CityBeat Blogs - COAST http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-165.html <![CDATA[Lawsuit Filed to Scrub Blogger Off Voter Rolls]]>

A lawsuit filed on Oct. 23 asks the Hamilton County Court of Appeals to compel the Hamilton County Board of Elections to scrub UrbanCincy.com owner Randy Simes off the local voter rolls.

The lawsuit was filed less than two weeks after the board of elections ruled that Simes is eligible to vote in Cincinnati.

The case has been mired in politics since it was first filed to the board of elections. Simes’ supporters claim the legal actions are meant to suppress Simes support for the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ mayoral campaign. Proponents of the lawsuit argue they’re just trying to uphold the integrity of voting.

Attorney Curt Hartman is spearheading the lawsuit. He regularly represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group that opposes the streetcar project and Qualls.

The lawsuit claims Simes isn’t legally able to vote in Cincinnati because he currently resides in South Korea and lived in Chicago prior to the move overseas.

Ohio election law requires a place of residency to vote, but someone can remain on the voter rolls if he or she intends to return to the city or state while in another part of the country or overseas.

Simes’ supporters, who the board of elections sided with on Oct. 14, claim Simes has every intention of returning to Cincinnati when he’s done with his work in South Korea. Simes contract with his employer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, states he’ll return to Cincinnati in two years.

Until then, Simes is registered to vote at a condominium owned by his friend and business colleague, Travis Estell.

According to Estell’s testimony to the board of election, Simes kept a key and sometimes stayed for a week when he came and went from the residence throughout the spring and summer. Simes also has credit card and bank mail sent to the address, and he attempted to change his registered driver’s license address to match the residence, Estell said.

But Hartman says the evidence, which was gathered largely through Simes’ social media activities, shows Simes was a visitor, not a resident. He cites Estell’s testimony that Simes lived out of a suitcase and didn’t pay rent when he stayed in Cincinnati.

Tim Burke, chairman of the board of elections and Hamilton County Democratic Party, says there’s a reason three out of four members of the board, including one Republican, agreed Simes should remain on the voter rolls.

“The facts that were presented didn’t rise to the legal standard of clear and convincing evidence to justify depriving the voter of his right to vote,” Burke says.

Burke likens the arrangement to a Procter & Gamble employee who spends a year or two overseas but still keeps the right to vote in Cincinnati. Burke says someone could even sell his home in Cincinnati and keep his right to vote from the sold residence.

Hartman says the comparison doesn’t work because a Procter & Gamble employee would live in and keep ties to Cincinnati prior to moving overseas. He claims Simes’ decision to register to vote from Chicago in 2012 effectively broke his electoral ties with Cincinnati and Ohio.

But the argument could be rendered moot. Burke, who is named as one of the defendants in the lawsuit, says the legal challenge might not make it to court because two different people filed the lawsuit to the court of appeals and complaint to the board of elections. That could render the lawsuit procedurally defective and lead to a dismissal, according to Burke.

The lawsuit currently has no scheduled hearing or judge, but Hartman says he hopes to expedite hearings in time for the Nov. 5 election.

]]>
<![CDATA[Cranley Rejects COAST’s Support]]>

Mayoral candidate John Cranley says he would reject an endorsement from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group formed in 1999 with a history of anti-LGBT causes.

“I don’t want it. I’m not a member of COAST,” Cranley says.

The response comes just two days after COAST on Oct. 8 tweeted that it supported Cranley and council candidates Amy Murray, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn for a “change of direction.” The group later claimed the tweets weren’t endorsements, but not before progressives called on candidates to reject COAST’s support.

Councilman Chris Seelbach responded to COASTs apparent interest in influencing the mayoral and City Council races on his Facebook page: “Regardless of the politics involved, anyone who wants my support should make it clear: COAST is a hate-driven, fringe organization that should not be apart (sic) of any conversation on how to make Cincinnati a better place.

CityBeat couldn’t immediately reach Murray, Smitherman or Winburn for comment on whether they would accept COAST's support for their campaigns. But Smitherman, who is president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when he’s not campaigning, often teams up with COAST on local issues.

Seelbach, who has been a favorite target of COAST, tells CityBeat there’s no doubt the group’s vitriolic opposition is at least partly based on hate.

“Without question, I believe COAST targets me because I’m gay,” Seelbach says. “In some ways, I’m a symbol of everything that they hate, which is LGBT progress.”

Cranley agrees the group is hateful. He points out that some COAST members have criticized him over the years for supporting LGBT causes, including hate crime legislation in 2003.

In the 1990s, Chris Finney, chief legal crusader for COAST, authored Article XII, the city charter amendment approved by voters in 1993 that barred the city from deeming gays a protected class in anti-discrimination statutes.

In a June 1994 Cincinnati Post article, Finney said landlords should not be legally required to rent to gay or lesbian tenants. Finney explained, “Because there may be some who don’t want their family dining next to a homosexual couple whose actions they find offensive.” To critics, the remarks seemed fairly similar to arguments leveled in support of racial segregation in the 1960s.

COAST chairman Tom Brinkman and member Mark Miller were also part of Equal Rights Not Special Rights, which defended Article XII in court in 1997.

When City Council passed hate crime legislation protecting gays and lesbians in 2003, Brinkman criticized the Catholic members of City Council at the time — including Cranley, who sponsored the legislation — for sending “the message that you openly approve of homosexuality.”

Back then, Cranley responded, We have a little something in this country called the separation of church and state. Mr. Brinkman asked me to read the Catechism. I ask him to read the U.S. Constitution.

Around the same time, Seelbach prepared and then helped lead the 2004 campaign that did away with Article XII. For Cincinnati, the repeal of the city charter amendment, just 11 years after voters approved it, exemplified the more tolerant, open direction the country was moving in regards to the LGBT community.

But while the country has embraced greater equality for LGBT individuals, Seelbach says COAST hasn’t done the same. Even though Seelbach voted against the parking plan that COAST also opposes, the conservative organization has regularly targeted Seelbach in blog posts and emails criticizing the plan, which leases the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.

In March, COAST sent out a doctored image that compared Seelbach to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ in the Christian religion, for approving an emergency clause on the parking plan that effectively exempted the plan from a voter referendum. Seelbach voted against the parking plan itself when it came to a vote.

“I don’t believe in running our city by referendums,” Seelbach says. “What we currently have is a representative democracy. We elect people that we hold accountable by either re-electing them or not, and we trust the people that we elect to research the policies and make informed decisions. I think that’s the best system.”

Most recently, COAST went after Seelbach for his trip to Washington, D.C., where he received the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his efforts to protect and promote Cincinnati’s LGBT community. The city paid more than $1,200 for the trip, which COAST called into question with legal threats. Even though City Solicitor John Curp, the city’s top lawyer, deemed the allegations frivolous, Seelbach agreed to reimburse the funds to stave off a lawsuit that could have cost the city more than $30,000.

At the same time, media outlets, including WCPO and The Cincinnati Enquirer, have closely covered COAST’s allegations and commonly turned to the group to get the conservative side of different issues, ranging from the streetcar project to the pension system. Both media outlets have characterized COAST as a government watchdog group, ignoring the organizations history of conservative activism and crafting legislation.

The favorable attention might be turning around. The Enquirer recently scrutinized COAST’s lawsuits against the city, which revealed the group, which frames itself as an anti-tax, anti-spending watchdog, could cost the city more than $500,000 in legal fees. The city solicitor also estimated his office puts the equivalent of one full-time employee on COAST’s cases, with the typical city civil attorney making about $65,000 a year, according to The Enquirer.

Seelbach acknowledges the vast differences between the black and LGBT civil rights movements, but he says a group with a similarly discriminatory past wouldn’t get the kind of media coverage and attention COAST does, at least without the proper context.

“If there was a group that had a history of fighting for segregation, … there is absolutely no way anyone, much less media, would quote or accept support in any form,” Seelbach says.

This story was updated at 5:09 p.m. with more context.

]]>
<![CDATA[Seelbach: I'll Pay $1,200 to Dismiss COAST Lawsuit]]>

Today's an expensive day for Councilman Chris Seelbach.

That's because Seelbach is writing a check today for  $1,218.59 to the city of Cincinnati to get local hyper-conservative "watchdog" group COAST to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., to accept an award for instigating positive change was an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

As a refresher, we're talking about the trip when Seelbach was one of 10 community leaders around the nation selected to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting the city's LGBT community — particularly through his efforts to extend equal partner health insurance to all city employees, create an LGBT liaison in the city's fire and police departments and requiring anyone accepting city funding to follow a non-discrimination policy a national recognition of championing Cincinnati's progression toward social justice in the past few years.

In an email from his campaign, he says that the city's law department wants to move forward with the lawsuit because the allegations are so frivolous, but Seelbach decided to just use his own personal money to prevent the city from having to spend close to $30,000 of the same taxpayer money COAST is complaining about to prove that they're wrong.

On Aug. 28, Chris Finney, chief crusader at COAST, sent a letter to the office of the city solicitor alleging that the city had committed a "misapplication of corporate funds" by sponsoring Chris Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., complaining that Seelbach and his staffers "upgraded" their hotel rooms.

Curp says that the rooms weren't only never upgraded — Seelbach and his staffers shared rooms — but that the councilman didn't even request reimbursement for several other eligible expense, like parking, meals and taxi fares — and flew out of Louisville, Ky., to take advantage of cheaper airfare.

In City Solicitor John Curp's five-page response to Finney, he refutes every claim made by COAST and ends the letter by citing an Ohio Supreme Court case that effectively ruled that private citizens (like Chris Finney and all the other COASTers) constantly contesting official acts and expenditures doesn't benefit the city and should only be allowed when it could cause serious public injury if ignored. Here's Curp's full response:

Solicitor Response - Champion of Change by chrisseelbach1



In Seelbach's campaign email, he chocks the lawsuit up to another one of COAST's attacks to continue their thinly veiled bigotry-fueled crusade against Seelbach and Cincinnati's LGBT community as a whole. "You can bet they never would have asked a City Councilmember to pay for a trip to the White House to celebrate Cincinnati if it weren't for the connection to Harvey Milk and the LGBT community."

]]>
<![CDATA[COAST’s Busy Week in Court]]>

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.

]]>
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

In-person early voting is underway in Ohio. Find your nearest polling booth here.

If there’s a Democrat-led war on coal in Ohio, it’s not showing in the numbers. PolitiFact checked Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown’s claim that coal jobs and production have gone up in the state since five years ago, and it turns out he’s right. Brown’s remark was in response to Republican challenger Josh Mandel’s claim that Democrats are leading a war on coal. Brown and Mandel are fighting for Ohio's U.S. Senate seat, which CityBeat covered in-depth here. Currently, Brown leads by 5.5 points in aggregate polling.

The presidential campaigns are turning it up in Ohio. Ann Romney was in Greater Cincinnati yesterday to campaign for her husband, echoing past visits from Michelle Obama. President Barack Obama will be in Cincinnati Sunday. Mitt Romney will hold a big rally in West Chester on Friday. Ohio could be the state to decide whether Romney or Obama is the next president. Due to Ohio’s importance, lawyers from around the county will be keeping a close eye on the state. With six days of voting left, aggregate polling shows Obama up 2.3 points in Ohio and the race tied nationally. FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times’ forecasting model, says Obama has a 79.9 percent chance of winning Ohio and a 79 percent chance of winning the election.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is suing Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) for allegedly using city resources to campaign for Issue 42, which will renew a CPS levy from 2008. In the emails, school officials discuss voter registration drives, signing up to support the levy and contributing to the levy campaign. But in a few emails, Jens Sutmoller, campaign coordinator for Issue 42, asks for personal emails to properly respond. COAST has endorsed a No vote on Issue 42. CityBeat covered Issue 42 and the problems facing CPS here. CityBeat also endorsed a Yes vote on Issue 42 here.

Dropping enrollment in urban district schools, including CPS, has caused some schools to revise building programs downward, saving the state money. In CPS in particular, the school’s project has dropped down to 50 buildings from 66 partly in response to a decline in about 10,000 students since 2002 to about 32,687 enrolled students today. The shift apparently has less to do with students moving to the suburbs and more to do with the greater availability of charter and private schools.

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority’s CEO Laura Brunner laid out the Port Authority’s strategic plan yesterday. The Port Authority seeks to fight poverty, attract residents and increase jobs by expanding inland port operations, developing land, stabilizing targeted communities, upgrading its public financing plan and transparently communicating progress, according to Brunner.

A small fraction of absentee ballots might have been rejected due to a state data glitch. The glitch caused Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to deliver 33,000 updated registration records to local elections issues. Tim Burke, chairman of the county Democratic Party and county Board of Elections, expressed mixed feelings about the error: “Obviously, you hate like hell to have the secretary of state’s office, which had promised to have a very efficient election, popping something like that on us seven days out. … Having said that, I’m glad at least once they recognized that these names are out there they moved to get them to us so that we can do our best to ensure that these folks are not disenfranchised because of some administrative glitch.”

In related news, Husted got the emergency stay he asked for on a recent voting ruling. Husted said he was happy with the decision in a statement: “With six days to go before Election Day, I am pleased that the Court has granted a stay in this case so that I can give the 88 county boards of elections the clear direction they need on the rules for processing provisional ballots.”

There are a few teachers campaigning for office in Ohio, and NPR says the campaigns could give Democrats and Obama a boost. The surge of teachers is largely attributed to Senate Bill 5, which tried to limit collective bargaining among public employees. The teachers figure the only way to prevent another Senate Bill 5 is by holding office.

There are also Ohio Board of Education candidates on this year’s ballot. StateImpact Ohio has a look into some of those candidates here.

A survey found small firms are doing very little to prepare for Obamacare. Most don’t know what the national health care plan will even do for them. About 70 percent were unsure or incorrectly believed Obamacare will make them pay a tax.

Ever want to play Tetris with a pumpkin? Well, apparently someone has.

]]>
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

In-person early voting is underway in Ohio. Find your nearest polling booth here.

Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast last night. At least 16 people are believed to have died from the storm, and as many as 7.5 million were left without power. Areas of New York and New Jersey also faced major flooding. It took until 4:30 a.m. for Sandy to go from hurricane to tropical storm. 

The Anna Louise Inn will be in court at 9 a.m. today arguing in front of the First District Court of Appeals, which could overturn a May ruling and allow the Inn to move forward with its renovation. CityBeat will have online coverage for the hearing later today.

Hamilton County’s probation department is facing sexual harassment charges. The charges are coming from a county worker who said her promotion was denied due to her actions “for opposing discrimination and encouraging others to exercise their right to be free from acts of discrimination.”

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes filed a lawsuit Friday in an attempt to reverse the August reworking of the Blue Ash airport deal. For COAST, the lawsuit is mostly to stall or stop the financing for the $110 million Cincinnati streetcar.

City Council will vote next week to decide whether the city should borrow $37 million to fund development projects and a portion of the Homeless to Homes program. But Homeless to Homes is generating some concern due to its requirement to move three shelters.

Three Cincinnati charity groups are coming together to help veterans with disabling injuries. The organizations will pool available resources to hopefully find jobs for veterans.

Mitt Romney is running a new ad against President Barack Obama in Ohio that says Chrysler is moving Jeep production to China. The ad, which Chrysler says is false, warranted a snarky response from the car company: “Despite clear and accurate reporting, the take has given birth to a number of stories making readers believe that Chrysler plans to shift all Jeep production to China from North America, and therefore idle assembly lines and U.S. workforce. It is a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.” The Obama team also responded with its own ad. It is somewhat understandable Romney would be getting a bit desperate at this point in the race. Ohio is widely considered the most important swing state, but aggregate polling has Romney down 1.9 points in the state. Romney is up 0.9 points nationally.

State Republicans are refusing to pull an ad that accuses William O’Neill, Democratic candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court, of expressing “sympathy for rapists.” This is despite the fact that Justice Robert Cupp, O’Neill’s Republican opponent, has distanced himself from the ad. At this point, even the most nonpartisan, objectives watchers have to wonder why the Republican Party can’t keep rape out of its messaging. In comments aired first on Aug. 19, U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri said on pregnancy after rape, “If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” On Oct. 23, Richard Mourdock, the Senate candidate for Indiana, said, “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Ohio is getting closer to the health exchange deadline with no plan in sight. Obamacare asks states to take up health exchanges that act as competitive markets for different health insurance plans. States are allowed to either accept, let the federal government run the exchanges or take a hybrid approach. As part of the health exchanges, the federal government will also sponsor a heavily regulated nonprofit plan that sounds fairly similar to the public option liberals originally wanted in Obamacare.

Meanwhile, Ohio and other states still haven’t decided whether they will be expanding their Medicaid programs. In the past, state officials have cited costs as a big hurdle, but one study from Arkansas found Medicaid expansions actually saved money by reducing the amount of uncompensated care. Some states that expanded Medicaid also found health improvements afterward.

An inspector at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) was caught not doing her job. The inspector was supposed to do 128 site visits for in-person safety inspections, but she apparently never showed up to some of the schools and filed fraudulent reports.

Peter Cremer North America could add 50 jobs in Cincinnati over three years in an expansion.

A San Francisco firm bought a major stake in Cincinnati Bell.

]]>
<![CDATA[COAST Loses Fight to End Ohio Elections Commission]]>

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.

“[COAST] 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.

]]>
<![CDATA[COAST Threatens to Block $11M for Streetcar]]>

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) has threatened to block a move that would allow Cincinnati to use $37.5 million from the 2007 sale of the Blue Ash Airport for projects other than aviation, $11 million of which would go to the Cincinnati streetcar.

The Blue Ash City Council voted Thursday to re-do the sale of 130 acres at the Blue Ash Airport to the City of Cincinnati.  COAST says it wants to put the matter before voters in a 2013 referendum, which would halt the sale and re-instate the original agreement made in 2007 when Cincinnati made the sale.

The two cities decided to re-work the $37.5 million sale because a federal rule requires proceeds from the sale of an operating airport to be used for other aviation projects. The money would be returned, airport shut down and then the property re-sold to Blue Ash for the original amount.

“When they originally sold it they were stupid, which is typical of the City of Cincinnati, and did not realize that the proceeds on the sale of the airport have to go to other aviation-type things,” says COAST Chairman Tom Brinkman. “Now that they want to get the streetcar, they want to crack that money.”

Brinkman openly admits he doesn’t want the money to go to the streetcar (“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that boondoggle doesn’t occur”) but says COAST is working with a group of local pilots who want money from the sale to go to Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport.

Blue Ash is confident that the ordinance they passed approving the re-sale isn’t subject to referendum.

“Blue Ash believes everything enacted was lawful and would survive any challenge,” says City Solicitor Brian Pachenco. He declined to discuss specifics

The city wants the airport land to build a park.

Pachenco said the ordinance wasn’t written specifically to exempt it from referendum attempts, but nevertheless it falls under a section of the city’s charter that makes voters unable to recall it.

COAST isn’t so sure.

Chris Finney, legal counsel for COAST, said the buying and selling of land under the Blue Ash charter is subject to referendum. He said the ordinance was written to avoid using that language, but what was happening was in reality a sale.

For its part, Cincinnati doesn’t seem too concerned with the threatened referendum.

“We’re not going to talk 'what ifs' at this point,” city spokeswoman Meg Olberding said. “The streetcar has had two previous referendums that have been shot down.”

She pointed out that only $11 million of the sale was going toward the streetcar, and the remaining money would be available for other projects.

Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach was also unconcerned.

“COAST and groups like COAST have tried to put up every obstacle possible to prevent the streetcar from happening and we have overcome all of them,” Seelbach said. “I am 100 percent positive if this comes to a vote we will overcome it again and the streetcar will be built.”

]]>
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Blue Ash City Council approved rescinding and redoing its airport deal with the city of Cincinnati in a 6-1 vote last night. The deal will free up $37.5 million for the city of Cincinnati — $11 million of which will go to the streetcar while $26 million will go to municipal projects. After the vote, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) vowed on Twitter to lead a referendum on the deal. But COAST’s opposition is misguided, fueled by their disapproval of all things streetcar.

Three Greater Cincinnati universities were praised for their part-time MBA programs. The programs were in the top 100 of a U.S. News and World Report ranking.

Ohio has the second worst toxic air pollution in the United States, according to a new report from the National Resources Defense Council. The report also found that toxic air pollution has dropped by 19 percent nationwide. The report claims this drop is partly attributed to natural gas, which is cleaner than coal and has become cheaper thanks to a fracking boom in Ohio and other states. New pollution controls also played a role, according to the report.

JobsOhio is claiming to have saved 11,238 jobs and created 4,666 new jobs during the second quarter of 2012. All the jobs saved and created are expected to keep $712 million in new payroll, according to state data.

The successor to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner might not be much better. He also has a history of using state resources for personal reasons.

Former Judge William O’Neill, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court, has accused two Republican justices of taking campaign contributions from parties they heard cases from. O’Neill says the campaign contributions are a blatant conflict of interest. Mike Skindell, another Democratic candidate, chimed in to say he would recuse or refuse money instead of inviting a potential conflict of interest.

The Ohio EPA announced yesterday a new plan for cutting down on water pollution in Ohio rivers, streams and lakes. The new plan is a joint effort between Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky to make it more economically viable through incentives for businesses to cut down on water contamination.

Ohio voters can now change addresses online. The new system will save taxpayer money and combat fraud.

July was the hottest month ever recorded, and 2012 has already had more record temperatures than all of 2011. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s spokesperson promoted climate change denial on behalf of ExxonMobil.

Romney says campaigns should pull ads that are found to be dishonest or misleading by fact checkers. Well, his campaign should get to it.

The U.S. Postal Service reported $5.2 billion in losses in the second quarter of 2012. On the bright side, a recent study found the U.S. Postal Service is the best at delivering mail.

The U.S. women's soccer team beat Japan for the gold medal yesterday.

]]>
<![CDATA[COAST's Latest Anti-Streetcar Rant Is Flimsier than Normal]]>

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) has long been known locally for its unwavering opposition to the streetcar project, but the organization crossed the line into dishonesty Monday with its call to action about the sale of the Blue Ash Airport.

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 station...yay.”

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.

]]>
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Gov. John Kasich has something to say to anyone waiting on federal funding to help fix their bridges (and while we're at it, any local governments who need funding for something other than food and water): Forget about it. During an interview with Enquirer editors and reporters yesterday,* Kasich said tolls are the best means for funding a new Brent Spence Bridge.

“I do not believe that a white charger is going to come galloping (from Washington) into Cincinnati with $2 billion in the saddlebags,” Kasich said. “So if that isn’t going to happen and all we do is delay, delay, delay and we push this thing out until 2036 ... holy cow!”

* CityBeat had a similar meeting scheduled but we forgot about it and weren't here at the time — sorry Kasich, we'll get ya next time!

Things are about to get weird in a Clermont County courtroom if David Krikorian and Chris Finney get their wish — to have Jean Schmidt on the witness stand on May 17. Finney, the attorney for Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), has been representing Krikorian, a former Democratic and independent candidate who unsuccessfully ran against Schmidt for Ohio's 2nd congressional district seat, has served Schmidt with a subpoena as part of Krikorian's lawsuit claiming a Schmidt lawsuit against Krikorian was frivolous. COAST's ghost-written blog posted commentary in February in response to accusations from Brad Wenstrup that Schmidt was using campaign funds to pay off legal fund debt from earlier campaign nonsense against Krikorian. Eastsiders mad.

Some high-level Procter & Gamble executives are getting the Bearcat Bounce out of Cincinnati, heading to Singapore where the company believes growth opportunities for its beauty care products are the highest. About 20 positions will be moved to the Singapore office during the next two years.

Does it matter that Mitt Romney might have led a group of teenagers in a “pin that dude down and cut his hair” prank during the '60s? The Nation says Obama's gay-marriage announcement caught Romney off guard.

As expected, Obama's fundraiser at George Clooney's house raked in the dough, raising $15 million in one night.

British Prime Minister David Cameron only recently learned what LOL means in text-speak. The explanation occurred during witness testimony from Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Rupert Murdoch's the now-defunct News of the World. Brooks was forced to resign last year amid a phone-hacking scandal.

"He would sign them off 'DC' in the main," Brooks said, referring to Cameron's initials. "Occasionally he would sign them off 'LOL' — 'lots of love' — until I told him it meant 'laugh out loud,' and then he didn't sign them off [that way] anymore."

It was certainly an LOL moment during Brooks' testimony in a London courtroom Friday as part of a judicial inquiry into media ethics. But the disclosure also underscored the warm personal ties between the prime minister and Brooks, the former head of media baron Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers who was forced to resign in disgrace last summer.

Someone found a really old Mayan calendar, and it offers good news: It goes way beyond Dec, 12, 2012.

Major League Baseball phenom Bryce Harper is in town for a three-game series with his Washington Nationals. The 19-year-old was the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 and is the first superstar-caliber player to make it to the big leagues this quickly prompting comparisons to Ken Griffey, Jr. at that age. Here's the local spin about on freak outfielder coming to town for a weekend series against the Reds.


]]>
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Tuesday's primary election yielded a few surprises that even jaded political pundits didn't see coming. Chief among them was the stunning upset that Brad Wenstrup pulled off against incumbent Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt. Wenstrup, a podiatrist who is an Iraq War veteran, got 49 percent of the vote to Schmidt’s 43 percent, according to final, uncertified results. That means Wenstrup will either face off against Madeira businessman David Krikorian or William R. Smith – a virtual unknown who didn't campaign – in the November election for Ohio's 2nd Congressional District seat. The race between the two Democrats remains too close to call.

Another surprise was U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur's victory over U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic primary for a Congressional district in northeastern Ohio, near Cleveland. The two veteran lawmakers were redistricted recently into the same area, meaning one would be knocked off after Tuesday's primary. Kucinich was one of the most progressive members of Congress and an ardent Iraq War opponent; it's unclear if he plans to stay in politics in some fashion.

In what's bad news for Mitt Romney, no matter how his handlers try to spin it, the ex-Massachusetts governor scored a razor-thin 1 percent victory over upstart Rick Santorum in Ohio's contest for the GOP presidential nomination. Romney got just 12,019 more votes than Santorum, despite outspending the former senator from Pennsylvania by a sizable margin. Romney also won in Alaska, Idaho, Vermont, Virginia and his home state of Massachusetts; Santorum won in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Meanwhile, Newt “I coulda been a contender” Gingrich scored a single victory, in his native Georgia. Bye, Newt.

Despite being defeated twice before in the general election, former appellate court judge William O'Neill of Cleveland easily won over Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker to become the Democratic Party's nominee for the Ohio Supreme Court. O'Neill received nearly 72 percent of the vote. He will face off against incumbent Republican Justice Robert Cupp in the fall.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) suffered a defeat Tuesday when one of its leaders, ex-State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., lost to Peter Stautberg to get the Republican nomination for the newly created 27th District seat in the Ohio House. Stautberg handily defeated Brinkman by 61-39 percent.

It also looks like State Rep. Denise Driehaus prevailed in the hotly contested Democratic primary race for the new 31st District seat in the Ohio House. In Hamilton County, Driehaus got 57.5 percent of the vote, compared to 24.5 percent for Luke Brockmeier and 17.9 percent for Terry Tranter.

In non-election news, the small Clermont County town of Moscow is beginning to clean up four days after a tornado leveled much of the area. Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency inspected the damage Tuesday, and will issue a report to Gov. John Kasich within a few days.

Speaking of Kasich, our (not so) beloved guv was the sole person out of the nation's 50 governors not to sign a letter protesting proposed cuts to the Air National Guard. A Kasich spokesman said Odd John didn’t add his name to the letter because it was circulated at a meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Washington last month, and Kasich didn’t attend because he’s not a member.

On the national scene, President Obama held his first press conference of 2012 on Tuesday. Obama accused the Republican presidential candidates of casually "beating the drums of war" over Iran without having the political courage to directly advocate a military attack before voters. “Now, what's said on the campaign trail – those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander-in-chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war," he said.

About 600 people were ordered to leave their homes today in southeastern Australia due to rising floodwaters. Floods have hit three eastern states this week, causing at least two deaths and millions of dollars in damage. Nine thousand people had been evacuated from New South Wales on Tuesday.
]]>
<![CDATA['Whites Only,' the Tea Party and COAST]]>

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.---

Gunn, who is white, filed the complaint last spring after his biracial daughter visited him at his apartment complex and tried to use the pool. She found a sign posted that read, “Public Swimming Pool, White Only.”

The girl told her father about the sign, he said, and several witnesses corroborated her account before the commission.

Although Hein told ABC News in December that the sign merely was an antique from Selma, Ala., which she received from a friend, she said in an interview with the commission’s housing enforcement director that products used by the girl in her hair made the water “cloudy.”

"I was trying to protect my assets," Hein said in the interview.

Such an attitude might seem shocking today, but it’s worth noting that Sunlite Pool at Coney Island Amusement Park didn’t become racially integrated until May 29, 1961, after a nine-year struggle — well within the lifetimes of some of CityBeat’s older readers.

But is Hein’s attitude really all that shocking or uncommon? Consider the following.

Both U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and his son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have spoken publicly against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That’s the landmark legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce.

Ron Paul has said the law "undermine[d] the concept of liberty" and "destroyed the principle of private property and private choices."

Rand Paul has said he dislikes portions of the civil rights law because a restaurant or other private business with no government funding should be allowed to discriminate. “In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people who have abhorrent behavior,” Rand Paul said in 2010.


Father and son, of course, represent the views of many Libertarians and are the darlings of the Tea Party movement.

Then there’s the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a group supposedly dedicated only to fiscal conservatism. Still, one of COAST’s leaders, Chris Finney, helped push the anti-gay charter amendment approved by Cincinnati voters in 1993.

While defending Article 12 in the 1990s, Finney said landlords shouldn’t be legally required to rent to gay or lesbian tenants if they didn’t want to do so.

During testimony in a 1994 court hearing, Finney was asked why sexual behavior should affect who can eat in a restaurant or be employed by a company. Finney replied, “Because there may be some who don’t want their family dining next to a homosexual couple whose actions they find offensive.”

No wonder civil rights leader Bayard Rustin remarked in 1986 that, “Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new ‘niggers’ are gays.”

By the way, COAST helped launch Rand Paul’s Senate campaign in June 2009. Birds of a feather.

Thankfully, voters repealed Article 12 in 2004. But the worldview espoused by the Pauls, Finney and their ilk would leave us with a significantly different society today, if they had their way.

Nevertheless, one Greater Cincinnati politician after another tries to cozy up to COAST, in an effort to win conservative votes. Among those who associate with the group are Brad Wenstrup, Charlie Winburn, Christopher Smitherman, Chris Bortz, Chris Monzel and Phil Heimlich.

As President Grover Cleveland famously said, “A man is known by the company he keeps, and also by the company from which he is kept out."

]]>
<![CDATA[Schmidt Sparks Strange Bedfellows]]>

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.---

Finney and Bortz are the co-hosts of a Jan. 23 fundraiser for Dr. Brad Wenstrup, a local podiatrist who is running in the GOP primary against incumbent U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township). The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. at Finney’s law offices on Beechmont Avenue in Anderson Township.

The cost to sponsor the event is $500 per person. Admission is $125 per person, or $150 per couple. Others listed on the host committee include Neil Bortz, Brian Bortz, James Zimmerman, Dan Regenold and Durk Rorie.

The primary election is scheduled for March 6.

Chris Bortz was an early and vocal supporter of the city’s proposed streetcar system, which is set to begin construction later this year with opening slated for late 2013. Bortz lost a bid for his fourth and final City Council term in November.

In conjunction with the NAACP’s local chapter, Finney has mounted two unsuccessful ballot issues to stop the streetcar project. The first, in 2009, would’ve required a public vote before any money was spent on a streetcar system. It was rejected by voters, 56 percent to 44 percent. The second attempt, last fall, would’ve prohibited any spending on passenger rail projects in Cincinnati through 2020. It was defeated 52 percent to 48 percent.

Also, Finney serves as legal counsel for the NAACP’s local chapter. He was appointed by chapter President Christopher Smitherman, now a city councilman.

Last summer, Smitherman publicly and repeatedly called for Bortz’s resignation from council for allegedly using a racial slur against a sanitation worker who was black; Bortz adamantly denied the allegation.

“Mr. Finney and I are aligned in our support for Brad Wenstrup, and we elected to combine our efforts for a fundraiser, given the short time line in the rapid run up to the Republican primary,” Bortz told CityBeat.

“Mr. Finney and I are able to set aside whatever city-related policy disagreements we have, or have had in the past, in order to support Dr. Wenstrup's candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives,” Bortz added. “We are in total agreement that Brad has the skill and experience to represent the Second Congressional District at a substantially higher level than we have seen to date, or are likely to ever see, from Congresswoman Schmidt."

]]>
<![CDATA[COAST's Latest Apology?]]>

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.---

Last month COAST and the NAACP’s local chapter mounted their second ballot initiative in two years to stop the project. Under the proposal, city officials would’ve been prohibited from spending money on anything related to preparing any type of passenger rail transit, including the streetcar system, through Dec. 31, 2020. Further, it would’ve restricted the city from accepting federal grants for such projects, along with entering into public-private partnerships or even accepting private investment for a passenger rail project within the city’s rights-of-way.

The measure failed, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Earlier this month the Obama administration awarded a $10.92 million transportation grant to the project. The cash means a scuttled connection from downtown to the riverfront will be restored. Construction is expected to begin
in the next few months.

The action prompted someone using COAST’s name to take to the Internet and allege the political and legal battles over the project weren’t over.

"We’re going to make sure this project sees delay after delay after delay until it is back down the toilet where it belongs," someone using the name “COAST” posted Dec. 14 on
the UrbanCincy blog.

The next day, in the same stream of comments, COAST posted, “Horrible waste of taxpayer money. We will see you guys in court soon.”

Although it’s unclear who wrote the comment, Mark Miller, the group’s treasurer, writes many of COAST’s blog comments and tweets. Miller ignited public outrage and apologized after he tweeted on Sept. 11, “3% of FDNY died 10 yrs ago by terrorism. Today Cincinnati lost 17.5% of fire companies by brownout to pay for a streetcar. Which is worse?”

So, crazy, over-the-top invective is nothing new for the group.

On Dec. 21, after a fire at a Westwood apartment building killed 2-year-old Tristen Sanders,
COAST tweeted, “2 year old dead in fire. City brown outs to blame; no doubt City Mgr will deny. Tragedy of misdirected funds continues.”

Kevin LeMaster, who operates the 
Building Cincinnati blog, checked with city officials and learned that the closest fire stations weren’t shut during the Westwood incident, making COAST’s tweet inaccurate.

During last fall’s campaign for Issue 48, COAST made multiple allegations on a near-daily basis of blaming the "browning out" of certain Fire Department companies on the streetcar project. It has made similar claims on the campaign trail. “Companies” is firefighter lingo for a ladder track, a pumper or a heavy rescue unit and the four people who work on each. During a brownout, those workers are transferred to other duties. City administrators have said the actions are needed to reduce the department's soaring overtime costs and help avoid a projected deficit for 2012 that could reach $33 million.

But the brownouts were unconnected to the streetcar project, city administrators said. The project is funded through state and federal grants, along with construction bonds from the city's Capital Improvements budget. The brownouts are needed to cut costs in the city's General Fund budget, which covers daily operations.

This week, after
CityBeat published its annual “Year in Review” article that mentioned the streetcar project’s progress, someone using the name “COAST” posted online, “Forget Detroit. We are the next Moscow. Fountain Square is now Red Square with Liberal Marxist Communists running amuck fleecing the taxpayers to pay for amusement park rides through the ghetto. The Mayor's Trolley Folly will never see the light of day.  We'll make sure of that Yups.”

“Yups,” apparently, refers to “yuppies.”

Less than 24 hours later, however, COAST posted the following comment, “We respect the outcome of the recent vote. We live in a democracy and the people have spoken. COAST wishes the City and its residents the best of luck as it builds the streetcar. While you won't see us turning shovels, we recognize what the people want and will get out of the way.”

We’re awaiting clarification from COAST on exactly what its plans are. If, in fact, members actually know.

]]>
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

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."---

A group of people including the daughter of the late Procter & Gamble CEO John Smale yesterday asked City Council for approximately $8 million more in funding for a riverfront park just south of The Banks. Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes apparently has no thoughts on such spending as of yet.

Charlie Winburn says there should be no water rate hike but everyone should get married in the City Hall courtyard.

Police removed Occupy Baltimore protesters yesterday, and protesters plan to begin squatting in vacant buildings next.

Lowe's is still facing heat for pulling its ads from a Muslim TV show, but now with people like Russell Simmons buying up air time to prove a point/make mass money, the show is guaranteed to be a success.

Retail sales in November rose for the sixth straight month, but still disappointed some forecasters.

Apple's Mac App Store has passed 100 million downloads.

Finally, a robot that can make you a sandwich.” Well said, Mashable.

]]>
<![CDATA[Group Files Complaint Against COAST]]>

A group working to defeat Issue 48 filed a complaint today against a conservative group with the Ohio Elections Commission.

Cincinnatians for Progress, which is urging a "no" vote on Issue 48, filed the complaint against the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). It alleges COAST knowingly and repeatedly has made false statements in its campaign in support of the ballot initiative.

The complaint cites 20 instances in the past two months in which COAST allegedly made false statements in violation of Ohio Revised Code Section 3517.22. Most involve allegations the city has taken funds away from fire services to fund the streetcar project.---

On its Twitter feed, COAST has made multiple allegations on a daily basis of blaming the "browning out" of certain Fire Department companies on the streetcar project. It has made similar claims on the campaign trail. “Companies” is firefighter lingo for a ladder track, a pumper or a heavy rescue unit and the four people who work on each. During a brownout, those workers are transferred to other duties. City administrators have said the actions are needed to reduce the department's soaring overtime costs and help avoid a projected deficit for 2012 that could reach $33 million.

The brownouts are unconnected to the streetcar project, administrators added. The project is funded through state and federal grants, along with construction bonds from the city's Capital Improvements budget. But the brownouts are needed to cut costs in the city's General Fund budget, which covers daily operations.

Neither Chris Finney nor Tom Brinkman Jr., two COAST leaders, responded to an email seeking comment.

Under Ohio elections law, anyone found guilty of making false statements could face up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

In its press release announcing the complaint, Cincinnatians for Progress stated, "COAST has conducted a relentless campaign of deliberate misinformation about Issue 48 in the face of definitive evidence that their statements are wrong. Not only are the facts widely available in local media and city records, they have been provided directly to COAST officials by the city."

The release added, "Our goal in filing this action to to assure that city voters can cast their ballots based on accurate, authoritative information."

If approved by voters, Issue 48 would prohibit Cincinnati from building any streetcar system through Dec. 31, 2020. Because the initiative also prohibits any design or planning work for a system, it likely blocks any such project for at least 15 years, urban planning experts have said.

Issue 48 is being pushed by COAST and the NAACP's local chapter.

The two groups backed a similar ballot initiative in 2009. It sought to require a public vote before taxpayer money was used for any rail-related project within Cincinnati; voters rejected the amendment, 56 percent to 44 percent.

]]>
<![CDATA[Smitherman's Strange Assertions]]>

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.---

If any type of passenger rail project was attempted after Issue 48 was approved, the charter amendment would have to be repealed.

In other words, it does stop light rail and would have to be undone first. Smitherman has a strange definition of “does not stop light rail.”

An impartial analysis by the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area states, “This proposed Ballot Issue would amend the Charter of the City of Cincinnati by adding a new Article XVI. The amendment would prohibit the City from spending or appropriating any money to plan, construct, or operate a Streetcar System or any passenger rail transit in the City in existing public rights of way through the year 2020.”

And it's not just the League that interprets Issue 48 that way.

When The Enquirer interviewed six legal experts for an article it published on Sept. 18, the experts agreed that Issue 48's impact extended beyond blocking the streetcar project.

“All six experts — law and political science experts and ballot language experts — agreed that (Issue 48) could do more than just stop the current streetcar plan. It could stop any city rail project,” the article stated.

Later in the article, the head of a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group whose purpose is to make government and business documents more understandable said Issue 48's wording is confusing. “I think it could be applied more broadly,” said Annetta Cheek, chairwoman of the Center for Plain Language. “That could be a train, And heaven knows what else it could be.”

Smitherman didn't respond to an email seeking comment.

On his Facebook page, however, when responding to a critic, Smitherman wrote, “Asking permission does not mean STOP!” (Read the exchange at the bottom of this page.)

Smitherman has stepped down temporarily as president of the NAACP's local chapter while he campaigns for Cincinnati City Council. The chapter and the ultra-conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) are jointly pushing Issue 48. Its wording was crafted by attorney Chris Finney, a COAST leader who Smitherman also appointed as the local NAACP's legal counsel.

Rob Richardson, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress, the anti-Issue 48 group, said Smitherman probably is worried the ballot measure's wording overreaches and turns off some voters.

“He wants to lessen the consequences of what Issue 48 means,” Richardson said, referring to Smitherman. “He realizes that some people may not like the streetcar, but they don't want to ban all passenger rail. No city anywhere has done anything like this. It would hinder growth and economic development.”

Smitherman is trying to confuse voters, he added.

“Certainly, if Issue 48 becomes law, it would stop all passenger rail projects in the city. In order to overturn it, we would have to overturn Issue 48,” Richardson said.

“If, for example, in 2013 we had someone willing to privately finance a rail system using public rights-of-way, we would have to have an election first before any planning or discussion could occur,” he said. “We couldn't even engage in planning before that.”

The proposed charter amendment is long, composed of four sections. The trickiest one is its third section, which states: For purposes of this Amendment, (i) the term “Streetcar System” means a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way, (ii) the term “City” includes without limitation the City, the Manager, the Mayor, the Council, and the City’s various boards, commissions, agencies and departments and (iii) the term “money” means any money from any source whatsoever.

For the complete text of the ballot issue, which is a summary, click here.

Interestingly, Smitherman's opposition to Cincinnati's streetcar system puts him at odds with a resolution approved by the NAACP's national office in 2009.

The resolution is entitled, “NAACP supports the improvement and expansion of passenger rail transportation solutions to serve the nation's urban communities."

Part of the resolution states, “the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urges the expanded use of federal transportation dollars, whether provided through stimulus funding or conventional federal funding allocations, and of state and local resources, to enhance existing passenger rail systems and to develop additional passenger rail alternatives in America’s urban communities, including streetcars, light rail and high speed intercity rail systems.”

Another section states, “in many urban communities existing and proposed passenger rail systems — ranging from streetcars, to light rail, to subways and to inter-city high-speed rail — can and will provide enhanced transportation options and opportunities to the public, and particularly to minorities and the poor, while reducing traffic congestion and pollution generated by automobiles and buses using diesel fuel or gasoline.”

Under the NAACP's structure, local chapters may decide on their own policy directives, but they are generally supposed to give some consideration and deference to the national office's positions.

 



 


]]>
<![CDATA[The First Two — Really?]]>

Perhaps hoping to mimic the suspenseful aspects of an Alfred Hitchcock film or a Thomas Harris novel, an ultra-conservative group has been issuing press releases announcing its endorsements for Cincinnati City Council one at a time.

Oh, the anticipation!---

First, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) announced Oct. 24 that it endorsed independent Christopher Smitherman for City Council. No surprise there: COAST is almost single-handedly responsible for reviving Smitherman's political prospects after voters dumped him following a single council term in 2003-05.

Today, COAST announced its second endorsement: Preacher and exorcist turned politician Charlie Winburn, an ex-Democrat who became a Republican in the 1980s.

COAST struggles to explain its latest endorsement, writing, “COAST is concerned that Winburn was the fifth vote for the irresponsible city budget in 2009, including $300,000 in new monies for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, but is hopeful that the election will bring together a new majority on council advancing principles of fiscal restraint.”

It adds, “Still, COAST heard repeatedly from City Hall during those negotiations that it was Winburn who blocked tax increases in the city budget, and thus stymied Mallory's efforts for more revenue. For this we are appreciative.”

We wonder who COAST heard that from, Winburn himself?

So, there you have it. COAST's first endorsements for City Council are Smitherman and Winburn.

That sound you hear is the banging of nails into the coffin containing COAST's last shred of credibility on Cincinnati issues.


]]>
<![CDATA[Sheriff Urges 'No' Vote on Issue 48]]>

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.---

In the ad, the sheriff says, “This is Sheriff Simon Leis. I am here to urge you to vote 'no' on Issue 48. This anti-growth charter amendment would drive away investment and make the city's deficit worse. Issue 48 could lead to layoffs and service cuts that hurt every neighborhood in Cincinnati. It's a bad deal any way you look at it. If you want to see a safer, stronger Cincinnati, join me and vote 'no' on Issue 48."
Leis' commercial puts him at odds with the Hamilton County Republican Party, which has made opposing Cincinnati's long-planned streetcar project one of its central issues in the 2011 elections.

All of the GOP candidates for City Council — Leslie Ghiz, Wayne Lippert, Catherine Smith Mills, Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn — oppose the streetcar and have urged a “yes” vote.

Leis, 77, announced in September that he wouldn't seek another term as sheriff when his current term ends next year, and planned to retire after a 40-year career in various elective offices. Leis was first appointed sheriff in 1987 and was elected to the office the following year. Since then, he's been reelected sheriff five times.

Also, Leis served as county prosecutor from 1971 until 1982, when he was elected as a Common Pleas Court judge.

If approved by voters, Issue 48 would impose an outright ban on spending any money on “a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way” until Dec. 31, 2020. The ban would affect any source of funding regardless if it came from local, state or federal governments or even if it was privately financed.

Many legal experts said the broad wording wouldn't only affect the streetcar project but also any type of passenger rail project including commuter rail lines along the Eastern Corridor or to places like Sharonville and West Chester, along with possible light rail service to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron.

]]>