September 3, 2014

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NOACA board glosses over weighted vote at meeting

CLEVELAND — Lorain and Medina counties can’t seem to get any satisfaction.

Despite threatening to pull out of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency if a controversial weighted voting system wasn’t changed by the end of March, the counties are still waiting for an answer from their fellow NOACA members.

The debate didn’t move much on Friday at a meeting of the regional planning agency’s executive board. Instead of dealing with the weighted vote, which gives Cuyahoga County members increased voting power, the members talked about what role NOACA should play in regional economic development.

It’s a worthy conversation, said Medina County Commissioner Stephen Hambley, a vocal critic of the weighted vote, but it isn’t getting to the point.

“We’re not bluffing in Medina County,” Hambley said after the meeting. “We want the weighted vote gone, or we’re leaving.”

Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair said she doesn’t see much point to discussing the issue, particularly a proposal that would create a federally recognized comprehensive economic development strategy that not all of the member counties would even qualify for.

“If someone can show me there’s a benefit to the whole region, I’ll be open to it. But from my vantage point, (Lorain County) has a successful program, and there’s no reason to change.”

NOACA Executive Director Howard Maier laid out four options for the members to consider at Friday’s meeting.

In addition to the economic development strategy, he also said NOACA could begin taking a more active role in land use planning, create an inventory of projects for use in a development strategy and review the agency’s policies to see what could be changed to promote regional growth.

Any move toward NOACA becoming more involved in economics would be a major shift for the agency, which has traditionally focused on transportation and water and air quality issues, Maier said.

Blair said NOACA needs to deal with the weighted vote issue before it starts changing what it is.

That might be a hard sell. Although Lorain and Medina counties have threatened to pull out, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson remains opposed to changing the weighted vote and Gov. Ted Strickland would have to give his blessing for any county to withdraw from the agency.

Cuyahoga County and Cleveland, which used the weighted vote as leverage to force Avon to agree to a revenue-sharing agreement last year to win NOACA approval of a new Interstate 90 interchange, doesn’t seem to understand the concerns of the smaller counties, which feel the biggest county will use its power to dictate what they can and can’t do in their own backyards, Blair said.

“I don’t think it’s in the best interests of No. 1, the region, and No. 2, NOACA, to be bullies,” Blair said.

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