News: Making It Easier to Clean House

In a rare moment of agreement, Cincinnati City Council has unanimously approved a plan for civil service reform. The consensus arises from a shared realization that change is needed, according to

 
Jymi Bolden


Alicia Reese helped shepherd civil service reform through Cincinnati City Council.



In a rare moment of agreement, Cincinnati City Council has unanimously approved a plan for civil service reform. The consensus arises from a shared realization that change is needed, according to Councilman John Cranley.

"No matter who you talk to, there's a sense that the system's broken," Cranley says.

The proposed city charter amendment that voters will decide Nov. 6 would be the most significant step so far toward the "fundamental changes" promised in the wake of the civil unrest in April.

Any change in the charter — the city's constitution — is important. But also worth noting is the way this proposal got to the ballot: It happened because city council reached a compromise. Three variations of civil service reform were on the table. Councilmembers Alicia Reece, a Democrat, and Pat DeWine, a Republican, fashioned the text that finally passed.

"I think this is significant, because we hear the criticism all the time that council can't come together on anything," Reece says.

The charter amendment before voters would end civil-service protection for senior managers in all city departments.

In short, the measure would make it easier to fire them.

The measure would eliminate civil-service classification for a total of 98 positions, including police chief, fire chief, assistant police and fire chiefs, as well as professional development positions in the departments of Economic Development and Neighborhood Services.

DeWine says civil service reform had been a "focal point after the riots." Some of that focus has been in the form of calls for the resignation of Police Chief Thomas Streicher. But Streicher, like the other city staff, won't be affected by the charter amendment.

"All persons who have jobs in those departments currently are grandfathered in," Reece says. "They're not declassified, and they don't lose their jobs. It only applies to new hires."

The plan also states that the police and fire chiefs will be subject to removal only for cause.

But the measure will have long-term value as a means for change, according to DeWine. The civil service proposal would work well with the new stronger form of mayor to help make city government more accountable, he says.

"It's not going to change everything overnight, but I think it's a significant first step," DeWine says.

Heimlich, who supports Streicher, said he's glad about declassifying the economic development and neighborhood services departments.

"Civil service has kind of tied our hands in terms of getting the best people in those departments," Heimlich says.

The charter amendment would make it easier to hire managers and police chiefs from outside the city bureaucracy. Heimlich says he thinks highly of the current police chief, but welcomes the idea of flexibility when it's time to hire someone new.

"Any time you fill a position, you are looking for excellence," he says. "I don't think we should favor going outside or inside."

Unions representing some city employees don't like the proposal. Bringing in leadership from outside the city's ranks might not be such a good idea, according to Cincinnati Fire Lt. Mark Sanders, president of Local 48 of the International Association of Firefighters.

"Quite frankly, we may get somebody who doesn't know what it's like to be a Cincinnati firefighter," Sanders says. "To change for change's sake, we don't think is the best thing to do. It's not well thought out."

Firefighters are being subject to the effects of reform they don't need, Sanders says.

"We're the collateral damage," he says. "We're disappointed that we were lumped into the reform."

After all, when people were taking to the streets during the unrest, he says, they weren't yelling about the brutality of firefighters. No one claimed they had been beaten with a hose or tied to a hydrant.

Cranley acknowledges not everyone approves of civil service reform.

"There's not a single person up here who wasn't put under enormous pressure to oppose this change," he said at a recent council meeting.

Alyson Steele, spokesman for the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council, says it's too soon to tell what impact civil service reform would have.

"When you start changing the way the leadership is selected, it can have some effect on morale," Steele says. "They had to change something about the police, and these poor firemen got blindsided."

Steele says voters in the past have not favored cutting civil service protections, but acknowledges circumstances have changed. A ballot initiative to allow the city to hire police and fire chiefs from outside the departments was defeated in 1997.

"We're in a little different situation now," she says.

Reece agrees voters haven't usually been receptive to civil service reform, but she expects this election to be different.

"The two other times there had been no widespread call for change or reform," she says.

In the end, Reece believes the proposal will be good for the people of Cincinnati.

"Each of us had put the citizens' wants and needs first," she says. "I see it as reform comprehensively for the good of the citizens."

On that, at least, city council agrees.

 
Jymi Bolden


Alicia Reese helped shepherd civil service reform through Cincinnati City Council.



In a rare moment of agreement, Cincinnati City Council has unanimously approved a plan for civil service reform. The consensus arises from a shared realization that change is needed, according to Councilman John Cranley.

"No matter who you talk to, there's a sense that the system's broken," Cranley says.

The proposed city charter amendment that voters will decide Nov. 6 would be the most significant step so far toward the "fundamental changes" promised in the wake of the civil unrest in April.

Any change in the charter — the city's constitution — is important. But also worth noting is the way this proposal got to the ballot: It happened because city council reached a compromise. Three variations of civil service reform were on the table. Councilmembers Alicia Reece, a Democrat, and Pat DeWine, a Republican, fashioned the text that finally passed.

"I think this is significant, because we hear the criticism all the time that council can't come together on anything," Reece says.

The charter amendment before voters would end civil-service protection for senior managers in all city departments.

In short, the measure would make it easier to fire them.

The measure would eliminate civil-service classification for a total of 98 positions, including police chief, fire chief, assistant police and fire chiefs, as well as professional development positions in the departments of Economic Development and Neighborhood Services.

DeWine says civil service reform had been a "focal point after the riots." Some of that focus has been in the form of calls for the resignation of Police Chief Thomas Streicher. But Streicher, like the other city staff, won't be affected by the charter amendment.

"All persons who have jobs in those departments currently are grandfathered in," Reece says. "They're not declassified, and they don't lose their jobs. It only applies to new hires."

The plan also states that the police and fire chiefs will be subject to removal only for cause.

But the measure will have long-term value as a means for change, according to DeWine. The civil service proposal would work well with the new stronger form of mayor to help make city government more accountable, he says.

"It's not going to change everything overnight, but I think it's a significant first step," DeWine says.

Heimlich, who supports Streicher, said he's glad about declassifying the economic development and neighborhood services departments.

"Civil service has kind of tied our hands in terms of getting the best people in those departments," Heimlich says.

The charter amendment would make it easier to hire managers and police chiefs from outside the city bureaucracy. Heimlich says he thinks highly of the current police chief, but welcomes the idea of flexibility when it's time to hire someone new.

"Any time you fill a position, you are looking for excellence," he says. "I don't think we should favor going outside or inside."

Unions representing some city employees don't like the proposal. Bringing in leadership from outside the city's ranks might not be such a good idea, according to Cincinnati Fire Lt. Mark Sanders, president of Local 48 of the International Association of Firefighters.

"Quite frankly, we may get somebody who doesn't know what it's like to be a Cincinnati firefighter," Sanders says. "To change for change's sake, we don't think is the best thing to do. It's not well thought out."

Firefighters are being subject to the effects of reform they don't need, Sanders says.

"We're the collateral damage," he says. "We're disappointed that we were lumped into the reform."

After all, when people were taking to the streets during the unrest, he says, they weren't yelling about the brutality of firefighters. No one claimed they had been beaten with a hose or tied to a hydrant.

Cranley acknowledges not everyone approves of civil service reform.

"There's not a single person up here who wasn't put under enormous pressure to oppose this change," he said at a recent council meeting.

Alyson Steele, spokesman for the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council, says it's too soon to tell what impact civil service reform would have.

"When you start changing the way the leadership is selected, it can have some effect on morale," Steele says. "They had to change something about the police, and these poor firemen got blindsided."

Steele says voters in the past have not favored cutting civil service protections, but acknowledges circumstances have changed. A ballot initiative to allow the city to hire police and fire chiefs from outside the departments was defeated in 1997.

"We're in a little different situation now," she says.

Reece agrees voters haven't usually been receptive to civil service reform, but she expects this election to be different.

"The two other times there had been no widespread call for change or reform," she says.

In the end, Reece believes the proposal will be good for the people of Cincinnati.

"Each of us had put the citizens' wants and needs first," she says. "I see it as reform comprehensively for the good of the citizens."

On that, at least, city council agrees.

Jim Crow for Gays

An All-Purpose Person

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