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COAST seeks injunction against Cincinnati's parking lease over changes

Finney: Deal significantly changed since OK

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CINCINNATI - Opponents of a controversial parking lease said the city manager made significant changes to the document when he signed it, exceeding the authority given to him by Cincinnati City Council.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) sent a letter  Wednesday afternoon to city attorneys. In it, the group asks the city to voluntary stop the lease's implementation or it will seek an injunction in court.

Chris Finney, COAST's attorney, sent the letter to City Solicitor John Curp.

In March, City Council approved the lease in a 5-4 vote. But the group left it to City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. and the Port Authority to hammer out details of the deal.

But when Dohoney signed the lease on June 21, there were two changes that altered the agreement in a "significant and material" manner, Finney said.

One change involves ignoring a provision in the version approved by City Council that required an agreement to issue bonds to finance the deal must be presented by June 30.

The other change involves giving the Port Authority a 75-day period to back out of the deal if it's "not satisfied with the transaction for any reason."

"The foregoing changes are not clerical in nature; instead, such changes are significant and material," Finney's letter stated.

When City Council voted in March, it approved an ordinance that stated the lease must be executed "in substantially the form attached to the ordinance."

"The city manager is not authorized to enter into contracts," Finney told WCPO Digital. "They have to be authorized by council."

Under Ohio law, if Curp doesn't agree to sue the city to stop the lease, COAST will gain legal standing to do so in court. The tactic has been used by COAST against the city on at least four occasions in the past.

The letter prompted a sharp response from Curp.

"Today's letter is an attempt to comply with part of the legal process that would allow the authors to claim attorneys fees from taxpayers," Curp said.

"The Law Department will review the issues raised, attempt to engage the authors constructively and respond appropriately," Curp added. "The policy of the Law Department is to defend aggressively against claims from lawyers that seek taxpayers dollars to fund their litigation against the city of Cincinnati."

Finney replied that he isn't seeking to be paid, and that there are more important issues at stake.

"All he has to do is do the right thing and sue to stop the lease," Finney said. "That will deprive me from getting paid."

The latest legal wrangling over the lease is sparked by a memo that was highly critical of the 30-year parking deal.

The June 20 memo was written by Walker Parking Consultants, which was hired by the city to review the lease and various parking issues.

The memo wasn't disclosed to City Council, the Port Authority or the public until WCPO Digital obtained a copy and published it July 14.

After a six-month review, Walker concluded operating expenses and management fees included in the lease are excessive. Further, it stated a contractor wanted to charge too much for technology upgrades.

The Port Authority and Dohoney have since said Walker was using outdated and faulty data in its review. Terms of the lease have "evolved" since that time, they said.

WCPO Digital learned Wednesday the city has paid $315,339 to Walker Parking Consultants for its services.

The Port Authority signed a lease with Cincinnati June 21 to assume management of city-owned parking lots, garages and meters. It has 75 days to finalize the deal's details or back out, if it chooses.

Cincinnati will receive an upfront payment of $92 million from the Port Authority once the lease is fully implemented.

Also, the city would get annual payments that would begin at $3 million and gradually increase over time.

Lease supporters have said the deal will give the city much-needed cash to quicken several development projects that will help expand the city's tax base.

Opponents, however, said the lease would cause rate increases and aggressive enforcement that might drive away customers from small businesses.

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Below is a copy of the letter COAST sent to city attorneys (mobile and tablet users can read the letter at the following link : http://ow.ly/n4rm8).

 

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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