University Heights mayoral candidates hold online forum

Deanna Fisher introduces the candidates. From left to right, Michael Dylan Brennan, Phil Atkins, Barbara Blankfeld, and Ken Simmons.

(Photo courtesy of Aiden Keenan ‘22).

Deanna Fisher introduces the candidates. From left to right, Michael Dylan Brennan, Phil Atkins, Barbara Blankfeld, and Ken Simmons.

Aiden Keenan, Photo Editor

On Sep. 30, the four candidates for University Heights mayor attended a public forum and Q+A session hosted by the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland in an effort to improve citizen understanding of the current city operations, voice the platforms of their campaigns and answer constituent concerns. Each candidate was allowed a two minute opening statement, one minute closing statement and one minute to answer each question. Phillip Atkin, a former urban planner and current candidate, outlined his hope to reduce the property tax rate and stimulate progress and reform for the public school system. Barbara Blankfeld, current city councilwoman, argued in favor of stricter financial management, including more conservative spending and increased saving. Michael Dylan Brennan, the current mayor, defended his re-election campaign, advocating on behalf of progress within the city, such as the establishment of the Office of Community Policing, and plans for further developments. Ken Simmons also spoke to voters, especially concerned with the high property tax rate, street conditions and increase in data-driven decision making for equity, economic efficiency and governmental effectiveness. 

After opening statements, the moderator — Deanna Fisher, executive director of Future Heights — asked the candidates pre-submitted questions concerning essential issues within the community. First among these questions was an inquiry about each candidate’s stance on the future of the garbage collection service. In University Heights, residents leave their waste cans by their garage door and members of the UH Service Department use a small vehicle to pick up the cans or recycling. Though many residents express their support for this, especially among the senior residents, others are concerned with the costs associated. In fact, according to a solid waste study completed in 2019, each household pays an average of $23.74 per month for waste collection. This rate is actually the 3rd most expensive in Cuyahoga County. 

Councilwoman Blankfeld reported her support to leave the issue of waste management to voters and residents, Mayor Brennan believes the system can remain if the city shifts from bagged recycling to loose recycling, Mr. Atkin supports leaving the system as is, and Mr. Simmons reported his interest in looking into the issue to make an informed decision with residents. 

Though some readers may doubt the significance of discussing the trash pickup system, it is crucial to recognize the benefits and downfalls of the current system or changing to another. Especially for JCU students who live in an off-campus home, tax dollars go directly to this service. The candidates also discussed their views about examining a reform to the zoning system in University Heights. According to Mayor Brennan, University Heights is composed of non-mix zoning, meaning that there are areas in the city where there are homes and there are other areas with businesses or religious houses of worship. No homes can be used for business or as gathering spaces for large groups for worship, and vice versa. If the system gets reformed, some homes may also be used to run a brick-and-mortar business out of. For JCU students, more stores may open in a convenient place at the price of potentially increased traffic on the street. 

The candidates also spoke about their plans to work with the University Heights Police Department in response to nationally-rising crime rates, their stances on alleged antagonism between the Mayor and City Council and changes to the Building Department.

Phil Atkin, Barbara Blankfeld, Michael Dylan Brennan and Ken Simmons are campaigning to be elected as the Mayor of the City of University Heights in November. A four-year term, the Mayor receives a salary of $75,500 annually. This election matters for residents of UH, especially JCU students. A four-year term means that whoever wins this election will be mayor for most — if not all — of your remaining time at JCU. Other than the mayoral race, seven candidates are currently running for three city council seats in this year’s election. After the mayoral panel concluded, the Council candidates had the chance to display their platform to viewers.