Thursday, August 02, 2001

New civil service policies on ballot

Manager could go outside to hire police, fire chiefs

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati voters will decide this fall whether the city manager will have considerably more power over city division heads, including the police and fire chiefs.

        A compromise plan for extensive change in Cincinnati's civil service laws was passed on a 9-0 vote by Cincinnati City Council Wednesday. The vote sends the charter amendment to the Nov. 6 ballot.

        Proposed by council members Pat DeWine and Alicia Reece, with help from the co-chairs of Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN), the charter amendment would take the jobs of 98 senior management people in Cincinnati government out of civil service protection and have them serve at the pleasure of the city manager.

        It would include all division heads and all professional employees of the Economic Development and Neighborhood Services departments.

        But, in a move to gain support from council members who feared a wholesale housecleaning would come when the new council is elected and a new city manager is appointed, the people who now hold those jobs will remain classified employees.

        The change would only take place when those jobs become open through retirement or resignation.

        “No one is getting everything he or she wants in this plan, but it is a plan we can all get behind,” said Mr. DeWine. He had his own plan that would have taken about another 100 city management people — those serving one level below division heads — and made them unclassified employees.

        The plan approved by council on Wednesday does not go as far as Mr. DeWine had wanted, but it goes further than an alternative plan pushed by Vice Mayor Minette Cooper.

        Ms. Cooper's plan dealt only with the police and fire chiefs and their assistants. It would have allowed the city manager to go outside the city police and fire divisions to hire chiefs and assistant chiefs.

        The Cooper plan was included in the charter amendment approved by council Wednesday, with an extra provision that Councilman Phil Heimlich wanted. Police and fire chiefs could only be fired for “cause” — dishonesty, incompetence, insubordination — and could ask for a public hearing on the firing.

        Many African-Americans wanted the change allowing for outside applicants for the chief positions, saying it would increase the chances of Cincinnati having a black police chief. The city has a black fire chief.

        Opposition to civil service reform came mainly from organized labor, particularly the unions representing city workers. Mark Sanders, president of Cincinnati Firefighters Local 48, argued to council that no change is necessary in the civil service system.

        Ms. Cooper said she was willing to go beyond her proposal on police and fire chiefs “to get something done.”

        The three co-chairmen of Cincinnati CAN, a race-relations panel formed by Mayor Charlie Luken after the April riots, worked behind the scenes to persuade all council members to accept the compromise.

        “In order to bring about healing in the community, we cannot have a static system of government,” said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, a Cincinnati CAN co-chairman.

        Cincinnati CAN co-chairman Ross Love said the plan is not about cleaning house at city hall.

        “This is about getting the structure of city government in place for the long term,” Mr. Love said.

        The present division heads — all 48 of them — will not become unclassified employees if the ballot issue passes this fall.

        But Mr. Luken expects some to resign or retire as a normal course of events.

        The plan approved by council Wednesday, Mr. Luken said, “is about compromise. This is about leaving our differences at the door. It's a good thing.”

        Courtis Fuller, Mr. Luken's main opponent in the Sept. 11 mayoral primary, called the revised civil service plan “a reasonable compromise.”


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