The Commentators

We asked more than a dozen smart Clevelanders what they want from the executive and what ideas they hope the new county government will take up.
Jim Rokakis
Cuyahoga County treasurer

I would hope the first thing the new county executive and county council do is make all the employees civil service. You need to create a professional cadre of public employees removed from the political process.

They're going to be under incredible pressure to shrink government on the belief — not necessarily misplaced — that there is waste. My expectation is that they'll find tremendous waste, at least in the county auditor's office.

Jill Miller Zimon
Pepper Pike councilwoman and blogger at Writes Like She Talks

If we don't rebuild trust, I don't think this is going to be any different than any other form of government. That's what corruption does: It rips away the trust people had when they voted for someone.

I think as a county we're moving not just to a different form of government, but I think the expectations are going to be very different. A lot of these government structures represent a different time and a different relationship between the residents and the people who are governing. In the last 10 years, the access people have to information and the ability to debate has resulted in more people engaging.

The No. 1 [goal] is provision of information, making information available in all the different ways people access it. If you go visit the website of the city of Seattle, it's phenomenal what they have: The council members all have blogs. They have a lot of different information on electronic formats. They have RSS feeds.

Jimmy Malone
Morning show co-host, Majic 105.7
The county executive should be somebody who wants to clearly establish they are going to root out corruption, someone who'll go out of their way to say, "Because of what we've been through, I'm going to be more open than anybody should expect me to be." If I'm going to have a meeting that's not open to the public, there's got to be an awful good reason why. I hope the new executive institutes a very clear and fair whistleblower policy so employees will feel comfortable coming forward without fear of losing their job.

No. 2, the executive should be a cheerleader. That's something lacking here. Mayor Jackson has done a good job, but he's not a cheerleader. I think we have a great area here. I don't think it's being sold properly. We need someone who can rally the troops, like Ed Koch in the old days, walking around the streets of New York.
Baiju Shah
President & CEO, BioEnterprise

Our county health-tech corridor [stretches from] CSU and Tri-C through University Circle. There's a swath that is underdeveloped. There are companies that want to be near the hospitals and educational institutions, but they can't get there. There isn't a building to relocate to. Every building that's viable is 100 percent occupied.

The private market, in a normal situation, would be able to fix that problem. In the current situation, it's not able to fix it without government support. The land is owned by different landowners, usually in smaller parcels. For a private business, private developer, it's very hard to go out and assemble all the parcels of land so you have a 2- or 3-acre site for development. If it's the site of a former factory, a gas station, you've got environmental liability if you take ownership of the site, so you need cleanup before you can take ownership of it. Also, the market for financing commercial real estate is broken right now in the U.S., especially smaller projects.

So the government can step in and support and finance these programs, by a whole host of different tools, everything from providing loans directly to providing guarantees of different types to take the risk out for banks. To help drive the development that businesses want to see, the county can bring tools to the table: lots of financing programs to remove the barriers to physical development.

Russ Pry

Summit County executive

The task of organizing all the separate independent offices into one office is going to be a very time-consuming and complicated process. Cuyahoga County is going much, much quicker than Summit County ever did in this transition. You've eliminated so many independent elected offices. Who's going to go into those jobs? How are they going to relate to one another?

You're going to have someone come in who's going to inherit a budget set by another form of government. It's going to be a real interesting challenge. I would hope the commissioners think about passing a temporary budget for the first quarter of 2011 and give the executive time to get in there and start working.
Marcia Fudge
U.S. Representative
Those who believe they can cut spending in county government by $50 million are just not realistic and don't understand government. That money needs to go to things like children and family services. Let's not look at the revenue from things like the Medical Mart and casino and say this now becomes our opportunity to create a development fund [while] trying to cut resources so desperately needed for one of the poorest cities in America. Our county government resources are needed more than ever to help people who are in need through food stamps, temporary housing.

Rev. Marvin McMickle
Pastor, Antioch Baptist Church
I hope the county executive will not be tyrannical. I was not a supporter of Issue 6 — I was firmly against it, in part because I was not supportive of the single-executive approach. I hope this will not be a person who will abuse or overextend power. I'm hoping for as much collaboration as possible between the executive, the council and others. I'm hoping that this person will not be overly politicized from the start.

Martin Zanotti
Co-writer of the Issue 6 charter, co-chair of the county transition executive committee

I think the executive should facilitate discussion of actual mergers between cities. Too many are struggling. A perfect example is Parma and Parma Heights, of which I used to be mayor. With the economic environment in our region, the time has probably come for Parma and Parma Heights to merge. Parma Heights has serious financial concerns. Its revenues are shrinking. The business base is shrinking: It's primarily retail, and retail patterns have changed. Parma Heights is cut out from almost the middle of Parma. The two cities could strengthen each other.

Joe Roman
President and CEO, Greater Cleveland Partnership

The county executive needs to think regionally. The community has built a very effective economic development system in the past five or six years, mostly in the private sector and with state dollars. MAGNET, JumpStart, BioEnterprise, Nortech and Team NEO are operating at a regional level, providing critical economic development services, from business retention and expansion services to high-growth startups. It's working and it's growing. Cuyahoga County government could be bigger part of that.

David Abbott
Executive director, The George Gund Foundation

I'd like to see the county engage in the issue of public education. It's not something counties are charged with, but one of the issues we face as a state was highlighted by the Brookings Institution several months ago. It pointed out that Ohio ranks very low in terms of dollars spent on classroom instruction, and yet we rank very high in dollars spent on public education. We have so many school districts. We're spending a huge amount of that money on governance and administration instead of classroom instruction. It's a political, systemic problem, a phenomenon of all the government fragmentation. The county could act as useful convener in that discussion. I think there has to be some consolidation of school districts because we're spending too much money on too many districts.

Edward W. (Ned) Hill
Dean of Cleveland State University's College of Urban Affairs

I'd like to see the county council create a countywide elected position: chief judge of the county courts. Right now we have no mechanism of encouraging financial constraints on the judicial system. The chief judge of the county courts is elected by their peers. The way separation of powers works now is, the judges decide their budget and they throw it over the fence for the county to pay for. I think we've got an out-of-control court system.

I hope the next county executive makes it a five-year goal to become the first big county government in the U.S. to win a Baldrige Award for quality public service. Most people know Baldrige for its quality award for manufacturers, but there is one for nonprofits, including government. There's a danger that as we get county reform, that everyone will be pointing a finger at county employees, saying, "You're lazy, unmotivated and stupid." In the Baldrige process, you need employee participation in [improving] county government so it's cost efficient but also responsible to customers.

Ann Zoller
Executive director of ParkWorks

There's an opportunity to wrap our arms around what we are now as a city and a region, which is a mid-sized, post-industrial city. For me, it's warmly accepting where we are and using that as a platform, rather than being so turned around, reaching back, that we can't see the opportunities that lie ahead.

What is a competitive city of the future? People are talking about fossil fuel, and the oil spill in the Gulf, and how do we as a society learn to streamline? There are certain advantages to being in an urban core: You can take advantage of public transportation; you can live close to where you work.

We've got an excess of land. How do we take blight and make it opportunity? How can we use land more creatively to link parks and green space to each other, to create pedestrian bicycleways, to create opportunity for folks to have walkable neighborhoods?
Joe Cimperman 
Cleveland city councilman
I went to the county to pay my property taxes, and people had the most awesome ideas about how to reform things. I said, "Why don't you bring it up?" One of them said, "I don't want to do that. I don't want to get in trouble." Guess what? You won't get in trouble if you have ideas about how to make things better. That's the culture the county executive and council need to embrace.

Everyone thinks the reform movement was against the corruption and the headlines. I argue that reform was against the tribalism in the county. People have to realize that reform has just started.

The city of Cleveland, and therefore Cuyahoga County, is No. 2 for local food, second only to Minneapolis. If we work together with all the inner-ring suburbs that have land, we could become a juggernaut of local food and sustainability.
Debra Rex
CEO of Beech Brook (mental health agency for children and families)
I don't want the needs of children in the county system in any way relegated to any other priority. Every day I hear stories that are terrifying. I can picture a scenario in which a very well-meaning and long-term thinker says the best thing for children and poor families is economic development. But if for 10 years you have to sacrifice children and families to make that happen, it would be a terrible travesty. 
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