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by 01.30.2009
Posted In: City Council, Community at 05:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)
 
 

IIN Is Down, but Not Out

Cincinnati City Council’s Finance Committee recently decided not to extend the contract of a controversial organization for a full year amid allegations questioning how that group distributes taxpayer dollars to neighborhood groups.

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by German Lopez 11.06.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, Streetcar at 04:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
john cranley

Mayor-Elect Explains Vision for First Term

Cranley promises to cancel streetcar project and shift city’s priorities

Mayor-elect John Cranley invited reporters to his home in Mt. Lookout on Wednesday to discuss his plan and priorities for his first term as mayor of Cincinnati.

Cranley claims the invitation to his house represents the kind of accessible, transparent leadership he’ll take up when he begins his term on Dec. 1.

Speaking on his immediate priorities, Cranley says he already contacted the nine newly elected council members and intends to build more collaboration with all sides of the aisle, which will include a mix of five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent starting in December.

One of Cranley’s top priorities is to cancel the $133 million streetcar project, which Cranley and six newly elected council members oppose. He also argues that the city should stop spending on ongoing construction for the project.

“Seriously, look at who got elected yesterday. At some point, this is a democracy. We shouldn’t be agitating voters like this,” Cranley says. “Let’s not keep spending money when it looks like the clear majority and the clear mandate of yesterday’s election was going in a different direction.”

But in response to recent reports that canceling the streetcar project could carry its own set of unknown costs, he says he will weigh the costs and benefits before making a final decision. If the cost of cancellation is too high, Cranley acknowledges he would pull back his opposition to the project.

Canceling the streetcar project would also require an ordinance from City Council.

Mike Moroski, who on Tuesday lost in his bid for a council seat, already announced on Twitter that he’s gathering petition signatures for a referendum to prevent the project’s cancellation.

Cranley promises he won’t stop a referendum effort by placing an emergency clause on an ordinance that cancels the project, but he expressed doubt that a referendum would succeed.

On the current city administration’s plan to lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, Cranley says he will work with fellow lawyers David Mann and Kevin Flynn, both of who won seats for council on Tuesday, to find a way to cancel the deal.

But that could prove tricky with the lease agreement already signed by the city and Port Authority, especially as the Port works to sell bonds — perhaps before Cranley takes office — to finance the deal and the $85 million payment the city will receive as a result.

Cranley also promises to make various development projects his top priority, particularly the interchange for Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. He says he will lobby White House officials to re-appropriate nearly $45 million in federal grant money for the streetcar project to the interchange project, even though the U.S. Department of Transportation told the city in a June 19 letter that it would take back nearly $41 million of its grant money if the streetcar project were canceled.

Cranley vows he will also work with local businesses to leverage public and private dollars to spur investment in Cincinnati’s neighborhoods — similar to what the city did with Over-the-Rhine and downtown by working with 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation).

“We want to have some big early wins,” Cranley says. “We want to get moving within a year on the Wasson Way bike trail, see significant progress at the old Swifton Commons and see Westwood Square developed.”

He adds, “And we intend to reverse the one-trash-can policy, which I think is a horrible policy. … There have been several stories about illegal dumping that have resulted from that.”

Cincinnati’s pension system and its $862-million-plus unfunded liability also remain a top concern for city officials. Cranley says he will tap Councilman Chris Smitherman to help bring costs in line, but no specifics on a plan were given.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.11.2013
Posted In: News, Prisons, Privatization at 02:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Liberty for Sale

More Bad News From Private Prison

Conneaut councilman asks state to intervene at CCA facility

Private prison critics have been proven right once again. Smuggling incidents are on the rise around Lake Erie Correctional Institution, which Ohio sold to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in 2011.

In a letter to Gov. John Kasich’s northeast Ohio liaison, Conneaut Councilman Neil LaRusch claimed a rise in contraband smuggling has forced local police to increase security around the CCA facility.

Since the end of 2012, four have been arrested and charged with smuggling. Another four were arrested Monday and police suspect they were in Conneaut for a smuggling job. According to the Star Beacon, the four suspects arrested Monday were only caught due to the increased police presence outside the Lake Erie prison.

LaRusch said Conneaut and its police department are already running tight budgets, and they can’t afford to continue padding prison security. He then asked the state and governor to help out with the situation.

The letter prompted a reaction from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU), which has staunchly opposed prison privatization in the state. In a statement, Mike Brickner, director of communications and public policy for the ACLU, said, “Unfortunately, this is a predictable pattern with private prisons. Promises of lower costs quickly morph into higher crime, increased burdens on local law enforcement, and in the end, a higher bill for taxpayers.”

He added, “This is not an anomaly. It is a predictable pattern. The private prison model is built on profit above all else. These facilities will cut corners and shift responsibility to taxpayers wherever necessary to maximize profits.”

The governor’s office and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) could not be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if a response becomes available.

Update (5:00 p.m.): Col. John Born, superintendent of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, responded to the councilman's letter. In his own letter, Born doesn't contradict that there's a rise in drug smuggling, but he gives the issue more context.

Born wrote criminal incidents at the Lake Erie prison have actually decreased. He acknowledges drug smuggling cases went up from four in 2011 to seven in 2012, but he says drug cases have gone down at the prison since 2010.

He also claims seven other state prisons have seen a greater rise in drug smuggling. Born frames the issue in a national context: Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the national problem of illegal drug usage and drug trafficking continues to plague our nation.

Regarding state assistance, Born wrote the Ohio State Highway Patrol does not have the authority to strengthen security in order to directly prevent drug smuggling: It is important to point out the Ohio State Highway Patrol's legal authority and corresponding duties prior to the sale of the prison and after the sale remain largely unchanged. Ohio troopers did not have original jurisdiction on private property off institution grounds while under state operations nor do they today.

He adds the Ohio State Highway Patrol has already deployed more cruisers at the prison, but he believes local law enforcement are still the best option for responding to incidents.

JoEllen Smith, spokesperson for ODRC, wrote in an email, DRC will be in communication with the parties involved to ensure any remaining concerns are addressed.

CityBeat previously covered private prisons in-depth (“Liberty for Sale,” issue of Sept. 19). Within a week of the story going to stands, ODRC Director Gary Mohr said the state would not privatize any more prisons. On the same day of his announcement, Mohr apparently received an audit that found the CCA facility was only meeting 66.7 percent of state standards (“Prison Privatization Blues,” issue of Oct. 10).

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 08.24.2012
Posted In: Environment, Urban Planning, News, Neighborhoods at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
tuckers1

Tucker's Restaurant Could Claim Cincinnati's First Parklet

"Tiny park" could provide green space to drab Over-the-Rhine area

There's not much green in the area of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street, where Vine Street still finds itself home to a slew vacant buildings, vandalism and littered sidewalks. You won't find trees; just the occasional wayward clumps of grass that manage to triumph through cracks in the concrete.

That's an odd dichotomy to correspond with a neighborhood claiming the largest area of historic Italianate architecture in the country.

As efforts to preserve historic landmarks across the neighborhood continue to flourish, others are taking notice of another key element in revitalization that's been neglected: the presence of a safe, green public space that could spark a type of interest in urban renewal more conscious of natural greenery and it. That's been achieved in the area of Over-the-Rhine south of Liberty Street with the expansive Washington Park, leaving its northern counterpart noticeably more drab.

That sentiment is what propelled a trio of designers and architects to mold a proposal for a parklet in front of Tucker's Restaurant, an iconic Over-the-Rhine greasy spoon that attracts both locals and tourists in a somewhat deserted portion of the neighborhood, bereft of the nearby Gateway Quarter's bubbly atmosphere.

Mike Uhlenhake, a local architect, was first introduced to the parklet concept in San Francisco, where the parklet was founded and now flourishes. A parklet is exactly what it sounds like: a small, urban "park" that typically only occupies enough space to displace two parking spots. They're praised as a way to offer a public, green gathering point in urban areas where parks or wildlife are especially lacking; they might include trees, fountains, sculptures or small cafe tables.  Uhlenhake sensed the need for something similar in the northern area Over-the-Rhine, which remains largely untouched by the mass renovation efforts taking place just blocks away.

"That stretch [of Over-the-Rhine] really seems to lack life. It feels empty, like no people are ever on the street ... it needs a more homegrown feel," says Uhlenhake. "A place like Tucker's really deserves something like this if they want it."

When the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio and the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati held the D.I.Y. Urbanism Competition this spring, Uhlenhake teamed up with two members of Flourish Cincinnati, Michelle Andersen and Becky Schneider, to create a formal entry for the contest, which can be found here or nestled in the back of Tucker's Restaurant on the rear wall.

Their proposal earned the People's Choice Award, which granted them $250 toward implementing the parklet. They've since partnered with local artist Alan Sauer, who assisted in the creation of Tucker's plot in Cincinnati PARK(ing) Day 2009, which staged a tiny patio in front of Tucker's featuring live music and chalk art.

Today, they're all working on putting together a PowerPoint presentation to present to City Council, which would provide an overview of the parklet, design sketches and an outline of its benefits. Once presented, City Council would just have to agree to give up the two parking spots directly in front of Tucker's; although Uhlenhake isn't exactly sure how much the parklet will cost, he's confident fundraising efforts will be all that's needed to foot the bill. Tucker's customers have been the main point of support, he says — dozens have offered to pledge some kind of help to make the vision come true after seeing the plan on Tucker's back wall.

"
This really needs to be a community project. The more people we can get to help, the better."
 
 
by 07.18.2009
Posted In: City Council, 2009 Election, Social Justice at 07:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

Of Politicians, Panhandlers and Willie

Just two days after he proposed the idea, Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding quietly dropped his proposal to tax panhandlers and require them to wear signs stating how much the city contributes to social service agencies on an annual basis. Despite the sudden flip-flop, Berding's idea has inspired a similar concept targeting City Hall.

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by German Lopez 09.13.2012
Posted In: Government, News, 2012 Election, Courts, Economy at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jon_husted_518045c

Morning News and Stuff

More bad news for Secretary of State Jon Husted. The Ohio Supreme Court told Husted his approved ballot language for Issue 2 contains “factual inaccuracies” and must be rewritten by the Ballot Board. Voters First previously contested the language as misleading to voters. If approved by voters, Issue 2 will put an independent citizens commission in charge of redistricting. Under the current system, state officials redraw borders, sometimes using the process for political advantage. In Cincinnati’s district, the Republican-controlled process redrew the district to include Warren County, giving the district more rural voters that tend to side with Republicans instead of urban voters that tend to side with Democrats. Voters First mocked the process with a graph showing how redistricting decisions can sometimes be made in 13 minutes with no questions asked. CityBeat covered the redistricting process here when Issue 2 was still in the petition process.

Ohio’s median income dropped last year, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. But rates of poverty and uninsured rates remained the same. Nationwide, uninsured rates dropped from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011, meaning 1.4 million people gained health coverage. Some of that is attributable to health-care reform passed by President Barack Obama.

Former University of Cincinnati President Greg Williams is getting a pretty nice going-away present. The Board of Trustees approved a package for Williams that adds up to more than $1.2 million. It includes a bonus, retirement benefits, consulting fees, a year’s salary and a contract buyout. Williams abruptly left UC on Aug. 21, citing personal reasons.

Homeless shelters will cost more than expected, says 3CDC. The nonprofit group said it will cost about $40 million to build three homeless shelters and help finance others.

With the support of Democrats and Republicans, the Ohio legislature approved pension reforms yesterday. The reforms lower benefits, raise contributions requirements, increase the retirement eligibility age, establish new cost-of-living guidelines and set a new formula to calculate benefits, all for future retirees. For the most part, current retirees are not affected. Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican, said, “We know the changes are not popular, but they are necessary.” Before the changes, the system was losing $1 million a day, according to a statement from Rep. Robert Hagan, a Democrat.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is pushing against banks that take advantage of college students. In a letter to Higher One, Brown told the bank to rework its contracts with universities. Brown wrote in the letter, “Federal student aid programs should help students prepare for the future, not extract fee income from them.” He went on to ask the bank to redo its contracts so they are “consumer-friendly and consistent with reforms that Congress enacted for the credit card market.”

Ohio’s inspector general found ODJFS wrongly reimbursed organizations in central Ohio with federal stimulus funds when the organizations did not follow rules.

Vice President Joe Biden was in Dayton yesterday. During his speech, he spoke about the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, which led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Biden vowed justice will be served.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney unleashed a big foreign policy gaffe yesterday when he politicized the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. The attack was revealed to cause the death of Stevens after Romney made his comments.

Math shows homeopathy, a trend in medicine, is implausible.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 02.16.2012
Posted In: Environment, Ethics, News at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
schweine-lsz61

McDonald's Does Something Kind of Good?

Fast food conglomerate McDonald's isn't exactly known for its do-goodery for asses or animals. Despite the chain's greatest efforts, they just can't seem to catch a stroke of good PR. Just look at what happened when they launched their Twitter campaign, #McDstories, which ended up backfiring so severely that it's become the laughing stock of the professional PR world.

It's hard to feel too bad about their misfortune; they've done a pretty good job of creating controversy for themselves without any help, including their kind of hilarious, brazen ad released in France featuring a gay teenager (video below), the leak to the public that their "vegetarian" fries were actually fried in beef fat and, perhaps most notably, their bad rap for using suppliers with disregard for animal welfare. The list goes on. Remember the McRib story released last November? News broke that McDonald's pork supplier, Smithfield Foods, was subjecting pigs to excruciating pain and mistreatment. The news didn't exactly come as a surprise, but consumers took it seriously when the Humane Society filed a lawsuit against Smithfield.

Regardless, it seems McDonald's realizes its bad press is its greatest weakness, and they've made some solid efforts to  improve. Most recently, the chain announced it would be requiring pork suppliers such as Smithfield to phase out gestation stalls — pig-sized cages where pigs are confined, unable to move around or sometimes stand up. Their plan has some strong supporters, including the Humane Society. However, the plan hasn't set a deadline requirement; that means it could several years of red tape and stalling before any real progress is made.

Interestingly, frequent McRib eaters probably aren't generally the type to be concerned about whether or not the pig they're eating got to stand up during its last days. Perhaps McDonald's is interested in expanding its already massive consumer pool to include more meat-eaters concerned about the sources of their food. Or perhaps they've realized that it's feasible to treat animals even a little more humanely and still make a stupendous profits. Is it possible?

 
 
by German Lopez 08.21.2012
Posted In: Development, News, Streetcar, Cycling at 02:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
plan

New Master Plan Touts Urban Living

Plan Cincinnati seeks to make city friendlier to bikes and environment

The City of Cincinnati today released the final draft for its plan to “re-establish (Cincinnati) as a model of a thriving urban city.” Plan Cincinnati, which will be taken up in a public hearing on Aug. 30 at 6 p.m., is the first master plan for Cincinnati since 1980.

The primary goal behind the plan is to transition the city away from a model that emphasizes suburban living back to a more urban model. The plan’s report justifies the shift by attributing it to a new societal need.

“Dissatisfied, American society is now beginning to reverse the trend (of suburban living) with the hope of returning to an environment that is more economically and environmentally sustainable, less dependent on the automobile, closer in scale to human form, and ultimately, truly more livable,” the report says.

The plan will make this transition with six guiding principles: Provide more transportation choices, promote equitable, affordable housing, enhance economic competitiveness, support existing communities, coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment, and value communities and neighborhoods.

The vague principles are outlined in greater detail in the 228-page report, which can be read in full here. 

One of the key parts of the plan is its expansion of options for non-automotive travel. The plan promises to focus more work on bicycle paths, support a Bicycle and Pedestrian Program and build links between bicycle systems to allow more cycling through the city. The city will also “design and construct the Ohio River Bike Trail through Cincinnati” and make the city safer for cyclists by making roads smoother and cleaner.

The plan also encourages other transportation programs. Establishing better coordination with Metro buses, building intercity rail systems and integrating the new streetcar into a greater transportation model are a few of the many suggestions in the plan. With these systems, the plan hopes to “facilitate economic development opportunities.”

Beyond transportation, the plan also seeks to establish environmentally friendly programs. Some of the suggestions are developing a green construction incentive program, implementing smart grid networks and reforming the LEED tax abatement program to include additional energy efficient rating systems.

However, the plan is missing one important detail: cost. The report says Plan Cincinnati will be reviewed every year using the new Priority-Driven Budgeting process, but no estimates for cost are currently available. Katherine Keough-Jurs, senior city planner, explained why in an email: “That is not something that we provide. We have found over the years that providing cost estimates in long-range plans is problematic and the estimates can be misleading. Also, some of the Action Steps listed are not necessarily things that would have a monetary cost associated.”

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 11.01.2012
Posted In: Development, City Council, News at 04:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
quinlivan

Worker Mistreatment Alleged at U-Square Development

Council members urge city to investigate worker wages

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.

 
 
by 12.03.2008
Posted In: News, Community, Media, Financial Crisis at 05:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 

Updating the Media Bloodbath

Here's a little more on the layoffs being announced today at The Cincinnati Enquirer.

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