East Ridge politics underwent a second day of scrutiny Wednesday as residents and city employees testified in Hamilton County Criminal Court in the ouster trial of Mayor Mike Steele.
Defense attorney Dee Hobbs filed a motion to dismiss the charges against his client, arguing the allegations did not rise to the level of “willful misconduct.”
The petitioners in the case against Mr. Steele allege, among other things, that he violated the City Charter by rehiring former City Manager Curtis Adams without a vote of the City Council; that he retained Waterhouse Public Relations to do work for the city; and that he voted to approve city services that had not been opened for multiple bids.
The trial will resume Thursday morning at 9:30 in Hamilton County Criminal Court. The petitioners are expected to argue against the motion to dismiss. If the judge decides against the motion, attorney Dee Hobbs will begin his defense.
“This quote I believe summarizes our position: ‘Proceedings against an officer under the act should never be brought unless there is a clear case of dereliction that such a drastic statute should be envoked only in plain cases and not for purposes of inquisition,’” Mr. Hobbs read from a legal brief. “And I add that’s what we’ve had here for a day and a half.”
Witnesses Richard Cook Jr. and Chuck Mehan both testified that public relations firm head Albert Waterhouse had been working for the city since summer 2008, but they could not substantiate the claim that Mr. Steele had hired him.
The city has denied having a signed contract with Mr. Waterhouse, a fact the petitioners’ attorney, Charles Wright Jr., said does not affect the allegation.
“We don’t have any evidence that he’s been paid anything. We don’t have a written contract or anything,” Mr. Wright said, “but he’s obviously in the pipeline for being the PR person, and Mr. Steele knew Mr. Waterhouse.”
Mr. Hobbs seemed to gain traction in deflecting the claim that Mr. Steele had “given direct instructions to employees of the City of East Ridge” during his cross-examination of Jackie Fulks, the lead petitioner in the case.
She had testified that Mr. Steele had a habit of asking city employees to answer the questions residents brought up in City Council meetings.
“You find it outside the charter to such a severity as to justify an ouster that the mayor tried to put someone with you to answer your question?” Mr. Hobbs said.
He also asked Ms. Fulks whether she was aware that the state attorney general told Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox that the petition filed last fall did not seem to fit an ouster. In December, Mr. Cox told the petitioners he could not “ethically participate in a prosecution that is not warranted.”
Mr. Wright admitted that most of the evidence against the mayor was circumstantial, but he said that it had bore out the allegations against him.
“The evidence that’s been presented so far has sort of trimmed around the edges, and I expect that the evidence going forward will trim around the edges of what we’re alleging,” he said. “I think our case is there. It has not gone away.”