Watch No Evil: What Doesn't Luken Want You to See?

For more than a year, Citicable's live broadcasts of Cincinnati City Council meetings have included a few vocal citizens ranting against city officials and police officers. But does that mean the c

For more than a year, Citicable's live broadcasts of Cincinnati City Council meetings have included a few vocal citizens ranting against city officials and police officers.

But does that mean the city should kill the messenger?

Mayor Charlie Luken has been alternatingly lenient and strict, sometimes giving the speakers plenty of opportunity to vent and other times kicking them out for violating the bounds of council's decorum, such as insulting someone.

So much does Luken blame Citicable, which also broadcasts a variety of other city meetings and events on Warner Cable channel 23, that he believes the city would be better off spending its $1.2 million Warner Cable franchise fee on economic development. The move could bring an end to Citicable's broadcasts of council meetings.

Luken's proposal came the day after the Nov. 6 election, during a morning press conference about his new agenda. He also mentioned closing the economic development department, getting rid of the safety director's office, making himself the ultimate authority of the Citizens Police Review Panel and creating an arts committee.

While the economic development announcement could have been expected — Councilman Phil Heimlich and former Mayor Roxanne Qualls proposed similar reforms about three years ago — the other ideas caught many off guard.

"I was a little puzzled why they weren't talked about during the campaign," Heimlich says.

Some speakers' complaints about the police, race relations and a variety of other topics have obviously gotten under Luken's skin.

One even called Luken a "punk faggot."

But does that justify crippling Citicable?

"I would encourage (Luken) and council to safeguard the public interest and their right to observe council," says Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune.

A city councilman from 1993 to 2000, Portune says he used to get calls from citizens "all the time" about council discussions they watched on Citicable.

"I would like to get more input on that (proposal)," says Councilman John Cranley. "I certainly value transparency in government and people being able to see what their government is doing."

But in October Cranley asked Citicable to shut off the background picture it usually broadcasts during recesses in meetings. At the time, council was leaving the chamber as police officers faced off with a roomful of people angry about the verdict in the trial of Officer Stephen Roach.

Cranley says there might be other ways to make meetings more accessible, but he couldn't think of any examples.

Heimlich — a fan of security cameras in public places — is open to new ideas about Citicable.

"I think it's a valuable thing," he says. "Whether it's the best use of the money now, I'm not sure."

While there's been a fair amount of attention paid to citizens' behavior at meetings, what about council members' behavior? Members routinely ignore citizens who are speaking at the podium and ignore each other during discussions, leaving seats during meetings and even missing votes.

That behavior begs the question: Has city council given enough respect to citizens in recent years?

"I think we have some growing to do in that area," Heimlich says.

That includes him. Earlier this year a man wrote The Cincinnati Enquirer, saying Heimlich didn't even listen to him speak at a council meeting. Heimlich later apologized.

"We all could do a better job," Cranley says.

While Luken backs less public access, Portune pushed to broadcast the Hamilton County Commission's Monday staff meetings, where the commissioners do a lot of their work.

Portune sees Luken's Citicable proposal as part of a growing distancing between city council and citizens .

Is it Citicable's fault that people speak angrily, Portune asks, or is it because of council's response to the issues?

Scroll to read more News Feature articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.