Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Covington may revive job of ombudsman



By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Ever wonder whom to call in the city to fill a pothole, fix a sewer line or deal with an illegally-parked car? If you have, you're not alone.

At its meeting tonight, Covington City Commission will explore resurrecting the ombudsman's job that was done away with 25 years ago. As proposed, the new position would combine an ombudsman's duties with those of the neighborhood services coordinator. The latter position, a liaison with the city's neighborhood groups and neighborhood activities coordinator, has been vacant since Michele Geraci's retirement this year.

Covington City Commission will discuss whether to create an ombudsman's job during its regular meeting at 7 p.m. today. The meeting is in the City Commission chambers at 638 Madison Ave.

"I get a lot of calls from people who are frustrated because they don't know who to talk to about a particular issue," said Mayor Butch Callery. "This person could take citizens' complaints or direct them to the proper department, and follow up on problems."

Although the city manager and his assistants routinely address a variety of concerns, they are more focused on the big picture, supporters of the ombudsman's position say. A full-time ombudsman would designate one person to handle complaints from individuals and neighborhoods and make sure that the proper departments address them.

In June 1977, Covington hired John Jasper, 23, as the city's first ombudsman. However, a new administration reassigned Jasper as a city housing inspector in February 1978. At the time, then-City Commissioner Carl Bowman said he thought the ombudsman's duties should be handled by city commissioners.

Callery said he was among those in the community who argued for keeping the ombudsman position 25 years ago, and he believes it is still needed today.

"I think we need to put a face out there in the community," Commissioner Jerry Bamberger said. "This would be someone who could work with the neighborhood collaborative and the block watch people on their concerns and interests."

Commissioner Alex Edmondson could not be reached for comment. Commissioners Craig Bohman and Bernie Moorman both said they support hiring an ombudsman, provided the city can afford the position.

"I think the concept is really, really great," Bohman said. "It would be a single clearinghouse where people who need help with problems or complaints could call one number. But I want to hear from staff that we can afford to (hire an ombudsman) at this time."

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E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com




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