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Friday, November 19, 2010

Republican Cincinnati Councilman Charlie Winburn: Pocketing $$$ That 'Could Be Illegal'

Refunds From City Council Members

 CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Fifteen months ago, Charlie Winburn was running for a seat on city council and said he had uncovered chicanery at City Hall.   Sitting council members were receiving health care insurance and pension fund contributions that he called "unauthorized benefits received through current budget expenditures."  And their salaries were too high.  Republican candidate Winburn was blowing the whistle on the scam.  He issued an Aug. 25, 2009 press release under this headline:  "Winburn calls upon city council to give up questionable taxpayer funded health and pension benefits."   The move would save $400,000 and end a practice that Winburn said "could be illegal."   

Fast forward to today.  Winburn appears to be taking the benefits of public office that he deemed improper at best, illegal at worst.  Despite the talk, once in office Winburn never seems to have lifted a finger to halt practices he denounced as possibly illegal.  Of course, it could be that his complaints were a scam, an effort to make something out of nothing.  In fact, he now seems to be sharing in the loot -- or what he considered loot when he was on the outside.  And though he has the option of refunding his paycheck to the city, he doesn't seem to have given much back.  Winburn appears to personify an old proverb:  Talk is cheap.      

Winburn could use the city's voluntary refund option to return all, or part, of his $60,650 annual council salary to the city.  Records (up to date through 11/18, see accompanying chart) show he returned $1,400 last January.  The same City Hall finance and accounting records show Democratic Mayor Mark Mallory refunds $165.87 out of each paycheck; Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, another Dem, returns $96.82 biweekly, and Councilman Cecil Thomas, also a Dem, gives back $50 from each paycheck.  Republican Leslie Ghiz refunded $132.80 last January.  Refunds from the three Democrats total $5,941.11 so far this year.  Together, the two Republicans have refunded $1,532.80. 

Both Winburn and Ghiz have complained that council's pay package is too much -- yet they haven't shown much interest in voluntarily rebating sums they consider excess.  Winburn in particular was opposed to the salary, health insurance and pension contributions benefits for council members, whom he described as part-time workers.  He said council members got a full-time salary for a part-time job.  From his press release 15 months ago (when he was running for office):

"Current city policy for part time employees who work less than 30 hours per week does not provide health care benefits.  This decision to cut benefits would put all part time employees, including council members, on the same playing field as it applies to health care benefits.

"Winburn said Councilwoman Ghiz's (she, too. was running for office at the time) proposal to cut council pay is a good start but doesn't go far enough in reforming the total council compensation package for city council members . . ."

Winburn said any savings should go to prevent the layoffs of fire and police.  Now it looks like it was all talk.  Winburn, who complained last week that the city misspent $5,000 on a streetcar display on Fountain Square, is silent about his own complicity this year in activities he labeled possible misfeasance last year.  After all, it was he who said council's payroll package "could be illegal."  Meanwhile, he hasn't noted that the money refunded by the mayor, Qualls and Thomas exceeds the cost of the streetcar display.  And city officials who handle Cincinnati's payroll and budgeting say they haven't heard very much this year from Winburn about cutting his own salary, or reducing benefits packages.

Chris Bigham, superintendent of accounts and auditing over payroll at City Hall, said Winburn has taken the full amount of every council paycheck since January:  "I have not heard one word from him about refunds or anything like that.  He did make a donation earlier this year."

Budget Director Lea Eriksen said she has no memory of Winburn contacting her about reducing his council salary and benefits.   "No, he's not brought that up to me,'' Eriksen told The Daily Bellwwether.  "I follow Council items closely.  If he would have done anything, I would have seen it."

So what could Winburn voluntarily cut from his own pocket?  Here's the list of things that he wanted slashed:  $65,670 in salary; $9,198 annual pension benefits; $5,000-$8,000 annual health benefits.  He said council's compensation package was "$83,268 approximate total of annual compensation."   And in Winburn's world every penny was "questionable" and "could be illegal" and "misinterpretation of what they are entitled to under the term 'compensation.'"

[UPDATE: 4:55 pm -- Winburn copied The Daily Bellwether on an e-mail he sent out today that explains why he's taking city benefits:  "Regarding your inquiry, I based my original question upon a plain reading of the Cincinnati City Charter. We asked and the city administration answered. They determined that the benefits paid for council members were considered compensation and were not a violation of the Charter. When I joined Cincinnati City Council in December, 2009, I opted out of the City-provided benefits because I was covered under another plan. I was subsequently told by the City that I could not opt out of their plan and was required to be covered. If you can provide any further information to me on whether these benefits are illegal, please let me know so that I can opt out altogether."]


  1. Winburn should give back his entire salary. He could save a cop's job. Cops work for a living. What does the windbag do?

  2. Mallory is giving back money. I bet nobody else reports this. Thanks mayor. I don't agree with you on hardly anything. On this, you are doing the right thing.

  3. Winburn is from another planet, Mallory is in China and the rest of us are stuck.

  4. Alien from another planetNovember 19, 2010 3:42 PM

    Don't blame us for Charlie Winburn.

  5. I hate to ask...but whatever happened to Bill Cunningham? I see him on the news every so often.