The day after the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cincinnati released an affidavit from an FBI agent alleging that Cincinnati City Councilmember Tamaya Dennard had sought money in exchange for votes on public business, elected officials had an array of responses.
Dennard is charged with extortion, bribery and wire fraud in relation to alleged $15,000 in payments she solicited and accepted from an FBI informant — an employee at a downtown law firm representing developers at The Banks, according to the affidavit — in exchange for her votes on issues related to a controversial land swap council was mulling that would have allowed a music venue there to move forward. Multiple media outlets report the FBI's informant is attorney Tom Gabelman, who works for firm Frost Brown Todd and has represented Hamilton County on development matters for a number of years.
Attorneys Eric Eckes, Stephanie Kessler and Martin Pinales are representing Dennard, court documents show. In a statement released today, Dennard indicated through her attorneys that she will make a decision about her future on council by next week. Dennard's attorney Erik Laursen previously denied she had done anything "unethical or illegal."
“She recognizes that her constituents deserve to know whether she will continue to serve in the seat to which she was elected while she works to clear her name,” the statement from Dennard's attorneys released today (Feb. 26) said.
Dennard posted a message on Facebook today to thank those who have reserved judgment.
"During this incredibly dark and difficult time, I want to thank you for all of the love you’ve sent my way," she wrote. "The messages, prayers, hugs, the “thinking about you’s” have helped more than you can imagine. Going through hard times have a way of revealing things both about yourself and others. Thank you to everyone who have made a conscious decision to allow me due process before casting judgment. Judgment is so easy. Thank you to everyone who believes in and affirms my goodness. More than anything, I just wanted you to know that I’m alright."
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Democratic Party Gwen McFarlin called on Dennard to respond to the allegations and resign if she is guilty.
"The allegations raised against Ms. Dennard are significant and serious,” she said in a statement. “Councilmember Dennard deserves the due process afforded to all our citizens and should be able to respond to these serious charges brought against her. If the allegations are true, Ms. Dennard should step down from elected office to restore the public's faith in City Council as it tackles the important issues facing our city.”
Cincinnati's Charter Committee, a good government group, urged Dennard to recuse herself on any votes until the matter is resolved.
"The Charter Committee is clearly concerned by the events that have transpired over the last 24 hours," a statement from the group said. "We believe with the evidence presented in the affidavit against Councilwoman Dennard it would be in the best interest of the city for her to recuse herself from any and all votes at this time. Councilwoman Dennard is innocent until proven guilty and deserves due process but we feel that with the gravity of the accusations that any and all votes may be called into question and believe that a recusal is the best approach at this time."
Dennard's fellow Democrat Mayor John Cranley addressed what he called "the elephant in the room" at Cincinnati City Council's regular meeting today.
"The allegations against Councilmember Dennard are serious and are the most disturbing allegations of corruption that I have witnessed or even heard of," Cranley said. "They directly threaten the city's business and our ability to conduct the city's business. Public trust is paramount to our ability to function and do business as a city. I believe that she owes the public an explanation immediately. If these allegations are true, or if there is no credible explanations of innocence — which in mind means she didn't take the money or didn't send those texts — unless she can claim that, she needs to resign. The city deserves better. We deserve better."
Prior to being elected to council, Dennard served on the staff of Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld. In remarks before council's meeting today, he expressed disappointment and hope that a resolution would come soon, but added that Dennard deserves due process, The Cincinnati Business Courier reports.
"This has been a sad, rough couple days for our city," he said. “At a personal level, I’ve been devastated and shocked by news about someone who has been both a friend and a colleague. I am praying for her. Everyone deserves due process. I’m going to respect that process as it unfolds."
Councilmember Greg Landsman, also a Democrat, said council should focus on the business of working for residents. He acknowledged, however, that that would be "difficult until this is behind us."
"This is a really difficult moment for all of us," he said. "As I said earlier, there is no dimension of this that isn't awful or sad. I wish there was something that we could do to change what has happened. All I know is that we have the responsibility to residents, taxpayers, the people we serve to focus on them."
Councilmember Jeff Pastor, a Republican, released a statement just before today's meeting.
"In light of recent events, I want to make clear that my office is completely focused on delivering good government to each and every citizen," Pastor said in the statement.