Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Issue 4: The good and the bad

Here's how the plan compares with the current system, along with pros and cons on the key elements

        Passage of Issue 4 on the May 4 ballot would substantially alter the form of government in Cincinnati, starting with the election of 2001.

        Fundamentally, Issue 4 provides for direct election of a mayor with more power than the mayor has now. Proponents think it would make the mayor and council more accountable to voters. Opponents think it would give the mayor too much power at the expense of council.

        The ballot issue would not change the number of council members and how they are elected. It would create a new office of mayor, keep the city manager and redefine the relationship between mayor and council.

        Cincinnati City Council voted 6-3 to put the issue on the ballot.

        Here are key elements of Issue 4, compared with the current system. Representatives of groups promoting and opposing the issue were asked to state their views on each point.

Direct vote
        Proposal: Direct election of a mayor for a four-year term following a nonpartisan primary election in September of a mayoral election year to determine two candidates for mayor.

        Current: The top vote-getter in the council election becomes mayor for the same two-year term as a council member. The election is nonpartisan.

        Favor proposal: Council members would still have two-year terms, but the mayor would be elected every four years. That, proponents say, would give a directly elected mayor time to implement an agenda and build the kind of political leadership they say the city desperately needs.

        There had been some discussion of electing a mayor through Democratic and Republican partisan primaries, followed by a head-to-head contest in the fall. But drafters of the plan decided that a nonpartisan primary, with the top two vote-getters facing each other in the fall election, would give independent candidates a chance to run and win. It was a provision included in the final plan to bring Cincinnati's independent political party, the Charter Committee, on board.

        Council members who might have to leave council because of the term limits law (four consecutive two-year terms) could extend their careers in city hall by running for mayor and winning.

        Oppose proposal: Opponents of Issue 4 are split on the idea of direct election of the mayor. Many favor a direct mayoral election; their opposition is to the additional powers the mayor would be given. But some opponents, such as Councilman Tyrone Yates, think Cincinnati should go back to the system it used before 1987, when a council majority, at the beginning of each council term, chose one of its own to hold the largely ceremonial post of mayor.

Preside over council
        Proposal: Mayor would preside over council meetings but would not have a vote. The mayor would be empowered to call special meetings of council. The mayor could propose and introduce legislation for council consideration.

        Current: Mayor presides over council meetings and has a vote. The mayor may not call special meetings of council.

        Favor proposal: One reason drafters of Issue 4 decided that the mayor should not be a voting member of council was that it would prevent the mayor from becoming tied down by the day-to-day business of being a council member — attending committee meetings, hearings and the like.

        Oppose proposal: The argument against a mayor who is not a member of council presiding over city council meetings is that, in most other U.S. city governments, the legislative body itself chooses the presiding officer, or a president of council is directly elected. Opponents think that, under Issue 4, the mayor would be an executive officer, not a legislator; they think it would give the city's executive branch too much power over the legislative branch.

Initiate budget
        Proposal: Mayor would review the annual budget estimate prepared by the city manager and submit the estimate, with comments, to council within 15 days.

        Current: City manager prepares an annual budget estimate and submits it to council. The mayor has no formal role.

        Favor proposal: Aaron Herzig, campaign manager for the pro-Issue 4 campaign committee, said the mayor would not be able to change the budget as submitted by the city manager. “At any rate, no budget is going to pass unless a majority of council supports it,” Mr. Herzig said.

        Oppose proposal: Mr. Yates called the idea a “Trojan Horse.” He argues that “after one or two budgets submitted in that fashion, it will become the mayor's budget and not the city manager's.”

Council appointments
        Proposal: Mayor would appoint and remove chairmen of council committees and assign all agenda items to committees.

        Current: Council majority appoints and removes chairmen of council committees. The clerk of council assigns agenda items to committees.

        Favor proposal: Coming Together for Cincinnati, the pro-Issue 4 campaign committee, thinks this provision would force the directly elected mayor and a majority of council to come together on specific legislative agendas. It would prevent a situation in which the mayor and council are at odds, they say, because council members would have an incentive to work with the mayor.

        Oppose proposal: Again, opponents think Issue 4 would give a mayor too much influence over the legislative process and reduce the role of council to control its own affairs. For more than 70 years, council members have been organizing themselves, opponents say, and the system has worked well.

City manager
        Proposal: Mayor would appoint city manager upon approval of five members of council following the mayor's recommendation for appointment. Before the vote, the mayor would seek the advice of council and give council an opportunity to interview the candidates. Mayor would have authority to start removal of manager with the advice of council. Removal would require approval of a majority of council.

        Current: A majority of council appoints the city manager. Majority of council decides when to remove city manager.

        Favor proposal: Under this system, the mayor would clearly be the leader, the person who sets the agenda and gives the city direction. So, supporters say, it is only right that the mayor should be able to seek a city manager he or she thinks is in tune with that agenda and would carry it out.

        And, when the city manager is out of step or does not carry out his or her duties, the mayor should be able to go to council and ask that the city manager be fired. The mayor does not have absolute power under Issue 4: The mayor would need a council majority to go along with either the hiring of firing of a city manager.

        Oppose proposal: Opponents of Issue 4 think giving the mayor the authority to initiate the hiring and firing of the city manager would create a situation in which the city manager is beholden only to the mayor and would not have to take council members seriously. “Under this, the mayor and the mayor alone controls the process,” Mr. Yates said.

Veto power
        Proposal: Mayor could veto legislation passed by council. Vetoes could be overridden by six members of council. Five council members would be required to vote to reconsider legislation vetoed by the mayor.

        Current: Mayor cannot veto legislation.

        Favor proposal: The veto power is common in large American cities but generally not often used. Supporters argue that it is a proper tool for a mayor who is elected to represent all the people of the city to use to deal with what he or she considers to be legislative abuses.

        Supporters say it would not be an absolute power — six of nine members of council, if they want a piece of vetoed legislation badly enough, could vote to override the mayor's veto, and the ordinance would become law with or without the mayor's support.

        Issue 4 also contains a provision saying that after five days, if the mayor does not sign or veto an ordinance, it would become law.

        Oppose proposal: Mr. Yates said that in governments where the veto power exists — such as at the state and federal level — the veto is used to check the “parochial excesses” of legislators who are elected from districts or states.

        But under Issue 4, council would still be elected at-large by voters throughout the city, just as the mayor would be. Mr. Yates and others argue the mayor should not have the power to veto legislation passed by a council that is elected by the same people — the city at large — as the mayor.

Term limits
        Proposal: Mayor would be limited to two consecutive four-year terms in office.

        Current: Mayor, like all council members, is limited to four consecutive two-year terms in office.

        Favor proposal: In 1991, Cincinnati voters approved a term-limits law that limits council members to four consecutive terms. This proposal for a directly elected mayor would preserve “the spirit of the term-limits law” under the new system, Mr. Herzig said.

        Oppose proposal: Having a mayor who could serve for eight years could create a situation in which the city has a “runaway” mayor in the second term, with the mayor “out of control” and not politically accountable after winning a second term.

City representative
        Proposal: The mayor would be the official head and representative of the city for all purposes, except as provided otherwise in the charter.

        Current: Mayor acts as head and representative, but this is not a power granted by the charter.

        Favor proposal: Supporters say it would be clear under Issue 4 that there is one person in charge and would provide political accountability — qualities they say have been lacking under a system in which the mayor has no authority and the city manager works for nine bosses.

        Oppose proposal: Mr. Yates said opponents have no quarrel with this provision, but warned that some mayors could abuse it and try to prevent the city manager or city council members from dealing with groups or individuals outside city government.

Pick vice mayor
        Proposal: Mayor would select a vice mayor, who would be a member of council. The vice mayor would act in the absence or disability of the mayor but would not have the power to veto, appoint or remove.

        Current: Council selects a vice mayor, who is a member of council.

        Favor proposal: The directly elected mayor should have the ability to choose the council member who will inherit the office.

        Oppose proposal: Mr. Yates said he knows of “no other system where the mayor controls the top two offices.” Opponents think council itself should continue to choose the vice mayor from among themselves.

Succession plan
        Proposal: In the event of the death, removal or resignation of the mayor, the vice mayor would become mayor, with all the duties and powers of the mayor. But if the vice mayor assumed office before June 1 in the year of a council election, an election would be held for the unexpired term of the mayor.

        Current: The mayor, like all council members, designates in advance the name or names of council members who would make a replacement appointment. If the mayor leaves office before the term ends, a majority of council selects the new mayor.

        Favor proposal: This would force the vice mayor who becomes mayor midterm to run for the office him or herself, laying out an agenda and, if elected, giving that new mayor some political credibility.

        Oppose proposal: The vice mayor who would become mayor, opponents say, would just be an extension of the previous mayor who appointed him or her. Council itself should choose the vice mayor.

Double salary
        Proposal: Mayor's salary would be twice that of a council member.

        Current: Salary for council member is $49,460; salary for mayor is $52,960.

        Favor proposal: Proponents argue that a mayor with more responsibility and who would have to spend full time or nearly full time on the job would need to be compensated. The salary, they say, would not be out of line with what other big city mayors make.

        Oppose proposal: Many opponents say that if Issue 4 passes and the new system goes into effect, it would be reasonable to pay the mayor more money. But opponents have also argued that an expanded mayor's office would just create new expenses for taxpayers, in that the salary would rise and a mayor with more power would hire more staff than under the present system.

Historic charter decision one week away
- Issue 4: The good and the bad
Questions and answers on Issue 4

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