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by German Lopez 10.23.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Economy at 03:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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National Report Criticizes JobsOhio, Other Privatized Agencies

Good Jobs First says privatized agencies create scandals, not jobs

JobsOhio and other privatized development agencies have created scandals and potential conflicts of interests instead of jobs, claims an Oct. 23 report from Good Jobs First, a research center founded in 1998 that scrutinizes deals between businesses and governments.

The report looked at privatized development agencies in seven states, including Ohio, and found that many of the same problems and scandals appear from state to state.

“These experiments in privatization have, by and large, become costly failures,” the report found. “Privatized development corporations have issued grossly exaggerated job-creation claims. They have created ‘pay to play’ appearances of insider dealing and conflicts of interest. They have paid executives larger salaries than governors. They have resisted basic oversight.”

The report focuses much of its findings on JobsOhio, a privatized development agency that Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators established in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The agency uses tax subsidies and other financial incentives to attract companies to Ohio with the intention of creating jobs.

But the report states JobsOhio “assembled a board of directors whose members included some of (Kasich’s) major campaign contributors and executives from companies that were recipients of large state development subsidies. It received a large transfer of state monies about which the legislature was not informed, intermingled public and private monies, refused to name its private donors, and then won legal exemption (advocated by Gov. Kasich) from review of its finances by the state auditor.”

It found similar issues in privatized development agencies in Wisconsin, Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan. In some cases, the scandals have cost states millions of dollars with little job creation to show for it, according to the report.

The latest report concurred many of the findings in a similar 2011 report from Good Jobs First, which sought to warn states, including Ohio, about the potential risks of privatized development agencies.

For JobsOhio, a major cause for concern in the report is how difficult it is to hold the agency accountable. State legislators have approved multiple measures that shield JobsOhio from public scrutiny, including exemptions that exclude the agency from public records laws, open meeting rules and the possibility of a full public audit.

Some of the controversy also focuses on how the state funds JobsOhio.

“The proposal called for ‘leasing’ the state liquor profits ($228 million the year prior) for up to 25 years to JobsOhio, which would eventually issue $1.4 billion in bonds to pay for the use of the funds,” according to the report. “Critics charged that this was not a fair market price for profits that could potentially amount to $6 billion over the term of the agreement.”

The report laments that the privatized and secretive agency represents a shift for Ohio, which the report claims “was an early practitioner of online subsidy disclosure.”

Good Jobs First concludes privatized development agencies perpetuate an economic environment in which big companies already have too much say.

“The privatization structures we describe here, including the increasing use of corporate seats for sale on governing or advisory boards, absolutely favor large businesses that have the money and executive staff time to pay and play at such levels,” the report concluded. “But small businesses already get short shrift in economic development resource allocation, and they are still suffering the most in the Great Recession’s aftermath.”

The organization also takes issue with the idea that public agencies aren’t “nimble”: “In all of our years tracking development deals, we have yet to hear of a state agency that lost an important deal because it failed to provide labor market or real estate or incentive data in a timely manner.”

Asked about the report, Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols responded in an email, “We don't pay much attention to politically-motivated opponents whose mission is to combat job creation.”

Kasich and other Republicans claim JobsOhio’s privatized, secretive nature is necessary to secure job-creating development deals with private companies in an economic environment that, through the Internet and globalization, moves more quickly than ever before.

Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, claim the agency is ripe for abuse, difficult to hold accountable and unclear in its results.

State Auditor Dave Yost plans to release an audit of JobsOhio soon, but no specific date or time frame is set for the release. The audit was granted prior to state legislation that barred the state auditor from doing a full sweep of JobsOhio’s financial details.

The full report:

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

Enquirer's Opinion Editor Takes Buyout

Ray Cooklis is among seven more names confirmed


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

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 Andy Brownfield 07.25.2012
Posted In: News, Social Justice, Racism, Gun Violence at 05:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
trayvon_martin_on_the_backseat_of_a_car copy

Trayvon Martin’s Parents Speak in Cincinnati

Maya Angelou, other activists encourage justice without hate

Panelists including the parents of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin talked about reconciliation and turning personal suffering into power at the National and Racial Healing Town Hall at the Duke Energy Convention Center on Wednesday during the Children’s Defense Fund National Conference.

Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, broke down in tears as he told the story of how his son saved his life by dragging him out of their condo and calling 911 after Tracy had been badly burned in a grease fire.

“My child is my hero,” Tracy Martin said. “He saved my life. Not to be there to save his is troublesome to me.”

Trayvon Martin was shot and killed on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. 

Trayvon, who was black, was unarmed and shot by the white and Hispanic Zimmerman after Zimmerman pursued him in defiance of a request by a police dispatcher. Zimmerman claims the shooting was in self-defense.

Zimmerman is out on $1 million bail while awaiting trial on a charge of second degree murder.

“Nothing anyone can do will bring Trayvon back,” Tracy Martin said. “You have to take that negative and turn it into a positive. We chose to keep our son's name alive and not let his death be in vain.”

The town hall-style meeting was kicked off by poet and author Maya Angelou. She urged the hundreds of people in attendance, mostly young and black, to demand justice for Trayvon — referring to Zimmerman as “the brute” — but “that means we don’t become poisoned by hate.”

Angelou wasn’t the only one who urged against hate.

Black historian and civil rights activist Vincent Harding, who celebrated his 81st birthday on Wednesday, issued a challenge to the youth in attendance:

“Are you ready to fight for the healing of George Zimmerman and all the George Zimmermans of America? Are you up to that?” he asked.

“This country has no chance unless they are healed.”

The panel was made up of social activists, many of whom had lost friends and family to violence or bigotry, but whose pain prompted activism instead of retaliation — panelists such as The Rev. Ronald and Kim Odom, who lost a son to gun violence but volunteer in intervention and outreach programs; Clemmie Greenlee, a former prostitute and gang member who formed a peacemaking organization to work with gang members after her son was killed; and Ndume Olatushani, a former prisoner who was released in June after 19 years on death row after being falsely convicted of murdering a Tennessee shopkeeper.

The younger members of the audience were encouraged to ask questions after the panel presentation. Teenagers and young adults from as far as Tennessee, North Carolina and Minnesota asked questions about dismantling the system of racial oppression, overcoming odds stacked against young minorities and having society see past an old felony conviction.

The panelists all tried to offer encouragement, while urging the younger generation to continue to try to fight to make things better.

“When you look at the odds, it’s so horrific for a young minority American, you say ‘why even try, why even bother?’ ” said Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who is representing Trayvon’s mother Sabryna Fulton. “But the reason you try and you bother, there is so many examples where we beat the odds every day and nobody even know about it or talked about it.”

“It goes back to you and saying, ‘I am going to make something of myself. I don’t care about the statistics, I don’t care about the odds.’ … You say, ‘well, if it’s one out of a million, I’m going to be that one.’”

by German Lopez 08.22.2013
Posted In: News, Environment, Energy at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
bill seitz

National Conservative Groups Attack State Energy Standards

State senator pushing new bill is on group’s board of directors

State Sen. Bill Seitz says he’s working on a bill that would cap how much utilities can spend on energy efficiency programs and eliminate requirements for in-state wind and solar power. But the proposal isn’t completely unique to Ohio, which is just one of many states in which national conservative groups are working to weaken state energy standards.

Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati, told Gongwer that his bill will keep requirements for utilities to provide 25 percent of their electricity from alternative sources and reduce customers’ consumption by 22 percent by 2025.

But the other measures will likely weaken renewable energy and efficiency standards set by Ohio’s Clean Energy Law in 2008.

The bill is presumably the result of Seitz’s review of Ohio’s energy rules, which the state senator announced earlier in the year.

FirstEnergy, an Akron-based utility company, says the review is necessary because the regulations impose too many costs. But there’s another major group involved: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Seitz is on the board of directors of ALEC, a conservative group that’s gone from state to state to push legislation that typically favors corporate interests.

Some state officials, including Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, reportedly attended ALECs 40th annual meeting in Chicago Aug. 7-9.

Just a couple weeks after that meeting, Seitz announced he still intends to rework Ohio’s energy standards.

ALEC previously teamed up with the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that gets much of its funding from oil companies, to write the standard for legislation that pulls back state energy rules. Many of the effort’s backers, particularly at the Heartland Institute, deny man-made global warming, even though scientists are 95 percent certain climate change is influenced by human actions.

ALEC’s efforts have so far failed in every state in which legislation has been proposed, as shown in this map from ThinkProgress:

But Ohio may be the first state to buck that trend if Seitz insists on pushing his review.

A report from advocacy group Environment Ohio found the current energy standards, which require Ohio utility companies get 12.5 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources, have successfully spurred clean energy projects all around the state, particularly in Cincinnati.

One local example: The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in 2011 installed solar panels in its parking lot that will generate enough electricity to meet 20 percent of the zoos electricity needs and reduce pollution associated with global warming by 1,775 tons annually, according to the report.

But the standards are written in a way that favors in-state sources, which was supposed to ensure that at least half of the renewable energy development spurred by the Clean Energy Law happened in Ohio. A June 2013 ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals indicated that the in-state preference is an unconstitutional violation of the Commerce Clause.

Seitz will introduce his bill in the next two weeks.

by German Lopez 07.31.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, Mayor, News at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
berns marijuana

Longshot Mayoral Candidates Angry over Debate Schedule

Debates to take place after Sept. 10 primary; Berns withdrawing in protest

Independent mayoral candidate Sandra Queen Noble sent an F-bomb-laden email to mayoral debate organizers and Libertarian Jim Berns quit the race in protest of news that two mayoral debates hosted by The Cincinnati Enquirer and WCPO will take place after the primary election.

Under the current primary system, multiple mayoral candidates are allowed to run. But come Sept. 10, voters will select the top two contenders in a primary. Those frontrunners will then face off in a final election on Nov. 5 to pick who will take over City Hall on Dec. 1.

Noble, whos known for being eccentric and running for public office multiple times but never being elected, began the chain of events with an explicit email.

“Fuck you man. The two motherfuckers burn,” Noble wrote in a July 30 email to mayoral debate organizers. “Queen Noble is being robbed of the elections thanks to motherfucker such as yourself seeing the future and shit. The fuck you mean debate after the election robbing primary. It's a rip off for the incumbents in it self (sic). Dirty motherfuckers are backed by dirty motherfuckers cheating the public out the best candidates so fuck you and the primary election. Queen Noble will debate now asshole.”

Berns replied in his own July 30 email, “Queen Noble is right. The September 10th Top Two Primary's only purpose is to cheat the public out of the best candidates for Mayor of Cincinnati.”

Today, Berns announced he’s withdrawing from the race in protest of the primary.

The criticism isn’t new to local politics. Berns has been vocally critical of the primary process ever since the mayoral campaigns, media outlets and other interested parties began meeting early in the year to set up the debates.

Supporters of the primary system say it helps narrow down the field so voters can better evaluate and scrutinize the frontrunners. Some also claim it positively extends the electoral process, so voters are forced to think about their choice for mayor from the primary in September to the election in November.

Berns argues the primary system favors establishment candidates, especially when media outlets fail to cover campaign events and debates prior to the primary vote. He also says the $350,000 to $400,000 it costs the city to hold the primary is a waste of money, and voters should instead choose from a full pool of candidates in November.

The criticisms are further accentuated by how media outlets cover the election, which affects how the public and organizations that endorse candidates learn about them. It’s rare a media outlet or local organization wants to host a debate, especially a televised debate, before the primary, and it’s even rarer the debate involves more than the two expected frontrunners.

But that gives the most publicity to those who lead the race from the start. Not only do the top two contenders get to participate in a televised debate, but media outlets also tend to give much more coverage to the candidates they know are going to appear on television.

This year, the expected contenders are Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and ex-Councilman John Cranley, two Democrats. Both have said they support the primary system, although Cranley has stated he supports moving the date so it coincides with countywide or statewide elections earlier in the year.

Cincinnati has directly elected its mayors since 2001. Since then, the primary system has been necessary twice. The other mayoral elections involved only two candidates.

Until 2001, the mayor was the City Council candidate who got the most votes.

by Kevin Osborne 09.14.2011
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Public Transit, County Commission at 04:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monzel's Motion May Backfire on MSD

A proposal made today by a Hamilton County commissioner involving sewer work related to the city of Cincinnati's planned streetcar system won't harm or delay the project, city staffers said.

That's because the motion introduced by County Commissioner Chris Monzel, a streetcar foe, would only affect additional improvements sought by the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), said Chris Eilerman, the city's streetcar project manager. The city already has allocated $3 million of its own money to relocate manholes needed for the streetcar project and do some of MSD's other improvements.

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by German Lopez 07.27.2012
Posted In: Oil, Environment, News at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

ODNR Gives Out Record Fracking Permits

Agency authorized 36 permits in June, up from 20 in May

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is not being slowed down by critics of hydraulic fracturing. ODNR in June authorized 36 new permits for horizontal drilling wells used for the process also known as fracking, a record for ODNR, according to Friday's Hannah Report.

Carroll County was at the top of obtaining new permits with 11 total. Columbiana County followed with seven new permits, and Harrison County was third with nine. Chesapeake Energy Corporation obtained most of those permits, a total of 22.

CityBeat spoke with Carroll County Commissioner Jeffrey Ohler, a Republican, in June about the impact of fracking on his county. Ohler was generally skeptical of how many domestic jobs fracking had created in the county, and he said he was cautious about the long-term economic impact the influx of fracking activity could have in the area.

Critics claim fracking is too dangerous and its risks are too unclear. In a June 17 rally, environmentalist group Don’t Frack Ohio took over the Columbus statehouse asking state officials to put a stop to fracking. More than 1,000 attended the rally, according to the organization.

But some state officials, including Gov. John Kasich, say the process can be safe with regulations in place. In June, Kasich signed into law S.B. 315, which added new rules and regulations to the fracking process. Following that, Kasich signed an executive order on July 12 that strengthened state regulators with the ability to stop and impose new requirements on wastewater injection wells deemed risky or dangerous.

The wastewater injection wells were the most likely cause of recent earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio around New Year’s Eve. In response, Kasich placed a moratorium on deep wastewater injection wells in the area.

Fracking is a process in which millions of gallons of water are pumped underground to release oil and gas from rock formations. The water is then recycled and deposited in underground facilities known as wastewater injection wells.
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.

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by 01.07.2009
Posted In: News, City Council at 04:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Cranley Out, Harris In?

Facing term limits, Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley announced today that he would resign his seat Thursday to join the Keating Muething & Klekamp law firm and concentrate on development projects in East Price Hill.

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