Sunday, February 23, 1997
Wake-up call for citizens
of the county


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Because you have better things to do, I went to a Hamilton County commissioners meeting for you. You can thank me later. (A case of No-Doz might be an appropriate sign of your gratitude.)

Commissioners meet Wednesday mornings at 9:30 in the County Administration Building at 138 E. Court St., downtown. I stopped first at Awakenings coffee shop across the street for a big slug of caffeine. It helped.

Room 603 is brightly lighted with pale wood and gray padded chairs for those of us in the peanut gallery. Although the men who sit facing the audience have some rather extraordinary powers over the 866,228 souls who live here, they clearly are not expecting all of us to show up to kibitz.

There are only 86 seats. I learned this while someone introduced a motion to honor professional engineers. As I could locate no confetti and party hats, I celebrated the services of these good people by counting seats.

I wondered if they'd be finished in time for lunch.

The government biz

Actually, things usually move rather briskly, and most meetings last only a couple of hours. Very businesslike.

John Dowlin is the senior member of the board now that Guy Guckenberger left to become a municipal court judge. Mr. Dowlin was probably voted Least Likely to Fling Around Money by his high school class. Before he was a commissioner, he was mayor of Sharonville. He also worked for Procter & Gamble, so I assume he makes everybody write one-page memos and brushes his teeth with Crest.

He is the patron saint of the highly acclaimed drug court and prides himself on his fiscal acumen.

Bob Bedinghaus, commission president, was appointed in 1995. Formerly Delhi Township clerk and director of the county elections board, he became the point man on the stadium tax and, voila, a media star and arguably the most powerful political figure in Hamilton County.

Tom Neyer, 30, the newest commissioner, was appointed this month. Scion of the construction and development family, he has never held public office before. Or run for public office. But he has been in politics since the mid-1980s, when he worked in the office of then-Cincinnati Councilman J. Kenneth Blackwell.

Although he was still a student at St. Xavier High School, I am sure that he was involved in many high-level discussions resulting in a wealth of governmental insights. Such as, ''Will you have mayo on that sandwich, sir?'' and ''Will your guest be having cream with his coffee?''

Vice president of the county GOP finance committee and a member of its policy committee, he has worked for several local Republican candidates and was Jack Kemp's Ohio coordinator in 1988.

Add to his resume, of course, that he is a white, male Republican.

Clout R Us

Bright, likable and well-connected, Mr. Neyer will no doubt do just fine, assisted by the excellent Diane Goldsmith, who has been Guy Guckenberger's aide since God invented water.

I hope so, because although the Wednesday meetings may charitably be described as tedious, the impact is not. Commissioners are not allowed to make laws, but they spend millions and millions (and millions) of our dollars. One year, for instance, they dumped a million dollars into just our potholes.

The Human Services Department will spend $715 million dollars this year, with commissioners having direct control over $153 million. Although the rest now is closely regulated, if the devolution from federal to state control proceeds, commissioners will take over food stamps and other welfare programs.

Also under the jurisdiction of these public servants is zoning and sewers. They sign off on the budgets for the courts, the sheriff and the county school board. They have power, big-time, and they are getting more every day. Stadiums. Parks. Tax levies. Roads. Jails.

Three men. One party. Your money. Are you awake yet?

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.