Last night, Armond Budish received a “humanitarian” award from the Cleveland chapter of the “new” Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This is messed up for many reasons, some of which I’ve already written about, but the thing that brought protesters (including me) out in the cold to chant and wave signs outside the event is the condition of the Cuyahoga County Jail.
I’ll spell out the connection here. Budish is the Executive of Cuyahoga County. The Jail Director reports to him. The Sheriff reports to him. There is a direct line of accountability from the people, to Budish, to the Jail Director and Sheriff.
Notably, Jail Director has never been an elected position. The Sheriff was elected until the new County Charter became effective in 2011, making the Sheriff part of the executive branch of the new county government.
Now here’s the problem I’m having with some of the opposition to Budish.
I’m hearing a few people blaming the Charter system for the corruption under Budish and openly calling for a return to the standard non-charter county government system in Ohio. That would be election of three, co-equal, at-large County Commissioners; and county-wide elections for Sheriff, Engineer, Coroner, and Prosector.
Going back to that would be a terrible idea. The charter is not the problem. We know that because we were out protesting Budish himself. There is one executive. He owns this. It’s not a vaguely responsible committee of three with no particular constituency and a separately elected Sheriff who may or may not be responsible too.
Imagine how this would go under the old system.
The deficiencies in the jail were first brought forth at a meeting of a County Council committee, but under the old system there was no County Council and no committees. Literally all legislation was heard and decided upon by the three Commissioners, and they did have hearings but all they needed to make a decision was two of the three talking in the elevator on the way to the hearing.
In fact, it was very common in those days for the Commissioners to implement corrupt, wasteful, impractical, or racist policies by 2-1 votes. The “no” vote rotated among the three Commissioners so they could take turns being the good guy. It’s like the covering up was built in the whole time.
Clearly, under the three-commissioner system, the conditions at the jail never would have been raised in a legislative forum.
No, the Charter made sense ten years ago and it makes sense now.
We just have to stop electing crooks! And it’s harder to hide the crooks now that there is a single clear line of reporting and accountability from the County Executive to the malfeasance in operations. Keep the charter.