Western & Southern, are you going to sue me?


Last week I heard from a reliable source that Western & Southern is paying attorneys to go over my posts in Cincyopolis.  I can only assume they are exploring possible legal action against me.  And for about an hour, I was terrified.  From my first post I’ve always understood that their corporate culture prefers to settle disagreements in court where they almost always win.

But after the initial shock wore off, I found myself surprisingly calm, absolutely certain in the center of my being that I made the right decision to write this blog and try to get more people talking about public policy and real estate.

Here’s what I hope their lawyers will tell them:

My concerns about the properties of Western & Southern and John Barrett are ones of democratic process and the fair and equal application of the law.  In almost a year of research, I have never identified a single instance of criminal activity on the part of this organization.  I have, however, discovered patterns of inconsistency in the appraisals of the Hamilton County Auditor’s office that go far beyond any one individual or corporation.  And I believe that City Council’s standard usage of Emergency Ordinances on development issues for more than thirty years has been illegal as it has made public discussion on these issues impossible.

I support the development of Western & Southern properties in the Lytle Park Historic District and look forward to the day when my condominium is not surrounded by empty buildings.  As owners they are entitled to develop those properties in any way they see fit as long as these projects are in compliance with current zoning and developed with private funds.  However, if they intend to use public dollars for these projects, concerned citizens have a responsibility to be a part of the conversation about the risks and rewards on such substantial, long-term investments.

My writing is not a personal vendetta.  How could it be?  My one and only meeting with the CEO of Western & Southern was a chance encounter on 4th St. where I found him to be both charming and forthcoming about his vision for the neighborhood.  We may disagree about what the future holds for the economy and the proper way to make development decisions, but I’ve always tried to express my opinions with respect and appreciate the good this company has done for Cincinnati.

Lytle Park is not a corporate campus and never will be.  It is a public asset and it sets a dangerous precedent when a single financial interest has a disproportionate influence in private meetings on design details.  While Western & Southern’s potential contribution to the refurbishment of the park is not insignificant, it should be a genuine gift as opposed to an exchange for rights typically associated with private ownership.

We’re all in this together, Western & Southern, and what’s good for the citizens of Cincinnati is what’s good for your company.  We’re your future condo-buyers, the ones who will eat in your restaurants, rent your apartments and reserve the rooms in your hotels, all of which will result in more tax revenue to fund our schools and basic services. More transparency is not the enemy, but an opportunity to engage with the market in a cooperative spirit to build the best city we can be.  I’m not a real estate expert.  But I have absolute faith that cities make better decisions out in the light of day with a wide variety of perspectives represented.

Like the rest of this community, I wish Western & Southern nothing but the greatest future success.

14 thoughts on “Western & Southern, are you going to sue me?

  1. Bill Collins

    Kathy: Thanks for your courage.

    I would not be surprised if they sued you. Western-Southern’s behavior with the Anna Louise Inn issue shows how litigious these folks are, and how much misinformation (re: false claims about crime) they spread.

    You are right to do what you are doing. My advice to you now is to find a very good pro-bono lawyer.

  2. Karen

    Who needs a lawyer when you have the U.S. Constitution on your side? I pulled this up from Cornell Law School’s site. Rest easy. You’re researching carefully (even without much help from public entities), and writing honestly and respectfully. Keep up the good work, my friend.

    first amendment: an overview

    The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. See U.S. Const. amend. I. Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief. The Supreme Court interprets the extent of the protection afforded to these rights. The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Court as applying to the entire federal government even though it is only expressly applicable to Congress. Furthermore, the Court has interpreted, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting the rights in the First Amendment from interference by state governments. See U.S. Const. amend. XIV.

    Two clauses in the First Amendment guarantee freedom of religion. The establishment clause prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another. It enforces the “separation of church and state.” Some governmental activity related to religion has been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. For example, providing bus transportation for parochial school students and the enforcement of “blue laws” is not prohibited. The free exercise clause prohibits the government, in most instances, from interfering with a person’s practice of their religion.

    The most basic component of freedom of expression is the right of freedom of speech. The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The Supreme Court requires the government to provide substantial justification for the interference with the right of free speech where it attempts to regulate the content of the speech. A less stringent test is applied for content-neutral legislation. The Supreme Court has also recognized that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence. For more on unprotected and less protected categories of speech see advocacy of illegal action, fighting words, commercial speech and obscenity. The right to free speech includes other mediums of expression that communicate a message. The level of protection speech receives also depends on the forum in which it takes place.

    Despite popular misunderstanding the right to freedom of the press guaranteed by the first amendment is not very different from the right to freedom of speech. It allows an individual to express themselves through publication and dissemination. It is part of the constitutional protection of freedom of expression. It does not afford members of the media any special rights or privileges not afforded to citizens in general.

    The right to assemble allows people to gather for peaceful and lawful purposes. Implicit within this right is the right to association and belief. The Supreme Court has expressly recognized that a right to freedom of association and belief is implicit in the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. This implicit right is limited to the right to associate for First Amendment purposes. It does not include a right of social association. The government may prohibit people from knowingly associating in groups that engage and promote illegal activities. The right to associate also prohibits the government from requiring a group to register or disclose its members or from denying government benefits on the basis of an individual’s current or past membership in a particular group. There are exceptions to this rule where the Court finds that governmental interests in disclosure/registration outweigh interference with first amendment rights. The government may also, generally, not compel individuals to express themselves, hold certain beliefs, or belong to particular associations or groups.

    The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances guarantees people the right to ask the government to provide relief for a wrong through the courts (litigation) or other governmental action. It works with the right of assembly by allowing people to join together and seek change from the government.

  3. Nancy Sunnenberg

    Thank you for writing this blog to stimulate public awareness and discussion about “the larger picture.”
    Best Regards,
    Nancy Sunnenberg

  4. Andrew Howe

    This is a repost from the Facebook page comment I made to your post. I don’t think you have anything to worry about:

    I have been a real estate developer for over 35 years and am well used to every project being questioned by someone – sometimes irrationally (well irrationality is in the eye of the beholder – and I am not using that term in regard to this blog.) The Cincinnati papers have called me “a project fixer.”

    Years ago I was building a large waterfront development including a high-rise resort hotel and conference center, waterpark and retail center. The project was (of course) going to block the view from a small adjacent condo development that was two stories tall. Their view across a vacant parcel that was for sale would have been blocked by any development. We asked for no variances and were getting no subsidy. The largely older retired residents of the project vocally decided that I had lied about the project (I had not) because a very preliminary conceptual rendering of the project did not exactly match the final approved plans that had been through a very lengthy approval process. They came over and yelled at me in front of my staff of project managers, and said they were going to sue to stop the project. They were angry and said I had lied to the city because of the final design – which had incorporated changes REQUIRED BY both the city and state (both the conceptual and final would have had the same view impact by the way.) Of course that was ridiculous. Rather than get offended, I let them use my office to make copies of petitions etc, (they were shocked – I loved it) and gave them full access to my permit and design files. I gave them the contact at the city most familiar with the approval process, and made a few design tweaks at their end of the project to improve the architecture of what they would be looking at (although it obviously still blocked their view.) The result? They decided I was not a bad guy, gave me a standing invitation to dinner with them at the president of the association’s condo (which I took them up on) – and decided that my daily walks along the seawall to blow off steam were pretty funny.

    My point? Well as usual my points are incompetent, but it is this – why on earth would you be worried that Western Southern is going to sue you over a blog asking questions? Scrutiny is part of the biz and is not even a bad thing. That’s what I think anyway.

  5. Jan

    “While Western & Southern’s potential contribution to the refurbishment of the park is not insignificant, it should be a genuine gift as opposed to an exchange for rights typically associated with private ownership.” This seems that the Park Board holds equal responsibility for not giving away privileges to donors. It always takes two for this tango, and you are right – a gift is a gift, and where public property and city departments are concerned, must be without strings. We have seen generous, selfless donors to Parks’ development, but unfortunately and recently, not so much. It is more than a little troubling.


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