Court reverses decision to halt parking plan, opponents to appeal

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The 1st District Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court decision to stop the city's parking plan from moving forward.

Cincinnati City Council passed an ordinance in March that would privatize the city's parking, giving the city $92 million up front and $3 million a year.

A petition was delivered to City Hall with enough valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. Judge Robert Winkler issued a permanent injunction on the plan in March, prohibiting the city from moving forward.

The city administration argued in front of the Court of Appeals that the plan would modernize the parking system and bring in a steady stream of revenue to close future budget gaps and fund downtown development.

City Manager Milton Dohoney says the city will sign the parking lease and modernization plan with the Port of Greater Cincinnati upon the trail court signing the actual orders.

"The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds," said Dohoney. "Once there is legal certainty, the Administration will look at the budget to determine if there are items that may need to be revisited and bring those before Members of City Council, as appropriate."

The court wrote in summary:

The court of common pleas did not abuse its discretion in determining that a declaratory-judgment claim was justifiable, where the court was asked to declare that a newly enacted and immediately effective emergency ordinance that authorized the city of Cincinnati to enter into a contract for the lease of its parking system was subject to referendum, the parties had assumed adversarial positions, and an inadequate remedy would result from a delay. 

The court of common pleas erred by allowing the action to proceed as a statutory taxpayer action, where the plaintiffs-relators failed to deposit sufficient security for the costs of the proceedings as required by R.C. 733.59.  [But see DeWine, J., dissenting in part:  If it is proper to reach the issue, the cause should be remanded to the common pleas court for a determination of whether the filing fee was paid because the record is incomplete.]

Plaintiffs-relators sought to vindicate a public right, and therefore, had standing to pursue a taxpayer action under the common law, where they sought injunctive relief to allow a referendum on a city ordinance.

The common pleas court erred by declaring that a validly enacted municipal emergency ordinance was subject to referendum and by enjoining the implementation of the ordinance, because the city's charter, by incorporating state-law provisions on referendum, exempted validly enacted emergency municipal legislation from referendum. [But see Dinkelacker, J., dissenting in part:  The city charter's language is ambiguous, and we must liberally construe it in favor of referendum.]

Judge Patrick Dinkelacker dissented in part.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says she is introducing a motion directing the administration to come back with a plan that would use proceeds from the parking proposal to put the city on a path to a structurally balanced budget.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan also tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that she is moving to repeal the lease to attempt to negotiate a more favorable deal for the city.

"If we don't rely on an up front parking payment to balance future budgets, Administration can negotiate a much better parking modernization deal that includes stopping enforcement hours at 6pm," she said. "I expect Administration to give council a long-term budget deficit reduction plan that includes benchmarking and analysis, not one-time sources."

Attorney Curt Hartman, who represents the group opposed to the parking plan, told FOX19 Wednesday evening he plans to file a motion to stay the court's decision until he has a chance to file an appeal.

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