Citizens For A Better Norwood

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Commissioner Portune not shy about blogging...our interview with him

“He’s the longest-serving commissioner. He has received more votes from the electorate than the other two commissioners. But Democrat Todd Portune is almost powerless to shape Hamilton County government because the other commissioners - both Republicans - rarely support his initiatives.”
Those opening sentences above from a 9/4/06 Cincinnati Enquirer article entitled “Portune battles party lines” struck a nerve with us right away. Haven’t we all seen variations of this play out among our own past and current hometown elected over the years? In order to best serve the public‘s interests, shouldn’t the elected minority on commissions and legislative bodies have influence on the issues before them? We decided we wanted to “speak” directly to Commissioner Portune about this and several other points made in the article, so we asked him to blog with us. He agreed and even included supporting documents for which we have provided links.
Part I of the 3-part interview:
SUSAN: Commissioner Portune, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to do this interview with us. In a September 4, 2006 Cincinnati Enquirer article, you talked about the lack of compromise and communication among the three Hamilton County Commissioners: you, the only Democrat, and the two Republicans Pat DeWine and Phil Heimlich. Since elections represent the will of the people, and in this case that means a Republican majority elected to the Commission, why should the public care whether or not the majority keeps you informed and/or considers your ideas? In today's extreme partisan political climate at every level of government, hasn't the electorate come to accept and even expect the minority to be marginalized? Should Democrat David Pepper, whom you've endorsed, join you on the commission by defeating Phil Heimlich in November, what would be the new majority's motivation to change this model?
TODD PORTUNE: I don't think the public has come to believe the minority should be marginalized at all. In fact, I hear just the opposite. But beyond that is the question of how the government is, by law, supposed to function. When you have a majority that is willing to disregard the rule of law, which in the case of Hamilton County Government they are, then you have anarchy which leads to tyranny.
When David Pepper is elected we intend to restore the rule of law to county government. We will abide by the requirements of open meetings and will insist that county administration perform its duty in favor of all three commissioners. We are a better body of government and Hamilton County functions better if all ideas are given an opportunity to be heard and if we look to make decisions by consensus as opposed to by the majority simply dictating and cramming down its decision on the minority. The government should represent the interests of all the people and, if possible, look for ways to make all of the people feel represented. Commissioners Heimlich and DeWine have utterly failed in that regard.

Part II of the interview: Are Heimlich and DeWine ""
SUSAN: Commissioner DeWine made a comparison to you in the article that echoes what Republicans routinely say about Democrats when he stated, "We tend to take a more conservative stance than Todd on taxes and spending." What's your response?

TODD PORTUNE: First of all, they have ignored the fact that I was elected to initiate reform in the county's spending and tax practices by defeating the irresponsible and wasteful Bob Bedinghaus in the stadium fiasco. Both Heimlich and DeWine supported Bedinghaus and supported the stadium mess without reservation. They both originally opposed my efforts to go after the Bengals. I had to do that on my own over their opposition. I had initiated a series of tax and spending reforms on my own that reduced county-sought property taxes by over $50 million and reduced county spending to 1999 levels before Heimlich ever arrived. I then teamed with Heimlich in adopting a pledge to keep county taxes below inflation and in auditing all county departments. It was Heimlich, not me, who voted for double digit rate increases at MSD and Heimlich who supported all sorts of wasteful spending practices of the sewer district, refusing to scrutinize their budget as I had urged doing.

Their stance is not conservative at all. It is irresponsible partisan government attempting to hide behind a conservative label, protected by organizations like COAST that provide cover. I'll give you an example. The recent jail decision resulted in DeWine and Heimlich refusing to modify their plan to provide more tax relief to more people. They refused to look at alternatives that would have shortened the length of any new tax; reduced the total amount of taxes collected; or extended the benefit of tax reductions to more people. A copy of my proposed alternative compared to Heimlich's plan is attached at

On the day of the vote I made a motion to change the property tax rollback [which benefits a minority of county taxpayers] to a reduction in the unvoted portion of the county sales tax [which would benefit over one million county sales tax payers]. Heimlich and DeWine denied that move. Yet despite those facts COAST supported Heimlich's plan and opposed mine. Why? Because they are a partisan operation masquerading as an interest group.

Similarly, they have voted against numerous efforts of mine to beef up county public safety; to enhance the county's emergency warning system; to support local law enforcement agencies throughout the county; and to assist veterans and veterans' families. And they are unabashed supporters of corporate welfare, voting for giveaways to big business and offering unquestioning support for all manner of tax abatements.

They aren't conservatives at all. They pick and choose the issues they want to say they are conservative on and ignore all other aspects of their record. They really are partisans who are willing to advance rhetoric over substance.

Part III of the interview: How the county could save Norwood $300,000

SUSAN: Having just recently started our own blog, we took particular notice of the article's statement that you read and post to local blogs as one means to inform the public about your plans for county government. We'd like for you to outline a few of your plans and tell our readers how they will impact/benefit Norwood residents.

TODD PORTUNE: I have been frustrated as a Commissioner that the majority has failed to outline any policy or agenda at all that moves our county forward. Instead, we seem to lurch from one crisis to another without a strategy, playbook or vision.

We created the County Report Card to lead to a prioritization of our effort. I supported it because I thought we would then target the areas that were showing stagnation or negative trends. But when it came time to adopt a strategic plan for the county the majority might as well have thrown the Report Card out the window. They even opposed my effort to make Quality of Life in our Neighborhoods a priority issue to target.

We have no policy about public safety. No policy about the quality of life in our neighborhoods. No policy about public health, or about transportation or the environment. Instead their policy seems to be to only cut, cut and cut without any regard to impact or need. No successful business is run that way. You cannot waste - we agree on that - but to be successful in business, or in life, or in government, you also have to be willing to make strategic investments. They have forgotten that.

One big area where they continue to ignore an obvious benefit is in the running of the county's communications center. I have tried since my second week of office in January 2001 to get the commissioners to pay for the operation of this critical county function. The county used to do that. But by "running the county like a business" the commissioners began a terrible practice of charging local communities like Norwood the cost of the operations. The practice produced fragmentation in the system and worse yet denied jurisdictions like Norwood of needed public safety dollars. I want the county to pay for the operations of the center. Doing so will result in Norwood having almost $300,000.00 more to pay for more police officers or firefighters, or to enhance their ability to respond. It will improve the day to day issues of fighting crime, preventing fires, and responding to medical emergencies.

Attached at are a couple of my broad plans on how to get the county moving again in the areas of economic development and in the area of improving public health without raising taxes.

SUSAN: Thank you so much for blogging with us today, Commissioner, and we invite you to post here any time you'd like. Is there anything you care to add before we conclude?

TODD PORTUNE: I think we have covered it for now. Thanks for this wonderful opportunity, and I hope we can do this again.