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Council approves just one version of a pocket veto charter amendment for the Nov. ballot

cincinnati city hall
Jason Whitman

Just one version of a charter amendment to eliminate the mayor’s pocket veto will likely be on the November ballot in Cincinnati.

Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve an amendment proposed by Mayor Aftab Pureval and Council Members Mark Jeffreys and Jeff Cramerding. It would prevent the mayor from indefinitely postponing legislation, which is possible now as an unintended loophole of the “stronger mayor” charter amendment of 20 years ago.

“This change is so much bigger than me, and it's so much bigger than this council,” Pureval said. “It is a fundamental change to our charter, our Constitution, our way of governing, and it will not just have an impact on the brief time that we are all here in leadership but will have a profound good government impact for the generations to come.”

Eliminating the pocket veto was a recommendation of 2015 Charter Review Task Force. But Pureval’s version would give the mayor more time than recommended to delay legislation. Here’s how that could play out:

  • Once legislation is filed, the mayor would have to refer it to committee within four regularly scheduled meetings. That would typically mean four weeks, unless a holiday or summer recess meant no scheduled meetings.
  • Once legislation is referred to a committee, that committee chair (who is appointed by the mayor and can be removed by the mayor at any time) would have to put it on a meeting agenda within four regularly scheduled meetings. Four of the five committees meet every other week, so a chair could delay seven to eight weeks.
  • Once legislation is passed out of committee, the mayor would have to put it on the agenda for a full council meeting within four regularly scheduled meetings; again, that’s typically four weeks.

Council Member Liz Keating proposed an alternate version that more closely matches what the Charter Review Task Force recommended: Instead of four regularly scheduled meetings, her version would require referral within two meetings for each of the three phases above.

“I do wish we would have had more council members join in on that discussion to decide why two versus four,” Keating said after council voted to approve the first version. “But I would like to throw it out there that it wouldn't hurt to give the voters the opportunity to decide what they think is better — two versus four.”

Only Keating, Jeffreys and Cramerding commented on either proposal.

Former Council Member Steve Goodin spoke during public comment on behalf of the Charter Committee.

“Frankly, you know, we prefer Council Member Keating’s proposal, but either proposal is a massive improvement over where we are now. And it sends a very, very important signal,” Goodin said.

Carolyn Miller was a member of the Charter Review Task Force.

“I wish we had more time for council and the public to discuss the amendment,” she said. “Four meetings seems like an extraordinary length of time for a sponsor of legislation to wait before a committee chair places their item on a committee agenda … council members will always have the ability to hold items in committee or on the council agenda should more time be needed for discussion and consideration.”

Miller is also a member of the Charter Committee Board, but said her comments represent only her personal opinion on the topic.

“My interest in the four weeks is to … have a time period where I can work with the drafters of the legislation and with, frankly, the committee chairs, to better understand where the piece of legislation should move forward to, and also to give an opportunity to the drafters to make any changes, strategic or based on the community voice,” Pureval said.

Council could have sent both measures to the ballot. If both passed, the one with the most votes would go into effect. Mayor Pureval did not allow a vote on Keating’s version, however.

Thursday was the last day for council to approve a charter amendment for the November ballot. The ballot language now goes to the Hamilton County Board of Elections for approval.

The election is Nov. 8. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 11, and early voting starts Oct. 12.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.