CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cuyahoga County's non-judicial elected offices, currently dominated by Democrats, would become nonpartisan, under a proposed charter amendment that county council will consider in the coming days.
Republican Councilman Jack Schron, who is running for county executive in the November election, has proposed removing party affiliation from elections for county executive, county prosecutor and county council.
His proposal would set up a nonpartisan primary election. The top two vote-getters would move on to the general election.
Currently, eight of council's 11 members are Democrats, as is County Executive Ed FitzGerald and Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty.
To make the case for his proposal, Schron in an interview Tuesday pointed out that nearly all mayoral elections in the county are nonpartisan. He also cited registered voter statistics from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, which show about half of the county's 887,800 voters have not voted in a partisan primary.
Schron said this shows half of the county's voters are independents. "There's a lot of folks out there who are talking about disenfranchised voters," Schron said. "There's not a bigger bloc of disenfranchised voters than the independents."
However, it's worth noting that actual voter activity in Cuyahoga County consistently heavily favors Democrats – for example, about 116,000 voters pulled Democratic ballots in last May's primary, compared to 48,300 Republican and 20,900 nonpartisan ballots, records show.
Also, of Cuyahoga County's 57 mayors, 39 are registered Democrats, 14 are Republicans and four are independents. Finally, a Democratic presidential candidate has received at least 60 percent of the vote in all general elections since 1996 -- including a highpoint of about 69 percent for Barack Obama in 2012.
Pressed on whether his proposed amendment would benefit Republicans like himself who are seeking countywide office, Schron asked rhetorically: "Aren't we to the point where we want to elect a person rather than a party? Isn't that a good place to be?"
The amendment would not affect this November's election. While council has never formally considered the idea of making county elections nonpartisan, two members of a citizen-led charter review committee last year issued a minority report proposing such a move.
Council has scheduled a pair of committee hearings – one for Wednesday at 9 a.m. and another for Monday at 1:30 p.m. – to debate Schron's amendment and seven others.
In August, Council will hold final votes on which amendments to send to the November ballot. Each proposed amendment would need 'yes' votes from eight of council's 11 members -- three of whom are Republicans, eight of whom are Democrats -- in order to be presented to voters in the November election. Last year, voters overwhelmingly approved all four charter amendments that appeared on the ballot.
Here are the other amendments, a mix of old and new, council will consider:
1. Making it more difficult to fire the county sheriff
Under the proposal, removing the sheriff would require a nomination from the county executive and approval from eight council members. Once nominated, the sheriff would serve a four-year term, which would be staggered two years from the county executive.
Currently, the sheriff is subject to confirmation from council, but serves at the pleasure of the county executive. For instance, FitzGerald fired former Sheriff Bob Reid in January 2013 with little public explanation.
Council considered a similar amendment last year, but ultimately opted not to move it forward.
This proposal is sponsored by Republican Councilman Dave Greenspan.
2. Making the county inspector general's office a permanent part of the county charter
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Like with the sheriff, removing the inspector general would require eight votes from county council. The position would serve a four-year term, staggered two years from the county executive. Council considered a similar proposal last year, and to the concern of good government advocates, opted not to move it forward.
Council would control the inspector general's annual budget, under the proposed amendment. Greenspan said he would prefer for the funding for the inspector general's office to be guaranteed in the charter, but he said he doesn't think his colleagues would support that.
3. Making the protection of the right to vote and promotion of ballot access a part of the county's charter
The so-called 'Voter Rights Amendment' was proposed in May by FitzGerald and co-sponsored by Democratic Councilwoman Sunny Simon.
The amendment authorizes the county to take action, including legal action, to protect and promote the right to vote among county residents.
FitzGerald proposed the amendment alongside legislation, which council approved along party lines, that defied a new law passed by Republicans prohibiting county governments from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications.
4. Requiring county executive candidates to live in the county for at least two years before being able to file for candidacy
Currently, a county executive candidate is simply required to be a resident of the county when filing to run. The proposed change would make the residency requirement for the county executive similar to the requirement applied to council members.
Under the proposed change, which council has not previously considered, Republican Matt Dolan would not have been eligible to run for county executive in 2010. Dolan, a former state legislator, moved from Geauga County to Cuyahoga County shortly before declaring his candidacy in a bid that proved to be unsuccessful.
This proposal is sponsored by Democratic council members Yvvone Conwell, Chuck Germana and Dale Miller, and by Republican Councilman Mike Gallagher.
5. Making the county investment advisory committee part of the county charter
Currently, the committee, which votes on the county's investment policies, is made up of the treasurer, the county executive and a member of county council.
This proposal, which council has not considered before, would replace the county executive with the county prosecutor, who unlike the treasurer, is an independently elected official.
Greenspan also sponsored this proposed amendment.
6. Changing the composition of some county boards to eliminate instances in which the county executive serves alongside a subordinate employee
This change, also proposed by Greenspan, would affect the composition of the county budget commission, board of revision and audit committee and audit committee.
On the board of revision and the audit committee, the proposal would swap out officials who work for FitzGerald that currently sit on the boards in favor of citizens who are approved by council.
On the budget commission -- which is currently made up of the county executive, the fiscal officer, and the county prosecutor -- the proposal would replace the fiscal officer, who works for FitzGerald, with a member of county council.
7. Extending the timeline for forming a future charter review commission
The proposal is sponsored by Miller, Conwell, Germana and Council President C. Ellen Connally, a Democrat.
The change would give the next charter review commission, which is scheduled to meet next in 2017, more time to complete its work.
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