Yesterday’s Budget & Finance Committee apparently had so many last-minute, unforeseeable emergencies pop-up out of nowhere that City Administration didn’t have time to post an agenda before they went home on Friday. When the public did finally get a peek at the ordinances on Monday the value of those emergencies totaled $874,530,548.30.
Money figures we read in newspapers these days have gotten so big they have lost any real meaning for normal people who lead normal lives, you know, people who get up every day, go to work, try to figure out where to find the money to pay their $1,800 property tax bill. So let’s focus.
Not quite 15% short of a billion dollars.
I’m going to say that again. These are the Emergencies for one week.
Do you get it now?
Under Ohio law and the city of Cincinnati’s charter, an ordinance must have three readings before council votes on it, which means a standard ordinance would take an average of three weeks to work through the city’s legislative process.
According to a superb article by Lucy May in the Business Courier on October 28, 2011,” council often votes to waive those three readings, which it can do if a super-majority of three-fourths of the council votes in favor of that. Then it takes a two-thirds majority of council to consider an ordinance an emergency. By reducing the number of weeks a measure is considered, and eliminating the chance for a referendum, council effectively limits the voice of the citizens, Curp said. It’s not that the city breaks the law, he said. Council passes the laws legitimately, and the city requires the super-majorities.” (John Curp was the city’s former chief solicitor, widely respected by everybody who worked with him.)
She also quotes a really smart lawyer I know, Peter Koenig, a partner with Buechner Haffer Meyers & Koenig, as saying, “Not everything called an emergency is an emergency. It’s that simple. It’s preposterous for city council to be labeling every piece of important legislation an emergency. They’re afraid of the light of day. And it’s their way of hiding what they’re really doing.”
Now let’s look at what City Administration decided the public was allowed to talk about and what they decided was none of our business (or maybe that we aren’t smart enough to have anything of importance to add to the conversation).
Regular Ordinances this week included: application for a Police Justice Assistance Grant and Police Body-word Camera Pilot Implementation Program Grant, application for Police & Fire Joint FEMA Port Security Grant, Customer Service feasibility study, summer youth employment program appropriation, the sale of Harry Alley in Clifton, application for a Local Government Innovation Fund Grant, Municipal Road Fund Agreements of $450,000 – and – a 12-year CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) abatement and Job Creation Tax Credit on a modest $1,000,000 warehouse economic development in Spring Grove Village.
So the public was allowed to talk about taxpayer-supported projects valued at $1,450,000. And we weren’t allowed to talk about taxpayer-supported projects of $874,530,548.30.
Efficiency is a great goal. We’d never get anything done if we publicly debated every single vote that comes before City Council. But when Citizens are deliberately excluded from the public conversation on a dollar ratio of 800 to 1, we have opened ourselves as a community to disproportional influence by those who can afford to pay for it: for-profit corporations, developers and lobbyists. And that, dear friends, is the real emergency in Cincinnati.