I-Team investigation uncovers more than $7 million in unreported city settlement payouts

Posted at 12:36 AM, Apr 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-15 15:02:38-04

CINCINNATI – The WCPO I-Team has uncovered more than $7 million in legal settlements paid out by the city of Cincinnati that were never reported to city council or to you.

The I-Team obtained city records of more than 900 payouts from the general fund since 2010.  WCPO made a public records request after the $250,000 settlement to former Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell became public last January.

Settlements ranged from $100 or less to more than a half-million dollars. Some of those involved highly-publicized people or incidents. Here's a sample:

  • The largest settlement - $505,000 – went to the family of a homeless woman run over and killed by a police cruiser in Washington Park in 2010. Joann Burton was lying under blankets in the grass when Officer Marty Polk drove through the park and hit her. Polk was not charged.
  • An African-American firefighter got $350,000 from the city after winning a discrimination lawsuit in federal court in 2013.  Mark Broach, who had been with CFD for more than 25 years, claimed two white captains falsely accused him of neglecting his duty. He said they did it in retaliation because he refused to help force another black firefighter out of the department.
  • A retired assistant police chief, Cindy Combs, received $20,000 after accusing the city of sex, age and retaliation discrimination. She threatened to sue after she and the other two top female commanders were unceremoniously transferred by former chief Tom Streicher in 2010. Kim Frey, who lost her post as District 3 captain, settled for $4,500.
  • The city settled a lawsuit against council member Chris Seelbach for $3,600. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) sued Seelbach claiming he illegally used public funds to travel to the White House to accept the Harvey Milk "Champion of Change" Award from President Barack Obama in 2013. The $3,600 went to court costs.
  • Christopher Smitherman, who was local NAACP president and not a city council member in 2008, sued the city to prevent council from interfering with the city manager's appointments to the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority. He won a settlement for legal fees of $136,500.

There were dozens of settlements against the police department -- including one for $210,000, one for $130,000 and another for $100,000.

More large settlements went to current and former city employees who accused the city of workplace discrimination or retaliation.

The city solicitor's office wasn't required to notify city council of any settlement payments until January of this year. In response to outrage from some council members about the Blackwell settlement, City Manager Harry Black made a new rule that the city solicitor's office must notify council of any settlement over $5,000.

In a memo to council last week, City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said, in part:  “Our general approach to settlements is to resolve claims and lawsuits fairly, consistently with the law, and at the least economic cost to the taxpayer."

RELATED: Vice Mayor David Mann says city settlement payments are not excessive