Budget hearing ends in uproar after speaker advocates for more police funding

Updated: Jun. 19, 2020 at 12:09 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - An impromptu protest formed Thursday around 8:30 p.m. outside the Duke Energy Convention Center after a public input session on the city’s budget was brought to an early close.

City council member and budget and finance committee chair David Mann adjourned the public input session shortly before 7 p.m. after the crowd responded with vitriol to a speaker’s comments.

The meeting had been scheduled to last until midnight.

The speaker, Carl Beckman, a “long-time resident of Cincinnati,” argued CPD should have more funding, not less, sounding dissent on an issue that has become the central focus of protesters in Cincinnati and across the nation.

Beckman said council should prioritize police as well as the fire department, roads, trash collection, water department and senior services.

He also said the police department is currently underfunded and unprepared, as he argued was demonstrated during the riots downtown, when peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd gave way to looting, violence and a police officer being grazed with a bullet.

“An officer was shot, and there were no repercussions for the shooter,” Beckman said. “Nothing was done about it.”

He continued: “Underfunding the police department equals under-policing. Under-policing in the neighborhoods is a civil rights violation. Under-policing is racist.”

Beckman added the police department should have “the sole discretion” on how to spend funds allocated to it. He also said those complaining about police should join the police force and “become part of the solution.”

As Beckman spoke, the crowd launched into boos.

Mann then put the session to an end, after which the crowd approached the stage and began shouting at the remaining council members.

Police arrived afterwards to escort Mann from the room. CitiCable cut its feed because Mann gaveled the hearing to a close, according to the Cincinnati Business Courier’s Chris Wetterich.

Mann spoke with FOX19 NOW after the hearing, saying he felt “trapped” and unsafe.

“Frankly it seemed to me we lost the purpose of the public hearing. I said, ‘This meeting is adjourned.’ At that point the platform was surrounded by scores of people. At that point I thought this, ‘I don’t want to stay and I don’t feel safe right at the moment.’”

Council members Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, Greg Landsman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Jeff Pastor remained, comprising a quorum of the council committee, according to Kearney.

Pastor shouted the crowd down while Kearney took the microphone and restarted the meeting, saying the remaining members of council still wanted to hear what the speakers had to say.

“We are still here,” Pastor tweeted. “I feel safe. Will try to walk out with those who are here to deesclate the situation. Lastly, I believe we should have an additional hearing.”

The crowd soon regained order, and the remaining council members began listening to them speak.

By 8:30 p.m., most of the crowd had left the convention center for the plaza outside.

Speaking afterwards on trying to continue the meeting after Mann adjourned it, Kearney told FOX19 NOW: “We don’t need an official quote-unquote meeting to hear the voices of the people of Cincinnati. This was a forum for them to speak, and so we stayed to hear them speak.”

Mann previously canceled Friday’s public input session.

The first input session focused overwhelmingly on police funding.

City council has two weeks to pass a balanced budget for the next fiscal year.

It’s no small task as the city faces a historic deficit, an ongoing public health crisis, and public pushback on funding for the city’s police department.

Early in the calendar year, the city forecasted record tax income and a deficit of just $12 million, according to a presentation by outgoing City Manager Patrick Duhaney.

Due to the pandemic, city income tax revenue was revised down $41 million and revenue from other sources declined $20 million, leading to a $73 million deficit.

In that context, Mayor John Cranley unveiled his $412 million general fund budget proposal last week. It bridges the deficit in various ways, though major cuts are averted.

That’s thanks in part to a $25 million emergency bond issue to support basic services expenditures that faced elimination due to declining revenues, including police, fire, and health services. The money is authorized as a one-time source for the fiscal year 2021 general fund operating budget.

Better news on the budget front came last Tuesday when Hamilton County said it will disburse $17 million in CARES Act money to the city.

Cranley’s budget notably includes a $1 million investment in the Urban League to work with small businesses that have been hurt by the shutdowns.

It also includes an increase of nearly $1 million for CPD, which already accounts for 37.1 percent of the general fund budget.

Protesters are calling for the city to “defund the police,” but much of CPD’s budget uptick comprises wage increases built into the FOP labor agreement.

Also included are $1.4 million for the body camera contract and $400,000 in overtime costs (due in part to the protests).

To offset CPD’s budget increases, the department is delaying its next recruiting class from Nov. 2020 to June 2021, resulting in $1.2 million in savings.

CPD is also holding vacant 15 full-time equivalent civilian positions for 2021, resulting in $2.4 million in savings.

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