Based on the latest comments on his Facebook page, it appears Christopher Smitherman either doesn't understand the wording of Issue 48 or is deliberately trying to mislead voters.
On Wednesday, Smitherman wrote on his Facebook page: “Remember Issue 48 DOES not STOP light rail but it does force City Council to ask the citizens (sic) permission before spending $144 million. City Council does not want to ask the people (for) permission.”
As several legal experts have agreed, Issue 48's net effect will be to stop the planning and construction of any type of passenger rail project within Cincinnati city limits until Dec. 31, 2020 — even if the project is privately financed.
If any type of passenger rail project was attempted after Issue 48 was approved, the charter amendment would have to be repealed.
In other words, it does stop light rail and would have to be undone first. Smitherman has a strange definition of “does not stop light rail.”
An impartial analysis by the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area states, “This proposed Ballot Issue would amend the Charter of the City of Cincinnati by adding a new Article XVI. The amendment would prohibit the City from spending or appropriating any money to plan, construct, or operate a Streetcar System or any passenger rail transit in the City in existing public rights of way through the year 2020.”
And it's not just the League that interprets Issue 48 that way.
When The Enquirer interviewed six legal experts for an article it published on Sept. 18, the experts agreed that Issue 48's impact extended beyond blocking the streetcar project.
“All six experts — law and political science experts and ballot language experts — agreed that (Issue 48) could do more than just stop the current streetcar plan. It could stop any city rail project,” the article stated.
Later in the article, the head of a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group whose purpose is to make government and business documents more understandable said Issue 48's wording is confusing. “I think it could be applied more broadly,” said Annetta Cheek, chairwoman of the Center for Plain Language. “That could be a train, And heaven knows what else it could be.”
Smitherman didn't respond to an email seeking comment.
On his Facebook page, however, when responding to a critic, Smitherman wrote, “Asking permission does not mean STOP!” (Read the exchange at the bottom of this page.)
Smitherman has stepped down temporarily as president of the NAACP's local chapter while he campaigns for Cincinnati City Council. The chapter and the ultra-conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) are jointly pushing Issue 48. Its wording was crafted by attorney Chris Finney, a COAST leader who Smitherman also appointed as the local NAACP's legal counsel.
Rob Richardson, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress, the anti-Issue 48 group, said Smitherman probably is worried the ballot measure's wording overreaches and turns off some voters.
“He wants to lessen the consequences of what Issue 48 means,” Richardson said, referring to Smitherman. “He realizes that some people may not like the streetcar, but they don't want to ban all passenger rail. No city anywhere has done anything like this. It would hinder growth and economic development.”
Smitherman is trying to confuse voters, he added.
“Certainly, if Issue 48 becomes law, it would stop all passenger rail projects in the city. In order to overturn it, we would have to overturn Issue 48,” Richardson said.
“If, for example, in 2013 we had someone willing to privately finance a rail system using public rights-of-way, we would have to have an election first before any planning or discussion could occur,” he said. “We couldn't even engage in planning before that.”
The proposed charter amendment is long, composed of four sections. The trickiest one is its third section, which states: For purposes of this Amendment, (i) the term “Streetcar System” means a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way, (ii) the term “City” includes without limitation the City, the Manager, the Mayor, the Council, and the City’s various boards, commissions, agencies and departments and (iii) the term “money” means any money from any source whatsoever.
For the complete text of the ballot issue, which is a summary, click here.
Interestingly, Smitherman's opposition to Cincinnati's streetcar system puts him at odds with a resolution approved by the NAACP's national office in 2009.
The resolution is entitled, “NAACP supports the improvement and expansion of passenger rail transportation solutions to serve the nation's urban communities."
Part of the resolution states, “the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urges the expanded use of federal transportation dollars, whether provided through stimulus funding or conventional federal funding allocations, and of state and local resources, to enhance existing passenger rail systems and to develop additional passenger rail alternatives in America’s urban communities, including streetcars, light rail and high speed intercity rail systems.”
Another section states, “in many urban communities existing and proposed passenger rail systems — ranging from streetcars, to light rail, to subways and to inter-city high-speed rail — can and will provide enhanced transportation options and opportunities to the public, and particularly to minorities and the poor, while reducing traffic congestion and pollution generated by automobiles and buses using diesel fuel or gasoline.”
Under the NAACP's structure, local chapters may decide on their own policy directives, but they are generally supposed to give some consideration and deference to the national office's positions.