Tuesday, September 1, 2009

COAST Caught Confused and Contradicting Their Own Charter Amendment

Today the City Council of Cincinnati Rules Committee held a meeting to discuss various subjects, but the main topic of the day was the approval of the Nov. 3 ballot language of the COAST/NAACP backed charter amendment. The ammendment would require a public vote on all passenger rail projects within the city limits of Cincinnati, regardless of where the funding comes from.


I took the #1 Metro Bus from the stop near my apartment to Government Square and enjoyed the cool weather as I walked to City Hall for the 10:00 A.M. meeting of the Rules Committee. Councilman Berding began the meeting at around 10:15 A.M. As the meeting started and the committee began discussion I could hardly hear over the two men talking amongst themselves and cracking jokes in the seats in front of me. That's when I noticed it was no other than COAST attorney Christopher Finney and former Mayor of Cincinnati Tom Luken:


Councilman Berding went over the various other discussion topics of the day as the gentlemen in fron to of me continued their discussion. Most topics were put on hold to address the issue most had signed up to talk to the committee about: the ballot language of COAST's charter amendment. The ballot language reads as this and read as this on the petition COAST circulated:
"The City, and its various Boards and Commissions, may not spend any monies for right-of-way acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation (e.g., a trolley or streetcar) within the city limits without first submitting the question of approval of such expenditure to a vote of the electorate of the City and receiving a majority affirmative vote for the same."

The Committee opened the floor to those who had signed up to speak and express their opinions to council:


This woman spoke of how she had gone to visit her daughter in Seattle and was amazed at the amount of development along the Seattle Streetcar line.


Councilwoman Roxanne Qualls listened as Mr. Rockwell expressed his concern to the committee over whether or not the charter amendment would affect the proposed 3C corridor project and future high speed rail projects being pushed forward by the state and federal governments.

Mr. Rockwell wasn't the only confused citizen there. COAST had promoted this petition as a an "anti-streetcar" amendment and even more citizens came forward today to express how they felt they had been duped by petition volunteers just like the folks we heard from last week.

At the conclusion of speakers, all of whom were citizens opposed to the charter amendment (none had come forward to support the amendment), Councilman Berding invited Christopher Finney to come forward and answer some legal questions the committee had in regards to the charter amendment. At this point, council members Leslie Ghiz, Cecil Thomas and Vice Mayor David Crowley had joined the meeting.


Councilman Bortz listened as Mr. Finney answered questions that were put forward to him.


As Mr. Finney spoke, Councilwoman Ghiz was busy checking something on her phone. In the past, using Mobile Twitter has gotten her into some trouble. I checked her Twitter account though, no Tweets during the time the meeting took place. Perhaps she was playing Brickbreaker on that pink Blackberry Curve of hers?

The meeting became heated when Councilwoman Roxanne Qualls posed a question towards Mr. Finney, the attorney representing COAST who authored the charter amendment. Councilwoman qualls wanted to know if the charter amendment affected the use of stimulus dollars from the federal and state levels. Mr. Finney replied with: "any means any," referencing the line from his charter amendment. Despite more questioning by Qualls as the amendment is not specific on funding sources, Mr. Finney intently kept answering with the words "any means any." Mr. Finney through his repeated phrase confirmed that any funds whether they be local, federal or state dollars, could not be used on rail projects within the city. This means that Cincinnati could be kept out of serious consideration for a stop on the proposed 3C corridor and Midwest Hub High Speed rail, which would link Cincinnati with other major cities.

Wait a second, I could have sworn just the other day that COAST said this charter amendment wouldn't affect the 3C plan. Wait! They did:


From the COAST blog on August 27, 2009.

Despite COAST claiming less than a week earlier that this charter amendment would have no affect on the 3C project because this is a "city law," Christopher Finney sat right in front of City Council saying otherwise. "Any means any." All sources of funding would be affected in regards to any and all money spent on passenger rail.

The discussion became even more heated as Vice Mayor David Crowley began questioning Mr. Finney, claiming that Mr. Finney's wording of the ballot language was what had been confusing voters and had been misleading to petition signers. Finney, began to raise his voice in opposition to Mr. Crowley as Councilman Berding asked Chris to lower his voice and calm down.


Councilwoman Ghiz was still hard at work on Brickbreaker:


My high score is 4440, wonder what hers is?

As Mr. Finney returned to his seat, former Cincinnnati Mayor and Congressman Tom Luken raised his hand and began to speak. He had to be reminded by Councilman Berding that if he had wanted to talk he had to sign up before the meeting started like all the others did. Mr. Luken continued to speak upon which he was warned by Berding that he was "out of order." "The last thing I want to be is out of order" joked Luken as he smiled at Mr. Finney who was now being joined by Leisure Suit sporting COAST treasurer Mark Miller.


In the end, despite testimony by confused citizens and citizens who had felt COAST petitioners misled them, Councilman Bortz summed up that 11,000 signatures had been collected with the ballot language as shown above. The Rules Committee passed on the measure, leaving the language unchanged. The ballot language will proceed to the full council session on Wednesday and the state attorney generals office later in the week.

Please keep in mind that the ballot language as it stands today would affect ALL passenger rail in this city, not just the proposed streetcar project. As Mr. Finney told us today: "any means any." That means any money we have whether it be capital funds, federal dollars, state dollars, etc. can't go towards the research, planning, development, construction of any type of rail project without first going to a public vote. No other city in the United States has such a broad measure on passenger rail like this and such a measure could effectively keep Cincinnati out of consideration for the proposed 3C corridor and Midwestern Hub high speed rail projects. Your taxes are not going to be raised for the streetcar and Capital Fund money to be spent on the streetcar's construction could not legally be diverted towards the city's general budget.

Even COAST is confused by their own charter amendment. They claim it will have no affect on ohter rail projects while their own attorney today told us that "any means any." When the people who authored such a broadly worded amendment don't get it, who would? This charter amendment is deceptive, too general and completely sidesteps the ideals of representative democracy set forth by our founding fathers. Take a stand and vote no on the COAST charter amendment!


  1. You sure you took the Metro?

    Coming from Mt Adams, the #1 bus stops at Government Square after its loop through Union Terminal. You would have had to ride past City Hall twice, get off at Government Square and then back-track on foot 8 blocks to City Hall.

    Perhaps it's just a fabrication from your fertile imagination, like most of the conclusions in your story.

  2. COAST, yes, took a Metro bus.

    The loop through Union Terminal was not a problem as I had planned to stop by and pick up two tickets to the dinosaurs unearthed exhibit, my little nephew is obsessed with dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the museum center wasn't open that early (I knew the exhibits weren't but thought maybe the rotunda and information booth was). The walk from Government Square wasn't too bad. Unlike you may seem to think, not everyone relies solely on a car. 8 blocks is not a big deal, especially when it's beautiful out and someone like me needs to shed a few pounds.

  3. After you left Union Terminal, the bus drove right past the main entrance to City Hall on its way to Government Square. Why didn't you just get off the bus at City Hall?

  4. COAST, since you're so interested in my morning errands: there is a Kinkos (now called Fed Ex Office) at the corner of 5th and Walnut. I stopped there to drop off two images and place an order for some prints that I needed fit on a matte board. If you guys would like, you're more than welcome to join me and my nephew when we go to see dinosaurs unearthed at the Museum Center.

  5. You and your fertile imagination. And these dinosaurs you speak of, I assume they will be voting on the streetcar also? And this "kinkos" you speak of, is that where you fabricate your lies about dinosaurs and bus schedules? And what is this "Mt Adams", I hear it's not really even a mountain!

    All said tongue in cheek. Go Streetcars.

  6. Thanks for the summary. Sorry I couldn't make it to the meeting, but I was at 600 Vine conducting a late-scheduled interview that I couldn't pass up.

    It's interesting to see COAST change their message depending on who they're speaking with. One minute they have no idea what the Ohio Hub and 3C Corridor routes are all about, then the next they're firing off "any means any" as clear as day. So does COAST actually understand the difference between streetcar, trolleys, light rail, heavy rail, or high-speed rail? Is COAST just trying to prevent expenditures of money, because if so why not a ballot item that request voter approval for any capital project of a certain dollar amount? Or if it's about voter engagement, then why not engage the voters of Cincinnati in a get out the vote effort through the city's lowest turnout districts?

    Don't be fooled. COAST is a well-oil special interest group fueled by political motives. Their stated good intentions are nothing more than a means to get to their end. What that end is, I'm not sure, but maybe COAST can tell us one day and actually be honest with everybody about what it is they stand for.

  7. "maybe COAST can tell us one day and actually be honest with everybody about what it is they stand for."
    Stay healthy because that day is probably a long way off.

  8. Why do you think these "lawyers" and "activists" (some of which own expensive homes in Hyde Park) have all this free time on their hands to fight ANY type of rail project from being constructed?

    Over the course of history in the US, which companies have been extremely anti-rail, single-handedly destroying existing rail infrastructure throughout the country, and causing every individual enormous taxes and extremely high personal out-of-pocket expenses?

    Special-interest groups have to get their funding somewhere...

    COAST isn't against taxes any more than they hate their own cars.

  9. I'm gonna need to see receipts from Kinko's!
    Funny how coast always accuses people of changing the subject, but then they do at every turn.