Cuyahoga County Executive Inspired by Civil Rights
It was a typical Thursday at the Cuyahoga County Administration Building in downtown Cleveland where council members and mayors representing the estimated 1.3 million people convened on issues concerning the county.
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish was not among those meeting, but nonetheless made of point of attending and listening before heading back to his 8th floor office that over looks Progressive Field.
If it seems the second Executive in the County’s history is everywhere, it’s because he is.
Whether it’s an impromptu visit to Imani Temple Ministries, Budish is always working to improve the County.
It is a massive and enormous chore for the man who says he was inspired to leave the public sector where he was handsomely rewarded as a lawyer to run for public office where the financial gains or minimal and the responsibilities gigantic.
“The question that we get asked the most is what does the County do and what does the County Chief Executive do,” stated Budish during an exclusive interview with the Call & Post Newspaper. “Most people have no real understanding of that. We do so many things across the board.”
Health and human services were largely the reason that county government was created in the state of Ohio.
“If a child is abused or neglected that’s the County’s role to help them. If a senior citizen is abused financially or in need, the County steps in. If a person is injured in an auto accident, that helicopter than comes down and takes them to the hospital, that the County,” Budish explained.
The County also supports the services that allows for aging seniors to live at home instead of an institution.
It also supports food banks that feed the needy and homeless and also provide the mental health and addiction services.
The County doesn’t just support senior centers throughout the region, but when some can keep their doors open to serve seniors, they step in to save the senior center.
“We’ve stared new programs among the health and human services, and we are taking on infant mortality too,” he continued. “I believe that’s shameful where we are in Cuyahoga County. We have the best health care in the world and one of worst infant mortality rates anywhere.”
Budish latest challenge is work force development.
“We want to help people move from poverty to a career and not just a job. Not just a minimum wage job that they keep for six months and then come back on benefits, we talking about getting them into a career path.”
Budish believes that high quality universal childcare is essential and he focusing on two-three year olds in poverty.
“I believe that if we are able to pull off this program for child care, and I believe we will, we are able to give our children a good start towards education and life. If they don’t end up getting that high quality pre kinder garden education they end up behind throughout school and they never catch up. We’ve heard that from numerous sources and the studies are clear high quality preschool education enables them to graduate high school, they end up going to college or training schools and they stay out of the criminal justice system.”
Under the leadership of Budish, the County has since become a leader in economic development.
Thus, the County is involved in just about everything and hence its Chief is obligated to be everywhere.
The largest city within the County is Cleveland with a population of roughly 300,000, followed by Parma, and there are 59 villages and townships, which as Budish says is both a blessing and a curse.
“The difficulty for out citizens is there are all of these duplications of government structure.”
Since the County was established in 2010, it has made it priority to focus more specifically to the needs that each of this townships and villages require.
“We are trying to help the cities deliver services better at a lesser cost and I think we’ve been doing a really good job of that,” he said.
The County has extended the help of sewer cleaning, road services, technical support in their government, assisting them with their health plans, demolition plans.
“Cuyahoga County was hit hard in the recession with foreclosure and abandonment homes. The blithe really takes down a whole neighborhood because if you have a couple of houses on the street that have closed down and being used for crime or a dumping site, it brings down the value all over the street. It a real problem and the cities don’t have the capacity to do the demolition themselves, so there has been some money from the federal government and some money from the state and we put in $50 million which is a significant contribution, partnering with the cities to help eliminate the blithe.”
The County has also created regional crime labs to help with their crime fighting issues.
Budish has given significant attention to East Cleveland, which has been the focal point of a merger with the city of Cleveland.
“East Cleveland has a lot of problems financially. They are hurting badly and when I was in the state legislature for about 8 years before I became County Executive, most of that time I was in the minority, the majority has slashed local government funds, slashed state tax revenue. They have really cut funds that cities need and relied upon. I’m not saying that’s the whole problem for East Cleveland, but it certainly has contributed significantly to the problem.”
The Chief stated that the County has tried to be a helpful as they could to East Cleveland.
“They were shutting the doors on their senior center last year and we stepped in and saved it,” he mentioned. “The mayor called me when I was into my first term because he had a contract with a company to purchase two snow plows. They had worked out arrangements with some of the surrounding communities to help them plow their main through fares, but they need the plows to plow their side streets, because without those it becomes a real safety hazard, how do you get an EMS vehicle or fire truck through the street.”
The financing on the plows had been pulled and the deal was about to collapse and the County stepped in the helped East Cleveland obtain the snowplows.
Budish actually picked up the phone himself and called the president of Huntington Bank, whom he knew, directly to work out an arrangement with the County and East Cleveland to solve the crisis.
Budish confirmed the severe financial issues that East Cleveland has, alluding to the state auditor’s proposal to provide a $10 million grant to East Cleveland for infrastructure for East Cleveland contingent upon there being a merger with Cleveland.
Budish said that he would be supportive of anything that helps East Cleveland.
When asked about the high poverty rate among African Americans, Budish stated that there are no easy answers, but the best cure is a job.
“Not just a job, but a job that leads to a career and we have looked at in detail the existing workforce system in Cuyahoga County, there’s a lot of good programs that stand individually, but there is not a good system and so what we end up with a lot of people to are unemployed but want to work, and what we found is that there are thousands of employers who need workers and they cant find people for those jobs.”
Budish, who comes from a Jewish faith, believes that segregation and racism of the region can be solved by coming together.
“During the civil rights movement, Jewish Rabbis marched with African Americans and civil rights leaders, risking their won lives and suffered injuries along with the Black ministers because it was necessary to come together and stand up together for basic civil liberties and civil rights. We need to do that again. When there are attacks on voting rights, those are attacks on African Americans and Latinos and poor people of any race by others who want to tilt the system. We need to come together and fight on that. When there are attacks that support basic education, we need to come together, when there are cuts on government programs we need to come together and fight those. We can’t just talk about we have to show it in action.”
That is what Armond Budish has been doing since he took office as the County Executive in January of 2015.