Judge says Columbus Mayor Ginther tried to influence decision to close troubled bus station
Updated: Dec 8, 2023, 3:24 PM ET
A Franklin County Municipal Court judge is accusing Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther of trying to influence her in the city's pending lawsuit against a troubled Greyhound bus station the city wants to shut down.
According to court documents, Judge Stephanie Mingo called an emergency conference with the Columbus City Attorney's office and the lawyers for defendants Barons Bus, Inc. and Greyhound Lines, Inc. In the transcript of the meeting, Mingo told those present she received a voicemail on Oct. 10 from Ginther asking Mingo to speak with him, but he did not mention the subject matter.
Mingo said she eventually was able to connect with Ginther on Oct. 11 and spoke to him on her cell phone. She said to the best of her recollection, Ginther told her the following statements: "I know you care about the community. I care about the community. This Greyhound station is a problem for the community. We really need to do the right thing for the community and shut it down."
Mingo told those at the emergency conference that she responded by telling Ginther that the case is still open and she can't comment on its specifics. She told Ginther any discussions on her part would be an ethics violation and then ended the call.
Ginther made the call days after a 42-year-old man was shot and killed at the Wilson Road bus station on Columbus' westside on Oct. 8.
In the October conference where she disclosed the contents of the call, Mingo did not initially disclose who the elected official was, but the lawyers for the bus lines made a motion to reveal Ginther's identity. The court disclosed the elected official was in fact Ginther in late November, after the mayor was reelected to a third term.
In its court filing to request the name of the elected official, the bus station's lawyers told the court it did believe Ginther was trying to influence the court's decision.
"The elected official is attempting to influence the court to grant the relief the city is seeking in this case -- to “cease all operations at the Premises," the lawyers said in the filing.
Defense lawyers said in a filing that the breadth of wrongdoing by Ginther is unknown and is "very troubling."
This disclosure by the court follows years of disputes between the city and the Greyhound bus station. The Greyhound bus station that also services routes for Barons Bus Lines buses was moved to the city's west side on Wilson Road in June and accrued several violations in its first months of being open before the city filed a lawsuit to shutter it in August.
The city sued Greyhound in 2021 to close its previous location downtown, which it called "crime-plagued."
Before the man was shot and killed at the station in October, the city cited the station for several violations about a lack of parking spaces, ADA-compliant parking spaces, damaged sections of the property, approved placement and use of a portable building used for bathrooms and not including a vehicle pick-up and drop-off location.
Ginther was in the midst of his reelection campaign, which he later won against challenger Joe Motil, when he made the call.
Motil criticized Ginther heavily during the campaign for what he called the city's mishandling of the situation.
Ginther's Director of Media Relations Melanie Crabill told WOSU in a statement that she cannot comment on pending litigation and is referring media to the city attorney's office.
“At the heart of the matter is the fact that the company continues to operate against the will of the community and we will continue to do everything we can to keep the neighborhood safe," Crabill said.
Ginther had previously intervened in the dispute, sending a letter to Barons President Tom Goebel that said he doesn't think the bus station should continue to operate at that location. He said if the company didn't cease operations, the city intended to use every available tool to force it to cease operations and relocate the operations to a suitable site.
Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein's office said the city's lawyers will be addressing this and other issues during the course of the proceedings in the case, but declined to comment further on the accusations against Ginther or the lawsuit against Greyhound.
"All of us at the city have the shared concern that the Greyhound terminal on Wilson Road is a nuisance and must be shut down and moved, and we’ll use this proceeding to prove it," the statement said.
Lawyers for Barons Bus Lines and Greyhound Lines told WOSU on Friday they have no comment on the accusations.
The case is going before the Franklin County Municipal Court on Friday for a hearing on an environmental injunction requested by the city.
This is a developing story.