Do Cincinnati Council Member Text Messages Violate Open Meetings Law?

Apr 18, 2018

Five Cincinnati council members may have violated Ohio's Open Meetings Act. Attorney Chris Finney says copies of text messages related to City Manager Harry Black "demonstrates the need for our lawsuit and injunction to force compliance with the Open Meetings Act."

The just-released text messages among council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach, Tamaya Dennard, Wendell Young and Greg Landsman show the five discussing and planning a group statement opposing Mayor John Cranley's effort to force out the city manager. It appears the five also held a conference call.

Finney and fellow attorney Brian Shrive announced the suit by Mark Miller April 9. Miller is the treasurer of Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group founded by Finney.

The information comes from a public records request.

"The suit springs from two press releases issued by the cabal in mid-March that indicated that they had been conducting illegal meetings," the law firm writes in a release.

In the emails, Sittenfeld suggests Black "needs to seek some kind of counseling. But he has to hear it collectively from us; and to frankly understand that his job depends on correcting certain things." 

The five ultimately state their support for Black in a release. 

In a text message to WVXU, Sittenfeld says "there are no sentiments in these texts that I haven't expressed publicly. And bluntly, everyone has much more urgent and important things to focus on, first and foremost, reforming our emergency response system." 

Cranley also issued a statement on the matter:

"The citizens and city workforce deserve better than being managed by somebody that, according to City Council, has "struggles" that require "counseling."  Given the stakes of properly working city services, Council cannot hold the manager to a standard lower than a typical city employee."

You can read the full text messages and lawsuit below.

Cincinnati City Council Text Messages by Finney Law Firm, LLC on Scribd

Cincinnati Council Illegal Meetings Complaint by Finney Law Firm, LLC on Scribd