Cuyahoga County employees who hold political office in nonpartisan governmental bodies can keep their jobs, but those in partisan bodies must make a choice, officials indicated last week.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald Friday issued an order requiring all county employees under his authority to report any elected or appointed political offices to the Human Resources Department, giving classified employees a choice to either resign from partisan political offices or leave county employment.
“This is an obvious legal restriction for county employees that has been ignored in the past,” FitzGerald said. “We are compelled to take decisive action to comply with the statute. Our classified employees who hold partisan offices will be given a choice – resign from political office, or resign from county employment.”
However, county officials don’t believe they can take the same action with county employees who hold non-partisan office. Dave Greenspan, the Cuyahoga County District Ward 1 (which represents Westshore cities) councilman and chairman of the council’s ethics committee, said Thursday officials such as school board members or city council members in cities with nonpartisan elections can’t be asked to make a choice between their county job or nonpartisan political office.
“We’ve looked into it, and it doesn’t appear that we can apply the state code to classified employees on nonpartisan offices,” Greenspan told about 35 people attending a District 1 town hall meeting.
After the meeting in the Bay Village Police Station community room, Greenspan said the committee felt it best to mirror the state law.
“We looked at broadening the language in the ethics code being put together to include political positions in nonpartisan cities, but found that we couldn’t do it,” he said.
However, the committee agrees with FitzGerald’s belief that Ohio Revised Code 124.57, which prohibits classified employees from holding partisan political office, should be enforced.
“It’s struck a nerve with people,” Greenspan said. “Clearly the subject of ethics has been and still is important to people in the county.”
He said he has received numerous e-mails about the issue since taking office.
Only six of the 59 county communities have partisan political offices. Rocky River is one of the six, but does not have any members who would be affected, officials said.
Kevin Kearney, a classified county employee who is a councilman at large in North Olmsted, said he was glad county officials decided not to pursue having the new county ethics code for classified employees include nonpartisan positions as well.
“I think it’s good to be like the state law,” he said. “I enjoy serving on city council and think I can serve people well there and still do my county job as well.”
Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland, who presides over a non-partisan government, said cities should take a look at the state code and new county restriction.
“Perhaps we should consider mirroring the codes at the local level,” she said. “It’s an important issue for many people, and we want to make sure we do have strong, ethical government.”
In a related area, Greenspan told people at the meeting that the county council and FitzGerald are making progress jointly on the inspector general position. He noted that both the executive and he have supported the concept.
Referring to the overall meeting, Greenspan said he was pleased.
“To get this kind of turnout on a badweather night like this is good,” he said. “It shows there is interest in the new county government.”
Greenspan said his February town hall meeting will be in Fairview Park and his March one in North Olmsted. He said plans are for a joint one with FitzGerald as well.