Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Manufacturing Controversy: When Politics, Politicians and the Media Mix

Politics (and politicians) have a funny way of turning things on their head--manufacturing controversy where none exists, or creating a false impression of reality to the public. And sometimes, the media unintentionally helps. Last week's discussion over the port authority and eminent domain provides a case study of how this works . It's like an adult version of the old "telephone" game, where by the end, the facts are lost in a cloud of confusion and "spin" . . . .

The Facts

- last week, the County Commission approved expanding the power of the port authority--which the city had done a few weeks before. Prior to the change, the Port Authority had jurisdiction over the riverfront and brownfields in the City and County; now, it has jurisdiction throughout the City and County.

- prior to the change, and since 2000, the Port already had the power of eminent domain in all of its work; the one limitation on that power involved properties the County or City owned or leased, where the Port had to seek and receive approval from the County or City before exercising that power. If 60 days passed after it requested that power, and the request was not rejected, then it was deemed approved. (For all other property -- ie. NOT owned or leaded by City or County, no request for approval was necessary at all). This rule had been in place for years, and was approved by the City Council in 2000 (prior to my arrival, by the way), although I don't believe it was ever exercised.

- Last week, when we amended the port's power, while we generally maintained its previous power of eminent domain, we took the restiction that it must seek City/County approval (that previously applied only to City/County owned land) and applied it to ALL instances where it sought eminent domain anywhere in the County or City. The bottom line was that now, any attempt to use eminent domain would require approval of the elected bodies.

- Finally, we also, for the first time, changed County policy to require transparency and accountability that never before existed in the process. For the first time, notice and a public hearing now have to take place, and the Commissioners must hold a public vote, on any request for eminent domain by the County. Unlike before, if there is no vote within 55 days, the request is REJECTED by the County. So eminent domain can only occur with the approval of elected officials. The City is considering the same more restrictive policy, and I have already approached the City in order to amend the overall agreement to reflect this change.

Simple summary of the facts: eminent domain power is actually more constrained, and requires far more transparency and accountability, under the new agreement. Unlike the prior agreement, approval must be sought for any use within the County or City. And unlike before, the County requires a vote by its elected officials in all instances--and lack of a vote will lead to denial of the request.


THE NEW MYTH

Even though he had approved the 2000 Agreement that put into place the more liberal eminent domain approach, and had lived under it for eight years without concern, Commissioner DeWine saw this new agreement, which constrained the eminent domain power he had previously approved, as an opportunity to voice his opposition to eminent domain, a hot button issue.

- the first story appeared here, where it was explained (inaccurately) that the County was somehow changing/expanding the Port's eminent domain power: http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/AB/20080812/NEWS01/808120350/. Commissioner DeWine described the possibility of a "little old lady" having her house taken without a vote by elected officials, and puts out the message that the Port is being given a new eminent domain power it did not have before.

- even after we approved a new policy REQUIRING a vote by elected officials for any request for eminent domain, this opposition continued. http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080814/BIZ01/808140385/1076/BIZ. In this story, the disagreement is described in a pretty balanced way.

- other media outlets pick up on the rhetoric that a new eminent domain power was being added, and repeat the inaccuracy that the new agreement gave eminent domain power to the port, as if it was a power it had not previously possessed: http://cincinnati.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2008/08/11/daily34.html

- and a new item in CityBeat suggests the same, that we voted to give the Port Authority a new power--including "the ability to force the sale of property from unwilling owners using eminent domain". http://blogs.citybeat.com/porkopolis/2008/08/dj-vu-at-the-po.html (although at the bottom it explains a more nuanced view)

- not suprisingly, one reader of the Enquirer has read all of this, and wrote a letter expressing anger that myself and Todd Portune somehow have taken a step that introduced some new eminent domain power (worried that now the "average Joe" will lose his house), as opposed to the reality that we had tightened them. http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=edit0202&plckController=Blog&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&plckPostId=Blog%3ae8ab9c9c-3e4b-46b9-a08d-a17c4ecdcdc7Post%3aa35ac2cd-d6a9-46be-a096-123516070cf1&sid=sitelife.cincinnati.com. While he's wrong about what happened, it's hard to blame this citizen for not being clear on the facts.

And for months to come and beyond, I can guarantee you that other citizens also will express their passionate disapproval for last week's vote, even though, ironically, it took things in the very direction they support.

Just one case study in the topsy turvy world of politics, politicians and the media. And people wonder why the public view of all three is so low these days.

1 comment:

Quim said...

What's the scoop on the Port Authority's ability to put a 1 mil tax levy on the ballot ?
Is that for each and every project or their max for all time ?

thanks

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