The Diluted Talent Pool

The Beachwood Council chambers were packed. The citizenry up in arms. Having squandered millions of dollars, the Mayor and Council had decided to raise the income tax. It was a small increase, just 33%. Our incomes, more importantly the incomes of people who work here in Beachwood but live and vote elsewhere, would be taxed at 2% instead of the current 1 ½ %. But that wasn’t why we had the flash crowd.

In an effort to intimidate the population and force his tax increase, the Mayor decided to close the pool 15 days early. Council, of course, fell in line. The Beachwood Family Aquatic Center, the gem of our little town, turned out to be very important to a diverse group of citizens. We had elderly lap swimmers and parents of small children. We had individuals who were recovering from major illnesses. There were fitness buffs and the occasional waders. All of these people had two things in common. They were all smart enough to know that the city was only saving a grand total of $30,000 by closing the pool. And, they were not going to be bullied.

Baseball fanatics often refer to the diluted talent pool. There was a time, not so long ago, when there were significantly fewer major league teams. The pitchers that made it to the Show were the best of the best. The minor leagues were brimming with talented players trying to break through. Today, with so many roster spots on so many teams, the talent pool is diluted. Many teams, including our Cleveland Indians, are stocked with minor leaguers. They may be nice people. They may be good players. But, there is very little we can identify as great.

I am reminded of major league baseball’s problems every time I look at city government in Cuyahoga County. By having over 50 separate municipalities in this county, we have diluted the talent pool. And like baseball, attendance is down while salaries have escalated.

Beachwood exemplifies this problem. We have very little city leadership. Instead, we have managers, people who have managed to hold on to their piece of the pie long after their skills and interest have diminished. Our elections are seldom contested. There isn’t enough talent to fill all of our slots. Thus, some of our elected officials, like the power pitcher past his prime with a fastball now in the high 80’s, have little left to offer. And like the Indians current third baseman, some of our leaders are just small market kind of guys.

Last Monday the citizens witnessed the Mayor and Council back down. The pool will stay open, but the hastily cancelled community programs like Family Fun Day will not reappear. We were told that four union contracts will be up for negotiation in November. The Mayor and Council elaborated on the fierceness of the unions. They shared with us their fear. Fear. While cities around us have pushed for layoffs and give-backs, Beachwood is still hiring and wages are still going up.

Beachwood was among the leaders in economic development and outreach. But again, the talent pool is diluted. A couple of months ago we sent a Councilman to a biomedical conference in Israel to convince entrepreneurs to move to Beachwood. This is innovative and important. I have been involved in the past. But an attorney who won’t move his practice from a neighboring suburb to Beachwood is hardly the guy to convince someone to move across seven time zones.

(In the interest of full disclosure, the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce is a volunteer driven organization and I served two terms as the President from 4/1/2008 to 4/1/2010. The city contracted with the chamber to do economic development. I represented Beachwood twice in Israel, once on the chamber’s dime and once I paid all of my expenses.)

We are about to embark on a grand experiment in Cuyahoga County. The new County Council and County Executive could be the first steps to a more logical and efficient government. As our population and resources shrink, it is vitally important that we find the best people, regardless of party affiliation, to fill these positions. This may be our last chance to truly be major league.