The Lakewood City Council held a committee meeting on Monday to discuss topics including the timeframe for tree removal on Clifton and West Clifton Boulevards, the 2011 municipal budget, and the process to fill expected At-Large and Ward 3 council vacancies.
10 trees down, 56 more to go
Deemed to be in a state of dangerous decline and condemned to death by city arborists, 56 mature trees on Clifton and West Clifton Boulevards will meet their demise over the next two years. Public Works Director Joseph Beno, who made the announcement in late September, said 10 trees in the area have already been cut down. (see .PDF)
“The trees are waiting to kill someone,” a longtime city arborist said of the situation. “This is an emergency.” He told council of incident in Bay Village where a rotten tree branch fell and killed a bystander. “It’s going to happen here,” he said, “[but] I hope it doesn’t.”
Mayor Edward O. FitzGerald doesn’t need the council’s permission to remove the trees, but alerted them to the situation because of the costs involved. “It’s a big problem,” he said at a council pre-meeting on September 18th. “There’s no way to do it in-house.”
At a mid-November city council meeting, Chase Ave. resident Coletta Graham, a longtime critic of the city’s Clifton Blvd. tree planting habits, voiced concern about the quality of the replacement trees. She read a Sun Newspaper article about the issue and also wondered if RTA’s plans to install a Clifton Blvd. median were a factor in the tree removal decision.
“It’s a shame it’s happening all at once,” Fitzgerald said in response. “We don’t want Clifton to look like an airport runway.” He told Graham that RTA had absolutely nothing to do with matter. He said the city’s “front-line workers” examined the trees and determined that they were hazard to the public’s safety. FitzGerald also told her that the replacement trees were not of an inferior grade.
Despite the mayor’s explanation, Councilperson Thomas Bullock (Ward 2) added: “I don’t agree with taking down trees if we don’t have to.”
Tree removal over for now, will resume in the spring
Director Beno said on Monday that the public works crew has concluded their tree removal activities for the year in order to prepare for snow removal season. They won’t touch the trees again until the spring.
He said one replacement tree (rather than two) would be planted per lawn to minimize the impact on sidewalks and improve visibility for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. “It’s not an easy spot to grow trees,” Beno said. Some consideration is being given to planting the new trees in the spring with the hope that they would have an easier period of adjustment. “It may help, it may not,” he said. Using larger trees is out of the questions because, Beno explained, they “are even harder to grow.”
Councilperson wants city to get a second opinion on health of trees
Councilperson Bullock said he wasn’t ready to support the decision to remove the trees without more detailed information on their condition. “We’re talking about landmark trees on the city’s gateway avenue,” he said.
He pressed Beno to explain the city’s tree evaluation process. Beno said the arborists examined the trees, and wrote down the addresses of the ones that needed to come down. Bullock wondered: “We have no objective basis for this?”
Bullock said he wanted to see a more layered approach. The status of the trees is a policy issue “that calls for our time and attention,” he said.
Councilperson Brian Powers (At-Large) differed with Bullock. “Like so many things that come before this body,” he said, “I don’t think this is a legislative issue.” Powers said he trusted that the city’s tree evaluation process was adequate, and a second opinion was unnecessary. “I have absolutely no doubt those trees need to be replaced,” he said.
Pat Lewis, manager of the streets and forestry division and a Clifton Blvd. resident, said the tree canopy on his street is 20 years past its prime. He witnessed the damage caused during the infamous 1969 Fourth of July windstorm and knows what havoc fallen trees can cause. He added that recently tree branches have fallen onto Clifton Blvd. and damaged vehicles.
Beno said he would discuss the situation with Alan Siewert, an urban forester with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who is expected to visit the city soon. Butler recommended to Bullock that he take his concerns to the public works committee for additional attention.
City finances improved, but ‘not out of the woods’; council might boost own salary
The city’s projected financial condition for 2011 is markedly better than 2010, when $1.2 million had to be massaged from the initial budget estimate.
The finance wizards at city hall have forecast that municipal revenues will exceed expenses in 2011. Of course, fuzzy variables like state aid and union contract obligations haven’t been finalized and could change the picture. Although things are rosier than they were last year, Director of Finance Jennifer Pae cautioned, “We’re definitely not out of the woods yet.”
Councilperson Michael Summers (Ward 3) suggested that the city could slow down their planned hiring activity, or reduce funding for the economic development fund if the projections take a negative turn.
Only two new full-time positions are in the budget. In addition to a request to double the size of their part-time force to 10, the police department wants to add another dispatcher and another jailer.
Councilperson Butler signaled his interest in taking on the task of dealing with what he described as the “300-pound gorilla” – boosting the annual salaries of both the mayor and city council. “This is the right time to do it,” he said. Councilperson Antonio concurred, “I think it is way overdue.” Previous iterations of city council have shied away from the politically unpopular move because of the city’s tenuous financial condition.
Jacobs estate tax payout may be on the way; Summers plans to camp out in housing dept.
The city has been notified that it will receive $1.2 million more in estate taxes than it projected. State privacy laws mask the money’s exact source, but the Cuyahoga County Probate Court docket suggests some of it could be from the estate of former Winton Place resident Richard Jacobs. The city has no grand plans for the cash.
Members of the city’s division of building and housing be forewarned: mayor-in-waiting Michael Summers’ number one organizational goal is to get to better know your department, where he expects to spend a significant amount of time after he takes office in the new year.“I don’t think we know what we don’t know,” he said, referring to council’s level of knowledge of the department’s inner workings.
Council will probe candidates’ backgrounds
A candidate seeking appointment to city council has a $13,000 federal tax lien due to unpaid business taxes. Should the candidate be required to disclose it? Yes, said a majority of the five council members tasked to fill the two soon-to-be empty seats.
After some debate on the matter, it was decided that council will review all of the applicants in executive session on Monday, November 29th and then send questionnaires to worthy candidates. 33 people have applied as of November 22nd.
Councilperson Kevin Butler said the questionnaires will probe the civic activities, educational histories, and professional work experiences of the candidates. The questionnaire will also ask respondents to disclose “unsavory” or potentially embarrassing information about their backgrounds, including criminal histories.
Councilperson Mary Louis Madigan argued against Butler’s approach because it’s more intrusive than the process used by council to nominate appointees to the city’s multitude of boards and committees.
Butler said the information council is seeking is similar to the kind of data used by Ohio’s governor to appoint judges. “It’s a big, big decision,” Butler said.
Council is scheduled to have another budget hearing on Monday, November 29th to discuss capital improvements and water and sewer issues.