The fate of the city of Cincinnati’s parking lease ordinance – and whether or not citizens can put a referendum on the November ballot – is now in the hands of a three-judge panel of the Ohio First District Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments from both sides Monday morning.
The three judges – Penelope Cunningham, Patrick Dinkelacker, and Pat DeWine – heard from lawyers from the city and for the plaintiffs who filed the common pleas lawsuit against the parking lease plan in a half-hour hearing.
Cunningham is the presiding judge of the panel. She told lawyers for both sides the appeals court would issue a ruling as soon as possible.
Either side could appeal the three-judge panel’s decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, which would have the final say.
The plaintiffs, a group of Cincinnati citizens, filed a lawsuit after city council passed a plan by emergency ordinance that would lease out the city’s parking meters and garages for a $92 million up-front payment – money that would be used, in part, to fill much of the city’s projected $35 million budget deficit.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Winkler issued a permanent injunction, preventing the city from implementing the plan, and opponents have since mounted a successful petition campaign to place the issue on the November ballot.
City lawyers went to the First District Court of Appeals, arguing that Winkler’s ruling will prevent the city from passing any emergency ordinance, and make every law passed by city council subject to referendum.
“We could end up with government by referendum,’’ assistant city solicitor Terrance Nestor argued before the three-judge panel.
With the city budget coming up, the city must have the power to pass emergency ordinances without facing a ballot issue.
“Legislation such as city budgets are simply not subject to referendum,’’ Nestor said.
Christopher Finney, an attorney for the citizens who brought the case, said that Winkler “got it right” with his argument that all ordinances passed by the city are subject to referendum.
“My clients represent 19,000 people who signed petitions to put this issue on the ballot,’’ Finney said.
The law on the matter, Finney argued, “is an ambiguous situation and it ought to be construed in favor of putting the ordinance on the ballot.”
But Nestor argued that the city charter incorporates Ohio law which allows charter cities like Cincinnati to pass emergency ordinances without being subject to referendum.
“The plaintiffs are asking you to change 100 years of Ohio precedent and 85 years of Cincinnati law,’’ Nestor said.