Park Board Sued Later Today
For Immediate Release: September 4, 2012
From: Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition
Contact: Josh Spring LSW, Executive Director; 513-716-7455. Call anytime.
Copy of lawsuit attached.
Park Board employees created park rules in an unconstitutional fashion that discriminate against certain classes of people. Today three people living near Washington Park will sue the Park Board in Federal Court. They are represented by constitutional and civil rights lawyer Jennifer Kinsley. Email correspondence revealed by an Ohio Public Records request show that special, “…rules applicable to Washington Park…were not debated, discussed, or enacted at a public meeting of the Park Board. In fact, they were not formally adopted by the Park Board at all.” Instead the rules were created through email conversations, “…between the Superintendent of Cincinnati Parks, a Captain in the Cincinnati Police Department, and representatives of 3CDC (sec. 19, complaint).” In fact, the final edits of the special rules for Washington Park were completed by 3CDC, a private organization, with input from police and park officials. “As a result, quasi-criminal laws were wholly written and adopted by a private corporation and a member of the executive branch of government outside the public process and immune from public participation (sec. 19, complaint).” The City of Cincinnati Charter requires that, “… the Park Board must forward copies of proposed park rules to the City Solicitor and the Clerk of City Council (sec. 8, complaint). These special rules for Washington Park were not given to the City Solicitor or the Clerk of City Council.
Plaintiff Jerry Davis, member of the Homeless Congress, says, “3CDC is a private corporation that does not answer to the Citizens of Cincinnati. This private group should not get to decide what rules are created and enforced. 3CDC is saying to the Citizens of Cincinnati, ‘You pay the bills and we make the decisions.”
As Washington Park re-opened, these rules were posted on its premises and online. These rules were, “…dramatically different from the Park Rules that apply to all Cincinnati parks. For example, the Washington Park signs prohibited ‘[d]ropping off food or clothing,’ ‘rummaging in trash and recycling containers,’ and the use of any and all amplified sound.” However, the Park Rules passed by the Park Board permit the sharing of food, “…do not prohibit the inspection or removal of items from trash receptacles, and only prohibit the use of amplified sound that would disturb the peace and quiet or violate the noise regulations contained in…the Cincinnati Municipal Code (sec. 17, complaint).”
Plaintiff Andrew Fitzpatrick, member of the People’s Platform for Equality and Justice, believes, “Anyone should be able to give food or clothing to anyone else in a public park. I want to be able to give food to a hungry person or clothes to a cold person without getting in trouble. This right should be accessible to all people and faith communities that want to serve others.”
If a family decides to picnic in Washington Park and the parents hand their children food, they would be in breach of these rules, or if a friend hands a jacket to her walking companion, she would have broken these rules. However, some of the more noticeable of these rules created outside of a lawful process and in exclusion of the public eye seem to target people experiencing homelessness and/or people with low-incomes. “Captain Daniel Gerard of the Cincinnati Police Department conceded as much [in the revealed documents] when he noted that ‘[u]ntil the Drop Inn Center [a homeless shelter] moves, the line about food and clothing drop off being prohibited is absolutely needed (sec. 20, complaint).”
Plaintiff Ann Brown, member of the People’s Platform for Equality and Justice, says, “I want to be able to enjoy myself in Washington Park without being afraid of getting in trouble for breaking a rule I did not know existed and had no say as a Citizen in its creation.”
Park Rule 28, which is specifically called out in the lawsuit allows the “Board of Park Commissioners” to post a sign in any park with any special rules on it that will be enforced like law (sec. 14, complaint).” In the case of Washington Park, these rules were entirely kept from public input and the public eye. This leaves people without proper knowledge of what the real rules actually are. Section 34 of the lawsuit states “Because Rule 28 allows the Park Board to change Park Rules without giving notice of the changes to the City Solicitor and City Council, Rule 28 is illegal under the City of Cincinnati Charter (sec. 34, complaint).”