Tim Fulton 00:12
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. We are a weekly Columbus centric podcast focusing on the civics, lifestyle, entertainment, and people of our city. I’m your host Tim Fulton. This week. The role of our elected officials is largely known to us. This is less true for our county commissioners. Franklin County Commissioner Erica Crawley joins the confluence cast this week to discuss what the Commissioners Office does her background and how she translates advocacy into her role on the board for the largest county in the state. You can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com. Also, the confluence cast is on Patreon. Find out how to support this podcast on our website, the confluence cast.com Or at patreon.com/confluence. The confluence cast is sponsored this week by the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission, or more proceed featuring stories about local and regional partners that envision and embrace innovative directions and economic prosperity, transportation, sustainability and an inclusive Central Ohio. More police transformative programming, innovative services and public policy initiatives are designed to promote and support the vitality and growth in the region. For more information, please visit more pc.org Enjoy the interview sitting down here virtually with Franklin County Commissioner Erica Crawley Commissioner Crowley how
Erica Crawley 01:51
are you? I am well live in the dream. How are you?
Tim Fulton 01:55
I’m doing well. I’m doing well. Thank you for sitting down today. I know this is a busy time for you. I can’t imagine there are many times that aren’t. Can you walk us through for folks that aren’t aware sort of what the role I think folks are very well aware of. We have a mayor, we have a city council. We have a governor, we have a state legislature even walk us through sort of what the role of the county commission is, maybe broadly, how it’s defined in the state and then what may be unique to Franklin County.
Erica Crawley 02:27
Absolutely. And I love that this is the first question because I spend a lot of time trying to educate people on the function of the board of commissioners or what a county commissioner does. And sometimes people get it, you know, confused and be like, Oh, you’re a council member. So people absolutely know, their city council as they should is like the thing that’s near right near to them and impacts them every day. But a commissioner in the Board of Commissioners does as well. And we are the administrative arm of county government and their fiduciary of county government. So what a commissioner is tasked with under the Ohio Revised Code is approving all of the administrative functions and financial functions for county government, either for other elected offices. So whether that’s your county auditor, your county treasurer, your county, your sheriff, the prosecutor, the recorder, even the Common Pleas Court, as well as the law library. We approve their financial budgets every single year. We also are tasked with administration, so we hold county property. The corners of Forensic Science Center is owned by the county commissioners. The common police court is owned by the county commissioners, the sheriff’s vehicles are owned by us. And we are responsible per state statutes who run a jail and so we have to right now one is the downtown jail, as well as Jackson pike and we are currently building a brand new jail out on Fisher road. And so those are the like high level administrative and fiduciary tasks that we have. We are responsible for 35 county agencies. Like I said some of those are other all of the county elected officials as well. But under the Board of Commissioners, we run 14 BOC agencies and that is everything from the dog shelter. The Sanitary engineers office, and more familiar with people is job and family services where you can get your SNAP benefits, you know your Medicaid benefits. We run out support, Justice Policy and Programs and things of that nature.
Tim Fulton 04:55
Got it and so for those non elected agency heads As you guys are also the ones who I imagine hire and fire, whomever it is that’s running.
Erica Crawley 05:05
Absolutely. We are responsible for that currently is delegated to our County Administrator. So you have three county commissioners. It’s myself, Commissioner John O’Grady and Commissioner Kevin boys. And then under us directly is who we appoint. His name is Ken Wilson, that is the County Administrator. So more like our Chief of Staff, who kind of is the liaison between my office and my colleagues, because we are a board a three A quorum is two. So we have to be aware all the time of Open Meetings, laws, but just broadly speaking, in the state of Ohio out of 88 counties, 86 counties have a three person board like we have. The other two is Cuyahoga County that has a county council, who has a county executive that’s like a mayor, and then council members who are elected by a ward, and then Summit County and acronyms, the same thing is a county council structure.
Tim Fulton 06:07
And why are those two? I can? I guess I understand the first one why Summit County rather than Cincinnati.
Erica Crawley 06:16
The voters decided to change that structure, say, in the Cuyahoga County just in the past several years, did they change that there was some issues with elected offices, corruption, and then it went to the voters and the voters decided to change the structure of county government.
Tim Fulton 06:34
Anything specifically unique about Franklin County, other than, and you’ll correct me if I’m wrong here. The fact that we own a sports team,
Erica Crawley 06:44
we do we own a sports team, which is that that is the one unique and pretty cool thing about being a commissioner here in Franklin County. It is owned and operated through our Wrexham Parks Board. And it’s pretty awesome being a owner of a team and owning that property. The other thing that I would say that is unique to us, we are the largest county in the state, we have a larger budget, we operate about a $2 billion budget, and we have a little more than 1.3 million residents.
Tim Fulton 07:19
And talk about sort of your history. Personally, what brought you here, you know, high level you were a member of the Armed Service. You’ve been an elected official before, but I just want evidence that I did a little research ahead of this. But if you could walk me through sort of your background and what brought you to this point,
Erica Crawley 07:37
absolutely. I think my background I say is you know has a lot of detours and roundabouts and turns but I am originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Northeast Ohio. I was born and raised there. In have I moved around a lot after I graduated from high school. I started out at Youngstown State went to University of Toledo dropped out. And I tell that story. I am I was a high school dropout. I mean a college dropout, I’m sorry, and went to the Navy. I served active duty in the Navy from 2000 to 2003. And then in the reserves from 2007 to 2008. After I got out of the military, I found out I was pregnant soon after I gave birth to twin girls named hope and faith. They are now 18 And then that helped me just like I ended up going back to school. I went to Cleveland State University graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in criminology with a focus on juvenile delinquency. I went on to get my master’s degree in public administration. And what brought me to Columbus eight years ago was law school. I came here from Atlanta, to Capital University Law School and decided to stay and raise my family here. But it was in my last semester of my last year that I decided to or the opportunity presented itself to run for office. Prior to law school, most of my career had been in the nonprofit sector helping childcare centers get accredited on a national level. I worked with Casa Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children in the juvenile court, working with children who have been abused and neglected, and then did a little work for a law firm worked at the YMCA has started early headstart program. So advocating on behalf of children and families is near and dear to my heart. And so when I was getting ready to graduate from law school, was looking to take my advocacy to the next level had not been involved politically and wanted to do so not necessarily run for office but wanted to be more involved in registering people to vote or supporting candidates, and at that time, a state representative had resigned effective immediately. And somebody sent me the dispatch article and was like you should throw your hat in the ring. Um I would like for a state representative. I’m just trying to register people. I’m just trying to register people to vote. And so I talked to a few people prayed on it, and I ended up putting my hat in the ring. I didn’t get the appointment, which was fine. It was a cool experience to go through. And to make a very long story short, several months later, I’m just living my best life. And Representative now, former Minority Leader, Amelia Sykes had reached out to me and said, Hey, folks, we’re really impressed by you and your passion, would you consider running for office? Again, and I said, Sure. And I ran for state rep in 2017, got elected in 2018. And then went into the Ohio House of Representatives representing eastern South East Columbus in 2019, and served in the legislature for two and a half years before I resigned to take this appointment at the Board of Commissioners.
Tim Fulton 10:58
And I guess I didn’t know that you had previously thrown your hat in the ring for a first state rep seat. And I kind of assumed there was almost like a mentor relationship surrounding your involvement in politics. And you’re saying, No, that’s not necessarily the case.
Erica Crawley 11:13
There was not I kind of came out of nowhere. I literally people tell me that all the time, like you came out of the woodwork. And I said, I really didn’t, I was involved in law school, but was it like, and that took up a lot of my time, I was a full time student and a single parent, but I was very involved in the community, whether it was working with the vital programs, helping people with their taxes, or aging residents, you know, file their taxes. I will briefly volunteer with the Legal Aid Society and their brief advice clinic over on the east side, worked as a mission as a volunteer from time to time serving hot meals. So I flew under the radar, you know, and that’s, I guess, how it should be when you’re like, just trying to help your community, you know, and so, I was new to politics, but I wasn’t new to public service, and communities.
Tim Fulton 12:04
And can you talk to me about your decision to put yourself up for that appointment to the commissioner seat?
Erica Crawley 12:11
Yeah, um, you know, lifetimes, actually fast. So I was like, six months into my second term in the legislature, ranking member on finance, like a huge leadership position, navigating the state’s operating budget of $74 billion budget. And then my predecessor, Marilyn Brown announced her retirement. I think it was announced on a Monday or Tuesday, and she was retiring that Friday. And, you know, again, folks reached out and was like, I know, you’re gonna put your hat in the ring. Like, if anybody could do this job, it could be you. You’ve worked with the county, as a legislator, working on your stuff with the quality initiative, Health and Human Services, really your background, you know, you should, you know, throw your hat in the ring. And and it took me some time to really decide that this was what I was going to do, maybe about a week or two, probably closer to two weeks that people were calling. And then when I started hearing some of the other names of folks, I was just like, Whoa, these people have been in politics way longer than I have. I hadn’t even been living here at that time, seven years. But again, I prayed on it, talk to my family. And it was like if I was going to make a jump to another seat. This would be it. Because of the work that we’re doing. And I know we’ll get into that. So that’s what I decided to do. I decided to, you know, have conversations with the members of my party because by law, the outgoing parties is the white the Central Committee members are the ones who nominates or appoint someone, and so did some heavy campaigning for six weeks, made over I don’t even know, close to 700 phone calls to to, you know, really ask people you know, for their vote and try to relay my passion for the community. And luckily, I was successful in that and won the votes to fill her Commissioner Browns unexpired term.
Tim Fulton 14:18
And just to put a little bit of emphasis on it, I don’t know that I really have any questions around it, that it is party members, political party members that chose you to replace it was the central Democratic Party. Yes. Yeah. It was real committee for the Franklin County Democratic Party.
Erica Crawley 14:33
Tim Fulton 14:38
In addition to Sir, I don’t want to say rubber stamp, but in addition to approving the budgets and sort of the administrative work of your office, can you talk through high level, what the three of you sort of identify as, not that one thing is more important than the other but What are the goals and the challenges that you guys face here in Franklin County, that you’re especially passionate about?
Erica Crawley 15:08
Absolutely. So the day to day work is where, you know, we really get to make a difference in an impact. So we do approve the budgets for counties for the county as a whole once a year. But every day we are my colleagues and I are either in the community or having meetings with community based organizations, nonprofits, small businesses, trying to understand the needs that they are facing. And you know, our neighbors, what are they facing? So I would say the things that we are dealing with, and we pass resolutions every Tuesday, and we dole out a lot of money to efforts that surround really three particular areas. Housing is a huge priority for us workforce development, we have a number of workforce development programs, and I could talk more about that. And then I would say education, early childhood education is very important to our our community. And most of these things came out of our rise together blue poverty blueprint. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. But back in 2017 2018, the commissioners decided to take a conversation to the community about what are the barriers, the systemic barriers that keep our neighbors from moving up an economic mobility ladder, so over 100, focus group conversations, I think there were 27 Different scheduled meetings. But in each of those meetings, a number of conversations happening, a number of different stakeholders. And out of that came arrives together poverty blueprint, which has 13 goals, over 120 action items on how we lift up our residents. So people can really see themselves being able to live work and play here. We give a lot of money to small businesses, because we understand that small businesses is the economic engine of honestly, our state, but definitely here since Ohio. So I will say the three pillars, housing, Workforce Education, but then also supporting our small and emerging businesses is like a fourth.
Tim Fulton 17:29
So to be clear, you guys are taking action on the programs for those pillars through your individual agencies. How just so that I know how big is the staff of the Commissioner’s Office properly.
Erica Crawley 17:45
So under the Board of Commissioners, we have about 1600 staff members. Okay, and then, you know, so we have the three commissioners, and we have our own personal staff, administration, we have County Administrator, and then three deputy county administrators who are all over their own agencies. So, you know, job and Family Services, the office on aging falls under the HHS for dog shelter. And like economic development and planning falls under in our sanitary and sanitary engineers falls under Eric Janis than Dan, like our Public Facilities Management fleet, and all, you know, those types of agencies falls under deputy County Administrator, Chris Long. But yes, any resolutions that we pass typically goes through the one of those agencies, community partnerships is one of our bigger departments, where a lot of our health equity grants and work goes through that that department.
Tim Fulton 18:48
And is that reporting structure state mandated? Or is that something that like, if one day you guys were like, maybe we make this flatter? Or maybe we have more branches to the tree? Is that something that you guys are able to change? We
Erica Crawley 19:02
are we are, but by law, we do have to have like a director of job and family services. But other than that, we could consolidate and which we’re looking at right now with an initiative that we’re calling one door where all of our HHS health and human services agencies will kind of be this one door model where if you’re coming in to job and Family Services, we are asking, you know, do you have a need for like the office on aging? Are you a caregiver? Or are you an aging resident? Are you in a kinship care program? So you know, do you need help with child support? So people what we saw that in these agencies, we are typically seeing the same people, and they’re going from job and family services to get Medicaid. Then they got to go over to Office on aging and fill out some more paperwork and get another case manager, but oh, they have a child support issue. So then they gotta go to child support and fill out another app. Patient have a different case manager, we were not doing anything to remove these barriers and people were getting frustrated by the process. And then, you know, sometimes a lot of times it just bowing out and saying, You know what, this is too much, I can’t do this. I’m like just trying to survive. And so we’re trying to figure out with this one door model, how do we remove those barriers and make sure that our processes are more efficient, and streamlined to serve our resident?
Tim Fulton 20:28
And then what do you feel like you personally are bringing to the office in terms of passion? And then what’s important to you? Is it sort of getting down into the weeds? Is it delegating? Is it i, because you talked about service, right? And you sort of facilitate the service almost now? Yes. Talk about sort of what you’re bringing to the seat.
Erica Crawley 20:51
So what I bring to the seat is a little more unique than what we have typically seen in this office. One, I am the youngest person, I think ever to sit on the Board of Commissioners, here in Franklin County. I am appointed and but should I be elected, I will be the first black woman elected, ever in the history of the county to the Board of Commissioners. I am the first black woman ever to serve as president of the Board of Commissioners. Obviously, there hadn’t been anybody before. And so I bring that experience of just being a minority, a double minority in this seat. But I think more importantly, than just my skin color and my gender, I bring lived experiences. And so the you know, I am the people that I advocate for, I talked about pretty openly since I became a legislator, and now a county official about my experience with food insecurity. I talked about housing instability, in my experiences there, I am a single parent of twin girls. And so I bring that experience of being a single parent and being like one flat tire away from a crisis, I talk about being a veteran and dealing with a depression and anxiety and not being able to get the services that I need as a veteran. So I think I bring a lot of lived experiences to this space, which relate to the people that we serve. But I also am, you know, have some, someone who has three degrees, highly educated, legally trained, and I bring that level of detail like attention to detail, I can’t get in the weeds data is my best friend. And so, you know, I’m I’m asking the hard questions of staff and administrators to make sure that everything that we do from a financial perspective is really trying to get to that end goal and the objective that our community say that would make a difference for them. So are we being good stewards of our money, which we are we have awesome people here. And and so you so yeah, I think those are the nuances that I bring to this board with the two great men that I started with.
Tim Fulton 23:13
I think it’s great that you’re able to bring an intersectional perspective to your work, do you? Can you give an example maybe of how you brought it specifically in the job, maybe in a specific circumstance or situation?
Erica Crawley 23:30
Absolutely. I’m from a time when I was the lead in the legislature advocating for increased eligibility for childcare, I was really trying to help people understand, as the only single parent in the House of Representatives, I’m a 99 members who’s like, hey, like, we need to address the benefits cliff, I was a parent who was spending $250 a week, so $1,000 a month on childcare, it was only making $32,000 a year. Right. And so being in a place of having more month than money and having to make some crucial decisions. They didn’t get that in the statehouse. Some of my colleagues did, but the majority did not hear intersectionality. I bring the same experience the same example. But now I get to create a program called Franklin County rise, which was a $24 million investment in childcare, historic, we’ve never seen it never had that here in the state. And for the most part, any county across the country had not made that investment. And what that does primarily was hit the people who weren’t dealing with the benefits cliff where if they made $1 More than they can lose all of their benefits when it comes to and then not being able to afford childcare when we’re in a crisis. And so I think it was my own lived experience me understanding the The positions that families are put in are especially single parents trying to make more money to provide for their families, but then having the bottom Fallout and not having supports and then being put in a crisis, but now being in a position where I could do something about it, and help families kind of get ahead.
Tim Fulton 25:19
When that makes sense, right? It’s a great, it’s similar to a graduated tax system. It’s not like you all of a sudden, make this much more money. And so all your money is taxed by that same amount. Thank you. First of all, thank you for your time today, I end every interview by asking what folks they believe Columbus is doing well, in your case, I’ll go ahead and extend that to Central Ohio. And what they believe Central Ohio is not doing so well.
Erica Crawley 25:45
Absolutely. I talk about this all the time, in some of these spaces that we’re trying to really deal with the growth of Central Ohio. So what we’re doing well is we are able to attract a younger, more progressive population to this region, we are attracting businesses large and small. We see Intel which will be like the largest in the world. To you know, people being able to see their own dreams be realized and started start have a startup or new business. We are doing that really well. I think we’re we’re not doing as good as we could is really tackling the housing crisis, and making sure that we have enough housing stock. And we are still we are still in a place where the city of Columbus being the largest municipality in Franklin County, which by the way, for those who don’t know, we have like 36 municipalities or 42 municipalities between cities, townships and villages. Here under Franklin County, the City of Columbus is the largest, it’s still one of the most economic segregated cities in the country. And where people who are coming here or who live here, especially if they are black and brown, are not experiencing shared prosperity, like other individuals who live here, or are moving here. And so I think we can do a better job in making sure that everyone is able to thrive and not just survive.
Tim Fulton 27:24
And we’ve certainly heard similar sentiments to from other folks that we’ve talked to recently. So Commissioner Crawley I really appreciate your time and have a great week.
Erica Crawley 27:34
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. And you do the same have a wonderful week.
Tim Fulton 27:48
Thank you for listening to Confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. Again, you can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com Please rate subscribe, share this episode of The confluence cast with your friends, family contacts enemies, your favorite elected official. If you’re interested in sponsoring the confluence cast get in touch with us. We can be reached by email at info at the confluence cast.com Our theme music was composed by Benji Robinson, our producers Philip Cogley, I’m your host, Tim Fulton. Have a great week.