Monday, July 24, 2000

Shirey discusses magic of city

Church forum first in series of speeches

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Away from the glare at City Hall and its tangle of competing interests, Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey spent a casual hour Sunday morning on a topic he prefers: What's not wrong with Cincinnati.

        A lot.

        In the parlor at Walnut Hills Christian Church, Mr. Shirey spoke to 23 people in a program called “Inside City Hall.” Most, like Mr. Shirey, are members of the church.

        The event was open to the public, but organizers said a lack of publicity limited turnout.

        The city manager ran out of time before he ran out of reasons to appreciate life in the city: The parks. The churches. Riverfront development. The city's bond rating. Arts and cultural amenities that rival larger cities. The zoo. Architecture. Fountain Square.

        And its citizens' spirit of giving, which ranks the city fifth in the United States in per-capita donations to the United Way.

        “To me, that doesn't sound like a city in decline,” he said.

        His was the first in a series of speeches at the church. Next week, leaders of AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati are scheduled.

        Mr. Shirey also addressed the lone tense moment of the question period that followed his talk.

        Candice Tubbs calmly denounced what she said is racism in the city. Her sister, Cathy Tubbs, 44, died on Memorial Day.

        The Tubbses are African-American. They say the Cincinnati Fire Division would have taken Cathy Tubbs to the hospital faster if she were white.

        That timing is now a legal matter, Mr. Shirey said, and he would not comment.

        But he described racism as “an issue of the heart.”

        “Racism is a serious issue here as well as everywhere else,” the city manager said. “On racism in government, we've been upfront to confront racism in the organization.”

        But he added, “It (racial harmony) can't be legislated. It's something we all need to pray about.”

        Ms. Tubbs again emphasized the need for the government to lead by example in the fight against racism.

        “He's honest and sincere and decent,” said Dave Tillis, chairman of the church board of elders. “We think very highly of him.”

        Mr. Shirey has been attending service at the East McMillan Avenue church for several years.

        The city's leadership in recent months has faced controversies involving a city-funded West End housing agency and Cincinnati's transportation department.

        Mr. Shirey's timing in the release of an internal audit on the West End Community Council's use of public funds also has drawn criticism. But on Sunday, he avoided those subjects.

        He focused on the positive.

        He began by reading Matthew 5.14, in which Jesus spoke of a city on a hill as a “light.” The city manager concluded by saying that Cincinnati has the potential to be that kind of city.

        He reminded listeners that Cincinnati:


  • Is one of 13 U.S. cities with its own ballet, opera and symphony orchestra.

            • Is home to the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world, smaller than only Munich's.

            • Boasts 45 public swimming pools, compared with an average of 12 for comparable U.S. cities.

            • Has a declining crime rate.

            • And has traffic “that isn't that bad.”

            His points were well-received.

            Church members Herb and Sue Kennedy of Mount Airy have the benefit of perspective. She's 90. He's 89 and has lived here for a half-century, and he agreed with Mr. Shirey's general assessment.

            “I've been here forever,” Mrs. Kennedy said with a smile. “I think people are more friendly now.”


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