By Kevin Kelley
At Thursday night’s regular meeting of Westlake City Council, resident Tim Falcone asked members and Mayor Dennis Clough whether they backed the recently defeated 5.4-mill operating levy for the Westlake City Schools.
Earlier in the week, his son, Tony Falcone, who serves on the board of education, described “intense anger” among school backers that the city’s leadership had refused to publicly back the levy. He said city leaders in other Ohio communities back public school levies. Falcone made his comment at a school board meeting at which $2.5 million in proposed budget cuts, which include more than 60 layoffs, were discussed.
During the public session of the City Council meeting, the older Falcone noted that the 2014 edition of Westlake Magazine featured a two-page article on the newly constructed Lee Burneson Middle School and Westlake High School. The magazine, which is published by the city, also included an article on new construction projects in the private sector.
“Do you support the schools that you tout when you promote the city?” Falcone asked the mayor and council members.
Council President Michael Killeen replied that he personally believed that it was inappropriate for a governmental body to endorse a tax issue for which it is not responsible.
“I respect the voters of Westlake,” Killeen said. “They’re smart people. They don’t need endorsements by me or anyone else, in my opinion.
“The school board has to sell their levies based on their campaigns, based on their literature,” the council president added. “It’s not my responsibility to do it.”
In his mayor’s report, Clough said the city government does support the schools.
“But I think every taxpayer has a right to make a choice,” the mayor said.
Clough added that he believes a candidate or campaign’s direct appeal to voters is more important than any endorsement in the final analysis. The mayor explained that the new school buildings were included in Westlake Magazine because the city works with the schools and asked the district to contribute to the magazine.
Clough said he believes the residents support the schools.
“But I think when it comes to asking people to increase their taxes, no matter what entity it is, it’s up to that entity to convince the voters that they need to do that,” the mayor said.
Chris Kennedy, who headed the Citizens for Westlake Schools campaign to pass the school levy, told West Life that City Council was approached about backing the levy. Killeen told the campaign not to ask for an endorsement, she said.
Killeen confirmed this, saying council has an informal policy of not endorsing issues or causes as a body. Individual members are free to issues endorsements, he added.
Killeen said he was asked by the levy campaign for an individual endorsement, but he declined.
“I rarely endorse anything,” he said. The only endorsement he gave in the Nov. 5 election, he said, was for incumbent Ward 6 Councilman Mark Getsay, who defeated Robert Koenig.
Killeen declined to say how he personally voted on the school levy.
“Council doesn’t have any ill will toward the school board,” Killeen told West Life. “It’s just that we’re separate entities.”
The council president again noted that the city and school district cooperate in other areas. He noted that the city pays for the school resource police officer at the middle school and high school and for the D.A.R.E. program.
Superintendent Dan Keenan declined to comment on conversations he had with Clough on a possible endorsement of the levy. He told West Life he does not blame any city leaders for the tax measure’s failure at the polls. The superintendent did say he wants the city to support the schools.
“I think we’re interdependent,” Keenan said.
As construction deadlines at the new high school grew tight as the first day of school approached, Keenan praised city officials for their cooperation on issues such as permit approvals.