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Cincinnati City Council candidates answer how they would address corruption

cincinnati city hall
Jason Whitman
/
WVXU

The record number of Cincinnati council candidates — 35 — on the November ballot is at least partially due to last year's rash of council member arrests on corruption charges.

When we asked our audience what issues they're most concerned about in this council race, it's no surprise corruption topped the list. That's true, too, for many of the candidates who responded to the WVXU candidate survey.

Here's how the candidates answered the question: how would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

RELATED: See how candidates responded to all 5 questions in our survey

Scroll through this page to see all the responses, or click a name in the list to jump directly to that candidate.

Note: a few candidates refer to the Economic Development Reform Panel. Council created this panel in December 2020 in response to the second and third arrests. Per the ordinance, Mayor John Cranley appointed 11 members to the panel, which were then confirmed by a council vote. The panel filed its report and recommendations with council in August. Council Member David Man is reportedly working on an ordinance to pass the recommendations.

Update, October 11: After candidates responded to this survey and their answers were published, City Manager Paula Boggs Muething released a report to council with her recommendations for implementing the ideas of the Economic Development Reform Panel. Read about that discussion and what happens next in this WVXU article.

RELATED: View our full 2021 voter guide to the candidates, levies and charter amendments on the ballot

WVXU has only edited candidates responses for style and clarity. All candidates are listed alphabetically.

City Council Candidates

RELATED: Where Cincinnati Public Schools Board candidates stand on the issues facing the district

Jalen Alford

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 19
Neighborhood: Bond Hill
Campaign website: jalenalford.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

When it comes to addressing corruption at City Hall I have been very vocal about implementing the following policies as I have outlined on my website at www.jalenalford.com:

  • Revamp the Zoning Committee to include applicable Community Council Members
  • Revamp the Planning Committee to include applicable Community Council Members
  • All meetings with Developers subject to be recorded, with required disclosure
  • Annually mandated Campaign Finance Reports & Disclosure of Donations (including PACs associated with them.)
  • Civilian-staffed, City Hall Ethics Review Committee
  • Yearly ethics evaluations and audits of actions of all public officials
  • Amendment of the City Charter to include penalties and order of operations, if a member of the council is accused of public corruption or bribery
  • Allow the suspension of a City Elected Official who has been indicted with a crime by a simple majority vote
  • Exclusion of office for persons convicted of bribery, public corruption, etc.
  • Add provisions to the charter that requires the attendance of Council Members with reasonable exceptions, and written notices in advance

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Tom Brinkman

Party affiliation: Republican
Age: 63
Neighborhood: Mt. Lookout
Campaign website: gobrinkman.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I organized the only anti-corruption ballot issue on the November ballot: Issue 3.

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Jaime Castle

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 44
Neighborhood: Mt. Washington
Campaign website: castleforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

With the term limits back to two years, ousting bad apples will be quicker and easier but we should focus on prevention. Ohio ethics law and local procurement regulation information need to be clear-cut and understood by council members and that can happen through training when council members are new, and it can happen through a handbook given to members. It is important to note that voters can be proactive in combating corruption by voting for people with integrity.

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RELATED: Cincinnati City Council candidates on affordable housing, economic development issues facing the city

LaKeisha Cook

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 36
Neighborhood: Westwood
Campaign website: votelakeishacook.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I plan on operating in accountability, attainability and accessibility for everybody in Cincinnati. I plan on building an align through commitment to the people in Cincinnati. Outlining the initiatives the city would like to see accomplished within the next two years and creating benchmarks for those projects to be completed. I will provide transparency for timeframe, committees' performance reviews of projects. Building our subcommittees out to include more diversity, equity and inclusion in alignment with the city demographic makeup. Allowing all developers to have the same access to land and opportunities in Cincinnati to invest in the city. Additionally, hosting more community hearings for the public to speak to officials after 5 p.m. to address the needs of the community. Ensuring we support the community at large and invest in their ideas to build Cincinnati. Finally, updating Cincinnati’s internal web page so that everybody has access to the same information and doesn’t need a particular connector to get their questions answered or to apply for particular programs. We must make everything that is coming from the local government public and accessible to everyone in Cincinnati.

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Jeff Cramerding

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Democratic
Age: 47
Neighborhood: West Price Hill
Campaign website: jeffcramerding.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

The appropriate role of council is to 1) set the strategic priorities for the city, 2) fund those priorities, and 3) hire and evaluate the city manager based on those priorities. When council exceeds these parameters and interferes with the administration of city government, governance suffers and there are opportunities for corruption.

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Michelle Dillingham

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 48
Neighborhood: Evanston
Campaign website: votedillingham.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

The arrest of three Cincinnati City Council members for bribery schemes related to development deals in the past year has prompted a public discussion on how to fix the "culture of corruption" at City Hall. The problem is not solely about individual elected officials, even though they each of course hold personal responsibility for their actions. The problem is also about processes and policies that pour public resources into private development with no community involvement or basis to ensure that these investments meet the public’s needs. This lack of discernment and accountability has allowed for corruption to fester, and it is precisely what must change going forward. I have written extensively about solutions, but in brief: Committee assignments should be used to move legislation forward, not to manipulate it. We need community input to attract and retain top talent to lead our city departments, and "emergency" legislation will be used for actual emergencies and not a method of hustling issues through to escape scrutiny. This will allow public scrutiny, and for the opportunity for people to provide input or information on the matter, and for members of council to have discussion or amendments before they vote on it.

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Kevin Flynn

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Charter Committee
Age: 60
Neighborhood: Mt. Airy
Campaign website: flynnforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

No changes to the charter alone will protect the city from individuals who want to cheat the system. Restoring checks and balances between council, the mayor, the city manager, and the city administration will make it harder to cheat. Changing the culture at City Hall, so that projects are judged on their merits rather than on the amount of campaign contributions will help. Assuring that decisions are made in public, after debate, will go a long way toward restoring trust. Strengthening our internal (performance) audit function, institutionalizing the whistleblower function and strengthening protections for whistleblowers, utilizing objective metrics to score projects (so that there is a level playing field), sharing the objective scoring publicly, and listening to the public's concerns will help avoid even the appearance of impropriety. I did not intend to return to council after I finished my prior term. The events of this past year, with 1/3 of the council being indicted or convicted of corruption crimes, were a call to me to return to serve the city that we love, to restore integrity and transparency so that people can have faith in city leadership.

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Jackie Frondorf

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Charter Committee
Age: 35
Neighborhood: Westwood
Campaign website: jackiefrondorf.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I am running for a seat on City Council to represent all Cincinnatians. The people of our city need to be able to trust our elected officials and not question whether votes are made in order to enrich a council member’s bank account or own self interests. I plan to lead by example and would follow the recommendations set forth by the 2021 Economic Development Reform Panel’s report. I believe that the city administration should be discussing deals with developers and not City Council members.

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Bill Frost

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Charter Committee
Age: 59
Neighborhood: Pleasant Ridge
Campaign website: frostforcinci.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I support the incorporation of the Economic Development Reform Panel recommendations by ordinance. In addition, I believe anonymous reporting of "concerns" by all city employees is vital. We must move to an "if you see something, say something" culture in City Hall. All of us who work in any large organization understand the importance of compliance. This should be no different in City Hall.

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Brian Garry

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 56
Neighborhood: Clifton
Campaign website: briangarry.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

If elected, I would increase transparency between City Hall and the community. We must eradicate the developer corruption that we have seen during the last cycle. We must get big money out of politics. We need public servants who are putting Cincinnati and its residents first. We need leaders who feel beholden and responsible for the success of the city. We cannot have politicians who are prioritizing themselves or big business over the needs of the people. I am in this race to restore the power to everyday Cincinnatians and ensure that we have a fair and transparent city. When elected, I promise not to allow City Hall to be treated like an “ivory castle.” I will continue to remain involved in the community, as I have been for years, and I will continue to be accessible for our residents. I will lead by example and encourage other City Council members to do the same.

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Steve Goodin

Party Affiliation: Republican
Party endorsements: Republican, Charter Committee
Age: 51
Neighborhood: Clifton
Campaign website: goodinforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I have long been a proponent for banning contributions from those with business before the city. In my view, the second an application is filed or a negotiation begins, that business (or nonprofit organization) should be placed on a “do not solicit” list and remain there for one year after the business concludes). Only a categorical ban of this nature will change the culture of corruption which continues to linger over City Hall.

I also believe we should enact lobbying reform, including a “revolving door” ban on staff members who resign and immediately lobby their former City Hall colleagues. We should also increase transparency in our campaign finance filings by mandating use of the searchable website provided by the Ohio Secretary of State.

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Galen Gordon

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Charter Committee
Age: 45
Neighborhood: West End
Campaign website: galenforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

If you see something, say something. I believe it's important for council candidates to maintain and practice accountability, in every facet with each other. As a Rotarian, I believe in service above self. Individually, I will continue to work in the best interest of our city without concern for any perceived personal gain. I'm here to help our city and will continue my current employment and the expectations and standards that come with a career in hospitality.

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Kurt Grossman

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 66
Neighborhood: Downtown / Central Business District
Campaign website: grossmanforcouncil.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

It is startling that we do not have a code of ethics for City Council members. I testified to the need for a written code of ethics specific to City Council, with a required annual sign-off by each council member, in hearings before the city’s Economic Development Reform Panel (the anti-corruption task force); my testimony was picked up by WVXU: https://www.wvxu.org/post/public-offers-feedback-economic-development-reform-restore-integrity#stream/0

The code should, at minimum, cover conflicts of interest, required financial and campaign contribution disclosures, and open meetings/open records requirements of our Sunshine Laws. There should also be mandatory annual ethics training and stiff penalties for violations of the code.

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Reggie Harris

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Democratic
Age: 39
Neighborhood: Northside
Campaign website: reggieforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

The only way for council to regain the public’s trust is through action. The current council has done an excellent job recently of taking decisive action on the end of accountability and ending the “culture of corruption.” I have taken steps in my campaign, such as releasing all of my large-sum donations on my website. Now we must support the efforts in City Hall to increase accountability by fully funding and empowering an independent Ethics Commission and chief ethics officer, enacting campaign finance reforms, providing ongoing ethics training for council members, and making the city planning process clearer, more predictable, and less contingent on the will of individual council members and private developers.

One of the keys to eliminating the conditions for corruption will also be centering constituent engagement so that there is more representation and the process of governing cannot be so easily influenced by a handful of people. When abatements and other legislation is put through rigorous community input and the process slows down, it makes the final product from the people, not just developers.

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Rob Harris

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 43
Neighborhood: Carthage
Campaign website: robharrisforcouncil.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I would address corruption at City Hall by being transparent with a team of auditors, and supporting the proposed ordinance by Councilman Landsman. I would modify the proposed ordinance to include a mandatory step down ordinance if any member of council becomes indicted. Saving tax paying citizens funding.

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K.A. Heard

Party affiliation: Non-affiliated
Party endorsements: Green
Age: 30
Neighborhood: Westwood
Campaign website: stayheardcommittee.weebly.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I will not tolerate pay to play objectives or any other crap of corruption that has hurt our city. I don’t take money from PACs or corporations. The citizens of Cincinnati are my main priority. I’m in this to help and overcome the pandemic and all the other things that have hurt our city!

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Evan C. Holt

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 33
Neighborhood: North Avondale
Campaign website: holtforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I echo calls of others that we should seek to ban lawmakers and candidates from receiving donations from developers and others with assorted business on the desk of City Council. I also believe that transparency is key, which is why our city government website is in need of an overhaul to make information more easily accessible to taxpayers. Continuing in the spirit of transparency, we need an overhaul on how we report campaign contributions. Taxpayers should know who is funding our elected representatives, including the assorted conflicts of interests that should be under similar scrutiny as the more outright examples of quid pro quo bribery we've seen recently. Long term, I believe the city of Cincinnati should no longer have at-large elections and instead be divided by ward or precinct. This would make sure that campaign contributions weren't the driving force behind relationships built or decisions made and instead, prioritize the approval of the community as it pertains to development deals using taxpayer money.

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READ: Cincinnati council candidates talk transportation

Nick Jabin

Party affiliation: Non-affiliated
Age: 23
Neighborhood: Mount Washington
Campaign website: jabinforcouncil.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I will directly work with other city officials, expecting reports and data often on budgets and different measures being taken in the city. I plan on being very involved in the forward-moving change of the Cincinnati people; more than before I plan on watching and holding people accountable in which making sure corruption stays out of City Hall.

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Mark Jeffreys

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Democratic
Age: 52
Neighborhood: Clifton
Campaign website: votejeffreys.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

First, by electing people who for years have a track record of public service without any personal gain – a demonstrated commitment to servant leadership. Second, by having City Council candidates who are transparent and aboveboard in campaign fundraising and their positions. I have posted my campaign finance reports online and have plans to continue to do so. Similarly, with my multiple endorsements, I am completely transparent about my beliefs and positions. Fourth, by supporting calls for training about laws/regulations with staff and City Council certifying annually that they have read and understood the laws/regulations. Fifth, by publicly reinforcing that we are a charter government, which means that it is not the role of City Council to negotiate any development deals or be in the details of any of them. These development deals should be negotiated by the city manager and set based on a clear policy of tax abatements. Finally, by focusing on the issues that matter: safe neighborhoods, jobs, affordable housing, enabling our fellow Cincinnatians to reach their full potential, etc. In other words, deliver results that improve the lives of our citizens in an open and transparent way through being public servants.

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Scotty Johnson

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Democratic
Age: 59
Neighborhood: Mt. Airy
Campaign website: scottyforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

The key to resolving this issue is transparency. I am proud of the efforts that the city has made so far. The Economic Development Reform Panel put together by the mayor* is a great start, and the ability to file campaign finance reports online is going in the right direction. If elected, we can’t stop there. Far too many times I have seen base policies in any organization be forgotten whenever a new administration takes over. I won’t let that happen. We need to continue with these improvements over time.

* Reporter’s note: the Economic Development Reform Panel was created by City Council via ordinances in December 2020. Per the ordinance, Mayor John Cranley appointed members to the panel, which were then confirmed in a City Council vote

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Liz Keating

Party affiliation: Republican
Party endorsements: Republican, Charter Committee
Age: 37
Neighborhood: Hyde Park
Campaign website: votelizkeating.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I was the first council member to electronically file my entire campaign finance history, so every contribution and expenditure is online in searchable format. I am the only council member who files campaign finance reports more frequently than required to provide more transparency to the public. I believe in transparency and will continue to find ways to act on that belief.

I proposed legislation that would ban council members and the mayor from accepting campaign contributions for other elected offices while serving the city of Cincinnati. I have also pushed for more transparency with LLCs doing business with the city.

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Andrew Kennedy

Party affiliation: Non-affiliated
Age: 38
Neighborhood: Pleasant Ridge
Campaign website: voteforkennedy.org

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

Top Ten priorities:

1. Rooting out corruption and shadow deals. Building trust is a must.

2. The safety of ALL Cincinnatians.

3. Booming our Cincinnati economy!

On raising ethical standards, we all know the state legislature has already raised the ethics bar with their solid version of the ethics disclosure process. Let’s pass a near-identical version of that for city council. Council also needs more regular reports on who has given money to campaigns. This, so red flags will be spotted earlier. By the way, I want to make it known that I’ve made the commitment not to accept donations of any kind from anybody: individuals, businesses, developers, organizations, political action committees, etc. First, because I don’t like it when politicians ask for money. And second, because I don’t like it when politicians ask for money. Instead, my campaign wants to ask folks to give to a Cincinnati-based charity, or support local Cincinnati businesses around town. I think it’s a novel idea rarely seen in politics today. And my volunteers and I are proud of that. For me, it’s not about money. It’s about service to you.

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Greg Landsman

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Democratic
Age: 44
Neighborhood: Mt. Washington
Campaign website: greglandsman.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

Public trust is eroding at all levels of government – including City Hall. To restore that trust, we have to both pursue reforms and change the culture.

I have put forward two ordinances that, if passed, would make a difference immediately. The first, "Immediate Campaign Finance Disclosure Reform," would amend Cincinnati’s municipal campaign code to require elected officials to publicly disclose within 72-hours when they receive a big-dollar donation. This transparency allows our constituents to hold us accountable for our votes. The second ordinance would establish a position within the city's Law Department for an ethics and good government counselor, who would be a resource on all issues of ethics and potential conflict-of-interest for city officials and city employees, and enforce the highest standard of adherence.

As far as changing the culture at City Hall, we must start with a collective commitment from all elected officials to coalition-build, problem-solve, and deliver results together.

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Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Democratic
Age: 65
Neighborhood: North Avondale
Campaign website: kearneyforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

Increase transparency by making campaign contribution information easily accessible to the public.

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READ: Explaining Issue 3 and its pros and cons

John Maher

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 43
Neighborhood: Northside
Campaign website: maherforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I completely agree with your audience. In fact, it is the main reason that I decided to run for City Council. Sadly, many have come to expect corruption as common practice in politics. I’m fed up with corruption at City Hall and throughout all politics. This is a fate that I choose not to accept. I am running so that Cincinnatians know that they have a candidate with whom they can trust. Someone with integrity, fairness and equity at the basis of their decision making. I will perform my duties and introduce policy with honesty, accountability and transparency. I will promote policies that do the same, such as the recommendations developed by the anti-corruption task force. It is imperative that we elect trustworthy individuals. I am an honest man that believes in doing what is fair and just. I am asking for you to vote for me, John Maher. You will get an authentic representative with common sense, a collaborative spirit and determination to see us through with progress.

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Peterson Mingo

Party affiliation: Democratic
Neighborhood: Evanston

This candidate did not respond to the survey in time for publication. 

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Phillip O'Neal

Party affiliation: Non-affiliated
Age: 33
Party endorsements: Democratic
Neighborhood: Avondale
Campaign website: votephilliponeal.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

Through communication. Broaden the input of citizens in the planning of the city. Listen to neighborhoods when decisions are made for the future. Develop more think tanks from the academic and community institutions that have a greater awareness of the most recent knowledge and programs, greater positive public policy on jobs, urban living conditions, transportation, crime, health and other issues that are and will affect Cincinnati.

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Meeka Owens

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Democratic
Age: 43
Neighborhood: North Avondale
Campaign website: votemeeka.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

We have to create a better relationship between the public, and our local government. I want to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout City Hall. Part of regaining the public's trust after the ethics issues of the past year is not over-legislating corruption, but instead increasing transparency of our city resources. The website should be more accessible, our meetings should be at a time when citizens have access to public comment. The entire operation of City Hall should be one that promotes equity and access. Improving public trust also includes council members being present in every neighborhood year-round, not just at election time. If elected, I commit to showing up across our 52 neighborhoods throughout my term to make sure all our neighborhoods feel representation at City Hall. Restoring trust means improving our communication with community councils, and building an infrastructure to support them.

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Victoria Parks

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Democratic
Age: 63
Neighborhood: College Hill
Campaign website: voteparks.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I launched this campaign because I was heartbroken and angry by the actions of City Council. Cincinnatians are hard working and honest individuals and those actions do not reflect our city. I will restore faith in City Hall through comprehensive ethics reform, working collaboratively with the county, and serving with a commitment to integrity.

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Te'Airea Powell

Party affiliation: Democratic
Age: 33
Neighborhood: East Westwood
Campaign website: powellforcincy.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I will address corruption at City Hall by first implementing the recommendations recently presented to council that would restrict donations by developers to council members while conducting business with the city.

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READ: What's inside the Great Parks of Hamilton County levy request

Logan-Peter C. Simmering

Party affiliation: Non-affiliated
Party endorsements: Green
Age: 35
Neighborhood: North Avondale
Campaign website: simmeringforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

On a basic level, I would support improved ethics training and monitoring for rules violations, to ensure the city is keeping up with best practices, as well as seeking to limit the kinds of access and financial relationships private interests can have to council and the city administration. More ambitiously, I'd seek to devolve many powers away from the city council into the community councils, so that there is less of a concentration of powerful people to influence.

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Stacey Smith

Party affiliation: Non-affiliated
Age: 29
Neighborhood: West Price Hill
Campaign website: staceysmithccc.wordpress.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

Focusing on ordinances that eliminate the appointment system, so if a council member is suspended or steps down, the next highest vote-getter assumes their position. Increasing transparency regarding campaign contributions (utilizing the city website to update this weekly or monthly). And just being an honest person. Corruption is a personal decision that I refuse to make.

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Betsy Sundermann

Party affiliation: Republican
Party endorsements: Republican
Age: 44
Neighborhood: East Price Hill
Campaign website: betsysundermann.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I wrote a charter amendment this year to allow council members to vote out a council member who is indicted for a felony involving duties on the council. My charter amendment was on the ballot in March and passed with 78% of the vote. After it passed, the issue went in front of council for a vote to suspend a currently indicted council member. To my surprise, the council did not vote this member out.

When we become council members, we select designees to choose our replacements if we leave the council. My charter amendment also made it impossible for an indicted council member to change his/her designee before resigning or being suspended.

Additionally, my charter amendment requires that all future council members complete ethics training within 60 days of taking office.

I will support future measures that bring trust and transparency to City Hall.

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Jim Tarbell

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Charter Committee
Age: 79
Neighborhood: Mt. Auburn
Campaign website: votetarbell.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

That is a big part of why I am running.

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John J. Williams

Party affiliation: Democratic
Party endorsements: Charter Committee
Age: 58
Neighborhood: Downtown / Central Business District
Campaign website: johnjwilliamsforcincinnati.com

How would you address corruption at City Hall if elected to council?

I would move to prohibit contributions from any person or entity who has a financial interest pending in front of council. This prohibition would not include persons or entities where the matter pending has a general effect on the residents of the city. Also each council member has to participate on a yearly basis in an ethics course. Quarterly I would suggest that each council member must report any contributions and/or gifts and said reporting should be easily accessible to the general public.

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