The public has discovered the first bump in the so-called "road to reform," and open government advocates are not pleased.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has asked Cuyahoga County transition leaders to open up transition committee meetings to the public and media. “Transparency is absolutely essential to build public trust and ensure that officials are serving the people,” says Christine Link, executive director of ACLU Ohio.
The ACLU’s request comes a day after transition co-chairs Zanotti and Jim McCafferty appeared on WCPN’s “Sound of Ideas” radio show. During the show, Zanotti and McCafferty told host Dan Moulthrop that reporters and citizens wouldn't necessarily be allowed into all meetings.
A dozen committees will meet throughout 2010 to craft recommendations for Cuyahoga County’s new charter government, which goes into effect January 1, 2011. Voters adopted the charter last fall during a campaign in which Zanotti and other proponents promised government reform.
“It is an inherent contradiction that an advisory committee meant to reform county government wishes to do so behind closed doors without the full participation of the public,” says Link in a news release.
McCafferty, the county’s chief administrator, was appointed by the county board of commissioners to oversee the transition process, in compliance with the newly adopted charter. However, McCafferty has invited Zanotti — a leader in last year’s campaign for a new county government — to help oversee the process. Zanotti’s involvement has been questioned by critics, some who say that Zanotti is not qualified or simply shouldn’t be involved because of questionable political motives. (Zanotti has repeatedly said he will not run for the county's new leadership position.)
Zanotti and McCafferty announced the transition committees two weeks ago and said at the time that not all meetings would be held publicly. The committees are stacked heavily with corporate executives and county administrators; not one sitting elected county official is involved, which seems to be why Zanotti argues that Ohio's public meeting (or "sunshine") laws do not apply.