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.
The city administration yesterday disputed the findings of a June 20 memo that suggested the city is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but controversy remains about why the city administration withheld the memo from City Council and the Port Authority for three-plus weeks. Opponents of the parking plan are now attempting to use the memo to convince the Port Authority to reject the lease with Xerox, but the Port Authority insists that the memo is laced with inaccuracies and technical errors. The city is pursuing the lease to obtain a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. The money will be used to pay for future budget gaps and development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
City Manager Milton Dohoney defended the city administration’s decision to withhold the June 20 memo, but several council members are angered by what they call a “lack of transparency.” Still, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls argued the administration’s decision to keep the memo from City Council was understandable because the memo was based on faulty information.The Cincinnati streetcar got an opening date yesterday: Sept. 15, 2016. The grand opening comes after years of political controversy, pulled funding and two referendum efforts nearly killed the project. Ever since it was first proposed, the streetcar project has been engulfed in misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered here.
A federal judge made permanent his earlier decision that Ohio must count provisional ballots if they’re submitted in the right polling place but wrong precinct. The ruling is being taken as a victory by voting-rights advocates.
Cincinnati is negotiating to claw back its incentive with Kendle International Inc., which agreed in 2008 to keep its headquarters and create jobs at the city’s Carew Tower. The agreement gave Kendle $200,000 over 10 years on the condition it steadily grew jobs. The failure may add further doubt to the value of job deals, which were criticized earlier in the year by a report CityBeat covered here.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital and Bethesda North Hospital are among the best hospitals in the nation, according to U.S. News’s “Best Hospitals” feature.
Here are some of the odd things that made it into the two-year state budget.
Gov. John Kasich signed a Columbus school plan that will allow levy money to be shared with charter schools that partner with the Columbus school district.
The Senate is the best place in the country to eat hot dogs, according to Food & Wine.
More U.S. hospitals now treat gay parents equally.
Dogs apparently can watch television, which is good news for an Israeli channel explicitly aimed at dogs.
The Hamilton County Jail charges its inmates a fee for incarceration, and a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) suggests the practice harms low-income inmates and raises little money for the county. CityBeat got an exclusive early look at the report, which scrutinized three counties for their pay-to-stay policies. Among the three samples, Hamilton County had the second lowest fees and did the second least harm to low-income people, according to the report. Although the ACLU was hopeful the report and the election of a new sheriff would inspire some change, Hamilton County officials told CityBeat that no changes are planned.
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriage, and some local and state leaders had a few things to say about it. The reactions seem to vary depending on a partisan basis, with Republicans in opposition and Democrats in favor. Rest assured: Here at CityBeat, we favor giving equal rights to people no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
City Council yesterday approved funding and accountability measures for the Cincinnati streetcar project and funding for development at Fourth and Race streets, which will include a downtown grocery store. The streetcar measures close the project’s $17.4 million budget gap by issuing more debt and pulling funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. The accountability measures, which were initially introduced by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, require the city manager to update City Council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.
Commentary: “The Little Engine That Could.”
Make sure to check out CityBeat’s extensive LGBT coverage for our Pride Issue here, including a mini-profile of Councilman Chris Seelbach and his partner.
It’s local election season. In the next five months, City Council will meet only seven times, down from the typical 14.
Odis Jones is leaving his post as Cincinnati’s director of economic development to become CEO of the Detroit Public Lighting Authority, a city-run utility operated by an independent board. Jones was known at City Council meetings for making passionate pitches for various economic development projects, including the most recent plans for Fourth and Race streets. He told Business Courier he wants to go to Detroit to play a role in the revitalization of his hometown: “My mother always said, 'If you see a good fight, get in it.' I'm in it.”
The Ohio House voted to ban red-light cameras despite arguments that the cameras have reduced traffic accidents and saved lives. An Ohio Senate vote is expected in the fall.
NASA is teaming up with Italy and Japan on a mission to Mercury.
Researchers found wearing a T-shirt with the letter “T” on it makes men more attractive. Critics of the study argue attractive men would be better with no shirt — or pants — at all.