Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald shared his priorities with a crowd of about 70 people Tuesday night during his ninth Town Hall Meeting in the
First, he said the county has to restore trust with its residents in the aftermath of scandal and corruption.
He went through a list of challenges facing Cuyahoga County, including a more than 100,000 person population drop in the past 10 years, 9,405 foreclosed homes in 2011 and more than 10,400 in 2010 and high school and college achievement rates that are “significantly” below the national standards. The high school graduation rate is 71 percent, and 27 percent of people have college degrees.
“If all those challenges weren’t enough, the corruption scandal added insult to injury,” FitzGerald said.
And the state budget cut of more than $40 million didn’t help the county, either, he said.
“There was a state bailout, and the local government paid for it,” he said.
He brought the bad news first. He also reviewed in a slide show initiatives the county government has launched in the past 14 months to regain faith from its residents, which include hiring an inspector general to investigate ethical practices of employees and coming up with resolutions in about 30 days rather than several months.
He also said through auditing employees and jobs within the county, officials found areas where they could make cuts, and the county is saving $25 million in personnel alone. The 66 buildings the county owns or leases are now under review as well to see how much space the government really needs.
And officials are targeting its investments in early childhood interventions, college access, community policing and economic development. Rather than spending a lot of money on one big project, the county is pouring $100 million into low loans for small and local businesses.
As he listed off cultural and medical institutions Cleveland should be proud of and highlighted business growth in various neighborhoods in the city, he added that regionalism will be another focus.
“I don’t care what suburb you’re in — if Cleveland is not successful, you’re not going to be successful.”
After speaking for about 45 minutes, he spent 45 minutes answering questions from the audience.
A few asked about his efforts to stop cities from poaching businesses from one another. He said more than 20 cities have signed the agreement so far, and those cities would be favored when deciding how the $100 million economic development pie is divided.
“It just doesn’t make sense to spend scarce resources trying to get an incentive for a company to go from one city to another city within the same geography basically,” he said. “Crain’s … had a great editorial about this where they said if a business moves from one Cuyahoga County community to another, that may be something, but it’s not economic development.”
He also explained that his regionalism efforts are meant to make the county more efficient and give cities choice. If the county is providing a service more effectively, city officials have an option to use that service, but they aren't required to.
Others asked about how vacant homes will effect their property values, what regionalism means for East Cleveland, how the county plans to help transition people who have been incarcerated back into society once they are released and if the county's trend of losing jobs and population will level off in the near future.
FitzGerald said the fact that the county’s unemployment rate isn’t the worst in the country and that the county is starting to recover means something historically.
“In previous recessions, we always had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and then when the economy started turning around, we were always one of the last communities to ever come out of it.
"...Our standard of success is when people outside of Cuyahoga County are going to be coming to us and saying how are you doing what you're doing."