Wednesday, May 14, 2003

City Hall

Council candidate can't hide city building code violations


"I don't consider myself a slum landlord."

Those are the words of former state Rep. Sam Britton, now a Democratic candidate for Cincinnati City Council, who pleaded no contest in 1996 to building code violations.

Britton bought a Madisonville home at sheriff's sale and rented it to a tenant who was supposed to fix it up, he said. He said the violations continued when the property was under land contract to another owner who was slow to make the needed repairs.

Court records show that for almost a year, Britton failed to comply with orders to barricade windows, repair gutters, replace the roof, paint the exterior, cut weeds and remove debris and litter from the property.

City Council members - including his fellow Democrats - have made cracking down on building violations a key component of their "clean and safe" strategy for neighborhoods.

Embarrassed by the conviction and term-limited out of the Ohio General Assembly, Britton went back to court last November in an attempt to get it expunged.

"It's hard for most people to understand the hurt I feel about it," he said. "I didn't like having this on my record."

But Municipal Court Judge Heather Stein Russell ruled he was not eligible for expungement because he was not a first offender.

Britton said he has a previous conviction for failure to pay city income taxes, which apparently has been expunged.

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Phone home: Last year, under pressure from City Council, the city administration promised to crack down on city cell phone bills. Tim Riordan, then acting city manager, promised a 25 percent savings - or $109,109 a year.

Sixteen months later, city officials admit, they're not even close. They've cut just $54,840 to date.

The biggest factor: undercover police officers have switched to Nextel radio phones, costing the city $30,000 a year.

But in a memo to City Council last week, City Manager Valerie Lemmie also says "more prudent deployment" of cell phones - and stricter accountability on how they're used - should result in more savings.

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Coffee achievers: The Chris Monzel Coffee Club is defunct.

The coffee pot is unplugged. No coffee. No cups. No creamer. No sugar.

The councilman took the action after the Enquirer reported last week that his office spent $411 in taxpayer money on coffee and coffee-related supplies last year. Many third-floor council members and their aides often drank from the Monzel pot.

"There are so many issues in our city that are more important than who's drinking coffee on the third floor of City Hall and who's paying for it," Monzel said. "The amazing thing is that I don't even drink coffee."

Dick Hammersmith, Monzel's chief of staff, said he'll be switching to Kroger instant coffee.

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Greasing the Palms: How did council members keep track of committee meetings before the Palm Pilot?

Councilmen Monzel and John Cranley are getting some ribbing for spending $150 and $218, respectively, on the handheld organizers last year.

This year, the gadgets have won over Minette Cooper and Pat DeWine. Cooper spent $550 on a Palm Tungsten T, and DeWine spent $180 on his Palm i705.

That's a total of $1,098 in tax money just to help keep busy council members up to date with their appointments and phone numbers.

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Quotable: "I guess a couple of hundred dollars a year on flowers is a bad thing. I guess I'm some sort of communist."

- Councilman Jim Tarbell, on a report he spent $332 of taxpayer money on flowers last year.

City Hall reporter Gregory Korte can be reached at or 768-8391.

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