Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Clash looms in Richmond Heights tonight as city council mulls cutting mayor's pay

Mayor Miesha Headen stands with her family as
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge administers the oath of office
Just before Miesha Wilson Headen was publicly sworn in December 2 as mayor of Richmond Heights on a bright but cold Sunday afternoon at Faith United Church of Christ on Richmond Road, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge warned her that this would be the most harmonious moment of her tenure. A sanctuary full of well-wishers chuckled at Fudge’s wry but rueful observation.

High hopes and good spirits were everywhere as
Mayor Headen is sworn into office December 2

On January 28, at a Committee of the Whole council meeting, less than two months after those few hours of good feelings, a majority of the city’s legislators was giving the nod to a seemingly innocuous ordinance that would change the classification of the city’s Director of Public Safety from an appointed position to an elected one. In Richmond Heights, as in many of this area’s smaller suburbs, the mayor appoints herself as safety director to supplement what would otherwise be too paltry a mayoral salary. Current ordinances set the mayor’s salary at $15,000 and the safety director’s salary at $16,000.

Supporters of the reclassification suggested that this was a mere tweaking of the city’s governance structure, a minor housekeeping matter that would align with both standard practice and reality: since the safety director was habitually self-appointed by the mayor, why not just call the safety director an elected official?

Well, it turns out, as Headen was quick to note, such a move would basically cut her salary in half, since the city’s elected officials are not eligible to have their health care premiums paid by municipal funds. Headen said her family’s monthly health care premiums would easily exceed a thousand dollars, essentially wiping out her director’s salary.

While neither council president David Roche, nor finance committee chair
Council President David Roche
Donald O’Toole, both of whom are long-standing city legislators, acknowledged the validity of the mayor’s objection, they seemed neither surprised or deterred by the prospect of dismembering the mayor’s pay.

The reclassification measure is on the agenda for tonight’s council meeting and could be passed without further discussion. Headen would of course be expected to veto the legislation, but Roche presently has the votes to override virtually any mayoral veto.

The city’s law director, Todd Hunt, could play a decisive role here. Changing the compensation of an elected official midterm is generally frowned upon, even where it might be legal. Hunt, who has worked closely with the council majority for many years, could slow down this looming confrontation or stand aside and allow this train wreck of a bill to proceed.

The how and why the mayor and council came to be so quickly at odds will be the subject of a post later this week.

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