Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Recreation: Lobbying blitz

Don't blow budget

Cincinnati City Council votes today on whether to bounce an extra $6.5 million into recreation's 2003 capital budget. Council should reject this body blow to its December budget deal. If council doesn't, Mayor Charlie Luken should veto it.

Another reason to reject is the outrageous lobbying blitz orchestrated by recreation director James Garges.

He mobilized Recreation Commission (CRC) supervisors and other city employees to recruit community councils, rec center advisory boards and parent groups to pack Monday's Finance Committee hearing and write letters of support. Supervisor Mike McKinney's lobbying plan included asking that each supervisor obtain a pledge to lobby from at least three "community advocates" and report back their names. Supervisor Kathy Lang put out an alert "to all permit holders" for similar action. Recreation contractors such as the Showboat Majestic were enlisted and followed up with letters of support.

Monday, Garges made no apology for his actions: "It's my job," he said, "24 hours a day and seven days a week, to represent the citizens of Cincinnati with regard to recreation."

No it is not. He is neither a legislator nor a policymaker. He's a manager. His job is to provide recreation, not publicly campaign for a budget increase, two months after council acted.

Council should stop buckling under to groups that storm City Hall and by sheer noise or numbers try to intimidate it into handing out more tax dollars.

Garges' lobbying campaign is particularly offensive because neighborhood supporters were misled about the numbers. Although council's promised $7 million for recreation's capital projects in 2003-2004 was found to be unexpectedly unavailable until next year, that $7 million will still go to recreation in 2004. To add an extra $6.5 million this year would far exceed recreation's usual capital budget. The simple solution is to shift about $3.5 million to recreation in 2003 and replace it when the $7 million becomes available.

Council should reject the extra $6.5 million for recreation, and CRC's board should instruct its director to stick to managing, not lobbying.

Ohio: Budget crisis
Hamilton Co.: Return on investment
Recreation: Lobbying blitz
Readers' Views
Whine and Roses
Russell Thomas: Local Voices