Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins has lost his re-election bid to serve another term as a board member for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA). His current term expires in March, 2019, at which point he'll be replaced by Parma Heights Mayor Michael Byrne.
Byrne will join board chair Dennis Clough, Mayor of Westlake, and South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo as the two other representatives from the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association.
Byrne has been Mayor of Parma Heights since 2010. He'd previously served, since 2001, as president of the Parma Heights City Council. Since 2012, he has served on the board of the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission. Byrne was not immediately available for comment by phone.
Elkins told Scene that many of the county's largest suburban mayors voted for Byrne. And despite Elkins' support from Cleveland Heights and several smaller communities, votes are weighted by population.
"I served my three years [on the RTA board] in the way that I know how," he told Scene by phone. "I tried to shake up the status quo and challenge the way we were operating. The county's choice seems to be a return to the status quo. I think they just don't understand how important this transit agency is to the region economically."
Elkins' three years of service — not, perhaps, coincidentally — were a tumultuous time for the transit agency. They included a massive shake-up at the top of the organization after a health insurance scandal. Longtime board chairman George Dixon III resigned in the wake of revelations that he owed RTA more than $1 million in unpaid health insurance premiums. CEO and Chairman Joe Calabrese has been transitioned out of his leadership role as well.
Elkins was also the lone board member to support a tax levy to fund the RTA. He called out his colleagues, who were urging restraint and "due diligence," at a tense meeting this summer
"In this county, we have spent an insane amount of taxpayer dollars on funding for professional sports facilities," Elkins said. "If due diligence and research matter to us, we would never have done that because all of the research, right up to the Federal Reserve, says spending money on those facilities does not ever generate an economic return. Does research and data really matter to us? Only when it's convenient, it appears."
Elkins told Scene that the vote by the county mayors was not unexpected today. Even Dennis Clough and Georgine Welo, his RTA board colleagues, voted against him.
"The full muscle of the county's political machine establishment was in effect," Elkins said. "There is no real desire in this community for changing the status quo and anyone stepping out of line will be met with the type of result I experienced today. I will continue to speak truth to power and shake up the status quo. Today changes nothing."