November 24, 2014

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Medina commissioner offers NOACA vote fix

CLEVELAND — Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair is frustrated.

Getting the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency to agree to get rid of a controversial weighted voting system that nearly derailed a new Interstate 90 interchange in Avon is proving a lot harder than she’d like.

“What is so difficult for them to understand the damage that they incurred upon us by their actions?” she said after a Friday meeting of NOACA’s executive board.

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County officials had threatened to use the weighted vote — which gives their members of the five-county transportation planning body increased voting power — to stop the interchange, which Avon and private business will pay for. NOACA approved the interchange last year after Avon agreed to a revenue-sharing deal.

Medina County Commissioner Stephen Hambley said the smaller counties in the agency are worried that Cleveland-area officials will use their power in the future to prevent projects they see as threats to them economically.

“We’re being driven by our fears,” he said at Friday’s meeting about the opposition to the weighted vote.

But Hambley did offer one alternative to doing away with the weighted vote — making it harder to use.

Hambley said he and Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones discussed changing NOACA’s policies so that three counties or two counties and the city of Cleveland would have to agree before the weighted vote could be used.

Jones said there needs to be compromise. He had originally suggested that an agreement by two counties should be enough to use the weighted vote.

“Everybody gives up a little bit and gets some of the assurances they want and need,” he said.

Officials from both Lorain and Medina counties have threatened to leave NOACA if something isn’t done about the weighted vote. Blair said she’d prefer that the weighted vote no longer be an option, but she is willing to consider Hambley’s proposal.

It could be difficult for Lorain and Medina counties to leave the organization if they don’t get their way, said NOACA’s immediate past president, Robert Brown, because such a change to the organization would require the approval of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
Geauga County Commissioner Mary Samide, who replaced Brown on Friday as president, said she didn’t understand why Cleveland and Cuyahoga County feared growth in the surrounding communities.

“It’s peculiar that a big entity like Cleveland and Cuyahoga County has such a fear of outlying areas,” Samide said. “… It’s a David and Goliath in reverse.”

But Elyria Mayor Bill Grace said it wasn’t just Cleveland officials who had worried about the impact of the new Avon interchange. Grace opposed the interchange as well, saying it could harm Midway Mall and other aspects of Elyria’s economy.

“We felt this was not in our best interests,” he said.

The weighted vote will be discussed again at a meeting next month. In the meantime, NOACA officials are contemplating asking for federal money to study the possibility of expanding NOACA’s role to include economic planning for the region.

The two-year study could either place the power in NOACA’s hands or create a separate regional economic planning agency, said Hugh Shannon, government services coordinator for Cuyahoga County.

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