City Solicitor John Curp and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said in an Oct. 22 email exchange that it was OK for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to retain her job as a realtor and vote in support of the streetcar project, even though the project could indirectly benefit Qualls by increasing property values — and therefore her compensation as a realtor — along the route.
The email exchange was provided to CityBeat and other media outlets after mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized Qualls, who is also running for mayor, for the alleged conflict of interest at an Oct. 22 press conference.
Curp stated in an email to Nick that Qualls’ potential gains from the streetcar project are too speculative and indirect to present a conflict of interest or ethical violation because the real estate sales are “arms-length transactions between private parties” with a flat 1 to 2 percent fee.
Nick’s emailed response cited two previous Ohio Ethics Commission opinions to support Curp’s analysis.
“It would be unreasonable to hold that lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, and other professionals have an interest in the contracts of their business clients. In general, such professionals are not deemed to be interested in the business dealings of a client, merely because they receive fees for professional services,” according to a February 1986 opinion.
The opinion then clarifies that ethics violations must be directly tied to a project. For example, an insurance agent on City Council would violate ethics law if he or she voted on a construction contract in which his or her insurance agency is charged with handling bond sales for the contract in some way.
Curp also noted that Qualls had asked about the potential conflict of interest on “a minimum of two prior occasions.”
Nick told CityBeat in a phone interview that it’s normal for city officials to go through city solicitors before going to the Ohio Ethics Commission with an ethical question. If the city solicitor and commission agree a formal analysis isn’t necessary, the situation is resolved with brief guidance.
For Cranley, the concerns suggest a contradiction to his previously touted beliefs about the streetcar.
Supporters of the streetcar project, including Qualls,
often tout potential property value increases and the economic gains
they would bring to Cincinnati as a reason to back the project. The economic gains were supported by studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati, which found the streetcar would produce a three-to-one return on investment in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.
Critics, including Cranley, say such property value increases are overblown to falsely justify what they call a “pet project.”
But if the property values never materialize, Qualls isn’t financially benefiting in the way Cranley’s campaign described.
As county and state officials move to investigate and potentially prosecute voter fraud cases, local groups are pushing back, warning that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among voters.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls became the latest to speak out in a letter to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
“The current legal investigations perpetuate the idea that voter fraud is widespread, when it’s not true,” she wrote. “We need to work together to give citizens the confidence that the election process is fair and accessible to those who have followed the law and pre-determined process. When citizens are confused about the process of voting they are intimidated from exercising their full rights to vote, which erodes confidence in and the integrity of our democracy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) and League of Women Voters of Ohio sent similar letters to Husted in the past few weeks, echoing fears that the investigations will intimidate voters into staying out of future elections.
The controversy surrounds 39 “double voter” cases recently sent to the county prosecutor by the Hamilton County Board of Elections. In most of the cases, the voters in question sent in an absentee ballot prior to Election Day then voted on Election Day through a provisional ballot, which are given to voters when there’s questions about eligibility. Even though the voters technically voted twice, their votes were only counted once.
The letters from Qualls and the League of Women Voters claim the cases were sent to the county prosecutor based on a narrow interpretation of state law and other sections of election law back the voters’ actions.
The letters reference Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2),
which says, “If a registered elector appears to vote in that precinct
and that elector has requested an absent voter's ballot for that
election and the director has received a sealed identification envelope
purporting to contain that elector's voted absent voter's ballots for
that election, the elector shall be permitted to cast a provisional
ballot under section 3505.181 of the Revised Code in that precinct on the day of that election.” The law goes on to clarify only one of the votes should be counted.
Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of Elections on May 31, siding with the Republicans on the board who wanted to send the case to the county prosecutor.
Alex Triantafilou, an elections board member and chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, says Republicans just want an investigation.
“I think anytime a person casts two ballots we ought to ask why,” Triantafilou says. “This is not to prejudge any of these cases as criminal charges. That’s not been our intention. What we want is a qualified investigator to ask the question and then answer it.”
Tim Burke, chairman of the local elections board and the Hamilton County Democratic Party, disagrees: “This is a damn shame. What’s happening to those voters is absolutely wrong.”
Burke claims the law was followed and no further investigation is necessary. He alleges Republicans are trying to suppress voters.
“I fear that what’s going on is that elements of the Republican Party want to create the impression that there is massive voter fraud going on, and they want to scare the hell out of people to intimidate them and discourage them from voting in the future,” Burke says. “I think part of what’s going on here is an effort to identify voter fraud in order to justify more restrictions on voting rights.”
Triantafilou argues Democrats, including Burke, are playing politics: “It’s a continuation of the kind of fear that Democrats try to instill in the electorate, and it’s a political weapon. We’re not trying to do that. They alleged voter suppression in the last election cycle. That was nonsensical. The problem really is fraud.”
Ohio voter advocates say there was a big elephant in the room during the creation of Ohio's controversial redistricting map, and it was super tan and cried a lot. The Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting says John Boehner was central in the process, working with map-making consultants and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Here's a link to the Ohio Redistricting Transparency Report. From The Enquirer:
"The report found: decisions were not made in public; public input was ignored; there was limited opportunity for the public to review proposed maps; the public was not provided with relevant data for proposed districts; nonpartisan redistricting criteria were not used; and the criteria used to evaluate plans were never publicly identified."
In the first town hall-style event of the 2012 campaign, President Barack Obama fielded questions on Monday about rights for the LGBT community, what he would do for small business during a second term and which was his favorite Girl Scout cookie (Thin Mints).
Obama — the first Democrat to carry Hamilton County since Lyndon Baines Johnson — held a packed town hall meeting at Music Hall. Cincinnati Fire Department Capt. Joseph E. Wolf estimated the crowd at 1,200 people in the ballroom with an additional 421 hosted outside.
The most recent Quinnipiac University poll from June 27 showed that 47 percent of Ohio voters favored the president, while 38 percent were behind his presumed Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
Mayor Mark Mallory fired up the crowd before the president spoke, saying Hamilton County is the most important county in Ohio, and Cincinnati the most important city in the county.
“The folks in this room are the most important folks in terms of the re-election of President Barack Obama in the United States of America,” Mallory said.
Attending the town hall was former Cincinnati mayor and daytime TV host Jerry Springer, who said he and about a dozen other folks had a private meeting with the president earlier in the day.
"I think it would be bad for the country," Springer said of an America that saw Obama lose the November election. He says the Republican-controlled house would run away with our country without a Democrat in the Oval Office to issue a veto.
Just an hour before the president spoke and seven blocks away at Fountain Square, dozens of Romney supporters rallied, carrying signs with slogans such as “Obama Bin Lyin’.”
Republican Mike Wilson, who is looking to unseat Montgomery Democrat Rep. Connie Pillich in the Ohio House of Representatives, was among the speakers at the Romney Rally. Pillich defeated Wilson in the 2010 election.
"Ohio seems destined to play a pivotal role. We're used to it," Wilson said.
Wilson criticized the Obama campaign for “playing politics” with Romney’s tenure at the head of investment firm Bain Capital.
The Obama campaign has claimed that Romney invested in businesses that outsourced American jobs.
“We're all interested with what Romney did with his money, but we're not interested with what Obama is doing with our money," Wilson said.
He blamed over-regulation and taxation from the Obama administration for companies moving their operations overseas.
Gerry Molt, who attended the rally with his wife Roxanne, claimed that Obama is at war with America and says the focus on Bain Capital is “clearly a distraction.”
Roxanne Molt said she’s excited about the importance of Hamilton County in this year’s election.
“I think this is the premier election of our lifetime,” she said. “I think Romney’s got a good plan. We need someone who supports capitalism.”
The president did a little bit to support Cincinnati capitalism, making a pit stop at Skyline Chili before the town hall, where he ordered a 4-way and two cheese coneys.
The economy was a big focus of Obama’s speech, but also of questions he received afterward.
Tony White, who owns a barber shop/beauty salon, asked what the president would do for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
In his response, the president touted the possible savings for small businesses under the health care overhaul, saying they could pool together and receive the same rates as larger businesses. As for moving forward, Obama said he would continue to put pressure on banks to lend to small businesses.
“We’ve actually been pushing the banks to say, ‘look, taxpayers pulled your backside out of the fire, it’s now important for you to step up and make sure that small businesses aren’t finding their credit restricted, especially if they’ve been in business for a while,” he said.
The president was also asked by a woman who only identified herself as Anna what he would do to further help the LGBT community. Anna’s son Adam is openly gay and is looking at attending Miami University in Oxford.
Despite earlier teasing that he wouldn’t sing at the town hall, Obama led the crown in singing “Happy Birthday” to Adam, who turned 18 on Monday.
Obama again answered the question by touting his accomplishments so far — ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that forbid homosexuals from serving openly in the military and expanding hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners — before going on to say that the federal Defense of Marriage Act needs to be repealed.
The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Obama is the first American president to openly support gay marriage.
The theme the president to which continued to return was that America needs to return to being the land of opportunity.
“What really sets us apart has always been that we have the greatest middle class and a basic idea that’s at the heart of this country that says if you work hard then you can get ahead. If you’re responsive, then you can live out your dreams. You’re not confined to the circumstances of your birth.”
German Lopez contributed to this report.
“The First Energy Family has contributed more than $44,000.00 into re-election campaigns for Justices Cupp and O’Donnell this year alone,” O’Neill, a Democrat who is running for the Ohio Supreme Court, wrote. “It is simply wrong for them to continue sitting on First Energy cases.”
The Ohio Supreme Court, which has seven justices decide
the state’s top judicial cases, is currently handling a case
involving FirstEnergy, an energy company based in Akron. More than
300,000 customers are suing the company over alleged fraud. The 11th
District Court of Appeals previously ruled against FirstEnergy, and the case was appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The lawsuit is the fifth Ohio Supreme Court case involving FirstEnergy this year.
O’Neill pointed out the lawsuit “could easily be a billion dollar case” before writing, “And the public has a right to know that the ruling was not purchased by one side or another.”
Ohio Sen. Mike Skindell, a Democrat who is also running for the Ohio Supreme Court, endorsed O’Neill’s letter. In the past, he also criticized Cupp and O’Donnell for potential conflicts of interest.
The offices of Cupp and O'Donnell did not immediately respond to CityBeat's requests for comment on the letter. This story will be updated if responses become available.
UPDATE OCT. 4, 4:12 P.M.: Mark Weaver, spokesperson for Cupp, responded: “Mr. O'Neill previously raised this argument with disciplinary authorities by filing a complaint. It was reviewed by disciplinary authorities, and they unanimously dismissed it as having no merit.”
Occupy D.C. protesters built some type of structure in a park Saturday night, and police on Sunday notified them that they didn't have a permit and took it down, arresting dozens in the process. It was a pretty nice structure, though.
Remember when we blogged a couple of weeks ago about how Greater Cincinnati has some of the worst air pollution in the nation? Yep, the American Lung Association's report, "State of the Air," gave us an "F" for ozone pollution, a "D" for 24-hour particle pollution and a "fail" for year-round particle pollution. That put us at the 10th worst spot in the country for year-round particle pollution and 14th worst for ozone pollution.
Solar and wind energy provider Pear Energy, which currently operates in all 50 states, released yesterday its "Dirty Dozen" compilation, a list of the 12 utility providers emitting the greatest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a type of greenhouse gas. CO2 emissions, of course, are the gunk released into our atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels like gas, coal or oil. Excess CO2 in our atmosphere is directly linked to global warming.
Coming from a company that wants to sell you energy itself, it's good to approach the list with a little skepticism, but the methodology seems transparent; according to the website, all rankings were determined by total CO2 emissions in 2010 of power producers with retail operations that have carbon intensities above the national average emissions rate (stats were sourced from Environmental Protection Agency data).
While Duke Energy was pinpointed as the nation's worst offender, several other Ohio energy providers also earned accolades, including American Electric Power (No. 2), NRG (No. 8) and First Energy (No. 11).
First Energy is the utility provider that in 2012 partnered with Duke Energy locally to bring Cincinnati an electric aggregation program, allegedly useful for both lowering electricity rates and increasing use of renewable energy sources with group buying power. Last month, CityBeat covered allegations that First Energy was focused on weakening energy efficiency standards under Ohio's Clean Energy Law, supposedly to protect prices from shooting up for its customers.
Earlier today, Gov. John Kasich seemed to come out in support of same-sex civil unions, but Kasich’s spokesperson says the governor was using the term “civil union” loosely and the governor is still against changing the Ohio Constitution to legalize same-sex civil unions and gay marriage.
“The governor’s position is unchanged,” wrote Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesperson, in an email. “He opposes gay marriage and opposes changing Ohio’s Constitution to allow for civil unions. He’s opposed to discrimination against any Ohioan and, while he may have used the term ‘civil union’ loosely in this instance, he recognizes the existing rights of Ohioans to enter into private contracts to manage their personal property and health care issues.”
The clarification walked back earlier comments from Kasich, who told Scripps Media, “I’ve got friends that are gay and I’ve told them ‘Look, (same-sex marriage) is just not something I agree with,’ and I’m not doing it out of a sense of anger or judgment; it’s just my opinion on this issue.” He added, “I just think marriage is between a man and a woman, but if you want to have a civil union, that's fine with me.”
The comments to Scripps Media prompted a response from Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, which is pushing an amendment that would legalize same-sex marriage in Ohio.
“I hope Gov. Kasich understands civil unions are banned by the Ohio Constitution as well and they are a cruel substitute for legal marriage,” he said in a statement. “We need equal rights and family security in Ohio for same-gender couples. That's why more and more Republicans are making the right choice and stepping up to support marriage equality.”
The comments from Kasich, who will run for his second term as governor in 2014 and is seen as a potential
presidential candidate in 2016, come during a period of renewed soul-searching
within the Republican Party. Most recently, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman announced his support of same-sex marriage two years after his son came out as gay. The change means both Ohio senators now support same-sex marriage.
A recent report from the Republican National Committee acknowledged a generational divide on the same-sex marriage issue: “Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.”
Not all Republicans agreed with the report, which sought to establish a new blueprint for Republicans in response to 2012’s electoral losses. In a recent blog post, Republican Rep. Steve Chabot wrote, “To me that (the report) sounds a whole lot like accepting things like gay marriage, and being more liberal on abortion. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a great way to alienate a lot of our base who are still with us. Big mistake.”
Still, the report’s findings are supported by recent polling. A poll from The Washington Post in September 2012 found about 52 percent of Ohioans support same-sex marriage, and only 37 percent are against it, with a margin of error of 4.5 points.
Another poll from Pew Research Center found support for same-sex marriage is growing,
particularly because of the younger generations. Among U.S. adults, about 49
percent responded in support of same-sex marriage, and 44 percent were
The Pew survey found a stark generational divide: Millenials — adults born after 1980 — had particularly pronounced support for same-sex marriage at 70 percent, and about 49 percent of Generation X individuals, meaning those born between 1965 and 1980, were also in support. But only 38 percent of baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — supported same-sex marriage, and only 31 percent of those born between 1928 and 1945 claimed support.
Supporting same-sex civil unions would have made Kasich a moderate by Republican standards. In the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, only former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman supported civil unions, and the rest of the candidates stood against same-sex marriage and civil unions.
In contrast, Democrats are now widely in favor of same-sex marriage. Marriage equality was embraced in the official Democratic platform in September 2012, and President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to support gay marriage in May 2012.
FreedomOhio’s amendment could be on the ballot as early as this year. CityBeat previously covered the amendment’s potential benefits and challenges, including some opposition from Equality Ohio, another LGBT group (“Evolution of Equality,” issue of Nov. 28).
Beyond giving equal rights to same-sex couples, gay marriage could also bring economic benefits to Ohio. A study from Bill LaFayette, founder of Regionomics LLC, found that legalizing gay marriage would grow Ohio’s gross domestic product, which measures economic worth, by $100 million to $126 million within three years. Statewide, that would sustain 740 to 930 jobs within the first year of legalization, 250 to 310 jobs within the second year and 170 to 210 within the third year. In Hamilton County alone, legalization would produce $8.2 million in growth, according to the study.
The U.S. Supreme Court will take up same-sex marriage in two high-profile cases next week. The cases will deal with California’s Proposition 8 law, which made same-sex marriage illegal in the Golden State, and the Defense of Marriage Act, a law signed by former President Bill Clinton that made same-sex marriage illegal on a federal level.
Update (4:45 p.m.): This story was updated to reflect comments from Rob Nichols, Gov. John Kasich's spokesperson.
Fox 19 on Nov. 9 apologized for an ignorant comment made by news anchor Tricia Macke on her personal Facebook page last month. Macke’s comment, “Rachel Maddow is such an angry young man,” sparked outrage among gay-rights organizations for its depiction of MSNBC’s openly gay broadcaster as a man.
According to screen shots published by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Macke appeared to have missed the point when called out by a commenter for targeting Maddow’s sexual identity. Macke wrote, “you are right… I should have said antagonistic” but then told another commenter, “I knew what I was saying.”
GLAAD wrote: “Tricia Macke undoubtedly tried to insult Maddow because of their political differences, rather than simply because Maddow is gay — but her comments went much further than insulting Maddow's political leanings, and took issue with Maddow's gender, revealing an anti-gay (or at least anti-gender-nonconforming?) bias underlying her political beliefs.”
Fox 19 posted its apology along with a statement from Macke describing her comment as insensitive and inappropriate. Macke wrote: “I apologize to Ms. Maddow and any others who may have been offended by my comments, as they do not reflect my firm beliefs in individual and equal rights, and they certainly do not represent the opinions or position of my employer WXIX-TV."
Maddow, an openly gay MSNBC political analyst, is one of America’s highest-profile news personalities. She’s also a Stanford graduate with a doctorate in political science from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.
Two bills discussed today at a hearing of the Ohio House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee would, if passed, offer greater protections to victims of domestic violence and extend them more legal rights to protect their employment, housing and financial livelihood.
Those bills will join H.B. 243 and H.B. 160, which are still awaiting hearings before the judiciary committee and would, respectively, require individuals served with temporary protection orders to surrender their firearms and offer legal protection to the pets of domestic violence victims — often cited as a reason victims have difficulty leaving a violent situation.
Most significant are the changes that would be implemented by H.B. 297, first introduced to the Ohio House in October by Reps. Ann Gonzales (R-Westerville) and Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati). The bill outlines new legal protections for domestic violence victims who need to terminate a rental agreement or take unpaid leave at work in order to deal with domestic violence incidences.
Under the bill, victims of domestic violence would be legally protected against termination at work and have the ability to dissolve a rental lease if the tenant has been a victim of domestic violence. The bill would also prohibit landlords from kicking out tenants because they've been victims of domestic violence at the residence and requires them to comply with requests to change locks when a tenant has been a victim of stalking or menacing.
H.B. 309, also introduced in October, by Reps. Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), would dissolve any charges related to modifications made to a domestic violence, anti-stalking or other type of protection order or consent agreement
In August, CityBeat spoke with domestic violence victim Andrea Metil, who talked about her personal experiences with legal trip-ups that made protecting herself from her attacker difficult. Metil called for stronger legislation to protect victims of domestic violence.
This is the first hearing for both of the bills.