Sunday, January 13, 2002

1,300 share ideas for county's future

Diversity, environment among topics

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County's future took center stage in the Music Hall ballroom Saturday, as more than 1,300 residents spent the day talking about how to improve a county that is losing population, struggling with race relations and trying to balance development and the environment.

        It was the largest town meeting in county history, and the results will help political leaders develop a comprehensive plan that will guide them on those issues for a generation.

        The county's last comprehensive plan was drafted in 1964. Saturday's meeting was the culmination of a yearlong process called Community Compass, which gathered ideas from residents during a series of public meetings.

        Those ideas were validated Saturday morning, before participants turned their attention toward four core goals: Economic prosperity; diversity and equity; balancing development and the environment; and increasing governmental cooperation and citizens' participation in government.

  Smaller groups, called “Action Teams,” will spend the next seven months refining the ideas from Saturday's meeting and coming up with policy suggestions to government that will allow the ideas to take shape.
  Additional public hearings will be held this fall, before policies are brought to the Board of County Commissioners in November.
  Demographics of the 1,300 people in attendance at the Community Compass Town Hall Meeting Saturday:
  • Age: Under 18, 1%; 19-29, 7%; 30-44, 23%; 45-65, 52%; 66 and over, 17%.
  • Sex: Male 51%; female 49%.
  • Race: White, 74%; Black, 20%; Asian, 2%; Hispanic, 2%; other, 2%.
  • Income: Under $25,000, 12%; $25,000-$49,000, 24%; $50,000-$74,999, 21%; $75,000-$99,999, 17%; over $100,000, 26%.
  • Residence: City, 48%; far west (Hamilton County), 3%; near west 17%; near east, 13%; far east, 3%; other, 16%.
        Ron Miller, executive director of the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, said master plans guide leaders in their investment of tax dollars.

        The large turnout clearly surprised and delighted Mr. Miller, who made a trip to the fire marshal Friday night to get permission to have a larger meeting. County officials were expecting about 1,000 people.

        “There are so many people here because they recognize we're all connected, and to solve our problems we have to work together,” Mr. Miller said. “And here they are, working together.”

        The youngest attendee was 5 years old; the oldest 85. The majority — 52 percent — were between the ages of 45 and 65.

        The thousands of ideas to come out of the meeting won't be tabulated until next week. But some trends did emerge:

        • The county needs to address social justice issues and income disparities between races, and increase accessibility for people with disabilities.

        • Citizens can participate in decision-making by town hall meetings, e-mail, and questionnaires distributed with tax statements.

        • To ensure economic prosperity, leaders need to establish a strong link between all levels of education and the work force, and make sure there is transportation to get people to jobs.

        Shalom Davis, a 15-year-old Aiken High School student from College Hill, said relations between the community and police was the biggest issue on his mind.

        Jonathan Williams said the meeting was a good start, but he said the issue of race relations should have been dealt with in more clear terms. Rather, participants were asked to discuss “diversity and equity.”

        “We've been dancing around the issue for far too long,” said Mr. Williams, 47, of Bond Hill. “Race is the stem cell upon which community relations must be built.

        “This was a very significant event, and I'm disappointed the issue of race wasn't more emphasized. We have a lot more work to do.”

        Not everyone was impressed with the meeting. State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Mount Lookout, called the meeting a “fraud.”

        “There's only one conservative Republican in the room, and that's me,” Mr. Brinkman said. “Half the people here are from the government, so, of course, they want more government.

        “A thousand people can't speak for a million.”

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken was invited to make the opening statement, but he declined. The mayor attended a meeting of his race relations committee and interviewed a city manager candidate instead.

        At the end of the meeting, participants were asked to write a newspaper headline to sum up their work. One got a round of applause: “Where's Charlie?”

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