Cuyahoga County land bank appointees replace controversial members (Plain Dealer)

Cuyahoga Land Bank News

Cuyahoga County land bank appointees replace controversial members (Plain Dealer)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald has appointed three new members to the county land bank’s governing board, ending a protracted dispute with suburban mayors over their right to reappoint themselves.

Founding land bank members Berea Mayor Cyril Kleem and South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo will surrender their seats this month, fulfilling a compromise hammered out last October.

North Olmsted Mayor Kevin Kennedy, Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers and community development activist Bobbi Reichtell will join the board, following the appointment of Thomas Fitzpatrick, a community development economist at the Federal Reserve Bank, in February.

The October compromise — which Kleem and Welo opposed — expanded the board from seven to nine members, forced the two mayors out and required all new members to be unanimously chosen by FitzGerald, his treasurer and a County Council representative.

FitzGerald, county Treasurer Richard Sensenbrenner, County Councilman Dan Brady, Cleveland City Councilman Anthony Brancatelli and city regional development chief Chris Warren also sit on the board.

FitzGerald had argued that a March 2011 vote by the board to reappoint Kleem and Welo had broken state law and usurped his authority to appoint members, because the county charter gives the executive the right to make board appointments.

FitzGerald accused the board of trying to avoid oversight, while board members said FitzGerald was making a power play.

“It is a long overdue resolution of an unfortunate chapter,” FitzGerald said in an interview. “We’re ready to move forward in a productive way now.”

The non-profit, taxpayer-financed land bank, formally named the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., was founded in 2009 by state lawmakers to acquire houses and businesses that have been abandoned or are in foreclosure. The bank demolishes some structures and renovates and sells others.

So far, the bank has acquired 2,177 properties and demolished 1,031 houses, according to its latest records. About 830 properties have been transferred to homeowners, rehabbers and city land banks.

To pay for the work, the agency taps 5 percent of the money collected on delinquent property tax bills, as well as fees and interest, with a total take capped at $7 million annually.

State law originally mandated that a township representative serve on the board, but the law changed this week to apply to only counties with at least two townships of more than 10,000 residents each. That excludes Cuyahoga County.

Welo has not attended a meeting since March.

In an e-mailed statement, she lauded former county Treasurer Jim Rokakis and praised Sellers’ leadership.

“It has been an honor to serve in a leadership capacity as a founding board member,” Welo wrote. “Jim Rokakis and the founding board members worked tirelessly to put in place a unique entity dedicated to eliminating vacant and blighted properties and returning them to productive use.”

Kleem, who attended recent meetings, said he never got caught up in the controversy and is willing to help the land bank in the future.

“We’ve been able to move forward,” said Brady, who helped negotiate the compromise. “Having four new members of the board will provide some fresh eyes and better oversight than in the past.”

Reichtell, who left Neighborhood Progress Inc. this year, wants to transform vacant lots into connected greenways. Kennedy wants to the land bank to help outer-ring suburbs, as well as the city’s core.

“Even in North Olmsted, we’ve had a few houses,” Kennedy said. “One house in a neighborhood that needs to be knocked down could make all the difference.”

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