This is the summer of serious talking. Only time will tell if the talk prevents Cincinnati from erupting anew — and time is in short supply.
At least one member of the city's new race-relations task force, Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN), is warning that too much time is passing with too little happening.
"It doesn't sound like there's much activity," says Victoria Straughn, an AIDS intervention specialist at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. "It's already July. The uprising started in April."
Straughn is one of the leaders of CAN's Health Care and Human Service Team, one of six "action teams" that will study various social issues, including police conduct and economic inequality.
Mayor Charlie Luken established CAN in the aftermath of riots sparked by the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African American in Over-the-Rhine. Luken promised CAN's effectiveness wouldn't be limited to producing a report, but rather would generate "fundamental change" in Cincinnati.
But with almost three months passing since the state of emergency, CAN has apparently done nothing more than appoint committees — and even that job isn't finished.
CAN last week issued a preliminary report to Luken. The report was signed by co-chairs Ross Love, Tom Cody and Rev. Damon Lynch III.
"The past several weeks necessarily have been devoted to establish an organization capable of producing the kind of meaningful actions that will make a substantial and sustainable difference in our targeted areas of economic inclusion, reform of the police and justice system, education and youth development, housing and neighborhood development, health care and human services and media and image," the report says.
Nearly all of the progress enumerated in the progress report is about organizational structure: a statement of purpose, appointment of action-team leaders, donation of office space and recruitment of action-team members.
"We have announced leaders of the six action teams, appointed two full-time executive directors and are about to announce a third," Love says. "This week we're going to announce the over 100 additional people involved in the six teams."
Aside from accepting comments on a Web site — the last speech or statement posted on the site is Luken's May 1 speech appointing the co-chairs — the only other activity listed in the progress report is an analysis of past committees and commissions on race relations in Cincinnati.
The pace so far doesn't bode well, according to Straughn.
"It is starting to turn out to be a very large operation," she says. "Time is ticking away. There are issues still looming. People are still very angry, and I don't know how long people can hold off by being told, 'Be patient.' It's shaping up as just another commission."
That, of course, is precisely what Love, Lynch and Luken have promised CAN will not be. Love continues to say the organization will make a major change in Cincinnati.
"I am at this stage convinced you'll see some substantial things the group will come forward and get executed," Love says. "It's not going to be a report or a group of recommendations. Everyone involved understands implementation is two-thirds of this. There is tremendous commitment within the private sector. I believe the mayor is committed and I think we will find City Council is supportive when we come to them."
Despite all the organizational groundwork, how the committee will operate remains in flux. Straughn, for example, says communication within the leadership has been less than fluid.
"I have not been contacted at all by the CAN commission," she says. "My name is still circulating as on the committee."
Although formed by the city's mayor, CAN isn't a government organization and therefore isn't subject to Ohio's laws requiring open meetings and maintenance of public records. In fact, some of the organization's work will be behind closed doors, according to Love.
"There will be both public and private meetings," he says. "We'll be holding a series of town meetings in four to six weeks. There will be some significant public interactions. These people are committed to investing a significant amount of time. A lot of that will be in private, talking about what needs to be done."
The makeup of one of the most important action teams is also less than Straughn had hoped. The action team for police and justice issues includes Police Chief Tom Streicher and Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman, and its leadership team includes the chairmen of local political parties — not a group, Straughn says, that encourages expectations of major change.
"The chairs of that committee are the heads of the Democrat and Republican parties," she says. "That doesn't ring right at all." ©
Who is Cincinnati CAN?
Co-chairs: Ross Love, president of Blue Chip Broadcasting; Tom Cody, executive vice president of Federated Department Stores; and Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church
Executive directors: Pat Bready, loaned by Cincinnati Bell; and Marcia Sherman, loaned by Federated Department Stores
Team leaders: Cincinnati CAN consists of six action teams, each with a team of leaders:
· The Economic Inclusion Team will discuss employment, minority-owned business development and inclusion. Team leaders are Clifford Bailey of TechSoft Systems; Morris Williams of the Coalition of Neighborhoods; Joseph Pichler of Kroger Co.; Janet Reid of Global Lead Management Consulting; and John Taylor of PNC Bank.
· The Education and Youth Development Team will discuss early childhood development, parenting, education, teen employment and recreation. Team leaders are John Pepper of Procter & Gamble Co.; Sheila Adams of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati; Steven Adamowski, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools; Anees Fardan of Cincinnati Collective Learning Center; and Eileen Cooper Reed of the Children's Defense Fund.
· The Police and Justice System Team will study police/community relations, structural reform and racial disparities in the justice system. Team leaders are Michael Barrett, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party; Timothy Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party; Norma Holt Davis of the NAACP; Michael Graham S.J., president of Xavier University; and Rev. Herbert Thompson, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio.
· The Housing and Neighborhood Development Team will discuss the affordability of home ownership, housing availability and discrimination. Team leaders are Harold Cleveland of the Cincinnati Empowerment Zone; Richard Davis of Firstar Bank; Renee Mahaffey Harris of Local Initiatives Support Corp.; Michael Keating of Fifth Third Bank; Karla Irvine of Housing Opportunities Made Equal; and Jim King of Avondale Redevelopment Corp.
· The Health Care and Human Service Team will study health care access and health education. Team leaders are James Anderson of Children's Hospital Medical Center; Dr. Yvette Casey Hunter of Cincinnati Medical Association; Rob Reifsnyder of United Way of Greater Cincinnati; Gwen Robinson of Community Action Agency; and Victoria Straughn of University Hospital.
· The Media and Image Team will discuss negative stereotypes, positive race portrayal and improving Cincinnati's reputation. Team leaders are Susan Howarth of WCET-TV; Damon Jones of Procter & Gamble Co.; Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney of Sesh Communications; and Mark Serrianne of Northlich.