By Kevin Kelley
Most mayors in the region are members of the Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association, a group that allows municipal leaders the chance to share information and speak as one on important issues.
A similar organization, the Northeast Ohio City Council Association, exists for city council members, and Fairview Park Councilwoman at Large Peggy Cleary was elected to a two-year term as its president Feb. 18.
“It provides council members an opportunity to exchange ideas and information and best practices,” Cleary said of the organization. Cleary, who was first elected to Fairview Park City Council in 2005, was elected to NOCCA’s board in 2007 and served as its secretary for the past two years.
No previous training in law or government is required to get elected to any city council, Cleary noted. Besides the residency rules, the only requirement is getting the highest number of votes. An organization such as NOCCA, which sponsors four professional forums annually, can help council members get up to speed on issues municipal legislators need to know about, said Cleary, a retired social worker with the city of Lakewood.
In fact, NOCCA, Cleveland State University and the Cuyahoga County Council are considering a series of workshops for newly elected council members, Cleary reported.
“I think I’m a better legislator and better informed about a lot of the issues because of my participation in the organization,” said Cleary, who said NOCCA provides the equivalent of formal continuing education for city council members.
At last month’s NOCCA forum, former U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette spoke on the need for civility in politics. The next forum, scheduled for May, will feature the president of Cuyahoga Community College speaking on educating workers for tomorrow’s jobs.
One issue recently addressed at a NOCCA meeting was how city councils could become more efficient and save money by going paperless. Fairview Park City Council is now investigating a move to electronic documents, Cleary noted.
Regional anti-poaching and revenue-sharing agreements among political entities have been topics at previous NOCCA forums. Recently, the city of Cleveland has been seeking new water service agreements with its suburban customers, agreements that include some sharing of income tax revenue if a firm moves to or from Cleveland to a suburb. Fairview Park and Cleveland entered into such an agreement earlier this year.
“None of that was unfamiliar to me,” Cleary said of the anti-poaching and revenue-sharing elements of the agreement.
While there has been a lot of talk about regionalism in Northeast Ohio, the steps taken have been relatively small ones, such as the establishment of the Westshore Regional Dispatch Center at St. John Medical Center, which handles emergency calls for five cities.
Cleary said she would like to see an acceleration in regional approaches to government when reasonable and likely to result in greater efficiency.
“Doing (regionalism) for the sake of doing it isn’t a good idea,” Cleary said.
But fiscal realities may make more radical steps necessary in the years to come, she said.
“I think the way the systems are set up are just not sustainable,” she said.
Each city council pays an annual $400 membership fee to NOCCA that allows all of its members to attend the organization’s events. Currently 25 municipalities are members, although Cleary said more are just late in paying the annual dues. Cleary’s goal as president is to increase the number of participating city councils, as well as the number of council members who attend meetings and forums. Cleary also wants to survey members to learn how the organization can become more relevant.