Update (June 5, 11:20 p.m.): Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns didn't hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday, instead admitting to multiple media outlets that he was misleading the public to raise awareness of his campaign and marijuana legalization platform. Berns handed out tomato plants instead, which look similar to marijuana plants.
In perhaps an act of civil disobedience, Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is planning to hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday.
But the event could run foul of state law for both Berns and attendees. Ohio law prohibits obtaining, possessing or using a controlled substance — a category that includes marijuana.
The event will take place at the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Clifton Avenue on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
"If you want one of the plants I suggest you get there early," Berns said in a statement.
In this year's mayoral race, Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally considered the top contenders, although neither candidate has received an official endorsement from the local Democratic Party.
Berns has differentiated himself from the frontrunners by pushing marijuana legalization in his platform.
Drug prohibition laws are generally dictated at state and federal levels, but city governments can legalize or decriminalize certain drugs and force police departments to give the issue lower priority.
Marijuana is already decriminalized in Ohio. Cincinnati re-criminalized the drug in 2006, but the drug was decriminalized through a city budget passed in 2010.
Some groups are attempting to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio. CityBeat covered those efforts in further detail here.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Republican Gov. John Kasich, who’s running for re-election in 2014, to veto a bill that will prevent a full audit on JobsOhio, but Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols says the governor will sign the bill. The bill will define JobsOhio’s liquor profits, which the agency gets from a lease deal with the state government, as private funds, closing the profits to an audit. The bill will also prevent State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican who’s been pursuing an audit of JobsOhio, from looking into private funds in publicly funded agencies. The new limits on state audits could have repercussions beyond JobsOhio, making it more difficult to hold publicly funded agencies accountable. JobsOhio is a private nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development.
The Ohio Senate will vote on a budget bill Thursday that continues to push conservative stances on social issues and aims to cut taxes for small businesses. The bill will potentially allow Ohio’s health director to shut down abortion clinics, effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion. The bill does not cut taxes for most Ohioans, unlike the Ohio House budget bill that cut income taxes for all Ohioans by 7 percent.
Local Democrats are unlikely to endorse a candidate
in this year’s mayoral race, which will likely be against Democrats
Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley. Even though both candidates are
Democrats, they have two major policy differences: Qualls supports the streetcar project, while Cranley opposes it. Qualls also supports the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, which Cranley opposes. CityBeat previously did Q&As with Cranley and Qualls.
The parties’ slates of City Council candidates are mostly set. This year, Democrats are running 10 candidates — more than the nine seats available in City Council. Meanwhile, Republicans are running four candidates and the Charter Committee is looking at three potential candidates.
Cincinnati already has some of the cleanest water in the nation, but Water Works is making improvements to its treatments. One new treatment will use an ultraviolet process to kill 99.9 percent of germs.
It’s National Internet Safety Month, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is asking Ohioans to be safe out there.
A 131-year-old historic building in the West End collapsed after a car crashed into it. The driver’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
Ohio State’s president, who’s a Mormon, is in trouble for making fun of Catholics.
Mason and Sophia are Ohio’s most popular baby names.
Dogs are currently the best bomb detectors, but scientists are aiming to do better.
Mayor Mark Mallory announced revisions to the city manager’s budget plan today that will reduce the amount of layoffs by making several additional cuts, particularly in funding that goes to outside agencies, and using recently discovered revenue.
Mallory’s changes will restore 18 firefighter positions, 17 police positions, three inspector positions at the Health Department and two positions at the Law Department, reducing the total layoffs to 161, with 49 of those being police positions and 53 being firefighter positions.
To balance out the restored positions, the mayor is suggesting closing down two more recreation centers: Westwood Town Hall Recreation Center and Mt. Auburn Recreation Center. He is also suggesting cuts to the mayor’s office budget ($32,000) and outside agencies ($1.3 million), including the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce.
Mallory’s revised budget plan also makes use of about $500,000 in revenue that was not located in time for City Manager Milton Dohoney’s budget proposal.
Mallory justified the cuts by saying public safety must come first, but he says he would keep the funding under better circumstances.
“The progress we have seen in our city cannot stand on its own without an emphasis on public safety,” he said.
The budget will have to be enacted by June 1 to give the
city 30 days to implement the changes before fiscal year 2014, which
begins July 1. It will now move to City Council, which will be able to make its own changes.
Mallory stressed that the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit is being driven by a few outside factors, including reduced state funding, court challenges holding up the parking plan and the recent economic downturn.
Gov. John Kasich has cut local government funding by about half in his state budget plans, which Dohoney estimated cost Cincinnati about $22.2 million in 2013 (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20).
The city was planning to make up for some of that lost funding by leasing its parking assets to the Port Authority and using the funds to help balance the deficit and fund development projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27). But opponents of the plan, who say they are cautious of parking rate hikes and extended parking meter hours, have successfully held up the plan in court and through a referendum effort.
Cincinnati’s population has steadily decreased since the 1950s, which means the city has been taking in less tax revenue from a shrinking population. That was exacerbated by the Great Recession, which further lowered tax revenue as people lost their jobs and cut back spending.
Still, the city has run structurally imbalanced budget since 2001, according to previous testimony from Budget Director Lea Eriksen. The previous budgets were balanced through one-time revenue sources, but Dohoney told media outlets last week that, barring the parking plan, those sources have run out.
Mayor Mark Mallory announced in a memo today that he will not be following through with previously planned salary raises for his staff, citing poor morale in light of recent — but misleading — press coverage. But the rest of his budget plan will remain.
Mallory explained his reasoning in a statement: "I am rescinding the raises that I gave my staff and returning all salaries to the previous levels. Although the changes that I made in my office structure resulted in a saving of $66,000 to be used in next year’s budget, I realize that the perception has had a negative effect on the morale of other City Employees.
"I am the biggest promoter of the public servants who choose to work for the city, both on my staff and in all City Departments. I don’t want to see anyone lose their job. I have been successfully fighting to prevent layoffs throughout the recession. I supported the parking plan because it will ensure that no city employees lose their job. I plan to continue to fight for City Employees and to do everything that I can to minimize the reductions to our City Workforce. Every job that we save is a win for our community."
The announcement comes after a misleading report from The Cincinnati Enquirer sparked public outrage. The Enquirer's original report neglected to say that the overall budget plan would save the city $66,000 for the year and $33,000 during the mayor's remaining time in office. CityBeat covered Mallory's budget changes and The Enquirer's misleading report here.
For this week’s cover story, CityBeat analyzed the Ohio House budget bill that would defund
Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the
Medicaid expansion in favor of broader reforms. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House last week, but it still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich. Ohio Senate President Keith
Faber announced yesterday that the Ohio Senate will not move forward
with the Medicaid expansion — a sign the Ohio Senate is agreeing with the Ohio House on that issue.
Facing the recent wave of deadly gun attacks around the nation, some moms have banded together to demand action. Moms Demand Action is using its political clout to push gun control legislation at a federal level, but it’s also promoting grassroots campaigns in cities and states around the nation.
Contrary to The Cincinnati Enquirer’s “exclusive” story, the mayor’s office is actually shrinking its budget by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1 despite plans to give some employees raises. The mayor’s office says the raises are necessary because the employees will be taken a bigger workload to make up for reduced staff levels, but the budgetary moves will save money overall. Originally, The Enquirer reported the raises without noting the savings in the rest of the budget plan, inspiring a wave of angry emails from readers to the mayor’s office through The Enquirer’s “tell them what you think” tool.
This week’s commentary: “Streetcar’s No. 1 Problem: Obstructionism.”
At the NAACP meeting today, members will ask independent Councilman Chris Smitherman to step down from his leadership position. The disgruntled members told The Enquirer that Smitherman, who is an opponent of the streetcar and often partners up with the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), is using the NAACP for his “personal and political agenda,” not civil rights. Smitherman told The Enquirer to focus on the legitimate work of the NAACP instead of a potential coup that he says isn’t newsworthy. Smitherman will not allow media into today’s NAACP meeting.
City Council unanimously passed a resolution yesterday to oppose anti-union laws that are misleadingly called “right to work” laws. The laws earned their name after a decades-long spin campaign from big businesses that oppose unions, but the laws’ real purpose is weakening unions by banning collective bargaining agreements that require workers to join unions and pay dues. The City Council resolution has no legal weight; it simply tells higher levels of government to not pass the anti-union law.
Metro’s budget would need to increase by two-thirds to implements the bus and public transportation agency’s long-range plan, which would add rapid transit lines, other routes and sheltered transit centers with more amenities.
Two Cincinnati economic entities are getting federal funds: The Cincinnati Development Fund will get $35 million to invest in brownfield redevelopment, nutritional access and educational improvements, and Kroger Community Development Entity will get $20 million to increase low-income access to fresh and nutritional foods and fund redevelopment projects.
As expected, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald officially announced yesterday that he will run for governor against Kasich in 2014.
Kasich appointed former State Rep. John Carey to head the Ohio Board of Regents, which manages the state’s public university system. Carey says his biggest goal will be to better align higher education opportunities with jobs that are available in Ohio.
In a blog post yesterday, Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican, criticized President Barack Obama for not calling the Boston bombers “Islamic jihadists.” Public officials typically do not publicly jump to conclusions in the middle of an ongoing investigation.
A new app gives you an automatic nose job.
Researchers are developing a solar dish that produces electricity and fresh water at the same time.
of Mallory's staff obtained raises because they will be taking up the
former duties of Ryan Adcock, who left earlier in the month to help lead
a task force on infant mortality and will not be replaced.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported the raises earlier today, but the story at first did not mention that the budgetary moves will ultimately save the city money. The "Enquirer exclusive" includes a "tell them what you think" section in which citizens can email the mayor's office and copy Enquirer editors. The story was later updated to include the overall savings, though The Enquirer posted a separate blog titled, "Mallory getting an earful on raises," which was a collection of angry emails to the mayor based on the original version of the story.
CityBeat acquired a memo written by Mallory that outlines the rest of the plan, which will produce savings: "I will not replace Ryan Adcock on my staff. Instead, I have divided his responsibilities among my remaining staff. In addition, I will not hire the two part-time staffers that I had considered hiring. The additional work in the office will be supplemented by unpaid interns.
"In addition, I have enacted internal savings in order to return $20,000 from my FY 2013 office budget to be used for the FY 2014 city budget. Finally, in preparation of the Mayor’s Office Budget for FY 2014, I am reducing my office budget by $33,000 for the remaining 5 months of my term."
spokesperson Jason Barron says the mayor will also not be replacing
staff that leaves from this point forward, which could produce more
savings down the line.
Shawn Butler, the mayor's director of community
affairs, was given an 11-percent raise; Barron, the mayor's
director of public affairs, was given a 16-percent raise; and Arlen
Herrell, the mayor's director of international affairs, was given a
20-percent raise. Adcock also obtained a 20-percent raise briefly before
leaving, which Barron described to CityBeat as a budgetary technicality.
Since Mallory is term-limited, Barron says the savings will only apply to Mallory's remaining five months. The mayor who replaces Mallory in December will decide whether to keep or rework Mallory's policies.Last year, Barron was paid $66,144 in regular pay, Butler was paid $71,349, Herrell was paid $59,961 and Adcock was paid $66,049, according to the city's payroll records. But Barron explained that those numbers were higher because last year happened to have an extra payday. Under normal circumstances, Barron is paid $62,740 a year, Butler is paid $67,760, Adcock was paid $62,740 and Herrell is paid $62,031.
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.”
In February, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, from 7.9 percent in January, and the nation added 236,000 jobs. Many of the new jobs — about 48,000 — came from construction, while government employment saw a drop even before sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts, began on March 1. Economists seem quite positive about the report.
In January, Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 7 percent, from 6.7 percent in December, with the number of unemployed in the state rising to 399,000, from 385,000 the month before. Goods-producing and service-providing industries and local government saw a rise in employment, while jobs were lost in trade, transportation, utilities, financial activities, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, state government and federal government. In January, U.S. unemployment rose to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent in December.
A new report outlined renovations for the city-owned Tower Place Mall, which is getting a makeover as part of Cincinnati’s parking plan. A lot of the retail space in the mall will be replaced to make room for parking that will be accessed through what is currently Pogue’s Garage, but two rings of retail space will remain, according to the report. The parking plan was approved by City Council Wednesday, but it was temporarily halted by a Hamilton County judge. The legal contest has now moved to federal court, and it’s set to get a hearing today.
Meet the mayoral candidates through CityBeat’s two extensive Q&As: Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley. Qualls spoke mostly about her support for immigration, the parking plan and streetcar, while Cranley discussed his opposition to the parking plan and streetcar and some of his ideas for Cincinnati.
A Hamilton County court ruled against the controversial traffic cameras in Elmwood Place, and the Ohio legislature is considering a statewide ban on the cameras. In his ruling, Judge Robert Ruehlman pointed out there were no signs making motorists aware of the cameras and the cameras are calibrated once a year by a for-profit operator. The judge added, “Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-card Monty. … It is a scam that motorists can’t win.” Bipartisan legislation was recently introduced to prohibit traffic cameras in Ohio.
JobsOhio, the state-funded nonprofit corporation, quietly got $5.3 million in state grants, even though the state legislature only appropriated $1 million for startup costs. JobsOhio says it needed the extra funds because legal challenges have held up liquor profits that were originally supposed to provide funding. In the past few days, State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, has been pushing Republican Gov. John Kasich and JobsOhio to release more details about the nonprofit corporation’s finances, but Kasich and JobsOhio have been pushing back.
Advocates for Ohio’s charter schools say Kasich’s budget amounts to a per-pupil cut, with funding dropping from $5,704 per pupil to $5,000 plus some targeted assistance that ranges from hundreds of dollars to nothing depending on the school. A previous CityBeat report on online schools found traditional public schools get about $3,193 per student — much less than the funding that apparently goes to charter schools.
Fountain Square will be getting a new television from Cincinnati-based LSI Industries with the help of Fifth-Third Bank and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). The new video board will have better image quality and viewing angles, but it will also come with more screen space for sponsors.
Ohio’s casino revenues rose in January. That could be a good sign for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, which opened Monday.
In light of recent discussion, Popular Science posted a Q&A on drones.
For better or worse, Cincinnati will have
to deal with
another major election cycle in 2013. With a few hot-button issues
already grabbing the public spotlight, a lot could be at stake when
voters pull the lever on Nov. 5 — making a proper understanding of the
candidates all the more important.
Most people get to know candidates through fragments of information spread out in multiple stories and media outlets, but a comprehensive question-and-answer format provides candidates with a chance to speak on their own terms. CityBeat already did a one-on-one with Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, which can be read here.
Next up, CityBeat sat down with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, another Democrat who is running for mayor, to discuss her campaign and what ideas she’s bringing to the table. Qualls has been a strong advocate of the streetcar (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23) and parking plan (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), and she says she wants to continue development in Downtown and Cincinnati’s neighborhoods to create sustainable growth. We asked her about those issues and more, and the extensive conversation (with some edits for clarity and brevity) can be read below.
CityBeat: How do you feel about the campaign in general so far?
Roxanne Qualls: I’m very excited about the campaign. You know, a mayor’s race is very different than a council race. A mayor’s race has many more components to it: higher fundraising goals and more intensive outreach. I’ve been very encouraged by the folks who are volunteering and those who are stepping up and making contributions. It’s still early, but I’ve been excited.
CB: What kind of support have you seen so far?
RQ: Support is good. A lot of neighborhood folks are coming forward, partly because of the work I’ve been doing with them on council to help them achieve their own visions for their communities and neighborhoods. And I’m also getting support from different groups of people who I’ve been working for a number of years on major projects that help move the city and also the neighborhoods forward.
CB: Before we get into parking and the streetcar, one of the resolutions passed by City Council yesterday asked Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Do you think there’s anything the city could do to be more inviting to immigrants?
RQ: Even though it was a resolution and is therefore a symbolic act of the council, that symbolic act was very, very important to the members of the immigrant community in Cincinnati because many other communities are unwilling to say they even want immigrants.
My own personal and professional belief is that if we’re actually going to grow as a city and really thrive in the future in a sustainable way, we have to encourage immigrants to come into the city of Cincinnati. If you look around the country at cities that have increased their population significantly, they don’t do it relying on baby boomers moving back to the city and Gen Y-ers — those folks are important, but they’re not sufficient. You have to have immigrants come into your community, buy up homes, buy up stores and regenerate and rejuvenate the neighborhoods.
As a city that went from over 500,000 people to now under 300,000, we have to fill that gap. When I’m mayor, I will set a goal that by 2025 we will increase our population by 100,000 people. We’re only going to do that with immigrants.
CB: So what kind of programs do you think would help in that area?
RQ: A couple things, but there are things already happening that many people are unaware of. For example, if you were to go to Roberts Paideia at Price Hill, you would find 30 percent of the children there were not speaking English in their households before attending school. So a very strong Spanish-speaking community is growing up in Price Hill. First and foremost, having an educational system that recognizes and responds is very important.
The other thing is to be a very welcoming community, particularly when it comes to issues of safety and security. We’re very fortunate that District 3 has become very responsive, as is District 4, to immigrants. The entire police department is sensitive, but we have a very high concentration of folks who are Latinos in District 3 — that’s why I focused on District 3 as very critical in terms of the response.
The third thing that we need to do is work with organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Chinese Chamber of Commerce to really strengthen business relations and the support that’s necessary for many of the small businesses that provide opportunities and employment within those communities. As the city develops its small business program, we need to pay attention to the fact that very small businesses — under $100,000, let’s say, in terms of annual volume — are those businesses that really are neighborhood-serving. They’re businesses we should be encouraging within the immigrant community.
CB: One of the surprising statistics with public safety is that a very small amount of the police force — 2 out of 981 — speaks Spanish. Do you think there’s anything we could do to encourage more Spanish speakers?
RQ: There’s an increasing recognition that it’s important for people who provide services to speak more than one language, so the police department can encourage its members to speak more than English.
But there are other things we can do in general, not just that would impact the police. I’ve been trying to do something as simple as multilingual signage.
The city could also aggressively promote simultaneous translation via its own website and the information it puts out. On my own personal website, one of the things that we use is the Google Translator. So anyone who wants to read anything on the website, all they have to do is press the Google Translator and have it translate to any language.
CB: The other thing that was covered in City Council yesterday was the parking plan. You supported it. What do you think it will do for the city?
RQ: There are a couple things it’s going to do. Simply on the level of parking, it’s going to provide the resources to modernize the system. For the garages, that means all the capital improvements that are necessary. For the meters, that’s everything everybody has heard about in terms of putting in electronic meters, allowing the use of smartphone apps, making it much more convenient for people and giving us the ability as technology evolves over time to adapt. For example, we shouldn’t assume that 30 years from now there will be such things as meters in existence. We need to be able to adapt in that environment. Already in other countries, you don’t have meters, but you do have sensors and you do have means of paying, but it doesn’t involve a physical object to do it with. It’s all oriented toward customer service and staying up with the times.
The second thing is it gives us the resources to invest in things like the MLK/I-71 Interchange, which everybody, I believe, at this point agrees is a major economic development investment and will pay off in significant job growth in the medical-university area of uptown.
It also allows us to invest in some critical pieces of downtown development that involve garages and residential development that will help us capture the market. I think if you read all the papers, everybody should realize that there’s no available product to meet the demand for downtown housing. Any time something comes into the market, it is either rented out or sold out. So we need to bring residential online at a much faster pace in Downtown.
And we get to increase our reserves, so that the rating agencies will be encouraged that we’re taking steps to ensure that we can responsibly manage our budget. And for the moment, for fiscal year 2014, it will help us reduce the deficit.
So there’s, one, modernization itself and, two, the ability to invest in opportunities over the long term that will grow our revenues and help us become more sustainable as a city.
CB: With the modernization part, do you think it’s necessary to make this deal because the city can’t otherwise afford to make improvements?
RQ: If you look at the money that comes into the current parking system and look at the needs of the parking system, the current parking system can’t support the level of investment required for modernization. By doing this lease agreement, those upgrades can occur.
CB: On the deficit-reduction side, how do you think the city will solve its structural deficit once the one-time money does run out?
RQ: In fiscal year 2014, obviously a portion of the money is there to help balance the budget. Other members of council and I feel very strongly that this, starting now, is the opportunity to bring the structural deficit under control. Between June 2013 and July 2014, we need to put in place a deficit reduction plan.
Now, the city manager has begun to talk about some of that, but that needs to be accelerated. Among the things that we need to do to make it a realistic possibility is we need to bring certain players to the table: the folks who represent our collective bargaining units, fire, police and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). They have as much of an interest in figuring out how to deal with this issue as I do as an elected official, as the city manager does, as anybody does. So they really need to be at the table, talking — not in negotiations, but just talking — about how we’re going to begin to approach this in a way that ensures what we all want, which is a safe community that provides good quality jobs, great quality service and great quality of life.
The other people that can come to the table is the business community because they can bring their expertise, help and resources, but also the civic community and neighborhoods who are the ones who live and breathe the effects of anything that we do.
The other thing is that we already can begin to identify certain areas that we should be exploring. Something very simple, for example, is one of the major expense items is gas. We are buying new vehicles for the police department that are better for gas mileage, but we’re not doing that fast enough.
CB: Do you think any of the deficit reduction could involve attrition?
RQ: The bottom line for either police and fire is there are minimal service levels. For police, how many of the officers are actually available for the street? For the fire department, how do you make sure that the response time is within acceptable parameters and that the consequence of falling below a certain level isn’t such extensive brownouts that you end up endangering people’s lives?
My own personal feeling is there’s a lot of professional judgment that needs to be involved in this discussion and decision. I would be incredibly hesitant to fall below the minimum staffing levels without the support of Police Chief James Craig or Fire Chief Richard Braun.
CB: How do you feel about the controversy surrounding the emergency clause?
RQ: I think it’s nothing but a political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently voted for emergency clauses.
The emergency clause is necessary so that we can proceed to construct the budget for fiscal year 2014 by July.
CB: So you don’t think the referendum part of the emergency clause could be separated from the part that expedites the process?
RQ: No, because it is going to take until at least June to get everything in place. We would like to move as quickly as possible, so before we actually approve the budget by July 1, we actually have the money to balance it. If that doesn’t happen, the city manager will have to start sending out layoff notices. By law, we would be required to do that because we would not have that money in place.
CB: So not having the money would force Plan B or something like it?
RQ: Yes, a referendum would result in Plan B or something similar. Regardless of whether you want to call it Plan B or Plan Z, people should not be foolish enough to think that there would not be layoffs. You cannot balance a budget deficit of $25 million without personnel reductions.
CB: The other big item in the mayor’s race is the streetcar. I’ve talked to you about this in the past, and you said you will push through the next phase during your mayor’s term. How exactly do you envision that?
RQ: Currently, there are studies that are being undertaken that are looking for alternatives in streetcar circulation in the uptown area.
If we can connect the streetcar into uptown and have it circulate up there, you have it benefiting these institutions and immediately adjoining neighborhoods. One of the greatest pressures in very dense neighborhoods is that we want to take the pressure off of both the streets in terms of the volume of traffic and parking because parking garages are very expensive and consume a lot of land. We can create an environment in the uptown area that would have a great synergy that would result in the redevelopment of these neighborhoods. Once people get that as the vision, I think the streetcar, even for folks who will never use it, becomes more understandable.
CB: One of the recurring problems with the streetcar project has been delays. What would you do as mayor to have the streetcar ready in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which you previously said you would like?
RQ: I have said I want it ready in time for the 2015 All-Star Game, but that was before the three construction bids came in much higher than expected. The big issue immediately is how to get those costs under control. We have yet to hear from the administration; they’re still reviewing the bids and approaches to handling the cost issues.
As mayor, my approach to it would be to insist that the administration value engineer this project to ensure that for what is being invested, we are actually getting results that we want.
I am a firm supporter of the streetcar, but I also want people to be very clear that this is not an open checkbook. I don’t think anyone — supporter or opponent — has ever believed it’s an open checkbook. Within the budget that we have given, we should be able to build this system.
CB: What do you mean by value engineering?
RQ: Look at what the actual proposed design is. This is kind of standard in all major projects. You have all the designers and engineers who have put together the original designs for the system. Then what you do is have other eyes who are also experts sit down and start looking at it to ask if there are other things we can do to start saving money.
CB: Do you think the framework of the original bid process was off?
RQ: I think very strongly that it was probably off. We saw that reflected when over 80 contractors downloaded the bid documents and only three bids were received. That says something about those bid documents.
CB: A lot of the mayor’s race has focused on the streetcar and parking deal, but can you give a rundown of some other ideas you have for the city?
RQ: Absolutely. Well, we already talked about one (increasing the population of the city by 100,000). There are a variety of ways to do it — one of which is to be an opening, welcoming city to everybody, but particularly opening and welcoming to immigrants.
The second thing we need to do is look at the tax structure. Currently, there is a commission, which I helped establish, called Investing in the Future Commission, which is examining that and will be making recommendations on specific things that we can do to reward people for making the choice to live and work in the city. That’s very critical.
When looking at job creation, we know that we are very fortunate to have Children’s Hospital, the University of Cincinnati and all of the research coming out of the uptown area. We are very competitive as a region when it comes to patents, but we are laggards when it comes to commercialization of research. Given the institutions we’re blessed to have within city limits, we need to financially support the environments where commercialization can actually occur to make sure we are retaining startup businesses so that they don’t just start here, they stay here. Again, looking at the tax structure would encourage those startups to stay in a way we’re not doing right now.
When you’re looking at neighborhoods, redevelopment of neighborhoods is a critical piece of anybody’s agenda. The good news is we have a lot of good things happening, but neighborhoods need financial support. Part of the $92 million from the parking deal is to provide financial support to some neighborhoods. More importantly, there’s using the casino revenue to actually support transformative developments in neighborhoods. We’ve started to do that, but we have to expand.
Another area is a stronger partnership with the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) system. There are many people who like to criticize CPS, but the reality is they have some great-performing schools. We need to make sure that we capitalize on that relationship by working in partnership with CPS to ensure that community learning centers are in enough schools so that any young family with kids has access. Right now, there are about 600 families on the waiting list because there’s not enough room. That’s a specific thing we could be doing right now that would really encourage young families with children to stay in the city.
CB: That covers everything I had to ask. Is there anything you would like to add?
RQ: This election for mayor is about vision, leadership and results. It’s also about looking to the future and saying yes to the future. Lots of decisions will have to be made by the next mayor that will be tough decisions, will require resources and will require investment. Cincinnati needs a mayor that is willing to say yes and work with people and organizations to move the community forward.
If City Council does not agree to lease Cincinnati’s parking system, the city manager’s office says the city will be forced to lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, but critics argue there are better alternatives.
In a memo dated to Feb. 26, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. wrote that the city will also have to close three community centers and six pools; eliminate Human Services Funding, which aids the city’s homeless and poor; and reduce funding for local business groups, parks, nature education for Cincinnati Public Schools and environmental regulations, among other changes. In total, the cuts would add up to $25.8 million — just enough to balance the deficit that would be left in place without the parking plan.
In addition to the cuts, failing to approve the parking plan, which leases the city’s parking meters for 30 years and lots and garages for 50 years to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, would displace plans to convert Tower Place Mall, construct a 30-floor tower with a grocery store downtown, accelerate the the I-71/MLK Interchange project, acquire the Wasson Line right-of-way for a bike trail and add $4 million to the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor, has come out in favor of the parking plan, but John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, says he opposes the deal because it will hurt downtown businesses.
“It’s the boy who cried wolf,” Cranley says. “In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and firefighters, and it never happened.”
Cranley says he would rather take $10 million from projected casino revenue and $7 million from current parking revenues to help clear the deficit. For the remaining $8.8 million, he would cut non-essential programs, which would exclude police, fire, garbage collection, health, parks and recreation, street pavement and Human Services Funding, across the board by 10 to 15 percent. If that wasn’t enough, he would then move to the essential programs, which he says make up about $300 million in the $368.9 million budget, with a 1-percent across-the-board cut.
He says his solution would have the upside of fixing structural deficit problems in Cincinnati’s General Fund, whereas the one-time lease of the city’s parking assets will only take care of the deficit for the next two years.
Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says City Council could use the casino revenue to pay for the deficit, but $4 million of it is already set for the Focus 52 program, which funds neighborhood development projects.
“Council can use whatever revenue sources they want,” Olberding says. “That’s why the memo … says we can either use this plan or another plan.”
Cranley says he would not do away with the Focus 52 program, but he would instead find funding for it in the Capital Budget, which is separate from the General Fund.
Olberding says City Council could approve the use of about $3 million in parking meter revenue for the General Fund, but the rest of the parking money, which comes from lots and garages, is tied to an enterprise fund, which, by state law, means the city would have to sell its parking lots and garages before it could obtain money for the General Fund.
Cranley, who also opposes the streetcar project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23), says it
would be possible to pay for the I-71/MLK Interchange and other projects
if the streetcar wasn’t taking up funds. If it was up to him, he says
he would remove streetcar funding and use it on other development
projects “without batting an eye.”
In the Feb. 27 City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said the Budget and Finance Committee will likely vote on the city manager’s parking plan on March 4 or March 11.