Cincinnati City Council Member Betsy Sundermann Files to Suspend Wendell Young

Cincinnati voters approved anti-corruption measures this week, and one City Council member is ready to implement them.

May 6, 2021 at 10:27 am
click to enlarge (L-R) Betsy Sundermann and Wendell Young - Photos: Hamilton County Courts: WLWT video still
Photos: Hamilton County Courts: WLWT video still
(L-R) Betsy Sundermann and Wendell Young

Cincinnati voters approved anti-corruption measures this week, and one city council member is ready to implement them.

Cincinnati City Council member Betsy Sundermann has filed paperwork to begin the process of suspending Councilman Wendell Young, who was indicted in April for tampering with records.

Voters passed Issue 2 during the primary election on Tuesday, approving the measure that gives council the right to suspend a member who is under felony indictment. Seven members of the council must agree.

"Upon certification from the Board of Elections, request is hereby made that in your role as the clerk of council the required motion for suspension of Councilmember Wendell Young be placed on the agenda for the next regular or special council meeting," Sundermann writes in a May 5 letter to Melissa Autry, the city's clerk of council.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections will certify results from the May 4 primary election later this month. On Tuesday, Aftab Pureval and David Mann garnered the most votes as candidates for Cincinnati's next mayor and will face off in the Nov. 2 general election.

Sundermann had proposed the charter amendment after Young and other council members had come under indictment on federal corruption charges in recent years. Young is the fourth council member charged with a felony since February 2020. 

The carousel of corruption cases began when council member Tamaya Dennard was indicted on federal bribery charges related to her solicitation of $15,000 from a local attorney. Dennard resigned in March 2020, pleaded guilty in June, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Council member Jeff Pastor was charged in November 2020 on 10 federal counts of bribery, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

That same month, council member P.G. Sittenfeld was arrested on a six-count indictment related to a scheme that allegedly traded cash for votes relating to the development of the former Convention Place Mall.

Young's charges are the result of the "Gang of Five" 2018 texting scandal.

Young allegedly destroyed text messages that were considered evidence for a lawsuit that he was part of. As CityBeat previously reported, in 2018, conservative activist Mark Miller and his attorney Brian Shrive, both connected to the conservative group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), filed a lawsuit seeking private texts exchanged among Cincinnati City Council members Young, Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld. In those, the group discussed the impending ouster of then-Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black by Mayor John Cranley, as well as other city business.

Miller and Shrive contended that the texts between the five council members represented a violation of open meetings laws. Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman ruled that the city must release all texts sent by any of the five council members during the time period in question.

After Black's departure, a series of appeals and an admission from the City of Cincinnati that it had, indeed, violated open meetings laws, some of the messages, including emails, were released.

But not all of them. Some of Young's messages were among those that were missing or destroyed. One of them reportedly was, "Amen! We're the new gang of five."

Earlier this year, Young had filed paperwork with the Hamilton County Board of Elections to add his name to the May 4 primary ballot in his run for mayor, but the BOE found that he did not have the required number of valid signatures.

A hearing for Young is scheduled for May 12. Young has submitted a plea of not guilty.