CLARIFY COUNCIL'S POWER TO SET POLICY BY ADDRESSING MAOYORAL POCKET VETO.
By Justin Jeffre, Charter Board Member
Somewhere along the way, someone dreamed up a so-called mayoral pocket veto" – an imaginary power the mayor had allegedly acquired under the so-called strong(er) mayor system that was ushered in 2000. Under the current charter, the mayor is required to assign all legislative matters to an appropriate council committee for consideration.
Unfortunately, the charter is silent on the amount of time the mayor can take to make these assignments. If the mayor unnecessarily delays or never assigns legislation to a City Council committee, the mayor would essentially be exercising prior restraint on the council’s legislative initiatives. Killing or inordinately delaying possible legislation by refusing to assign it to a council committee in a timely manner has been dubbed "the pocket veto."
There's been controversy about this imaginary mayoral power ever since, and mayors have increasingly used the threat of it despite the fact that council makes its own rules. The problem is that the mayor is no longer a member of council and is not considered to be bound by those rules, hence the issue council faces in getting any mayor to comply with a set number of days for a referral.
At a recent Cincinnatus forum, Mayor Aftab Pureval said he wouldn't use "the pocket veto," and wouldn't care if it disappeared. He is "apathetic" about it. This raises an important question: Shouldn't this City Council once and for all side with our city's charter and clarify their power to set policy? Remember, this power is explicitly granted in our city's charter.
Whether out of fear of a mayor, indifference, or a misinterpretation of the powers granted under our city's charter, this controversy must be put to rest once and for all. Council members shouldn't have to threaten to sue a mayor to have legislation referred to a committee or to bring forth legislation approved by a committee, something which has actually happened.
In July 2021, council members Chris Seelbach and Betsy Sundermann proposed a charter amendment to deal with the "pocket veto," but it was "indefinitely postponed" by council because it was being covered In Tom Brinkman's ballot initiative. Issue 3 – which included many other changes to the charter – failed in November 2021, and as such, there was never a proper opportunity to address the pocket veto.
We believe a charter amendment should be placed on the ballot to clarify and specify the time frame within which the mayor must assign legislative matters to the appropriate committee of council and a time frame within which the mayor must place an ordinance approved by a committee on the council agenda for passage. This would go a long way to ensure that council can control its legislative agenda and fulfill its important role as the legislative body of the city.
After the dumpster fires Cincinnatians have witnessed from City Hall in recent years, we deserve real reforms from Plum Street. We are calling for City Council members to officially clarify council's power granted under our city's charter. We believe this reform is an easy step towards meaningful reform that shouldn't be controversial. Let's make good government a reality in Cincinnati once again.
-Justin Jeffre lives in Clifton Heights and is a member of the Charter Committee Board and its Issues Committee. He has worked for Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, the Better Bus Coalition and other progressive causes.
This article is from the Cincinnati Enquirer, March 25, 2022