Following Auditor’s Investigation Cincinnati Councilmember Wendell Young Pleads No Contest for Obstructing Official Business
Columbus –Auditor of State Keith Faber’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) announced today that Cincinnati City Councilmember Wendell Young has plead no contest to one misdemeanor count of Obstructing Official Business Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The plea follows a joint investigation by SIU and Special Prosecutor Patrick Hanley, who was appointed in December 2019 to look into the actions of several council members found to have violated the Ohio Open Meetings Act.
“This case serves as a stark reminder to Ohio public officials, that the business of the people must be conducted in an open and transparent manner and in instances where this does not take place there will be consequences.” said Auditor of State Keith Faber.
During the early months of 2018, conflicts between the Cincinnati mayor and city manager resulted in five council members – a majority of the nine-member council – opposing the mayor in his efforts to have the city manager step down. The five, which included Young, began discussing the situation and their collective response through text messages, emails, and by phone, rather than in open, public meetings as required by the law. Following the issuance of two press releases by the group, a local citizen filed a lawsuit alleging the five violated the Open Meetings Act, and requesting copies of emails, text messages, and other documents pertaining to the conversations leading to the press releases.
As the lawsuit progressed it was discovered that Young had deleted text messages from his cellphone that pertained to the discussions which led to the lawsuit. Ohio courts have ruled that any documents, including text messages, regarding the business or operations of a public entity are considered public records, regardless of whether they are stored on a public or private cellphone or computer.
The citizen’s lawsuit was settled in March 2019 with the City of Cincinnati admitting the violations and paying statutory penalties and other costs. Included in the penalties assessed was a $10,000 penalty specifically for the destruction of records (text messages) by Young.
As a result of the SIU investigation conducted at the direction of the special prosecutor, on April 14, 2021, a Hamilton County grand jury returned an indictment charging Young with one count of Tampering with Records, a felony of the third degree. Young had been facing a trial on that indictment that was scheduled to begin on Monday, December 6, 2021.