City's parking plan halted after judge's ruling

City's parking plan halted after judge's ruling

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A Hamilton County Judge has issued a permanent injunction on the City of Cincinnati's plan to privatize parking. Voters may now decide the issue if petitioners can garner enough signatures to get it on the November ballot.

"You sign a petition to put this issue on the ballot, you are signing a pink slip for a cop or a firefighter," Mayor Mark Mallory said emphatically Thursday.

Plaintiffs argue the Mayor's reaction went too far.

"For him to throw out the threat that if you sign this you're signing the pink slip for a police and fireman, that is just outrageous," plaintiff Pete Witte argued.

The City of Cincinnati is appealing the decision. The parking plan included provisions to plug the budget deficits for the next two years.

"People need to understand what's at stake here," Mallory urged. "We're out of options. We don't have any hidden pots of money."

The City Manager says layoffs in police and fire are unavoidable to fill the budget gap the parking deal would have taken care of.

"They'll figure it out," Witte said. "Every year Milton Dohoney figures it out."

Dohoney, however, argues this year is different.

"Some people have believed that plan B for me was a bluff all along. I'm not elected," Milton Dohoney said. "I don't bluff."

Witte believes the deficit can still be filled without cutting public safety, 70% of the city's operating budget, but did not point to specific alternative cuts.

"A lot of us that are just your average Joe Schmo can't wrap our heads around some of the aspects of a budget, and that's where we do have faith in our elected officials," he said. "It's just that our current elected officials are eroding our faith."

Judge Robert Winkler issued the decision on Thursday morning, saying City Manager Milton Dohoney and the City of Cincinnati shall take no further action at this time to implement the parking plan.

According to the City Solicitor, the decision also essentially eliminates the city's ability to pass laws that become effective immediately. Solicitor John Curp argues the ruling on the city's emergency action could have impacts far beyond the parking deal.

"This blows up the charter," Curp said Thursday. He says the emergency passages have been used by the city since 1927.

The restraining order was issued in response to a group of concerned citizens who filed suit against the city.

"This group has decided they know better about how to run this city that the people who are elected and those who are hired to do the task," Mallory said.

While Pete Witte does not believe referendums should be used casually, but he believes this case warrants the effort.

"I think this is one of a scale that if you're not going to vet this as a council properly, let's put it to a vote of the people and allow the voters to get this," he argued.

While petitioners gather more votes, city officials say they will begin the process of notifying and laying off workers.

The parking deal would include a $92 million lump sum payment, and at least $3 million annually in exchange for leasing the city's on street parking meters and city-owned lots and garages. The money would go toward balancing future budgets and city projects.

The City Solicitor is hoping to have a ruling on their appeal in the next two to three weeks. Council is required by law to vote on a balanced budget by June 1 now that they have to give every ordinance 30 days.

The parking petitioners have until April 5th to get their 8,522 signatures to put the issue on the ballot, otherwise it is a moot point.

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