Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Lebanon OKs political ads to avoid court battle

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — City Council voted 5-2 Monday to allow political commercials on city-owned cable, an attempt to avoid a second courtroom faceoff this year with ex- Councilman John McComb.

        Also in Monday's special meeting, council had its first hearing on legislation to borrow $1 million to add telephone service to its telecommunications system. City officials are negotiating with Cincinnati Bell to provide the dial tone on city-owned fiber-optic lines.

        Mr. McComb and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending & Taxes (COAST) filed suit in U.S. District Court in July to be able to advertise on cable channels such as ESPN, Home & Garden TV and Lifetime.

        The settlement approved by council Monday would cost Lebanon $26,000 in plaintiffs' legal fees and $2,000 in damages, in addi tion to the city's legal fees. Council members Mark Flick and Jane Davenport voted against it.

        COAST and Mr. McComb still must sign the settlement.

        Mr. McComb is not a can didate in the Nov. 6 City Council election, but he nonetheless had reserved $12,500 worth of advertising, or 1,000, 30-second spots per week for the five

        weeks before the election. COAST has reserved $250 worth of air time for the week before the election.

        The settlement, however, says they forfeit those reservations. As of Aug. 27, political ads will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

        Both have been vague about what they will advertise for or against.

        Council had an unwritten policy forbidding political advertising since its cable system debuted in 1999. Legisla tion to permit such ads failed 4-2 in April, and City Attorney Mark Yurick advised council members then that the lack of a formal policy left the city legally vulnerable.

        Earlier this month, Mr. McComb received $230,000 from Lebanon and the Lebanon Conservancy Foundation for a property he owned at 27 N. Mechanic St.

        A Warren County jury set the price after a trial in May. The city's legal fees in that case totaled $55,000, Mr. Yurick said Monday.


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