Council Passes Controversial Park Board Appointment

Cincinnati City Council approved Mayor John Cranley's Park Board appointee Jim Goetz Jan. 31, but not without some contention.

click to enlarge Cincinnati City Hall - Photo: Nick Swartsell
Photo: Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

Cincinnati City Council Jan. 31 approved the appointment of Jim Goetz to the Cincinnati Park Board, despite controversy over the exit of outgoing Park Board Chair Dianne Rosenberg.

Mayor John Cranley originally appointed Goetz to the seat last year, and council approved the appointment, but that set off a court battle after Rosenberg contested her exit. She said she thought her term lasted until 2021; Cranley said that she was appointed to fill out an unfinished term that ended in December. A judge ruled her term ends Feb. 1, but also ruled Goetz’s appointment and council’s vote illegal since Rosenberg’s term wasn’t over.

Yesterday’s vote broke down 5-2, with council members Tamaya Dennard and Chris Seelbach voting against Goetz’s appointment.

Dennard said that council had wasted too much time fighting about the appointment instead of solving real issues facing the city. Seelbach declined to vote for any of the more than 30 appointments to various boards before council, citing the fact that none had end dates stipulated.That, Seelbach said, is what got council into the battle over Rosenberg in the first place.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld abstained from voting, saying that he thought Goetz was qualified but explaining that he didn’t agree with a core issue underlying his appointment — an effort to bring new accountability measures to spending by the Park Board from private endowments.

A state audit last year found problems with the Park Board’s expenditures from those trusts, including questionable perks like raises and vehicle allowances given to top Park Board brass. Cranley has said Goetz will help with the transition to a more accountable process.

“He’s exactly what the doctor ordered,” Cranley said at the Jan. 31 council meeting, saying that Goetz was imminently qualified to join the board.

But Park Board members and others, including Sittenfeld, say that the proposed process by which spending will be approved — which would require city sign-off on expenditures — gives the city too much control over the independent Park Board.

Sittenfeld claimed the arrangement would give the city “veto power” over the board’s spending, something that runs counter to the city’s charter. He asked for a delay of “weeks, not months” on Goetz’s appointment until a better solution could be found.

According to Sittenfeld, some descendants of the founders of endowments supporting the parks have said the new accountability arrangements could violate the original intent of those trusts and that they will consider legal action against the city if they feel city administration takes too much power from the Park Board.

Cranley swatted back at Sittenfeld’s argument, saying that Goetz is independent and will make his own choices on the board and that the new accountability arrangement doesn’t mean the city will “veto” Park Board decisions.

Councilman Greg Landsman voted for Goetz’s appointment, but also said he wanted to make sure the Park Board maintained its independence.

“I think it's important that we say that no one is going to tell the park board how to spend its money," he said.

Beyond the issues of Park Board control, Rosenberg’s supporters claim that her departure is political. Rosenberg was a supporter of Cranley’s opponent, former Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, in his bitter re-election fight. In a filing related to Rosenberg’s lawsuit, attorney Jim Burke, who has represented other Park Board members in the past, says that Cranley promised to “destroy her in the press” if Rosenberg backed Simpson. Cranley denies making that statement.

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