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County Executive FitzGerald’s state of the county address outlines new plan

By Nicole Hennessy

Westshore

“Greater Cleveland has had its share of speeches and plans. And talk is cheap,” Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald began his fourth state of the county address Feb. 19.

“It’s results that inspire confidence.”

Cuyahoga, the most populous county in the state, measuring 459.8 square miles, has had its share of leadership problems, he acknowledged, pointing out that since he took office, there are 300 fewer county employees and plans in place to:

• adopt the strictest ethical code in Ohio;

• enforce that ethical code by being the first county in the state to have an independent Inspector General;

• evaluate every county employee; and,

• relentlessly drive toward greater efficiency in areas related to procurement, contracting, health benefits and number of employees.

Looking back at the history of Cuyahoga County, starting with the Western Reserve settlers and subsequent building of cities, museums, universities and park systems, FitzGerald said, “While the economy continued to grow in the first half of the 20th century, and with it our population, our political systems did not adapt and progress.”

His “Western Reserve Plan,” which aims to prohibit the county from falling further behind “more coordinated metropolitan areas,” is also his solution to economic struggles within the changing county.

Outlined in his address, the 12-point plan is as follows:

• Implement a practical strategy for creating a functioning, countywide metropolitan government.

• Establish Greater Cleveland as a center of entrepreneurship and job growth.

• Design a place‐based development strategy that recognizes the central nature of downtown Cleveland to the region as a whole.

• Identify education, from early childhood forward, as the central factor in individual and community success.

• Align and coordinate both public and private resources around our most pressing human service needs.

• Identify education, from early childhood forward, as the central factor in individual and community success.

• Embrace a health and wellness culture that mirrors the excellence of our major medical institutions.

• Incorporate economic inclusion as a guiding principle in our economic development strategy.

•Brand our metropolitan area as an international city that harnesses the energy of our younger generations.

• Adopt a collaborative approach to the foreclosure crisis – from prevention to restoration.

• Honor the service of our veterans by giving them priority in hiring, training and education.

• Protect our county by leading a countywide public safety initiative.

• Create a culture within county government that implements on a continual basis nationally recognized good government practices and innovations.

While many of these points are long-pressing issues that are easier to list than actually solve, FitzGerald, after listing them, became more direct, saying, “It’s time to be brutally honest about the discussion which has been taking place regarding the possibility that we will regionalize our services, our governments or both.”

Facing Gov. John Kasich in the next gubernatorial election, these points serve an additional purpose for FitzGerald – a campaign platform.

Regionalism and shared services are issues that the Westshore is familiar with, as it is currently navigating regionalized fire and police services. The discussion often turns up more questions than answers, for many of the answers are contingent upon further study of the issue.

Regionalized countywide government as a whole, FitzGerald continued, has been an ongoing conversation that began in the earlier part of the 20th century, when most of Cuyahoga County was centered in Cleveland. As the population moved outward, and still is today, this conversation has remained just that – conversation.

Taking that conversation a step further, the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium has been studying regionalism and other issues for 12 counties including Cuyahoga since 2011.

The consortium is set to present the final vision this week as a result of community outreach and the compiled studies. Although this organization operates under a federal grant, many of the initiative’s board members and stakeholders include local elected officials and administrators who could have an effect on public policy moving forward.

“Without forcing anything on any city,” FitzGerald said, his road to regionalism is based on providing additional municipal services to cities on a contract basis, in increasing increments and scope each year.

“We have this very brief moment to do as much as we can, as fast as we can.”

 

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