We're not sure if Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters pays The Enquirer to handle his public relations, but he should.
In a stunning example of Deters spinning his previous statements and the newspaper ignoring its earlier article on the topic, The Enquirer reported Feb. 2 that Deters was angry about a contract approved by county commissioners for use of an outside law firm.
Specifically, Deters didn't like provisions in the county's contract with the Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease firm that gave some of its attorneys a pay raise over the previous rate it had been charging Hamilton County. Under the deal, all of the firm's attorneys used would be paid $265 per hour, an $18-an-hour increase.
For more than a decade, commissioners have used Tom Gabelman and three other attorneys from the firm to help with complicated riverfront redevelopment issues connected to construction of The Banks housing and shopping district.
In October 2009, though, Deters suddenly became concerned about the longtime arrangement and got embroiled in a dispute with commissioners. He alleged the firm was costing too much and acted to end its use without notifying the commission. Deters privately held a meeting with 12 Common Pleas Court judges and persuaded them to sign an order firing the outside legal counsel.
Deters cited a provision in Ohio law that allows any county prosecutor to ask judges to fire an outside firm if the cost exceeds the prosecutor’s salary in any given year. That provision could be used because Deters had recently taken a second job moonlighting for Stan Chesley's law firm — something most county prosecutors don't do — and thus returned half of his prosecutor's salary in favor of a private paycheck.
It should be noted that Deters is a Republican, and perhaps the most powerful official in the county GOP. During the 2009-10 dispute, the three-member county commission was controlled by Democrats Todd Portune and David Pepper. (Pepper didn't seek reelection last year and a Republican won his seat, throwing the group back under GOP control in January.)
Also, when the county first used the Vorys firm in the late 1990s, the commission was controlled by Republicans. Paperwork renewing the arrangement had been routinely signed over the years by Deters and filed with the court, with nary a peep from the prosecutor.
During the 2009-10 dispute, commissioners filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court that alleged Deters overstepped his authority and sought to have the firing rescinded. Ultimately, Deters won the dispute but he later allowed commissioners to use the firm as long as the outside attorneys reported to his office, not the commission, so he could oversee the process.
Flash-forward to this month: The Enquirer published a Feb. 2 front-page article by reporter Sharon Coolidge with a blaring headline that quoted Republicans calling the deal “outrageous.”
Deters told the newspaper he wasn't aware of how much the Vorys firm would be paid under the new contract. Always a person prone to hyperbole, ol' Joe called it “an intolerable situation.” He blamed the pay rate on then-County Administrator Patrick Thompson, who Deters said “slipped it by” him.
Not quite, Mr. Deters.
If The Enquirer had bothered to check its own archives, it would've discovered it published a September 2010 article by reporter Kimball Perry that quoted Deters about winning the earlier dispute with commissioners, based on a press release issued by Deters' office. “This was about who was controlling it,” Deters said, according to the article.
As if that's not clear enough, the article ended by citing the $265 per hour pay rate paid to Gabelman.
Here's an excerpt:
The prosecutor has chaffed over commissioners refusal to relinquish control of Gabelman's legal work, insisting that work be more closely monitored and approved. Deters was bothered that Gabelman's duties had no defined budget or parameters, something Commissioner Greg Hartmann blamed on County Administrator Patrick Thompson.
"It's been an unmanaged situation. It's not been managed very well by the county administrator and the county administration with no budget and no real boundaries," said Hartmann, like Deters a Republican.
In fact, Deters' office drafted the latest contract and signed off on it, then sent it to county commissioners for a formal vote.
Ironically, by letting the pay amount slip through, Deters is confirming what commissioners have said all along: The riverfront work is too complicated for Deters and his staff to handle. Maybe Joe should give up his cushy private gig and focus on the job voters elected him to do.
After all his bellyaching about costs, it's obvious Deters either didn't pay attention to the contract his office negotiated or, more likely, that reducing expenses was never his goal in the first place. It merely was a ruse to increase his own power. Shameless.
What's really at work here was a ploy to lay the groundwork to fire Thompson, which recently occurred once Republicans regained control of the commission, and embarrass Democratic officials in the process.
Some political insiders speculate it's all part of a plan to replace Thompson with John Williams, who's currently the administrator for the Clerk of Court's Office and a loyal party appratchik. Williams ran for Juvenile Court judge against Democrat Tracie Hunter last fall, and the outcome still is undecided due to a legal dispute over uncounted ballots.
This transparent sequence of events should've been scrutinized by The Enquirer, especially since it merely had to use its own past issues as research.
Frankly, this is what happens when you have an unquestioning press that's too deferential to authority.
Speaking of Deters, he figures prominently in the latest buzz going around in political circles.
Although it's only the beginning of the year, local politicos already are discussing races for this November's elections as well as 2012. It's widely believed among many Republican insiders that the party will seek to find U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) some sort of appointed government position in order to clear the way for Deters to campaign for his seat next year.
Chabot is considered especially vulnerable, after only regaining his seat last November with 52 percent of the vote in a year that was heavily tilted toward GOP success. Already, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is spending cash on radio ads and telephone calls that criticize Chabot for supporting cuts to education and research.
The DCCC reportedly is sounding out local officials about running for Ohio's 1st Congressional District seat in 2012, including Pepper and Mayor Mark Mallory, who can't run for another mayoral term.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Bortz has said publicly he hasn't decided whether he will seek a fourth and final term this fall. But reliable sources say he's already told business associates and Charter Committee leaders that he won't. Part of the reason, sources say, is that his family's company, Towne Properties, likely will ask for city assistance in developing the stalled mixed-use project on 3.2 acres at Calhoun Street in Clifton Heights, just south of the University of Cincinnati.
If accurate, that means there will be three seats on the nine-member City Council that will be especially vulnerable this November. The first is filled by Democrat Wendell Young, who was appointed to fill Laketa Cole's unexpired term, while the second is whoever Bortz will appoint to fill Independent Jeff Berding's unexpired term. Berding announced late last month he would resign in a few weeks.
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