‘Doing nothing is not leadership’ Before his death three years ago, the visionary Richard Shatten challenged us to take bold steps forward; today, a sinking region still waits. by Brent Larkin Plain Dealer 2/13/2005

‘Doing nothing is not leadership’ Before his death three years ago, the visionary Richard Shatten challenged us to take bold steps forward; today, a sinking region still waits.

Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH) – Sunday, February 13, 2005
Author: Brent Larkin, Plain Dealer Editorial Pages Director

A QUIET CRISISThree years ago today, this community lost one of its great minds.

The passing of Richard Shatten robbed Greater Cleveland of a man who over two decades made immeasurable contributions to the place he called home for all of his 46 years.

On the day Shatten succumbed to a brain tumor, Sen. George Voinovich described him as “absolutely brilliant.” Cleveland State University Professor Ned Hill lauded his “intuitive genius.” Cleveland Planning Director Hunter Morrison marveled at Shatten ’s “luminescent brilliance of thought” and “crystalline mind.” Cleveland Tomorrow head Joe Roman said he’d probably never known a smarter man, and County Commissioner Tim Hagan saidShatten had “one of the finest minds of any human being I have ever met.”

As a consultant for McKinsey & Co., then as head of the Cleveland Tomorrow business group, and finally at Case Western Reserve University,Shatten ’s impact was unquestioned. John Lewis, senior partner at the law firm of Squire Sanders & Dempsey, said of him, “If you were to ask me to identify five persons who were the most important to this community in the last 20 years, he would be in my top five. And he’d probably be close to the top of the list of five.” Shatten was a civic and corporate leader. He was an educator. Above all, he was a great thinker.

On June 17, 2001, this newspaper launched its Quiet Crisis series, with the stated goal of beginning an ongoing examination of the region’s economic strengths and weaknesses and focusing on what Greater Cleveland must do to play a more successful role in the 21st-century economy. And on that first Sunday, we wrote of a panel discussion among six community leaders, including Shatten , that focused on what must be done for Greater Cleveland to prosper.

When a community, or a state, has such a civic treasure, it is wise to heed his warnings and take his advice seriously. But when I recently reread a transcript of that 2001 panel discussion, it was clear that this region and state haven’t acted on Shatten ’s warnings and have ignored his advice.

Which, of course, helps explain why this region and state are as much in crisis today as they were in June 2001. Consider some things Shatten said 44 months ago and you’ll realize they are just as true now as they were then, which speaks volumes about our appalling leadership void, both here and in Columbus.

On higher education: “Education is where it starts. Right now, the students who will determine our future are in about the fourth grade. Are they going to be scientists? Are they going to be mathematicians? Are they going to go to college?

“Over the last 20 years, we have disinvested in education and hurt our income and wealth-generating capacity. . . . We don’t have enough college-educated people, and our scientific research, while good, is not big enough. State policy (on higher education) is one of the crucial pieces, and the state is ducking it right now”

The state was ducking it then. And it’s ducking it today. The budget introduced last week by Gov. Bob Taft would deliver yet another kick in the teeth to higher education, giving our best and brightest even more incentive to flee this state ASAP.

On Northeast Ohio’s public universities:

“Let me add one of my outrageous, wild recommendations for linkage. I have been waiting 10 years to say this. We are the only place in the United States of America with state universities in four contiguous counties (Cleveland State, Akron, Kent State and Youngstown State universities). Now, imagine what the Northern Ohio state university system would look like if it was one system with a dominant campus. It’s a big, crazy idea.”

Big ideas aren’t welcome here. They’re too scary. We like the little ideas – the ones that come with no discernible benefits.

On regionalism, Shatten defended this community’s record, pointing to the Regional Transit Authority, the sewer system and the Metroparks. But he also stressed the need to continue regionalizing assets:

“This city is one of the standards of regionalism. I believe it strongly. That said, let’s reopen the game on the rest of it. Why don’t we have a water-edge governance that can actually tax and raise resources? Why don’t we open up the hard questions of the airports? But the antecedent, to me, is not to whine about it.”

Our leaders, in both Cleveland and the suburbs, have Ph.D.s in whining.

On the future:

“In the last 20 years, we had a wonderful rush of projects. We did downtown. We did the stadiums. We did this amazing array of housing in our neighborhoods. We did a lot of stuff. Now it’s sort of slowed down. But I’m optimistic a little bit, because there is a new queue out there. It’s the biopark. It’s the Cuyahoga Valley. It’s the convention center. It’s the array of manufacturing initiatives.

“The concern is, does this community have the will and the capacity to get over the edge? . . . To move this place another step will require – and I used to be reluctant to say this – another billion dollars, and probably tax increases. It’s very contentious. It’s always tough. But big things cost a lot of money.”

A little less than a year before his death, Shatten wrote a piece that appeared on these pages headlined, “Don’t let Ohio’s future slip away.” In it, he argued the state would pay dearly for its failure to invest heavily in research, higher education and job-creation strategies.

“Doing nothing is easy,” he wrote. “Leadership is risky and might fail. . . . We [must] act on a large scale. While Ohio debates how much of its future it can cut from the budget, our competitors are investing in their future. We spend less as our competitors invest more. This makes no sense.

“Doing nothing is not leadership. . . . Leaders must act if we want a different future.”

They haven’t.


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