5 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Step one: Create problems for
Cincinnati’s streetcar project. Step two: Blame the problems on the
streetcar project. Step three: Political profit.
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking
assets remains up in the air after court rulings last week kept a
court-mandated restraining order in place until at least March 15, when a
hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
by German Lopez
Case moved back to common pleas court, hearing set for March 15
The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port
of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today
after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place
until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit
should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining
order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget
for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have
a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things
necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil
rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to
the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on
March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary
restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert
Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to
process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the
Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of
local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to
“If there was even five seconds without a temporary
restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public
statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will
argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are
The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the
emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum.
In an interview on March 7, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat
the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a
political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for
political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency
clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently
voted for emergency clauses.”
The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John
Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a
“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often
doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency
clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on
a vote that I was facing.”CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.
by German Lopez
Injunction puts agreement to lease parking assets on hold
a 5-4 vote today, City Council approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s
parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority
to help balance deficits for the next two fiscal years and fund
development projects in Downtown, but the plan is now being held up by a Hamilton County
judge's temporary restraining order (TRO).The
plan was approved with an emergency clause, which means it is not
subject to referendum, according to City Solicitor John Curp. Councilman
Chris Seelbach joined the parking plan’s five supporters in approving
the emergency clause, which is meant to expedite the plan’s implementation by
removing a 30-day waiting period.Shortly
after the parking plan was approved by City Council, Judge Robert
Winkler signed a TRO that will halt its implementation for at least one
week. The judge’s action will provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt
Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional
Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the
plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.Mayor
Mark Mallory says the emergency clause was passed to speed up the
plan’s implementation in time for the budget that will begin July 1, not
to suppress voters: “I don't think that any member of council has ever
voted for an emergency clause in an effort to keep voters from being
able to reverse the decision that the council is making, so I take
exception with that characterization.”The parking plan got its required fifth vote, up from a 4-3 vote in the Budget and Finance Committee Monday,
from Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who abstained from voting in the
committee meeting because she said she was concerned about the city’s
long-term fiscal outlook. She says her concerns were eased after she
read the leasing agreement and listened to a presentation from City
Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. that gave City Council a few options for fixing the city’s structural deficits.The
parking plan’s other supporters were council members Roxanne Qualls,
Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young. Council members
Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted
against the plan.The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,”
issue of Feb. 27), will lease the city’s parking assets to fund
development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery
store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The
deal will produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects
that additional annual installments will generate more than $263 million
throughout the lease’s duration.Opponents
say they are concerned the plan will give up too much control of the
city’s parking meters and garages, which they say could lead to spikes
in parking rates.Under
the initial plan, downtown rates will remain at $2 an hour and
neighborhood rates will be hiked to 75 cents. Afterward, parking meter
rates will be set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of
inflation on a compounded basis, with actual increases coming in at
25-cents-an-hour increments. That should translate to 25-cent increases
every three years for downtown and every six years for neighborhoods,
according to Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.The
city will be able to bypass the so-called “cap” on parking meter rate
increases through a unanimous vote from a five-person advisory
committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port
Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that
will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one
selected by the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower
rates to adjust for changing economic needs, says Olberding.Opponents
also say the money from the parking plan is being used too quickly,
which does little to alleviate the city’s structural deficits.Dohoney
previously argued the plan will help reduce the deficit by generating
recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development.“The
situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate growth right now,
not later,” he said Monday. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to
have further negative ramifications to deal with.”With
the lease agreement approved, it is now up to the Port Authority to
develop and publicize the bond documents that will further detail the
framework of the parking plan.Earlier
in the same meeting, City Council unanimously passed a resolution
asking the federal government to take up comprehensive immigration
reform.Update: This story was updated to reflect Judge Robert Winkler's actions.
1 Comment · Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Even Christopher Smitherman and
Christopher Finney must roll over in the middle of the night in the
strange bed they share and look at one another and wonder: How the
hell’d this happen
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 German Lopez
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
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
There are also Ohio Board of Education candidates on this
year’s ballot. StateImpact Ohio has a look into some of those candidates
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.
by German Lopez
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.
by Bill Sloat
U.S. judge says state panel can still punish false statements
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.
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.