Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Changing Community Councils

Councilwoman Y.L. Cole has proposed a change in how Cincinnati's community councils handle memberships and voting.
Cincinnati's 52 neighborhoods are represented through quasi-governmental private bodies of volunteers called community councils. While they are set up on their own with their own by laws, they administer funds from the city for various purposes and the city also recognizes them as representatives of their respective neighborhoods. Information is routed to and from the city through the organizations. Their influence was deprecated significantly under Mayor Luken and City Manager Lemmie.
Naturally every city resident can weigh in on anything anywhere in the city with the mayor or any city councilmember.
Currently, the community councils all have their own rules concerning membership and voting qualifications and what members can vote on. Some councils require attendance at meetings to vote, others require a minimal number of hours of service. Some require dues - some don't. Oftentimes the rules are set to avoid people "stacking the vote" or "stuffing the ballotbox". Most of the experienced people on the councils have had the experience of people showing up for one vote to get their way to sway votes on zoning and liquor permit issues or to stack the councils with particular candidates. Bond Hill, College Hill and Westwood have all had such problems.
Ms Cole's efforts are to enfranchise all members of the community and not bar them from having their vote counted through service that may not be doable due to time or physical constraints or the financial constraints that dues might have.
The problem is that Ms Cole's changes erase the safeguards the councils have had to enforce to avoid dirty politics.
One of the issues I have is, after years of working night shift, is that the meetings and voting are usually in the evening and the voting time is usually under an hour. many of Cincinnati's working poor probably fall into this category and the current ordinance does not address the issue. I have no idea how the councils could afford to do such a thing, anyway. They do not have the budget of a county BOE. The city currently funds the community councils to the tune of about $7k/yr. Accommodating 12 elections a year could eat that up right off. The next bit of funding the councils have is dues and that will be eliminated.
Currently, these are private organizations of volunteers. I have heard of the Northside Community Council referred to as a social club and I don't think the speaker was being sarcastic.
The thing is, I can see this effort to enfranchise the greater public as disenfranchising the paltry number of volunteers the city has and never really engaging the apathetic majority of citizens. Westwood has it's community council as well as Westwood Concern. How many people can afford the extra time to be involved in multiple organizations ? A good number of the few who do the most already are - it would be one more burden on the people the city already depends on.
Ms Cole has good intentions here, to be sure, but I don't think this is a really good idea and I don't think there is a practical way to implement it.

The initial proposal can be found here, but this is not a FINAL VERSION, there is, apparently a revised version somewhere which is ALSO not a final version.

Click here for links to councils' websites.

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