One Vote Can Make a Difference

The nine-member Cincinnati City Council isn't supposed to have many tie votes. But after Councilman Charlie Winburn left the June 28 meeting early, two high-profile issues were stopped or delaye

Jul 12, 2000 at 2:06 pm
After missing two votes, Charles Winburn said, "City council is not my full-time job."

The nine-member Cincinnati City Council isn't supposed to have many tie votes. But after Councilman Charlie Winburn left the June 28 meeting early, two high-profile issues were stopped or delayed by 4-4 votes.

That means both items — a controversial Over-the-Rhine housing project and an early blueprint for a new organization to lead riverfront development — failed because there wasn't a majority supporting them.

So, the question is, would Winburn's vote have changed the two outcomes? Probably not and maybe, judging by Winburn's comments two days later.

The June 28 council meeting, which lasted more than 4 1/2 hours, was the longest and busiest of the year, with several high-profile items on the agenda, including the two that ended in tie votes and:

· The $35.9 million Nordstrom financial package, which passed unanimously;

· A motion to delay certain projects at Lunken Airport to reduce noise, which passed;

· A motion to remove a historic district designation from the Laurel Homes public housing project, continuing its redevelopment, which passed;

· A request by the independent Citizens Police Review Panel for the city to subpoena a witness to the Timothy Blair shooting so the panel could finish its review of the incident, which passed;

· A proposal to involve Baptist ministers in playground maintenance, which was referred to a committee for further study;

· And the city's property tax rate, among other budget proposals. The property tax was lowered from $5.54 per $1,000 of taxable property to $5.40 per $1,000, meaning the owner of a $100,000 home will save about $25 a year.

Winburn, an elder at The Church in College Hill on North Bend Road, left between 60 and 90 minutes after the meeting began to attend a church function scheduled several months ago.

Winburn told CityBeat he didn't know the June 28 meeting was the last one before council began a one-month summer recess. He also said that council work isn't always his main concern in life.

"The city council is not my full-time job," Winburn said, pointing out that other council members have missed council meetings and that most members have jobs outside of council.

Councilman Pat DeWine, for example, is a lawyer with Keating, Muething & Klekamp. Mayor Charlie Luken works for the consulting branch of that same law firm. Councilman Todd Portune is a lawyer with Cohen, Todd, Kite & Stanford.

Winburn said that, had he stayed, he likely would have voted against the Over-the-Rhine housing proposal anyway, although he said he didn't hear about it until the day before the vote.

That failed motion would have awarded $700,000 in city funds to a $5 million, 45-unit rental project aimed at the working poor, according to Restoc Director Jennifer Summers, but was voted down by Luken, DeWine and Councilmen Phil Heimlich and Jim Tarbell. The project would occupy eight buildings at Vine and Republic streets.

Restoc, a 23-year-old Over-the-Rhine agency that buys and rehabs housing, had secured most of the project's funding. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency coordinated $4 million in private money, with the Ohio Department of Development contributing $300,000 and about $70,000 more coming from both Restoc and a private local economic development fund.

Summers was more upset about Luken voting against the housing project than Winburn's absence, because the mayor wrote a letter included in the project's application that led Summers to believe he would support it. Attempts to reach Luken about his vote were unsuccessful.

Summers also said council members received certified letters about the project months ago.

After the tie vote, a few dozen of the project's supporters filled the hallway outside city council's chambers and shouted "Housing on Vine for all!" for about five minutes. Inside, council members ignored the noise and tried to continue the meeting.

"We're not going to give up," Summers said later. "We're still working on this project."

The other tie vote concerned a draft of a law creating a port authority to manage riverfront development. Councilwomen Minette Cooper and Alicia Reece and Councilmen Portune and Paul Booth opposed the proposal.

The proposal, which could be reworked for the next council meeting on Aug. 2, would have combined the existing Port Authority for Brownfields Redevelopment — which concentrates on revamping old industrial sites, or "brownfields" — into a new organization in charge of both the riverfront and brownfields.

This new organization seems to be the agency of choice to build The Banks, the riverfront neighborhood mixing offices, housing and shops. However, the city and county must both approve the organization's structure and do it in the next few months for The Banks to keep its momentum.

Council members, though, had too many concerns about the ordinance to approve it and send it to the county for review, including:

· Booth wanted the city to appoint seven of the 10 proposed port authority board members instead of the city and county each appointing five;

· Reece wanted some sort of public hearing on the issue before it advanced too far;

· And Portune wanted the port authority to have the same legal powers to redevelop brownfields as it would to do riverfront development.

Winburn said he hadn't made up his mind about the port authority ordinance but added he generally supports the idea of a port authority handling riverfront development.

"If I had been there, I would have made a decision," he said.