Heights League of Women Voters chapter meets with new county representatives
Braving a nasty winter storm on Feb. 2, members and guests of the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters, Cuyahoga Area, gathered to chat with the new Cuyahoga County Council members representing Cleveland Heights and University Heights: Julian Rogers (District 10, Cleveland Heights) and Sunny Simon (District 11, University Heights). The evening’s format contained no speeches—only questions and answers. Some of the issues covered included:
The new county council comprises 11 hardworking and focused members. Council seats are part-time positions with salaries of $45,000. However, facing the task of forming a new government from scratch, current council members are averaging 40-hour weeks. Some are juggling other jobs, but most are working full-time as county representatives.
Both Simon and Rogers expressed positive feelings about their fellow council members, describing a group that is bonding well as they tackle the enormous task of building a new governmental structure. The charter, a mere 25 pages, provides only a basic skeleton for county governance.
Simon remarked that she discovered, and is studying, a book describing the more than 50 countywide agencies and commissions. Grappling with these bodies will be a major challenge for the new county council.
The new charter prominently features the importance of economic development. The council has formed a council committee for economic development, but the charter also requires formation of a nine-member off-council economic development commission and specifies selection of its membership. One member, which council must select, is to represent nonprofits and educational institutions involved in economic development. Both Simon and Rogers noted that defining this latter position is a complex task for the council. It may ultimately fall to the charter review committee to provide an improved definition.
Issues for charter review
One looming issue for charter review is the overlap of some of the council representatives’ terms and the redrawing of district lines, which will take place as a result of the 2010 census. For example, Simon was elected to a four-year term for District 11, but the lines will be redrawn in the middle of her term. The change could separate her from the communities and voters she was elected to represent.
The council is taking steps to handle a backlog of three to five thousand pending real estate property appraisal cases. It effectively countered pressure from both the county executive and the media to fire, regardless of qualifications, all those who had been previously seated on the Board of Revisions. While the Board of Revisions clearly has had problems, the council decided that such an approach would not be fair to those on the prior board who were, in fact, qualified.
Future for municipalities
Both representatives expressed optimism about how the new government was developing and its promises for the region. Citing an example of improved communication between municipalities and county governance, Rogers noted that in monitoring his district, he became aware of the sustainability study commissioned by the Cleveland Heights City Council. The study impressed him and he believes that other municipalities and the county, as a whole, could and should take this approach. The previous county government, he felt, did not have the infrastructure to facilitate this level of awareness between the county and the cities. Both he and Simon believe that the new governance structure will foster regional solutions and cooperative efforts among the municipalities.
Maryann Barnes and Carol Gibson are cochairs of the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters, Cuyahoga Area.