Friday, February 20, 2009

Reform plan: a county council and executive

Some more news about the county reform plan that got a little press this week. Turns out the group county treasurer Jim Rokakis and Parma Heights Mayor Martin Zanotti are in isn't new -- it's the one I mentioned back in November (here, halfway down): the Citizens For Cuyahoga Success.

It's now co-chaired by Zanotti and Lute Harmon, Sr., chairman of Great Lakes Publishing -- which, it so happens, owns Cleveland Magazine. State Sen. Tim Grendell, another member of the group, updated me about its work.

You might think of Grendell (pictured) as a Geauga County politician, but his district also includes four Cuyahoga County towns: Gates Mills, Highland Heights, Mayfield, and some of Mayfield Heights. In December, Grendell's bill to create a Cuyahoga County council passed the state Senate, but it butted up against the plan the House passed, which came from a commission appointed by the governor. Both died in the legislature.

So Grendell teamed up with the group to take reform directly to the ballot. He says a county council can make government more answerable to the public.

"I have a problem with three county commissioners answering to 1.3 million people," Grendell says. "In my scenario, you’d have five Cuyahoga County commissioners representing 260,000 people (each), making them more responsive to their constituents and serving as a (link) to local officials, helping them work on some regional issues."

Two more commissioners would be elected county-wide, Grendell says. So would a county executive, creating a single desk where the buck stops, and a check and balance, with the council and executive keeping each other honest.

It would all be written in a charter, which would give the new county government more powers. But getting a charter proposal on the ballot is tough: it takes 45,000 signatures.

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