Friday, April 05, 2002

City Council prepared to ratify deal

Officials tout other advances

By Gregory Korte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati City Council will have enough votes today to approve a settlement in a racial profiling lawsuit that city leaders describe as a watershed in race relations, council members said.

[photo] Mayor Charlie Luken talks about the agreement Thursday. To his left is Angela Leisure, whose son's death sparked last year's riots.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        A day after the long-awaited settlement was reached, city officials tried Thursday to ride a wave of optimism into an eventful weekend: today's vote by City Council, to be followed by ratification votes from the other parties to the lawsuit by next Tuesday, and Sunday's anniversary of the police shooting that led to last April's riots.

        In a carefully choreographed photo opportunity Thursday, about 55 civic leaders gathered at City Hall to support the racial profiling settlement and to trumpet progress on summer jobs for youth, education and neighborhood development.

        “The sun is literally and figuratively shining on Cincinnati today,” said Michael Fisher, president of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. “We're talking about justice and jobs.”

        Still, some potential land mines remain for the tentative settlement, which also incorporates an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to end its year-long “patterns and practices” investigation into allegations of excessive force by the Cincinnati Police Department.

        There's been little public debate about the substance of the agreements, which provide for an overhaul of the city agencies that provide oversight of the Police Department and changes in policies on choke holds, police dogs, foot pursuits and mentally ill suspects.

        But side issues — who will pay the plaintiff's lawyers and the lingering civil rights boycott of the city — provided fodder for discussion.

        As early as Wednesday, Mayor Charlie Luken said he could count at least seven votes on the nine-member council to approve the settlement.

        But those experienced at counting the votes at City Hall are less sure what will happen at the Fraternal Order of Police, Queen City Lodge.

        The police union was a party to the lawsuit because it could alter the collective bargaining agreement. Voting by the 1,020 union members started with the Thursday morning shift and culminates Saturday. Union leaders have recommended approval.

        “I think all of us are concerned about the FOP,” said Councilman David Crowley, who was endorsed by the union last year but has been less than close to it since. “I hope the Sentinels (representing African-American officers) are excited about it and come out to support it. I hope the brass — all of whom are eligible to vote except the chief — support it.”

        Another hot-button issue: how lawyers for the plaintiffs — the Black United Front and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio — will be paid.

        The lawyers say they've reached an agreement to have private foundations pay more than $600,000 in legal fees so that taxpayers won't have to. But that agreement has not been reduced to writing.

        Even with less than 48 hours between Wednesday's release of the settlement documents and today's vote, most council members said they were ready to approve it.

        Surveyed by The Cincinnati Enquirer late Thursday, all six Democrats said they will vote yes when City Council convenes in a special session at 9 a.m.

        Two others — Republicans Pat DeWine and Chris Monzel — say they will probably vote to approve it, but have lingering questions.

        Charterite Jim Tarbell could not be reached.

        The settlement will be costly for a city already facing a potential financial crisis. City officials estimate initial costs of about $7 million, to be followed by operating costs of as much as $2.5 million a year for five years.

        Thus, City Council's vote today could effectively turn a projected budget deficit of $27 million in 2003 to a deficit approaching $30 million.

        The agreements do provide some relief: costs to implement the racial profiling settlement are capped at $1 million a year, with the expectation that the $750,000 to pay for community-oriented policing programs could come from federal or private grants.

        The costs to implement reforms mandated by the Justice Department are not capped, and could reach $1.5 million a year. After that, the federal officials would agree only to provide technical assistance and to renegotiate the implementation schedule if costs escalate further.

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