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Support for this project comes from the Murray and Agnes Seasongood Good Government Foundation.WVXU has been covering the stories of politics and corruption at Cincinnati's City Hall since early 2020. We have now launched an initiative to more closely examine Cincinnati politics and the individuals who have shaped it, along with the current allegations of corruption. We'll also explore proposals for change, and seek feedback from local leaders and community members on what can be done to restore trust in City Hall.Trust in Local Government, WVXU's Public Integrity Project will analyze our council-manager form of government and the charter amendments designed to reinforce ethical standards at City Hall; take a historical look at corruption in Cincinnati government; talk with the candidates for Cincinnati mayor and continue with an ongoing series of features, interviews and candidate profiles.

Cincinnati's mayor has too much power, report from government experts says

cincinnati city hall
Jason Whitman
/
WVXU

A new report from the National Civic League focuses a critical lens on Cincinnati government. Sparked by the corruption charges and ethics challenges at City Council, the report includes recommendations for the city's council-manager form of government.

Kimberly Nelson is a professor of public administration at the University of North Carolina and led the study. She says Cincinnati looks different than other council-manager cities because of changes to the charter over the years.

"A few cities do have minor departures, but not as many as Cincinnati has chosen to adopt," Nelson said.

For example, it's not typical for the mayor to have such a strong role in hiring the city manager, or for the mayor to set the agenda for city council meetings. The report recommends the city manager set council meeting agendas.

Nelson says overall, the mayor's authority is considerably greater than a typical council-manager form of government.

"The problem with that is, when the lines become blurred between council-manager and mayor-council form of government, it leads to quite a few problems," Nelson said. "Accountability is lessened; the council really isn't engaging in enough oversight as we would expect it to."

Contrary to the current city solicitor's interpretation of the charter, the report says the mayor should not be involved in negotiating economic development deals – and in fact, shouldn't even see those deals until they're presented to council. The report also suggests city officials study the possibility of electing council members by district and returning to four-year terms with staggered start dates.

National Civic League President Doug Linkhart says he hopes someone in the city — either in current government or in the community — initiates action to follow the recommendations.

"We like to think that a city like Cincinnati would like to address some of the issues that you've faced over the past many years, like some of the City Council scandals, in a way that is a longer term process, that addresses the underlying issues, and that corruption is one of the symptoms of a system that is unbalanced," Linkhart says.

Hear more about the report from Nelson and Linkhart on an episode of Cincinnati Edition.

The study was funded by the Murray & Agnes Seasongood Good Government Foundation, which also awarded WVXU a grant for its Trust in Local Government series.

See the full report below: