(** UPDATE FOLLOWS AT BOTTOM.)
Mark Miller isn't a subtle guy.
Miller, treasurer of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), recently apologized publicly after using the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to tweet a comment comparing the attacks to a political battle about the planned Cincinnati streetcar system.
Now Miller has posted an altered photograph on his Facebook page that some people believe is racist. The photo depicts a streetcar filled with young African-American males brandishing weapons. The streetcar has a sign that reads, “Banks & Freedom Center Only.”
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.
A series of contradictory tweets and blog comments posted by members of an anti-transit group has observers wondering of there is dissension in its ranks — or whether one member simply has anger management issues.
Ever since an initiative put on the Nov. 8 ballot by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) was rejected by voters, someone with the group has vowed on various local blogs that it still would try to block Cincinnati’s streetcar project.
This week’s ruling by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission that a Greater Cincinnati landlady violated a girl’s civil rights by posting a “whites only” sign at an apartment complex’s swimming pool is a decision that most rational people would say is just.
The Jan. 12 ruling means the commission, if it cannot reach a settlement with landlady Jamie Hein, could issue a complaint against her with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The AG’s Office would then represent the complainant, Michael Gunn, before an administrative law judge, who could impose penalties and punitive damages.
Ohio voter advocates say there was a big elephant in the room during the creation of Ohio's controversial redistricting map, and it was super tan and cried a lot. The Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting says John Boehner was central in the process, working with map-making consultants and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Here's a link to the Ohio Redistricting Transparency Report. From The Enquirer:
"The report found: decisions were not made in public; public input was ignored; there was limited opportunity for the public to review proposed maps; the public was not provided with relevant data for proposed districts; nonpartisan redistricting criteria were not used; and the criteria used to evaluate plans were never publicly identified."
The person who often ranks in polls as the most popular politician in Hamilton County is breaking with his Republican colleagues and is appearing in a new radio commercial urging a “no” vote on Issue 48.
Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. asks residents to oppose the anti-streetcar initiative that was placed on the ballot by the NAACP's local chapter and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). The commercial will begin airing Wednesday during the morning drive time period on WLW (700 AM) and WKRC (550 AM), two stations with predominately conservative, Republican audiences.
Since the Watergate-era, Ohio has had a panel with authority to penalize those who deliberately disseminate false information during elections. Cincinnati’s conservative anti-tax group COAST — which has been outspoken against the streetcar project — has chafed that it might someday run afoul of the Ohio Elections Commission for spouting off. COAST sees the Election Commission’s job of policing political discourse as creating a government-controlled censorship panel. It asked: How could anybody in Columbus have the power to decide what is true and false in political advertising? Free speech should trump the Election Commission’s power to zip lips, or levy penalties over false statements.
So COAST went to court and filed a challenge last year that asked a U.S. court in Cincinnati for an injunction putting the Ohio Elections Commission on ice. Last week, U.S. District Judge Michael R. Barrett (a former chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party) tossed the COAST case out of court.
Barrett agreed with COAST that the back-and-forth of political speech is an important right. But he declared COAST had not shown its ability to make provocative statements had been damped, or “chilled,” by the existence of the Ohio Elections Commission. The lawsuit is styled COAST Candidates PAC, et al v. Ohio Elections Commission, el al, Case No. 1:11cv775, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio.
Barrett said that if COAST had admitted it planned to lie it might have a better case. He wrote: “Plaintiffs responded that while they do not intend to engage in false speech, their speech has been chilled out of fear that any provocative statement might be challenged as false by political opponents. ... Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate something ‘more' than a subjective allegation of chill in this case.”
Barrett said there was no proof of actual or imminent harm. In other words, nobody had tried to make COAST shut up. Barrett wrote off COAST’s worries as veering into sheer fantasy.
would need to make some statement in the future, then Cincinnatians for
Progress, or some other group or individual, would need to file a
groundless complaint against plaintiffs and defendants would then fail
to follow the provisions in Section 3517.22. The scenario is far too speculative.”
The legal battle started last fall over the streetcar referendum and 20 different COAST-linked tweets against the project. One said the Cincinnati Fire Department had been browned out because city money had been used to “pay for streetcar boondoggle.” When streetcar backers filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission last year, the panel cleared COAST. After citizens voted to continue the streetcar project, COAST said they were under ongoing threat of being hauled before the state commission and filed the federal lawsuit.
The challenged state law against political lies says nobody can, “post,
publish, circulate, distribute or otherwise disseminate, a false
statement, either knowing the same to be false or acting with reckless
disregard of whether it was false or not, that is designed to promote
the adoption or defeat of any ballot proposition or issue.”
And it is still on the books.
In short, the statement claims that Cincinnati is trying to force Blue Ash into rescinding the sale of the Blue Ash Airport so a new deal can be worked that will funnel the sale money into the streetcar.
The real story behind the sale of the Blue Ash Airport is not as scandalous as COAST portrays. Some background: In 2006, the city of Blue Ash agreed to a deal with the city of Cincinnati to buy out 130 of 228 acres owned by Cincinnati at the Blue Ash Airport. Blue Ash would pay Cincinnati $37.5 million over 30 years, Cincinnati would move the airport to the adjacent 98 acres and Blue Ash would build a central park on the 130 acres.
The deal was approved by Blue Ash voters in a two-to-one margin with a related 0.25 percent earnings tax to fund the new park.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned. As part of the deal, Cincinnati had to apply for a $10 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The expectation was that Cincinnati would get this grant, making the cost of moving and maintaining the airport sustainable. But Cincinnati did not get that grant, and it has since decided to close the airport to save money.
This is where it gets tricky. Under federal law, since the land was sold as an airport, the money gained from the sale must be used on airports. That severely limits how Cincinnati can use the sale money.
What Cincinnati wants to do is have Blue Ash rescind the original sale and then officially close down the airport before re-selling the land to Blue Ash. This would let Cincinnati sell the land when it’s not classified as an airport, which would let Cincinnati use the $37.5 million in sale money on non-airport projects. Cincinnati has said $11 million of that freed-up money would go to the streetcar, and $26 million would go to municipal projects.
Everyone wins here. Cincinnati shuts down an airport that is no
longer affordable, money is freed up for other projects and Blue Ash is
a good neighbor and doesn’t lose anything. It still gets the park its voters want and pays the same amount for the property.
Well, not according to COAST. Even though less than one-third of the money is going to the streetcar, COAST insists Blue Ash is getting screwed in the deal so Cincinnati can fund the streetcar. The organization claims the new deal will result in “Blue Ash’s pockets” being “picked” for streetcar funds.
But Blue Ash is not paying for the streetcar. It is paying for the 130 acres of land to build a park. It has been paying for that land for more than five years now. What Cincinnati does with the money from the sale is of little relevance to Blue Ash.
That hasn’t stopped COAST from doing its very best to link the deal to the streetcar. After all, when something is remotely related to the streetcar, it’s a sure bet COAST will be there, trying to “hold the line” against the project, which the organization sees as wasteful spending.
That’s where irony comes in. The organization is adamantly against any new spending and taxes. That is its basic purpose. But in this case, the organization is so blinded by its disapproval of the streetcar that it is actually opposing a deal that saves Cincinnati money. By freeing up $37.5 million in funds and closing down the airport, Cincinnati is stopping unnecessary spending and gaining a new, temporary revenue stream. That will let the city continue funding other projects without higher taxes or raising overall spending.
In other words, the deal is doing the exact kind of thing COAST promotes. But if there’s anything COAST is more determined to stop than extra spending and higher taxes, it’s the streetcar. Screw any principles and standards. If something is slightly related to the streetcar, COAST will be there to oppose it.
That’s why COAST’s Twitter feed is filled with these kind
of petty retweets (from @GOCOAST): “Coming soon to Cincinnati. RT @lzzbott:
Got punched in the back and five dollars stolen from me at the trolley
This kind of flimsy connection is how the organization opposes the streetcar.
COAST says it is not alone in its opposition. In the Blue Ash Airport statement, the organization claimed that the City Council’s streetcar “boondoggle” has been blocked at “every turn,” citing the pulling of funds by Gov. John Kasich, Hamilton County commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartman and Congressman Steve Chabot.
The statement leaves out one important group of people that has approved the streetcar: Cincinnatians. Just like the park deal was approved by Blue Ash voters, Cincinnati voters have approved the streetcar twice — once in 2009 and most recently in 2011.
For an organization that claims to want to protect taxpayer money, COAST seems out of touch with the proven interests of taxpayers in both Blue Ash and Cincinnati.
An anti-tax group has made opposing Cincinnati’s planned streetcar project its primary cause in recent years, so it might be surprising to now find one of its leaders teaming up with a major streetcar advocate.
But that’s exactly what is happening later this month as Chris Finney, of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), co-hosts a political fundraiser with Chris Bortz, an ex-Cincinnati city councilman.