January 30th, 2009 By | News | Posted In: City Council, Community

IIN Is Down, but Not Out

Cincinnati City Council’s Finance Committee recently decided not to extend the contract of a controversial organization for a full year amid allegations questioning how that group distributes taxpayer dollars to neighborhood groups.

The Finance Committee initially voted 5-2 last week to reject an extension for Invest In Neighborhoods Inc. (IIN). After the tally was taken, City Councilman Cecil Thomas — who had abstained earlier — changed his vote, making the decision 5-3.

Members voting against the extension were Thomas, Jeff Berding, Chris Bortz, David Crowley, Leslie Ghiz and Greg Harris. Those who wanted to extend the contract were Laketa Cole and Roxanne Qualls. (Chris Monzel isn’t a committee member.)

Although IIN’s contract currently expires in March, a move is afoot behind the scenes to extend it as part of a compromise.

City Hall sources say Mayor Mark Mallory will introduce a proposal at the Feb. 4 council meeting that would extend the contract for another six months, through September. Meanwhile, a new process would be created to select a contractor to administer the funds in 2010.

Mallory was slated to introduce the proposal at this week’s meeting, but it was cancelled due to the snowstorm.

IIN is circulating a survey among community council members in an attempt to bolster its support.

Last week’s issue of CityBeat featured an article about allegations involving IIN, the non-profit organization that’s administered and distributed money from City Hall to community councils for years. Allegations include that IIN’s close-knit executive committee is overly secretive about its procedures, covers up financial problems, doesn’t follow its own code of ethics and engages in insider dealing by awarding contracts to friends.

The allegations surfaced after a dispute last year over hiring a new IIN director. After the flap, seven people on IIN’s 17-member Board of Trustees who defied the executive committee were ousted. Another three board members quit in protest, meaning nearly 60 percent of the trustees were replaced.

Trustees who were ousted are Susan Doucleff (Mount Washington), Jenny Edwards and David Petersen (West End), Kathy Garrison (Madisonville), Betty Kamuf (Sayler Park), Maureen Mello (Paddock Hills), and Michele Murphy (Clifton).

In this week’s CityBeat, North Avondale resident Marvin Kraus — an executive committee member who also serves as IIN’s attorney — wrote a letter to the editor disputing some of their allegations.

IIN’s critics responded that the letter omitted key details about the dispute and didn’t address some allegations.

Among them, the letter states that community councils are not a creation of municipal government, like a city councilman claimed in the article. Although that’s technically true, critics replied, the community councils must be certified by the city to receive any neighborhood support funds.

Also, critics added that the executive committee led a smear campaign against the person originally selected as director and accessed private information to investigate the person’s background without her written permission and without the board's knowledge and approval. The action may violate federal privacy laws, and certainly violated IIN rules, they said.

Executive committee members countered that they had verbal permission to do so.

01.31.2009 at 05:32 Reply
The "ousted 7 " sent this letter to Dohoney last July. I think it covers a number of the issues with IIN: July 11, 2008 Milton R. Dohoney, Jr., City Manager 801 Plum Street, Room 152 Cincinnati, OH 45202 Dear Mr. Dohoney: We are writing to you regarding recent events involving Invest in Neighborhoods, Inc. ("Invest"), with whom the City of Cincinnati has a Professional Service Contract. Because of these events, the contract with Invest is no longer in the best interest of the City under Municipal Code Chapter 321, Sec. 321-1-B. %uF0A7 On June 2, 2008 Invest held its regular Board of Trustees meeting. All seventeen trustees attended. The final agenda item was to interview two candidates for the position of Executive Director of Invest: Interim Executive Director Rick Dieringer and one outside candidate, a well-qualified African-American woman. %uF0A7 During their interviews both candidates verbally agreed to background checks but neither gave written permission. %uF0A7 There was no request made for a unanimous or super majority vote. The Board voted 9-8 to offer the position to the outside candidate by written, secret ballot. The outside candidate was called during the meeting and an offer was made to hire her contingent on a background check, a reference check, and her review of the proposed employment agreement. The matter was referred to Invest's Executive Committee for finalization. %uF0A7 Board President Elliott Ellis did not call an Executive Committee meeting. Instead, Mr. Ellis sent a letter to Invest's community council "members" on Invest letterhead on June 4, 2008 (copy attached). Mr. Ellis sent his letter without prior Board knowledge or approval. He implied that because the June 2 vote was not unanimous, it was somehow improper and he asked the members for "direction" at Invest's Annual Meeting to be held on June 12, 2008. %uF0A7 Mr. Ellis' letter violated Invest's Board Member Code of Ethics, included in Invest's General Board Policies ("Code of Ethics"). Specifically, Mr. Ellis failed to "respect the majority decisions of the board" and violated the directive to "never exercise authority as board member except when acting in a meeting of the board or as the board delegates me." %uF0A7 At the Annual Meeting Conrad Thiede, President of the Downtown Residents Council, moved to oust seven Invest trustees alleging "personality conflicts, personal agendas and arbitrary actions not in the best interests of" Invest (copy of motion attached). It was stated that the seven trustees did not vote to hire Mr. Dieringer. Allegations were made that these trustees engaged in criminal activity. Board trustee John Price has an audiotape of the proceedings. %uF0A7 The seven trustees, six women and one man, were removed from the Board. %uF0A7 Mr. Thiede is not on the Invest Board. Any trustees who provided Mr. Thiede with the names of seven trustees who purportedly voted against hiring Mr. Dieringer violated Invest's Code of Ethics by failing to "keep confidential information confidential." %uF0A7 Two days after the Annual Meeting, Mr. Ellis sent a letter to "members" on Invest letterhead (copy attached). Mr. Ellis published the names of the seven ousted trustees. He asked the members for confidential comments to assist with the hiring process. Mr. Ellis again violated the Code of Ethics as well as Invest's Personnel and Administrative Guidelines, No. 2, which states "The Board hires, directs, and supervises the Executive Director." %uF0A7 In a show of intimidation, Cincinnati Police Sgt. Antwine, City Hall Liaison, was present at Invest's July 7, 2008 Board meeting. At the meeting Mr. Ellis refused to recognize Dave Petersen as Invest's Secretary. Mr. Ellis ordered Mr. Petersen to leave the Board table under threat of arrest. Mr. Ellis' actions violated Article VII (a) of Invest's Code of Regulations which states "The President and Vice President must be a member of the Board of Trustees, but the Secretary and Treasurer need not be." Invest's Code of Regulations states that an elected or appointed officer may be removed by a vote of two-thirds of the total Board. (Article VII (c)). No such vote was held. Mr. Price has an audiotape recording of this meeting. %uF0A7 At the meeting, Board Treasurer Mike Wagner offered excess Neighborhood Support Program administrative funds to newly-elected trustees from Bond Hill and Avondale to fund community "projects." This violates the City's contract with Invest. %uF0A7 Mr. Ellis announced that Invest's Executive Committee had conducted a background check on the outside candidate for Executive Director and found her to be unsuitable. Mr. Ellis did not explain how the background check was conducted and did not distribute minutes from the June 25, 2008 Executive Committee meeting. The outside candidate confirmed that she did not provide written permission for a background check, suggesting a violation by Mr. Ellis and the Executive Committee of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other laws protecting privacy. %uF0A7 At the July 7 meeting, Invest's Board, minus the ousted trustees, voted to hire Rick Dieringer as Executive Director, overturning the valid June 2 vote with which certain trustees did not agree. %uF0A7 The blatant purge, in such a public manner, of seven trustees perceived as opposition leaders can only have a chilling effect on present and future Invest trustees. The City's contract with Invest is no longer in the best interest of the City. Thank you for your counsel and consideration. We look forward to discussing these issues with you. Susan Doucleff (Mt. Washington) Jenny Edwards (West End) Kathy Garrison (Madisonville) Betty Kamuf (Sayler Park) Maureen Mello (Paddock Hills) Michele Murphy (Clifton) Dave Petersen (West End)


02.01.2009 at 10:24 Reply
There is no need to re-bid the NSP program. Several competing bids were received this past autumn from groups that included Greater Cincinnati Community Shares, Xavier University's Community Building Institute, Madisonville Weed and Seed, and others. If the City needs a contractor, it can pick one of these existing bids and award the new contract immediately.. See http://www.building-cincinnati.com/2008/12/invest-in-neighborhoods-wins-nsp.html for more details. --pk---


02.03.2009 at 12:11 Reply
I agree PK. There are a number of good options out there. The Dieringer/Cervay cabal is doing all possible to overcome the will of council. These died in the wool bureaucrats think they know best. They fail to follow the directives of the trustees and Council that govern and set policies.


02.05.2009 at 06:18 Reply
Council just voted 5-2 to run NSP in house. Even long time supporter Thomas flipped his vote due to IIN issues. Monzel and Berding were absent. Only the councilwomen supported the massaganists at IIN. Cervay has his orders to do this in house immediately. IIN's using its 9 lives quickly.


06.28.2009 at 01:16 Reply
As a neighborhood volunteer in North Avondale and in Avondale, I share the concerns of the ousted Invest In Neighborhood board members. It is my hope that the city manager conducts a thorough investigation of IIN and I applaud the courage of the city council members who voted to suspend the NSP contract with IIN.Part of the problem with IIN is that it has become stagnant; lacking in fresh approaches to building community within neighborhoods. Instead, I have found that IIN under Rick Dieringer's leadership approaches neighborhood issues as if he's a surrogate for corporate interests who could really care less about the priorities of neighborhood residents. Infact, too many of the so-called neighborhood advocates supproting Rick are guilty of promoting hostile and exclusionary tactics within their own community councils. The criticism that Invest In Neighborhoods under Rick Dieringer is part of the problem of fragmented and sluggish revitalization initiatives in neighborhoods is a reality and the cause of apathy among many volunteers who have tried to innovate at the grassroots level. After this contract suspension, the city would do well to either manage NSP in-house or find a different contractor. NSP deserves a fresh start away from Invest In Neighborhoods.