Cincinnati Council Members Address Corruption With Separate Charter Amendments

Nov 16, 2020

Two Cincinnati council members are proposing legislation aimed at addressing corruption at City Hall. Council members Betsy Sundermann and Greg Landsman introduced their proposals just an hour apart Monday morning.

Both plans may include amendments to Cincinnati's charter, and both council members say their aim is to restore public trust in city government. This comes after two other City Council members were indicted on corruption charges within a span of 10 months. Tamaya Dennard pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud in June. Jeff Pastor was arrested Nov. 10 on charges of honest services wire fraud, bribery, attempted extortion by a government official and money laundering. Federal officials say further people could be arrested as investigations continue.

Sundermann's Proposal

Sundermann, a Republican, is proposing a charter amendment that would create an internal mechanism to suspend council members accused of impropriety. It would also require them to pay for any costs the city incurs in their defense.

"I think we need to have an internal mechanism in place to be able to suspend people," Sundermann tells WVXU. "Right now, Mr. Pastor can still show up to work and vote on development deals and that's alarming. We need to be able to suspend someone if they're indicted with something involving their job duties and taking money, taking bribes."

When asked about the notion of taking action before a potential conviction when an accused person would still have the presumption of innocence, Sundermann referred to an appearance of impropriety.

"There's a trust that we have to have in the government and how can we go forward with votes if he is sitting there voting on things with us?"

Landsman's Proposal

Landsman's proposal includes a mixture of ordinances and a possible charter amendment. The Democrat wants to create a Cincinnati Ethics Commission similar to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

"We expect that this commission would go beyond what the Ohio Ethics Commission requires in terms of disclosure, in terms of training, in terms of oversight and accountability. It would supplement (and) would build off of and not supersede in any way the state's ethics commission."

He expects the members would be mostly - if not all - lawyers, and non-partisan or bi-partisan. Their recommendations, he envisions, would go before City Council and require the approval of a super-majority of council members.

His plan would also include an ethics and good government officer, campaign finance reforms, and training programs. A charter amendment could be needed, he says, to "update local campaign finance rules and to provide the most appropriate mechanisms for penalizing and possibly removing individuals from office."

"I'm announcing sweeping reforms aimed at restoring trust, not just in government but in public service," Landsman says.

Both Landsman and Sundermann were guests Monday on WVXU's Cincinnati Edition. Sundermann states she doesn't think any money should be put toward training programs or an ethics commission as Landsman is proposing. She says people should take the time to read ethics rules and "be good people" when they're elected and "be ethical."

The two do agree, though, on the idea of having a mechanism for blocking compromised council members from participating in city business.

Yost Calls For Suspension

Ohio Attorney General General Dave Yost is filing a motion to force Council Member Jeff Pastor to be suspended. The request is filed before the Ohio Supreme Court. In filing the request, Yost cites section 3.16 of the Ohio Revised Code which lays out a process for suspending a public official charged with a felony.

"When an elected official puts personal gain ahead of public service, he or she cannot be trusted to act for the good of the public and must be removed from office, at the very least during the pendency of the charges," Yost says in a statement. "Ohioans deserve government that is free of public corruption at every level."

Pastor was arrested and accused last week of creating a pay-to-play scheme that yielded him $55,000 in bribes over the course of about a year. His attorney Benjamin Dusing said Friday calls for Pastor to resign are hasty.

"He is committed to doing the right thing. It's been somewhat of a hectic pace here and he's certainly— he's deliberating as to what the right thing to do is here," Dusing said.

The attorney also said he had not seen any evidence in the case. Officials said they have text messages, emails and other evidence against Pastor, but Dusing said that doesn't mean it's proof that a crime happened.