Thursday, February 6, 2003

Krings contract debated

County asks prosecutor to check validity

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Hamilton County commissioners are making a list of questions for the prosecutor on the legality - or possible lack thereof - of Administrator David Krings' contract.

That announcement - after a closed-door meeting Wednesday - put on hold Commissioner John Dowlin's plans to suggest changes to the controversial contract. Approved in December, the contract guarantees Krings at least $434,000 if he is fired or forced to resign, and lets him collect that severance if even one commissioner suggests he resign.

Dowlin - who had previously defended the contract - issued a press release earlier Wednesday promising to propose "significant changes." He wouldn't specify the changes after Commissioners Todd Portune and Phil Heimlich said they wanted to see the prosecutor's opinion before reopening contract negotiations.

"If there are provisions that are not enforceable, frankly, that strengthens our bargaining position," said Heimlich, who took office after the contract passed.

He wants a written opinion on whether the contract is legal. Commissioner Todd Portune, attending his first meeting since surgery in mid-January, wants to know what contracts, if any, the county is required to have the prosecutor review. The commissioners will compile their questions and send them to Mike Allen's office by Monday, they said.

The contract has come under fire from other corners as well:

Auditor Dusty Rhodes has asked for a prosecutor's opinion on the Krings contract, too, inquiring whether it's invalid since his office never certified that money was available to honor it, as required by state law.

Portune's comment on that: "I guess the question I have, if it needed to be certified, why weren't you doing it, auditor?"

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, a citizens group, told Allen on Monday that it intends to file suit over the contract unless he takes action.

Wednesday's commissioners meeting was held at the Drake Center in Hartwell, where Portune has been undergoing physical therapy. A noncancerous tumor was removed from his spine in eight-hour surgery at University Hospital on Jan. 14, but the tumor had damaged his spine.

"It was probably more serious than I was able to admit or assert," Portune said before the meeting.

Several days after the surgery, he was moved from University to Drake, where he has since worked to regain use of his legs.

Portune expects to be released Friday, but Dr. Austin Nobunaga predicted he'll have to use a wheelchair for at least three months.

"He has made a remarkable recovery," said Nobunaga, director of Drake's spinal cord rehabilitation unit. "He has done everything we want - he has done even more."

Portune expects to return to regular meetings Monday.


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