Westshore Council Of Governments (WCOG) Meeting, Sept. 9, 2020
This report is not an official statement of the League of Women Voters. Mayor Koomar's office prepares official minutes.
Present: Mayors Koomar (Bay Village), Cooney (Fairview Park), George (Lakewood), Kennedy (N. Olmsted), Bobst (Rocky River), Clough (Westlake).
Guests: Rocky River Municipal Court Judge Brian J. Hagan, Judge Donna Congeni Fitzsimmons, and Clerk of Court Deborah Comery. Ohio House Representative Dave Greenspan.
The meeting was held at Bay Village Police Department Community Room, Mayor Koomar presiding. It was called to order at 9:30 a.m.
WCOG Fiscal Officer Renee Mahoney was unable to attend the meeting because she was installing a new fiscal program. She had nothing to report and will be at the next meeting. The mayors had no questions.
The visitors from the Rocky River Municipal Court were invited to speak first. They wanted to alert the mayors that the court would run a deficit for the first time since 1997. They anticipated a deficit before Covid-19 hit but that has made things much worse. Mayor Kennedy suggested that the court was run inefficiently, comparing it to his mayor’s court, and the Rocky River judges and clerk all pushed back strongly suggesting that there is no comparison to the mayor’s court. The discussion lasted an hour.
The Rocky River Court personnel explained that the court is not Rocky River’s court. It is a municipal court for all the Westshore municipalities. It is called the Rocky River municipal court because it is seated in Rocky River, and it was seated in Rocky River because Rocky River was the largest municipality at the time the court was established. Sometime later a new building was needed and consideration was given to moving the court to Westlake or Fairview Park, then the largest municipalities in the court’s jurisdiction. Neither Westlake nor Fairview Park were interested in hosting the court so it stayed in Rocky River.
Physical access to the court facilities has been restricted because of Covid, but the court has never closed. The Rocky River court’s jurisdiction is limited to misdemeanors but that is far more extensive than the mere traffic court jurisdiction of a mayor’s court. Cases still come in; detectives are still working; the courts must issue orders, hold arraignments, transfer felons downtown to common pleas courts, and supervise probationers. Misdemeanor convictions can call for 0-5 years’ probation, and the court’s probation department supervises 1,500 active probationers.
The court’s receipts from traffic tickets are down while expenses have increased because of Covid, especially with regard to health and safety issues such as drug treatment, psychological intervention, and domestic violence. In many cases where the court could transfer patients to county facilities before Covid, the facilities are closed or have reduced capacity because of Covid and the court must fund treatment from its own resources. The court has acted to reduce expenses where it could.
The Rocky River Court was not asking for money at this meeting, but alerting the mayors to the deficit. Rocky River will review the court’s accounts and fund their deficit. Then Rocky River will analyze each municipality’s court use and determine their share of the shortfall. Mayor Kennedy advocated for a comparative study with other municipal courts to see if greater efficiencies could be achieved. Clerk Comery reminded the mayors that the court is part of a co-equal branch of government that has its own statutory requirements and regulations. The court made suggestions as to how the mayors may want to structure a study if they decide to do one.
RTA: Mayor Clough reported that there would be no new tax levy in 2021. He commended Rep. Greenspan for being instrumental in getting state money for local transportation.
NOACA: Mayor Bobst asked the mayors to alert their citizens that NOACA is seeking public comment on a number of issues. More information can be found on their website: noaca.org/about/contact-us/public-comment.
County Planning Commission: Mayor Bobst announced that they were interviewing for the position of executive director and they were narrowing the list of candidates.
Cuyahoga County Mayors and Managers Association: Mayor Bobst announced that SB 357 sponsored by Sen. Dolan distributing $650 million in CARES money to Ohio counties and municipalities passed unanimously. Rep. Greenspan said that the House would be in session next week and he expected it to quickly pass there also. This is the third bill in Ohio distributing CARES money. Rep. Greenspan thinks there may be one more.
The mayors discussed how they are allocating CARES money. They agree they need more guidance from the state on how it may be spent because they don’t want to have to give it back. It must be spent by the end of the year on qualifying Covid costs or it will be reclaimed by the federal government. The mayors agreed that best practice would be to have their city councils pass ordinances confirming the spending plans.
The meeting was adjourned at approximately 11:15 a.m.
The next WCOG meeting will be Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 9:30 a.m. in the Bay Village Police Department Community Room. All meetings are open to the public.
LWV observer Susan Murnane
historian, legal historian, former tax lawyer, author of Bankruptcy in an Industrial Society: The History of the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio (Akron University Press, 2014)