Tom Brinkman for State Representative

Tom Brinkman for State Representative -

Another lawsuit threatened related to park levy

Another lawsuit threatened related to park levy

by Carrie Blackmore Smith

Cincinnati Enquirer 10/30/15

A State representative from Mount Lookout Thursday threatened a taxpayer lawsuit over city Parks Director Willie Carden’s authorization and disbursement of park foundation funds to pay for the production and design of a website in support of the Issue 22 parks levy.


Click here to read the letter

Earlier this month, Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Mount Lookout, threatened a taxpayer lawsuit over Cincinnati Park Board of Commissioners’ $200,000 donation toward the park levy campaign.

Brinkman dropped the issue when the board rescinded its donation and returned the money to city parks and taxpayers.

According to emails obtained via a public records request, Carden approved $2,200 to be paid for the levy website on June 29. A few days later, Carden authorized spending another $375 related to the website.

“We will pay this through the Parks Foundation,” Carden wrote, telling the foundation’s executive director Jennifer Hafner-Spieser that they could talk about it the next day.

The emails appear to have been on Carden’s city email account.

“Such actions by the director of the Cincinnati Parks Board have clearly violated foregoing prohibitions in City Charter,” the letter to Cincinnati City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething reads, quoting Article XIII, Section 3, which says that “no monies of the City of Cincinnati or any of its Boards or Commissions, from any source whatsoever … be disbursed to … for the purpose of advocating the election or defeat of a candidate for any public office, or for the passage or defeat of any ballot issue.”

Brinkman has served as a spokesman and chairman of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes in the past. The group opposes the levy.

Ohio law creates a provision for any taxpayer to challenge its government for “abuse of corporate powers and/or misapplication of funds.”

Muething said Thursday that she had just received the letter and needed time to review it and analyze the claims. Carden said this had been early in the discussion and that the bill for the website was not paid by him but ultimately came from the park levy campaign.

A campaign finance report released last week for the pro-levy campaign, Citizens for Cincinnati Parks, shows that the levy campaign paid $3,466.25 to the web design company, WebFeat Complete, based on Eastern Avenue on Sept. 15, two and a half months after the emails were sent by Carden.

Campaign manager Jared Kamrass said the original invoice was sent to the parks department, but was ultimately paid by the levy campaign. If an earlier payment was made by the Park Board or Park Foundation, Kamrass said he has no knowledge of it.

“We made it clear that every penny of the website needed to be paid for by the campaign,” Kamrass said. “To my knowledge it has.”

He said the amounts likely vary because they had asked for more work to be done and needed to raise the money first in order to pay WebFeat Complete.

There is no record of a payment to Webfeat Hosting in the campaign finance report. This second payment, $375, was to be made out to that entity, according to the emails between Carden and Joyce Kamen, who handles media relations for the parks department.

The relationship between the public Park Board and private, non-profit Parks Foundation is no simple thing. Concerns about the relationship and flow of money between the board and the foundation were initially raised in a 2010 internal city audit, which was never finished nor publicized.

The Board of Park Commissioners is a public body that includes five members, all appointed by the mayor. The board has the power to hire or fire all parks department employees.

Members of the board for the private Parks Foundation nominate their own members, but final approval is given by the public Park Board. The nonprofit’s offices were located in Park Board offices for years. They moved recently to another building, also owned by the Park Board.

In a previously publicized case, Carden and Marijane Klug, the parks department’s second-in-command, were cited in 2013 by the Ohio Ethics Commission for accepting bonuses directly from the Parks Foundation between 2004 and 2010. They paid the money back and quit their roles with the foundation.

The ethics settlement stated that Carden received a total of $61,073 between January 2005 and December 2010, while Klug received $37,174 between December 2004 and December 2010. Carden paid back $30,536 and Klug returned $18,587, or the net amount they received after taxes.

But other details about the situation were kept confidential per the settlement agreement and Ohio law. No criminal charges were filed.

In an interview earlier this month, Klug said the Park Board and Parks Foundation are distinctly different organizations.

Board funds and foundation funds “are totally separate,” Klug said. “No funds are co-mingled.”

Brinkman filed his suit under a provision of Ohio law that requires that a taxpayer give the municipality or county government the chance to act and reverse the action in question.

“I hereby request that you, as City Solicitor, make application to a court of competent jurisdiction for an order of injunction … as well as the recovery of such funds on behalf of the City of Cincinnati,” Brinkman wrote.

Otherwise, Brinkman’s attorney Curt Hartman said his client is prepared to file a lawsuit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

Enquirer reporter James Pilcher contributed.

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Brinkman Threatens Lawsuit Over $200k Parks Donation to Levy Campaign

State Rep. Threatens Suit Over Parks Donation

Brinkman calls $200,000 “an abuse of corporate powers and/or misapplication of funds within the government of the City of Cincinnati.”

Cincinnati Enquirer 10/13/15

A taxpayer lawsuit has been threatened against the city of Cincinnati over the $200,000 donation from the Cincinnati Board of Park Commissioners toward the park levy initiative.

Minutes from 8/20/15 meeting

Minutes from 8/20/15 meeting

That taxpayer is Tom Brinkman Jr., a Republican member of the Ohio House of Representatives from Mount Lookout, who has acted as a spokesman and chairman of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, better known as COAST.

Brinkman sent a letter Wednesday to City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething. He called the Park Board donation “an abuse of corporate powers and/or misapplication of funds within the government of the City of Cincinnati.”

Ohio law creates a provision for any taxpayer to challenge its government for such reasons.

The donation by the Park Board came to light on Monday, after The Enquirer uncovered the donation in a review of public board meeting minutes.

Under Ohio law, a donation to a political campaign would be illegal if the donation were made with public funds. However, park department and board officials have said the donation is legal because it was taken from a private endowment given to the Park Board and does not constitute public money.

Park Board President Otto Budig issued a statement on Wednesday that reiterated that the money was not given to the levy campaign for Issue 22, but to a 501(c)4 nonprofit called Great Parks Great Neighborhoods, incorporated by former Mayor Charlie Luken.

Brinkman quoted a section of the Charter of the City of Cincinnati – Article XIII, Section 3 – that he believes prohibits the board to spend any money toward a levy campaign.

“Notwithstanding anything in this Charter to the contrary, no monies of the City of Cincinnati or any of its Boards or Commissions, from any source whatsoever, or funds of any other entity disbursed by the City or any of its office, campaign committee or any candidate for any public office, political action committee, or political party, or may be expended for the purpose of advocating the election or defeat of any candidate for any public office, or for the passage or defeat of any ballot issue,” the section reads.

Muething said her office has set out to explore the facts of the situation at hand and will review the action by the park board.

“We have to take time to look at the statements of the letter and investigative if there is truth to the allegation,” Muething said.

A call for comment to Budig was not returned Wednesday night.

Ohio law requires that a taxpayer give the municipality or county government the chance to act first. In this case, Muething would need to file an injunction on the city itself, in court, to reverse the action.

“I hereby request that you, as City Solicitor, make application to a court of competent jurisdiction for an order of injunction … as well as the recovery of such funds on behalf of the City of Cincinnati,” Brinkman wrote.

If not, Brinkman’s attorney Curt Hartman said his client is prepared to file a lawsuit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

Hartman, who has his own practice Amelia but is of counsel to the Finney Law Firm in Union Township, has brought similar taxpayer lawsuits against local governments, including two from Brinkman and one from Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Smitherman, prior to Smitherman’s current term on council. The Finney firm is led by Chris Finney, another COAST leader.

In Brinkman challenged the “validity of the mayor receiving any additional payment characterized as an ‘automobile allowance,'” Hartman said. That case, filed when Mark Mallory will stay mayor, was dismissed when John Cranley took office because said he didn’t plan to take such an allowance.

Brinkman also challenged the “validity to the parking lease agreement when the city manager entered into an agreement that contained language different than that authorized by the city council,” Hartman said. That case was also eventually dismissed, although the parking plan was eventually dismantled by Cranley.

As an organization, COAST has been successful in the past when suing the city. Cincinnati settled half a dozen pending lawsuits with COAST by paying the anti-tax group $675,000 in January 2014.

COAST has announced its opposition to the parks levy.

The Board of Park Commissioners has its last regular public board meeting before the Nov. 3 election at 9:15 a.m. Thursday at its office at 905 Eden Park Drive.

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Brinkman’s Statement on Fate of the Eastern Corridor

Regarding the news that the most offending parts of the Eastern Corridor Project have been eliminated, State Representative Tom Brinkman said

“I am so happy for the communities that had been threatened by this project that they finally got a reprieve.  I am honored that they trusted me to serve knowing that I would force this issue.  Special thanks to Speaker Cliff Roseburger and Senator Seitz who both worked hard helping bring this to a conclusion.”

Cincinnati Enquirer

Part of Eastern Corridor roadway plan killed

UNION TOWNSHIP The state has killed a controversial plan to relocate a major commuter route through parts of eastern Hamilton County – ending an arduous, years-long battle between residents and public officials.

The plan to re-route a part of Ohio 32 around Newtown and through historic land in Mariemont has been scrapped, state officials told The Enquirer on Thursday. Work will continue on other parts of the $1 billion Eastern Corridor project across eastern Hamilton and western Clermont counties, but eliminating a big chunk of the Ohio 32 relocation plan could untangle a bureaucratic mess.

“I’m elated,” Mariemont Mayor Dan Policastro said. “We’ve been saying for years (for the state) not to do this, and they finally did it. It’s going to work out for everybody.”

The Eastern Corridor is designed to improve access and alleviate congestion with roadway improvements, a new highway interchange, bike lanes and passenger rail. It has been on the drawing boards since the 1970s, and many phases have failed to move forward because of a lack of consensus and money.

Thursday’s news was a long-time coming for residents of Mariemont and Newtown, but the roadway relocation plan isn’t officially dead just yet. The state, which has spent at least $14 million planning the Ohio 32 relocation, still is beholden to a federal process that requires more time and paperwork. Ohio Department of Transportation officials say the process could be complete by the end of this month.

“This is great news, but it’s almost like you have to get the coroner involved to make sure it’s really dead,” Newtown Mayor Curt Cosby said.

State officials broke the news to community leaders, politicians and transportation planners during a closed-door meeting Thursday morning in Eastgate. It was the first major meeting about the Ohio 32 relocation since a state-hired mediator released a damning report in November.

The report revealed the utter frustration of Mariemont and Newtown residents – showing the project was plagued by government mistrust, accusations of hidden agendas and disagreements about the merits of the Ohio 32 relocation plan.

Many had long questioned the merits of spending up to $277 million on relocating Ohio 32, considering the Western Hills Viaduct and Brent Spence Bridge need to be replaced. The mediator’s findings gave extra ammunition for opponents of the roadway relocation.

Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel have opposed the project, and state Rep. Tom Brinkman tried to kill that part of the Eastern Corridor in the Legislature earlier this year. Brinkman’s efforts helped establish a do-or-die deadline of Dec. 31 on the plan to relocate Ohio 32 through Mariemont and Newtown.

“I’m pleased for the people who were going to be in harm’s way, and I’m happy that I was able to force a conclusion,” said Brinkman, a Mount Lookout Republican.

Mariemont loathed the plan because the roadway would have cut through the South 80 park, which residents use to plant gardens and for recreational activities. Newtown feared a new bypass would cripple the village’s small business district and deplete its tax base.

The mediation process helped guide ODOT’s call.

“They really cared about what we had to say,” Policastro said.

The state will consider minor congestion-relief improvements to Ohio 32 through Newtown and U.S. 50 in Mariemont. Those could include different road striping patterns and new traffic lights with prioritization technology.

The state also will continue to look at expanding Ohio 32 east of Newtown in Anderson Township near the border of Hamilton and Clermont counties.

The controversy over the Ohio 32 relocation created a negative perception of the entire Easter Corridor, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said. He now hopes the criticism will stop.

“The Eastern Corridor program is more than the relocation of State Route 32, but in the minds of the public, that’s what it became,” Portune said. “This provides some real clarity as to where this is going.”

Others aren’t so sure. Many also have questioned the merits of a plan for a passenger rail from Downtown to Clermont County. Ridership projections have been low, and the rail line has a $230 million to $323 million price tag. The state has spent $4.4 million on the railway.

“It would be a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Monzel said.

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Four Key Ohio TEA Party Leaders Urge NO Vote by House on Budget

Ohio Citizens PAC put out the following statement regarding the impending state budget proposal.  For more information please click here.

Four Key Ohio TEA Party Leaders Urge NO Vote by House on Budget

Akron, OH – Today four key Ohio TEA Party Leaders urged the Ohio House to vote NO on the state budget proposal and asked citizens to call their House members and encourage them to kill this outrageous spending bill. The vote on the budget is expected to be taken this Thursday, April 23, 2015.OCP

Tom Zawistowski, President of the Ohio Citizens PAC said, “Glenn Newman, President of the Ohio Liberty Coalition; Ted Stevenot, President of Ohio Rising; John McAvoy, President of the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition; and I, are urging the Ohio House to vote NO on the proposed budget this Thursday. This budget will not only continue the illegitimate expansion of Obamacare in Ohio by our liberal Republican Governor’s failed implementation of Medicaid Expansion, but it will increase the size of state government to historic levels. With inflation at 1.6% how can a so-called Republican Governor and Super-Majority Republican Ohio House vote for a budget that grows by 9.6% in 2016 and an additional 3.9% in 2017?  How many Ohio taxpayers are seeing their income increase 9.6% per year or even 3.9%?”

Zawistowski then made a call to action, “We would hope that Liberty Group members and other budget conscious citizens will take the time to protect their wallets and call their Representatives on Wednesday. Ask them directly why they would support Obamacare when the vast majority of Ohioans are against it, it doesn’t work and we can’t afford it?  Ask them how they justify growing our state government spending by $10 billion dollars – up from the $26.2 billion spent in 2011 to $36 billion in 2017?  This is simply outrageous. Worse yet, our state’s dependence on federal dollar will reach 36% of total state spending under this budget plan. Ohio is growing our nation’s debt by becoming a welfare state. That federal money is borrowed from our children and younger voters should be outraged by this generational theft. No true Republican can be this reckless about spending. They must vote NO on Thursday or face the wrath of conservative voters next year in the Republican primary.”