Task force begins work to rewrite Cincinnati's charter

'Really important that all of us participate'

CINCINNATI – If just reading the words Cincinnati Charter Review Task Force makes you want to doze off, try to stay awake just a few paragraphs longer.

Here's why: Cincinnati's charter is the city's constitution. It was adopted by voters in 1926 and governs every aspect of the Tri-State's largest city. And a group of citizens has started a process to review it – and rewrite it.

"This is going to determine the basic and fundamental structure of Cincinnati government for probably the next 100 years," task force co-chairman Mike Morgan said. "So it sounds really boring. But it's critically important to the daily lives of the city's residents and how things do and do not get done in the city."

Morgan and co-chair Mark Silbersack and Cincinnati City Councilman Kevin Flynn explained at a news conference Wednesday how the review process will work:

• All the 24-member task force's work will be open to the public and will require public participation.

• The group's studies, reports and data will be posted on its website www.MyCharterReform.org .

• The first public forum will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 18 at Cincinnati City Hall in Room 312. Additional public forums will be scheduled.

Already, the group has formed six committees to study specific elements of the charter:

• City Council and Mayoral Elections

• Labor and Administration

• Fiscal Reform

• Balance of Power Between Branches

• Direct Accountability to Citizens

• Obsolete and Ambiguous Provisions

That last committee will begin meeting soon to identify language in the charter to eliminate because it's outdated or unnecessarily unclear.

Flynn said he hopes the Obsolete and Ambiguous Provisions Committee will be ready to make its recommendations to Cincinnati City Council as early as August.

If six council members vote in favor of the committee's recommendation, those initial changes could be placed on the November 2014 ballot for voters to decide.

"There is an entire article in the charter that describes how the city of Cincinnati government manages and controls the University of Cincinnati," Silbersack said, explaining one example of language that could be eliminated. "That hasn't been the case for 50 years or so."

Those kinds of changes should be easy to make, Flynn said. But he expects lots of debate over other changes that could be recommended.

Remember the 1999 debate over whether Cincinnati should directly elect its mayor? Or the vote in 2004 to repeal Article XII, which opponents said legalized discrimination against the city's gay and lesbian citizens?

Both of those were votes to amend the city's charter, and both were hotly contested campaigns.

"There may be issues that come forward that a majority of the task force believes position A, and a minority believes position B," Flynn said. "We hope to be able to present both those positions."

Ultimately, Flynn said, the goal of the group is to get the input of lots of citizens and make recommendations that six members of council will agree to place on the ballot. After that, it will be up to the voters to decide how to change – or not change – the city's charter.

Councilmember Amy Murray called the work "critical for the future of our city." And Councilman Wendell Young said he hopes citizens will participate.

"As I look at the minority community, I know there are many in my community who will feel like this is something where our voice is not wanted," Young said. "This is something where our voice is not only wanted, but is desperately needed."

Added Young: "The charter governs us all. It is really important that all of us participate."

 

To read the city's charter, go to: www.cincinnati-oh.gov/council/references-resources/

For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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