Candidate Questions For Tess Neff
Occupation: Court Administrator, Attorney, Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court
1) Why should we vote for you and not the other candidate?
I have proven leadership experience. The past four years I have managed the operations of the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court, which is comprised of almost 600 employees and a $60 million budget. My extensive experience collaborating with community partners has allowed us to successfully create and implement programming, policy and training that promotes equality. I have been in public service my entire professional career, I have lived in Lakewood 31 years, serving ten years as a judicial magistrate at the Lakewood Municipal Court, and many years on the Lakewood YMCA Advisory Board. I understand the concerns and challenges faced by the constituency. My platform is focused on the core services that have made Lakewood a strong, thriving and successful inner ring suburb: robust safety and public services; improvements to roads, sidewalks and sewers; keeping homes affordable and livable. These components significantly contribute to Lakewood’s greatness. I will maintain open dialogue, be inclusive of the community, make thoughtful decisions that are innovative and improve our city.
2) Name two things you have learned while walking around talking to residents, first: what are their biggest concerns about their ward, and second, what are their biggest concerns about Lakewood in general? How will you address their concerns as their councilperson?
Two concerns I learned from residents are speeding traffic is a safety concern on the cut through streets such as Cordova and Lauderdale, and the need to improve communication. First, we discussed traffic calming strips and speed bumps as a way to control drivers’ excessive speed. This issue is important not just in Ward 1 but city wide. Families, children, walkers and bikers deserve to be safe on the streets and sidewalks. I will explore funding options with council on how best to tackle this issue. Second, people want to be informed and not be surprised when big decisions are made that impact their lives. I plan to work with council and the city administration to devise a plan to improve city wide communication to bring important issues to the residents. Email newsletters about important issues can be distributed more efficiently. Getting the residents involved to help compile email lists by street will help expedite the process.
3) Since the last major elections cycle, Lakewood has lost 1500 skilled jobs and access to health care due to the liquidation of Lakewood Hospital. What was your position on the hospital closing process: Did you vote for the Master Agreement that closed Lakewood Hospital, or would you have if you had been on council? Why or why not? If you had to do it again would you do anything differently?
There still is resentment regarding the hospital closing process. Speculating on what I may or may not have done is counter productive. My job if elected to city council is to focus on the future and moving forward while being honest and transparent on any issues rising out of the OneLakewood project and hospital foundations. I will work hard to always keep residents informed about the issues presented to city council.
4) A big complaint from both the elderly and those without cars is the loss of the community circulator. If elected what would you do to make the community more accessible to all?
I would love to see the circulator make its way back to Lakewood provided an affordable contract price could be reached with RTA or another private vendor that offers van service. Returning the circulator is a need council and the city should explore. Another option is to seek out private vendors such as Uber. Possibly the city can contract with some of the ride sharing companies to offer transportation services for residents who cannot drive or do not have a vehicle. Also, Lakewood is a close knit community. We can coordinate an initiative to get residents to volunteer to assist with transportation efforts for those citizens in need.
5) What will you do to balance the needs of residents and residential neighborhoods with economic development?
Council must be cognizant of the impact any new business has on the neighborhood. Traffic and parking must be considered so as not to negatively affect residents’ quiet enjoyment of their neighborhood and home. Hearing from the residents and getting their input is critical to the decision making process so a fair outcome is reached. Also, we need to assess the type of development to prevent an excessive number of duplicative businesses or fast food chains.
6) Over the past 15 years we have encountered 3 “moments” which have severely divided the city of Lakewood, mostly about social economic issues like health care, eminent domain, land use, land giveaways to developers, etc. If elected what are you going to help mend the fences and bring the community together again?
If elected I will advocate for and promote open, honest and transparent conversations. I have always conducted myself with integrity and worked for public agencies my entire professional career. I fully understand the importance of being inclusive and transparent. This applies to conversations, documentation, meetings and records. My moral compass will not allow me to deviate from the expected ethical standards. Gaining the public’s trust may take time. This is achievable by regularly having open dialogue and taking action consistent with that dialogue. Improving the avenues how we communicate and disseminate information to the public will also help build trust because the people will be informed. I’m confident with my experience as a leader and collaborator I can assist with bringing the community together.
7) The records lawsuit was a moral and legal disaster for our city. What steps will you take to make our public records available and prevent future obstructionism by public officials? Do you support the proposed ethics and campaign finance reform legislation?
I support the online self-service public records portal legislation that is before council and if it is not approved prior to January 2020 I will advocate for its passage. It is my understanding the new portal allows residents to directly access city wide records without going through a middleman. The portal provides the community the opportunity to search for any public document. I believe the public records portal alleviates any potential hindrance for accessing public documents moving forward. I fully support the ethics reform because there needs to be high standards in government. As a judicial officer and public servant I have always been required to abide by a code of ethics. I perused the proposed ethics and campaign finance reform legislation and at first glance I do not have any objections to it. However, I would want to conduct my own research, obtain a legal review, and converse with my council colleagues before committing to passing the legislation as written.
8) A majority of Lakewood’s street fairs revolve around wearing seasonal clothes while walking between Arthur and Belle on Detroit, creating a burden to those businesses while not highlighting other areas of the community that deserve attention and a turn at putting on the party. Would you be for moving events around, and/or developing new events?
Yes, I am in favor of widening the net for community festivals and events. There would need to be a coordinated effort with the city services and safety forces to develop a plan for new locations. Involving the community for their input on new ideas or themes for festivals and events will help with planning and volunteer efforts. I think Lakewood does a nice job of hosting events in various areas of the city like Madison Park, Lakewood Park and Detroit Avenue. However, if we can expand the location sites and create new ideas I am open to have those conversations and support those efforts.
9) Was the LO fair with this process?
Thus far it appears to be a fair process because it is my understanding that all participating candidates received the same questions and opportunity to answer those questions.
I am a 30-year Lakewood resident. My husband Rich and I raised our children here and we both have worked in the community. I love Lakewood and its uniqueness.