Saturday, November 15, 2008

Big Picture County Reform

A process is playing out in Northern Ohio that may ultimately impact us down here.

Earlier this year, the State of Ohio created a commission to study Cuyahoga County government, which is structured just like our's (a statutory structure, versus a charter structure). That commission recently issued a report that details the challenges of County government, and recommended a number of major reforms to County government. This report is now under consideration in Columbus, and who knows where it will lead--or how it may someday impact other counties like our's.

For those interested, the full report can be read here:

The recommendations would have a major impact on how Cuyahoga County is run, which positions are elected versus appointed, and the spending of taxpayer dollars. Some of the major recommendations include:

- retain a three member County Commission, but move to a stronger, elected President of the Commission (similar to moving to a strong Mayor approach): the President would recommend the annual budget; recomend the appointment of the administrator and department directors; and oversee those administrators;

- merge the Auditor's, Recorder's, and Treasurer's into a Department of Finance, the head of which would become a department director appointed by the County Commission;

- make the Clerk of Courts office into a position appointed by the Court of Common Pleas;

- make the Coroner and Engineer into positions appointed by the County Commission;

- keep the Sheriff and Prosecutor as elected positions, but transfer the civil division of the Prosecutor's Office as the Department of Law under the County Commission, with an appointed director

- create a Human Resource Commission to set appropriate and uniform standards, requirements and hiring policies for County employment.

To many citizens, this may all seem like inside baseball. But as a County official, I can tell you this set of recommendations would fundamentally change almost all aspects of the way a County is run, including who citizens get to vote for.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In the meantime, as I study this issue myself, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Everyone Should Get To See . . .

. . . what I saw today.

As part of National Adoption Month, I was invited to witness seven adoptions by foster parents of kids in our County. And it was an amazing and moving event.

These were kids from the ages of 1 to 17, including two sets of siblings, who were in foster care due to abuse or neglect. And today, the foster parents who had initially stepped up to take them in at a difficult time formally welcomed them into their families as permanent adoptees.

As Probate Judge Cissell approved each adoption one at time, the warmth, love and joy in that room was palpable. And from a broader community level, the event is equally meaningful. Each of those adoptions creates a stable, loving home for a child who otherwise would face obstacle after obstacle in trying to make it in this challenging world. Needless to say, no program, no amount of money, no other solution we could come up with, will come anywhere close to the impact that today's adoptions will have on the future success of these children.

Unfortunately, there are many more who need the same help--but today was for celebrating the success stories.

The Enquirer provided a nice preview for this event here:

And a good story, with even more photos, here:

Thank you to Judge Cissell, our JFS social workers, and most importantly, the incredible adoptive parents I met today, for today's wonderful coming together.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sad Day

It's a sad day at Hamilton County.

As reported in the Enquirer, our Department of Jobs and Family Services (JFS) had to let several dozen people go due to some very onerous cuts being passed down by the state:

And more such decisions will have to be made in the coming months.

The cruel irony is these cuts are being imposed at the very time that the economic crisis has dramatically increased demand for the work our JFS employees do:

It's little consolation at this difficult time, but I want to thank and commend those JFS public servants for their hard work and dedication on behalf of our citizens. Many citizens don't understand the work of our JFS workforce, or appreciate how difficult it is. Unfortunately, others can be heartless about the decisions we're being forced to make. Let me give my perspective:

These are the social workers who tirelessly work to protect our seniors and children from abuse, literally saving lives and rebuilding others. They are the workers who help families who are struggling, lending a hand when no one else will, and averting even worse situations for folks already in trouble. Still others are connecting citizens to new opportunities that will turn their lives around, and make them positive contributors to our community.

These public servants are on the front line day after day, often in difficult, tense and sometimes dangerous environments. Indeed, they are often the first on the scene of truly horrifying situations, before the police officers and firefighters arrive. And for every decision they make along the way, they have a spotlight on them --routinely criticized for doing too little and too much at the same time.

And let's be real --they do this work for far less compensation than the community value of the service they are providing. But they still do it.

When these public servants have their own lives turned upside down by these tough economic times, and just when the demand for their hard work, passion and compassion is increasing, it's a sad day indeed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A New Record Set for Tourism

I have previously written about the great success we are seeing in our tourism/visitor economy throughout this year, in spite of the bad economic news in so many other areas:


Well, the positive trend continued in the third quarter of this year, where tax receipts from the County's hotel-bed tax set a new one-quarter record--at $3.448 million. This was an 8% increase over the third quarter of 2007, as well as an 8% increase over the second quarter of 2008. It's a 40% increase over the same time period just five years ago.

Nine months through the year, we are 6% ahead of where we were last year, and last year was by far our best year ever.

Thank you, Veterans

On this Veterans' Day, let's all take time to thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice to our nation.

And on this day, here at the County, let's pledge to do all we can to 1) give those who have served every opportunity to succeed once they get home, and 2) help those veterans who return home with challenges to make it through those tough times and overcome personal obstacles. They certainly deserve our support.

We are making progress in both areas, as I've recently written about:


Monday, November 10, 2008

The 2009 Budget

For those who are interested, here's a link to the 2009 budget proposed by the County Administrator, with all sorts of information for why we face this challenge, and our Administrator's recommendation on how to get through it:

The best summary of the budget can be found here:

Again, I ask for people's input on ways people would suggest we save dollars and get through this challenging time.

Farms and Public Defenders: Interesting Reading . . .

In recent months, I have written about the severe challenges to our public defender's office, as well as the property tax break for agricultural properties in the County. Blog readers were very interested in both topics.

Here are two stories that just ran on these two topics:

Public Defender Challenges: NYT:

Farm Tax Break: Dayton Daily News:

Tough Month for County: Provide Ideas Here

As today's Enquirer made clear, today will begin a very difficult month for Hamilton County:

In the next few weeks, we will be faced with some very difficult decisions of how to adjust our budget in light of the very bad economy. For those unfamiliar with how much the sour economy has impacted our revenues, I've tried to explain this at other blog postings:(

The bottom line is that we project being tens of millions of dollars down due to falling sales and real estate revenues--and those revenues may go down even further in the next few months.

As the options are laid out for the public, and we make our way toward a mid-December final decision, I hope County citizens and employees will use this blog as a forum to ask questions or make suggestions on how we best steer our way through this difficult and challenging time.

If there are cuts you'd suggest, or savings you know are out there, (which seem better than those being proposed) let me know. I'm looking for any good ideas people have.
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