WOODMERE — Council members voted to schedule a recall election on Jan. 19, 2021 for Councilwomen Jennifer Mitchell Earley, Lisa Brockwell and Glenda Todd Miller and Councilman Craig Wade. The January election will determine if these four council members will be removed from office.
In October, a group of about 10 residents known as the Woodmere Project circulated a petition to recall these council members, citing frustration with their votes against maintaining the village website and against using grant money for a sidewalk on Brainard Road. The petition needed at least 45 signatures from registered voters in the village to move forward with a recall vote. On Nov. 10, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections informed Woodmere Village Law Director Frank Consolo that the signatures were valid.
According to the village charter, council members had five days to resign after they were notified that the petition was validated or a recall vote would be scheduled. At the Nov. 11 council meeting, Ms. Brockwell, Ms. Todd Miller and Mr. Wade said that they would not resign. Ms. Earley stated in a Nov. 6 newsletter that she will not resign. Lack of resignations triggers the recall election, according to the village charter. The special election will cost the village $2,500, Mr. Consolo said.
“Understand, the impetus for this recall is to usurp the authority of the council and thus, is designed to exploit your desire for a multipurpose trail and, yet, not consider potential long-term and adverse costs to our community,” Ms. Earley wrote in her newsletter.
More than 15 residents spoke up during the audience comments section at the beginning and end of the recent council meeting. They had many questions and comments about the permit for a family to keep chickens, which was denied at the meeting, the Brainard sidewalks, the website, the recall election and the ongoing arguments between residents, council members and Mayor Ben Holbert.
After four residents spoke at the beginning of the meeting, Ms. Earley said that there was time for one more question or comment. There was another section open to the public later in the meeting, after all of the legislation was voted on. Several residents began to speak at once during the virtual meeting. Maplecrest Road resident Rachel Kabb Effron said that she objected to the public comments being cut short when there were many residents who wanted to speak.
Residents and Ms. Earley interrupted each other before Ms. Earley asked Mr. Consolo to mute the public lines on the call. Brainard resident Gerald Carrier said that the council president was out of order. Ms. Earley said that she would adjourn the meeting until next month unless the call was conducted in an orderly fashion. Ms. Effron said that it is not appropriate to mute the public lines during the public comment section of a public meeting.
“What the council president said is correct. There is no right for members of the public to participate. They can observe and listen,” Mr. Consolo said. “If we were in an in-person meeting, these disruptions would cause the sergeant at arms (under our rules the council president) to have this person removed,” he said. “With the council president’s permission, I can dismiss members, which would be the same effect as having them removed.”
After the law director dismissed people from the meeting, they were able to call in again and unmute themselves. Residents continued to speak to share their frustration with council members and the procedure used to conduct the meeting. Mr. Consolo said that Mr. Carrier was dismissed from the meeting five times and kept calling in.
Mr. Carrier later held up a piece of paper with a message written on it that said, “I apologize for my outburst earlier. I just wanted to be heard.” Maplecrest resident David Effron changed his screen name on the virtual call to “Resign now.” He also held up a sign that said, “Why can’t we speak?”
Maplecrest resident Donna Morris said that she has had a positive experience while living in Woodmere but the animosity between elected officials has ramped up now more than ever. She said that she blames Mayor Holbert for confusion about the cost of the sidewalk on Brainard because of his “poor communication skills.” Ms. Morris also described the recall election as ludicrous, ridiculous and selfish.
In response to a question by Irving Park Avenue resident Joshua Walker, Mr. Consolo said that village officials cannot stop the recall election.
“I don’t know what the animosity is or what the unprofessionalism is within the council between the mayor and the council members and what’s going on, but I’ve seen it building throughout the year and the back and forth and the ‘he said, she said’ and the letters and the news clippings and all of that,” Mr. Walker said. “But honestly, we need to break this division down and come together as a village and build this thing back up.”
Several residents commented on the behavior of the participants at the council meeting. Irving Park resident Shelley Ross said that she was embarrassed for the behavior of her fellow residents. Roselawn Avenue resident Gladys Melvin said that she was disappointed in the behavior of council members. Theresa Jackson of Irving Park said that this was the first council meeting that she attended. She expressed embarrassment at the behavior of residents and council members.