Thursday, February 6, 2003

Norwood mayor clinging to office

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - Mayor Joe Hochbein will be leaving office this spring, but a few weeks later than he originally planned.

On Wednesday, the controversial mayor said he will step down "on or before April 30." When he announced his resignation in December, he said he planned to depart on March 15.

The mayor claims to have the best of intentions. Now in his eighth year as the city's top elected official, Hochbein said he wants to see through the present police contract negotiations as well as efforts to finalize a 2003 budget.

Council upset

"I have a lot of experience in both, and I'm concerned about both. I want to bring my experience to bear on those issues before I leave," the Republican mayor said.

While Cassandra Brown, the council's sole Republican, trumpets his skills, Democrats say the mayor is only thinking about himself. They have been upset at the mayor's failure to appear at council sessions and committee meetings.

"He hasn't been much of a help in the past, (so) I don't look for him to help now," Councilman Michael Fulmer said. "He ought to resign as soon as possible."

The mayor's decision to stretch out his tenure doesn't surprise Councilman John Fenton.

"I'll believe he's going to resign when I see it," Fenton said. "Until then, it's the same old games. If he wants to do what's right for the city, he'd resign immediately. I don't see any benefit in him staying on as a lame duck for two more months."

For some time, council members have bucked away from the mayor's ideas. The city's budget woes have only worsened during his administration, they say.

Most recently, they rejected the tentative agreement that would have guaranteed 5 percent salary increases for the city's police officers.

Always a surprise

They also have squirmed at the mayor's urgings to help two developers build Rookwood Exchange - a $125 million project of offices, apartments, condos, shops and restaurants - just because the project would generate up to $3.5 million in annual earnings tax revenues. A neighborhood of 79 homes and businesses stands in the way.

"He's always been a surprise to me," said Thomas Williams, a council member and a retired Norwood police officer. "I really don't know what to say. We're dealing with all the ramifications of ... the last four years of his administration. All this council is trying to do is keep this thing afloat."


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