Edward FitzGerald, candidate for Cuyahoga County Executive, answers the Observer's questions

All candidates were given the same questions, and the same word limit, which was 1300 words, which they could use in any way they wanted. (No word limit per question.) Questions were developed by John Sheridan, Euclid Observer.

Lakewood Mayor Edward FitzGerald, candidate for Cuyahoga County Executive, answers the Observer's questions:

1.) If elected to the position of County Executive, what three or four goals would top the list of things that you'd hope to accomplish during your term in office?

I plan to clean up the corruption and restore confidence in county government—the FBI can and will only take care of a piece of this—the highest ethical standards must be set and met among all county employees and departments. Second, I will work to build on the strengths of our county to retain and attract jobs; third, as we redesign county government, I will ensure that the stellar health and human services currently provided through the county continue, even as government systems and departments consolidate; finally, it is clear that safety and security are a paramount concern and the county can and should player a larger role in ensuring the safety of all of our neighborhoods.

2.) What do you regard as the major challenges that must be met in order for the new system of county government to succeed?

One key challenge is the lack of sufficient checks and balances in the existing County Charter. I plan to implement a County Inspector General’s office to ensure that the highest ethical standards are met and maintained. This is crucial for restoring the people’s confidence. As consolidation of so many departments occurs, it is also important that we are methodical and truly assess what is working and what isn’t.  

3.) How do you define good government?

Good government means ethical government run by public servants. Government is truly supposed to be about service and is truly a privilege. The problems occur when people in government forget that they are in office to serve.  

4.) Do you believe the new County Executive/Council structure can put an end to the corruption and patronage that have dominated news headlines for the past several years?

I believe that the new County Executive and Council structure can put an end to the corruption and patronage ONLY if strong ethical standards are implemented and an Inspector General’s office is established. The problems of the past are fundamentally ones of human failing, not of government structure.

5.) Under the new charter, several top county officials who in the past were directly elected by the voters will now be appointees chosen and approved by the new Executive and County Council. Do you see that as a positive step?

I do believe this is a positive step, though had I been writing the charter, I would have maintained a separate fiscal office. Overall, though, I think it is positive that offices such as engineer and coroner will be appointed. This should simplify many aspects of county government if it is operationalized properly.

6.) What approach would you take to working with the new County Council to keep lines of communication open in order to achieve consensus on major county wide objectives?

I will use the same approach I have used in Lakewood; I will work with the council members, share information in a transparent fashion and share credit for accomplishments.  

7.) When will Cuyahoga County voters know if the new government structure is working as envisioned-and how will they know?

This is a complicated question due to the fact that many voters do not fully understand the new structure—I speak with voters constantly whose primary questions surround the mechanics of the new structure.  Fundamentally, though, I believe the mandate was for an ethical, efficient system. Voters will be able to judge that based on the high quality of human services being maintained while the government operates with a high level of transparency and seizes opportunities for job growth.

8.) Do you believe the new structure has the potential to spark economic growth and job creation in Northeast Ohio? If so, how might that happen?

The new structure can spark economic growth by being able to articulate a clear strategy which can be embraced in the region.  I have long been a proponent of a county executive form of government in order for those interested in economic development to have one person and place to speak with when looking to invest or grow.  While there will still be others involved—municipalities, the state, etc.—this will greatly enhance the role the county can and will play in such efforts.

9.) There has been much talk about "regionalization" as a mechanism to improve government efficiency-and hopefully, reduce the tax burden on the citizens of Cuyahoga County. Do you view the new government structure as a positive step toward achieving these goals?

I do believe that the new structure can be a step toward regionalism, but only if it is handled in such a way as to encourage collaboration and partnership by municipalities. With home rule, the county is limited in how much it can require of municipalities, but it can incentivize cooperation and collaboration as much as it wants and I intend to do that. There are many services and areas in which joint purchasing might save different entities money and effort. Where it serves to reduce the tax burden or increase the efficiency or efficacy of services, this would be very positive for our county.

10.) In your analysis of Issue 6-the charter amendment that ushered in the sweeping changes in county government --what did you find to be its strong points? And what, if any, weaknesses did you detect?

The strongest points were in its consolidation of much of county government into a more functional structure. I disagreed with the process in which the charter was developed because it lacked transparency; I believe it was a mistake to consolidate all of the budgeting and financial authority.

11.)  Do you see a need for further "tinkering" with the County Charter to improve prospects for a successful transition? If so, what changes would you hope to see incorporated?

I believe we need to address the items I mentioned in my answer to #10 above.  I also think it is likely we will discover other items to be improved once the system is in place and that it might be helpful to have some at-large members of the county council.

Questions were developed by John Sheridan, Euclid Observer.

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Volume 3, Issue 8, Posted 8:44 PM, 07.26.2010