The city's Ethics Board and City Councilwoman Carol Campbell are not getting along.
At issue is her failure to cooperate in a board investigation of campaign contributions made by the Democratic city committee and associated political action committees.
The board has twice subpoenaed Campbell, ordering her to testify under oath about the contributions. She did not comply with either subpoena.
Yesterday, the board got from Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Glazer an order compelling Campbell to provide a deposition within two business days or face a contempt-of-court charge.
Her attorneys said yesterday that Campbell was not flouting the board, but objecting to its unilateral selection of a deposition date. The busy councilwoman had other plans, her attorneys said, and she needed more time to prepare than the board was offering.
"Nobody should be too busy to obey the law," Glazer said after he ordered Campbell to testify.
Following the hearing, lawyer Gary M. Samms sharply criticized the Ethics Board on Campbell's behalf.
"The councilwoman feels that the whole investigation is politically motivated," Samms said, implying that the board was being manipulated by individuals he declined to identify.
Campbell, Samms said, was "incensed and affronted," and had filed a complaint against the Ethics Board with the state Attorney General's Office.
Ethics Board executive director Shane Creamer said the board's "sole motivation is to ensure that the city's campaign finance law is being complied with."
He rejected any suggestion that the board was working on behalf of anyone else.
"The board doesn't report to anyone - it's independent of any political group - so I'm not sure what the foundation of this accusation is," Creamer said.
Campbell has been a frequent target of the Ethics Board.
The board is already seeking fines of $39,000 from a political action committee chaired by Campbell called the Appreciation Fund, for failing to file campaign finance reports.
And the board is looking into contributions by two other PACs - one of which, Genesis IV, is chaired by Campbell - that were made to Campbell's campaign fund and that of mayoral candidate Bob Brady.
Campbell's attorneys have said repeatedly that she resigned as chairman of Genesis IV and the Appreciation Fund in January 2006, and provided copies of the resignation letters. But state authorities have no such letters in their files, and according to their records Campbell remains president of those PACs.
Though the Ethics Board will not discuss the details of its investigation, it is likely Creamer is looking into possible violations of the "one committee" rule. Candidates are permitted under the city's 2003 campaign finance law to raise and spend funds using only a single committee. Use of multiple committees could allow candidates to circumvent campaign contribution caps.
Attorneys for Campbell assured the court that the councilwoman would testify as ordered, and they stressed to reporters that she had never told the Ethics Board that she refused to give a deposition. Indeed, Samms was in contact with Creamer as his client skipped the scheduled deposition times, which Campbell found inconvenient.
Glazer said the matter was too urgent to delay for simple courtesy.
"I can appreciate this is short notice, but this is a matter of extraordinary public interest and public importance," Glazer said.
Public officials such as Campbell, Glazer said, have "an especial obligation to be candid, truthful and forthcoming."