Thursday, April 04, 2002

The settlement

Food made negotiations palatable

        They scarfed down dozens of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Izzy's sandwiches.

        Pounds of animal crackers went the way of a box of whole-wheat matzo and bags of Easter-colored M&Ms.

        They ate for a good cause: Settle the racial profiling lawsuit. Improve police-community relations. Make Cincinnati better.

        In the end, negotiators joked, they had to reach an agreement at 2:03 a.m. Wednesday in Room 836 of the federal courthouse.

        “There aren't any sandwiches left,” they told U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott. “We're going to have to get this over with.”

        Twelve hours after all parties signed the agreement, only leftover snacks remained. Two, 4-pound plastic kegs of Utz pretzel nuggets and a few stray sticky buns hung around Judge Dlott's robing room Wednesday afternoon.

        The space just off her courtroom became the commissary during the week's all-day negotiating sessions.

        The negotiators were a thirsty bunch. They knocked back 144 cans of Coke, 96 cans of Diet Coke and 24 cans of Dr Pepper. Plus pot after pot of coffee.

        They worked collaboratively — after overcoming distrust “on all sides,” said the judge — to settle the lawsuit and put on the feedbag.

        “Ken Lawson made coffee,” said Judge Dlott. “Rev. Damon Lynch III would get the ice. (Police lawyer) Don Hardin was always helping serve food. Everyone helped clean up.”

        And the judge picked up the tab — with her husband, lawyer Stanley Chesley.

        “I didn't want them leaving the courthouse,” she reasoned. “If I provided the meals, they had no excuse for leaving.”

        Or not reaching an agreement.

What's next?

        The collaborative agreement still must be ratified by all parties. That includes the Black United Front, the Fraternal Order of Police and the City of Cincinnati.

        After all sides sign off on the agreement, and barring a lapse of reason they should, what's next for Cincinnati?

        “We have to make some hard, hard decisions,” says Mayor Charlie Luken. To pay for changes in police practices called for in the settlement, the city must narrow its focus and not take on projects it can't afford.

        “We are not good at that,” the mayor says. “We like to do everything a little bit. That's not going to work any more.”

        Vice Mayor Alicia Reece sees fostering “small businesses as the first order of business.”

        Councilman Jim Tarbell hopes “to improve neighborhood business districts and Over-the-Rhine.”

        “We have to reduce crime and make it easer for the average guy to do business here,” says Councilman John Cranley.

        “Remember,” he adds, “we could solve the race problem and still lose the city.”

        Police Chief Tom Streicher cautions that the negotiated settlement is no miracle cure:

        “This is not a light-switch approach and everything is going to be fine the next day. This is a never-ending assignment.”

Example set

        The settlement showed Cincinnatians at their best, sitting down in peace to solve their problems. No riots. No boycotts. No name-calling.

        At least none in Room 836.

        But there is a whole world outside of Judge Dlott's courtroom, beyond the negotiators' signatures on the collaborative agreement.

        In that sense, the judge said, the settlement is “like any agreement or contract. It's only as good as the people who enter into it.”

        Now it's up to the rest of us to live up to the terms of the agreement. Treat each other with honor and respect.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail


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