Issue: September/October 2010
A Fresh Start
As we wash away the grime of our 200-year-old county government, important choices lie ahead. The biggest: Who we elect as county executive.
Isn't it beautiful, our shiny new county government? So perfect and
uncorrupted, especially right now, just before we open the box?
Many Clevelanders are feeling nervous about the reforms we so eagerly
grabbed off the shelf in a 2-to-1 vote last fall. Not buyer's remorse,
just buyer's anxiety. Will it work as promised? Or will it give off an
annoying buzz when plugged in? This "Some Assembly Required" label seems
ominous. It has something to do with this mail-in ballot form, right?
Relax a bit. Yes, our new government can be better: less wasteful, less
corrupt, less likely to make big mistakes (like spending $40 million on
an ugly skyscraper). Although it's brand-new and untested, we bought it
based on wise rules of thumb. If you create checks and balances that
make a bunch of ambitious people answer to one another, they're more
likely to stop one another from doing something really greedy, arrogant
You also get more done if one person is in charge: CEOs in business and
presidents, governors and mayors. That's why we're electing a county
executive: someone to clean out the county's dusty closets, cut bloated
payrolls and fire the people who ought to be fired. Someone to keep up
and improve the social services that tens of thousands of kids, elderly
and the mentally ill are counting on — even while the county's tax
revenues fall more with each year. And, hardest of all, someone with
ideas on how to tackle the new county charter's top goal: Helping to
create new jobs. A single leader may pull that off, may unite a
long-squabbling region around a vision for our economy. But — and this
is the paradox — that can only happen if he or she is a collaborator and
David Abbott, executive director of the George Gund Foundation, chaired a
2008 commission that helped sketch the path to a new charter. Today, he
warns not to elect a "lone ranger" as county executive.
"We have a tendency to think of leadership in these heroic terms, but
that isn't the kind of leader we need anymore," Abbott says. "The work
that needs to be done isn't the kind you can get done by issuing orders
and expecting other people to follow."
Stuart Garson, chairman of the local Democrats, says Cuyahoga County is
looking for our "first George Washington." He doesn't mean the heroic
general, but the self-aware president who acted boldly at times,
cautiously at others, always knowing he was setting an example. So when
we choose our first county executive on Sept. 7 and Nov. 2, we'll make
one of our most important decisions in years: choosing not only the
person who'll run the county through 2014, but the type of leader
Greater Cleveland wants for decades to come.
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