Members of the committee to recall Mayor Miesha Headen
say that though the embattled Richmond Heights mayor's intentions may have been good, her execution during her first 9 months in office has been so poor that a recall is justified.
Teri Drda served as the city's recreation director for 15 years under former Mayor Daniel Ursu and is now a member of the recall committee. She said that in her interactions with Mayor Headen, she has seen two completely different people: an eloquent, charming leader; and a vindictive schemer who holds grudges and retaliates against perceived disloyalties.
"It's like Jekyll and Hyde," Drda said in a phone conversation Monday afternoon. "There are a lot of us [on the committee] who feel that she came in really hoping to make a difference, really wanting to find corruption in government. But she didn't find what she was looking for. Now, if you walk into City Hall, the level of fear is higher than it's ever been. I didn't think it could get any worse [than under Ursu]. but it has."
UPDATE: Writer's Note: Teri Drda's above comment is specifically with respect to Miesha Headen's influence at City Hall. During the five years that Headen served as council member, she would frequently "storm in on" city departments "throwing temper tantrums" and demanding answers, Drda said. Her statement — "I didn't think it could get any worse" etc. — is a comparison of Headen then and Headen now, not a condemnation of Mayor Ursu's mayoralty.
Col. Carl J. Carter, a core committee member who has lived in Richmond Heights for 30 years, said that Headen is indeed an intelligent woman, but has stoked the fire of racial tension in Richmond Heights and has cultivated a bad habit of slinging unfounded accusations.
"I think she saw the election as a mandate," Carter said in an interview Tuesday. "And now she wants to vest all power in the Mayor. She wants a dictatorship."
Headen told Scene in an interview last week
that when she served as a council member under Ursu, "the legislative body frequently encroached and superseded upon the powers and duties of the executive. The separation was nonexistent." But her recent attempts to distance herself from council and act independently have been perceived, by some residents, as narcissism.
"She's quick to claim successes of other people as her own," said Carter (referencing the city's upgraded bond rating), "but she refuses to take responsibility for her actions."
Committee Chair Carl Harmon, a resident of Richmond Heights since 2002, said that Headen has been waging a negative campaign — yesterday, her supporters robo-called residents comparing City Council members to characters on House of Cards —
and confirmed that the committee has had no contact with David Roche or members of council. They've gone out of their way, he said, to avoid allegations of impropriety.
(Col. Carter also said that the committee has had no contact with Brandye Mells or her attorney
And it's not like members of the Recall Committee are die-hard Roche supporters. In fact, Harmon said, Richmond Heights leadership has been so petty and ineffectual recently that they considered booting them all out.
"But we decided, ultimately,that that would be a detriment to the city," he said. "It would be like showing up to a business and everyone had left. You need some historical perspective."
Harmon added, though, that the real challenge for the community would come after the election.
"We want Headen out for reasons of stability, but this community has been divided," Harmon said. "We're in trouble. We need to rebuild trust, and Roche needs to reach out to the community to give them opportunities. We need to see younger people, people of different colors, different genders representing us."
But not Headen, who is African-American and female, but who according to Harmon and Carter has "played the race card" at the expense of community unity — Richmond Heights is dominated by older whites and younger blacks — and has perpetuated the stereotype of an "Old Boys Network" on city council.
"We hear that a lot," said Harmon. "Which is why Roche will need to reach out and make some changes. If he doesn't, well, now he knows that we can recall him too."
Carter agreed. "If Headen's done one good thing, it's that she woke this community up."