Christopher Smitherman says brother backed out of streetcar contract, so no conflict on voting

Councilman's brother given $22,000 contract by MPD

CINCINNATI -- City Councilman Christopher Smitherman responded Tuesday to allegations he could have a conflict of interest that would keep him from voting to suspend or cancel the streetcar project.

Smitherman's brother, Albert C. Smitherman, is the president and chief executive officer of Jostin Construction, which temporarily was a subcontractor on the project.

Some streetcar supporters speculated Smitherman’s vote would affect his brother’s company -- but Smitherman denied those allegations to WCPO before Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Jostin Construction accepted a $22,000 contract in November from Messer Prus Delta (MPD), the partnership constructing the streetcar system, Smitherman said.

Smitherman said he was informed about the contract by City Solicitor John Curp. After Smitherman talked to his brother about the contract and the potential conflict of interest it posed, Albert Smitherman backed out of the deal, Smitherman said.

"My brother doesn't have a contract on the streetcar," Smitherman said. "This is gamesmanship by those who support the streetcar."

Some streetcar supporters alleged Smitherman was lying, pointing to a 2009 article in which the councilman said his brother was interested in bidding on the project. But Smitherman said his brother never did any work on the project back then because many of the contracts were targeted to companies that had unionized workers.

Albert Smitherman only was contacted by MPD about a possible streetcar contract after the Nov. 5 election -- a fact that causes the councilman to question the timing.

Smitherman said his attorney has talked with the city solicitor and the Ohio Ethics Commission, and he is comfortable with voting on streetcar-related items in the future. City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on suspending the $133 million project pending an audit.

Based on council members' public comments in recent meetings, Smitherman will provide the deciding vote to pause the project, which likely will pass in a 5-4 vote.

Smitherman’s brother was one of several issues that came up Tuesday during the latest council debate about the streetcar.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick said the city has politely told streetcar workers to start slowing things down, but nothing will be official until a final vote takes place Wednesday.

The vote would pause the project for 30 days while an independent audit is conducted.

WCPO's Kevin Osborne contributed to this report

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