It’s nearly budget season in Cincinnati again. In a bit of a head start, City Manager Milton Dohoney has unveiled his plan to look into privatizing the city’s parking services.In a memo to city employees, Dohoney claimed leasing could provide a few benefits to the city: “For example, a third party can invest in technology across the entire system more efficiently, can conduct enforcement and bill scofflaws, and can assume maintenance and facility upgrades to the system. ... Further, leasing the system could allow the City government to focus current staff on other services, and provide a pool of funding that could be paid immediately to support neighborhood investment among other priorities.”
Dohoney also wrote he had met with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) workers that would be affected by the change. He assured any new parking operator would have to interview AFSCME parking workers for jobs.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld responded to the proposal critically in a statement: “I’ll await more details, but it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to forgo a steady revenue stream for a lump-sum payment. Cincinnati needs a structurally balanced budget, and can’t keep relying on one-time sources. Places like Chicago and Indianapolis have seen their parking rates more than double following privatization — that’s a bad deal for citizens, and something we don’t need while were experiencing an urban renaissance.”
Some have cited the experience in Chicago as a failure of privatization. When New York City moved to privatize its parking meters, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone criticized New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his plan: “These deals involve a sitting executive selling off a valuable piece of city property at a steep discount to private financial interests (often, to friends or campaign contributors), in order to solve a current cash flow problem that, surprise, surprise, will still be there the year after you finish spending the proceeds of your sale.”
But New York City’s plan for privatized parking meters kept pricing in public
hands. It’s possible Cincinnati could take a similar approach and keep meter rates at the same level.
The full budget proposal typically comes out in late November. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council will have to approve the proposal.
Cincinnati's only remaining daily newspaper is considering moving its printing operation to Columbus and reducing the size of its print publication.
The corporate owners of The Enquirer and The Columbus Dispatch have signed a letter of intent to have the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky editions of the local paper printed at The Dispatch's production facility. If the deal is finalized, the switch would occur in the final quarter of 2012.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A gay couple living in Ohio has filed a lawsuit today against the state of Ohio for failing to recognize their Maryland-certified same-sex marriage, which they claim is discriminatory because the state is required to recognize any certified heterosexual marriage from another state as valid.
Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive and disabling neurological disease that causes muscles to rapidly deteriorate, traveled to Maryland last week to officially tie the knot after remaining as partners for 20 years, reports Cincinnati.com. The trip reportedly cost nearly $13,000 for a chartered, medically-equipped plane, all of which was sourced by donations from friends and family.
Arthur, 47, is a bed-ridden hospice patient and was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.
Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who is representing Arthur and Obergefell, cites the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause, noting that the Supreme Court's historic overturn of DOMA has stripped states of the right to discriminate against couples who seek same-sex marriages.
"John and James were validly married in Maryland. If they were an opposite sex couple, Ohio would recognize their marriage. Being a same-sex couple is no longer a good enough reason to deny them equal rights.”
As an example, he explains that should two first cousins fall in love in the state of Ohio, they can't be wed in Ohio and have their union recognized; however, should they travel to Georgia, where marrying your first cousin is legal, they could come back to Ohio and have a recognizable union under state law, enjoying the same benefits as any other heterosexual married couple in Ohio. The same rules would follow for other stipulations prohibited under Ohio law, such as getting married underage in another state where the union would be legal.
Defense attorneys Terry Nester and Bridget Koontz were not available for comment. CityBeat will update this story with any changes.
Gerhardstein told CityBeat that the plaintiffs will go before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black on Monday, July 22, to ask for an expedited ruling in light of Arthur's rapidly deteriorating condition.
"Had the Supreme Court made this decision one year ago, this would have been as simple as us taking a trip because I could still walk. It's the progression for me of the ALS, it's...it's just compounded everything," he told Cincinnati.com camera crews earlier this week.
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.
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.
It seems Ohio may soon get a controversial voter ID law. While speaking at a Tea Party event in Cincinnati on Monday, Secretary of State Jon Husted said the General Assembly is likely to take up a voter ID law after the November election.
“I was listening to a show one night where they talked about these onerous rules, these onerous photo ID rules and the onerous rules in Ohio on photo ID,” he said. “Well, the photo ID law in Ohio is not onerous. As a matter of fact, I suspect the General Assembly will take up a more strict version of what we have after what we’ve been through with this election process.”
Later on, an audience member commented on the issue by pointing out Ohioans can currently identify themselves with 12 different types of ID. In response, Husted clarified his position: “We need to streamline that because it’s really hard for a poll worker to know exactly what they’re supposed to be checking. And I’m quite confident the legislature is going to take that issue up.”
Under current Ohio law, voters can go to the polls with state ID cards, driver’s licenses, military IDs, utility bills, paychecks, bank statements and other forms of ID. Republicans have sometimes criticized the many options, particularly for not being state-issued and not requiring a photo.
Other states have taken up voter ID laws. Pennsylvania’s controversial law requires voters to have state-issued photo ID. A Pennsylvania court recently upheld the law, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the decision today and asked the lower court to reconsider. The ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court gives lower courts room to strike down the law.
Democrats criticize ID laws for suppressing voters. A study from researchers at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis found nearly 700,000 young, minority voters will be unable to cast a ballot due to voter ID laws. Both young and minority voters tend to side with Democrats.
Republicans say the laws are necessary to protect elections from voter fraud. However, studies suggest in-person voter fraud is not a serious, widespread issue. A News21 report, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project that looked at national public records, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter fraud since 2000. That’s less than one case a year nationwide.
Husted’s office could not be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.
UPDATE (4:25 P.M.): Matt McClellan, spokesperson for Husted, called CityBeat after this story was published.
"The Tea Party has generally been critical of the secretary's position on voter ID," he said, referring to Husted's past opposition of strict voter ID laws. "The comments he made at the event last night were environmental in general about what the secretary thought had been happening at the statehouse. His position, in general, is unchanged."
When pressed about what Husted meant when he advocated for "streamlining" laws, McClellan said Husted supported "simplification" of the current system. McClellan could not offer more details on what that means, and he said specifics would be up to the legislature to decide.
Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman, responded to Husted’s suggestions in a statement: “As if Secretary of State Husted has not done enough to undermine access to Ohio’s polls, now he’s planning a secret post-Election Day assault on what forms of identification voters can present to cast a ballot. It’s no surprise that after slashing voting access across the state, using his office for partisan advantage, and lying about Issue 2, now Husted is making plans to create obstacles for African Americans and seniors to vote.”
(**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.)