Though no definitive solution has been presented regarding the possible merger of the Shaker Heights and University Heights fire departments, one thing is clear — Cleveland Heights will not be included any time soon.
Shaker Heights Mayor Earl Leiken said as much Friday when asked to respond to a Sun News report that Cleveland Heights Councilman Jason Stein has requested that a new cooperative study be conducted to see if a Cleveland Heights-Shaker-University Heights fire department would be feasible.
In the report, Stein said he has made the city's interest in a potential merger known over the past couple of years, but "Cleveland Heights remains on the outside looking in."
Leiken said the possibility for other cities to be a part of a joint fire department exists in the future, but for now, the city prefers to explore a merger with University Heights.
"When it was initially announced, we felt that we should try to do something that was as achievable as possible, and we thought that the combination of University Heights and Shaker Heights made great sense," Leiken said. "That doesn't at all preclude the possibility of adding additional cities at a later point, but right now we're focused on making this one work."
Susannah Muskovitz, legal counsel for the unions that represent both departments, said she also supports merging the two departments. However, she believes not enough has been said about how the merger would be implemented and what the true intentions of one are.
"Is it the goal to increase level of service? Is it to save money," she said. "Is it to be more efficient but maintain the same level of service?
"We've asked but never got an answer."
Muskovitz stated many of the same concerns when talking to Shaker Heights Patch in December.
"I think the mayors have to state what they're trying to accomplish," she said. "They need to state very clearly how they intend to achieve that. Not one minute has been spent on implementation.
"I find the whole thing perplexing."
Leiken said more information on how the new department would work will be issued to the public in the near future.
"People will be aware of the specifics of the arrangement," he said. "The fire stations in University Heights and Shaker are very close together. It's a relatively uncomplicated combination to do.
"We're mindful of the fact that there has not been one consolidation of fire departments in Cuyahoga County that has been successful up to this because they've all been relatively complicated."