CINCINNATI — Voters in Cincinnati’s May 4 primary will take up two anti-corruption charter amendments after a year of scandal at City Hall.
Three members of City Council — Tamaya Dennard, P.G. Sittenfeld and Jeff Pastor — were arrested by the FBI in 2020 and charged with soliciting bribes in exchange for favorable stances toward certain local developers. A fourth, Wendell Young, was indicted April 15 on tampering-with-evidence charges connected to a years-old texting scandal.
Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman and Councilmember Betsy Sundermann have each condemned their peers’ behavior and proposed a solution.
Issue 1 on your primary ballot is Smitherman’s. Issue 2 is Sundermann’s.
They’re not incompatible, Smitherman said. He’d like to see both of them passed.
Smitherman’s proposed charter amendment would prevent an indicted council member from changing their "successor designee form," the official paperwork that names their preferred replacement, after their indictment.
It also enables the city solicitor — the lawyer who represents Cincinnati’s government in most cases — to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the case.
“What it does is, it tightens up the charter around what we thought is impossible that is now possible,” Smitherman said. “Right now, we’re asking our legal team to make a decision about their nine bosses, and that just doesn’t seem reasonable.”
Sundermann, who has been among the most outspoken local voices expressing frustration with City Hall’s tarnished image, believes her amendment is “much-needed this year,” she said.
It gives City Council the ability to suspend a fellow council member if they are indicted. Council has nine seats; if the issue passes, a seven-person vote would be able suspend a member who had been formally charged with a crime.
"If Issue 2 had been passed a year ago, we would've been able to suspend Mr. Pastor, Mr. Sittenfeld and Mr. Young, who is under indictment right now and still sitting here voting with us,” Sundermann said. “That's a huge problem.”
Right now, an indicted council member can only be suspended through a lengthy court process, which must be requested by the Ohio Attorney General or the public.
Either way can take months, Sundermann said.
Issue 2 also requires council members to undergo ethics training and, like Issue 1, prevents an indicted member from changing their designated successor after their arrest.
"One and two deal with corruption and trying to codify and support our charter, and I'm urging a yes vote on both,” Smitherman said.
Click here to read the ballot language yourself and see what else is on the table for the May 4 primary.