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W&S: A Bully by Any Other Name

By German Lopez · September 26th, 2012 · Commentary

Western & Southern continued its bullying of the Anna Louise Inn last week as the company threw more legal pestering at the nonprofit that houses low-income women.

That’s how every newspaper’s lead paragraph would read if the media were truly fair. Unfortunately, the media seems more “balanced” than “fair” lately, so when the conflict between W&S and the Anna Louise Inn is covered, it’s still reported as if the financial company has a legitimate claim to the Inn’s property.

[Read this week's CityBeat news story on the latest developments between Western & Southern and the Anna Louise Inn here.]

The definition of a bully is, “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” It’s difficult to see how that doesn’t apply to the conflict between W&S, a company estimated to be worth more than $52 billion, and the Anna Louise Inn, a women’s social services agency whose building W&S wants badly enough to risk the bad press that should be expected from continually suing a nonprofit group over technicalities.

But by accepting the company’s arguments as public interest, the mainstream reporting continues framing the story as if W&S has a right to the Anna Louise Inn property. On Sept. 20, local media outlets jumped on a new study conducted by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, which looked at the economic impact of replacing the Anna Louise Inn with a hotel. The study was conveniently released the same day as the latest ruling on zoning, which the Anna Louise Inn won.

But wait, who said anyone is building a hotel there? Where did that even come from?

To put the absurdity in context, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls literally laughed when The Cincinnati Enquirer talked to her for comment on the study.

She then wondered how W&S executives would react if an outsider commissioned a study on a new use for its company headquarters.

Really, that’s the only reasonable reaction. The premise of the study is objectively absurd. Even beyond the fact W&S is wrongly acting like it has any right to another group’s private property, the fact is charity groups are not meant to serve the most profitable needs of a community. Does anyone ever wonder how much money would be made if Make-A-Wish Foundation buildings were replaced with Walmart chains? Does anyone ever consider the fact that, surely, the buildings housing Oxfam International would be far more profitable if McDonald’s restaurants replaced them?

As a journalist, it’s important sometimes to step back and look at the big picture. That picture is not pretty for W&S any way you try to paint it. Here at CityBeat, we have repeatedly explained the timeline of the W&S-Anna Louise Inn situation, which includes W&S turning down an offer to purchase the building in 2009. (We report the latest news in the ongoing conflict in the context of this timeline on the previous page). 

The timeline itself makes one thing clear: If W&S had any right to the Anna Louise Inn property, the company lost that right when it refused to raise its offer to buy the Inn from $1.8 million to $3 million in 2009.

Even W&S lawyer Francis Barrett admitted the mistake to CityBeat last week: “It’s like everything else in life — you go with the information you have at the time. I mean, 20/20 hindsight, yes, they would have offered $3 million in 2009.”

OK, so why didn’t W&S buy the property in 2009? Why did the company not step in with its accusations of faulty zoning until 2010 when, by W&S’s own admission, the faulty zoning supposedly began in 2006 when Anna Louise Inn allegedly redefined itself with its Off the Streets program?

Barrett gave a straightforward explanation for it: W&S thought Anna Louise Inn was going to leave anyway. The company thought it was the only game in town, so it thought it could leverage a price lower than $3 million without the alleged zoning violations. When it couldn’t and the Anna Louise Inn found other funding, W&S threw a tantrum. It’s now presenting every legal argument possible to make life miserable for the Inn.

That’s just bullying. W&S wants the property, and it’s doing everything in its power — down to legal harassment — to get it. “Give me your lunch money… or else” is W&S’s latest tactic in property buyouts.

Fortunately for the Anna Louise Inn, zoning rulings have been on its side recently. Of course, that won’t stop W&S. Like any good bully, W&S is persistent. On Oct. 30, W&S and the Anna Louise Inn will meet in court again to face off in an appeal of Judge Nobert Nadel’s May 27 decision, which said the Inn is a special assistance shelter instead of transitional housing.

It will be sometime after that when we’ll find out how local media choose to explain it. 

CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: glopez@citybeat.com



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