By Brett Milam
A proposed hotel lodging tax for a sports recreational facility turned testy at the Clermont County Board of Commissioners meeting on July 26.
Currently, Clermont County levies a 3 percent lodging tax and the proposed House budget, which passed on June 28, would allow the county to increase the rate of the tax by up to an additional 1 percent.
“The revenue derived from the increase in rate must be used to fund the construction and maintenance of sports and recreation facilities and to promote tourism through the county’s convention and visitors’ bureau. Unlike the tax currently levied, no portion of the revenue from the revenue derived from the increase in rate would be returned to the townships and municipal corporations in which the lodging transaction occurred,” the bill stated.
Chris Hicks, a Union Township resident, was slated to give remarks before the commissioners for the third time in a the last few weeks.
On June 28, Hicks presented his first comments to the board, although video record of the meeting, along with those video from the March 27 and May 8 sessions had technical issues and were sent to a data recovery firm, according to county officials.
In the meeting minutes, it’s mentioned that Hicks addressed the commissioners and submitted a letter to be made part of the record. The letter can be read in full on the county website.
“For some time now Commissioner Uible, with at least an awareness of the other Commissioners, has been involved in a secretive scheme to have our county join the ranks of counties, like Hamilton, who subsidize professional sports team,” Hicks’ letter started.
Then at the July 12 meeting, Hicks spoke again during the public address portion of the meeting.
“First, Mr. Uible’s span of control is too much, as head of the county commissioners, as head of the Republican Party and CCVB board member,” Hicks said in those remarks.
At the same meeting, Commissioner David Painter addressed the issue, largely in response to the actions taken by both Union and Miami townships.
Union Township passed a resolution unanimously at its June 22 meeting opposing the hotel lodging tax.
“There’s people sitting here tonight that have probably never heard of this,” Trustee Lloyd Acres said. “No transparency. All we ask is that you be transparent with us and we will work with you.”
Painter said he was committed to “fair and open discussion of all details prior to consideration to enact the subject tax.”
“I will not enact any increase in the current Clermont County Motel/Hotel Lodging Tax without first fully disclosing all information pertaining to the said use of the additional tax revenue and hearing stakeholder concerns prior to a decision whereby the additional tax may be enacted,” Painter said.
Painter continued, “It is further the intent of this Board that a meeting is scheduled with the aforementioned parties at a mutually agreed upon convenient time and place, including members of the Clermont County Convention and Visitors Bureau, to provide open discussion of the economic opportunity that resulted in the Hotel/Motel Lodging Tax Amendment being included in HB 49.”
Commissioner Ed Humphrey and Uible said they concurred with Painter’s statement.
At the July 26 meeting, when it turned to the “public participation” part of the meeting, Hicks raised his hand to read another statement before the board.
“Mr. Hicks, we already heard about you from the 9 o’clock email you sent out,” Uible said, upon seeing Hicks’ hand raised to speak. “I don’t think you have anything germane to add.”
“I want to read my remarks,” Hicks said.
“No,” Uible said. “Out of order, please, have a seat or remove yourself, either one.”
“I’m not allowed to read my remarks?” Hicks said.
“We read your email from 9 o’clock,” Uible responded. “I don’t feel you have anything to add that we’re working on that’s germane to the commissioners.”
Hicks again asked if he could make his remarks for the public record and Uible said he was out of order; “either remove yourself or I will have you removed,” Uible said.
“Does that mean you want to arrest me,” Hicks replied.
“That means you can’t say what you’re going to say because you’ve already read it at 9 o’clock; you have nothing new to add.
Then Uible signals to a deputy off camera to remove Hicks from the room.
Having been to a few meetings already, Hicks said he had, ironically, developed a good relationship with that deputy, where they had talked about their children and so forth.
“It’s just a very bizarre type of thing,” Hicks said. “I was the only ‘public’ in the room when that happened.”
In a statement to The Sun on Aug. 1, Uible said:
“On July 26th at 8:51 AM Hicks emailed the BCC saying that he wanted to present during the PUBLIC PARTICIPATION part of the commissioner’s Session that day. The letter he provided for his statement started off with “I am committed to being here whenever I can to present updates on the secret plan to use a secret tax to issue millions in debt to subsidize a pro-sports team. I always strive to be fact based …. “
The RULES OF PROCEDURE FOR SESSION OF THE BCC states under the PUBLIC PARTICIPATION that the Board reserves the right to refuse the request in whole or in part for someone making a requests to participate in the Board Meeting. The RULES also state “If it is determined that a speaker’s comments are not contributing to the orderly and efficient conduct of the County business because comments are not germane to that business, the Board President may prohibit the speaker from continuing.” The RULES also state that “The Board President may cause any disorderly person to be removed from the meeting”.
The BCC is currently not debating, or considering, a secret plan to use a secret tax to issue millions in debt to subsidize a pro-sports team, nor has any person, business or the CVB requested us to. As the Board President I informed Mr. Hicks that he would not be permitted to read his statement because it was not germane to current issues of the BCC. He did not accept this answer and refused to sit down and continued to inform us of his rights to speak during the PUBLIC PARTICIPATION and that he still wanted to read his statement. After several times asking him to sit down and be quiet or leave the Session room I asked a Sheriff’s deputy to remove Mr. Hicks from the room because he was disruptive to our business.”
In the third remarks, Hicks had planned on saying, in part, “It is now 45 days since Mr. Uible offered meetings in writing and 14 days since Mr. Painter read a letter promising an open discussion. You have the power to be open, transparent and conflict-free. I only have the power to ask you to be what you say.”
At the July 3 meeting of the Union Township trustees, Trustee Matthew Beamer said he appreciated Painter’s statement to the commissioners. Painter also spoke at the trustees meeting, saying he valued the township’s opinions and suggestions. He then read his prior statement.
“We just want to work together better and we want to make sure everybody’s interest are included and I understand executive privilege where you have to negotiate things, but when got to the level of asking for a public tax, it’s no longer executive privilege, that’s public knowledge and everyone should have a part in it,” Chairman John McGraw also said at the meeting. “Wouldn’t you want to have all your cannons loaded before you make a proposal to a professional sports team?”
McGraw mentioned a future plan to have the CCVB come to a public meeting and present their side of the issue.
Hicks plans on speaking again at the Aug. 3 commissioners meeting, which will occur after the print deadline for The Sun. His prepared remarks were submitted in full and can be read in the opinion section of The Sun.