Sunday, February 22, 2004

Act on city restructuring plan


The sweeping proposals for changing Cincinnati city government adopted Thursday by a tripartisan commission deserve serious and immediate consideration by City Council.

If adopted by the voters, these proposals would fundamentally change the relationship between the mayor, city manager, council and the electorate. It would be the most dramatic shift in the way Cincinnati governs itself since the charter was adopted in 1925. When the charter was adopted 79 years ago, it helped push Cincinnati to the forefront in modern municipal government. We believe many of the commission's proposals are needed to make Cincinnati a leading city in the 21st century.

Our current structure allows nine council members elected at large to share too much power with the mayor in directing the city administration. The city manager reports to the mayor and council, in effect giving her 10 bosses. That frustrates efficient administration and fragments leadership.

The recommendation of the Election Reform Commission would make the mayor the chief executive officer of the city with the sole authority to hire and fire a "chief administrative officer," which would replace the city manager. The commission proposes creating nine council districts to replace the current at-large system. The proposal also calls for removing term limits from council seats and cutting council salaries in half.

The goal of these proposals is to invest the mayor with the power to be the true leader of the city while forcing the council members to concentrate more closely on constituent services within the neighborhoods. The commission of Republicans, Democrats and Charterites was created by City Council last year in response to complaints that neighborhood problems never seemed to get enough attention, while the overall direction of the city seemed unfocused. A poll by the commission found that 66 percent of Cincinnatians think the city is falling behind other cities because of the way it is led. Yet the same poll found only 24 percent of the voters would support the major overhauls called for by the commission.

We believe those numbers show a great desire for change, while there is uncertainty over the details of exactly how that change should be accomplished. The time to start working out those details is right now. The commission will present a formal report of on its proposal to council within a few weeks. This report must not just sit on a shelf. Council should take the lead in putting these issues before the voters. If council members, fearful of losing power, fail to act, advocates of the proposals are prepared to gather the 6,771 signatures needed to place the issue on the ballot as an initiative, said Donald J. Mooney, chairman of the commission. Details on such things as district boundaries and council salaries are open to debate. What is not debatable is that Cincinnati government needs to change, and the people of the city know it.

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