By the time a new mayor and City Council candidates take office in December, the city will have laid out roughly half a mile of track and spent or contractually obligated at least $117 million for the streetcar project. The contractual obligations mean it could cost more to cancel the project than to finish it, which will cost the city an estimated total of $88 million after deducting $45 million in federal grants. Still, mayoral candidate John Cranley and several council candidates insist they will try to cancel the project upon taking office. Check out CityBeat’s full in-depth story here.
The parking plan’s upfront payment has been reduced to $85 million, down from $92 million, and the city, as opposed to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, could be on the hook for $14 million to $15 million to build a garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets, according to an Oct. 9 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city manager claims the lump sum payment dropped as a result of rising interest rates and the Port Authority’s decision to relax parking meter hours outside Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Business District. The parking plan leases Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which plans to hire private companies to operate the assets. CityBeat covered the plan in greater detail here and the controversy surrounding it here.
Gov. John Kasich is considering using an executive order to expand the state’s Medicaid program with federal funds. The executive order would expand eligibility for the government-run health insurance program so it includes anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or nearly $15,900 in annual income for an individual. Kasich would then on Oct. 21 ask Ohio’s seven-member legislative-spending oversight panel to approve federal funds for the expansion. Kasich, a Republican, has aggressively pursued the Medicaid expansion, which the federal government promises under Obamacare to completely fund through 2016 then phase down and indefinitely hold its payments at 90 percent of the expansion’s total costs. But Republican legislators claim the federal government might not be able sustain the payments, even though the federal government has met its payments for the much larger overall Medicaid program since it was created in 1965.
At its final full session before the November election, City Council approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits for Pure Romance to bring the company to downtown Cincinnati for at least 20 years. Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on council, was the only one to vote against the tax incentives. The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades. Gov. John Kasich’s administration was originally supposed to provide some tax incentives to the company, but it ultimately reneged after supposedly deciding that the company isn’t part of an industry the state typically supports. Critics say Kasich’s administration is just too “prudish” to support a company that includes sex toys in its product lineup.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio yesterday announced it’s suing Ohio over anti-abortion restrictions passed in the 2014-2015 state budget. The ACLU claims the restrictions are unrelated to the budget and therefore violate the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language. CityBeat covered the state budget in further detail here.
Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s monitoring the impact of the federal government shutdown with some concerns. “I’m more concerned if this goes more than four weeks or so, when we start talking about reimbursement programs for our larger social programs such as food stamps and cash assistance to the needy and those types of things. We just don’t have the money to front that type of thing,” he said. CityBeat covered the shutdown in further detail here.
Hamilton County’s government shrunk by more than one-third in the past decade.
City Council yesterday passed a resolution condemning State Sen. Bill Seitz’s attempts to weaken Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. A study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Ohioans will spend $3.65 billion more on their electricity bills over the next 12 years if the mandates are repealed. CityBeat covered the attempts to repeal the mandates in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the calls to repeal here.
Early voting turnout is so far “anemic,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Ohio has the No. 12 worst tax environment among states, according to a report from the Tax Foundation. The rank is unchanged from the previous year’s report.
A central Ohio school might ban Halloween.
Bill Nye explains Jupiter’s big red spot:
Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.
The parking plan’s lump sum payment is being reduced to $85 million, down from $92 million, and the city could be on the hook for $14 million to $15 million to build a garage, according an Oct. 9 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney to council members and the mayor.
Dohoney wrote that the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which is leasing Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages under the 30-plus-year deal, reduced its lump sum payment because of rising interest rates and its decision to reduce parking meter enforcement hours outside of Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Business District.
Under the reviewed deal, the Port Authority also handed the responsibility of building a garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets to the city of Cincinnati. Dohoney recommends using the parking plan’s upfront payment to fund the garage, which will cost between $14 million and $15 million, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
If City Council approves the allocation, the upfront funds would be effectively left at $70 million to $71 million.
The city still estimates it will get at least $3 million in annual installments from the lease.
Supporters of the parking plan claim it’s necessary to fully leverage Cincinnati’s parking assets to fund development projects and help balance the operating budget.
The plan also requires private operators, which will be hired by the Port Authority, to upgrade Cincinnati’s parking assets. The upgrades should allow parking meters to accept remote payments through smartphones, among other new features.
Critics claim the plan gives up too much local control over the city’s parking assets. They say the city and Port Authority could easily be pressured by private operators to hike parking rates far beyond the 3-percent-a-year increase currently called for under the plan.
The plan has also been mired in controversy, notably because the city administration withheld a consultant’s memo from the public and council members that claimed the plan is a bad deal for the city. The city administration says the memo was based on outdated information, but opponents still criticized the lack of transparency behind the deal.
Dohoney wrote in the Oct. 9 memo that the Port Authority’s board plans to meet on Oct. 19 to finalize contracts with private operators. If all goes as planned, the Port Authority estimates the new parking system will be in place by April 2014.
Oct. 10 update: At its final full session before the Nov. 5 election, City Council on Wednesday approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits for Pure Romance that city officials say will bring the company to downtown Cincinnati for at least 20 years.
Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on council, was the only council member to vote against the deal.
Oct. 9 story: City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits over 10 years for Pure Romance in return for the company coming to and remaining in Cincinnati for 20 years.
The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades.
If the company fails to keep at least 126 jobs after three years or remain in Cincinnati for 20 years, the city will claw back some of the tax credits depending on how egregiously the terms are failed.
Cincinnati in 2011 clawed back tax benefits on its so-called “megadeal” with Convergys after the company failed to keep its total downtown employment at 1,450 or higher.
Pure Romance is a $100-million-plus company that hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products.
The company was originally planning on moving to Cincinnati with support from both the state and city. But Gov. John Kasich’s administration ultimately declined to provide tax credits, which forced the city to ratchet up its offer from $353,000 to prevent Pure Romance from moving to Covington, Ky., instead of Cincinnati.
Kasich’s administration says
the company didn’t fall into an industry the state normally supports,
but state Democrats and local officials claim the state government
resisted the tax credits because of a “prudish” attitude toward a company that sells sex toys.
“We welcome Pure Romance to the city of Cincinnati,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said at the committee meeting. “We are glad that the city administration and Pure Romance were able to work out an arrangement that actually welcomed them to the city.”
Pure Romance previously told CityBeat that it hopes to move its headquarters from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati by the end of the year, but the move hinges on whether the company can quickly finalize a lease agreement.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio on Wednesday announced it is suing the state of Ohio over anti-abortion restrictions enacted as part of the 2014-2015 state budget.
“To put it simply, none of these amendments have any place in the state budget bill,” said Susan Scheutzow, ACLU cooperating attorney and partner at the law firm of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, in a statement. “This massive bill is not intended to deal with new policy; the single subject of the budget should be the appropriation of funds for existing government programs or obligations.”
The lawsuit claims the restrictions violate the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language. In the case of the budget, the ACLU argues that the law shouldn’t go beyond appropriating state funds and tax collection.
The three anti-abortion budget amendments in question ban public hospitals and abortion clinics from making transfer agreements that are required to keep clinics open; order clinics to take government-outlined steps, including showing a patient if a fetal heartbeat is detected, before carrying out an abortion procedure; and create a new “parenting and pregnancy” program that shifts state funds into private organizations that are barred from mentioning abortion services.
“The first two amendments have nothing at all to do with budget appropriations,” said Jessie Hill, ACLU cooperating attorney and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, in a statement. “The third is also unconstitutional because it creates and funds an entirely new government program, something that requires stand-alone legislation.”
The ACLU says the lawsuit is about promoting good government that follows the rules, regardless of where any individual stands on the issue of abortion.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Preterm, a women’s health clinic in Cleveland that provides contraception, family planning and abortion services.
One anti-abortion restriction that’s not being sued over: The state budget effectively defunded clinics like Planned Parenthood by deeming their non-abortion services less competitive.
Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich approved the anti-abortion restrictions with the state budget in June. But Democratic critics say the new rules harshly restrict access to legal abortions protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
CityBeat covered the state budget in further detail here.
A bill enacting new regulations on minor political party participation in state elections yesterday passed through the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate despite objections from the Libertarian Party and other critics that the bill will shut out minor parties in future elections. The bill now needs approval from the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Republican Gov. John Kasich, who would likely benefit from the bill because it would help stave off tea party challengers in the gubernatorial election. The proposal was sponsored by State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority yesterday released drafts for contracts with operators who will manage Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages under the city’s parking plan, which leases the parking assets to the Port Authority for at least 30 years. Xerox will be paid about $4.5 million in its first year operating Cincinnati’s parking meters, and it will be separately paid $4.7 million over 10 years to upgrade meters to, among other features, allow customers to pay through a smartphone. Xerox’s contract will last 10 years, but it can be renewed for up to 30 years. The city administration says the parking plan will raise millions in upfront money then annual installments that will help finance development projects and balance the budget, but critics say the plan gives up too much control of Cincinnati’s parking assets.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits over 10 years for Pure Romance in return for the company coming to and remaining in Cincinnati for 20 years. The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades. Pure Romance is a $100 million-plus company that originally planned to move from Loveland to Cincinnati with support from the state and city, but Gov. John Kasich’s administration ultimately rejected state tax credits for the company. Kasich’s administration says Pure Romance didn’t fit into an industry traditionally supported by the state, but critics argue the state government is just too “prudish” to support a company that includes sex toys in its product lineup.
The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST),
Cincinnati’s vitriolic tea party group, yesterday appeared to endorse John
Cranley, who’s running for mayor against Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.
Ohio conservatives are defending their proposal to weaken the state’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates, which environmentalists and businesses credit with spurring a boom of clean energy production in the state and billions in savings on Ohioans’ electricity bills. State Sen. Seitz compared the mandates to “central planning” measures taken in “Soviet Russia.” A study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Ohioans will spend $3.65 billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years if the mandates are repealed. CityBeat covered the attempts to repeal the mandates in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the calls to repeal here.
Ohioans renewing their driver’s licenses or state ID cards will no longer be asked whether they want to remain on the list of willing organ donors. The move is supposed to increase the amount of participants in the state’s organ donation registry by giving people less chances to opt out.
An Ohio Senate bill would ban red-light cameras. Supporters of the traffic cameras say they deter reckless driving, but opponents argue the cameras make it too easy to collect fines for the most minor infractions.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine awarded $17 million in grants to crime victims services around Ohio, including more than $49,000 to the Salvation Army in Hamilton County.
President Barack Obama is likely to appoint Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve, which would make her the first woman to lead the nation’s central bank.
Lost in their smartphones and tablets, San Francisco train passengers didn’t notice a gunman until he pulled the trigger.
Scientists are bad at identifying important science, a new study found.
CAF USA yesterday unveiled new renderings for Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project. The city has hired CAF to supply five cars, which will have four doors on each side and be capable of moving in both directions on a track. The cars are also completely low-floor, which should make boarding, disembarking and moving around the streetcar easier. John Deatrick, the streetcar project’s executive director, told CityBeat on Thursday that he’s been in regular contact with CAF USA since he joined the project in August, and he expects to really test out the cars once the Over-the-Rhine loop is completed in June 2015.
Hamilton County commissioners unanimously agreed the 2014 budget won’t include tax increases. It’s also the first budget in six years that won’t require major cuts. Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman’s budget proposal doesn’t explicitly suggest a tax hike, but it does explain how a sales tax hike could be used to offset other expenditures, such as a cut in property taxes. But commissioners all said they’re opposed to a sales tax hike. Commissioners will likely retool the budget and pass the final version in November.
Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper called on Ohio to restrict access of the state’s facial recognition system to a small group of a couple dozen specially trained law enforcement officers, which would take calls for the system 24/7. Under Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio in June secretly launched a facial recognition program that allows law enforcement to use a photo to search state databases and connect suspects with contact information; previously, searching the databases required a name or address. In his defense, DeWine claimed the system is vital for law enforcement and widely used across the country. But an investigation from The Cincinnati Enquirer found Ohio’s system grants access to thousands more officials than other states’ systems.
The Hamilton County Board of Elections began a hearing yesterday on whether Randy Simes, owner of UrbanCincy.com, can vote in Cincinnati after living in Chicago and moving to South Korea. Simes registered to vote in the mayoral primary election through Travis Estell’s address, where Simes says he stays when he’s in town. Simes’ supporters say the conservative groups behind the hearing are attacking him for political purposes because he supports the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls for mayor, both of which the groups oppose. The attorney for the conservative groups said that he doesn’t want voting “treated as a game.” Some members of the board of elections said they were disturbed by the political undertones of the hearing and a request for emails between Simes and Estell.
Gov. John Kasich yesterday announced voluntary guidelines urging doctors to use caution when prescribing high levels of opioid painkillers for long-term use to patients. The restrictions are in response to a rise in prescription drug abuse and overdoses across the country. Some members of the medical community say they’re concerned the guidelines will lead to temporary disruption in pain care, but others say the kinks should work themselves out in the long term.
Letters from State Treasurer Josh Mandel show he lobbied for Suarez Corp. to seek relief from litigation for the company. The two letters were obtained on Jan. 2 by a federal grand jury that later indicted Benjamin Suarez, owner of Suarez Corp., and Michael Giorgo, chief financial officer of the company, on charges of illegally funneling about $200,000 to Mandel and a Republican congressman’s campaigns in 2011.
Among states and the District of Columbia, WalletHub estimates Ohio is No. 32 most affected by the federal government shutdown. CityBeat covered the shutdown and the local leaders involved in greater detail here.
Ohio gave 23 communities $8 million for local infrastructure improvements, but Cincinnati and Hamilton County were not among the recipients.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino held its spot as Ohio’s top-earning casino in September.
Enrollment to Cincinnati State increased despite a statewide decline. The university also received a $2.75 million manufacturing training grant.
Science confirmed that political extremists think they’re always right and everyone else is wrong.
Watch coffee shop customers freak out at a real-life Carrie:
Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.
The Cincinnati streetcar took another step forward on Monday when car builder CAF USA unveiled renderings for the $133 million project.
The city has hired CAF to supply five cars. The latest details show the cars will have four doors on each side and be capable of moving in both directions on a track. The cars are also completely low-floor, which should make boarding, disembarking and moving around the streetcar easier.
CAF, which is based in Spain, has supplied cars for a few other U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, Houston and Sacramento, Calif.
John Deatrick, the streetcar project’s executive director, told CityBeat on Thursday that he’s been in regular contact with CAF USA since he joined the project in August.
Unlike most other streetcars around the world, the Cincinnati cars are particularly tuned to handle sharp turns, according to Deatrick. That’s because the city didn’t want to expand roads and knock down buildings just to accommodate the transit network.
Deatrick says the true test for the cars will come once they’re shipped and tested on a completed Over-the-Rhine loop in June 2015. The streetcar is set to open for use on Sept. 15, 2016.
Check out the renderings here.
Reminder: Today is the last day to register to vote in the 2013 mayoral and City Council elections. Since early voting is currently underway, it’s possible to register and vote on the same day. Get a registration form here and find out when and where to vote here.
The federal government shutdown is closing in on its second week. The shutdown has forced some services in Cincinnati to seriously cut back, ranging from Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety inspections to small business loans. CityBeat covered the shutdown and the local leaders involved in further detail here.
City Council candidates met at a forum on Oct. 5 to discuss their different visions for the city’s future. 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 forum was hosted by The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and sponsored by CityBeat and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area. Check out CityBeat’s candidate-by-candidate breakdown of the forum here.
Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman plans to propose a quarter-cent hike of the county sales tax to pay for lower property taxes, the elimination of permit and inspection fees paid by businesses, or the construction of a new coroner’s lab and addition of nearly 300 jail beds, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Hamilton County’s sales tax is currently 6.75 percent, which is lower than 65 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Sigman says the plan would refocus the county and allow it “to transition from a posture of where to cut to where to invest.”
Councilman Chris Seelbach agreed to pay more than $1,200 to dismiss a lawsuit from an anti-tax group that would have cost the city $30,000. Seelbach’s payment reimburses the city for a trip he took to Washington, D.C., to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting Cincinnati’s LGBT community. City officials said the trip also helped Seelbach market Cincinnati and learn what other cities are doing to attract and retain LGBT individuals. The lawsuit was threatened by the hyper-conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which claims to protect taxpayers from government over-spending and high taxes but simultaneously forces the city to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight off lawsuits.
Starting today, residents must use city-delivered trash carts if they want their garbage picked up. To save space in the carts, city officials are advising recycling. If city workers didn’t deliver a trash cart to your home, contact them here.
A bill in the Ohio legislature would ban licensed counselors from attempting to change a youth’s sexual orientation. The practice, known as “conversion therapy,” is widely perceived as unscientific and psychologically damaging and demeaning. California and New Jersey banned conversion therapies in the past year.
Ohio’s legislative leaders on Friday promised to make a Medicaid overhaul a focus of the ongoing fall session. It’s so far unclear what exactly the overhaul will involve. Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature has refused to take up a federally funded Medicaid expansion, which would expand eligibility for the federal-state health care program to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio estimates the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans, and it’s supported by Gov. John Kasich. But Republican legislators are skeptical of expanding a government-run health care program and claim the federal government wouldn’t be able to meet its obligations to the program, even though the federal government has met its payments since Medicaid was created in 1965.
Although insurance plans in Obamacare’s online marketplace (HealthCare.gov) offer lower premiums, the reduced prices come with less options for doctors and hospitals. But supporters argue some health care coverage is better than no health care coverage.
The Ohio branch of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country, today announced a slate of Democratic endorsements for state offices, including Ed FitzGerald for governor, David Pepper for attorney general, Nina Turner for secretary of state, Connie Pillich for treasurer and John Patrick Carney for auditor.
A registry helps connect University of Cincinnati Medical Center researchers with people with a personal or family history of breast cancer. About 5,600 people are currently on the list, which researchers can tap into to collect data or solicit individuals for studies.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is investing its single largest contribution ever on treatments for mental health and behavioral issues.
Ohio gas prices dipped further this week.
A grandfather chastised his daughter in a letter for kicking out his gay grandson: “He was born this way and didn't choose it more than he being left-handed. You, however, have made a choice of being hurtful, narrow-minded and backward. So while we are in the business of disowning children, I think I'll take this moment to say goodbye to you.”
Designing an anti-poaching drone could earn someone $25,000.
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.
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.
Today's an expensive day for Councilman Chris Seelbach.
That's because Seelbach is writing a check today for $1,218.59 to the city of Cincinnati to get local hyper-conservative "watchdog" group COAST to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., to accept an award for instigating positive change was an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
As a refresher, we're talking about the trip when Seelbach was one of 10 community leaders around the nation selected to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting the city's LGBT community — particularly through his efforts to extend equal partner health insurance to all city employees, create an LGBT liaison in the city's fire and police departments and requiring anyone accepting city funding to follow a non-discrimination policy — a national recognition of championing Cincinnati's progression toward social justice in the past few years.
In an email from his campaign, he says that the city's law department wants to move forward with the lawsuit because the allegations are so frivolous, but Seelbach decided to just use his own personal money to prevent the city from having to spend close to $30,000 of the same taxpayer money COAST is complaining about to prove that they're wrong.
On Aug. 28, Chris Finney, chief crusader at COAST, sent a letter to the office of the city solicitor alleging that the city had committed a "misapplication of corporate funds" by sponsoring Chris Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., complaining that Seelbach and his staffers "upgraded" their hotel rooms.
Curp says that the rooms weren't only never upgraded — Seelbach and his staffers shared rooms — but that the councilman didn't even request reimbursement for several other eligible expense, like parking, meals and taxi fares — and flew out of Louisville, Ky., to take advantage of cheaper airfare.
City Solicitor John Curp's five-page response to Finney, he refutes every claim made by COAST and ends the letter by citing an Ohio Supreme Court case that effectively ruled that private citizens (like Chris Finney and all the other COASTers) constantly contesting official acts and expenditures doesn't benefit the city and should only be allowed when it could cause serious public injury if ignored. Here's Curp's full response: