"We're normal!" yelped County Executive Armond Budish during his sixth State of the County address, a 30-minute prerecorded video delivered virtually Thursday at the City Club of Cleveland.
He was citing Cuyahoga County's abundance of fresh water and its historical avoidance of natural disasters and framing these as a business attraction pitch. Why should high-tech manufacturers in need of a reliable supply of fresh water be located in the drought-afflicted states of California, Nevada and Arizona, he wondered? He also mentioned two other "potentially huge" projects in development: a microgrid, which would provide continuous electricity to companies even during power outages, and a lakefront plan centered on bike and pedestrian trails.
The speech was interspersed with videos and marked by Budish's overly expressive speaking style. Its purpose was to recapitulate the highs and lows of Cuyahoga County's Covid response — PPE distribution, food distribution (via the Food Bank), small business grants, etc. — and its tone was generally upbeat, if not exuberant. Budish favorably compared the county's GDP to peer cities and said the region was positioned to emerge from the pandemic "with strength and vitality."
He stressed that over the past year, the county has begun, at his urging, to apply an "equity lens" to all county projects. For example, he said that in addition to regular road repaving, the county was devoting additional paving resources to historically redlined neighborhoods. He promoted the recently opened mental health diversion center, operated by Oriana House, which he said would remove 500 people per year from the county jail, and highlighted county partnerships that have improved the digital divide and ensured that minority communities had access to Covid testing and the vaccine.
One new initiative Budish announced was something he called the "Neighborhood Surge." The County will be allocating a "surge" of resources to Cleveland's Central neighborhood. These will be designed to improve internet access, physical infrastructure, (including the local rec center), and job opportunities. KeyBank will also host regular financial literacy programs there. The goal, Budish said, was to have a "transformative and lasting impact" on one of the county's poorest and most historically marginalized areas.
The tenor of the audience Q&A could not have been more divergent. Fielding questions relayed by City Club CEO Dan Moulthrop, Budish was evasive and vague.
On the question of how residents could participate in assigning priorities for American Rescue Plan dollars, Budish said he hadn't yet learned the rules, but was "open to" citizen participation. On the question of declining public transit ridership and the fact that many of county's top employers aren't accessible via public transit, Budish spoke about other elements from his climate action plan and then, when pressed, said he wasn't in charge of public transit. On a series of questions about the proposed new county jail, Budish affirmed that the county had the debt capacity to build and pay for it, but provided no meaningful details about the process. On a question about organized labor, and recent actions by the Cuyahoga County Library that may eliminate unionized janitorial jobs, Budish pleaded ignorance and said he had a history of supporting unions.
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Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...