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Calfee NOW: Cuyahoga County Executive-Elect Chris Ronayne

On the latest episode of Calfee NOW, Calfee Senior Counsel Raymond Tarasuck and Associate Michael Bowen, both with the firm's Government Relations and Legislation practice group, spoke with Cuyahoga County Executive-elect Chris Ronayne.

Topics discussed included:

  • County Executive-elect Ronayne's transition plans, including his transition advisory team
  • Future initiatives to promote a business-friendly environment in Cuyahoga County
  • Ronayne's plans for the Cuyahoga County Jail

Calfee NOW - Chris Ronayne

Watch the full episode.

Video Transcript

Michael Bowen:

All right. I want to welcome everybody to another Calfee NOW. Today we have the newly elected county executive elect, our good friend Chris Ronayne. First off, Chris, I want to congratulate you on, on such a commanding victory on Tuesday, and we're happy to have you.

Chris Ronayne:

Thank you, Michael. It was a great day. Tuesday up here in Cuyahoga County for our team we worked hard for a year and a half, and it showed I want to just thank my campaign team and then you know, the voters, we are lucky to have enlightened group where I always say, look, I just need to be myself. And our experience paid off and it was a great retirement.

Michael Bowen:

Absolutely. So now that the election's over, you know, I'm sure you're talking about you've been thinking about transition, what's going to be some of your focus on the transition team over the next couple of months before you get into office?

Chris Ronayne:

Well, as far as the transition team goes, we're building it out right now as we speak. We obviously wanted to get over election day November 8th, but we hit the ground run in November 9th, building that team. I think you're going to see a cross section on the transition advisory committee, which we've got 15 people of, you know, disciplines from private sector public sector, nonprofit sector kind a cross section of this community. What we're looking for in the transition advisory is a, a sound board group that's really seeing whether the recommendations we're making would make sense and how they implement it into the administration of the future. I'm going to have a staff team looking at best practices and county governments and public sector work elsewhere. You know, there's great models to lean in on. We've looked at you know, Summit County, which has been a longer running county exec by a number of years.

They started in the eighties with the county exec system good workout in Allegheny County, Pittsburgh. We want to take some cues from, and just kind of what other metro have been doing, whether it's Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, you name it. There's been some good work in a nearby market from us. And I think we want to tap into that kind what's been the secret of success, and that advisory Committee's going to help us steer that then into an administration and build out an organization that is effective, is efficient, focuses on collaboration and growth. And those are all precepts in the county charter. That's the, pretty much, I just read you the preamble of the charter. So we want to get back to what it was all about when we ushered in reform in 2009, when the voters brought it in and really, really focus in the future on an effective county government that delivers on its promise of the charter.

Raymond Tarasuck:

Hey, Chris. Ray. Hey, congratulations to my friend. A great, great, great campaign. You know, you mentioned public and private sector being involved in your transition team here at Cal. We represent public and private businesses all across the county. Can you talk a little bit in detail about some initiatives that your administration's going to be enacting to promote a business friendly environment?

Chris Ronayne:

Yeah, and I want to thank Calfee, you know, know from the beginning you guys have engaged us, you've hosted forums, you've had me out to your office I've met with your team. I look forward to meeting with more. So specifically thank you. Introduce me to a number of your clients as well. I think that engagement from the private and public sector and is being a two-way street, I'm looking forward to many, many iterations of that with you. I will say that the campaign itself has been really, truly an education in terms of learning what others are doing in this community to advance this community. Think that the job ahead is really about listener leadership and working with our public and nonprofit sector, with the public sector, and the private sector to really look at how do we together grow this place.

 So as far as engagement strategies, I think you guys building out future forums for us to participate in is one very important. Two, I think with us, we need to have an outward facing attitude in this administration that we don't get into the silo and the bunker down and forget of the world that's out there. It's very much who I am to be an outward facing executive. It's what I practice at University Circle as the CEO, and it's what I practice at Cleveland City Hall when I was the Chief of Staff and Chief Development Officer. But we're going to run and make their trains run well at county, but if we're going to do anything in this region, we've got to do things together. Economic development, workforce development, transportation, waterfront development, you name it, we've got to do this stuff together. Kelsey's well positioned for so many years being in this market to be a great partner to us.

I want to say I appreciate the work that you did with me at University Circle with some of your clients, like Case Western Reserve University. I always knew that you were there guiding them, and they grew measurably during our administration being at University Circle Inc. They grew in student population. They grew in terms of the NIH dollars they were bringing in that they really hit an all-time high, I think and, and while we were there and we built the community together, but, you know, behind the scenes was Calfee. So I think also an experienced leader who knows who you are and just knows who to call at your firm will be a third. You guys set the forums, we set the outward facing attitude, and we know who to call when we need you.

Michael Bowen:

That's great. So, Chris, you know, the big, the big hot ticket option, or hot ticket item is the county jail. I know that project is looming over to your administration. There's been a lot of ebbs and flows there. Can you talk a little bit about how you're going to approach the jail and what you're thinking about? Obviously, knowing that you're walking into a new situation, but you know January 1, what are you thinking with the jail?

Chris Ronayne:

Well, let me start by saying, Michael, I think you're right. It is a hot ticket item. We have got to be able to walk and chew gum. I mean, I think that's what experience leadership does. Three things. Keep your eye on your overall vision, be able to fight fires day to day without it distracting everything else you do, and handle the big ticket items. Like you said, there's the must do’s and there's the should do’s. And, you know, the should do’s. We've got a lot of things we want to do in terms of economic growth, in terms of turning out, you know, more housing in this community, connecting to our Great Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. There's a lot of should do’s and we will do those should do’s, but on the must do, look, we've got two huge things in front of us.

One, the Department of Children and Family Services, and making sure that we're doing right by our family and most importantly, our children in this county when they're in our custody. And two, speaking of custody, when detainees are in our custody at the county jail, we've got to do right by them. But I want to step back on that and say, Michael, I've said to this current administration, you know, slow it down. You're starting to put the cart before the horse by talking about building the big boxes, I call it. It has actually got to be the other way. We've got to look at justice and how are we doing from the very moment of incident management. You know, are we thinking more about, you know, from your home community Shaker who started to build a, a really nice example of having a care team approach with mental health workers on site when there's a mental health worker needed.

Does the dispatcher know who to deploy when there's an incident in a community? You know, are we working with law enforcement to understand that dynamic and are they knowing that there's a diversion center where we can take someone where that person can be you know, analyzed for what they really need? Maybe it's chemical addiction, maybe it's mental health services, you know, to drop people off at doorsteps, which has been both the practice at the, the at the jail and also at a Department of Children and Family Services has got to be a practice that we act. We've got to get people what they need when they need it. Now, I will say as far as looking at the jail there's two things at hand. Beyond, you know, just good justice and, and kind of trying to manage that population by way of perhaps doing a better job of not overfilling the jail with those who don't need to be there last night on any given night tonight, there'll be people there that are simply there because their docket hasn't yet you know, their, their case hasn't left docket into the judge’s chambers yet.

There are issues that we need to make sure that our, our persons are, you know, accessing bail, you know, and this bail reform really matters. And again, did they have to be there in the first place? So the population management is something first and foremost we got to work on. Second thing I do want to say is I will give in week one a very thorough review of the current facility. Is it, should it, could it be renovated? It looks like most of the mounting reports are maybe not, but I want to make sure that we put that conversation to bed. I mean, there's a lot of flow of information, five to eight years of longevity in the jail. What does that mean? What do we mean when we say it's got five to eight years of useful life? I don't know. What I see is right now, conditions that seem like they're failing us.

So I want to look hard at the jail itself. Finally, when we've analyzed how we're doing with justice and how we can really manage population and whether or not we renovate the existing jail, we'll look at the conflicts. My instincts are to keep the jail and the justice center overall. The judges together, my instincts are that it needs to be a centralized facility. And my instincts are probably that it needs to be somewhere in the jurisdictions close to the downtown. And the reason being that by nature and by transit lines and by street grids, it's an accessible place, right? And there is some also upside benefit to having workers helping with these sort of rest of the economy. You know, having their lunch downtown. You know, there's a lot of other ancillary economic development that's that happens cause workers are near our small businesses.

Raymond Tarasuck:

You know. Chris, we talked a little bit about your transition team. Do you have a timeline when you're going to be announcing or in a hiring senior leadership within the administration? In addition to that talk a little bit about what will there be, do you foresee any type of restructuring of any of the departments with within the county?

Chris Ronayne:

Yes and yes. In the very near future, you will hear my top leadership team begun begin to be announced. You'll hear a Chief of Staff that'll begin to be announced and you'll hear things flow from there. I will say that we'll have a transition advisory committee in place by the end of today. Time of this recording is in November 10th. We'll have that in place. It'll be a beginning point as a transition advisory committee goes, because we will have special areas of expertise, subject expertise where we will attract people to help us with innovation committees at county. And those innovations will range from housing to minority business enterprise to I'm just using examples, climate to transportation to workforce development, you know, and they want to get subject area experts on all those things, which then lead to helping us implement.

As I said, I would on the campaign, some new departments. And that new department mentality is not to build a bigger government, it's to think about it in a expense neutral way, but it's to realign our departments to the needs that I heard of in the last year and a half on this campaign. And where my instincts were is that we've got to reorganize for success. So I will have a separate department of housing that focuses specifically on the fact that we've got aging housing stock, that we need fix up funding, that we need to figure out how to improve our permit processes within our communities and move at the speed of business. We will have that, we will have a transportation division that will work with public works on making sure that people are getting into work. They will work with workforce development.

We'll probably have something like an Ombudsman's office and the Ombudsman's Office of Yesteryear used to help people navigate county government, get around and literally when somebody calls, they get a phone call to get somebody it up and they navigate to the next stop. These are the things that people have said to me really matter, you know housing, I want to stay in my home, but I can't fix up my home. Transportation. I want to get to work, but I can't get there. You know, I try to get ahold of your county government, but my call went unanswered, so the things we're going to respond to. So yes, senior staff will be announced in the very near future, the beginnings, we'll do more with our committees to select pools of people to interview for some of our other staff. And the transition committee will be up and running soon, within the next 20 hours. And again, we'll build out then an organizational framework for success that meets modern day needs.

Michael Bowen:

Great. Well, Chris, we know your bread and butter here at Calfee is Economic Development. So I know this question will be definitely close to your heart here in the county's role in two large conversations that we know are happening in City Hall and around the City of Cleveland to both Burke Airport and the, the lakefront, the waterline, however you want to call that. Tell me a little bit about, you know, as you, you start your administration, what you're thinking about the county's role be, role being, and you know, where, where you're going to play into that.

Chris Ronayne:

Yeah. You know, I mean, we live in a home rule state, as you guys know, which means that the mayors matter in terms of the use of land, right? And I respect that as a city planner by background, and I know that that's the dynamic. That being said, I'm going to channel Mayor Justin Bibb’s channel, you know, a message to us, which is, you know, we've got to do this together. And so I'll be working with the mayor on everything from waterfront development to workforce development to regional air Service. Specifically Mike, to your questions about you know, the airport the shoreline and the waterfront line I think you referenced. I'm looking forward to a conversation that has almost been delayed two decades. You know, I was city planning director in the early two thousands to put together a framework plan called the Waterfront District Plan.

In that plan, I'd love to share it with you in full. But you know, we've got we've got animated Harbor Front. We've got a housing neighborhood, you know, in and around the stadium. We've got a bridge down to the Rock Hall Science Center and Stadium. We've got housing all along that harbor. You know, we did it in Battery Park during the Campbell administration that I worked for. Got it started, connected it with a plan that connected out to Edgewater Park. But the dream deferred has been Gordon Park on the east side. I mean, I think we need and owe our communities of St. Clair, Glenville, Hough, you name it, a better access to the waterfront on the east side. And the Metroparks are starting to play in that space. And thank goodness they are, I'm glad their levy was just passed, because they have an opportunity to really, really activate the East side waterfront.

As the harbor goes downtown. The county actually owns some land that is really relevant to this, up on the Bluffs, on Lakeside I think off the mall with some of our publicly owned facilities around the convention center, I want to see us bridge that gap, get over the Shoreway, and get onto our waterfront as the downtown and the city want to do. I think there's a major public amenity there. I want to see, as you mentioned, the waterfront line that reactivated working with GC RTA because we give it there, there, because some of the areas in and around Lakeside, the MUNI lot and elsewhere are actually animated with new addresses. Well, yes, we'll still have Browns tailgating. We're going to make sure that, you know, but the reality is, is that's eight days a year, and we got to have 24/7 environment in the downtown.

 I sense from Mayor Bibb, you need some help on it. One thing I want to say, relative to Burke, we've got County Airport out at Richmond, and we could be strategizing for success to create some offloading of what Burke now carries at county Airport. There's a lot of details to that, but I want to get to it and say to the mayor, I'll be aggressive partner with you in advocating at the Congress and state level for the conversion of Burke and also for the transformation of the harbor front. And again, with a firm like yours that knows Columbus well as well maybe we'll be working together on that team effort.

Raymond Tarasuck:

Chris, we want to thank you for your time this morning. It's been great, really important to us to, to have you here with us this morning. As we wrap up this edition of Calfee NOW, is there anything you'd like to say to our audience as you as you really embark on the beginning of your first term here as county executive?

Chris Ronayne:

Well, thank you, Ray. We campaigned on the simple premise of a new Cuyahoga, and I will say to everyone what you already know, which is if we leverage the asset base that we have in Cuyahoga County, we will together create a place like no other, an unparalleled place of growth opportunity and unparalleled place of freshwater access, an unparalleled place for healthcare. And in all that, I see us as a destination for those who live and work here, but also for those who want to experience one of the greatest places in the world. And that is this location here in Cuyahoga County. On the Freshwater Basin at a, the world center of great healthcare in an area that now has known America's greatest cultural district. I'm personally proud of that one in University Circle, which was named by USA Today, two years ago as the Best Cultural Arts District in America and the Metro Parks, which has been named as the Best Managed Park System in the country.

You add up those kinds of assets Lake Erie, our healthcare network, our cultural arts, and cultural network, and our, our parks. And there's a place like no other. I will say that this has got to be to use the GCP mantra at this point, which they took from the Cleveland Cavaliers, “all in”. I agree, we've got to get everybody participating in that success, or it's a failure if we don't, but let's do it. Our best days are ahead, and I want to work with all of our listeners out there on that agenda to create a place like no other.

Michael Bowen:

Well, with that, we want to conclude this very special Calfee NOW with our freshly minted County exec elect, Chris Ronayne. You know, Chris, thanks for your time as always. And you know, obviously our clients, our friends of the firm would be very interested to hear, you know, what you're going to do moving forward. So good luck.

Chris Ronayne:

Mike, Ray, thanks so much and thanks all.

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