Here's 9 reasons why the rewrite of Cincinnati's charter matters

Or, the politics of the pocket veto

CINCINNATI - Work is under way now to rethink the way Cincinnati will be governed in the future, as a task force of 24 volunteers takes on the task of rewriting Cincinnati’s charter.

Considered the city’s constitution, the charter was adopted in 1926 and governs nearly every aspect of the region’s largest city.

But lets be honest, it’s tough to make words contained in articles, sections and amendments feel relevant  to our lives. So here's 9 reasons we're staying tuned in to the charter review.

What's On the Agenda

1) Everything in the city’s charter is on the table for review - from the possibility of district council elections and campaign finance reform, to moving to elections for an independent city solicitor and auditor, to curtailing the use of emergency ordinances and the “pocket veto." Plus, so much more. Read on.

A Declaration of Independence?

2) No independent position or department  monitors how Cincinnati spends its money.  Some cities, including Denver, Portland and Columbus have this. Many others don’t. Article IV, section 6 of Cincinnati’s charter reads that the council may "create a department of finance and authorize the city manager to appoint a director of finance." But article IV, section 10 allows the city manager to fire the solicitor and director of finance at will. That means the job security of those people are in the hands of those they are supposed to be watchdogging. Creating an independently elected city auditor is likely to be a top discussion point as talks about the charter pick up in the coming months.

Too Much Power?

3)  Under the current charter, the mayor has lots of power, wielding the ability to appoint all council committee chairs, decide what issues go to which committees and can withhold issues from agendas indefinitely. The mayor also is mostly responsible for hiring or firing the city manager.  Expect these powers and others to be questioned.

Board Games

4) Must-have boards in Cincinnati under the charter include the Board of Park Commissioners and the Board of Health. Expect some debate on whether these are essential, or if the charter prevents consolidating these services with county services. 

Obsolete and Ambiguous

5) Most of the work to rewrite the charter will happen in committees and through public forums. The 24-member task force, which has been meeting since May 5, has been split into six committees: City Council and Mayoral Elections; Labor and Administration; Fiscal Reform; Balance of Power Between Branches; Direct Accountability to Citizens and the Obsolete and Ambiguous Provisions. Expect the first public forum to be in the coming weeks. Although officials have said August 18,  that date may be moved.

Pocket the Pocket Veto

6) Already, some recommendations have been made, including a change that would eliminate the so-called pocket veto.  This week the Obsolete and Ambiguous Provisions Committee sent its recommendations to city council’s rules committee. Among them is a change to article III, section 2 of that charter to require a “specific time limitation…within which the mayor shall assign matters to committees.”  Now, there is no deadline for the mayor to assign issues to committees. Some mayors, most recently former Mayor Mark Mallory, have used this "pocket veto" as a tool to keep unwanted items off the council agenda.

Headed to the Ballot

7) Taking it to the polls: Cincinnati residents will be asked to vote on all of this, eventually. If at least six council members vote in favor of the Obsolete & Ambiguous Provisions Committee recommendation by Sept. 6, those initial changes could be placed on the November 2014 ballot for voters to decide. Meanwhile, those working in the other committees hope that other major recommendations will be adopted by the council and placed on the ballot in November 2015.   The result could be several amendments for voters to decide, or one ballot initiative to adopt an entirely new city charter. 

How to Get Involved

8)  “The public is not only welcome to participate, the entire process hinges on it,” said Mike Morgan, a co-chairman of the Charter Review Task Force. “This has to be about Cincinnatians producing the best city government for the citizens of Cincinnati.” Coming soon, the website www.mycharterrform.org will contain calendars and details about the task force and recommendations as they develop.

Read the Document

9) Here's what everyone is working with now: read the city's charter at www.cincinnati-oh.gov/council/references-resources/

WCPO.com reporter Lucy May contributed.

 

 

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