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Should the City Manager Pick Up Litter?

By Gregory Flannery · December 20th, 2001 · Burning Questions
Does Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley believe the things he says?

When, for example, he looks out upon the city, does he honestly believe litter is its biggest problem? That's what he said at a council meeting Dec. 12, when he proposed a $4.3 million litter program to be funded by trimming the city's payroll.

"This is what should be the No. 1 priority, especially when we have 660-plus people making 60-grand a year, and none of them picking up litter," Cranley said.

Pursued to its logical conclusion, Cranley's argument apparently means the city manager and department heads should pick up cigarette butts and beer bottles around town.

But logic -- and facts -- have little to do with Cranley's argument. At one point in the meeting he said the city has 168 vacant positions, and at another he said 186. The details don't matter. Cranley is making a point, and the point is typically bifurcated: First, litter is bad; and second, bureaucracy sucks.

With a budget deficit looming, how will the city pay for a war on litter?

"The cost savings would come from not filling those vacant positions," Cranley said. "Apparently they aren't being missed. It doesn't occur to me that the city is falling."

The logical conclusion of that argument? Cranley doesn't really want the city manager to pick up litter. Rather, he doesn't want a city manager at all; instead of filling that vacancy, he'd like to hire more litter collectors.

But wait. Didn't Cranley recently convince city council to commit to hiring 75 more police officers? How does that mesh with his proposal to leave the 186 -- or 168 -- job openings unfilled? Vice Mayor Alicia Reece seemed confused.

"The police division has 21 vacancies," she said Dec. 12.

"I think those are mostly clerical," Cranley replied.

Now Councilman Chris Monzel was confused.

"This summer I thought the problem was violence and that we wanted to hire 75 police officers," he said.

"By my druthers, we can do both," Cranley replied.

Cranley wants the city to form a "rapid response litter team." Before you smirk too readily at the notion, it helps to know this was the second "rapid response team" discussed at city council Dec. 12. The other one is the city's employment rapid response team. Never heard of it? You're not alone.

Reece said she talked with corporate officials at the Kroger Co. last week.

"In talking with them, they didn't even know about the rapid response team," she said.

But that's not to say the city never acts rapidly. Consider council's Dec. 12 vote on a resolution opposing a liquor license at a Walnut Hills store. The resolution passed, so quickly in fact that council didn't even listen to the owner of the store before deciding.

After the vote, Reece allowed the owner to speak, reminding him, of course, that the vote was already over.

The store owner and the president of the Walnut Hills Business Association spoke in favor of the liquor license. The result? Council immediately changed its mind.

"After hearing this testimony, I'm inclined to vote no on the resolution of objection," Reece said.

Council unanimously sent the matter back to a committee for reconsideration.

The incident caused no discernible embarrassment on the part of city council, which has gone to lengths to try to snuff out public input at its meetings. Indeed, Councilman Pat DeWine seemed annoyed at having to listen to the store owner at all.

"We went over this last week," he said. "If you wish to address council, a member of council must call you forward."

But compliance with the rules won't guarantee council listens. Sometimes council doesn't even listen to its own lawyers at these meetings.

When the topic turned to implementing the new city charter amendment on campaign finance, Assistant City Solicitor Bob Johnstone talked about some of the complexities involved. His efforts were lost on Cranley, who sat busily opening Christmas cards, smiling at each one, while the lawyer talked.

Maybe Cranley is onto something. Instead of sitting in a stuffy council meeting, wouldn't he have been more useful picking up trash?



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