Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Really, Chris Wetterich? Really?

Oh, the Fourth Estate.  How low have they sunk?  How completely has it abandoned its role as a force to challenge the power structure in our community, and to educate the public?  

Read this blog entry and you decide.

To illuminate this issue, one need look no further than the exchange COAST had with Chris Wetterich of the Cincinnati Business Courier this evening, including his condescending, loaded questioning. 

 Mr. Wetterich, please pay attention, for, we hope to pry open your mind to see the possibility that COAST is, just perhaps, correct in its criticisms of the impending attempt by SORTA to increase our taxes as an attempt to fund Streetcar operating losses.

First, COAST last week dropped the bombshell that SORTA was conducting a public opinion survey on a proposed tax increase, using tax dollars for the survey, but refusing to release the results to the public that was paying for it.

  • Now, let's pause at this juncture and ask several questions: Why did the crack investigative watchdogs at the Business Courier not (a) uncover this story to begin with (they are paid to do this; we are volunteers), (b) cover it when it was uncovered by us and (c) ask, indeed demand, in its news and editorial pages that SORTA release the survey results to the public?
  • We also point out that the two basic propositions in the story -- that SORTA was using tax dollars to pay for a survey and refusing to release the results -- are not contested by anyone as being completely true. 
The Enquirer covered this story, because COAST gave it to them.  The Enquirer story includes the following:
  • [COAST Counsel Chris] Finney said he believes SORTA is considering a tax increase now to help cover the cost of operating Cincinnati's streetcar.  "This is just another streetcar tax," Finney said.
Tonight, we were minding our own business, having dinner, when we received the following loaded question from Mr. Wetterich via Twitter:

COAST then told Wetterich to hang tight for a few hours, and we would get them the facts.  In response, before even hearing what we said, Wetterich started to make excuses for SORTA:
  • As an opening proposition, COAST never said anything about "SORTA's bus expansion plan."  Those are SORTA's words and Wetterich's words, not COAST's words.  All we talked about was their proposed tax increase.
Now, as to evidence that SORTA intends to raise taxes to pay for the operations of the Streetcar, we look no further than SORTA's own press release last December.  As background to this next fact, consider the following:
  • At the time of this release, there was a raging debate before Cincinnati City Council about resuming Streetcar construction (the project had already been suspended by a Council vote).  One critical question in that debate was where was the money for the operating deficit going to come from.  If Council could not receive assurances of outside payment of the sums, the Streetcar appeared doomed.
  • SORTA is broke.  It has no surplus funds.  Indeed for the past six years, SORTA had been cutting service and had scaled-back ridership because of lack of funds.  Thus, it had and has absolutely none of its own money to devote to Streetcar operations.
  • The last time the business community was asked to fund the Streetcar, they contributed precisely bupkis, as is addressed in this COAST blog entry published only days before the SORTA release discussed below and the critical Council vote.
With that as background, then consider that happened on December 17 of 2013: SORTA's Board met, passed a very specific resolution and waded into the Streetcar debate as follows as reported by the Enquirer (their words not ours):

The Board of Trustees of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority has volunteered to assume responsibility for streetcar operating costs -- possibly paving the way for the streetcar to be completed.
  • At this juncture, we note, Mr. Wetterich, that these are the official words of the SORTA Board backed by an official resolution, not the now-resigned Ms. Garcia Crews.  (Where the hell did that bizarre dodge come from?)
So, at the critical time for Cincinnati City Council to decide whether or not to proceed with a 20-year commitment to building and operating the Streetcar, SORTA "volunteers to assume responsibility for Streetcar operating costs."  And, COAST knows, they have no funds to fulfill that commitment and no ability to raise those funds privately.

Less than one year later, SORTA is secretly using tax dollars for a public opinion survey on a massive tax hike.  

Hmmm, who possibly would connect these facts?

And Wetterich wants to know, in his "I already know the answer" style of questioning: "Is there a shred of evidence to support @GOCOAST allegation that SORTA's bus expansion plan is really about $ for the streetcar?"

We respond that, yes, we do have a "shred of evidence."  That evidence is SORTA "volunteering" to pay Streetcar operating costs when it does not have a surplus penny to its name to pay the expense and it knows (as we accurately predicted) that the corporate community was not going to write a check for this foolishness.  

Where the hell else, Mr. Wetterich, are they going to get the money to fulfill that promise?  Or, should we just assume they never had any intention of fulfilling that promise and the Board resolution and press release were merely meaningless, intending to deceive Council and the voters at that critical time? And if either proposition is true, isn't that something worthy of coverage in your pages.  For, it seems to us, that it must be one or the other.


Now Mr. Wetterich, we might suggest that rather than asking sneering questions of COAST, you pick up the phone, call SORTA and ask Sally Hilvers what they meant by this promise one year ago and what they are doing to fulfill that commitment for which they volunteered, i.e., to "assume responsibility for Streetcar operating costs?"  

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