Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Inside City Hall

Tom Luken wants more light on SORTA board's activities


When Mayor Charlie Luken appointed Tom Luken to the board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority last year, he hoped his father would bring some oversight to an agency perceived as more interested in pushing light rail than running a bus system.

Dad didn't disappoint Tuesday.

Papa Luken cried foul when the SORTA board voted to give executive director Paul Jablonski a $15,000 bonus - on top of a 5 percent raise. Jablonski will now make $190,350, putting him on par with City Manager Valerie Lemmie.

But it wasn't the salary that bothered Luken.

It was the secrecy.

SORTA Vice Chairwoman Diane Price shut out the public during a half-hour discussion of Jablonski's performance Tuesday.

As he did when he was on City Council, Luken voted against the closed-door meeting, and then boycotted the discussion.

"I think this is a premature vote, and I think it's unfortunate that it's being done behind a veil of secrecy," the former Democratic congressman said. "It's the public's business."

Board member Melanie Sawyer Richardson - a pro-rail partisan whose appointment by the county last year was intended to balance Luken's presence on the board - provided this rationale: "We felt uncomfortable - at least, I did - with having a performance review in front of subordinates of Paul's."

"You also squelched all discussion," Luken said.

"If you'd have stayed, you could have participated," Richardson said.

Luken has proposed a change in SORTA's bylaws to end the practice of "executive sessions" - closed door meetings that are allowed under Ohio law but forbidden by Cincinnati's charter.

In a memo to the board, Chairman Timothy Williams said the current bylaws have allowed SORTA to avoid "the petty political gamesmanship frequently displayed at City Hall and the County Administration Building."

Williams said he and Price decided on the $8,350 raise and $15,000 bonus based on Jablonski's "past performance and the ongoing stellar efforts in an unstable political and financial environment" and the fact that he's picking up the duties of Secretary-Treasurer Bob Kaufman, who's retiring.

Williams also cited Jablonski's leadership on the failed light rail campaign.

"What campaign?" Charlie Luken said. "I'm thinking a 30 percent vote doesn't warrant a bonus to me. Maybe 51 percent, but not 30. I'm just not getting it."

On his father's role on the SORTA board, Luken said: "He's shining a bright light on matters of the transit authority, and that's why he's there."

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Campaign trail: TV talker (and possible U.S. Senate candidate) Jerry Springer isn't the only former Cincinnati mayor who plans to spend more time in Ohio in the coming months.

Roxanne Qualls, who left to be a fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, told Enquirer county government reporter Cindi Andrews in an e-mail Tuesday that she'll be spending about a week per month in Cincinnati working on a project.

Qualls, engaged to marry rare-book dealer John Gunnison-Wiseman in October, isn't letting on whom she'll be working for.

Word is, she's thinking about a run for Hamilton County commissioner.

Her only comment: "I hope to increase the time I'm in the city over the coming months/years since it is my home."

Hamilton County Democratic Co-chairman Tim Burke said the party would welcome her return to politics:

"She's brilliant, she was very popular, and she has an awful lot of talent."

• • •      • • •      • • •

Broadcast news: Mayor Luken will fill in for WDBZ-AM (1230) talk show host Lincoln Ware Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon. Luken's trying to line up guests, but insists he will also take calls. "I know listeners of the Buzz aren't always my strongest supporters, but I want to give them a chance to ask me questions," Luken said.

Ware's advice: "Find out where the dump button is located, and keep your finger on the trigger."

City Hall reporter Gregory Korte can be reached at and 768-8391.

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