In this week’s Porkopolis column, I wondered how Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls felt about “being continually used as a human shield” by City Councilman Chris Bortz on an issue of a potential conflict of interest.
Apparently, the answer is, “Not too good.”
While discussing his possible conflict of issue involving voting on matters related to the city’s proposed $128 million streetcar system, Bortz has said — based on what he believes is a faulty standard used by the Ohio Ethics Commission — Qualls also has a conflict.
Bortz works for his father’s firm, Towne Properties, which develops and manages several residential and commercial real estate projects citywide, including apartments and condominiums within a few blocks of the tentative streetcar route. As a result, the Ethics Commission issued an opinion that he should recuse himself from the issue.
Bortz disagrees, stating the standard is too strict. “For example, Roxanne Qualls owns a condo a block from the proposed route,” Bortz told CityBeat. "Does that mean she can’t vote on it, too? She’s a downtown Realtor."
Also, he made a similar remark in a guest column he wrote for The Enquirer.
“For instance, it is well known that Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls owns a condo a block away from the proposed route,” Bortz wrote.
Not true, Qualls replied in an e-mail to CityBeat.
“I am writing to point out that repeating Bortz' assertion I live a block from the streetcar route perpetuates an untruth,” Qualls wrote. “Unless the route has changed without my knowledge, it goes up Main Street. If you look at a map of downtown, I live either four blocks away on Fifth Street or five blocks away on Fourth.”
Because streetcar proponents have said the alleged economic benefit only directly applies to property owners within a three-block radius of the route, that would clear Qualls of a potential conflict under the Ethics Commission’s standard.
Now that local activist Justin Jeffre has filed a formal complaint against Bortz with the Ethics Commission, commission staffers will review the complaint and make a recommendation to commissioners.
If commissioners decide Bortz committed an ethics violation, they could recommend the Hamilton County prosecutor pursue charges. It’s up to the prosecutor’s discretion whether to act.
The Ethics Commission is tentatively scheduled to next meet on May 25, although the date is subject to change.