Monday, January 3, 2011

At FitzGerald’s first press conference, the buzz of a new start

An electric drill was whirring in Peter Lawson Jones’ old office this morning. Next door, the wall between Tim Hagan’s and Jimmy Dimora’s offices was already torn down, creating an open space for the new county council offices. A desk that belonged to a Dimora assistant collected detritus and flotsam: a mini-American flag in a pencil holder, a empty heart-shaped candy tray.

The commissioners’ meeting room was bare, the benches ripped out. A little dumpster stood on the dais next to a tool cart. In the corner, by the empty chairs, sat a binder: the county’s 2007 financial report, adorned with Frank Russo’s smiling face.

Ed FitzGerald, the new county executive, walked in and stepped to a podium in the back of the room. It was his first working day in his new job, and he’d already fulfilled a campaign promise. Before 10 a.m., he e-mailed all county employees a new ethics policy. (You can read the e-mail here.)

“We tried to very quickly set a very strong tone when it came to ethics and what we expect of the county employees,” FitzGerald told the reporters in the room. “They can’t accept anything of value under any circumstances.” They’re also required to report wrongdoing by others. A code of conduct for county vendors and contractors will come next. The idea, he said, is “to make sure we don’t have a repeat of what has happened in the last couple of years.”

It was a strange day of transition at the county administration building, full of bare plywood and moving boxes. Seven elected officials from the old government are still in office, until FitzGerald names his choices for their positions. “Some of them are leaving, some are staying,” FitzGerald said.

Treasurer Jim Rokakis was packing up to go. His last day is next Friday. He announced last April that he wouldn’t ask to serve in the new government. Recorder Lillian Greene has also told FitzGerald she’s leaving. Sheriff Bob Reid, coroner Frank Miller and courts clerk Gerald Fuerst have applied to keep their jobs.

FitzGerald said he’ll announce some cabinet appointments next week. A national search for a chief fiscal officer, chief information officer, and development director may take longer. He announced a January 27 jobs summit, the kickoff to his economic development plans.

Outside the window, another fresh start bloomed. Red construction trucks and fencing dotted Malls B and C. “The noise of construction is nice symbolism,” FitzGerald said, noting the buzz from outdoors. “We’re starting a new administration. We’re also starting construction of the Med Mart.”

To read my interview with FitzGerald in the January issue of Cleveland Magazine, click here.

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