Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Recreation chief chided over lobbying

Council panel split on $6.5M for city centers

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A debate over $6.5 million in spending for Cincinnati recreation centers turned ugly Monday when two council members confronted the city's recreation director on his use of city employees to orchestrate a lobbying campaign for the funding.

Councilmen John Cranley and Pat DeWine grilled James Garges, director of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, for half an hour Monday. They accused him of using taxpayer money to encourage citizens to lobby City Council for more recreation funding.

"To put on a public relations campaign of this size and magnitude, involving city employees, contractors and permit holders, strikes me as something that's not appropriate," DeWine said. "You seem to have absolutely no appreciation for the ethical issues that surround this."

Garges made no apologies for his actions, and denied using city employees to lobby City Council. "It's my job, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, to represent the citizens of Cincinnati with regard to recreation," he said repeatedly.

But Cranley and DeWine produced an inch-high stack of documents they said proved otherwise. A letter from supervisor Kathy Lang to "all permit holders" encouraged them to call or write City Council to complain that recreation wasn't getting enough money.

Another supervisor, Michael McKinney, directed recreation staffers to recruit at least three community leaders to write council members, and another two to attend Monday's hearing.

Indeed, more than a dozen community leaders from all over the city came to the Finance Committee to urge support for Councilman David Crowley's plan to "borrow" $6.5 million earmarked for neighborhood development.

"I think it's disgraceful that members of council have gone after one of the most professional department directors we have in this city," Crowley said. He accused Cranley and DeWine of trying to "entrap, berate and attack" Garges.

The Finance Committee deadlocked 3-3 to approve Crowley's plan. Mayor Charlie Luken said he opposes the diversion of neighborhood funds, so six votes would be needed to override his veto.

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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