Why is Former East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton Still on the RTA Board, Even After His Term Has Expired?


"Rally to Save Transit," Public Square, 3/12/2018 - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • "Rally to Save Transit," Public Square, 3/12/2018
Former East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton is still a member of the RTA Board of Trustees, though his term expired in March of this year.

Norton was first appointed to the board by Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald in 2011, when Norton was still the mayor of East Cleveland. That embattled village of roughly 18,000 has been mired in financial woe in recent years, and Norton was its divisive figurehead. He was recalled in a very tight 2016 special election.

Norton has been serving at the pleasure of County Executive Armond Budish, then, for more than a year-and-a-half since his mayoralty abruptly ended. The justification for keeping Norton on the board has been questionable — not that a justification was ever made or even considered — and it should be surprising that Budish didn't have a candidate ready to replace Norton at the conclusion of his term, especially given the board's publicity in recent months.

(But it's not surprising. It's just business as usual at County HQ!) 

Per RTA practice, if not necessarily official policy, board members may continue to serve past their term's expiration date if no appointment has been made to replace them. The City of Cleveland gets four appointments to the board, while Cuyahoga County and the County Mayors and City Managers Association each get three.

Recently, when Board President George Dixon III resigned due to an investigation into his manifold unpaid health insurance premiums and other abuses, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson appointed Kelley Britt, a senior planner for the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), to replace him.

At the most recent RTA board meeting, it was announced that Britt's appointment was being reviewed by the Ohio Ethics Commission for a potential conflict of interest and that she would be abstaining from all board votes until the state body had made a ruling. (Sources at both RTA and Clevelanders for Public Transit professed to be in the dark about who called for the ethics review.) 

Clevelanders for Public Transit has called repeatedly for both Frank Jackson and Armond Budish to appoint a regular transit rider to the RTA board, stressing that building public trust and committing to positive change was imperative in the midst of the agency's funding crisis and in the wake of the Dixon resignation.

"This is an opportune time for the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to appoint at least one regular RTA rider to the Board of Trustees," the organization said in a March statement. "[CPT] looks forward to working with RTA’s Board of Trustees and RTA staff to transform RTA into a high-performing organization that lives its values, is worthy of public support and serves the interest of RTA riders."

The term of Rev. Charles Lucas also expired in March, though he was just elected — in a surprising twist — to serve as the body's Vice President when Valarie McCall, a Frank Jackson cabinet member and board appointee, withdrew her name from consideration, citing mistrust on the board and poor management within the organization. 

Gary Norton has not responded directly to Scene's inquiries about his board seat. Though when we polled board members about the idea of a 2018 transit levy earlier this month, Norton said that he had not yet formed an opinion. To a question about Joe Calabrese's leadership, Norton advised that we should "stay tuned." 

Budish, through a county spokesperson, would not answer questions about Clevelanders for Public Transit's request to appoint a transit rider to the board. To multiple emailed questions on the topic, all a spokesperson said was that Budish was "considering appointments for a few boards, including RTA." 

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.