Thursday, August 15, 2002

Building plans evoke e-mail spat

By Jennifer Edwards,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FAIRFIELD — The debate over the need to build a community center and either expand or build a new justice center dissolved into an exchange of e-mails this week between one council member and the city's municipal judge.

        Judge Joyce Campbell requested a public meeting with council Wednesday after the Enquirer published excerpts from an e-mail a reporter and several city leaders received Tuesday from Councilman Jeffrey Holtegel. The meeting hasn't been scheduled.

        Mr. Holtegel sent the e-mail to explain his objection to the construction of the justice center being linked to the community center. He strongly supports construction of the community center as soon as possible, but three other council members want to wait until after the November election. The city says it can afford to build the community center, but not both the community center and a new justice center.

        To pay for both, voters in November will be asked to approve an income tax reallocation. There would be no additional cost to taxpayers.

        In the e-mail, Mr. Holtegel wrote: “The reallocation was put into place so as to have the money to build a new Justice Center or expand it in the event it is warranted. That hasn't even been determined at this point. All we've seen up to this point is just a bunch of studies based on a self-serving, over-inflated assessments needs that was orchestrated by our staff and our municipal judge.”

        A survey conducted within the last year for the city by consultants found the justice center outdated and overcrowded.

        But in a Wednesday morning e-mail to Mr. Holtegel that was copied to the Enquirer and city leaders under the subject “personal attack,” Judge Campbell strongly denied Mr. Holtegel's previous e-mailed statements. She wrote that she found them “disconcerting and offensive.”

        In light of the public meeting with council to “address any questions or concerns” with them about the study, she canceled an Aug. 23 meeting with Mr. Holtegel and Councilwoman Jill Kinder, another staunch community center supporter, to discuss the study.

        “I feel it imperative that I set the record straight regarding allegations that I, or any of my staff, provided "self-serving inflated assessment needs,”' the judge wrote, later adding: “We were honest and forthright about the current lack of space and its negative impact on the operations of the court.”

        In an e-mail sent to the Enquirer and several city officials Wednesday, Mr. Holtegel apologized to the judge and justice center staff for his Tuesday e-mail.

        “Unfortunately I didn't express myself properly when referring to our staff and our municipal judge,” he wrote. “In no way was it my intention to impugn their integrity. I hold their professionalism to the highest esteem.”

        Wednesday afternoon, Judge Campbell said Mr. Holtegel apologized to her on Tuesday and the two have “made peace.” “I have spoken to him and we worked it out,” she said. “I want to see both buildings. I live here. I want a community center. I don't even care if we get a new justice center. All I want is more space. I have bailiffs working out of a broom closet.”


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