Vice mayor calls for shorter council terms due to 'tremendous dysfunction'

Vice mayor calls for shorter council terms due to 'tremendous dysfunction'
Cincinnati City Hall (FOX19 NOW/Robert Guaderrama)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - After several week of City Hall drama, the vice mayor is calling for a return to two-year term limits for City Council.

Five years ago, voters lengthened City Council terms to four years to allow the nine members more time to focus on governing as opposed to politics.

"We've seen the opposite of that," Chris Smitherman said. "What we've seen since the last election is tremendous dysfunction."

Last week, he filed an ordinance for two-year terms.

It comes after several tumultuous weeks at City Hall:

  • A bitter dispute erupted between Mayor John Cranley and the now-former city manager, Harry Black. Cranley asked Black to quit on March 9. He refused. Cranley fell short of the majority council vote required to terminate the city manager, so an intense feud ensued with each side leveling accusations. Six weeks later, the mayor got the fifth vote. Seconds before a special Saturday council meeting was to begin to fire Black, he resigned.
  • A lawyer sued to receive text messages exchanged by, according to his suit, "a cabal of five rogue members" of council communicating via a secret text message string. Copies of the texts show they exchanged messages as they strategized their response to the mayor's request that Black quit. The "cabal" consisted of P.G. Sittenfeld, Tamaya Denard, Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach and Greg Landsman.
  • Four of those five council members were absent from the special Saturday session to fire the city manager. Two of them said they had family obligations that prevented them from attending.

Smitherman said he hopes his ordinance goes before the entire council for a vote within two weeks.

"If they fail to do so," he warned, "me and my team plan to collect the 6,600 signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot. We will be out there all throughout the summer collecting signatures and going to festivals. I am confident with what we've seen with the 'Gang of Five,' residents will sign our petition to place this issue on the ballot."

If it passes, it would take effect in 2021.

"Every four years we are always running with the mayor. Going to two-year terms will really put the public focus on council and not under the shadow of a mayorial race."

Sittenfeld said in response that he has been "so focused on 911 issues, among other urgent things happening, that I haven't had a chance to give term length in-depth consideration at this point."

"As Chair of the committee that oversees all charter reforms, I'll look forward to taking this item up in my committee, along with other charter amendments which my colleagues are starting to bring forward."

Young said he agrees there is dysfunction - but he contends it has nothing to do with length of council terms.

"The dysfunction comes from the way the mayor conducted himself with regard to the charter, with regard to Harry Black and with regard to several other high profile incidents," Young said.

"As far as I can tell, council members appear to be getting along quite well among themselves."