City And Park Board Close To Agreement On Endowment Funds

Feb 15, 2018

Lawyers involved say they're very close to reaching a "memorandum of understanding" (MOU) between the city of Cincinnati and the park board on how funds in park endowment accounts are spent and accounted for.

A city attorney and lawyers representing some city park board members provided an update during a park board meeting Thursday.

"This thing is at the bottom of the ninth inning, it's very, very, very close to being done," said attorney James Burke, who's representing some of the park board members.

Burke and other outside lawyers involved in the talks have become a sticking point because the city solicitor has said her office provides legal counsel to the park board and its members.

But Burke and park board members say they need representation because the city's interests and the park board's in the MOU are not the same.

"There are issues that affect the independence of the park board and the financial transparency and the financial requirements of the city where people are going to have to negotiate," Burke said. "This is a difficult negotiation to balance those interests and come up with a document that works for everybody."

The lawyers said the issues between the park board and the separate parks foundation are essentially resolved, and those between the park board and the city are close. All the terms must be rolled into one MOU.

Thursday was the initial meeting for new park board commissioner Jim Goetz. Mayor Cranley appointed him to the board last month with city council approval.

His first nomination in December ended up in court as former park board member Dianne Rosenberg challenged the mayor's ability to replace her, saying her term had not expired. She also argued the council in place in December could not vote on a new appointee since the term would begin under the term of a different city council that was sworn in in January. A judge agreed and Cranley had to appoint Goetz for a second time.

Cranley said the appointment was about improving fiscal transparency for parks funding, especially from the large endowment funds.

Goetz said the city has benefited from the many gifts that have been left to the parks.

"I will work to insure that funds given to parks in the past are spent for the parks and are authorized by this board, and are done so in accordance with the wishes of those who have left them to us," Goetz said.

Goetz said he doesn’t take those responsibilities lightly. He said he's going to be dedicated to cooperation, collaboration and transparency.

The board also selected Brad Lindner to be the chairman. He said it's important to get an agreement with the city done quickly since the parks are facing $58 million in deferred maintenance.

"If this MOU doesn't satisfy potential donors and existing donors, that $58 million hole is not going to be filled by the city."

Attorneys involved believe a final agreement should be completed in the next two months.