The City Solicitor’s Office provided written answers to Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman Wednesday as he tries to clear hurdles to compel five of his council colleagues to repay the city for fines and legal fees from a civil suit.
Five members of Cincinnati City Council, the so-called “Gang of Five”: P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman, Wendell Young, and Tamaya Dennard exchanged private texts and emails about city business in 2018 in a violation of Ohio’s Open Meetings Act.
The suit was brought against them by Mark Miller of Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative anti-tax group.
The council members settled the suit in March 2019, admitting to the violation.
The settlement for the lawsuit cost the city more than $170,000, of which $11,000 went to statutory fines:
- $1,000 in fines, split five ways, were assessed to the council members for violating the Open Meetings Act. Four of the five “Gang” members: Seelbach, Sittenfeld, Landsman, and Young, acted on their own last year to repay their $200 share of the $1,00 fine for violating the Open Meetings Act, city records show. Dennard has not the city solicitor’s office confirmed Wednesday.
- A $10,000 fine was assessed to council member Young for deleting text messages.
The remaining sum relates to the attorney’s fees and services:
- $17,080 in fees to Taft Stettinius & Hollister law firm
- $43,172 in fees to Dinsmore & Shohl law firm for the five council members
- $90,000 in fees to the Finney Law Firm, where Brian Shrive works (he represented the anti-tax activist who sued)
- $11,708 to Binary Intelligence for expert services provided during discovery.
That breakdown is, according to the City Solicitor’s Office, all $172,961.
It does not include 409 hours worked on the suit by the solicitor’s office, which is “legally required under state law to defend city employees” in instances such as these, a city attorney, Peter Stackpole, wrote in a memo to Smitherman.
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City attorney responds to Chris Smitherman about ‘Gang of Five’ was originally published on thebuzzcincy.com