Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dueling reforms: Hagan, Jones place charter commission on ballot

County commissioners Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones voted today to give the Go Cuyahoga reform proposal some competition.

Voters will decide in November whether to create a commission to write a charter for the county -- at the same time they may be asked to approve the proposed charter Go Cuyahoga has already written!

"I think it's necessary because a real reform process should be open and inclusive, not behind closed doors," Jones said at the commissioners' meeting today. Jones and Hagan repeatedly contrasted Go Cuyahoga's charter-writing effort, which involved a small group of local political and business leaders meeting privately, with the openness of a charter commission.

Jimmy Dimora returned to work today, taking part in most of the commissioners' meeting. However, he left before the charter commission vote. He told reporters later that he didn't want the effort to be hurt by any accusations it was his idea.

Here's what's going to happen now: People who want to be on the charter commission -- which would be Cuyahoga County's version of a constitutional convention -- have until August 20 to collect signatures to get on the ballot. In November, county voters will vote yes or no to the question, "Shall a county charter commission be established?" At the same time, they'll choose 15 people for the commission. The commission will meet in 2010 and write a new charter.

Meanwhile, the proposed charter written by the Go Cuyahoga group, which would create a county executive and county council, may well be on this November's ballot too. Jones and Hagan clearly want voters to say yes to a charter commission and no to the county executive idea.

But what if voters say yes to both? Lawyers may have to sort that out. (Here is the section of the Ohio constitution that deals with writing charters.) Jones said, "The product of the charter review commission must be placed on the ballot ... in 2010," which would be "at the same time as the changes proposed by the Zanotti-Mason-Republican plan go into effect."

So if I understood Jones right, if we approve a charter and a charter commission this November, we could end up in a weird form of limbo. We'd vote on candidates for county executive and council in a September 2010 primary, then vote on them again in the November 2010 general election -- at the same time we vote on whether to approve a newer charter that wipes out their jobs before they even start!

Here's a law that says some more about charter commissions. Up to 4 of the 15 charter commission members can be currently elected officials.

Harriet Applegate, local head of the AFL-CIO, spoke in favor of the charter commission at the commissioners' meeting today. Letters supporting it were signed by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, county treasurer Jim Rokakis, and several other local elected officials.

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