News: Resigned to Wait

Change is coming to Cincinnati -- but not right now

Despite a flurry of resignations in top management positions in City Hall, the city of Cincinnati is effectively on hold until after the fall election.

The latest departures, announced last week, are Evonne Kovach, the city's economic development director, and Tom Jackson, the manager of Findlay Market. City Manager John Shirey — whose own resignation takes effect Dec. 1 — says he intends to leave the post of economic development director vacant.

"I announced that I was not filling the position and I thought that was best left to the new administration," Shirey says.

Eight weeks after the city's safety director resigned, that position, too, is still vacant, filled for now by an interim director.

"The city of Cincinnati is operating in a lame duck mode because no one's doing anything (but) wait to see who the mayor will be and who the new city manager will be," says Bill Brodberger, an independent candidate for mayor.

Shirey says he isn't concerned the number of people leaving administrative positions at once will hurt the city.

"I haven't heard any concern about that," Shirey says.

City Councilmember Pat DeWine, however, thinks the exodus is indicative of underlying problems.

"I do think seeing people leave, especially seeing Evonne leave after just seven months, is indicative of real problems in the bureaucracy," DeWine says.

Kovach could not be reached for comment. Mayor Charlie Luken, who is running for reelection, says Kovach didn't like her job.

"She didn't seem, from the time she got here, to enjoy her work," Luken says. "From just watching her, it just didn't seem this was the place she wanted to be."

Shirey has appointed Toni Selvey-Maddox as acting director of economic development. But delaying appointment of a replacement for Kovach makes little difference, according to City Councilmember Phil Heimlich.

"The fact is unfortunately nothing much is being done as far as economic development anyway," Heimlich says. "Not much has been done, and not much will be done."

Saying the city's economic development staff means well, but lacks hands-on experience in development, Heimlich says now is the time for action — and he doesn't mean only hiring new people.

"The reason this city is not making progress isn't because of the people," he says. "It's because of the structure. We have to do more than just change the name of the players on the team."

Heimlich wants a board of advisers from the private sector to give the city development advice. The existing system is bound to fail, because politics has too much play in deciding who gets economic development money, he says.

"What we need are structures in place that ensure we bring in business and retail, which in turn supplies jobs," Heimlich says. "The best people are not going to work for the city. Creative, dynamic people just will not do that, either for the money or the red tape of the bureaucracy."

The "best people" would, however, be willing serve on a board to assist the city, according to Heimlich.

DeWine, too, wants change in the way the city operates. Civil-service laws in some cases hinder improvement, forcing the city to hire people already employed by the city, based upon scores on written tests.

"Some of us are pushing and plan to push to put a charter amendment on the ballot to change that," DeWine says.

DeWine is also singing the praises of the private sector so much loved by Heimlich, a fellow Republican. The next city manager should not be someone whose career has been spent in bureaucracy, DeWine says.

"I would like to find someone from the private sector or some other walk of life to shake things up," he says.

The shake-up in administrative positions now underway could be beneficial, according to DeWine.

"I think it will be a good thing to have wholesale changes in the bureaucracy," he says.

Meanwhile Luken — widely expected to win easy election to the new "strong mayor" post — says change is coming. When protests broke out over the April shooting death of an unarmed youth in Over-the-Rhine, Luken called for "fundamental" change. He is still talking that talk.

"Things are radically going to change here and expectations are going to be raised," Luken says.

But not until later. ©

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