SUMMARY OF TESTIMONIES SHAKER HEIGHTS DEMOCRACY DAY
September 11, 2023
With passage of Issue 95 in Shaker Heights in November 2016, the voters of Shaker Heights supported a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution saying that money is not speech and that corporate entities do not have constitutional rights which were intended for natural persons only. Passage of the issue also established a biannual public forum called Democracy Day where individuals could speak before the mayor and city council of Shaker Heights about how money in politics and the construct of corporate personhood are undermining our democracy with the purpose of informing our state and congressional legislators of the will of Shaker Heights voters to establish the We the People Amendment.
Comments made at this fourth Shaker Heights Democracy Day are summarized as follows:
On dangers of “corporate personhood”: In 1886, in Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co. the U.S. Supreme Court granted corporations – without debate -- the same constitutional rights that we human citizens have. Supreme Court decisions since then have:
- Granted corporations a First Amendment right not to speak when they want to keep facts from us
- Ruled that corporations have a Fifth Amendment right to be compensated for future profits lost if a government tries to restrict their activities
- Established that corporations are not bound by state laws intended to protect the health, safety or welfare of its residents
- Removed restrictions on corporate political contributions and reaffirmed their personhood rights (Citizens United).
Ohio Legislature attacks on democracy:
- Restricted voting by making it complicated and costly for people without driver’s licenses to get acceptable IDs and made other restrictive changes.
- Attempted to make it virtually impossible for citizens to amend the state constitution through ballot initiatives.
- Has passed many restrictions to municipal home rule including prohibiting local legislation on gun control, minimum wage, worker residency, regulation of gas drilling.
- Transferred Control of Ohio’s K-12 education from the state board of education to the governor.
- Is attempting to prohibit teachers of history, civics, and government to discuss current events or widely debated issues of public policy or social affairs (HB327).
- Is threatening Ohio’s colleges by a variety of restrictions and requirements including banning discussion of controversial issues, prohibiting DEI programs and undermining tenure and collective bargaining. (SB 83)
On gerrymandering: Ohio’s Redistricting Commission and state lawmakers have spent two years unfairly crafting legislative districts and running out the clock on their responsibility to create fair districts -- despite hours of testimony from Ohioans, numerous map submissions by the public, and strong community outcry. Although the Ohio State Supreme Court has struck down maps drawn by the legislative and congressional officials a total of seven times, partisan politicians, special interest, and lobbyists have manipulated voting districts to protect their interests and guarantee re-election. Gerrymandered districts leave thousands of Ohioans without representation on other issues presented below and many others. The League of Women Voters asks Council to join them in supporting the Citizens not Politicians Amendment, a citizen-led ballot initiative that will end gerrymandering by empowering citizens, not politicians, to draw fair districts using an open and transparent process.
On unfair state budget Tax policy: Ohio House Bill 33 has again increased taxes on the middle class and reduced taxes for wealthy Ohioans by: reducing income tax brackets and rates; suspending bracket and exemption indexing; eliminating Commercial Activity Tax and more. The result is $3 billion-plus in lost revenues over the next two years, money which is unavailable for education and public services. These cuts weaken Ohio’s finances in future downturns and undercut aid to local governments (more than offsetting an increase in Local Government Fund).
On predatory housing market investing: In weaker housing markets where real estate values are low yet higher rents can be charged, investors who are incorporated as LLCs neglect properties and flout municipal housing codes and payment of real estate taxes which fund the public schools in Ohio. One resident of the Shaker Heights School District testified that she was without heat throughout last winter and still is today. In the LLC and “layered LLC” model, actual ownership interests are sufficiently disguised that it’s extremely difficult to find responsible parties. Predatory real estate investment is valuable only to the investors. It is costly to tenants, surrounding communities, schools, and municipalities. For the stability of local housing markets and the health of our communities, we need to work together to counteract this damaging practice.
On corporate energy’s grip on consumers: The corporate energy sector in Ohio has been reluctant to move from the use of fossil fuels towards sustainable energy sources, and one company, First Energy, has shown itself willing to corrupt Ohio legislators and regulators to boost profits at taxpayer expense. As Ohio inevitably begins a shift towards renewable energy sources, citizens should have the autonomy to channel these resources for the good of their communities. We need energy democracy. Today, Shaker Heights is served by First Energy and is prohibited by the company from having electricity from community solar. But there is hope because a bi-partisan group of state representatives have introduced HB 197 to prevent prevent power companies from prohibiting community solar and allocating funding funds for community solar. If it becomes law we will have made a giant step toward energy democracy.
On gun violence: Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than anywhere else in the world. Firearms have become the leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 18. There are more guns in this country than people (400 million vs. 336 million). We need to stop the violence and save lives by getting money out of politics so that corporate interests do not manipulate politicians against passing common sense gun laws. A start would be to suspend open and concealed firearm laws in parts of the state, at least temporarily, as has been done recently by the Governor of New Mexico, and to pass a resolution, like the one passed in June in University Heights, “Calling Upon the State of Ohio to Ban the AR-15 and AR-15-style of Semi-Automatic Weapons.
On the power of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC): A nationwide organization bankrolled by hundreds of corporate members to influence legislators, ALEC produces “model legislation” on a wide spectrum of issues that our representatives need only adopt as written or tweak a bit. Such model legislation in Ohio has denied local officials the right to regulate short-term lending, to regulate fracking in their municipality, to pass legislation affecting the possession of guns, to tax or ban single-use plastic bags, and levied many more restrictions on municipal home rule.
On the urgent need to create authentic democracy: Self-governing people instruct or direct their legal creations. By permitting corporate entities to exercise constitutional rights never envisioned for entities never mentioned in the constitution, we have granted them more power than us, their creators. We must stop normalizing that money equals free speech and a corporation is a person. We need to enact the We the People Amendment to achieve fundamental, structural change.
We respectfully ask the citizens of Shaker Heights to ask Rep. Shontel Brown to co-sponsor the We the People Amendment, and we respectfully challenge the Shaker Heights City Council to pass a resolution asking Rep. Brown to co-sponsor the We the People Amendment.=====
Shaker Democracy Day Comments
My name is Larry Bresler. I live on Westchester Road in Shaker Heights. I also am the executive director of Organize! Ohio and am on the coordinating committee for the Ohio Poor People’s Campaign.
On a national level, there has been much legitimate discussion of the threats to democracy that currently exist nationally ranging from the attempts to overturn the 2020 election, making it much more difficult to vote, curtailment of free speech and the use of dark money to control our elections. However, I wanted to highlight some ways our democracy is being threatened currently in Ohio.
The ability to vote.
Notwithstanding that even Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has said that there has been no evidence of fraud in our elections or election system. Ohio has made it much more difficult to vote in Ohio. They have limited and made it more difficult to vote absentee and more prominently, it requires all voters to have state accepted IDs. Accepted IDs include current drivers’ licenses, state issued IDs, passports and military IDs, but not current college IDs (unlike many other states). Even though getting a state issued IDs are presumably for free, getting a state ID for those who are low income is a challenge. You generally need to bring a birth certificate which will cost $25 in Ohio, and potentially more in other states and you need transportation to get to the BMV. If one is homeless, you need to get a certified statement from a homeless shelter.
Efforts to make Ohio a one-party rule controlled by the Ohio General Assembly and governor
Attempt to end of the use of constitutional amendments in Ohio
As we all know a constitutional amendment amended was placed on the ballot which would require a 60% majority to pass citizen led amendments, require a substantial percentage of signatures from all 88 counties in Ohio and give no grace period ff the number of electors falls short after the election submission. This would have made it highly unlikely that citizen led amendments could have been passed in Ohio again. The election was held in August both to thwart the November reproductive rights amendments from passing and to keep the turnout low, which was expected to help a “yes” vote. It should also be noted to get it on the ballot in August, the General Assembly had to override a statute passed one year earlier prohibiting August elections because of low turnout. They were able to put this on the August ballot without any public committee hearings. As we all know that did not work with Shaker Heights voting overwhelmingly and heavily against the amendment. Senate President Matt Huffman has promised to put it on the ballot again
As has been well reported, the Republican leadership has been able to illegally work around the ban on partisan gerrymandering constitutional amendment that was passed by Ohio voters in 2018. Notwithstanding that it was found to be illegal multiple times by the Ohio Supreme Court, Republican leadership has been able to delay remediation long enough for the gerrymandered Congressional, State House and State Senate districts to remain. Furthermore, they were able to use an old tactic of doing what was necessary to get the votes to change the composition of the state supreme court so that the illegality would not be upheld. An example of where this has been used in Ohio in the past was when the Republicans were able to change the composition of the Ohio Supreme Court to stop the mandating of the enforcement of the DeRolf decision which required equitable school funding in Ohio.
Now there are efforts to put forth a new non-partisan anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment by the former chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court and others. In Ohio in order to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot, the ballot language must be approved along with 1,000 valid voter signatures by the Secretary of State. The proposed amendment language with the required number of signatures was submitted, but the language was rejected with specific areas needed for rewriting. The ballot language changes were rewritten and new signatures were gathered and submitted again to the Secretary of State. There is an expectation that this language will also be rejected by Frank LaRose and require the sponsors to again rewrite the ballot language and collect new signature. How long this will continue remains to be seen.
Recent Legislation that was passed or is forthcoming
Ohio Board of Education
The control of Ohio’s education was transferred this year from the Ohio Board of Education to the governor. Previously the Board of Education had the power to craft policy affecting primary and secondary education. The board, composed of 11 elected members and eight governor appointees, set academic standards, issuesd and revoked educator licenses, administered state funds to school districts, and set guidelines for educating disabled students. However, after more progressive board members were elected across Ohio in 2022, the power of the board was taken away by the Ohio General Assembly.
The Ohio Constitution theoretically gives Ohio municipalities the right to home rule, but with the acquiescence of the Ohio Supreme Court, the Ohio General Assembly has been able to get around that time and time again. Examples where municipalities are no longer able any pass or enforce existing local legislation include gun control, local minimum wage laws, worker residency laws, regulating local gas and drilling, and determining cell phone equipment can be placed in public areas. The most recent legislation coming up would prohibit municipalities to enact ranked voting in their local elections.
Senate Bill 83 which has passed the Senate and is now in the House of Representatives is aimed at stopping the “woke ideology” teaching that exists in higher education in Ohio according to sponsor state Senator Jerry Cirino. Among its provisions include bans mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion programs and training; banning affinity groups and affirmative action policies; banning public positions on controversial issues ;banning relationships with China; requiring particular US history and government courses; requiring online posting of course syllabi; establishing criteria for performance evaluations which will be used for tenure decisions; andbanning striking and forms of collective bargaining. There was an attempt to push this through without debate during the state budget process (a common tactic to get controversial non-budget legislation passed in Ohio), but as a whole it did not go through. It could still be passed in the House and passed enacted.
HB 322 which was introduced the last legislative term, in the Ohio House with 26 co-sponsors. It would have prohibited school districts from requiring school-board-employed teachers of “history, civics, United States government and politics, social studies, or similar subject areas” to “discuss current events or widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs. HB 327 with 30 co-sponsors had similar provisions, but would have also applied to higher education, and would have substantial penalties for school districts and teachers. Among its provisions would have been not allowing any discussion of systemic racism in schools. It would have also allowed civil actions by parents against the schools. Fortunately, neither bill made it through for a vote last, but sponsors for both pieces of legislation have promised to reintroduce the legislation.
These are just a few ways that we in Ohio are facing a threatening climate to democracy.
Video: Why We Need the We the People Amendment
Testimony by Madelon Watts
The short video you are going to see is one of the clearest explanation why we need the We the People amendment. It shows how corporations, acting on false constitutional rights, causes us as citizens to lose our constitutional rights and why it is so important to pass HJR54, the We the people amendment.
As we watch this video, notice the consequences of corporations being given constitutional rights by the Supreme Court and why we need the We the People amendment.
TRANSCRIPT OF VIDEO*
The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that corporations have the same constitutional rights that we human citizens have. To get an idea of what this actually means consider the following: the Court has decided that corporations have the right granted by the First Amendment not to speak when they want to keep facts from us--such as what's in our food.
For example, residues of the herbicide glyphosate have been found in lettuce, carrots, barley, wheat and rye. In some cases up to a year after the soil was treated, the companies whose food products contain these residues, do not have to reveal that to consumers. Based on a 1995 case in which the Court ruled that dairies using bovine growth hormones, in the production of milk, did not have to label the milk with that information.
The courts also concluded that corporations have the Fourth Amendment right to privacy protection and therefore must never be subjected to surprise inspections for safety hazards or other malfeasance. A 1978 decision prohibited inspectors of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from conducting warrantless searches of business premises.
The Court has ruled that corporations have the Fifth Amendment right to be compensated for future profits lost, if government tries to restrict their activities, even if those restrictions are needed to protect the health, safety or welfare of the public. It can become financially impossible to prevent a business from damaging the environment, if the local or state government has to pay the business the anticipated profits it could have realized were it allowed to proceed unregulated.
The Court has decreed that corporations are to be treated as persons and are entitled to equal protection of the laws under the 14th Amendment. As a result, local and state governments are prohibited from enacting laws which favor locally owned businesses and family farms over wealthy multinational corporations.
Moreover the court has established that corporations are not bound by state laws intended to protect the health, safety or welfare of its residents. A corporation is basically a group of persons working to accomplish a purpose, and is treated as a single entity in order to own property and to sue or be sued in a court of law. At one time corporations were chartered for a limited time and were restricted to working to achieve a specific goal in the public interest. Today, corporations can live forever and may be created solely to make a profit for their shareholders. As the power of corporations has grown over the years, they have increasingly taken charge of producing and distributing food, water, utilities, education, health care and other elements of human life.
Having the sole purpose of making a profit for their shareholders, while ignoring the welfare of their employees, customers and the communities in which they're situated, they make a mockery of democracy and threaten our very existence. And corporation can be a useful tool to organize society, but it only works for our benefit as long as corporate power is subordinate and accountable to a democratic state. To achieve that subordination and accountability a 28th Amendment to the Constitution is required. Move to Amend is a national nonpartisan coalition of citizens and organizations working together to ratify such an amendment, and thereby make our government accountable to the people, not just to the moneyed interests. Visit movetomend.org and read about our We the People Amendment. If you agree with us, sign our petition please, and join us to support this cause.
“Why We Need the We the People Amendment”
As the video shows the Supreme Court gave corporations many constitutional rights and among them the First Amendment right not to speak when the corporation wants to keep facts from us.
One example of the Supreme Court’s ruling that affects us directly is when dairies--using GMOs in the production of milk--are not required to label their milk with that information.
Because corporations keep this fact from us in many, many food products, not just the milk we drink, as consumers, we do not always know what exactly what we are consuming in our milk or other foods….
The paper on you chair has the web address for this video in case you would like to view it again. There are copies of the transcript of the video on the table.
1348 St. Charles Ave.
Lakewood, Ohio 44107
September 11, 2023
Shaker Heights City Council
City of Shaker Heights
3400 Lee Road
Shaker Heights, OH 44120
Dear City Council President and members of the Shaker Heights City Council,
Today, as we approach International Democracy Day on September 15th, I stand before you in staunch support of democracy. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Shaker Heights for its unwavering commitment to democratic values, evident not only in these bi-annual meetings but also in its year-round initiatives.
In my capacity as a Councilman in Lakewood, as the Ohio Director of the non-profit Solar UnitedNeighborhood, and in my personal endeavors, I have consistently championed the cause of Energy Democracy. It's a principle I hold dear and advocate for at every opportunity. Today, I wish to introduce both myself and the pivotal topic of Energy Democracy to this esteemed council.
Energy Democracy represents the empowerment of our communities and individuals, granting them the autonomy to shape their energy destinies. It's a vision where working individuals, economically disadvantaged communities, communities of color, and their allies reclaim control from the corporate energy sector, channeling these resources to uplift and fortify their communities.
Imagine an energy system that exists in harmony with our planet's natural ecosystems. Energy Democracy envisions such a system – decentralized and characterized by a community-drivenapproach where energy resources are not monopolized but shared and controlled by the community.
But Energy Democracy is more than just a concept; it's an active process. It's the path we tread to bolster the empowerment of frontline communities and champion their liberation. As we transition from a fossil-fuel-based economy, democratizing energy becomes paramount. It's not just about shifting to renewable energy; it's about ensuring this shift is rooted in economic and social justice, ensuring a just transition for all.
In essence, Energy Democracy is our compass, guiding us toward a future where energy is not just consumed but is a shared resource, managed and owned by the very communities it serves.
Thank you for your attention and consideration.
Addendum to Tristan Rader’s Testimony
By Anne Caruso, Cleveland Heights, OH
There is a bright light of hope for energy democracy in Columbus right now. HB 197 has been introduced by 2 Republican Representatives and it has both Republican and Democratic co- sponsors. Right now the energy companies have the authority to prohibit community solar, which is the kind of energy democracy Tristan refers to in his comments that I just read. I live in Cleveland Heights and First Energy is our energy corporation. They prohibit community solar. You live in Shaker Heights and you also are prohibited by First Energy from having community solar. On the other hand, communities serviced by Cleveland Public Power can and do have community solar because CPP allows it. HB 197 would take authority away from the power companies to prohibit community solar. This bill has been referred to committee and is going through the legislative process. If it becomes law we will have made a giant step toward energy democracy.
Rev. Heidi L. Barham
Shaker Heights Democracy Day 9/11/2023
My name is Rev. Heidi Barham. I currently reside in the City of Cleveland, within walking distance of Shaker Heights which is where I grew up. For over five years, I served as a member of the board of God Before Guns, a “multi-faith coalition of individuals and faith communities working to reduce gun injuries and deaths.”
And during those five years, I had the privilege of participating in Democracy Day in Cleveland Heights multiple times, but I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to come back home.
Now, the fact that today is the anniversary of the tragic events that occurred on 9/11 should not be viewed as merely a coincidence. It should serve as a wake-up call for us to do better and be better as a nation.
On that day, 22 years ago, we were outraged that violent extremists came into our country and took the lives of nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. Those victims reportedly ranged in age from 2 to 82.
We were angry, we were frustrated and we were scared, but we pulled together in response to that unprecedented attack against our homeland, and we cried out in a collective voice, “How dare they do that to us?!”
But the question before us today is this, “How dare we do this to ourselves?!”
In the years since 9/11, we have watched domestic terrorism and extremism escalate to unimaginable levels and we have seen the numbers of those effected by gun violence skyrocket to the point that there are now on average 130 people killed by gun violence per day – with more than twice that number being injured. That’s 48,000 people being killed on an annual basis. That’s the equivalent of the country having 16 different 9/11s in one year.
But let’s bring that closer to home. Ohio’s rate of gun deaths is increasing faster than the rest of the nation with someone dying roughly every 5 hours from gunshots – all while the Ohio state legislature continues to pass laws like Stand Your Ground and Permitless Carry, and restrictions are put in place to keep communities like Shaker Heights from passing stricter legislation on your own.
So, on this anniversary of 9/11 the question is not, “How dare they?” No, it is a resounding, “How dare we?”
Would it surprise you to know that Americans are twenty-five times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than anywhere else in the world? Did you know that right here in this wonderfully exceptional country, firearms have become the leading cause of death among children (ages 1 to 18) – having moved into first place ahead of car accidents and childhood cancers?
And, there is something else shamefully exceptional about this country, which is the fact that there are literally more guns than there are people. There are just over 336 million people in the United States while there are an estimated 400 million guns (unfortunately, this figure can only be estimated due to the fact that not only are we lacking when it comes to common sense gun laws, there is also not a national gun registry).
Sadly, we are living in a day and time when the idea of “shoot first and ask questions later” is more than just a line from an old western movie, it has become a dangerous way of life.
It has been roughly three months since I spoke at Democracy Day in Cleveland Heights. And in that time, a gunman targeting his ex-wife walked into a bar in Orange County, killing three people and injuring five others. Another shooter went to a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida and opened fire killing three people for no other reason than that they were Black. And for reasons still unknown, a grad student walked onto a college campus in NC and killed his faculty advisor. And that was all actually just in the last three weeks.
So, what can we do? We can get the money out of politics so that common sense can prevail and we can enact meaningful legislation that actually has the potential to save lives.
Instead of allowing corporate interests to control the purse strings and pull the puppet strings that allow for the manipulation of certain politicians, we have to be willing to demand action and take steps to protect the lives of our children rather than adding to the profits of corporate entities and political war chests.
Like the recent action taken by the Governor of New Mexico to suspend open and concealed firearm laws in parts of the state, at least temporarily1, and the resolution passed in June by University Heights, “Calling Upon the State of Ohio to Ban the AR-15 and AR-15 Style of Semi-Automatic Weapons, among other Common Sense Gun Safety Reforms.”
And we must be brave like the students at my alma mater, Shaker Heights High School, and others who are part of Students Demand Action, who simply want something that we all should want – for students to be kept safe from gun violence through the enactment of common-sense gun laws, rather than pouring dollars into the coffers of the latest and greatest security company whose success is literally dependent upon there being more school shootings.
And that should give us even more reason to turn up the heat on our elected officials to get them to support the 28th Constitutional “We the People” Amendment and affirm once and for all that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
Let’s stop putting profits over people because it literally puts peoples’ lives at risk.
- New Mexico suspends open and concealed firearm laws in Albuquerque: ‘The time for standard measures has passed’ (msn.com)
- Students Walk Out in Wake of Gun Violence, Again – The Shakerite
The Spread of Predatory Investing Threatens Local Housing Markets
Brief Comments to the Shaker Heights City Council on
DEMOCRACY DAY September 11, 2023
By Jay Westbrook on behalf of the Morelands Group
Members of City Council, Mayor, Public Servants, Citizens – It’s an honor to present to you on Shaker Heights’ bi-annual “Democracy Day.” On this calendar day, September 11, we think about the external threats to democracy. And on this Democracy Day I want to speak with you about a serious internal threat to thriving local communities.
I’m speaking about a corporate activity known as “predatory investing” in housing markets. In a Cleveland.com article titled “Predatory investing is obstructing efforts to improve housing in Cleveland,” Mr. Jeff Verespej, of the well regarded Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, gave this view “Predatory investing is done with the sole intent of financial extraction, without care for the community, for residents, and often skirting every loophole possible to maximize financial returns, even if there are significant costs borne by taxpayers and residents of the property.”
This harmful type of real estate investing is increasingly widespread in all types of housing – single family to large sized multi-family properties. The model follows this pattern: its prevalent in weaker housing markets where real estate values are low, yet higher rents can be charged; investors are nearly always incorporated as LLCs and more recently as “layered LLCs” where actual ownership interests are sufficiently disguised that it’s extremely difficult to find responsible parties. The model avoids many of the cost items associated with real estate holding – regular upkeep, good on-site management; accountability to municipal housing codes; payment of real estate taxes.
I work with a group of volunteers along the Shaker Heights border with Cleveland. Called the Morelands Group we focus on the improvement of 80 apartment buildings surrounding Shaker Square. The conditions of these buildings and some 2,000 tenants living there affect the health of Cleveland and Shaker Heights housing markets, tax base, desirability of the community and health of the Shaker Heights School District with its reliance on real estate tax payments.
Note: the area of our work is primarily within the Shaker Heights School District.
Quickly let me share with you four snap shots of owner groups, properties, and consequences of predatory investment.
- Just south of Drexmore Road between Van Aken and South Moreland, an investment group called KPL, LLC based in Boca Raton, Fl, acquired six properties all in the city of Cleveland in 2017. At the core of this layered LLC were two principal owners, Mr. “K”, Eric Korchia, and Mr. “P”, Philippe Pepos. Designed to hide behind the K-P-L, LLC, we came to find out that their primary LLC for the two of them was called “Sparing Partners, LLC.” This should have been a clue --- to what was to come! By 2020 misters K and P were embroiled in battle with each other. Residents, neighbors, and taxing authorities were the collateral damage. We became aware of the magnitude of their collapse when we were contacted by a young couple in a Van Aken apartment with wastewater flooding out of their kitchen sink. The ‘train wreck’ of these six properties continued to unfold and climaxed in late winter of 2022 when a young mother whose daughter was a fifth-grade student at Woodbury School, contacted us about lack of heat and broken front door. We worked with them and the Shaker Schools to relocate to safe and heated housing still within the Shaker School District. Attached, Report on KPL.
- Aven Realty is another example. This LLC is based in Brooklyn, NY purchased a portfolio of properties from a “real estate hero,” Mr. Paul Gabrial. His LLC was “Shaker Square Properties.” Everyone could tell his properties by the landscaping and by the standards of upkeep. Unfortunately for tenants and the community, he chose to sell his large holdings of 22 properties. In 2017 Aven realty purchased this mass of holdings with the purpose of enhancing their real estate spreadsheet. In the last half of 2021, the Morelands Group began receiving calls from tenants feeling the jolt of this ownership change. In December 2021 we enlisted Legal Aid and held a meeting with residents where we learned horror stories about conditions in properties and absentee management --- except at rent payment time.
[The largest single building in Aven’s holding is the seven story Shaker Hall at 12700 Shaker Blvd. This summer tenants went for five weeks with no working elevators. This trapped disabled tenants on upper floors. It inhibited trash removal. And one lady trying to manage a walker fell down a half flight of stairs and had to be hospitalized.]
- A real estate conglomerate out of Manhattan, NY entered the Shaker Square historic apartment market with a glowing article in Crain’s Business. And why not, the group once was part owner of the Sears Tower in Chicago. Lots of reasons for optimism. Taking ownership in January 2022, this group failed to get the heating system operating for the rest of the winter. By the following winter 2022/23 - still no heat. Located in the Council President’s ward, that was enough! The city launched its first ever Civil Nuisance Suit, claiming extreme negligence by the owner. Due to legal maneuvers, this suit filed in March of 2023, has yet to receive an initial hearing. Oh, by the way you’ll be interested in the name of the LLC --- Shaker Heights Apartments Owner, LLC.
- There are more examples that time will not permit. And you and I know that investors do not have to be out-of-state to be harmful. Our own homegrown, former Montlack Realty and others are alarming examples of locals inflicting damage.
I hope that I have described the makeup of this treacherous investment scheme. Predatory real estate investment is valuable only to the investors. It is costly to tenants, surrounding communities, schools, and municipalities. For the stability of local housing markets and the health of our communities, we need to work together to counteract this damaging practice.
Democracy Day: Shaker Heights City Council
Sheila Smith, League of Women Voters
September 11, 2023
Good evening, Mayor Weiss and Shaker Heights City Council Members. My name is Sheila Smith, and I am a Shaker Heights resident speaking on behalf of the League of Women Voters regarding the topic of redistricting.
In 2020, Ohio’s Redistricting Commission and state lawmakers began the vital process of redrawing both our state legislative and congressional districts. Throughout the following two years, Ohioans were subjected to partisan political games at their worst. From clear efforts to unfairly craft districts and behind-the-scenes map drawing, to lawmakers continuously running out the clock on their responsibilities, this shameful saga only demonstrated one thing: Ohio’s redistricting process is broken.
Despite hours of testimony from Ohioans, numerous map submissions by the public, and strong community outcry, elected officials repeatedly ignored the will of the people. Collectively, the Ohio State Supreme Court struck down the legislative and congressional maps drawn by elected officials as unconstitutional a total of seven times. That is seven times too many. Not only that, but this process resulted in a confusing primary election schedule that only ended in low voter turnout and a waste of tax payer dollars.
Rather than drawing districts that truly represent Ohio communities, partisan politicians, special interests, and lobbyists manipulate voting districts to protect their interests and guarantee their re-election. That is not democracy. That is money and politics at play solely to retain power, and more specifically, to retain a supermajority of one party in the Statehouse. As a result, incumbents running for reelection almost never lose. In other words, we are letting politicians choose their voters, instead of the other way around.
It is time to finally end gerrymandering in Ohio. That is why the League of Women Voters firmly supports the Citizens Not Politicians Amendment. This citizen-led ballot initiative will end gerrymandering by empowering citizens, not politicians, to draw fair districts using an open and transparent process.
If passed, the amendment would create a 15-member Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission made up of Democratic, Republican, and Independent citizens who broadly represent the different geographic areas and demographics of the state. It would also ban current or former politicians, political party officials, lobbyists, and large political donors from sitting on the Commission. Finally, the initiative would require fair and impartial districts by making it unconstitutional to draw voting districts that discriminate against or favor any political party or individual politician, while also requiring the commission to operate under an open and independent process.
On behalf of the League, I urge both Shaker Heights residents and officials to join us in supporting the Citizens Not Politicians Amendment. Ohio is one of the nation’s most gerrymandered states, and it is long overdue that we put a stop to this unfair representation and endless hijacking of the political process. We deserve to witness truly representative districts. Whether you demonstrate public support of this ballot initiative, assist in collecting signatures, or add your own name to the petition, there is an opportunity for you to help drive progress in our state.
The League of Women Voters has been committed to ending partisan gerrymandering in Ohio for decades, because our government works best when lawmakers are genuinely accountable to the will of the people. We know fair maps are possible, but it has become increasingly clearer that the path towards exactly that does not include partisan politicians and lobbyists. The fight for fair districts continues, and we hope you stand alongside us. Thank you.
Democracy Day 2023
Recently, the Plain Dealer ran an article on preemption. Preemption is the legislative maneuver of passing state laws that eliminate the possibility of a municipality to make its own laws. Ostensibly, the legislature is there to represent the will of those who elect them. But legislatures like ours often have much more important allegiances than to their constituents. This can be seen in the practice of preemption, because each of the areas in the list represents such an overriding commitment.
But don’t give the General Assembly too much credit for its devious anti-democracy maneuvers. Actually, most all of these issues originated from the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC. ALEC is a nationwide organization bankrolled by hundreds of corporate members to influence legislators. It produces “model legislation” on a wide spectrum of issues that our representatives need only adopt as written or tweak a bit. These “resolutions” are written so shrewdly that they even leave blanks to fill in the state. One legislator said that ALEC documents helped her to put her concerns in actual legislative language. That’s how effective it is and why, on the ALEC website, its positions on these many issues are labeled as “acts,” exactly like state legislation.
While such legislative influence may seem like the work of lobbyists, ALEC is actually a 501c3, nonprofit. As a result of this coercive tax status, all taxpayers, you and I, financially support its work. Furthermore, as a private organization, much of its activity is not available for scrutiny. But it is a membership organization with an online presence, and a list of current and former Ohio legislators who are members, may easily be found there. These government members pay a small annual fee to be the guest recipients of corporate largesse at swanky resort spots where they are schooled on what their benefactors want done in their states. ALEC’s corporate members, who pay much more to purchase their influence, are also available online,
I was able to find online ALEC model legislation that addressed the substance of at least ten of the thirteen laws listed in the PD article. Each of the following examples begins with a general title of the area of law followed by its result for Ohio municipalities: Predatory Lending—denies local officials the possibility of regulating short-term lending. Fracking—denies local officials the possibility of regulating fracking in a municipality; Guns—denies local officials the right to pass any local ordinances affecting the possession of guns; Puppies—blocked cities from regulating so-called puppy mills; Cell towers—limited cities’ approval of “micro-wirelesss” infrastructure; Minimum wage— denied a city’s right to set local minimum wage laws; Paid leave—grants employers exclusive authority over fringe benefits; plastic bags—usurped cities’ right to tax or ban single-use plastic bags; Pesticides—blocked cities from regulating certain pesticides on private property; Non-citizen voters—preempted cities from allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections. Each of these actions by the Ohio General Assembly has a clear correlation in ALEC model legislation.
This alignment means that the corporations that benefit from unrestricted fracking or the free flow of guns killing Cleveland’s youth or wages lower than a desired minimum are actually writing the laws that benefit them—through their partners in Ohio’s General Assembly.
You may not know ALEC, but ALEC knows you and is coming for your rights and that of your city to govern.
Shaker Heights Democracy Day Public Hearing
Greg Coleridge testimony | September 11, 2023
The 4 planes used as weapons that resulted in the immense # of deaths and injuries on 9/11 22 yrs ago today was the most horrific instance of hijacking in U.S. history.
Or was it?
For more than a century, corporate entities with the aiding and abetting of Supreme Court Justices have hijacked numerous constitutional amendments intended exclusively for human beings. These never intended CCRs preempted democratically-enacted state and federal laws protecting the health, safety and welfare of residents, consumers, workers, and the environment – as other speakers tonight have described. The cumulative human, community, environmental and democratic carnage has been and continues to be massive.
The video that Madelon Watts showed earlier outlines merely a tip of the century-wide and issue-deep iceberg. And most of it all is legal because corporate entities, thanks to activist Supreme Court Justices, have anointed corporations with constitutional rights that usurp human rights, community rights and the rights to a livable world.
This is one reason why nearly one-half million people have signed Move to Amend’s Motion to Amend. Why HJR54, the We the People Amendment, has at the moment 69 House co-sponsors. Why more than 700 communities (including Shaker Heights) and 8 states have passed municipal resolutions or citizen-driven ballot initiatives. Any why more than 740 organizations have passed resolutions in support.
We must stop normalizing that money equals free speech and a corporation is a person. Our minds have been colonized or hijacked into believing all we can do is work for minimal reforms – like transparency of money in politics, regulating the amount of poisons in our food, ever so slightly limit the privatization/corporatization of health care or curbing the billions of tons of carbon emission spewed into the air. We must abolish money defined as free speech and all corporate constitutional rights.
Self-governing people instruct or direct their legal creations – including corporate entities that originally were created one-at-a-time via a charter or license – defining corporate actions. Corporate charters were originally considered democratic tools in state after state. When corporations acted beyond their authority, their charters were revoked by state legislatures or courts.
This happened routinely in Ohio and other states. In one charter revocation decision in 1900, the Ohio Supreme Court stated:
The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator, and it still remains the duty of the courts to perform their office in the enforcement of the laws, no matter how ingenious the pretexts for their violation may be, nor the power of the violators in the commercial world.
It’s up to us, individual people and those we elect to represent us, to take charge. To create authentic democracy – for the very first time We must seek solutions that are proportionate to the scale of problems.
Enacting the We the People Amendment is not, of course, the only fundamental, structural, institutional change needed. But it’s a core change.
So what needed right here and right now. For one, sign the Move to Amend petition in the back. For another, I respectfully ask every person here and watching to call Contact Rep. Shontel Brown, 216-522-4900, asking her to co-sponsor the We the People Amendment, HJR54.
And I respectfully challenge this council to pass a resolution asking Rep. Brown to co-sponsor the We the People Amendment.
Victor Hugo said, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
It’s time to act. What are we waiting for? There’s no more time to waste.
The time has still not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator.