Cincinnati City Council Adds Third Public Budget Hearing (Again)

The city's third hearing has been put back on the schedule after Thursday's budget hearing broke down and led to an hours-long protest on Elm Street outside the convention center

Jun 19, 2020 at 9:56 am
click to enlarge Cincinnati City Hall - Photo: Nick Swartsell
Photo: Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

The second of two public hearings at the Duke Energy Convention Center about Cincinnati's budget — due when the city's fiscal year ends June 30 — broke down and led to an hours-long protest on a block-wide stretch of Elm Street outside the downtown center.

City Council has now rescheduled a third hearing for Monday at 1 p.m. 

Originally the city had scheduled only two public hearings. Then, due to demand, they added a third public input session for residents and increased the hours for the other two previously scheduled sessions to run 6 p.m.-midnight Tuesday, June 16; 4 p.m.-midnight Thursday, June 18; and noon-midnight Friday, June 19.

Then council member and Budget and Finance Committee Chair David Mann canceled that third hearing

"While we are facing some very difficult conversations as a city right now, I have been heartened by the passionate engagement that members of our community have had with the Budget and Finance Committee, and I am deeply grateful for it," Mann said in a statement on Twitter. "The first Public Budget Hearing of 2020 on Tuesday, June 16th went very smoothly, moreso than anyone anticipated. Our next scheduled hearing is (today), June 18th, and it is scheduled to take place from 4:00PM until midnight, or until everyone has been heard."

Mann added that he wanted to make sure everyone is able to celebrate Juneteenth on Friday.

The third hearing has been re-added to the schedule after the abrupt end to Thursday's hearing and subsequent public protest.

During that event at the Duke Energy Convention Center, most of the more than 100 speakers that crowded the large convention room were there to advocate for defunding — either in part or entirely — the Cincinnati Police Department. Another 45 speakers signed up to testify via Zoom, though not all got to air their opinions during the incomplete meeting.

"Cincinnati hasn't treated its Black and minority communities well," said the first speaker, Jay Minor, who called for Cincinnati City Council to cut the police department's budget and fund affordable housing, social services and other priorities instead. "We’re talking about reallocating funds from the police and giving them to communities."

Significantly reducing the $152.6 million — or 36 percent of the city's operating budget — allocated to the police in outgoing City Manager Patrick Duhaney's proposed budget would be complicated, however, especially given that much of the budget is personnel costs governed by the city's contract with the Fraternal Order of Police. That contract doesn't expire until next year.

That, however, was not what the crowd came to hear.

"We want you to defund the police and reallocate resources to health care, affordable housing and education," a speaker named Emily Dobbs told council. She said she didn't mind if the city had to break its contract with the police union.

After a man advocated for making police funding — along with funding for the fire department, road repair and senior centers, many in the crowd booed, drowning out his voice.

Council member David Mann banged a gavel and, after a brief attempt to quiet the crowd, declared the meeting over. That set a large group of speakers toward the elevated table where several council members were sitting, blocking their departure.

Mann later explained to media outlets that he ended the meeting because the crowd had become "a mob" and that people were not listening to each other.

Eventually, Mann left out a door near the stage with the help of police. Council member Betsy Sundermann also exited soon after. Other council members — Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, Greg Landsman, Jeff Pastor and P.G. Sittenfeld — remained, and council member Chris Seelbach continued to participate in the meeting via a Zoom call due to being under quarantine. Several objected to the idea of ending the listening session.

Kearney especially attempted to assuage the angry crowd and continue the input session. About 20 more minutes of speakers — all of them calling for the defunding of the Cincinnati Police Department — continued, with somewhat looser time restrictions and plenty of back and forth between council members and the crowd.

Meanwhile, those just arriving outside the convention center to give their testimony were barred entrance and the city's live feed of the event cut off.

“The meeting is not over,” Kearney told the crowd, urging them to stay. “The meeting isn’t over because we’re still here."

After more speakers, frustrated advocates for police defunding filed out together, taking the convention center's many escalators down to the front doors opening onto Elm Street.

There, they joined those waiting outside and the roughly 250 people took turns speaking on a PA system or linking arms around the corners of Elm and Fifth and Elm and Sixth streets. Barricades were moved to block off the street, protesters painted "DEFUND POLICE" in block letters with paint rollers on Elm Street, graffiti — including a message reading, "David Mann if you feel trapped what are we?" and other slogans.