Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Council may return to address funding report

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After being blindsided by an investigation report involving Cincinnati's Department of Neighborhood Services, City Council members are calling a special meeting Wednesday.

        Although council is supposed to be on a summer recess, several members say questions about the misuse of city money, the lack of oversight and the city man ager's handling of the issue cannot wait.

        “If we don't take it up in a special session, I'm afraid it would get swept under the rug,” said Councilman Pat DeWine. “I certainly think it was mishandled.”

        Concerns include the timing of the report's release two days after the council went on recess; a letter from City Manager John Shirey that council members call misleading; and a series of personnel changes, including the reassignment of the neighborhood services director.

        “I want truth, I want the facts and I want a full disclosure,” said Councilman Todd Portune. “I'm concerned about things spinning out of control. And other things not being addressed properly.”

        On June 30, Mr. Shirey released an audit report

        showing more than $80,000 slated for community projects has gone instead to West End Community Council board members, their relatives and organizations they control, since 1992.

        A cover letter attached to the report said the city solicitor concluded there was no basis for misdemeanor prosecution.

        But a memo from the city solicitor's office strongly recommended a criminal investigation by the city's police department.

        “What I am concerned about is use of (city) funds by the West End Community Council and the administration oversight and monitoring of those funds,” Mr. DeWine said. “I want to know why the report conveniently came out after the council adjourned for the summer.”

        Mr. Shirey did not return phone calls Monday.

        A special finance committee meeting was first called by Mr. DeWine and Councilman Phil Heimlich, who have raised several concerns about this investigation and other recent scandals that they say reflect a failure by administrators to protect taxpayer money.

        But after Mr. Shirey announced a series of personnel changes last week, Mr. Portune and Councilman Charlie Winburn asked for a full council meeting.

        In addition to the personnel changes and the community council funds, they also want to review improprieties by city engineers, which left $15 million slated for road repair being used for other projects from 1991 to 1997.

        “The roads are indicative of a variety of administration problems that have surfaced over the last six months,” Mr. Portune said. “I think, to act responsibly as a council, we can't let another month go by without discussing these issues.”l


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