Wednesday, April 16, 2003

City Hall


'Musical chairs' leads to police investigation, political quagmire

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If you think City Council members can get into hard-fought debates over renaming streets or how often committees should meet, you should see them fight over something really important.

Like office furniture.

Paul Booth's departure to take a state job left his prized 270-square-foot corner office on the third floor of City Hall up for grabs last week. Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, seeking an office suitable for her title, called "first dibs."

But office assignments go by seniority, not title or election results. So Charterite Jim Tarbell, with more tenure than Reece, got the prize.

That left Tarbell's old office open. It's half as big as Booth's, but it looks a lot bigger now that Tarbell, a notorious pack rat, has taken all his Cincinnati memorabilia with him. Other council members considered it, and John Cranley went so far as to ask for tape measurements to see if Tarbell's office was bigger than his (it was 12 square feet smaller).

In the end, David Crowley was the only one who asked for Tarbell's office. Crowley, a freshman, had gotten the short half of the wishbone after the city cut an office in half to accommodate an extra councilman (a result of the new stronger mayor reforms of 2001). His 113-square-foot office will go to Booth's replacement, Laketa Cole.

That's where the furniture fight comes in.

Booth's office is one of only two big enough to accommodate a small conference table. Around that table were four formal leather chairs, the proud property of Cincinnati's taxpayers.

One night last week, the chairs disappeared. A reportedly furious Tarbell protested to Clerk of Council Melissa Autry, who had issued an edict that the furniture stays with the office.

Police Sgt. Emmett Gladden, who acts as council's sergeant-at-arms, was sent to fetch the chairs. He found them in Councilwoman Minette Cooper's office, where they were apparently being held for Cole, a Cooper protege. (Gladden later said he had no idea what a political quagmire he was getting himself into, and probably should have left them alone.)

"We had some new people who were not real clear on how the moves take place," Autry said, diplomatically. "Every time there's a change, you'll always have a need to get clarity on what the rules are."

Cooper pleaded ignorance, saying she was in a meeting with Tarbell when the intrigue was going on. And she said that, with few exceptions, she owns all the furniture in her office.

"It was real clear to me when I got to City Hall that they didn't have anything I wanted," she said. "So I brought my own. And when I leave here, it's coming with me."

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Committee shuffle: Now that City Council has sorted out who gets which office, the next task is to determine who actually does the work.

As chairman of the Committee on Committees, the job falls to Crowley to figure out how to shuffle committee assignments to replace Booth and still keep everyone happy.

Booth served on the Law and Public Safety Committee and the Rules Committee, and was chairman of the Neighborhood and Public Works Committee. Mayor Charlie Luken appointed David Pepper as chairman of Neighborhoods, leaving Pepper's post as vice chairman open.

That's the most prized position. Both Cole and Republican Chris Monzel want it. Actually, Monzel said he would be equally happy as vice chairman of Neighborhoods or Law, but Democrats seem leery about putting two Republicans in charge of the Law and Public Safety Committee (which Pat DeWine chairs), especially in an election year.

Also up for grabs is Booth's position of president pro tempore. Though it looks good on letterhead, don't let the Latin title fool you. The main job is to run council meetings when both the mayor and vice mayor are absent - a contingency that has seen Booth drafted into service only once in the past two years.

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Thanks for the memos: A memo from new public information officer Meg Olberding to all city employees notes, "This is just a reminder that internal and external e-mail correspondence is subject to Freedom of Information requests, so please be mindful of personal information you write in e-mails. Thanks."

Olberding insists the reminder was not prompted by any specific public records request.

Gregory Korte is City Hall reporter. E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com




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ENQUIRER COLUMNISTS
SMITH AMOS: In harm's way?
BRONSON: Thank you
KORTE: City Hall
HOWARD: Some Good News

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