Friday, October 3, 2003

Ex-mayors: City on wrong path

Reform planners hear blunt talk

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Two former Cincinnati mayors told an election reform panel Thursday that cutting council salaries and improving regional cooperation would be more effective in fixing city government than drawing district lines on a map.

"A lot of the problems we've been reading about involve council members crossing the borders of what their jobs are supposed to be about," said Arn Bortz, a Charterite mayor from 1983 to 1984. "City Council members spend too much time at City Hall, interfering with the administration."

Eugene P. Ruehlmann, the Republican mayor from 1967 to 1971, said the Electoral Reform Commission set up by City Council is "focusing on the wrong thing.

"I am compelled to say that the changes we need in Cincinnati are not going to be brought about by electoral reform," he said. He said the city's economic problems are regional issues, and that Cincinnati represents a smaller part of the region now than it did when he was mayor and presided over an aborted attempt to move toward a metropolitan government.

"I am so sick and tired of the county and the city at loggerheads," Ruehlmann told the commission. "I would prefer to see all the time and energy you're spending on electoral reform devoted to solving that problem."

The 13-member panel is studying what would be the most radical changes to city government since the 1925 charter. Options include a return to ward-by-ward elections and the elimination of the city manager.

At its second meeting Thursday, the commission brought in political scientists and elder statesmen of the city to better understand how the current political system developed and what the alternatives are.

Among them, there was greater support for the at-large system of elections or - at the extreme - a hybrid system that would include both citywide and district representation.

Former Councilman John J. Gilligan - who now serves on the Cincinnati Board of Education - said a district system wouldn't empower neighborhoods as much as supporters suggest.

"That's not power. Now you've got one person on City Council. The game remains to be played," he said. A district system would encourage "horse-trading" among ward councilmen, he said.

The commission will hold its first public hearing at 6 p.m. Oct. 16 at Jordan Crossing in Bond Hill.


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