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A Man With a Plan?

By Nancy Firor · February 25th, 1999 · Burning Questions
  Cincinnati Councilman Charles Winburn
Cincinnati Councilman Charles Winburn

Surely, no one ever would accuse Cincinnati Councilman Charles Winburn of flip-flopping on an issue.

Nor, he has assured everyone, was it his intent to flip-flop when he introduced a proposal earlier this month that would have scrapped the direct election of the mayor, which some groups have been pushing for years. Winburn's plan also would have doubled council terms.

"This is less confusing and less complex than any other plan that has been offered," Winburn told reporters when he introduced the plan. "It is not a radical change, and it would do nothing to change the council-manager form of government."

But alas, while Winburn reportedly had the votes he needed to pass the measure, it was not to be.

"To be frank with you, even I do not understand all the legal jargon in my proposal," Winburn told council's law committee when he announced Feb. 16 that he was going to withdraw his proposal.

The proposal followed a yearlong effort by the bipartisan Build Cincinnati to reach a consensus on an electoral reform plan.

The group wanted a system that would directly elect a mayor as the city's chief executive officer.

Before this group started pushing, Citizens for Charter Reform also tried to come up with a plan with broad-based support in the aftermath of other failed attempts to do so.

Those efforts started with a "strong mayor" plan, backed by the Cincinnati Business Committee (CBC), which failed at the polls in 1995.

The problem, supporters of such changes said, is the city's current system in which the title of mayor goes to the top vote-getter in the nine-person council race. Advocates for change argue that the city's mayor is little more that a figurehead with no real power to get things done, and that the city has no one to be accountable when things don't get done.

Though Winburn withdrew his plan, he issued an announcement Feb. 18 to the media. The headline was: "Winburn Will Try Again."

Now, Winburn said, he would be pushing a proposal that called for the direct election of the mayor while maintaining the city-manager form of government.

While council members would run at large and be eligible to serve two four-year terms, the proposal would eliminate the possibility of extended terms for present incumbents.

How is it that Winburn's original proposal was "less confusing and less complex" than any offered to date but that it was too confusing for its sponsor to understand by the time he withdrew it?

Ron Mosby, Winburn's chief of staff, said that after introducing the proposal, Winburn got a lot of feedback from the public, much of it arguing that by not having a directly elected mayor, Winburn's plan was going only halfway toward what needed to be done.

Was that feedback from Build Cincinnati?

Yes, but that group was among many, including Citizens for Charter Reform, that gave Winburn feedback, Mosby said.

Then one group like Build Cincinnati or one person wasn't behind it?

No, Mosby said.

Then why did the media report on Feb. 23 that the plan to be considered Feb. 24 by city council -- which appears to be identical to the "Winburn Will Try Again" plan -- is Build Cincinnati's plan?

Mosby laughed.

The plans are not identical, Mosby said, pointing out that The Cincinnati Enquirer was calling the plan a "strong mayor" plan when in fact it was a plan to directly elect the mayor that maintained the council-city manager form of government.

Were the specifics of the plan such as the mayor getting the power to veto council legislation, hire and fire the city manager and appoint the vice mayor and committee chairmen -- similar to the CBC's failed "strong mayor" plan -- accurately reported?

Yes, Mosby said.

And whose plan is it, really?

The plan is a result of input from all the people, including Build Cincinnati members who worked with Winburn, and it is not accurate to call it Build Cincinnati's plan, Mosby said.



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