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 German Lopez
Posted In: COAST
at 12:54 PM | Permalink
Reworking airport deal doesn't cost Blue Ash anything
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
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
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
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.
Aug. 28-30 • Taste of Blue Ash
0 Comments · Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Blue Ash tastes ... good! Savor the flavor of summer for one last time with a visit to the 24th annual Taste of Blue Ash featuring free performances from local and national acts, including Three Dog Night (pictured) on Friday, Kansas on Saturday, Commodores on Sunday and others.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 22, 2009
When I walked into Blue Ash's new Rising Roll an hour and a half after I'd called in my lunch order, I didn't expect to feel like I was walking into a relative's house. But I did. "There's our mystery girl!" the woman sweeping the floor said. "We were worried about you, thought you'd been in an accident."