Analysis: Brinkman seeks to reshape the Cincinnati government in an all-or-nothing charter change

A hodgepodge or à la carte.

It looks like we’re going to find out in November how voters in Cincinnati like their constitutional amendments – one court at a time, or a hodgepodge of eight not insignificant city law changes, all wrapped up in one giant all-or-nothing ballot issue.

The hodgepodge is offered by State Representative Tom Brinkman of Mount Lookout, who gathered over 4,600 signatures to receive his big old November 2nd amendment.

As always with petition initiatives, the city council voted last week to put Brinkman’s package on the ballot.

“It didn’t have to be a big package,” Brinkman told WVXU. “If the council could have got six votes for each of these points, they would have gotten them à la carte on the ballot. But they didn’t. “

Brinkman, who is on term from Ohio House this year, is trying to get his way into the 2022 city council vote, despite the Hamilton County’s electoral committee split along the party lines Tuesday morning on whether its petitions to run for the council or not were made legal . That is up to the Ohio Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, Brinkman’s Republican compatriot.

But with or without Brinkman on the long list of Council candidates, his package of constitutional reforms will be up for election on November 2nd – not as individual constitutional amendments, but as a large package of far-reaching reforms that he believes need to restore public confidence in an institution that has been tarnished by scandals and corruption in recent years.

“They’re all connected,” Brinkman told me. “Everything is aimed at eliminating opportunities for corruption and better government for the city. There are eight issues, but they all work together.”

Maybe like this. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been to a hodgepodge eating everything from the buffet. And I have a big appetite.

It would be surprising if Cincinnati swallowed each of the eight provisions Brinkman put into its constitutional amendment in full.

In my experience, Cincinnati voters most often respond to one of two reactions when faced with these types of sheets voting issues:

  • They are either switched off immediately and vote no;
  • or they find that they agree with parts of it, but strongly disagree with other parts. And they vote no.

I was wrong, however. And this can be another time.

One of this year’s mayoral candidates, current Councilor David Mann, has been in Cincinnati politics for much longer than I have been, and he’s not so sure – he fears the whole package may be approved by voters.

“People might look at it and say, ‘I like this; I like this; and I don’t like some of the ideas,’ but they end up voting for the whole thing because they like the parts,” said Mann, of Brinkman’s constitutional amendment refuses.

Mann’s rival in the race for mayor, County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, says he’s opposed to the Brinkman package for the same reasons Mann did.

“I think if it were passed it would lead to more chaos and more opportunities for corruption in town hall,” said Pureval.

“The problem with this is that voters cannot choose the parts they like and dislike,” said Pureval. “It’s all or nothing. And that makes it such a bad idea.”

So what is Brinkman supposed to approve of the Cincinnati voters? It’s a long list:

  • He wants councilors’ salaries to match the city’s median household income. That would mean a wage cut from $ 65,000 a year to about $ 46,000.
  • All lawsuits brought by the city must be approved by the city council.
  • The system of designated replacement, used since the 1920s to fill vacant council positions, in which council members select one or more other council members to elect their replacements, would be gone.
  • If a councilor resigns or otherwise leaves the council, his or her place would go to 10th place in the last council campaign.
  • It would remove the mayor’s “pocket veto” where the mayor can decide never to put an item on the council’s agenda or even to assign it to a committee.
  • Another section would require a year of residency in the city to serve as mayor or councilor.
  • Allow city workers individual liability for some open gathering violations and public record violations.
  • And it would enable the mayor to be recalled.

It will be the last – the mayor’s recall – to come under the pen of the current mayor, John Cranley, who has limited his term and is running for Democratic governance in 2022.

“It won’t affect me because I’ll be gone,” Cranley told WVXU. “But I could see a situation where every time a mayor makes a controversial decision, too much time to prevent a recall.

“It wouldn’t be that hard to get the signatures to start a recall process,” said Cranley. “Then you would vote on the mayor. The mayor could only get 49.9 percent of the recall vote.” Then, he postulated, you could end up with a huge field race – anyone can participate – and you could have a winner who is the clear minority of the actual vote.

“It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Brinkman argues that his proposal to lower council members’ salaries is reasonable, as he believes that working on the council should not be a full-time job.

“Being a state legislator isn’t a full-time job, and honestly I think it’s a much more difficult job than being a councilor,” Brinkman said.

Mann said he didn’t think Brinkman understood the job of a councilor.

“You can have another job, like me, as a lawyer, but in your other job you make a lot of sacrifices to do the councilor job,” said Mann. “It’s a very difficult job.”

In 2020, in Cincinnati, three of the incumbent council members – a third of the board – were charged by federal agencies on bribery charges. Two of them – Tamaya Dennard and Jeff Pastor – were accused of putting the money in their pockets; the third, PG Sittenfeld, was accused of heavily armed a building contractor for money for his mayoral election fund.

You can pretty well argue that this is not the time to cut councilors’ salaries. Higher salary, less temptation to bribe. Pay them well so they can tell the bad guys to get lost.

Brinkmann disagrees. He says councilors should be people who are not completely dependent on their paychecks.

“We need more people who have other sources of income,” said Brinkman. “This is supposed to be a part-time job.”

I don’t know whether voters see it that way or not. We will find out on November 2nd. Even if it does, it will be an extensive package of constitutional amendments decided by a minority of the city’s voters, as voter turnout in these local elections tends to be low.

Because this is how city elections work in Cincinnati. And that’s a shame.

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