ENDORSEMENTI have never disagreed more than I do now with the entire focus many who wanted reform are placing on an alleged need - and the alleged benefits - of having people with business experience enter public service.***** Public finance, in existence to meet resident needs, defies analogy.
District 6 consists of Bentleyville, Brecksville, Broadview Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Chagrin Falls, Chagrin Falls Township, Cuyahoga Heights, Gates Mills, Glenwillow, Highland Heights, Hunting Valley, Independence, Mayfield, Mayfield Heights, Moreland Hills, Newburgh Heights, Oakwood, Pepper Pike, Solon, Valley View and Walton Hills. The winner of this race will be the Republican nominee for a two-year term. Early voting for the Sept. 7 primary begins Aug. 3.
Sam P. Cannata, 47, attorney, business owner.
Jim Crooks, 31, public relations consultant, Independence council member.
Ed Hargate, 52, attorney, Highland Heights council member.
Jack Schron, 62, business owner, former Chagrin Falls school board member.
Don Sopka, 65, retired teacher, former Broadview Heights council member.
The Republicans have a strong group of candidates -- Crooks, for one, is a fount of energy and ideas -- but none is more impressive than Schron. He has successfully helped steer Jergens Inc., the machine parts business that his grandfather and father started in a Collinwood garage, into the world of advanced manufacturing and global competition that they scarcely could have imagined.
He started an online education company to train new factory workers and has worked with Cleveland's Max S. Hayes High School to do the same. He mentors other small firms through Cleveland-based MAGNET, the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network, and WIRE-Net, on whose boards he serves. He worked with local, state and federal officials to clean up the old Collinwood rail yard, then built a new home there for Jergens. If the new county government is to be serious about economic development, Schron's hands-on experience could be invaluable.
One example: profit in the private sector is not equatable to healthy balances in the municipal budget sense. Profit, with public dollars, raises the suspicion of corruption, if you ask me. There is and there should be no such thing as profit in public finance. It either plows back into services or back to the taxpayers.
Another example: employee compensation and benefits. The state dictates numerous obligations to the cities that do not disappear when revenue streams evaporate due to economic conditions or the elimination of the estate tax (or any other source of municipal income).
Another example: decision-making. People coming from a business background need to understand that in public office, elected officials have to make the decisions, but voters/constituents/residents are not the same as shareholders. Selling your shares is not the same as selling your house. Also, in the age of access and the ability to meet demands for transparency and accountability so easily, there's no "on a need to know basis" for supplying information. Public means public, just as much as private (as in private business sector) means private.
Anyway - I've never agreed with the emphasis on wanting and needing and feeling beholden to having business people come into elected office. There are fundamental disconnects between the two worlds. Can they benefit from one another? Sure, but to seek to have a public entity run like a business? I think the start of the county reform effort's transition last year when the ACLU had to get involved in order to open up meetings that should have been open from the beginning is one of the best examples of the problems we'll continue to see if we only seek to have business people run the county. Not to mention what having 12 elected business people will do to keeping track of conflicts of interest in awarding contracts, big and small.
*****Having people with a business background serve in elected office gives depth and perspective. I serve with council members who work in the for-profit, private business sector. There's no question about the value of their contribution. And I'm not questioning the value of that contribution. But just as having all business people run an elected county government is not desirable in my eyes, equally undesirable would be having an elected county government run 100% by people like me who have served almost exclusive in the academic, governmental or non-profit worlds.
Each of us crosses over into the others as functions of the work we do outside of Council. But my observations, expressed here, are based on my experience trying to integrate the input from business-savvy folks into the public finance realities. While perhaps not a square peg in a round hole, again, my point is that the county reform backers have placed far too much emphasis on the desire and hope that lots and lots of business people would run for and get elected to the new positions. I think that aspiration is not supported by the realities of how public governance bodies must function.
What do you think?
[And of course - I can't post this entry without mentioning: no women running?!?! Mark this goal: this seat is only two years. I will work between now and 2012 to be sure that there is a viable, qualified woman in both the GOP and the Democratic primaries - no excuse, just no excuse - we have fabulous women in this district; if we can have two running for the statehouse house seat, why can't we get even one to run for the new county council? No apologies, men. We need more diverse options. Period.]