Just What We Need: Faster Legislation

Cincinnati City Council will vote Wednesday on changing its operating rules and allow it to pass legislation more quickly, with as short as a one-day period between a proposal being introduced and voted upon.

If approved, the change would undo a rule passed by the previous council. It requires new items introduced by a council member during a committee meeting to be held for at least one week before a vote.

That rule, championed by ex-Councilman David Pepper, was designed to give council members more time to fully review proposals, as well as respond to critics who said council too often passed items with little public notice.

Councilman Jeff Berding, Pepper’s successor as Rules Committee chair, proposed the latest change. Council needs more flexibility in dealing with emergency items, he said. In a written statement attached to his proposal, Berding said, “When the original amendment to (the rule) was made, it was assumed that the rules could be suspended if an immediate vote was necessary. Now that the solicitor’s office has clarified that the rules of council may not be suspended in committee, it is necessary to revise this amendment.”

But Berding’s interpretation of the current rules isn’t entirely accurate, and doesn’t reflect what the city solicitor’s office has advised. Under existing rules, an item already can be taken out of committee and placed before the full council for a vote either by the mayor or if at least six of council’s nine members agree to do so during a council meeting.

Berding’s proposed rule change was made after a dispute last week over a budget proposal supported by him and five other council members. The proposal set priorities for the 2007-2008 budget, including the goal of putting 100 more police officers on the streets. No funding source or deadline was included for adding the officers.

Berding and five other council members wanted a decision by the next council meeting, held two days later on June 21. Assistant City Solicitor Roshani Hardin said the committee couldn’t forward the proposal itself, because it was just introduced that day, but had to wait until the full council decided to forward the item. That meant there was a possibility, however remote, that the proposal might not have been voted on that week.

Despite touting the police hiring proposal as news before TV news cameras, the council faction changed its tune when it looked like a vote could be delayed.

“I interpret (the proposal) as an amendment to an existing item on the agenda,” said an agitated Councilman John Cranley. “Nothing here is new; it just makes it easier to vote on.”

— Kevin Osborne

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5 Comments on “Just What We Need: Faster Legislation”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Are you suggesting that even the most mundane administrative matters be subject to a suspension of the rules?

    Many rules were changed when this session started including the one noted above. By-leaves were eliminated, dramatically reducing the speed of legilsation. The one week delay was added after the fact and has proven to be overly cumbersome. Because committees meet every other week the net effect is twice the delay on a whole host of very mundane administrative functions.

    As it stands, legilsation introduced in a full Council session must be held a week. Committees should be able to move more quickly since any action a committee takes still must be acted upon by Council in full session. Delay is already built in to the system. The additional committee delay creates a ripple effect down through the administration that frustrates citizens trying to get service from the city. Aren’t many of you always demanding more efficient government?

    -Chris Bortz

  2. Margo Pierce Says:

    To all Cincinnati Council Members, not just Mr. Bortz:

    Delaying a vote for a week or two is not what’s causing the wheels to fall of the City Hall wagon. Get real – it’s more complicated than that. Speed is an easy response to getting “more efficient government” that dismisses the complexity of the situation and the importance of the real stakeholders– your neighbors, commonly referred to as citizens and voters.

    Given that most committee meetings occur during business hours, public comment is already limited. This proposal will virtually eradicate any comment from citizens when a council member wants to rush something based on his idea of a “mundane administrative function” or urgency. Elections give council members the job of conducting city business. However, that doesn’t give any elected official the right to circumvent citizen involvement and oversight.

    Beyond this very real consequence, effective government requires thoughtful and well designed public policy that will address the problems at hand. That’s what’s needed and there’s little evidence it’s happening with the current delays, so how can it possibly happen with a faster process.

    Look at the marijuana ordinance. Where’s the research proving this ordinance can help reduce crime and drug use? Where’s the cost analysis for the one-year trial period that shows how much this experiment will cost the city? Where’s the exemption for medical marijuana like the one being floated in D.C. that will limit the law enforcement’s ability to throw cancer patients in jail? These things have been studies for years, it’s not like the information is hard to find. So why did council act based on a memo from the CPD that did little more than list penalties in neighboring states? Add in councilmember Thomas’ efforts to work the current system by calling for a vote before public comment and adding a vote to a committee agenda hours before the meeting and it’s clear that delays don’t ensure legislation will be passed in a thoughtful, responsible and above board manner.

    Don’t like that issue? Pick another one – The Banks. Has anyone looked into green building practices that can dramatically reduce the strain on essential service infrastructure? Does anyone on council know how much impact gray water reclamation, green roofs and sustainable design can have on the cost of adding another new neighborhood within the city’s limits? What about the impact LEED certification for those building can have on our city’s reputation? No, it’s not up for a vote right now, but who on council is even aware of the long-term impact of this project beyond the TIF dollars and is prepared to address those issues?

    Don’t like that one? How about the proposed city manager? What can you possibly hope to accomplish with an annual review by council? Where’s the research or experiential knowledge that such a review will accomplish anything positive? Well, other than wasting more time and providing yet another opportunity for politician to hurl insults and accusations at each other: those are positives to the people who want to get more time in front of TV cameras.

    Sarcasm aside, this council is no different than any other council in the city’s history. It’s business as usual in the biggest small town in America. No, you don’t scream at each other in council meetings and you don’t send nasty letters to the media addressed to each other like those “other” council members did. You’re more sophisticated than that – you use bait and switch. When the real issue is ineffective stewardship you focus on changing a rule.

    My job is to speak up when my bullshit meter goes off and this issue is a real stinker.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I have never seen a Council fuck up the city as much as this one undoing generations of important legislative traditions.

  4. JoeRo Says:

    MDM (My Dearest Margo),

    Of course your bullshit meter is going off: The wind is blowing back in your face.

    You raise the question of why a city manager should receive a performance review by council. Well, frankly, it’s obvious: He’s the city’s top administrator, selected by the mayor and approved by the council. If council doesn’t review him, who should? The mayor? And if the mayor does review him, should the results not be made public?

    It never ceases to amaze me how certain people rail about open government — but only when it suits their purposes. I’d venture to say the same people also work themselves into a tizzy over the chief executive’s power-grabs — but only when that chief executive is of an opposite party.

    “Bush is taking power away from Congress! That’s terrible! They’re our elected representatives!”

    “Mallory is taking power away from Council. That’s great! We need a strong mayor!”

    And I can only assume, Margo, that you aren’t insinuating the manager should go without a performance review entirely. What sort of employer would allow that? In fact, many — if not most — employers conduct semiannual performance reviews. Should the city be any different? Of course not. We’re paying the manager well; we should expect results. After all, we even get to conduct performance reviews of our elected politicians — they’re called elections.

    And Margo, you’re barking up the wrong tree on the marijuana issue.

    Until marijuana is legalized at the federal level, local governments need the greatest tools at their disposal to combat drug-related crime. And if you think that it’s all peaceniks smokin’ a doob, you’ve obviously failed to grasp the violent crime inherent to any black market.

    Efforts to repeal local marijuana laws are useless. Smokers can’t go to the police and the courts and say, “He stole my pot. Give me justice.” Hence, violence results — not always, but too often to shrug it off.

    Show me the first nonviolent cancer patient locked up for having a small stash and I’ll buy into your argument. But it’s just a red herring — and you know it. The criminal justice system is too burdened as is to deal with first-time, nonviolent pot smokers; instead of jail, they get court-ordered drug treatment and probation.

    So why the change to the city’s marijuana ordinance? Because where there’s smoke (no pun intended), there’s often fire. The new law allows police to conduct pat-down searches of pot-smokers, as well as searches of their vehicles. If you aren’t toting a gun or a crack rock, you’re in good shape. But I’d venture to say that many of those facing prosecution under the new ordiance weren’t just hittin’ the peace pipe (cliche intended).

    So it seems, Margo, that you’re the one around here with the big bag of bullshit to sell. And it sure does stink.

    Your loyal reader and longtime fan,

    Joe

  5. Margo Pierce Says:

    Joe,

    You raise some good points, however there are a few holes in your arguments.

    You were correct in your assumption that I support citizen oversight (see my report on the Citizen Complaint Authority. I’m questioning the motivation for the council review, not the value of a review.

    To the best of my knowledge, city council hasn’t conducted reviews of city managers, and I didn’t hear a compelling argument for doing so now. If it makes sense, go for it! Without a case for support, it’s just more micromanagement. Without that case, it just looks more like political posturing, not good stewardship.

    The reviews for all city employees are available because of the Ohio Sunshine Law. You’ll probably have to make a public records request to get any, but it’s worth it. Citizen oversight into all public activity is essential. My suggestion: Ask questions, request information and don’t take no for an answer. It’s your city; get involved!

    “It never ceases to amaze me how certain people rail about open government — but only when it suits their purposes.”

    If you’re referring to me and/or CityBeat in the “people” category, I suggest you go into the CityBeat archives. We can’t cover everything — that’s the limitation of being a weekly paper — but our expectation and call for open and above-board governance doesn’t waver.

    “And Margo, you’re barking up the wrong tree on the marijuana issue …”

    Read my article on the re-legalization of illegal substances before presuming that I don’t “get” the violence involved.

    I don’t believe efforts to repeal local marijuana laws are “useless.” Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings make it clear that change must come first at the state level. Politicians don’t have the balls/ovaries to appear “soft on crime” and change ineffective federal laws. Decriminalization locally is an important step to convincing them it’s essential.

    As for Cincinnati’s re-criminalization ordinance, the cops already have the power to search with “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause.” There is no proof that the law will reduce crime or remove dangerous criminals form the street. So what’s really going to be accomplished? It’ll make more money for the city, more criminals for an already overcrowded jail and will waste of taxpayer dollars for the one-year experiment (which nobody bothered to quantify beforehand).

    I used to agree with you that medical marijuana was a “red herring.” It only “legitimizes” marijuana use in some cases. But until politics and our current social systems, the justice system included, are educated enough to implement real change, the education process needs to being somewhere. I believe this elephant of an issue needs to be addressed from a variety of angles, one of which is medical marijuana.

    And yes, I can show you a number of nonviolent, jailed pot users but not all are cancer patients. Here’s one: Steve Tuck and see “Drug War Victory” for a victim closer to home — Dee Dee Zoretic of Lakewood, Ohio.

    “So it seems, Margo, that you’re the one around here with the big bag of bullshit to sell. And it sure does stink.”

    When you make an assumption about a writer based on one blog entry and don’t bother to look into her body of writing, you make incorrect assumptions. Just to be clear: I support the re-legalization of all illegal substances with decriminalization as a way to achieve that end; uninformed public policy perpetuates inept governance; and oversight that’s done well and viewed as an opportunity to implement effective change (as opposed to being treated as “butting in”) is a responsible way to govern.


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