Western Reserve Land Conservancy Bids Farewell to Jim Rokakis, Welcomes Councilman Matt Zone to the Team
Zone to become Senior Vice President, carrying on the legacy of Rokakis as leader of the Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities program
CLEVELAND (September 25, 2020) – Western Reserve Land Conservancy is pleased to announce that Cleveland City Councilman Matt Zone will succeed Jim Rokakis as Senior Vice President and Executive Director of Thriving Communities, the Land Conservancy’s innovative and transformational urban program. The news is bittersweet, marking the end of Jim’s decade as the founder and leader of the Thriving Communities program.
“What Jim has done for the Land Conservancy, the Thriving Communities program, and the people and places of Cleveland and far beyond is absolutely amazing,” said Rich Cochran, president and CEO of Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “Ten years ago Jim launched our urban programs. Due to his vision and leadership, our programs have had a transformational effect on urban revitalization efforts near and far. We are tremendously excited that Jim’s legacy of work will continue and thrive under Matt’s leadership. He brings a wealth of talent, knowledge and commitment to making Cleveland a cleaner, greener place.”
Councilman Matt Zone was first elected to City Council in 2001, representing Ward 15, which includes the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood where he and generations of his family grew up. Ward 15 also includes the Edgewater area, Gordon Square and parts of Ohio City, Cudell, and Stockyards neighborhoods. One of the highlights of Councilman Zone’s legislative accomplishments was the creation of city’s Office of Sustainability in 2005. He also served as the chair of the sustainability committee for a decade.
Ten years ago Jim launched our urban programs. Due to his vision and leadership, our programs have had a transformational effect on urban revitalization efforts near and far. We are tremendously excited that Jim’s legacy of work will continue and thrive under Matt’s leadership.
In 2017, Councilman Zone served as President of the National League of Cities, an organization that represents 19,000 cities, towns and villages throughout the United States. He is a graduate of St. Edward High School and Cleveland State University’s College of Urban Affairs. He and his wife, Michelle, have a son who graduated from Kent State University and is a Cleveland Police officer.
“I am very proud of what I have been able to accomplish in Ward 15 and throughout Cleveland during my time in office,” Zone said. “It has truly been an honor to represent the great people of this neighborhood. I am now very excited to continue that work as part of Western Reserve Land Conservancy. Jim and Rich have both been tremendous leaders in this space and I am honored to play a role in building upon that legacy.”
Growing up in Cleveland’s Archwood-Denison neighborhood, Jim Rokakis saw firsthand how neighbors helping neighbors could strengthen an entire community. Elected as the youngest member of Cleveland City Council at age 22, he embarked on a 19-year tenure that saw several successes in reversing neighborhood blight, redeveloping Downtown Cleveland, creating the Cleveland Housing Court and serving as chairman on the influential Finance Committee for his last seven years on Council.
In 1997, Jim took office as Cuyahoga County Treasurer, bringing his innovative skills and passion for the community to a struggling county office. In the decade that followed, Jim overhauled the entire office and greatly enhanced the county’s existing tax collection system by instituting state-of-the-art billing and collection processes.
He has played a pivotal role in the creation of 60 county land banks across Ohio. Land banks are an essential tool for stabilizing our fragile cities. They give our counties the much-needed ability to quickly acquire a distressed property, safely hold it, clean its title and prepare it for a better day. The goal is to secure vacant properties — which would otherwise attract crime, lower neighboring home values and incur public services costs — so they can be put to better use in the future.
Jim has helped raise more than $450 million in funding for demolition of vacant and abandoned housing across Ohio. He recently co-authored a book with Cuyahoga Land Bank president and general counsel Gus Frangos, The Land Bank Revolution, which details the devastating impact that the foreclosure crisis had on America in the period from 2000-2010 resulted in what came to be known as the Great Recession.
“I’m a proud lifelong Clevelander and I know there is no better city in this country than Cleveland,” Rokakis said. “I hope what I’ve contributed to this great city has made a difference, and I know that what Matt will be able to do at Western Reserve Land Conservancy will only make it better.”
Learn more about Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities program at https://www.wrlandconservancy.org/whatwedo/advocacy-and-research/