In an effort to promote greater transparency about who makes campaign contributions, outgoing Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner today unveiled a new set of election rules.
The rules, which were approved by the Ohio Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, is aimed at offsetting some of the impact of the Citizens United ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. In the landmark 5-4 decision, the court overturned a lower court’s ruling and removed existing restraints on corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns.
A local conservative group is making a lot of use of member and lawyer Chris Finney. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) was involved in two lawsuits filed this week: one regarding the Blue Ash Airport deal and another regarding Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS).
Criticism of the Blue Ash Airport deal is not new for COAST. The group has repeatedly criticized the deal, largely because as much as $26 million from the deal will be used to fund Cincinnati’s $110 million streetcar. In the past, COAST has repeatedly characterized the streetcar as a “boondoggle.”
The deal between Blue Ash and Cincinnati is not new, but it did get reworked earlier this year. In 2006, the $37.5 million deal had Cincinnati selling Blue Ash some land on the Blue Ash Airport property, which Blue Ash would then use to build a park. Blue Ash voters approved the deal, which contained a 0.25 percent earnings tax hike, in a two-to-one margin.
When Cincinnati couldn’t get a $10 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the city stopped working on the airport as it became too costly. The city then tried to shift the proceeds from the deal to the Cincinnati streetcar, but the FAA said funding must be used for airports since the property is classified as an airport.
Eventually, Cincinnati asked Blue Ash to rework the deal. The plan was Blue Ash would rescind the deal, and then Cincinnati would officially close down the airport and resell the land to Blue Ash while it’s no longer classified as an airport.
At first, city officials said $11 million of the opened-up money would go to the streetcar and $26 million would go to municipal projects. Since then, the city has shifted $15 million of that municipal project funding — supposedly temporarily — to help Duke Energy move underground utility lines from the path of the proposed streetcar route, at least until the city and energy company can work out an ongoing feud.
The reworked deal, which was approved by Blue Ash City Council in a 6-1 vote on Aug. 9, seemed like a win-win for both sides. Cincinnati would get more funding for ongoing projects, and Blue Ash netted $2.25 million from the deal — $250,000 to cover fees for Blue Ash’s new park and $2 million was subtracted from the deal since Blue Ash would no longer have to match the FAA grant.
But COAST does not approve. The organization doesn’t want any funding redirected to the streetcar, and it claims the reworked deal is not allowed. The lawsuit filed by Blue Ash resident Jeffrey Capell and Finney cites a section of the Blue Ash City Charter that disallows some contracts: “No contract shall be made for a term longer than five years, except that franchises for public utility services and contracts with other governmental units for service to be received or given may be made for any period no longer than twenty years.”
Mark Vander Laan, Blue Ash’s city solicitor, says the city charter section the lawsuit is referencing is irrelevant. He argues the deal is not a contract as the city charter defines it; instead, it’s a mortgage and debt instrument. In the Blue Ash City Charter, there’s another section that deals with debt instruments, and that’s what the rescinded deal falls under, according to Vander Laan. He says the city would not function as it does today if the lawsuit’s claim was correct: “If that were the case, all the bonds we’ve ever issued would have been incorrect.”
Vander Laan says the real issue here is disapproval of the streetcar, not any legal technicalities: “They may have a complaint about the streetcar, but that’s not the city of Blue Ash’s issue at all. We don’t think it’s even an appropriate basis to challenge this.”
He added, “Frankly, if somebody had an issue with (the deal), they should have taken that issue back in 2006 and 2007.” That’s when Blue Ash voters first approved the airport deal, but back then, the money wasn’t going to the streetcar, which didn’t even exist at the time.
In another legal battle, COAST filed a lawsuit against CPS over staff allegedly campaigning for Issue 42, a ballot initiative that will renew a CPS levy voters approved in 2008. The case goes back to 2002, when Tom Brinkman, chairman of COAST, sued CPS for “illegal and unconstitutional use of school property for campaign purposes,” according to the lawsuit. That case ended in a settlement, which forced CPS to enter into a “COAST Agreement” that says, “CPS will strictly enforce a policy of preventing … Other Political Advertisements on CPS Property.”
But COAST now says that agreement has been broken, and the
lawsuit cites emails as evidence. The emails show staff promoting voter
registration drives, which aren’t directly linked to Issue 42, and
staff offering to contribute and volunteer to the campaign. In the
emails, there are a few instances of Jens Sutmoller, Issue 42’s campaign
coordinator, asking CPS staff to give him personal emails, which shows
he was trying to avoid breaking any rules.
In CityBeat’s experience, CPS officials have been pretty strict with following the settlement with COAST. In a Sept. 20 email, Janet Walsh, spokesperson for CPS, told CityBeat she could not provide some levy-related information during work hours: “Yes, but due to constraints about doing levy-related work on work time (we can't), it may have to wait until I can get on my home computer.”
COAST has endorsed a “No” vote on Issue 42. In CityBeat’s
in-depth look into CPS and Issue 42 (“Battered But Not Broken,” issue
of Oct. 3), Brinkman defended COAST’s position by saying they’re not
necessarily against the school getting funding. COAST is more
interested in holding the school accountable: “It’s a five-year levy.
The reason we have five-year levies is so the public can gauge after
four or four and a half years how the entity where the taxes are going
to is doing with the money.” In that sense, for COAST, it’s important to
bring the levy renewal to voters as late in the game as possible —
November 2013 in this case. CityBeat this week endorsed a "Yes" vote on Issue 42 here.
Criticism of CPS levies is also not new for COAST. The group campaigned against last year’s new, permanent $49.5 million levy, which CPS said it needed to meet new technology needs and keep some buildings open.
Robert Lyons, whose part-time job as the judge for Butler County Area I Court supplements his income as a practicing attorney, took the student’s guilty plea to disorderly conduct on Nov. 8. At the request of the young man’s lawyer, Dennis Deters, the judge ordered the case file and all printed references to the defendant’s name sealed from public view. The order extended to paperwork generated by the Miami University Police Department. In effect, other than the press coverage it received, all record that the crime was committed and the perpetrator was brought to justice doesn’t exist.
Six days later, the Cincinnati Enquirer filed suit against Lyons with the Ohio Supreme Court. It said Lyons erred by issuing a “blanket” seal of the case. It said he failed to “find by clear and convincing evidence that the presumption of public access is outweighed by a higher interest” and further failed to conduct a hearing where the Enquirer could argue for public access. The Enquirer didn't mention in its initial report on the plea deal an intent to sue over the sealing, and to date it hasn’t reported on its own lawsuit.
Lyons was given until Dec. 14 to file an answer. What’s weird is that Lyons is represented by Butler County’s Prosecuting Attorney, Mike Gmoser. In Ohio, the county prosecutor serves as legal counsel for county government, county agencies and school districts — and represents them in court — as standard practice. As a private practitioner, though, Lyons specializes in defending people accused of drunken driving. Guess who sits at the opposing counsel’s table in those cases? Yes, Gmoser’s deputy prosecutors.
Lyons’ unusual role as defender and decider of DWI cases drew umbrage from Gmoser in March. According to the Hamilton Journal-News, Lyons the judge was about to rule on a motion to disallow the results of an Intoxilyzer 8000 blood-alcohol testing device in a DWI case. Lyons the lawyer, meanwhile, had challenged the validity of the machine in other cases, and his firm ran seminars about its failings. At Gmoser’s request, a higher court judge in July ordered Lyons to step down from hearing 10 pending DWI cases.
Last Thursday, in his initial response to the Enquirer’s lawsuit to open the rape tipster’s court file, Lyons hinted at the possibility of not fighting the suit. He asked to have until Dec. 14 to file a full response “so as to give settlement discussions an opportunity to come to fruition.”
In March, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education named UC's speech policies the worst in the nation specifically because of the restrictive free speech zone.
• “Requiring prior notification for the solicitation by students of signatures for petitions;”
• “Prohibiting all solicitation by students of signatures for petitions in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoor spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks;”
• “Requiring that all student ‘demonstrations, picketing, or rallies’ occur only in the Free Speech Area;”
• “Requiring 5 to 15 days prior notification for any and all student ‘demonstrations, picketing, or rallies’ without differentiations;”
• “Imposing or enforcing any policy restricting student speech in any designated public forum, including the Free Speech Area, the outdoors spaces described in the MainStreet Event Guide, and campus sidewalks, that is not individually and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling university interest.
“Dealing in this state, for example, you think so much about
the painful days in the deep South — the overt schemes to deny the right to
vote,” Jackson said on Tuesday, the last day to register to vote in Ohio.
“We saw Ohio as a kind of beacon of light, the beacon of hope once we ran across the river coming north. This year we’ve seen Ohio and Pennsylvania take the lead in trying to purge voters and suppress the vote to determine the outcome.”
Jackson’s comments came on the same day Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court the Six Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to allow early in-person voting on the three days before Election Day.
The three days had previously only applied to military personnel and their families.
Republicans like Husted have cited cost as the reason to not allow in-person voting on the three days before the election. But in an Aug. 19 email to The Columbus Dispatch, Franklin County Republican Party chairman Doug Preisse said “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.”
Pennsylvania, meanwhile, tried to require voters take a photo ID with them into the polls. A state judge blocked the law from going into effect for the 2012 election.
Jackson said restrictions as to who can vote when and where undermine the purpose of democracy.
“Open access, free, transparent voting makes democracy real,” he said.
Flanked by a tapestry portraying President Barack Obama, Jackson touted the president’s accomplishments in his first term and urged those assembled to give him a second.
Jackson was in Toledo Oct. 5 pushing early voting. He said he was in Cincinnati because “Ohio matters” and he saw it as a way to penetrate Appalachia because “poverty is not just a black problem.”
UPDATED Nov. 28, 12:45 PM: Judge Ted Berry waived
the tracking device requirement for the protesters today, and those who posted bail (all but one) should be released in the next few hours.
Original Post: Some of the 15 protesters arrested during Tuesday’s march through downtown Cincinnati in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo. paid bail the next day. But while most folks were at home enjoying Thanksgiving Thursday, they were still in the Hamilton County Justice Center because some county offices are closed.
The march drew as many as 300 people during its nearly three-hour duration. During that time, at least 100 protesters streamed onto I-75, bringing traffic to a halt for a few minutes. Police, who had blocked traffic in the northbound lane of the highway, ordered protesters off under threat of arrest.
Those who didn’t leave fast enough ended up in jail.
The protesters were held without bond overnight and arraigned at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Bond for the eight charged with shutting down I-75 was set at $3,000. According to Hamilton County Criminal Court documents, two of those arrested, Liz Cambron and Aalap Bommaraju, paid bail early that afternoon. But they’ll be in jail over Thanksgiving, and maybe until Monday, their attorney Joe Russell says.
Judge Melissa Powers, the presiding judge, deemed the arrested protesters flight risks and ordered they be fitted with electronic monitoring devices. But the office that provides the devices closed at noon today and won’t reopen until next week.
“I don’t undersand how my clients are flight risks,” Russell said of Cambron and Bommaraju. “They aren’t the kind of people who want to get anyone run over.” Cambron is a graduate student at University of Illinois Chicago, and Bommaraju is a health worker pursuing his PhD at UC.
He says the two weren’t acting recklessly and were merely exercising their first amendment rights.
The rest of the group arrested on I-75 look to be in a similar situation. Brandon Geary, Robert Fairbanks, Hilliard Herring, Zachary Lucas, Cerissa Newbill and Rhonda Shaw were also arrested on the highway and have been ordered to wear the tracking devices after release on bond.
Representatives with the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts said they
could not provide any information on the cases during phone calls
“The reason they’re still in jail is because the county doesn’t have the electronic monitoring devices available,” Russel said. He was in court Friday morning working to get the two released.
A vigil asking the court to release the protesters on bond drew a crowd of about 35 people Thanksgiving day, including family members of some of the protesters. "He didn't even know he wasn't going home," said Evan Geary, brother of Brandon Geary, who also posted bond. "My parents had to tell him he wasn't going home. I'm surprised my parents didn't come. They were very happy this was happening," he said of the vigil.
Both Bommaraju and Cambron, along with others who were arrested after entering I-75, are charged with disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, and inducing panic. That charge is usually a first-degree misdemeanor, but could be a fifth or fourth degree felony if a prosecutor finds that significant “economic damage” was done in the commission of the offense.
Cincinnati’s solicitor says an anti-tax group is wasting taxpayer money by filing a federal lawsuit against the city without first contacting its Law Department to resolve the alleged violations outside of court.
A priest who previously was the campus minister at Xavier University has been relieved of his duties by the Catholic Church after it learned about "the improper touching" of two minors several years ago in Maryland.
The allegations against the Rev. Louis Bonacci were investigated by the church's Province Review Board, which also has contacted civil authorities. Bonacci served as minster at Xavier from 1994-99. Until the allegations were made, he was serving as coordinator of spiritual direction for priests and deacons in the Diocese of Scranton, in Pennsylvania.
Some local groups will be holding signs outside of Great American Ball Park today and Thursday while the Reds play, protesting Arizona's new immigration law and seeking signatures for a petition that asks Major League Baseball to move the 2011 All-Star Game from the state. The Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, the Immigration Advocacy Movement and various religious and civic leaders are organizing the event and will distribute leaflets to passersby.
Also, some participants plan to disrupt today's game by unfurling two large banners stating “Not in Arizona, not in Ohio — Immigrant Rights Now — No S.B. 1070” and “Shame on Arizona, Don’t Spread Hate.” The action was planned after Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s announcement that he won't change the venue for next year's All-Star Game.
Anyone who looked at the front page of today's Cincinnati Enquirer saw a prominent advertisement along the bottom featuring an image of a treasure chest and announcing, “Roadshow is in town all week in Cincinnati!”
To the uninitiated, it might appear as if the popular TV show Antiques Roadshow is taping an episode in the Queen City. The program uses a similar image and logo, after all. And that’s exactly why WGBH-TV in Boston filed a federal lawsuit Feb. 23 in Illinois against the company that placed the ad, Treasure Hunters Roadshow.
Treasure Hunters used the ad to publicize its event this week at the Duke Energy Convention Center. Unlike Antiques Roadshow, Treasure Hunters doesn’t appraise items and tries to buy some antiques that people bring in for the lowest price possible.
WGBH, which produces the show seen on PBS outlets across the nation, including WCET-TV (Channel 48), alleges the company is guilty of trademark infringement through its name and marketing tactics. It has sued the Illinois-based firm and its owner, Jeffrey Parsons, seeking an injunction to prevent use of the name and image.
As first noted by Bill Sloat on his Daily Bellwether blog, the flap over “fair use” issues has received extensive media coverage in Illinois.
Ironically, The Enquirer ran the ad just days after its editor, Tom Callinan, wrote a column criticizing unnamed blogs, Web sites and radio stations of unfairly and illegally using the newspaper’s content.
“(O)thers are profiting from our work,” Callinan wrote. “We're no longer willing to idly watch our good efforts stolen.”
As a result, The Enquirer is using a software program called Attributor to track users of its contents, gauge if the use is improper and issue warnings to alleged violators.
“In an attempt to track down such content parasites, The Enquirer and Cincinnati.Com now employ technology that scours the media landscape for illegal use of our content,” Callinan wrote. “In recent weeks, we have sent warnings to several blogs, Web sites and radio stations.
“We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.”
Callinan didn’t, however, attribute that last line to Network, the Oscar-winning 1976 film about a banal media outlet run amok in pursuit of profits and ratings. The line is uttered by unhinged TV talk show host Howard Beale, famously played by Peter Finch.
Several local bloggers were upset by Callinan’s column, calling it heavy-handed and reminding them of Big Brother with its weird “we’re watching you” vibe. They’re wondering who – exactly – he’s alleging has made improper use of the newspaper’s content. Several blogs often post items commenting on news reported by The Enquirer or criticizing its coverage, but they generally attribute the newspaper and help drive Internet traffic to its site.
Sloat e-mailed Callinan asking for more details, but the editor remained vague.
“(T)he recent ones have been small blogs and websites who may simply not know better. I don't want to out them. We handle it with automated warnings (via a program called Attributor) and it usually goes away without escalation,” Callinan responded. “My threshold for getting into a public outing of the issue would be pretty high — repeated incidents, warnings and letters from our lawyers. Just hasn't risen to that level.”
Of course, if the problem hasn’t risen to that level, why write such a high-profile and accusatory column about it?
So far, The Enquirer hasn’t reported on the lawsuit against its advertiser. Maybe the dispute “just hasn’t risen to that level” either.