Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Port vote likely will fail

City Council members cite too many questions

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken will ask City Council to decide today on expanding the port authority to lead a $250 million renovation of the riverfront.

        The vote will likely fail.

        Despite a curt letter from Mr. Luken on Tuesday saying the issue “has been fully debated” and that it's time for a vote, a majority of council members said they won't vote for it today.

        This will be the fourth delay on the authority since July 1, and means council will probably not consider the issue again until the end of the month.

        That has Riverfront Adviser Jack Rouse warning that passion for the project might slip away.

        “Our window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller as we continue to delay,” he said in a letter to council members Tuesday.

        The plea didn't move council members who stalled the port authority in a council committee Monday, saying there were too many questions that hadn't been answered.

        They said calling for a vote today turns two previous public hearings into a sham, because concerns raised haven't been addressed by city administrators.

        On Tuesday, those members raised a host of new criticisms about the port, its board and what they described as a rush to get it done.

        “What is the urgency?” said Councilman Todd Portune. “Let's not kid ourselves about what this is about.”

        He said the motivation behind the port was to give Hamilton County a way to pay for parking garages that it can't afford as part of its contract with the Bengals' new stadium.

        The Riverfront Advisers, a group appointed by the city and county to study riverfront development, said the port authority is the only agency capable of transforming the riverfront into a neighborhood of parks, shops, residences and office space.

        It first said the county and the city needed to approve identical agreements setting up the port authority by July 1 in order to select a developer by the end of the year.

        Hamilton County Commissioners last week voted unanimously in favor of the port authority concept, but held off on adopting a contract until the city crafts a final ordinance.

        “My opinion is we should vote as soon as possible. That means (today),” said Councilman Phil Heimlich. “I felt holding a public hearing after the ordinance was almost fully crafted was not much more than a political exercise.”

        Councilmen Pat DeWine and James Tarbell also say the public has had months to get involved and the council now needs to act.

        But Councilwoman Alicia Reece disagreed, saying the public has a right to have its questions answered.

        “It's a slap in the face,” she said, adding that the council voted months ago on the port authority. “And you know how we voted?” she said, turning her thumb down. “We voted against it.”

        The sentiment was echoed by Councilman Paul Booth and Councilwoman Minette Cooper, who said they, too, would not vote today.

        “We are under no mandate to do this now,” Mr. Booth said. “And if we go forward, that says to citizens the public hearing was no more than window dressing.”

        Because the port authority action was held in committee, Mr. Luken must get six other council members to suspend the rules and vote on the port authority today.

        But with four members of the nine-member council against it, the vote will die and the issue will remain in committee.

        A further wrinkle cropped up Tuesday when two opponents said they could have conflicts that would keep them from attending the meeting or voting on the issue.

        Mr. Portune said he is concerned about a conflict of interest because a member of his law firm has been named as a possible appointee to the port authority. Mr. Booth said he is scheduled to be out of town.

        Councilman Charlie Winburn said he might also have a conflict that would keep him from voting. Either way, he said he has not made up his mind about the authority.


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