RESPONDING TO THE FORECLOSURE CRISIS
Jim Rokakis - Cuyahoga County Treasurer
Friday November 7, 2008
Crawford Hall - Room 9
Case Western Reserve University
The current financial meltdown has many, many causes. But the proximate cause was mortgages that the borrowers could not pay, resulting in foreclosure and default on the debt. Cuyahoga County has been on the leading edge of the unfortunate process that began with predatory lending, and County Treasurer Jim Rokakis began sounding the alarm many years before the problem hit the national and international news. He joins our Friday lunch to discuss policies and prospects going forward.
Jim Rokakis has served as County Treasurer since 1997, after 19 years on Cleveland City Council. He is a graduate of Oberlin College and Cleveland-Marshall School of Law. Among many honors, he has received the NeighborWorks America Local Government Service Award and has been named County Leader of the Year by American City and County Magazine
As usual, we will gather in Room 9 of the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence, on the lower level of Crawford Hall, for free cookies, beverages, and brown bag lunch.
About Our Guest
Jim Rokakis took office as County Treasurer in 1997 after serving for over 19 years on Cleveland City Council and has brought sweeping reform to the Treasurer's Office.
Rokakis overhauled Cuyahoga County’s property tax collection system, instituting more efficient collection and disbursement of tax revenue that resulted in an estimated additional $2 million in annual interest income for school systems throughout the county and won accolades from the Cuyahoga County School Treasurers Association. Jim has significantly improved Cuyahoga County’s investment function, substantially increasing the county’s return and the diversification of the portfolio, while significantly reducing the fees spent on advisory services. The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently recognized the county's portfolio as having the best performance among those evaluated for the period 1999 – 2001.
Jim has greatly upgraded office operations. State-of-the-art tax billing and processing systems make the office more efficient, and a heightened commitment to customer service allows the office to be more helpful to taxpayers. An interactive website enables taxpayers to pay their property taxes online. Despite the additional programs and services now provided, staffing levels have been reduced.
An innovative Treasurer, Jim revolutionized the way Cuyahoga County and other counties in Ohio collect delinquent property taxes. He worked successfully to pass House Bill 371, which became law in 1997 and allows county treasurers in the twelve largest counties to sell their property tax liens to private entities. Tax lien sales and other improved procedures increased the collection of delinquencies by 50% in the first year. The improvements in investment and collection procedures implemented by Rokakis helped earn the county an upgrade in its bond rating.
Faced with Cuyahoga County’s mortgage foreclosure crisis, Rokakis helped to write and pass House Bill 294 that streamlines the foreclosure process for abandoned properties. Jim took the leadership role in creating the County’s “Don’t Borrow Trouble” mortgage foreclosure prevention program which combats predatory lending and assists homeowners facing foreclosure. Additionally, Jim has developed a program that uses the investment portfolio to purchase bonds from cities to help them deal with the costs associated with abandoned properties resulting from foreclosures.
As one tool to address the issue of the decline of older suburbs and the resulting out-migration, Rokakis developed the Home Enhancement Loan Program (HELP). This program, the first of its kind in the country, offers home improvement loans at three percentage points less than the lowest rate a bank would otherwise charge. HELP has received the Community Impact Award from Dominion East Ohio/Inside Business Magazine, an award from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (Greater Cleveland chapter), and won the 2003 EPA Smart Growth Award. Rokakis also has introduced the Heritage Home Loan Program (HHLP), a program designed to preserve neighborhood character, in partnership with the Cleveland Restoration Society.
Rokakis is using the Treasurer's Office to address other problems faced by Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. He was instrumental in the enactment of House Bill 293 which helps senior citizens remain in their homes by allowing them to defer all or part of their property taxes. Rokakis is also leading a debate over payments in lieu of property taxes by non-profit organizations to help lessen school funding problems created by a shrinking tax base.
Jim has been recognized by local and national organizations for his efforts in strengthening neighborhoods and communities. In 2007 he received the NeighborWorks America Local Government Service Award, the Leadership in Social Justice Award from Greater Cleveland Community Shares, and was named the County Leader of the Year by American City and County Magazine.
Serving as Cleveland’s Ward 15 Councilman, Jim represented the neighborhood he grew up in (Archwood-Denison) and during his last seven years on council he chaired the Finance Committee. Jim was a leader in developing the Gateway Sports Complex - a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown Cleveland. Jim crafted the compromise between the Cleveland Public Schools and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum that allowed the project to proceed. A legislative leader on City Council, Rokakis was responsible for Cleveland’s gun buy-back program, the Indoor Clean Air Act (to regulate smoking in public places), the creation of Cleveland’s Housing Court, and the “chop-shop” law to fight car thefts.
Jim is a graduate of Oberlin College and Cleveland-Marshall School of Law. He is married to the former Laurie Shafer. Jim and Laurie have three children.
Friday Lunch Upcoming Topics and Speakers:
November 14: Charging for Car Insurance by the Mile: Good Business and Good for Energy and the Environment? With Richard Hutchinson, General Manager for the “My Rate” program, Progressive Insurance.
November 21: TBA
November 28: Thanksgiving Break
December 5: TBA
The Friday Lunch discussions are held on the lower (ground) level of
Crawford Hall. Visitors with mobility issues may find it easiest to take advantage of special arrangements we have made. On most Fridays, a few parking spaces in the V.I.P. lot in between Crawford Hall and Amasa Stone Chapel are held for participants in the lunch discussion.
Visitors then can avoid walking up the hill to the first floor of Crawford by entering the building on the ground level, through the garage area under the building. The further door on the left in that garage will be left unlocked during the period before the Friday lunch. On occasion, parking will be unavailable because of other university events.
For more information about these and other Center for Policy Studies programs, please see http://policy.case.edu.