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Who cares about election reform!

By Stephanie Dunlap · July 7th, 2004 · All The News That Fits
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Cincinnati City Council, meeting for the last time before summer recess June 30, demonstrated underwhelming interest in election reform, voting to shelve all four charter amendments proposed for the Nov. 2 ballot. That means the charter amendments won't come up for consideration again in time for council to add them to an already-lengthy electoral lineup.

Councilman David Pepper submitted five versions of legislation calling for a "stronger mayor" to assume the powers of the city manager, which would have shifted Cincinnati to a "mayor-council" system of governance (see "Strong, Stronger, Strongest," issue of June 23-29). None of the five passed muster; in fact, only council members John Cranley and Pat DeWine objected to postponing them. Cranley and DeWine were still interested in two versions, one of which they agreed on. But that wasn't nearly enough to tip the vote toward inclusion on the ballot.

Pepper had also submitted two versions of a plan to elect city council by districts (see "Splitting the Vote," issue of June 16-22). DeWine alone objected to postponing consideration of one of those plans. Council unanimously voted to delay the other.

Pepper, who chairs the Law and Public Safety Committee, says he submitted the proposals to act on the recommendations of the Election Reform Commission created a year ago by Mayor Charlie Luken and Vice Mayor Alicia Reece. He then submitted additional versions, hoping the revised bills would please enough council members get the necessary 6-3 vote.

No go.

Luken seems glad to put aside the proposals for now. He says he'd joined Reece in creating the Election Reform Commission because she'd told him it was an important issue for the African-American community. But considering the lukewarm response from both council and the public, he'd just as soon keep the status quo.

Luken says the most important charter amendment for voters to consider is the repeal of Article 12, which bars any law against discrimination based on sexual orientation. In his State of the City address, Luken had identified the repeal of Article 12, which city residents approved in 1993, as a priority (see "Luken: Dump Article 12," issue of Feb. 4-10).

Council also indefinitely postponed two other proposed charter amendments. Just one week earlier, Councilwoman Laketa Cole had proposed switching to four-year terms, instead of two-year terms. She also proposed changing term limits from four two-year terms to two four-year terms, keeping the maximum time allowed on council the same. But even Cole voted to delay consideration of the idea, making the vote unanimous.

Cranley and DeWine were also the only two to object to postponing a charter amendment reducing council salaries to one-third the amount paid to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, Two proposals would have reduced council salaries from nearly $58,000 a year to about $26,000.

Some argued the pay cut would reflect council's diminished role ever since 2001, when voters passed a charter amendment creating the current "strong mayor" system. Accordingly, neither plan proposed cutting the mayor's salary. Luken makes $111,402 a year.

By collecting 6,771 signatures, Cincinnati residents could still add election reform provisions to the ballot. But with most of the grassroots energy focused on Citizens to Restore Fairness' campaign to repeal Article 12, that's highly unlikely.

Council also kept alive Madisonville's hope for the redevelopment of Madison Road and Whetsel Avenue (see "Pigeons and Promises," issue of June 9-15) by voting to give the city administration discretion to fund the plan once it's satisfied with it.



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