Monday, May 25, 2009

Milton Dohoney: Too Far Ahead of Us?

Last week, City Manager Milton Dohoney announced that he was appointing a non-resident of Cincinnati to a vacant spot on the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, or CMHA. The choice raised a few eyebrows, since the vast majority of public housing in this county is located within the city limits.

But the pick is more surprising given the way the Board is constituted. Of the five managers, the City Manager picks only two. The HamCo Board of Commissioners, the HamCo Common Pleas Court, and the HamCo Probate Court each pick one other member. The selection process itself, then, would seem to guarantee a city/suburb equity of sorts in board membership. Looking at the break-down of who gets to appoint board members, one would think that whoever came up with the system assumed that the city manager would choose city residents. (In contrast, if the city manager picked all five board members, one would hope he would include at least one or two non-city residents in his choices.)

Dohoney's pick is, perhaps, part of a broader policy agenda. Since being named Cincinnati's city manager, Dohoney has made it clear that he favors regionalism. This latest nomination supports that goal; Dohoney believes good government happens when communities work together across municipal lines and leave old-fashioned turf wars behind. Perhaps the best example of this view is his commitment to the creation of a regional water authority. He'd seen such a system work in Louisville, and now wishes to bring it to Cincinnati.

I'm not sure, though, that Dohoney has made his case for regionalism to the rest of us. Particularly with respect to transfer of Cincinnati Water Works to a regional authority, both City Council and Cincinnatians in general are skeptical. The Water Works is probably the most reliable part of City government and operations. We're never sure when our streets will be plowed when it snows, but we know we'll have pleasant-tasting water at good rates.

Dohoney hasn't yet done the work needed to sell the public on the benefits of regionalism. (I'm certainly not sold, but what do I know?) I suspect this is in part due to our form of government. We've put major policy decisions in the hands of an unelected city manager. Dohoney doesn't campaign and doesn't worry about gaining broad-based community support; instead, to keep his job, he needs only to keep the mayor and the nine members of Council happy. Mayor Mallory has not made the creation of a water authority part of his election campaign, leaving him room to distance himself from Dohoney's work on the issue. He also can't be held responsible for the latest CMHA pick. As always, our "stronger mayor" form of government permits our elected leaders to use the city manager as a trial balloon and scapegoat.

Maybe regionalism really is the right way to go. Maybe it will bring us better, more cost-efficient government. But the City Manager hasn't been busy enough selling City residents on this premise. And until he does, he's going to continue to run into brick walls (and petition drives).

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