Tuesday, June 8, 2004

No day off for state, county

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

State and county offices won't follow the federal government's lead and declare a holiday for President Reagan's funeral Friday.

It's about cost, not respect. Holidays mean overtime pay for police and other emergency workers.

Federal offices will be closed and there will be no mail delivery. But in Cincinnati, where few issues are simple enough that they don't get a full airing in City Council chambers, it's still open to debate.

Under the city's administrative code, city employees automatically get the day off any time there's a federal holiday - unless City Council takes action to rescind the holiday.

Mayor Charlie Luken will introduce an ordinance to do that on Wednesday. He said certain city employees - notably, police and firefighters - have to work anyway and would be entitled to overtime.

"We simply cannot afford a day off," said Luken, who met Reagan when he was mayor in the '80s and said he was struck by his charisma. "I don't think this is a statement about our grief over the death of President Reagan, who we all acknowledge was one of the great leaders of the 20th century."

But Pat DeWine, the ranking Republican on City Council, said the city should honor the 40th president with a holiday.

"We should keep an eye on the cost, but I certainly would like to see the city take steps to honor Ronald Reagan," he said. "I don't know that there's too many people who have had the impact he had on the nation and on the world."

Would he vote to declare a holiday for President Clinton? "That's not a good comparison," DeWine said. "But if FDR died while I was alive, I would do the same thing."

There are two Republicans on the nine-member council.

The exact cost of a holiday isn't clear, but a report from City Manager Valerie Lemmie estimated it at $525,000 the last time the issue came up, on the Friday after Christmas last year. Lemmie was out of the country Monday and could not be reached.

At the county building, a Republican stronghold, employees are to show up for work on Friday. As administrative units of state government, most counties are following the lead of Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who has declined to declare a state holiday. Taft has ordered all state flags to fly at half-staff for 30 days and will attend the funeral in Washington.

Even Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin, who led the effort to name the Cross-County Highway after Reagan a decade ago, said he didn't think a day off was appropriate.

"It would probably cost us over $1 million," Dowlin said. "That seems like the wrong way to honor a president who was a fiscal conservative."

Independently elected county officials such as the sheriff, clerk of courts and engineer could still elect to give their employees the day off. So far, no suburban governments have announced plans to declare a holiday.

Reporter Cindi Andrews contributed. E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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