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.
1 Comment · Wednesday, August 15, 2012
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 on Aug. 6 with its calls to action
about the sale of the Blue Ash Airport.
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
by German Lopez
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
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
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.
by German Lopez
The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners yesterday voted
to keep senior and mental health levies flat. As a result, senior
and mental health services will lose funding. Commissioner Todd Portune,
the Board’s sole Democrat,
offered an alternative measure that would have raised funding to levels
providers requested, before voting with the two Republicans. Portune’s measure would have increased property
taxes by $5 for every $100,000 of property worth.Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released a new report
detailing human trafficking in Ohio. The report found one-third of
trafficking victims got involved in trafficking as minors. In all of
Ohio, law enforcement officials topped the list of buyers for human
trafficking. In Cincinnati, the most common buyers were drug dealers,
factory workers and truckers. Forty percent of trafficking victims in
Cincinnati reported being raped.At the commissioners meeting Wednesday, a Jehova’s
Witnesses group clashed with Harrison Township over land. The religious
group wants to build a hall that they say will attract Jehova’s
Witnesses to the area and bring in tax revenue, but Harrison Township is
worried the building will cause too much disruption. The board will
reach a decision in a few weeks, Commissioner Greg Hartmann said.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary
Kathleen Sebelius praised Cincinnati Children’s accomplishments during a
visit to a local medical center Wednesday. She also said the medical
progress in Cincinnati “can now be mirrored across the country.”The Ohio State Bar Association has declared opposition to
the Voters First redistricting amendment. The association says it has
“deep concerns” over getting the judicial system involved in the
redrawing process.Local political group COAST has been misinforming its
followers about the Blue Ash Airport deal. The misinformation continues
COAST’s campaign to stop anything streetcar-related.U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is among the top choices for
presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s vice presidential list, but a new
analysis from the New York Times shows Portman might not benefit Romney
much. Apparently, Ohio voters either don’t know Portman well enough or
feel completely apathetic about him.Ohio’s mortgage delinquency rates are falling. The rate
fell from 4.73 percent to 4.54 percent. However, the average mortgage
debt for individual borrowers went up in the second largest jump in the
country. The average Ohio mortgage debt holder now owes $131,701, up
from $126,503.The number of swine flu cases in Butler County is still going up.Ohio school levies apparently struggled in the special Aug. 7 election.The U.S. trade deficit is at its lowest in 18 months.Apparently, the Olympic Village is a giant orgy.A new study is linking eyes to sexual orientation.