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Budget Hearing Breaks Down After Mann Abruptly Ends Meeting

council budget meeting
Bill Rinehart
Cincinnati City Council's budget hearing turned into a street demonstration after Councilman and Budget and Finance Committee Chair David Mann ended the meeting.

Cincinnati City Council's final public hearing Thursday night on the city budget ended in chaos.

Budget and Finance Committee Chairman David Mann abruptly adjourned the session at the Duke Energy Convention Center and walked out. That came after the audience booed and attempted to shout down a speaker who was in favor of fully funding the city police department.

Once again, many speakers asked council to take some money away from police and send those funds instead to human services programs, health care, affordable housing and education.

Mann told WVXU he reminded the crowd they were there to listen to each other, and that included the man who spoke up about fully funding police.

"And the crowd erupted at me, and I vividly recall a gentleman saying 'We don't want to hear from somebody that we don't agree with,' " Mann said. "This is on the heels of a lot of very unpleasant allegations, and I just felt like we were past the point of having a meaningful discussion or public input. It was turning into a mob, so I said, 'This meeting is adjourned.' "

After Mann left, other council members including Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, Jeff Pastor, P.G. Sittenfeld, and Greg Landsman tried to keep the meeting going.  Members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young were watching remotely on Zoom. But some speakers agued the meeting was no longer legitimate with Mann gone. 

The remaining council members did listen to comments for more than an hour. Some speakers left the center and took to the streets to spread their message

Some still inside the convention center also complained that Cincinnati Police officers were not allowing people who had left the meeting to re-enter the session.

Seelbach, who's the vice chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said on Twitter "it was absolutely wrong to adjourn the public hearing. He said he would have continued the meeting "to listen to the people."

Seelbach had to participate remotely because he's under quarantine while waiting on a COVID-19 test result.  He could have been exposed to the virus after being around someone who did test positive.

Landsman said he wanted to continue the hearing, but he understood Mann's frustration and doesn't want to pass judgement.

"I do think that there is a need to continue to listen to folks," Landsman said. "And even in times when it doesn't feel good or it's uncomfortable, you've got to keep listening and you've got to keep talking. That's how things get fixed."

The council members who stayed suggested they plan to hold another public hearing. But it's unclear when that might happen since the rules require that there be notice 24 hours in advance. It's possible it could be held during the weekend or Monday.

Mann said he's not committing to holding another public hearing.

Defunding police has been an issue raised by protestors across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He died while in police custody, and his death has led to protests in the city and across the country ever since.

"We're letting you know we're talking about reallocating funds from the police and giving that to communities and invest in communities," said Jay Minor. "Because very soon now, there's going to be a change. You have to be either with us, or against us. But make no mistake about it, there is going to be a change."

And again, there were threats to "vote out" council members who refuse to listen to the demands to defund the police department.

"We're building an intergenerational, multicultural movement that is going to be more than happy to remove you from where you are if you do not listen to the voice of the people," said Bob Hyland

Many are upset that the proposed police budget for the new fiscal year is $155,331,380. That's about $1.2 million higher than the current budget. Much of that increase is related to the FOP labor contract, and additional money for the body-worn camera program.

It's now up to Cincinnati City Council members to decide how they want to modify the budget that was presented to them by City Manager Patrick Duhaney and Mayor John Cranley.

Council's Budget and Finance Committee will meet Monday and perhaps Tuesday and Wednesday to vote on budget motions and ordinances. The full City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday.  A budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 must be approved by June 30.

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.