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Commentary: 'CityBeat' 1, 3CDC 0 In Newspaper Rack War

Jennifer Merritt
A CityBeat newspaper box was still near the corner of Downtown's 12th and Vine streets on Monday.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, better known as 3CDC, is used to getting its own way when it comes to downtown matters.

This time, though, 3CDC may have bit off more than it can chew.

The First Amendment to the Constitution to be specific.

The First Amendment is 228 years old.

The city's non-profit development corporation is 16 years old.

Advantage, First Amendment.

Last week, the behemoth 3CDC started snatching up newspaper boxes belonging to CityBeat and other publications because the non-profit development corporation thought they were an eyesore in the public right-of-way.

It is only fair to point out that, over the years, CityBeat has often ruffled the feathers of the city's business establishment.

Council Member David Mann said the city and 3CDC "will be called to task for removing boxes containing a publication with editorial content. These moves will be particularly suspect because some in our community find CityBeat articles to be controversial."

Monday, Cincinnati City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething, responding to a request for an opinion from Mann, stated, without equivocation, that 3CDC has no authority to remove new racks from the right-of-way.

"Further, it is my understanding based on emails and other information we have gathered from the city administration that the city did not approve 3CDC's actions or otherwise delegate authority to 3CDC that would have permitted it to engage in these actions,'' Muething wrote to Mann.

Pretty clear for lawyer talk.

What Muething is referring to is a directive to 3CDC that came on June 19 from Don Gindling of the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE).

"If your staff is removing these, please stop," Gindling wrote to 3CDC. "Please let us know if you have removed any of these; if so you may want to reach out to CityBeat and return them. If you have issues with any existing locations, let DOTE know and we can start the process for getting them relocated or removed."

CityBeat publisher Tony Frank told WVXU that on the day that memo went out, at least nine boxes owned by CityBeat, mostly near City Hall, were removed from the public right-of-way by 3CDC.

Credit Jennifer Merritt / WVXU
CityBeat's newspaper box - along with an empty box for real estate listings - still stands outside of WVXU's offices, which is located just a few blocks from City Hall.

On the day after the boxes were removed, Frank suggested CityBeat might take legal action on the removal as a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Shortly after Muething's memo to Mann came out, Joe Rudemiller, vice president of marketing and communications at 3CDC, said Monday he believes they are storing eight boxes they took off the streets.

"We're not destroying the boxes,'' Rudemiller said. "CityBeat is welcome to come and take them back. We just want to come to a conclusion that both parties can live with.

"We've been partners with CityBeat many times on projects promoting downtown,'' Rudemiller said. "We want to talk."

Rudemiller said 3CDC has offered to put the boxes in other "high-traffic areas."

Mann said he can't see any way the removal of news boxes can stand.

"You may not like a publication, but it has a First Amendment right to distribute its content," Mann said. "And the fact is, they do a lot of good reporting at CityBeat. I can't imagine what they were thinking at 3CDC."

We're not sure either. Maybe they were thinking the giant always beats the kid with the slingshot.

Guess again.

politically speaking 2
Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.   

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.