Tuesday, January 30, 2001

City might hand off trials to county




By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After several years of discussion, the prosecution of Cincinnati's misdemeanor cases could finally be turned over to the Hamilton County prosecutor.

        Pushed by council members for at least a decade as a way to save taxpayers thousands of dollars, the issue now hinges on a Feb. 6 meeting between top county and city administrators.

        But two city councilmen said Monday the city manager and city lawyers continue to put up roadblocks in what they describe as a fight over territory.

        “All we hear is reason after reason about why the city can't do this,” Councilman Pat DeWine said, citing reports from the city manager and city lawyers that caution against the move.

        “It's pretty convoluted logic to say that it is more expensive for one person to do the job than it is for two people to do the same job.”

        He said city administrators have thrown up repeated roadblocks. The latest: a caution that the city would lose money if duties were shifted to the prosecutor.

        County Prosecutor Mike Allen has said the proposal appeared feasible.

        “If the city's current function is truly supported by these revenues, I do not see why we could not also provide that same function with those same revenues,” he said in a Dec. 15 letter to City Manager John Shirey.

        However, Mr. Shirey said Monday the city has learned it cannot transfer all the revenue collected in prosecuting misdemeanors to the county — and the only option would be to pay the county the difference.

        He acknowledged the city prosecutor's office does pay for its $860,000 annual cost through the collection of fines. But, he said, state law mandates about $240,000 of those fines — for drunken-driving and drug offenses — go directly to the police department.

        Mr. Shirey said he does not think taxpayers would save hundreds of thousands if the city is not doing prosecutions. Instead, he said, the cost will shift to the county.

        Councilman Phil Heimlich, a former assistant county prosecutor, referred to it as a turf war and argued that there must be a way to resolve the issue so county and city prosecutors are not sitting in the same courtrooms every day.

        “It's very rare to see city departments give up turf, no matter how much it will save taxpayers,” he said.

        Mr. Shirey said Monday it does not matter whether the city continues to do its prosecution or shifts those functions to the county as long as it does not cost the city more money.

        He denied any foot-dragging, saying that for months he has been waiting for a response from Mr. Allen.

        He said they have scheduled a Feb. 6 meeting to discuss costs and other options, including changing court calendars so county and city staff are not waiting in the same courtrooms.

        “It is immaterial to me who does the prosecution,” he said. “What I don't understand is why there isn't a way to structure court schedules so that city and county prosecutors don't overlap.”

       



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