Facing term limits, Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley announced today that he would resign his seat Thursday to join the Keating Muething & Klekamp law firm and concentrate on development projects in East Price Hill.
It's kind of like dressing up as a child and pretending you're a police officer or some other adult occupation, or maybe it's more akin to playing house.
Equality Cincinnati (EC), a gay rights group, will have a booth on Fountain Square during this weekend's Equinox Pride festival. During the event, EC will unveil its new domestic partner registry. Same-sex couples can sign the registry to show their symbolic commitment to one another.
The folks over at Gallup have told us something that some Cincinnatians already believe: Kentucky is a shitty place to live.
The Bluegrass State was ranked as the third-worst in the nation for livability because of its residents' affinity for tobacco, disinclination to go to the gym and for never seeming to find the time to go to the dentist.
The poll asked more than 500,000 adults questions about economic confidence, job creation, whether their bosses treated them like partners rather than underlings, whether they had been to a dentist in the last year and how easy it is to find clean drinking water.
Poll respondents also ranked Kentucky 49th for “learned something new yesterday,” and enough Kentuckians complained about finding a safe place to exercise to earn it the 47th rank.
Our friends and neighbors to the south fell amongst such company as West Virginia, Mississippi and Nevada.
Now before we Ohioans get too smug, we were ranked the ninth worst state for future livability.
We were near dead last (47th) for “city/area ‘getting better’ minus ‘getting worse’ ” and 45th for “low obesity.”
The top three states for future livability were places where nobody actually lives Utah, Minnesota and Colorado. Apparently they all like brushing their teeth and exercise more than the Tristate.
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).
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners on Monday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment.
The goal is to establish a residential base that will help jumpstart private redevelopment and revitalize largely abandoned areas of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
“Just about a year ago, we were in Evanston to talk about their housing strategy for the Woodburn Avenue corridor and what to do about the 200 vacant and abandoned properties in the community,” Qualls said in a statement. “The next logical step on the path to revitalization is to incentivize private market investment in the residential core of our neighborhoods and help to fill the once-abandoned homes with new owner-occupants.”
The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees.
Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects.
To qualify for the program, owner-occupants will have to meet minimum credit requirements, agree to live in the rehabilitated home for five years and pay for 5 percent of the total rehabilitation and acquisition costs as a down payment. After five years, the loan will be refinanced at the same or better interest rates to relinquish the city and its partners’ loan guarantee.
The city is eyeing a few potential partners for the initiative, including the Cincinnati Development Fund, Cincinnati Preservation Association, the University of Cincinnati Urban Design Center and neighborhood-specific groups.
The initiative will start with 100 homes in the pilot neighborhoods of Evanston and Walnut Hills, but it will expand to Avondale, College Hill, Madisonville, Northside, Price Hill and South Cumminsville as resources grow. It will work in conjunction with the Moving Ohio Forward demolition grant program, which allows the city and Hamilton County Land Bank to tear down blighted and vacant buildings.
At the same time, three of the neighborhoods — College Hill, Madisonville and Walnut Hills — are currently trying out form-based code, a special kind of zoning code championed by Qualls that allows developers to more easily pursue projects as long as they stay within a neighborhood’s established goals.
City Council will now need to approve a motion that gives the city administration 60 days to develop a plan and budget for the initiative. The city administration’s proposal will also require City Council approval.
State Auditor Dave Yost released an audit today looking at Value Learning and Teaching (VLT) Academy’s 2010-2011 school year, and the findings are not pretty. The charter school, which is located in downtown Cincinnati, was found to be potentially overpaying in multiple instances — including potential conflicts of interest.
“Those who are entrusted with taxpayer dollars must take special care and spend them wisely,” Yost said in a statement. “This school appears to have management issues that must be addressed quickly.”
In a potential conflict of interest, the school paid Echole Harris, daughter of the school’s superintendent, $82,000 during the school year and $17,000 for a summer contract for the position of EMIS coordinator, who helps provide data from VLT Academy to the state. Mysteriously, the school did not disclose the summer contract in its financial statements. The school says the superintendent abstained from all decisions related to Harris and presented the summer contract to the school board. Still, Yost referred the situation to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
The audit also criticized VLT Academy for approving a $249,000 bid for janitorial services that were owned and provided by a school employee. The bid was the most expensive among other offers ranging between $82,000 and $135,600. According to the school’s own minutes, “Each company states that they can deliver a work product that will meet or exceed the standards provided in our checklist,” adding little justification to the high payment and potential conflict of interest. The school insists its pick was the best qualified because it offered additional services. The bid approval was also referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
The school was found to be overpaying its IT director as
well. Keenan Cooke’s salary for the 2010-2011 school year was supposed to
be $55,000, but the school overpaid him by $3,333 with no record of
intent. The state asked for Cooke and Judy McConnell, VLT Academy’s
fiscal officer, to return the excess payment to the state. The school acknowledged McConnell's responsibility.
To make the potentially excess payments worse, VLT Academy had a net asset deficiency of $412,754 as of June 30, 2011, according to the audit. The school promised the auditor it will cut costs and find revenue generators to make up for the loss.
A conservative organization that advocates for immigration reform will begin running TV and radio commercials in Southwest Ohio next week that attempt to pressure House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) to allow a vote on the “E-Verify” bill.
The group, Numbers USA, said Boehner is letting the bill languish in the House Ways and Means Committee so Republicans don’t anger Latino voters in an election year. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill last year.
The commercials include a 30-second TV ad and a one-minute radio ad.
Next to an image of Boehner, the TV spot states, “Meet House Republican Speaker John Boehner. He won’t let Congress vote on E-Verify. Thanks to Speaker Boehner, illegal aliens can keep American jobs. Now Americans, meet the telephone … tell him to bring E-Verify for a vote or he may not like your vote in November.”
Under the bill, the federal government’s voluntary E-Verify system that is used to check the immigration status of employees would become mandatory nationwide.
Currently seven states require E-Verify checks and 12 others require state agencies and contractors to use it. The federal government has operated its system for the past 15 years.
About 300,000 of the 2.2 million U.S. employers with five or more employees were enrolled in E-Verify as of autumn 2011, according to workforce.com.
The Internet-based system checks any employee’s personal information against the Social Security database and several Homeland Security databases.
If the employee is confirmed, that person is authorized to work. If the person isn’t confirmed, he or she has eight working days to contest the finding with the Social Security Administration or the Department of Homeland Security.
“Speaker Boehner has supported legislation with E-Verify in the past, and the issue is currently working its way through the committee process,” Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, told The Washington Times earlier this month.
But Numbers USA isn’t convinced, and has launched the ad blitz in response.
Numbers USA said the bill would crack down on the hiring of undocumented immigrants and free up jobs that could be taken by unemployed U.S. citizens.
Critics, however, said the electronic monitoring system proposed by the E-Verify bill would be fraught with errors due to it reliance on incomplete or outdated databases. They cite the number of people who have mistakenly been placed on Homeland Security’s terrorist watch list as an example.
Further, opponents believe the bill would lead to more under-the-table hiring, while some Libertarians have worried that it’s a backdoor method for implementing a national I.D. card system.
The bill has caused some unlikely political alliances.
Supporters of the bill include President Barack Obama, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union and several labor unions.
Based in Virginia, Numbers USA was founded in 1997 by Roy Beck, an author and ex-journalist who worked for anti-immigration activist John Tanton. Tanton also helped form two other groups, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).
Numbers USA wants to reduce U.S. immigration levels to pre-1965 levels. The group’s website states, “The 1990s saw the biggest population boom in U.S. history … this population boom was almost entirely engineered by federal forced-growth policies that are still in place. The Census Bureau states that Americans will suffer this kind of rapid congestion every decade into the future unless Congress changes these policies.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that monitors extremist groups, has said Numbers USA, FAIR and CIS have connections to white supremacist and neo-Nazi leaders.
A 2009 report by the center states, “FAIR, CIS and Numbers USA are all part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the ‘puppeteer’ of the nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots.”
The report added, “As the first article in this report shows, Tanton has for decades been at the heart of the white nationalist scene. He has met with leading white supremacists, promoted anti-Semitic ideas, and associated closely with the leaders of a eugenicist foundation once described by a leading newspaper as a ‘neo-Nazi organization.’ He has made a series of racist statements about Latinos and worried that they were outbreeding whites.”
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.”