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City And 'Gang Of 5' Appealing Order To Turnover All Texts And Emails

city hall
Bill Rinehart

Five Cincinnati Council members and the city are appealing a Hamilton County Judge's order to turn over all text messages and emails that the members sent this year.
The appeal is part of a lawsuit alleging P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard and Wendell Young violated the state's open meeting law with a group text this spring when Major John Cranley was trying to fire now former City Manager Harry Black.

Mark Miller and his attorney, Brian Shrive, filed the case shortly after the text messages were revealed.

The five council members have released the texts shared among the larger group. But Judge Robert Ruehlman ordered all emails and texts they sent be turned over for discovery by Nov. 2, even messages between individual council members in the group. Shrive has argued he needs to review those to determine if there were other violations of the open meeting law.

City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said her office is committed to transparency.

"While we have demonstrated this commitment, we also have a duty to defend the interests of the city, making it necessary to protect communications that are privileged or confidential between elected officials and their attorneys," said Boggs Muething in a written statement. "To that end, we appeal Judge Ruehlman's order of Oct. 23, 2018 which requires the production of all emails and texts from Jan. 1, 2018 to present, including communications that are privileged and confidential."

There's a separate case pending before the First District Court of Appeals on whether text messages are a public record.

Meanwhile, the city solicitor is once again representing the five council members in the case.

City Council voted Wednesday to stop the use of outside counsel for the lawsuit.

The city sought outside lawyers after former city council candidate Derek Bauman asked to intervene in the case, and include Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman.  

Bauman alleged Smitherman violated the open meeting law for his replies to a text message sent by former manager Black when he notified City Council about the plan to dismiss one of the city's assistant police chiefs. A judge denied that intervention last week.

The solicitor's office had to set aside because it had a conflict with council members on different sides of the case. With Smitherman removed from the case, that conflict is now gone.

Smitherman accused the five council members involved Monday of dragging him into the lawsuit. He said their actions were "evil" considering the issues in his personal life and caring for his ailing wife.

Council Member Greg Landsman responded Wednesday during the regular city council meeting to Smitherman's "evil" remark. "Mr. Smitherman is my colleague, not my enemy, and I'm not evil. It's important for us to say that this has gone on too far."

Landsman says leaders need to tamp down and stop the rhetoric.

Smitherman never mentioned "evil" Wednesday, but he didn't back down from his comments on how he and his family were treated.

"Anybody in this time defining me as their colleague and understanding just a little maybe understanding of what's happening in my life, would not be political and try to bring me in to litigation that my family has to personally defend," Smitherman said. "That to me is outrageous, that to me is what is wrong."

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.