Mayor Trevor Elkins Lone Voice of Support, Fights for RTA Riders...

Mayor Trevor Elkins Lone Voice of Support, Fights for RTA Riders...

Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins couldn't even get a second when he introduced a motion to place a sales tax levy on the November ballot Tuesday morning at a Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) board committee meeting. The motion died thereby. 

With seven total board members present, Elkins presented the levy's case. He argued for a four-tenths-of-a-percent sales tax increase over 10 years. That increase would yield an estimated $73 million per year — costing the average county resident about $1 per week — and would restore transit service to 2015 levels while also reducing fares and chipping away at the agency's considerable state-of-good-repair backlog.

But Elkins' colleagues all voiced opposition. Karen Gabriel Moss, an Armond Budish appointee to the board, worried that Elkins' proposal was arbitrary. Why four tenths of a percent and not five, she wondered? Why 10 years and not eight? She said, moreover, that if Richard Cordray were to be elected Governor in November, she was optimistic that he would make good on his recent campaign promise to invest in infrastructure, including public transit. 

Moss said that if Cleveland passed a levy, the state would be much more likely to pass over Cleveland and invest in other cities' transit systems. (This was a suggestion that Elkins, and many of the transit activists in the audience at RTA's W. 6th headquarters, found risible.)

Mayor Jackson appointee Valarie McCall thanked Elkins for his commitment, but reiterated statements that she has made in recent months about the failure and disarray of RTA's leadership, (in which term she included the board). She still felt that RTA was not ready to ask voters for additional funding. For one thing, she said, she'd be personally unable to articulate what a transit levy would accomplish — "We don't even know what we're going after" — and said that the board must make a good faith effort to reach out to communities where they are when they pursue a levy in the future. 

Despite Elkins' opinion that RTA should not be afraid to fail at the ballot, and indeed, could apply lessons from a failed campaign to an effort next year, McCall said that the agency simply had to do more due diligence before it asked voters for more money. 

A lack of due diligence was probably the primary objection to a ballot measure this year. 

South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo, an appointee of the regional mayors association, said that she'd received an email about a parking tax that she found promising and said should be considered. ("Dead on arrival," murmured a rider in the audience.) Had other funding mechanisms been fully considered and vetted, Welo asked? 

"Raising money is going to take time," she said. "I personally get questions about who's going to be acting GM. Have we really done the due diligence? Do people trust us enough to give us more money?" 

Mayor Dennis Clough, Board President, said much the same. 

"You really only want to go to the ballot once," he said. "I'd rather not try to learn from my mistakes by putting something on prematurely. I'd like to do more due diligence. We're not there. We're just not there." 

Rev. Charles Lucas said he's "100 percent" in favor of taking a measure to voters, "just not now." And Sonny Nardi said he disagreed with the terms of the proposal, preferring a five-year measure to a 10-year to prove to voters that RTA could be accountable with taxpayer dollars. While Elkins argued that a 10-year levy would provide more stability for the agency, he ultimately proposed a six-year levy as a concession to Nardi. 

Despite Valarie McCall's efforts to characterize the board as being in agreement on big-picture issues — "I don't want this to seem like one colleague is for something and nine others are against it; that's not accurate," she said — the discussion was very much a back-and-forth between Elkins arguing the merits of the levy and his six colleagues in attendance expressing reservations. 

Elkins said it was frustrating, for example, to hear his board colleagues speak so passionately about the need for due diligence. 

"In this county, we have spent an insane amount of taxpayer dollars on funding for professional sports facilities," Elkins said. "If due diligence and research matter to us, we would never have done that because all of the research, right up to the Federal Reserve, says spending money on those facilities does not ever generate an economic return. Does research and data really matter to us? Only when it's convenient, it appears." 

But the board was in agreement on RTA's desperate need for funding. In the succinct phrasing of McCall: "We have needs. We have needs. We have needs!" 

Clough released a statement shortly after the meeting saying that the time for a ballot measure would "likely" be in 2019. He said the board agreed on a number of matters. Among them: 

Customers who rely on public transit to get to work, school and healthcare must be seen a priority by community leaders, whose influence on their behalf can help make the difference. 

A greater investment in public transit is the right course of action – locally, statewide and nationally.

The need is urgent and the clock is ticking, but we should only move forward when all the right pieces are in place.

Much more work needs to be done to identify the possible sources of funding that will allow us to define and to deliver what the community wants and needs.

It is critical that we allow for significant public input into this process. Voters will have important questions that deserve specific answers. We need to be prepared with those answers.

But the feeling voiced by the rider coalition Clevelanders for Public Transit was that 2018 was the ideal year for a ballot measure. Voter turnout is expected to be strong in Cuyahoga County, the state's Democratic stronghold, with both Senator Sherrod Brown and Governor Richard Cordray seeking election. 

"Furthermore, even if unsuccessful, this election offers an opportunity to revise a proposal and go back to voters in a future election," CPT said in a statement, echoing Elkins. "The continued lack of funding will result in additional cuts and fare increases for the 150,000 Cuyahoga County residents that use transit." 

Energizing the Democratic Party

By Andrew J. Tobias,

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Progressive activists, along with a suburban mayor who lost last year's party leadership fight, say they have filed hundreds of candidates in their insurgent bid to seize control of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party's central committee.

It's not clear how viable the takeover effort is. But the internal fight has raised tensions and could disrupt the party in an election year when Democrats otherwise have the potential to make big gains in Ohio. Cuyahoga County is of key political importance to Democrats statewide, and a functioning party organization helps raise money and organize voters.

Trevor Elkins, mayor of tiny Newburgh Heights, said he personally has submitted petitions for about 100 candidates. Activists with the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, an off-shoot of Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, say their members have filed for more than 150 committee seats themselves.

County elections officials say nearly 1,000 candidates have filed to runfor about 730 committee seats. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 120 had withdrawn, many of whom may attempt to run as write-in candidates, and another 80 have been recommended for rejection, based on technical problems with their petitions, said Pat McDonald, the county elections director. 

County party committee seats will appear on the May ballot, alongside elections for local state and federal candidates. In June, committee members will choose whether to re-elect still-new Party Chairwoman Shontel Brown. Around 115 committee members cast votes at the party meeting last summer that saw Brown elected as the party's first black and first female leader in its history.

In an interview, Elkins said his campaign isn't about installing himself as party chairman, but he didn't rule it out. He also said his coalition will strengthen, not harm, Democratic electoral chances, since one of his group's stated goals is to recruit committee members who will commit to helping increase voter turnout. It reflects activists' frustration with party stalwarts, and a desire to push the party in a more progressive direction, he said.

"The slate of candidates that I'm running tend to be party activists, they tend to be younger folks," Elkins said. "They tend to be people who are more energized and more active in doing things like getting out the vote, and working in their neighborhoods and their communities, whereas whoever else ... [are] some of the same names that have been there for years."

NOPEC Program Finances Newburgh Heights Project

NOPEC Program Finances Newburgh Heights Project

The Village of Newburgh Heights is the first entity to take advantage of the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council energy efficiency financing, the council reported Thursday. The village secured financing of $325,000 to improve the recently purchased building at 4105 Harvard Ave. that now serves as its fire station and service garage.

Why My Town has the Most Generous Paid Leave Policy in America

Why My Town has the Most Generous Paid Leave Policy in America

In May 2016, Newburgh Heights, Ohio, became the first municipality in the nation to offer six months' paid maternity and paternity leave to public employees. Secretary Perez visited the village of approximately 2,500 people to hear from Mayor Trevor Elkins and employees who will benefit from this policy. We asked Mayor Elkins to share why providing paid leave was important. This is what he told us:

Parental-leave law in Newburgh Heights gets attention of White House

NEWBURGH HEIGHTS, Ohio-- The village of Newburgh Heights drew the attention of the White House Monday afternoon. A member of the President’s Cabinet traveled to the small community of 2,500 people to talk with its Mayor about Newburgh’s precedent-setting paid family leave policy.

Small Ohio Town Passes Progressive Parental Leave Policy

The Village of Newburgh Heights, outside Cleveland, is a working class community of about 2,500 residents. It's also home to the most progressive parental leave policy of any municipality in the nation. As of last week, full-time public employees will be eligible for six months of paid parental leave after the birth of a child.