The Roles of the County Executive and Council
This year, for only the second time in the 200 years of Cuyahoga County, voters will elect a County Executive and half of the members of the County Council.
Some people know that acting upon the decision of voters, we have changed our form of government to a Charter with a County Council and County Executive. Others might think we still have three County commissioners. Even those who are aware of the Charter may ask, “What are the roles of the County Executive and the County Council? What do they do? Why should I care?”
As someone who has been part of the new Charter government for the past four years and who is currently running for the position of County Executive, I will try to answer these questions.
The New Charter
Our new County Charter is clear that the County Executive, like the CEO of a corporation, is to be the chief executive officer of the county. The Council’s responsibilities are to pass legislation, to be the taxing authority, and to provide advice and consent to the Executive on the names brought forth for cabinet appointments.
Basically, with the exception of the duties of the new County Council, the Prosecutor and the County Judicial system, the Executive's duties and responsibilities - which used to be under the old County commissions - now reside in the County Executive. The operations of the county and the work of county personnel (with the exception of the areas listed above) are the responsibility of the County Executive.
All of the former elected positions in the county have been eliminated and changed to officers appointed by the County Executive, subject to confirmation by the county, who report directly to the executive. The other big change in the new Charter is the stated commitment to "improve the County's economic competitiveness."
The positions of Council, as written in the Charter, were seen as part-time. I can say that although the job has taken much time during the initial start-up period, I do support what the Charter drafters’ desire for these positions to be part-time. These first four years have taken a great deal of time, just as anything new requires, with many committee meetings and hearings to gather the information needed to try to get it right.
Part of this additional time was necessary because this brand-new form of government consists of so many new responsibilities that we needed to take on. The $1.3 billion budget - second in size only to the budget of the entire State of Ohio - requires careful consideration in order to do a good job.
I became a member of the Council Finance Committee because I wanted to bring my experience managing budgets as the CEO of a manufacturing company to the task of better understanding the county budget and to putting forth policies that will succeed for future Councils. It was important that we invested the time in these first four years to deal with essential issues, such as ensuring financial reserves for both the Operating Budget and the Health and Human Services Budget.
You can think of the County Executive like the President of the U.S. or the Governor of Ohio, with cabinets reporting directly to them. Like the CEO of a corporation, the County Executive must bring the leadership for the nearly 7,000 employees to follow. Under the old county government, this direct leadership role was shared by three commissions and delegated to hired staff members. Today the Executive reports directly to the people of Cuyahoga County and stands for election every four years.
The County Team
The Executive builds a management team by bringing together qualified individuals, subject to confirmation by the Council and the county’s officers and directors, to carry out all the functions of county government. The Fiscal Officer, Medical Examiner, Clerk of Courts, Director of Public Works, Director of Laws, County Treasurer and the Sheriff combined with the Director of Health and Human Services, and the Director of Development make up the cabinet.
The duties formerly done by the auditor and recorders are now part of the Fiscal Officer's job and include the boards and commissions. The Director of Public Works picks up the former roles of county engineer and county sanitary engineer. Although no longer elected, the other officers and their roles are similar to those under the old system.
Another major area of responsibility for the County Executive is Health and Human Services. The appointment of the Director and the Department as a whole, are both under the direction of the Executive. The Department administers all programs and activities for which the County has or has assumed responsibility: the protection and enhancement of the health, education and well-being of County residents. As important as the other functions are, the Department of Health and Human Services must be done especially well because it touches so many lives in such vital ways.
Focus on Jobs
The Charter has an elevated focus on economic development. Quoting from the Charter: "The County shall have as a primary responsibility the promotion and enhancement of the economic well-being and prosperity of the County and all of its residents." To achieve this, the Charter calls for 1. focused, effective and accountable leadership, and states that 2. Job creation and economic growth is a fundamental government purpose, thereby helping the County do a better job of creating and retaining jobs.
Clearly, a primary responsibility of the County Executive is job creation. The Executive is to be someone with leadership skills who has shown that he has been and can be an effective and focused job creator. The drafters of the Charter saw the role of the County Executive in job creation and retention as one of accountability for these functions.
The Economic Development and Planning Committee, of which I am chairman, works in conjunction with the County Executive in this area. According to the Charter, the County Executive's primary responsibility could be thought of not only as the Chief Executive Officer of the County, but also as “the Chief Employment Officer” responsible for "creating and retaining jobs."
I have tried to use my experience as one of the new County Council members to write this article to bring some insight into our role and the role of the County Executive under our new Charter government. It is my hope that as Cuyahoga County citizens consider the second election of the County Executive and Council members, the information in this article will help clarify what these jobs are, and the many ways they affect every one of us.
Jack Schron is President of Jergens, Inc. He is a member of the 6th District County Council.