Thursday, January 28, 2010

County transition team promises big spending cuts, job growth fund

Cuyahoga County's transition team just announced an ambitious goal: It wants to cut county spending 15 percent and use $50 million of the savings for economic development programs. It's also set up several advisory committees, full of influential names, to give the county some guidance until the new government gets elected and settles in.

The news shows that power at the county is already shifting toward the reformers, 11 months before the new charter takes full effect. Today's announcement comes from Martin Zanotti, the Issue 6 reform leader, and the commissioners' top employee, county administrator Jim McCafferty. They're co-chairs of the transition group.

That $50 million goal for new jobs programs goes way beyond what the county's doing now: it would quadruple $16 million for economic development in the county's 2010 recommended budget. The spending-cut goals are also ambitious: The county has already cut its staffing from 9,500 employees in 2008 to 8,000 this year, and it already planned to cut general fund spending to $310 million this year, down from $330 million in 2009 and $360 million in 2008.

The list of advisory committees is an interesting mix of prominent names from politics and business and from last year's pro-Issue 6 and anti-6 camps. The transition executive committee includes seven people:
-co-chairs Zanotti and McCafferty
-Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson
-Eaton Corp. CEO Sandy Cutler (a top fundraiser for Issue 6)
-Tri-C president Jerry Sue Thornton
-University Hospitals CEO Tom Zenty
-Randell McShepard, head of the Policy Bridge think tank.

(Incidentally, Jackson, Thornton, Zenty and Cutler all made the top 25 in Inside Business' Power 100.)

The three picks for the all-important economic development committee are:
-Sandra Pianalto, the powerful president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
-Judy Rawson, former Shaker Heights mayor and Issue 6 co-framer
-Lee Trotter, recently retired deputy county administrator.

A public engagement committee includes both Harriet Applegate, who helped lead the campaign against the new charter, and Robyn Minter Smyers, a Thompson Hine attorney and Issue 6 co-chair.

“We are not fighting battles from yesterday or last year," McCafferty said in the press release. "We are looking toward tomorrow and next year."

The transition team also announced that Tim Hagan and KeyCorp CEO Henry Meyer III will co-chair the campaign to pass the county health and human services levy on May 4. It'll be interesting to see what Meyer and other business leaders do to support the levy campaign. Hagan is known as a champion of social services on the commission, but this year, with trust in county government at a low point, the commissioners will need people outside the county building to vouch for them and the levy.

What about campaign finance reform? Issue 6 supporters have pledged to come up with proposals for the new government to implement in 2011 -- too late for this year's county election, which won't have limits on individual campaign contributions, as critics have pointed out (see this week's Scene article). Today's press release says New Cuyahoga Now, Zanotti's pro-6 group, will contribute campaign finance reform proposals and a recommended code of ethics to the transition team's final report.

Update, 2/3: Scene, which opposed Issue 6, criticizes the transition team as wielding too much unaccountable power. The most interesting part of its story: it draws connections between the list of committee members and the Issue 6 campaign's donor list.

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