Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Records tiff exposes rift with caucus

Inside City Hall

Greg Korte

For an agency whose job it is to build bridges among ethnic and social groups, the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission has some bridge-mending to do with City Council.

A relatively simple issue about providing financial information to Cincinnati council members blew up Tuesday, exposing deep rifts between the 60-year-old race relations agency and what was once its most solid base of support - City Council's African-American caucus.

Here's what happened: Councilman Sam Malone asked the commission for all its financial records for 2002 and 2003. Director Cecil Thomas, citing a lack of staff time to make copies, lent Malone the originals instead - and then came back two weeks later to take them back.

So at a committee meeting Tuesday, Malone said he still hadn't gotten the copies. When Thomas stood up to explain, Chairwoman Alicia Reece told him to sit down and shut up.

Reece said rules are rules. "I run a pretty tight ship. We have rules - and the rules are the same for Kabaka Oba and for Cecil Thomas," she said. "In my committee, nobody gets up and walks to the podium without being called on."

Malone defended Reece's handling of Thomas. "The guy walks around like he's a council member. He's not even a department head."

Malone is a former commission board member. He said there are long-standing problems with the agency. "I think there's something wrong with the leadership of an agency that can't follow simple directions."

Thomas said he would copy all the records and make them available by 1 p.m. today. But he said he's worried that City Council is on a politically motivated fishing expedition.

"I'm concerned more about what exactly is the overall hidden agenda. If I provide the information, what's next?" Thomas said.

Reece said the commission needs to be held accountable. "I'm paying an agency $500,000 to build relationships, and they can't build relationships from the first floor to the third floor," Reece said. "To me, it's petty."

DIRECTOR'S CHAIR: It's the executive director - or a lack of one - that's has another key city agency in disarray.

The Citizen Complaint Authority, which investigates alleged police misconduct, has been without a full-time director since June, when Nate Ford moved back to Toledo.

Part-time interim Director Dan Baker hasn't attended a board meeting since January. And without any consistency in how cases are presented, the board often rejects more investigations than it approves.

At one point Monday, the board couldn't figure out whether it had already rejected a case that was resubmitted - without any changes - for approval. Turns out, no one had told investigator Greg Pychewicz there was any question about his work.

"We're looking like Keystone Cops here," said Walter Bowers, a board member. "This is why we need to act on the executive director quickly."

David Moonitz, an authority investigator who's been the acting interim director, agreed that the agency needs a full-time leader.

But he said the problem is that board members don't read the case files.

"They're running amok in the absence of us having an executive director," he said.


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