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County retains Dinsmore & Shohl in sewer dispute

Tana Weingartner

Hamilton County Commissioners are retaining Dinsmore & Shohl to review their plans to take the city of Cincinnati to court over a sewer district dispute.

The law firm is being asked to prepare the county's case and offer an outside opinion on which government entity it thinks is right. At issue is whether the county or the city gets to set policy for the Metropolitan Sewer District. The county owns the utility but it is operated by the city.

Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann say they both still support the idea of taking the city to court if the newly hired outside counsel determines the county is right. Commissioner Todd Portune says he still believes the two sides can reach a compromise without going to court.

Dinsmore & Shohl are also being asked to decide if the issue should be raised in state or federal court.

Monzel expects a report by next week.

The Back Story

Here's what WVXU reported in February:

Hamilton County Commissioners and the City of Cincinnati are at odds over several city-instituted hiring procedures. The county says the hiring rules are illegal under Ohio Revised Code but the city argues it has home rule which trumps the O.R.C. Commission President Chris Monzel says the county offered a compromise a few weeks ago but it was refused by the city. "Thus," he says, "we have decided to move forward." Cincinnati council member Chris Seelbach says he's very disappointed by the county's decision. "We have bent over backwards," says Seelbach. "We've been willing to compromise from day one. We've compromised two feet; they've been unwilling to give an inch. So it's very disappointing that they've just given up." The county will ask a federal court to decide whether it or the city gets to set policy for MSD. Monzel stops short of saying the county is suing the city. He says this is a "dispute resolution process" laid out under the federal consent decree mandating the multi-billion dollar sewer upgrades. The county owns the sewer district but it is operated by the city under a 1968 agreement. Commissioner Chris Monzel calls the agreement, "dysfunctional at best." MSD is mandated by a federal consent decree to reduce sewer overflows into local waterways to protect the environment. The various construction projects are planned for several years and have a price tag of more than $3 billion.