Tim Hagan’s words: Exhibit A of why we need new leadership

And, still, a new form to our county government.

Cuyahoga County Commissioner, Tim Hagan (D) seems like a nice enough guy who has been a fixture in Cleveland for the twenty years I’ve been here – and I thought he already was a fixture when I arrived in 1988.

So maybe his clearly stated pronouncement of and preference for a patriarchal style of governing – which is absolutely antithetical to the 21st century’s ability for participation and the last decade’s emphasis on voter rights and expression of the civic will – shouldn’t surprise me.

But in this first week after Democrat Barack Obama started his four-year term as U.S. president, Hagan’s words, maybe now more than ever, represent not only a throwback to a time and style that voters just rejected, but it’s an unacceptable paradigm for governing today and in the future, period.  Don’t even get me started on the fact that there hasn’t been a woman on the board of county commissioners since Jane Campbell in 2001 – eight years. And other than Mary O. Boyle, I can’t even find record of other women who have served on the board of county commissioners – is that right? Please tell me I’m wrong.

From WCPN:

“Hagan:  The mall site is 108 million dollars less, estimated cost, than the other site.  Really, three people off the street would have made the same decision.”

Hagan said negotiations with MMPI over the convention center and medical mart project were kept private because there were issues of land acquisition involved and they didn’t want to tip their hand to land-owners.  And he rebuffed the suggestion that the site selection process was overly secretive, saying the commissioners’ were well within their rights to proceed the way they did.

Hagan:  “We are the elected representatives in a democracy.  It’s not a direct democracy, it’s a representative democracy. Everybody makes these arguments… That’s what we’re elected to do.” [emphasis added]

Oh my God.  Am I the only one who sees the analogy to how Captain Janeway was perceived as leading?

Okay – that’s kind of low, but still – go read what it says about her style of leading.  Serious parallels!

If the decision could have been made by three people in the street, how about Fred Nance giving back some money? How about Hagan giving up his seat to one of those people on the street? Or me – I’ll try my luck.  I’m hoping I’m at least as good as a person on the street when it comes to decision-making.

This perversion of defining democracy is shameful, arrogant and frankly, mean-spirited.  There are plenty of other ways to say that you were elected to do a job, you are charged with this responsibility and this is what you chose to do in the best interests of the county and region.

But to throw democracy at us as justification for what you decided and how you decided it, in private?  When Hagan knows that it was the citizens of the county who really showed what it is to use democracy by challenging the 1/4 percent tax increase in the first place – a rate chosen specifically to avoid democratic input from voters because law doesn’t require a vote for an increase of that size?

Funny how Hagan uses democracy to justify what he’s doing but when voters sought to use democracy to challenge what he was trying to do, the law barely allows much room for that mechanism to succeed.

The most recent spate of efforts related to reforming the county government overall have failed, and the changes to the commissioner entity were only making them stronger and less democratic in my opinion (here’s the Plain Dealer‘s post-mortem, blaming Democrats for all the problems far and wide; whatev; talk about over-generalizing).  I tend to side with Roldo Bartimole’s assessments late last fall (read here and here) regarding the bossism enshrined in the proposal – and this means that I actually side with my mayor, Bruce Akers in disapproving (though not as much in why we disapprove).  That’s nice, because I do actually like Mayor Akers. I just disagree on his style at times. Well, okay – that, and some of his ideas.

But I digress.

Anyway – shame on Hagan’s arrogance in that statement.  Thumbing his nose at the very people who keep putting him there is plain ugly and wrong.

Just what does it take to get new faces on the board of the county commissioners? Haven’t I asked this before?

Hattip this tweet from Will Goldstein.

15 thoughts on “Tim Hagan’s words: Exhibit A of why we need new leadership

  1. Elected officials have a tendency to become arrogant, but Hagan’s in a class by himself. I’ve told this story a thousand times, but he was a guest on WCPN sometime during the early Gateway Scandal when a caller criticized him rather directly.

    Hagan didn’t address the caller’s complaint at all–he just ranted at the guy for not being “involved” in the process, and said he didn’t need to listen to people who just criticize without being “involved.”

    Hagan then went on to define “involvement” as holding public office. If you’re not in elected office, or at least seeking one, your opinion doesn’t matter–according to Hagan at the time.

    Breathtakingly arrogant? Or just stupid? You decide.

  2. I agree with Anastasia too, very thoughtful comment. I also agree that we need to construct a complete paradigm change, and not even based on republican and democratic candidates. I suspect a majority of residents from both parties would be happy to change the system so new blood means new ideas and transparency.

    If nothing else, this med mart issue could give us the opportunity to garner the support to revamp the system.

  3. Glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks the endless sisterhood obsession as the answer for everything is superficial. And I guess it’s only worth responding to if another member of the sisterhood raises it, correct? Good for you, Anastasia.

  4. Anastasia, I agree with everything you’ve written here, the most important thing being that leaders like Hagan and Dimora, at least in my opinion, are, as you say, representative of a “dated political paradigm.”

    That’s pretty much what I wrote:

    Hagan’s words, maybe now more than ever, represent not only a throwback to a time and style that voters just rejected, but it’s an unacceptable paradigm for governing today and in the future, period.

    So, seriously, from a grassroots perspective, what would you point to as the things that are already going on to get this change accomplished and what more do we need to be doing?


    1. I don’t think I’ve ever really written about term limits in regard to these county issues. In general – I’ve never supported them, never. I always laugh at how they started to come in while I was out of the country and when I got back, the next thing I knew was I was learning about that concept. I think for the most part they’re horrible, even though I know that some of the intent had to do with flushing people out and bringing others in.

    2. I understand I think how or why you might call my observation of how few women have been in governing positions in the county “superficial” but frankly, I think it’s very much entangled in the old way of doing things. I don’t think they’re able to be separated – one has resulted or at least contributed to the other. I would agree w/it being “superficial” only to the extent that it’s the face of our county gov’t – but I think it has deeper implications about that dated paradigm.

  5. Hagan’s arrogance has been long-standing. I remember at a meeting when the County was considering more borrowing for Gateway that when it came time for the public to speak Hagan said he didn’t have to listen and asked construction workers – who had stacked the meeting – to join him for coffee in his office, leaving before he could hear from the public.

    Hagan seems to be able to be elected in the county. He has always failed when he sought higher office.

    Back in 1992 when he tried for Congress, running against Mary Rose Oakar.

    I ended a piece in Point of View on the race with this ditty:

    Take firm grasp of your nose,
    And pull the lever for Mary Rose.

    Oakar took this as an endorsement, which I guess it was at least in part.

  6. This, coming from Hagan, is no surprise to me. I attended both the legally required “hearings” on the Convention Center/Medical Mart project, which were ostensibly to gather citizen input. At each, half the allotted time was given to Chris Kennedy of MMPI to make a presentation selling themselves to run the project (the identical presentation each week, I might add). At the end of the second, each commissioner spoke briefly before voting. Peter Lawson Jones was the only one who was civil. Hagan acted like he was being put out to even have to justify himself, and Dimora basically yelled at anyone who had a difference of opinion from him, calling even city councilmen who (politely) expressed doubts impediments to Cleveland’s economic future. Dimora and Hagan both had that attitude of “You elected us; now just shut up and do what we say.” As for democracy, they actually spent money on consultants and advertising to shut down “Put It On the Ballot,” openly campaigning against an election to hold them accountable. I found that offensive.

    I don’t think the answer is in superficial solutions like “We need more women” or term limits, which have been found to be a total failure on the state level (It’s like suggesting schools will magically improve if we require uniforms; you feel like you’ve done something but haven’t really tackled the problem at all). It’s tempting to think you’ll get rid of the baddies, but you always tie the hands of the good folks, lose institutional memory, skills and knowledge, and create a revolving door for lobbyists. I also don’t think a different form of county government is necessarily the solution, which may be part of the reason we’ve had problems agreeing on anything. Any form of government still functions according to those who inhabit it. The most discussed “reform” has involved eliminating a ton of elective offices and consolidating power with the commissioners. Not sure how THAT solves anything if Hagan and Dimora are still in office.

    The changes we need go deeper than that. We need to change how elections are financed and we need to deconsolidate the media. Otherwise the problems we have on all levels will just go on and on and on. Locally, we do need to organize to get some of these people out of office and no matter what the PD fantasizes, in Cuyahoga County, that means us Democrats (Their idea that simply sticking more Republicans in county offices isn’t a magic bullet and ain’t gonna happen). Certainly, the recent adventures in grassroots democracy have energized people and now might be the time to make it happen. I personally think it’s time for Dimora (as well as Hagan) to go, not because of any corruption (he actually hasn’t been charged with anything, and I get more than a little annoyed at the calls for peoples’ heads prior to any actual guilty findings)but because he represents a dated political paradigm that isn’t working for us.

  7. Well, we would have to change some things, like the laws 🙂

    Human beings tend to “settle in” We do it in business, marriage, religion and certainly in politics. While I am not suggesting we change spouses, sell the business, and join a different faith 🙂 I am suggesting we recognize the danger, and in the case of politics, make it hard for politicians to settle in.

    Where I live the Commissioners are great people. But…….it is always the same names, same people, same ideas………. Change means your son runs in your place.


  8. Thanks for reading and commenting, Bruce.

    Re: Star Trek – well, there are many members of my family who ADORE Star Trek and one who resembles Janeway – I couldn’t really resist. 🙂 But it also happens to be true – that’s kind of creepy!

    I’m sure that’s part of it, what you mention. But still – he’s 62 – he’s not that old – I really think he takes it all for granted – and maybe we let him. How do we change that?

  9. Jill,

    Nice Star Trek reference 🙂

    I wonder if this is not just the way it is with career politicians. Time and power corrupt their thinking and they forget why they are where there are and WHO they represent.

    Term limits……..


  10. Thanks, Will – I agree more or less w/what you’re saying and the bottom line. In addition, I don’t really need specific words to tell me the difference between what he’s doing and thinks is okay, and what we should be seeing when it comes to decision-making in our community. The words, frankly, are irrelevant – it’s the behavior that tells us pretty much all we need to know.

  11. The problem isn’t what he’s saying here. The problem is that he’s right. But what he’s really describing is not representative democracy, it’s consumer democracy. Elect officials, let them do their thing at an arms length, and then kick them out of office when they do you wrong. It’s like buying a car and kicking it to the curb when it dies – neglecting the fact that you failed to change the oil or fill the tires.

    We need to change the dynamic to a participatory democracy. I always go back to images of French citizens taking to the streets to protest any old thing. It’s (mostly) in an orderly fashion, and you know what, it sometimes makes a difference! Not a perfect analogy, but the imagery is there.

    Bottom line – truly representative government requires active citizen participation. It’s not enough to just elect people to office and let them go their merry way. We’ve seen where that gets us…

  12. Roldo’s arguments would carry so much more weight if only he were a woman. I believe Campbell and Boyle were the only two women to have ever served as Cuyahoga County commissioners. But then perhaps that’s merely because they were the only two well-qualified women to have ever run for the office. If you don’t run and/or you don’t have a solid track record, you don’t win. That’s a fairly elemental dynamic in politics, at any level.

  13. I read it exactly like you do – that’s just nuts. He might as well be a Republican – sounds exactly how Bush governed anyway. Such disdain for the people who got you to where you are – with their vote even if not their money. Really really inappropriate, to say the very least.

    Thanks for the support. lol

  14. I’d vote for you! 🙂

    Seriously, that “bossism” was bothering me too – and he isn’t even my commissioner (let me not get started on my own commissioners, thanks). That’s not representative democracy Hagan is talking about, but benign authoritarianism. “You voted, now leave us alone to make the decision and spend your money. We’ll listen to you when WE decide we want to listen to you”. Gah.

Comment here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s