Electon Guide, Issues 10, 11, 12 and 13: Council Terms, Campaign Finance and Executive Session

Should council members serve two year terms? Staggered four-year terms? Should contributions to candidates in city elections from LLCs be limited? And should council be allowed to meet in private under limited circumstances? You decide.

click to enlarge Cincinnati City Hall - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

After a tumultuous year at City Hall, Cincinnati voters will be presented with a number of ballot initiatives that could change the way we elect Cincinnati City Council members and how they can meet once they’re elected.

Following a knock-down, drag-out brawl over the rift between former Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley, Cranley ally Christopher Smitherman introduced Issue 10, a proposal that would switch council terms from four years back to two years. Smitherman says the shorter terms would make council more responsive to voters.

Opponents, including Democrats on council, say it would simply create an endless cycle of campaigning and keep council members from completing long-term projects.

In response, Councilman Greg Landsman introduced a counter- initiative, Issue 11, which would keep four-year terms but stagger them so four or five candidates are up for election every two years. That way, each council person would have four years to work, but voters would get to weigh in on council every two years.

In addition to Smitherman, leaders of Cincinnati’s Fortune 500 companies, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding and former mayors Charlie Luken and Mark Mallory are pushing for the return of two-year terms. The Cincinnati Charter Committee and the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers also back the proposal.

The Hamilton County Democratic Party, meanwhile, backs the staggered four-year terms. Should both initiatives pass in November, the one with the most votes will go into effect.

Council members served two-year terms until 2013, when four-year terms were proposed by Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan and approved by voters.

Issue 12* would amend the city’s charter so that Cincinnati City Council could hold executive session to discuss sensitive topics such as ongoing litigation, personnel matters and other limited topics out of the public eye. Ohio law allows this, and most other municipalities have some allowance for executive session. Cincinnati’s charter, however, does not.

The issue could be complicated by a recent controversy over a series of text messages sent between five Democrat council members during this spring’s fight over embattled City Manager Harry Black. A lawsuit by conservative activists alleges those text messages constituted a secret meeting and were illegal. Will that controversy sway voters to continue prohibiting private meetings? We’ll know soon.

Another ballot initiative introduced by Councilman Chris Seelbach could also affect coming elections: Issue 13*, which would limit campaign spending by LLCs. Currently, a person can contribute the personal limit of $1,100 to a local campaign and then contribute that amount under each LLC they control or have a stake in. The law would end the loophole allowing that practice.

That could have big implications. In the 2017 mayoral election, incumbent John Cranley’s campaign received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from LLCs, while challenger Yvette Simpson received tens of thousands of dollars.

The initiative has wide, diverse support from a number of local political groups and council members. There is little opposition, though Councilman Jeff Pastor voted against the proposal because he believes it could limit free speech.

There are two other issues Cincinnatians will see on their ballots. Issues 14 and 15 have to do with the scoring used on city department entry exams. Issue 14 would do away with a rule that only Ohio residents receive five extra points for military veterans on their entry exams. Instead, all veterans who achieve passing scores on the exam would qualify for the additional five points. The rules change would also require veterans to provide proof they were honorably discharged at least one day prior to the generation of a list of eligible veterans that is given to the Civil Service Commission.

Issue 15, if passed, would give five extra points on Cincinnati Police and Fire Department entry exams for graduates of a public safety academy currently being established by Cincinnati Public Schools, CPD and CFD and the city. The extra point awards are designed to incentivize students to enter that program.

You can find the full list of candidates and issues Hamilton County voters might see on their ballots depending on their location here.

*The print version of this story inverts Issues 12 and 13; they have been corrected here. We regret the error.

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