CINCINNATI — Ohio Auditor Keith Faber will officially investigate the actions of the Gang of Five Cincinnati City Council members during his normal financial audit of the city.
“They knew better, and if they didn’t know better, then they need to be go through their public records training programs,” Faber said in an interview with WCPO on Thursday.
Faber, who is a Republican, also said he will check to see if the five Democratic council members -- Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young -- have undergone public records and open meeting law training, as they are required to at least once during their terms.
“If I were a voter in Cincinnati I would be concerned,” Faber said. “It’s pretty simple -- when government officials hide things or keep things secret, that’s when mischief happens.”
Five Cincinnati City Council members admitted to breaking the law and the city agreed to pay $101,000 to settle a lawsuit in the text messaging scandal. A judge approved the final settlement last week.
The lawsuit was filed last spring by conservative local government watchdog Mark Miller, treasurer of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (known as COAST). Miller contended that the five agreed through text messages on a united position regarding the firing of then City Manager Harry Black without meeting in public.
The 626 pages of text messages revealed gossip, name-calling, rumors of extramarital affairs, high-school level backstabbing and the secret side to how City Hall business really gets done.
The texts also revealed the massive amount of government business that the five council members conducted behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny.
That is what Faber will examine when his office begins the city’s next annual audit on July 1.
The office will look at whether the five council members acted outside the scope of their official roles. If public property has been misspent or misappropriated, the auditor could issue a finding of recovery and order the money to be repaid, he said.
Faber said the open meetings law violations committed by the Gang of Five "were a nine on a scale of one to 10."
Faber used the Cincinnati texting case as an example of why there needs to be a faster, cheaper way to resolve open meetings violations.
“We need a better, cheaper process to solve these disputes,” Faber said. “Transact your business in public, transact it in the sunshine.”
As a state senator, Faber sponsored a bill that created the $25 Court of Claims public-records complaint program. Now he wants to expand that program to handling open meetings violations.
The Ohio News Media Association is working with Faber and Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof on the pending legislation.
Faber visited Cincinnati on the same day his office released its most recent audit of the city’s books. The audit found no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies.
However, former Auditor Dave Yost sent a management letter in December criticizing the city for having weak control over Cincinnati Police Department overtime, noting that one officer collected more than $108,000.
Faber said the city also lacked oversight of overtime policies for firefighters and public services employees.