COAST files two new lawsuits over old issues
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 7, 2012
The Coalition Opposed to Additional
Spending and Taxes (COAST) is making a lot of use of member and lawyer
Chris Finney these days. The group was recently involved in two lawsuits
filed within one week: one regarding the Blue Ash Airport deal and
another accusing Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) of campaigning for
by German Lopez
Conservative group involved in two lawsuits related to streetcar, CPS levy
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
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
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
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.
by Andy Brownfield
Measures front Duke $15 million, add utility responsibility to move lines to city code
Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday approved a set of
measures to alter funding of the $110 million streetcar project in order
avoid further delaying its 2015 opening.
The three measures set up $15 million to front to Duke
Energy to move utility lines out of the proposed path; changes the
source of funding to repay some $25 million in bonds used to pay for the
streetcar; sells $14 million in bonds for streetcar improvements; and
changes the municipal code to clarify that it is the responsibility of a
utility to relocate its structures.
The $15 million comes from the $37 million sale of city-owned land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
Council voted 6-3 to approve the front money, improvement
bonds and bond repayment, a vote that largely mirrored a Monday Budget
and Finance Committee vote. Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole
“no” vote on the ordinance to change the municipal code.
Councilmembers Cecil Thomas, Wendell Young, Roxanne
Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson voted to pass
funding, while Councilmembers Smitherman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Charles
Winburn voted against.
“My concern with all of these votes … in particular the
Blue Ash Airport dollars, these were promises that you made to the
neighborhoods and I don’t have the confidence that the legal battle
against Duke Energy is going to yield a 100 percent win for the city of
Cincinnati, so there’s no assurance that these dollars are going to come
back,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman, one of the most vocal
opponents of the streetcar.
“I want to be clear that it’s something that I don’t support.”
The $15 million would be fronted to Duke to move its lines
while the city and utility work out who is responsible for funding the
Duke estimates the full cost at $18 million and argues
that the lines would not have to be moved if the streetcar wasn’t being
built. The city maintains that it has always been the responsibility of
utilities to move or upgrade their structures — which the third measure
clarified in the municipal code. If the city loses a legal battle against Duke, it will not
recoup the $15 million.
The second proposal switches the source of funding for
streetcar bonds from money coming into city coffers from southern
downtown and the riverfront area to a 1995 fund set up to collect
service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks. The measure wouldn't use any additional new money for the streetcar.
That downtown area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as
expected but the city hopes to repay the other fund once the downtown
district — which includes the Banks and the casino — rebounds.
by German Lopez
New details regarding the Blue Ash Airport deal have found that
Blue Ash will gain $2.25 million from the deal. The new details
means both Blue Ash and Cincinnati benefit from the deal by having
extra funds, potentially benefiting budgets without having to make cuts
or running to taxpayers for more money. The number also puts a damper on
COAST’s campaign to stop the new deal, which is spurred by their
extreme disapproval of all things streetcar.
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by Andy Brownfield
Group threatens referendum of Blue Ash Airport resale
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
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