Monday, December 25, 2000

Charter director says it still has a role

System it started is changing

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The council-manager form of government Cincinnati's Charter Committee created 75 years ago will go away in 2001.

        The question is whether the Charter Committee will go away with it.

        In an attempt to revive the party's fortunes and bring some new blood into the organization, the Charter board recently hired Jeff Cramerding, a 27-year-old lawyer and Price Hill resident, to be the full-time executive director.

        “The days of Charter having five to six people on council and dictating city policy are over,” Mr. Cramerding said. “But we can have influence in other ways.”

        Mr. Cramerding will direct a group that in the 1920s led the way to get rid of the corrupt political bosses who had run the town for decades. They created a form of government with a mayor who had few powers and a professional manager to run the city.

        The Charterites have been around ever since, dominating city government for parts of the 1940s and '50s, sharing power with the Democrats in the 1970s and early '80s, and always describing themselves as the watchdog of “good government.”

        But last year, Cincinnati voters approved a sweeping measure to fundamentally change the form of government the Charterites created.

        Beginning in 2001, the Cincinnati mayor will be chosen in an election separate from the council election. The mayor will have power to appoint a city manager (with council approval), veto council legislation and name the chairs of council committees.

        Since the early 1990s, Charter has had only one elected council member — Bobbie Sterne, until her retirement three years ago; and now Jim Tarbell.

        Gerald Newfarmer, the former Cincinnati city manager who became president of Charter a year ago, said Charter's 2001 election strategy has yet to be determined.

        No decision has been made, Mr. Newfarmer said, on whether to field a candidate for mayor or a slate of Charter candidates beyond Mr. Tarbell. One possibility is that Charter will endorse Mr. Tarbell and several candidates already endorsed by the Democratic and Republican parties.

        “All I can say is that, yes, Charter will have a presence in this election,” Mr. Newfarmer said.

        In an era when recent council elections have been dominated by Democrats and Democratic incumbent Charlie Luken is the odds-on favorite to win Cincinnati's first mayoral election, Charter's expectations for the 2001 elections are modest.

        For 75 years, one of the basic principles of Charter philosophy has been that city council members should not interfere with the day-to-day operations of the city and focus instead on setting the course of the city.

        Mr. Cramerding said that Charter hopes that a younger generation of council members and coun cil candidates, Democratic and Republican, will help bring that philosophy back to city hall.

        “That's why we don't necessarily have to have people elected as Charterites,” Mr. Cramerding said. “Our role will be to encourage the Charter philosophy in those who are elected.”

        Mr. Cramerding said the new system of government - where the mayor is not a member of council and has more executive power - might result in a council that is less involved in city administration and more focused on “creating a vision of what the city should be.”

        Mr. Luken, the present mayor and likely Democratic-endorsed mayoral candidate in 2001, said the idea of council being more focused on the “big picture” is “a nice idea, but I'm not sure it's going to happen.”

        “I have a hard time believing city council members are going to be more retiring in a new system,” Mr. Luken said. “That has more to do with the personalities involved than the system of government.”


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