Explaining the proposed Charter amendment known as Issue 3 on the November 2021 ballot
Issue 3, a series of eight anti-corruption measures rolled into one charter amendment, has garnered headlines in recent days but not necessarily for what the amendment is proposing.
State Representative Tom Brinkman (and candidate for City Council) authored the amendment and circulated petitions to get it on the November ballot. Among other initiatives, he wants to lower council salaries to the median household income in the city.
But when the city's law department drafted the ordinance to send to the Board of Elections, the word "household" got replaced with "family." The terms have different definitions, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — using the term "family income" would result in council salaries that are about the same. As of now, that is the language that will appear on the ballot.
That caused accusations of corruption that escalated into yelling during a special meeting of a council committee to address the issue on Sept. 30. While City Solicitor Andrew Garth says the change is the result of human error, sponsor Brinkman says "all this is trying to do is mess (Issue 3) up because you don't want it to pass."
In October, Brinkman said the petition copy erroneously used by the City Solicitor's Office to draft the ordinance did originate from petitioners.
In an email to City Manager Paula Boggs Muething, Brendon Cull, executive vice president and chief strategy officer for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, says he got the petition from Western & Southern VP Ed Babbitt, which he forwarded to Council Member Greg Landsman. The Enquirer reports Babbitt got the copy from Christine Barrett Haslam, a Republican fundraiser and daughter of Western & Southern CEO John Barrett.
Brinkman told The Enquirer "there were a lot of drafts going back and forth" when petitioners talked with Barrett Haslam about the ballot initiative.
Ballots have already been printed and the Board of Elections isn't planning a reprint. City Solicitor Andrew Garth says if Issue 3 passes, he believes the correct language will change the charter regardless of what's on the ballot. But, he says, that's just his own legal opinion and a judge may need to weigh in.
A majority must vote "yes" for the measure to pass. You can see the ballot language on page 80 of this PDF from the Board of Elections.
What does Issue 3 propose?
Issue 3 consists of eight measures in one amendment that, if passed by voters, would be enshrined in the city charter. They include:
- Making council members' salaries equal to the median household income for the city (the aforementioned point of contention). Brinkman originally wrote the ballot language as such that it would mean a pay cut from $65,000 a year to about $46,000.
- Requiring council approval of all lawsuits filed by the city.
- Doing away with the designee replacement system, which has been used to fill council vacancies since the 1920s, under which council members pick one or more fellow council members to choose his or her replacement.
- If a council member resigned or otherwise left council, his or her spot would go to the 10th place finisher in the last council campaign.
- Eliminating the mayor's "pocket veto," where the mayor can choose never to place an item on the council agenda or even assign it to a committee.
- Requiring one-year residency in the city to serve as mayor or council member.
- Allowing individual liability of city employees for some violations of open meetings and public records law violations.
- Allowing for the recall of the mayor.
Why so many in one amendment?
Some have wondered why the eight reforms are rolled up in one amendment, as some pieces might appeal while others don't. Brinkman previously told WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson the amendments "didn't have to be one big package," but "if council could have gotten six votes for each one of those items they could have gotten them on the ballot a la carte. But they didn't."
Still, he says, "they are all tied together. It is all aimed at eliminating opportunities for corruption and better government for the city."
Who is for Issue 3?
The Hamilton County Republican Party unanimously endorsed the amendment, saying it was "the only true reform initiative."
Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou tweeted that the Democratic Party has done nothing to "change the culture at City Hall that left 4 of 9 members charged with crimes related to their work."
In 2020, Cincinnati saw three sitting council members – one-third of the body – indicted by federal authorities on bribery-related charges. Two of them — Democrat Tamaya Dennard and Republican Jeff Pastor — were accused of putting the money in their pockets; the third, Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, was accused of strong-arming a developer for money for his mayoral campaign fund.
"Their failure to act is why Issue 3 must pass," Triantafilou wrote. "If they refuse to act, the voters must."
It’s fair to ask what city politicians in the Democratic Party have done to change the culture at City Hall that left 4 of 9 members charged with crimes related to their work. Anything? Their failure to act is why ISSUE 3 must pass. If they refuse to act, the voters must.— Alex Triantafilou (@ChairmanAlex) September 23, 2021
Who is against Issue 3?
The local Democratic Party, the Charter Committee, current Mayor John Cranley and the two men running to be the city's next mayor — David Mann and Aftab Pureval — all oppose the amendment.
"It's not about the issues; it's about the process,'' Charter Committee President Darrick Dansby previously told WVXU. "It was put together without any input from the community, without any public discussion of the issues. It's a very dangerous thing to have that many amendments in one ballot issue. This is not the way it should be done. Voters shouldn't be forced to cast an all-or-nothing vote. I can't support eight major changes to the charter in one fell swoop."
Meanwhile, Cranley, who is term-limited out, told Wilkinson, "This isn’t going to have an impact on me, because I will be gone. But I could see a situation where every time a mayor makes a controversial decision, he or she will have to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prevent recall."