The election of Aftab Pureval as mayor and eight Democrats to nine City Council seats has set the stage for change. The voting results conclusively confirmed Cincinnati's conversion to a "blue" city.
Pureval is already exerting himself even though he hasn't assumed the mayor's office yet. The mayor-elect announced Monday that City Manager Paula Boggs Muething is resigning effective Jan. 19, and an interim city manager would be designated.
The winners of the November election shouldn't confuse their victory with a mandate of the electorate, especially considering the disappointing 24% voter turnout, the lowest since the 1970s. Keep in mind Hamilton County registered voters are 8% Republican, 9% Democrat and 83% unaffiliated. Such a low turnout only increases the responsibilities of due diligence, attentiveness and oversight from the citizenry and the news media no matter which party is in power – Charter, Democratic or Republican. And Pureval's early moves seem to confirm this need.
In a sense, one-party rule does symbolize solidarity and support. However, one-party rule is not exempt from potentially reckless actions. For some perspective, see the days of Boss Cox in our town. We must be vigilant about the potential dangers of a lopsided political structure, or to borrow a phrase often used in council chambers, "If the past is a predictor of the future..."
You might be saying, "Wait a minute. Those elected haven't even assumed power yet or developed a track record. What are you talking about?" Let's call it "political physics." We now have a supermajority on City Council. The minority party – Republican – has a single vote on council that cannot offset the actions of the majority - Democrats. Therein lies the danger and the potential to ignore the needs of the entirety of the citizenry. This one-party dominance could already be manifesting itself.
The election of "The Slate," as the Democratic Party referred to its ticket of council candidates, is comprised of a large number of political novices who have not held office before. Add to that the exit of longtime council members with tons of institutional knowledge and you now have a governing body that is under construction and will be for some time to come. And they will be working with a new mayor and city manager - all freshly fallen snow so to speak.
What can be done as we face this new paradigm? We may want to monitor the activity of our elected officials. It’s easier than you think. City Council's weekly and committee meeting agendas are posted the Friday before. The meetings are broadcast live and saved as videos on the city website for future reference. You will literally see how political policy sausage is being made. What you witness may surprise you, and seeing the process unfold might drive you to more direct participation.
The news media - broadcast and print - has a role to play too. It is their job to make the comfortable uncomfortable and keep those in power under scrutiny.
With the digitizing of information and the aggregating of news via the internet the role of the news media has been redefined and is evolving. Changing economic realities mean that local print media is not staffed at the levels they once were. They need to focus on the broad impact of everyday activities of these entities and how it translates to an emerging policy direction. They need to pay attention to not just the activities of elected officials, but also those of administrative officials and the lobbyists who interact with both. Dig for the proverbial "meeting before the meeting" where policy and legislation is actually put together. It happens.
The broadcast media, both TV and radio, need to realize that many of the stories they cover, and those they don’t, are the ones that impact the citizens on a daily basis. More time for news, less time for weather updates. The weather doesn’t change that much in 30 minutes, but the potential for missed coverage at City Hall exists that can impact for a generation.
The city finds itself in a pandemic world with an evolving payroll tax base and on the cusp of facing the greatest financial crisis since its founding. The largest portion of the city’s revenue comes from the payroll tax. Many people are now working from home which may not be in the city limits and taxes are not being collected to the degree they once were.
The federal government with its pandemic relief programs has given the city a financial lifeline of $292 million with a two-year time frame to spend it evenly divided. We are over six months into the program. Once that money has run its course, if there are no new federal rescue programs, and tax revenues have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, we could be facing the greatest financial crisis since pioneers arrived at the riverfront landing.
Link all of this together with a new mayor, a new and mostly inexperienced council, potentially new city manager with an interim designee, and new leadership at the uniformed services as well as other city departments and you have a checklist that one and all should be watching.
It’s up to us. If the citizens and media don't do it, then who will?
Steve Deiters lives in Oakley.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: Watchful eye needed at City Hall during transition