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by Kevin Osborne 09.23.2011
 
 
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Candidates On: What to Do About the Tax Rollback

As part of CityBeat's continuing election coverage, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.

Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.

During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.

Today’s question is, “What is your stance on the property tax rollback? Do you believe the city's property tax rate should be increased to the maximum 6.1 mills allowed under the charter, or remain at a rate to generate $28.9 million each year, or be decreased? Please explain your answer.”

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

Metal Detectors Could Come Back to City Hall

Councilman says more gun regulations unlikely at local level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Administration Defends Car Allowances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 11.02.2012
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 10.04.2013
Posted In: News, COAST, City Council, Equality, LGBT, LGBT Issues, Taxes at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Seelbach: I'll Pay $1,200 to Dismiss COAST Lawsuit

Defending suit would cost the city $30,000, says councilman

Today's an expensive day for Councilman Chris Seelbach.

That's because Seelbach is writing a check today for  $1,218.59 to the city of Cincinnati to get local hyper-conservative "watchdog" group COAST to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., to accept an award for instigating positive change was an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

As a refresher, we're talking about the trip when Seelbach was one of 10 community leaders around the nation selected to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting the city's LGBT community — particularly through his efforts to extend equal partner health insurance to all city employees, create an LGBT liaison in the city's fire and police departments and requiring anyone accepting city funding to follow a non-discrimination policy a national recognition of championing Cincinnati's progression toward social justice in the past few years.

In an email from his campaign, he says that the city's law department wants to move forward with the lawsuit because the allegations are so frivolous, but Seelbach decided to just use his own personal money to prevent the city from having to spend close to $30,000 of the same taxpayer money COAST is complaining about to prove that they're wrong.

On Aug. 28, Chris Finney, chief crusader at COAST, sent a letter to the office of the city solicitor alleging that the city had committed a "misapplication of corporate funds" by sponsoring Chris Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., complaining that Seelbach and his staffers "upgraded" their hotel rooms.

Curp says that the rooms weren't only never upgraded — Seelbach and his staffers shared rooms — but that the councilman didn't even request reimbursement for several other eligible expense, like parking, meals and taxi fares — and flew out of Louisville, Ky., to take advantage of cheaper airfare.

In City Solicitor John Curp's five-page response to Finney, he refutes every claim made by COAST and ends the letter by citing an Ohio Supreme Court case that effectively ruled that private citizens (like Chris Finney and all the other COASTers) constantly contesting official acts and expenditures doesn't benefit the city and should only be allowed when it could cause serious public injury if ignored. Here's Curp's full response:

Solicitor Response - Champion of Change by chrisseelbach1



In Seelbach's campaign email, he chocks the lawsuit up to another one of COAST's attacks to continue their thinly veiled bigotry-fueled crusade against Seelbach and Cincinnati's LGBT community as a whole. "You can bet they never would have asked a City Councilmember to pay for a trip to the White House to celebrate Cincinnati if it weren't for the connection to Harvey Milk and the LGBT community."

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

Court Rules City Can Reduce Retiree Healthcare Benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
by German Lopez 06.26.2013
Posted In: News, Development, Streetcar, City Council at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

City Council Approves Streetcar Budget Fixes

Funding for development at Fourth, Race streets also gets approval

City Council today approved funding and accountability measures for the Cincinnati streetcar project, allowing the project to move forward.

On Monday, the Budget and Finance Committee approved the measures, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. The funding ordinance closes the streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap by issuing more debt and pulling funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino.

The accountability motion will require the city manager to update City Council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.

Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young voted for the measures. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against both. Councilwoman Pam Thomas voted against the funding ordinance, but she voted for the accountability motion.

City Council also unanimously approved funding for a development project on Fourth and Race streets, which includes a downtown grocery store, luxury apartment tower and parking garage to replace Pogue's Garage. CityBeat covered that project in further detail here.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 04.10.2012
Posted In: Mayor, City Council, Republicans at 03:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Local GOP Has Dueling Responses to State of the City Address

Winburn, Murray will speak after Mallory's speech

In a replay of the Republican kerfuffle after President Obama’s State of the Nation address last year, there will be dueling GOP responses tonight to Mayor Mark Mallory’s State of the City address.

The Hamilton County Republican Party sent a press release this afternoon announcing that Amy Murray, an ex-Cincinnati City Council member, would provide the GOP’s formal response to Mallory’s speech.

A Democrat, Mallory will give his seventh State of the City address at 6:30 p.m. It will be presented in the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, located at 650 Walnut St., downtown.

After the press release about Murray’s response arrived at 2:55 p.m., however, current City Councilman Charlie Winburn sent a notice from his council office at 3:39 p.m. In the notice, Winburn announced he “will be available to give the Republican response” immediately after the mayor’s speech.

Winburn’s release helpfully noted that he is “the only Republican on Cincinnati City Council,” in case anyone wasn’t sure.

The concurrent responses are similar to what occurred after Obama’s speech in January 2011. At that time, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was selected to give the GOP’s official response to the address. But U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), then a rising star in the Tea Party movement, decided to give her own response.

At the time, House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) called the move "a little unusual." 

Bachmann’s performance was widely lambasted, as she didn’t look directly at the camera but off to the side, and appeared disconnected and halting during her remarks. Bachmann later sought the GOP’s presidential nomination but dropped out of the race early after several disappointing primary finishes.

Murray is a former Procter & Gamble employee who now owns a consulting firm that tries to attract Japanese companies to Cincinnati. The party’s release stated she would give her response immediately following Mallory’s address in the Fifth Third Bank Theater’s lobby at the Aronoff Center.

A Hyde Park resident, Murray ran unsuccessfully for Cincinnati City Council in 2009, finishing in 12th place out of 19 candidates. She then was appointed by party leaders in January 2011 to fill the remainder of Councilman Chris Monzel’s term, but lost election in her own right the following November. In that election, Murray again finished 12th, this time out of 22 candidates.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 03.16.2012
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much attention has been paid to a column published Wednesday by The New York Times, in which Greg Smith explained why he was resigning after 12 years at Goldman Sachs due to what he said was the unethical and corrupt culture at the investment firm. But lesser known is this letter to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission by an unidentified whistleblower at JPMorgan Chase. The writer describes similar reckless practices at that firm, adding, “I am now under the opinion that we are actually putting hard-working Americans – unaware of what lays ahead – at extreme market risk.”
 
 
by Andy Brownfield 12.14.2012
 
 
city hall

Council Passes Budget Reliant on Parking Lease

Council also approves 2014 property tax increase

Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.

Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.

“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.

Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.

The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.

Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.

“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”

Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities. 

Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.

If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts. 

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.

The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes. 

The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.

Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.

 
 

 

 

 
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