City: COAST Squanders Taxpayer Money

May 26, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Cincinnati’s solicitor says an anti-tax group is wasting taxpayer money by filing a federal lawsuit against the city without first contacting its Law Department to resolve the alleged violations outside of court.—-

In an e-mail sent to Chris Finney, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), City Solicitor John Curp wrote that the lawsuit probably could’ve been avoided with a simple telephone call.

And here we thought conservative groups like COAST hated “frivolous lawsuits” and always pushed for tort reform.

COAST filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court late last week alleging its constitutional rights were violated when supporters were prohibited from collecting signatures at public spaces like downtown’s Fountain Square and on sidewalks in Mount Lookout and near Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine. The suit states that petitioners are consistently threatened at such spaces when they gather signatures for causes opposed by city officials.

COAST is working with other groups to collect enough signatures to place a charter amendment on the fall ballot that, if approved, would require a public vote before the city spends any money on a proposed streetcar system or any other rail-based project.

In his e-mail, Curp states the lawsuit was filed without COAST ever attempting to discuss the matter with city officials.

“Of course, you know that a phone call anytime during the days you spent preparing your motion would have cleared all of this up without wasting taxpayer resources,” Curp wrote to Finney.

“As always, you and the Citizens Organized Against Spending and Taxes (sic) are welcome and encouraged to contact me directly before filing lawsuits so that we can avoid unnecessary litigation,” Curp added. “I believe that we owe the taxpayers that respect before engaging in litigation.”

The lawsuit involves signature-gathering efforts that were interrupted at Fountain Square on April 15 during a “Tea Party” protest, on a sidewalk in front of Millions Café in Mount Lookout on April 19, and at Findlay Market on May 2.

COAST’s lawsuit was filed against the city; the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), which manages Fountain Square; and the Corporation for Findlay Market, a non-profit group that manages the market.

Finney submitted a 40-page legal brief seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a permanent injunction to stop such interruptions, as well as attorneys’ fees. COAST filed the suit in conjunction with the Buckeye Institute, a right-wing think tank in Columbus.

The lawsuit comes at a time when City Hall is facing a $40 million deficit by year’s end due to stagnant tax revenues.

City attorneys successfully opposed the TRO request Friday; a hearing on the suit’s merits hasn’t yet been scheduled.

Generally, signature-gathering is permitted in dedicated public rights-of-way unless it can be proven the activity is causing a disturbance. In an e-mail sent Friday to City Council, Curp implied that police were told to allow petitioners to do their work at the Taste of Cincinnati festival without interference.

“The Police Department has been advised regarding how to handle COAST representatives for this weekend’s events,” Curp wrote.

Petition circulators must collect 6,150 valid signatures by Sept. 3 to place the issue on the November ballot.