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by Bill Sloat 11.07.2012
Posted In: City Council, Health care at 04:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
pat fischer

Court Rules City Can Reduce Retiree Healthcare Benefits

City defeats class-action aimed at restoring cuts to pension systems

A state appeals court today rejected a lawsuit filed by city of Cincinnati retirees who claimed promised healthcare benefits were illegally reduced in 2010. Before the cuts, retirees did not have to pay-out-of-pocket expenses and deductions for prescriptions and medical care. The city shifted some costs of the pension health package to the ex-workers under an ordinance enacted to shore up its pension plan, which is still under financial stress. The appeals court said it saw no records guaranteeing ex-city employees set benefits at the time they retired.

The 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals released its decision this morning, just a few hours after one of the three judges who ruled against the retirees was reelected. Judge Pat Fischer, a Republican, was on the ballot Tuesday — and now there is no way to know whether the ruling could have had any adverse impact on his reelection bid.

The retirees, a group that included former City Clerk Sandy Sherman, contended their benefits could be increased, but that they were not subject to reduction. The appeals court scuttled the argument:

“At issue in this case is an ordinance enacted by the city council in 2009. The ordinance amended sections of the code pertaining to the retirement system. … After the 2009 ordinance, the plaintiff-appellants would have a deductible to $200 and out-of-pocket caps for healthcare and prescriptions of $2,000. The ordinance provided that the revisions to the retirement system would become effective on January 1, 2010.”

The appeals court said hospital and medical benefits were in addition to retirement pension payments and were not subject to vesting, which meant they could be changed by ordinance.

“The distinction between the retirement allowances and the healthcare benefits has been maintained throughout the existence of the retirement system. The distinction is significant,” the appeals court ruled.

The case could still be taken to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The following table shows the fund's assets, and the funding ratio, through 2010:

by Andy Brownfield 11.02.2012

Morning News and Stuff

Only four days left to early-vote in person. Find out where to do that here.

U.S. employers hired 171,000 people in October and revised job growth over the previous two months, finding it had been stronger than previously thought. However, unemployment inched up to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September, due to more out-of-work people looking for work. People are only considered unemployed if they’re actively searching for work. More people entering the workforce and increased job growth had the stock market jumping, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures up 30 points within minutes of the opening bell.

COAST has been keeping busy this week. The anti-tax group filed two lawsuits, one trying to block the sale of some land near the former Blue Ash Airport to prevent the cash from being used for the streetcar, and the other against Cincinnati Public Schools over allegations that staff used school emails to promote voter registration drives and offering to volunteer and contribute to the campaign supporting the CPS school levy (issue 42).

A firm specializing in storm damage forecasting estimates that superstorm Sandy could cause $30 billion to $50 billion in damage, making it the most second-most expensive storm the U.S. has ever seen, right behind Hurricane Katrina.

The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel has been expensive, no doubt. But what has all that money gone to? An analysis by The Enquirer shows that the nearly $30 million spent by both campaigns on the race has gone from everything from pollsters to Cincinnati Reds tickets to a used Jeep Cherokee. The largest expenditure for Brown’s campaign was $1.7 million for staff salaries, while the largest of Mandel’s expenditures was $1.7 million on TV ads.

People thinking about entering law school next year, rejoice. Despite a dire job market for new graduates, both campaigns have mobilized armies of lawyers in preparations to sue for votes in battleground states. If the next election is this close, you might have a job in four years. Assuming the Mayans were wrong about the apocalypse and everything.

A joint committee of Cincinnati City Council met Thursday to discuss allegations that workers at the University Square development in Clifton aren’t being paid enough. They didn’t take any action, other than asking the city to investigate, but agreed that there needs to be better oversight to make sure workers on taxpayer-funded projects are paid what they’re supposed to earn.

If you are accused of a crime in Ohio and police take your DNA, they get to keep it on file, even if you’re acquitted. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that DNA samples are like fingerprints and can be kept even if a suspect is acquitted of a crime.

A federal judge on Thursday refused to change an Ohio law that could prevent some prisoners from voting.

A bunch of dirty hippies “light warriors” buried hundreds of muffin-crystal-thingies in at Serpent Mound to help realign the energy of the ancient Native American burial mound. They were caught because they made a YouTube video of their alleged desecration.

by German Lopez 12.18.2012
Posted In: News, City Council, Gun Violence, Government at 05:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Metal Detectors Could Come Back to City Hall

Councilman says more gun regulations unlikely at local level

In light of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, a City Council member wants metal detectors put back in City Hall.

Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas says he’s always been concerned about security, and he hopes recent bouts of gun violence will make it clear more protective steps are necessary.

Thomas argues City Hall should not be an exception to a practice that’s carried out in other government buildings. He points to federal and county buildings and other city halls around the nation, which tend to use metal detectors.

Thomas, who was a police officer until 2000, acknowledges metal detectors are a “little bit of an inconvenience” to visitors, but he adds, “These are times when a little bit more inconvenience can go a long way to possibly save a lot of lives.”

So City Hall could get more security, but what about the city as a whole? Earlier today, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls announced City Council will work on a resolution to encourage Congress to pass new gun regulations at a federal level. Beyond that, Thomas says not much is likely.

The problem is state law trumps local law when it comes to gun regulations, so City Council’s hands are tied on the issue. “I would like to see us be able to control our own destiny as it relates to gun laws, but, obviously, I have no control over that,” Thomas says.

Metal detectors were in place at City Hall until 2006, when Mayor Mark Mallory had them taken down to make City Hall more open to the public.

by German Lopez 09.20.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Budget at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
city hall

City Administration Defends Car Allowances

Restorations would subsidize car use for mayor, city manager, other directors

Just a few months after the city avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees, City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 proposed restoring $26,640 in vehicle allowances that would subsidize car use for the city manager, the mayor and other director-level positions in the city administration.

City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat that restoring the allowances is a matter of basic fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness.

Olberding says car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The allowances, she explains, were also promised to city directors as part of their pay packages when they were first hired for the job.

“Cutting it reneges on their original offer and part of the pretense under which they took the job,” Olberding says, adding that failing to restore the compensation promises could make future potential hires reluctant to work in Cincinnati.

But given Cincinnati’s ongoing budget problems, some council members say the proposal is out of touch.

“Are you kidding me?” asked Councilman Chris Seelbach at the Sept. 16 Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “I just question the judgment of an administration that would make that kind of recommendation given our current financial situation. I’m offended that it would be even recommended.”

Even though City Council managed to avoid layoffs in this year’s budget, Cincinnati’s operating budget remains structurally unbalanced, which means the city will have to come up with new revenue or cuts to balance the budget in upcoming years.

Seelbach told CityBeat he doesn’t agree with the competitiveness arguments.

“Im more concerned with the garbage worker whos making barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance, he says. If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making $100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no car allowance.”

Still, Olberding points out that city directors often need to drive more than the typical worker, whether it’s to get to public meetings, in case of an emergency or as a natural consequence of being on call 24/7. She says that justifies what she sees as a small cost.

The restoration was tucked into a proposal from the city manager that restores more than $6.7 million in previous cuts by using revenue left over from the previous budget cycle. The car allowance portion is about 0.3 percent of the total proposal and less than one-hundredth of a percent of the city’s overall operating budget.

For some city officials, the issue gets to what they perceive as a disconnect between private individuals and the government: Although thousands of dollars might seem like a lot of money to the typical person, the sum is usually worth much less than a penny on the dollar in city budget terms.

But Seelbach says garbage collectors and other city workers who havent received a raise in years would be thrilled to split $22,000, even if the sum doesnt mean much in total budget terms.

It shows a lack of respect for the people who make this city work,” Seelbach says.

The proposal also comes shortly after a tense budget showdown and in the middle of an election year for City Council and the mayors office.

Dohoney repeatedly said throughout the past year that the city would have to lay off 344 employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters, if it didn’t lease its parking meters to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The city ultimately avoided the layoffs without the parking lease by making cuts in various areas, including the city’s parks, and tapping into higher-than-expected revenues, but the city is still pursuing the lease to pay for economic development projects.

City Council will take up the restoration measures at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 24.

Updated at 4:09 p.m. with comments from Councilman Chris Seelbach.

by Hannah McCartney 09.16.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Homelessness at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

City Committee Puts Commons at Alaska Project on Hold

Independent mediator will work with supporters and opposition

The controversial proposed supportive housing facility for Alaska Avenue in Avondale was the main subject of a heated session of City Council's Budget and Finance Committee today, which resulted in the committee's decision to put the project on hold for two weeks. The committee also announced its intent to allocate $5,000 for an independent mediator, which the city administration will be responsible for finding.

A slew of Avondale community members spoke out in opposition of the project, while representatives from National Church Residences (NCR), Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and Kevin Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness were some of those who publicly expressed support for the project. Many in opposition articulated concern that predominantly poor black neighborhoods such as Avondale are "targeted" for low-income housing projects like these, while supporters insist a spread of misinformation is largely responsible for the tension and that the complex is a necessary step in moving forward with the city's 2008 Homeless to Homes Plan, which explicitly cited NCR as the well-regarded nonprofit developer and manager of supportive housing facilities commissioned to bring a permanent supportive housing facility to the city. 

The proposed project, coined Commons at Alaska, would be a 99-unit facility providing residency and supportive services to the area homeless population, particularly those with with severe mental health issues, physical disabilities and histories of alcohol and substance abuse. The project, which gained City Council's official support in February, has recently come under scrutiny from community group Avondale 29, Alaska Avenue residents and other community stakeholders who are fervently expressing public distaste for the facility, which they worry will threaten the safety and revitalization efforts in the neighborhood. CityBeat covered the controversy here.

Councilman Smitherman, who originally voted against Council's support for the project in February, vocally expressed his opposition, and later, Councilman Winburn rescinded his support for the project.

"It appears that maximum citizen participation did not happen... you are having hundreds of people who are not ready yet for this project. So something went wrong somewhere," he said. 

Winburn was also the one to announce the motion that asked council to suspend the project for two weeks.

Both sides are expected to once again go in front of the Budget & Finance Committee on a Sept. 30 meeting

by Kevin Osborne 03.16.2012

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati’s new law for selling scrap metal, which was scheduled to take effect today, has been put on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by two local dealers. The law, approved by City Council last month, would require people who sell scrap metal within the city to get a license and make businesses that buy the metal pay dealers by check with a two-day hold, among other changes. The law was designed to cut down on metal theft in Cincinnati, but Cohen Brothers in the East End and American Compressed Steel in Carthage argued it would adversely impact their livelihood. Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler issued a preliminary injunction Thursday afternoon.

In related news, the Ohio Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that requires scrap metal dealers to photograph anyone who sells them scrap. Dealers would be prohibited from buying metal from anyone who refuses to be photographed. Also, dealers must keep the photos on file for 60 days. The Ohio House will now consider the bill.

Last week we learned that Aaron Boone would be the grand marshal of the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, and now we know who will throw out the first pitch at the opener against the Miami Marlins. Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr., who will retire later this year after a 41-year career in public service, has been selected for the honor. Just how far the 77-year-old Leis will be able to throw the ball remains to be seen, but we're betting he will do a better job than Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory did a few years ago.

Clermont County residents who suffered property damage in the tornado two weeks ago will be able to apply for Small Business Administration loans beginning this morning. The Disaster Loan Outreach Center is now open at the Washington Township Hall, located at 2238 Highway 756. Renters could receive up to $40,000 in loans while homeowners could receive up to $200,000 in loans to rebuild their home or replace furniture, said disaster relief officials.

Kroger, the Cincinnati-based grocery chain, is among the retailers that use so-called “pink slime” in some of its ground beef products. U.S. consumers generally have reacted with disgust after learning that many fast food restaurants and grocers use ground beef that contains “finely textured lean beef,” the product made from beef trimmings after all the choice cuts of beef are removed. About 70 percent of the ground beef sold at supermarkets contains the meat filler, according to reports.

In news elsewhere, a United Nations official this week formally accused the U.S. government of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment toward Bradley Manning, the American soldier who was held in solitary confinement for almost a year on suspicion of being the WikiLeaks source. Juan Mendez has completed a 14-month investigation into the treatment of Manning since the soldier's arrest at a U.S. military base in May 2010. He concludes that the U.S. military was at least culpable of cruel and inhumane treatment in keeping Manning locked up alone for 23 hours a day over an 11-month period in conditions that he also found might have constituted torture, London's Guardian reports. American media, however, seem curiously quiet on this news.

Although President Obama reiterated his intention this week to stick to a timeline that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014, pressure is mounting to quicken the schedule. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is demanding that NATO withdraw its forces from the small, rural outposts around the nation and confine its soldiers to military bases. The demand is the latest fallout after the burning of Korans by U.S. service members last month and the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians Sunday, allegedly by an Army staff sergeant who went on a rampage.

The Columbia Journalism Review looks at what The Gannett Co., the owner of The Enquirer, could've bought with the $37.1 million compensation package it gave recently departed CEO Craig Dubow. CJR's findings include that the money would've paid for the starting salaries of 1,474 staffers at The Indianapolis Star or 310,720 annual subscriptions to The Tallahassee Democrat's website. “In October, four months after handing 700 employees pink slips, Gannett gave Dubow a $37.1 million package, also accumulated over decades. He earned a mere $9.4 million in 2010, some of which padded his retirement package. A few weeks later, the company announced it would force employees to take their fifth unpaid furlough in three years,” the magazine reports.

Much attention has been paid to a column published Wednesday by The New York Times, in which Greg Smith explained why he was resigning after 12 years at Goldman Sachs due to what he said was the unethical and corrupt culture at the investment firm. But lesser known is this letter to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission by an unidentified whistleblower at JPMorgan Chase. The writer describes similar reckless practices at that firm, adding, “I am now under the opinion that we are actually putting hard-working Americans – unaware of what lays ahead – at extreme market risk.”
by Kevin Osborne 01.30.2012
Posted In: City Council, Youth, Neighborhoods, Community at 04:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Simpson Wants Youth Job Improvements

Cincinnati City Council is set to approve $960,000 to fund this year’s Summer Youth Employment Program, but the councilwoman overseeing the process wants to begin collecting data to track outcomes and increase efficiency.

Council’s Budget and Finance Committee this afternoon heard a presentation from city staffers about plans for the 2012 program, which is designed to provide employment and training for low-income youth.

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by 12.27.2010
Posted In: City Council, Media, Republicans, Government at 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Two Big Decisions Coming Soon

Some major decisions are expected in the next few days, and we're not referring to how the dithering, ineffectual Cincinnati City Council will finally close a $54 million deficit.

Rather, the decisions coming soon are who will replace Republican Chris Monzel on City Council, and who will replace Tom Callinan as editor at The Enquirer.

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by German Lopez 12.10.2013
Posted In: News, Homelessness, City Council at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
avondale housing

Committee Votes to Pull Support for Supportive Housing Facility

Commons at Alaska in Avondale snared by controversy

A City Council committee on Tuesday voted to rescind council’s support for state tax credits going to a 99-unit supportive housing facility in Avondale that would aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income individuals.

But since National Church Residences already obtained tax credits for the project from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in June, it’s possible the project could continue even if council stands in opposition, according to Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.

Still, the decision from the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee comes in the middle of a months-long controversy that has placed neighborhood activists and homeless advocates in a heated dispute. (CityBeat first covered the issue in greater detail here.)

Independent Christopher Smitherman and Republican Amy Murray, the two present members of the committee, both voted to pull support from the project. The issue will now go to a nine-member City Council, which consists of five Democrats, and Democratic Mayor John Cranley.

Smitherman, chair of the committee, claimed the project’s issues spawned from a lack of community engagement.

“I want everybody to take a pause,” Smitherman said. “Respecting our city, in my opinion, means that you do the community engagement at the level that reflects the magnitude of what you want to do.”

Smitherman’s comments followed testimony from neighborhood activists who oppose the facility and homeless advocates who support it.

Opponents insist they support policies addressing homelessness. But they argue the “massive” facility would alter the neighborhood, worsen Avondale’s problems with poverty and damage revitalization efforts.

Supporters claim the dispute stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude that predominates so many supportive housing facilities.

“In our society, we have a tendency to say we don't want ‘those people’ in our neighborhoods. And history dictates to us that conversations that start with ‘we don't want those people here’ don't typically end well,” said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness said the facility is part of his organization’s Homeless to Homes plan, which council previously approved to address Cincinnati’s struggles with homelessness.

Finn’s organization aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 in 2012 to roughly 3,500 in 2017.

The Avondale facility could also help reduce Cincinnati’s high levels of poverty. More than half of Cincinnati’s children and more than one-third of the city’s general population live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey.

The full body of City Council could take up the issue as early as Wednesday. Smitherman advised both sides to attend the council meeting and state their cases.

Updated with additional information from Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.

by 07.14.2009
Posted In: City Council, 2009 Election, Financial Crisis at 05:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Berding Defends No-Layoff Pledge

UPDATE: Cincinnati City Councilman Greg Harris, a pledge opponent, said Berding's description of the pledge is disingenuous. "Did Berding's anti-layoff pledge in any way make furloughs a condition?  No," Harris said. "The effect of the pledge would have been to prevent the FOP from making any concessions because they wouldn't need to. The manager's only leverage is the threat of layoffs."

ORIGINAL ITEM: Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding believes a council majority is being self-defeating by refusing to sign a Berding-created pledge not to lay off police officers or firefighters in 2010 or 2011.

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