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by German Lopez 10.24.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, 2013 Election, Taxes at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

CityBeat endorsements unveiled, report slams JobsOhio, tax reform could hurt city budgets

CityBeat yesterday revealed its endorsements for the City Council and mayoral races. Check them out here. Also, early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.

JobsOhio and similar privatized development agencies in other states create scandals and potentials of conflicts of interests instead of jobs, according to an Oct. 23 report from Good Jobs First. The report found that privatized development agencies in seven states, including Ohio, tend to also exaggerate job claims and resist basic oversight. JobsOhio in particular is chaired by people who donated to Gov. John Kasich’s campaign. The agency also received public money without informing the legislature, and it gained a legal exemption from full public audits, public records laws and open meeting rules. Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 established JobsOhio to replace the Ohio Department of Development. They argue JobsOhio’s privatized, secretive nature helps the agency establish job-creating development deals at the “speed of business.” But Democrats say JobsOhio is ripe for abuse, difficult to hold accountable and unclear in its results.

A bill that intends to bring uniformity to Ohio’s complex municipal income tax code got a makeover, but cities say the bill still reduces their revenues. Business groups are pushing for the bill so they can more easily work from city to city and county to county without dealing with a web of different forms and regulations, but cities are concerned they’ll lose as much as $2 million a year. Many cities already lost some state funding after Kasich and the Republican legislature slashed local government funding, which reduced revenues for Cincinnati in particular by $22.2 million in 2013, according to City Manager Milton Dohoney.

Opponents of Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, say it could force the city to cut services by 41 percent or raise taxes significantly. CityBeat analyzed the amendment in further detail here.

Converting Mercy Mt. Airy Hospital into a crime lab for the county coroner’s office could cost $21.5 million, well under the previously projected $56 million. Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco says it could be the most economical way for the county to get a crime lab, which the coroner’s office says it desperately needs. Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s still concerned about operating costs, but he’ll review the new estimates and advise county commissioners on how to proceed.

An Over-the-Rhine business owner says Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) “dropped the ball” with incentives for retail businesses, and he’s now looking to move his store, Joseph Williams Home, to the suburbs. Specifically, Fred Arrowood says 3CDC has done a lot to accommodate restaurants and bars, but it failed to live up to promises to attract and retain retail businesses. But 3CDC points to its own numbers: Spaces in OTR are currently leased in contracts with 20 businesses, 15 restaurants or bars and 14 soft goods retailers.

Cincinnati State and the University of Cincinnati yesterday signed an agreement that will make it easier for students with two-year degrees at Cincinnati State to get four-year degrees at UC.

The Cincinnati Enquirer hosted a City Council candidate forum yesterday. Find their coverage here.

Northeast Ohio Media: “Ohio abortion clinic closings likely to accelerate under new state regulations.” (CityBeat reported on the regulations, which were passed with the two-year state budget, here.)

Gov. Kasich and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, two Republicans widely perceived as potential presidential candidates in 2016, don’t register even 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, a key primary state.

Cincinnati-based Omnicare agreed to pay $120 million to resolve a case involving alleged kickbacks and false claims, according to lawyers representing a whistleblower. The company says the settlement is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing.

Chef David Falk of Boca wrote a moving love letter to Cincinnati.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

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by German Lopez 10.22.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor at 04:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
roxanne qualls

Cranley’s Latest Attack on Qualls Deemed Invalid

City solicitor, ethics director: Realty work not a conflict of interest

City Solicitor John Curp and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said in an Oct. 22 email exchange that it was OK for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to retain her job as a realtor and vote in support of the streetcar project, even though the project could indirectly benefit Qualls by increasing property values — and therefore her compensation as a realtor — along the route.

The email exchange was provided to CityBeat and other media outlets after mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized Qualls, who is also running for mayor, for the alleged conflict of interest at an Oct. 22 press conference.

Curp stated in an email to Nick that Qualls’ potential gains from the streetcar project are too speculative and indirect to present a conflict of interest or ethical violation because the real estate sales are “arms-length transactions between private parties” with a flat 1 to 2 percent fee.

Nick’s emailed response cited two previous Ohio Ethics Commission opinions to support Curp’s analysis.

“It would be unreasonable to hold that lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, and other professionals have an interest in the contracts of their business clients. In general, such professionals are not deemed to be interested in the business dealings of a client, merely because they receive fees for professional services,” according to a February 1986 opinion.

The opinion then clarifies that ethics violations must be directly tied to a project. For example, an insurance agent on City Council would violate ethics law if he or she voted on a construction contract in which his or her insurance agency is charged with handling bond sales for the contract in some way.

Curp also noted that Qualls had asked about the potential conflict of interest on “a minimum of two prior occasions.”

Nick told CityBeat in a phone interview that it’s normal for city officials to go through city solicitors before going to the Ohio Ethics Commission with an ethical question. If the city solicitor and commission agree a formal analysis isn’t necessary, the situation is resolved with brief guidance.

For Cranley, the concerns suggest a contradiction to his previously touted beliefs about the streetcar.

Supporters of the streetcar project, including Qualls, often tout potential property value increases and the economic gains they would bring to Cincinnati as a reason to back the project. The economic gains were supported by studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati, which found the streetcar would produce a three-to-one return on investment in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.

Critics, including Cranley, say such property value increases are overblown to falsely justify what they call a “pet project.”

But if the property values never materialize, Qualls isn’t financially benefiting in the way Cranley’s campaign described.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.15.2013
Posted In: News, Unions, 2013 Election, Streetcar at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar track arrives, thousands to get new ballots, "right to work" supporters aim for 2014

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

City leaders will host an event today to lay down the first streetcar track. The event will take place at 11 a.m. near Music Hall at Elm and 12th streets. The moment has been years in the making for Cincinnati, which continued pursuing the streetcar project through two referendums, Gov. John Kasich’s decision to pull $52 million from the project and a separate $17.4 million budget gap. Meanwhile, ex-Councilman John Cranley, citing costs, says he would cancel the project if he wins the mayoral election against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls on Nov. 5, even though canceling at this point could cost more than completing the project.

More than 3,000 Cincinnatians who already voted early will get new ballots in the mail after an Ohio Supreme Court decision forced the Hamilton County Board of Elections to change the ballot language for Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system. Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, says the old ballots will at least count for every candidate and issue except Issue 4, but the 3,000-plus voters could have to refile their ballots to have their votes counted on the controversial pension issue. The board will make the final decision on whether to count the old votes for or against Issue 4 after it hears from state officials and reviews election law, Krisel says.

Supporters of a type of anti-union law infamously dubbed “right to work” say they’re gathering petitions to get the issue on the ballot in 2014. The anti-union proposal wouldn’t ban unions, but it would significantly weaken them by banning agreements between companies and unions that mandate union membership for employees and allow unions to collect dues and fees from nonunion members. The proposal first lost in Ohio in 1958, and it’s been a “flashpoint” for union politics ever since, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Cranley says he’d pick a Democrat as his vice mayor if elected to office. The announcement came on the same day a group of Democratic ward chairs pressured him to announce he’d pick a Democrat as his vice mayor. It was previously rumored that Cranley would choose Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman over any of the Democrats on City Council. The news is the second time in a week Cranley attempted to rebuke the idea that he’s the conservative alternative to Qualls. Previously, Cranley told CityBeat he doesn’t want and would reject an endorsement from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group with a history of anti-gay causes.

In a 3-1 vote, the Hamilton County Board of Elections decided to keep Randy Simes, the pro-streetcar founder of UrbanCincy.com, on the local voter rolls. Tea party groups contested Simes’ ability to vote in Cincinnati because he’s currently on assignment in South Korea and they believed he lived in Chicago when he voted in the Sept. 10 mayoral primary. But Simes says he intends to return to Cincinnati once he completes his assignment in South Korea, leading election officials to conclude that the case is similar to when Procter & Gamble or General Electric employees work abroad but retain their right to vote in Cincinnati. Simes’ supporters said the whole case reeked of politics; the tea party groups behind the charges oppose Qualls for mayor, who Simes openly supports.

Cincinnati yesterday broke ground on its new police headquarters in District 3, which covers East Price Hill, East Westwood, English Woods, Lower Price Hill, Millvale, North Fairmount, Riverside, Roll Hill, Sayler Park, Sedamsville, South Cumminsville, South Fairmount, West Price Hill and Westwood on the West Side.

WCPO will host a mayoral candidate debate between Qualls and Cranley tonight at 7 p.m. Submit questions for the candidates here.

The Cincinnati Enquirer yesterday hosted an online chat with streetcar project executive John Deatrick. Check out the replay here.

Mercy Health hopes to sell two hospitals to consolidate its medical services on the West Side of Cincinnati.

Headline: “Man grabs attacking black bear’s tongue.”

Here’s an army robot firing a machine gun:

 
 
by German Lopez 10.14.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, 2013 Election at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
tea party pensions

Thousands of Early Voters to Get New Ballots

Ohio Supreme Court forces board to change ballot language for pension amendment

More than 3,000 Cincinnatians who already voted early will get new ballots in the mail after an Ohio Supreme Court decision forced the Hamilton County Board of Elections to change the ballot language for Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system.

It remains unclear whether the early voters, who represent roughly 1.5 percent of registered Cincinnati voters, will have their old votes for or against Issue 4 counted if they fail to send in a new ballot with the new language. The board will decide on that issue after hearing back from state officials and reviewing election law, according to Sally Krisel, deputy director of Hamilton County Board of Elections.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Oct. 10 upheld most of the ballot language for Issue 4, including portions that claim the amendment could lead to higher taxes and cut city services. But the court also ordered the Board of Elections to add language describing how much Cincinnati can contribute to retirement accounts under the new system and how the amendment will affect future retirees.

The court’s decision came after the Board of Elections received more than 3,000 ballots from early voters. Those voters will now get new ballots with revised language for Issue 4.

Cincinnati for Pension Reform, the tea party group behind Issue 4, sued the Board of Elections to get the ballot language changed. The organization complained that the ballot language included speculation not included in the actual city charter amendment, but the Supreme Court ultimately allowed the language to remain.

Krisel says the original ballot language was suggested by the city, approved by the board and signed off by Ohio’s secretary of state.

Although the Ohio Supreme Court asked the board to add new sections, Krisel notes the additions have very little to do with the tax and spending portions that led Cincinnati for Pension Reform to sue in the first place. The court’s ruling instead took issue with how the board used its discretion on other issues.

If approved by voters, the charter amendment would move future city employees into individual retirement accounts similar to 401k plans that are common in the private sector. Currently, the city pools pension funds into a public system and manages the investments through an independent board.

City officials and other opponents of Issue 4 argue the amendment could increase costs and cut benefits for city employees. Both the concerns were acknowledged in a Sept. 27 report from the conservative Buckeye Institute, even though the think tank actually backs Issue 4.

Supporters of Issue 4 argue it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability, which reached $862 million in 2013 after the city underfunded the pension system for years and economic downturns shrunk investments financing the system. Moody’s named the liability as one of the reasons it downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating.

City officials acknowledge the enormous financial problems posed by the unfunded pension liability, but they say it would be better to make reforms within the system instead of scrapping it altogether.

City Council passed reforms in 2011 that address future costs, and council is expected to take up reforms that address the unfunded liability after the November election, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat.

Voters will make the final decision on Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.14.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Health care, Commissioners at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Governor bypasses legislature, voter turnout historically low, museum price tag criticized

Gov. John Kasich will not look to the full legislature to expand Medicaid and is instead asking a seven-member legislative oversight panel to consider using federal funds for the next two years to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans. The Controlling Board, which is made up of one Kasich appointee, four Republican legislators and two Democratic legislators, will make its decision on Oct. 21. The expansion would allow Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program, to cover all Ohioans up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Cincinnati’s 2013 mayoral and City Council elections may be on track for the lowest ever voter turnout. As of Friday, the Hamilton County Board of Elections had processed 3,173 absentee ballot applications in Cincinnati. At the same point in 2011, the board had processed 8,964 applications in the city. The numbers come just one month after a measly 5.68 percent of voters cast a ballot in the mayoral primary election, much lower than the mayoral primaries held on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and 2005.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann acknowledges Union Terminal is in need of repairs, but he says the Museum Center must lower the estimated $180 million price tag on the project. “These are great facilities, but we don't have an unlimited amount of dollars, and I think taxpayers expect us to view their tax dollars in that way. I think that number for the Museum Center is too high right now. I've encouraged them to bring that number way down for (county commissioners) to consider having the property tax payers of this county pay for it,” Hartmann said.

Hamilton County judges say witness intimidation is on the rise, which could be making it more difficult to put criminals in prison. Judges are so concerned that they banned cellphones from their courtrooms after some residents used the devices to take pictures of witnesses and showed the photos in neighborhoods as an intimidation tactic, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Now, some witnesses are refusing to testify even when threatened with jail. To them, the threat of violent crime is so real that some jail time makes more sense in comparison.

City officials plan to break ground today for a new police station for District 3 on the west side of Cincinnati. The district serves East Price Hill, East Westwood, English Woods, Lower Price Hill, Millvale, North Fairmount, Riverside, Roll Hill, Sayler Park, Sedamsville, South Cumminsville, South Fairmount, West Price Hill and Westwood.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Ohio EPA to explain in writing why a proposed permit for Murray Energy’s coal slurry project doesn’t include certain pollution limits. Without the restrictions on specific toxic gases, the U.S. EPA could reject the project’s permit. Former Ohio EPA Surface Water Division Chief George Elmaraghy previously said his call to adhere to pollution limits for coal companies led the Kasich administration to fire him.

Part of Ohio’s electronic food stamp system temporarily shut down on Saturday after a glitch cropped up at Xerox, the company that handles the electronic benefit system. The partial shutdown affected 16 other states as well.

StateImpact Ohio recommends “eight must-read posts” on Ohio’s new Common Core education standards.

Ohio gas prices increased this week, edging toward the U.S. average.

Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble appeared in Reuters’ list of top 100 innovators for the third year in a row.

Popular Science hosts an in-depth look at what it will take to find life outside of Earth. Hint: It requires more funding and public support.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.11.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Pensions, Drugs at 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tea party pensions

Morning News and Stuff

Pension language mostly upheld, Cranley rejects COAST, Ky. group criticizes housing facility

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld most of the controversial ballot language for Issue 4 — the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system — but the court also concluded that the Hamilton County Board of Elections must add language about how much the city can contribute to the new retirement accounts. The amendment would require future city employees to contribute to and manage individual 401k-style retirement accounts, instead of placing them under the current pension system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. Voters will make the final decision on the amendment on Nov. 5, although some already voted early on ballots that included the full controversial language. CityBeat analyzed the amendment — and how it could reduce benefits for city employees and raise costs for the city — in further detail here.

Mayoral candidate John Cranley says he would reject and doesn’t want an endorsement from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group formed in 1999 with a history of anti-LGBT causes. The response came just two days after COAST on Oct. 8 tweeted that it supported — but not endorsed — Cranley and council candidates Amy Murray, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn for a “change of direction.” In response, Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay council member, called on all candidates to reject COAST’s support because the conservative group’s most public members previously opposed LGBT rights and backed efforts to make it illegal for the city to deem gays and lesbians a protected class in anti-discrimination statutes.

A historic preservation society in Ludlow, Ky., is attempting to block a transitional housing facility that provides low-cost housing for recovering addicts as they get their lives back in order. Even though the facility’s two buildings aren’t designated as “historic,” the Ludlow Historic Society wrote in an email that it’s “concerned because we are striving to maintain and improve our housing stock in Ludlow, and especially make the city a desirable place for young people to own their homes and raise their families.” There’s not much information on the ripple effect transitional housing has on communities, but a 2010 study found residents of transitional housing were achieving significant improvement or total abstinence.

Ohio officials are considering rules that would allow oil and gas drillers to store fracking wastewater in lagoons the size of football fields then recycle the wastewater for further use. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves, but the technique produces potentially toxic wastewater that has to be deposited or recycled somewhere. CityBeat covered fracking and the environmental controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

A state senator proposed a bill that attempts to keep the monthly per-member growth of Medicaid costs at 3 percent or lower, down from the current projections of 4.6 percent. But the bill doesn’t specify how it would reach the savings required and instead calls on the legislature and state administration to find a solution. The bill also doesn’t take up the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans in the next decade.

A national reporting project will track the accessibility of Plan B, or the “morning-after pill,” now that emergency contraception is a court-upheld right for all women of childbearing age.

The death of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man convicted of holding three women captive and raping them for a decade, may have been caused by autoerotic asphyxiation, not suicide.

Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she got a double mastectomy may have inspired more Cincinnati women to seek a cancer screening.

Scientists discovered an exoplanet whose mass is 26 percent water. In comparison, Earth is only 0.023 percent water, by mass, according to Popular Science.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.10.2013
Posted In: News, COAST, 2013 Election at 11:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
john cranley

Cranley Rejects COAST’s Support

Conservative group has history of anti-LGBT causes

Mayoral candidate John Cranley says he would reject an endorsement from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group formed in 1999 with a history of anti-LGBT causes.

“I don’t want it. I’m not a member of COAST,” Cranley says.

The response comes just two days after COAST on Oct. 8 tweeted that it supported Cranley and council candidates Amy Murray, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn for a “change of direction.” The group later claimed the tweets weren’t endorsements, but not before progressives called on candidates to reject COAST’s support.

Councilman Chris Seelbach responded to COASTs apparent interest in influencing the mayoral and City Council races on his Facebook page: “Regardless of the politics involved, anyone who wants my support should make it clear: COAST is a hate-driven, fringe organization that should not be apart (sic) of any conversation on how to make Cincinnati a better place.

CityBeat couldn’t immediately reach Murray, Smitherman or Winburn for comment on whether they would accept COAST's support for their campaigns. But Smitherman, who is president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when he’s not campaigning, often teams up with COAST on local issues.

Seelbach, who has been a favorite target of COAST, tells CityBeat there’s no doubt the group’s vitriolic opposition is at least partly based on hate.

“Without question, I believe COAST targets me because I’m gay,” Seelbach says. “In some ways, I’m a symbol of everything that they hate, which is LGBT progress.”

Cranley agrees the group is hateful. He points out that some COAST members have criticized him over the years for supporting LGBT causes, including hate crime legislation in 2003.

In the 1990s, Chris Finney, chief legal crusader for COAST, authored Article XII, the city charter amendment approved by voters in 1993 that barred the city from deeming gays a protected class in anti-discrimination statutes.

In a June 1994 Cincinnati Post article, Finney said landlords should not be legally required to rent to gay or lesbian tenants. Finney explained, “Because there may be some who don’t want their family dining next to a homosexual couple whose actions they find offensive.” To critics, the remarks seemed fairly similar to arguments leveled in support of racial segregation in the 1960s.

COAST chairman Tom Brinkman and member Mark Miller were also part of Equal Rights Not Special Rights, which defended Article XII in court in 1997.

When City Council passed hate crime legislation protecting gays and lesbians in 2003, Brinkman criticized the Catholic members of City Council at the time — including Cranley, who sponsored the legislation — for sending “the message that you openly approve of homosexuality.”

Back then, Cranley responded, We have a little something in this country called the separation of church and state. Mr. Brinkman asked me to read the Catechism. I ask him to read the U.S. Constitution.

Around the same time, Seelbach prepared and then helped lead the 2004 campaign that did away with Article XII. For Cincinnati, the repeal of the city charter amendment, just 11 years after voters approved it, exemplified the more tolerant, open direction the country was moving in regards to the LGBT community.

But while the country has embraced greater equality for LGBT individuals, Seelbach says COAST hasn’t done the same. Even though Seelbach voted against the parking plan that COAST also opposes, the conservative organization has regularly targeted Seelbach in blog posts and emails criticizing the plan, which leases the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.

In March, COAST sent out a doctored image that compared Seelbach to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ in the Christian religion, for approving an emergency clause on the parking plan that effectively exempted the plan from a voter referendum. Seelbach voted against the parking plan itself when it came to a vote.

“I don’t believe in running our city by referendums,” Seelbach says. “What we currently have is a representative democracy. We elect people that we hold accountable by either re-electing them or not, and we trust the people that we elect to research the policies and make informed decisions. I think that’s the best system.”

Most recently, COAST went after Seelbach for his trip to Washington, D.C., where he received the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his efforts to protect and promote Cincinnati’s LGBT community. The city paid more than $1,200 for the trip, which COAST called into question with legal threats. Even though City Solicitor John Curp, the city’s top lawyer, deemed the allegations frivolous, Seelbach agreed to reimburse the funds to stave off a lawsuit that could have cost the city more than $30,000.

At the same time, media outlets, including WCPO and The Cincinnati Enquirer, have closely covered COAST’s allegations and commonly turned to the group to get the conservative side of different issues, ranging from the streetcar project to the pension system. Both media outlets have characterized COAST as a government watchdog group, ignoring the organizations history of conservative activism and crafting legislation.

The favorable attention might be turning around. The Enquirer recently scrutinized COAST’s lawsuits against the city, which revealed the group, which frames itself as an anti-tax, anti-spending watchdog, could cost the city more than $500,000 in legal fees. The city solicitor also estimated his office puts the equivalent of one full-time employee on COAST’s cases, with the typical city civil attorney making about $65,000 a year, according to The Enquirer.

Seelbach acknowledges the vast differences between the black and LGBT civil rights movements, but he says a group with a similarly discriminatory past wouldn’t get the kind of media coverage and attention COAST does, at least without the proper context.

“If there was a group that had a history of fighting for segregation, … there is absolutely no way anyone, much less media, would quote or accept support in any form,” Seelbach says.

This story was updated at 5:09 p.m. with more context.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.06.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, City Council at 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Council Candidates Agree to Support All Neighborhoods

Eighteen of 21 candidates participated in Oct. 5 forum

Just one month before voters pick nine council members at the ballot box on Nov. 5, 18 of 21 City Council candidates on Oct. 5 participated at a candidate forum that covered issues ranging from better supporting low-income Cincinnatians to expanding downtown's growth to all 52 neighborhoods.

During the event, the candidates agreed Cincinnati is moving forward, but they generally agreed that the city needs to carry its current economic growth from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to all 52 neighborhoods. Participating candidates particularly emphasized public safety and government transparency, while a majority also focused on education partnerships and human services for the poor and homeless, which have been funded below council's goals since 2004.

The three City Council candidates not in attendance were Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman and Independent challenger Tim Dornbusch. The absences prompted forum moderator Kathy Wilson, who's also a columnist at CityBeat, to remind the audience that "a vote is a precious thing" and candidates should work to earn support by engaging the public.

Councilman Chris Seelbach and challenger David Mann, both Democrats, had surrogates stand in for them. Seelbach was attending a wedding, and Mann was celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his family.

The forum was hosted by The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and sponsored by CityBeat and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area.

Here are the highlights from the 18 participating candidates, in order of their appearance:

Wendell Young (Democrat, incumbent): Young said Cincinnati should put basic services and public safety first, but he added that the city should also help address "quality of life issues" such as providing "world-class parks." He also said Cincinnati needs to structurally balance its budget, which has relied on one-time funding sources since at least 2001, and make further adjustments to the underfunded pension system. Young also explained that the city needs to strengthen its partnerships with local organizations to help combat homelessness, affordable housing, child poverty and infant mortality.

Laure Quinlivan (Democrat, incumbent): Quinlivan proudly pointed out she's the "only elected mom" on City Council. She said her goal is to make Cincinnati "cleaner, greener and smarter" by focusing on population and job growth and thriving neighborhoods. To spur such growth, Quinlivan claimed the city needs the streetcar project and more bike and hike trails, both of which she argued will attract more young adults to Cincinnati. Unlike other candidates, Quinlivan publicly supported potentially "rightsizing" — or cutting — Cincinnati's police and fire departments to structurally balance the budget. She also said the city should provide more options for health insurance to city employees so they don't all get a so-called "Cadillac plan" that's expensive for the city.

P.G. Sittenfeld (Democrat, incumbent): Sittenfeld touted downtown and Over-the-Rhine's turnaround as a model for economic growth that Cincinnati should expand to all neighborhoods. He argued the model is what attracts companies like Pure Romance to Cincinnati, as the company mentioned the city's recent urban growth as one reason it decided to stay here. (Of course, the nearly $699,000 in tax incentives over 10 years probably help as well.) When asked about his opposition to the current streetcar project, Sittenfeld said the current project is fiscally irresponsible because of its previous budget problems, which City Council fixed in June, and reduction in funding from the state government, which forced the city to pick up more of the funding share. Sittenfeld said his past two years on council were a success, but he added, "I'm not done yet."

Amy Murray (Republican and Charterite, challenger): Murray said her campaign is focused on creating a fiscally sound city by structurally balancing the budget and fixing the underfunded pension system. But she said she would do both without increasing taxes, which could force the city to cut services and retirement benefits. When asked about her opposition in 2011 to extending city employee benefits to LGBT spouses, Murray said she never had a problem with extending the benefits to LGBT individuals — which City Council did in 2012 — but was simply acknowledging that providing the extra benefits requires making cuts elsewhere to balance the budget. (Opponents previously said the issue should be about equality and fairness, not costs.)

Vanessa White (Charterite, challenger): White said her main goals are reducing poverty in Cincinnati, providing more education opportunities to residents and expanding citizen access to city officials. When specifying her goals for education, White said Cincinnati needs to do a better job incentivizing internships for youth at local businesses and touted the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, which seeks to expand preschool education opportunities in Cincinnati. To increase transparency and outreach, White said she would assign City Hall staffers to answer citizens' questions after council meetings.

Michelle Dillingham (Democrat, challenger): Dillingham said the role of local government is to spur growth in abandoned areas that have been failed by the private sector. But to successfully do this, she said the city needs to engage and reach out to its citizens more often. As an example, she cited the development of an affordable housing complex in Avondale, which has been snared by sudden public outcry from a neighborhood group. Dillingham said supporting affordable housing is also more than just providing expanded services; she explained that she supports creating more jobs that would provide a living wage, which would then let more locals own or rent a home without exceeding 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs. At the end, Dillingham touted her 10-point plan to give more Cincinnatians "a seat at the table" and make the city government more inclusive.

Mike Moroski (Independent, challenger): Moroski said he intends to focus on growing Cincinnati's population, reducing re-entry into the criminal justice system and lowering child poverty. He also touted support for development projects and infrastructure, including the streetcar project. At the same time, Moroski argued some development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown is pricing low-income people out of the city's booming areas — an issue he would like to address. Moroski also said he backs efforts to increase Cincinnati's human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years. When asked about his lack of government experience, Moroski said he sees it as a "gift" and "blessing" that's given him a fresh, outside perspective. "I will be the voice for the voiceless," he said.

Melissa Wegman (Republican, challenger): Wegman opened by showing off her business credentials and neighborhood advocacy. When asked what she means when she says she'll bring a "business perspective" to council, she said she would like to see the city put more support toward small businesses. In particular, Wegman said underserved neighborhoods need more city help and funding. She also told panelists that she opposes Issue 4, which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot and would semi-privatize Cincinnati's pension system.

Kevin Flynn (Charterite, challenger): Flynn said Cincinnati's budget problems are by far the most important issues facing the city, but he also trumpeted the local government's lack of transparency and engagement as major issues. He explained he's particularly opposed to the mayor's pocket veto, which allows the mayor to entirely dictate what legislation is voted on by council and potentially block any legislation he or she disagrees with. Flynn said he would like to see more citizen engagement on budget issues and more open debate between council members during public meetings.

Greg Landsman (Democrat and Charterite, challenger): Landsman stated his focus is on population, job and revenue growth, which could help him achieve his goal of a structurally balanced budget. He said the city needs to do more to attract and retain young people. Although Landsman acknowledges the city's progress, he said Cincinnati is undergoing a "tale of two cities" in which some neighborhoods prosper and others flounder. Landsman also suggested increasing human services to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years and improving city management in other areas, including the budget, pension system and roads.

Kevin Johnson (Independent, challenger): Johnson said the role of government should be to balance out the private sector and provide a safety net for those who fall through the system. He said the city needs to do more to tackle income inequality by "investing in people." Johnson said he supports recent efforts to create a land bank system for struggling neighborhoods, which aim to increase homeownership by making it more affordable and accessible. Johnson also claimed that people are tired of party politics and would like to see more transparency in government.

David Mann (Democrat and Charterite, challenger), represented by campaign manager John Juech: Speaking for Mann, Juech said his candidate got into the campaign to address Cincinnati's budget problems. Juech explained Mann will leave "all options on the table," whether it's revenue increases or service cuts, to structurally balance the budget. When asked whether Mann, who previously served 18 years on council, really deserves more time in the local government, Juech explained that Mann's experience makes him a "walking Cincinnati historian." He also argued that Mann has great relationships with county officials, particularly Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, that could make it easier to jointly manage some city services in a way that would drive down costs.

Yvette Simpson (Democrat and Charterite, incumbent): Simpson said she measures progress in Cincinnati by "how well the least of us do," which drove her to start the Cincinnati Youth Commission and other partnerships that help connect the city's youth to jobs. Although Simpson said she supports boosting funding to human services and building better relationships with human services agencies, she said providing more funding is hindered by a "simple math problem" and the city needs to balance its budget before it can provide more and better services. Simpson also said the city could and should do a better job engaging the public with big ideas.

Chris Seelbach (Democrat, incumbent), represented by legislative director Jon Harmon: Reading a statement from Seelbach, Harmon said Cincinnati is on the rise but still needs to improve in various areas. In particular, he said the city needs to do a better job funding all 52 neighborhoods, providing more opportunities for low-income Cincinnatians and eventually increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget. Harmon also touted City Council's progress with infrastructure issues, including increased road paving and bridge funding. By addressing these issues and occasionally making "tough choices," Harmon said Seelbach hopes to continue growing the city.

Pam Thomas (Democrat, incumbent): Thomas claimed she wants local government to be open, honest and transparent. She said the city's progress should be gauged through education metrics, particularly local graduation rates and, starting next year, the city's success in meeting state-mandated third-grade reading proficiency standards. Thomas replaced her husband on council after she was appointed by him and other council members earlier in 2013, but Thomas said that, unlike him, she opposes the current streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to fund development projects and help balance the budget.

Shawn Butler (Democrat, challenger): To Butler, progress means reducing income inequality, creating jobs and growing the city's population. Although Butler, who is Mayor Mark Mallory's director of community affairs, said he's generally supportive of the mayor's policies, he said the city could do a better job selling itself and reaching out to the business community. Butler also touted his experience, particularly how he's gone through eight budget cycles during his time with the mayor. To structurally balance the budget, Butler said he wouldn't increase the earnings tax and would instead pursue other options, such as tapping into money from the parking plan and cutting services.

Angela Beamon (Independent, challenger): Beamon said she would ensure city services are spread out to all citizens and neighborhoods. She suggested struggling neighborhoods are underserved — not "underperforming," a term she doesn't adhere to — and the city should do more to reach out to them. Beamon also stood firm on her opposition to the streetcar project. Instead of funding the streetcar, she said city resources should go toward promoting business ownership and services that help the underprivileged.

Sam Malone (Republican, challenger): Malone said his goal is to make all of Cincinnati's neighborhoods thrive with more businesses. He said since he lost his re-election to City Council in 2005, he's managed a small business and learned how it feels to be on the other side of the government-business relationship. Malone said his campaign slogan ("I love everybody, I come in peace") best exemplifies how he's led his life. When asked about a 2005 incident in which he disciplined his son with a belt, Malone claimed he's "running on issues" and his parenting tactics were deemed lawful by a court.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.30.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, News, Pensions, Health care at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Early voting tomorrow, Obamacare enrollment to open, pension amendment cuts benefits

Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and CityBeat may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections begins tomorrow. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

Tomorrow is also the first day of open enrollment at Obamacare’s online marketplaces, which can be found at www.healthcare.gov. At the marketplaces, an Ohio individual will be able to buy a middle-of-the-pack health insurance plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while a family of four making $50,000 will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers. Starting in 2014, most Americans — with exemptions for religious and economic reasons, the imprisoned and those living outside the country — will be required to buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Organizations from around the state and country will be working over the next six months to help insure as many Ohioans and Americans as possible, but some of those efforts have been obstructed by Republican legislators who oppose the president’s signature health care law, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Meanwhile, the federal government is nearing a shutdown because of Republican opposition to Obamacare, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup.

A report from the conservative Buckeye Institute echoes claims made by both sides in Cincinnati’s pension debate: A tea party-backed amendment, if approved by voters, would reduce retirement benefits for new city employees by one-third. At the same time, the city’s unfunded pension liability might be $2.57 billion, or three times what officials currently estimate. The amendment would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system by forcing future city employees to contribute to and manage their own individual retirement accounts, which would imitate private 401k plans commonly seen in the private sector. Under the current system, the city pools pension funds and manages the public system through an independent board. The pension amendment is backed by tea party groups, some of who may reside outside Cincinnati and Ohio, and will appear on the ballot as Issue 4.

To celebrate early voting, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor against ex-Councilman John Cranley, will name her vice mayor today. Qualls is expected to select Councilman Wendell Young. Cranley and Qualls are both Democrats, but they’re heavily divided on the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. The mayoral candidates mostly focused on the two issues in their first post-primary mayoral debate, which CityBeat covered here.

Jeffrey Blackwell, Cincinnati’s new police chief, starts on the job today. He’s replacing former Police Chief James Craig, who left in June to take the top police job in his hometown of Detroit. The city has praised Blackwell for his 26 years at the Columbus Division of Police, where he reached out to youth and immigrants, advanced the use of technology, worked closely with community members and helped reduce operating costs.

Cincinnati Councilwoman Pam Thomas today announced that she’s introducing a motion to hire a 40-member police recruit class. The motion addresses a drop in the amount of Cincinnati police officers in recent years: Staffing levels since the last recruit class have dropped by 15.2 percent, according to Thomas’ office. “Our police staffing levels are dangerously low,” Thomas said in a statement. “We cannot afford to sacrifice our public’s safety by not hiring this recruit class.” In this year’s budget, the city managed to prevent cutting public safety jobs by slashing other city services, including city parks. But Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan argues that Cincinnati’s public safety forces, which are proportionally larger than most comparable cities, need to be “rightsized” and reduced over time.

The amount of local children and teens going to the hospital with a concussion massively increased between 2002 and 2011, and the number is expected to increase further because state law now requires medical clearance to continue playing sports after a concussion.

Ohio gas prices are back below the national average.

AdvancePierre Foods, Cincinnati's largest private company, got a new CEO.

Earth may have stolen its moon from Venus.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.20.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Economy, Poverty at 09:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

State unemployment rises, local poverty trending up, Qualls unveils platforms

Ohio added 32,500 jobs between August 2012 and August 2013, but a larger amount of unemployed workers helped push the unemployment rate to 7.3 percent in August this year, up from 7.2 percent the month and year before, according to data released today by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The amount of unemployed workers climbed by 9,000 to 419,000 over the year and 3,000 throughout the previous month, while month-over-month employment decreased by 8,200. The biggest losses for the month were in educational and health services and leisure and hospitality, which were too high for month-over-month gains in trade, transportation, and utilities, professional and business services and government employment to overcome.

More than half of Cincinnati’s children live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey released yesterday. The 2012 rate represents a roughly 10-percent increase in the city’s child poverty rate in the past two years. In 2010, 48 percent of Cincinnatians younger than 18 were considered impoverished; in 2012, the rate was 53.1 percent. Overall poverty similarly increased in Cincinnati from 30.6 percent in 2010 to 34.1 percent in 2012. The increases hit black residents and perhaps Hispanics harder than white Cincinnatians, although a large margin of error makes it hard to tell if the results are accurate for the city’s Hispanic population.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls yesterday unveiled “The Qualls Plan to Grow Cincinnati,” an outline of her platforms and what she would do during her first 100 days as mayor if she’s selected by voters on Nov. 5. The plan proposes three major changes that Qualls would pursue within 100 days of taking office: She would reinstitute the Shared Services Commission to see which city services can be managed in conjunction with Hamilton County or other political jurisdictions; she would propose a job tax credit for businesses that create jobs that pay a living wage and provide benefits; and she would “renew business districts” by making unused city property available at a “nominal fee” to local startups and small businesses. The plan also outlines various platforms that focus on providing new opportunities to businesses, leveraging partnerships and making the city more inclusive and transparent.

Four-fifths of companies approved for Ohio tax credits this year said they’d create jobs paying less than the $65,000 a year promised by Pure Romance, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Pure Romance was originally planning on moving from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati with state and local support, but the company might instead move to Kentucky following the state’s decision to not grant tax credits. State officials say they rejected Pure Romance because the company isn’t part of industries the state usually invests in, but companies like Kroger don’t meet the traditional standards and still get tax credits. Democrats say the Republican-controlled state government is afraid to financially support a company that includes sex toys in its product lineup.

Two Hamilton County agencies were reprimanded in a state audit released yesterday. But Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services (HCDJFS) spokesperson Brian Gregg says the findings relied on two-year-old data and were largely managerial problems that the agency will fix. Meanwhile, a $2,400 overcharge at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office led to an investigation and criminal charges against the property officer supervisor as well as new policies to protect payment systems in the future.

The ballot initiative that would pursue the Medicaid expansion yesterday got the green light to start collecting signatures from the Ohio Ballot Board. Under Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to 138 percent of the federal poverty level; if they accept, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion through 2016 then phase down its payments to an indefinite 90 percent. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate $1.8 billion for the state over the next decade. But Republican legislators have so far resisted calls from Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democrats to take up the expansion, which has forced advocates to pursue the issue for the 2014 ballot. CityBeat covered Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion in greater detail here.

Although Attorney General Mike DeWine said the threat of felony charges is enough to deter someone from misusing the state’s expansive law enforcement database, the state failed to bring charges to the system’s lead attorney when he resigned in 2009 after misusing the database. Still, the abuse happened before DeWine was in office and the controversial facial recognition program was in place. Gov. Kasich previously said he was concerned about the facial recognition program, which allows law enforcement to use a simple photo to search for someone’s address and contact information.

From the Associated Press: “The Ohio attorney general’s multi-state case against a man accused of fraud after collecting as much as $100 million in the name of Navy veterans doesn’t address the man's donations to a who’s who of mostly Republican politicians, including the attorney general himself.”

On the same day a Libertarian announced he’s running for governor in 2014, State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) proposed new state restrictions for minor parties. The standards are less stringent than state rules that were struck down by a federal court in 2006, but the Libertarian Party of Ohio denounced the bill as an attempt to protect Gov. Kasich’s re-election bid in 2014.

Cincinnati home sales were up 24 percent in August — another sign that the local economy is recovering.

Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble was rated No. 1 in the world for leadership by global management consulting Hay Group.

Here is a list of 11 terrifying childcare inventions from the early 20th century.

 
 

 

 

 
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