Thank you to Chris Ronayne for this guest submission.
If you ever watch a sunset from the shores of Cleveland’s Whiskey Island, remember a man named Ed Hauser. If you’re ever looking over Cleveland’s Historic Coast Guard Station shining at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, tip your hat to Hauser. These places exist and are publicly accessible today because one man demanded public access to the decisions of his local government. Ed “Citizen” Hauser invoked transparency and accountability from the public sector through his masterful use of every tool of public process available to him by right – the right to public records, the right to open meetings, the right to record a meeting, the right to make public statements at public meetings. Many public officials may remember Hauser as the man behind the video camera at public meetings which may be the reason a few remember him like a blister on the heel. But any Cleveland public official who is honest will remember Hauser as one of the most effective community advocates the City of Cleveland has ever known. In my public service as Planning Director and Chief of Staff for the City of Cleveland, I remember Ed Hauser as the man at the microphone at the public meeting.
In our work on the Cleveland Waterfront District Plan, Cleveland was faced with a difficult decision about the future consolidated home of the Cleveland Cuyahoga County Port Authority. In the Lakefront Planning process from 2002-2004, we conducted more than 100 public meetings to which I never remember Hauser missing one. And, I never remember him missing a night to at least once make his case known for Whiskey Island and its preservation. At the time, fewer knew about Whiskey Island than do today. But Hauser, a former LTV worker, was a lake and river kayaker who used Whiskey Island as his launch – sometimes it was just him out there with the migratory birds and rolling sunsets over the nearby iron ore deposits of the industrial Flats. He used this authentic Cleveland experience to educate others on the merits of keeping this unique green space on the lake. I know, because we lived in the same neighborhood nearby and one night Hauser knocked on my door and presented me with 4,000 signatures of Clevelanders who believed Whiskey Island was a keeper. At the time I was the Cleveland Planning Director.
Who were we at City to say no to a park that the people coveted? We listened and we began listening more to Citizen Hauser who spoke for the citizen sector of Cleveland. When on the Cleveland Landmarks Commission, I remember the day Citizen Hauser exercised his citizen right to nominate a Cleveland building for local landmark status. So he stepped up and did it with the Historic Coast Guard Station at Whiskey Island. Again, the Landmarks Commission sided with “Citizen” Hauser.
To my mind, as activists go, Hauser makes Cleveland’s Hall of Fame. Keys to his success were obviously perseverance, but also the fact that he studied his government and his appurtenant rights as a citizen to access it and demand transparency in decision making. He knew the government workings more than many of the public officials themselves and he used that to the advantage of the community at-large. He also used the power of the microphone at local public meetings which brought attention to his causes from fellow neighbors to members of the media. Hauser understood the role of the public servant. While I remember Ed as a friend, I knew, when in the public service, I worked for him as he represented the citizen sector that paid my wage through the tax on theirs. Ed Hauser was a tireless advocate for many causes that mattered to others. But his effectiveness was rooted in his understanding of the processes of his government, his keen understanding of the working relationship between public servant and the public they served, his use of the tools afforded any citizen by right to gain access, and his invocation of practices and vehicles that assured transparency.
Ed “Citizen” Hauser learned how his government worked and thereafter he had his government working for him. Hauser knew his rights to access and transparency and his right to speak to his government after which he became a model for more to stand up and speak to their government about the issues. While Ed “Citizen” Hauser has passed on, Ed’s legacy is that “Citizen” Hauser changed Cleveland for the better for generations to come. So, when you are down Whiskey Island way, tip your hat to Ed as you travel on the access road to Whiskey Island which today is appropriately named” Ed Hauser Way”. Ed Hauser saved precious Cleveland places and made them accessible today because he first made his government accessible, accountable, and transparent.
Former Cleveland Planning Director and Chief of Staff