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.

Read the story on Cincinnati.com