Chip Gerhardt resigned as Cincinnati’s lobbyist just hours before the Hamilton County Board of Elections is set to vote on its future home.
The move came Sunday night after Mayor John Cranley sent a letter to Gerhardt, who’s also a Board of Elections member, asking him to recuse himself from the vote Monday morning. He instead decided to step down from his position as the city's lobbyist (or consultant) in Columbus, Ohio so he could keep his vote.
“This evening I informed Mayor Cranley and Acting City Manager Scott Stiles that I have resigned my position as a consultant for the City of Cincinnati so that I need not recuse myself on this issue facing our community,” Gerhardt wrote in a release.
In the event of a 2-2 tie, which is expected, the city would have expected Gerhardt, a Republican, to lobby Secretary of State Jon Husted to oppose a proposed move to Mount Airy. Husted also is a Republican.
"I am disappointed to make this choice… However, I took an oath to the citizens of Ohio to faithfully discharge my duties as a member of the Board of Elections and I intend to do just that,” Gerhardt wrote.
Given the significance of the upcoming vote, Cranley asked Gerhardt to not take part due to a conflict of interest because as a consultant he was paid by the city and the city opposes the board leaving downtown Cincinnati.
City Council member P.G. Sittenfeld echoed Cranley's sentiments in a series of tweets Sunday afternoon.
“The City CANNOT have its paid lobbyist casting a vote in direct opposition to Council's officially stated position,” he tweeted. He also congratulated Cranley for his “cool-headed leadership” in pointing out the “important conflict of interest.”
Part of the controversy behind the vote stems from the perceived effect it will have on the voting rights and options of some residents.
While the board has been offered the former Mercy Hospital building on Kipling Avenue for free, its current Broadway Street location is considered a "critically important" site of in-person early voting.
Voting rights advocates believe that the much more limited public transportation access to the proposed site will disproportionately hurt those demographics that tend to utilize that manner of voting: women, minorities, seniors and low-income residents.
In 2012, in Hamilton County alone, 24,151 voters cast ballots early in-person, according to data from city officials.
"In our democratic system, when it comes to the ballot box, there are two types of action," Sittenfeld wrote in a release. "Those actions that create more accessibility to voting and those actions that create obstacles to voting. This is an unfortunate example of the latter."
Elected leaders from the city and state -- including Sittenfeld, State Representative Denise Driehaus and State Senator Eric Kearney -- will hold a press conference at 8 a.m. Monday outside the Board of Elections at 824 Broadway in advance of the 8:30 a.m. vote.
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