Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Agreement's yield: Contention


By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In retrospect, the Collaborative Agreement seemed troubled from the beginning.

True, there used to be a time when the police reform agreement - the settlement of a federal lawsuit over alleged racial profiling by Cincinnati police - couldn't come up in discussion without some adjective like "historic" or "landmark" attached to it.

It was an agreement hammered out during all-night sessions at the federal courthouse, as lawyers for the city, the Cincinnati Black United Front, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Fraternal Order of Police tried to meet a self-imposed deadline of April 7, 2002 - the one-year anniversary of the police shooting that led to riots in Over-the-Rhine.

In an effort to meet the deadline, the parties agreed on paper if not in spirit. Almost from the beginning, contentious issues arose.

First, it was attorney's fees. The plaintiffs' lawyers said they were owed $600,000 for their work; the city threatened to bail if the taxpayers were made to pay it.

Other fights followed, each generating front-page headlines: Alan Kalmanoff, the first court-appointed monitor, was run out of town after billing $55,241 for three weeks of work. The Black United Front wanted out of the agreement in order to redouble its efforts on the boycott. City Council demanded that the Front's lawyers go, too, sparking grassroots support for BUF lawyer Kenneth L. Lawson.

And now, the FOP wants to leave, too. FOP Vice President Keith Fangman, stung by a ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott in a related police shooting case, called the agreement a "farce." FOP President Roger Webster said, "We're the bastard stepchild of this whole agreement, and we're not going to take it anymore."

Then the two police union leaders left for the studios of WLW (700 AM), where they went on a half-hour harangue about Judge Dlott's two cocker spaniels, Dickens and Crumpet, which she brings with her to the federal courthouse.

With all this ill will and name-calling, can the Collaborative Agreement still succeed?

"It may appear on the outside that it is doomed to failure," Lawson said. "The reason why it's an agreement in federal court is so that you can be forced to do what you promised you were going to do."

But it's not that simple. Beyond the day-to-day disagreements, there's a fundamental difference of opinion about the very foundation of the collaborative:

City Hall sees it as a settlement of convenience, entered into as a sign of good faith to avoid a lengthy and divisive court fight. It's binding, but not irrevocable.

The plaintiffs see it as having the moral and legal force of a federal consent decree (even though paragraph 125 of the agreement says, "The parties agree that this is not a consent decree").

Sooner or later, the city may decide to test that argument in court.

Indeed, when the Black United Front asked to leave the collaborative in March, Luken said unequivocally that the city should do likewise. "I'm not sure that this whole thing is not becoming laughable at this point," Luken said March 19. "We sign the agreement and the BUF tears it up, calls us all kinds of names and then pulls out. What are we doing here?"

He later conceded that he didn't have City Council support to pull out entirely, and signed on to a less radical measure by Councilman David Pepper that sought to exclude the Black United Front's lawyers from the process.

Dlott ruled against the city on that question, calling the city's arguments "ludicrous" and "nonsensical." When she ruled against the city last week on Kalmanoff's bill, Luken went on a tirade. He accused Dlott of having a bias against the city - comments echoed by the Fraternal Order of Police Tuesday.

After the FOP announcement, Luken had a written statement ready but didn't take direct questions from reporters. His statement said the FOP action "will make it much more difficult for the collaborative to have the kind of broad-based community support that is crucial to its success." Luken was silent on whether the city should stay in the collaborative. Some council members weren't.

Republicans, who have only reluctantly agreed to the awkward arrangement, said the city should wait and see what happens to the FOP. If the police union leaves, there's not much point in having the city as the only original party still at the table, they said. "The day the Black United Front bailed out, the whole deck of cards started to collapse," said Councilman Chris Monzel, who will likely introduce a resolution to get the city out of the agreement if the FOP goes, too.

That's no surprise to Lawson.

"I think the city has wanted to undermine the collaborative all along, but they don't want to be seen as the bad guy," he said.

But the plaintiffs, even while blasting the city and the FOP, saw Tuesday's developments as just another bump in the road.

"There's going to be fights like this. There's going to be growing pains, because people don't want to change," Lawson said. "We have to work together. The only alternative is increased crime and continued division based on race."


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Parents worry about lead paint in schools
History of inconsistency

Police want out of race accord
Agreement's yield: Contention
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