Wednesday, March 03, 1999

Strong-mayor plan lacks one vote


Tarbell backs away from ceding power

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[tarbell]
Councilman Jim Tarbell listens to council debate the plan for direct election of the mayor.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        The on-again, off-again May vote on a plan for direct election of Cincinnati's mayor is off again.

        Build Cincinnati, the organization pushing for the city charter change, started Tuesday with the six votes on city council that it needs to put the plan on the May 4 ballot. By the end of the day, Charterite Councilman Jim Tarbell had defected, putting the issue in doubt again.

        Supporters of the plan have today and Thursday to change Mr. Tarbell's mind before the Friday deadline for putting an issue on the primary ballot.

        Mr. Tarbell had been one of six council members who had signed on to a one-page summary of the Build Cincinnati plan, which would create a directly elected mayor with greatly enhanced powers.

        Monday night, the 14-page ordinance was delivered to council members' homes by police officers so members could read it before it was formally introduced at a special noon meeting of council Tuesday. Af ter reviewing it, Mr. Tarbell said he decided the plan takes too much power away from council and gives it to the mayor.

        “I look at this and I wonder what caliber of person would want to run for council, given the fact that council would be so powerless,” Mr. Tarbell said.

        When it became apparent there were no longer six votes

        for the plan, Mayor Roxanne Qualls adjourned the noon meeting and called for council to reconvene at 5:30 p.m.

        What followed was an afternoon of closed-door meetings among Build Cincinnati leaders, political party leaders and council members trying to shape an agreement that could get the support of six council members.

        But by the time the 5:30 p.m. meeting convened, it was clear that Mr. Tarbell had not changed his mind.

        During the three-hour meeting, council members who supported the plan implored Mr. Tarbell to change his mind.

        “Nobody would expect you to go out and campaign for it,” Republican Councilman Phil Heimlich told Mr. Tarbell. “Just give the people a chance to decide on it.”

        Mr. Tarbell said that one of his initial problems with the ordinance was fixed in the amended draft given to council members before the 5:30 p.m. meeting.

        He wanted the ordinance to spell out that, under the new system, the city manager would still be the “chief executive officer” of the city.

        But the revised ordinance still did not allow council to initiate the hiring or firing of a city manager, giving that power to the mayor. Under the plan, the mayor would propose a candidate for city manager, who would be hired with the consent of council.

        “Without that authority, I don't know what council members are supposed to do,” Mr. Tarbell said.

        The ordinance calls for a nonpartisan mayoral primary, beginning in 2001. The two top vote-getters would face off in the November general election.

        The mayor would not be a member of council, but would have veto power over council legislation and appoint the vice mayor and council committee chairmen.

        The three council Republicans — Mr. Heimlich, Jeanette Cissell and Charlie Winburn — and Democrats Qualls and Todd Portune want to put the measure on the ballot. But Mr. Portune said Tuesday he will vote to do so only if he is convinced “there is a consensus that all of the groups that have been involved want this plan.”

        Three council Democrats — Tyrone Yates, Minette Cooper and Paul Booth — are adamantly opposed.

        “We're rushing into something we don't have to rush into,” Mr. Booth said.

        Both Mr. Booth and Mrs. Cooper say they do not like the veto power or the mayor's authority to appoint council committee chairmen. Mr. Yates wants council to return to its pre-1987 method of selecting a mayor — where a council majority chooses one of its own.

        Because there are not seven votes to suspend council's rules and pass the ordinance as an emergency measure, council had to schedule three meetings for three separate readings of the ordinance.

        The first reading was Tuesday; and the second will come today at the regular council session. If supporters think they still have a chance of putting the measure on the ballot, a third meeting will be held at 8 a.m. Thursday.

       



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