Thursday, April 29, 1999

Debate on mayor's powers makes for lively live radio

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Power for Cincinnati's mayor — and how much is too much — was at the heart of a live radio debate Wednesday night between proponents and opponents of Issue 4.

        For an hour on public radio station WVXU-FM (91.7), two backers of the charter amendment — Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Johnathan Hollifield of the NAACP — squared off against two opponents, Councilman Tyrone Yates and Democratic council candidate Forrest Buckley over an issue that will be decided Tuesday by Cincinnati voters.

        The point of contention between the two sides was the power that Issue 4 would give to a directly elected mayor.

        “The people of this city have a right to choose their political leader,” Ms. Qualls said. “And that person needs to have the tools to carry out an agenda for the city.”

        If Issue 4 passes, it would go into effect in the 2001 election.

        This year's council election would be the last under the electoral system used in Cincinnati since 1987, in which the top nine vote-getters are elected to council and the one with the most votes becomes mayor.

        The tools Issue 4 would give the mayor would include:

        • Veto power over council legisla tion, subject to an override by council.

        • The power to initiate the hiring and firing of the city manager, subject to council approval.

        • The power to appoint council committee chairs and assign legislation to council committees.

        But, under Issue 4, the mayor would not be a voting member of council, and, that, opponents say, means the mayor would have too much influence over a legislative body he or she would not belong to.

        “The Issue 4 proposal gives so much power to one person that it chills me down to my bones,” said Mr. Yates, who heads up the Citizens Against Issue 4 Campaign committee.

        “There is nothing in the United States that mirrors this form of government that is being proposed,” Mr. Yates said.

        Mr. Buckley said that if someone proposed that the U.S. Constitution be changed to allow the president to name congressional committee chairs, “People would say, "This is the end of democracy; we have an imperial presidency.'”

        But Mr. Hollifield said that Issue 4 contains “checks and balances.”

        “The mayor could not hire and fire the city manager alone; the council would have to agree,” Mr. Hollifield said. “The mayor cold not hire and fire department heads. Only the city manager could do that. The mayor could not hire and fire the police and fire chiefs. Only the city manager could do that.”

        Furthermore, Mr. Hollifield said, “the mayor could not do anything in the way of legislation under this system without a majority of council going along.”

        Ms. Qualls and Mr. Hollifield both said the veto is not unusual and could be overridden by six council members.

        But Mr. Yates argued that the purpose of the veto at the state and federal levels is to give governors and presidents a way to combat “narrow, parochial legislation” passed by legislators elected from districts.

        Under Issue 4, Mr. Yates argued, both the mayor and the council would be elected by all of the people of the city, “so there is no reason to have a veto to stop parochialism.”

        Under Issue 4, the mayor would initiate the hiring and firing of city managers, but the hiring and firing would need council approval. Mr. Yates argued that because only the mayor can begin the process, “that would be the whole ball game in terms of who the city manager would report to. The city manager would report to the mayor.”

        Ms. Qualls argued that any city manager appointed under Issue 4 “would have to work with all of council. Nothing could happen in the way of legislation without council's approval.”


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