Berding's Proposal Prompts Boycott Call

A long-simmering dispute about how much oversight should be imposed on a contractor that doles out city money for neighborhood projects is heating up again.

Just when it looked like Cincinnati officials were about to restore a contract to Invest In Neighborhoods Inc. (IIN) to manage the city’s Neighborhood Support Program (NSP), a stumbling block has occurred.—-

Some neighborhood activists succeeded last year in getting City Council to pull its $112,800 contract with IIN, after the contractor had administered the program for nearly 30 years. Those activists alleged IIN’s board routinely violated its bylaws and awarded money to allies while shutting out other neighborhood councils, and had conflicts of interests that involved board members profiting from the projects.

As a result, city staffers took control of the program with mixed results. Municipal workers said they were short-staffed and couldn’t devote enough attention to the program, causing requests for neighborhood projects to be delayed.

As City Council began the process to award a new contract with IIN, Councilman Jeff Berding led an effort to impose stricter oversight via new conditions. They included clauses that allow the city to end the contract at anytime, for any reason, without penalty; require all IIN board meetings be open to the public; and prohibit IIN board members and staff from any private consulting or business relationships with all neighborhood councils and neighborhood business districts.

Berding’s proposal is signed by Council Members Chris Bortz, Leslie Ghiz, Chris Monzel and Charlie Winburn, giving it enough votes to be approved by City Council.

David Petersen, a West End resident who helped get IIN’s contract rescinded last year, likes the new conditions.

“As an ‘ousted’ IIN trustee, I can personally attest to the fact that IIN needs serious oversight and operational controls to prevent continued conflicts of interest and other ethical issues,” Petersen said.

“I think the drafts of these conditions are excellent, and I would add a condition of term limits to assure new blood and prevent the all powerful ‘inner circle’ that has proven unable to respect legitimate IIN trustee majority rulings,” he added.

Rick Dieringer, IIN’s executive director, sent an e-mail to neighborhood councils criticizing Berding’s proposal.

“In an apparent ongoing attempt to create a situation unacceptable to Invest, the motion stipulates a number of conditions for a contract to be let,” Dieringer wrote. “Several of the conditions interject the city into the day-to-day operations of Invest.

“This is bad business not only for Invest but also for the city,” the e-mail continued. “It further restricts the activities of a number of Invest board members with their own community councils. It's highly unlikely that the Invest board, or that of any other entity seeking to contract with the city, would agree to such conditions.”

That prompted an e-mail to all neighborhood councils from Joe Gorman of the Camp Washington Community Council, urging them to boycott the city-sponsored Neighborhood Summit this weekend. The annual event is held at the Cintas Center at Xavier University.

“Got word today that City Councilman and Bengals Employee Jeff Berding has five signatures on his motion to administratively handcuff and micro-manage Invest In Neighborhoods,” Gorman wrote.

“This motion is intended to further burden the volunteers of Cincinnati neighborhood councils and business districts by adding procedural rules and regulations straight out of the Soviet Union circa 1935,” Gorman added. “As an example, Bengal Berding wants to require that EVERY PIECE OF COMMUNICATION GENERATED BY IIN ALSO BE PASSED THROUGH EACH CITY COUNCIL MEMBER. Ha! These part-time, full-paid politicians rarely read anything from the neighborhoods now! Even the current council members who are NOT running for other offices will have little time for this pile of paper.

“I propose that neighborhood and business folks stay away from the Neighborhood Summit this weekend. Why support a city government that is hell bent on destroying neighborhoods?”

The Neighborhood Summit begins Friday at 6 p.m., with most of the activities held on Saturday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Keynote speaker this year is Center for Neighborhood Technology president Scott Bernstein. He has worked with Gov. Ted Strickland’s office to develop strategies for making new investments in transit, leveraging them towards economic development and applying for federal aid.

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