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Jim Rokakis - Cuyahoga County Treasurer

Friday November 7, 2008
12:30-1:30 p.m.
Crawford Hall - Room 9
Inamori Center
Case Western Reserve University

Dear Colleagues,

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.

Best regards,
Joe White

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

November 5, 2008

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Upcoming Events

The Future of Human Rights

Thursday November 6, 2008, 4:30-5:30 p.m., Moot Courtroom (A59), School of Law, 11075 East Blvd., Cleveland, OH

Geoffrey Robertson QC former Appeals Judge Special Court for Sierra Leone

Geoffrey Robertson will map the future of the fast-growing field of human rights law. Drawing on 30 years of experience as a human rights lawyer in Australia and the UK, and as Appeals judge on the Special Court for Sierra Leone, his presentation will trace recent jurisprudence at the national, regional, and international level. Judge Robertson will discuss strategies for litigating human rights cases against corporations and former foreign government officials, obstacles that stand in the way of success, and future trends.

Geoffrey Robertson Q.C. has argued many landmark human rights cases in the Privy Council and in British and Commonwealth courts, and in the European Court of Human Rights. He is Head of Doughty Street Chambers, a Recorder (part-time judge) in London, a Master of the Middle Temple and Visiting Professor at Queen Mary College, University of London. He was the first President of the UN's Special Court for War Crimes in Sierra Leone and was recently appointed by the UN Secretary General as a distinguished jurist member of the UN's Internal Justice Council. His book Crimes against Humanity: The Struggle for Global Justice, now in its 3rd edition (Penguin New Press), has been recognized as an inspiration for the international justice movement.

Mr. Robertson has acted for many years as counsel to the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times, the Far Eastern Economic Review and other US publishers, and represented Washington Post journalist Jonathon Randall at the ICTY. Involved in the prosecution of Hastings Banda in Malawi, Mr. Robertson acted for Human Rights Watch in the Pinochet proceedings and has represented Salman Rushdie in legal actions arising from "The Satanic Verses."

U.S. v. Hamdan: Military Commissions Sixty-Six Years after Quirin

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 4:45 p.m.-5:45 p.m. Moot Courtroom (A59), School of Law, 11075 East Blvd., Cleveland, OH

Brian L. Mizer Lieutenant Commander United States Navy Judge Advocate General Corps

In his talk, Lieutenant Commander Mizer will look at questions of criminal procedure and the protections due to criminal defendants within the current system of Military Commissions, but also in criminal trials generally. He will focus on comparisons between the trial in Quirin and Mr. Hamdan's trial and argue that military commissions still do not afford defendants basic due process. Lt. Comm. Mizer will discuss the problem of balancing security and constitutional liberty in the global war on terrorism.

Brian L. Mizer is an expert in the areas of military law and criminal law, Lieutenant Commander Mizer graduated from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 2000. Following graduation, Lt. Comm. Mizer was commissioned in the United States Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps, where he has served as both a trial defense attorney and an appellate defense attorney. Lieutenant Commander Mizer is currently assigned to the Office of Chief Defense Counsel for Military Commissions where he serves as the detailed military counsel for Mr. Salim Hamdan in United States v. Hamdan and for Mr. Aziz Ali in United States v. Mohammed et. al. Lt. Comm. Mizer received his B.A. from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

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