On Fixing Cleveland – Part 4: Who Can Lead this Change?

In the previous 3 pieces, I defined and analyzed the problem in the previous 3 pieces, and suggested improvements – most of which have already succeeded in solving similar problems in other cities. The only thing unique is that Cleveland has allowed itself to fall so low. My commenter lsbnbj blames a lack of leadership for the problems. This is true. By definition, strong, wise, caring leadership would not have allowed this decline to occur.

That said, it doesn’t take brilliant leadership to follow in the path of regeneration that other cities have already established. Mostly it takes persistence, concentration and cooperation. This is something that even bureaucrats could accomplish, if they were empowered to do so. What does take leadership is in persuading people, at the beginning, to support a new system that would be much more effective in achieving its goals. This is how I would do it:

Set Goals
In the 3 previous pieces in this series, I set out what I think are necessary goals to achieve in order to revitalize Cleveland and its surrounding region:
1. Think and cooperate regionally
2. Bring in businesses and jobs
3. Bring new people into the region’s urban cores

Leadership and persuasion: how to get things started.
I know many people who think the leadership in and around Cleveland are ineffective, uncooperative, self-interested idiots – often using that or similar language to describe them. Credibility is the foundation upon which effective persuasion is built. Cleveland and the other regional urban cores need to do competently and successfully those things that are within their power to do to help themselves. I suggested things that are simple, cheap and effective: tax credits for renovation, being easy to do business with, and community-police trust building and cooperation. To the extent that these things build up the tax base, they can provide revenue for more baby-steps. An unmistakable pattern of many small successes sustained over time will build credibility. Credibility is requisite to persuasion, which is the vehicle to achieving cooperation.

If Cleveland and the other cities in the region want help, they have to change minds by showing that they are serious about fixing their problems, and will wisely apply any and all resources to effectively uplift their own city, and the region as a whole. Once Cleveland and the other cities within the region show they are serious about growth and revitalization, then they can begin to make the case that ‘if we all work together, we can grow, better, stronger, faster than we would alone’.

Right now, Akron is most ready to lead. Akron may not be the largest city in the region – but for now, it should be the face of the region. Akron convinced me to move into the city – even though I could have afforded a house almost anywhere in the region – even in the most expensive suburbs. Akron should be the leader and role model for the rest of the region until some other city in the region can do better than Akron.

Like I said in my very first piece, ‘to  be effective, the idea of reform must become a vision compelling to all. Like President Obama says we need change we can believe in. Its not enough to have some vague notion of it – a concrete plan must be made and executed. Those with an interest in reform must help set the agenda, or those who favor the current state of affairs will corrupt the agenda, and make the reforms ineffective’.

It will also take a strong, caring leader who is willing to be abused in his official capacity by many people both petty and well-intentioned. Do you know such a leader who wants to revitalize Cleveland and its surrounding communities? Ask him if he will stand for election.

Cleveland could attract decent leadership again.    Former Cleveland mayors George Voinovich (Republican) and Michael White (Democrat) both were able to make substantial headway for 2 decades straight  The North-East Ohio region has no shortage of good business leaders either – the supply of leaders is here.  Now, the region has to make sure the demand is there and make sure that demand is clearly understood by those who would want to lead us to better days.

Working at a regional level should increase the amount of demand (more highly-educated voters in the suburbs who will vote in favor of leaders who will bring success). As a community, our region can do a lot to attract good leaders, by making the leadership jobs satisfying and effective. By satisfying I mean having appropriate power without any unnecessary administrative restrictions – that is no restriction except for meaningful oversight, clear objectives and clear responsibilities that do not compete with or overlap other people’s responsibility and vice-versa. In short, we have to convince potential leaders that there is a prospect of success if they come here. Think about it: no one wants to be fired from running Cleveland – you can get any lower than that. It would also help if we set up the leadership jobs to be competitively (but not extravagantly) paid.

Planning and Execution: how to finish it.
A simple referendum should be held once enough people are persuaded that there is a realistic chance of success. The ballot measure should read:

TITLE 1:   CREATE A NEW LOCAL GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE (NLGS) that merges the counties of North East Ohio and their cities and their suburbs and empowers it with the revenues and powers of the merged jurisdictions for the purpose of accomplishing Titles 2 and 3.

  • The counties to be included are Cuyahoga, Summit, Lake, Mahoning, Trumbull, Stark, Wayne, Portage, Geauga, Medina and Lorain.
  • The NLGS should include an elected legislative power, and an elected executive power.
  • The legislative power should include 1 representative from each county (11 total) and 9 more at-large representatives, all elected by popular vote. The legislature would legislate on those matters that can not be handled administratively. The legislature would have powers of subpoena in matters within their jurisdiction and a staff of whatever experts and clerical workers they may need.
  • The NLGS will measure their own progress using these measures of success: Measure #1-a: The net number of full-time jobs created within the area of the NLGS that pay at least $15/hour. Measure #1-b: the net number of full-time jobs created within the area of the NLGS that pay at least $25/hour. Measure #2: the % population growth each year within the area of the NLGS. Measure #3: cost per resident to run the NLGS (the budget should be balanced within any 4 year period, although not necessarily in individual years). Measure #4: the net square footage of newly renovated buildings in current use.  These results will be verified annually by an independent auditor.

TITLE 2:   CREATE A BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY with broad administrative powers to bring in businesses and jobs, by being an easy place in which to do business, building on existing strengths and turning weaknesses into strengths, etc. This Authority will be required to improve all gains 2 years out of any 3 year period. This would report to the executive. The legislature will establish a committee to oversee this Authority generally.

TITLE 3:  CREATE A RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY with broad administrative powers to bring people into this region, especially the cities, by making the cities nice places to live in both actuality and perception. This Authority will be required to improve all gains 2 years out of any 3 year period. This would report to the executive. The legislature will establish a committee to oversee this Authority generally.


TITLE 5:   THE NLGS WILL BE ELECTED EVERY 4 YEARS, to coincide with the US presidential election. No one may serve more than 3 terms in the NLGS regardless of capacity or capability. No one may stand for election who has been convicted of any kind of corruption, or who has been found to be incompetent in his NLGS role, or who has served in a previous NLGS term that did not meet its numerical objectives. Pay for NLGS executive, legislature and Development Authorities members will be competitive with cities of similar size and challenges, but not extravagant. Pay will be 1/3 base pay, 1/3 current-performance bonus and 1/3 deferred-performance bonus over a 5 year period, where the deferred pay depends on the performance in the year preceding the bonus payment.

TITLE 6:  ESCAPE CLAUSE: in 16 years time, the voters should have the opportunity, to dissolve the new governing structure, by a 2/3 majority vote, and revert to the previous system of governance.

So, what say?  Lets start turning this region around.

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2 Comments on “On Fixing Cleveland – Part 4: Who Can Lead this Change?”

  1. I’ve read you series and I think, for the most part, your observations are spot-on. The goals stated and observations regarding what “needs to be done” are all helpful, but the real problem is “how” they are to be achieved.

    Being from Akron, it’s easy to agree that it’s in the best position to lead right now – a big part of that is the fact that it has a great Mayor who’s willing to lead and risk being unpopular. Plusquellic was right to promote the idea of leasing the sewer system to get free college education for every Akron school graduate; too bad more people don’t have his vision. He’s not through with that idea, by any means though – I’m sure we’ll see it again.

    Cleveland’s had it’s great leaders too – I was unaware about the vision of Mayor Tom Johnson in the early 20th Century. His use of the “single tax” (land-based property tax) to fund improvements was a prime reason for the city’s huge growth. And Cleveland wasn’t the only city to benefit from this approach. To get an ides of what this is about, read Mason Gaffney’s paper “New Life in Old Cities” here –


    It’s a real eye-opener…and one of those great “old ideas that seem new again.” Bold and a little radical, but the logic makes perfect sense.

  2. Thank you for your comment, sir. You raise a good question of how Cleveland, and the other cities in NE Ohio can attract business. Beyond the simple things outlined in the blog (tax credits, being easy to do business with, cutting through red tape and selling out-of-region businesses on the benefits of locating some or all of their operation here) there is not a lot they can afford to do at present. Thank you for your comment and for sharing that paper with me. It discusses a wonderful tax strategy: tax land harshly and buildings cheaply to encourage development and redevelopment. Great idea.

    I do notice that there is a lot of opportunity to bring new business in from the outside. A lot of states on the coasts, particularly California, are having trouble with high levels of taxes and regulation, coupled with (until this recession started) of shortage of talent relative to demand. Ohio is in the lower middle of the range in business taxes, our costs are very low here. On most issues of interest to business, I think we would be a competitive place to relocate to. Really the only remaining on NE Ohio that is not shared by the coastal states are our unions (and lately they have been extremely tame). After decades of losing home-grown businesses to other cities (from Standard Oil to Office Max), I don’t feel at all bad trying to grab some of theirs.

    Furthermore, I think NE Ohio would be an excellent place for a foreign company looking to establish a North American presence. We have the talent locally to staff a North American headquarters, distribution center, manufacturing plant… whatever a foreign company would want to establish here in this country. As developing countries continue to grow and strengthen their brands, products and services, they will sooner or later want to have these kind of operations here. Why not in Cleveland? If memory serves me, NE Ohio are within a 1 days truck-drive of about 2/3 of the population in the USA.

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