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City Manager Launches Independent Investigation Of MSD

Credit Sarah Ramsey

Cincinnati's city manager has appointed a special team to investigate “alleged irregularities concerning past management and procurement practices of the Metropolitan Sewer District.”

Harry Black had asked the city solicitor to investigate any allegations, and he has now decided an independent review is in order.

“This office has appointed an independent special investigative team to conduct an in-depth inquiry and risk assessment into the allegations of mismanagement, misconduct, and past abuses at the Metropolitan Sewer District, with particular focus on the time period during which the MSD and the Greater Cincinnati Water Works were a joint utility,” Black wrote in a memo to Mayor John Cranley and council members.

Former assistant city manager and city finance director Bill Moller and city internal audit committee member Jim Goetz will be leading the team.  Both will work full-time on the review.  Moller will be paid by the city while Goetz is volunteering his time.  They will be assisted by representative from the city solicitor’s office and the head of the Office of Internal Audit.

“This special investigative team has full authority, granted by the city manager under the administrative code, and access to interview any and all current and former city employees, contractors, and consultants and is similarly authorized access to any and all relevant city documents, records and communications,” Black wrote in the memo.

Black also released a memo he received from city solicitor Paula Boggs Muething after she completed a preliminary review of MSD.  Part of her investigation included information from “a credible, high-level city employee” who shared several observations.

The concerns raised in the course of these preliminary interviews are of a grave nature and include three main areas that require continued investigation and inquiry: (1) mismanagement, lack of accountability and oversight with respect to the MSD budget and contracting, generally; (2) the widespread use of contractors and consultants to fill roles that would more appropriately have been filled by full time City employees or in some cases to duplicate roles already filled by City employees; and (3) the potential misuse of ratepayer or City funds for the purchase and delivery of professional services to the MSD.

Boggs Muething suggested an independent investigative team be appointed to expedite the review.

The team is expected to report its findings in about three months.

Mayor Cranley is also supportive of the review based on credible whistleblowers who have come forward.

Cranley said the whistleblowers have "said things, that if those things are true, constitute a breach of the public trust. I want to emphasize the allegations are that these things happened under the previous administration and are not on-going.  But nonetheless if these things did happen, everyone has a right to know about it.”

Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost’s office is conducting a special audit of the Metropolitan Sewer District.  It will review MSD's competitive bidding, contracts and payments.  

A recent newspaper report found the sewer district spent hundreds of millions of public dollars with little or no oversight at a time when residents' sewer rates have risen steadily.  

The Cincinnati Enquirer found MSD spent approximately $680 million in the decade following a November 2007 memo from a former city manager that the newspaper says eliminated a checks and balances system.


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