Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Inside City Hall

Election reform mired in politics

Ward representatives vs. at-large. Proportional representation vs. 9X. Strong mayor vs. weak mayor.

The debate over election reform for Cincinnati City Council will be difficult enough without the controversy over appointments to the commission to study election reform.

The chairman of that commission, Don Mooney Jr., now proposes to expand it to 15 members and include voting members from the NAACP and the Urban League. Mayor Charlie Luken agrees, and will ask City Council to appoint two additional members.

The action follows criticism from Calvert Smith, president of the Cincinnati chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, that the commission as constituted "is ideally designed to maintain the status quo of electing a council that does not reflect the larger community."

Currently, the 13 members appointed by the city's three political parties and the mayor include only four African-Americans. The city's population is 43 percent black.

"If we don't make it more inclusive, it's going to be dead on arrival," Luken said Monday. "It may be dead on arrival anyway."

He could be right. Republicans have grown increasingly critical of the process. GOP Councilman Chris Monzel said he regrets ever having voted to create the commission.

"What's next? Should the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce want some representation, too?" he said. "I've always felt this is a process that should happen outside City Hall. It's too politically charged of a process, as you can see right now."

Luken acknowledged that his solution might cause a Republican revolt. But he blames the Republicans for causing the crisis by refusing to appoint any African-Americans to the panel.

"They're obviously girding for a fight," Luken said. "It's going to be difficult to get any consensus."

The commission meets for the first time Thursday.

Correction: No fewer than five members of City Council questioned the methodology of an item in last week's column on missed votes.

Turns out, one of them was right.

Some votes missed by former Cincinnati City Councilman Paul M. Booth were incorrectly attributed to his successor, Laketa Cole. To correct the record: Cole missed four votes since being appointed in April, or 1.3 percent. Booth missed 158, or 13.5 percent, of his votes.

To be fair, 89 of Booth's missed votes came in one day, June 26, 2002, when his father was in the hospital. The last meeting before the summer recess is typically one of the busiest days of the council session.

On the other hand, just because council members' votes are recorded doesn't mean they were in the room when the roll call took place. Council members often show up late to meetings or leave the room, then come back and seek "unanimous consent" to change their vote.

---Enquirer City Hall reporter Greg Korte can be reached at gkorte@enquirer.com

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