Blogs > Northern Ohio Local Politics

Politics is big in these parts, and we’ve got it covered. John Arthur Hutchison and other staff writers will offer their inside information on the events, big news and little moments of the local political scene in Lake, Geauga and eastern Cuyahoga counties.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Strickland budget to come into focus on Monday

Ohio Director of the Office of Budget and Management J. Pari Sabety will hold a press briefing Monday to discuss Governor Ted Strickland’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2010-2011.

The governor has a lot of curious people wondering exactly how he is going to pay for the school funding proposals he discussed last week. It is premature to be critical of how that is laid out until the details are released.

An item in particular is how will the potential switch to 200 school days up from 180 days per school year be paid for by local school districts that would have to renegotiate their contracts with teacher unions.

The governor has proposed bold ideas to improve education, let's see if he can back up his proposals with the funding it will take to get the job done.

Strickland vows not to raise taxes, but he has proposed items such as increasing fees and penalities to recoup more money from taxpayers. So in the meantime is it fair to wonder if perhaps getting a driver's license will cost $100?

-- John Arthur Hutchison

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Know when to fold 'em

The current economic downturn has the eyes of some Ohio leaders looking for a jackpot, their eyes spinning like slot machines hoping to land on all cherries.

Interested in a quick fix, Gov. Ted Strickland and newly elected House Speaker Armond Budish, both Democrats, each recently acknowledged they’d be open to the idea of bringing casino gambling to Ohio.

No specific plan has been set forth, though details of one company’s proposal and plans to pursue yet another ballot initiative were reported earlier this month. Also, something may be unveiled during Strickland's State of the State address at noon on Wednesday.

Still, casino gambling as economic development is a losing bet.

Proponents will say that building casinos in Ohio's three biggest cities and/or installing slot machines at the state's seven horse-racing tracks will keep millions of dollars from leaving the Buckeyes State -- and they’re right. They’re also correct when they say building casinos would bring hundreds of new jobs to Ohio.

But what new casinos are unlikely to do -- at least over the long haul -- is bring residents from surrounding states to Ohio in the same way Ohioans have been traveling across state lines to gamble. With the exception of Kentucky, every state that borders Ohio has casinos. Who from those states is regularly going to travel away from home to spend money in here?

Rather, what seems more likely to happen is that Ohioans will be the ones spending their paychecks at the casinos, which mean those hard-earned dollars won't be spent at local restaurants, bakeries, florists, tailors, retail shops, movie theaters, museums, sporting events and the like. Those new jobs created by the casinos might be offset by the old jobs lost due to decreased income at already established businesses.

Basically, Ohio has all but missed the boat on cashing in on casino gambling. Perhaps had voters approved such an issue decades ago, casinos could've had an economic impact.

Coincidentally, the same could almost be said for Cuyahoga County's current large-scale economic development project: a new convention center. Hopefully the Medical Mart will make this project unique and successful, but the convention center was an idea first proposed more than 20 years ago by then-Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich.

Following the latest defeat this past November, Ohioans have now rejected casino gambling a handful of times over the years. But there's no end in sight, as casino companies -- and perhaps the state -- line up for possibly another try this November.

However, Strickland, Budish and others would better serve Ohio by focusing their economic development efforts on strengthening higher education, encouraging entrepreneurship, and investing in research and development for the 21st Century's global economy.

Those are gambles worth taking.

-- Michael C. Butz

It’s just another manic Monday

Mondays already had a bad reputation amongst American workers, but Jan. 26 was a particularly bad day to be an employee. Several well-known companies, mostly American, announced thousands of layoffs:

Caterpillar 5,000
Pfizer 8,000
Sprint Nextel 8,000
Home Depot 7,000
General Motors 2,000
ING Group 7,000
Phillips Electronics 6,000
Monday's Total 43,000

The Caterpillar situation is even more dire than the 5,000 layoffs listed above. The company also has shed about 14,500 other jobs in recent months, according to an article. The Caterpillar layoffs may also hold a bit more significance here locally, bringing back memories of the towmotor plant that once existed in Mentor.

Also, part of the Home Depot announcement was that the company would close all its EXPO Design Centers, which already happened here in Northeast Ohio when the store at Legacy Village in Lyndhurst closed in 2005.

On top of the layoffs listed above, one could add several thousand more layoffs announced by other companies in the past few weeks.

Microsoft 5,000
Intel 6,000
United Airlines 1,000
Harley-Davidson 1,100
Texas Instruments 3,400
Motorola 4,000
ConocoPhillips 1,300
WellPoint 1,500
Hertz Global 4,000
Additional total 27,300

That brings the grand total to over 70,000 announced layoffs. Toss in the 30,000 jobs expected to be lost nationwide as Circuit City liquidates its remaining stores, and there are a cool 100,000 jobs on the chopping block.

Some of these retail jobs will undoubtedly hit home here in Northeast Ohio, as will the store closing announced last week by Brooklyn-based American Greetings. Also, 800 of those GM layoffs will occur at the company's Lordstown plant.

Government can't provide all the solutions, but you can bet that all these layoffs will be fresh in everyone’s mind as they listen to Gov. Ted Strickland deliver the State of the State address at noon on Wednesday. Ohioans will be very interested in what the Democratic governor intends to do to bring more business and more jobs to the Buckeye State.

-- Michael C. Butz

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sherrod Brown appointed to Senate Ethics Committee

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has been appointed to the Senate Ethics Committee.

The appointment was made by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"This appointment is a great honor and even greater responsibility," said Brown. "I will work with my colleagues to ensure that the Senate has the highest standards of accountability and oversight."

The Select Committee on Ethics is comprised of six senators divided evenly by party. The committee is tasked with ensuring ethical behavior among Senators and compliance with the U.S. Senate Code of Conduct.

"Sherrod Brown is not only a good Senator, he is a good man who consistently demonstrates sound judgment," Reid said. "His leadership on the Ethics Committee will benefit the entire Senate, and I wish him all the best in this new role."

With all the talk during last year's campaign season about cleaning up corruption in Washington, let's see what kind of impact Brown will have on this committee and what impact the committee as a whole will have.

-- John Arthur Hutchison

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Do the Supremes sing same tune?

On Dec. 30, the seven-member Ohio Supreme Court announced that it agreed by unanimous vote that, sure, any judicial candidates can publicly identify their political party leanings as either Democrat, Republican or independent.

But on Jan. 13, SUPCO voted 5-2 to reverse that decision, then publicly announced the change on Jan. 20 (Tuesday this week).

That is, the state’s highest court says that no such judicial candidate can identify politically party affiliation, especially in a November nonpartisan general election after Ds and Rs nominated their party banner carrier in partisan spring primaries.

This is as the judicial-wing all-Republican Ohio SUPCO is in a state now with a heavy Democrat majority in the executive and legislative wings.

Two SUPCO benches are up in the 2010 election. Chief Justice Tom Moyer’s term is up, but he cannot seek re-election next year. Justice Judith Lanzinger can run next year for another six-year term.
What if Moyer, Lanzinger or any justice suddenly resigned and/or retired?
Then Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, would refer to any screening committee recommendations and make his own final choice to fill any such a bench this year. But would there then be any special Supreme Court election this year?

So far, most Strickland appointees, judicial or not, are Democrats.

And what if any well-known Democrats are poised to announce any day for the 2010 benches, just as long as they don’t say they’re Democrats?

Could Ohio see wild and crazy 2009 special statewide elections, including among judges, this year and into 2010?

You know, just like the non-stop, non-judicial special and regular elections from 2006 into 2008 so resigned Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann could be succeeded by an interim AG, then by former State Treasurer to become the elected AG Richard Cordray?

So Cordray could span three offices in a year if he runs next year for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. And Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, also a Democrat, could run this year or next for any vacant SUPCO bench.

--David W. Jones

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ohio GOP selects new leader, former chair endorses Portman for U.S. Senate

As expected, the Ohio Republican Party has a new chairman, a man who has been groomed for the position for more than a year as the deputy chairman.

According to the Associated Press, Kevin DeWine, a former state representative from Fairborn, was unanimously elected Friday by members of the state GOP Central Committee.

He replaces Bob Bennett, who served almost 21 years and was the longest-serving state Republican Party chairman in the U.S.

DeWine takes over as Republicans have suffered multiple setbacks in recent elections. He’ll try to restore the GOP to primacy in time for the 2010 election.

Bennett, now referring to himself as a Republican National Committeeman, on Friday issued a statement that he has officially endorsed former U.S. Rep. Rob Portman as his choice to run for U.S. Senate in 2010. Voinovich has previously announced he would not seek a third term.

As of this writing, the Ohio Republican Party had not officially endorsed any candidate for the position.

Portman has been busy lining up supporters, so it remains to be seen if anyone will run against him in a Republican primary.

U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Bainbridge Township, hasn't ruled out whether he would be interested in running for the Senate seat in 2010.

"There will be plenty of time to think about the 2010 Senate race in Ohio," he said Monday after Voinovich announced his intentions.

-- John Arthur Hutchison

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Portman announces U.S. Senate bid

Ending any speculation on his interest, former U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, a Republican who once served as President George W. Bush’s budget director and as a U.S. Trade Representative, on Wednesday announced he’s running for U.S. Senate.

Portman looks to win the seat that will be vacated by U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, who announced earlier this week he will not seek a third term in office.

Portman has unveiled a campaign Web site, ( that as of now, has a biography and a place to click to donate to his campaign.

Here are some tidbits from the site:

Portman touts himself as a widely respected, experienced public servant who cuts through partisan politics to get things done.

During his time in Congress, Portman served on the Ways and Means Committee and was Vice Chairman of the Budget Committee and Chairman of the House Republican Leadership.

Portman left government in August 2007 to be home full-time with Jane and their three children. The family belongs to Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church.

He now is practicing law with the Cleveland-based firm of Squire, Sanders, and Dempsey and is engaged in various community activities, including serving on the board of The Coalition For A Drug Free Greater Cincinnati, a group he founded.

He serves on the Advisory Board of The Ohio State University’s John Glenn School of Public Affairs, where he is co-teaching a course on innovation in the public sector. He is also Chairman of Ohio’s Future PAC, an organization devoted to developing creative solutions to Ohio’s economic challenges and supporting policies that create more jobs and opportunities for Ohioans.

Additionally, he serves on the board of The Nature Conservancy and as a member of the bipartisan National Parks Second Century Commission.

Portman is an avid outdoorsman and a lifelong hunter and fisherman. He also actively supports and consistently participates in two races in the Cincinnati area that raise funds for nonprofit causes. One is an annual 62-mile charity bicycle race that benefits Parkinson’s research and the other is Paddlefest, the annual canoe/kayak race on the Ohio River.

— John Arthur Hutchison

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ohio GOP chairman endorses Mike Duncan for RNC chairman

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett has announced his endorsement of Mike Duncan for re-election as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

It is somewhat notable because former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell had expressed interest in the position.

Here is what Bennett said in a statement released Tuesday.

"As the longest serving state chairman on the Republican National Committee, I have personally witnessed many of our successes and failures," said Bennett in a letter to fellow members of the national committee. "I have seen what works and what doesn't, and I have recognized those chairmen whose leadership has been effective and who know how to win elections. With that in mind, I am pleased to offer my wholehearted endorsement of Mike Duncan for re-election as Chairman of the Republican National Committee."

Bennett continued, "As I prepare to step aside after two decades as chairman in Ohio and entrust our future to the next generation, I want to do so with the confidence that I have supported a leader who understands the challenges we face, has a plan to meet each of those challenges, and has the experience to accomplish the hard work ahead of us. I have that kind of confidence in Mike Duncan."

The Republican National Committee will meet January 28-31 in Washington, D.C., to elect a chairman.

— John Arthur Hutchison

Monday, January 12, 2009

Congressman Tim Ryan would consider Senate post

Congressman Tim Ryan, D-Miles, is showing interest as a possible candidate to run for U.S. Senate in 2010, when the term of U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, expires. Voinovich is not seeking re-election to a third term.

Ryan released the following statement Monday.

"Senator Voinovich has served the people of the State of Ohio with distinction for almost thirty years. In my time in the House of Representatives I have had an opportunity to partner with him on meaningful legislation to help bring jobs and economic opportunity back to the state," said Ryan.

"I am singularly focused on what's best for my constituents in Northeast Ohio. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee I am in a very good position to help create and expand important economic development initiatives in the State of Ohio. That said, if I can have a greater impact by being in the Senate, I will certainly consider it."

— John Arthur Hutchison

Voinoviches are a pair, by George!

It’s almost always George and Janet Voinovich are seen together, a couple who have been married for 45 years.

They are usually seen cheerfully holding hands and walking down the sidewalks near their east-side Cleveland home or at a friend’s house there near East 185th Street where the once-annual Old World Festival attracted them to the polka music and dancing.

When he announced this week he wouldn’t seek re-election as a U.S. senator from Ohio, it was those kinds of personal memories recalled by this reporter of chance and seconds-only meetings.

It was often when Voinovich wasn’t in the news and this acquaintance wasn’t carrying a press card. Or when he is at the news podium, and she with him.

The Voinoviches are always in good humor.

That goes back even to when they were seen at the now-closed Euclid Beach Park when he was the lesser-known Cuyahoga County auditor before he was the better-known Cleveland mayor before he was the Ohio governor before he was the U.S. senator.

Or when the Lake County Republican Party had the Voinoviches out to its summer picnic in his first bid for statewide office; there if he got a snack for himself, he got a snack for her.

And remember former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, then running for president, and Voinovich having him dance on national TV and Page 1 with Polka Hall of Famer Cecilia Dolgan, as George and Janet applauded?

It was the governor once hosting reporters on a three-county trip to see Ohio tourist spots and then he escorted Mrs. Voinovich arm in hand through the Ohio State Fair, all silent and smiling, as they led us in the trail behind them as he got a snack for himself, and one for her.

— David W. Jones

Voinovich had roots in Lake County

With U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich's decision not to seek a third term in 2010, the region loses one of its most experienced political leaders.

The Cleveland Republican began his career in the 1960s an assistant attorney general, before becoming a state representative later in the decade.

Voinovich eventually served as a county auditor, lieutenant governor and then became Cleveland’s mayor defeating incumbent Dennis Kucinich.

In 1990, he became Ohio governor serving two terms before he was term-limited and sought election to the U.S. Senate, where he has served since 1998.

It will be interesting to see who ultimately succeeds Voinovich in the U.S. Senate.

But politics aside, it’s the man himself that many people grew to love and respect.

Lake County GOP chairman Dale Fellows said that Voinovich has always had a fondness for Lake County, which in a way, helped to launch the senator’s career.

Fellows cited several early Lake County ties to the senator.

“One of his first campaign volunteers was Joe Fakult of Willowick, one of the Lake County Republican Party’s great champions, who held a meeting at his home to help start George’s political career,” Fellows said. “Former Lake County GOP Chairman Elden Spencer was one of the Senator’s favorite county chairs when he was Governor.”

Voinovich and his wife Janet were frequent attendee’s of the annual Lincoln Day Dinner and he was the keynote speaker several times over the years, the county GOP chairman said.

Fellows said Voinovich was also instrumental in his political career and he looks forward to his and Janet Voinovich’s continued counsel and support for many years.

“I will always be grateful for his personal counsel to me over the years starting with my time in the Young Republicans (an organization that he and Janet felt very strongly about as that was where they met), my tenure as an elected official and my current role as Lake County Republican Party Chairman,” Fellows said.

Voinovich also loves to visit the county to take advantage of recreational opportunities.

The News-Herald’s Outdoors Writer Jeffrey L. Frischkorn has had the luxury of casting a few fishing lines with the senator and former governor.

“One thing that won’t change with Voinovich’s retirement is an open invitation by me for the senator to go fishing,” Frischkorn said. “I’ve had the distinct pleasure of ‘guiding’ him for steelhead in the Grand River watershed and also for largemouth bass and panfish in farm ponds.

“While not the most knowledgeable bass/bluegill angler when using spin-fishing gear, Voinovich knows his way around a fly rod and needs minimum instruction to cast for stream trout. I’ve always enjoy our fishing outings and look forward to more of them.”

Jim Collins, The News-Herald’s Editor Emeritus, recalled a time when he interviewed Voinovich during an hour-long gubernatorial campaign interview at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland.

“The governor was doodling and scribbling pictures on a piece of paper and a few words on there to remind him of things to say,” Collins said. “After it was over there was a paper sitting there and I picked it up and took it home. I thought some day I’d auction this off as Voinovich’s doodling from when he was running for his second term as governor.

“I still have it because I don’t throw things away," Collins added. “I thought I’d put it under glass and take it to a fundraiser to see what it would get. That's one of my items of memorabilia of a great governor and a great senator and super great mayor."

— John Arthur Hutchison

Friday, January 9, 2009

Grendell appointed to serve on Great Lakes Compact advisory board

State Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chester Township, announced today that Ohio Senate President Bill Harris, R-Ashland, has appointed him to serve as a member of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Resources Compact Advisory Board.

Created as part of the Great Lakes Compact, the Advisory Board is one part of a multifaceted approach with the goal of better protecting one of the largest reserves of fresh water in the world, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River Basin, from potential water diversions in the future.

Another responsibility of the Advisory Board is safeguarding property rights, which is something that Grendell has championed ever since being elected to office. Making sure those rights are protected was a big concern for Grendell when the Compact was being drafted. His critics might say his concerns slowed down passage of the Compact.

But in the end the Compact was ratified by lawmakers in Ohio, and as a compromise, Grendell got a statewide constitutional amendment passed on the Nov. 4 ballot to help address his concerns about protection of private property rights in relation to water rights.

— John Arthur Hutchison

Ohio General Assembly: Not yet committed to committees

In Columbus, is the legislative Ohio General Assembly committed immediately to discussing and voting on umpteen ideas that could become bills to upbeat the economy?

Based on not one such vote yet cast in this new session in the Democrat-majority Ohio House of Representatives and Republican slim-majority Ohio Senate, it doesn’t see as if the legislative wing is committee by vote to anything.

Hey, the election was over months ago on Nov. 4, they were all sworn into office an old New Year ago, and nobody’s even been assigned to such task forces as the Finance Committee or Appropriations Committee.

The whole Ohio General Assembly might not even fill committee seats and name chairs until February or March.

Not even in all their committees seats, much less voting, are such as state Reps. Lorraine Fende, D-Willlowick; Mark Schneider, D-Mentor; Matt Dolan, R-Russell Township; and Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights; or state Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chester Township.

Not that Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, has yet managed this year to propose, reject or sign into law any significant bill on the economy.

In the Democrat-majority Congress in D.C., committee seats are already being filled, including the House Appropriations Committee now including U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Bainbridge Township. President-elect Barack Obama wants packages like his economic stimulus bills passed and signed into law now, this month, starting any hour, way before members of Congress go on their February break.

-- David W. Jones

Thursday, January 8, 2009

LaTourette's new committee brings more influence on spending federal dollars

It's easy to think U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette's appointment to the House Appropriations Committee is good for people who live within Ohio’s 14th Congressional District.

It will mean there is a strong voice representing Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula and parts of four other counties when it comes to making decisions about where federal money will be spent.

LaTourette has told me over the years that the government is going to spend money regardless, and if Congress doesn’t come up with a way to do it then the sitting president will.

He often argues that if money is going to be spent why not bring that money back to Northeast Ohio. It seems to be a good point with voters who overwhelmingly have elected the eight-term congressman by hefty margins.

Even with the momentum Democrats rode in the Nov. 4 election, LaTourette, a Bainbridge Township Republican, still won comfortably, one of the few in his party who can make such a claim.

I often hear of local governments talking about how if they can get federal funding for a project it would really help it come to fruition. Also it typically makes projects cheaper on the local level when residents are asked to pay for their share. Think water and sewer line assessments.

For example, Lake County commissioners would rather see Lost Nation Airport remain open than it closing in 2016 because the city of Willoughby wants to get out from owning the facility and they won’t accept any more Federal Aviation Administration improvement funds that come with the stipulation that an airport remain open for 20 years afterward.

Commissioners have sought more than $1 million to help them pay to acquire the airport’s asset. Without federal funding, that airport will close.

Some people think it might be wiser to let the airport close, so before any major decision is made and before commissioners plan to accept money from the federal government to buy the airport, a study to determine the best course of action for the airport is being conducted by the Lake County Port Authority.

If the decision is ultimately made to keep the airport open, you can bet that LaTourette will now be in a better position to make sure that happens with the federal funds.

Painesville is also working to find money to help tear down LakeEast Hospital in Painesville after Lake Hospital System moves to Tripoint Medical Center in Concord Township.

If the city can’t secure funding from the state, they’ve already inquired with LaTourette’s office to help get some federal funding. I’m sure Painesville likes its chances of getting this funding a lot more knowing the local congressman sits on the Appropriations Committee.

— John Arthur Hutchison

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Judge not, lest he --

This reporter wondered out loud a few weeks back about the Ohio Supreme Court budgetary case pending between Lake County commissioners and former Juvenile Court Judge Bill Weaver.

This was just as Weaver, a Democrat, was retiring and attorney Karen Lawson, a Republican, was elected to his bench starting this month in her first time with the gavel.

What if, this muser wondered, Lawson took her own actions strong enough to make the Weaver-county legal case moot?

Aha! Next thing you know, on New Year’s Eve, the new judge fired eight staffers.

And do the initial budgetary savings and empty desks amount to enough to halt the case, which itself costs big bucks, before the all-Republican SUPCO justices?

Either way, it’s not happy new year news for anybody directly and indirectly affected.

--David W. Jones

Did ex-Recorder O’Malley get any breaks?

State Auditor Mary Taylor, a Republican, did that scorching performance audit for the last two years of the office mis-run by now-resigned, now-convicted and now-imprisoned Cuyahoga County Recorder Patrick O’Malley, a Democrat.

But for all O’Malley’s years in office and the state’sfiscal fact-checking now done, was O’Malley ever held accountable by former State Auditors Betty Montgomery and Jim Petro, both Republicans? If not, why might it have taken so long?

And fast-forwarding to now and economic times, how many more staffers might lose their jobs under new Recorder Lillian Greene, a Democrat?

--David W. Jones

Decision to transfer hospital titles to LHS was a long time coming

Lake County commissioners decision to transfer the property titles of LakeEast, LakeWest and Mentor Medical Campus to Lake Hospital System wasn’t a big surprise to me.

It’s been something officials have casually bantered about as something they should look into doing for the past couple years. So with LHS leaving in the fall, the timing was ripe for this exchange to occur.

While some in the community may be upset or sad to see LakeEast closing down, Painesville officials are optimistic they can transform the downtown region into something special. If all goes well, perhaps the area could become a hot spot like downtown Willoughby or at the least create some new buzz in the area.

With a need to replace the revenues the city enjoyed with LakeEast in place, coming up with a new plan for the city’s downtown region is a must and that's what city leaders are working on right now.

The city also is working to find funding to pay to demolish the old hospital once it closes by applying for state grants, but if that doesn’t work they are also trying to get federal funding.

Painesville has had success securing state and federal grants in the past, getting millions of dollars for the flood-ravaged Millstone and Gristmill condos.

In the meantime, commissioners are happy to see their names taken off the title.

One reason is because they will no longer be the official deed holder, which would make Painesville’s application for grants or loans from the state or federal level much easier. That’s because a two-way transaction involving LHS and Painesville is less complicated than a three-way transaction, officials have said.

But also, and probably more importantly, commissioners no longer will need to worry about paying for the cost of closing up the hospital or to demolish it.

An interesting item from the transfer process is that officials pondered whether the transfer still gave commissioners the authority to appoint the hospital’s board of trustees.

That appointing authority power was created back in 1985 when LHS took over the old Lake County Hospital. At the time, it was a way to ensure the public still had some control over the hospital’s operations.

But now, commissioners no longer are the owners of property that LHS uses.

I'm not advocating either way, but perhaps relinquishing this authority may be something commissioners and LHS discuss in the future?

-- John Arthur Hutchison

Heavy air in NE Ohio over Obama appointment?

In the midst of naming his choices for Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Education and other high-profile Cabinet-level positions, President-elect Barack Obama made one appointment that might have flown a little under the radar.

While announcing his “Green Dream Team” to guide his administration’s energy policy, Obama appointed Carol M. Browner as his Energy Coordinator, or as some are calling it, his “Energy Czar.”

It’s been reported that Browner will coordinate between various federal agencies that play a role in energy policy, though outside of that, it seems her role is so far undefined in this newly created position.

However, the role she played as leader of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration is much clearer and might have some local motorists gripping their steering wheels a little tighter.

While in charge at the EPA, Browner toughened the country’s air-quality standards by updating standards for particulate matter and ozone, which eventually led to every Northeast Ohioan’s favorite vehicle emissions testing program: E-check.

There are certainly strong opinions on each side of the pro-environment/anti-regulation argument, but it seems safe to say that E-check has been one of Ohio’s least popular government institutions since its 1996 inception in Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga, Lorain, Medina, Portage and Summit counties.

Are we to expect more such regulations from Browner and the Obama administration? At this point, the answer to that is still, well, up in the air.

-- Michael C. Butz

Cities to get less from state Local Government Fund

NEWS FLASH: The State of Ohio is falling on hard economic times.

One of the latest indicators of this is that local governments will receive less money from the state via the Local Government Fund in 2009, according to a Columbus Dispatch report that cited an Ohio Department of Taxation memo.

The memo indicated that earlier estimates of how much money would be available in the fund had to recently be reduced by 6.8 percent, according to the article.

“That 7 percent is accurate,” said Eastlake Mayor Ted Andrzejewski during a recent discussion concerning the clean state audit received by his city.

Due to the LGF reductions, the mayor said Eastlake will lose about $140,000 this year — a figure confirmed by Finance Director Brian Condron.

“That’s two police officers, two firefighters or two city workers,” said Andrzejewski, explaining that when wages, health care, overtime and PERS contributions are all factored together, the cost of such an employee costs the city an average of about $80,000 per year.

In that two-year audit, Eastlake was commended for increasing its general fund carry-over balance by about $700,000 from 2006 to 2007. In doing so, its reserves stretched just over the $4 million mark after being in the $3 million range.

“In today’s environment, $3 million is nothing,” Andrzejewski said. “Our current obligation for employee sick time that has accrued — which has to be paid out when people retire — is over $2 million.”

That mayor’s example of sick time points to the larger issue of having cash on hand to cover things like cuts to the LGF.

“It’s good to have a surplus, but I don’t want people to think we have a bunch of money,” Andrzejewski said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, and we’re going to monitor the first quarter. I’ve asked (department heads) not only to stick to their budgets but to try to come in under budget.”

Though other cities, villages and townships in Lake and Geauga counties will all have unique financial situations, it seems safe to say at this point they’ll all be facing similar budgetary challenges. Local mayors, council members, township trustees, county commissioners and finance departments will likely be measured by how they answer some of these challenges.

-- Michael C. Butz