Observer Reports

Library Board of Trustees Special Meeting, March 5, 2018

March 7th, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

Library Board of Trustees
March 5, 2018

Present: All Board members except Mr. Cicarella
Also present: Library Director Amy Switzer and a number of library staff members

A presentation (via Skype) of the results of polling relating to the upcoming levy request was presented by Lake Resource Partners.

Phone survey (46 percent cell, 54 percent landline) of 241 registered voters conducted between Jan. 9 and 24 was presented. Initial responses showed 57 percent in support, 22 percent opposed, and the remainder undecided. Results indicated strong and broad-based support for the levy, with a slightly more favorable response from women, registered Democrats, and people living in the northwest part of the city. After questioners presented more detailed pro and con arguments, support rose to 61 percent, opposition to 26 percent, with 17 percent still undecided. Of respondents in the sample group (drawn from representative demographics), 92 percent had a favorable impression of the Shaker Heights Library. Presented with the possible option of joining the county library system, 61 percent were opposed and about 25 percent in favor.

Presenters noted the strong sense of local pride in the Library and the view that it is a key institution in the community and a valuable support to education.

Mike Thomas, of Lake Resource, concluded the presentation with guidance about the legal limits on board members and staff during elections. The role of the board is to educate the public, communicating the reasons for requesting the levy and its ramifications. But neither the board nor the Library may ask for votes. No Library resources may be used to ask for votes. As individuals, there is (of course) no restriction on freedom of speech. Mr. Thomas suggested that those in favor of the levy should 1) identify the problem, 2) identify the solution, and 3) speak and act in a manner to inspire community members to trust the prudence of board’s actions.

Meeting (scheduled to begin at 5:30, but in fact called to order at 5:55) adjourned at 6:50 p.m.
Kathleen Hickman

Board of Education, February 2018

March 3rd, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

Board of Education
Feb. 13, 2018

Present: William Clawson, Lisa Cremer, Ayesha Bell Hardaway, Jeffrey Isaacs, Heather Weingart, Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, and Treasurer Bryan Christman

The meeting was called to order by Board President Jeffrey Isaacs at 6 p.m. The agenda for this meeting can be found here.

The meeting opened with brief comments by Lindsay Florence, Mercer Elementary School Principal.

The minutes of the Jan. 9 organizational and regular board meeting were approved.

Recognition/Honors of Staff/Students: The Martha Jennings Foundation, a Cleveland-based organization that promotes more effective teaching in Ohio’s secular schools pre-k through high school, featured Shaker’s First Class preschool (at Mercer and Onaway) in a recent issue of its newsletter, Pro Excellentia. Art by two Fernway students (Zara Craig and Elliott Hannah) is being displayed in Columbus for a month at the State Teachers Retirement Systems Building.

Mr. Isaacs offered the opportunity for public conversation with the board: one comment was made about a resident’s frustration with the BOE’s communications and accountability.

An update on the Equity Task Force followed, given by Herlinda Bradley, its chair, and David Peake, co-chair. This task force was established in June 2017 and is part of the ongoing five-year Strategic Plan on removing barriers to help all students achieve at a higher level. The presenters stressed the importance of having a shared definition of equity itself and have worked toward a shared understanding and language. Note: school board member Ayesha Hardaway is a member of this task force. The task force is working on how to update the Shaker community.

Due to a high number of Shaker Heights Teachers Association (SHTA) attendees at this meeting, the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the SHTA was moved up in the agenda. The recommended action on approving the new three-year negotiated collective bargaining agreement between the SHBOE and SHTA, effective Jan. 1, 2018, through Dec. 31, 2020, was approved unanimously. Dr. Hutchings commented on the positive collaborative experience using interest-based bargaining to talk through the challenges of salary and benefits. He introduced and thanked the SHTA bargaining team, SHTA President Dr. John Morris and District Treasurer Bryan Christman.

The majority of the items for approval on the published agenda involved action on personnel matters, such as new appointments, changes in assignments, temporary employees, special assignments and resignations, all of which were approved and are listed in detail on the published agenda. Retiring at the end of this school year with a combined 88 years of service to our district are guidance counselor Eileen Blattner (47 years) and academic advisor Mary Lynn McGovern (41 years).

Highlights of the facilities update by Dr. Stephen Wilkins, Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations: The BOE approved each of the following improved-project contracts reviewed by Dr. Wilkins: Fernway flat-roof improvements ($208,000 plus $21,000 contingency clause—note that all new roof repairs have a 30-year warranty); high school elevator modernization (repairing old parts, updating with newer safety features, $288,000); Onaway roofing improvements (correcting Jan. 9 resolution amount from $215,420 to $224,044 from a missed coating option).

The board approved a resolution authorizing the participation in the Ohio Schools Council Cooperative School Bus Purchasing Program for the 2018-19 school year as the BOE wishes to advertise and receive bids for the purchase of up to three school buses. The district’s goal is to replace up to four school buses per year (105 are in the fleet) to modernize and keep adding new buses to the rotation.

The board approved a resolution allowing the disposing of board-owned property valued under $10,000 that is no longer needed for school purposes: the Woodbury clock-face tower parts to be sold for $10 to the Shaker Schools Foundation.

Revision of board policies – first required reading of three. The following policies have been updated: those covering Title 9 and nondiscrimination on the basis of sex (including sexual harassment), broadcasting and taping of board meetings, student transportation services, board policy development and adoption, co-curricular and extracurricular activities, interscholastic athletics, graduation requirements, English learners, and truancy.

Treasurer Bryan Christman presented financial monthly and budget reports and highlighted what is happening as far as the state budget and Shaker funding (details of each financial report are included as exhibits to the published agenda available online). Two bond resolutions were adopted in accordance with the district’s bond issuance plan: issuance and sale this spring of series 2018A bonds of the remaining $20.1 million of the $30 million bond authority and long-term bonds to repay the short-term notes issued December 2017 ($9.9 million) that come due in July. This will minimize issuance costs and allow the district to maintain special “bank-qualified” status. Research is currently being done to replace the district’s antiquated state software system. A delegation from Shaker visited the Berea Schools to look at the Tyler’s Munis Enterprise Resource Planning System and HR/Payroll Module, used by many municipalities (including Shaker Heights) as well. The Munis system, however, needs some workarounds as it is not compatible with state software necessary for reporting purposes. A group will also visit a district using SunGuard K-12, a competing system that manages accounting, finance, procurement, human resources, payroll and other business functions. One idea generated from discussion would be for the Shaker district to create an RFP (Request for Proposal) detailing what functions it would like to see in a financial system.

Superintendent’s Report: Dr. Hutchings will deliver his final State of the Schools address to an audience of SHHS freshmen and sophomores as well as to community guests on Thursday, March 15, at 9 a.m.  This address will be streamed live to each school building and on the district’s website ( It will also be available for viewing on the district’s YouTube channel. Strategic plan update: In June 2015, the BOE adopted the district’s current five-year strategic plan, developed after a planning process that stressed community involvement and transparency (concluding in work driven by a 44-member strategic planning team composed of community members, students, parents, faculty and staff). The district is now in the fourth year of the plan, so it’s time to begin the process for developing the next strategic plan. In February, the district was to solicit requests for proposals from consultants to assist in the plan’s development. The board plans to review the requests in March, the same month it plans to announce an application window for a new strategic planning team. The goal is to have a 2019-2024 strategic plan presented for the board’s consideration in December 2018.

The board adjourned to executive session at about 7:52 p.m.
Holly Wang

City Council Regular Meeting, February 2018

March 3rd, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

Shaker Heights City Council
Feb. 26, 2018

(Prior to the regular council meeting, there was a 6 p.m. executive session to discuss personnel matters.)

Present: Mayor Earl Leiken; Council members Sean Malone, Earl Williams, Tres Roeder, Juliana Johnston Senturia, Anne Williams, Nancy Moore, Robert Zimmerman
Also present:  Chief Administrative Officer Jeri Chaikin, Law Director William M. Ondrey Gruber, Finance Director Robert H. Baker, Chief of Fire Patrick F. Sweeney, Director of Planning Joyce Braverman, Economic Development Director Tania Menesse, Housing Commissioner William Hanson

The mayor called the meeting to order at 7:33 p.m. and announced it adjourned at 8:20 p.m.

The Fire Department will apply for a $25,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Fire Prevention and Safety Grant to purchase photoelectric smoke detectors. It will also apply for a $13,300 grant from DHS through the Firefighters Grant funding program to purchase two training simulators.

Council approved:

  • A personal services contract with Greenman-Pedersen, Inc., for $117,207 for Farnsleigh Streetscape improvements
  • The City Planning Commission’s approval of permits for signage in the Van Aken District
  • A $100,000 Vision Fund forgivable loan that will allow the consulting and engineering firm, Mannik & Smith Group, to move into Tower East (the tallest building in the city, and the last building in the United States designed by architect Walter Gropius). Established in 2010, the Vision Fund was developed to remedy market imbalances and competitive lease rates by targeting businesses that will bring wage taxes to Shaker. Eleven loans have been disbursed so far, with two still pending to Le Chaperon Rouge and Shaker Rocks.Chair of the Finance Committee, Sean Malone, noted that the Vision Fund loans will generate positive returns for the city when portions of the Van Aken District open up later this year.
  • The sale of a city-owned condominium and garage space at 19101 Van Aken Blvd. for $1 to the Shaker Club Condominium Unit Owners Association in order to redevelop the property (which has been vacant for more than years and no property taxes have been paid since 2008) and renovate it in order to get it back on the market.

 Public comment on agenda items:

Sara Schiavoni expressed concern that three Vision Loans remain outstanding and that $105,000 remains uncommitted in the Vision Fund, and wondered if the city is trying to bring a grocery store into the Van Aken District. She expressed wonderment at what enforcement provisions were negotiated since there was no information in the Financial Committee meeting minutes.
Audrey Morris


Library Board of Trustees, February 208

March 3rd, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

Library Board of Trustees
Feb. 19, 2018

Present: All Board members (though Ms. Garrett arrived only minutes before the end of the meeting), Library Director Switzer, and a number of library staff

Called to order at 6:35 p.m.

This short meeting included the president’s report. Mr. Bertsch and Mr. Cicarella were appointed to deal with a bylaw review, with results to be presented at the March meeting.

The fiscal officer reported on income and expenses, and responded to questions about timing of disbursements reflecting property tax payments. The county forwards payments monthly based on what it has received, with a final reconciliation usually made in September.

Ms. Switzer highlighted a number of activities at the library and noted the two branches of the library will be offering passport services. Applications will begin to be accepted in March (a “soft roll-out”). The library will receive fees for the service. Small policy changes were approved by the board. Ms. Switzer also reported that the local history project had already fielded 55 inquiries.

The board dealt with gifts and their appropriation and heard the personnel report.

There was some discussion of preparedness plans for the city’s libraries (in light of recent violent events) and liaison with fire and police forces. There was also a suggestion that security issues would need to be a factor in renovation projects, should the levy be approved by voters.

Meeting adjourned at 7:15 p.m.
Kathleen Hickman


Recreation Committee

March 3rd, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

Recreation Committee
Feb. 7, 2018

Present: Council members Tres Roeder (chair), Sean Malone, Julianna Senturia; Lisa Cremer, school board member; citizen members Leta Obertacz, Ifeolu Clayton, Troy Neujahr, Dr. Terry Breeden; Alexandria Nichols, Director of Recreation; and Jeri Chaikin, Chief Administrative Officer

Mr. Roeder called the meeting to order at 6:05 p.m. Minutes of the Nov. 1, 2017, meeting were approved as written. Mr. Roeder welcomed the new citizen members, including several who are relatively new to Shaker. He noted that city committees are typically reorganized every two years. He also welcomed school board member Lisa Cremer, whose presence on the committee will deepen the collaboration between the city and the schools.

Goal of tonight’s meeting is to provide an overview of Recreation, its primary functions, its 2017 accomplishments, and a look ahead to 2018 budget highlights and initiatives – through a PowerPoint presented by Ms. Nichols.

The Recreation Department provides leisure time and recreation activities for residents and nonresidents of all ages, including child care, sports, and services for senior adults 50+.

Ms. Nichols began her overview by listing the primary department functions, which range from summer camps to school-age child care, to sports programs and the Office for Senior Adults and also include community events, field maintenance, and playground maintenance and supervision.

Among 2017 accomplishments were changes to school-age child care with the creation of full-time site supervisors – rather than part-time – to increase staff stability. Pop up fitness programs in some community parks were introduced and had a good response – and will be increased in 2018.

The Thornton Park Ice Rink is now 50 years old and proposals are being solicited for an engineering study to begin planning for the rink’s future. A teen afterschool program called The Getaway was created at Heights Christian Church. Mr. Roeder and Ms. Nichols reviewed the careful research done, in collaboration with the school system, the Youth Center and the Library, in an effort to make sure it would meet community needs. The program started in late fall, as a drop-in program five days a week from 3 to 7 p.m. Interest in the program is growing. The program is teen driven – a Teen Advisory Board will be created in 2018. On another front, a Community Engagement staff person will be hired in 2018 to build neighborhood involvement in recreation (for example, through pop up wellness programs).

2018 Capital projects for recreation total $412,000, including $280,000 for park improvements – a significant increase from last year. Most of the other capital expenditures involve improvements at Thornton Park, including a walking trail and the design of an improved pool entry. Community input will be sought on park capital spending.

An 11-page Recreation Department 2017 Action Plan was also circulated indicating program and function goals for 2017 and comments on their completion or progress.

Committee members asked about the total operating budget for recreation – about $4 million, with $1 million in city support. Seventeen full-time employees increase to 150 in the summer, including many part-time employees.

Ms. Nichols closed the meeting by alerting committee members to a future discussion topic: a review of field maintenance, including policies regarding the use of pesticides and herbicides.

The committee meeting was adjourned at 7 p.m.
Jan Devereaux

Finance Committee, February 2018

March 3rd, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

Finance Committee
Feb. 20, 2018

Members Present: Council members Sean Malone (chair), Nancy Moore, Earl Williams and Robert Zimmerman; citizen members Thomas Cicarella, Martin Kolb, Linda Lalley and Anthony Moore
Others present: Mayor Earl Leiken, Chief Administrative Officer Jeri Chaikin, Chief of Fire Patrick Sweeney, Director of Economic Development Tania Menesse, Director of Finance Robert Baker, Principal Planner Ann Klavora, Housing Commissioner William Hanson and Council Member Julianna Senturia

The meeting was called to order by Mr. Malone at 7:30 a.m.

 Agenda—Committee actions:

  1. Mr. Malone opened the meeting with introductions around the room for the benefit of new citizen members Tom Cicarella and Anthony Moore. He also shared with them the role of the Finance Committee within the city government.
  2. Mr. Malone presented the minutes of the Dec.11, 2017, Finance Committee meeting for approval. The minutes were approved.
  3. Chief Sweeney presented his request for committee approval to apply for the Fire Prevention and Safety Grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2017. The department is requesting grant funding in the amount of $25,000 to fund the purchase of smoke detectors to be installed in the homes of Shaker Heights residents in need. Chief Sweeney apologized that due to short notice he had been unable to present this item to the Safety & Public Works Committee. Mr. Williams stated the FEMA grant originated before the last Congress and asked when the city might apply again with a longer lead time. Chief Sweeney replied the grant would normally have come up in May last year. Ms. Moore asked about the technology, specifically photoelectric smoke detectors. Chief Sweeney shared that the older ion detectors were not as reliable as photoelectric detectors and that many homeowners would remove a battery after a low battery alarm. The new detectors have 10-year batteries that are not accessible, so that the unit would be replaced by the fire department after 10 years. Mr. Malone asked how many people in Shaker had the new photoelectric detectors and Chief Sweeney estimated about 25 percent. Mr. Zimmerman asked how the department determined need. Chief Sweeney replied that the department does not usually challenge a homeowner who claims a financial need, but there is a waiting list for the units. Ms. Lalley commented that this is a micro grant; were there other grants with more dollars available? Chief Sweeney answered that smoke detection was a high priority for the fire department and that they had applied unsuccessfully for other FEMA grants. He also reminded the committee that a home safety survey was a requirement during the installation of the smoke detectors. Mr. Kolb commented he moved to Shaker in 1983 and the fire department installed their smoke detectors; his father was a fireman and impressed by the professionalism of the Shaker Fire department. The motion was approved.
    4. Chief Sweeney presented his request for approval to apply for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2017. The department is requesting grant funding in the amount of $13,300 to fund the purchase of two training simulators. Chief Sweeney summarized the request for the committee. This request was presented and approved by the Safety & Public Works Committee on Feb. 2, 2018. Mr. Malone asked how much money was required for other materials when using the training simulators. Chief Sweeney answered that the simulators were designed to help firefighters minimize damage to a homeowner’s property when responding to alarms, so the damage was usually a door or window, not the frame or surrounding structure. The motion was approved.
    5. Ms. Menesse presented her request for approval of a Vision Fund Forgivable Loan of $100,000 to The Mannik & Smith Group, Inc., to build out 8,154 square feet in Tower East over a 10-year lease term. E2G Properties has signed a 10-year lease with The Mannik and Smith Group for 8,154 square feet on the fifth floor of Tower East; the firm has first right of refusal on all contiguous space on the floor to accommodate its growth plans. The lease is contingent upon approval of a $100,000 Vision Fund Forgivable Loan from the city. She summarized the request, emphasizing this lease would bring Tower East occupancy above 80 percent. The forgivable loan was reviewed by the Neighborhood Revitalization and Development Committee and recommended for approval. Mr. Williams asked how competitive the city of Beachwood was in attracting this tenant. Ms. Menesse stated Beachwood is usually very competitive and Highland Hills has also become very competitive, but that the attraction of walking to lunch at the new Van Aken District was a decision factor. Ms. Lalley asked if the Van Aken District had lease openings; Ms. Menesse replied that about 20 percent of Val Aken was still available to lease. Mr. Malone asked if the city had performance clauses in the loan contract; Ms. Menesse answered there are agreements regarding employee numbers and income tax projections. She added that only a couple of these loans had not met projections in the past and the city was compensated. Mr. Malone continued: were these loans comparable to the ABA Insurance Services loan? Ms. Menesse replied that the ABA loan was larger and required upfront payments–it is the largest forgivable loan to date. Mr. Cicarella asked who checked the information provided by the applicant regarding other bank loans, insurance, salaries, etc. Ms. Menesse stated that RITA records were checked each year to verify loan reports, and that the city was subordinate to any bank loans. Mr. Kolb stated he felt the program was fantastic but asked if any prior loans had been written off. Ms. Menesse answered that only one had been nonperforming. Mr. Kolb recounted the Vision Fund had made nine loans totaling $262,000, yielding $555,000 in tax revenue and wanted to know if all that went back to the fund. Ms. Menesse clarified that the original $262,000 went back to the fund but the remainder of the $555,000 went to the city’s General Fund. Mr. Kolb clarified that these were mostly small loans and Ms. Menesse stated most were around $25,000. Mr. Zimmerman asked that a performance spreadsheet of past Vision Fund loans be sent to the committee; Ms. Menesse agreed. Mayor Leiken then provided some background regarding Tower East for the new citizen members of the committee—how the building had been allowed to deteriorate under prior out-of-state owners and the city had stepped in to convince E2G, a local company and Tower East resident, to purchase the property. The loan was approved.
    6. Principal Planner Ann Klavora presented her recommendation to enter into a professional services contract for construction inspection and administration of the Farnsleigh Streetscape Improvements project with Greenman-Pedersen Inc. (GPI) for $117,207. The services include construction inspection and administration for streetscape improvements along Farnsleigh Road, between Warrensville Center and Van Aken in the Van Aken District. The selected consultant will act as the city’s onsite construction manager for the duration of the project and satisfy Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) requirements when federal funding is involved in a project. The tight schedule for the project prevented the presentation of this proposal to the Safety & Public Works Committee prior to the Finance Committee meeting. Mr. Williams asked if this referred to the south side of Farnsleigh Road, Ms. Klavora stated it was for both sides of Farnsleigh Road. Mr. Williams asked if the future plans for the city parking lot on the north side were considered and Ms. Klavora confirmed these plans had been considered. Ms. Moore inquired about the RFQ (Request for Quotation) process involved. Ms. Klavora stated the RFQ was mandated to follow ODOT format without variance due to the federal funding requested; all the bidders are familiar with the requirements. Ms. Moore continued to ask if the budget was negotiated and Ms. Klavora replied there are variations among bidders about the administration process and task hours but she expected the actual costs to come under the bid. Mr. Kolb wished to know what improvements will be made and Ms. Klavora answered the project includes sidewalks, landscapes and artwork per the Van Aken District plan. Mr. Zimmerman requested that a copy of the ODOT process be included for City Council members. Mr. Cicarella asked hypothetically what would happen if two bids were close—can other factors such as “local” be considered? Ms. Klavora stated the ODOT process does not allow local preference. Mr. Malone returned to the city parking lot plans and Ms. Klavora said they were allowing for a building on that property. Mr. Kolb moved to enter into an agreement with GPI and the motion was approved.
    7. Mr. Hanson presented his request for Finance Committee approval to sell the condominium at 19101 Van Aken Blvd. #529 and the associated garage space to the Shaker Club Condominium  Home Owners Association (HOA) for $1. The goal of this transaction is to restore this long-standing vacant unit back to productive use through renovation and re-sale to an owner-occupant. The city has not spent any funds to acquire the property but no taxes are being paid while the city owns the property. This request was unanimously approved by the Neighborhood Revitalization & Development Committee on Feb. 14, 2018. Ms. Moore wanted to know the housing office picture on condos in Shaker Heights. Mr. Hanson shared that there is weakness in the market for condos in buildings originally intended as apartments built in the 1940s and converted to condos in the 1980s. Recently purpose-built condos are doing well with the amenities new buyers desire. There are 1,124 condos in Shaker with 11 percent vacant. Mr. Cicarella asked if the city knew the Shaker HOA was interested in buying before foreclosure. Mr. Hanson replied the city knew the HOA was interested, otherwise the city would not have taken the property from the county. Mr. Cicarella asked if this was an ongoing plan for the city. Mr. Hanson said that it was not a plan, only tactical in this one case; there was no personnel support for this going forward. Mr. Williams wanted to know if it was the practice to allow properties to progress to foreclosure. Mr. Hanson clarified that the city has little ability to affect a foreclosure even when the city knows it is imminent. The city does have ongoing efforts in place to reduce single family home foreclosures, which is a priority. Mr. Malone asked why local rehab companies did not bid on the property. Mr. Hanson replied that there is little a rehabber can do to add value to a condo in comparison to options for adding rooms and other amenities to single homes. Ms. Lalley wanted to know what criterion is used to accept a condo. Mr. Hanson reiterated this was an exception case and there is no desire to repeat unless an HOA asks for help. Mr. Malone asked if the city wanted to do more and Mr. Hanson replied “not really.” The motion was approved.
    8. Baker presented the list of “Then and Now” approval requests and explained for the new committee members the need for and use of “Then and Now” certificates in order to pay invoices prior to goods or services being delivered. He then requested that the Finance Committee recommend to City Council that the “Then and Now” certificate presented for transactions on Exhibit A and related payments be approved. Mr. Williams asked if this process deterred vendors. Mr. Baker is not aware that the process is any deterrent; the suppliers are normally smaller businesses and local to Shaker, so they are better able to adjust their billing dates and avoid the process. Mr. Cicarella wanted to know when the goods or services are actually delivered, an example being oil or gas delivery. Mr. Baker said delivery could be before or after invoice date. Sometimes, particularly for larger companies, the invoice is sent immediately after the contract is signed. It is not usually tied to the actual delivery. Mr. Cicarella asked if there is some penalty levied by the vendors. Mr. Baker did not know of an example in his experience. Mr. Malone wanted to know if other cities followed the same practice. Mr. Baker shared that this is standard practice in Ohio and all cities follow it. Auditors require it. The transactions and payments were approved.
    9. Baker presented the unaudited 2017 financial results for the city and the 2018 budget. Revenues were above the budget and 2016 revenue, and operating expenses were less than 2017 and more than 2016, so that the city’s General Fund stood at 32.33 percent reserve. Mr. Williams asked what defines the General Fund. Director Baker replied the General Fund is supported by city operating revenues, separate from the Recreation and Economic Development funds, which have different revenue sources. Mr. Williams asked if the General Fund supported city employee pensions. Mr. Baker clarified that all city employees are either Ohio Public Employee pensioners or Ohio Fire and Police pension members. There are state mandates for contributions to these pension funds based on a percentage of employee salaries. These funds are separate from the General Fund and cities have no pension obligations after these contributions are made to the pension funds. The pension funds can change the contribution and benefit rates without any city approval. Mayor Leiken made a comment for the benefit of the new committee members about the General Fund’s 32.33 percent reserve funding level. Shaker Heights is one of only nine municipalities in northeast Ohio with a AAA rating, because of this reserve level. The reserve is higher than ever; expenses have gone down while revenue has increased since 2007.

Mr. Malone adjourned the meeting at 8:58 a.m.
Frank Goforth

City Council Work Session, February 2018

March 3rd, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

City Council Work Session
Feb. 12, 2018

Present: Council members Nancy Moore, Tres Roeder, Sean Malone, Julianna Johnston Senturia, Anne Williams and Rob Zimmerman; Mayor Earl Leiken, CAO Jeri Chaikin, Law Director William Gruber, Economic Development Director Tania Menesse
Also Present: Nick Fedor, Executive Director, Shaker Heights Development Corp (SHDC)

The meeting was called to order at 7:02 p.m.

Mr. Fedor was asked to present an update on SHDC work. The update included a history of SHDC from its founding through the present day. SHDC has historically partnered with the city on strategic initiatives and unique funding initiatives designed to spark investment and development in Shaker Heights. SHDC has been staffed since 2015 with full-time employees. The current focus of SHDC include: 1. Chagrin Lee corridor, 2. Van Aken Development, 3. Entrepreneurial ecosystem development.

Chagrin Lee corridor has seen vacancy rates drop and the application of street scaping dollars to improve the look of the district. SHDC partnered with local investors to help locate Process Canine to the area. The Dealership is running at about 85 percent occupancy. Private sector investment has also seen an increase.

In the Van Aken district, the SHDC facilitated a programming survey as well as business owner meetings. They are exploring a Business Improvement District, which would require businesses to contribute and services would be provided to the district.

Looking forward to 2018, Nick Fedor reported that SHDC has received a targeted $50,000 street-scaping grant and is also putting together a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the former car wash site on Lee Road. The Chagrin Lee merchants are evaluating a Merchants Association. SHDC has secured a VISTA employee from AmeriCorps for a year-long assignment. SHDC is also working with Arts Van Aken on programming in the district.

Mayor Leiken asked Mr .Fedor to discuss the difference between Detroit Shoreway and Shaker. Mr. Fedor indicated Detroit has a higher density of business and residents. It also has a historical development focused on a pedestrian neighborhood. A discussion about Business Improvement Districts (BID) indicated that 60 percent of the linear-frontage business owners must agree to the district and they will contribute to fund items such as street-scaping, lighting and ambassadors. Local areas with BIDs include Downtown Cleveland, Gordon Square, Ohio City and three areas in Cleveland Heights.

A story on the the SHDC report was also included on (

Mr. Gruber presented a proposal to extend the city contract with the current natural gas aggregation provider. The current contract ends in March.  The request was to authorize a one-year contract with IGS.  The city will use the year to evaluate whether the city should join NOPEC for gas aggregation. The city uses consultant AmpOhio to evaluate proposals. The charge for AmpOhio is 5 cents per MCL charged through customer rate to fund the program. Currently 6,000 Shaker residents are enrolled in the program. The IGS proposed rate is 100 percent of the market rate plus 32 cents per MCF (includes the distribution fee). Apples-to-apples comparisons on the natural gas website are rates for individuals and not aggregates. Shaker likes to provide a fixed rate with no cancellation fee. So the Shaker rate may be higher but it is guaranteed and residents can cancel with no fee.

Mr. Williams asked if the gas is from Ohio. Mr. Gruber replied that gas is mixed from many locations.

Ms. Williams asked why flexibility is so important. Mr. Gruber replied that customers have indicated that they want the ability to cancel with no fee. The only input the city has received from residents is the desire to be able to cancel, so he made sure that is part of the package.

Mr. Malone asked how much of the market is covered with the aggregate. Mr. Gruber replied that of approximately 12,000 households in Shaker, 6,000 participate.

The contract was approved unanimously.

The meeting was adjourned to executive session for personnel matters at 8:05 p.m.
Sarah Divakarla

City Planning Commission/Board of Zoning Appeals, February 2018

March 3rd, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

Board of Zoning Appeals & City Planning Commission
Feb. 7, 2018

Members present: Kevin Dreyfuss-Wells, David Weiss, Councilman Rob ZimmermanOthers Present: Joyce Braverman, Director of Planning; William Gruber, Director of Law; Dan Feinstein, Senior Planner

Mr. Zimmerman, acting chair, called the meeting to order at 7 p.m.  The agenda for this meeting may be found here. The minutes of the Jan. 2 meeting were unanimously approved. A copy can be viewed here.

The first agenda item concerned a request for a zoning variance at 2994 Courtland Blvd., at the request of Kevin Cieszykowski, JP Compass Consulting, representing Theodoreos and Kari Teknos, homeowners. They request variances to garage regulations to construct a new detached two-car garage facing the street, located in the rear yard. Code requires an attached garage on a street block where the majority of garages are attached. All but one garage on the street are attached. In addition, code allows one garage per property, located in the rear yard. The home has an existing attached side-facing three-car garage, proposed to remain, creating five garage spaces with 1,058 square feet of available space on the property. Code limits are four garage spaces and 800 square feet of garage area.

The staff position was for a one-car detached garage, and relocation to be 10 feet off the side property.

Mr. Cieszykowski recapped the family’s need for additional space and also noted that a driveway turnaround is shared with the nextdoor neighbor, making the front-facing garage necessary because a side-facing garage wouldn’t permit enough space to turn a car around.

Mr. Weiss asked why the setback was only 3 feet, not 5. Mr. Cieszykowski responded that he didn’t know that rule and they could accommodate the change. Mr. Weiss asked why the area next to the attached garages couldn’t be a space for widening the turnaround. Mr. Cieszykowski responded that the yard is small and already contains HVAC equipment.

Mr. Zimmerman opened the floor for public comments. There were none.

Mr. Weiss asked the applicant if the home next door that shares the turnaround is for sale. Mr. Cieszykowski responded that he saw construction work, but he doesn’t know about a sale. Mr. Weiss said that the home is for sale.

Ms. Braverman commented that if the garage is moved 5 feet from the property line, it would be partially hidden from the street. Mr. Weiss noted that it would be less visible if it had a 10-foot setback, which would be 5 feet from the property line. Mr. Cieszykowski noted that a 10-foot setback would hamper use of the turnaround.

Mr. Weiss read the staff position, but noted that nearby houses also had variances for big detached garages facing the street. He added that only one bay of the new garage would be seen from the street. He proposed that if the garage were moved 5 feet off the side and rear property lines, he’d recommend approval. The variance was unanimously approved.

The second agenda item was for the Hobbs Residence, 21749 Parnell Road, represented by Scott Tharasiu, Great Lake Fence, on behalf of Brian and Joanna Hobbs, requesting a variance to the fence location and height regulations for corner lots. The applicant would like to replace and extend an existing fence by attaching a 6-foot ornamental aluminum fence to the existing chain-link fence and by replacing a section of existing fence with 6-foot ornamental aluminum fencing. Code requires that corner side yard fences not extend beyond the setback line of the principal building on the next-door lot, and permits only a 3-foot fence on corner side yards. The homeowners also propose to screen the aluminum fence with 4-foot shrubs in addition to existing landscaping that will screen some of the new fencing.

The staff position recommends limiting the fence to 4 feet tall, but allowing a 6-foot driveway gate.

Mr. Hobbs requested a taller fence because their dog can jump a shorter one, and they had a break-in in the back of the house. He also noted that the ornamental fence they propose adding would be better looking than the existing chain-link fence.

Mr. Gruber asked why they’re leaving some of the fence at 4 feet. Mr. Hobbs responded that the 4-foot section is screened by taller shrubs, so they don’t need to replace it. Mr. Weiss noted that code allows only 4-foot fences on corner lots because the fence blocks sightlines on the street. However, in this case, it wouldn’t because of the fence set back.

Mr. Wiess asked if the proposed 4-foot landscaping would grow to 6 feet or taller over time. Mr. Hobbs confirmed it would.

Mr. Zimmerman opened the floor to public comment. There were none.

Mr. Dreyfuss-Wells commented that he’s concerned about setting precedent. Mr. Gruber responded that this situation is specific enough to prevent that. Mr. Dreyfuss-Wells noted that he would prefer that the height of new fences be set at 5 feet. Mr. Weiss agreed. Mr. Zimmerman commented that he would have considered approving a 6-foot fence, but since the variance needs all three present members to approve, he would vote with the group’s decision. The variance was unanimously approved.

Agenda item three for the City Planning Commission is for the Van Aken District Local Sign District. Jason Russell, of RMS Development Corp., Van Aken District, requested a Conditional Use Permit for an amendment to the Local Sign District. The purpose is to provide signage for the new mixed-use Van Aken District. There are two districts: 1) the Local Sign District for District Identity Signs and 2) the Local Sign District for Tenant Signage. An initial plan was approved in October 2017. That plan has now been revised and another Local Sign District for tenant signage is proposed, covering various types of retail and office tenant locations.

Mr. Feinstein recapped the overall plan, noting the identity signs were already partially approved. This will guide sign use, each of which will then be individually approved. Mr. Russell said that the changes being proposed were in line with requests when the partial plan had been approved. He noted that a banner system was created. In addition, a regional wayfinding signage package was created working with the City of Cleveland. He also noted that they had clarified the Market Hall signing facing Warrensville, adding agreed-upon elevations and presenting information on adding a mural. Mr. Russell confirmed that the changes had been worked out in the Planning Commission work session, including: new specialty signage will be permitted; no portable signs in the right of way without city approval; no vinyl signage; projected signage of 7 feet will be permitted; blade signs of 8 feet are permitted.

Ms. Braverman recommended that regulations for a mural on the Food Hall to be added. Mr. Dreyfuss-Wells asked if the mural could be public art, noting that then, perhaps, the size of the mural could be larger. Mr. Russell clarified that they wouldn’t know the size of the space until the building process is further along.

Mr. Feinstein recapped the proposal, noting that much of the proposal was new, some revised per earlier input, and that these are meant to be guidelines, not to cover every possible need; signage will be individually approved.

Mr. Zimmerman opened the floor to public comments. There were none. The proposal was unanimously approved.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:10 p.m.
Lynn Lilly

Safety and Public Works Committee, February 2018

March 3rd, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

Safety and Public Works
Feb. 2, 2018

Present: Council members Nancy Moore (chair), Tres Roeder, Julianna Senturia; citizen members James Brady, Jonathan Hren, Austin MeGuan; Mayor Earl Leiken, CAO Jeri Chaikin, Chief of Police Jeffrey DeMuth, Assistant Director of Public Works Christian Maier, Chief of Fire Patrick Sweeney
Absent: Council member Anne Williams and citizen member James Sammon

Ms. Moore called the meeting to order at 8:05 a.m.

This being a newly constituted committee (every two years), introductions were made and rules of operation reviewed. The meeting time has been changed from 7:30 to 8 a.m.

Mr. Maier presented a construction schedule for 2018 capital projects. Details of each will be discussed as they come due throughout the year. Of the 14 known projects, most will take place between mid-March and the end of August. These include sewer relocation and overflow improvements, water main replacements, and their related landscape needs; and side street resurfacing in Fernway, Mercer, Moreland neighborhoods, with a major street project on Fairhill. Plans are in place to notify residents of temporary traffic pattern changes.

Chief DeMuth described an amended two-year contract between the city and Solon for housing Shaker Heights prisoners at the much larger and up-to-date jail in Solon. The new contract reduces the annual fee to $229,200, with an additional $5,000 per month charge if Shaker prisoner days exceed 3,000 days annually. The base rate will now be $81.86 per prisoner day, inclusive of all services. This is a savings of $69,000 over the length of the contract, based on 2016-17 figures of 694 prisoners with 2,793 prisoner days.

Chief Sweeney requested approval to apply for a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters grant of $13,300 to fund the purchase of two training simulators: one for door forcible entry training and one for window/metal cutting entry training. Approval was granted.

Chief Sweeney presented a history and overview of the new Heights-Hillcrest Communication Center (HHCC), a regional dispatch center for fire and police of five communities (Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights, South Euclid, University Heights, and Richmond Heights). Five years in the planning, the center opened on Nov. 1, 2017, in the Cleveland Heights Metro-Health Medical Building on Severance Circle. HHCC is governed by a board composed of the member cities’ mayors and managed by the Chagrin Valley Dispatch Center for the next five years. Shaker Law Director William Gruber is its legal consultant.

The meeting adjourned at 9:18 a.m.
Linda Lissauer







Board of Education, January 2018

February 4th, 2018  |  Published in Observer Reports

Board of Education
Jan. 9, 2018

Present: William Clawson, Lisa Cremer, Ayesha Bell Hardaway, Jeffrey Isaacs, Heather Weingart; Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, and Treasurer Bryan Christman

The meeting was called to order by immediate past board vice president Jeffrey Isaacs at 6 p.m., at which time he gave a brief explanation of the purpose and protocol for the organizational (first meeting in 2018) and regular board meeting. The agenda for this meeting can be found here.

The meeting began with brief comments by Carina Freeman, Lomond Elementary School principal.

The Organizational Meeting: The three newly elected school board members, Lisa Cremer, Ayesha Bell Hardaway, and Heather Weingart, each took an oath of office under the guidance of Bryan Christman. Then the one-year terms of president and vice president of the board were voted on by the five members: Mr. Isaacs was elected president and Mr. Clawson, vice president. Other procedural annual and organizational tasks were passed, including setting the date and time of regular board meetings, making appointments and memberships, authorizing the superintendent to set fees for items like student lunches and certain classes; and authorizing the superintendent to seek grants and funding programs, etc.

The Regular Business Meeting followed. Mr. Isaacs offered the opportunity for public conversation with the board. Public comments on topics such as the Equity Task Force, state report card, and the Shaker Library levy followed. Due to the attendance of many interested in the Library levy, the agenda item “Resolution to Approve Shaker Heights Public Library Tax Levy Ballot Issue” to be placed on the May 8, 2018, ballot was moved up in the agenda. After a brief discussion, the vote was unanimous to place the Library levy on May’s ballot. Approval is required by Ohio law since the Shaker Library is a school district library and it was the Library Board of Trustees voted to place this levy on the ballot.

The minutes from Dec. 11, 2017, regular board meeting and Dec. 8 and 9 special meetings were approved. The Superintendent recognized students and faculty in his remarks, highlighting 74 scholastic awards in visual arts by the Cleveland Institute of Art to middle and high school students; senior Christian Guest’s record-setting 57 points in a basketball win over Mentor, and the doctorate degree bestowed by CSU on Stacey Steggert, high school intervention specialist.

The majority of the items on the published agenda involved action on personnel matters, such as new appointments, changes in assignments, temporary employees, special assignments, and resignations, all of which were approved and are listed in detail on the published agenda.

Highlights of the facilities update by Stephen Wilkins, assistant superintendent of business and operations: The goal for capital projects is still to have facilities warm, safe, and dry, using the $30 million capital bond. New furniture to create new learning environments was piloted in 10 classrooms in November and surveys pre and post will be assessed. Improvement costs are estimated for the year 2018 to be a little over $11 million, as indicated in board packet support materials. The business department is working closely with the treasurer’s office to accurately balance actual costs of projects upon completion. Legat Architects is serving as project managers overseeing the bidding process. All contracts are subject to board approval. As priorities change, the funding can change, as long as funds are going to capital improvements; for example, the high school media center is being looked at by the board’s facilities advisory committee, which will make recommendations to the full board. The treasurer has reimbursed the district general fund for the money allocated for repairs to the middle school roof. All buildings have updated outside lighting, cameras, and alarm systems, and there will be additional security upgrades using double barrel entrances. Members of the board complimented the practice of securing multiple bids for projects, taking advantage of tax breaks, and slowing down the process while adjusting to new priorities if they arise. Dr. Hutchings reminded the board that the $30 million wasn’t going to cover all the needed repairs and updates in the district, so there is a definite order of critical needs addressed first.

The board approved contracts to replace the parking lot at Onaway and the south parking lot at the high school. It also approved of contracts for the Onaway ($224,000) and Woodbury ($1.2 million) roof improvements – especially for the flat roof sections.

Revision of board policies – third reading (first reading, Nov. 8, and second Dec. 11, 2017): The board voted to approve the recommended policies (fiscal accounting and reporting; first aid regulations; college credit-plus regulations; interrogations and searches; and student fees, fines, and charges) as amended for consistency.

Mr. Christman presented financial monthly, year-end, and budget reports, and highlighted what is happening as far as the state budget and Shaker funding (details of each financial report are included as exhibits to the published agenda available online). The board amended its previously adopted appropriation accounts to include the new permanent improvement fund to collect money reflected in the December 2017 bond issuance.

Superintendent’s report: the State Superintendent has reported there will be changes to the state report card based on recommendations and input from our own First Ring Superintendents Group to clear up confusion in language of K-3 literacy means and modifying the high school test retake results to reflect improvement in the report grade. Dr. Hutchings also credited the Midwest Equity Assistance Center for its organization training and technical support and commended it as a great resource to our community.

The board adjourned to executive session at about 8:27 p.m.
Holly Wang

January 23, 2018, Board of Education Work Session: Anne Batzell observed this session, which was mainly the presentation to the board of the mid-year strategic planning report as led by Dr. Terri Breeden, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and other administrative staff.