By Kathy Wray Coleman, editor-in-chief, Cleveland Urban News. Com and The Cleveland Urban News.Com Blog, Ohio's Most Read Online Black Newspaper and Newspaper Blog Kathy Wray Coleman is a community activist and 20 year investigative journalist who trained for 17 years at the Call and Post Newspaper. (www.clevelandurbannews.com) / (www.kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com)
RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio-Richmond Heights, Ohio Mayor Miesha Wilson Headen spoke with Cleveland Urban News.Com in a one-on-one extensive interview.
Headen has all the trappings of success, a college education that includes an MBA from the prestigious Columbia University in New York City, experience as a former auditor in private practice, an immediate family with a husband and two young children, and a legacy as the city's first Black female mayor. Still, she faces a recall election on Tuesday, September 23 after petitions were circulated at the behest of a few disgruntled residents and some city council members, including Council President David Roche, a Republican.
"Voters should vote yes in September to retain me," Headen told Cleveland Urban News.Com, Ohio's most read digital Black newspaper.
The city of Richmond Heights has a population of some 10,000 people, a median income of $45,000, and is nearly half Black and half White.
A Democrat, Headen, 42, and then a city council member, defeated 24-year mayor Daniel Ursu in a close non-partisan race in December, 2013. David Ali came in third in the race, and Eloise Henry, one of two Blacks on the eight-member city council, finished fourth. The other Black on the lawmaking city council is Headen ally Elaine Williams.
The attractive and controversial mayor said that she is wholeheartedly fighting recall for the betterment of a city that she dearly loves.
Currently the only Black female mayor in Cuyahoga County, Headen said that her accomplishments in her nine month tenure thus far as mayor include a bond rating upgrade to AA status, a new building commissioner and economic development director, and commercial renovation projects such as the Hilltop Plaza.
Also, said Headen, she has spearheaded efforts in cleaning up abandoned businesses, has enhanced environmental resources, and has initiated strategies to rid City Hall of corruption and the rift-raft that it brings, the latter, she says, of which has been met with opposition from city council, one that frequently finds her difficult as she assertively pushes for systemic changes in city government.
Headen insists that the upcoming recall election is not racially motivated. She says instead that city council wants to usurp the authority of the mayor and wants a patsy for the job like it had in Ursu, the mayor before her, and will likely get in Roche, who, as council president, would by charter become mayor if she is recalled. Both Roche and Ursu are White, though Headen still says that race is not the relevant factor in their attempts to take her $30,000 a-year job.
Simply put, Mayor Headen says the special recall election, at a cost of about $23,000 to taxpayers and nearly a week away, is a frivolous and disingenuous effort to disregard the voters will on whom they elected as mayor last year, and that voters chose her over Ursu and others at the ballot box. And she said that she has broken no laws.
"This is not about race, and we do not need any race baiting," Headen said, though she did not completely rule out the fact that her sex, female, coupled with her attempts to rid the city of the good ole boys network, may also play a role.
Opponents say that Headen should not have sought health care insurance from city council, and that she came in firing people, some 10 people in fact, including former law director R. Todd Hunt, the finance director, and city prosecutor Jonathan Greenberg.
Some four other City Hall workers quit.
Headen says that city council, and what she says is unfair and prejudicial news coverage by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, help to drive those that quit off the job.
Headen supporters say that she is ambitious, well-educated, competent, strong, and committed to making life in the city of Richmond Heights better for its residents, and that it is a mayor's purview to choose his or her administrative leadership team, maybe.
Some neighboring cities like Cleveland, by charter, give the mayor, independent of city council, authority to appoint members of his or her cabinet, and other key city positions, including the law director, chief of police and chief city prosecutor. But in Richmond Heights, city council, by charter, must approve such hiring recommendations. It cannot though, arbitrarily block the mayor's recommendations, which is at the center of the conflict as Headen fired Hunt as law director, and Greenberg as city prosecutor, both of whom are attorneys with the powerful law firm of Walter Haverfield. City Council fought back by blocking her recommendations for replacements for Greenberg, Hunt, and some others, and is on a mission, said Headen, to continue its reign over the city in a dictatorial fashion, and in violation of the city charter.
Hunt had been law director since 1995.
Walter Haverfield has few if any Black attorneys, a Cleveland Urban News.Com investigation reveals, and those that are general counsel, law director or city prosecutor in Richmond Heights and many other greater Cleveland municipalities are influential high-paid White men. And they have traditionally gotten away with doing as they please, data show.
City Council refused to approve Headen's recommendations for a law director to replace Hunt, and then hired Walter Haverfield as its special counsel. For that Headen, on behalf of the city, filed suit saying she, as mayor, has authority to choose the law director and other key administrative positions, and that certainly city council lacks authority to fill those positions independent of the mayor.
Walter Haverfield, says Headen, wants to run the city too.
"The law firm of Walter Haverfield represents most of the cities of Cuyahoga County," said Headen.
Cuyahoga County, Ohio's largest of 88 counties statewide, contains 59 municipalities, villages and townships. It is a Democratic stronghold and is 29 percent Black, U.S. census reports reveal.