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by German Lopez 03.21.2013
Posted In: News, Governor, LGBT Issues at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Governor Opposes Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions

Kasich's spokesperson walks back earlier comments that supported civil unions

Earlier today, Gov. John Kasich seemed to come out in support of same-sex civil unions, but Kasichs 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, Kasichs 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 in opposition.

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 Californias 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.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014
 
 
news1_headwatersgatewaydistrict_provided

What Is Responsible Bidder?

City’s rule for MSD projects attempts to increase local employment, job training

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.11.2013
Posted In: News, Education at 02:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ccpa

Audit Finds More Problems at City's Largest Charter School

School administrators already accused of misspending hundreds of thousands of dollars

A state audit found more evidence of misused public funds at Greater Cincinnati’s largest charter school, including one example of salary overpayment and a range of inappropriate purchases of meals and entertainment. The school’s former superintendent and treasurer are already facing trial on charges of theft for previously discovered incidents.

The audit reviewed Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy’s (CCPA) records for fiscal year 2010, finding Stephanie Millard, the school’s former treasurer, was overpaid by $8,307. At the same time, founder and ex-superintendent Lisa Hamm used the school credit card for $8,495 in payments to the Cincinnati Bengals, Benihana Japanese Steakhouse, Wahoo Zip Lines, Omaha Steaks and Dixie Stampede.

“These two officials saw no boundaries in how they used taxpayer dollars,” State Auditor Dave Yost said in a statement. “With each audit, we find more of the same: total disregard for the trust placed in them.”

CCPA responded to the audit by stating it has terminated the credit card and replaced it with two debit cards, which supposedly have controls in place to require approval and keep track of who’s using the cards and for what.

The school is also reviewing contracts for the next school year to ensure no further overpayments are made, on top of requiring payments be board-approved.

In March, the school fired Hamm and Millard, and the two former school officials were indicted on 26 counts of theft in office. Their attorney, Mike Allen, claims the school board approved the spending, which could mean the women didn’t break any laws.

In June, another special audit found CCPA had inappropriately spent $520,000 for various unnecessary expenditures, including bonuses, Christmas gifts, Nutrisystem weight loss products and Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber concerts.

CCPA enrolls nearly 1,200 students for kindergarten through 12th grade, with more than 95 percent coming from low-income households, according to Ohio’s school report card data. The Ohio Department of Education gave the school’s K-12 building in the West End a “D” and its K-6 building in Madisonville a “B” for the 2011-2012 school year.

The school is set to receive roughly $6 million in state dollars in 2014, up 3 percent from the year before. That follows the funding trend for Ohio’s charter schools, which are generally receiving more state money in the recently approved two-year state budget.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 08.24.2012
Posted In: Environment, Urban Planning, News, Neighborhoods at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
tuckers1

Tucker's Restaurant Could Claim Cincinnati's First Parklet

"Tiny park" could provide green space to drab Over-the-Rhine area

There's not much green in the area of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street, where Vine Street still finds itself home to a slew vacant buildings, vandalism and littered sidewalks. You won't find trees; just the occasional wayward clumps of grass that manage to triumph through cracks in the concrete.

That's an odd dichotomy to correspond with a neighborhood claiming the largest area of historic Italianate architecture in the country.

As efforts to preserve historic landmarks across the neighborhood continue to flourish, others are taking notice of another key element in revitalization that's been neglected: the presence of a safe, green public space that could spark a type of interest in urban renewal more conscious of natural greenery and it. That's been achieved in the area of Over-the-Rhine south of Liberty Street with the expansive Washington Park, leaving its northern counterpart noticeably more drab.

That sentiment is what propelled a trio of designers and architects to mold a proposal for a parklet in front of Tucker's Restaurant, an iconic Over-the-Rhine greasy spoon that attracts both locals and tourists in a somewhat deserted portion of the neighborhood, bereft of the nearby Gateway Quarter's bubbly atmosphere.

Mike Uhlenhake, a local architect, was first introduced to the parklet concept in San Francisco, where the parklet was founded and now flourishes. A parklet is exactly what it sounds like: a small, urban "park" that typically only occupies enough space to displace two parking spots. They're praised as a way to offer a public, green gathering point in urban areas where parks or wildlife are especially lacking; they might include trees, fountains, sculptures or small cafe tables.  Uhlenhake sensed the need for something similar in the northern area Over-the-Rhine, which remains largely untouched by the mass renovation efforts taking place just blocks away.

"That stretch [of Over-the-Rhine] really seems to lack life. It feels empty, like no people are ever on the street ... it needs a more homegrown feel," says Uhlenhake. "A place like Tucker's really deserves something like this if they want it."

When the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio and the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati held the D.I.Y. Urbanism Competition this spring, Uhlenhake teamed up with two members of Flourish Cincinnati, Michelle Andersen and Becky Schneider, to create a formal entry for the contest, which can be found here or nestled in the back of Tucker's Restaurant on the rear wall.

Their proposal earned the People's Choice Award, which granted them $250 toward implementing the parklet. They've since partnered with local artist Alan Sauer, who assisted in the creation of Tucker's plot in Cincinnati PARK(ing) Day 2009, which staged a tiny patio in front of Tucker's featuring live music and chalk art.

Today, they're all working on putting together a PowerPoint presentation to present to City Council, which would provide an overview of the parklet, design sketches and an outline of its benefits. Once presented, City Council would just have to agree to give up the two parking spots directly in front of Tucker's; although Uhlenhake isn't exactly sure how much the parklet will cost, he's confident fundraising efforts will be all that's needed to foot the bill. Tucker's customers have been the main point of support, he says — dozens have offered to pledge some kind of help to make the vision come true after seeing the plan on Tucker's back wall.

"
This really needs to be a community project. The more people we can get to help, the better."
 
 
by German Lopez 10.06.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, City Council at 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Council Candidates Agree to Support All Neighborhoods

Eighteen of 21 candidates participated in Oct. 5 forum

Just one month before voters pick nine council members at the ballot box on Nov. 5, 18 of 21 City Council candidates on Oct. 5 participated at a candidate forum that covered issues ranging from better supporting low-income Cincinnatians to expanding downtown's growth to all 52 neighborhoods.

During the event, the candidates agreed Cincinnati is moving forward, but they generally agreed that the city needs to carry its current economic growth from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to all 52 neighborhoods. Participating candidates particularly emphasized public safety and government transparency, while a majority also focused on education partnerships and human services for the poor and homeless, which have been funded below council's goals since 2004.

The three City Council candidates not in attendance were Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman and Independent challenger Tim Dornbusch. The absences prompted forum moderator Kathy Wilson, who's also a columnist at CityBeat, to remind the audience that "a vote is a precious thing" and candidates should work to earn support by engaging the public.

Councilman Chris Seelbach and challenger David Mann, both Democrats, had surrogates stand in for them. Seelbach was attending a wedding, and Mann was celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his family.

The forum was hosted by The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and sponsored by CityBeat and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area.

Here are the highlights from the 18 participating candidates, in order of their appearance:

Wendell Young (Democrat, incumbent): Young said Cincinnati should put basic services and public safety first, but he added that the city should also help address "quality of life issues" such as providing "world-class parks." He also said Cincinnati needs to structurally balance its budget, which has relied on one-time funding sources since at least 2001, and make further adjustments to the underfunded pension system. Young also explained that the city needs to strengthen its partnerships with local organizations to help combat homelessness, affordable housing, child poverty and infant mortality.

Laure Quinlivan (Democrat, incumbent): Quinlivan proudly pointed out she's the "only elected mom" on City Council. She said her goal is to make Cincinnati "cleaner, greener and smarter" by focusing on population and job growth and thriving neighborhoods. To spur such growth, Quinlivan claimed the city needs the streetcar project and more bike and hike trails, both of which she argued will attract more young adults to Cincinnati. Unlike other candidates, Quinlivan publicly supported potentially "rightsizing" — or cutting — Cincinnati's police and fire departments to structurally balance the budget. She also said the city should provide more options for health insurance to city employees so they don't all get a so-called "Cadillac plan" that's expensive for the city.

P.G. Sittenfeld (Democrat, incumbent): Sittenfeld touted downtown and Over-the-Rhine's turnaround as a model for economic growth that Cincinnati should expand to all neighborhoods. He argued the model is what attracts companies like Pure Romance to Cincinnati, as the company mentioned the city's recent urban growth as one reason it decided to stay here. (Of course, the nearly $699,000 in tax incentives over 10 years probably help as well.) When asked about his opposition to the current streetcar project, Sittenfeld said the current project is fiscally irresponsible because of its previous budget problems, which City Council fixed in June, and reduction in funding from the state government, which forced the city to pick up more of the funding share. Sittenfeld said his past two years on council were a success, but he added, "I'm not done yet."

Amy Murray (Republican and Charterite, challenger): Murray said her campaign is focused on creating a fiscally sound city by structurally balancing the budget and fixing the underfunded pension system. But she said she would do both without increasing taxes, which could force the city to cut services and retirement benefits. When asked about her opposition in 2011 to extending city employee benefits to LGBT spouses, Murray said she never had a problem with extending the benefits to LGBT individuals — which City Council did in 2012 — but was simply acknowledging that providing the extra benefits requires making cuts elsewhere to balance the budget. (Opponents previously said the issue should be about equality and fairness, not costs.)

Vanessa White (Charterite, challenger): White said her main goals are reducing poverty in Cincinnati, providing more education opportunities to residents and expanding citizen access to city officials. When specifying her goals for education, White said Cincinnati needs to do a better job incentivizing internships for youth at local businesses and touted the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, which seeks to expand preschool education opportunities in Cincinnati. To increase transparency and outreach, White said she would assign City Hall staffers to answer citizens' questions after council meetings.

Michelle Dillingham (Democrat, challenger): Dillingham said the role of local government is to spur growth in abandoned areas that have been failed by the private sector. But to successfully do this, she said the city needs to engage and reach out to its citizens more often. As an example, she cited the development of an affordable housing complex in Avondale, which has been snared by sudden public outcry from a neighborhood group. Dillingham said supporting affordable housing is also more than just providing expanded services; she explained that she supports creating more jobs that would provide a living wage, which would then let more locals own or rent a home without exceeding 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs. At the end, Dillingham touted her 10-point plan to give more Cincinnatians "a seat at the table" and make the city government more inclusive.

Mike Moroski (Independent, challenger): Moroski said he intends to focus on growing Cincinnati's population, reducing re-entry into the criminal justice system and lowering child poverty. He also touted support for development projects and infrastructure, including the streetcar project. At the same time, Moroski argued some development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown is pricing low-income people out of the city's booming areas — an issue he would like to address. Moroski also said he backs efforts to increase Cincinnati's human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years. When asked about his lack of government experience, Moroski said he sees it as a "gift" and "blessing" that's given him a fresh, outside perspective. "I will be the voice for the voiceless," he said.

Melissa Wegman (Republican, challenger): Wegman opened by showing off her business credentials and neighborhood advocacy. When asked what she means when she says she'll bring a "business perspective" to council, she said she would like to see the city put more support toward small businesses. In particular, Wegman said underserved neighborhoods need more city help and funding. She also told panelists that she opposes Issue 4, which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot and would semi-privatize Cincinnati's pension system.

Kevin Flynn (Charterite, challenger): Flynn said Cincinnati's budget problems are by far the most important issues facing the city, but he also trumpeted the local government's lack of transparency and engagement as major issues. He explained he's particularly opposed to the mayor's pocket veto, which allows the mayor to entirely dictate what legislation is voted on by council and potentially block any legislation he or she disagrees with. Flynn said he would like to see more citizen engagement on budget issues and more open debate between council members during public meetings.

Greg Landsman (Democrat and Charterite, challenger): Landsman stated his focus is on population, job and revenue growth, which could help him achieve his goal of a structurally balanced budget. He said the city needs to do more to attract and retain young people. Although Landsman acknowledges the city's progress, he said Cincinnati is undergoing a "tale of two cities" in which some neighborhoods prosper and others flounder. Landsman also suggested increasing human services to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years and improving city management in other areas, including the budget, pension system and roads.

Kevin Johnson (Independent, challenger): Johnson said the role of government should be to balance out the private sector and provide a safety net for those who fall through the system. He said the city needs to do more to tackle income inequality by "investing in people." Johnson said he supports recent efforts to create a land bank system for struggling neighborhoods, which aim to increase homeownership by making it more affordable and accessible. Johnson also claimed that people are tired of party politics and would like to see more transparency in government.

David Mann (Democrat and Charterite, challenger), represented by campaign manager John Juech: Speaking for Mann, Juech said his candidate got into the campaign to address Cincinnati's budget problems. Juech explained Mann will leave "all options on the table," whether it's revenue increases or service cuts, to structurally balance the budget. When asked whether Mann, who previously served 18 years on council, really deserves more time in the local government, Juech explained that Mann's experience makes him a "walking Cincinnati historian." He also argued that Mann has great relationships with county officials, particularly Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, that could make it easier to jointly manage some city services in a way that would drive down costs.

Yvette Simpson (Democrat and Charterite, incumbent): Simpson said she measures progress in Cincinnati by "how well the least of us do," which drove her to start the Cincinnati Youth Commission and other partnerships that help connect the city's youth to jobs. Although Simpson said she supports boosting funding to human services and building better relationships with human services agencies, she said providing more funding is hindered by a "simple math problem" and the city needs to balance its budget before it can provide more and better services. Simpson also said the city could and should do a better job engaging the public with big ideas.

Chris Seelbach (Democrat, incumbent), represented by legislative director Jon Harmon: Reading a statement from Seelbach, Harmon said Cincinnati is on the rise but still needs to improve in various areas. In particular, he said the city needs to do a better job funding all 52 neighborhoods, providing more opportunities for low-income Cincinnatians and eventually increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget. Harmon also touted City Council's progress with infrastructure issues, including increased road paving and bridge funding. By addressing these issues and occasionally making "tough choices," Harmon said Seelbach hopes to continue growing the city.

Pam Thomas (Democrat, incumbent): Thomas claimed she wants local government to be open, honest and transparent. She said the city's progress should be gauged through education metrics, particularly local graduation rates and, starting next year, the city's success in meeting state-mandated third-grade reading proficiency standards. Thomas replaced her husband on council after she was appointed by him and other council members earlier in 2013, but Thomas said that, unlike him, she opposes the current streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to fund development projects and help balance the budget.

Shawn Butler (Democrat, challenger): To Butler, progress means reducing income inequality, creating jobs and growing the city's population. Although Butler, who is Mayor Mark Mallory's director of community affairs, said he's generally supportive of the mayor's policies, he said the city could do a better job selling itself and reaching out to the business community. Butler also touted his experience, particularly how he's gone through eight budget cycles during his time with the mayor. To structurally balance the budget, Butler said he wouldn't increase the earnings tax and would instead pursue other options, such as tapping into money from the parking plan and cutting services.

Angela Beamon (Independent, challenger): Beamon said she would ensure city services are spread out to all citizens and neighborhoods. She suggested struggling neighborhoods are underserved — not "underperforming," a term she doesn't adhere to — and the city should do more to reach out to them. Beamon also stood firm on her opposition to the streetcar project. Instead of funding the streetcar, she said city resources should go toward promoting business ownership and services that help the underprivileged.

Sam Malone (Republican, challenger): Malone said his goal is to make all of Cincinnati's neighborhoods thrive with more businesses. He said since he lost his re-election to City Council in 2005, he's managed a small business and learned how it feels to be on the other side of the government-business relationship. Malone said his campaign slogan ("I love everybody, I come in peace") best exemplifies how he's led his life. When asked about a 2005 incident in which he disciplined his son with a belt, Malone claimed he's "running on issues" and his parenting tactics were deemed lawful by a court.

 
 
by German Lopez 08.23.2012
Posted In: Homelessness, News, LGBT Issues at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
lighthouse youth services

State Grant Helps LGBT Homeless Youth

Cincinnati organization gets grant money to combat homelessness

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced today that grant money will go to a local organization to help homeless youth. Some of the money, which is taken from the State Victims Assistance Act, will go to Cincinnati-based Lighthouse Youth Services (LYS) to help victims of domestic violence, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, between the ages of 18 and 24.

"These kids don't have to live on the streets and wonder every day where they'll be getting their next meal,” DeWine said in a statement.

The grant money, which totals $430,000, will be shared between the Cincinnati organization and The Next Step, another homeless aid organization based in Geauga and Portage counties.

LYS, which helps about 2,200 people in the Greater Cincinnati area each day, will get $137,500 year per year for two years. The money will primarily go to the Lighthouse on Highland facility, which is located in Clifton. Bob Mecum, CEO of LYS, says the facility helps youth between the ages of 16 and 24 that are typically victims of violence.

During the day, Lighthouse on Highland provides nursing, showering, washing, food, shelter, computer and case-management services. At night, the organization acts as a 28-bed shelter. On the average day, the facility helps 10 to 30 people with its street outreach services and 40 to 60 people with its on-site services. On the typical night, 27 out of 28 beds are filled.

“Through this grant from the attorney general offices, the services out of the Highland location will be funded,” Mecum says.

On average, LGBT youth face greater homelessness rates. Even though LGBT youth makes up only about 10 percent of the general youth population, LGBT youth makes up about 20 percent of the homeless youth population, according to the National Coalition of Homelessness. LGBT youth are also twice as likely to experience sexual abuse by the age of 12, and they’re about 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual youth.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.10.2013
Posted In: Voting, News, Government at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
voterfraud

County to Investigate 39 Voter Fraud Cases

Critics warn of potential chilling effect

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.”

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 02.16.2012
Posted In: Environment, Ethics, News at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
schweine-lsz61

McDonald's Does Something Kind of Good?

Fast food conglomerate McDonald's isn't exactly known for its do-goodery for asses or animals. Despite the chain's greatest efforts, they just can't seem to catch a stroke of good PR. Just look at what happened when they launched their Twitter campaign, #McDstories, which ended up backfiring so severely that it's become the laughing stock of the professional PR world.

It's hard to feel too bad about their misfortune; they've done a pretty good job of creating controversy for themselves without any help, including their kind of hilarious, brazen ad released in France featuring a gay teenager (video below), the leak to the public that their "vegetarian" fries were actually fried in beef fat and, perhaps most notably, their bad rap for using suppliers with disregard for animal welfare. The list goes on. Remember the McRib story released last November? News broke that McDonald's pork supplier, Smithfield Foods, was subjecting pigs to excruciating pain and mistreatment. The news didn't exactly come as a surprise, but consumers took it seriously when the Humane Society filed a lawsuit against Smithfield.

Regardless, it seems McDonald's realizes its bad press is its greatest weakness, and they've made some solid efforts to  improve. Most recently, the chain announced it would be requiring pork suppliers such as Smithfield to phase out gestation stalls — pig-sized cages where pigs are confined, unable to move around or sometimes stand up. Their plan has some strong supporters, including the Humane Society. However, the plan hasn't set a deadline requirement; that means it could several years of red tape and stalling before any real progress is made.

Interestingly, frequent McRib eaters probably aren't generally the type to be concerned about whether or not the pig they're eating got to stand up during its last days. Perhaps McDonald's is interested in expanding its already massive consumer pool to include more meat-eaters concerned about the sources of their food. Or perhaps they've realized that it's feasible to treat animals even a little more humanely and still make a stupendous profits. Is it possible?

 
 
by 02.22.2012
Posted In: News, Internet, Censorship, Technology at 05:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
facebook

Here's What Facebook Censors

Moroccan contractor leaks secret document revealing strange guidelines

Never piss off the proletariat.

Upset about his low pay and dismal working conditions, a worker at one of Facebook’s Third World contractors has leaked the social media site’s ultra-secret document about what type of content it censors.

Amine Derkaoui, a 21-year-old Moroccan man, worked for an outsourcing firm last year that scanned Facebook members’ pages for banned content. Given Facebook’s profitability, Derkaoui became angry about its stinginess with workers.

As a result, Derkaoui gave
a copy of Facebook’s internal guidelines about what content it will delete to Gawker, a top Internet gossip site.

Some of the forbidden items are obvious like racial slurs, depictions of human or animal mutilation, photographs or cartoons of sexual activity, violent speech and content that organizes or promotes illegal activity.

But some of the other verboten items are more unusual, if not downright strange.

For example, naked “private parts” including female nipple bulges and butt cracks are forbidden, but male nipples are allowed. The list specifically mentions “mothers breastfeeding” as unacceptable.

Also, most depictions of bodily fluids are unacceptable, but not all. It lists “urine, feces, vomit, semen, pus and ear wax" as unacceptable (yes,
ear wax). But, it helpfully notes, “cartoon feces, urine and spit are OK; real and cartoon snot is OK.” Well, that's good to know.

Other items subject to deletion include cartoon nudity, images of internal organs, bones, muscles, tendons and “deep flesh wounds,” along with “blatant (obvious) depiction of camel toes and moose knuckles.” (Confession: I had to Google “moose knuckle” to know what that meant.)

Images of “crushed heads, limbs, etc. are OK,” however, as long as “no insides are showing” and the person posting them doesn’t express delight or gratification.

Moreover, all criticism of Ataturk, the founder of the nation of Turkey, along with images depicting the burning of Turkish flags are forbidden. It’s believed this restriction is due to certain European laws that, if violated, could cause the site to be blocked in Turkey.

The 17-page manual includes
a one-page “cheat sheet” so workers can quickly reference it when making decisions about what to delete.

Gawker said Derkaoui found his job through the outsourcing firm oDesk, which provides content moderation services for Facebook and Google. About 50 people across the globe — mostly in Turkey, the Philippines, Mexico and India — work to moderate Facebook content. They work from home in four-hour shifts and earn $1 per hour plus commissions.


"It's humiliating. They are just exploiting the Third World," Derkaoui told Gawker.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.28.2013
Posted In: News, Education, Budget at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cps offices

State Budget's Education Increases Fall Short of Past Funding

Cincinnati Public Schools getting $15 million less than it did in 2009

Compared to the previous budget, the two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly Thursday increased school funding by $700 million. But the funding is still $515 million less than Ohio schools received in 2009.

The result: Cincinnati Public Schools will receive $15 million less in state funding than it did in 2009, joining three in four school districts who have a net loss to funding between 2009 and 2015.

Still, Republicans are calling the funding boost the largest increase to education spending in more than 10 years.

“No school district in the state of Ohio will receive less funding than current levels,” says Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans. “Eighty percent of Ohio’s students … are in one of the school districts that is receiving an increase.”

Stephen Dyer, former Democratic state representative and education policy fellow at left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio, says the claim is dishonest because it ignores longer-term trends in funding.

“It’s like they cut off both of your legs, give you back one of them and say, 'You should thank us,'” he says.

Republicans defend the cuts by citing an $8 billion deficit in 2011, which had to be eliminated under state law. Some of the cuts from that previous budget directly impacted school funding, but the decreases also eliminated subsidies that previously benefited schools, such as tangible personal property reimbursements.

Dyer says the state budget situation has changed since then. Instead of focusing on tax cuts, he argues state legislators should have prioritized education funding.

Another problem, according to Dyer, is how the increased funding is distributed. Although Dyer acknowledges the plan is more equitable than the governor’s original proposal, he says some of the most impoverished schools districts, particularly the poor and rural, will get the smallest increases.

Even if there was full equity, Dyer claims there’s not enough money going into education as a result of years of cuts. To illustrate his point, he gives an example: “If I’m going to go see Superman with three of my friends and it costs $10 each to get in, I’ve got $36 and I give everybody $9, none of us are getting in. Even though I perfectly distributed the money equally, … the fact is none of us are getting in.”

The budget’s tax changes could also impact future local funding to schools. As part of the changes, the state will not subsidize 12.5 percent of future property tax levies — something the state does for current levies. For local taxpayers, that means new school levies will be 12.5 percent more expensive.

That, Dyer argues, will make it more difficult to pass future school levies, and that could force schools to ask for less money if they want levies to get voter approval.

“The legislature and legislators are doing a real disservice to people to tell everybody that they’re getting an increase and no one is getting cut,” Dyer says. “They need to be honest with people.”

The budget also increases funding to “school choice” options, including the addition of 2,000 vouchers for private schooling that will be available to kindergarten students in households making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Republicans argue the vouchers give lower-income children access to schools and options in education that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

But a January report from Policy Matters Ohio found the extra mobility enabled by school choice options hurts student performance and strains teachers and staff by forcing them to more often accommodate new students.

The $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. It’s expected Kasich will sign it this weekend.

Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:
Report: State Budget Tax Plan Favors Wealthy
State Budget Rejects Medicaid Expansion
State Budget to Limit Access to Abortion
 
 

 

 

 
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