White House official attends Eastlake summit
The News-Herald, Thursday, July 26, 2012 by David S. Glasier
Mentor-on-the-Lake Mayor John M. Rogers and other local community leaders had the ear of the White House during a meeting Wednesday at Classic Park in Eastlake.
David Agnew, deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, exchanged viewpoints with mayors, city managers, administrators, representatives of school districts, labor union officials and business owners.
“I’m pleased with the fact we have someone here from the White House who made it a point to come to Lake County and Northeast Ohio to listen to community leaders talk about challenges directly affecting our residents,” Rogers said. “We haven’t raised our taxes since 1995, which means we’re being forced to do more with less and less.”
The 31⁄2-hour event was organized by Mayors Ted Andrzejewski of Eastlake and Georgine Welo of South Euclid under the aegis of Building One America, a Pennsylvania-based not-for-profit agency that lobbies for the interests of suburban governments and school districts.
Andrzejewski said there were “55 to 60” attendees at the meeting, held in the Officers Club on the ballpark’s suite level.
The major topic of discussion was the steadily decreasing flows of tax revenues from the federal and state coffers to cities, villages, townships and school districts.
“This group is here to help us fight for dollars to balance our budgets,” Andrzejewski said. “We want a voice in Columbus and Washington, D.C., for the suburbs and schools. Right now, we don’t feel that mature suburbs like ours have that voice. The goal is to get federal and state dollars into the communities to benefit residents.”
Agnew spoke with attendees only after reporters left the room. The stated reason was that the White House had not been told reporters would be in the room during the back-and-forth between Agnew and attendees.
Andrzejewski said the exchanges were civil but pointed.
“It was a good meeting. We were able to share our opinions with someone who talks directly to the White House,” Andrzejewski said.
Welo said there was no hint of partisan politics during the session.
“This group is bipartisan. We have Democrats, Republicans and independents,” Welo said.
Andrzejewski and Welo said local members of Building One America will have at least two meetings in upcoming months at venues yet to be chosen.
Paul M. Scully, national strategic director for Building One America, said the organization’s focus is primarily on so-called “mature” suburbs in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and other states.
“It’s not so much a matter of geography as shared characteristics,” Scully said. “We represent racially and economically diverse suburban communities solidly in the middle class.”
Rogers fell silent for a few seconds when asked if he thought anything positive would come of Wednesday’s meeting with Agnew.
“If he takes input from this event back to Washington to people who make policy,” it definitely was worthwhile,” Rogers said.
“And if those people in positions of power at least consider changes in policy that make a difference at the community level, it was 1,000-percent worth the effort.”