Morning News: MSD official details "threat" from City Hall; Duke Energy backs off pipeline plan for now; no tax levy for SORTA

MSD Director of Government Affairs Gina Marsh held court outside council chambers yesterday, telling reporters that the city threatened to pull a contract with a Columbus-based law firm if it did not pay a subcontractor immediately.

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The ongoing saga over payments to former City Councilman turned city subcontractor took a dramatic turn yesterday when a Metropolitan Sewer District official told reporters that the city indeed threatened to pull a contract from a Columbus-based law firm if it did not make a $55,000 payment to former councilman Sam Malone.

A representative of Bricker & Eckler said earlier this week that the firm was told to pay Malone or risk losing a contract that had paid it more than $2 million in recent years. The firm reportedly had lost contact with Malone and hadn’t received payment from the city to pass along to him.

Council members yesterday debated whether or not to investigate the alleged threat, with Mayor John Cranley arguing that the matter should be pushed to a committee at a later date. Council members eventually agreed, but MSD Director of Government Affairs Gina Marsh held court outside council chambers and confirmed to reporters that the threat was indeed made.

Here’s a brief account via WVXU, which offers plenty more details here.

After a special hearing Wednesday afternoon at which she wasn't allowed to speak, former assistant city solicitor and current MSD Director of Government Affairs Gina Marsh offered her side of the story to reporters after the hearing.

"My supervisor, Luke Blocher, told me that he had spoken with the city manager and that the city manager said that the payment needed to made within 48 hours or the Bricker contract would be terminated."

The City Manager denies any such threat. Harry Black says he does everything with a sense of urgency.

"'Make it happen.' 'Get it done.' 'Let's close this out and move onto the next thing.' That's how I talk, all day, every day. How somebody might internalize that or interpret that, I can't control that."

The Mayor calls the MSD procurement arrangement that led to the check issue a "bad arrangement." The process has since been changed. The issue came to light in an MSD audit released several weeks ago.

Marsh also told reporters she relayed to her contact at the law firm, Mark Evans, that someone from the city would be calling to direct the payment be made. Evans says that call came from John Juech, now an assistant city manager. When asked about the phone call during Wednesday's meeting, Juech said he does not recall making any such call.

• Duke Energy is backing off its current plan to build a natural gas pipeline through several suburban Cincinnati neighborhoods. Members of a neighborhood group called Neighbors Opposing Pipeline Expansion, or Nope, rallied to stop the project, which would have run past busy areas like Blue Ash Elementary, UC Blue Ash College, Summit Park and Kenwood Towne Center. Several elected representatives from the area, along with Cincinnati City Council, chimed in against the plan. Duke still plans to apply to the state agency that can green light its plan, but the company says it will sit down with interested parties to revise it.

• The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority will not ask voters this November for additional funding via a tax levy. The transit agency, which operates the Metro bus system, faces huge deficits in the coming years. Its Wednesday vote included instructions to gear up for a 2017 tax levy.

• Mitch McConnell apparently believes Donald Trump is “getting closer” to acting like a candidate credible enough to win the nation’s highest office.

The Business Courier found out that brothers Nick and Drew Lachey have sold their Cincinnati homes. What will this mean for their bar and restaurant’s delectable tots? Only time will tell.

• Officials released a 353-page document detailing suggested improvements to the Cincinnati Fire Department in light of the death of firefighter Daryl Gordon last year. The report calls for more than $2 million in improvements, including increasing staff and training.

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