Monday, January 3, 2011

Council chooses Connally as president, tackles board of revisions mess

A really tiny girl belted out the national anthem with a huge, blistering voice. An honor guard marched the U.S. and Ohio flags to their posts. Rev. Marvin McMickle prayed the new council would “resist cliques, schisms, and partisan divides.” And one by one, the 11 new Cuyahoga County council members took their oaths of office with something close to 11 different Bibles, swearers-in, and pronunciations of “Cuyahoga.”

Then they got to work, choosing C. Ellen Connally as president and setting up interviews to fill the troubled boards of revisions.

A month ago, Connally’s bid for the council presidency looked like it was in trouble. The Plain Dealer, supporters of rival Chuck Germana, and a good number of regular citizens were denouncing her for lining up support in a private meeting. But the coalition behind Connally held firm tonight. All seven Democrats other than Germana voted for her.

Despite McMickle’s prayer, the vote for vice-president split exactly along party lines. Sunny Simon got all eight Democrats’ votes, while the Republicans voted as a bloc for Jack Schron. It’s a reminder that, though the Plain Dealer cast the leadership contest as a matter of secrecy versus openness, it was really more about Democrats versus Republicans.

“In this past month and a half,” Connally said, “we’ve come to work together and respect each other's views. ... I recognize the missteps along the way, but I hope in this new year and this new government, we can put all that behind us and move forward.”

The council also started to tackle the fallout from the old government’s scandals. It voted to interview candidates for the troubled boards of revisions starting tomorrow morning. “The board of revisions is one of the most severe problems facing Cuyahoga County,” said Dale Miller. They’re moving fast, Miller explained, because county executive Ed FitzGerald has said he’ll fire any board of revision members who don’t resign, so that the new government can choose its own appointees. The council will choose two members of each revision board, FitzGerald one.

FitzGerald has said he won’t appoint anyone who served on the boards in the past and has asked the council not to either. But council has agreed to interview past board members who’ve reapplied and passed a test and a screening by the county human resources department.

The council also approved the rules it’ll follow. It’ll allow for public comment at the beginning and end of every meeting. It’ll set up ten committees to work on legislation, including one on economic development and one on ethics and oversight. Non-voting members of the public can be added to subcommittees. The idea, Miller said, was to provide for lots of transparency and public input.

When I asked Miller about the rules at a recess, he said he’d e-mail them to me. He sent them about an hour after the meeting ended. (You can read them here.) They include a public procedure for choosing the next council president and vice-president. Yeah, I’d say the council is trying to move beyond the “secret meeting” flap.

To read my profile of Ellen Connally from the November issue of Cleveland Magazine, click here.

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