face off at LWV forum
By Kevin Kelley
Published Sept. 28, 2005
Despite the heated nature
of the election campaign in Westlake, a candidates forum Sept. 20
sponsored by the Westlake-North Olmsted League of Women Voters (LWV)
offered relatively few fireworks. However, several opposition candidates
expressed unhappiness over the format, and mayoral candidate Joe
O'Malley wants more opportunities to debate incumbent Mayor Dennis
Last Tuesday's forum, which
took place in the city council chambers of Westlake City Hall, consisted
of two questions and answers and a closing statement by each candidate
for mayor, law director and council seats. The forum was recorded
for a web cast using the same equipment which records council meetings.
Webcasts can be viewed from a link on the city's Web site at www.cityofwestlake.org.
The forum was also recorded
by WHBS-TV, Westlake High School's TV station, and rebroadcast yesterday.
No future airings of the forum are scheduled by WHBS-TV.
Several opposition candidates,
including O'Malley, Ward 2 council candidate Vern Long and Ward
5 candidate Joe Kilbane, expressed displeasure that members of their
families were not permitted inside council chambers during the forum.
Under rules set by the LWV, only officials from that organization,
a video crew from WHBS-TV, a representative from the web casting
contractor and a reporter and photographer from West Life were inside
during the forum.
"I have no idea why the
LWV would devise a format that essentially keeps the public from
attending and participating in the event at a public building,"
"The public should be given
a live forum to hear these candidates and these issues debated,"
Anne Engel, co-president
of the LWV chapter, said lack of public participation in past years
was the reason for the change in format. "We have had several
candidates nights in recent years and candidates and LWV members
far outnumbered the number of citizens attending the session," said
Engel, who moderated the forum and asked questions of the candidates
from a pre-set list. "We needed to do something different. We were
not getting any attendance."
Engel's first question to
Clough and O'Malley was: Under what circumstances should a community
consider invoking eminent domain? This was a surprising question
because the issues has never come up in the campaign. Although the
U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled cities can use eminent domain
to promote economic development, there's no indication the issue
will arise in Westlake in the foreseeable future. Both candidates
said they would only use eminent domain for a pressing public need.
When asked what he would
want to accomplish first if elected, O'Malley returned to his theme
of school funding, saying the city should purchase property on Bradley
Road owned by the school district for use as recreational fields.
The school board recently
voted to sell a parcel of the land, and city council passed an ordinance
authorizing the mayor to negotiate a purchase of the land.
"Addressing school funding
in this community, a community that is very deep in resources, is
a priority, is a priority of mine and one that I will address in
the first days that I am mayor of this community," O'Malley said.
In his response, Clough
revealed the city, earlier that day, tendered an offer for the Bradley
Road property. He also said that although the city had a good relationship
with the school district, which are two separate entities.
Clough said his first goal
in a new term would be to set the plan for the 2006 budget.
"The city of Westlake has
done very good planning with respect to being able to address our
needs, and I think setting the budget for 2006 is the most pressing
need for the upcoming year," he said.
O'Malley said although the
city and schools are separate entities, they are funded by one source
— the people, who currently pay enough taxes to fund both.
"When you have a city that
has five out of seven households that don't use the resources of
the Westlake school district, you need to think more globally about
the manner in which we approach funding of government in this community,"
O'Malley repeated his support
for a charter amendment which would cut property taxes by one-third.
"The city of Westlake has enough resources to lower your property
taxes," he said.
Clough thanked residents for
the opportunity to serve Westlake as mayor over the past 20 years,
a period in which he noted Westlake has become one of the top suburbs
in Greater Cleveland and has enjoyed low tax rates, financial stability,
outstanding safety forces and premier facilities.
"Westlake is a city we can
all be proud of," the mayor said. "But its successes didn't just
happen. It took a lot of planning, effort, resources, vision, commitment
— not only by government, but by your own input, your taxes, and
your continued support of me, my administration and city council."
LAW DIRECTOR RACE
A major political question
in city politics the past two years has been the city's use of outside
legal counsel, particularly in a lengthy legal battle between local
businessman Charles Shimola and the city. Former Law Director David
Harbarger, with the approval of city council, enlisted a partner
of his law firm of Roetzel and Andress in the case. Over time, legal
fees paid by the city to Roetzel and Andress reached over $800,000.
Opposition candidates have sharply criticized this. Clough, Harbarger
and council members have said the excessive amount demanded by the
plaintiff ($48 million) and the complex nature of the lawsuit required
the expertise of Roetzel and Andress, which gave the city a significant
reduction in its standard fee.
director candidates John Spellacy and John Wheeler face off
during the League of Women Voters forum Sept. 20. (Photo by
John Wheeler, the previous city
prosecutor who was appointed law director in March following Harbarger's
resignation, said his legal experience will reduce the city's need
for outside legal help. With his 28 years experience in litigation,
Wheeler said it is his goal to reduce the city's need for outside
legal services and save tax dollars.
Spellacy said the law director
has a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens to control the money
spent on outside legal services. He criticized what he called "abuse"
by the city's law department in hiring the former law director's
firm in the Shimola case.
Noting Wheeler was appointed
by the mayor and is endorsed by him, Spellacy touted his independence.
"I am the only independent
candidate," Spellacy said. "I am the only candidate not affiliated
with any other public official or candidate for any position within
Wheeler said his opponent's
statements on the Shimola case were misleading because no money
went to his law firm.
"I'm not certain why Mr.
Spellacy brings this up as it has absolutely nothing to do with
my tenure as law director or my tenure as prosecutor," Wheeler said.
A summary of the city council candidates' exchanges at the League
of Women Voters candidates forum will appear in the Oct. 5 issue
of West Life.)