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Published: Tuesday, 6/8/2010

Cautions sounded on Lucas County reforms

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

The featured speaker for tonight's public hearing on county reform thinks Lucas County should be wary of a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

But a key participant in last year's Cuyahoga County government reform effort, who was not invited to tonight's meeting, said time is of the essence and Lucas County should be wary of people in power trying to preserve power.

Kevin O'Brien, director of the Center for Public Management at Cleveland State University, is the guest speaker for the public hearing that starts at 6:30 p.m. in the McMaster Center of the Main Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

The hearing was organized by Lucas County Commission President Pete Gerken, who has proposed putting a charter study commission on the Nov. 2 ballot. He is supported by one of his colleagues, Tina Skeldon Wozniak.

The plan to hold public hearings and then ask voters to support a charter study commission is not supported by the third member of the commissioners, Ben Konop. He said the purpose of creating a study commission is to stall the drive for county reform and save the jobs of 11 elected officeholders, including those of county commissioners.

Mr. Konop is trying to build a coalition to gather 14,289 signatures to put a charter very much like that of Cuyahoga County's new county council-county executive on the ballot.

Mr. O'Brien said in an interview last week that one of the differences between Cuyahoga and Lucas counties is the number of townships, of which Lucas County has 11, while Cuyahoga County is made up almost entirely of municipalities.

"That's an issue for the Toledo area to consider. The decision on whatever the outcome is needs to fit the circumstance in Lucas County," Mr. O'Brien said. "There is no 'one size fits all.'•"

He said an important project done by the Cleveland State center was researching best practices in more than 10 other counties nationwide, and the advice against a "one-size-fits-all" model was one of the lessons of that study.

Marty Zanotti, a former mayor of Parma Heights and member of New Cuyahoga Now, the group that put the charter reform question on the Cuyahoga County ballot last year, said the commissioners in Cuyahoga County put a charter study commission on the ballot after his group raised enough signatures to put its proposal on the ballot.

The proposal - now being implemented - was to do away with the traditional "row" offices and county commissioners in place of a county executive/county council government.

"One would have to believe that basically those in power now would like to be able to control the reform," Mr. Zanotti said. "The reformers who are looking to put a charter on the ballot recognize that time is very short for these reforms to happen for our counties to survive.

"They'll say theirs is the right way to do it because it takes time to study it. My response is, who in Ohio doesn't know what's wrong with the larger county forms of government right now?" Mr. O'Brien said.

Answering his own question, he said, "They're not responsive, they're not competitive. They are a model unlike any other branch of government we have in the entire United States."

Mr. O'Brien said his center was an early participant with one of the groups that came together to put a Cuyahoga County reform question on the ballot, but he said he was not part of the final push.

"We worked for the one of the four groups and they coalesced after we were done with our work," Mr. O'Brien said. "It's hard for me to comment with any level of expertise on the final outcome because I wasn't in the room."

A news release yesterday from the Lucas County Board of Commissioners said Mr. O'Brien "assisted in the process that drafted the recently adopted Cuyahoga County charter."

It went on to say, "Mr. O'Brien will share his insights on the history, process, objectives and lessons of the Cuyahoga model and compare and contrast the communities of Lucas and Cuyahoga County."

Mr. Zanotti took issue with the wording of the news release. "The first part of what they say in the news release is pure and simple not true," Mr. Zanotti said. "Kevin can give it from a perspective. He was on the fringe of the process in a couple of meetings, kind of a moderating-a-seminar like tonight's going to be, but he wasn't on the inside of this by any means.

"If Lucas County really wants a perspective on what Cuyahoga County did, they should be talking to a couple of the Cuyahoga Now people," Mr. Zanotti said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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