Thursday, January 03, 2008

Is The Mayor Strong Enough?

No, that's not a late cheap shot at Mark Mallory's 2007 Opening Day pitch. Instead, it's a question about the proper organization of our city government. As most of you know, Cincinnati has only recently switched to a "strong[er] mayor" system of government; previously, the mayor was simply the City Council candidate with the highest vote total. My question: haven't we left too much power in hands of the city manager?

Electing a mayor separate from Council is an excellent step in the right direction. We now have a independent executive. But our city manager--who is not elected--still retains a great deal of power. Consider the power our charter gives the mayor:
It shall be the duty of the city manager to act as chief conservator of the peace within the city; to supervise the administration of the affairs of the city, except as otherwise specifically provided in this charter; to see that the ordinances of the city and the laws of the state are enforced; to make all appointments and removals in the administrative and executive service except as otherwise provided in this charter; to make such recommendation to the mayor and to the council concerning the affairs of the city as may to him or her seem desirable; to keep the mayor and the council advised of the financial condition and future needs of the city; to prepare and submit to the mayor the annual budget estimate for the mayor's review and comment prior to its submission to the council; to prepare and submit to the mayor and to the council such reports as may be required by each and to perform such other duties as may be prescribed by this charter or required of him or her by ordinance or resolution of the council.

Art. IV, Sec. 3. The manager (not the mayor) appoints the City Solicitor, finance director, director of public utilities, and superintendent of water works. Art. IV, Secs. 5, 7, 9. And he gets to fire them. Art. IV, Sec. 10.

Shouldn't all of these be the responbility of someone we actually elect? Clearly, there's a political benefit to having a strong manager. The mayor can let the manager make the tough decisions. Mallory seems to have fallen into a rhythm whereby the manager proposes a draconian, unpopular budget, and then Mallory gets to come in behind him just in time to play the role of Santa Clause. And consider the abuse Valerie Lemmie routinely took from City Council; certainly, the Council wouldn't treat an elected mayor that way.

So the manager gets to be a combination scapegoat/bad cop/punching bag. But is that good government? Don't we want the really important, difficult decisions to be made by our elected representatives? Should we have a mayor who is really just a figurehead, good for ribbon-cuttings and other ceremonies, or do we want a real executive?

What do you think?

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