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Council Members propose changes to city charter to address public corruption

Cincinnati City Hall
Posted at 5:41 AM, Nov 16, 2020

CINCINNATI — Two Cincinnati City Council Members held separate press conferences Monday morning to address public corruption and initiatives to restore public trust.

Council Member Betsy Sundermann held a 9 a.m. press conference on the steps of Cincinnati City Hall to make an announcement regarding corruption in city government. Council Member Greg Landsman also held a press conference addressing the topic at 10 a.m.

Both announced desires to submit a charter amendment that would give city council the ability to remove or suspend a member from office if charged with corruption.

"Cincinnati is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the most corrupt cities in the country," said Sundermann.

Landsman, in addition to expressing interest in a charter amendment, wants to create a new ethics commission, a chief ethics and good government officer and reforms to campaign finances and ongoing training for council members.

"These reforms are not about any one issue," said Landsman. "I mean, you are seeing this erosion of public trust across the board at every level of government and I do believe it is incumbent upon all of us to work together and do everything we can to restore that public trust."

The press conferences came less than a week after a federal grand jury indicted Cincinnati City Council Member Jeff Pastor on federal bribery charges.

Pastor is accused of taking $55,000 in bribes in exchange for votes on two development projects in 2018 and 2019. He is charged with honest services wire fraud, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, bribery, attempted extortion by a government official and money laundering.

Pastor’s attorney, Ben Dusing, said on Friday that Pastor is not sure whether he’ll resign.

Landsman proposed the following:

1. Cincinnati Ethics Commission

Landsman will ask the administration, through legislation, to work with the Ohio Ethics Commission to establish a similar, local commission to ensure local oversight and transparency. The Cincinnati Ethics Commission will be supported by a Chief Ethics and Good Government officer to investigate complaints.

2. Chief Ethics and Good Government Officer

The administration should hire a Chief Ethic and Good Government Officer. The positions would report to the City Manager and would lead local reforms. Landsman said he would ask Cincinnati City Council Members to set aside the funding for this.

3. Local Campaign Finance Reform

The new commission should pursue additional disclosure requirements of campaign contributions from individuals and entities that have or had business with the city. This would include reporting contributions from a person or entity that had or has business before the city within 48-hours of receiving the contribution. This should be reported within 48-hours and on a public website. The commission should have the ability to penalize individuals that fail to do so.

4. Additional and Ongoing Training

Local training for public officials and relevant city staff on the appropriate use of public funds, publicly funded equipment, campaign finance rules and public records and open meeting requirements. Initial training should be completed within the first 60 days of taking office and/or the beginning of employment status with the city with annual training to follow.

5. Possible Charter Amendment

Landsman and Sundermann both highlighted a possible need to pursue a charter amendment to update local campaign finance rules and to provide the most appropriate mechanisms for penalizing and possibly removing individuals from office. Sundermann said she plans to ask all members of council to co-sponsor her amendment; Landsman said he is hopeful council members can work together to submit one comprehensive amendment.

Mayor John Cranley and Council Member David Mann both agreed that council needed boundaries set and possible changes to the city government should be made.

"Council Members should be involved in legislation, but not in deal making," said Cranley. "And to negotiate the elements of a deal is an executive, administrative function."

Mann said he's working on legislation that would put a stop to council members talking to developers before a proposal is formally presented.

Pastor’s arrest is the second time this year a sitting Cincinnati City Council Member has been arrested on federal charges. Federal agents arrested former Cincinnati City Council Member Tamaya Dennard in February; she pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud in June.