Damn the Deficit! Council Chambers Looks Pretty
It will cost taxpayers more than $60,000 to let Cincinnati City Council members sit comfortably during meetings and protect their knees and feet while doing so.
Twelve days after the request was made, city staffers today released the cost breakdown of renovating council chambers at City Hall during the group’s summer recess. The renovations, done partially to improve the safety of council members and to enhance the room’s professional appearance, cost more than $151,000. Newly appointed City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the recent work is only the first phase, and more renovations are planned.
Included in the price tag was $53,859 to expand the wooden dais where council sits and another $6,150 to install bulletproof panels, totaling $60,009. Other expenses are $38,840 for mechanical system replacements and upgrades including providing Ethernet access to each member’s seating area, $22,610 for plaster repair to the ceiling, $20,764 to repair the dais platform and install new carpet, $7,860 for stencil work to restore historic details and $1,250 for lead abatement.
The work was completed just weeks after city council’s Finance Committee held a meeting discussing possible future budget deficits due to stagnant tax revenues and rising costs for items such as health care coverage.
Dohoney outlined the costs in a memo today to Mayor Mark Mallory and city council. In the memo, Dohoney wrote, “This first renovation to council chambers in over 30 years has succeeded in creating the professional atmosphere desired. In the future, City Facility Management will be proposing additional restoration work in chambers.”
Dohoney downplayed the cost of safety improvements in the memo, writing, “Furthermore, safety and security were improved in chambers with minor cost additions.”
Some council members and others have said the long-delayed improvements to the chambers were needed to make meetings run more efficiently and approve accessibility for disabled people.
A few council members and many residents, however, have questioned the expense. A common complaint was the use of bulletproof panels on the dais, with critics noting that anyone wanting to shoot council members could jump over velvet ropes in front of the audience, run to the side of the chambers and still aim at some members.
Money for the renovations was included in the capital improvements budget that council passed in December. Still, some council members — including Republicans Chris Monzel and Leslie Ghiz — oppose the expense. Monzel, who voted against the budget, noted that the renovations were planned for years but routinely delayed by then-Mayor Charlie Luken in favor of other priorities.
“I don’t need a grandiose space to do my work,” Monzel said. “I will do my work in a broom closet if I have to.”
Although the new security measures don’t afford any protection for residents who attend council meetings if gunfire breaks out, staffers noted that police officers assigned to the sessions — up to nine at a time — are trained SWAT members. That’s because they have sharp-shooting skills that would be needed if a person wielding a gun were in the crowd, they said.
Safety became a concern in April, when activist Kabaka Oba was shot outside City Hall after leaving a council meeting. Mallory and council members could hear the gunshots through the window; they quickly adjourned the meeting and fled the room. In that incident, however, the victim knew the perpetrator, and the pair was involved in a personal feud. Since that time, no specific threats against Mallory or council members have been reported.
— Kevin Osborne