Great Parks group to return $200K donation

Posted at 1:58 PM, Oct 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-15 13:58:49-04

CINCINNATI -- Allegations over possible misuse of funds are prompting the Cincinnati Park Board to return a major donation.

On Thursday, Great Parks, Great Neighborhoods, Inc., spokesman Charlie Luken released the following statement:

“Our number one priority is to support Cincinnati Parks and the passage of Issue 22, the Cincinnati Parks Levy. In recent days, a particular contribution to our organization has come in dispute.

Though we strongly believe that contribution from the private Meyer Fund held by the Cincinnati Park Board was, and is, above board, it has no doubt become a distraction to our goal of supporting the parks and passing Issue 22. That is why we plan to return the contribution to the Meyer Fund.

Our parks are one Cincinnati’s greatest assets, and the passage of Issue 22 will guarantee that they are maintained and enhanced for our children and all future issues. I hope that now this matter is behind us that the public dialogue can return to where it ought to be: the merits and importance of this policy.”

At issue is a $200,000 contribution from the Helen Meyer Trust that is managed by the Cincinnati Park Board. That money was then given by the board to the Great Parks, Great Neighborhoods group, a 501(c)(4) organization.

Park board officials say no tax dollars were used in the donation but anti-Issue 22 and tax watchdogs claim the contribution is illegal.

Tim Mara, a local tax watchdog and attorney who initially filed complains over the donation, issued a statement Thursday saying in part:

“Today has been a great day for our parks and a great day for good government, but each day brings more revelations about the Mayor’s ‘transformative plans’ for our city parks.  The decision of the Park Board to retrieve $200,000 in public money which it had given to help secure passage of Issue 22 was the right thing to do.  But, something equally important happened after the meeting of the Park Board was over.”

Mara went on to make claims about a lack of plans from the boar or cost figures of those possible plans.

He ended his statement saying, “The bottom line here is that as we continue to find out more about the mayor’s Issue 22 proposal, the more clear it becomes that this is a hastily put together proposal not worthy of the voters’ support.”

The trouble comes amid a campaign to approve a permanent tax level. Issue 22 would generate $5-6 million per year for the Park Board if passed by voters.

Mayor John Cranley is leading the charge for Issue 22, making a plea in a TV commercial where he "plays" football and basketball in a park and also portrays an umpire and a cheering fan. "Every park will benefit,”  says Cranley. The levy would deliver a $152 million impact on the local economy in its first 10 years, according toa study released by the University of Cincinnati's Economic Center.

However, the issue faces stiff opposition by both tax groups and those who fear that the mayor would have too much control over the park board’s budget allocations.

The city-wide property tax would cost about $35 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.