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Petition drive to change county government structure underway

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ELYRIA — Proponents of a plan to reform Lorain County government have been quietly gathering signatures for the past few months with an eye toward getting their measure on the November ballot.

Two previous efforts to do so, in 2014 and 2015, failed when organizers couldn’t gather enough signatures.

Former county Commissioner Dave Moore, who is among those leaders of Citizens for a Better Lorain County Government, said his group’s effort isn’t tied to a separate petition drive that seeks to put a referendum on a 0.25 percent sales tax increase imposed by the commissioners last year before voters in the fall.

He said his group had considered making their efforts public last week but decided to hold off until after the dust settled from Avon Lake attorney Gerald Phillips’ announcement about his petition drive and a lawsuit seeking to have the sales tax hike declared illegal.

“We didn’t want everybody to confuse the issues,” Moore, a Republican, said.

The reform proposal calls for replacing the system of three at-large commissioners with a seven-member board elected from districts around the county.

It would also make the elected roles of county recorder, treasurer and coroner into appointed positions and create a new county executive role that would be filled by a person chosen by the seven members of the new county board. The jobs of county prosecutor, sheriff and auditor would remain elected positions under the proposal.

In order to get the reform proposal before voters, Moore and his allies will need to gather the valid signatures of 7,782 registered voters before this summer, county Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said.

Moore said the last effort in 2015 garnered about 5,300 signatures, but he hopes to get between 10,000 and 12,000 signatures to make sure the issue makes the ballot his year.

He said although the issues of repealing the sales tax and county government reform are separate matters, the sales tax, which went into effect earlier this month, could play a role in winning the necessary support to change government.

The commissioners imposed the increase by a 2-1 vote Dec. 14, a little more than a month after voters overwhelmingly rejected a 0.25 percent sales tax increase that would have split around $10 million annually between county government operations and improving public transportation in the county.

The commissioners, all Democrats, have argued the increase they imposed was necessary to avoid widespread cuts to county services, including layoffs of deputies.

“Whether or not we need the money, nobody trusts the commissioners right now,” Moore said.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski said she suspects those pushing the reform movement don’t want the sales tax increase to be overturned because she thinks those who want to take over running the county know they’ll need the money.

“I hope the people of Lorain County don’t fall for it because it’s not going to be what they say it’s going to be,” Kokoski said.

Moore also said this effort is far more organized than previous attempts. For instance, he said petitions have been handed out to various businesses and others throughout the county so people have a place to go to sign. He also said there will be a door-to-door push later this month.

Critics of the reform proposal, which include the county commissioners, have argued that the reform will lead to less representation and less accountability in government.

Commissioner Matt Lundy said people appointed to jobs are more susceptible to political pressures because they owe their jobs to the people who appoint them. Elected positions give more accountability to voters, he said.

Taking away the right of people to determine who serves as recorder, treasurer and coroner cuts down on the ability of voters to have a say in those offices, Lundy argued.

Democrats have also long complained that the districts proposed by the reform plan are designed to tip the power in the county into the hands of Republicans because of how the districts are drawn.

They contend that the districts would have three districts each that would back Democrats and Republicans. The seventh district would lean Republican, according to a Democratic analysis several years ago.

But Moore argued Monday that isn’t the case. He said he and other reform proponents recognize that the county has a Democratic tilt that would remain under their plan

Moore also said the proposal has received the backing of Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians.

Those interested in signing the petition can contact Moore at david@yesce.com or visit the Citizens for a Better Lorain County Government Facebook page, he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.



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