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Council decides future councils and mayors will have to create a code of conduct for themselves

cincinnati city hall
Jason Whitman
/
WVXU

Cincinnati Council passed an ordinance Wednesday requiring all future mayors and councils to create a code of conduct. But the current council is declining to establish a code of conduct for themselves for their last couple months in office.

Mayor John Cranley praised the efforts of council members and the Economic Development Reform Panel on the issue.

"I think there has been a question about what we as a body are doing. The administration took a number of actions immediately after the arrest of council members and indictments," Cranley said. "But this is systemic reform that I think is good, that can be done, and should be adopted."

The ordinance is the first council action stemming from the reform panel's recommendations; council formed the EDRP late last year after the second and third council member indictments.

The measure requires one code of conduct for the mayor and all mayoral staff, and another code of conduct for city council and all council staff.

Wendell Young says the ordinance provides a roadmap for the incoming council, which will take office in January.

"I think the incoming council should be absolutely free and not encumbered by what we've done in this regard," Young said. "Because of the importance of it, they should be absolutely free to govern themselves as they see fit."

The nine-member council will have a minimum of four new members next year, and could be entirely new members. Only one elected incumbent, Greg Landsman, is up for re-election. Landsman says that's a good argument for working on a code of conduct now.

"There is a case to be made, and I'll make it, that we should spend some time over the course of the next two months laying out what we believe to be the right code of conduct based on the unique experience of this particular group," Landsman said.

Council Members Young, Christopher Smitherman, David Mann, and Chris Seelbach are term limited. Ultimately, a council committee voted Monday to amend the ordinance so that it does not obligate current officials to adopt a code of conduct.

Beginning with officials elected in November, the mayor and council must adopt a code of conduct within 45 days of taking office; each official and their staff members must sign a copy of the code of conduct and file it with the clerk

The measure passed 8-1 with Seelbach opposing. He says he objects to language implying council members must agree with a legal opinion saying the mayor has a right to negotiate economic development deals.

"I just disagree with the city manager and city solicitor's interpretation of the charter, specifically the 2001 [charter] amendment," Seelbach said. "I don't believe that the charter gives the mayor executive powers to negotiate contracts, economic development deals. Otherwise, I support this ordinance."

The ordinance outlines eight provisions to include as a minimum for both the mayor and council codes of conduct.

Minimum provisions for the mayor:

  • Recognition of the charter role of the mayor, council, and city manager, particularly in development projects and incentives;
  • Recognition of the obligation of elected officials and staff to not attempt to privately interfere with quasi-judicial proceedings of boards and commissions or the zoning hearing examiner;
  • Cultivating a culture of reporting of conflicts of interest and unethical conduct and a commitment to avoid retaliating against those who report suspected conflicts or unethical conduct;
  • Commitment to understanding and following the applicable ethics and conflict of interest laws;
  • Commitment to attend training at least annually on Ohio ethics laws and other state and local laws pertinent to the role of the mayor;
  • Commitment to never use city resources or personnel for political activity;
  • Recognition of the limitations on the mayor's ability to negotiate economic development deals without the involvement and approval of the city manager; and
  • Articulation of rules to maintain a level playing field for private parties dealing with the city, to deter inappropriate behavior, to reinforce proper behavior, and to maintain public confidence in city government.

Minimum provisions for council are identical with one exception; provision seven is replaced with: Commitment to directing inquiries from private parties related to financial assistance or land use approvals to the city manager's office.
See the full ordinance below: