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New leadership atop Cuyahoga County, Cleveland governments present opportunities, challenges

Cuyahoga County
Posted at 6:10 PM, Jan 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-02 19:18:51-05

CLEVELAND — A new era in Cuyahoga County has begun as Chris Ronayne was sworn in as county executive over the weekend, becoming the third person to hold that position since voters passed county government reform in 2009.

The new administrations at both Cleveland City Hall and Cuyahoga County Administrative Headquarters present a new era in local politics and, perhaps, potential for increased cooperation between the two, experts said.

Ronayne’s incoming administration comes amid a slew of significant, present-day challenges, including the possible construction of a new county jail, ongoing questions about the future of FirstEnergy Stadium and a renewed push to redevelop the lakefront and enhance access to the water. There are also looming concerns about a economic recession in 2023.

Fresh off of taking the oath of office on Sunday, Ronayne stressed the importance of a healthy county economy as well as a well-trained workforce.

“We need to be very attentive to their workforce needs. We need to be attentive to workers’ needs to up-skill, to retool, and in some cases to rejoin the economy, post-pandemic,” Ronayne said. “I am very focused on a healthy economy, healthy communities… and healthy government. They have to work in tandem. But what we really want to focus on is making sure that people have the skills they need to participate all-in in this economy.”

Tom Sutton, a longtime political science professor at Baldwin Wallace University, said there is a lot of potential for positive cooperation between Ronayne’s administration and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb’s team at city hall, especially given Ronayne’s familiarity with the dynamics there.

Ronayne was the campaign manager and chief of staff under former Mayor Jane Campbell. Prior to running for county executive, Ronayne was at the helm of University Circle Inc.

“That was the last big transition that we had,” Sutton said. “I think you have new ideas, fresh ideas that both [Ronayne and Bibb] bring. Both of them [have] national experience in terms of the networks that they are a part of.”

In addition to the growing healthcare, tech and manufacturing industries in the county, Ronayne staunchly believes it also has tremendous opportunity for growth when it comes to the lakefront and riverfront. Mayor Bibb has also stressed the importance of enhanced lakefront access and has commissioned studies on the future of Burke Airport as well as a lakefront master plan.

“With an asset base like Cuyahoga County’s, we really can position to have our best days ahead,” Ronayne said. “This is Cleveland and Cuyahoga County’s time to reach the lake; to connect to our river; to rebuild our economy; to rebuild our Downtown; to leverage the asset base of health, tech, water and manufacturing. We have it all here. I’m excited to be one of the leaders in this community to leverage that.”

Although Ronayne will undoubtedly be devoting time to some of the big picture and big ticket items of his agenda, Sutton cautioned the importance of enhancing the delivery of basic county services.

“Don’t take them for granted and don’t ignore them. Be clear that is always going to be a first priority,” Sutton said. “It is is not the thing that gets headlines when you do it right but it sure gets headlines when you do it wrong. It’s one of those things that affects everyone.”