The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) projects.
The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.
If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
Supportive housing project in Avondale
A supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale.
Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.
Supporters point to a study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.
Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.
National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.
“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.
Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received state tax credits for the facility back in June.
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts.
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost $500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
A bill that supporters say would've ensured women are paid the same as men for doing the same work was blocked today by the U.S. Senate in a 58-41 vote. All Republican senators — including George Voinovich from Ohio — voted against allowing debate on the bill.
The bill, known as the Paycheck Fairness Act, was approved by the House in January 2009 and was supported by President Obama.
There was a period of time in U.S history, roughly for 30 years after the Civil War, known as “the Gilded Age.” The American economy grew at an unprecedented rate as the nation transformed itself from an agrarian society into an industrial one.
But the transformation's downside included excessive displays of wealth and captains of industry who grew their fortunes on the backs of exploited and mistreated workers. The government ignored the situation, as the era gave rise to the concept of “social Darwinism.”
City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies. The study could cost between $500,000 to $1 million, according to city officials. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court case, the city must carry out the study before it can impose policies that favorably target minorities or women with business contracts. Since the city's last race- and gender-based program was dismantled in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to a low of 2.7 percent in 2007, but rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively unchanged. But the numbers could be understating how many minority-owned businesses there are because classifying as one is now voluntary, while it was mandatory in the 1990s.
State Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee, says he wants to move on a package of bills that would include the Medicaid expansion by early October. The bills will also tackle other issues, such as how to deal with growing concerns about opiate addiction in Ohio. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the federally funded Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate roughly $1.8 billion for the state in the next year. But Republican legislators in the General Assembly say they're concerned the federal government won't be able to uphold its commitment to the expansion. Recent polling found about 63 percent of Ohioans support expanding Medicaid.
East side residents pleaded with Greater Cincinnati Port Authority officials yesterday to reduce enforcement hours for parking meters under the city's controversial parking lease. The plan allows for enforcement until 9 p.m., but residents say it should only go to 6 p.m. to avoid hurting local businesses that might rely on free parking during the evening. The city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then manage the assets through private operators from around the country. The city administration estimates the deal will produce $92 million up front and at least $3 million a year afterward for Cincinnati, which officials plan to use for development projects and to help close budget gaps.
Meanwhile, opponents of the parking lease appealed their legal challenge to the Ohio Supreme Court. Opponents argue the lease should be susceptible to voter referendum. The city claims Cincinnati's emergency clause powers allow council members to expedite laws and remove the possibility of referendum altogether. The legal challenge was initially successful in a lower court, but the appeals court ultimately sided with the city. It's unclear whether the Ohio Supreme Court will hear the challenge.
Legal experts say it's unclear which, if any, of Ohio's new abortion restrictions could survive a court battle. The anti-abortion measures, which were passed in the state budget by Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich, impose a series of regulatory hurdles that require extra medical procedures prior to getting an abortion and could be used to shut down abortion clinics.
An internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report suggests that fracking, an oil- and gas-extraction process, can contaminate underground drinking water. The findings could have implications for Ohio, which is currently undergoing a fracking boom as companies rush to tap into oil and gas reserves in northeastern parts of the state. CityBeat covered Ohio’s fracking boom in further detail here.
Councilwoman Pam Thomas and ex-Councilman Cecil Thomas want everyone to know that they have not endorsed anyone for mayor.
Ryan Widmer's mother, who gained notoriety for defending Widmer during his three trials, was found dead yesterday. There were no obvious signs of trauma or foul play. Widmer is currently serving 15 years for drowning his wife in a bathtub in 2008.
Scientists may have to genetically modify oranges to save them from a deadly disease.
A state lawmaker will host two sessions later this month designed to give advice to small business owners on obtaining loans to start or expand a business.
State Sen. Eric Kearney (D-9th District) is sponsoring the Small Business Credit Access Forum on July 28. The sessions will be held at the TechSolve Business Park, located at 6705 Stegner Drive in Carthage.
A local conservative activist has found another job in politics.
Brad Beckett recently was appointed as Heritage Action for America’s first regional coordinator for the Cincinnati area. Beckett served for years as chief of staff for City Councilman Chris Monzel, until Monzel left that group in January 2011 to become a Hamilton County commissioner.
In his new role, Beckett will be responsible for growing Heritage Action’s grassroots infrastructure in Cincinnati and nearby areas in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
“Brad brings a wealth of experience in and knowledge of Cincinnati politics,” said Michael Needham, Heritage Action’s CEO, in a prepared statement.
“His knowledge of Cincinnati and the surrounding region will be essential to ensuring that the American people’s voices cut through the big-government noise in Washington as we fight to save the America dream,” Needham added.
Prior to his latest gig, Beckett almost had the top job in Butler County government. When Monzel was elected to the Hamilton County commission, Beckett discreetly lined up another job as Butler County administrator. Two commissioners there hatched the plan privately but one abruptly changed his mind a day before Beckett’s employment was to have begun, leaving him without a job.
More recently Beckett has been working at the Apple Store in Kenwood Towne Center and launched The Political Daily Download, a right-leaning blog. Also, he assisted in Tom Brinkman’s unsuccessful campaign to win the Republican nomination to run for the Ohio House 27th District seat.
Founded in 2010, Heritage Action for America is the sister organization to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. The newer group’s motto is “we hold Congress accountable to conservative principles,” and it was formed mostly because the foundation isn’t allowed to back pieces of legislation due to its tax-exempt status.
One of Heritage Action’s first projects was to organize opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health-care reform law pushed by President Obama.
Among Heritage Foundation’s primary donors is Charles Koch, one half of the infamous Koch Brothers duo. They’re the industrialists who helped form the Tea Party movement, which advocates for corporate interests that benefit the brothers and harm the working class.
Also, the Kochs led the push to abolish collective bargaining rights for public-sector labor unions in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Councilman Chris Seelbach last night helped a gunshot victim before the man was taken to the hospital. Seelbach posted on Facebook that he was watching The Voice with his partner, Craig Schultz, when they heard gun shots. They went to their window and saw a man walking across Melindy Alley. When Seelbach asked what happened, the man replied, “I was shot.” Seelbach then ran down and held his hand on the wound for 10 to 15 minutes before emergency services showed up. “We have a lot of work to do Cincinnati,” Seelbach wrote on Facebook. Police told The Cincinnati Enquirer the victim seemed to be chosen at random.
Pure Romance yesterday announced it will remain in Ohio and move to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John Kasich’s administration not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus company, which hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products. The reason for Pure Romance’s decision: The city, which was pushing for Pure Romance despite the state’s refusal, upped its tax break offer from $353,204 over six years to $698,884 over 10 years. Kasich previously justified his administration’s refusal with claims that Pure Romance just didn’t fall into an industry that Ohio normally supports, such as logistics and energy. But Democrats argue the tax credits were only denied because of a prudish, conservative perspective toward Pure Romance’s product lineup.
City Council yesterday unanimously rejected restoring car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and council members. Councilman Seelbach said he hopes the refusal sends “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.” The restorations were part of $6.7 million in budget restorations proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city administration previously argued the car allowances were necessary to maintain promises to hired city directors and keep the city competitive in terms of recruitment, but council members called the restorations out of touch.
The Cincinnati area’s jobless rate dropped from 6.9 percent in August 2012 to 6.7 percent in August this year as the economy added 11,500 jobs, more than the 3,000 required to keep up with annual population growth.
The former chief financial officer for local bus service Metro is receiving a $50,000 settlement from the agency after accusing her ex-employer of retaliating against her for raising concerns about issues including unethical behavior and theft. Metro says it’s not admitting to breaking the law and settled to avoid litigation.
Ohio House Democrats say state Republicans denied access to an empty hearing room for an announcement of legislation that would undo recently passed anti-abortion restrictions. But a spokesperson for the House Republican caucus said the speaker of the House did try to accommodate the announcement and called accusations of malicious intent “absurd.” The accusations come just one week after the state’s public broadcasting group pulled cameras from an internal meeting about abortion, supposedly because the hearing violated the rules. The legislation announced by Democrats yesterday undoes regulations and funding changes passed in the state budget that restrict abortion and defund family planning clinics, but the Democratic bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled legislature.
Ohioans will be able to pick from an average of 46 plans when new health insurance marketplaces launch on Oct. 1 under Obamacare, and the competition will push prices down, according to a new report. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here.
Ohio lawmakers intend to pursue another ban on Internet cafes that would be insusceptible to referendum, even as petitioners gather signatures to get the original ban on the November 2014 ballot. State officials argue the ban is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafe owners say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money.
Ohio tea party groups can’t find candidates to challenge Republican incumbents.
The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed the first openly gay U.S. appeals court judge.
The Cincinnati area is among the top 20 places for surgeons, according to consumer finance website ValuePenguin.
A graphic that’s gone viral calls Ohio the “nerdiest state.”
Insects apparently have personalities, and some love to explore.