Once upon a time, there was a mockumentary made about the Punk band, the Sex Pistols. Filmed some 30 years ago, The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle parodied the cliches of the music industry by charting the creation, rise and breakup of the group.
Now, the leader of Cincinnati's police union has formed a similarly titled group on Facebook, called Citizens Against Streetcar Swindle (CASS).
The Facebook page created by Kathy Harrell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge No. 69, lists an unspecified “public event” that will occur from midnight to 3 a.m. on Nov. 30.
Presumably, Harrell — an ex-West Side beat cop — actually meant noon to 3 p.m., probably for a protest timed to coincide with Cincinnati City Council's budget and finance committee, which will hold a meeting at 1 p.m. that day. Accuracy has never been the union's forte.
Harrell invited 403 people to the mysterious event. So far, nine have said they will attend, 12 have declined and 382 haven't responded.
Harrell is upset about the city manager's request to have the police chief cut $16 million from the Police Department's budget in the 2011-12 period, as part of reductions throughout municipal government to avoid a $60 million deficit. Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. has offered up only $10 million in cuts, which he says can be accomplished only by laying off 144 officers and demoting 160 others.
Although City Council hasn't said whether it will accept the chief's proposal, that would put the department's complement of sworn officers at 956 cops — or 41 positions below the level that Streicher once said was sufficient (997) for a city of Cincinnati's size.
Typically, Harrell opposes any layoffs. She is especially distressed by the city's plan to create a $128 million streetcar system in downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Although much of the construction funding is derived from federal and state transportation grants, Harrell opposes a council directive to allocate up to 25 percent of revenues generated by a planned Cincinnati casino — estimated at up to $5 million annually — to operate the system.
The group's motto is, "POLICE CARS, NOT STREETCARS!!!!!" (sic)
Instead, Harrell wants those revenues to help pay officers' salaries and stop any layoffs.
Budget planners have called that a bad idea because the revenues only are estimated at this point, and could fluctuate widely from year to year. As a result, the revenues aren't a stable funding source and could prompt yearly budget crises.
Of the local funding portion used to construct the streetcar system, that amount comes from the city's capital projects fund, which would be legally difficult, if not impossible, to use to pay for the salaries of any municipal employees.
As a person correctly pointed out on the CASS page:
“The sources of funding for the city’s General Capital budget include a dedicated portion of city’s Income Tax (0.15% of the 2.1%), a dedicated portion of the city’s Property Tax (5.36 mills out of 9.89 mills), and lease payments from the city-owned Southern Railway. All of these sources are restricted by city charter and/or state law to be used for 'permanent improvement' purposes. A permanent improvement is defined as an asset with a useful life of at least five years and a value of at least $10,000. The city cannot by law use the funds from the General Capital budget to pay for operating expenses such as police officer salaries.”
Meanwhile, another poster on the Facebook page had a bit of fun with Harrell's apparent faux pas involving the event's timing.
“What exactly is CASS going to do on Nov. 30 from 12-3 a.m.? Play Farmville?”