Council passes corruption reform

By Marty Dubecky, Staff Writer

The Cincinnati City Council unanimously approved two reforms tackling corruption last week, prompted by three separate indictments of councilmembers in 2020. 

The first reform bars councilmembers from taking campaign contributions from individuals with  financial interests in city business while that business is pending before the council. 

The second reform creates a new “ethics czar” position, which is independent of the council. This individual will probe ethics violation complaints and manage a confidential whistleblower hotline.

Questions continue to swirl regarding who the ethics czar will be or when they will be appointed. While nine councilmembers were elected in the Nov. 2 election, the ethics czar is an appointed official and not a position voted for by the citizens of Cincinnati. 

Senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and political science major Lizzy Parker expressed concerns regarding the appointment of an ethics czar.

“One thing that is questionable is how the ethics czar will be chosen to accurately and trustworthily prevent corruption among councilmembers… How will Cincinnatians fully trust this said ‘third party’ in actually stopping corruption?” she asked.

In 2020, councilmembers Tamaya Dennard, Jeff Pastor and P.G. Sittenfield were arrested on counts of corruption.

Dennard was arrested on Feb. 25 for charges of wire fraud, attempted extortion and bribery. She pleaded guilty for wire fraud, and the other charges were dropped. Dennard was ordered to pay a $15,000 money judgment  after admitting to accepting $15,000 in exchange for her votes at City Hall and will serve 18 months in jail. 

Pastor and Sittenfield have pleaded not guilty and are still awaiting further court proceedings. According to the allegations against Pastor and Sittenfield, both men sold votes in exchange for money.

With both cases still pending, Pastor and Sittenfield have been suspended from office. The suspension does not bar the men from receiving city council benefits and paychecks.

Xavier’s Governmental Relations Director Sean Comer explained that all 35 candidates who ran for one of the nine available spots on the City Council ran on an anti-corruption platform, and the present councilmembers are also pushing for a strict anti-corruption culture. 

“Everybody’s saying largely the same thing… It’s not like you’re running against a corrupt set of people. So, I think what you actually see is everybody’s running on anti-corruption,” he said.

Comer also expressed doubts that these reforms would substantively combat corruption in the city.

“People are fallible. We elect people. And that’s the system we have, and I’m not sure I want a different system where we don’t choose who gets to be in charge,” he said. “We have to have people who are going to make good decisions, people who are trustworthy.”

Parker agreed with Comer’s assessment but expressed some optimism in the reforms.

“I too do not think that these changes will completely wipe out corruption. However, I think that these reforms are a positive sign that future corruption can hopefully be largely curbed from occurring,” she said.