Front of Cincinnati City Hall. Photo by John Alexander Reese

Cincinnati’s mayor reacts to third public corruption act

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Following the arrest of a third member of Cincinnati City Council on November 19 by federal agents on public corruption charges in a single year, Mayor John Cranley said it’s time to “clean house,” referring to a legislative branch that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have described as a “culture of corruption.”

“It’s another sad day for a city that we love,” Cranley pensively opened his remarks at an afternoon news conference in front of City Hall following the arrest of Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld earlier in the day. “I stand here at this building where I’ve built most of my professional career building a better city that we’re all proud of. But I’m not proud of another arrest today of a City Council member.”

Federal agents arrested Sittenfeld around 9:30 a.m. at his home November 19 on federal bribery charges, making him the third — after former Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard and Councilman Jeff Pastor — to face such charges this year.

Sittenfeld on Thursday afternoon pleaded not guilty to those charges.

“Just like the two other council members, I think he needs to resign,” Cranley said. “He certainly is entitled to due process, but he should focus on that.”

Sittenfeld is a candidate for mayor in 2021. Cranley has one more year in office under Ohio term limits.

Sittenfeld’s arrest led Cranley to suggest it’s time to “clean house” in the city’s seat legislative branch.

“If you read the indictments of Tamaya, Jeff and P.G., they’re all bad,” Cranley said. “It’s hard not to conclude that, in Tamaya and Jeff’s case, at least part of it was desperation for cash. In (Sittenfeld’s) case, it seems to be to accumulate power for power’s sake. And so, in many ways, it’s worse. It’s all bad. It’s all sickening. It’s all depressing.”

There are public consequences to this type of behavior, Cranley said. It this case, the building involved has provided affordable housing for members of the community, who have now been displaced. He added that council members have indicated that providing more affordable housing in Cincinnati is one of their priorities.

Cranley said council members, as legislators, should not be “deal-making” and that the city “clearly need(s) major reforms of City Council and the legislative branch of this government.”

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething also spoke Thursday, saying she has directed all city staff to come forward with any information that might shed light on further instances of questionable behavior by City Council members and will initiate an audit of Council members’ votes in recent years to flush out any other potential conflicts of interest.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman has called for an audit of the council’s involvement in development projects over the past three years.

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