The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters
if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and
complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated
Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing.
A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C. The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the 72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit.
For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair
tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter
tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS.
The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4
percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public
The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington,
D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s
parking meters today.
The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996 and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or denying the charges.
All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.
Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on “faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters’ screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.
CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal, which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction and economic development, in detail. Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to pass a possible City Council vote today.
On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S, an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward
his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human
Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other
changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own
plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to
“non-essential programs” to tame the deficit.
Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.
City Council may vote today on the controversial plan to lease the city’s parking assets to fund economic development and temporarily balance the deficit. On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach put forward Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenues, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent. Previously, City Manager Milton Dohoney unveiled Plan B to the parking plan, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to “non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years. The parking plan was unanimously approved by the Cincinnati Planning Commission Friday, and it appears five council members are ready to give the plan the go-ahead.
Members of Gov. John Kasich’s own party are beginning to show skepticism toward the governor’s budget proposal, which would expand the sales tax to apply to more services, increase the oil and gas severance tax and make more Ohioans eligible for Medicaid — mostly at the cost of the federal government. Republicans are likely to propose alternatives before a mid-April vote. In a Quinnipiac University poll, a majority of Ohioans approved of the Medicaid expansion but not Kasich’s tax plan. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget plan in detail here.
Police are taking measures to prevent traffic problems at the Horseshoe Casino’s grand opening tonight. Meanwhile, Indiana casinos are preparing for downturns as the Horseshoe Casino promises a major alternative to tri-state gamblers. During the soft opening last week, Ohio’s casino regulator found the Horseshoe Casino would have to fix its security and surveillance before the grand opening. Previous studies found casinos bring job growth at the cost of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide, and a Dayton Daily News report also found the state’s casinos are falling short of job projections.
On Friday, the sequester, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts, kicked in, and it could mean big funding reductions for Ohio’s schools. The blunt cuts are largely because Republicans refuse to negotiate with President Barack Obama and Democrats — to the point that Republicans don’t even know what the president is proposing.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio is asking the state’s Department of Education to expand its seclusion room rules to apply to charter schools. Previous reports found seclusion rooms, which were originally intended to hold out-of-control kids until they calm down, have been largely used for convenience by educators, leading to stricter policies from the Ohio Department of Education. But the regulations currently apply only to traditional public schools, not charter schools.
Reminder: On top of putting everyone around you in danger, texting while driving will now result in a fine up to $150.
The Cincinnati Zoo has confirmed it has terrible taste in names with its choice for the new four-week-old gorilla: Gladys Stones. Still, the zoo does have that whole environmentally friendly thing going on. Maybe the pros outweigh the cons.
U.S. researchers are claiming they have “functionally cured” an HIV-infected infant after extensive treatments left the virus’s presence in blood at such low levels that it can no longer be detected by standard clinical tests.
Scientists are ostracizing what Popular Science calls the “world’s sexiest octopus.”
If you can watch BigDog, the four-legged robot, toss cinder blocks with ease and not fear the robot apocalypse, you’re not prepared.
If City Council does not agree to lease Cincinnati’s parking system, the city manager’s office says the city will be forced to lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, but critics argue there are better alternatives.
In a memo dated to Feb. 26, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. wrote that the city will also have to close three community centers and six pools; eliminate Human Services Funding, which aids the city’s homeless and poor; and reduce funding for local business groups, parks, nature education for Cincinnati Public Schools and environmental regulations, among other changes. In total, the cuts would add up to $25.8 million — just enough to balance the deficit that would be left in place without the parking plan.
In addition to the cuts, failing to approve the parking plan, which leases the city’s parking meters for 30 years and lots and garages for 50 years to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, would displace plans to convert Tower Place Mall, construct a 30-floor tower with a grocery store downtown, accelerate the the I-71/MLK Interchange project, acquire the Wasson Line right-of-way for a bike trail and add $4 million to the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor, has come out in favor of the parking plan, but John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, says he opposes the deal because it will hurt downtown businesses.
“It’s the boy who cried wolf,” Cranley says. “In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and firefighters, and it never happened.”
Cranley says he would rather take $10 million from projected casino revenue and $7 million from current parking revenues to help clear the deficit. For the remaining $8.8 million, he would cut non-essential programs, which would exclude police, fire, garbage collection, health, parks and recreation, street pavement and Human Services Funding, across the board by 10 to 15 percent. If that wasn’t enough, he would then move to the essential programs, which he says make up about $300 million in the $368.9 million budget, with a 1-percent across-the-board cut.
He says his solution would have the upside of fixing structural deficit problems in Cincinnati’s General Fund, whereas the one-time lease of the city’s parking assets will only take care of the deficit for the next two years.
Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says City Council could use the casino revenue to pay for the deficit, but $4 million of it is already set for the Focus 52 program, which funds neighborhood development projects.
“Council can use whatever revenue sources they want,” Olberding says. “That’s why the memo … says we can either use this plan or another plan.”
Cranley says he would not do away with the Focus 52 program, but he would instead find funding for it in the Capital Budget, which is separate from the General Fund.
Olberding says City Council could approve the use of about $3 million in parking meter revenue for the General Fund, but the rest of the parking money, which comes from lots and garages, is tied to an enterprise fund, which, by state law, means the city would have to sell its parking lots and garages before it could obtain money for the General Fund.
Cranley, who also opposes the streetcar project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23), says it
would be possible to pay for the I-71/MLK Interchange and other projects
if the streetcar wasn’t taking up funds. If it was up to him, he says
he would remove streetcar funding and use it on other development
projects “without batting an eye.”
In the Feb. 27 City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said the Budget and Finance Committee will likely vote on the city manager’s parking plan on March 4 or March 11.
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a 40-year agreement with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) that will lease the county-owned Memorial Hall and provide renovations to the 105-year-old building.
County officials have long said the building, which is used to host concerts, shows and speaking events, is in dire need of upgrades, particularly overhauls to its roof, windows, facade work, floors, air conditioning and bathrooms — all of which will now be financed by 3CDC with the help of tax credits.
“The public-private partnership between 3CDC and Hamilton County will result in the preservation of historic Memorial Hall without the use of taxpayer dollars for the improvements,” Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, said in a statement. “3CDC has an impressive track record with development projects in downtown Cincinnati and will be a great partner to manage this project.”
The partnership will also relinquish the county government’s operational funding for insurance and utilities for Memorial Hall, which cost the county about $200,000 annually.
In a statement, Hartmann’s office said the partnership with 3CDC “extends only to the renovations at Memorial Hall,” and the county will retain ownership and the final say over any increased programming.
The city of Cincinnati has repeatedly partnered with 3CDC, a nonprofit company, for projects at Fountain Square, Washington Park, the Vine Street streetscape project and ongoing developments throughout Over-the-Rhine.
A new Policy Matters Ohio report found local government funding has been reduced by $1.4 billion since Gov. John Kasich took office, leading to a nearly 50-percent reduction in state funding.
The report found local government funding dropped from nearly $3 billion in the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years — the years budgeted by former Gov. Ted Strickland — to about $2.2 billion in the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years — the first two years budgeted by Kasich. The governor’s most recent budget proposal would ensure the continuation of the downward slide, with local government funding dropping down to slightly more than $1.5 billion in the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, according to the report.
Policy Matters concluded new revenue from the state’s
casinos and an expanded sales tax would not be enough to outweigh cuts
in the Local Government Fund, utility tax reimbursements, tangible
personal property reimbursements and the termination of the estate tax. By itself, the estate tax, which was phased out at the beginning of 2013, would have provided $625.3 million to local governments in the 2014-2015 budget, but it was repealed
in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature and Kasich.
The governor’s office has repeatedly argued that the cuts in Kasich’s first budget were necessary to help balance an $8 billion budget deficit, but the Policy Matters report says improving economic conditions have removed a need for further local government funding cuts: “To encourage growth we need good schools, reliable public safety and emergency services and strong communities. During hard times, state and local policy led to cuts. But further cuts in appropriations for local government are not helping communities. Curtailing local control of local revenues will complicate recovery – as the economy improves, it is time to restore the fiscal partnership between state and community.”
When presenting his 2013 budget proposal, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the state funding reductions cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in revenues for the year.
CityBeat previously covered Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget proposal and how it affects taxpayers, schools and Medicaid recipients (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).
Following CityBeat’s blog post yesterday, the city released the official documents for the city manager’s parking plan. So far, no one has reported anything outrageous or unexpected. If you see anything, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of the two dozen people who spoke at a public hearing for the parking plan yesterday, all but two opposed the plan. Much of the opposition came from people who said they were worried parking will be expensive, but the city manager’s office says it will take three years for parking rates to go up in Downtown and six years for rates to go up in neighborhoods after an initial hike to 75 cents. CityBeat covered the parking plan in detail here.
Cincinnati officials are now saying that a freestanding restroom could cost as low as $35,000. Officials say the public restroom is needed to accommodate growing activity and population in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown. Some critics were initially worried that the facility would cost $100,000.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino will partner up with the Cincinnati Police Department to keep out cheats and prevent theft. The casino will also have advanced surveillance equipment, allowing them to detect anyone around the casino before they even get into the building. It may seem like a lot, but casinos do tend to attract cheaters and other troublemakers, according to Ohio Casino Control Commission Director of Enforcement Karen Huey. The Horseshoe Casino is set to open March 4.
A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association found more teen drivers died in crashes this year than the last two, and some officials fear wireless devices may be a leading cause. In Ohio, the six-month grace period for the teen wireless ban expires Friday, which will allow police officers to issue tickets instead of warnings to teenagers using any wireless devices while driving.
Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal would cut back a state-funded college internship program, which awarded $11 million to universities around the state.
Ohio Democrats are asking Kasich to put his Ohio Turnpike funding promises in writing after they found out the governor’s budget proposal doesn’t actually say that 90 percent of leveraged funds will remain in northern Ohio, which Kasich originally promised.
Barry Horstman, investigative reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer, collapsed and died in the newsroom yesterday. CityBeat offers its condolences to Horstman’s co-workers, family and friends.
The University of Cincinnati got a $2.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to train cancer researchers. “Our emphasis is on training the next generation of cancer researchers to translate basic science discoveries into improved patient care,” Susan Waltz, co-principal investigator of the grant and professor of cancer biology at the UC College of Medicine, said in a statement.
A homemade jetpack can reach altitudes up to 25,000 feet, but it might have some trouble landing.
City Hall will host public hearings about the city manager’s parking and economic development plan today, but the hearings will take place before the public knows all the official details. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the legal documents and contracts for the deal aren’t ready to be released yet, but they will be ready before City Council holds a vote.
“We’re still finalizing the documents,” Olberding says. “These are long, complicated documents, so we want to make sure they’re done right, and we’ll put them online as soon as they’re available.”
When the documents are released, they will include Cincinnati’s deal with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, but they will not divulge specifics on the Port Authority’s contracts with AEW, Xerox, Denison and Guggenheim — the four private companies partnering with the Port Authority to manage city’s parking assets.
Without the full details, mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan, says he’s concerned the public is going into the deal blind: “Why are they having public hearings before giving the contract to the public and giving us the exact details? What they do is sit back and selectively give information.”
The lack of details has already led to some surprises since the parking proposal was announced to the public. On Feb. 21, Olberding told CityBeat the city will be able to bypass the so-called cap on parking meter rate increases through unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower the cap in case of changing economic needs, says Olberding.
Under the initial plan, parking meter rates will be set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a compounded basis, with any increases coming in 25-cents-an-hour increments. That should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for Downtown and every six years for neighborhoods, says Olberding.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled his parking proposal on Feb. 19, promising $92 million upfront and an additional $3 million a year to pay off the city’s budget deficits for 2014 and 2015, build a 30-story high-rise Downtown with a grocery store and 300 luxury apartments, renovate Tower Place Mall and complete the I-71/MLK Interchange project (“City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan,” issue of Feb. 20).
The White House released a list of what cuts will be made in Ohio as part of mandatory spending cuts set to kick in March 1, which are widely known as the sequester. Among other changes, 26,000 civilian defense employees would be furloughed, 350 teacher and aide jobs would be put at risk due to $25.1 million in education cuts and $6.9 million for clean air and water enforcement would be taken away. President Barack Obama and Democrats have pushed to replace the sequester with a plan that contains tax changes and budget cuts, but they’ve failed to reach a compromise with Republicans, who insist on a plan that only includes spending cuts.
Community Council President David White told WVXU that the streets and sidewalks of the long-neglected neighborhood of Pendleton were previously crumbling, but the Horseshoe Casino’s development has helped transform the area. With Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds, the city has budgeted $6 million in neighborhood development that has led to new trees, expanded sidewalks and the potential for further developments that will appeal to new businesses.
A surprise inspection of the private prison owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) on Feb. 22 revealed higher levels of violence, inadequate staff, high presence of gang activity, illegal substance use, frequent extortion and theft, according to the report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), Ohio’s nonpartisan prison watchdog. The CIIC report found enormous increases in violence, with a 187.5-percent increase in inmate-on-inmate violence and 305.9-percent in inmate-on-staff violence between 2010 and 2012. Many of the problems are being brought on by inadequate staff, according to the report. The findings echo much of what privatization critics have been warning about ever since Gov. John Kasich announced his plans to privatize the state prison in 2011, which CityBeat covered in-depth here.
Kasich has highlighted funding increases in the education plan in his 2014-2015 budget proposal, but the plan also includes looser requirements for Ohio’s schools. The plan will remove the teacher salary schedule from law, which sets a minimum for automatic teacher pay increases for years of service and educational accomplishments, such as obtaining a master’s degree. It would also change the minimum school year from 182 days to 920 hours for elementary students and 1,050 for high school students, giving more flexibility to schools. CityBeat took an in-depth look at the governor’s budget and some of its education changes here.
Ohio Democrats want to change how the state picks its watchdog. The governor currently appoints someone to the inspector general position, but Democrats argue a bipartisan panel should be in charge of making the pick.
Mayor Mark Mallory is in Spain to meet with CAF, the company constructing the cars for Cincinnati’s streetcar project. Streetcar opponents, including mayoral candidate John Cranley, say the cars are being built too early, but the city says it needs the time to build the cars, test them, burn the tracks and train staff in the cars’ use. CityBeat covered the streetcar and how it relates to the 2013 mayoral race here.
The amount of Ohio prisoners returning to prison after being released hit a new low of 28.7 percent in 2009. The numbers, which are calculated over a three-year period, indicate an optimistic trend for the state’s recidivism statistics even before Gov. John Kasich’s sentencing reform laws were signed into law.
Cincinnati’s real estate brokers say the city manager’s parking plan will revitalize Downtown’s retail scene by using funds from semi-privatizing Cincinnati’s parking assets to renovate Tower Place Mall and build a 30-story apartment tower with a parking garage and grocery store.
The University of Cincinnati was the second-best fundraiser in the state in the past year. On Feb. 20, UC announced it had met its $1 billion goal for its Proudly Cincinnati campaign.
On Saturday, Bradley Manning, the American citizen accused of leaking a massive stash of diplomatic cables and military reports to WikiLeaks, went through his 1,000th day in U.S. custody without a trial.
Popular Science has seven ways sitting is going to kill us all.
A surprise inspection of the private prison owned by Corrections Corporation of
America (CCA) on Feb. 22 revealed higher levels of violence, inadequate staff, high
presence of gang activity, illegal substance use, frequent extortion
and theft, according to the report from the Correctional Institution
Inspection Committee (CIIC), Ohio’s nonpartisan prison watchdog.
report found the Lake Erie Correctional Institution had a 187.5-percent
increase in inmate-on-inmate violence between 2010 and 2012, leading to a rate of inmate-on-inmate violence much higher than comparative prisons and slightly
below the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC)
average for all state prisons. Rates of inmate-on-staff violence increased by 305.9-percent between
2010 and 2012 and were much higher than comparative prisons and the ODRC
average, according to the report.
and security were major areas of concern, with the report noting
“personal safety is at risk.” Fight convictions were up 40 percent, but
they weren’t any higher than comparative prisons or the ODRC average,
the report found. Disturbances, use of force, access to illegal
substances, shakedowns and bunk searches were all in need of
improvement, but rounds were acceptable.
staff handle the use of force and sanctions were particularly
problematic, the report said: “Incident reports indicate that staff
hesitate to use force even when appropriate and at times fail to deploy
chemical agents prior to physical force, risking greater injury to both
inmates and staff. Staff also do not appropriately sanction inmates for
serious misconduct. At the time of the inspection, the facility had no
options for sanctions other than the segregation unit, which was full.”
treatment, fiscal accountability and rehabilitation and reentry
were all found by the report to be in need of improvement, with
many of the problems focusing on inadequate staff — a common concern
critics repeatedly voiced after Gov. John Kasich announced his plan to
sell the state prison to CCA in 2011. “The above issues are compounded
by high staff turnover and low morale,” the report said. “New staff
generally do not have the experience or training to be able to make
quick judgments regarding the appropriate application of force or how to
handle inmate confrontations. Staff also reported that they are often
required to work an extra 12 hours per week, which may impact their
troubling findings left CIIC with dozens of recommendations for
the private prison, including a thorough review of staff policy and
guidelines, stronger cooperation between staff, holding staff and
inmates more accountable and the completion of required state audits and
only positive findings were in health and well-being. The
report said unit conditions, mental health services and food services
were all good, while medical services and recreation were acceptable.
The report echoes many of the concerns raised by private prison critics, which CityBeat previously covered (“Liberty for Sale,” issue of Sept. 19). A
September audit from ODRC also found the prison was only meeting two-thirds of the
state’s standards, and reports from locals near the prison in January warned about a
rise in smuggling.