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Robert Higgs
By Robert Higgs August 18, 2011
Laura Johnston
By Laura Johnston August 18, 2011

Tug-of-war over land bank board appointments creates impasse

As a candidate, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald pledged to expand the county land bank to foster development.

Formally known as the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., state lawmakers created it in 2009. The agency uses penalties and interest from delinquent property taxes to acquire houses and businesses that have been abandoned or are in foreclosure.

In a campaign position paper, FitzGerald proposed broadening its capacity to acquire strategic property and assemble larger parcels. "Depending on location and need, a comprehensive approach to land assembly can transform single vacant parcels into job-ready industrial sites, neighborhood green space, destination parks, natural habitat, development sites and even urban farming opportunities.”

But at present, FitzGerald is in tug-of-war with the county land bank board over who the appointment of board members. At issue is a decision by land bank board members in March to reappoint South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo and Berea Mayor Cyril Kleem, whose terms were set to expire in May.

FitzGerald has challenged the board"s vote and accused its members of trying to usurp his authority to make appointments and violating the agency"s own bylaws.

Board members have accused FitzGerald of making a power play to take control of the land bank. They commissioned a legal opinion that concluded their vote to reappoint Welo and Kleem was legal.

County Law Director Majeed Makhlouf publicly stated in July that he believed the reappointment vote violated state law governing the land bank, as well as the agency"s bylaws.

Originally, agency bylaws mandated that the board of directors consist of two county commissioners, the county treasurer, two Cleveland representatives and two others appointed by commissioners. Commissioners chose Welo and Kleem after consulting a suburban mayors" group.

When a charter government took office in January, representatives of the county executive and council assumed the commissioners" seats. FitzGerald had started recruiting applicants for the seats held by Kleem and Welo when the land bank board reappointed the two mayors.

The two sides have been at an impasse since.

Cuyahoga County Councilmen Dan Brady and Michael Gallagher have  requested a legal opinion from Makhlouf in hopes it will help allow the two sides to reach a compromise.

In the meantime, though, we"ll point the Fitz-O-Meter for this promise to Stalled.


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