The war between Richmond Heights' mayor Miesha Headen and the power-hungry city council has been waging, basically without pause, since the moment Headen took office in December, 2013. The past nine months have been marked by bickering and political maneuvering that has played out dramatically on Cleveland.com (via reporter Sara Dorn, who notably had her camera swatted away by Headen when she sprung forth from the City Hall shrubbery to pose a question after a meeting in May). Headen, who is as exhausted by the press coverage as the committee to remove her purports to be, faces a recall election on Sept. 23. Opponents say she is incapable of performing the duties of the mayor, but she begs to differ. At her home in Richmond Heights — a sleepy beige subdivision across the street from the Cuyahoga County airport — Scene got an exclusive interview about the turmoil of her tenure and her plans for the future:
Sam Allard: How are you feeling, with the election just two weeks away?
Miesha Headen: I feel like I'm running for mayor all over again. A lot of what I'm doing is going out and restating what my campaign promises were, making the case for the good works that my administration has accomplished in its first eight months in office. I'll say that I am optimistic. I see a real opportunity in, essentially, re-campaigning. Things weren't entirely perfect in the beginning, and it's a chance to redo a number of things.
That's understating things. What's been so difficult?
There are a number of council members who have served 15 years or greater, and the only management style they've ever been familiar with was [former mayor Daniel Ursu's], and I do have a more active, more vigorous, style of management. I am in the office at least 40 hours a week and am profoundly concerned about managing the departments of RH as a unified whole.
As opposed to?
What I found when I came into office was that under [Ursu], there wasn't unity in government. What you had was eight departments which operated in independent silos. So I started having at least monthly meetings so that the departments were coordinating amongst themselves. This was jarring for council because under Ursu, the legislative body frequently encroached and superseded upon the powers and duties of the executive. The separation was nonexistent.
How do you mean?
The president of council [David Roche] was the only person who had master administrative access to the city's website and email accounts. So, for example, if the administration wanted to post something on the website, they had to request permission from him. It was the same thing with the email accounts. Finance, building, police, fire. It was the president of council who could go in and view all emails that were being sent within the city. And he had sole access.
I recall some hubbub when you assumed control of the web stuff in March.
It was extraordinary.
I think there's some concern that even if you retain your seat, nothing will change. What strategies do you have for cooperating with council?
I think it's going to be important to have a mediating body between the executive branch and the legislative branch. We need to restart the relationship. The conditions for trust can be built if there is a well-experienced and professional body between us, at least during a transition period.
And for the record, you do want to cooperate with council, correct?
I do. One of the things that has come out clearly among residents — even among supporters — is that they're exhausted, and they want the mayor and council to behave as grown-ups.
If you are recalled, Roche would become mayor for the duration of your term. Would governance change at all?
I will state unequivocally that should David Roche become the mayor of Richmond Heights, this entire recall process will have been nothing more than a third-world coup reminiscent of a banana republic. A vote for David Roche is an indirect vote for a step backward for Richmond Heights. It will bring back a time when mayor and council colluded to keep information from the residents, such as the million dollar acquisition of Greenwood Farm. It will take Richmond Heights backwards to a time of financial instability, such as in 2010 when the city was a hair's breadth away from fiscal caution, as defined by the auditor of state, because the city only had $150,000 in its general fund. We can't go back.
What steps forward have you taken?
We've brought on a new building commissioner and an economic development director. Working together, they've been able to convince the owners of Hilltop Plaza to do a major commercial renovation of that space, which will attract more and better tenants. They have cleaned up the abandoned gas station at Richmond and Monticello, and identified an environmental remediation firm to clean up contaminated sites and — even more exciting — are in the process of negotiating with Cuyahoga County land bank to serve as basically construction manager, which means the cost of cleaning up a blighted site in RH will be virtually free of charge for our taxpayers. Also, last month, our Standard & Poor's bond rating was upgraded to AA (stable).
What does that signify?
For the layman, the upgrade is the same as an individual having better credit. It gives us the power to borrow at a lower cost. Under my predecessor, our S&P bond rating was one step above "junk level." Our interest rate on bonds and notes was substantially higher than any of our neighboring communities because of at least a decade of financial mismanagement.
I have to ask. [Your former assistant] Brandye Mells is now filing suit against you. She alleges that you were in possession of a missing city vehicle in May, and later hacked into her email account to send an email, as Mells, to Sara Dorn. How do you respond?
I have been advised by counsel that I cannot comment on an active lawsuit. I will, however, say that I intend to mount a vigorous defense to what I know to be untruths.
What about the NEOMG? What's their deal? Any idea why the editorial board has it out for you?
I had a good conversation with a political mentor of mine and one of the things we talked about was that, over time, members of council have been able to build strong relationships with the media. As a newcomer and a change agent, I haven't really even stood a chance in getting my side of the story out or trying to achieve balanced coverage. A few days prior to the PD's first editorial calling for my resignation, I got a call from [NEOMG editorial writer] Sharon Broussard. Her first question was something to the effect of, "Why are you so contentious and incapable of leading?" She proceeded to pose the next three questions essentially the same way, "Why is it that you can't get along with anyone?" etc. And I paused and said, "Sharon, have you already written the editorial?" She said, "Yes. I just don't want to give you the opportunity to say we didn't call you."