County Judge Robert Ruehlman called on five Cincinnati City Council members – all Democrats – to resign Thursday following revelations the group, the so-called “Gang of Five” violated several Ohio Sunshine Laws.
On April 9, 2017, a conservative watchdog group filed a startling lawsuit. Mark Miller, Ohio citizen and treasurer of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) was accused Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach, Tamaya Dennard and Greg Landsman, (all Democrats) of “attempting to decide matters of great public import behind closed doors and in secret communications, and subverting the public’s right to know and understand the actions of its public officials.”
According to court documents, per Ohio law:
Article II § 5 of the City Charter of the City of Cincinnati declared that “[t]he proceedings of the council shall be public,” and that “[t]he council shall keep a journal of its proceedings which shall be a public record.” Likewise, R.C. § 121.22(C) requires that “[a] 11 meetings of any public body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times,” and further declares that “[t]he minutes of a regular or special meeting of any public body shall be promptly prepared, filed, and maintained and shall be open to public inspection.”
In direct violation of this, from Jan. 1 through Oct. 23, 2018, the Council members “sent group text messages among each other, some of which constituted a private prearranged discussion of public business.” The ‘smoking gun’ appeared to be a major decision, made entirely in private messages. By text, the five agreed to fire then-City Manager Harry Black before any formal process or public hearing could take place.
The case was initially dismissed by the councilmen as a partisan witch hunt that was about politics and instead of principle. However, once the lawsuit was filed and Discovery began, the council members began deleting their text messages. To recover them, a private data-tech company was hired to recover the majority of the message. Following this, the Councilmen settled, admitted wrongdoing, apologized, but refused to resign from office.
What made this truly galling to many city leaders was the fact that the lawsuit cost the city almost $177,000 in legal fees, none of which is recoverable. For this, Judge Ruehlman is calling for their resignation, noting, “I really believe that the five city council members should resign and pay it back … no city voter should ever vote for them again.”
The five have no plans to resign and the local Democratic Party Chair called the entire case a political “witch hunt.”
The full-text messages can be found here.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to [email protected].
Photos of Tamaya Dennard and Greg Landsman by Cincinnati City Council. Photo “Chris Seelbach” by Chris Seelbach. Photo “Wendell Young” by Wendell Young. Photo “P.G. Sittenfeld” by P.G. Sittenfeld. CC BY-SA 2.0.