Thursday, May 13, 1999

Ugly fence just another sleazy threat

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mayor Roxanne Qualls looks through the plywood barrier at the fountain.
| ZOOM | | Wednesday story |
        I'm tired of being jerked around. Ooooh. Does that sound coarse? Crude? A little clumsy? Just right, then. I am back from the wreckage of Fountain Square, home of the Genius of Water, symbol of the city.

        Plywood surrounds the Tyler Davidson. The wall has been painted a medium green, a sleazy reflection of the verdigris of the bronze sculpture. And the barricade is a sleazy reflection of the way citizens are treated around here.

        Extortion. Threats.

        The Bengals are leaving. You must extend a warm handshake in the form of a new stadium, one that is better than anybody else's. Otherwise they'll pack their bags.

        We're going to evict the elephants. Unless you give the zoo more money, we will send the pachyderms packing.

        Your house will burn to the ground. A new communications system is needed to link police, fire and emergency services in Hamilton County. When voters rejected a new tax to pay for it, County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus clarified the matter for The Cincinnati Enquirer's Dan Klepal.

A la carte government
        “Emergency communication is a local issue,” Mr. Bedinghaus said. “The county is not going to belly up to the bar and pay for this system. That's not the way it works.”

        Well, this is all very confusing. Many things that citizens formerly assumed were the basic responsibility of government are, apparently, a la carte. Police. Fire. Maintaining public spaces.

        Maybe if they want more police on the streets, they will ask us to Adopt a Cop. Or if fire protection is lagging, they could raise money through a Put Your Name on a Nozzle program.

        A citizen's committee has been formed to raise $3 million to restore and maintain the Tyler Davidson Fountain. “Our goal is to take the fountain totally out of the public budgeting process,” said committee chair Charles Lindberg. “So we really do need support from the public.”

        To encourage this support, the city has turned off the fountain's water and erected an eyesore on the public square.

        With exquisite timing, the city has trashed Fountain Square. Just in time for the first Flying Pig Marathon, where the starting point was the plywood. Just in time for baseball season, which brings an estimated 1.8 million people downtown. Just in time for Tall Stacks in October.

Cutting off the water
        Does that strike you as a little odd? Does it seem as though somebody is trying, well, to jerk you around? At Wednesday's Cincinnati City Council meeting, Councilmen Jim Tarbell and Todd Portune asked City Manager John Shirey to investigate less offensive ways to wait out the needed repairs.

        The city manager could put water in the basin for the summer, “at zero cost” he said upon questioning by Mr. Tarbell. And it could be surrounded with flower pots, as was suggested by Mr. Portune.

        But Mr. Shirey warned that “the viewpoint of the committee is that it's difficult to raise money if it looks like there's nothing wrong with the fountain.”

        So there you have it.

        Furthermore, Mayor Roxanne Qualls said firmly, “We are not pretending that council is going to come rescue the fountain. We're not.” So — and I think I understand this clearly now — the city has reneged on the promise made in 1867 “to maintain said fountain in complete order.”

        The fountain needs repairs. I think even we dunderheads who are not government officials can grasp this without an ugly visual aid. We just don't understand why maintenance is suddenly not the business of government. And we are offended by the sight of our most cherished public monument in a preposterously ugly cage.

        The Genius of Water, trademark of the city of Cincinnati, was our icon of prosperity. Now, she's just a beat-up old lady with her hand out.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393. The author of I Beg to Differ, she can be heard Mondays on WVXU—FM (91.7) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

Fountain fix-up to take fast track