Although it didn’t specifically mention him by name, the Ohio Ethics Commission today issued a draft advisory opinion warning Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Bortz not to vote on any streetcar-related matters.
In response to a request from City Solicitor John Curp, the commission’s 10-page draft opinion essentially reinforces an earlier, non-binding opinion issued to Bortz personally in June 2009 and only revealed publicly last month.
Both opinions state that Bortz has a conflict of interest under Ohio’s ethics law with the city’s proposed $128 million streetcar project.
The latest opinion states that any elected official who has an ownership stake in a property or could otherwise benefit from a property located directly on the proposed streetcar route should refrain from voting on the project.
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.
Today’s opinion cites previous opinions from 1979, 1989 and 1998, and states, “The commission has determined that the relationship between a public official and his or her family members (such as parents, children, spouse, or siblings) or business associates (such as an employer or partner) is so close that the official’s objectivity and independence of judgment would be impaired if the official were to make decisions or recommendations, or otherwise take action, on any matter that would result in a definite and direct benefit or detriment to these related parties.”
Also, although Curp had argued that the streetcar project was a “large-scale public improvement” that would benefit all city residents, the commission partially disagreed.
“While the streetcar project will undoubtedly affect all citizens in Cincinnati, it cannot be argued that its affect on all citizens is ‘uniform’ in manner,” the opinion states. “The first two phases of the streetcar will serve a small portion of the city. Those individual citizens whose properties are located along or adjacent to the proposed route for the first two phases will be affected by the streetcar project in a way that is particular, definite, and direct, and do not receive a uniform benefit from the city’s action on the streetcar project.”
The opinion then cites a city feasibility study that concluded the total value for commercial and residential properties along the proposed route would increase $379 million over a 30-year period, attributed solely to the streetcar system.
Bortz has indicated he will comply with the decision.
The streetcar project still has five supporters on the nine-member City Council, meaning it likely will proceed unless one of the supporters changes his or her stance.