Some members of city council agreed that the city needs to take a hard look at the way it inspects projects done with taxpayer money, but they took no action during a special joint committee meeting Thursday to discuss allegations that workers were being underpaid at the University Square development in Clifton.
Council members Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young presented a video investigation they conducted, which included interviews with workers on the project who claim they were being taken advantage of by the University Square developers.
Under Ohio and Cincinnati law, workers on projects funded by taxpayers must be paid a so-called “prevailing wage” (the same as a unionized worker) and be given benefits.
In Cincinnati, that wage is $23.17 an hour for the carpentry work done by the workers interviewed for the video.
The workers in the video claimed they were paid $500 for working a 60-hour week.
“Five-hundred dollars a week to me when you don’t have a job, that’s a lot,” said Garrick Foxx, a construction worker on the project.
“But actually when you average it out, it’s not. Like to the hour-wise it’s probably like 9-something, so like I could actually make that working at McDonalds.”
The University Square developer — a collaboration between Towne Properties and Al. Neyer, Inc. — is building a complex with a parking garage, residential units and retail space.
The City of Cincinnati has $21 million invested in the parking garage. The State of Ohio recently ruled that the prevailing wage provisions apply only workers constructing the garage that the city has money invested in.
Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said the controversy was ginned up by unions and it hasn’t been proven that workers are being underpaid.
“All of this was started by the unions themselves because they became very unhappy when the State of Ohio said a sizeable portion of our project was not subject to prevailing wage,” Bortz said. “They tried then to discredit and intimidate anyone who is on the other side of the table.”
Bortz said he agreed to pay a prevailing wage even to workers who worked on parts of the project not subject to the law. He said he cuts a check to the subcontractors based on that agreement.
“Whether any of those subcontractors might have been unfair to the workers, we do not know,” Bortz said. “If they were, they should be made to be fair.”
Deputy City Solicitor Aaron Herzig said if the contract required a particular wage be paid and it wasn’t, the city can bring a breach of contract action against the developers. But to start an investigation, a complaint must first be made.
The council members asked that their investigation be considered a formal complaint.
In-person early voting is underway in Ohio. Find your nearest polling booth here.
A City Council committee approved $13.5 million that will be going to Over-the-Rhine development. Of that money, $6 million will go to the second phase of the Mercer Commons project, which is being developed by Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). The rest will help 3CDC redevelop 18 different buildings that are mostly around Washington Park. City Council will vote on the funding today.
Cincinnati’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent, but the drop was mostly attributed to people leaving the labor force. Between September 2011 and September 2012, Cincinnati’s labor force has actually shrunk. Still, more people were employed in September 2012 than were employed in September 2011.
The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority is asking Cincinnati for $8.5 million to secure a Jordan Crossing shopping center project at Bond Hill. The funds would pay for the demolition, site preparation, marketing and redevelopment of the project.
In the second wave of interim results from an ongoing investigation into Ohio schools’ attendance data reporting, State Auditor Dave Yost found no evidence of attendance scrubbing in schools with levies on the 2012 ballot. The investigation included Cincinnati Public Schools, which means CPS was found to be clean. In a statement, Yost said, “I’m surprised and pleased. To have zero incidents of ‘scrubbing’ is encouraging news.” The full findings for both interim reports can be found here.Clifton is set to get a neighborhood grocery store soon. The neighborhood has been without one since January 2011. City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee helped spur the new project with a tax abatement program.
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners held a budget hearing yesterday, but not much new information came out. Board President Greg Hartmann insists public safety is a priority, but he says the sheriff’s office will have to deal with some across-the-board cuts. The cuts won’t include closing the jail, decreasing courtroom security or eliminating contracts with townships for patrols. The board has two more public meetings on Oct. 29 and 30.
The controversial billboards accused of attempting to suppress voters are being taken down by Norton Outdoor Advertising, the Cincinnati company that hosted the billboards. Meanwhile, P.G. Sittenfeld and Lamar Advertising Company, a different billboard company, are putting up 10 billboards that read, “Hey Cincinnati, voting is a right not a crime!” The new billboards are supposed to encourage voting.
The University of Cincinnati has a new president: Santa Ono. The official promotion was unanimously approved by the UC Board of Trustees. Ono has been serving as interim president since Aug. 21, when former President Greg Williams suddenly resigned due to “personal reasons.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer is being accused of age discrimination in a recently amended lawsuit. In the lawsuit, eight former employees claim they were fired and replaced with younger, less qualified employees.
A new rumor is going around that says it’s possible to tamper with voting results, but fact checkers and election officials are saying it’s not possible. The rumors started due to the Romneys’ investments in an electronic voting company.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Here is a list of some of the department’s accomplishments: The amount of rivers meeting aquatic life standards went from 21 to 89 percent between the 1980s and today, carbon monoxide in the air is down 80 percent since the 1970s, sulfur dioxide is down 71 percent, lead is down 95 percent and 99 percent of community public water systems now meet health standards, up from 85 percent in 1993.
Miami University says it will discipline two students responsible for putting up an offensive flyer about getting away with rape in a coed dorm bathroom.
Metro revealed its plans for an Uptown Transit District. The district, which will cost Metro $6.9 million, is meant to better suit the needs and growth of Uptown.
Two Democratic state lawmakers are planning legislation to slow down the privatization of the Ohio Turnpike. Gov. John Kasich’s administration is currently paying $3.4 million to KPMG, a private consulting and accounting firm, to study whether leasing the turnpike to the highest private bidder would benefit the state. Kasich says he could use the money saved for transportation projects all around the state. But northern Ohio residents do not seem happy with giving up a valuable asset they helped invest in, especially if the revenue from the Ohio Turnpike goes to regions outside of northern Ohio.
There's more evidence sushi sucks. Popular Science has an article and graph showing how raw food kept primates stupid.
A Democratic operative who once served as former Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley’s campaign manager already is staking out cyber turf in advance of Cranley’s rumored run for mayor of Cincinnati. Two Internet domains have been registered for CranleyForMayor on GoDaddy.com. The domains were created three months ago. As yet, no active websites are operating on CranleyForMayor.org or CranleyForMayor.info.
Both sites are held in the name of Jay Kincaid, a longtime Democratic operative in Cincinnati. This year, Kincaid has been working on the campaigns of Denise Driehaus, who is seeking reelection to the Ohio House, and Steve Black, who is running for Common Pleas Judge. (Kincaid is engaged to Black’s daughter.) Kincaid ran Cranley’s successful 2007 campaign for reelection to Cincinnati City Council and was paid about $26,000 for the work. Obviously, he and Cranley go back a long way. It’s doubtful Kincaid would have staked out the Internet domains for another candidate to double-cross Cranley. There have been instances where people have grabbed domains to shut out opponents, or set up spoof and decoys as dirty tricks. By all accounts, Kincaid is described as a trusted adviser.
So far, there’s been no official announcement that Cranley is running for mayor. Yet there have been plenty of rumors. Cranley recently positioned himself as an opponent of Mayor Mark Mallory’s efforts to finance the streetcar project, a move that put him back in the news. Registering Internet domains is likely to add to the speculation. All candidates these days have websites, and the portals are central to fundraising, getting out the word on issues and scheduling events.
Who else might be running to succeed Mallory, who is term-limited out of office next year? Among the D’s, names being mentioned include Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Democratic State Sen. Eric Kearney and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Kearney is the highest-ranking Democrat in the Ohio Senate, and can’t run for reelection due to term limits. He’s reportedly told people he wants to move into the mayor’s office, but he’s also said to have recently changed his mind. The word from Democratic insiders about Kearney: Stay tuned. Qualls, who served as mayor in the 1990s, is said to be a definite. Sittenfeld is called a complete question mark.
On the GOP side, Charlie Winburn might run again. And Chris Smitherman is considered a possibility as either a Democrat, Republican, under a Third Party flag or an independent.
The three measures set up $15 million to front to Duke Energy to move utility lines out of the proposed path; changes the source of funding to repay some $25 million in bonds used to pay for the streetcar; sells $14 million in bonds for streetcar improvements; and changes the municipal code to clarify that it is the responsibility of a utility to relocate its structures.
The $15 million comes from the $37 million sale of city-owned land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
Council voted 6-3 to approve the front money, improvement bonds and bond repayment, a vote that largely mirrored a Monday Budget and Finance Committee vote. Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole “no” vote on the ordinance to change the municipal code.
Councilmembers Cecil Thomas, Wendell Young, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson voted to pass funding, while Councilmembers Smitherman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Charles Winburn voted against.
“My concern with all of these votes … in particular the Blue Ash Airport dollars, these were promises that you made to the neighborhoods and I don’t have the confidence that the legal battle against Duke Energy is going to yield a 100 percent win for the city of Cincinnati, so there’s no assurance that these dollars are going to come back,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman, one of the most vocal opponents of the streetcar.
“I want to be clear that it’s something that I don’t support.”
The $15 million would be fronted to Duke to move its lines while the city and utility work out who is responsible for funding the move.
Duke estimates the full cost at $18 million and argues
that the lines would not have to be moved if the streetcar wasn’t being
built. The city maintains that it has always been the responsibility of
utilities to move or upgrade their structures — which the third measure
clarified in the municipal code. If the city loses a legal battle against Duke, it will not
recoup the $15 million.
The second proposal switches the source of funding for
streetcar bonds from money coming into city coffers from southern
downtown and the riverfront area to a 1995 fund set up to collect
service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks. The measure wouldn't use any additional new money for the streetcar.
That downtown area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as
expected but the city hopes to repay the other fund once the downtown
district — which includes the Banks and the casino — rebounds.
Cincinnati City Council plans to move $29 million in funds to avoid further delays for the streetcar
project, but the city is still looking at a 2015 opening date. City officials announced Wednesday that a council
committee will vote Monday on three pieces of legislation to keep the
$110 million project in line with the recently announced delayed opening.
One measure would front $15 million to help Duke Energy move underground utility lines from the path of the proposed streetcar route. That money comes from the recent $37 million sale of land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
The city thinks it will get this money back once a dispute with Duke is resolved. The city contends that Duke is responsible for moving the lines, which the utility estimates will cost $18.7 million. Duke counters that the lines only have to be moved because of the streetcar construction, so the city should foot the bill.
“We’re fronting money for the Duke work until we can work out who pays for it with Duke,” city spokeswoman Meg Oldberding said. “It’s to keep the project on time and on budget. Delays would escalate the cost.”
Another ordinance would change the municipal code to “confirm the city’s existing rights” and clarify that utilities pay for the cost of relocating facilities unless otherwise negotiated, according to a news release.
Oldberding said Cincinnati has always maintained that it is the utility’s responsibility to relocate their facilities, so it is not a change in the city’s position.
The final ordinance would change the funding source that is repaying $25 million in bonds sold as part of the original plan to fund the streetcar.
Those bonds were originally being repaid with money coming into city coffers from southern downtown and the riverfront area.
That area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as expected, so the ordinance would have $14 million of the bonds repaid from a 1995 fund set up to collect service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks.
Oldberding said once the downtown district rebounds — it includes the Banks and the casino — it would repay the other fund.
The ordinances would not add to the project’s cost. Construction is scheduled to begin early next year.
The Ohio Ballot Board on Thursday approved new summary language for Issue 2, which would take the decennial redistricting out of the hands of politicians and task a nonpartisan commission with redrawing congressional lines. The Dispatch reports that the new summary removes factual inaccuracies and included previously omitted information about who would select members of the new citizens commission. Secretary of State and Ballot Board Chairman Jon Husted said the board tried to make the language as generic and concise as possible, but Democrats and voter advocates say the new language is too long and technical and would confuse voters.
Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld became the first elected official in the nation to host an online town hall. The Enquirer reports that Sittenfeld is taking questions on the online tool CrowdHall and by next Friday will have answered them via text or video. He is also asking Cincinnatians to post suggestions as to how they would balance the budget or spend the new casino revenue.
Rush Limbaugh on Thursday theorized that Al Qaeda colluded with President Barack Obama to give up Osama bin Laden to help Obama look good and win reelection.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney defines “middle income” as $200,000 to $250,000 a year. The Associated Press reports that Romney made the comments during an interview broadcast Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The Census Bureau meanwhile reported this week that the median household income is just over $50,000. CityBeat’s reporting staff wishes management would promote us to middle income level.
Speaking of ABC, they’re being sued by Beef Products Inc. for $1.2 billion over a report of the beef filler “pink slime.” The beef company says the defaming report disparaged the safety of pink slime.
Obama again apologized for America called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and called on him and the Muslim Brotherhood to stand with Washington against protesters who are attacking the U.S. Embassy in what The New York Times called a “blunt phone call.”
Jimmy Kimmel took the iPhone 4S onto the streets, telling people it was the new iPhone 5, proving that Apple cultists enthusiasts will love anything the company puts out.
After taking a two-month summer break — with a week for some committee hearings and a council meeting — Cincinnati City Council has canceled its meetings for the first half of September.
The council meetings for Sept. 6 and 12 have been canceled, along with all committee meetings for the first week of September and the Job Growth Committee meeting for Sept. 10.
Jason Barron, spokesman for Mayor Mark Mallory, said the council meetings were canceled due to the Democratic National Convention, which is occurring in the first week of September. Barron said many of the Democratic officials in the city are delegates to the convention.
Asked why the City Council meeting was canceled for the second week of September, Barron said he didn’t know.Council did meet once in August, where they approved a ballot measure to lengthen council terms from two to four years, as well as a plan to undo the sale of the Blue Ash airport.
All of the committee meetings for the week of the DNC were canceled as well. Strategic Growth Committee chairwoman Laure Quinlivan is not a delegate to the convention, but is attending, an aide said.
Council members Roxanne Qualls and Cecil Thomas, who chair the Budget and Finance and Public Safety Committees respectively, did not respond to CityBeat’s requests for comment as of Friday afternoon.
A special meeting of the Rules and Government Operations Committee is meeting on Sept. 10 — the first committee meeting after the summer break. An aide to committee chairman Wendell Young says the committee is meeting to receive a report from a task force charged with recommending ways to put grocery stores in so-called “food deserts” — neighborhoods where fresh food isn’t readily available.
The Livable Communities Committee and Major Transportation & Infrastructure Sub-committee are meeting during the second week of September, but the first full council meeting isn’t until the 19th.
Council still has a few big-ticket items it is expected to deal with this year, including proposed budget cuts from City Manager Milton Dohoney (expected to be laid out in November) and the approval of a new city plan, which shifts development emphasis from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to the city’s other 50 neighborhoods. More on that plan here.
The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) has threatened to block a move that would allow Cincinnati to use $37.5 million from the 2007 sale of the Blue Ash Airport for projects other than aviation, $11 million of which would go to the Cincinnati streetcar.
The Blue Ash City Council voted Thursday to re-do the sale of 130 acres at the Blue Ash Airport to the City of Cincinnati. COAST says it wants to put the matter before voters in a 2013 referendum, which would halt the sale and re-instate the original agreement made in 2007 when Cincinnati made the sale.
The two cities decided to re-work the $37.5 million sale because a federal rule requires proceeds from the sale of an operating airport to be used for other aviation projects. The money would be returned, airport shut down and then the property re-sold to Blue Ash for the original amount.
“When they originally sold it they were stupid, which is typical of the City of Cincinnati, and did not realize that the proceeds on the sale of the airport have to go to other aviation-type things,” says COAST Chairman Tom Brinkman. “Now that they want to get the streetcar, they want to crack that money.”
Brinkman openly admits he doesn’t want the money to go to the streetcar (“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that boondoggle doesn’t occur”) but says COAST is working with a group of local pilots who want money from the sale to go to Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport.
Blue Ash is confident that the ordinance they passed approving the re-sale isn’t subject to referendum.
“Blue Ash believes everything enacted was lawful and would survive any challenge,” says City Solicitor Brian Pachenco. He declined to discuss specifics
The city wants the airport land to build a park.
Pachenco said the ordinance wasn’t written specifically to exempt it from referendum attempts, but nevertheless it falls under a section of the city’s charter that makes voters unable to recall it.
COAST isn’t so sure.
Chris Finney, legal counsel for COAST, said the buying and selling of land under the Blue Ash charter is subject to referendum. He said the ordinance was written to avoid using that language, but what was happening was in reality a sale.
For its part, Cincinnati doesn’t seem too concerned with the threatened referendum.
“We’re not going to talk 'what ifs' at this point,” city spokeswoman Meg Olberding said. “The streetcar has had two previous referendums that have been shot down.”
She pointed out that only $11 million of the sale was going toward the streetcar, and the remaining money would be available for other projects.
Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach was also unconcerned.
“COAST and groups like COAST have tried to put up every obstacle possible to prevent the streetcar from happening and we have overcome all of them,” Seelbach said. “I am 100 percent positive if this comes to a vote we will overcome it again and the streetcar will be built.”