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OH: Local Mayor’s Recall Vote Brings Out Ugly Accusations (UPDATED)

UPDATE (Sept. 23): Voters in Richmond Height’s voted Tuesday to recall Mayor Miesha Headen, the Board of Elections has confirmed. The vote was 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent. The original story is below. 

A new leader takes office, promising change. The chief executive tangles with the legislative body, and the fight leads to racial tension, disharmony, and gridlock. Meanwhile budgetary problems and legal issues continue to grow. Sound familiar?

No, this isn’t another story about President Obama’s declining popularity or the ‘do nothing’ Congress. In the small city of Richmond Heights, Ohio, a fight is taking place that will define the future for its 10,000 residents.

Mayor Headen (Photo: Richmond Heights)

Mayor Headen (Photo: Richmond Heights)

On one side is Mayor Miesha Headen, less than a year into her term. A reformer, she took office promising to shake things up, and she did. She says she was rooting out corruption.

On the other side is the city council and a group of people the mayor fired. They don’t like the way Mayor Headen has conducted business, and they accuse the mayor of  acting like a dictator.

Today, she learns her fate. Does she continue as the city’s mayor, or is she recalled?

The recall effort

In August, a group of residents gathered signatures to force a recall vote on the ballot. They point to a number of actions in Mayor Headen’s term as justification for the recall.

“We have a list of basically bullet points that are verifiable, there’s probably 30 of them,” explained Nelson Barmen, Treasurer of the Recall Mayor Headen Committee.

Richmond Heights is in Cuyahoga County, near Cleveland. (Wikimedia Commons)

Richmond Heights is in Cuyahoga County, near Cleveland. (Wikimedia Commons)

On the committee’s website, they list a timeline of events–actions by the mayor–which they deem inappropriate. These include firings of prominent city staff members and a dispute with a city-owned farm connected to members of the city council.

In response, the mayor’s supporters will tell you her actions were designed to clean up the mess of her predecessor, who held office for 24 years and presided over the city’s collapse.

“You’ve had a situation  here for between twenty and thirty years with the same people running this city, well they’ve actually run this city into the ground,” explained Stanley Josselson, an attorney from Richmond Heights who does legal work for the city under Mayor Headen. 

Since the start of the recall effort, Mayor Headen has pinned the blame on the City Council.

“A scheme was hatched the day I was elected eight months ago,” she wrote in an email to supporters in reaction to the recall petition. “The idea [was] that City Council was going to have its way, all day, every day. If I said the sky was blue, they chose another color…The truth of the matter is that we have to move away from the bad old days of cronyism and waste to government that is for the people and by the people. Council’s campaign of misinformation and half-truths has to stop.”

If Mayor Headen is recalled, the council president, David H. Roche, will become mayor.

Corruption, power, and lawsuits

There’s no doubt that the the council and mayor have fought since day one. Mayor Headen was a member of the council before becoming Mayor, and by challenging the status quo, she made herself a number of enemies.

Are council members trying to hold into their power? (Shuterstock.com)

Are council members trying to hold into their power? (Shuterstock.com)

“There’s a number of people in the city council that don’t want to lose their power,” said Arlene Katz, a supporter of the mayor.

The mayor’s opponents, including members of the City Council, say it isn’t about their power, but the mayor’s abuse of power. They point to actions she’s taken without the council’s consent. They also point to lawsuits filed against the city.

“We have five lawsuits filed against the city as a result of her actions,” said Barmen.

The mayor’s former assistant, who was fired after using a city vehicle for personal use, sued the city and the mayor for defamation. Other city employees have been fired by Headen as well.

Headen has filled open positions with people she believes bring competence and integrity to the city.

But not everyone sees the city government as corrupt. Nelson Barmen of the recall committee says there is no corruption.

“I have lived in this community for 42 years, there has been no inkling of corruption in city hall,” he said.

That’s probably true if you take the council at their word, says Stanley Josselson.

“The mayor wants to clean things up,” he said. “But the council, they don’t clean up anything, they cut your throat.”

Racial tensions heightened

Earlier this month racial tensions flared after what looked like a Call & Post article suggested the opposition to Mayor Headen is motivated by race.

“When they called it a petition for recall, it is what it is, a desperate attempt to prevent a highly qualified, strong Black woman elected by the people of that city, from doing her job,” the article said.

Some Headen supporters have suggested race plays a role in the recall. (Shutterstock.com)

Some Headen supporters have suggested race plays a role in the recall. (Shutterstock.com)

The Call & Post is a publication that primarily serves the African American community. The city is 48.5% White and 44.9% African American, according to Census Bureau data from 2010.

“The issue is that Richmond Heights has been operated like a plantation for so long, the old overseers refuse to accept that the city has been emancipated from political self-serving tyranny,” the article continued.

That article was mailed out to residents of Richmond Heights by the mayor’s campaign, Friends of Miesha Headen. But here’s the catch:  though the headline was from the Call & Post, the content of the article was written by the Headen campaign.

In response to the fake article, the Recall Mayor Headen Committee issued the following statement on their website, noting that the publication is not based in Richmond Heights, but in Cleveland, the largest city in the county:

Recently, you may have received a race-baiting, hateful postcard published by the Cleveland-based Call & Post on behalf of Mayor Headen.  Be aware that according to Headen’s campaign website, the Call & Post is one of [the] few to endorse her.

Please disregard this insulting propaganda, which demonstrates Mayor Headen’s apparent desperation as she has resorted to bullying tactics, while using the race card.  The Recall Mayor Headen Committee refuses to lay down in the gutter with Miesha and her supporters; however, we thought you might be interested in the source of this one-sided, race-baiting trash.

The mayor has likewise taken issue with her opponents’ mailers. She looked at a recent mailing of the recall committee and decribed it as “untruth, half-truths, and misinformation.”

“I counted 10 sentences on the mailer; 8 are patently false,” Headen wrote on Facebook.

When the election results come in, will the racial tension be eased, or only stoked? The city has many problems that must be solved, regardless of who occupies the mayor’s office.

“Whether she wins or she loses, something good happened, people are realizing something is going on,” said Headen supporter Arlene Katz. “If the council president becomes mayor, he better make changes or their will be a recall on him.”

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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