A Channel 3 News survey of 35 communities found wide-ranging practices regarding civil ceremonies


Exchanging vows. Exchanging dollars. Should mayors in suburban Cleveland receive extra compensation for performing weddings?

A Channel 3 News survey of 35 communities found wide-ranging practices regarding civil ceremonies.

The good news is that there are no hitches to getting hitched in 20 of the 35 suburbs in the survey.

Civil ceremonies are free in the following suburbs: Orange, Brook Park, Hunting Valley, East Cleveland, Bay Village, Brecksville, Garfield Heights, Highland Heights, Independence, North Olmsted, Oakwood Village, Olmsted Falls, Richmond Heights, Rocky River, Solon, Strongsville, Walton Hills, Warrensville Heights, Westlake and Pepper Pike.

Three of the 35 suburbs -- South Euclid, Lakewood and Mayfield Heights -- charge a fee of $50 or less, but the money is donated to charity or to families in need. In South Euclid, Mayor Georgene Welo doesn't accept gratuities either for performing weddings.

"It does take a lot of time from your personal time, but I just think it's part of the job," she said.

In five communities -- Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, University Heights, Euclid and North Randall -- fees of $35 to $50 are charged, but the mayors don't pocket a penny. The cash goes to the general fund of each city.

"It's improper for me to take anything. It's a service I provide," said Euclid Mayor Bill Cervenik.

Shaker Heights Mayor Earl Leiken said "The money goes entirely to the city."

"In our city, it's an honorary part of the job," said University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld.

Beachwood is the only suburb in the Channel 3 News survey that charges a set gratuity of $125 for weddings performed during normal business hours and $250 for after hours.

"We follow the letter of the law as far as a gratuity," said Beachwood Mayor Merle Gorden. He referred to a Beachwood city ordinance passed in January 2009 that allows the mayor to collect gratuities for the performance of marriages.

One of Gorden's critics, Mike Silver, says the mayor is sending the wrong message by charging the set gratuity, which Silver calls a fee.

"It's a message of greed and entitlement. It's not serving of the people. It's abusing the public trust," said Silver, who recently lost a City Council race.

Gorden, who reportedly made $208,000 last year, fired back.

"I don't feel it's inappropriate to do this. I've never been questioned on this in 20 years. What's most important is providing a service for people who need it at the time they need it," Gorden said.

Silver argued that it should be a part of Gorden's responsibilities as mayor to perform weddings and not be paid extra for doing it.

"Every time you turn around there's another instance of Mayor Gorden dipping his hands into the public's pocket," said Silver.

Gorden believes the accusations are politically-motivated and have surfaced only because he won another election.

He says he waives the gratuity in 20 percent of the marriages he performs, but he admits it's done mostly for friends and long-standing residents of Beachwood.

When asked to explain why Beachwood charges so much more than any other suburb in the survey, Gorden said. "I don't know that I can explain it nor should I try to."

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