Vice Mayor David Mann tells I-Team city settlement payments are not excessive

$7 million paid in last six years, I-Team reveals
Posted at 6:16 PM, Apr 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-14 09:10:36-04

CINCINNATI - Vice Mayor David Mann says he regrets that he and the rest of city council didn't know the city paid off its fired police chief until four months later.

"We didn't ask for it before, and shame on us," Mann told the I-Team Thursday.

The Jeffrey Blackwell payout was a wake-up call for him, Mann said. It also prompted the WCPO I-team to question other city payouts for lawsuits and claims ranging from pothole damage to discrimination to wrongful death.

As a result, the I-Team discovered that the city used more than $7 million of your tax dollars for settlement payouts since 2010 - without reporting to city council or to the public.

Mann said those payments should not have gone under the radar.

"I want to know. It's part of my due diligence oversight responsibility," he said. "I want to know exactly what [the city is] doing in this area."

Blackwell's $250,000 payout caught Mann off-guard, he said.

“I was surprised at the dollar amount,”  Mann said.

“I was disappointed that there were so many months between the time the settlement was consummated and the time we were told about it."  

The settlement was signed in August 2016 but not announced until December.

When it finally became public, the I-Team put in a public records request for other settlements council didn't know about.

The city gave the I-Team a list of nearly 1,000 payments made since 2010.

They total about $7 million.

RELATED: See details about the biggest payout and others involving police, firefighters and even council members. 

Mann said he doesn't think $7 million is excessive considering the size of our city. He considers that the cost of doing business.

“The city is a major enterprise. We have 5,000 plus employees. We do a lot of different things. Inevitably as we do those things, people are going to believe that they have grounds for lawsuits,"  he said.

The city budgets every year for litigation, Mann noted.

”Embedded within the city solicitor's budget is a dollar amount for litigation costs, settlements. I think the range in recent years has been about $900,000." 

That's an annual allotment city council approves to cover suits that start at under $100 for car damage.

Other payments upward of $100,000 have gone to cover discrimination cases filed by firefighters, police officers and other employees.

Remember when a police officer drove his car over a homeless woman in Washington Park in 2010?

The city paid Joann Burton's family $505,000  for her wrongful death. The officer wasn't charged.

The city solicitor's office is responsible for the settlements. Paula Boggs Muething told the I-Team in a statement "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.”

Mann said he agrees with that policy.

"There are enormous risks in not settling. You never know what a jury is going to do," he said.

"We do roll the dice when we think we have good grounds, but it's a judgment matter and unless you're a trial lawyer involved in a case - the ins and outs of it - it's hard to know exactly what the risks are.

"If we didn't do that (settle), and we got a huge judgment against us, we would be rightly criticized for letting that happen," Mann said.

Mann and the other city council members are no longer kept in the dark about settlements. They now receive a monthly report from the solicitor's office for all settlements over $5,000. City Manager Harry Black implemented that change three months ago in the wake of the Blackwell settlement.

The I-Team reached out to council member Chris Seelbach because he has criticized the secret payments. His spokesman said Seelbach is still pushing for the solicitor's office to include all settlements on the monthly report.

Mayor John Cranley's spokeswoman said Cranley had no comment.