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Jones, Sutherland Vie for Commissioner Seat

It's been 13 years since a republican occupied a Cuyahoga County Commissioner's seat, and Debbie Sutherland sees an opportunity this election year to bring her party to the table. She accuses Peter Jones of being asleep as county commissioner - while his colleagues have raised taxes, entered into questionable contracts, and even come under investigation.

SUTHERLAND: As the president of the board of county commissioners. I mean, he's the president and the captain of the sinking ship.

While Jone is not under investigation, Sutherland faults him for not being aware of alleged impropriety in the county government.

SUTHERLAND: He is rarely at the county building. And I think we have such huge problems with the county right now, it requires full time attention. And he's an attorney, and he has a law practice and that's where he spends his time.

The FBI is currently investigating fellow commissioner Jimmy Dimora and auditor Frank Russo in a corruption probe. Jones concedes he doesn't spend a lot of time in the county government building, and says that's why the FBI raids in July were news to him.

JONES: I see Jimmy Dimora once a week. I'm not going to back away from the fact that Jimmy has been a friend over the years. And I know he's in trouble now-to say the very least. But I spend six hours a week with Jimmy Dimora and Tim Hagan, and that's at our board of county commissioner meetings, and in addition, at our executive sessions that follow that.

And Jones strongly rejected the notion that he could have anything to do with the corruption probe.

JONES: There were 200 FBI agents and IRS agents that visited the county on July 28th. Now, if there were any hint that I knew about, should have known about, or was involved, my picture would have been the largest on the front page of the Plain Dealer on July 29th given how this world still works.

Mayor Sutherland, who faces an uphill battle against the incumbent Jones, touts her experience as one of the region's top advocates of regional cooperation and collaboration - as head of the County Mayors and City Managers Association.

SUTHERLAND: How the core city goes and how the core communities go, so do the outlying communities. and, so we've been very focused on trying to help the inner ring suburbs, and there have been many many things we've been involved in out there over the last several years.

The most high-profile plan in county government right now is a proposed Medical Mart and Convention Center, which the commissioners voted to pay for with a quarter percent sales tax. Jones was opposed to the tax, but Commissioners Hagan and Dimora won out, and the project went forward.

Sutherland was also opposed to the tax, but now that the deal is in place, she wants to see the project get underway soon .

SUTHERLAND: I still think it could be a fantastic project, but it's not a done deal yet. I've already called for a suspension of the sales tax until we're ready to stick that shovel in the ground.

Meanwhile, Jones says there will be another study to help determine the best place to put the Medical Mart. He told host Dan Moulthrop that he doesn't want the county to make a mistake with the project.

JONES: This could be catalytic. This could be transformational.
MOULTHROP: But it could also be catastrophic.
JONES: It could be, and that's why we have to make sure every bit of due diligence and yes, frankly, study and research is done before we undertake. We shouldn't march foolishly into this.

Sutherland is also in favor of a major overhaul of county government. If she's elected, Sutherland hopes to serve just one term as a county commissioner before the position is replaced with a new model.