April 20, 2014

Elyria
Intermittent clouds
75°F
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Counties tell NOACA to change

ELYRIA — After last week’s vote approving a controversial new Interstate 90 interchange in Avon, Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones predicted threats of leaving the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency would disappear.

They haven’t.

On Thursday, Medina County Commissioner Stephen Hambley met with the Lorain County commissioners, and they appeared to come to a consensus — something has to change with NOACA or the two counties will seek to leave the regional planning organization.

“If they don’t get rid of that weighted vote, we’re out of there,” Lorain County Commissioner Lori Kokoski said after the meeting.

The controversial, but rarely used, weighted vote — which was invoked during the debate over the $19 million interchange — increases the power of the votes of numerous Cuyahoga County officials, giving the county the ability to effectively make decisions for all five counties that make up NOACA.

Hambley said he fears that Cuyahoga County could try to bully Medina County on future projects as it did to Avon when it threatened to use the weighted vote to crush the interchange if the city didn’t consent to a revenue-sharing agreement, a demand Avon eventually relented to.

“We’re not going to be held to extortion like, unfortunately, Lorain (County) was,” Hambley said.

Avon Mayor Jim Smith, who wasn’t at Thursday’s meeting, said Cuyahoga County officials used their concerns about urban sprawl and losing business in their communities to Avon — something an economic impact study concluded wouldn’t be a problem — to force him to agree to revenue-sharing.

“They’re selling their votes for dollars,” he said.

Hambley also questioned why Cuyahoga County commissioners and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, all of whom have seats on the NOACA board, rarely attend meetings.

He also said the people Jackson appoints to the board are going to vote how Jackson wants them to vote, effectively giving Jackson six votes on the NOACA board.

Commissioners Betty Blair, a longtime proponent of NOACA, and Ted Kalo, both of whom serve on the NOACA board, agreed with Hambley and Kokoski.

“Each county should take care of their own business not stick their nose in other countyies business,” Blair said.

Hambley said Lorain and Medina counties have several options, including forming their own planning organizations or joining a similar organization that includes former NOACA members Summit and Portage counties.

Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes, who is researching how Lorain County could leave NOACA, said joining another planning organization would be the easiest way to go. It also could give that organization more power over Cuyahoga County, Kalo said. “We’d control the inroads into Cuyahoga County,” he said.

The topic also was before the Cuyahoga County commissioners Thursday, said Hugh Shannon, government services coordination manager in Cuyahoga County.

“There is a broad and deep recognition that things need to change in NOACA,” he said, adding the Cuyahoga County commissioners are willing to look at any proposal, including one that would eliminate the weighted vote. “Everything’s on the table,” Shannon said.

Kalo said he was encouraged that Cuyahoga County commissioners seem willing to listen, and said he hopes it leads to real change. If not, NOACA may find itself a much smaller organization.

“It’s time to see if this is the right fit for us,” Kalo said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.