Just days remain to conduct a petition drive that would enable Lucas County voters to decide this November whether they want to reform their inefficient, antiquated county government. The effort has attracted plenty of entrenched enemies. More than ever before, it needs to enlist dedicated, effective champions.
The county's business community has shown no interest in supporting, much less funding, the petition campaign. Business owners complain about local government's indifference to their needs and bemoan the county's battered economy. But given the opportunity to promote a plan that would make county government a powerful engine of economic development and job creation, as their counterparts in Cuyahoga County did last year, they have decided their priorities lie elsewhere.
If voters are to get the chance to vote on reform this year, not at some nebulous future date, local political parties will need to pick up the ball and run with it. They can put their organizations to work this month gathering the 14,000-plus signatures required to get the reform plan on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Or not: Even though the reform plan's chief sponsor, outgoing County Commissioner Ben Konop, is a Democrat, county Democratic Party leaders have made clear they see no need to upset a status quo that works just fine for them, if not for taxpayers. All 11 of the county's elected officials — the three commissioners and the eight holders of mostly anonymous row offices — are Democrats.
So the reform campaign offers the county Republican Party and its embattled chairman, Jon Stainbrook, the opportunity to show that it can achieve something other than squabbling with itself.
The reform plan would enact a home-rule county charter. It would replace the current board of commissioners and all but one row office, which are elected countywide, with a county executive and an 11-member county council elected by districts.
The elected executive would name, and the council would confirm, experienced professionals to row offices. These administrators would make critical decisions about investments. tax collection, property appraisal, and audit and accounting matters that now are handled by politicians.
Mr. Stainbrook agrees that the proposal would enhance his party's prospects of winning county offices. So far, though, his support for the reform proposal has been mostly rhetorical.
With some hard work and planning, it would seem entirely possible for Mr. Stainbrook to turn loose his central committee members and precinct captains over the next few weeks, and assign each of them to bring back a few hundred valid signatures of county voters on petitions. Those would be more than enough to qualify the reform proposal for the ballot.
Although it is in Republicans' interest to work to change county government this year, reform is not merely or even mostly a partisan issue. It also should be of interest to civil rights groups that would like to see greater diversity than now exists among county elected officials.
Leaders of the union that represents sheriff's deputies attribute the recent layoffs in their department, in part, to poor communication on budget matters between the board of commissioners and the sheriff's office. Reform would help end such fragmentation and wasteful duplication in county government, yet change-averse local unions have been hostile to reform proposals.
Mr. Konop's colleagues/antagonists on the commission have offered proposals to “study” a new charter. These are incumbent-protecting smoke screens, designed to thwart a vote on real reform this year. If Mr. Konop's plan fails to make the ballot, you can expect competing plans to vanish as well.
There is still time, although not much, to overcome such cynicism and give Lucas County voters a voice and a choice in November. Over to you, Mr. Stainbrook.