Sittenfeld will be paid his $65,000 salary while temporarily suspended.
“This has been a very difficult time, ensuring false accusations, inaccurate stories and having some folks not be willing to wait to get the complete and accurate facts is painful for me and those around me.
All I have ever tried and wanted to do is my very best for my hometown. I also realize the way I can best get back to you is to deal with this situation head-on, which is why today I am voluntarily agreeing to temporarily step aside from my seat on city council so I can aggressively pursue clearing my name. And after achieving justice then immediately resume my seat on city council and my service to our city. I am grateful for your continued support and remain in your service.”
We're going to fight these false allegations, show my innocence, and when we do, I can't wait to get back to work for our city. pic.twitter.com/feAUiTlPPy
— P.G. Sittenfeld (@PGSittenfeld) December 7, 2020
It will now be up to Hamilton County Probate Court Judge Ralph “Ted” Winkler, a Republican, to name a temporary replacement for Sittenfeld, who is a Democrat.
The Hamilton County Democrat Party issued a statement saying they’re disappointed in how Sittenfeld handled his decision to step down.
Sittenfeld could have resigned, meaning the fellow Democrats on Council would have gotten to pick his replacement – a person who would certainly would have been a Democrat. Winkler does not have to choose a Democrat, meaning the Democrats would lose a seat on the nine-member council.
“While P.G. Sittenfeld deserves the chance to respond to the charges brought against him, we are extremely disappointed he accepted a suspension rather than resigning,” read the statement issued by party chair Gwen McFarlin. “As a result of his unfortunate decision, his fellow Democrats on Cincinnati City Council cannot name his replacement who will serve many months of his remaining term.”
Sittenfeld is one of three Cincinnati councilmembers arrested and accused of pay-to-play schemes this year and the second member of council to accept a state suspension, which bars them from working, but allows them to collect their salary.
Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard, a Democrat, was convicted of honest services wire fraud this summer and was sentenced to spend 18 months in prison, a sentence that hasn’t started yet.
She resigned after being arrested, which allowed a fellow council member to appoint her replacement, as called for in the city charter.
The city charter does not address what happens in the event an elected official is arrested or convicted on charges of corruption, something that would directly affect their ability to do their job. But state law allows for the suspension of an elected official in the event of an arrest, a process that must be initiated by the attorney general or county prosecutor.
Councilman Jeff Pastor, a Republican, was arrested on Nov, 11 on bribery-related charges, but did not immediately resign. As a result, Yost filed paperwork to suspend Pastor, which Pastor agreed to. That set in motion a process for Winkler to choose a temporary replacement for Pastor as the court case proceeds. That selection, made Nov. 30, was Steve Goodin, a Cincinnati attorney, who is a Republican.
In both the case of Sittenfeld and Pastor, if they’re convicted, city officials can seek repayment of the councilmember’s salaries.
The charges against Sittenfeld, outlined in an indictment unsealed shortly after his arrest, accuse him of orchestrating a scheme to funnel money from developers into a political action committee (PAC) that he secretly controlled. According to the indictment, the developers were actually undercover FBI agents who handed Sittenfeld checks totaling $40,000 on three different occasions in 2018 and 2019.
The indictment states Sittenfeld solicited the money in exchange for his support of a plan to develop the former Convention Place Mall at 435 Elm St., which Cincinnati developer Chinedum Ndukwe, a former Bengals player, sought to develop as a hotel and office complex with sports betting.
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou posted on Twitter himself, saying: “Mr. Sittenfeld, like Mr. Pastor, made the right choice today. While every citizen is entitled to the due process afforded them in a criminal court, continuing to serve on City Council with charges as these unwise. We must continue to move restoring faith in city government.”