The holiday season won’t be worry-free for the so-called Gang of Five at Cincinnati City Hall.
Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, Chris Seelbach, P. G. Sittenfeld, and Wendell Young are facing the possibility of criminal prosecution.
State Auditor Keith Faber identified the potential offense as a dereliction of duty. He returned the seemingly settled case back to local Prosecutor Joe Deters who told us, “I saw P. G. today at lunch, and I told him what was comin’.”
Deters appointed a special prosecutor, Pat Hanley, who was an assistant U. S. attorney here from 1976 to 1995. Hanley will start from the very first text message and have everything at his disposal.
He told us he started receiving documents related to the case Thursday and would begin examining everything in earnest after the first of the year.
The five-city lawmakers have already admitted they conducted public business in private during a settlement earlier this year.
“I know some of the people involved, and some of them are pretty good people,” said Deters. “But they were just not smart about this and should not have done what they did.”
Earlier this year, it seemed over and done with. But now, all of the messages, including exchanges about firing, then city manager Harry Black are in play for potential criminal prosecution.
A decision about terminating a city manager should have only played out in the public eye, according to Ohio’s Sunshine Law.
One text from Wendell Young read: “Let’s bounce the sucker.”
Another from Chris Seelbach read: “Cranley could be lying to me.
Would never trust him for a second,” a reference to the city’s current mayor.
Again Seelbach: “But told me, Smitherman, Murray, and Mann are definite, yes to fire.”
Young responded: “I won’t say anything either. But we know Cranley doesn’t mind lying about anything.”
“There’s a serious concern about the juvenile nature of the governance there,” said local GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou, who rejected any assertion that politics played a role in the auditor’s action.
The local Democratic Party issued this statement: “Local elected Republican officials put this issue to bed nearly a year ago, and now the Republican State Auditor – who is Trump’s reelection campaign co-chair and was a central player in the statewide ECOT charter school corruption scandal – is trying to make a name for himself in Cincinnati. Hamilton County residents care about good-paying jobs and infrastructure improvements, not hyper-partisan shenanigans. It’s time to move on.”
Asked if he thinks the five lawmakers were derelict in their public duty, Deters responded, “I think there’s a probability of that, yes. And I think that that’s going to be an assessment that Pat Hanley is going to have to make.”
Triantafilou told us he would withhold judgment on whether or not it merits criminal charges.
“It’s too soon,” he added.
Deters said once he heard from the state auditor, he had to put a new investigation in motion.
“I think it was dumb what they did. I think it was arrogant to perform your duties of office that way.”
Sittenfeld has Mayoral ambition.
He and the other four will now be watching for what Hanley determines in the new year.
“I’m sure they’re very upset,” Deters said. “But there’s nothing I can do, and Pat, I’m sure, will do it as quickly as he can.”
If deemed necessary, Hanley could impanel a grand jury and compel testimony.
He could find evidence exonerating the five, or he could unearth proof that could result in other charges.
Dereliction of duty is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.