Task Force Suggests Reducing Mayoral Power

A task force charged with suggesting amendments to Cincinnati’s charter has floated two ideas that could strip the city’s mayor of major powers, and Mayor John Cranley isn’t happy about it.

A task force charged with suggesting amendments to Cincinnati’s charter has floated two ideas that could strip the city’s mayor of major powers, and Mayor John Cranley isn’t happy about it.   

Cranley last week voiced deep opposition to clarifications to the city’s charter suggested by the city’s Charter Review Task Force. Following Cranley’s consternation over these suggestions, however, some members of the task force are now considering rescinding them.

“I don’t think they should be taking powers away from the mayor without giving something back in return,” Cranley told the Cincinnati Business Courier last week about the proposed changes.

The provisions that have him up in arms would explicitly require the mayor to include any legislation filed by council members on council committee agendas, effectively ending a loophole that some argue gives the mayor pocket veto power. Currently, the mayor can bury legislation he doesn’t like by simply not referring it to a committee. The mayor has had that power since amendments in the charter were made in 1999.

The task force also suggested allowing means for City Council to fire the city manager, an attempt to make that position more responsible to that body. Task force members argue that the city manager is supposed to answer to both City Council and the mayor, and that currently the position is only beholden to the latter. Only the mayor can initiate the dismissal of the city manager under the current city charter, though she or he must still get council approval to do so.

“This is intended to remove any ambiguity that the manager serves both the mayor and council, to provide the manager with greater accountability to council and to help ensure the manager’s autonomy,” the task force wrote in its final report, issued earlier this year.

The task force, which issued a report comparing Cincinnati’s rather unique system of government to that of other major cities, has said that Cincinnati’s charter has perhaps inadvertently created one of the most powerful mayors in the country.

The suggestions come after a rather fraught budget process earlier this summer, during which conflict broke out between the mayor and council’s Democratic majority over several budget items.

Former mayor Mark Mallory used the pocket veto extensively during his time in office. Though Cranley hasn’t directly used the power, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect on legislation.

“This is a power that, if he hasn’t used it, he definitely uses it as a threat,” council member Chris Seelbach said in a Aug. 4 Rules and Audit Committee meeting, recalling negotiations with the mayor over legislation during which he has brought up that possibility.

The charter task force first convened in 2013 and disbanded after issuing its final report. Cincinnati City Councilman Kevin Flynn appointed the group’s 25 members. Flynn chairs Council’s Rules and Audit Committee, which would first hear the proposed ordinances should Cranley refer them. Council could vote on the suggested changes as early as next week if a special session is called. Flynn has indicated he supports the proposed changes.

Should council pass the ordinances, voters would have to approve them on the November ballot.

That, however, might be unlikely for the changes that look to limit mayoral power. The charter review committee might choose to rescind some suggestions.

In the meantime, Cranley has temporarily stalled the ordinances he opposes until a tax hike for parks is considered by council for the November ballot.

Cranley has indicated he won’t stand in the way if council has the votes to pass the charter revision ordinances, but he has yet to refer them to a council committee.