The ruling means the case could restart, potentially setting Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the inn, and Western & Southern on another path of court hearings and appeals that will take up taxpayer money and the courts’ time — all because Western & Southern is bitter it didn’t purchase the Anna Louise Inn when given the opportunity.
By agreeing with the lower court that Cincinnati Union Bethel filed an incomplete application, the appeals court is now asking the owners of the Anna Louise Inn to resubmit their
funding requests to the city of Cincinnati — except this time Cincinnati Union Bethel
will have to include details about previously omitted parts of the Anna Louise Inn and the Off
the Streets program.
But Tim Burke, Cincinnati Union Bethel’s attorney, is hopeful the process will not have to restart. He says Cincinnati Union Bethel already carried out the appeals court’s requirements. After Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel handed down his May 4 ruling against the Anna Louise Inn, Cincinnati Union Bethel started a second chain of zoning and permit applications to obtain a conditional use permit that met Nadel’s specifications. So far, the applications have been approved by Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board and the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals, but Western & Southern is appealing those rulings as well.
Burke and Cincinnati Union Bethel hope to meet with Nadel Monday to make their case. If they’re successful, they’ll stave off another series of court hearings and appeals.
Burke says the case has been a uniquely negative experience — previously calling it one of the most frustrating of his career. He says Western & Southern’s actions are pure obstructionism: “They benefit from delays, and that’s all they’re trying to do.”
Cincinnati Union Bethel wants to use city funds to help finance $13 million in renovations for the Anna Louise Inn, which are necessary to keep the building open and functional.
The Anna Louise Inn is a 103-year-old building that provides shelter to low-income women. Its Off the Streets program helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around.
Western & Southern previously supported the Anna Louise Inn and the Off the Streets program with direct donations, but the friendly relations abruptly ended when Cincinnati Union Bethel refused to sell the building to Western & Southern, instead opting to renovate the Inn. At that point, Western & Southern began a series of legal challenges meant to obstruct Cincinnati Union Bethel’s renovation plans.
The zoning debate centers around whether the Anna Louise
Inn qualifies as a “special assistance shelter” or “transitional
housing.” The Anna Louise Inn originally claimed to be transitional
housing, but Nadel ruled the building is a special assistance
shelter. After that ruling, Cincinnati Union Bethel obtained a conditional use permit for the new classification, but Western & Southern is now disputing the approval of that permit.
For more information about this ongoing dispute, visit CityBeat's collection of coverage here.
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.
Despite problems with staff and records, a report is calling changes to Ohio’s youth prisons system a model for the nation. The report from a court-appointed monitor praised the Ohio Department of Youth Services for reducing the number of offenders in secure confinement and spreading services for youthful offenders around the state. However, the report also points out staff shortages, inadequate teachers and inconsistent medical records. Advocates for youthful offenders claim the bad findings show a need for continued court supervision.
There’s a new sheriff in town, and the old one is becoming a visiting judge. Simon Leis, who served as sheriff for 25 years, is best known for going after an allegedly obscene Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and prosecuting pornographer Larry Flynt. As visiting judge, he will take on cases other judges are assigned but can’t get to due to full dockets.
An appeals court is allowing City Gospel Mission to move to Queensgate. The special assistance shelter wants to move from its current Over-the-Rhine property to Dalton Avenue, but businesses and property owners at Queensgate oppose the relocation. In its opinion, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals said opponents to the relocation “have not raised any genuine issues of material fact in support of their constitutional attack upon the notwithstanding ordinance in their capacity as neighboring businesses and property owners.”
Butler County nonprofit services are worried that a greater need for their services in 2013 will force more budget tightening.
U.S. retailers did not have a good Christmas. Holiday sales were at the lowest they’ve been since 2008. The disappointing sales have forced retailers to offer big discounts in hopes of selling excess inventory.
Former president George H.W. Bush is in intensive care “following a series of setbacks including a persistent fever,” according to his spokesperson.
The Food and Drug Administration says FrankenFish, a giant, genetically modified salmon, is environmentally safe.
Fun fact: More Iranians worry about global warming than Americans.
Colleges are now helping students scrub their online footprints.
Antifreeze now tastes bitter to deter animals and children from eating it.
Scientists have developed a highly advanced robot boy capable of doing chores. Keep its face in mind, for you could be looking at the first of our future robot overlords.
Outgoing Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis is retiring after his current term and Jim Neil will replace him on Jan. 6, 2013, but that doesn’t mean Leis is done with public life.
The lawman best known for the raid of the Contemporary Arts Center over an allegedly obscene Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and his prosecution of pornographer Larry Flynt will begin serving as a visiting judge in 2013, according to letters first published by The Enquirer.
Before being appointed sheriff, Leis served as a Hamilton County Common Pleas judge from 1982 to 1987. Prior to that he was Hamilton County prosecutor for 12 years.
The letters dated May 1, 2012 and Oct. 22, 2012 indicate that Leis wrote Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to let her know he was retiring and was interested in being assigned as a visiting judge.
Visiting judges are in charge of all of the cases other judges are assigned but can’t get to due to full dockets. Leis will be paid the standard visiting judge rate of $60.68 per hour.
Since Leis last served as judge 25 years ago, O’Connor is requiring him to shadow another judge for a day or so to get back up to speed. Leis has kept his law license current since becoming sheriff.
Cincinnati Public Schools seems to be playing a big role in reforming Ohio’s school funding formula. Superintendent Mary Ronan got a call from Gov. John Kasich’s office about the per-pupil funding formula CPS uses to distribute funds to its schools. It seems the state might adopt a similar method, but Ronan is cautious: “I do think it's one of the ways you could do it, a per-pupil funding, but I have to say, we were always tweaking every year ... because sometimes those formulas can be a bit off and any time we saw one school getting a lot more than another ... we tried to refine it every year over probably the 15 years we have used it.” She also notes schools are getting “bare minimum” funding right now. CityBeat covered budget problems at CPS here.
In general, state budget cuts have led to fewer teachers in Ohio schools. Gov. Kasich previously urged schools to focus on classroom instruction, but it seems the words aren't being followed up with proper funding.
Southwestern Ohio judges are clashing over double-dipping. The practice involves government workers retiring and getting rehired so they can collect pensions and a paycheck at the same time. At a meeting, Hamilton County Judge Melba Marsh said she wants to allow Magistrate Michael Bachman to retire and then be rehired so he doesn't lose a 3-percent increase to his retirement, which is otherwise being eliminated by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System after 2012. But the move has been met with resistance from other judges.
For Cincinnati hospitals, Medicare changes mean some loss and some gain.
The online campaign urging Macy’s to dump Donald Trump circled a “Dump Trump” billboard around Macy’s headquarters. The anti-Trump movement has gained about 680,000 signatures since it started.
On Christmas Eve, some spent time with family, while Butler County Deputy David Runnells helped deliver a baby in the back of a car during an emergency call.
Ohio will use $20 million out of $200 million in casino funds to train incumbent workers. Gov. Kasich says the program could help avoid layoffs.
It seems Mitt Romney's presidential campaign really thought they were going to win. In campaign memos leading up to the election, campaign staff said the race was “unmistakably moving in Mitt Romney’s direction,” and the campaign ridiculed the possibility of losing Ohio due to the Romney campaign’s “better ground game.” But President Barack Obama had a much larger ground game for one-on-one interaction, which is one of the factors former Romney staff now say led to their demise. But whatever. Romney didn't want to be president, anyway, says son Tagg Romney: “He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to ... run.”
Fiscal cliff talks aren’t going well. President Obama cut his vacation early to work out negotiations. If Republicans and Democrats can’t work out their problems, a series of spending cuts and tax hikes dubbed the “fiscal cliff” will kick in throughout 2013. But it’s looking more and more likely the nation will head off the cliff, considering U.S. Speaker John Boehner can’t even pass tax hikes on people making more than $1 million a year.
Ever wonder what dinosaur meat would taste like? Well, Popular Science has that covered.
Area 1 Court Judge Robert Lyons ordered all case records sealed Nov. 8 after the student pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and agreed to pay an undisclosed fine. Six days later the Cincinnati Enquirer sued Lyons in the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that the case file is a public record.
Lyons, represented by Butler County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Gmoser, filed his answer Thursday. He denied violating the Enquirer’s claim of a constitutional right to a hearing where it could have argued against secrecy.
That Lyons is
standing his ground comes as no surprise, but his answer contains one
head-scratching statement. He — that is, Gmoser — wrote that “there was no
plea” in the case. Yet in a first-person account of the case in the Miami
University Student on Nov. 8, Gmoser
wrote that the defendant pleaded guilty. The court’s own schedule for Nov. 8
says the case was up for the entry of a guilty plea.
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.”
The city of Cincinnati and its largest city employees union have reached a deal regarding the privatization of the city’s parking assets. Under the deal’s terms, the city will give raises and not lay off anyone for three years, but only if the city’s parking assets are privatized. However, the head of a Clifton community group is still not happy with the privatization plan. He says the plan is bad for business because it limits the amount of affordable parking in the area. But would laying off 344 city employees be better for business?
The identity of the Miami University student who put up
the infamous “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” flier may soon be revealed. The Ohio Supreme Court
will decide by Dec. 14 whether the case should be unsealed and open to public view. Robert Lyons, the Butler County part-time judge who sealed the case, has faced scrutiny in the past few months for conflicts of interest regarding drinking-and-driving cases.
Revenue from casinos in Toledo and Cleveland is dropping. The numbers paint a bad picture for Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials expecting budget problems to be solved by casino revenue.
A proposal mandating drug testing for welfare recipients in Ohio resurfaced last week. Republican legislators claim the requirement will save the state money, but a similar proposal in Florida added to budget woes as the state was forced to pay for drug tests.
Ohio’s ultra-wealthy population is growing. About 1,330 Ohioans are worth $30 million or more, an increase of 2 percent since 2011, according to a report from Wealth-X. The news could shape Gov. John Kasich’s plan to cut the income tax using revenue from a higher oil-and-gas severance tax, perhaps encouraging state officials to make the cut more progressive.
Gov. Kasich is ending the practice of giving so many tax credits to keep businesses in Ohio. The move could potentially cost the state jobs as businesses move to other areas with bigger, better incentives, but state officials and the business community don’t seem too worried for now.
If the Ohio government agencies were forced to cut their budgets by 10 percent, the results would not be pretty. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction would have to close prisons, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources would have a tougher time enforcing new regulations on fracking.
Ohio’s exotic animal law is facing a challenge in federal court today. Exotic animal owners claim the law violates their First Amendment and property rights by forcing them to join private associations and give up their animals without compensation. They also do not like the provision that requires microchips be implanted into the animals. The Humane Society of the United States is defending the law, which was passed after a man released 56 exotic animals and killed himself in 2011.
An Ohio court said a business tax on fuel sales must be used on road projects.
Ohio gas prices are still dropping.
The cure for leukemia could be a modified version of the AIDS virus.
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.
The Anna Louise Inn, the city of Cincinnati and Western & Southern (W&S) met for what could be the final time in court today. For the most part, both sides took their time at the Ohio First District Court of Appeals to restate past arguments.
The three-judge panel heard 15-minute arguments by both sides. It is expected to give a final decision in 30 to 45 days.
During the hearing, W&S lawyer Francis Barrett insisted that the Anna Louise Inn meets the definition of a “special assistance shelter,”rather than “transitional housing” as it was originally classified, due to the Off the Streets program, which helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around. The difference in labels could have substantial implications for the Anna Louise Inn and whether it can go ahead with its planned $13 million renovation. However, the inn has already obtained a conditional use permit for its renovations in light of the original court decision classifying it as a special assistance shelter.
Tim Burke, lawyer for the Anna Louise Inn, rebutted by asserting that the record shows the Anna Louise Inn has never acted as a special assistance shelter. In one example, Judge Sylvia Hendon asked Burke if the Anna Louise Inn would take in a woman in the middle of the night since it is not a special assistance shelter. Burke responded by saying the Inn would turn the woman away, as required under zoning code: “She will be directed to one of the traditional homeless shelters. She is not admitted to the Anna Louise Inn. The program does not operate that way, and it never has. And the record is absolutely clear about that.”
The ongoing feud was triggered by Cincinnati Union Bethel’s (CUB) refusal to sell the Anna Louise Inn property to W&S. The company originally offered $1.8 million to buy the Anna Louise Inn in 2009. CUB declined, and it eventually obtained $12.6 million in state- and city-distributed federal funding for long-needed renovations. From that point forward, relations between CUB and W&S deteriorated, as CityBeat previously covered in detail (“Surrounded by Skyscrapers,” issue of Aug. 15)
When asked how the hearings went, Burke replied, “You never know … until you hear the decision.”