Friday, November 09, 2001

The Luken plan

The mayor's new beginnings

        Charlie Luken wasted no time flexing his mayor muscles. The day after the election he popped out six proposals and named his vice mayor before lunch.

        The scope of the proposals, and the speed with which he made them, indicate Mr. Luken probably has been thinking about them for a while, even though they received scant mention during the campaign.

        Here's a quick rundown of what the mayor proposes and why.

        • Citicable He wants to take the $1.2 million in Time Warner Cable franchise fees and use them to finance a $25 million development fund. The fees now pay for those Citicable broadcasts of council meetings where professional loudmouths often perform for the camera. The thought is that without access to this city-wide soapbox, some of these disrupters may decide to stay home and let council do a little work.

        The loss of the cable audience may also lead some members of council to stop making speeches on every subject that comes up.

        • Economic Development — This is the department that replaced the hole where Nordstrom was supposed to build a store with a nice parking lot. It's an easy group to criticize because its infamous customer service philosophy chased many developers to other shores — like the one in Northern Kentucky. The mayor proposes giving the department's most visible responsibility — development authority over everything from the Ohio River to Central Parkway — to the Hamilton County Port Authority.

        The fledgling port authority is an independent body, appointed by city council and the Hamilton County Commissioners. Its mission is clearly pro-development and it is unlikely to respond to proposals with the institutional foot-dragging the development department became known for.

        But don't be surprised if the port authority starts lobbying for the power of eminent domain it was denied when it was created last year.

        • Safety Department — This department consists mostly of the safety director and his staff. When it was created about 30 years ago, the idea was to have civilian control over the uniformed fire and police divisions — sort of like having a Secretary of Defense in charge of all the generals. It has seldom worked that way. Few directors in the deaprtment's history have been able to crack through the “blue wall” and exert any philosophical control over the cops and fire fighters.

        Now that Issue 5 has taken the chiefs and their assistants out of civil service, Mr. Luken apparently feels that he and his soon-to-be-named city manager have all the civilian control that is needed. Besides, eliminating the safety director's office saves about $500,000 per year.

        • Civilian Review The alphabet soup of oversight panels for police action — OMI (Office of Municipal Investigation), and CPRP (Citizens Police Review Panel), often overlap and conflict with each other. The cops distrust both groups and the community has no idea who has the final authority over the police.

        The mayor wants to trade them in for a new group that has both authority and credibility — and is appointed by him.

        • Race — The mayor has tossed the hot potato of U.S. Justice Department recommendations on police community relations to the Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) commission and asked for a report in 60 days. Mr. Luken has criticized CAN for not putting enough emphasis on the “now” part of its mission, even though he is the one who created this race relations panel six months ago.

        The 60 days may buy the city a little time, but the “recommendations” from the justice department actually are instructions the city must follow or face a federal lawsuit and Mr. Luken knows it. Whatever report CAN submits will say DO THIS NOW in bold letters.

        • The Arts — The mayor is creating a council committee to promote the arts. It's a good idea that doesn't cost anything — yet.

        • Vice Mayor — Alicia Reece is a fellow Democrat and the only African American on council who was outspoken in her support of Mr. Luken during the difficult months of the campaign. Taking the title from Minette Cooper and giving it to Ms. Reece also is a sharp stick in the eye for former Mayor Dwight Tillery. Mr. Tillery is Ms. Cooper's mentor and did not endorse either Mr. Luken or Ms. Reece.

        If Wednesday morning is any indication, Charlie Luken is going to relish showing everybody just how much clout a “strong” mayor has.

        Contact David Wells at 768-8310; fax: 768-8610; e-mail: Cincinnati.Com keyword: Wells.


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