City must grant investigators unlimited access

All Warren city officials, including members of City Council, must ensure taxpayers that all investigations into any serious allegations of wrongdoing are completed without limits.

That’s why Warren City Council’s contemplation of paying outside attorneys to represent city employees being questioned in a criminal probe is so appalling.

Upon the request of Warren Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa, city council met July 24 in a closed-door session to consider paying outside attorneys to oversee investigators’ questioning of up to 11 city workers. According to sources, if the plan went forward, attorneys would be paid to represent the employees during questioning.

Raising even more concerns about the intentions of council or the city administration is the fact that council opted against allowing Warren’s law department to sit in on that closed-door session. That very rare move appears suspiciously political.

Cantalamessa in May defeated longtime Warren Law Director Greg Hicks in the Democratic primary election. Hicks’ term will end in early January. Following his defeat, Hicks raised allegations that someone had forged his signature on a Warren Water Department contract and called for an investigation. Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, an arm of the Ohio Attorney General, has opened an investigation, and according to reports, has identified up to 11 city employees who should be questioned in the matter.

Now, let’s be clear. This is an investigation into a potentially criminal — not civil — matter.

So why, then, would anyone in Warren government even consider getting involved in the investigation by hiring attorneys to act on the behalf of those being questioned? If there is an indication of any wrongdoing — particularly improprieties involving possible forged signatures on city legal documents — every elected and appointed official in city government should roll out the red carpet to investigators. They all should be demanding answers — not attempting to hire and pay attorneys with taxpayer money in order to help lighten the pressure or deflect investigators’ focus.

It should be further noted that one of Cantalamessa’s primary promises while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for Warren law director focused on reducing or eliminating the amount of money the city pays on attorney fees for outside counsel. Yet, Cantalamessa was instrumental in asking Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-at Large, to call for — and then sitting in on — the July 24 executive session when council began debating hiring outside attorneys. (Council members Helen Rucker, D-at Large, and Ken MacPherson, D-5th Ward, both voted against adjourning to executive session without counsel from the city’s law department present.)

If Cantalamessa was serious about what he said in his campaign, he should have been standing up against the plan, pounding the table and telling council not to allocate taxpayer money to hire attorneys to represent city employees.

Since the meeting, MacPherson has come out strongly against the idea of using public money to personally benefit anyone. He said he planned to develop legislation that would forbid any public money or contracts being written to hire outside defense attorneys to represent public employees.

Good. We encourage that legislation, and we encourage city council to pass it. If worded correctly, such legislation also could ban the administration from unilaterally hiring attorneys for costs below limits that require council action.

Everyone should be on board with assisting BCI in this investigation. Just as we believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty, we also believe that the investigation must be permitted to be finished unfettered and with complete city cooperation.

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