Actress and acclaimed rapper Natalie Portman played up her Cincinnati ties in a Wednesday appearance at the Obama campaign-sponsored Women’s Summit at Union Terminal.
The Academy Award-winner said her mother graduated from Walnut Hills High School and her grandfather — Art Stevens — grew Champion Windows in Cincinnati after starting as a door-to-door salesman.
“Because of that, I see President Obama’s support of small businesses as so crucial to our economy,” Portman said, adding that Obama has cut taxes for small businesses 82 times since taking office.
Portman said the Republican Party and their presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan did not have the best interests of women at heart. She pointed to attacks on the Affordable Care Act’s mandates that insurers provide birth control to women and ensure preventative care such as mammogram screenings for breast cancer is covered, as well a bill sponsored by Ryan and embattled congressional candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) that would eliminate all abortion funding except for cases of “forcible rape.”
“We need to stand up for ourselves,” Portman told the packed auditorium that was crowded with an audience of mostly women. “Our mothers and our grandmothers made giant steps for us. We can’t go backwards. We need to go forwards.”
Portman was joined by Obama Campaign National Women’s Vote Director Kate Chapek, former Ohio first lady Frances Strickland, Ohio Rep. Alicia Reece and Obama campaign volunteer Mary Shelton.
An Ohio Romney rep said the campaign did not have a comment on the Women’s Summit, but is hosting a “Women for Mitt” call night featuring former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao in Kenwood on Thursday.
“Ohio women believe in the Romney-Ryan path for America that will result in lower taxes, less spending, less government and more economic growth,” said a release from Romney’s campaign.
The Obama event on Wednesday catered to women, with Chapek telling the audience she knew how difficult it was for women to get there with jobs and the challenge of getting their kids to school. She framed women’s role in the election as a conversation.
“The conversation starts like this: women, turns out, we’re not a constituency,” Chapek said. “Who knew? Apparently Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, because they don’t realize that women are actually a majority in this country.”
She told the women gathered to have conversations with their neighbors and friends and encourage them to volunteer at phone banks or knocking on doors.
Strickland talked about the need to reconcile qualities traditionally seen as masculine — like power — with those seen as feminine — like love.
She also took the opportunity to riff on a statement made by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who said political wives were heroes because while they’re husbands were on stage in the limelight, they were at home doing things like laundry.
“I even did the laundry last night so I could come here today,” Strickland said. “Even (former Gov.) Ted does the laundry.”
Summit attendee Ray Boston, a 67-year-old retired writer for AT&T, said Natalie Portman’s presence caught his eye.
“I’m a celebrity photo enthusiast,” he said. “Nothing’s official until I’ve taken a picture of it.”
Boston said he didn’t vote in 2008, but felt the upcoming November election was too important to sit out. He said he was leaning toward voting for Obama and liked his health care overhaul, but was opposed to the president’s views on gay marriage for religious reasons.
Gwen McFarlin, who works in health care administration, said she was there to support President Obama. She supports his health care overhaul, but thinks it’s a first step to further changes.
She said she was encouraged by the diversity of the women in attendance.
“For me, I’m sure the women who are here represent all the world, not one issue,” she said. “We’re here as a group of women working to empower all the U.S. and the world.”
As cities rush to solve major problems with water infrastructure, newer technologies are being touted by city agencies as cheaper, cleaner solutions. In two different local projects, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) and a City Council task force are looking into green ways to solve the city’s water needs.
On Wednesday, CityBeat covered some of the benefits and downsides of green water infrastructure. According to the report reviewed Wednesday, green water infrastructure is cheaper and does create a boon of jobs, but it faces some funding and education problems. However, it was unclear how the green ideas would translate into Cincinnati.
Tony Parrott, executive director of MSD, says despite the challenges, green infrastructure is clearly the cheaper option. The organization is partnering with local organizations to adopt a series of new projects — among them, green roofs, rain gardens, wetlands — to meet a new federal mandate that requires MSD to reduce the amount of sewer overflow that makes it into local rivers and streams.
“That is a very costly mandate,” he says. “Our belief is that green infrastructure and sustainable infrastructure will allow us to achieve a lot of those objectives a lot cheaper than your conventional deep tunnel systems or other gray type of infrastructure.”
Of course, conventional — or “gray” — infrastructure still
has its place, but adopting a hybrid of green and gray infrastructure
or just green infrastructure in some areas was found to be cheaper in
MSD analyses, according to Parrott.
Plans are already being executed. On top of the smaller projects that slow the flow of storm water into sewer systems, MSD is also taking what Parrott calls a “large-scale approach to resurrect or daylight former streams and creeks that were buried over 150 years ago.” This approach will rely on the new waterways to redirect storm water so it doesn’t threaten to flood sewers and cause sewer overflow, Parrott says.
The programs are being approached in a “holistic way,” according to Parrott. MSD intends to refine and reiterate on what works as the programs develop. However, that comes with challenges when setting goals and asking for funding.
“We think that if you’re going to use a more integrated approach, it may require us to ask for more time to get some of these projects done and in the ground and then see how effective they are,” Parrott says.
If it all plays out, the ongoing maintenance required by the green approach could be good for the local economy, according to Parrott: “With the green and sustainable infrastructure, you’re creating a new class of what we call green jobs for maintenance. The majority of those jobs are something local folks can do as opposed to the conventional process.” Additionally, the green jobs also tend to benefit “disadvantaged communities” more than conventional jobs, according to Parrott.
The argument is essentially what Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, told CityBeat on Wednesday. Since the green jobs require less education and training, they’re more accessible to “disadvantaged workers,” according to Hays: “They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”
While MSD fully encourages the use of rain barrels, recycling will not be a top priority for MSD’s programs. Instead, that priority goes to the Rainwater Harvesting Task Force, a City Council task force intended to find ways to reform the city’s plumbing code to make harvesting and recycling rainwater a possibility.
Bob Knight, a member of the task force, says there is already a model in place the city can use. The task force is looking into adopting the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) in Cincinnati. The code will “prescriptively tell” architects and engineers how to design a rainwater harvesting system. In other words, IGCC would set a standard for the city.
Deciding on this code was not without challenges. At first, the task force wasn’t even sure if it could dictate how rainwater is harvested and recycled. The first question Knight had to ask was, “Who has that authority?” What it found is a mix of local agencies — Greater Cincinnati Water Works, MSD and Cincinnati Department of Planning — will all have to work together to implement the city’s new code.
The task force hopes to give its findings to Quality of Life Committee, which is led by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, by the end of November.
More bad news for Secretary of State Jon Husted. The Ohio Supreme Court told Husted his approved ballot language for Issue 2 contains “factual inaccuracies” and must be rewritten by the Ballot Board. Voters First previously contested the language as misleading to voters. If approved by voters, Issue 2 will put an independent citizens commission in charge of redistricting. Under the current system, state officials redraw borders, sometimes using the process for political advantage. In Cincinnati’s district, the Republican-controlled process redrew the district to include Warren County, giving the district more rural voters that tend to side with Republicans instead of urban voters that tend to side with Democrats. Voters First mocked the process with a graph showing how redistricting decisions can sometimes be made in 13 minutes with no questions asked. CityBeat covered the redistricting process here when Issue 2 was still in the petition process.
Ohio’s median income dropped last year, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. But rates of poverty and uninsured rates remained the same. Nationwide, uninsured rates dropped from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011, meaning 1.4 million people gained health coverage. Some of that is attributable to health-care reform passed by President Barack Obama.Former University of Cincinnati President Greg Williams is getting a pretty nice going-away present. The Board of Trustees approved a package for Williams that adds up to more than $1.2 million. It includes a bonus, retirement benefits, consulting fees, a year’s salary and a contract buyout. Williams abruptly left UC on Aug. 21, citing personal reasons.
Homeless shelters will cost more than expected, says 3CDC. The nonprofit group said it will cost about $40 million to build three homeless shelters and help finance others.
With the support of Democrats and Republicans, the Ohio legislature approved pension reforms yesterday. The reforms lower benefits, raise contributions requirements, increase the retirement eligibility age, establish new cost-of-living guidelines and set a new formula to calculate benefits, all for future retirees. For the most part, current retirees are not affected. Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican, said, “We know the changes are not popular, but they are necessary.” Before the changes, the system was losing $1 million a day, according to a statement from Rep. Robert Hagan, a Democrat.Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is pushing against banks that take advantage of college students. In a letter to Higher One, Brown told the bank to rework its contracts with universities. Brown wrote in the letter, “Federal student aid programs should help students prepare for the future, not extract fee income from them.” He went on to ask the bank to redo its contracts so they are “consumer-friendly and consistent with reforms that Congress enacted for the credit card market.”
Ohio’s inspector general found ODJFS wrongly reimbursed organizations in central Ohio with federal stimulus funds when the organizations did not follow rules.
Vice President Joe Biden was in Dayton yesterday. During his speech, he spoke about the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, which led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Biden vowed justice will be served.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney unleashed a big foreign policy gaffe yesterday when he politicized the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. The attack was revealed to cause the death of Stevens after Romney made his comments.
Math shows homeopathy, a trend in medicine, is implausible.
Just two days before the general election, President Barack Obama made his case to 13,500 people packed into the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena and 2,000 in an overflow room.
Obama cast the race in comparisons to the previous two presidents, comparing his policies with those of Bill Clinton and equating Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s plans with those of George W. Bush.
“So stay with me then,” Obama said. “We’ve got ideas that work, and we’ve got ideas that don’t work, so the choice should be pretty clear.”
With less than 48 hours before polls open on Election Day, a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll had Obama and his Republican challenger locked in a statistical dead heat. However the same poll showed Obama with a slight edge in Ohio, up 48 percent to Romney’s 44 percent.
Obama touted his first-term accomplishments, including ending the war in Iraq; ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy preventing homosexuals from serving openly in the military; and overhauling the country’s health care system.
“It’s not just about policy, it’s about trust. Who do you trust?” the president asked, flanked by a sea of supporters waving blue “Forward” signs.
“Look, Ohio, you know me by now. You may not agree with every decision I’ve made, Michelle doesn’t always agree with me. You may be frustrated with the pace of change … but I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”
Nonpartisan political fact-checker PolitiFact on Nov. 3 took a look at Obama’s record on keeping his campaign promises from 2008. The group rated 38 percent as Kept, 16 percent Compromised and 17 percent Broken.
Twice during his speech the president was interrupted by audience members shouting from the stands.
The first was a man on the balcony level of the arena interrupted, shouting anti-abortion slogans and waving a sign showing mutilated fetuses before being dragged out by about five law enforcement officers. Both were drowned out by supporters.
Music legend Stevie Wonder opened the rally for Obama, playing a number of his hits, opening up “Superstition” with a refrain of “on the right track, can’t go back.”
Wonder discussed abortion policy between songs and urged Ohioans who had not already voted to do so either early on Monday or Election Day.
So far, 28 percent of Ohio voters have already cast their ballots. CNN reports that those votes favor Obama 63/35, according to public polling.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Romney campaigned before an estimated crowd of 25,000 in Pennsylvania, according to the Secret Service.
Political rallies always draw a number of the loyal opposition, and this late-evening appearance was no different. Only five people protested near the line to the arena, but what they lacked in number they attempted to make up for in message.
One large sign read “Obama: 666” and another “Obama is the Beast,” alluding to a character in the Christian Biblical book of Revelation.
A man who only identified himself as Brooks carried a large anti-abortion sign that showed pieces of a dismembered fetus.
“I’m here to stand up for the innocent blood that has been shed in this land to the tune of 56 million,” Brooks said. He said he was opposed to the politics of both major party presidential candidates.
“I pray for Barack Obama because his beliefs are of the Antichrist, just like Romney,” Brooks said.
Brooks said his message for those in line was for them to vote for Jesus — not on the ballot, but through their actions and through candidates that espoused Christian beliefs.
“Obama is not going to change things, Romney is not going to change things,” Brooks said. “In the last days there are many Christs, but not the Christ of the Bible. The Christ of the Bible is not for killing children, is not for homosexual marriage.”
The bill was the topic of discussion at a Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee hearing on Nov. 27. At the hearing, supporters argued the bill would stop compensating illegal workers who aren’t supposed to be in Ohio to begin with. But opponents argue that the details in the bill add too many extra problems.
In fact, the bill might be going after a problem that doesn’t even exist. At an earlier hearing, Seitz, a Republican, said the state does not collect data on the immigration status of workers receiving compensation. To Brian Hoffman of Innovation Ohio, this means there’s no way to know if the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) has ever compensated a single undocumented worker. “It just seems curious that this bill is being introduced and has gotten three hearings when there’s no proof that it’s actually even an issue,” he says.
Hoffman is also worried that the bill is imposing a new regulatory burden on BWC without providing additional funds. In his view, the state agency is essentially being told to do more without additional resources to prepare or train regulators. Considering how complicated the immigration issue can get, this makes Hoffman doubt the agency will be able to properly carry out the new regulations.
From a broader perspective, the bill imposes regulatory hurdles on all injured workers just so they can get compensation they're entitled to under state law. “Talk about kicking someone when they’re down,” Hoffman says.
But the burden could hit Hispanics even harder and lead to more discrimination in the workplace. After all, when employers are clearing legal statuses, who are they more likely to question, someone with a name like “Dexter Morgan” or someone with a name like “Angel Batista”?
In Hoffman’s view, the state should leave immigration issues to the federal government and worry about more pressing issues: “Why is the state legislature even wasting its time on the issue? There are plenty of really good ideas to bring jobs back to Ohio. Why aren’t they focused on those?”
The bill is still in committee, but it’s been the subject of multiple hearings. It’s unlikely the Ohio Senate will take it up in what’s left of the lame-duck session, but it could come back in the next year.
CityBeat was unable to reach Seitz for comment despite repeated attempts through phone and email, in addition to a scheduled interview that was canceled. This story will be updated if comment becomes available.
A Dec. 5 report is encouraging Cincinnati to become the solar energy capital of Ohio and the broader region. The report, titled “Building a Solar Cincinnati,” was put together by Environment Ohio to show the benefits and potential of Cincinnati regarding solar power.
Christian Adams, who wrote the report along with Julian Boggs, says Cincinnati is especially poised to take charge in this renewable energy front, in contrast to the rest of the state, which gets 82 percent of its electricity from coal. Adams points to the sustainability-minded city officials and public, a “budding solar business sector” and the great business environment as the city as reasons why Cincinnati could become a pivotal leader.
With 21 public solar installations to date, the city has already seen some of the benefits of solar power. The most obvious benefit is cleaner air, which leads to better overall health and helps combat global warming. But the report points out that local solar initiatives mean local jobs. “You can’t export these jobs,” Adams says. “It’s a great opportunity for economic revitalization.”
With solar energy comes an array of job opportunities for solar installers, solar designers, engineers, construction workers, project managers, sales associates and marketing consultants. That’s enough to create brisk job creation. The report points out “energy-related segments of the clean economy added jobs at a torrid pace over the last few years, bucking trends of the Great Recession.”
Still, there are hurdles.
Although solar energy saves money in the long term, installing solar
panels has a high upfront cost. The cost can make the short term too bleak for many potential customers.
To help overcome the short-term problem, the report suggests third-party financing. In these financing agreements, customers agree to give up roof space to have a solar power company install solar panels, and then customers agree to buy their power needs from the company. It’s a win for the solar power company because the panels eventually pay for themselves through new customers, and it’s a win for the customer because he sees more stable, lower energy costs and cleaner air. Adams points out that a few businesses and individuals in the area have already taken part in such agreements with great success.
There are also some incentives already in place to encourage solar energy. Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, which was passed in 2008, pushes utility companies into the renewable energy market with Solar Renewable Energy Credits. These are credits utility companies must earn to meet annual benchmarks by installing solar panels or purchasing them from third parties. Duke Energy has followed the law’s requirements by establishing its own renewable energy credit program.
Ohioans also have access to some tax breaks — the Energy Conversion Facilities Sales Tax Exemption, Air-Quality Improvement Tax Incentives and Qualified Energy Property Tax Exemptions — and loan programs — the Energy Loan Fund and Advanced Energy Fund — that encourage solar and other renewable energy sources.
Larry Falkin, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ), says the report didn’t have much new information, but he’s glad it can be used to push solar energy to the broader public. He touted the benefits of job creation and reducing reliance on foreign energy sources by moving toward energy independence.
For now, the city is mostly taking the approach of leading by example. Falkin says the city is acting like a “model” for solar energy. Cincinnati added solar installations to two city facilities this year, and another will be added by the end of the month. Falkin’s office is also working together with different organizations to keep any momentum going.
Adams and Falkin both attended a Dec. 5 roundtable discussion
that engaged regional officials, including solar businesses,
environmental and sustainability groups, education leaders and the
Cincinnati Zoo. They both said the roundtable went well.
“I think all the right people are coming together and doing the right things to try to move us forward,” Falkin says.
Ohioans might not give it much thought outside of paying the water bill, but better water infrastructure can make cities more efficient, healthier and cleaner. That’s why Green For All, a group that promotes clean energy initiatives, is now focusing on cleaner, greener water infrastructure.
A little-known green conference took place in Cincinnati Oct. 15-17. The Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference was in town on those three days, and it brought together leaders from around the U.S. to discuss sustainable water programs for cities. The conference mostly focused on policy ideas, success stories and challenges faced by modern water infrastructure.
For Green For All, attending the conference was about establishing one key element that isn’t often associated with water and sewer systems: jobs. Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, says this was the focus for his organization.
Hays says it’s important for groups promoting better water infrastructure to include the jobs aspect of the equation. To Hays, while it’s certainly important for cities to establish cleaner and more efficient initiatives, it’s also important to get people back to work. He worries this side of water infrastructure policies are “often left out.”
He points to a report released by Green For All during last year’s conference. The report looked at how investing the $188.4 billion suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to manage rainwater and preserve water quality in the U.S. would translate into economic development and jobs: “We find that an investment of $188.4 billion spread equally over the next five years would generate $265.6 billion in economic activity and create close to 1.9 million jobs.”
To accomplish that robust growth and job development, the report claims infrastructure would have to mimic “natural solutions.” It would focus on green roofs, which are rooftop areas with planted vegetation; urban tree planting; rain gardens, which are areas that use vegetation to reduce storm water runoff; bioswales, which are shallow, vegetated depressions that catch rainwater and redirect it; constructed wetlands; permeable pavements, which are special pavements that allow water to pass through more easily; rainwater harvesting, which uses rain barrels and other storage devices to collect and recycle rainwater; and green alleys, which reduce paved or impervious surfaces with vegetation that reduces storm water runoff.
The report says constructing and maintaining these sorts of programs would produce massive growth, especially in comparison to other programs already supported by presidential candidates and the federal government: “Infrastructure investments create over 16 percent more jobs dollar-for-dollar than a payroll tax holiday, nearly 40 percent more jobs than an across-the-board tax cut, and over five times as many jobs as temporary business tax cuts.”
Hays says the jobs created also don’t have barriers that keep them inaccessible to what he calls “disadvantaged workers”: “A lot of these jobs that we’re focused on in infrastructure, especially green infrastructure, are much more accessible. They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”
Beyond jobs, Green For All supports greener infrastructure due to its health benefits. Hays cited heat waves as one example. He says the extra plants and vegetation planted to support green infrastructure can help absorb heat that’s typically contained by cities.
Hays’ example has a lot of science to stand on. The extra heating effect in cities, known as the urban heat island effect, is caused because cities have more buildings and pavements that absorb and contain heat, more pollution that warms the air and fewer plants that enable evaporation and transpiration through a process called evapotranspiration. The EPA promotes green roofs in order to help combat the urban heat island effect.
Hays says green infrastructure also creates cleaner air because trees capture carbon dioxide and break it down to oxygen. The work of the extra trees can also help reduce global warming, although Hays cautions that the ultimate effect is probably “relatively small.”
But those are only some of the advantages Hays sees in green infrastructure. He says green infrastructure is more resilient against volatile weather events caused by global warming. With green infrastructure, storm water can be managed by systems that collect and actually utilize rainwater to harvest clean water. Even in a world without climate change, that storm water management also reduces water contamination by reducing sewer overflow caused by storm water floods, according to Hays.
However, green infrastructure is not without its problems. Hays acknowledges there are some problems with infrastructure systems that require more year-over-year maintenance: “The green and conventional approach is more cost effective over time, but the way you have to spend money is different. So we need to look at the way we finance infrastructure, and make sure we keep up with innovative technologies.”
Specifically, green infrastructure relies less on big capital investments and more on ongoing maintenance costs. Hays insists the green infrastructure saves money in the long term with efficiency and by making more use out of natural resources, and the Green For All report supports his claim. But it is more difficult to get a city or state legislator to support long-term funding than it is to get them to support big capital expenditures, Hays says.
Education is also a problem. To a lot of people, the green infrastructure on rooftops and other city areas might seem like “pocket parks,” says Hays. But these areas are nothing like parks; they are meant to absorb and collect rainwater. If the public isn’t educated properly, there could be some confusion as to why the supposed “pocket parks” are flooded so often. Providing that education is going to be another big challenge for public officials adopting green infrastructure, according to Hays.
So what, if anything, is Cincinnati doing to adopt these
technologies? In the past, city legislators have looked into rainwater
harvesting systems, but not much information is out there. On Thursday, CityBeat will talk to city officials to see how Cincinnati is moving forward.
As Mitt Romney gets ready to attend a $2,500 a plate fundraiser at downtown’s Great American Tower, the local Democratic Party chairman says the presidential hopeful’s economic plan “would do nothing to create jobs now.”
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke released a statement this afternoon describing why he believes a Romney presidency would be disastrous for middle-class Americans.
Meanwhile, a group of community leaders led a protest outside of the East Fourth Street office building as attendees arrived for the fundraiser. The protest was organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199, which represents more than 30,000 health-care and social service workers across Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.
“Mitt Romney holding $2,500 per person fundraiser at the Great American Tower is a perfect example of exactly who he is and who he represents,” said Becky Williams, SEIU’s district president, in a prepared statement. “While Romney is hobnobbing on the rooftop with his wealthy donors hosted by American Financial Group, ordinary Ohioans are struggling to find work and provide for their families.”
The co-host for the fundraiser is S. Craig Lindner, co-president and director of American Financial Group Inc., whose total compensation in 2010 totaled $8.3 million, according to Forbes magazine.
“Nothing Mitt Romney says can change the fact that he spent his career as a corporate buyout specialist who put profits over people and lined his pockets by outsourcing jobs, closing down plants and laying off workers,” Burke said.
“His 59-point economic plan would do nothing to create jobs now, fix America’s economy or help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. His tax plan would benefit the ultra-wealthy and do nothing to help middle-class families in Greater Cincinnati,” Burke added.
In preparation for Romney’s visit today, the Democratic National Committee pointed out that the investment firm once led by the candidate, Bain Capital, rejected a government offer to invest in General Motors (GM) during the 2008 financial crisis.
Romney has said on the campaign trail that he opposed the government bailout of U.S. automakers because the private market would have provided loans so GM and Chrysler Corp. could go through managed bankruptcy. But sources told The New York Times that Bain turned down an offer to help GM at the time.
“To go through the bankruptcy process, both companies needed billions of dollars in financing, money that auto executives and government officials who were involved with Mr. Obama’s auto task force say was not available at a time when the credit markets had dried up,” the article stated.
It added, “The only entity that could provide the $80 billion needed, they say, was the federal government. No private companies would come to the industry’s aid, and the only path through bankruptcy would have been Chapter 7 liquidation, not the more orderly Chapter 11 reorganization, these people said.”
The MLK/I-71 Interchange project is supposed to be funded through the city’s parking plan, but mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should instead use federal funding that was originally intended for the streetcar project.
Between 2010 and 2011, the streetcar project was awarded about $40 million in federal grants — nearly $25 million through
the Urban Circulator Grant, $4 million through the Congestion Mitigation
and Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant and nearly $11 million through TIGER 3.
The grants are highly competitive and allocated to certain
projects. In the case of Cincinnati, the grants were specifically
awarded to the streetcar after it was thoroughly vetted as a transit, not highway, project.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) website explains why the Urban Circulator Grant is only meant for transit projects like the streetcar: “Urban circulator systems such as streetcars and rubber-tire trolley lines provide a transportation option that connects urban destinations and foster the redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed-use, high-density environments.”
The CMAQ Grant’s main goal is to fund projects that curtail congestion and pollution, with an emphasis on transit projects, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The website explains, “Eligible activities include transit improvements, travel demand management strategies, traffic flow improvements and public fleet conversions to cleaner fuels, among others.”
The DOT website says TIGER 3 money could go to a highway project, but one of the program’s goals is promoting “livability,” which is defined as, “Fostering livable communities through place-based policies and investments that increase transportation choices and access to transportation services for people in communities across the United States.” TIGER 3 is also described as highly competitive by the DOT, so only a few programs get a chance at the money.When asked about the grants’ limitations, Cranley said, “I believe … the speaker of the house, the senator, the congressman, the governor and the mayor could petition and get that changed. Just because that may have been the way they set the grants in the first place doesn’t mean they can’t change it.”
The parking plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and allocate a portion of the raised funds — $20 million — to the MLK/I-71 Interchange project, but the plan is currently being held up by a lawsuit seeking to enable a referendum.
The streetcar is one of the few issues in which Cranley and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a streetcar supporter who is also running for mayor, are in stark contrast (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Cranley’s opponents recently accused him of originally supporting the streetcar when he was a council member through two 2008 City Council motions, but Cranley says those motions, which he co-sponsored, only asked the city administration to study the merits of a streetcar plan, not approve of it. Cranley voted no on the first streetcar resolution in October 2007 and the motion to actually build the streetcar in April 2008.
“I’ve never said that I’m against the (streetcar) concept in all circumstances,” Cranley says. “I wanted to know if there was a way that they could pay for it in a way that wouldn’t take away from what I thought were more important priorities.”
Ohio’s inspector general released a report today criticizing the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for improperly reimbursing federal stimulus funds to hired organizations that did not follow rules.
In a statement, Inspector General Randall Meyer’s office said ODJFS “failed to adequately oversee federal grant funds applied to the Constructing Futures jobs training initiative for Central Ohio.”
The report released by Meyer’s office today, which focused on stimulus programs in central Ohio, outlined a few instances of ODJFS failing to oversee proper standards. In total, the department, which was put in charge of carrying out job training funds in Ohio from the stimulus package President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009, wrongly reimbursed companies it hired for $51,700.81.
In central Ohio, ODJFS hired two organizations to carry out the job training program, or Workforce Investment Act: Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) and Construction Trades Networks (CTN). At ABC, the inspector general found limited problems with faulty reimbursements involving a newspaper subscription, travel and mileage totaling less than $100. The money was not accounted for as a questionable cost since it was so small.
However, at CTN, the faulty reimbursements piled up. The organization was reimbursed $560.61 for phone calls made prior to being hired as part of the federal grant. It was also reimbursed $1,613.62 for its invoices, even though documentation was not provided to link phone calls as necessary to the grant program.
Under the federal stimulus rules, CTN was required to provide 25 percent of its own funds for the program. CTN planned on using $91,800 of in-kind funds — payment that isn’t cash — by paying for trainee wages. The organization paid $60,927.70 by the end of the grant period, and the organization was reimbursed for $49,526.64 by ODJFS, even though the charges were supposed to be carried by CTN. The inspector general requested CTN give the money back to ODJFS.
When the inspector general contacted the organization to explain the findings, CTN attributed the requests for faulty reimbursements to confusion caused by multiple administrative changes at ODJFS.
“In addition, monitoring visits by ODJFS were not conducted until after the grant period expired, even though the partnerships were told the visits would occur as grant activities were underway,” the report said.
Meyer’s office concluded ODJFS should review the questioned costs, work to keep consistent guidelines through administrative changes and monitor grant funds during the grant period.
The full inspector general report can be found here.
A report was released for northwestern Ohio was released on May 10, and it also found wrongdoing. It can be found here. A report for stimulus programs in southwestern Ohio will be released later.ODJFS could not be immediately provide comment on the report. This story will be updated if comments become available.
UPDATE (3:28 P.M.): Benjamin Johnson, spokesperson for ODJFS, provided a comment shortly after this story was published.
“As the report mentions, these were expenditures by local entities, not by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services,” he says. “We appreciate the inspector general bringing this to our attention, and we'll work to resolve the matter.”