CLEVELAND – If the elected officials from the five counties that make up the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency agree on one thing, it`s that they want the transportation planning agency to survive.
But if a meeting Friday was any indication, that`s not going to be an easy task.
Lorain and Medina counties have threatened to pull out of the agency because of a controversial weighted vote that came into play during a debate about a new Interstate 90 interchange in Avon.
Avon agreed to a revenue-sharing plan to get Cuyahoga County officials to vote in favor of the interchange, since the weighted vote – which effectively gives Cuyahoga County officials extra votes – would have allowed them to quash the interchange.
But the give-and-take hasn`t settled well with other counties in the agency, which fear they too will be asked to share revenue to get projects approved.
“In the end, Cuyahoga County is going to use the ultimatum and say this is what`s going to be done,” Medina County Commissioner Stephen Hambley said.
Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair, a longtime NOACA supporter, questioned the fairness of the weighted vote and compared what Cuyahoga County did during the Avon debate to blackmail.
“It`s not fair and not right,” she said.
Even Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones admitted that the weighted vote had created a rift among NOACA`s members.
“It`s rubbed, understandably, many people the wrong way,” Lawson Jones said.
But Valerie McCall, Cleveland`s chief of governmental affairs, said after the meeting that Blair and Hambley were doing exactly the thing they had complained about Cuyahoga County doing. Words like blackmail could be applied to the tactics of Lorain and Medina counties, she said.
“What`s the difference of saying we`re going to pull out if you don`t change the weighted vote?” she said.
Lawson Jones also worried that if the weighted vote is eliminated – something that would take the boards of commissioners from all five counties in NOACA to do – that Cuyahoga County, which has 62 percent of the region`s population, will find itself at the mercy of the other four counties.
A NOACA legal review of the weighted vote, which included an examination of how other metropolitan planning organizations around the country and the state handled population issues, showed that the weighted vote was a rarity.
And even without the weighted vote, Cuyahoga County still has the majority of the votes on NOACA`s board.
In the end, NOACA`s governing board agreed to allow the executive board to review the question of the weighted vote, who should be on the NOACA board and issues of proportional representation.
Lorain County Commissioner Ted Kalo said the county wants an answer before June, when it has to pay its annual NOACA dues.
“I`m hoping it`s not an effort in futility,” he said.