Judge issues permanent injunction in city parking lease case

Mar 28, 2013

A Hamilton County judge is granting a permanent injunction stopping Cincinnati from moving ahead with its parking lease plan until voters have a chance to decide the issue. 

Judge Robert Winkler writes the essential issue in the case is whether the city's emergency clause in the lease ordinance precludes a referendum.  He concludes it does not.

Judge Winkler wrote:  "The City Charter does not specifically exempt emergency legislation from the powers reserved to the people.  The Charter language is clear that it refers to all legislation passed by City Council with no exceptions.  If the people of Cincinnati had intended to exempt emergency legislation from their referendum powers, they could have done so when adopting Article II, Section 3 of the City Charter."

Winkler continued:  "The City Charter’s reference to Ohio law applies the procedures to be followed in exercising the people’s right to initiative and referendum; it places no restraint or limitation on that right."

Attorney Curt Hartman represents the four residents who filed the court action.  He said he's pleased with the decision.

“When city council decides to label something as an emergency ordinance, there’s nothing magical under the city charter that takes that right of referendum away from the people,” Hartman said.

Parking lease opponents must collect nearly 8,500 signatures by the end of next week to place the issue on the November ballot.  They've been doing that since the weekend after Council approved the parking lease on March 6.  

Cincinnati attorneys will appeal Winkler's decision to the Ohio First District Court of Appeals.  City Soliticitor John Curp says he hopes that court will issue an opinion within two or three weeks.

Meanwhile, Mayor Mark Mallory says city residents can take action.

"People need to not sign the petition," Mallory said.  "You sign a petition, you're laying off a cop or firefighter.  Each signature contributes to putting a cop or firefighter off the job."

City Manager Milton Dohoney told departments Thursday to start preparing for layoffs that would begin on July 1, when the city's new fiscal year will begin.  344 workers including police officers and firefighters could be getting pink slips in the next couple months.  

"Some people have believed that Plan B from me was a bluff all along," Dohoney said.  "I'm not elected, I don't bluff, I don't put things out there that I don't mean.  So without the parking deal it is Plan B and Plan B is what is moving into place."

Besides layoffs, the city could also close three recreation centers, six swimming pools, eliminate human services funding, neighborhood support funds and money for neighborhood business districts.