- Partly cloudy
CINCINNATI - In a 2-1 decision, the First District Court of Appeals Wednesday reversed a lower court's ruling and will allow the city of Cincinnati to implement the controversial lease of its parking system.
The decision overturns a ruling that blocked the lease from taking effect until a group of citizens could mount a referendum on the November ballot.
As part of the earlier ruling, the city also was effectively prohibited from using emergency ordinances to make legislation take effect immediately, instead of waiting for 30 days.
In the latest twist to the parking lease dispute, however, two city council members -- Laure Quinlivan and Chris Seelbach -- have introduced a motion to repeal the current lease and attempt to negotiate a better deal for the city.
Quinlivan and Seelbach were distributing the motion among council members' offices late Wednesday morning and hoped to get five signatures, so it could be introduced at city council's meeting later in the afternoon.
The motion seeks to renegotiate a deal with the Port Authority or consider letting the city modernize the parking system on its own.
Further, it proposes ending parking enforcement at 6 p.m. daily, rather than 9 p.m. as stated in the current lease.
You can read that motion below or at http://goo.gl/Orl7r .
Wednesday's appellate court decision stated the Common Pleas Court acted appropriately when it issued the injunction March 27, but erred when it later ruled the city's charter didn't clearly state that officials could use emergency ordinances.
Two of the appellate court judges -- Penelope Cunningham and Pat DeWine -- ruled that the city's charter, allowed the use of emergency ordinances in specified circumstances. The third judge -- Patrick Dinkelacker -- dissented; he said, "the city charter's language is ambiguous, and we must liberally construe it in favor of referendum."
In his March ruling, Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Winkler had said city council's use of an emergency clause to have the lease take effect immediately does not supersede provisions in the city's charter or Ohio law that ensures the right to referendum for most legislative actions.
Also, the appellate judges said Wednesday plaintiffs in the case didn't pay the legally required security deposit needed to move the case forward.
A city spokeswoman said Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. are reviewing the decision, and will have a statement soon.
Technically, the case will now go back to Common Pleas Court for another round of hearings. But plaintiffs also could appeal Wednesday's ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court. If the high court decided to accept the case, it would delay any action in the Common Pleas Court.
Curt Hartmann, attorney for the plaintiffs, still was reviewing the decision Wednesday morning.
"I would've liked it to have been otherwise, obviously," Hartmann said. "On first blush, the Court of Appeals did not vacate the Common Pleas decision, it sends it back. That puts an interesting wrinkle in it."
Meanwhile, City Councilman Christopher Smitherman -- who also heads the NAACP's local chapter, one of the groups seeking the referendum -- promised repercussions at the polls during city council elections this fall.
"This is bad news for all 52 neighborhoods," Smitherman said. "Our teams did all we could to protect our business districts. Parking in Cincinnati is now in the hands of a third party. Elections have consequences."
One of the lease's primary supporters is Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. Her opponent in this fall's mayoral race -- ex-Councilman John Cranley -- said more than 12,000 residents signed petitions seeking a referendum. City officials should allow hold off on the lease and let voters decide, he added.
"Just because Vice Mayor Qualls can defy the will of the people doesn't make it right," Cranley said. "This decision affects an entire generation and shouldn't be made by people who are trying to spend a bunch of money right before an election, while leaving the bill for our kids pay."
Like the city at large, candidates running for Cincinnati City Council were divided on the ruling.
Mike Moroski, an independent candidate, praised the ruling.
"This is a great day for representative democracy in our city, and proves that just because you're loud does not mean you are right," Moroski said. "I would love to see the lease money go toward properly funding human services, reinstating jobs, and put toward transit development."
But Greg Landsman, a Democratic candidate, said city officials should allow the referendum to proceed.
"Bottom line: They shouldn't sign the lease," Landsman said. "(Let's) step back, return to the Port Authority's original proposal, borrow less money to simply upgrade the parking and garage systems, and retain full control locally
over rates, enforcement practices and hours."
In a 5-4 vote in March, City Council approved a decades-long lease of city-owned parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority using an emergency ordinance. The vote occurred just 15 days after the plan was unveiled publicly and presented to City Council.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, who opposed the lease, then provided the sixth vote necessary to enable the city to enact it as an emergency ordinance, which officials thought would make it immune to referendum.
Shortly thereafter, however, the citizens group got an injunction from the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court against the action.
The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which opposes the lease, criticized Seelbach Wednesday for his action.
"The court ruled that the sinister sixth vote for the ordinance provided by Council Member Chris Seelbach, who claimed to oppose the law, was dispositive of denying the public a vote on the issue," COAST said in a statement. "His treacherous act against his own voters will long be remembered."
Under the deal, the city's parking meters would be leased to the Port Authority for 30 years, while the city's parking lots and garages would be leased for up to 50 years.
In return, the city would get a $92 million upfront payment, along with annual payments of about $3 million for the remainder of the lease.
City officials planned to use the money to help avoid deficits in the 2014 and 2015 budgets, and to quicken the pace of some citywide development projects. Instead, they used other sources of money to fill gaps in the budget, which was approved in late May.
A New York-based financial consultant hired by the city to analyze the lease said the city would get $197.4 million – or 41 percent of its current market value. The remainder of the lease's value will go to the Port Authority, private contractors and a New York investment bank that will issue debt to support the deal.
Opponents said the lease would cause rate increases and aggressive enforcement might drive away customers from small businesses, while some residents said the city was undervaluing a prime city asset.
The city owns seven garages and lots, and has 4,978 parking meters.
The entire ruling is available below, or at : http://ow.ly/lXvWJ
Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Some say Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council are ignoring budget cutting options besides police and firefighter layoffs.
New documents released by City Hall reveal Cincinnati may be leasing its parking system for less than half its market value over the next 30…
In a 17-word message on Twitter, the city of Cincinnati announced Tuesday afternoon that the city manager has signed a controversial parking lease.
A controversial lease of the city of Cincinnati’s parking system will likely take effect within the next week, despite efforts to repeal it.
It wasn’t exactly a debate, but the two major candidates seeking to be Cincinnati’s next mayor shared a stage this morning to…
The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority has lots of wheels in motion these days, including a controversial parking lease with…
A 10-word email from the Port Authority's top official is prompting new questions about whether information is being deliberately concealed…
After a little more than a year on the job, Cincinnati's economic development director is resigning next month.
The Port Authority has added a provision to the controversial city parking lease that allows it to walk away from the deal any time during…
An appellate court ruled Monday morning to deny a request to block Cincinnati officials from implementing a controversial parking lease.