By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
Wendell Young will remain on Cincinnati City Council after a vote to suspend him, after he had recently been indicted on a third-degree felony, failed at the May 26 City Council meeting.
Six council members – Greg Landsman, David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Betsy Sundermann, Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney and Liz Keating – voted to suspend, while Christopher Smitherman and Steve Goodin abstained.
The measure needed seven votes to pass.
An amendment to the City Charter (Issue 2) introduced by Council Member Betsy Sundermann, which was passed by voters on May 4, allows council to suspend a member if that member is indicted for a state or federal felony related to their official council duties. Before the charter amendment, an indicted council member could only be suspended through a lengthy court process.
Young was indicted for Tampering With Evidence related to the “Gang of Five” Ohio Open Meeting Law violation. The vote required seven votes to pass but only received six, as two members abstained. Young was prohibited from voting on his own suspension.
“The City of Cincinnati needed this to pass,” Sundermann says. “Our citizens sent a clear message that they wanted indicted members suspended when they passed Issue 2, and we failed them.”
Young attended Wednesday’s council meeting via Zoom, but declined a chance to speak, “I think everyone can understand that it probably is not in my best interest to speak now, so I have no comment,” he said.
“If someone’s indicted for a felony while in office, and it involves unethical behavior in office, I will always vote to suspend that person,” said Sundermann. “Why is that even a question?”
Young, who was indicted April 15 by a Hamilton County grand jury on a felony tampering with records charge, has pleaded not guilty.
“At some point between January 3, 2018, and October 16, 2018, Young knowingly and with the purpose to defraud, destroyed text messages that belonged to a government entity,” Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Hanley said in a news release.
“The grand jury has decided that probable cause exists that Councilman Young has committed a violation of the law, tampering with records. It is my intention of taking that charge into court and establishing he is guilty of that offense beyond a reasonable doubt.”
If convicted, Young faces a maximum punishment of three years in prison.
Hanley has requested the Ohio Supreme Court to begin suspension proceedings against Young
There are still two possible avenues for Young to leave Council: he can resign or be suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court. The objection gives Young and his attorneys the right to a full hearing to dispute their case to the panel at the state supreme court. A date has not been set for that hearing.
Young, 75, a Democrat has served on council since 2010. He will be term limited at the end of the year.