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Cincinnati Councilman Wendell Young accuses Mayor John Cranley of potential bribery

Says he'll file complaint with U.S. Attorney
Posted at 4:17 PM, Mar 27, 2018

CINCINNATI -- City Councilman Wendell Young is accusing Mayor John Cranley of potential bribery, a claim the mayor's office called "nothing more than another in a long line of silly political stunts."

The two men, both Democrats, have been at odds for years. Young backed Cranley's rival Roxanne Qualls in the 2013 mayor's race, and Yvette Simpson in the 2017 mayor's race.

Young said he plans to go to the U.S. attorney's office Wednesday about filing a complaint against Cranley. According to his written statement, Cranley called him Saturday about a severance package for City Manager Harry Black "he has been shopping around to various members of the city council for their vote." Cranley asked Young what he wanted for his vote, according to Young.

Young said he "told him absolutely nothing and hung up."

After the call, Young said he "felt there was something wrong" with the offer. He called the Ohio Ethics Commission, and an investigator suggested Young go to law enforcement, he said. State law prohibits the ethics commission from confirming or denying "whether or not we have received such an allegation or any alleged subsequent conversation or actions," spokeswoman Susan Willeke said.

Young declined to comment Tuesday afternoon beyond his statement.

Holly Stutz Smith, Cranley's deputy chief of staff, dismissed the allegation.

"Like the other frivolous suit Councilman Young filed against the mayor ... we're confident this one will be dismissed," she said. In 2016, Young filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Cranley for dealing directly with the police union in negotiating pay raises.

Tim Burke, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman, learned about the allegation when WCPO contacted him Tuesday. He declined to comment on Young's claim of potential bribery or the long-running intra-party feud.

It's common practice for a politician to offer up policy or budget changes in exchange for a deal, said Chris Kelley, political science professor at Miami University. He called it "politics 101."

The way Young described his exchange with Cranley doesn't seem improper, Kelley said.

"Politics is built on this," Kelley said. "Anybody who is in politics knows this."

Only if Cranley offered up something for personal gain -- such as a campaign contribution or a city contract for a relative -- is it an issue.

"If he’s doing something you get private gain on, that’s clearly illegal," Kelley said.

Offers to tweak the budget or agree to new policy in exchange for a "yes" vote on Black’s buyout would not cross that threshold, he said.

The city council had been scheduled to vote on a severance package for Black last week, but Cranley pulled the $423,767 deal from the agenda just minutes before the meeting began.

Cranley asked Black to resign from the city manager job more than two weeks ago following a controversy in the police department that led to an assistant chief being ousted. Police Chief Eliot Isaac wrote in a memo that the former assistant chief undermined the Collaborative Agreement refresh process.

Talks between Cranley and Black over a possible resignation apparently broke down. Then the drama escalated. Cranley said Black made other city employees "uncomfortable" by discussing an accidental trip to a topless bar during a taxpayer-funded trip to Denver in 2016.

As of last week, Councilmembers David Mann, Jeff Pastor, Amy Murray and Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman supported a buyout package for Black. Councilmembers Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young and Chris Seelbach were opposed to the deal.