A congresswoman's lawsuit against a local businessman and onetime political opponent is featured in an article today on the popular Politico website.
U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) is suing David Krikorian, who ran as an independent against Schmidt in 2008 for Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District and also unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic primary for the same seat last year. He lost that race to Surya Yalamanchili, a former contestant on a reality TV show who lost the general election to Schmidt by capturing 35 percent of the vote.
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.
In the heated debate over budget cuts at City Hall, several groups are alleging Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding is “two-faced” and told various individuals during his 2009 campaign that he would end his support for the proposed streetcar project.
A rally will be held at Fountain Square today to commemorate the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and to demand a thorough investigation of the incident.
The event begins at 5 p.m. and attendees are asked to bring signs that aren’t posted on sticks, to comply with a local law, and also to wear hooded jackets. Martin, 17, was wearing a “hoodie” when George Zimmerman allegedly killed him Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla.
Rallies have been held across the nation during the past week to protest the handling of Martin’s case. Many of the participants have worn hoodies in a show of solidarity with the slain teenager, often carrying signs that state, “I am Trayvon Martin.”
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory posted a similar photograph on his Facebook page over the weekend. It’s unclear if Mallory plans to attend today’s rally.
Among the groups organizing the rally are Occupy The Hood and the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center.
Zimmerman, 28, who says he belongs to a neighborhood watch program in his gated community, began following Martin at about 7 p.m. for what he described in a 911 call as “suspicious behavior.” Martin was walking back to his father’s condominium after buying iced tea for himself and Skittles for his soon-to-be stepbrother.
"This guy looks like he's up to no good, on drugs or something," Zimmerman told a 911 dispatcher.
Some sort of encounter occurred that resulted in Martin’s death. Sanford Police didn’t arrest Zimmerman, saying that it appeared he acted in self-defense.
Sanford Police accepted Zimmerman’s version of events at face value. “Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him,” Sanford Police Chief Billy Lee told ABC News earlier this month.
After the incident became publicized through Facebook, Twitter and other social media, public outcry grew. More than 2 million people have signed an online petition demanding justice, and the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department have launched investigations.
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.
For all the rhetoric about the United States' right to freedom of the press, the best reporting on the governmental secrets revealed by WikiLeaks, and the deeper issues they raise, has been done by media outlets in other nations. And the best and most in-depth interview with Julian Assange has been done by a British journalist for Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite news channel.
David Frost, who famously interviewed President Nixon a few years after his resignation following the Watergate scandal, now has a program on Al Jazeera, entitled Frost Over the World.
Between tweeting happily about U.S. Rep. John Murtha’s death and gloating over Cincinnati losing out on federal funding for its proposed streetcar project, an anti-tax group has also posted on its blog about something more substantive: A legal victory against an Ohio law it said was unconstitutional.
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.