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Cincinnati City Council committee discusses corruption cases, reform today

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Posted at 7:19 AM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 11:50:52-05

CINCINNATI — Council members put several motions on the table at Cincinnati City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee meeting, which comes after three members of Cincinnati City Council were indicted on federal bribery charges last year.

One motion, submitted by Councilman David Mann, would keep city council from being involved in the negotiations of any development deals. All three former city council members — Tamaya Dennard, Jeff Pastor and P.G. Sittenfeld — were indicted on bribery charges that related to developments.

Mann’s second motion, which was passed at city council’s last meeting, calls for the city to create a Commission To Clean Up City Council, a small blue-ribbon panel to study the city’s development process, specifically negotiations with private developers. The panel is expected to be appointed by the end of the month and should have a report completed by May.

A third motion, submitted by Councilman Greg Landsman, proposes forming the Cincinnati Ethics Commission in an effort to improve oversight and transparency.

Additionally, Councilwoman Betsy Sundermann submitted an ordinance which would require council members and the mayor to disclose gifts, loans, or services totaling $75 or more.

Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman sent a press release ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, saying he will ask the city manager and city solicitor to do a forensic audit on all city council votes related to development projects over the last three years.

“I look forward to the outcome of the audit,” Smitherman said. “It will be necessary to communicate those results to the citizens as the first step in restoring their trust and confidence in the workings of the City Council. We will pursue additional steps toward restoring public
confidence after the depth of the corruption has been revealed.”

Cincinnati City Councilman David Mann said reform is imperative in order to restore the public’s trust.

"We got a lot of work to make up for. How can it be that one third of us have been indicted … so we've got to address that. The only way to address that is to institute reforms, make it less likely this will happen again,” Mann said.

Federal agents arrested Dennard in February on bribery charges. Dennard pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud in June and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The second arrest came in November, when FBI agents arrested Pastor on bribery charges.

Federal officials said Pastor took $55,000 in bribes over the course of about a year in exchange for votes related to development projects in the city. Pastor is charged with conspiring to commit honest services wire fraud, honest services wire fraud, bribery, attempted extortion by a government official and money laundering. Pastor is now suspended.

Agents arrested Sittenfeld nine days after they arrested Pastor. Sittenfeld was indicted on charges of honest services wire fraud, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and attempted extortion under color of official right.

Sittenfeld pleaded not guilty and has maintained his innocence. He has since “temporarily” stepped down from city council.

The motions presented on Tuesday are proposals and have not yet been voted on. Cincinnati City Council will likely vote on the motions next month.