CLEVELAND- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today called on newly elected Cuyahoga County Council officials to conduct all business with full transparency and accountability. On Friday, December 3, six of the eleven members of County Council met privately to decide who would assume leadership positions within the newly formed body. Various media outlets and community activists raised concerns that such closed door negotiations undermine the work of the new county government. In a meeting today, County Council narrowly voted to forgo election of officers until they are sworn in on January 3, 2011.
“County Council made a wise decision to suspend election of officers, as any decision would be marred by a cloud of secrecy and suspicion. However, the challenge remains for council members to adequately engage residents in vigorous public discussion on leadership and other critical issues facing the county,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James L. Hardiman. “Merely delaying the vote without creating opportunities for meaningful dialogue is unacceptable.”
The ACLU has repeatedly called for increased openness in all aspects of the county transition effort. In February 2010, the ACLU joined with other government watchdogs in opposition to statements by transition leaders that meetings would be held in private. Officials eventually pledged full transparency, but contended that the Transition Executive Committee and its workgroups were not subject to state public records and open meetings laws.
After part of a public records request was denied by transition officials, the ACLU filed suit in the Ohio Supreme Court. In the lawsuit, the ACLU asks the state’s high court to rule that all transition committees and subcommittees are public bodies and are subject to Ohio’s open meetings and records laws. The lawsuit is still pending before the state Supreme Court.
“It is deeply disappointing that County Council has opted to begin their term with more secrecy,” added Hardiman. “The passage of county reform was supposed to herald in a new era of government different from ‘politics as usual,’ but nearly every facet of the transition process continues to be compromised by the same problems that plagued previous administrations.”
“Not only have County Council members possibly skirted state law and the new charter, they have forsaken the public’s trust. If the new government has any hope of success, all aspects must be accessible and responsive to the concerns of the public,” concluded Hardiman.