Following the Money Leads to Probe of Police

An already delayed audit of the Cincinnati Police Department's use of overtime came to a screeching halt Nov. 4 after City Auditor Mark Ashworth told the Internal Audit Committee that he'd uncov

Anthony Antal

Juliet Stewart of Cincinnati addresses a hearing on voting irregularities in Ohio. Organizers might try to challenge the election's validity.

An already delayed audit of the Cincinnati Police Department's use of overtime came to a screeching halt Nov. 4 after City Auditor Mark Ashworth told the Internal Audit Committee that he'd uncovered at least one instance of what looks like "egregious" criminal conduct. That discovery slowed the process, Ashworth said, because then he had to make sure he was seeing what he thought.

It's common to share audit findings with the department being audited, according to Finance Director Bill Moller. That's how police came to tell Ashworth that he doesn't understand personnel assignments and he's looking in the wrong place.

"Police believe I'm off target," Ashworth told the committee. "Police believe I'm in the wrong area. I believe I'm in the right area. This situation was really egregious, and if something egregious could happen, then anything could happen."

But that wasn't the only holdup to an audit that's been in the works since January — since, in fact, Councilman Christopher Smitherman picked up on abuses of police overtime and off-duty details first reported by CityBeat's Leslie Blade, whom Smitherman even subpoenaed to testify before council (see "Protection Racket," issue of Dec. 10-17, 2003). The police department was slow to surrender the documents Ashworth requested; at one point it even wanted to charge him for documents.

At this, City Councilman Pat DeWine laughed, then quickly sobered. A completed audit is important as council tinkers with an eviscerated budget, he said. But this audit might not be what he wants.

"As far as budgeting deliberations going on currently, I don't believe that this audit is going to identify, necessarily, savings that could be realized," Ashworth said.

Even so, he was shooting to complete the audit by the end of November, he said.

But not so fast — or even so slow. That very afternoon the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office subpoenaed and confiscated every single document related to the police overtime audit.

During the Nov. 17 city council meeting, Smitherman and DeWine voiced frustration at the newest wrinkle.

"I don't understand why all the audit materials have been taken from the internal auditor," DeWine said.

He scheduled another audit committee meeting for Nov. 22. Even if the audit doesn't affect next year's budget, it could play a role in the city's negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police. The question is, will auditors get the information they need before negotiations end? And will anyone be prosecuted as a result of what they find?

Faith, Hope and a Recount
The city's budget could seriously impact agencies that serve the poor. Mayor Charlie Luken and City Manager Valerie Lemme have proposed eliminating the entire $4.8 million human services budget. That prospect led to prayers Nov. 21 at the Northside Ministerial Association's Annual Ecumenical Thanksgiving Dinner.

"This will have serious consequences for all of us," says the Rev. Deb Gamble of St. Philip's Episcopal Church. "As people of faith, we believe this has a moral dimension and that we have a mandate to care for those who are in need: the hungry, the homeless, the children and the sick."

The cross on Fountain Square this year will not be a Ku Klux Klan symbol. Decoursey Baptist Church will install a cross Dec. 11 to promote racial unity and harmony, according to Roy Powell, senior deacon at the church.

"This is in no way, shape or form a KKK display," he says. "We are praying for peace in Cincinnati."

In the past, the KKK has posted a cross on Fountain Square and the city has sometimes provided 24-hour police protection to prevent vandalism. The display proved so controversial that city council passed an ordinance banning holiday displays on the square. Two years ago the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the law.

The Ohio Vote 2004 Committee held a hearing at the Corryville Branch Library last week, soliciting testimony about voting irregularities Nov. 2. The group, which includes Common Cause of Ohio, the Ohio Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections and other grassroots groups, has also held hearings in Columbus and Cleveland. The hearings weren't just an exercise in post-electoral grousing. The affidavits collected by the Ohio Vote 2004 Committee could provide the basis for a legal challenge to the results of the presidential election in Ohio. The state supreme court will hear a complaint if it receives evidence of 25 or more people improperly being denied the right to vote. Committee organizers say they have ample evidence to challenge the election, once the results are certified. With Hamilton County just starting last week to examine more than 14,000 provisional ballots, the election is anything but over. Too bad John "Count All the Votes" Kerry has done nothing to encourage the effort to ensure the election isn't stolen.

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