Cincinnati City Council Member Subpoenaed in Texting Case

Council member Tamaya Dennard has been summoned to appear before a grand jury in the case related to five council members who texted among themselves about former city manager Harry Black's firing.

Jan 24, 2020 at 2:05 pm
click to enlarge Cincinnati City Hall - Photo: Nick Swartsell
Photo: Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

The controversy over a series of text messages sent between five Cincinnati City Council members continues as a special prosecutor probes whether those officials should face misdemeanor charges over the exchanges.

Council member Tamaya Dennard was subpoenaed Jan. 23 by special prosecutor Patrick Hanley after Ohio State Auditor Keith Faber recommended a grand jury probe into text messages sent among Dennard and fellow Democratic council members Greg Landsman, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young.

Some of those messages about the pending firing of Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black in 2018 were among all five council members, a violation of Ohio open meetings laws.

The Hamilton County Prosecutor's office investigated the incident last year before passing along the case to Hamilton County civil courts.

The city released pages of text messages between and among the five and settled an open records lawsuit brought by a conservative activist last year. Hamilton County Judge Robert Ruehlman ordered the city to pay $90,000 in legal fees to the Finney Law Firm and $200 per council member in fines. The city paid another $10,000 fine because Young allegedly deleted his messages, something he denies. 

The city also paid $75,000 to outside attorneys representing the council members.

Faber, a Republican, raised the possibility of further prosecution in the case after completing the city's annual state audit. The five council members could face dereliction of duty charges if a grand jury decides to pursue them.

A process server from Faber's office was in City Hall on Jan. 23 during council's weekly meeting attempting to serve Dennard's subpoena for a grand jury hearing on Jan. 28, but Dennard asked to be excused from that meeting.

Her attorney Erik Laursen has denied media reports that Dennard was attempting to dodge the subpoena. Instead, he says, Dennard and Laursen arranged to meet the officer at Laursen's office as soon as Dennard became aware of the subpoena.