Residents sound off on Pride Fest

by Dan Holland

May 2 city council work session

Approximately 150 area residents jammed into Broadview Heights City Council chambers during a special work session of city council to voice opinions on the city’s hosting of Pride Fest June 8 at the city amphitheater.

While a majority of residents expressed opposition to the event during an April 15 work session, most speaking at the May 2 session spoke in support of the event that is being sponsored by BBH Pride and Metro Health. The city is a co-sponsor of the event along with support from the Cleveland Guardians and Sherwin-Williams.

A decision to hold the event, made by Mayor Sam Alai and city administration, did not involve input from members of city council in accordance with past procedures governing city-sponsored events. Alai was not present at the May 2 meeting.

Agenda items for the work session included discussion by council of a proposed charter amendment and expansion of Section 820 of the city’s codified ordinances, which governs non-sponsored city events.

Council President Robert Boldt presented a proposed charter amendment during an April 22 council meeting that would set in place rules governing city-sponsored events, with council members having the authority to review and overturn the holding of a scheduled event by a five-person vote. The proposal has since been tabled.

During the May 2 meeting, Ward 3 council representative Brian Dunlap presented proposed additions to Section 820 that would provide councilmembers an opportunity to review applications for future city-held events with certain exceptions. The proposal to make changes to the codified ordinances would require a five-person vote of council.

“As mentioned during Monday night’s work session, I was personally against the charter change, thinking it was expensive, and unnecessary for language that we already have in our charter under Council Rules Article III, sec. 7, (e),“ said Dunlap. “I think what we should do is not change anything, but more so, make it glaringly apparent in section 820 where people have to fill out an application so it’s fair to everyone.”

“My suggestion is to bring out some modest reminders in our Section 820 that reflect back to our charter that gives council the powers that already exist contractually for us to sign off on things,” he added.

“I feel that council should not go after the mayor’s power, and if they do, then it should be a ballot issue; it should not be decided by council,” Boldt said. “Some people feel that we shouldn’t put it on the ballot because there’s money involved, and I’m fine with that, but I don’t think council should take a vote to reduce the mayor’s power. I don’t think it’s proper for council to take away anyone’s power without a vote of the people.”

Dunlap said his proposed changes were not brought about due to one particular event, but that the changes were long overdue.

A number of residents addressing council expressed concern that the measure was being introduced in response to Pride Fest. Only residents of Broadview Heights were permitted to address council during the meeting.

“For you people who are up here saying this is just looking at the checks and balances, I want you to consider what [Councilperson] Brian Wolf said – this wasn’t because of a law, it was because of the content of what was being discussed,” said Marissa Miroglotta.

“The impression that you are leaving on people is that this is a discriminatory, exclusionary city,” said Gordon Gibb. “That’s a direct result of not only things that were said by people in this group, but also by things that weren’t said afterwards when council had a chance to address it.”

Lisa Hager said the decision to book city-sponsored events should not be solely decided by the mayor. “I believe that one person – the mayor – should not be able to make decisions like this; it should be a group,” she said. “You’re all elected to speak for us, so why should it just be the mayor?”

Hager also expressed concern over recent comments posted by community members on social media. “I’m all about love, peace and happiness, but the things I see on Facebook by some people who have been up here preaching love and kindness to all have been hateful; where they will call you a bigot and racist,” she said. “If you have one comment they don’t like, they attack you. They bully you; pretty much the same as they’ve done to some of you on council here tonight.”

Miles Podlogar, a 16-year-old resident who identifies as transgender, addressed councilmembers. “When I look around this room, and I see all of these hurtful comments online, that makes me scared,” said Podlogar. “You are the people who are supposed to create a safe environment for me, and you are failing miserably.”

“When I hear people like you say that I am part of a community that is full of anti-biblical sinners who are out of order, and that celebrating our existence is a threat to others, this makes me feel as though I am not welcomed here.”

Kathy Boff, who expressed concern over initiatives set forth by BBH Pride and Equality Ohio, claimed that the groups have been organizing with Mayor Alai and councilpersons Jennifer Mahnic and Brian Wolf. “They have been organizing … to create a city equity statement and a community action plan, and both of these groups advocate for things that are pretty dividing in our city,” she said.

“I don’t know why outside groups are meeting with our elected officials, insinuating that Broadview Heights is not a successful community or that our residents are not safe, respectful and welcoming,” Boff added.

Wolf said he looks forward to further discussion of the proposals set before council at future meetings. “I still feel that if it comes to council, and all the ducks are in a row, the only thing left is content – and we cannot vote on content,” he said.

“I think we need to take a step back, and we need to evaluate what we’re trying to accomplish here,” added Ward 1 council representative Tom Pavlica. “There’s a lot of research that needs to be done. Today, I received a couple of emails that were disturbing to me and my wife, and I just think we need to do more research on this.”  ∞

by Dan Holland

April 15 city council work session

Approximately 100 area residents showed up at Broadview Heights city council chambers April 15 to voice opinions to members of city council and Mayor Sam Alai over the announcement of Pride Fest being scheduled to take place at the city’s amphitheater June 8.

The event is being sponsored by BBH Pride and MetroHealth, with support from the Cleveland Guardians and Sherwin Williams. The city is also co-sponsoring the event.

Alai said BBH Pride approached his administration over a year ago to inquire about holding the event this June with the intent of alternating every other year between Brecksville and Broadview Heights. The group’s first event was held last June at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School.

City Law Director Vince Ruffa noted the decision to host the event was made by Alai and city administration and did not involve members of city council in accordance with procedures followed for other city-sponsored events.

Council President Robert Boldt told attendees that Broadview Heights only residents could address city officials during the meeting. Council would then have a “go-around” at the conclusion of all resident statements.

Out of 13 residents who spoke, 11 opposed the LGBTQ+ event being held on city grounds.

“Shame on the city for undermining the council-at-large and the residents of this community with sneaky tactics,” said Stephanie Baka.

Baka cited concerns over an agenda that BBH Pride recently presented to the city school district.

“I feel that the agenda BBH Pride is trying to implement in our community – and most importantly, our school district – is unsafe for our children,” she added.

Marilyn Houdek said approval of the event has caused division within the community, and she was concerned that extremist groups may demand to hold events in the city going forward. She also expressed a desire for city council to install a process to become involved in affirming or denying future city-sponsored events.

“I would like to express my deep disappointment in your decision, Mayor Alai, to allow our tax money to go toward hosting events that would promote homosexuality,” said Kathy Zamborsky.

Jason Fogarty, a member of BBH Pride, thanked city officials for bringing the event to the city. “We had a great Pride Fest last year, and this year will be no exception to that,” he said. “Pride Fest is an all-ages, appropriate, engaging and uplifting event for the city.”

Fogarty added that misinformation had been spread concerning the event. “We’ve heard some very inaccurate assertions about what we talk about at our event,” he continued. “With Pride Fest, there are no pamphlets about gender surgeries handed out to minors; no one is preaching about sexuality or sex acts, and none of our vendors are recruiting minors.”

Robert Kilo questioned the procedural process of the mayor unilaterally approving city events and noted the possibility of a citizen-led recall process.

“Have the citizens had ample opportunity to weigh in on this?” he asked. “This is not ‘we the mayor,’ or ‘we the council’ – this is ‘we the people.’ And I believe there is a groundswell in this community who are saying to you, Mr. Mayor, that we don’t want this in our city.”

Kilo said he moved to Broadview Heights from Cleveland a few years ago to live in a family-friendly community.

“We are Broadview Heights. We are not Lakewood or Cleveland,” he continued. “This city was destined to be one that has family values that represent all of God’s people in truth and righteousness and order, and this is out of order.”

Lauren Zamborsky read an emailed response from Alai sent to another resident. In the response, Alai told the resident, who opposed the event, not to let intolerance or other unkind thoughts to enter into his heart. He added that Jesus showed love for everyone.

“You are right, Mr. Mayor; Jesus does love everyone, but he does not love sin,” said Zamborsky. “The event you are supporting supports sin.”

The Rev. John King, pastor of Brecksville United Church of Christ, said he was glad to see the event coming to the city. King said his congregation has made a point of welcoming all people with equality, including members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“We simply want everyone to know that this is a safe community where all law-abiding citizens are welcome for who they are, not for who someone else thinks they should be,” he said. “Thank you again for doing the right thing by welcoming BBH Pride for Pride Fest 2024.”

John Guzowksi said he and his wife chose Broadview Heights to raise their five children based on its stellar reputation.

“So far, I’ve truly been happy with the city,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a wise decision to bring in a group that is a relatively extremist group onto city property and allow them to have an event here. I do think you need to exercise better judgment in the decisions you are making.”

During the go-around session, a number of council members expressed a desire to explore a process by which council could potentially have input regarding city-sponsored events.

Ward 2 Council representative Brian Wolf dispelled rumors that he had been involved in the planning of the event. “I was not a part of this event, and council has nothing to do with approving this event,” he said. “I am not chairing this event, I am not running this event, and I am not involved in this event.”

“I must say that in all the years I’ve been on council, we’ve had some controversial issues; some that I didn’t agree with and some that I did,” said Councilperson Jennifer Mahnic. “But I have never seen such a large number of people truly filled with hate.”

The statement drew an uproar from a number in attendance.

“I am very thankful that we live in a country that gives its citizens the ability to address the elected officials chosen to represent them,” Alai said in an email response the following day. “Last night, residents of this city were able to do so on a subject they feel passionate about. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts, and there was a great deal of misinformation and untrue statements made during the meeting.”

“Furthermore, the crowd heckled and drowned out the comments of Councilwoman Jennifer Mahnic because her free speech did not align with their views, and that should never be tolerated.” ∞