went to communities with proposals as part of his job, some information needed to be kept confidential. He said that no one is intentionally trying to keep council in the dark.
“There have been many projects that I have been a party to where we come to a meeting with the administration in a community to determine the receptiveness of that community with an initial intention that we really don’t want any information out on it yet,” he said. “There’s a lot of trade secrets associated with development projects and competition that is really important to maintain a level of security in the industry.”
Councilwoman Frances Kluter said that she likes to know what’s going on, especially when it will impact the entire community.
Following the discussion, Mayor Mulcahy asked Lisa Barno, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association, to email every member and ask a series of questions. They include: do the council president and council members go to staff meetings and does the mayor or city manager take a council member to development-related meetings. As of earlier this week, Mayor Mulcahy said 17 of 19 mayors or city managers answered no to both questions. Two stated that council members attended such meetings just a couple of times, the mayor added.
“I have now concluded that I’m the most council collaborative mayor in the region,” Mayor Mulcahy said. “No community has the same type of collaboration as between Jud and I. We have such a talented, capable and willing council person to do so,” she said of Mr. Kline.
Council met in regular session on Wednesday of this week.