Friday, August 31, 2001

Murray: Get more involved in racial healing

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Former Cincinnati City Manager Sylvester Murray, ending four months as an adviser to the mayor's race relations committee, said Thursday that Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) needs to be more inclusive.

        Specifically, he said, CAN needs to work more closely with city officials — particularly City Manager John Shirey — on “problems city hall is equipped to deal with.”

        And, he said, CAN needs to include more representatives of Cincinnati's neighborhoods, “people who want to help.”

        Ross Love, one of the three co-chairmen of Cincinnati CAN, formed by Mayor Charlie Luken after the April rioting to work on solutions to racial problems, said he could not comment on Mr. Murray's recommendations “until I've had a chance to sit down and talk with him.”

        Mr. Murray began his job as adviser to the mayor's race relations panel in early May with a warning: Don't expect to see the deep-rooted racial tensions, distrust and anger to disappear in the short time it takes for spring to turn to summer and then to fall.

        Four months later, as his $1,400-a-day job as a consultant to the mayor and CAN ends today, and he returns to his teaching job at Cleveland State University, he said he was right.

        “I said at the beginning that I was here to try to change behaviors in this city,” the 60-year-old former city manager said. “I can't say that I succeeded.”

        But, he said, after talking to scores of Cincinnatians — from law enforcement officials to politicians to teen-age gang members and people sitting on their stoops on Over-the-Rhine streets — he believes he has helped get some people to talk to others who had never done so be fore.

        “A lot of people had a lot of expectations when I came here,” said Mr. Murray, who was city manager from 1979 to 1985.

        “Some thought I would be out leading the community,” said Mr. Murray, who worked with a staff of four from his Cleveland-based private consulting firm.

        “I wasn't brought here to

        lead. I was brought here to listen. And advise.”

        Mr. Murray was paid with private money provided by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a Cincinnati-based organization that funds educational initiatives.

        Within the next week, Mr. Murray said, he will be submitting a report with his recommendations.

        One of them, he said, will be that CAN involve Mr. Shirey and his staff more.

        “Up until now, the city administration hasn't been involved; meetings are held and John Shirey is not in the room,” Mr. Murray said.

        Mr. Shirey has resigned and will leave office Dec. 1.

        One of the things Mr. Murray said he heard repeatedly from residents and neighborhood leaders was that “simple things” like restoring playgrounds or increasing trash pick-up could help in keeping the peace in Cincinnati's neighborhoods.

        Another recommendation Mr. Murray said he would make to CAN is to include more people in its discussions, particularly neighborhood activists.

        “The one thing I would hear from people is that they wanted to know what CAN was doing and wanted to know if they could help,” Mr. Murray said. “I say, bring them into the process.”

        Mr. Luken said Mr. Murray did “everything we asked of him and was always there when you needed him. I'm glad I've had someone like him for advice.”

        Mr. Murray said his work found him walking the streets of Cincinnati neighborhoods night and day, talking to street cops and attending meetings of all 50 neighborhood councils in Cincinnati.

        He is encouraged by much of what he heard.

        “There's a greater willingness, I think, by people to talk to each other and consider other people's point of view,” he said.

        “I don't know how all of this will end,” Mr. Murray said. “But it has a better chance of ending well when people are listening to each other.”


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