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WVXU has been covering the stories of politics and corruption at Cincinnati's City Hall since early 2020. We have now launched an initiative to more closely examine Cincinnati politics and the individuals who have shaped it, along with the current allegations of corruption. We'll also explore proposals for change, and seek feedback from local leaders and community members on what can be done to restore trust in City Hall.Trust in Local Government, WVXU's Public Integrity Project will analyze our council-manager form of government and the charter amendments designed to reinforce ethical standards at City Hall; take a historical look at corruption in Cincinnati government; talk with the candidates for Cincinnati mayor and continue with an ongoing series of features, interviews and candidate profiles.

For Now, Wendell Young Remains On Cincinnati City Council

Sarah Ramsey

Six Cincinnati City Council members decided fellow Councilman Wendell Young had to go, but Wednesday their votes fell one short of the total needed to suspend him.

Young got into trouble by deleting text messages, something he admits, which were part of 2018's "Gang of Five" investigation, where Young and four other council members texted each other, illegally making decisions about city business in violation of Ohio's Sunshine Law.

Like Young, some of the Gang of Five remain on council. Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman had asked for an opinion from the Ohio Ethics Commission if all council members would be able to vote on the suspension but City Solicitor Andrew Garth said he did not get a definitive answer.

As council members were preparing to decide, Steve Goodin proposed holding the measure to suspend Young until Greg Landsman and Chris Seelbach, also members of the Gang of Five, contacted the Ohio Ethics Commission to see if they could cast a vote.

"This Gang of Five nonsense has haunted this chamber and this council for better than three years now and at some point it has to end," says Goodin.

Seelbach and Landsman said they would not seek an opinion, so the vote went ahead. Council members Seelbach, Landsman, David Mann, Liz Keating, Betsy Sundermann and Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney voted to suspend Young. Smitherman and Goodin abstained, which left the measure without the seven necessary votes. Young, who was present at the meeting, could not cast a vote. 

Even voting yes, Council Member Kearney said, "I want to say to Council Member Wendell Young you deserve better than this. I firmly believe you will be exonerated of those charges against you and the truth will come to light."

Vice Mayor Smitherman wonders if the effort to oust Young was racially motivated. "As I look at the make-up of the total self-proclaimed Gang of Five I'm being asked, 'Should I suspend or remove another member of council who happens to be African American and certainly did not do the offenses the others did? They're not even in the same stratosphere."

How Council Was Able to Take A Vote To Oust Young

Coucil Member Sundermann pushed for Young's ouster after voters approved a charter amendment giving council the authority to suspend a member indicted on felony charges related to their job on council.

"How could we not do this right after people voted for it?" Sundermann said at the time. "If we don't do it, I think we would have to explain to 77 percent of the voters why we're not following through with what they wanted."

The Criminal Investigation Continues

Young has pleaded not guilty to a tampering with records charge in Hamilton County Court.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Hanley filed the charge. He says Young broke the law. Young told several local media outlets he deleted the messages before an order not to do so.

A commission appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court is currently considering whether to suspend Young. A Hamilton judge would then name his replacement.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.