Valarie McCall Should Resign From the RTA Board

click to enlarge Valarie McCall refuses to give up her RTA board seat. - City of Cleveland
City of Cleveland
Valarie McCall refuses to give up her RTA board seat.

The status quo that Mayor Justin Bibb staked his campaign on disrupting has once again reared its ugly head. Valarie McCall, former Mayor Frank Jackson's Chief of Government and International Affairs, (and also Chief of Communications), is refusing to give up her board seat on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

Cleveland.com's Courtney Astolfi reported Monday that Bibb had "quietly abandoned" his effort to remove McCall from the seat, an awkward development, as Bibb had already publicized his intentions to nominate two regular RTA riders, Lauren Welch and Jeff Sleasman, to the transit board. 

Per Astolfi's reporting, Welch will assume the seat of outgoing member Leo Serrano. But Sleasman, who was initially slated to replace Serrano, will have to wait in the wings for a year while McCall dies on her hill and serves the remainder of her term.

Though the city now acknowledges that Bibb does not have the legal authority to remove McCall, there is nevertheless a sense of disbelief emanating from 601 Lakeside. This was not some violent "ouster" or personal vendetta. It was an absolutely standard process, a changing of the guard.

Members of the RTA board serve at the pleasure of the Mayor, the County Executive and the region's suburban mayors association, respectively. McCall served at the pleasure of Mayor Frank Jackson, and has in fact served since 2006, when Jackson first appointed her during his first year in office.

Bibb is a former RTA board member himself. In keeping with a campaign promise, he wanted to appoint riders to the RTA board, a prerogative long championed by the grassroots transit advocacy group Clevelanders for Public Transit. City Hall folks suggested that McCall should not have been surprised by the announcement of Welch and Sleasman—conversations were evidently had—but that she nevertheless refused to go gracefully. 

As Cleveland.com reported, Ohio law only permits the removal of transit board members in limited situations—“for misfeasance, nonfeasance, or malfeasance in office”—and it's not like Bibb wants to remove McCall forcibly. He doesn't want a fight with a longtime Jackson loyalist who also happens to be chummy with Council President Blaine Griffin.

It was Griffin who more or less spoke on McCall's behalf in early reporting by Cleveland.com, suggesting that McCall "felt she had the right" to serve out her term. Griffin has also lately wanted Bibb and his administration to provide legal justifications for all they do and said council was conducting its own "legal research" about the removal process. If such research is being conducted, it's a waste of time. This shouldn't be a legal proceeding at all!

Decorum holds that it is impolite to talk trash about previous administrations unless you're on the campaign trail, so no one said this explicitly, but the assumption from the Bibb camp was that McCall would have simply taken the hint and stepped down. 

But she hasn't and won't. And so Bibb has "quietly abandoned" this routine board reshuffling, and transit advocates will have to wait another year for an additional rider voice on the transit board.

Though it's fair to suggest that Bibb's crusade to disrupt the status quo has already lost some of its fervor and glint, in this instance it is not he who misunderstood Ohio law or goofed with a premature announcement. He was trying to make good on a campaign commitment, using his appointment powers to bring new voices to the RTA table. The fault here is McCall's, and the fault is probably pride. 

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About The Author

Sam Allard

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...
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