League of Women Voters forum explores city, county collaboration
County officials Ed Jerse and Dale Miller kicked off the League of Women Voters–Cuyahoga Area's three-part forum on regionalization on March 5 at Bay Village's Dwyer Center. Both speakers emphasized opportunities for voluntary collaboration among cities, as well as between cities and the county. Both stated that mergers between political entities are not the first choice, given local communities' desire to preserve their identities, as well as the expense and length of time to effect mergers.
Mr. Jerse, Cuyahoga County's Director of Regional Coordination, cited the county's 59 communities signing a landmark anti-poaching agreement, promising not to attempt to persuade businesses to relocate within the county. Instead, the focus is on developing a strong region that businesses outside the county and the state will find attractive. Mr. Miller, Cuyahoga County Council District 2 representative, agreed, citing the Global Center for Health Innovation (Medical Mart) as a project that will revitalize downtown Cleveland and bring new businesses to the entire region.
The speakers discussed the unique opportunities presented by city-county collaboration. The County is now offering specialized services and products that they can provide more economically than individual cities. For example, not every city can afford a human resource specialist and when a lawsuit arises, it can be expensive, time-consuming and possibly error-prone for a generalist city attorney to research the case law. The County does have the specialists and can contract with a city for that expertise. Costs are held down because, unlike a private contractor, the County is not profit-driven. Other areas for this type of collaboration include website development, sewer maintenance, health care and crime lab services.
Finally, city-city collaboration offers opportunities for efficiencies. This is a topic that will be explored in more detail in the series' next forum, Tuesday, April 16, at 7 p.m. at the Dwyer Center in Bay Village. Speakers will include representatives from the Westshore Council of Governments (WCOG). Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough, Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers and WCOG finance officer Steve Presley will discuss WCOG's background, operation, current collaborations and future plans. WCOG members Bay Village, Rocky River, Westlake and Fairview Park are currently pursuing the feasibility of merging fire districts.
A third regionalization forum is planned for June, with the format and topic to be announced.