Recap of Last Night's Council Meeting on Universal Pre-K
I wanted to give a quick update/ recap to last night's Council Committee Meeting about a City funded plan for universal preschool for Beachwood residents. There were not a lot of details on costs or specifics at this time beyond generalities, but there was a part of last night's meeting I think is worthy for community discussion.
At a point in the meeting I stated that in conversations I have had with residents on this topic, I didn't sense strong support for this idea, mostly because they though there were other priorities and better uses for city money. I suggested that this very well might be a skewed takeaway depending on the people I spoke with but even if we had enough extra money that this program didn't require a tax increase, I believe that a program like this should only move forward if a majority voters approve that this is how they want the City’s resources spent. This was followed by 20 minutes of discussion about how “governing by referendum” is bad, its' elected officials’ job to make these decisions and if voters don’t like how they do that, there are elections where they can vote them out.
To describe what I was suggesting as a fundamental policy change to "governing by referendum" for all things is far from accurate, but I agree having voters decide all big ticket expenditures/plans is NOT the best way to for most cities to govern. However, other cities don’t build $15m backup fire stations while ignoring public input and displeasure with the plan that was presented. Other cities don’t put together a plan for a multi million dollar amphitheaters the public is outspokenly against, without asking residents what their recreation priorities are. Other cities don’t put architecture plans together for a new police station costing near or above $20m, without giving the public tours of the current station to see if there is support for something like this. At the recent League of Woman Voter's debate, a Councilman up for reelection spoke of his desire for the City to build a pedestrian walking bridge over Cedar Road near the Mall. This was an idea I thought was dead when initially presented three years ago as it had no public support and residents were outspokenly against it.
While I don't believe in "governing by referendum", I do believe voters should be asked to approve City funded initiatives for purposes outside of the City's traditional scope. This belief applies to initiatives whether I am for or against them. Most people know, I am a proponent of spending City money to improve our community’s sport fields/courts/playgrounds/recreation offerings, including those on school property, as they are community assets used more by residents and non-school programming than they are by the schools.
Even if we get a new Council in January that supports this, and even though it wouldn't require a tax increase, just like a plan for city funded universal preschool, it is an initiative not traditionally within the City’s scope, which I believe is something voters should be asked to approve. It’s a relatively low bar to get voters to pass something that doesn’t come with a tax increase. Let's be honest, the only elected officials who would be against asking voters to approve something like this are ones that want to push something through knowing it is out of step with the wants and desires of residents.
I am well aware the City has so much money that we can afford to do things other cities can't without raising taxes. That's great but it isn't my money, it's the community's money. As a Councilman it's my responsibility to spend it in step with how residents' want it spent. If I want to spend it for a purpose outside of the normal and traditional scope of the City, regardless of how great of an idea I think it is for the community, if the majority of voters aren't convinced, then it shouldn't happen just because I can get another three Councilmembers on board.
As always, I welcome your feedback and you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 216-832-6771.