Council might add to City Hall reform recommendations

Are developer limits 'myopic in its thinking'?
Cincinnati City Hall
Posted at 6:38 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-17 06:57:37-04

CINCINNATI — A City Hall reform effort barely made it to council Monday before its backers started proposing ways of making it tougher.

New ideas include lengthening the amount of time during which developers are prohibited from making campaign contributions and extending that ban to city contractors who are not developers.

“We have a reputation in the city of corruption and we need to address that,” said Guy Guckenberger, one of nine members of the Economic Development Reform Panel. “Developers and others who contribute to council know that their contribution will be recognized. There may be no discussion of it one way or another. But I think they think they have to pay to play.”

Guckenberger joined the panel’s chair, retired Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Anne Marie Tracey, in presenting the group’s recommendations to council’s budget and finance committee.

The report was a reaction to the indictment last year of three Cincinnati council members on charges of public corruption.

Former Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard is serving an 18-month prison sentence after she pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud.

Suspended Councilman Jeff Pastor faces a jury on May 2, 2022, with his co-defendant Tyran Marshall, who is accused of funneling bribes to Pastor through an LLC. The FBI arrested Pastor last November on charges that he took $55,000 in bribes from two developers during his first term on council.

P.G. Sittenfeld, a Democrat, faces a June 20, 2022 trial date to answer a 20-page indictment alleging he promised to deliver council votes in 2018 to advance a development deal at the former Convention Place Mall in exchange for four $5,000 contributions to his political action fund.

When the reform panel made its report public in July, it advocated a ban on developer contributions between the time a project is submitted to city council and the date council votes on it.

“I would make it from the time a developer files an application with the city administration until after council actually votes on it, which is a much longer period of time,” Guckenberger said.

Republican Interim Councilman Steve Goodin commented in favor of that idea. So did Councilwoman Jan Michele Lemon Kearney, a Democrat. Republican Betsy Sundermann suggested city contractors, including nonprofits, should be covered by the same rule.

“There may be other entities that do business with the city where it would be appropriate to extend it,” Guckenberger said. “Nonprofits would be tickled to death. They wouldn’t have to pony up.”

One potential downside is that companies with multiple projects might find themselves unable to contribute at any point during the year.

“Yeah, this is pretty myopic in its thinking and should be probably thought of in a larger context of what donations mean,” said Greg Otis, senior vice president at Elevar Design Group, an architectural firm in Queensgate. “We might not know in two months, six months or eight months whether or not we’ll have a project in front of council. So, when does the ticker start for us?”

Otis said the reform panel unfairly targets construction and design firms that aren’t donating to council members because of a particular project.

“As a minority company, we are obviously interested in minority-related issues to make sure that immigrants have the opportunity to assimilate and have the same chances that others do,” he said. “Wanting to have candidates of like-mindedness, if you will, is an important issue to be concerned about.”