Big news today: the commission studying Cuayhoga County reform will not endorse a new government structure with a county executive and council, because one member, former U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes, is against the idea.
The Plain Dealer reports that Stokes is against it because he thinks Cuyahoga County voters would never elect a black county executive.
This fulfills the fear that our columnist Michael D. Roberts expressed last year: that racial mistrust in our county would hurt efforts at reforming our government. I can understand what Stokes is thinking: would black officials advance as far in an executive-council system as, say, Peter Lawson Jones has by serving on the county commission?
But Stokes' focus on racial politics may have foreclosed a good option for Cuyahoga County. A county executive and a council elected from districts would provide more checks and balances. Right now the county commission is the executive and legislature, with no check on its power. An executive could also hold everyone in county government accountable, making it harder to set up patronage fiefdoms. And a county council with districts would likely include some Republicans, bringing two-party government back.
Stokes' most ridiculous suggestion makes it clear that he is thinking about race so much, he's not thinking about efficiency. He wants to keep the elected county recorder's office, just because Lillian Greene, who is black, now holds the office! The recorder is the first position that every reformer wants to combine with others and make appointed. Fortunately, the rest of the reform commission, which deferred to Stokes on the executive-council issue, ignored him on this one.
The reform commission will send a recommendation to the state legislature Nov. 7. Looks like we know what we'll get: a reform that keeps the three-person county commission and makes some elected offices (recorder, auditor, coroner, etc.) appointed.