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Cincinnati mayor, some council members want voters to eliminate the 'pocket veto'

Pureval at Cincinnatus statue
Becca Costello
/
WVXU
Mayor Aftab Pureval announces proposed changes to the Cincinnati Charter in front of the Cincinnatus statue.

Some Cincinnati officials want to eliminate the mayor’s so-called pocket veto. That’s when the mayor doesn’t refer legislation to a council committee, effectively vetoing it before it’s even discussed.

An ordinance filed Friday will be considered in council committee Wednesday morning. It would put a charter amendment on the November ballot for voters to consider.

“If, for whatever reason, the mayor is not a fan of [legislation], he could delay it until the last day of Council and then file it, essentially killing it,” says Council Member Mark Jeffreys, one of the sponsors.

The charter amendment would require the mayor to refer legislation to committee within four regularly scheduled council meetings. After that, the clerk of council would refer it.

Pureval says good government is more important than holding onto power.

"While the mayor's power of referral might not be the kind of thing that most people are thinking about, when it comes to how local government can impact their lives, this is a meaningful and important action to ensure that all legislation affecting our residents is considered in a clear, transparent and fair process," Pureval said.

Once referred to committee, the chair would have to put it on an agenda within four regularly scheduled meetings; some committees meet every other week. And once a committee passes legislation, the mayor again has four regularly scheduled meetings to put it on the full council agenda.

The changes still allow the mayor some control over when legislation is considered, which Council Member Jeff Cramerding says is important.

"I do think this time delay can be effective," he said. "Legislation is proposed [and] sometimes there's disagreements, sometimes it hasn't been vetted as thoroughly as it should be. So I think it's in the mayor's appropriate prerogative sometimes to give it some time to get people on the same page, to let the process be as thorough and deliberate as possible."

In addition to the proposed charter amendment, Pureval says he's asked city administration to do a comprehensive review of the council rules.

Eliminating the pocket veto was one recommendation of the Charter Review Committee of several years ago. Another was for council to establish a formal process for hiring and firing the city manager. Pureval says work to strengthen the charter and public trust will continue, but wouldn't commit to considering that particular recommendation.

"We'll continue to look at ideas and vet them and make determinations, but as of right now, that specific issue hasn't been discussed," Pureval said.

Charter Committee President Bill Frost says the pocket veto is a significant change, but he'd like to see more action on the review committee's work.

"We've just been been through a city manager selection, which could have could have been better," Frost said, quickly adding he fully supports new City Manager Sheryl Long. "From what I saw, from what I was made aware of, the shortlist was not as expansive as maybe it could be for a city of our size."

Frost in addition to establishing a process for hiring and firing the city manager, Council can already utilize another recommendation: meeting in executive session, meaning not open to the public like usual. Voters approved that power in 2018 but council has never used it.

The pocket veto ordinance is on the agenda for the Public Safety and Governance Committee on Wednesday morning. If it passes committee, it will be considered at Council’s full session meeting the next day — the last day a to transmit a charter amendment to the Board of Elections in time for the November 8 election.

Former Council members Chris Seelbach and Betsy Sundermann proposed a charter amendment very similar to this one for the November 2021 election. It would have given the mayor time to refer to committee within two regularly scheduled meetings.

That proposal never got a council vote, as Sundermann opted not to call for a vote in her committee since another charter amendment (proposed by then-State Rep. Tom Brinkman) would do the same thing.

The Brinkman charter amendment included seven other significant changes to the charter. It failed 43% to 57%.

Becca Costello grew up in Williamsburg and Batavia (in Clermont County) listening to WVXU. Before joining the WVXU newsroom, she worked in public radio & TV journalism in Bloomington, Indiana and Lincoln, Nebraska. Becca has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including from local chapters of the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists, and contributed to regional and national Murrow Award winners. Becca has a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Becca's dog Cincy (named for the city they once again call home) is even more anxious than she is.