Wednesday, June 23, 2004

City Hall changes - times 5

Multiple plans could go to voters, or none

By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer

A proposal to change Cincinnati's form of government has splintered into five different proposals, and City Council will vote next week to send all or none of them to voters on the November ballot.

Two of the proposals would fundamentally change the form of government by eliminating the city manager and replacing her with an elected, executive mayor. Another two deal with council pay and terms. And yet another - one that has almost no support on City Council - would change the way council members are elected by dividing the city into nine wards.

Law Committee Chairman David Pepper said he put all five proposals on the agenda Tuesday in order to foster debate, even as he tries to forge a compromise that seven members of council could agree to put on the ballot. "If there isn't one, then that gives us our answer - we're not ready to agree to change the form of government."

City Council meets June 30 for the last time before a two-month summer recess.

Since receiving a report from a 13-member, tripartisan Electoral Reform Commission in March, most of City Council's attention has been focused on strengthening the power of the mayor.

The executive mayor plan would remove all vestiges of the professional city manager form of government, a creation of the Charter Committee in the 1920s as a reaction to the cronyism and corruption of the Republican party machine.

An executive mayor would have the power to hire and fire all department heads - including the parks and recreation departments, now controlled by two independent commissions.

And with his new power to run the day-to-day operation of city government, the mayor would no longer preside over City Council, so the difference between the two proposals now on the table is how they organize the council.

• The "vice mayor" plan would continue to have the mayor appoint the vice mayor, who would then preside over council. The vice mayor would have veto power over committee assignments, and could steer legislation into committees.

• The "council president" plan would allow City Council to organize itself, selecting its own council president and organizing itself as it sees fit.

City Council is also considering two related amendments dealing with council pay and term lengths:

• One proposal would cut City Council salaries, now set to three-fourths of a Hamilton County commissioner's salary. The Election Reform Commission proposed cutting those salaries to one-third. The idea was to make City Council a part-time job so that council members spend less time at city hall micro-managing the administration.

• A separate ordinance, sponsored by Democrat Laketa Cole, would ask voters to lengthen council terms to four years. She said a longer term would encourage less campaigning and more long-term planning.


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