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Music Venue Debate Leads To Debate Over Mayoral Power

city hall
Bill Rinehart

The debate over a music venue at The Banks has led to questions about how Cincinnati's charter is interpreted and the power of the mayor. Mayor John Cranley said earlier in the week he wouldn't refer legislation about a land swap meant to clear the way for construction until he had questions answered. Councilman David Mann wondered whether that was a form of pocket veto.

The issue came up Tuesday night at a committee meeting in Price Hill. It was revived Thursday morning before the full council. Cranley says his questions on the land swap involving Hilltop Basic Resources remain: Where will the asphalt plant be located? What are the traffic and environmental impacts of moving Hilltop to Queensgate? Is the company contributing to the cost of the planned Price Landing Park?

Councilman David Mann says those are all issues that need to be answered and he and Amy Murray want to move the discussion into committee. "The ordinances that we advance are simply first drafts. There are a lot of contingencies that would have to be resolved and no one is interested in an accelerated processing of the proposal. But we do have a committee structure and that's where these things should be discussed," he says.

Mann says under council rules, any member has the right to propose legislation, and the mayor must refer it to a committee.

"There is not a pocket veto. We are not subject to the notion that whoever happens to be the mayor can sit on legislation and preclude us from taking it up. It takes five votes to move forward whenever we want to," Mann says, citing a 2015 city solicitor opinion.

Cranley says he agrees that the charter doesn't authorize a mayor to use a pocket veto and says he's not. "The opinion clearly states there's a reasonableness standard," he says. "I certainly intend at the appropriate time to refer any legislation, but this was introduced yesterday."

Councilman Chris Seelbach says he agrees with the mayor on the solicitor's opinion, and on delaying the land swap. "The charter just says, and the solicitor's interpretation is that the mayor has to refer in a reasonable amount of time, and that is subject to an opinion of the solicitor. Right now under the charter amendment it does not say two weeks, it says in the solicitor's interpretation in a reasonable amount of time and that can be longer than two weeks."

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says it's nothing new. He says council has wrestled with the question about pocket vetoes before. "I've served under a mayor who aggressively used pocket vetoes. Our current mayor doesn't aggressively use pocket vetoes. But it doesn't mean the power isn't vested in the mayor's office, and I want to understand that."

Smitherman asked the law department to study the question, and report back to council.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.