April 19, 2014

Elyria
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NOACA must change, officials say


Agency discusses nixing Cuyahoga County’s weighted votes

CLEVELAND — The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency didn’t eliminate a controversial voting system that strongly favors Cuyahoga County at a Friday meeting, but they talked about it.

Lorain County officials have threatened to leave NOACA if the weighted vote isn’t eliminated from the transportation planning organization’s bylaws.

Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair, a longtime NOACA supporter, said NOACA functions just fine without weighted vote, which Cuyahoga County officials can invoke at any time to increase their voting power.

“For the 17 years I’ve been here I’ve seen us work well together without the use of the weighted vote,” she said. “But having that opportunity lingering over the heads of the other counties just makes everything seem less than desirable.”

Cuyahoga County officials threatened to use the weighted vote to prevent NOACA from approving an Interstate 90 interchange that Avon officials wanted to build.

Avon officials begrudgingly agreed to a revenue-sharing plan to get Cuyahoga County officials to vote in favor of the interchange. Because the weighted vote essentially gives Cuyahoga County — the most populous of the five counties in the agency — extra votes, and without them the interchange would have been a no-go.

But the agreement has soured other counties on NOACA, who fear their future projects could be subjected to the same provisions. Medina County has also threatened to pull out of NOACA if weighted voting is not done away with.

Board President Bob Brown, who also serves as the planning director for the city of Cleveland, said it’s time the board starts thinking about whether the weighted vote is a necessity.

Cuyahoga County has only invoked the weighted vote four times and actually used just twice in almost two decades.

Besides the recent Avon interchange vote, the only other time weighted voting has been used in recent history was in Medina County when Interstate 71 was expanded to three lanes.

“How many times do you have to hear the whistle whizzing by before you know they’re shooting at you?” Medina County Commissioner Stephen Hambley asked. “When will it come down to another project and weighted voting is (used by Cuyahoga County)?”

An alternative could be to revert to proportionate voting where each county would be entitled to a set number of votes based on population size. However, with its current size of more than 1.3 million residents, according to U.S. Census estimates, Cuyahoga County would still monopolize the vote.

Brown said if the vote was proportionate to population Cuyahoga County would jump from 19 voting members to 23 voting members and Lorain County would drop from seven voting members to just five.

However, weighted voting is not the real issue at hand with the NOACA body, said Hugh Shannon, government services coordinator for Cuyahoga County.

On paper, NOACA is a regional planning agency, but once everyone comes to the table it’s every county for itself regardless to what is in the best interest of the region, he said. That has to be dealt with above and beyond any changes that are made to how the board votes, Shannon said.

Still, Brown said a first step has to be taken toward a system that is acceptable for all five counties. That’s why he encouraged proposals dealing with the issue be developed for a meeting next month.

Elyria Mayor Bill Grace, who is also second vice president of the board, said he would happily bring in a new proposal.“In the end, weighted voting has to go,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.