A much-discussed, controversial system of weighted voting by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency that has long been criticized for giving Cuyahoga County too much say in what happens in less-populated member counties, including Lorain County, was replaced Friday.
The new system unanimously adopted by the NOACA Governing Board increases the number of board members from 38 to 44 while doing away with weighted voting. Under the new set-up, each NOACA board member will get one vote on any action presented during the agency’s monthly meetings.
“This should eliminate a source of contention that’s been vexing the agency for years,” NOACA Executive Director Howard Maier said Friday. “We’re very pleased to see this new arrangement, which tries to make voting more representational based on population.”
The change comes in the wake of a 2007 situation that saw Cuyahoga County’s weighted voting nearly put an end to an Interstate 90 interchange project in Avon. Lorain County officials threatened to withdraw from NOACA if the voting system wasn’t changed.
Lorain County saw no change in its seven voting members. Neither did Geauga County, which maintains three votes.
Lake and Medina counties each lost one weighted vote, leaving them with five and four votes, respectively.
Four of the five new voting members in Cuyahoga County are the mayors of Cleveland Heights, Euclid, Lakewood and Parma, the county’s four biggest cities outside Cleveland, according to Elyria Mayor Bill Grace, who heads the NOACA Governing Board.
The fifth new voting member comes from the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, and the sixth will represent the Medina County engineers’ office.
Under the old system, Cuyahoga County had 35 weighted votes out of a total of 56 NOACA votes.
“This is a landmark event for the organization, and should make for a better balance among communities across the region,” Grace said.
The 24 votes going to Cuyahoga County – out of a total of 44 – still represent a larger bloc of votes than those in the hands of NOACA’s four other member counties, but Maier said the changes were an effort to link votes to population. Cuyahoga County has 1.28 million people, compared to the roughly 300,000 people in Lorain County, which represents about 15 percent of the region’s roughly 2.1 million residents.
“Cuyahoga County has 61 percent of the region’s population but now represents only 55 percent of the voting bloc,” Grace said. “All of the other counties will now have a slightly higher representation voting-wise than their populations would suggest.”
Grace said Lorain County Commissioners Betty Blair and Ted Kalo voted to approve the changes at Friday’s meeting. Commissioner Lori Kokoski, who recently underwent surgery for blocked arteries in one arm, was absent.
The changes must now be ratified by the county commissioners in all five counties within 90 days.
NOACA is a board that uses federal and state funding to address transportation, air and water quality issues in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties.