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Cincinnati Council Approves Controversial Park Board Appointment

smale park
Bill Rinehart
Cincinnati's Smale Park.

Cincinnati City Council voted Wednesday to approve a controversial appointment to the city's Park Board.

Council voted 5-2 to approve Mayor John Cranley's selection of Jim Goetz to replace current Park Board President Dianne Rosenberg.
Council members voting yes on the appointment: Landsman, Mann, Murray, Pastor and Smitherman.  Those voting no: Dennard and Seelbach.  Council member Sittenfeld abstained, and Wendell Young was excused from Wednesday's meeting.

"The mayor has nominated a highly qualified candidate," said council member Jeff Pastor. "And that highly qualified candidate deserves an up or down vote."

Cranley made the same appointment in December, and the council at the time approved it.

But Rosenberg went to court arguing that her term was for six-years when she was appointed to the park board in 2015.  But Cranley argued when he appointed Rosenberg it was only to fill an unexpired term that ended on December 31, 2017.  

Rosenberg also argued the council in December could not approve Goetz's appointment because a new group was set to take office on January 2, 2018.

Earlier this month, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Charles Kubicki Jr. ruled that Rosenberg term on the park board expires February 1, 2018.  But he also ruled Mayor Cranley had no right to appoint somebody else before the new council was sworn in.

Kubicki said Rosenberg could remain in her seat until the Mayor and council approved a replacement. The mayor re-nominated Goetz right after the court decision, and with city council's approval Wednesday, Goetz will replace Rosenberg when her term ends Thursday.

Cranley said in December his new appointment is about getting the park board to implement financial reforms.

"The heart of the matter involves issues of funds that were given, in some cases a hundred years ago, to the park board in the form of endowments that are currently illegally housed in separate bank accounts inconsistently with state and local law," Cranley said.

Cranley argued in a December letter to council that the park board "has failed to take action to comply with a majority of the internal and state audit recommendations."

The board and city administrators have worked for more than a year to reach an agreement on the financial issues. Those efforts have all failed.

Council member P.G. Sittenfeld abstained from voting on the park board appointment because of concerns about what it could mean for those funds.

"The action that we take today could result in the descendants of these trusts pursing litigation because of violation of original donor intent jeopardizing millions and millions of dollars meant to benefit the public," Sittenfeld said.

A majority of the current park board, including Rosenberg, has argued that the board has the sole authority on spending proceeds from the endowment funds.

"We are committed to being good stewards of the parks and take seriously our responsibility to carry out the wishes of private donors who do not want the city or political interests to interfere with the intent of their gifts," Rosenberg said in a written statement following the court decision.

City council also did approve a separate resolution "reaffirming that the City of Cincinnati Board of Park Commissioner has sole authority to approve expenditures from park board accounts."

With Goetz's appointment an agreement with city administrators on those funds to come together.  Mayor Cranley has two other appointees on the five-member board, and with Goetz that is a majority.

Politics also likely played into the appointment.  Rosenberg had supported former council member Yvette Simpson in the city November mayoral race against Mayor Cranley.