Monday, October 01, 2007

Are Political Contributions to Congresswoman Schmidt Influencing a Pork Barrel Request?

An earlier post today noted that Congresswoman Schmidt requested a $100,000 earmark in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008 (H.R. 3074) for the John P. Parker Historical Society in Ripley, Ohio. The funds will be used for "refinement of site investigations and improvements for the John P. Parker residence."

H.R. 3074 is stronlgy opposed by the President because it:

...includes an irresponsible and excessive level of spending and includes other objectionable provisions.
Publicly available information reveals that Congresswoman Schmidt's promotion of this earmark would allow constituents in her district to pose a legitimate question:

'Was the $100,000 earmark for the John P. Parker Historical Society influenced by the political contributions from Gary Meisner ($750 in 2005-2006 to the Schmidt for Congress campaign), Principal for the landscape architecture firm of Meisner & Associates?'

Here's the information that supports the question being raised:
  • A search for "Congresswoman Schmidt + John P. Parker" results in a hit that points to this photo on her website. The photo shows Congresswoman Schmidt with Mr. Gary Meisner in front of the John P. Parker house in Ripley, Ohio:

    Congresswoman Schmidt visits the Historic John P. Parker House on the banks of the Ohio River in Ripley. Pictured with David Kinley, Gary Meisner, and Charles Nuckolls.

  • Gary Meisner has contributed $750 to Ms. Schmidt's campaign:

  • Gary Meisner is Principal for the landscape architecture firm of Meisner & Associates.

  • The Ohio Senate Journal (pdf) notes that Mr. Meisner, a "Republican, from Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio", was appointed to be "a Member of the Governor’s Residence Advisory Commission for a new term beginning December 31, 2006 and ending at the close of business December 31, 2010."

    Meisner & Associates references The Governor's Residence Garden Master Plan as a current project.

  • Meisner & Associates has done work for the John P. Parker Historical Society, though the firm's website does not note this. The University of Cincinnati's 100 coolest co-ops for 2007 website has the following entry that establishes a contract relationship between Meisner and Associates and the John P. Parker Historical Society (emphasis added):

    "Flight to Freedom" :

    My first co-op was at Meisner + Associates, a Landscape Architecture firm in Cincinnati, Ohio. On my first day, I was handed a file on the recently restored John P. Parker house in Ripley, Ohio, home to well-known African American Underground Railroad Conductor, and inventor, John Parker. Meisner + Associates had been asked by the Parker Historical Society to create a concept park plan. Because there was no funding for design work, I was responsible for collecting the data needed to create a preliminary concept plan. After reviewing flood plain data, historic photos, and site maps, my supervisor and I began to sketch out several concept site plans, which interpreted the life and work of John Parker through interpretive landscape design. By the end of the quarter, I had generated base drawings in AutoCAD, and rendered two final concept plans in Photoshop.The final concept plan features interactive outdoor exhibits explaining Parker’s life and Ripley’s role in the abolitionist crusade. These Exhibits will highlight events and education programs of the Historical Society. The plan’s centerpiece is a central gathering space, which serves outdoor performances, tour group presentations and storytelling to schoolchildren. It provides Ripley and the John P. Parker Historical Society with an outdoor classroom, community green space and dramatic setting at the river’s edge to tell the thrilling story; “Flight to Freedom.” The site is framed by Ohio River views and is set along a view axis with fellow abolitionist John Rankin’s house hoped for in a co-op. I was given a great deal of individual responsibility, and am proud to have contributed to this site plan which honor’s (sic) such a great American story.
As of the writing of this post, it has not been established whether-or-not Mr. Meisner's firm will benefit from the $100,000 earmark Congresswoman Schmidt inserted into H.R. 3074, but the information uncovered so far points to this as a possibility. The John P. Parker Historical Society will be contacted in an attempt to answer this question for the constituents of Ohio's 2nd District.

Note: The actual reference to the earmark won't be found in the bill's text. However, Page 248 of this pdf version of the bill refers to the earmarks with this statement:

Pursuant to clause 9 of rule XXI of the Rules of the House ofRepresentatives,
this bill, as reported, contains the following congressional earmarks, limited
tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits as defined in clause 9(d), 9(e), or
9(f) of rule XXI.

The inserted earmarks are included as graphic images which are conveniently non-searchable by text search engines. Reference to the earmark for the John P. Parker Historical Society can be found on page 248 of the pdf version of the bill.

Update (10/09/2007): Gary Meisner is referenced in a The Ledger Independent article (Cincinnati Museum Center 'field school' digs around Parker House) as the developer of a park concept for the John Parker House (emphasis added):

...The John P. Parker Society hopes to build a park near the home some time in the future. Haitz said the society has been eyeing the idea of a park for nearly two years.

If the idea comes to fruition, the park may feature a small amphitheater and markers to honor the 600 slaves Parker brought to freedom. Haitz said society members want to dig now, so important aspects can be uncovered and not disturbed if the land is developed.

"...We want to make sure we don't cover up any part of the John Parker story," Haitz said.

The prospective park could be the first of its kind, explained Haitz.

The possibility of receiving some federal funding "looks good," he continued, but additional funds will have to be raised.

A park concept has been produced by Gary Meisner, the creator of the Newport River Walk and the park surrounding the Lincoln home in Springfield, Ill., said Haitz.



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