Reflections from Roldo Bartimole about George Forbes and his era as the longest leader of Cleveland City Council
From July 21, 2014 Cleveland Leader
FORBES – HE WAS SO GOOD AT BEING BAD
Reflections from Roldo Bartimole about George Forbes and his era as the longest leader of Cleveland City Council
From July 21, 2014 Cleveland Leader
Tomorrow porgram the day after the recall election. Show date: August 14, 1978
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2007)|
|Elections in Ohio|
The 1978 Cleveland Recall Election determined whether or not Cleveland, Ohio‘s 53rd mayor, Dennis Kucinich would be removed from office. It was the first mayoral recall election in the city’s history.
On Good Friday 1978, Kucinich fired his police chief of only four months, Richard Hongisto on live local television. Capitalizing on the issue, Kucinich’s opponents began circulating petitions for the mayor’s recall. Despite his consistent support for populism and the workingmen’s concerns, some felt that his bombastic nature and inability to compromise, as well as the youth and inexperience of some of his appointees, made him incapable of governing a struggling city.
Initially, the drive began slowly. Then on April 10, Cleveland City Council voted to investigate a “midnight raid” by administration officials on the office of economic directorJoseph Furber. Kucinich angrily called council “a group of lunatics” and “a bunch of buffoons.” He also stated that “it’s hard to believe that so many people can be so stupid,” and asserted that “if they’re not stupid then they are crooked, or maybe both.” This led to council members joining the recall drive. Realizing his mistake, Kucinich offered an apology. However, on the same day, Bob Weissman assailed council and business leaders in a speech to the Harvard Business Club.
In the summer of 1978, Kucinich set up special police patrols, in response to high crime in public housing projects. Police refused to obey the order. The administration then suspended thirteen officers and ultimately touched off a two-day police strike. It was another first in the city’s history.
Additionally, Kucinich vowed to veto a plan to lease a city-owned dock to the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, which wanted the property so that it and Republic Steel could build a new ore dock. At a July 10 council meeting, the mayor spoke against the lease and started to note the contrast between the actions of council on the matter and its cautious pace on Kucinich’s recommendation to hire a computer company.
“Stick to the issue,” ordered Council President George L. Forbes. Kucinich responded, “Mr. Chairman, I determine the issue.” “Not in this chamber,” Forbes retorted. Kucinich still persisted: “Tactfully submit that you will permit me to continue my remarks.” “Just one moment,” Forbes said, “I chair these meetings…” Kucinich interrupted, “You have no ability, Mr. Chairman to censor my remarks!”
After using three of his four minutes at the podium to argue with Forbes, Kucinich continued to spend his last minute comparing the issue with the computer contract. In response, Forbes declared the mayor out of order and shut off his microphone. Infuriated, Kucinich continued to protest: “Mr. Chairman, this is a corrupt deal! I will not be silenced, Mr. Chairman!” After a statement by councilman Lonnie Burten, Kucinich stormed out of Cleveland City Hall followed by 15 aides. The action brought applause from the steelworkers union, who turned out in support of the ore dock. “Keep on going,” one of them shouted. Forbes attempted to restore order. “Let’s be quiet while they walk out.”
Council Majority Leader Basil Russo, who had begun speaking before the mayor left, also pushed for order. “Mr. Chairman, that is wrong. We cannot allow the administration to totally break down communications in city government.” He continued, “We don’t want him to leave, I think he’s hurting the interests of all the residents of the city of Cleveland.” Although council approved the lease afterward, Republic Steel decided to leave the city and build its dock in Lorain.
If anything, these incidents fueled the recall drive even more. At first, recall petitions were some 3,355 signatures short of the required 37,552 when first submitted in May. Proponents of the anti-Kucinich movement had 20 more days to make up the difference and on June 1, an additional 5,321 signatures were obtained.
Although Kucinich challenged the validity of the signatures, Common Pleas Judge John Angelotta ruled against him. The Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court upheld Angelotta’s ruling and a recall election date was set for August 13, the first Sunday election in local history. The mayor’s response was “Bring on the recall!”
The Plain Dealer, The Cleveland Press, The Cleveland Call and Post, the Republican and Democratic parties, the AFL-CIO and 24 of the 33 council members urged the mayor’s recall. Kucinich fought back withtelevision commercials showing business leaders cutting up a cake shaped like Cleveland City Hall.
|Positions||Caucasian voters||African American voters|
The outcome of this survey showed the possibility of a Kucinich victory. These poll results became truth when the day of the recall election came on August 13. At first, the outcome of the election was uncertain. After a recount, the results were finally in. 60,014 votes were cast for recall and 60,250 against. Kucinich was able to retain his position by only 236 votes (a margin of less than 0.2 percent). He later thanked “God and the people of Cleveland for ignoring [his] imperfections and giving [his] administration another chance.”
||This article cites its sources but does not provide page references. (September 2010)|
Masters thesis by Megan Lenore Chew, Ohio State Universaity, 2009
The download is here (approx 4mb)
This narrative details how highway building, environmentalism, race and class intersected in suburban Shaker Heights, Ohio, during the 1960s. The methodology combines local, environmental, political and social histories. While the city’s successful racial integration narrative has defined Shaker Heights, its class narrative is also significant. The unsuccessful attempts to build the Clark and Lee freeway through the eastern suburbs of Cleveland reveal important aspects of the class narrative and had national resonance, directly and indirectly connecting to important individuals and movements of the era. The success of the anti-freeway movement adds to Shaker’s atypical postwar social narrative. Part of a larger movement of freeway revolts, the Shaker Heights activists benefited from class advantages, political connections and the evolution of Interstate highway legislation since 1956. Activists benefited from built and natural environmental movements of the 1960s as well. In succeeding in preventing the highways, citizens managed to protect the suburb’s prewar character during an era of massive physical and social change. Rejecting an archetypal view of suburbs in the postwar era, this project stresses the importance of looking at the variability of actions, individuals and ideas within individual communities. Singular narratives of postwar suburbs, or of suburbs themselves, obscure these differences and prioritize certain narratives over others, including the narrative of this project. Advisors/Committee Members: Childs, William.
“State of the City” Address Delivered by Mayor Michael White at Cleveland City Club Feb. 7, 1997 (Audio)
From website devoted to Cyrius Eaton and the “Thinkers Lodge”, the Canadian retreat where Cyrus Eaton hosted the first Pugwash Conference in 1957
Communists’ Capitalist by E. J. Kahn, Dec 10, 1997 — New Yorker Magazine
Courtesy of Plain Dealer
When ink trumped oil. Muckraking writer Ida Tarbell’s expose outraged America and helped break up the monopoly power of John Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust.
Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH) – Sunday, December 12, 2004
Author: Jennifer Scott Cimperman, Plain Dealer Reporter
As influential as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, as famous as businessman-turned-TV star Donald Trump, as ethical as former Enron chief Kenneth Lay. That was John D. Rockefeller – at least the one serialized in the pages of McClure’s Magazine beginning in late fall 1902.
Readers devoured journalist Ida M. Tarbell’s tales of secretive late-night contracts, lies told under oath, strong-arm tactics meant to drive out competitors of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. He even cheated a widow. The public was outraged. So, too, was the U.S. Supreme Court, which eventually forced the company’s breakup after declaring it a monopoly.
Even 100 years after publishers converted Tarbell’s serial into a two-volume book, “The History of the Standard Oil Co.,” in November 1904, the work’s significance remains, say academics, authors and consumer advocates. It highlighted unethical – yet, at the time, largely legal – business practices. It prompted government scrutiny of monopolies. It elevated business journalists to the role of watchdogs and celebrities. It brought the boardroom to the public’s living rooms.
It’s not a perfect work. Tarbell’s research, while impressive in scope, sometimes makes for clunky prose. Long passages quote prices down to the penny when describing railroad rebates afforded “the Standard.” And some historians say Tarbell was plain wrong about some of the book’s most incendiary incidents, including the story of the cheated widow.
Flaws aside, the work still garners praise. Longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader first read it in high school.
“It was really inspiring,” Nader said. In the days before the Securities and Exchange Commission, “she showed you could really piece together a lot of information. . . . You have hundreds of [business] books today, and they don’t have the effect that book had.”
Ron Chernow, author of “Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr.,” said Tarbell’s work represented “a new maturity for American journalism.”
“Everyone from President Roosevelt on down was reading the series and cheering Ida Tarbell on,” Chernow said.
Tarbell “writes the series with a tone of throbbing moral indignation. It’s very hard to read the book to this day without getting very angry at Rockefeller and Standard Oil.”
Cleveland was hub
The first commercially viable oil well was successfully drilled in Titusville, Pa., in 1859. Within a decade, the nation’s refining capital was Cleveland. Lured by well-connected railways and Lake Erie — both ideal for shipping to the nation’s Northeast — about 50 refineries called the city home.
Rockefeller invested $4,000 with his partner in a fledgling refinery owned by Samuel Andrews. Within three years, Rockefeller sold his share of his previous business and started the oil firm Rockefeller and Andrews. The firm quickly opened another refinery, then a sales office in New York.
In June 1870, Rockefeller combined those ventures and others into a new company, Standard Oil. As the area’s largest refinery, it quickly won favorable shipping rates from local railroads — rates that enabled it to beat even its most nimble competitors.
It didn’t stop there, though. Within years, it had a stranglehold on refining, production, pipelines, virtually all aspects of the industry.
Tarbell exposed the company’s practice of hiring “spies” — railroad clerks who wrote down competitors’ shipments, businessmen who gleaned gossip about Standard foes, even employees of competitors who exchanged loyalty for cash.
She exposed its back-room partnerships with shippers, pipeline companies and others who, to the world, appeared independent.
She hammered Standard’s practice of withholding oil deliveries to small companies, which eventually withered to the point that Standard could buy them for a song.
One such company, lubricants maker Morehouse and Freeman, built a plant on encouragement from Standard, which agreed to supply Morehouse 85 barrels of oil byproduct daily. After the plant was built, Standard cut its shipments to 12 barrels and raised prices.
The plant had cost $41,000 to construct. It was sold to Standard for $15,000.
Resist and suffer
Tarbell came by such detail through a web of professional and family connections.
She was raised near Titusville, center of a 50-mile strip in northwest Pennsylvania known as the “Oil Regions.” Her father, a carpenter and teacher, found economic security building oil barrels. When barrels were replaced by iron tanks, the elder Tarbell moved to refining.
His success was short-lived — due, in part, to Rockefeller’s South Improvement Co., a secret 1872 scheme to consolidate several refiners and shippers, then secure special freight rates and kill off small independent producers that tried to compete.
The consolidation died quickly, victim of public outrage and oil producers’ outcries, but Standard continued to swallow smaller companies.
“The people who agreed to throw in their success with him often stayed in their positions and managed their companies,” said Barbara Zolli, director of the Drake Well Museum in Titusville, which is home to Ida Tarbell’s Standard Oil papers. “People who resisted the buyout . . . many people suffered.” Those included Tarbell’s father and brother.
And while she never had access to Rockefeller, acquaintance Mark Twain helped arrange a meeting with Standard Oil insider Henry Rogers, a former refiner who was brought into the Standard fold and ascended to the position of director for the entire Standard Oil Trust. The two met off and on for two years, until one of Tarbell’s articles soured the relationship. Academics surmise that Rogers’ goal was to deflect blame to Rockefeller from himself.
“Did he mislead her? Probably in some areas,” said Paula Treckel, history professor at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., Tarbell’s alma mater and home to a collection of her personal papers. “But did he supply her with some good detail? Yes, he did.”
Tarbell’s connections color views of her work. On the one hand, her inside knowledge yielded rich details. On the other, it affected her objectivity.
“Today, she would never have gotten away with this,” Chernow said. Treckel’s take: “Personally, I think she despised him [Rockefeller].”
That may explain why one of her most scathing accusations proved unfounded: the infamous “Widow Backus” story.
By Tarbell’s account, Rockefeller cheated Mrs. Fred M. Backus (referred to by Tarbell simply as “Mrs. B.”). Though Rockefeller had been friendly with her late husband, once a bookkeeper at Rockefeller’s office and a Sunday school teacher at the church both attended, he paid her next to nothing for her Cleveland lubricating plant in 1878. That’s Tarbell’s version.
According to Chernow, the widow actually insisted on an inflated sum — up to $200,000 — for an outdated plant she inherited when her husband died of consumption. Rockefeller, who dealt directly with the widow due to their close connections, paid $79,000, including an additional $10,000 thrown in on top of the fair value assessed by appraisers.
Chernow called Tarbell’s book “one of the most brilliant pieces of journalism of all time,” but said, “in the last analysis, it doesn’t stand up as an enduring piece of history.”
Still, New York University Professor Richard Sylla said, the work provides a snapshot of Rockefeller and his critics.
While Sylla doesn’t recommend the book to current MBA students, “business historians would want to read it and economic historians would want to read it,” said the economist and history professor of financial institutions and markets. “It’s part of our history.”
Spying in church
Why didn’t Rockefeller challenge Tarbell’s inaccuracies? Because if he publicly defended one part of the book, he would have been forced to defend it all, Chernow said. Instead, Rockefeller said nothing.
Even after the book, Tarbell continued to follow the reclusive tycoon, even secretly attending his Euclid Avenue church one Sunday and writing a two-part character sketch for McClure’s describing his features as reptilian.
The latter bruised the reclusive Rockefeller more than the 19-month series. Yet it proved to be her parting shot. The eventual breakup of Standard Oil in 1911, prompted by Tarbell’s work, only contributed to Rockefeller’s wealth.
Instead of stock in one large enterprise, he held shares in more than two dozen, each yearning to tap the next great gusher.
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: email@example.com, 216-999-4871
Splitting Standard Oil
In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court dissolved the Standard Oil monopoly. Here’s how some offshoots fared.
Standard Oil of Ohio: Known as Sohio. British Petroleum Co. bought 25 percent in 1970, owned all by 1987. Merged with Amoco Corp., 1998.
Standard Oil of California: Began Chevron brand in 1930s. Consolidated in 1977, changed name to Chevron USA Inc. Bought Gulf Corp. in 1985; changed name to Chevron Corp. Acquired Texaco Inc. in 2001, forming ChevronTexaco Corp.
Standard Oil of Indiana: Merged with Pan American Petroleum and Transport Co. in 1954 to form American Oil Co. (Amoco). Merged with BP in 1998.
Standard Oil of New Jersey: Known as Esso, changed name to Exxon Corp. in 1972. Merged with Mobil Oil Corp. in 1999, forming Exxon Mobil Corp.
Standard Oil of New York: Socony merged with Vacuum Oil Co. (another former Standard company) in 1931, forming Socony-Vacuum. Changed to Socony Mobil Oil Co. in 1955; to Mobil Oil Corp. a decade later. Merged with Exxon, 1999.
Atlantic Petroleum Storage Co.: Merged with Richfield Oil Corp. in 1966 to form Atlantic Richfield Co., ARCO for short. Acquired by BP in 2000.
Continental Oil and Transportation Co.: Merged with Marland Oil Co. in 1928 to form Continental Oil Co. Subsidiary of DuPont,1981 to 1998; became Conoco Inc. Merged with Phillips Petroleum Co. in 2002 to form ConocoPhillips Co.
Ohio Oil Co.: Bought Transcontinental Oil Co. in 1930, gaining Marathon brand. Changed to Marathon Oil Co., 1962. Became subsidiary of U.S. Steel Corp., 1982; spun off in 2002.
Excerpts from Tarbell’s reporting Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH) - Sunday, December 12, 2004 Author: The Plain Dealer
Ida M. Tarbell’s “The History of the Standard Oil Company” packs two volumes with examples of the company’s business practices and the tenacity of its founder. Some passages, by topic: Advantages “Its chief competitors began to suspect something. John Rockefeller might get his oil cheaper now and then, they said, but he could not do it more often. . . . Where was his advantage? There was but one place where it could be, and that was in transportation. He must be getting better rates from the railroads.” “It was the [railroad] rebate which had made the Standard Oil Trust, the rebate, amplified, systemized, glorified into a power never equaled before or since by any business of the country. The rebate had made the trust, and the rebate, in spite of ten years of combination, Petroleum Associations, Producers’ Unions, resolutions, suits in equity, suits in quo warranto, appeals to Congress, legislative investigations – the rebate was still Mr. Rockefeller’s most effective weapon.” Competition “A few of the refiners contested before surrendering. Among them was Robert Hanna. . . . The Standard Oil Company asked an interview with him and his associates. . . . ‘But we don’t want to sell,’ objected Mr. Hanna. ‘You can never make any more money, in my judgment,’ said Mr. Rockefeller. ‘You can’t compete with the Standard. We have all the large refineries now. If you refuse to sell, it will end in your being crushed.’ ” “Other refiners burst into the market and undersold for a day; but when Mr. Rockefeller began to undersell, he kept it up day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, until there was literally nothing left of his competitor.” Spies “A Cleveland refiner, John Teagle, testified [to a congressional committee] . . . that one day in 1883 his bookkeeper came to him and told him that he had been approached by a brother of the secretary of the Standard Oil Co. at Cleveland, who had asked him if he did not wish to make some money. . . . “For twenty-five dollars down and a small sum per year he was to make a transcript of Mr. Teagle’s daily shipments with net price received for the same; he was to tell what the cost of manufacturing in the refinery was; the amount of gasoline and naphtha made and the net price received for them; what was done with the tar; and what percentage of different grades of oil was made; also how much oil was exported. This information was to be mailed regularly to Box 164 of the Cleveland post-office.” Contradictions “Mr. Rockefeller was ‘good.’ There was no more faithful Baptist in Cleveland than he. . . . He was simple and frugal in his habits. He never went to the theatre, never drank wine. He gave much time to the training of his children, seeking to develop in them his own habits of economy and charity. “Yet he was willing to strain every nerve to obtain for himself special and unjust privileges from the railroads which were bound to ruin every man in the oil business. . . . Religious emotion and sentiments of charity, propriety and self-denial seem to have taken the place in him of notions of justice and regard for the rights of others.” Contracts “The contract was signed at night at Mr. Rockefeller’s house on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, where he told the gentlemen that they must not tell even their wives about the new arrangement, that if they made money they must conceal it – they were not to drive fast horses, ‘put on style,’ or do anything to let people suspect there were unusual profits in oil refining. That would invite competition. They were told that all accounts were to be kept secret. Fictitious names were to be used in corresponding, and a special box at the post-office was employed for these fictitious characters.” Perceptions “Scores of boys and girls grew up in the Oil Regions in those days with the same feeling of terrified curiosity toward those who had ‘sold to the Standard’ that they had toward those who had ‘been in jail.’ ” “Years of war with a humiliating outcome had inspired the producers with the conviction that fighting was useless, that they were dealing with a power verging on the superhuman – a power carrying concealed weapons, fighting in the dark, and endowed with an altogether diabolic cleverness. Strange as the statement may appear, there is no disputing that by 1884 the Oil Regions as a whole looked on Mr. Rockefeller with superstitious awe. Their notion of him was very like that which the English common people had for Napoleon.”
Regional Government from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Covers early and mid 20th century efforts towards Regional or Metropolitan Government in Cuyahoga County
REGIONAL GOVERNMENT. The regional government movement was an effort by civic reformers to solve by means of a broader-based government metropolitan problems arising from the dispersion of urban populations from central cities to adjacent suburbs. When suburban growth accelerated after WORLD WAR II, reform coalitions proposed various governing options, with mixed results. In the 1950s approximately 45 proposals calling for a substantial degree of government integration were put on the ballot. However, supporters failed to make a compelling case for change in areas where diverse political interests had to be accommodated, and less than one in four won acceptance. The most successful efforts to create regional government occurred in smaller, more homogeneous urban areas such as Davidson County (Nashville), Tennessee (1962), and Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana (1969).
Cleveland was Cuyahoga County’s most populous city by the mid-19th century, and as it continued to grow adjacent communities petitioned for annexation in order to obtain its superior municipal services. As Cleveland’s territorial growth slowed after the turn of the century, a movement was launched by the CITIZENS LEAGUE OF GREATER CLEVELAND to install countywide metropolitan government “while 85% of the area’s population still live in Cleveland and before the problems of urban growth engulf us,” as the League put it in 1917. These reformers believed that the conflicting interests present in the city’s diverse population encouraged political separatism and helped create a corrupt and inefficient government controlled by political bosses. They argued that consolidating numerous jurisdictions into a scientifically managed regional government would improve municipal services, lower taxes, and reconcile the differences within urban society under the aegis of a politically influential middle class. In essence, their proposals were designed to remedy the abuses of democratic government by separating the political process from the administrative function.
Local reformers were unable to achieve their goals by enlarging the city through annexation. The lure of better city services was not an incentive to those prosperous SUBURBS which could afford to provide comparable benefits to their residents and which preferred to distance themselves from the city’s burgeoning immigrant population, machine politics, and the pollution generated by its industries. Cleveland’s good-government groups focused on restructuring CUYAHOGA COUNTY GOVERNMENT either by city-county consolidation or by a federative arrangement whereby county government assumed authority over metropolitan problems, while the city retained its local responsibilities.
Originally, county government in Ohio had been organized as an administrative arm of the state, with three county commissioners exercising only those powers granted to them by the state legislature. To obtain the, metropolitan government these progressive reformers envisioned, a state constitutional amendment was needed to increase the authority of these administrative units to a municipal level. The Citizens League submitted such an amendment to the Ohio legislature in 1917, allowing city-county consolidation in counties of more than 100,000 population. It was turned down, but was resubmitted at each biennial session until it became clear that opposition from the rural-dominated legislature required a new approach. Regional advocates then proposed a limited grant of power under a county home-rule charter allowing it to administer municipal functions with metropolitan service areas, establish a county legislature to enact ordinances, and reorganize its administrative structure. Despite backing from civic, commercial and farm organizations, Ohio’s General Assembly still refused to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, but its backers secured enough signatures on initiative petitions to submit it directly to the voters, who approved it in 1933.
The amendment required four separate majorities to adopt a home rule charter which involved transfer of municipal functions to the county: in the county as a whole, in the largest municipality in the county, in the total county area outside the largest municipality, and in each of a majority of the total number of municipalities and townships in the county. The fourth majority allowed small communities to veto a reform desired by the urban majority. Ostensibly designed to ensure a broad consensus of voters if the central city was to lose any of its municipal functions, this added barrier satisfied Ohio’s rural interests, a majority of whom were unwilling to open the door for a megagovernment on the shores of Lake Erie.
Metropolitan home rule proved to be a durable issue in Cuyahoga County; between 1935 and 1980 voters had 6 opportunities to approve some form of county reorganization. When an elected commission wrote the first Cuyahoga County Home Rule Charter in 1935, the central problem was how much and what kind of authority the county government should have. Fervent reformers within the commission, led by MAYO FESLER†, head of the Citizens League, wanted a strong regional authority and sharply restricted municipal powers. Consequently, they presented a borough plan that was close to city-county consolidation. The proposal crystallized opposition from political realists on the commission who advocated a simple county reorganization which needed approval from Cleveland and a majority of the county’s voters. Any transfer of municipal functions required agreement by the four majorities specified in the constitutional amendment. The moderates prevailed, and a carefully worded county home rule charter was submitted to the voters in 1935, calling for a county reorganization with a 9-man council elected at large which could pass ordinances. The council also appointed a county director, a chief executive officer with the authority to, manage the county’s administrative functions and select the department heads, eliminating the need for most of the elected county officials. HAROLD H. BURTON†, chairman of the Charter Commission, and popular Republican candidate for mayor, promoted his candidacy and passage of the home rule charter as a cost-cutting measure. Both Burton and the charter received a substantial majority in Cleveland, and the charter was also approved by a 52.9% majority countywide, supported by the eastern suburbs adjacent to Cleveland and outlying enclaves of wealth such as HUNTING VALLEY and GATES MILLS. Opposition came from voters in the semi-developed communities east of the city, together with all the southern and western municipalities in the county. The countywide majority was sufficient for a simple reorganization, but before the charter could be implemented its validity was contested in the case of Howland v. Krause, which reached the Ohio Supreme Court in 1936. The court ruled that the organization of a 9-man council represented a transfer of authority, and all four majorities were required–effectively nullifying the charter, since 47 of the 59 municipalities outside Cleveland had turned it down.
A county home rule charter continued to be an elusive goal. After World War II the accelerated dispersion of Cleveland’s population to the suburbs encouraged reformers to try again. When the voters overwhelmingly approved the formation of a Home Rule Charter commission in 1949 and again in 1958, it was viewed as another projected improvement in municipal life: an improvement comparable to the construction of a downtown airport; the expansion of Cleveland’s public transportation system; and the creation of integrated freeways. Metropolitan reformers agreed. They were concerned about the growing fragmentation of government service units and decision-making powers in the suburbs and the unequal revenue sources available to them. This made the need for regional government even more urgent. In addition, Cleveland was hard pressed to expand its water and sewage disposal systems to meet suburban demands for service, making those municipal functions prime candidates for regionalization.
Democratic mayors THOMAS BURKE† and Anthony Celebrezze counseled a gradual approach to the reform efforts. The elected charter commissions, however, pursued their own political agenda, unwilling to compromise their views on regional government to suit the city’s ethnic-based government. The commissioners, a coalition of good government groups and politicians from both parties, wrote strong metropolitan charters calling for
a wholesale reorganization of Cuyahoga County which would expand its political control. Two key provisions in each charter demonstrated the sweeping changes in authority that would occur. An elected legislature would be chosen either at-large (1950) or in combination with district representatives (1959),, isolating ward politics from the governing process and ensuring that the growing suburbs would acquire more influence over regional concerns. The reorganized county would have exclusive authority over all the listed municipal functions with regional service areas and the right to determine compensation due Cleveland for the transfer without its consent (1950), or in conjunction with the Common Pleas Court (1959). If approved, these charters could significantly change the political balance of political power within Cuyahoga County.
Charter advocates, led by the Citizens League and the LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS (LWV) OF CLEVELAND, argued that a streamlined county government with efficient management could act on a score of regional improvements which would benefit the entire area. However, they were unable to articulate the genuine sense of crisis needed for such a change. The majority of voters who had elected the charter commissions approved county home rule in theory; but, faced with specific charters, they found the arguments for county reorganization unconvincing. Cleveland officials successfully appealed to city voters, forecasting that the charters would raise their taxes and “rip up” the city’s assets. Many suburbs also were skeptical, viewing comprehensive metropolitan government as a threat to their municipal independence. As a result, the 1950 and 1959 charters failed to receive a majority. Three more attempts were made by the same good-government groups. An alternate form of county government establishing only a legislature and an elected county administrator was turned down by voters in 1969, 1970, and again in 1980 with opposition from a growing number of AFRICAN AMERICANS, unwilling to dilute their newly acquired political authority by participating in a broader based government. In 1980 only 43.7% approved the change, and there were no further attempts to reorganize Cuyahoga County government. It was clear that a majority of voters cared little about overlapping authorities within the county, they were not persuaded that adding a countywide legislature would produce more efficient management or save money, and most importantly, they wanted to retain their access to and control of local government.
While the future of county home rule was being debated during the postwar period, other means were found to solve regional problems. Cuyahoga County quietly expanded its ability to provide significant services in the fields of public health and welfare by agreeing to take over Cleveland’s City Hospital, Hudson School for Boys, and BLOSSOM HILL SCHOOL FOR GIRLS in 1957. Independent single function districts were established in the 1960s and 1970s to manage municipal services such as water pollution control, tax collection, and mass transit–services that existing local governments were unable or unwilling to undertake. These districts had substantial administrative and fiscal autonomy and were usually governed by policymaking, boards or commissions, many of them appointed by elected government officials. Most were funded by federal, state, and county grants or from taxes, and several had multicounty authority. These inconspicuous governments solved many of the area’s problems, but their increasing use also added to the complexity of local governance. Critics maintained that districts, using assets created with public funds, were run by virtually independent professional managers, making decisions outside public scrutiny with no accountability to the electorate. Nevertheless, in Cuyahoga County the limited authority granted to them was an acceptable alternative to comprehensive metropolitan reform–one that did not threaten existing political relationships.
The comprehensive charters written in 1950 and 1959 represented the apogee of the regional government movement in Cleveland. However, the elitist reformers who wrote them eschewed substantive negotiations with the city’s cosmopolitan administrations and failed to appease the political sensibilities of county voters who preferred a “grassroots” pattern of dispersed political power. Carrying on the progressive spirit of the failed CITY MANAGER PLAN, they attempted to impose regional solutions that would significantly change political relationships in the area–a single-minded approach that constituted a formidable obstacle to any realistic metropolitan integration.
Mary B. Stavish
Case Western Reserve University
Last Modified: 21 Nov 2009 01:53:20 PM