Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Reform effort rethought

Council committee ends flirtation with ward representation

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

City Councilman David Pepper stopped short of declaring that a council committee killed efforts to change Cincinnati's form of government Tuesday.

"I would say they were put to sleep," said Pepper, who chairs the Law & Public Safety Committee. "It was humane."

Tuesday's action all but ended City Council's yearlong flirtation with an executive mayor/district council form of government.

But voters haven't heard the end of it yet.

Activists pushing the reform - a loose coalition of business-oriented Democrats, conservative Republicans and the NAACP - were far from disappointed with the council's inaction.

In fact, they encouraged it.

"The bottom line is, once council got done monkeying around with our proposal, it wasn't our proposal anymore," said Donald A. Mooney Jr., who chaired the 13-member tripartisan commission appointed by the mayor to study electoral reform.

"What we found was it's very difficult to get people to reform themselves. And the more they tinkered with it, the more difficult it was going to be to get public support," he said.

So Mooney and the reformers say they'll take their charter amendment to the voters the hard way: by gathering 6,771 signatures on a petition to get a reform plan on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Their plan, which emerged last weekend, has yet to be crafted into specific charter language but would fundamentally alter the roles of both mayor and council:

• A strong, executive mayor would eliminate the city manager form of government in place since 1925. The mayor would no longer preside at council meetings, but could hire and fire department heads. The mayor would appoint a council member as vice mayor, who would succeed him if he dies or leaves office.

• Voters in nine wards would elect one member of City Council to represent their district, as opposed to the current system that gives voters nine votes to elect citywide candidates. City Council would elect its own president. Council members' terms would be extended from two to four years, but they could be recalled early. Council candidates would also have to run in nonpartisan primaries if there were more than two candidates in a ward.

The biggest change from previous reform plans is the power of City Council to reject mayoral appointments. Department heads - including the police and fire chiefs and assistant chiefs - would be subject to council confirmation.

Pepper said there seemed to be a consensus emerging on City Council for a stronger mayor, but council members parted company with the reformers by tinkering with City Council.

"We've given far more power to council than to the mayor, and in my reading of the population, that's not what they're looking for," he said.

"Clearly, one of the major problems is a lack of a unified direction at City Hall," he said. "What they're proposing would cement bickering as an institution and make it very difficult to have a unified vision."


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