Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.
Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.
Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.
Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.
Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.
A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.
On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.
The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.
Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.
Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.
Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.
Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.
Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.
Cincinnati Parks Department Director Willie Carden, Mayor John Cranley's choice for city manager, has withdrawn from the nomination process, the mayor's office announced on Friday.
The mayor's office said it will keep Acting City Manager Scott Stiles in his current role while it launches a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
"After consulting with my family, we have come to the personal, private decision that it is best for me to remain as the director of the Parks Department," Carden said in a statement. "John Cranley is going to be a great mayor and this is a difficult decision for me. But it’s simply about what is best for me and my family. As a personal matter, I would ask that you respect our family's privacy."
Carden's nomination initially drew wide praise from City Council, but it was snared in controversy after Carden said he will continue to live outside Cincinnati — a violation of the city charter. The Cincinnati Enquirer also uncovered an ethics probe that found Carden wrongfully took pay from both the city and the private Parks Foundation.
Councilman Chris Seelbach responded ambivalently to the news, praising both Carden and the decision to go through a national search.
"Although I would have supported Willie Carden as the permanent city manager, I'm glad to see we are now going to undertake the process we should have taken all along," Seelbach posted on Facebook.
When Cranley announced the nomination on Nov. 27, the Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, criticized Cranley for not undertaking a transparent national search prior to his decision.
City Council's Rules and Audit Committee almost considered Carden's nomination on Tuesday, but the decision was delayed for a week to give council members time to interview Carden one-on-one and evaluate ordinances for the nomination.
More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) offer to develop a private-public partnership to fund the streetcar’s operating costs, Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, told CityBeat on Tuesday.
If enough private contributors agree to finance the streetcar’s operating costs, they could address a major concern raised by streetcar opponents and provide the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office early this month.
The Haile Foundation already contributed $1 million to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar, but Avner cautions that his organization’s donation is only the beginning, given all the other entities interested in moving the streetcar forward.
Avner says 14 other business and philanthropic leaders supported the SORTA concept in person or through writing in time for SORTA’s board of trustees meeting on Tuesday. Among other community leaders, Avner cites Otto Budig, Cathy Crain of Cincinnati State, William Portman of the University of Cincinnati, Jeannie Golliher of the Cincinnati Development Fund, Rick Greiwe of Greiwe Development and Jack and Peg Wyant of Grandin Properties.
In a letter to SORTA, the Haile Foundation offers to recruit and financially establish a commission of community leaders that will work with the agency to create an operating and revenue plan that will require no funds from the city of Cincinnati. The letter also promises to leverage the initial $1 million investment to secure additional contributors and build a fund that would pay for a full year of operating costs.
Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully
insufficient” in a press conference on Tuesday. Cranley said the city will need financial assurances far above the Haile
Foundation’s $1 million to cover $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar over 30 years.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes
on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment, but he said the proposal could become a viable option if the city receives more
assurances from SORTA and private entities that show the groups are serious in their offer.
SORTA already agreed to help operate the streetcar if the
project is completed, but its decision to take up the operating costs shows
an additional commitment to the project.
The agency claims bus services will not be impacted by its increased commitment to the streetcar.
City Council expects to vote on Thursday on whether to restart the streetcar project. Council paused the project on Dec. 4 while the city audits the project’s completion, cancellation and operating costs.
Read the Haile Foundation’s full letter below:
John Cranley is calling for the city to halt progress on the streetcar after a report from The Cincinnati Enquirer revealed the city’s construction bids are $26 million to $43 million over budget. City Manager Milton Dohoney says the city might throw out the bids and start the bidding process again, but no final decision has been made yet. But Cranley argues the city has no leverage over bidders because it already bought the streetcars. In CityBeat’s in-depth look at the streetcar, Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, said the cars had to be bought early so they can be built, tested and burned into the tracks while giving staff enough time to get trained — a process that could take as long as two and a half years. The city also cautions that sorting through the bids will take a few more weeks.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) landed a $2.5 million grant to purchase seven new buses. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, yesterday announced SORTA had won the competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The new buses will replace old ones that are no longer good for service.The Horseshoe Casino got approval from the state yesterday despite fears of bankruptcy surrounding the casino’s parent company. As a precaution, the Ohio Casino Control Commission is requiring Caesar’s, the troubled company, to undergo annual financial reviews and notify the commission of any major financial plans, including any intent to file bankruptcy. Caesar’s is currently $22 billion in debt.
Ohio legislators have a lot of questions about Gov. John Kasich’s new school funding formula. Kasich claims his formula levels the playing field between poor and wealthy schools, but Rep. Ryan Smith, a Republican, pointed out his poor Appalachian district is getting no money under the formula, while the suburban, well-off Olentangy Schools are getting a 300 percent increase. In a previous glimpse at the numbers for Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), CityBeat found the funding increases aren’t enough to make up for past cuts — largely because of the phaseout of tangible personal property reimbursements.
Another report found low-performing schools could be forced to outsource teaching. The new policy has aggravated some local officials.
Kasich’s budget will apparently benefit the state’s mentally ill and addicted. Mental health advocates said the budget will expand treatment, housing and other services. Most of the benefits will come from the Medicaid expansion.
CPS says it will not lose any funding over the state auditor’s attendance scrubbing report. The report, released Tuesday, found CPS had been scrubbing attendance data, but the school district claims errors were not intentional.
Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel will give the State of the County address later today.
Ohio Third Frontier approved $3.6 million in new funds to support Ohio innovation. About $200,000 is going to Main Street Ventures, a Cincinnati-based startup accelerator.
Cincinnati Art Museum named an interim curator: Cynthia Amneus.
Covington is getting a new city hall.
New evidence shows lab testing on mice may not be helpful for humans. Apparently, mice and human genes are too different for treatments to be comparable.
The announcement could provide an avenue for business and philanthropic leaders to help fund streetcar operations through SORTA in an attempt to meet demands from the mayor and some council members.
“SORTA’s willingness is based upon assurances from the Cincinnati business and philanthropic communities that they will work with SORTA in public-private partnership to secure the funds required to cover the short and long-term operating costs of the streetcar to the extent other sources of streetcar revenue, such as fares, advertising, sponsorships, etc., are inadequate,” the agency said in a press release.
But in a press conference following the announcement, Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient.” He argued SORTA’s assurances aren’t enough to pull streetcar operating costs completely off the city’s books.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment. But he cautioned the commitment could become a viable path forward for the streetcar project if SORTA provides more assurances in the next couple days, before a council vote on the streetcar.
SORTA’s commitment comes less than one week after Mayor John Cranley said he’d allow the $132.8 million streetcar project to move forward if private contributors agree to cover the streetcar’s operating costs for 30 years. Flynn and Vice Mayor David Mann, the two swing votes on City Council, approved of Cranley’s proposed compromise.
In support of the announcement, the Haile Foundation also announced a $1 million commitment in seed money to spur further contributions to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar.
“We are committed to seeing the streetcar through to completion and beyond. SORTA has stepped up and is more than qualified to serve in this role. This is another great example of community collaboration helping move to region forward,” said Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, in a statement.
Avner told CityBeat on Dec. 12 that private-sector leaders are working to meet the mayor’s demand with some financial assurances for the streetcar’s operating costs. SORTA’s announcement could act as that assurance.
If the streetcar project is completed, SORTA already agreed to help operate the 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But the public-private partnership would increase the agency’s commitment to the streetcar.
SORTA cautioned that bus service will not be affected in any way by the commitment.
It’s unclear whether SORTA’s assurances will be enough to
sway Cranley, Mann and Flynn. If Cranley threatens to veto a
continuation of the streetcar project, both Mann and Flynn would likely
need to vote in favor of the streetcar to overcome a veto and restart the project.
The streetcar project is currently on “pause” while KPMG, an auditing firm, reviews completion, cancellation and operating costs. City officials expect to receive the audit late Tuesday or early Wednesday, with a council vote scheduled for Thursday.
Updated at 3:23 p.m. with details from Mayor John Cranley’s press conference.
Officials working on the $133 million streetcar project are considering taking up extra shifts to speed up delivery of new rail and minimize disruptions caused by construction, project executive John Deatrick told CityBeat on Friday.
If it goes as planned, the extra shifts would reduce the time needed to deliver and install rails around Findlay Market and Liberty Street from one week to a couple days at each location. That would allow the city to avoid closing down surrounding streets for more than a weekend or a Monday and Tuesday, according to Deatrick.
“The main reason isn’t to speed it up,” he says. “The main reason is it would minimize the impact on the motoring public, walking public and biking public.”
Deatrick insists the move is absolutely not related to recent election results that have called the project’s survival into question.
One of Mayor-elect John Cranley’s top priorities upon taking office in December is canceling the streetcar project, which he says isn’t worth the cost and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. He says the outgoing city administration is continuing construction of the streetcar in “a political manner” and running up the bill to make canceling the project more difficult.
But Deatrick claims the 24-hour shifts won’t add much in the way of new costs. He says contractors currently bill the city about $1.5 million each month and that should continue into the future.
As of September, the city had already spent $23 million and contractually obligated another $94 million to the project. The obligations, along with the threat of litigation from contractors involved in the project and taxpayers and businesses along the streetcar track, have raised concerns about how much canceling the project would cost — and whether it’s even financially prudent at this point.
Mayor Mark Mallory and other community officials today jumpstarted a six-month effort to enroll uninsured Cincinnatians into the Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) online marketplaces, which open for enrollment on Oct. 1.
“This is not politics,” Mallory said. “Obamacare is now the law of the land.”
The goal is to reach out to the 21 percent of Hamilton County residents who currently lack health insurance and hopefully help enroll them through the marketplaces, which will allow anyone to go online and browse and compare different health insurance plans.
Forty-six plans will open for enrollment in Cincinnati on Oct. 1, but coverage won’t begin until 2014. The three-month period is supposed to give consumers enough time to decide on a plan before insurance kicks in.
“A new day is starting tomorrow for millions of Americans who have been shut out of the health insurance market,” said Kathleen Faulk, a director at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who will oversee the Cincinnati area’s marketplace.
At the marketplaces, an Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,” or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while a family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers. Other options will range from catastrophic plans, which will cover the barest minimums for a low price, to “platinum” plans, which will provide the most expansive coverage at the highest price.
Participants with an annual income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals making between $11,490 and $45,960, will be eligible for tax subsidies, with the highest incomes getting the smallest subsidies and the lowest incomes getting the largest.
Throughout the enrollment period, outreach campaigns will attempt to enroll as many Americans as possible. Some of those efforts have been made more difficult through new regulations passed by legislators who oppose Obamacare, including Ohio Republicans.
The federal government estimates it will have to sign up 2.7 million young adults out of the 7 million Americans who are expected to enroll. Otherwise, older Americans, who are more prone to sickness and poor health, will flood the marketplaces, exhaust health services and drive up costs.
Enrollment will remain open from October through March. Afterward, enrollment will open annually from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, just like Medicare. There will be exemptions for those who have life-changing events, such as losing a job or turning 26, to allow people to sign up for coverage during unexpected circumstances.
Starting in 2014, most Americans — with exemptions for religious and
economic reasons, the imprisoned and those living outside the country — will have to enroll for health insurance or pay a tax penalty. The penalty will start at $95 per uninsured adult in a household or 1 percent of household income, whichever is higher, and grow in 2016 to $695 per uninsured adult in a household or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is higher.
Anyone interested in the marketplaces will be able to browse options and sign up online at www.healthcare.gov or www.mayormallory.com, by phone at 1-800-318-2596 or in person at various locations, including community health centers and the Freestore Foodbank.
Update: Clarified metal-based classifications for different health care plans.
Ohio's weakening economy could hurt Gov. John Kasich and other Republican incumbents' chances of re-election in 2014, even if they don't deserve the blame for the state of the economy, as some economists claim. For Republican incumbents, the threat is all too real as groups from all sides — left, right and nonpartisan — find the state's economy is failing to live up to the "Ohio miracle" Kasich previously promised. Economists agree state officials often take too much credit for the state of the economy, but political scientists point out that, regardless of who is to blame, the economy is one of the top deciding factors in state elections. For Kasich and other incumbents, it creates a difficult situation: Their influence on the economy might be marginal, but it's all they have to secure re-election.
Despite promising to move on after he failed to permanently halt the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the streetcar in interviews and social media. In a Sunday appearance on Local 12, Cranley threatened to replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to its offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA appointments, not the mayor.) The interview, held within weeks of Cranley mocking and arguing with pro-streetcar critics on social media, comes despite Cranley's promises to move on after City Council agreed to continue the project. "As I tell my son when he doesn't get his way, it's time to move on," Cranley said on Dec. 19.
Streetcar track installation will force the busy intersection at Elm and Liberty streets to close between Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. to Jan. 21 at 7 p.m., city officials announced yesterday. One northbound lane will remain open on Elm Street, but traffic heading east and west on Liberty Street will be redirected.
Commentary: "Bengals Loss Reminds of Terrible Stadium Deal."
Police are investigating three homicides in Avondale and Over-the-Rhine this morning.
Construction crews plan to turn the defunct Tower Place mall into Mabley Place, a new parking garage with several retail spaces on the exterior of the first floor. Across Race Street, other developers will turn Pogue's Garage into a 30-story tower with a downtown grocery store, luxury apartments and another garage.
Hamilton County is dedicating a full-time deputy to crack down on semis and other vehicles breaking commercial laws.
Ohio House Republicans' proposal to revamp the state's tax on the oil and gas industry would not produce enough revenue to cut income taxes for most Ohioans, despite previous promises. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the proposal would only allow for a very small 1-percent across-the-board income tax cut.
Ohio's education system received five C's and an A on a private national report card. The state's middle-of-the-pack performance is largely unchanged from last year's score.
The number of underwater residential properties is declining around the nation, but Ohio remains among the top six states worst affected by the housing crisis, according to real estate analysts at RealtyTrac.
The state auditor's new app allows anyone to easily report suspected fraud.
Macy's plans to lay off 2,500 employees and close five stores to cut costs.Cincinnati Children's is reaching out to to 10,000 children left without a health care provider after several clinics closed.
Ohio drivers can expect lower gas prices in 2014, according to AAA and GasBuddy.com.
A new glue that seals heart defects could provide an alternative to stitches.
Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.
The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project, which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to referendum.
But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.
Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.
Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati.
But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.
Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.
Mayor Mark Mallory was not happy with Hamilton County Commission President Greg Hartmann’s Tuesday letter criticizing him for failing to follow through with a city-county shared services plan. Mallory fired back today in his own letter, criticizing Hartmann for going to the media first and explaining why he no longer supports the City County Shared Services Committee.
“We have had a strong working relationship since you have become Commission President,” Mallory wrote. “So, I was surprised and disappointed that you sent the letter to the media instead of sharing your concerns with me directly; after all, you have my cell phone number.”
Mallory went on to point out that Hartmann is the fourth commission president he has worked with, and the previous three “never would have handled City/County relations in such a confrontational manner.”
The mayor also clarified why he no longer supports the City County Shared Services Committee, which was meant to consolidate county and city services to end redundancies and improve efficiency and competitiveness.
“As the scope of the proposed committee’s work was developed, it became clear to me that not only were we already collaborating at a high level, but that several new collaborations proposed by the City had met resistance from the County,” Mallory wrote. “I began to question the need for a committee to conduct a $400,000 study of future collaboration if there were already potential new collaborations sitting on the shelf.”
Mallory also said he “will never give away the ability of the citizens of Cincinnati to control crucial City functions.” He cited the examples of prosecutors and health clinics, which Mallory implied could have been given off to the county if the committee pushed through its recommendations.
The mayor also pointed out that even if the city and county approved the committee and its recommendations, Hamilton County would still have serious budget problems: “You and I both know that the recommendations of the Shared Services Committee would never have resulted in close to enough savings to close the County’s budget deficit, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.” In other words, stop shifting the blame.
The rest of Mallory’s letter went on to point out Cincinnati and Hamilton County collaborate on a regular basis to “improve services, create efficiencies, and save money.” The mayor pointed to many programs for examples of the city and county working together: the Banks development, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Metropolitan Sewer District, emergency operations, the Port Authority, a $1.9 million city-county contract that has the county manage Cincinnati’s Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program Consortium.
Mallory also claimed there have been cases in which the county declined to collaborate with the city, citing the Indigent Care Levy. The county’s consultant recommended Hamilton County give some of that levy to provide county residents access to primary care at the City Health Center System, but the county declined the potential partnership.
Mallory then said he was willing to work on collaboration with purchasing, fire hydrant maintenance and economic development — three areas Hartmann cited in his own letter to Mallory.
The letter finished with a call to end the politics of the back-and-forth: “I feel very strongly that it is time to take the politics out and leave the matter to the public sector professionals. The City Manager is ready to meet with the County Administrator to discuss any proposed partnership that would improve the lives of our citizens by improving service, increasing efficiency, or saving money.”
In his letter, Hartmann criticized Mallory for not keeping his promise to back the city-county committee, citing a previous letter from Mallory to the Ohio Department of Development that promised $100,000 for the new committee.