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Change looming at county commission

Tom Jackson • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:27 PM

The transition has begun at the Erie County commissioners.

Pat Shenigo, the commissioner-elect, attended Thursday's and today's commission meetings, and told me he intends to keep coming to the meetings. He takes office in January.

He's replacing Nancy McKeen, who is retiring. Her last scheduled meeting is Dec. 29.

I asked McKeen if she'll attend that meeting, and McKeen, always clear when she answers questions, replied, "Hell, yes!"

"She's even threatened to be here after that," joked commissioner Bill Monaghan.

When Shenigo takes over, all three commissioners will be Democrats.

It's hard to know whether that fact is significant, or whether it's good or bad.

On one hand, the meetings themselves never have a partisan tone. Even if you sit through the meetings for hours, and pay careful attention, it can be hard to tell that McKeen is a Republican and that Monaghan and Tom Ferrell are Democrats. You wouldn't be able to say the same thing about the Ohio General Assembly.

On the other hand, one-party rule arguably has been a disaster in Cuyahoga County. The Plain Dealer constantly runs stories about how arrogant the all-Democrat county commission behaves. Stories about shady deals in local government fill the paper.

Then again, the commissioners here don't really behave the same way. The Cuyahoga County commissioners hiked the county sales tax for a "medical mart" boondoggle without bothering to put the issue on the ballot. Our commissioners have put every proposed tax hike on the ballot and let voters decide.

Then, too, commissioners in Cuyahoga County can do anything they like because the Cuyahoga County Republican Party is almost useless as an opposition party.

The Erie County Republican Party has had a rough time lately — it has lost the last three county commission races — but it has continued to field good candidates and compete well. As I wrote  recently, the Obama landslide probably prevented the Republicans from winning both county commission races this year. Yes, the Democrats won, but they're not immune from public opinion if things go badly here.

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