Despite unanimous opposition, City Council fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and voted to allow a controversial pension amendment to appear on the ballot this November.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls explained that all council members oppose the amendment, but it’s part of City Council’s ministerial duties to allow ballot initiatives if petitioners gather enough signatures to put the issue to a public vote. The Hamilton County Board of Elections announced on Aug. 12 that petitioners had gathered enough signatures to clear the 7,443 requirement.
The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and manages the investments through an independent board.
City officials oppose the amendment. They say it will cost the city more and hurt retirement gains for city employees.
One new concern: As written, the amendment could force the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to revoke tax-exempt status for city employees’ retirement plans. Paula Tilsley, executive director of the Cincinnati Retirement System, says the new tax burden would force someone in a lower tax bracket with $100,000 in retirement savings to immediately pay $15,000 in taxes.
Supporters of the amendment, including out-of-state tea party groups, argue it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s present and future pension liabilities, which currently stand at $862 million.
The current liability is a result of two issues: City Council has underfunded the pension system by varying degrees since at least 2003, and economic downturns have hurt investments in the city’s pension system.
That outstanding liability was one of the factors that led Moody’s, a credit ratings agency, to downgrade Cincinnati’s bond rating on July 15.
City officials say they’ve already taken steps to resolve future costs and the only remaining concern is how to pay for the current liability. In 2011, City Council raised the retirement age and reduced pension benefits for city employees and retirees.
“This council adopted some of the most sweeping changes to any public pension system in the country for current and future employees,” Qualls said.
Councilman Chris Smitherman clarified he doesn’t support the proposed amendment, but he says City Council has done a poor job with the current pension system.
“My recommendation to this council is to put forth a solution to solve the problem,” Smitherman said. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t say, ‘This is bad,’ and then underfund the pension.”
Tilsley says the pension board will make recommendations to City Council within a month to address the current pension liability. The board estimates the changes would keep the system 100 percent funded after 30 years.
CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups that might be behind it in further detail here.
Updated (2:17 p.m.): Updated to reflect the full City Council vote.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has resolved his petition problems and will appear on the ballot for reelection this November.
“The (Hamilton County Board of Elections) confirmed last night we have more than enough signatures to be placed on the ballot,” Sittenfeld wrote in an email.
Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Board of Elections, says the board has so far verified more than 900 signatures out of the 1,500 Sittenfeld turned in. Council candidates need 500 to get on the ballot.
Sittenfeld was one of two candidates who faced petition problems last week. In his case, petitions were found to have crossed-out dates with corrections written on the back, which election officials said might disqualify hundreds of signatures. In response, Sittenfeld renewed his petition drive.
In a Facebook post this morning, Sittenfeld thanked a 93-year-old family friend, a former teacher, City Council candidates and other volunteers for helping with the effort.
Mike Moroski, who was told his original batch of petitions fell 46 signatures short, wrote on Twitter that he turned in more than 1,100 signatures this morning. In a statement, Moroski thanked his team and participants
for helping him collect the signatures, which the Board of Elections will now need to verify.
The deadline for turning in City Council petitions is Aug. 22. Once the Board of Elections finishes verifying the numbers, it will release the full slate of candidates.
Councilman Chris Smitherman told CityBeat he doesn’t support the pension amendment that will appear on the ballot this November, which means no council member approves of the controversial proposal.
The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and manages the investments through an independent board.
City officials and unions claim the amendment will cost the city more and hurt retirement gains for public employees. Tea party groups say the amendment is necessary to address the city’s growing pension costs, including an $862 million unfunded liability.
“I do not support the amendment. I have introduced several solutions that have been ignored by council and your paper,” Smitherman wrote in an email.
The other eight members of City Council — seven Democrats and one Republican — on Aug. 7 approved a resolution that condemned the tea party amendment. But Smitherman, an Independent, wasn’t present at the meeting.
CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups that could be behind it in further detail here.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls today unveiled a motion that calls for the first expansion of local disclosure and reporting requirements since 1997 that would impose new rules on city officials, lobbyists and contractors and task the city administration with posting the disclosed information on the city’s website.
Qualls said the proposal is particularly timely as the Metropolitan Sewer District begins working on a federally mandated $3.2 billion, 15-year revamp of the city’s sewer system. That project will presumably involve a bevy of lobbyists as businesses rush to grab lucrative contracts granted by city officials.
“For citizens to have confidence that their government is working on their behalf, it must be transparent,” Qualls said in a statement. “Sadly, it often takes a scandal to make these kinds of reforms happen. The good news is that we can take these responsible steps now to instill safeguards and promote integrity and accountability through a healthy dose of sunshine.”
Qualls claims the updates would be particularly prudent given the rise of the Internet in the past 16 years.
“Technology has brought us into the age of the Internet,” she said in a statement. “The public has heightened expectations for ready, convenient access to information about the decisions of their elected leaders.”
The motion asks for various new rules, including clarifications for current requirements, greater protections for whistleblowers, a two-year restriction on becoming a local lobbyist after leaving public office and a requirement that city officials make known through writing their potential conflicts of interest when they recuse themselves from votes.
If the motion is approved by City Council, the city administration would be required to present the formal ordinance that would take up the proposed measures.
The proposal comes in light of scandals in Chicago, San Antonio, Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, that led to changes in those local governments.
In July, Cincinnati’s government was mired in its own controversy after the city administration withheld a memo that criticized the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.
Qualls, a Democrat who’s running for mayor, sent out the motion just a few days after John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, announced his innovation plan, which calls for greater government efficiency and transparency.
Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and City Council candidate Mike Moroski are both facing issues that could keep them off the ballot this November, but both candidates are renewing their petition drives to correct the issues before it’s too late.
Council candidates must file 500 valid petition signatures to the Hamilton County Board of Elections by Aug. 22 to get on the ballot, but two different circumstances are putting those prospects in doubt for Moroski and Sittenfeld.
In Moroski’s case, he fell 46 signatures short of the 500 needed. Because the petitions were already filed, he now has to regather all of the necessary signatures and file them to the Board of Elections.
Moroski told CityBeat that he’s already collected
more than 200 signatures in the past 24 hours and intends to turn in a batch of 800 to 900 before the filing deadline.
“We’re determined to get on the ballot, and we’re determined to win,” he says.
For Sittenfeld, the circumstances are a little more technical: Because dates were crossed out on various petitions and corrected on the back of the forms, the board isn’t sure whether the rules allow them to accept the signatures. If the petitions aren’t accepted, Sittenfeld would fall under the 500-signature threshold, even though more than 700 valid signatures were confirmed, according to Sittenfeld’s campaign.
To avoid the problems entirely, Sittenfeld is now regathering the necessary signatures.
“The four board members of the (Board of Elections) will make the final decision on the validity of my petitions and I hope and believe it is unlikely that they will invalidate my signatures,” Sittenfeld said in an emailed statement to supporters. “However, I am leaving nothing to chance and am determined to continue serving the citizens of our community.”
Both candidates are asking supporters who signed the old petitions to come back to them and sign the new ones. If not, they might not appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.
City Council met yesterday for the first time since June and passed various development deals that span six Cincinnati neighborhoods. The deals include a 15-year tax abatement for the second phase of The Banks, which will produce 305 apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space; several other apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a small business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel Community Center; and a new homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn. The deals are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the city, which could help meet the high demand for new residential space downtown.
City Council also approved a motion that asks the city administration to begin preparations for a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favor minority- and women-owned businesses. The motion asks the administration to either use part of the upfront money from leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority or find an alternative source of funding. The study is required because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, which declared that governments must prove there’s racial or gender-based disparity before changing policies to favor such groups. Since the city disbanded its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999, contract participation rates have plummeted for minority-owned businesses and remained relatively flat for women-owned businesses.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials still have not reached a compromise on several local hiring and bidding policies for the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), which is owned by the county but run by the city. A moratorium on the controversial city policies expired on Aug. 1, prompting county commissioners to block an upcoming MSD project in a vote Wednesday. Councilman Chris Seelbach told WVXU that those working on a compromise just need a little more time, but he’s confident they’ll be able to reach an agreement. City Council passed hiring and bidding rules in May this year and June 2012 that require MSD contractors to meet certain job training requirements that council members say will lead to more local jobs, but county commissioners argue the standards are too strenuous and favor unions. CityBeat covered the dispute in further detail here.
State Reps. Connie Pillich and Denise Driehaus of Cincinnati will hold a press conference today asking Gov. John Kasich to launch an ethics investigation into JobsOhio, the privatized development agency. State Democrats have been particularly critical of JobsOhio since a Dayton Daily News report found six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial ties to companies that have taken state aid from the development agency. Republicans argue that JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature allows it to expedite deals that bring businesses and jobs to the state, but Democrats claim the set-up lacks transparency and fosters corruption.
Only one-third of Ohio school levies were approved in a special election Tuesday. Despite an increase in funding in the most recent two-year state budget, state funding to schools has been slashed since Gov. John Kasich took office.
The Charter Committee’s second round of endorsements for
this year’s City Council elections went to Democrats Greg Landsman and
David Mann and Republican Amy Murray. Previous endorsements went to Independents Kevin Flynn and Vanessa White and Democrat Yvette Simpson. The Charter Committee isn’t generally seen as a traditional political party, but it holds a lot of sway in local politics.
The Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino’s monthly revenue for July was higher than it was in June but lower than March. For local and state officials, the trend up is a welcome sign as they hope to tap into the casino for tax revenue.
Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s are facing a boycott for opposing legislation in Texas that would make it easier for women to sue over wage discrimination.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is finding a niche with smaller airlines like Ultimate Air.
An app dubbed “lockout insurance” lets users scan keys then 3-D print them.
City Council met today for the first time since June and passed several development deals and projects spanning six Cincinnati neighborhoods.
The approved deals include a 15-year tax abatement for the second phase of The Banks, which will produce 305 apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space; several other apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a small business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel Community Center; and a new homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn.
The projects are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the city. That could prove particularly timely for downtown Cincinnati, which is currently struggling to meet high demand from a growing market of aspiring property renters, leasers and buyers.
"Today is a huge day of progress for Cincinnati," Mayor Mark Mallory said in the statement. "The momentum has been building in our city for a while. And now, developers and businesses are lining up to do projects in the city because they see all of the progress and they want to be a part of it. This is the vision — our success is leading to more success."
Among the other items, Council passed a motion asking the city administration to look into a disparity study and a resolution condemning a ballot initiative that would change the city's pension program by pushing future public employees into a less generous 401K-style plan.
Today's meeting was Council's only full session for July and August, which is why the agenda was so packed. That's irked some council members and critics, who argue Council should be in session for more of the summer.
"Council has no shortage of issues to consider and challenges to address — this should NOT be our only Council meeting of the summer," tweeted Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld during today's meeting.
Council is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 11.
Cincinnati council members and community leaders today explained and defended plans to use the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses.
But before City Council unanimously passed the motion at today's meeting, it was amended to allow the city administration to find alternate sources of funding.
Since the city dismantled its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses have plummeted, while rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively flat.
But because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, governments must conduct a study to prove there's a race- or gender-based disparity before policies can be adjusted to favor such groups.
Cincinnati has not taken up a disparity study since 2002. That study found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time.
"This is an opportunity to respond to a complaint and concern that has been around for as long as I can remember," Councilman Wendell Young said.
City officials claim they couldn't conduct another study until the administration finished implementing recommendations from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were criticized for neglecting the city's small business program.
But the holdup has also been brought on by the study's cost, which city officials currently estimate between $500,000 and $1.5 million. Some critics argue the money would be better spent elsewhere.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who's running for mayor this year, defended the cost by explaining a disparity study can potentially lead to economic development by lifting minority groups, who currently face unemployment rates higher than white Cincinnati residents. She said it's on the city to ensure everyone, including women and minorities, benefit from Cincinnati's economic growth.
Other critics, particularly mayoral candidate John Cranley, have criticized the motion's suggestion for funding. The motion asks the city administration to fund the study with part of the upfront money that will come from leasing the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but it does allow the city administration to find other funding options if possible.
Cranley, who supports conducting a disparity study but opposes the parking lease, says the money should come from other, unnamed sources because parking funds are currently being held up while the city hashes out legal uncertainty surrounding the lease and the Port Authority works out contracts with private operators that will manage Cincinnati's parking assets.
In response to those concerns, Qualls said that "money doesn't grow on trees" and Council has to make do with what it has.
Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the parking lease, but he supports using parking funds for the disparity study. He says that, while he may have voted against the lease, the vote is done and the money is there.
The amended motion was unanimously passed by City Council today. It asks the city administration to present a budget and timetable for the study at the Budget and Finance Committee's first October meeting.
Updated at 3:18 p.m. with results of City Council meeting.
Six out of nine City Council members signed a motion to use money from the city’s parking lease to conduct a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies. Democrats Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach, Pam Thomas and P.G. Sittenfeld signed the motion. The study, which could cost between $500,000 and $1 million, is required to change city contracting policies after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that governments must prove there is a racial or gender-based disparity before changing rules to favor any specific race or gender. CityBeat first covered a disparity study in further detail here. Council members will hold a press conference about the issue at noon today.
Petitioners pushing to reform Cincinnati’s public retirement system with a controversial city charter amendment turned in almost 16,000 signatures to City Hall yesterday. Of those signatures, 7,443 have to be validated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The plan would put future city workers in individual retirement accounts similar to 401K plans used in the private sector. But city officials argue that, unlike private workers, public employees don’t get Social Security benefits on top of their pensions, which means public workers could get considerably less retirement money under the amendment than someone would in the private sector. Supporters of the amendment point to the city’s struggles with properly funding its pension system, which led to a bond rating downgrade from credit rating agency Moody’s. Opponents of the amendment plan to hold a press conference in front of City Hall at 3 p.m. today or after today’s Council meeting, whichever is later.
A majority of City Council on Tuesday sided with the Windholtz family, who will now be able to sell and demolish the old Lenhardt’s restaurant building — also known as the Goetz House — in Clifton Heights. Only Councilwoman Yvette Simpson sided with community members who argued that the building should be declared a historical landmark and preserved. “If I were counting votes, I would go with the community. There are a whole bunch of you and a very few people named Windholtz,” Councilman Wendell Young said. “I believe that the courage to do what’s right this time is to side with the family.”
Election results from yesterday: The Norwood tax levy failed, the Arlington Heights levy failed with a tie vote and the Cleves tax levy passed.
Gov. John Kasich says there’s no need to change oversight over JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that has been mired in controversy in the past few weeks. Most recently, a story in the Dayton Daily News found six of nine members on the JobsOhio board had direct financial ties to companies receiving state aid. Republicans argue JobsOhio’s privatized nature allows it to move quickly with deals that bring in businesses and jobs to the state, but Democrats say the secretive agency is too difficult to hold accountable and could be wasting taxpayer dollars.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland is calling on Ohioans to act now and reduce the effects of global warming. Strickland is apparently siding with the near-unanimous scientific consent that global warming is real and man-made. Scientists generally want to reduce carbon and other greenhouse-gas emissions enough so global warming doesn’t exceed two degrees Celsius, but the planet is currently on a path to warm by five degrees Celsius. If that trend continues, there could be devastating effects, including more drought and other extraordinary weather events.
The second phase of The Banks might include a grocery store.
Procter & Gamble plans to move 50 customer service jobs from Cincinnati to San Jose, Costa Rica.
The house of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who held captive and raped three women for more than a decade, was demolished today. The neighborhood is still celebrating the capture of Castro, who was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years last week, but many in the area are wondering how the man got away with his crimes for so long.
Entrepreneurs were more likely to cause trouble than teenagers, according to a new study.
A motion proposed by a majority of City Council today would use leftover
revenue from the previous budget year to undo cuts to various programs,
including human services, parks and the Health Department.
The restorations mean no city workers will be laid off as a result of the operating budget passed in May. Previously, 60 positions had been cut, but many employees remained in different offices while the budget situation was worked out.
The cuts were previously approved with the 2014 budget before council members knew final revenue numbers for fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30. Council had to pass the budget 30 days early because the city’s use of emergency clauses, which eliminate a waiting period on passed laws, was being held up in court.
The city ended up with roughly $10 million more revenue than projected in the past budget year. The Council motion uses nearly $4 million to undo some of the $20 million in cuts carried out in the latest budget. The rest of the extra revenue will be held until the city manager makes further suggestions, but some of that money will likely be saved for next year’s budget gap, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said at a press conference.
Human services funding is getting more than $510,000 restored, putting the program at 0.4 percent of the operating budget. Cincinnati has historically set a goal of directing 1.5 percent of the operating budget to human services, which flows through various agencies that aid low-income and homeless Cincinnatians.
The Health Department is getting the largest restoration at $900,000, allowing the city to bring back positions affecting junked vehicles, rodent control, litter and weed response, infant mortality and more.
Parks will also get back $400,000 out of $1 million that was cut in the previous budget. Another $312,000 is being used to restore recreation funding, particularly to keep the Busch Center open.
Other programs getting money back: the Center for Closing the Health Gap, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Film Commission, African American Chamber of Commerce, Urban Agriculture Program, Office of Environmental Quality, Neighborhood Support Fund, Neighborhood Business District Support Fund, Law Department and funding to 3CDC for Fountain Square maintenance.
Qualls claimed the higher-than-projected revenues are evidence the city’s economic strategy is so far successful.
“Cincinnati’s strategy of investing in jobs, neighborhoods, people is working,” she said. “We are seeing an increase in revenue as a result of investments we are making.”
Qualls also acknowledged that the budget debate has felt like a “roller coaster” for many citizens. Originally, Mayor Mark Mallory’s administration claimed it would have to lay off police and firefighters if the city didn’t lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. But when the parking lease was held up in a court challenge, Council managed to pass a budget without the public safety layoffs. Now, Council is undoing further cuts and moving forward with the parking lease.
After the press conference, Qualls told CityBeat that some of the unused revenue may also be used to finance a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses.
Cincinnati City Council today changed a rule that stipulates which public employees must live within city limits. The move effectively exempts embattled Director of Water and Sewers Tony Parrott from having to move to the city after he was punished in June for misleading officials about his residency.
Under the new rules, only the city manager, assistant city manager, city solicitor and police chief will need to live in the city. The 6-2 decision came with some argument, however. Councilmen Kevin Flynn and Wendell Young voted against the rule change. Flynn said he felt it wasn’t fair to make concessions for someone who deliberately misled the city. Young had broader qualms with the change, saying he thinks all high-level city administration employees should have to live in the city from which they get their taxpayer-funded salaries.
“I have great difficulty with people who are in the higher part of the administration who help to create the rules and in many cases enforce the rules, and then are not subject to them,” Young said. “I don’t understand how the city of Cincinnati is good enough to work in, good enough to provide your income, but isn’t good enough to live in.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn, however, said the situation was actually the city’s fault. In 2012, the city-run sewer district merged with the water works department, which serves both the city as well as most of Hamilton County and parts of Butler and Warren Counties. Winburn says the residency requirements for Parrott’s job should have been updated at that time, since it is now effectively an agency that serves the greater region.
“Are we going to split Mr. Parrott in two now?” Winburn asked. “Do we have to get Solomon in on this thing?”
Other council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, voted for the change on legal grounds. Ohio law forbids residency requirements for some city employees, and there are questions about whether the city’s former rules complied with those laws. City solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said she believes council’s change today falls within the state’s laws.
Parrot, who has served as head of the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works, had listed his residence as a property on Westwood Avenue that turned out to be an empty lot he owned. Meanwhile, he was actually living in Butler County. City officials found out about the discrepancy in June and disciplined Parrott by docking him 40 hours of pay and requiring him to move into the city within 180 days. That time had elapsed and Parrott still hadn’t moved back. Parrott was granted a 45-day extension at the end of the six-month period as the city decided whether to fire him or change its rules.
Wound up in the questions about Parrott’s residency is the city’s court-ordered, $3.2 billion sewer project, a huge undertaking that will stretch into the next decade. The city was ordered to update its sewer system after a lawsuit by homeowners and environmental groups. Some council members say Parrott is integral to that ongoing process. Others, however, say that doesn’t excuse his actions.
“I understand the desire to keep this person in place,” Flynn said, acknowledging Parrott’s big role. “But I cannot support keeping someone who has been dishonest with the city and has continued to be dishonest with the city. I think that does a disservice to the rest of our city employees and to our citizens.”
Parrott has told City Manager Harry Black that he doesn’t want to live in the city for personal reasons but does want to remain at his job.
Hamilton County Commissioners voted today to axe Music Hall from a proposed sales tax increase designed to pay for renovations to that structure and Union Terminal. Now, only Union Terminal will benefit from the potential tax hike, which county voters will decide on in November. Voters won't get a chance to decide whether a similar hike will pay for Music Hall.
Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council are not happy about the change-up.
“As mayor of this city, I’m deeply offended when we’re treated as second-class citizens in our own county,” Cranley said during a vote approving the city’s contribution to renovations at today’s council meeting. “We have done our part. We will pay the tax if it is passed. In no other jurisdiction, not even Hamilton County, is being asked to cut its budget … for these institutions.”
Cranley said asking city taxpayers for more money represents a kind of double taxation, since they would also be paying the county sales tax increase.
Ostensibly, council was voting to approve annual payments toward upkeep of both Union Terminal and Music Hall for 25 years. The $200,000 yearly commitment to each building adds up to $10 million. Cranley floated the plan last week as a demonstration of the city’s commitment to the landmark buildings.
Council approved that money unanimously, but that vote is mostly symbolic now that the fragile plan to fund both renovations with a tax hike, first proposed by a cadre of area business leaders called the Cultural Facilities Task Force, has fallen through. Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel said the proposed contributions, which the city already makes, don’t represent a renewed effort to fix the buildings.
The city has also pledged another $10 million toward Music Hall repairs. Those contributions weren’t enough for Hartmann, who had been the swing vote on the three-member commission. He signaled he would not vote for the original 14-year, .25 percent sales tax increase designed to raise much of the $331 million needed to repair the buildings.
Instead, he voted with fellow Republican Monzel today for an alternate tax measure that left Music Hall out of the deal, raising $170 million over five years for renovations to Union Terminal only. Democrat Todd Portune, who supported the original plan, voted against the new deal.
Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald, who led the task force designing the original deal, said the new plan jeopardizes more than $40 million in private donations, as well as historic preservation tax credits.
"The idea that somehow there’s going to be more money falling from space or that this money will be put forward for an alternate plan is a fallacious assumption," McDonald told the Cincinnati Business Courier. "That money has been committed to us personally for this plan.”
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called the development “frustrating.”
“I’m not here to add gasoline to the fire, but I think logic is a fair expectation of our elected leaders, and after people have said repeatedly that plans haven’t been vetted, that questions haven’t been answered, they’ve now moved forward with something that has no vetting,” Sittenfeld said, referring to criticisms of the original plan by anti-tax groups like COAST. “I hope people don’t forget what happened eight blocks from City Hall anytime soon.”
Monzel said that the plan's details would
be worked out in the coming weeks, and that he wants to keep the county
from overextending itself.
“Going back through the real-estate records, it’s clear that time and time again the city has stepped forward,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He highlighted the city’s rescue of Union Terminal from a failed plan to turn it into a mall in the 1980s. The city bought the building from a developer after the plan crashed and burned. Flynn also said the city has made significant contributions to 136-year-old Music Hall's upkeep since the 1800s.
The organization’s Ridership and Development Director celebrated Metro’s announcement on Thursday that it will provide health and dental benefits to domestic partners of its employees.
Lahman said she has used same-sex partner benefits in the past, when she went back to school.
“[My partner and I] know first-hand what it means to have the flexibility and equality as others do in the workplace,” Lahman said at a press conference at Metro’s office. “This is just a fantastic day and I’m so proud that Metro is able to do the right thing.”
Metro is the first employer to say it will use Cincinnati’s domestic partner registry if the initiative passes next week in City Council. Should it pass, Cincinnati will be the 10th city in Ohio to have a domestic partner registry.
Mayor John Cranley and City Councilman Chris Seelbach attended the press conference and spoke in support of the move.
Cranley called it “symbolically and substantively right” and during the announcement shared a memory in honor of Maya Angelou, her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.
“She ended it with ‘Good morning,’” Cranley said. “I think this is a good morning for Cincinnati, a new day.”
Many of Cincinnati’s major employers, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Macy’s offer same-sex and domestic partner benefits.
Seelbach said while those companies already have systems to evaluate domestic partnerships, the registry will give other companies like Metro an easy way to provide those benefits.
“We are now leaders in the nation and the region to make sure everyone is welcome in our city, regardless of who they love,” Seelbach said. “Everyone should bring their full self to their workplace and be able to do that with health benefits for their partners.”
Seelbach said while Metro is the first to say it will use the registry, other companies like Cincinnati Bell have expressed interest.
Metro is a nonprofit tax-funded public service of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) with around 850 employees.
One of SORTA’s executive statements says the organization is committed to a work environment that “promotes dignity and respect for all.”
Board Chair Jason Dunn said SORTA’s commitment to inclusion is a great business decision.
“It shows that we value our employees,” Dunn said. “It shows that not only is Metro on the cutting edge of transportation but also making sure we are open to talent and we are open to retaining great talent in our system.”
Same-sex partners with a valid marriage license, same-sex partners registered by a government entity and same-sex partners with a sworn affidavit will be recognized by Metro for domestic partner benefits, which will take effect January 1, 2015.
Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.
But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.
Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more
firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response
(SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the
city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits
of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick
up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently
sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the
Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.
The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by
unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide
preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky
Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies
with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.
Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.
Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.
Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.
Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.
Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.
The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.
A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.
Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.firstname.lastname@example.org.
A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.
Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.
Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.
Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”
The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.
Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.
Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”email@example.com.
Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even though the developer involved plans to invest another $60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.
Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”
Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million, largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and service cuts.
Commentary: “Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.”
Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting politics over the city’s needs.
Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.
Kathy Wilson: “Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.
At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Headline: “Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”
“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Council yesterday expressed support for a barebones parking plan that would upgrade all meters to accept credit card payments and increase enforcement around the city, which should boost annual revenues. The plan does not increase rates or hours at meters, as Mayor John Cranley originally called for. It also doesn’t allow people to pay for parking meters through smartphones. The plan ultimately means death for the parking privatization plan, which faced widespread criticism after the previous city administration and council passed it as a means to jumpstart new investments and help fix the city’s operating budget and pension system.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman plans to pursue changes to the city’s political structure to give more power to the mayor and less to the city manager. Smitherman says the current system is broken because it doesn’t clearly define the role of the mayor. Under Smitherman’s system, the mayor would run the city and hire department heads; the city manager, who currently runs the city and handles hiring, would primarily preside over budget issues; and City Council would pass legislation and act as a check to the mayor. Smitherman aims to put the plan to voters this November.
Commentary: “WCPO’s Sloppy Streetcar Reporting Misses Real Concerns.”
The Cincinnati Art Museum maintains five political cartoons from the famed Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), but none are currently on public display. The cartoons call back to the history before World War II, when most of the world played ignorant to the horrors of the Holocaust and Americans had yet to enter the war. Dr. Seuss loathed the villains on the world stage, and his cartoons promoted a message of interventionism that would eventually lead him to join the Army to help in the fight against the Axis powers. When he returned home, he would write the famous stories and books he’s now so well known for.
Mayor Cranley and some council members appear reluctant to accept a routine grant application that would allow the Cincinnati Health Department to open two more clinics because of the potential effect the clinics could have on the city’s budget. Cranley and other council members also seem concerned that the Health Department played a role in the recent closing of Neighborhood Health Care, which shut down four clinics and three school-based programs after it lost federal funding.
Ohio legislators approved a bill that forces absentee voters to submit more information and reduces the amount of time provisional voters have to confirm their identities from 10 days to one week. For Democrats, the bill adds to previous concerns that Republicans are attempting to suppress voters. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who’s expected to sign the measure into law.
The Ohio legislature continues wrangling over how to give schools more snow days.
More than 175,000 claims have been filed over winter damage, potentially making this winter one of the costliest in decades.
Robot suits could make mixed martial arts email@example.com.
The mayor and a supermajority of City Council backs efforts to establish a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples in Cincinnati, Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office announced Tuesday.
If adopted by the city, the registry will allow same-sex couples to gain legal recognition through the city. That would let same-sex couples apply for domestic partner benefits at smaller businesses, which typically don’t have the resources to verify legally unrecognized relationships, according to Seelbach’s office.
Specifically, the City Council motion asks the city administration to reach out to other cities that have adopted domestic partner registries, including Columbus and eight other Ohio cities, and establish specific guidelines.
Seelbach’s office preemptively outlined a few requirements to sign up: Same-sex couples will need to pay a $45 fee and prove strong financial interdependency by showing joint property ownership, power of attorney, a will and other unspecified requirements.
“As a result of a $45 fee to join the registry, we believe this will be entirely budget neutral, meaning it won't cost the city or the taxpayers a single dollar,” Seelbach said in a statement.
If the plan is adopted this year, Cincinnati should gain a perfect score in the next “Municipal Equality Index” from the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that, among other tasks, evaluates LGBT inclusion efforts from city to city. Cincinnati scored a 90 out of 100 in the 2013 rankings, with domestic partner registries valued at 12 points.
Seelbach expects the administration to report back with a full proposal that City Council can vote on in the coming months.
Following county commissioner’s Feb. 12 meeting, the dispute between Cincinnati and Hamilton County over contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects appears to be heading to court.
The court battle comes after the county dismissed multiple concessions from the city and put MSD’s revamp of the local sewer system on hold in protest of the city’s rules. With a federal mandate looming, both sides agree a resolution is needed soon to avoid costly fines from the federal government.
For many across the city and county, the conflict is understandably confusing. The debate has often been mired down by biased media reports and political talking points that obfuscate the issue. Jargon referencing “responsible bidder,” “local hire,” “local preference,” unions, apprenticeship programs, a pre-apprenticeship fund and contractors make it even more difficult to grasp what is going on.
Cutting through the politics, here is what the responsible bidder rules actually do and why the city and county seem incapable of compromise.
What is responsible bidder?
It’s a city ordinance that essentially forces MSD contractors to adopt job training measures known as apprenticeship programs and pay for a pre-apprenticeship fund. By requiring the training options, the city hopes workers will be able to improve their skills and successfully transition to other jobs once their MSD work is finished.
Apprenticeship programs take workers through extensive on-the-job and classroom-based training in which they can hone their skills in a specific craft, such as electrical or plumbing work. Because workers get paid for their work while participating in an apprenticeship, the programs are typically characterized as an “earn-while-you-learn” model.
The pre-apprenticeship fund will put money toward programs that will teach newcomers basic skills, such as math and reading, so they can eventually move up to an apprenticeship program.
The rules don’t apply to every MSD contractor. Contracts worth less than $400,000, which make up roughly half of MSD’s sewer revamp, are exempted.
What about local hire and local preference?
Those are ordinances separate from responsible bidder that give preference to Cincinnati-based businesses. They try to keep MSD contracts within local companies.
What’s the conflict about?
The conflict is between Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which jointly run MSD. The Democrat-controlled city supports the rules, while the Republican-controlled county opposes them.
The city and county also dispute which governing body can set policy for MSD. Under a 1968 agreement, the county owns and funds MSD, and the city operates and maintains it. City Council argues the agreement allows the city to set policy for MSD, but the county disagrees. Both sides acknowledge the set-up is far from ideal.
So, did the city’s rules halt MSD projects?
No. Nothing in the city’s ordinances forces MSD projects to stop. County commissioners singlehandedly halted MSD projects in protest of the city’s rules. If it were up to the city, work would continue today.
Why are these projects so important?
By federal decree, the city needs to revamp the sewer system to bring it up to environmentally safe standards. The project will cost $3.2 billion over 15-20 years, making it one of the most expensive in the city’s history.
If the city and county don’t carry on with the revamp soon, the federal government will begin issuing fines. By some guesses, the fines could begin rolling in by the end of the year.
Why does a majority of City Council support responsible bidder?
Councilman Chris Seelbach, the Democrat who championed the rules, says they will boost local employment and create more job training options for the city’s struggling workforce.
Other Democrats on council agree, although some, like Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, believe the ordinance is “imperfect.”
Does responsible bidder benefit workers?
Some research suggests it would.
The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) in a December report argued apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. workforce.
“By 2020, America is projected to experience a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 5 million workers with technical certificates and credentials,” the report claimed. “Compounding our inadequate workforce development system, research shows that employers are now spending less on training than they have in the past. At the same time, industry surveys show that a lack of qualified workers is a top concern for many employers.”
Citing a 2012 study from Mathematica Policy Research, CAP estimated apprenticeship programs alone can boost a worker’s lifetime earnings and benefits by more than $300,000. Over 36 years of employment, that’s an average gain of nearly $8,400 a year.
Why do county commissioners oppose the rules?
In terms of policy, county commissioners say the responsible bidder rules favor unions and burden businesses.
On a legal basis, the county argues the city’s responsible bidder rules conflict with state law and the local hire and preference rules enforce unconstitutional geographic preferences.
Does responsible bidder actually favor unions?
Since unions tend to offer better and more apprenticeship programs, yes.
But the rules don’t exclude non-union businesses from participating. For example, Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors maintains some non-union apprenticeship programs that would qualify under the law.
Still, most of the union favoritism debate centered around a regulation the city actually offered to give up. Specifically, under current rules employers are only eligible to contract with MSD if they have apprenticeship programs that have graduated at least one person a year for the past five years. In October, Seelbach offered to strip the mandate and replace it with an incentive program. The county seemed unmoved by the proposal.
What about businesses? Does responsible bidder burden them?
By requiring businesses to adopt apprenticeship programs and put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund, the law certainly places more regulations on businesses. Whether the requirements are a burden is subjective.
John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors and an opponent of the law, told CityBeat the pre-apprenticeship fund’s requirement will increase business costs by $2-3 million over 15-20 years.
Citing MSD estimates for the cost of labor, Rob Richardson, regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the fund will cost businesses $1.5 million.
Even if someone accepts Morris’ estimate, the requirement adds up to at most 0.1 percent of the $3.2 billion project.
More broadly, some supporters of the city’s rules question whether placing a burden on businesses is innately a bad thing. The basic point of government regulations is to make the economy and businesses work better for the public. In that sense, regulations are always going to burden businesses to some extent.
For example, financial regulations burden big banks and financial institutions. But many Americans agree the regulations are necessary to avoid another financial crisis like the one that plunged the country into the Great Recession.
Still, critics argue the extra regulations would increase the cost of business, and the impact could ultimately be felt by MSD ratepayers.
Why don’t the city and county just compromise?
They kind of tried, but it seems the philosophical split between Hamilton County Republicans and Cincinnati Democrats is too strong to reach a substantial agreement.
The city, for example, has offered multiple concessions to the county. In May, City Council modified the law to ease some requirements and add an exemption for contracts worth less than $400,000, which covers half of the contracts involved in MSD’s sewer revamp. In October, Seelbach offered to replace a strict mandate with a looser incentive program. Seelbach also told CityBeat on Feb. 6 that he would consider raising the contract exemption from $400,000 to $750,000.
In return, the county rejected the concessions and instead offered to establish aspirational inclusion goals and some funding for local job training programs — as long as the city repealed its rules altogether.
Which side would win the court battle?
It’s hard to say. Both sides — and their lawyers — seem pretty confident about their legal standing.
So what’s next?
At the current rate, it looks like the city and county are heading to court. Whether the process involves a full-on legal battle or mediation between the city and county’s lawyers remains uncertain, but it’s clear something will eventually have to give.
This blog post will be regularly updated as the situation develops.