Baptist ministers call on "Gang of 5" to release texts

Baptist ministers call on "Gang of 5" to release texts (WKRC)

CINCINNATI - A prominent group of Baptist ministers called on city council's "Gang of 5" Thursday to release text messages and emails that are part of an open meetings lawsuit.

Members of the Baptist Minister's Conference released the letter. Hamilton Co. Judge Robert Ruehlman ordered the city of Cincinnati to release all text messages and emails between the five council members as part of the lawsuit filed against P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard, Wendell Young and Chris Seelbach.

Some of the text messages have already been released by the city and show the five members working behind the scenes to influence city policy including making a deal for free streetcar rides and preventing the firing of former city manager Harry Black. They discussed ways in which they would form an alliance and try to recruit other council members to join them. The city charter prevents a majority of council from meeting in private.

The letter from the Baptist Ministers Conference comes after the five council members filed an appeal in an effort to keep some of the messages from being released. Judge Ruehlman ordered that all of the texts and emails be turned over by last Friday, November 2 to attorney Brian Shrive who represents conservative activist Mark Miller in the suit. Shrive filed a motion to dismiss the appeal Wednesday. The letter accused the council members of wasting taxpayer money to keep the texts and emails under wraps.

"The Gang of 5 pontificates publicly about transparency while holding secret deliberations behind the scenes... The City's money and resources shouldn't be squandered trying to protect people's reputations caused by their own words," the ministers wrote.

Tempers have flared over the messages and what some may contain. Last Monday, Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman said he looked forward to reading the messages and called the five council members' actions "evil" after a friend of two of them tried to bring Smitherman into the lawsuit. The move was ultimately rejected by Judge Ruehlman.

Council member Greg Landsman said he felt Smitherman's comments were threatening. Late last week, allies of Landsman wrote a letter calling on Smitherman to apologize. The letter from the Baptist ministers appeared to be in response to the letter defending Landsman.

Shrive filed a motion Monday to hold the five council members in contempt for failing to turn over the messages. A date to hear the motion has yet to be set.

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