Three activists associated with The Cincinnati Beacon blog have lodged a formal complaint with the city's attorneys today, alleging some City Council members “behaved secretly and in contradiction of the charter” during a recent budget dispute.
Also, other critics are researching whether the council members' action violated state law.
Bloggers Jason Haap, Justin Jeffre and Michael Patton each submitted letters to the City Solicitor's Office, asking that it examine whether the council members acted improperly when they contacted Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. about a proposal involving police patrols.
The members met with The Enquirer's editorial board Dec. 15 to unveil a budget-cutting plan that includes contracting patrol duties conducted by the Cincinnati Police Department to the Sheriff's Office. The council faction hadn't discussed the concept previously with Mayor Mark Mallory or City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., and it hadn't broached it publicly in any committee meetings. It did, however, approach Leis about the idea.
Leis told City Council that he could hire the patrol bureau's 790 employees for $75 million, or $10 million less than what the city currently pays. Those patrol officers, however, belong to the police union and a labor complaint has been threatened.
Mallory opposes the proposal, describing it as “a brazen and shameless attempt at union-busting.” The mayor noted it came just a few days after the council faction sought $9.2 million in concessions from the police union.
Members involved were Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Jeff Berding, Chris Bortz and Wendell Young. Ironically, Qualls and Bortz were endorsed by the Charter Committee — Cincinnati's de facto third political party — which emphasizes the need to follow the rules spelled out in the charter.
Haap and his fellow bloggers allege the overture to Leis violates Article III, Section 2 of Cincinnati's charter, which specifies the mayor's role. It states, "The mayor shall be recognized as the official head and representative of the city for all purposes, except as provided otherwise in this charter.”
"This complaint has nothing to do with the idea itself," said Jeffre, in a prepared statement. "We think the community should have a deep discussion about ideas for saving police jobs and funding for basic human services. But someone needs to hold politicians accountable to their own rules. The charter is our city’s constitution and it needs to be followed and respected by our public servants.”
Haap added, “In his official response to the city, published on his office's letterhead, Leis says he was contacted by 'representatives' of the city. But the charter says the mayor is the official representative of the city. What is the point of having an official representative if council members are allowed to do whatever they want?"
Also, some City Hall insiders are questioning whether the faction's meeting with The Enquirer's editorial board violated Ohio's open meetings laws.
That's because the four elected officials who attended the private meeting are all members of City Council's government operations committee. Its jurisdiction includes "government efficiency, shared services, facilities, work place safety, operations improvements through technology, and comprehensive charter and election reform" -- which fits what was discussed with editors.
That committee — which is chaired by Berding — only has five members. Thus, four members constitute a majority and should comply with the laws, sources said.
Whether the four might suffer any repercussions from their action remains unclear.
CityBeat will update this item as more information becomes available.