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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL grew in both size and responsibility to meet the needs of the expanding metropolis. Traditionally Cleveland has favored a large council to represent the interests of its diverse population. The community's legislative body began with 3 trustees chosen to make laws for the township (1802) and later for the village (1814). Since that time the council has ranged in size from 3 to 50 members (1885), and in the 1960s, with 33 members, it was second in size only to Chicago's 50-member council.

When Cleveland incorporated as a city in 1836, it had a council of 3 aldermen chosen at large and 3 representatives from each of 3 wards elected annually. In addition to passing ordinances, the council had administrative powers, including regulation of the police and appointment of the city clerk. Councilmen were paid $1 for each meeting attended. On the west side, OHIO CITY (CITY OF OHIO), also incorporated in 1836, had a 12-member council, 4 from each of 3 wards, which were reorganized into 4 wards with 2 councilmen each in 1853. With Ohio City's annexation to Cleveland in 1854, the revised city council expanded to 11 wards, with 2 trustees elected from each. As Cleveland grew, its expanding needs were addressed by creating boards to deal with city problems as they arose. This diffusion of power and responsibility and a weak mayor encouraged widespread corruption. When the Federal Plan of government was instituted in 1892, the executive and legislative functions were separated and the authority of the mayor was strengthened. The council, whose membership was reduced from 40 to 20, retained its legislative power, but all ordinances needed mayoral approval. The council could override his veto with a two-thirds vote. The Federal Plan was successfully challenged in court, and council membership zoomed to 32 under the new municipal code.

Cleveland gained control over its own municipal affairs when the HOME RULE amendment to Ohio's constitution passed in 1912. The commission writing Cleveland's new city charter hotly debated the size of city council. Those advocating a small council elected at large maintained that it would be more efficient, less expensive and would eliminate local machine corruption. Those who favored a large council elected by ward considered it more democratic, since it made councilmen answerable to their constituents. The resulting charter produced a ward-based 26-member council in 1913 (increased to 33 by 1923).

Cleveland continued to experiment with its municipal government, adopting the CITY MANAGER PLAN in 1921, which called for 25 councilmen to be elected at large from 4 city districts. The councilmen, in turn, selected the city manager. The system lasted until 1931, when Cleveland voters approved a return to the ward-mayor system, which restored the 33 wards. Councilmen served 2-year terms and a nonpartisan primary was instituted, with a runoff between the 2 candidates receiving the, highest number of votes. In 1953 the council candidate who received a majority of the votes cast in the primary election was allowed to run unopposed in the general election--a move that benefited the incumbents. This 50% plus 1 rule was abolished in 1971. In order to reduce the number of election campaigns and reflect Cleveland's declining population, both the mayor's and councilpersons' terms were increased from 2 to 4 years, and council membership was reduced from 33 to 21 in Nov. 1981. The reapportionment resulted in the creation of 21 wards, with 12 on the east size of Cleveland, 8 on the west side, and 1 which incorporated both sides of the CUYAHOGA RIVER adjacent to downtown and the Tremont area. In the 1990s, the average population per ward was 24,077.

Cleveland City Council Archives.

Campbell, Thomas F. Daniel E. Morgan, 1877-1949 (1966).

Durham, Frank. Government in Greater Cleveland (1963).

Greene, Kenneth R. Influences on the Decision Making of the City Council (1974).


Last Modified: 11 Jul 1997 04:14:48 PM

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