SHEFFIELD TWP. — An effort to reform Lorain County government won’t appear on the November ballot because those pushing the measure failed to gather enough signatures.
Former county Commissioner Dave Moore, who is part of Citizens for Equal Representation, said the group will try again to get the proposal before voters in November 2015.
Moore declined to say just how many signatures the group fell short of the 10,208 necessary to get the issue on the ballot. He said the goal had been 15,000 signatures to account for those who signed but weren’t registered voters in the county.
“In trying to get the signatures, we came up a little short,” he said.
The proposal would have seen a seven-member board of commissioners, elected from districts around the county, replace the current three at-large commissioners. It also would have made the county recorder, treasurer and coroner appointed, rather than elected, positions.
The county prosecutor, sheriff and auditor would remain separate elected positions under the proposal. It also would have created an appointed county executive, who would hold similar powers to the current county administrator position.
Moore said he and other supporters of the plan heard a lot of enthusiasm for the proposal, but simply didn’t have enough time or manpower to gather the required number of signatures. He also said the hard winter made it difficult to get out and collect signatures.
Organizers said last year that if the measure was approved in 2014, the first elections would have taken place in 2016 with those elected under the new government plan taking office in 2017.
Moore said the organization’s attorneys are reviewing what changes need to be made to the dates before they can begin gathering signatures again.
Opponents of the proposal questioned whether there was a sincere desire to change how county government operates.
“From everyone we talked to, it was going to be ill-received by voters because it took away so much power from voters,” Lorain County Democratic Party Chairman Tony Giardini said. “It was going to be in too few hands and that alone made it too unpalatable to too many people.”
Critics had questioned the wisdom of removing the power of voters to chose who served in several key positions. Democrats also said the districts appeared designed to give Republicans an electoral advantage.
A Democratic analysis determined that three of the seven districts would be solid Democratic seats, while three others would go for Republicans. The seventh seat would lean Republican, they said.
Proponents have said the districts aren’t geared toward political parties, but rather designed to give underrepresented areas of the county, such as the townships, a larger voice.
They also insist their effort is a bipartisan measure, a suggestion scoffed at by Democrats.
The most-prominent Democrat on the committee, former county Auditor Mark Stewart, was forced to repay thousands of dollars last year when it was revealed he cashed out $18,000 worth of unused sick time after returning to work as a county employee for four hours last April.
Moore, a Republican, said he doesn’t see what happened with Stewart as a scandal and doesn’t believe it affected the desire of county residents to change county government.
Commissioner Ted Kalo, a Democrat, said he doesn’t think any of the problems in county government have risen to a level that would justify a complete overhaul.
“We haven’t had any of the scandals or corruption they had in Summit County 25 years ago or the problems they had in Cuyahoga County a few years back,” he said.
Governments in both of those counties were transformed into county councils following scandals. The federal corruption investigation in Cuyahoga County led to dozens of officials and vendors being convicted.
Moore said the only people who he’s encountered opposed to reform in Lorain County are those invested in the status quo.
“Good government scares a lot of people who are in government,” he said.
Moore also said that he thinks that a low voter turnout in this year’s gubernatorial election could mean a lower number of signatures his group needs to gather to get their measure on the ballot next year. The number of signatures required is 10 percent of the votes cast in the county in the most recent governor’s race.
Voter turnout was 48 percent in 2010, 54.5 percent in 2006 and nearly 49 percent in 2002, county Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said.