Category Archives: City of Cincinnati engagement

Evaluating the priority-budgeting process

As most of you know, the City of Cincinnati conducted a priority-based budgeting process this year.  From CCR’s perspective, here is what worked and what could be improved.

What Worked

  • Promotion.  Emails were flying around town promoting the process, the media played a part, and City Council stood behind the work.  Nice job creating buzz for such a tough subject.
  • Hosting.  The city held many engagement events across the city hosted by various civic networks.  Great job getting to the people and offering many opportunities to show up.
  • Feedback.  The dialog sessions were wide-open to about any feedback you could think of, and the city provided web-based mechanisms to hear from those who couldn’t attend a live session.  People felt heard.
  • Scope.  The process rightly focused on the big-picture–what we value as citizens–rather than micro-managing the city administration.
  • Relevance.  After ranking citizen priorities, every city department prioritized their work based on the values identified by citizens.  The process asked administration leaders to look at their programs in a different way, always a good thing.  Moreover, these rankings will find their way to City Council during budget-setting.

What Didn’t Work

  • Citizen responsibility.  The hard work–prioritizing programs–was done by city leaders.  Citizens got a free pass to voice their opinions without having to make any hard decisions.  These days (and for the foreseeable future), budgeting is about deciding what you can do without, or increasing taxes to pay for it.  For example, we can’t have the police and fire services we expect and great roads, neighborhood business districts, health centers, parks, recreation, etc.  Forcing citizens to make clear, difficult choices is the only way to create a “structurally balanced budget” and the city we envision in Plan Cincinnati.
  • Reliance on Council.  Though citizens voiced their opinion and the administration supplied their analysis, City Council has yet to show their ability to face difficult facts in a reasoned way.  This particular council is not particularly at fault, however:  elected officials generally set budgets to get re-elected rather than do the right thing.  This  makes their public  debate mere posturing, forcing the back-room deals that devalue citizen input.   The public deserves to see City Council fairly debate the merits of the budget.
  • Public debate.  This process provided for no public debate or any mechanism for citizens to participate in a meaningful way when the budget is actually set.  Public hearings are almost useless–two minutes of testimony only leads citizens to shout louder and take more extreme positions.  Until citizens deliberate real choices presented to them by Council in November or December, all of this will be for naught.

Form-based codes–a picture of the future

Citizens should attend some part of Roxanne Quall’s form-based code charrette process April 28-May 2 (click here for more details).  This charrette will help transform our city building codes from highly technical quagmires into ideal pictures of what we want the city and our neighborhoods to look like.  The old codes were difficult to navigate and often lead to development out of character with the surrounding neighborhood.  Form-based codes will make development easier, as the code will help new development look like the surrounding neighborhood (the “form” around the development).
At this charrette, citizens will get to paint the picture (the form) that we want see across the entire city.  Roxanne is heavily promoting this process, and many civic leaders will likely attend.  The only question is whether enough “regular” people will come so that the “form” we paint truly reflects the broader community.  This concern might be addressed as the process moves forward, and each neighborhood gets to paint its own picture for what they want their neighborhood to look like–and what the form-based building code would help developers create.  Hopefully this process will help engage residents in community building work who aren’t usually interested in solving problems like poverty, crime, etc.–it all depends on how the city frames the conversation and markets it to average citizens.
Of course, a new building code doesn’t actually create new development–it just makes that development easier and more in character with the current neighborhood.  One of the real opportunities, then, is marketing the completed form-based codes as lifestyle opportunities.  If people know how a given neighborhood wants to evolve, they might be interested in living there to help make it happen.  Again, this will require a level of commitment to grass-roots marketing and engagement that the city doesn’t usually take on (something that has limited the impact of the comprehensive planning process).
But regardless of future possibilities, everything starts with these city-wide charrettes.  Roxanne is on the right track and form-based codes will be a huge help to improving our neighborhoods.  So please participate in any way if you can.

Citizens define community policing strategies

The CCR annual meeting was designed to inform Cheif Craig’s community policing efforts by having small groups of citizens and police officer answer the following question:  How can citizens partner with CPD to co-create public safety?  Here is what 65 people and eight officers came up with…

  • Police should use:
    • Smaller neighborhood units (block-level rather than just district-level);
    • Informal networks (not just community councils and presidents of civic organizations);
    • Fun and social interactions (not just formal strategy sessions);
    • Increased walking patrols
    • Continuity with neighborhood officers, including the mentoring of younger officers in community relationship building.
  • Citizens need to:
    • Mobilize themselves in smaller units through informal networks and social interaction;
    • Better know their neighbors;
    • Take care of their own “door-step”;
    • Reach out to the police to:
      • Mentor new officers and teach them the neighborhood;
      • Learn about policing practices;
      • Engage different people in different ways (especially young people, renters).

This information was forwarded to Chief Craig and his community policing team.  CCR will continue to work with CPD to maximize the effectiveness of community policing, which can only be achieved if citizens have a voice in defining its structure and implementation.    If you are interested in helping with CCR’s effort to bring deeper citizen engagement to CPD, please email CCR’s director Jeffrey Stec at


CCR helps build relationship between cab drivers, police

CCR has been working with Cincinnati police on community engagement efforts.  In addition to advising Chief Craig (along with other civic leaders) on the formation of a Citizens-Police Advisory Board, CCR facilitated a forum for cab drivers to discuss their concerns and build a more productive relationship with the Cincinnati police.


For example, the ordinance change that allows people to hail and exit cabs outside of cab stands has created tension between police and cab drivers over the interpretation of the “without blocking traffic” requirement.  CCR’s facilitation created a positive atmosphere even while cab drivers aired their frustrations.  In the end, cab drivers felt heard, police began building a new relationship with cab drivers, and the big issues were identified for further discussion.  CCR will continue to work with police on issues that can benefit from increased public participation.