Cities may get more state help
Governor's stance on urban concerns pleases Coleman
Monday, April 9, 2007 3:27 AM
By Debbie Gebolys
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
"We have an open door," Mayor Michael B. Coleman said. "I don't mean they'll agree with us on everything … but we certainly have people who understand the urban agenda and the city of Columbus."
That could mean state help tackling problems such as job poaching, suburban sprawl and vacant buildings.
Further reflecting a shift toward an urban agenda, Strickland appointed the state's first director of urban development and infrastructure, reporting directly to the governor. Clevelander Marvin Hayes, who begins work today, will be responsible for making certain that the priorities of Ohio cities and towns "are understood and articulated," Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said.
Coleman said Strickland's actions end a long period when state officials were more concerned with suburban and rural issues than those in the state's biggest cities.
"There has not been a very good historic relationship between the Statehouse and the city of Columbus because of the lack of focus on the urban agenda here," Coleman said.
Former Columbus Development Director Mark Barbash and one of his lieutenants now hold state development jobs. Steve Campbell, one of Coleman's top policy advisers, is one of three others from the city administration to land high-profile state transportation posts.
Chester Jourdan, director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, said he was encouraged by a meeting in late March with Campbell, who is now the ODOT chief of staff.
Jourdan asked Campbell whether ODOT would allow MORPC to spend federal money to retrofit older diesel vehicles to cut pollution. That could help bring the region back into compliance with federal environmental standards.
"Right now, there's just no real funding mechanism to make that happen," Jourdan said.
Campbell was open to the idea. It could not only improve air quality, but also offer a way for the planning commission to cooperate with county governments and school districts on a regional problem, Jourdan said.
Coleman said he'll be able to replace Campbell and the others by promoting people already working in his administration who understand his priorities.
Strickland's Turnaround Ohio plan is "an appreciation of the metropolitan areas being drivers of the state's economy," Campbell said. Jobs are the highest priority.
"One of the fundamental charges Strickland has given to all his departments is we need to look regionally," Campbell said. "You can work together on your regional strengths to identify industries to bring to the region."
He points to Columbus' cooperation with Pickaway County to share income taxes and bring more jobs near Rickenbacker Airport as a model.
Barbash, who now oversees seven state development divisions, said his mission is clear.
"Our goal is, 'How can the state help communities to improve?' " he said. "I think we can help fill in the vacant units in neighborhoods. I think we can help create more jobs in urban areas. I think we can help encourage housing that's closer to jobs, to make it easier to live, make it cheaper to live."
The Clean Ohio grants program has helped transform polluted industrial sites, but the state can do more to help.
"We're at the beginning of this discussion," Barbash said. "There is a real interest in saying 'Just because they didn't do it before doesn't mean we can't try it now.' "
The governor's urban-development adviser is to convene conversations between state officials and urban mayors, city councils and planning organizations. Together, they are to suggest strategies to divert state money from sprawling suburban neighborhoods toward fixing urban roads and bridges. Plans also call for creating new incentives for employers to return to inner-ring suburbs such as Grandview Heights and Worthington.
"They're talking about creating a development structure and a tax structure that makes those buildings competitive to come back in and redevelop as opposed to going out to the suburbs and building new," MORPC's Jourdan said.
"It bodes well for the state and it bodes well for the region."