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Council expands anti-corruption law and makes small easements easier to approve

City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Jason Whitman
City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Cincinnati Council is expanding an anti-corruption ordinance that limits campaign donations to council members and the mayor.

The original anti-corruption ordinance was passed a little over a year ago and includes anyone with a financial interest in most development incentives, city property sales, and zoning changes. An ordinance passed in committee Tuesday adds easements worth more than $25,000 to the list.

Deputy City Solicitor Marion Haynes says the change will also allow the administration to approve any easements worth less than $25,000 without council approval.

“This will allow the city to more efficiently approve some of those low value easements that you may have seen from time to time and wondered why is this in front of Council — somebody's getting a stoop approved or a deck or a bay window,” Haynes told council’s Public Safety and Governance Committee.

Council routinely approves easements for small things.

Late last year, for example, a housing project in Lower Price Hill needed an easement for encroachment upon public property. In other words, they wanted to build a door that would swing out into the right-of-way about three and a half feet.

The developer submitted a detailed request for the easement in May; the Planning Commission approved it in August, and Council gave final approval in November. The fair market value of the easement was $50, according to the city’s Real Estate Services Division.

“This is trying to balance the interests of making sure that the process is efficient for less significant projects and making sure that more significant projects that are coming [through] council have an extra degree of transparency attached to them,” Haynes said.

The city website has two lists updated weekly: the City Business List includes “financially interested persons” associated with a development incentive worth $100,000 or more per year, purchase or lease of city property worth $200,000 or more, or zoning changes (and soon, easements worth at least $25,000). People are included on this list as soon as they start working with city staff on the project.

The prohibition on campaign donations only kicks in once the business is filed with Council, and lasts until Council takes final action. The Temporary Prohibition List includes people within that time frame.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.