So, just who did Jean Schmidt think was paying her mounting legal bills, anyhow?
That's the lingering question after the House Ethics Committee ruled today that Schmidt, a Republican congresswoman from Miami Township, did receive an “impermissible gift” by accepting about $500,000 in free legal help since spring 2009, but somehow didn't “knowingly” violate the law.
A review of the fine print in Ohio law could spell trouble for Duke Energy in its dispute with Cincinnati about who must pay to move utility lines to accommodate the city’s streetcar project.
Readers of CityBeat’s March 6 cover story know that one of the legal arguments made by Duke Energy is that it said the system qualifies as a utility itself under Ohio law. And one utility has no legal obligation to reimburse another utility, Duke added.
City officials disagree with Duke’s interpretation, and the two sides currently are trying to negotiate a compromise to the impasse.
The city is willing to pay $6 million to relocate Duke’s natural gas, chilled water, fiber and electrical infrastructure along the streetcar route, but the firm insists it will cost at least $18.7 million and possibly more.
A close reading of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC), however, reveals it is unlikely that a streetcar system qualifies as a “public utility.”
Under Ohio law, the following items are defined as public utilities:
“A motor transportation company, when engaged in the business of carrying and transporting persons or property or the business of providing or furnishing such transportation service, for hire, in or by motor-propelled vehicles of any kind, including trailers, for the public in general, over any public street, road, or highway in this state.” ORC §4905.03
But motor-propelled vehicles aren’t defined under Ohio law. The ORC does, however, define “motor vehicle” as:
“(B) “Motor vehicle” means any vehicle, including mobile homes and recreational vehicles, that is propelled or drawn by power other
than muscular power or power collected from overhead electric trolley wires.
“Motor vehicle” does not include utility vehicles as defined in division (VV)
of this section, motorized bicycles, road rollers, traction engines, power
shovels, power cranes, and other equipment used in construction work and not
designed for or employed in general highway transportation, well-drilling
machinery, ditch-digging machinery, farm machinery, and trailers that are
designed and used exclusively to transport a boat between a place of storage
and a marina, or in and around a marina, when drawn or towed on a public road
or highway for a distance of no more than ten miles and at a speed of
twenty-five miles per hour or less.” ORC
“(B) “Motor vehicle” means any vehicle, including mobile homes and recreational vehicles, that is propelled or drawn by power other than muscular power or power collected from overhead electric trolley wires. “Motor vehicle” does not include utility vehicles as defined in division (VV) of this section, motorized bicycles, road rollers, traction engines, power shovels, power cranes, and other equipment used in construction work and not designed for or employed in general highway transportation, well-drilling machinery, ditch-digging machinery, farm machinery, and trailers that are designed and used exclusively to transport a boat between a place of storage and a marina, or in and around a marina, when drawn or towed on a public road or highway for a distance of no more than ten miles and at a speed of twenty-five miles per hour or less.” ORC §4501.01(B)
Streetcars operate using overhead trolley wires, thus they aren’t considered motor vehicles under Ohio law. But do they even qualify as vehicles? The ORC defines vehicles as:
“(A) “Vehicles” means everything on wheels or runners, including motorized bicycles, but does not mean electric personal assistive mobility devices, vehicles that are operated exclusively on rails or tracks or from overhead electric trolley wires, and vehicles that belong to any police department, municipal fire department, or volunteer fire department, or that are used by such a department in the discharge of its functions.” ORC §4501.01(A)
Of course, streetcars run on rails and use power from electric
trolley wires. So, they aren’t vehicles either. The conclusion: Either “motor-propelled vehicles” mean the same as “motor
vehicles” (in which case it doesn’t apply to streetcars) or “motor-propelled”
is an adjective to “vehicle” (which also doesn’t apply, as streetcars aren’t
vehicles). In each instance, a streetcar system doesn’t fall into the legal realm of a “motor transportation company” and therefore isn’t a “public utility.”
Of course, streetcars run on rails and use power from electric trolley wires. So, they aren’t vehicles either.
The conclusion: Either “motor-propelled vehicles” mean the same as “motor vehicles” (in which case it doesn’t apply to streetcars) or “motor-propelled” is an adjective to “vehicle” (which also doesn’t apply, as streetcars aren’t vehicles).
In each instance, a streetcar system doesn’t fall into the legal realm of a “motor transportation company” and therefore isn’t a “public utility.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) claimed in a 2011 lawsuit that the city government isn’t meeting funding requirements. A Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas motion filed Jan. 4 and accepted Jan. 23 gives the city and AFSCME until April to settle the case out of court.
By law, Cincinnati is required to heed to the Cincinnati Retirement System (CRS) Board of Trustees when setting the percent of payroll the city must contribute to retirees. But the AFSCME lawsuit argues the city hasn’t been making contributions dictated by the board.
The lawsuit, which dates back to June 2011, cites minutes from a CRS Board of Trustees meeting on July 20, 2010 to show the board accepted a report from Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting, LLC. The report asked the city to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to retiree benefits — 12.32 percent to retiree health benefits and 33.9 percent to other CRS benefits — during the 2011 fiscal year.
Instead, the city biennial budget for 2011 and 2012 established a contribution rate of 17 percent — way below the recommended sum.
The AFSCME lawsuit alleges the low contributions reflect a
“longstanding pattern” from city government. It points to a 2002
report from the CRS Board of Trustees that found the city was not meeting requirements set by the board then, either.
The lawsuit asks for a court mandate requiring city government to find out how much it needs to contribute, establish a mechanism for collecting the amounts required and appropriate and contribute the required amounts.
City Solicitor John Curp says the debate is between long-term and short-term interests. On AFSCME’s side, the union wants to get as much from payroll contributions as possible for represented retirees, even if it means a short-term economic and budget shock for the city. On the city’s side, City Council is more interested in meeting long-term requirements for the pension fund, instead of keeping up with shifting annual numbers that could negatively impact the city economy and budget.
City government’s approach attempts to balance short-term and long-term needs with a long-term goal. It means the city pension is underfunded during some years, particularly when the economy is in a bad state. But it keeps rates steady, letting the city avoid sudden funding changes that would require spending cuts or tax hikes to keep the budget balanced.
By adopting a large short-term contribution rate, the city would likely hurt its budget in ways that would negatively affect city employees represented by AFSCME. If the city was forced to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to CRS — up from 17 percent — it would probably be forced to cut spending elsewhere, which would lead to layoffs.
This story was updated on Jan. 25 at 12:40 p.m. to reflect comments from City Solicitor John Curp.
U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) just doesn’t fare so well in unscripted situations. In the latest example of that political truism, Schmidt testified Monday for nearly five hours in a deposition taken by attorneys for David Krikorian.
The deposition was taken in preparation for a Sept. 3 hearing before the Ohio Elections Commission. Schmidt filed a complaint with the commission alleging that Krikorian knowingly made a false statement about Schmidt in a piece of campaign literature last year.
Some U.S. progressives are supporting a move by Icelandic politicians to nominate alleged WikiLeaks collaborator Bradley Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Manning was nominated for the prestigious prize by The Movement of Icelandic Parliament, a group of politicians in Iceland dedicated to empowering grassroots activism.
School officials in a suburb north of Cincinnati are being warned not to add creationism to their curriculum if they want to avoid a costly legal challenge.
A judicial conduct panel ruled this week that the primary election opponent of a local Municipal Court judge knowingly misrepresented himself in campaign materials.
The panel decided that retired appellate court judge William O’Neill from Cleveland left the impression that he is a current judge in a two-sided campaign card he distributed. In fact, O’Neill now works as an emergency room nurse at a hospital.
O’Neill and Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker are vying to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Ohio Supreme Court.
Whoever wins the March 6 primary election will face off against incumbent Justice Robert Cupp, a Republican, in the November general election.
The three-judge panel upheld the complaint filed by Richard Dove, secretary of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. The panel said O’Neill’s campaign card refers to him nine times as “judge,’’ while describing him as “former court of appeals judge’’ once.
“The fact that he is known as judge because of his tenure on the 11th District Court of Appeals and that as a retired judge he is known as a judge, he nevertheless as a judicial candidate is prohibited from using the term ‘judge’ before his name in campaign materials since he does not currently hold that office,’’ wrote Guernsey County Common Pleas Judge David Ellwood, who chaired the three-judge panel.
The panel recommended no discipline for O’Neill other than he stop distributing the card. A 5th District Court of Appeals judge must appoint a panel of five fellow appellate judges within the next week to consider the lower panel’s recommendations and make a final decision.
Rucker is the Ohio Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, but O’Neil has twice before — in different races — had party leaders rescind an endorsement and give it to him.
O’Neill has run twice for the state Supreme Court — in 2004 and 2006 — and then Congress in 2008 and 2010. Although he has won in the primaries, O’Neill has lost in the general elections.
Local Democratic Party leaders are criticizing O’Neill, stating he is moving too slowly to remove misleading material from his campaign website.
“While Mr. O’Neill promised Monday to make the required corrections, as of this writing on Wednesday, Feb. 29, his website remains unchanged,” Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke wrote in a statement issued Wednesday night.
“This is not the kind of conduct we as Democrats should condone by any of our candidates, especially candidates running for a seat on the highest court of our state,” Burke added. “Ohioans deserve a Supreme Court candidate who not only understands the law, but respects it as well.”
For more on the O’Neill/Rucker race, see this week’s issue of CityBeat.