CINCINNATI — Mayor John Cranley says City Councilmember Tamaya Dennard should resign immediately if federal corruption accusations leading to her arrest are true or if she can not refute them.
Dennard will give the city an answer by the end of next week, her newly-hired defense attorneys said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters told WCPO 9 News that he has contacted the Ohio Attorney General's office to explore whether Dennard can be suspended from office. City officials said they also are studying their options since the city charter doesn't specify how a councilmember can be suspended, meaning it could fall under state law.
With Dennard absent, Cranley opened Wednesday’s council meeting by saying he had “a heavy heart” but he needed “to address the elephant in the room.”
Cranley declared that he had never seen such “disturbing” allegations of corruption in City Hall and that maintaining the public’s trust “is paramount.”
"That’s the only way we as a city can do business,” Cranley said.
While most councilmembers and city leaders had been silent in the 24 hours since Dennard's arrest, David Mann called for her ouster Wednesday. Mann, who has spent 24 years on City Council, told Paula Christian of WCPO 9 News that he has never seen a council member faces charges as serious as Dennard's.
"We've never had this kind of conduct by a public official," said Mann. "In my experience City Hall is an ethical place."
Ohio code lays out a complex process for the suspension of a public official, with direction coming from the state Attorney General or the prosecuting attorney. In this case, in federal court, that could be the U.S. Attorney's Office or Deters.
Mann said he believes Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost or Deters should begin the process to suspend Dennard, and he might ask them himself to do it.
"In the meantime, if she chooses to resign, that's fine too," Mann said.
Councilmember P.G. Sittenfield, who was close to Dennard, spoke in an anguished tone about his former protege and colleague.
"This has been a sad, rough couple of days for our city," Sittenfeld told Mariel Carbone of WCPO 9 News. "At a personal level, I’ve been devastated and shocked by news about someone who has been both a friend and a colleague, and I am praying for her."
Asked directly if Dennard should resign, Sittenfeld said: "My answer is, I think everyone is entitled to due process. I respect that process here."
Dennard started in politics as a volunteer for Sittenfeld's 2011 campaign, then worked for him at City Hall. Sittenfeld hired Dennard as his political director for his 2015 U.S. Senate campaign and groomed her for council. When Dennard was elected in 2017, she designated Sittenfeld to name her successor in the event she would leave office.
In a statement, Dennard's defense attorneys, Martin Pinales and Eric Eckes, said:
"Ms. Dennard looks forward to addressing the serious allegations made against her. She understands there are some immediate questions about her continued service on City Council. She recognizes that her constituents deserve to know whether she will continue to serve in the seat to which she was elected while she works to clear her name. To that end, Ms. Dennard will make a decision about her future by the end of next week."
Dennard was arrested Tuesday in the Downtown Starbucks on a federal complaint accusing her of honest services wire fraud, bribery and attempted extortion. Dennard attempted to solicit more than $16,000 in exchange for votes between August and December of 2019, according to the complaint. After appearing in court, Dennard was released on her own recognizance.
SEE the timeline in the Dennard case:
While other city councilmembers were less than straightforward, the head of Dennard’s party said Dennard should resign if the allegations are true.
In a statement, Gwen McFarlin, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair, said:
"Yesterday, I was saddened to learn of Cincinnati City Councilmember Tamaya Dennard’s arrest. The allegations raised against Ms. Dennard are significant and serious. Councilmember Dennard deserves the due process afforded to all our citizens and should be able to respond to these serious charges brought against her. If the allegations are true, Ms. Dennard should step down from elected office to restore the public's faith in City Council as it tackles the important issues facing our city.”
Councilmember Chris Seelbach did not comment but referred reporters to McFarlin's statement.
Councilmember Greg Landsman called the situation “awful and sad" but did not call for Dennard's ouster.
"The only reasonable outcome here is that we have nine members of council that show up every day and are fully capable of doing their job. Every day, completely focused,” Landsman said in a statement.
Dennard, Sittenfeld, Seelbach and Landsman belong to the self-proclaimed "Gang of Five" that pleaded guilty last year to violating Ohio's Sunshine Laws.
Councilmember Jeff Pastor, a Republican, did not refer specifically to Dennard in his statement, saying, in part:
"I want to make it clear that my office is focused on delivering good government to each and every citizen. I took a sacred oath to guard the trust the voters have placed in me ... I will be praying for my city and ask that my fellow Cincinnatians do the same."
READ the full federal affidavit below: