Thursday, July 20, 2000

West End: Issue is city

Audit points to where $80,000 finally ended up

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        West End residents say the amount of money allegedly misspent by their community council pales in comparison to other city and county scandals — and some Cincinnati City Council members seemed to agree.

        Booing and chortling throughout a special City Council meeting Wednesday, residents said that by targeting West End groups for investigation, officials are attempting to take away every economic opportunity the community has obtained.

        “We have spent a lot of time talking here about Genesis and the West End Community Council, but there is a much larger issue here with streetgate and Fort Washington Way,” said Ken Anderson, pointing to recent problems in the city's transportation department and escalating project costs on the downtown freeway.

        The meeting was called in order to review recent audit findings that show more than $80,000 slated for community projects went to West End Community Council board members and their families.

        Council members also said they wanted to question ad ministrators about the apparent lack of oversight on taxpayer money distributed through the city's department of neighborhood services.

        But questions about money and oversight made by some council members during the three-hour hearing seemed to get lost amid accusations and political statements made by others.

        Councilwoman Minette Cooper got a round of applause when she referred to the audit and findings as “a nickle and dime” matter. She said inquiries by Councilman Phil Heimlich only disguised a plan to replace neighborhood services with a private development board.

        Councilman Paul Booth accused Mr. Heimlich of making unsubstantiated claims that community council members lined their pockets with taxpayer money.

        Councilman Todd Portune, who is running for county commissioner in the next election, railed about the council's failure to ask tough questions about $45 million in cost overruns surrounding the taxpayer funded Paul Brown Stadium.

        The council, he said, should not focus just on neighborhood groups.

        Although he spent about 30 minutes asking City Manager John Shirey questions, the result was to deflect issues raised by Mr. Heimlich about the administra tion's ability to monitor funds.

        Mr. Heimlich said he wanted to understand how the city could continue giving money to the West End Community Council in light of audit findings that board members made questionable purchases and claimed thousands in unidentified expenses.

        “I have no way of knowing because I don't look at (payment vouchers),” former Neighborhood Services Director Cheryl Meadows said, who last week was made director of employment and training.

        Two weeks ago, Ms. Meadows said she was preparing a lengthy report detailing how neighborhood services monitored funds, but Wednesday she offered nothing to the council.

        She did, however, receive a standing ovation from the audience.

        Among those applauding were West End Community Council officers identified in the audit as some of those receiving money meant for public improvements.

        Some of those members are already being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on suspicion of misspending taxpayer money through another West End organization, Genesis Redevelopment Inc.

        “I will be here until the end,” Community Council officer Henderson Kirkland told the council.

        According to the audit, Mr. Kirkland and five of his relatives, received $22,884 in funds slated for West End improvements. Other records show that through Genesis, his son was paid $5,500 for landscaping and painting on neighborhood projects, and his ex-wife was sold a house given to Genesis by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

        “Every program we have implemented, we have done it to the best of our ability,” he said.

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