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Christopher Smitherman's motion calls for Gang of Five to pay city's entire $176K legal bill

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Posted at 2:01 PM, Mar 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-26 17:26:48-04

CINCINNATI – Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman has prepared a motion calling for the “Gang of Five” council members to pay the city’s entire $176,000 legal bill for representing them in a lawsuit - not just $1,000 of it.

A motion by Smitherman, released to the media Tuesday by his Chief of Staff Michelle Edwards, reads:

“WE MOVE that the Councilmembers be responsible for paying their $176,000.00 legal bill and penalties after admitting to violating Ohio Open Meeting Law on March 7, 2019.”

RELATED: 'Gang of Five' admits breaking the law in text messaging scandal

The motion would seem to have no chance of passing, because the Gang of Five forms a 5-4 council majority. But it can be seen as pushback for disparaging comments about Smitherman and his then-dying wife Pamela in Gang of Five email and texts last year.

“The fact that he is using his wife, saying, 'While I’m home taking care of my dying wife….' is disgusting,“ Chris Seelbach texted.

“It really is grotesque," P.J. Sittenfeld texted. "Using that for a political agenda is actually staggering."

“Yup. As I’ve said for six years, both [Mayor John] Cranley and Smitherman seem to have serious mental illness,” Seelbach wrote back.

Pamela Smitherman died of breast cancer in January after a two-year battle with the disease.

Following the settlement last month, Smitherman released what he said was his wife’s recorded message chastising council members for those comments.

“I have no idea why I am being talked about. I question the moral integrity of anyone who wants to take cancer and make a mockery of it,” the recording said.

The comments by Sittenfeld and Seelbach became public when a judge ordered the Gang of Five’s messages released.

Four of the Gang of Five – Sittenfeld, Seelbach Greg Landsman and Tamaya Dennard – said they would pay $200 as their share of the $1,000 fine the city incurred after they admitted conducting public business in private. Wendell Young’s office did not respond after WCPO reached out to him.

Besides the fine, the city is paying $101,000 to plantiff Mark Miller, treasurer of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), plus $75,000 in lawyer fees.

RELATED: State auditor will investigate Gang of Five in city of Cincinnati financial audit

The lawsuit that accused the five Democrats of breaking the Ohio Open Records Act by conducting public business through private texts and emails among themselves.

The Hamilton County Democratic Party responded to Smitherman's motion Tuesday with this statement:

“It’s disappointing that Mr. Smitherman launched another political stunt to bolster his 2021 mayoral campaign rather than focus on the work of the people.

"Let’s remember that the recipient of these funds is Mr. Smitherman’s friend and COAST attorney, Chris Finney.

"Rather than acting divisively, we encourage Mr. Smitherman to work with his fellow Councilmembers to move our city forward.”