Sunday, May 18, 2003

Officials shun forum on race

Group laments lack of presence

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A panel of national civil rights leaders listened to more than seven hours of emotional testimony from Cincinnati residents Saturday during a public forum to discuss the issues of policing in black neighborhoods, voting rights and economic issues.

But organizers expressed disappointment at the lack of attendance by Mayor Charlie Luken, city council members and business leaders.

Councilwoman Laketa Cole was the only member of City Council present, but she did not address the panel.

Luken did not attend the forum, held at the University of Cincinnati's African-American Cultural Research Center, because of a scheduling conflict. An aide to the mayor told the Enquirer that Luken submitted a written statement on Friday by e-mail.

But Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which organized the hearing, said he hadn't seen the mayor's statement and expressed disappointment that city officials chose not to participate.

"We want to be crystal clear that every public official had a chance to respond," Daniels said.

The panel aims to report its findings in 60 days.

Cecil Thomas, executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, reported on some of the city's progress including the establishment of a new Citizens Complaint Authority, the hiring of an African-American city manager and successful school-business partnerships like the one at Taft High School with Cincinnati Bell. Thomas' comments were met with some grumbling from the audience.

"I don't want to paint a picture that all is well because it is not," Thomas said. "But Cincinnati is way ahead of a lot of other cities in the way it is approaching its problems."

Many of the panelist questions surrounded the city's agreement on police reforms. Some panelists questioned why plaintiffs in the agreement did not opt for a consent decree which would have eliminated some problems the parties are now experiencing with its implementation.

About 130 people came to listen or give testimony at the hearing.


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