April 23, 2014

Elyria
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County to NOACA: Fix vote or we quit

ELYRIA — The county commissioners aren’t backing down from their efforts to have a system of voting that strongly favors Cuyahoga County eliminated from the bylaws of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency.

On Thursday, the commissioners sent a letter to NOACA Executive Director Howard Maier in which they asked him to start the process of asking each of the five counties that are members of the transportation planning agency to approve the change.

A majority of each of the boards of commissioners in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties would have to OK it.

“If not, we’ll leave NOACA,’’ Commissioner Ted Kalo said.

The commissioners have been discussing leaving NOACA since before the agency’s board voted last month to approve a new interchange off Interstate 90 in Avon.

The Nagel Road interchange only won approval after Avon agreed to a revenue-sharing agreement and other stipulations designed to protect other communities from losing businesses as a result of the interchange.

Commissioner Betty Blair, a longtime NOACA supporter, has said several times that she feels Avon was held hostage and blackmailed by those in Cuyahoga County who opposed the interchange.

Under NOACA’s rules, the votes of NOACA board members from Cuyahoga County can be weighted to give them a virtually undefeatable voting block. That needs to change, according to officials from Lorain County and other smaller participating counties.

Last month, Medina County Commissioner Stephen Hambley met with Lorain County commissioners and agreed to work with them to eliminate the weighted vote.

Hugh Shannon, government services coordinator for Cuyahoga County, said the commissioners there are willing to consider anything that Lorain County puts on the table.

“They’re happy to discuss it, but not ready to vote on it,” Shannon said.

Maier said the issue will be discussed by NOACA’s executive committee at a meeting next week.

The weighted vote was implemented in 1991, he said, to streamline the number of members on the NOACA board and still allow Cuyahoga County to have the voting power that befitted it being the largest population center in the agency’s jurisdiction.

He said it took more than a year to hammer out the details of the bylaws that created the weighted voting system, which is used only rarely.

“Trying to respect the ‘one person, one vote’ concept while applying it to a five-county region where one county had two-thirds of the population at the time was a challenge,” he said.

Maier said he hopes something can be worked out to appease Lorain County officials because the transportation infrastructure of the region that NOACA serves is so intrinsically linked.

“We just have to work together,” he said.

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