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Council President Responds to Meeting Time "Controversy"
Response to the Plain Dealer
Nov. 3. 2011 - by C. Ellen Connally, President - Cuyahoga County Council
In an attempt to establish a 2012 schedule for Cuyahoga County Council, the Clerk raised the issue of changing the time of the meeting. Her reasoning centered on uninitiated individual discussions both she and I had with individual members of Council who indicated a desire to alter the meeting time. These suggestions were based on a variety of reasons including but not limited to the cost of keeping county employees past business hours; the inability of Council members to attend district events on Tuesday evenings; the lateness of the hour, especially in winter months and the fact that county governments around the state meet during the day or late afternoon. In an attempt to gather the input of all members, an email was sent requesting their opinions. No decision was made and it was never anyone’s intention to make a decision based on a straw poll.
In order to get the issue on the floor of Council for a public debate, I introduced legislation with a starting time of 3:00 P.M., anticipating that there would be an open and public debate on the question. Whether the time changed or remained the same would be up to the vote of the members of Council in an open meeting. Based on this attempt to initiate an open debate this newspaper has concocted an orchestration on my part to change a meeting time through allegations of secret meetings and violations of the Ohio Sunshine Law. Nothing could be further from the truth. Prior to the release of the story the County Law Director emailed his opinion to Reporter Laura Johnston stating that there was no violation of the Sunshine Law. This email was either ignored or discounted while Reporter Johnston sought out the advice of those who agreed with her position.
The real irony of the allegations of secret debates that made headlines, a cartoon and an editorial is that there were major pieces of legislation passed that evening. One involved a major change in construction contracting - the first such legislation in the State. Council in its oversight capacity raised issues regarding millions of tax dollars; specifically the possibility of a $35 million dollar tax lien sale and millions uncollected by the Clerk of Courts, but Reporter Johnston found these issues too insignificant to cover.
As to the issue of whether or not Council members can “keep their day jobs,” every person elected to Council should recognize the serious responsibility that election to public office means. If the public wants a Council to merely show up for an evening meeting without assuming the responsibility of attending committee meetings; meeting with county agencies and staff; reading legislation; studying issues; meeting with constituents and being a watchdog of the budget, then this newspaper is asking for an ineffective, rubber stamp Council that will have no impact on the governance of this county.
To insure openness, Council and committee meetings are live streamed on line, a process that was developed without spending additional tax dollars. Recordings of meetings are being sent to local access channels for airing (once again, at no additional cost to the County). Council provides free parking for the public and mandates by rule an allocation of time for public comment twice during every meeting. Council actively encourages every citizen to attend our regular and committee meetings and to send us their comments and opinions.
Cuyahoga County Council has made great strides during its first year - very few of which have been covered by this newspaper. There are two sides to every story, not just the one presented by this newspaper. I believe that our Council has done an outstanding job. I wish this newspaper would recognize at least some of our achievements.