So, it appears there will be no referendum on the city of Cincinnati’s parking lease agreement on the ballot this fall.
Unless, that is, in the unlikely event that the Ohio Supreme Court decides to take up the appeal of the decision made by the Ohio First District Court of Appeals this week saying the agreement is not subject to referendum because it was passed in March as an emergency ordinance.
But nobody on either side of this really expects this to happen.
The appeals court ruling came out Wednesday; and immediately some council members – five to be exact – signed a motion asking that the parking lease agreement, which would pump $92 million into city coffers and turn the parking system over to the Port Authority, be repealed.
One of them, Democrat Laure Quinlivan, voted for the parking lease agreement in March and is clearly now looking for the door marked exit.
Critics of the parking lease agreement were comparing Quinlivan’s signature on the motion to repeal to Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry’s bewildering statement in the 2004 presidential race that he was for funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars before he was against it.
Not a particularly easy rationale to explain to voters in an election campaign; and Quinlivan is running for re-election.
Independent Christopher Smitherman, Republican Charlie Winburn, and Democrats Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld signed the motion to repeal the ordinance passed in March. It also said the city administration should develop a budget deficit reduction plan that does not include upfront parking funds to off-set future budget deficits.
Friday afternoon, the newest council member, Pam Thomas, who was appointed to replace her husband Cecil Thomas after he had voted for the parking agreement, put out a statement saying it was time to "revisit the proposal." She did not sign the motion Wednesday, although there was a space left for her name.
"Since the initial lease document was approved, circumstances have changed significantly,'' Thomas wrote. "Initially, the upfront funds generated by the parking plan were to be used to fill a short-term budget gap that has since been closed."
Now, she said, it is time for council to work together on a new agreement, saying the majority of the revenue should "be targeted for financial stabilization, additional belt-tightening and continued economic growth."
Nonetheless, the repeal movement died aborning. Even if they had six or seven signatures on their motion, they would need to draft an ordinance, and Mayor Mark Mallory – an ardent supporter of the parking lease deal – made it clear that he would neither refer it to a council committee nor bring it before council for a vote. And that is a key element of the mayor’s power.
The plaintiffs ran off to the appeals court to ask for a stay of the decision while they ask the Ohio Supreme Court to review the case.
But, as it stands now, the city could sign the agreement, get the upfront money and the parking system would end up being run by private companies.
There may be no referendum on the November ballot to drive council supporters of the lease agreement crazy, but that most certainly does not mean it won’t be a campaign issue.
The smart money in local politics has been saying that a referendum would almost certainly pass; and the council members who supported it would spend much of the fall campaign defending their position.
That’s not just Quinlivan, obviously. Democrats Wendell Young and Yvette Simpson voted for it, as did the present vice mayor, Roxanne Qualls, who is now running for mayor.
The two leading candidates for mayor have dug in their heels on the issue of turning over the parking system to private operators.
John Cranley, a Democrat, had smoke rolling out of his ears Wednesday when the appeals court ruling came out.
“Just because Vice Mayor Qualls can defy the will of the people doesn’t make it right,’’ Cranley said in a statement. "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 to pay.”
Qualls is holding her ground on the parking deal.
But she says the money should be used wisely.
“We should take advantage of this moment not just to fill a deficit but to plan for long-term sustainability,’’ Qualls said Wednesday.
On the court decision, Qualls said, “council made a decision, the court has upheld it and we will go forward. “
It is important, Qualls said, “that we stand back and look at how to spend this $92 million in a way that puts us on the path to fiscal sustainability.”
We think the above are some lines we may hear in future mayoral debates.
There may be no parking lease referendum on the ballot, but, rest assured, there will be a parking lease battle in the fall campaign.