Saturday, August 24, 2002

Car show organizers skeptical

Mayor says he'll return $10,000 fund

By Susan Vela,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NORWOOD — Mayor Joe Hochbein could find himself as a defendant once again. It all depends on whether he's willing to surrender control of a $10,000 fund that led to his legal problems in the first place.

        The mayor told Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman this week that he would turn the cash over to the group that would place the money into a private bank account to organize an annual car show. But that group isn't holding its collective breath.

        They've already spent two years trying to wrest control of the money from the mayor, who has said he is right to refuse their request because the car show has a new name — the “Citizens Car Show” rather than the “Norwood Car Show” — and the organizing committee of about 20 members isn't the same.

        But, “the money's not his. It never was his. All he has to do is turn over the money. What he needs to do is get off the dime, surrender the money and be done with it,” said Robert G. Kelly, the city's former law director, who is now representing the car show group. “We won't have him sitting on the money like a hen waiting to lay an egg. He's a game player. If he doesn't honor (the promise), he's going to end up in court so quick, it'll make your head spin.”

        In the judge's chambers this week, Mayor Hochbein said that he will surrender the money as long as the car show committee demonstrates that it has voted to close the account with the city. Mayor Hochbein is the only one who can sign checks for that account. He said that he hasn't used it.

        Meanwhile, Mr. Kelly promises to give him the requested letter within the next week.

        “If they vote, I'll transfer it,” the mayor said by telephone.

        In July 2000, he was accused of closing the account for the Norwood Car Show and depositing the money into his campaign account. He faced 14 counts of theft in office and falsification and the possibility of two years in jail.

        A six-day trial led to a plea bargain. The mayor pleaded “no contest” to a felony charge of election falsification and two falsification misdemeanors.

        While the mayor has paid $1,200 in fines, he has not budged from believing that he does not have to turn over the money until the original car show committee votes on the matter.

        Committee President Ray Partin said they did so about two years ago, but that the mayor has not acknowledged the vote.

        The mayor said the vote is not valid because the group has a new name. Despite the name change, the new organizing committee is the same as the old one, committee members said.


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