Charlie Luken, Cincinnati's longest serving mayor, says he learned late in his final term how best to wield his authority.
"I saw when that railcar was leaking styrene that, if you go in and take charge, people want somebody to come in and make decisions," he says. "People want somebody to lead. Even though the charter doesn't give you that authority, you have to behave as if it does."
Luken's advice to Mark Mallory, who takes office Thursday, was to act as if he were in charge.
"The only thing I emphasized as very important is making the city manager's staff your own," Luken says. "And by that I mean, the staff here in the mayor's office is very small and you really have to make the director of finance, the chief of police, all these people you have to operate as if you are the chief executive officer of the city, even though the charter does not allow for that."
Mallory, however, has other changes in mind, including reviewing council and committee structures and rules in order to make city government more "citizen-friendly."
"The process itself is going to be more structured but it will allow for a better flow," he says. "One of the things we want to change about the way the process works is to allow for the committees to actually function.
The committee work is where you really have an opportunity for public input and have fleshing out ideas before you get to council. The whole idea is to have that happen much more with the committees."
Mallory, a Democrat, has appointed City Councilman Jim Tarbell, a member of the Charter Committee, vice mayor.
"I was elected by some Democrats, some Charterites and some Republicans," Mallory says. "Once elected, you have to represent the entire city."
Mallory believes the new city government is poised for a strong start.
"Everyone has been very, very clear that they want to work as a team," he says. "That didn't stop with the election. They've continued to talk that way through all of our meetings. We're just trying to find ways to make that team work and make sure we can get as much work done as possible."
The mayoral staff has been chosen — and informed there will be no casual dress, ever.
"The ship will be as it tight as it was before, and perhaps a little tighter," Mallory says. "I think there's an expectation that people have and when it comes to a professional office and we're going to provide that professional presentation.
"That does not mean that we'll be inaccessible. We certainly will be accessible. We don't want anybody to be put off by any form of professionalism. I have the strong belief that, if you structure your office in a way that is well run and that is professional from top to bottom, where everybody's clear on what their duties are and execute, then you can take all those issues away. Now you can focus on greater and grander thoughts that we're supposed to be doing."
Luken, who has taken a job with the Cleveland-based law firm Calfee, Halter and Griswold and been appointed to the Ohio State Racing Commission, says he's hopeful about the future because of the caliber of officials being sworn in this week. Four new members were elected to the nine-member city council.
"My own view is that the voters made some very wise choices in this last election," Luken says. "I'm very optimistic about where the city is and I'm optimistic about where the new leadership can take the city."
Luken is glad he won't be among the people taking the oath of office.
"Just as I think the voters made a wise choice, I think I made a wise choice," he says. "I think I was the right person for the last four years, and I don't necessarily think I would have been the right person for the next four years. Talking about getting the city through a tough time — somebody's got to do that. But then when that's done, I think you need a fresher approach."
Listing events such as the 2001 riots in Over-the-Rhine, the civil rights boycott of the city, downturns in the national economy and three economically difficult years for the city, Luken says he's seen the city through more change in four years than Cincinnati has seen in the past 25 years.
"I think because of the changes we've made in the city — the review of the use of force policies, the citizens complaint authority, the review by the justice department — all of these things have laid the foundation for a much improved relationship with some of our neighborhoods," he says. "Today the city economy is strong, the convention center's expanding, Article 12 is repealed, schools have passed their building and operating levies. It's just been an unprecedented four years. I think all of these things have been wonderful accomplishments."
While Luken says he believes he made the right decisions and did the best he could under difficult circumstances, there are some things he wishes he'd have said differently.
"I shouldn't have said, 'Too many of these things have happened at the hands of Cincinnati police,' " he says. "I shouldn't have said whatever I said, that Nathaniel Jones was a deadly weapon when he attacked those police officers. The points that I was trying to make were valid, but my choice of words weren't always the best. But in terms of decision, I think they've all been right on target."
Luken says the results of his policies are beginning to show.
"To see that our first convention at the convention center is going to be the National African American Police Officers Association, to see the NAACP move their dinner back downtown — I mean, standing up to that, getting the city through, not giving the keys of the city to people who, frankly, were only bent on bringing the city down," he says.
Mallory plans to meet with some of those same groups.
"I am willing to talk to any group of people who express some concern about something that's going on in the community, what I consider to be a legitimate concern," he says. "As long as any group or individual is willing to work with me in a positive way, we'll continue to have a working relationship. If at some point it degenerates into something other than that, then obviously I'm not going to be a participant. I think where we are at in this community is that we have to be willing to talk to people of differing views."
While Mallory says open dialogue is a priority, he refuses to provide a "top 10" list of things he wants to accomplish. Beyond the hiring of a city manager as quickly as possible — he wants to hire the California search firm Roberts Consulting Group — he won't prioritize.
"I don't have things structured in my brain in that way, I guess because I'm a manager," Mallory says. "You can't just work on one thing, you have to work on many things simultaneously. That's why I've always shied away from, 'What are your top priorities?' It doesn't work that way, life doesn't work that way. You ask somebody, 'What are the three most important components of your car?' The steering wheel, the engine or the brakes? It's like, well, if you take any one of them away, this thing's just not working.
"The point is that we'll be working on public safety, transportation and getting The Banks off the ground. The Banks is huge. We're going to have to work to make sure that the neighborhoods are getting the kind of attention and seeing the kind of changes they want to see. I'm going to be working very closely with the public schools, setting up a communications infrastructure that will better coordinate what needs to happen between the schools and the city, and I'm going to be finding ways to assist them with recreation, with truancy, all those kinds of things.
"There are several things that are going to be happening all at once. On top of that, we've got to do the budget."
During the mayoral campaign it was suggested Mallory would need a year to learn all of the ins and outs of the contracts, budgets and complicated workings of city operations.
"It won't take nearly that long," Mallory says. "I don't want to downplay the complexities of issues that face the city, but I've dealt with much more complex issues at the state level. We have state departments with budgets bigger than the entire budget of the city of Cincinnati. I've been on finance (committee) for I don't know how many years. I don't have that concern, and nobody should have that concern as well. It doesn't take very long for me to get up to speed on issues. I'm what they call a quick study.
"I'm a Montessori school child, for God's sake. There ain't no mystery when it comes to Montessori school kids — they figure it out in about three seconds." ©