reports in tomorrow's Enquirer
A hearing to grill members of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission on how they spend city money turned into questions about how a member of city council conducts his business.
During the Rules and Government Operations Committee meeting Tuesday, it was revealed council member Chris Bortz
made a phone call last week to a city administrator responsible for executing a contract with the decades old human relations organization, telling the administrator to delay signing that contract until after Tuesday.
“I did get a call from a council member, asking me not to sign the CHRC contract,” said Michael Cervay
, director of the Department of Community Development and Planning, adding that he has never received such a request from a council member in his two years at the city.
For good reason.
The request appears to be in violation of the city charter which states that, except for asking questions, council members must deal with the city manager and not the administrative staff. It’s a fundamental rule in the operation of Cincinnati’s city manager form of government, dating to 1925. The rule, written by Charterites, is intended to insulate administrators from political pressure.
Bortz is a Charterite.
“I think the question we should be asking is: Does any member of council have the right to interfere with the process?” councilman David Crowley
said. “Are we doing our job and are we doing it correctly?”
Both he and council member Cecil Thomas
, former chairman of the CHRC, called Bortz’s conversation with Cervay “improper.” Council member John Cranley also expressed concern over the phone call. None of the three council members said they were aware of Bortz’s phone call until days later.
“I don’t care about the hearing,” Cranley said. “Why was there an effort to hold up the contract?”
Bortz denied telling Cervay to not sign the contract.
“Telling Michael Cervay there’s some concern among council members and (he) might have to amend this contract, that’s information he’d probably like to have,” Bortz said. “He made his own decision. I didn’t tell him what to do. In this one instance, because there was a time crunch, I didn’t go through the city manager.
“I called Michael up, with whom I have a close working relationship, and made him aware that there is an issue that might double his workload. It was just a nice thing to do.”
That issue, relevant to members of city council such as Jeff Berding and Laketa Cole who supported a more conservative budget two months ago, was how much CHRC spends on administrative costs. Cole asked why the organization spent $135,000 on salaries and only $19,000 on programs. Cheryl Meadows, the CHRC’s director, said salaries pay for people in the street worker program, which identifies at-risk kids and helps keep them out of trouble. It’s impossible to separate salaries from the program, she said.
Thomas then questioned the purpose for bringing CHRC administrators into the hearing.
“This doesn’t pass the smell test,” Thomas said. “Let’s cut to the chase. We have the head of another African American organization begin dragged down here and grilled. There was a decision by a member of council to call a director and stop an action this council voted on. He went around the city manager, who happens to be African American.”
Berding said the reason for the hearing was to understand how CHRC was spending its money, and to make sure its efforts were aligned with other anti-violence programs. When asked if he was aware of Bortz’s phone call before it was made, Berding said: “I don’t know exactly how it transpired.”
Will Thomas, board president for the CHRC, said he is troubled that his organization is the only social service agency included in the 2007 budget that has been questioned about its spending.
“We don’t have anything to hide, but it did draw a red flag in my mind,” Thomas said. “Are they going to call in other agencies?”