Could a new Cuyahoga County government do more to spark economic development? That question led to the most intense exchange between Peter Lawson Jones and Martin Zanotti at their City Club debate today.
The county commissioner and Parma Heights mayor dueled over Issues 5 and 6, the two county reform plans on the November ballot.
Zanotti said Issue 6 -- which would create a new county government led by an executive and council -- would make economic development a top priority. Jones defended the county's economic development record while arguing for Issue 5, which would create a county charter commission to write an alternate reform plan.
“Our county government today has no long-term economic plan, because it’s not its mission,” Zanotti argued. “Issue 6 is the only true reform measure on the ballot this November that will offer concrete plans to meet our challenges head on.”
Zanotti explained how the county charter proposed in Issue 6 would create a new economic development commission to help the new government write a five-year economic plan. (Here's the proposed charter -- details are in Section 7.)
Jones, who’s pushed hard for the county to do more for economic development, said Zanotti's proposal wouldn't add much. “Issue 6 says we'll have a director of development,” Jones countered. “We already have that. Issue 6 says, we'll have a department of development. We already have that. It says we’ll have an economic development commission. … We already have something called CuyahogaNext Advisers, that’s been active for the last five years, advising the county government how to spend our funds [to encourage] economic development, and that has created such projects as innovation zones and the North Coast Technologies Opportunity Fund.”
Almost half of the county’s discretionary funds go to economic development already, Jones said. County government can't do much more because almost all of its funds are earmarked by the state for social services and the justice system. In Ohio’s government structure, “Health and human services is the primary function of county government,” Jones argued. “We’re doing as best we can in economic development, in terms of setting aside discretionary dollars.”
“So, Mayor Zanotti,” said moderator Dan Moulthrop, “much of that couldn’t really change.” That set Zanotti off.
“Wrong. I don’t agree with that for a minute,” Zanotti said. There are 5,800 employees that work for the county.” (Actually, it’s 8,500, Jones corrected him.) “Are they all working in the right department? Are they all necessary? ... The patronage that is rampant throughout Cuyahoga County right now is at the core of what needs to be changed, and [that’s] how we will come up with the funds necessary to provide for critical economic development opportunities.”
The Issue 6 charter would replace patronage and duplicated positions with standard hiring practices and a county-wide human resources department, he said. “We’ve got to take those savings and invest it in health and human services and economic development.”
Jones said Issue 6 supporters have failed to say how much money their plan would save."“I don't think I’ve seen an election yet where one side hasn’t said, 'If you just let me in, I’m going to slash the number of [employees],'" he said. The county government is already about to reduce its work force to the lowest level in 20 years, Jones said.
When attention turned to Issue 5, the debate got more vague. Jones' plan would set up a commission to write a charter, and though the slate of commission candidates Jones supports has criticized Issue 6, they've said little about what reforms they’d prefer. The uncertainty seemed to frustrate the moderator.
“What guarantees are there for voters that passing Issue 5 will improve the climate of accountability and transparency in government?” Moulthrop asked.
“Of the slate members I happen to be supporting," Jones replied, "13 of them have already pledged that county government campaign finance reform will be one of first things they tackle, and it will be in the charter." Later, Jones added that the Real Reform Done Right slate has pledged to fulfill their duties in the state constitution by writing a charter next year and putting it on the Nov. 2010 ballot – and they’ve promised to hold multiple meetings across the county, address economic development in the charter, and not to run for any of the offices the charter would create.