WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
Home - Blogs - Staff Blogs - Popular Blogs
by German Lopez 11.06.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, Streetcar at 04:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
john cranley

Mayor-Elect Explains Vision for First Term

Cranley promises to cancel streetcar project and shift city’s priorities

Mayor-elect John Cranley invited reporters to his home in Mt. Lookout on Wednesday to discuss his plan and priorities for his first term as mayor of Cincinnati.

Cranley claims the invitation to his house represents the kind of accessible, transparent leadership he’ll take up when he begins his term on Dec. 1.

Speaking on his immediate priorities, Cranley says he already contacted the nine newly elected council members and intends to build more collaboration with all sides of the aisle, which will include a mix of five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent starting in December.

One of Cranley’s top priorities is to cancel the $133 million streetcar project, which Cranley and six newly elected council members oppose. He also argues that the city should stop spending on ongoing construction for the project.

“Seriously, look at who got elected yesterday. At some point, this is a democracy. We shouldn’t be agitating voters like this,” Cranley says. “Let’s not keep spending money when it looks like the clear majority and the clear mandate of yesterday’s election was going in a different direction.”

But in response to recent reports that canceling the streetcar project could carry its own set of unknown costs, he says he will weigh the costs and benefits before making a final decision. If the cost of cancellation is too high, Cranley acknowledges he would pull back his opposition to the project.

Canceling the streetcar project would also require an ordinance from City Council.

Mike Moroski, who on Tuesday lost in his bid for a council seat, already announced on Twitter that he’s gathering petition signatures for a referendum to prevent the project’s cancellation.

Cranley promises he won’t stop a referendum effort by placing an emergency clause on an ordinance that cancels the project, but he expressed doubt that a referendum would succeed.

On the current city administration’s plan to lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, Cranley says he will work with fellow lawyers David Mann and Kevin Flynn, both of who won seats for council on Tuesday, to find a way to cancel the deal.

But that could prove tricky with the lease agreement already signed by the city and Port Authority, especially as the Port works to sell bonds — perhaps before Cranley takes office — to finance the deal and the $85 million payment the city will receive as a result.

Cranley also promises to make various development projects his top priority, particularly the interchange for Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. He says he will lobby White House officials to re-appropriate nearly $45 million in federal grant money for the streetcar project to the interchange project, even though the U.S. Department of Transportation told the city in a June 19 letter that it would take back nearly $41 million of its grant money if the streetcar project were canceled.

Cranley vows he will also work with local businesses to leverage public and private dollars to spur investment in Cincinnati’s neighborhoods — similar to what the city did with Over-the-Rhine and downtown by working with 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation).

“We want to have some big early wins,” Cranley says. “We want to get moving within a year on the Wasson Way bike trail, see significant progress at the old Swifton Commons and see Westwood Square developed.”

He adds, “And we intend to reverse the one-trash-can policy, which I think is a horrible policy. … There have been several stories about illegal dumping that have resulted from that.”

Cincinnati’s pension system and its $862-million-plus unfunded liability also remain a top concern for city officials. Cranley says he will tap Councilman Chris Smitherman to help bring costs in line, but no specifics on a plan were given.

 
 
by German Lopez 08.07.2012
Posted In: News, 2012 Election, Republicans, President Obama at 09:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
mikewilsonHD

Republicans Wrong About Obama Lawsuit

Local state representative candidate Mike Wilson clarifies press release

The campaign manager of Mike Wilson, the Republican candidate for state representative in Ohio’s 28th district, sent out a press release late afternoon Monday. Its headline read: “Wilson stands with military voters: Opposed Obama effort to attack military voting rights.”

The accusation localized a national issue that had been driven through networks all weekend. It started with presidential candidate Mitt Romney. On Saturday, after Romney was asked a question about a lawsuit President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party had filed against state officials to restore all early voting in Ohio, the Romney camp posted a statement on Romney’s Facebook page:
"President Obama's lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state’s early voting period is an outrage." The message went on to say Romney stands by the "fifteen military groups" opposing the lawsuit.

To be clear, the lawsuit Obama and the Democratic Party filed on July 17 is not meant to diminish or take away anyone’s voting rights. On the contrary, it is meant to give early voting rights to everyone, including military personnel. Right now, in-person early voting begins on Oct. 2, but it is cut off three days before Election Day for everyone except military personnel and their families, who keep the right to vote in-person on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. If the lawsuit is successful, those three days of in-person early voting will be extended to the rest of Ohio’s voting population.

So any accusation that Obama and the Democrats are trying to take away or attack anyone’s voting rights is false.

But that has not deterred Republicans from using the attack. They used it in press releases and statements all day Monday. The Wilson campaign invoked the attack in its own press release when it said it opposed the “Obama effort to attack military voting rights.” But Wilson’s opposition is a bit more nuanced than the political spin Republicans have wrongfully put on Obama’s lawsuit.

“I think there are a few potential outcomes out of the lawsuit: One is the three days are extended to everyone, another is the court strikes down the three days altogether,” Wilson says.

Wilson is worried a court could agree with the premise of the lawsuit — that it is unconstitutional to give one group of people, meaning military personnel, extra voting rights — but not the goal of the lawsuit: that all in-person early voting rights should be extended to all Ohio citizens. The result of that ruling could be the repeal of the three extra in-person voting days. That would ensure everyone’s rights are treated equally because then no one would have the extra right of voting in-person one, two or three days early.

However, this outcome is not desirable by the Obama team or the Democrats. On the contrary, Ohio Democrats have repeatedly pushed for legislation that restores early voting rights Republican legislators did away with in H.B. 194 and H.B. 224 in 2011. Before those two laws, Ohio allowed everyone to vote in-person a full five weeks before Election Day. So if Obama and the Democrats had their way, this lawsuit would not be necessary because all in-person early voting days would still be available to all Ohio voters, just like they were in 2008 and 2010.

If the Obama lawsuit reaches its goal and voting rights are extended to all citizens, Wilson still has some concerns. Under that scenario, Wilson is worried military personnel would have longer lines when they go out to vote, which he says would be harder on military personnel that have restrictions on travel and free time due to their jobs.

But those restrictions on travel and free time are why absentee ballots exist in the first place, and absentee ballots would be unaffected by the Obama lawsuit. Absentee ballots allow voters — traditionally military voters — to mail in ballots without showing up to a polling station. Military personnel can start mailing in absentee ballots starting on Oct. 2, regardless of the lawsuit.

The two scenarios Wilson presented are similar to the reasons given by military organizations for opposing the lawsuit.

Even if either scenario came true, all Ohioans — including military personnel — will still be able to vote early starting Oct. 2. The lawsuit only deals with in-person voting on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.21.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, Mayor, News at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
john cranley

Q&A: John Cranley

Mayoral candidate speaks on campaign, parking deal, streetcar

For better or worse, Cincinnati will have to deal with another major election cycle for City Council and the mayor’s office in 2013. With four-year terms for City Council recently approved by voters, the 2013 election could play one of the most pivotal, long-term roles in Cincinnati’s electoral history. 

But what most people know about the candidates and issues is typically given through small fragments of information provided by media outlets. At CityBeat, we do our best to give the full context of every story, but just once, we decided to give the candidates a chance to speak for themselves through a question-and-answer format. (Update: Since this article was published, CityBeat interviewed Democratic mayoral candidate Roxanne Qualls for another Q&A here.)

First up, mayoral candidate John Cranley, a former Democratic council member, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the recently announced parking plan (“City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan,” issue of Feb. 20) and the Cincinnati streetcar (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23) in his mayoral campaign against fellow Democrat Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. CityBeat talked with Cranley about these issues and how they relate to the campaign to get his full take, all in his own words. The conversation (with some edits for readability) is below.

CityBeat: I know your campaign kick-off was last night. How did that go? Did it have good turnout?

John Cranley: It was awesome. We had over 300 people there. Very diverse crowd. It was just great.

CB: How do you feel about the campaign in general? It’s pretty early, but how do you feel about the local support you’ve been getting?

JC: It’s been overwhelming. People are rallying behind my progressive vision, and trying to stop privatization of parking meters to Wall Street. And trying to get focus back on neighborhoods, balance, equity, basic services for everyone, special attention to those in need and broad opportunities for the working poor. I think people are very excited for that message, and I’m finding support in every neighborhood of town.

CB: I noticed that a theme of your campaign is helping out neighborhoods by spreading the funding not just to downtown, but neighborhoods as well. Are you hoping to build support from those areas?

JC: I’m for fairness. I think that right now you have a disproportionate amount of money — $26 million over budget on the streetcar, yet they’re still proceeding with it — and the neighborhoods are forgotten about. But I want to see downtown flourish too, so it’s not like I’m one or the other. I want the whole city to do better. But I think there needs to be equity and balance.

CB: You just think the playing field isn’t leveled right now?

JC: Absolutely not. Right now they’re trying to raise parking meters in neighborhoods to build luxury apartments in downtown. If that doesn’t show you their values are out of whack, I don’t know what does.

CB: Speaking on that, the latest news is the city manager’s parking proposal, which he calls a “public-public partnership” that will boost economic development. What are your thoughts on it?

JC: The PR campaign that they’ve been putting out is very deceptive and willfully so. This is not a public plan; this is privatization to a Wall Street company. The only elements that matter to city control are control over rates and control over enforcement. The city has said repeatedly, dishonestly, that the city will maintain control over rates and enforcement, but neither one of those statements is true.

The rates are guaranteed to go up 3 percent a year for 30 years on a compounded basis. Prior to the recent increases in parking rates, the city hadn’t raised rates in 10 or 15 years. Right now, the elected officials — we live in a democracy, for now. Right now, City Council decides to raise rates, lower rates, maintain rates. If there’s a recession in the future, City Council can choose to reduce parking rates. There might be certain neighborhoods where you want to charge different rates over others depending on economic demographics of those areas. Right now, we have complete flexibility to change those rates. This plan gives Wall Street the right to raise rates by 3 percent every single year for 30 years.

The second thing is enforcement. I’m old-school where I believe that the government should be the one that has the potential of putting you in jail. Because if you don’t pay your parking tickets, you can be indicted and go to jail. Here, we’re giving away the power to issue tickets to a Wall Street company for 30 years. 

Not to mention due process concerns. What happens if you don’t believe you were late back to your meter? Who do you appeal to? You appeal to this company from Wall Street, who has a financial incentive to make you pay.

[Editor's Note: Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, told CityBeat the rate increase cap could be circumvented, but the decision would have to be unanimously approved by a board with four members appointed by the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and one selected by the city manager, then affirmed by the city manager, then get a final nod from the Port Authority. The 3-percent rate increase is also not automatic, and the Port Authority could decide to not take it up every year.

She also said Xerox, which is not a Wall Street company, would manage enforcement based on standards set by a contract with the Port Authority. Guggenheim, a Wall Street financial firm, is acting as underwriter and capital provider for the parking plan.]

On that point, how is it that there are public hearings next week and they haven’t released any of the contracts or documents for this transaction? They are going on a Power Point presentation, which is their talking points. Everyone is writing it as if it’s fact, yet the contract and the details haven’t even been released.

Roxanne is calling public hearings and expecting people to weigh in on a 30-year decision before the details are released to the public. How cynical is that?

CB: We might not know the details right now, but you think that shows a lack of transparency?

JC: Of course. I hope you guys will editorialize about that and stand up against privatizing and outsourcing the city to Wall Street.

CB: In the past, you and I talked about the next phase of the Smale Riverfront Park not having funding, which you pinned on the streetcar taking tax revenue that could be used for it. I couldn’t help but notice that it’s one of the things funded in the city manager’s parking proposal. Do you see that as evidence to your claim?

JC: Well, of course. They don’t have funding for the Riverfront Park. That’s why they’re selling the city’s parking meters. 

The bigger issue is it’s just fundamentally wrong to take an asset that is a recurring revenue stream for 30 years and try to monetize it today at the expense of the future generations. It’s giving Roxanne the ability to try to buy votes by playing Santa Claus before the election at the expense of the next generation.

CB: Another part of the plan is it’s expanding hours. Do you think that might hurt nightlife in Downtown? 

JC: Of course it’s going to hurt restaurants, nightlife and the Cincinnati Reds, not to mention the neighborhoods — Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Clifton. They’re going to pay higher meters so they can pay off their friends to build luxury apartments in downtown. The equity of this is awful.

CB: Would you be willing to bring up a referendum on this deal?

JC: Absolutely. It’s such a selling-out of the city on a long-term basis, but I think the people should have the final say.

CB: I want to move onto the streetcar. Even for supporters of the streetcar, the delays are unnerving. The latest news is these construction requests came way over budget and they might cause more delays. How do you feel about it?

JC: It’s what we’ve been saying for a long time. A lot of people’s reputations have been attacked for having said that this thing would be over budget. I think a lot of people, including Roxanne, need to fess up that they’ve been misleading the public about this deal for years.

But the real issue is it’s $26 million over budget, it’s the tip of the iceberg, and it’s going to get worse. And Roxanne is continuing to spend money on the streetcar. She’s continuing to move forward. She still says she wants to get it done by the (2015 Major League Baseball) All-Star Game. She still says that she wants to pay for future phases. So it doesn’t really matter, from Roxanne’s standpoint, if it’s $26 million over budget. I think it’s too expensive, we can’t afford it, we shouldn’t be raising property taxes, etc. We should stop now and we should try to get our money back.

CB: One of the issues you’ve told me you have with the streetcar before is a lack of transparency. Do you think that’s catching up to the city in these budget surprises?

JC: Of course the lack of transparency is catching up to them. Not only is it the right thing to do what you’re doing with their money and government; it’s always the right way to manage money. When you hide problems, it always leads to greater expense later.

CB: We’ve thoroughly covered what you’re against. What positive visions do you have for the city and neighborhoods?

JC: I have lots. On my website, JohnCranley.com, I have my 10-point plan, which goes in great deal over my positive plan for the city. We need to focus on jobs and opportunities for the future. We need to partner with the venture capital and university entrepreneurship efforts in the city, and I’ll do everything in my power to help that. We need to work to improve our schools; what we need to do is get communities involved to adopt under-performing inner-city schools to improve the standards and opportunities. Third, we need to adopt my plan to reprogram existing federal dollars into job training and job opportunities to put people to work in building city’s infrastructure projects now. Those are probably the three major ones.

The good thing about Cincinnati is we have momentum, which is great. But we’re not getting better fast enough.

Update: This story was updated with comment from the city manager’s office to clarify how the parking plan’s rate cap will work and Guggenheim's role.

 
 
by German Lopez 08.20.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, Media Criticism, News at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
hamilton+county+board+of+elections+logo

Early Voting Cost Gets Limited Context from 'Enquirer'

Misleading headline bogs down otherwise accurate story on important issue

In-person early voting in Hamilton County has been given a minimum price tag: $18,676. That’s how much The Cincinnati Enquirer says it will cost to staff polling booths in downtown Cincinnati during the early voting hours directed by Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Unfortunately, in an effort to appear as if the early voting issue has two sides, the Enquirer never bothered putting the number in context. The article reads as if that number, which amounts to $406 an hour, is a big expense for Hamilton County. In reality, the additional cost would amount to about 0.009 percent of the 2012 county budget — a rounding error in the $206 million budget.

Meanwhile, the Enquirer downplayed a new $300,000 cost to county taxpayers in the top story for today's paper. The article pointed out the unnecessary cost is due to county commissioners refusing to make a tough decision, but the headline made it seem like the county is getting away with little-to-no trouble.

The number is important because costs are the top non-racist concern Republicans bring up when opposing more early voting hours. The other concerns are empowering military voters above normal citizens, which contradicts the entire point of civilian control of the military and ignores mail-in absentee ballots, and voter fraud, which is completely overblown by Republicans.

Over the weekend, Ohio’s early voting battle caught national headlines again when Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, told The Columbus Dispatch in an email, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” The statement echoed earlier statements from former Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer, who told MSNBC that voting restrictions are an attempt to limit voting from minorities and younger voters.

The admission to racial politics confirmed suspicions from Democrats that limiting early voting hours is at least partly about suppressing the vote among demographics that typically vote Democrat.

The estimate comes in the middle of an ongoing controversy regarding in-person early voting hours. Husted said Wednesday that counties must all follow the same early voting hours. But the hours excluded early voting during the weekend, much to the dismay of state Democrats. In response, Democrats in Montgomery County, which is where Dayton is, decided to try having weekend voting anyway, and Husted suspended and threatened to fire the Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections. Democrats were not happy with the threats.

“It's outrageous and borderline criminal,” said Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, in a statement.

Ohio Democrats held a rally in Columbus this morning in support of Montgomery County Democrats. The Dayton-area Democrats appeared in a hearing with Husted today to see if they will be fired from the Montgomery County Board of Elections. A decision will be given later in the week.

At the hearing, Dennis Lieberman, one of the Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said he “was not put on the board of elections to be a puppet.” Lieberman also pointed out that Montgomery County saved $200,000 in the 2008 elections by lowering the amount of precincts required with weekend voting.

The controversy is following up an earlier controversy about county-by-county discrepancies in early voting hours — an issue Hamilton County barely avoided when Husted directed county boards to invoke uniform in-person early voting hours across the state a day before Hamilton County Board of Election hearings.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.13.2012
Posted In: Government, News, 2012 Election, Courts, Economy at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jon_husted_518045c

Morning News and Stuff

More bad news for Secretary of State Jon Husted. The Ohio Supreme Court told Husted his approved ballot language for Issue 2 contains “factual inaccuracies” and must be rewritten by the Ballot Board. Voters First previously contested the language as misleading to voters. If approved by voters, Issue 2 will put an independent citizens commission in charge of redistricting. Under the current system, state officials redraw borders, sometimes using the process for political advantage. In Cincinnati’s district, the Republican-controlled process redrew the district to include Warren County, giving the district more rural voters that tend to side with Republicans instead of urban voters that tend to side with Democrats. Voters First mocked the process with a graph showing how redistricting decisions can sometimes be made in 13 minutes with no questions asked. CityBeat covered the redistricting process here when Issue 2 was still in the petition process.

Ohio’s median income dropped last year, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. But rates of poverty and uninsured rates remained the same. Nationwide, uninsured rates dropped from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011, meaning 1.4 million people gained health coverage. Some of that is attributable to health-care reform passed by President Barack Obama.

Former University of Cincinnati President Greg Williams is getting a pretty nice going-away present. The Board of Trustees approved a package for Williams that adds up to more than $1.2 million. It includes a bonus, retirement benefits, consulting fees, a year’s salary and a contract buyout. Williams abruptly left UC on Aug. 21, citing personal reasons.

Homeless shelters will cost more than expected, says 3CDC. The nonprofit group said it will cost about $40 million to build three homeless shelters and help finance others.

With the support of Democrats and Republicans, the Ohio legislature approved pension reforms yesterday. The reforms lower benefits, raise contributions requirements, increase the retirement eligibility age, establish new cost-of-living guidelines and set a new formula to calculate benefits, all for future retirees. For the most part, current retirees are not affected. Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican, said, “We know the changes are not popular, but they are necessary.” Before the changes, the system was losing $1 million a day, according to a statement from Rep. Robert Hagan, a Democrat.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is pushing against banks that take advantage of college students. In a letter to Higher One, Brown told the bank to rework its contracts with universities. Brown wrote in the letter, “Federal student aid programs should help students prepare for the future, not extract fee income from them.” He went on to ask the bank to redo its contracts so they are “consumer-friendly and consistent with reforms that Congress enacted for the credit card market.”

Ohio’s inspector general found ODJFS wrongly reimbursed organizations in central Ohio with federal stimulus funds when the organizations did not follow rules.

Vice President Joe Biden was in Dayton yesterday. During his speech, he spoke about the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, which led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Biden vowed justice will be served.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney unleashed a big foreign policy gaffe yesterday when he politicized the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. The attack was revealed to cause the death of Stevens after Romney made his comments.

Math shows homeopathy, a trend in medicine, is implausible.

 
 
by 02.11.2011
Posted In: News, City Council, Police, Neighborhoods at 03:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
-

Berding, in Black and White

It took awhile due to some miscommunication about police terminology, but CityBeat managed to get a copy of the incident report that Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding filed late last month against a one-time political ally.

Berding filed a report with Cincinnati Police Officer Jay D. Barnes on Jan. 27, the same day that Berding announced his impending resignation from City Council.

Read More

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 03.28.2012
Posted In: News, Media, Business, Internet, Community at 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
cooklisb

Enquirer's Opinion Editor Takes Buyout

Ray Cooklis is among seven more names confirmed

(**UPDATE AT BOTTOM)

The Enquirer’s sole remaining editorial writer is among the employees who will be departing the newspaper as part of a round of “early retirement” buyouts.

Executives accepted the buyout application submitted by Ray Cooklis, the newspaper’s editorial page editor, multiple sources have confirmed. Cooklis assumed control of The Enquirer’s Op/Ed pages in July 2009 when his predecessor, David Wells, was laid off.

Cooklis, who also is a classically trained pianist and previously served as a music critic, didn’t respond to an email this morning seeking comment.

In recent months, the daily newspaper has been criticized in journalism circles and on some blogs for only publishing one original, locally produced editorial a week, so it’s unclear what impact Cooklis’ departure will have.

Sources say others who are leaving The Enquirer include Features Editor Dave Caudill; photographer Glenn Hartong; reporter Steve Kemme, who covers eastern Hamilton County; Copy Desk Chief Sue Lancaster; Bill Thompson, a sports copy editor and occasional music critic; and Copy Editor Tim Vondebrink.

CityBeat confirmed Tuesday that political columnist Howard Wilkinson and longtime photographer Michael Keating also were leaving the newspaper.

The Gannett Co., The Enquirer’s corporate owner, announced the buyout offer Feb. 9 and gave employees 45 days to decide whether to apply for the deal.

Under the deal, newspaper employees who are age 56 or older and have at least 20 years of service with Gannett as of March 31 are eligible. The Enquirer’s goal is to eliminate 26 positions through the buyouts, sources said.

As part of reductions mandated by Gannett, The Enquirer has laid off about 150 workers during the past two years. Also, employees have had to take five unpaid furloughs during the past three years.

Of the departures announced so far, Cooklis’ resignation could have the most immediate impact for readers.

Some progressive voices in Cincinnati dislike Cooklis because he is ardently right-wing in his opinions; they believe he too frequently blasted Democratic politicians, while turning a blind eye to excesses by their Republican counterparts and local corporations. Further, Cooklis lacked the courage to criticize some of the people and institutions that are among The Enquirer's many sacred cows, they added.

Still, Cooklis’ departure is a bad omen for local news, with some media observers worried that it means The Enquirer has abandoned its First Amendment duty to hold powerful people accountable for their deeds.

Virginia-based Gannett also owns USA Today, more than 100 newspapers nationwide and 23 TV stations.


(**UPDATE: Glenn Hartong is not taking the buyout. Despite some sources at The Enquirer saying that he was, Hartong is only 51 years old and, thus, ineligible.)

 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014
 
 
news1_headwatersgatewaydistrict_provided

What Is Responsible Bidder?

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

Following county commissioner’s Feb. 12 meeting, the dispute between Cincinnati and Hamilton County over contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects appears to be heading to court.

The court battle comes after the county dismissed multiple concessions from the city and put MSD’s revamp of the local sewer system on hold in protest of the city’s rules. With a federal mandate looming, both sides agree a resolution is needed soon to avoid costly fines from the federal government.

For many across the city and county, the conflict is understandably confusing. The debate has often been mired down by biased media reports and political talking points that obfuscate the issue. Jargon referencing “responsible bidder,” “local hire,” “local preference,” unions, apprenticeship programs, a pre-apprenticeship fund and contractors make it even more difficult to grasp what is going on.

Cutting through the politics, here is what the responsible bidder rules actually do and why the city and county seem incapable of compromise.

What is responsible bidder?

It’s a city ordinance that essentially forces MSD contractors to adopt job training measures known as apprenticeship programs and pay for a pre-apprenticeship fund. By requiring the training options, the city hopes workers will be able to improve their skills and successfully transition to other jobs once their MSD work is finished.

Apprenticeship programs take workers through extensive on-the-job and classroom-based training in which they can hone their skills in a specific craft, such as electrical or plumbing work. Because workers get paid for their work while participating in an apprenticeship, the programs are typically characterized as an “earn-while-you-learn” model.

The pre-apprenticeship fund will put money toward programs that will teach newcomers basic skills, such as math and reading, so they can eventually move up to an apprenticeship program.

The rules don’t apply to every MSD contractor. Contracts worth less than $400,000, which make up roughly half of MSD’s sewer revamp, are exempted.

What about local hire and local preference?

Those are ordinances separate from responsible bidder that give preference to Cincinnati-based businesses. They try to keep MSD contracts within local companies.

What’s the conflict about?

The conflict is between Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which jointly run MSD. The Democrat-controlled city supports the rules, while the Republican-controlled county opposes them.

The city and county also dispute which governing body can set policy for MSD. Under a 1968 agreement, the county owns and funds MSD, and the city operates and maintains it. City Council argues the agreement allows the city to set policy for MSD, but the county disagrees. Both sides acknowledge the set-up is far from ideal.

So, did the city’s rules halt MSD projects?

No. Nothing in the city’s ordinances forces MSD projects to stop. County commissioners singlehandedly halted MSD projects in protest of the city’s rules. If it were up to the city, work would continue today.

Why are these projects so important?

By federal decree, the city needs to revamp the sewer system to bring it up to environmentally safe standards. The project will cost $3.2 billion over 15-20 years, making it one of the most expensive in the city’s history.

If the city and county don’t carry on with the revamp soon, the federal government will begin issuing fines. By some guesses, the fines could begin rolling in by the end of the year.

Why does a majority of City Council support responsible bidder?

Councilman Chris Seelbach, the Democrat who championed the rules, says they will boost local employment and create more job training options for the city’s struggling workforce.

Other Democrats on council agree, although some, like Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, believe the ordinance is “imperfect.”

Does responsible bidder benefit workers?

Some research suggests it would.

The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) in a December report argued apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. workforce.

“By 2020, America is projected to experience a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 5 million workers with technical certificates and credentials,” the report claimed. “Compounding our inadequate workforce development system, research shows that employers are now spending less on training than they have in the past. At the same time, industry surveys show that a lack of qualified workers is a top concern for many employers.”

Citing a 2012 study from Mathematica Policy Research, CAP estimated apprenticeship programs alone can boost a worker’s lifetime earnings and benefits by more than $300,000. Over 36 years of employment, that’s an average gain of nearly $8,400 a year.

Why do county commissioners oppose the rules?

In terms of policy, county commissioners say the responsible bidder rules favor unions and burden businesses.

On a legal basis, the county argues the city’s responsible bidder rules conflict with state law and the local hire and preference rules enforce unconstitutional geographic preferences.

Does responsible bidder actually favor unions?

Since unions tend to offer better and more apprenticeship programs, yes.

But the rules don’t exclude non-union businesses from participating. For example, Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors maintains some non-union apprenticeship programs that would qualify under the law.

Still, most of the union favoritism debate centered around a regulation the city actually offered to give up. Specifically, under current rules employers are only eligible to contract with MSD if they have apprenticeship programs that have graduated at least one person a year for the past five years. In October, Seelbach offered to strip the mandate and replace it with an incentive program. The county seemed unmoved by the proposal.

What about businesses? Does responsible bidder burden them?

By requiring businesses to adopt apprenticeship programs and put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund, the law certainly places more regulations on businesses. Whether the requirements are a burden is subjective.

John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors and an opponent of the law, told CityBeat the pre-apprenticeship fund’s requirement will increase business costs by $2-3 million over 15-20 years.

Citing MSD estimates for the cost of labor, Rob Richardson, regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the fund will cost businesses $1.5 million.

Even if someone accepts Morris’ estimate, the requirement adds up to at most 0.1 percent of the $3.2 billion project.

More broadly, some supporters of the city’s rules question whether placing a burden on businesses is innately a bad thing. The basic point of government regulations is to make the economy and businesses work better for the public. In that sense, regulations are always going to burden businesses to some extent.

For example, financial regulations burden big banks and financial institutions. But many Americans agree the regulations are necessary to avoid another financial crisis like the one that plunged the country into the Great Recession.

Still, critics argue the extra regulations would increase the cost of business, and the impact could ultimately be felt by MSD ratepayers.

Why don’t the city and county just compromise?

They kind of tried, but it seems the philosophical split between Hamilton County Republicans and Cincinnati Democrats is too strong to reach a substantial agreement.

The city, for example, has offered multiple concessions to the county. In May, City Council modified the law to ease some requirements and add an exemption for contracts worth less than $400,000, which covers half of the contracts involved in MSD’s sewer revamp. In October, Seelbach offered to replace a strict mandate with a looser incentive program. Seelbach also told CityBeat on Feb. 6 that he would consider raising the contract exemption from $400,000 to $750,000.

In return, the county rejected the concessions and instead offered to establish aspirational inclusion goals and some funding for local job training programs — as long as the city repealed its rules altogether.

Which side would win the court battle?

It’s hard to say. Both sides — and their lawyers — seem pretty confident about their legal standing.

So what’s next?

At the current rate, it looks like the city and county are heading to court. Whether the process involves a full-on legal battle or mediation between the city and county’s lawyers remains uncertain, but it’s clear something will eventually have to give.

This blog post will be regularly updated as the situation develops.

 
 
by 06.30.2011
Posted In: News, Community, Neighborhoods, Family at 02:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

YMCA to Close One Site, Alter Another

As part of a realignment of its facilities in the urban core, the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati will close the Williams branch in East Walnut Hills in August. Also, although the YMCA will continue some programs at the Melrose branch in Walnut Hills, it also will end general membership services there.

Both changes are effective Aug. 22, YMCA officials said.

Read More

 
 
by 03.18.2011
Posted In: News, Police, Spending at 03:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

What's Next for Streicher?

Today is the last day on the job for Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. During his rocky 12-year tenure, the department has endured rioting sparked by a police shooting, costly lawsuit settlements, oversight by a federal court and a police slowdown that precipitated a spike in crime.

Quite a record.

Read More

 
 

 

 

 
Close
Close
Close