Cincinnati inched closer to equality after moving forward Monday with a measure that would allow city employees in same-sex and other partnerships to receive health insurance benefits.
With a push by Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay councilman in Cincinnati, the measure passed the finance committee with the support of all council members except Charlie Winburn, who abstained.
The approval came after a city report found that same-sex benefits could cost as much as $543,000 a year if 77 partners took advantage of the benefits.
The report suggested City Council mimic a system already in place in Columbus, which requires partners to prove financial interdependency and that they have been together for six months.
If the measure passes City Council, Cincinnati would be more caught up with other cities, states, countries and companies that already grant health benefits to same-sex couples. Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign estimated that 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health benefits to same-sex couples, including Procter and Gamble and Fifth Third Bank.
Altogether, it seems like a small step toward equality. What’s unfortunate is none of it would be required if same-sex marriage was legal in Ohio. If it was, same-sex couples could get marriage benefits, including health-care coverage.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Tuesday approved the petition language for an amendment that would overturn Ohio’s 2004 ban on gay marriage. The new amendment would define marriage as “a union of two consenting adults, regardless of gender.”
The amendment now moves forward to the Ohio Ballot Board. If approved, it will then require 385,253 signatures from registered voters and, finally, voter approval.
Ohio banned same-sex marriage in 2004 with a majority vote of 62 percent. But Ian James, co-founder of the Freedom to Marry Coalition, told the Huffington Post that he is optimistic things will be different this time, citing recent polls that show the nation is moving toward support of gay marriage.
National media are reporting about how West Chester’s favorite son is avoiding taking a stand on whether women should be admitted into the Augusta National Golf Club.
As poll after poll shows the Republican Party lagging in support among female voters, various GOP politicians have spoken in favor of admitting women into the club, seeing it as an easy way to restore some goodwill with women. The all-male institution has been roundly criticized because it typically extends membership to the CEOs of IBM Corp., but hasn’t done so to its current leader, Ginni Rometty.
Among those who’ve recently said Augusta should admit female members are Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and John McCain. But not timid House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester).
Politico tried to ascertain Boehner’s stance on the issue last week, to no avail. The website reported:
Asked if Boehner thinks women should be permitted into Augusta, his spokesman Michael Steel said he has "never heard him discuss it." Pressed again, he demurred.The Masters Golf Tournament is held annually at Augusta, Ga. This year’s event ended Sunday, with Bubba Watson emerging as the winner.
Another website, Talking Points Memo, gave a possible reason for Boehner’s reticence. It stated:
"That could be because Boehner — an avid golfer — is himself a member of an all-male golf club. The AP reported last year that Boehner has ‘been chided for his membership at Burning Tree, an all-male golf club in Maryland.”Located in Bethesda, Md., Burning Tree has even more restrictive policies than Augusta. “Beyond the no-women membership policy, women are not even allowed on the grounds as guests,” ESPN reports.
Occupy Wall Street may have been onto something. A new report from left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found Ohio’s income gap — the income difference between the rich and poor — is wide and growing.
Since the 1970s, the poorest 20 percent saw no change in real
income, the middle 20 percent gained 21.1 percent, the top 20 percent
gained 50.6 percent and the top 5 percent gained 85.1 percent.
In terms of real dollars, low-income and middle-income Ohioans have actually seen their income drop since the 1990s. The drop caused a “lost decade” for Ohio’s lower and middle classes, according to the report. The bottom 20 percent saw a 6.9 percent drop in real income from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, while the middle 20 percent saw a 2.9 percent drop. Real incomes for the top 20 percent and top 5 percent remained the same.
The shifts have caused a startling difference in real income, which the report calculated by looking at real dollars after federal taxes and including the value of the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing subsidies and food stamps. The poorest 20 percent make on average about $20,500, and the middle 20 percent make on average about $58,100. Meanwhile, the top 5 percent make about $221,800 — 10.8 times as much as the bottom 20 percent and 3.8 times as much as the middle 20 percent.
Real dollars are a measurement used to gauge the value of money and income after inflation. If a family sees its income in real dollars drop, it means income increases, if they exist, are not keeping up with inflation.
The widening income gap is part of a nationwide trend. In comparison to other states, Ohio mostly did better than the national average. Ohio was not included in any of the six top 10 ranks for inequality, which ranked states for rises in inequality during different time periods. During the late 2000s, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Georgia and New York had the greatest gaps between the wealthiest and poorest. In the same time period, New Mexico, California, Georgia, Mississippi and Arizona had the biggest gaps between the wealthiest and middle.
Part of the cause for the widening gap is the recent recession, but the CBPP report found that the wealthiest have seen their incomes rise again in the recession’s aftermath, while middle and lower incomes have not. The report also blamed government policies — deregulation, trade liberalization, the weakening safety net, the lack of effective laws regarding collective bargaining and the declining real value of the minimum wage — and the expansion of investment incomes, which the CBPP says “primarily accrue to those at the top of the income structure.”
The report finished with some suggestions for states: raise minimum wage and index it for inflation, improve unemployment insurance systems, make state tax systems more progressive and strengthen safety nets.
Policy Matters Ohio, which pointed to the findings in a statement, says the report warrants action. “Poor and middle-income families are seeing their income fall in real dollars and relative to higher earners,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, in the statement. “When households already subsisting on less than $23,000 a year see their incomes drop, that means hunger, instability, poor school performance and worse. Ohio needs to do more to improve the lives of families in this state.”
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.
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:
File taxes jointly
Take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse
Receive spousal, mother’s and father’s, or surviving spouse benefits under Social Security
Receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees
The Court did not rule on the second provision of DOMA, which verbalizes that states that don't approve of same-sex marriage can't be forced to recognize gay unions performed in states where it's
legal, nor did the court decide whether or the act of gay marriage is actually constitutional.
In arguments before the Circuit Court in April, Mary Bonauto, a lawyer for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), called DOMA a result of Congress' "moral disapproval."
"It is simply that, frankly, Congress just didn't want to deal with same-sex couples ... this is across-the-board disrespect," she stated in the hearings.
• Enquirer reporter Sharon Coolidge’s use of open records law documented Cincinnati’s lax enforcement of lead paint removal orders. She told CityBeat that her coverage included positive impacts in addition to those above in my main column:
The day after her story was published, Mayor Mark Mallory ordered health officials to explain why they hadn't forced problem landlords to clean up their properties.
Three public hearings led to a comprehensive city plan to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010. The plan lowers the medical threshold at which health officials can intervene, thus catching lead poisoning in its earliest stages.
City Council gave the health department more than $1 million to finance reforms. Poor families are getting kits to detect whether their homes are contaminated.
In one of his first acts as new governor, Ted Strickland allowed cities to sue lead-paint producers; Cincinnati is suing Sherwin-Williams.
State lawmakers are considering a new law, named after a family featured in the Enquirer story, to provide $20,000 grants for lead removal.
• A more recent public benefit from open records laws involved the Enquirer suit to obtain secret streetcar vendors’ bids. Attorney Jack Greiner, who handles First Amendment issues for the paper, said that Cincinnati's ordinance requires bids be available for public review. Faced with resistance, the Enquirer went to court. Hamilton County appellate judges agreed with the paper, rejecting company arguments that records were exempt from public records law as "trade secrets."
• Unless you’re living under a Rock of Cliches, you’ve read or heard that flu is sweeping the nation. Every sneeze, every cough, every chill and shiver warns us that the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse is tethering his pale horse at our curb. The catch is that despite breathless news media offerings, little unusual is happening except for an early, aggressive onset of the perennial scourge. Thousands die every year from flu, most of them elderly. It would be news if we didn’t. Annual death estimates — hampered by incomplete reporting and similar health problems — range from 3,000 to 49,000.
• An Enquirer Sunday Forum carried Michael Kinsley’s column about Hillary Clinton’s extensive foreign travel as secretary of state. Kinsley doubts the value of much of her travel but in today’s world, “The less important the trip, the more prestige you gain by taking it.” Having time and money to waste proves you have time and money to waste . . . even if you’re on the taxpayers’ clock and paycheck. Maybe that explains an otherwise inexplicable Enquirer revelation that Steve Chabot is a foreign policy expert, citing his extensive foreign travel at taxpayer expense.
• Enquirer reporter Dan Horn produced two nay-saying front page stories. Both were welcome surprises from Cincinnati’s “get on the team” daily. One questioned the argument that right-to-work laws provide an economic boost in states like Indiana, Michigan, or, potentially, Ohio. That anti-union policy was a staple topic in my 1950s high school debating days. Economic analysis, like divining why crime rates change, is more complicated than whether union membership is optional or required in a “union shop.” Too many union/right-to-work debates — fueled by no-compromise advocates putting re-election before public benefit — ignore complexity.
• A second invocation of skepticism by the Enquirer’s Dan Horn raised serious doubts about feel-good gun buy-back programs. I’ll go this far on guns: each firearm bought back and destroyed (not bought back and sold to dealers for resale) is a gun that won’t kill someone. Cincinnati Police destroy buy-back weapons not needed for investigations. Buy-back, however, won’t change life on Cincinnati streets where scores of young men kill each other each year. Anyone who wants a firearm can get one faster than you can say, “Your money or your life.” Similar doubts about Cincinnati’s gun buy-back program made Page 1 of the New York Times.
• Fox 19’s Dave Culbreth came up with a smart take on the controversial idea of arming teachers and school administrators. He interviewed Target World assistant manager Amy Hanlon who demonstrated how a woman could carry a concealed handgun. As Culbreth noted, there was nothing special about her clothing: slacks, blouse, overshirt. By the end of the interview, she’d removed nine concealed semi-automatics or revolvers, including one tucked under her bra in a holster that also was displayed on a counter-top mannequin bust.
• WCPO-TV plans an online local news challenge to the Enquirer’s Cincinnati.com, according to Business Courier’s Jon Newberry. It’s a pioneering effort by Cincinnati-based E. W. Scripps that could go national, Newberry suggested. Whether additional reporters, producers, editors, etc., will come from the Business Courier and other established news media was not clear. Scripps — a Cincinnati-based national print and broadcast company— published the Cincinnati Post until it closed the barely-sustaining joint operating agreement with the Enquirer ended in 2007.
• Blogger Peter Heimlich tipped me to Channel 19 anchor Ben Swann’s web gig called Full Disclosure. Swann says there are enough witnesses to challenge official police narratives of single shooters at three recent massacres: the Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh temple; Aurora, Colo., Batman movie premiere, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Salon.com challenged Swann about his apparent validation of those counter-narratives and he replied in part, “The bottom line for me is the issue of asking questions. As you will notice, I don’t call these operations ‘false flag’ as many people do … (his ellipses) But as a journalist, that is not my job. Rather, my job is to be a critical thinker.” And he added, “most of our media fail to question stories . . . a journalist’s job is not to have the answers, it is to ask the questions and search for truth.”
• There’s a pathetic undercurrent in the Enquirer’s Monday Page 1 profile of Henry Heimlich’s efforts to regain American Red Cross support for his eponymous “maneuver.” The physician claims there is no research to support the Red Cross’s decision to return to back slaps rather than Heimlich abdominal thrusts as first response to choking. Other than Heimlich’s self-serving claims, there is no research proving his maneuver works as well or better than back slaps. Assertions are not evidence. Moreover, the Red Cross adopted Heimlich’s maneuver years ago without the research Heimlich is calling for now. Heimlich has anecdotal evidence of lives saved but that’s not research. Wisely, reporter Cliff Radel quoted skeptics and critics of the maneuver. That kind of even-handedness usually escapes admiring Enquirer stories about Heimlich. And if the paper ever corrected a Memorial Day feature on water safety, I missed it. The Enquirer drew national ridicule with its illustration on how to use Heimlich’s maneuver to revive a standing near-drowning victim.
• It’s spitting into the wind to ask sports reporters to question what jocks tell them, especially when truth-telling endangers future access. In the Good Old Days, who read about fornicating, drunken and racist professional athletes? More recently, golf reporters and publications didn’t write about married Tiger Woods’ screwing around. This time, it’s Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o’s stories about the heart-ripping death of girlfriend Lennay Kekua from leukemia. Editors loved it. Now, it seems she was a fiction amplified by incurious and credulous reporters. It took sports blog Deadspin.com to reveal the fraud after its reporters could find no public records of her birth, life, education or death. Almost as nauseating as the saccharine original stories about her death are the faux introspection by sycophant reporters caught by the fraud.
• We’ve gone a week without a promo for Oprah’s interview with champion liar-cheater Lance Armstrong. That’s closure. So what does Armstrong do now? Pitch performance enhancing drugs and blood transfusions on ESPN and late TV?
Gore sold his troubled Current cable network to Al Jazeera, the
satellite network based in Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Good. Nothing bars
foreigners from owning a cable network here, unlike the law that forced
Australian Rupert Murdoch to obtain U.S. citizenship after he bought Fox.
Backed by the ruling Qatari emir, Al Jazeera scandalized Americans for broadcasting tirades by Osama bin Laden and other anti-western Arab leaders. We should have welcomed what they said in Arabic for home audiences. Too often, we rely on sanitized remarks for non-Arabic-speaking audiences or Washington assurances it was trying to verify that speakers were who they said they were. Al Jazeera also infuriated Arab audiences by carrying interviews with American and Israeli officials that others in the Middle East ignored or rejected.
Most American cable companies won’t carry the newer Al Jazeera English but its website is one of my daily stops, especially when, say, AQIM kidnaps oil workers in Algeria or French Legionnaires assist Mali’s pathetic army in trying to halt and turn back Islamist rebels.
Al Jazeera coverage of “Arab Spring” was so aggressive that embattled North African rulers correctly accused it of supporting anti-government demonstrators. So is Al Jazeera open to interference by the Qatari government? Yes. Are its biases plain to anyone who listens or reads? Yes. We don’t ignore Fox News for its biases.
• American news media employ local nationals in foreign bureaus for their contacts and language skills. That reliance failed when no one reported the 2010 anti-semitic rant by Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who now is Egypt’s president. In part, Morsi called Jews “apes and dogs” and shared the fantasy that the Palestinian Authority was “created by the Zionist and American enemies for the sole purpose of opposing the will of the Palestinian people and its interests.”
Still nastier, he urged listeners “to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews . . . bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”
A stump speech in his Nile Delta hometown, it took more than two years to reach English-language news media. The original Arabic video is on YouTube now. I encountered a translation of Morsi this month on a Forbes website that, in part, chided the New York Times for missing or killing the story. Days later, it was on Page 1 of the Times. After that, the Obama administration an official “tut-tut.”
• Maybe they’ll blame one of those ominous Canadian Cold Air Masses (meteorological, not theological) for the brain freeze that disabled news judgment at the Toronto Star. Flippant columns about rape aren’t funny. Jimromenesko.com posted these first two paragraphs of Rosie DiManno’s column about testimony during the sexual abuse trial of a local physician:
“She lost a womb but gained a penis.
“The former was being removed surgically — full hysterectomy — while the latter was forcibly shoved into her slack mouth..."
• Headlines are an art that always risks a step too far in an attempt to cure the copy editor boredom and draw readers to a story. This one, from philly.com, achieves both in what has become a national story about a popular and well-connected parish pastor: “Catholic priest/meth dealer liked sex in the rectory.” You know you’d read more.
• Finally, this from Shannyn Moore, who blogs on HuffPost as “Just a Girl from Homer, Alaska.” It appeared first in the Anchorage Daily News and makes her points without venturing beyond the pale into bad taste: “I'm not advocating for no guns. I like mine and am not about to give them up. But in this country, my uterus is more regulated than my guns. Birth control and reproductive health services are harder to get than bullets. What is that about? Guns don't kill people — vaginas do?”
City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies.
“Once we conclude the parking lease agreement and see the results of the close-out of the last budget year, I believe there may be a majority (of Council) that would support funding a Croson study,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls told CityBeat.
The disparity study — named a “Croson study” after a U.S. Supreme Court case — could cost between $500,000 and $1 million, according to city officials.
Qualls expects to see the final revenue numbers from the previous budget cycle sometime this week. The numbers are expected to come in higher than projected, which would give Council some leftover money to allocate for newer priorities, including a disparity study and human services funding.
Another potential funding source: the city’s parking lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which will take over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages and manage them through various private companies from around the nation.
The announcement comes shortly after minority inclusion
became a major issue in the 2013 mayoral race between Qualls, John
Cranley, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble.
Cranley announced his minority inclusion plan, which includes a disparity study, on July 12.
Because of a 1989 Supreme Court ruling, city governments are unable to enact programs that favorably target minorities or women without first doing a disparity study that proves those groups are underrepresented.
The city’s last disparity study was done between 1999 and 2002. It found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time.
But since the city did away with its affirmative-action contracting policies in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to a low of 2.7 percent in 2007. Participation among women-owned businesses remained relatively stable, hitting a high of 6 percent in 2005 and otherwise fluctuating between 0.9 percent and 3.8 percent from year to year.
Rochelle Thompson, head of the city’s Office of Contract Compliance, points out that classifying as a minority- or women-owned business is now voluntary, whereas it was mandated through the city’s policies in the 1990s. That, she argues, might be understating how many contracted businesses are truly minority- or women-owned.
Still, business leaders are calling on the city to do more. They claim minority-owned businesses are more likely to hire minorities, which could alleviate an unemployment rate that’s twice as high for them as it is for white Cincinnatians.
Qualls says City Council hasn’t pursued a disparity study until now because it was waiting for the full implementation of recommendations from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were criticized for neglecting the city’s small business program. The resulting policies forced the city administration to be more transparent and accountable for the program’s established goals.
Thompson claims OPEN Cincinnati’s changes “breathed life” into the small business program, but none of the changes specifically targeted minority- and women-owned businesses. Instead, the program broadly favors and promotes small businesses, which Thompson calls the drivers of job and economic growth.
That's the number of Cincinnatians cited in a 2012 report from Strategies to End Homelessness that are either staying in shelters or in places not meant for human habitation.
The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition will coalesce to recognize the plight of those 7,000 when it
holds its annual Homeless Awareness March on Saturday, Oct. 26 starting
at 3 p.m. at Buddy’s Place, a permanent housing facility
for the homeless located at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.
Josh Spring, executive director at GRHC, says the march will explore areas in Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District particularly plagued by homelessness. There will be about 10 stops, each of which will be marked by a speech from representatives of several advocacy groups, including the Interfaith Workers' Center, OTR Community Housing, Streetvibes, People's Coalition for Equality and Justice and the Drop Inn Center.
The march comes at a particularly auspicious time for GRHC, which recently helped four homeless plaintiffs file a lawsuit against the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office for depriving homeless people of their constitutional rights by threatening to arrest people who sleep or inhabit the common areas around the Hamilton County Courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center downtown.
Those areas have recently become the center of a public
health debate between groups like GRHC and county officials, who have been forced to clean up urine
and feces left behind the homeless and argue they
just don’t have the resources to keep up.
The GHRC held a protest on Oct. 16 in front of the courthouse asking Sheriff Neil to rescind the policy, the same day the lawsuit was filed.
In an effort to compromise, Spring and other supporters have asked the county to at least wait to stick to the policy until the winter shelter opens in December, but county officials are hesitant to ignore the cleanliness problem for that long.
Advocates such as Spring, however, argue the city should take a “prevention first” approach instead by figuring out what will keep Cincinnatians from becoming homeless in the first place.
Spring says he hopes the march will draw both people who have come specifically to protest displacement and others who come to learn about the nature of homelessness in Cincinnati. "We really hope people walk away with some passion to go and do something about this," he says.
Last year's march was centered around protesting Western & Southern's manipulative legal disputes with the Anna Louise Inn, which provides safe and affordable housing to low-income women. The battle came to an end in May when Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the Inn, signed an agreement with Western & Southern to move from Lytle Park to Mount Auburn.
Councilman Wendell Young and five other council members on Oct. 30 signed a motion that asks the city administration to budget $2 million to address racial disparities in Cincinnati.
The motion cites three statistical disparities: Infant mortality rates for black babies are three times the rate for white babies; the unemployment rate for black residents is two to three times the rate for white residents; and the black population only makes up 1 percent of the Cincinnati area’s economic worth despite making up nearly half of the city’s population.
“As the City of Cincinnati invests in infrastructure to support economic development and job growth, in developments that attract new businesses, and in job retention and growth, it is of critical importance that all members of the Cincinnati community participate in our progress and prosperity,” Young’s motion states.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and council members Pam Thomas, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson joined Young in signing the motion.
The motion asks the city administration to budget $500,000 to each of four organizations in fiscal year 2015: the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, the Hamilton County Community Action Agency, the African American Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Closing the Health Gap. The money will “support minority business startups and entrepreneurship, job training and workforce development, and access to healthy foods and health care,” according to the motion.
The proposal comes as the city administration begins putting together a disparity study to gauge whether the administration can and should favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses through Cincinnati’s business contracts. The results for that study will come back in February 2015.
It’s unclear how much weight the motion will carry in the upcoming weeks. On Nov. 5, voters will elect a new mayor and City Council. The next city administration and council could have a completely different approach — or no approach at all — to addressing racial disparity issues.
For more information on the upcoming election, check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements here.