CINCINNATI — Councilmember David Mann said he didn’t take the decision to end a public budget hearing Thursday evening lightly, but it was a necessary move.
“We weren’t listening for a rally from one point of view," Mann said. “We were trying to listen to each other respectively. That fell apart. I tried to bring it back. That fell apart. And I didn’t see a point of continuing the hearing. The essence of it had been destroyed.”
Mann was talking about the moment on Thursday evening when the crowd started booing and rallying against a citizen who spoke in favor of funding the police. As the dissent continued, Mann hit the gavel and abruptly adjourned the public hearing, which was being held at the Duke Energy Convention Center.
The ending of the meeting sparked even more anger. Impassioned speakers, some shouting through megaphones, continued making comments after the meeting adjourned.
About 100 people took to the streets immediately after, demanding to "occupy Elm Street" and painting graffiti about Mann and the way the hearing ended. Protests died down at about 11:30 p.m. Thursday.
Councilmember Jeff Pastor, who was also participating in the hearing and stayed on to hear more speakers, said he didn’t agree with the way the meeting ended.
“I understand frustration with the meeting ending so abruptly.” Pastor said. “But, you have a majority of folks on council and on budget who were there to listen.”
Thursday’s hearing was part of a handful of planned public forums about the 2021 city budget, which includes a $74 million shortfall in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, plus a proposed $1 million increase for the Cincinnati Police Department.
Pastor also said it’s important for the hearings to continue.
“I think appropriately we should have another meeting on Monday so people can get out their anger or frustration,” Pastor said. “We shouldn’t be afraid of people. And yes, it’s concerning, of course, you don’t want to deface property.”
However, Mann said the city isn’t required to hold a particular number of meetings on the budget and that ultimately, the issue of defunding the police likely won’t get addressed in this year’s budget process.
“It may be that some of the changes come later as we find programs that we want to embrace and support and we find revenues to support them,” said Mann. “ To think we can wind this all up in a thoughtful way by June 30 isn’t realistic.”
The Budget and Finance Committee is scheduled to meet on Monday. Although no hearings are scheduled, it is a public meeting and speakers are allowed to attend.
If council approves the city manager's recommended budget, they can still make changes before its final passage.
Pastor said he’s gotten over 2,000 emails over the last few weeks, and he encourages people to keep communicating with his office and to attend Monday’s meeting. He said he supports productive discussions about the budget moving forward.
“But when you speak, you have to speak with facts, and you have to know the process,” Pastor said. “So coming down here just to scream and yell without knowing the facts and process, again, is not productive.”