Group works to change county’s government structureWritten by Morgan Delp | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A group trying to change the government structure in Lucas County has until June 29 to obtain the 13,500 valid signatures of registered voters needed to get their proposal on the November ballot. The group is proposing a county charter form of government, with “home rule” for Lucas County.
Five co-leaders have taken charge of the effort, which they have titled “Better Lucas County.” The effort is the product of many more citizens’ years of work, said one of the co-leaders, Robert Reinbolt, president and CEO of Reinbolt Consulting Group.
KeyBank, Fifth Third Bank, Mercy and ProMedica are some of the petition drive’s supporting organizations. The University of Toledo provided major research and facilities support for a study that spurred the proposal.
Reinbolt said there was a “citizens for effective government concept” that pushed for county reform two or three years ago. Dr. Richard Ruppert, another of the five co-leaders and former president of the Medical College of Ohio, said when that effort stalled, the county suggested a study be conducted.
“Sometime in early 2010, a former County Commissioner (Ben Konop) suggested that Cuyahoga County and their form of government might be worth looking into,” County Commissioner Carol Contrada said. “An independent group was constituted.”
Reinbolt and Ruppert were on the study committee that consisted of 35 members and met at least weekly for more than a year, Reinbolt said. There was also an advisory group that consisted of about 15-20 people, he said.
Contrada said Lucas County Commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak were briefed on the group’s findings in May 2011 and the study was released and published in June 2011. Reinbolt said the group met with all the cities’ and some township trustees, got their input and incorporated it into the charter that Neema Bell finalized. Bell is a co-leader and attorney and partner at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP.
“The advisory and study groups spent quite a bit of time leading up to where we finally got the report [and] recommendation, then it was decided earlier this year that we need to take it forward in terms of a petition drive,” Reinbolt said.
The other co-leaders are Scott Hamner, vice president-secretary and principal at Findley Davies, and Thomas Palmer, managing partner at Marshall & Melhorn, LLC. The co-leaders have been presenting and talking to different groups, Reinbolt said.
“All we’re saying is, here’s an idea that’s been through a lot of citizens and a lot of hours, and a lot of research [has been] done, so sign the petition, put it on the ballot, and let the voters decide,” Reinbolt said. “If we get enough signatures we’ll spend the summer making sure the voters know what it’s about.”
Ruppert said the reason for the proposed change isn’t that things in the county government aren’t going well, but that by adopting this charter, the government will improve.
Currently, Lucas County citizens elect eight row officers — coroner, auditor, treasurer, prosecutor, engineer, recorder, clerk of courts and sheriff — and a three-member board of commissioners. The group is proposing a county charter in which citizens would instead elect a county executive, a nine-member county council and the county prosecutor. Six of the nine council members would represent six different districts in the county, which the group has divided based on population, and the remaining three positions will be at-large spots, open to representatives from any district.
The county executive would appoint the chief fiscal officer, medical examiner, engineer and sheriff, with confirmation from the council. The council would appoint an internal auditor, who would work with the chief fiscal officer, a position that combines the roles of recorder and treasurer.
“Look at how we do private industry, or public. We have a board; even in the public setting we have a chief executive, the mayor, and there’s a council,” Ruppert said.
“That’s what we’re doing now. We’re suggesting that form of government,” Ruppert said.
In the study, the group looked at the two other counties in Ohio that have a similar, charter form of government — Cuyahoga and Summit counties. Reinbolt said Delaware County has contacted him about pursuing a new form of government as well.
“In every case it looks like they were more efficient and more cost effective and they began to focus on countywide, ‘What can we do, collectively, to improve our situation?’” Ruppert said.
Summit County originally adopted a charter form of government in November 1979 but has acquired amendments and adoptions since then, according to ccao.org. Cuyahoga County citizens voted for their charter in November 2009 and it was fully operating in the county as of Jan. 1, 2011, according to charter.cuyahogacounty.us. Ruppert and Contrada said that Cuyahoga County adopted the charter because there was corruption within its county government.
Ruppert said on a per-capita basis, Summit County’s costs of public funding dollars are 20 percent lower than Lucas County’s. Ruppert said the group did not perform a study to discover why that was.
“The committee lacked the resources and time to perform an in-depth analysis of each office, department and agency to ascertain efficiencies that could be achieved by reorganization. These analyses can be left to other groups in the months ahead. However, the committee did draw high level comparisons between Lucas and Summit counties because of their general similarity,” stated the report available at lucascountystudy.org in reference to cost comparisons between Lucas and Summit counties.
Reinbolt said that the main purpose for the reform is not to save money, although he said he believes that will happen if this new structure is implemented.
“I can’t really say any cost analysis was done,” Reinbolt said. “It will probably save around $200,000-$300,000 a year but it could very well save more as we consolidate positions. It’s not intended to be driven by saving money, as the main purpose is not to save money. The main purpose is to have a more responsive government.”
Bell said with the charter, there is “every likelihood of economic development countywide.” Bell said it’s an opportunity for job development and a way to keep talented youth in the Toledo area.
“As we have it now, we have row offices; we’ve got all elected officials, none of whom are responsible to anyone other than to the citizens. It doesn’t channel up. With this new form of government, there would be one go-to person with whom the buck stops, which makes it easier to coordinate efforts throughout the county with the various branches. It makes it more efficient for businesses who want to come do business with the county,” Bell said.
Contrada said the report acknowledged that from 2008-11, the county cut more than $20 million from its budget.
“Then [the report] says the ‘committee is not aware of commensurate decline of services,’” Contrada said. “They are making the case that the county has been able to institute efficiencies without the reform.”
Contrada said the group had one good recommendation that the county is already looking into, and that is the internal auditor position.
“You have a lot of different offices that deal with budget and fiscal matters. By having an internal auditor, it makes sure there is a standard, transparent, consistent methodology in use. It helps efficiency from one department to another,” Contrada said.
Sylvania City Councilman Doug Haynam said he is “very skeptical about the proposal,” which was presented to him in November. Haynam said he thinks the proposed structure will cripple political diversity and fair representation.
“One concern I have is the extreme centralization of power within a single executive,” Haynam said. “He is more likely to appoint friends and political buddies instead of qualified people. The executive would be more likely to appoint someone who has contributed to his campaign and would use the positions as political patronage. Trusting in the good faith of a single executive — most people with government experience understand that that would not be a reasonable place to put trust.”
Haynam said he is also wary about the home-rule aspect of the charter and the supposed cost-effectiveness of the change.
Reinbolt said townships, villages or cities that have home-rule capabilities now will not be superseded by the new governmental structure.
“The home-rule is a provision of state law that allows you to establish a law or rule that would supersede something the state or county has in place,” Reinbolt said. “Right now, the county has to go by the charter established for all counties in Ohio. With this [new charter], we could put different laws into place, once approved by the council and a referendum by voters.”
Haynam said the proposal is “change for change’s sake.”
“I don’t have anything to lose or gain [from this],” Haynam said. “It just really isn’t a good idea. The fact that they did it in Cleveland doesn’t mean it’s a good idea here. In Lucas County, we have a well-functioning county government. What we have going here works pretty well.”
Kevin Haddad, Sylvania Township Trustee and President of the Lucas County Township Association, said he wants change in the county government system, but not by way of the proposed structure. When he ran for county commissioner in 1996, Haddad said he and a township trustee created a plan to change the three-member board to a five-member one.
Haddad said he thinks that the three at-large spots of the proposed plan will most likely go to Toledo city representatives, unfairly excluding the other county districts.
“I’m not happy with the three board member [structure] right now, but if we’re going to change the county government, let’s look at something to be fair. With a nine-member board, it’s going to be Toledo City Council running it,” Haddad said.
On the web: visit www.betterlucascounty.com for more information.
Tags: Ben Konop, Carol Contrada, Doug Haynam, Fifth Third Bank, Kevin Haddad, KeyBank, Lucas County, Mercy, Neema Bell, Pete Gerken, ProMedica, Richard Ruppert, Robert Reinbolt, Scott Hamner, Thomas Palmer, Tina Skeldon Wozniak