Saturday, March 02, 2002

Group still waiting to post flags

Bureaucracy holding up plan for Harrison Avenue

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In many ways, it is a typical story at Cincinnati City Hall — complaints of poor customer service and a bureaucracy that's not responsive to citizens.

        Except that this story involves 22 American flags and one very tenacious citizen-activist.

        The citizens' group Westwood Concern bought the flags with about $2,000 raised from the Kiwanis Club and the Westwood Civic Association. The plan was to put them up on Harrison Avenue between Montana Avenue and the Cheviot line.

        That was just after Sept. 11. Nearly six months later, the flags still aren't up.

        Westwood Concern co-founder Mary Kuhl says the city is strictly enforcing regulations about posting signs or banners on a public right-of-way.

        “Some of the things are, the flags need to be 18 feet above paving, cannot be on poles that have traffic signals, electrical conduits, pedestrian signals, signs with black lettering, signs with white lettering,” she said. “There's a pole down in Indiana, I'm sure, that we would be able to adhere to.

        “They tried to explain to me about the rules, and I don't want to hear it, because the rules are stupid,” she said.

        Steven Bailey, the city's traffic engineer, said his staff members were just doing their jobs, but he admitted that they could have done more to work something out.

        “The reasons for the requirements are really simple. We don't want them falling off and going through someone's windshield,” he said. “Having said that, for whatever reason in this case, people didn't communicate. I get really annoyed when these situations come up, and I take my staff to task when they come up.”

        After Ms. Kuhl complained to council members, the mayor and the city manager on Wednesday, Ms. Kuhl said things are finally beginning to move. Mr. Bailey said he would go to Harrison Avenue next week in an attempt to work out a solution.

        The dispute over signs comes as Cincinnati City Council begins to search for ways to cut down on the city's sometimes unwieldy bureaucracy.

        Councilman David Pepper has proposed a one-stop shop for plans and permits in the city to help speed the process. With Councilman John Cranley, he's also proposed reforms of the Cincinnati Neighborhood Action Strategy to make city departments more customer-friendly.

        Rarely does a week go by without a member of council publicly complaining about how some aspect of the city's bureaucracy is driving away business and residents from the city.

        “It's just another example of the maze of bureaucratic stuff you have to go through,” Ms. Kuhl said.

        Mr. Bailey didn't deny that the city could improve its customer service. But he said council members ignore the thousands of positive experiences that citizens have with city departments every day.

        “We've improved leaps and bounds over the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.


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