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Going to the Well

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 Issue 42.   
by German Lopez 11.01.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, COAST, Courts, News, Streetcar at 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
coast

COAST’s Busy Week in Court

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 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.
 
 
by Andy Brownfield 09.26.2012
Posted In: City Council, Economy, Government, Mayor, News, Streetcar at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Council Approves Measures Shifting $29 Million for Streetcar

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 move.  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 08.16.2012
Posted In: News, 2012 Election, Streetcar at 08:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
blueashairportpark

Morning News and Stuff

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. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted yesterday directed county boards of election to set uniform in-person early voting hours. Before the decision, Democrats were accusing state Republicans of extending early voting hours in predominantly Republican districts and keeping early voting hours shorter in predominantly Democratic districts. However, Democrats are still not pleased by the new directive because they claim it’s limiting voting hours.Supporters of redistricting reform now have a ballot issue to get behind: Issue 2. Issue 2 is the redistricting amendment supported by Voters First. If voters accept Issue 2, the redistricting process will be placed in the hands of an independent citizens commission that will be void of lobbyists and politicians. If voters reject Issue 2, the process will continue being placed in the hands of politicians, who have abused the system in a process known as “gerrymandering” to redraw districts in politically beneficial ways. In the latest redistricting process, the Republican-controlled committee redrew Cincinnati’s district to include Warren County, giving Republicans more voters in the district. CityBeat previously covered the redistricting issue at length here.Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) are adjusting to new, tougher academic standards. CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan says schools will have to develop new methods of teaching and learning to comply with the academic standards. Democrats and Republicans clashed in court yesterday as they argued over Ohio’s early voting rules. The debate focused on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. Under current law, only military personnel and their families are allowed to vote on those days. The Democrats and President Barack Obama want everyone to be allowed to vote on those days, and Republicans do not. The judge said he will hold off on a decision.Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, was at Miami University yesterday. During his speech, Ryan did not shy away from bringing up the Medicare issue, and he claimed Obamacare will cut $716 billion. However, Ryan included the same cuts in his own budget plan, and they’re actually savings, not cuts. The architect of Obamacare also said recently that repealing Obamacare, which Romney and Ryan advocate, would cut benefits to seniors.Two Hamilton County commissioners are running unopposed in what some suspect was part of a deal between Republicans and Democrats. Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Tim Burke says there was no deal.U.S. House Republicans are freaking out over the Ryan pick. Apparently, they’re worried Democrats will bring up the fact Ryan’s budget plan tried to end Medicare as most Americans know it. House Speaker John Boehner tried to calm Republicans.Scientists have discovered a galaxy that gives birth to more stars in a day than our galaxy does in a year.
 
 
by Andy Brownfield 08.10.2012
Posted In: COAST, City Council, Spending, Streetcar at 03:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

COAST Threatens to Block $11M for Streetcar

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 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.”
 
 

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