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by German Lopez 10.28.2013
Posted In: News, Voting, COAST at 04:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
randy simes

Lawsuit Filed to Scrub Blogger Off Voter Rolls

COAST attorney files lawsuit following board of elections ruling

A lawsuit filed on Oct. 23 asks the Hamilton County Court of Appeals to compel the Hamilton County Board of Elections to scrub UrbanCincy.com owner Randy Simes off the local voter rolls.

The lawsuit was filed less than two weeks after the board of elections ruled that Simes is eligible to vote in Cincinnati.

The case has been mired in politics since it was first filed to the board of elections. Simes’ supporters claim the legal actions are meant to suppress Simes support for the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ mayoral campaign. Proponents of the lawsuit argue they’re just trying to uphold the integrity of voting.

Attorney Curt Hartman is spearheading the lawsuit. He regularly represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group that opposes the streetcar project and Qualls.

The lawsuit claims Simes isn’t legally able to vote in Cincinnati because he currently resides in South Korea and lived in Chicago prior to the move overseas.

Ohio election law requires a place of residency to vote, but someone can remain on the voter rolls if he or she intends to return to the city or state while in another part of the country or overseas.

Simes’ supporters, who the board of elections sided with on Oct. 14, claim Simes has every intention of returning to Cincinnati when he’s done with his work in South Korea. Simes contract with his employer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, states he’ll return to Cincinnati in two years.

Until then, Simes is registered to vote at a condominium owned by his friend and business colleague, Travis Estell.

According to Estell’s testimony to the board of election, Simes kept a key and sometimes stayed for a week when he came and went from the residence throughout the spring and summer. Simes also has credit card and bank mail sent to the address, and he attempted to change his registered driver’s license address to match the residence, Estell said.

But Hartman says the evidence, which was gathered largely through Simes’ social media activities, shows Simes was a visitor, not a resident. He cites Estell’s testimony that Simes lived out of a suitcase and didn’t pay rent when he stayed in Cincinnati.

Tim Burke, chairman of the board of elections and Hamilton County Democratic Party, says there’s a reason three out of four members of the board, including one Republican, agreed Simes should remain on the voter rolls.

“The facts that were presented didn’t rise to the legal standard of clear and convincing evidence to justify depriving the voter of his right to vote,” Burke says.

Burke likens the arrangement to a Procter & Gamble employee who spends a year or two overseas but still keeps the right to vote in Cincinnati. Burke says someone could even sell his home in Cincinnati and keep his right to vote from the sold residence.

Hartman says the comparison doesn’t work because a Procter & Gamble employee would live in and keep ties to Cincinnati prior to moving overseas. He claims Simes’ decision to register to vote from Chicago in 2012 effectively broke his electoral ties with Cincinnati and Ohio.

But the argument could be rendered moot. Burke, who is named as one of the defendants in the lawsuit, says the legal challenge might not make it to court because two different people filed the lawsuit to the court of appeals and complaint to the board of elections. That could render the lawsuit procedurally defective and lead to a dismissal, according to Burke.

The lawsuit currently has no scheduled hearing or judge, but Hartman says he hopes to expedite hearings in time for the Nov. 5 election.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.28.2013
Posted In: News, Voting, Privacy, Health care at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Bill could reduce voting, panel wants facial recognition limits, governors debate Obamacare

A Republican-proposed bill in the Ohio legislature is drawing criticism from voting rights advocates because they say it would unnecessarily limit absentee voting. The bill would permit the secretary of state to send out absentee-ballot applications on even years, when gubernatorial and presidential elections are held, only if the legislature funds the mailings, and it would prevent county election boards from mailing out additional ballot applications beyond what the state sends out. Previously, some counties mailed unsolicited ballot applications to all voters to potentially reduce lines on Election Day. Voting rights advocates say the bill will dampen and reduce voter participation, but State Sen. Bill Coley, the bill’s sponsor, argues it’s necessary to bring uniformity to county-by-county absentee voting.

A nine-member panel of criminal justice officials on Friday recommended limiting access and improving oversight of Ohio’s controversial facial recognition program, following a two-month review of the system and public criticisms over the program’s secrecy and alleged lack of oversight. The facial recognition program, which is part of a state database of criminal justice records known as the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), was live for more than two months and 2,677 searches before Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine formally announced its existence in August. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear debated Obamacare on Sunday’s Meet the Press. Beshear pointed to his state’s successful rollout of Kynect, a Kentucky-operated online marketplace for state-based health insurance plans. The Kentucky marketplace has already enrolled 26,000 Kentuckians, although 21,000 are Medicaid enrollees. Meanwhile, Kasich criticized the rocky launch of the federal portal HealthCare.gov, which only applies to states, like Ohio, that declined to run their own online marketplaces. The federal portal has been practically unworkable for a huge majority of Americans since it launched on Oct. 1. Kasich also claimed Obamacare will increase health insurance costs in Ohio — a claim that goes against findings in a national premium model developed by Avik Roy, a conservative health care expert who is typically critical of Obamacare. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s Ohio rollout in further detail here.

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is questioning why WCPO used a man named Jim Kiefer as a source after he posted racist insults aimed at her on social media. WCPO quoted Kiefer in a story as a John Cranley supporter, but the Cranley campaign quickly distanced itself from Kiefer upon learning of his history of bigoted posts on his Facebook wall, which was public at the time but is now private. Kiefer told CityBeat the posts were supposed to be jokes.

The ongoing mayoral race looks like the most expensive since Cincinnati began directly electing its mayors in 2001.

City Council could move forward with a plan next month to reduce the noise freight trains make overnight.

Emma and William were the most popular names in Cincinnati in 2012.

Ohio gas prices dipped this week after two straight weeks of increases.

The furthest confirmed galaxy shows off light from just 700 million years after the Big Bang.

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. Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

Follow CityBeat on Twitter:
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• German Lopez: @germanrlopez

 
 
by German Lopez 10.27.2013
Posted In: News, Privacy, Police at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mikedewine

Panel Recommends Limiting Facial Recognition Access

New program requires better oversight and clear protocols, say criminal justice officials

A panel of nine criminal justice officials on Friday recommended limiting access to Ohio’s facial recognition program and establishing protocols that would seek to make the program less prone to abuse.

The panel’s recommendations follow a nearly two-month review of current procedures and public criticisms over the programs secrecy and alleged lack of oversight.

The panel broadly looked at the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), a state database of criminal justice histories and records, but largely focused on the controversial facial recognition program, which was live for more than two months and 2,677 searches before Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine formally announced its existence in August. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.

The panel recommends limiting access of the facial recognition program to law enforcement, meaning police departments, sheriffs offices, state highway patrol, county prosecuting attorneys and other local, state or federal bodies that enforce criminal laws or have employees who have the legal authority to carry out an arrest. Anyone else who wants to tap into the system would need to do so with written permission from the superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

For those who would retain access, the panel says written policies and protocols should be developed and implemented. The recommendations extend from written rules for out-of-state officials to a training program that better establishes clear penalties for misuse and guidelines for reporting and prosecuting infractions.

The report calls for improved monitoring of the system, which it states is “perhaps the most effective measure of whether the system is being properly implemented for its intended criminal justice purpose.” The oversight should include random audits of OHLEG, one person in charge of monitoring OHLEG’s use in each local agency and a model for ideal use, according to the report.

The panel says the attorney general should also establish a steering committee comprised of criminal justice officials, along with an advisory group. The committee would be in charge of OHLEG training, monitoring and policy review, among other oversight functions.

The panel also advises the attorney general’s office to launch an education campaign that tells the public of the potential benefits of OHLEG’s programs.

Separately, the Ohio Public Defender’s Office recommends allowing citizens to access their own criminal history records through a secure Internet portal with a social security number, similar to AnnualCreditReport.com.

The panel included former Ohio Supreme Court justices, judges and law enforcement officials, among other criminal justice leaders from around Ohio.

DeWine, a Republican, says the facial recognition program is a vital tool for law enforcement to more easily identify and catch potential criminals. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper, say the program was allowed to operate for far too long without public knowledge or proper checks in place.

When asked if DeWine will implement the recommendations, Lisa Hackley, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, wrote in an email, “The Attorney General has committed to implementing the recommendations. Some are already in progress. Others, such as those requiring new computer programming, may take longer.”

The full report:



Updated at 10:04 p.m. with comment from the attorney generals office.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.25.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Media at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
yvette simpson

Councilwoman Questions WCPO Source over Bigoted Posts

Yvette Simpson says man quoted in WCPO story harassed her with racist remarks

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is questioning why WCPO used a man named Jim Kiefer as a source for a story after he harassed her on social media with racist insults.

WCPO’s Kevin Osborne quoted Kiefer in a story, identifying him as a supporter for John Cranley’s mayoral campaign. (Full disclosure: Osborne formerly worked for CityBeat.)

When Simpson saw the story with Kiefer as a source, she says she immediately recognized him as someone who has repeatedly harassed her with racist remarks on Facebook.

Kiefer's Facebook page was publicly viewable prior to Simpson calling him out on Twitter yesterday, but it has since been made private.

On Oct. 20, the day before WCPO's story was published, Kiefer posted a message on his Facebook wall that said, “For my pick as worst councilperson in cincinnati (sic).... Evette (sic) getto (sic) Simpson!” Although the post included various grammatical and spelling errors, Kiefer then attached an image that said, “No you may not ‘Axe’ me a question. I don't speak Walmart.”

Several of Simpson’s colleagues, including Councilman Chris Seelbach and City Council candidate Mike Moroski, have come to Simpson’s defense after she posted the image.

The issue for Simpson is whether a media outlet should be using Kiefer as a source, considering his images and posts were publicly viewable on Facebook. Simpson says Osborne never responded to her email asking whether he or WCPO is aware of Kiefer’s history. Osborne is Facebook friends with Kiefer.

CityBeat contacted WCPO News Director Alex Bongiorno by phone and email to ask about WCPO’s policy for vetting and identifying sources, but no response was given prior to the publishing of this story.

WCPO’s story detailed criticisms from Cranley supporters against opponent Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who Simpson supports. Specifically, the story questioned why Qualls allegedly never sought an opinion from the Ohio Board of Ethics over whether her work as a realtor presents a potential conflict of interest with her support for the streetcar project, which could increase property values — and perhaps Qualls’ compensation as a realtor — along its route.

It turns out Qualls had asked for a professional opinion on the ethical issue at least two times before, but the city solicitor deemed the connection between Qualls’ work and the streetcar project too indirect and speculative to present a conflict of interest, according to an email from City Solicitor John Curp copied to CityBeat and other media outlets.

Kiefer called CityBeat after people on social media discussed CityBeats various calls for comment for this story. Kiefer said the images were supposed to be jokes. You have to have a sense of humor, he said.

The Cranley campaign says it has and wants nothing to do with Kiefer.

“John (Cranley) wouldn’t know Jim Kiefer if he walked past him in the street right now. It’s not someone that he’s ever met. It’s not someone that he’s ever dealt with. It’s not someone that the campaign has ever dealt with, says Jay Kincaid, Cranley’s campaign director. “Whatever his views are don’t reflect those of John.”

Kincaid also points out that Cranley’s record goes against some of the bigotry perpetuated by Kiefer's posts. While on City Council, Cranley championed and helped pass an anti-racial profiling ordinance and LGBT protections in local hate crime laws.

Simpson’s history with Kiefer goes back to at least June, when Simpson says Kiefer went on a racist tirade against her on Facebook in the middle of an online discussion over the city’s parking plan. The discussion has been deleted since then, but Simpson says Kiefer told her to never return to the West Side of Cincinnati.

This is not the first time Kiefer touted images with bigoted connotations on his Facebook wall. In one instance, he liked an image of President Barack Obama in tribal regalia. In another, he posted an image of Barney Frank that mocked the former congressman’s homosexuality.


 
 
by Hannah McCartney 10.25.2013
Posted In: Health, Drugs, News at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
5.25drug-prescription

National Drug Take-Back Day Set for Tomorrow

Collection hopes to curb prescription drug abuse

If your medicine cabinet could use a good fall cleaning, think about de-cluttering tomorrow during National Drug Take-Back day so you can properly dispose of the pills and make sure they don't get into the wrong hands. 

The local prescription take-back is sponsored by the Hamilton Country Sheriff Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Prescription drug abuse is a rampant public safety and health issues, and take-back programs are one of a number of public health measures communities can take to reduce prescription drug abuse in their neighborhoods.

Even flushing the pills down the toilet poses its own risks; the chemicals could make their way into our water supplies. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that fish have suffered serious deformities from pharmaceutical-tainted water supplies, and it could affect humans, too, although the research isn't strong enough to draw any solid conclusions yet. 

There are three locations around the city where you can bring old prescriptions (all locations are open from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.):

  • Miami Township Community Center, 3780 Shady Lane, North Bend, OH 45052
  • Symmes Township Safety Center, 8871 Weekly Lane, Cincinnati, OH 45249
  • Anderson Center, Five Mile Road, Cincinnati, OH 45230

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 20 percent of people in the United States have used prescription drugs for reasons other than which they were prescribed. In 2010, 7 million Americans abused a prescription drug; pain relieving medications like Vicodin and Oxycontin are the most commonly abused drugs.

Unintentional drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in Ohio. The state has experienced a 440 percent growth rate in accidental overdose deaths from 1999 to 2011.

According to DrugAbuse.gov, teenagers are especially likely to abuse medications because of their easy accessibility and a lack of awareness about the consequences of abuse.

Needles, IV bags and radioactive medicines will not be accepted.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.25.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, Prisons, Privatization, Voting at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Few local contributions to Issue 4, private prison mired in violence, Ohio could limit voting

Issue 4, the ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, obtained most of its financial support from out-of-town tea party groups, according to financial disclosure forms filed to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Oct. 24. Of the more than $231,000 raised for Issue 4 by Cincinnati for Pension Reform, $229,500 came from groups in West Chester, Ohio, and Virginia. Chris Littleton, a leading consultant for Issue 4 and a long-time tea party activist involved in a few of the listed groups, is also based in West Chester. City leaders unanimously oppose Issue 4 because they argue it would force the city to cut services and city employees’ retirement benefits — two claims that have been backed by studies on Issue 4. Supporters say Issue 4 is necessary to help fix the pension system’s $862 unfunded liability. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat that City Council will take up further reforms to address the unfunded liability after the election, assuming voters reject Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

A re-inspection of the privatized Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LECI) found that, while the private prison has made some improvements in rehabilitation, health services and staffing, it remains on pace in 2013 to match the previous year’s increased levels of violence. Various state reports found the facility quickly deteriorated after it became the first state prison to be sold to a private company, Corrections Corporation of America, in 2011, under the urging of Gov. John Kasich. In particular, inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults rapidly rose between 2010 and 2012 and appear to remain at similar increased levels in 2013, according to an audit conducted on Sept. 9 and 10 by Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, Ohio’s independent prison watchdog. CityBeat previously covered the deteriorating conditions at LECI in further detail here.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted advocated trimming the amount of early voting days in a letter to the state legislature yesterday. Husted says he wants the rules passed to establish uniformity across all Ohio counties. But Democrats — including State Sen. Nina Turner, who is set to run against Husted in 2014 for secretary of state — say the measures attempt to limit voting opportunities and suppress voters. In 2012, Doug Preisse, close adviser to Gov. Kasich and chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, explained similar measures that limit early voting in an email to The Columbus Dispatch: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” Husted’s suggestions also included measures that would allow online voter registration and limit ballot access for candidates in minor political parties.

A Hamilton County judge yesterday dismissed another legal challenge against the city’s parking plan, but the conservative group behind the legal dispute plans to appeal. The plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which would then use private operators to manage the assets. Supporters say the lease is necessary to leverage the city’s parking assets for an $85 million upfront payment that would help pay for development projects. Opponents argue it gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets to private entities.

Several Medicaid overhaul bills began moving in the Ohio House yesterday, following months of work and promises from Republican legislators. The bills increase penalties for defrauding the state, require the Department of Medicaid to implement reforms that seek to improve outcomes and emphasize personal responsibility, and make specific tweaks on minors obtaining prescriptions, hospitals reporting of neonatal abstinence syndrome, behavioral health services and other smaller categories. The overhaul bills follow Gov. Kasich’s decision to bypass the Ohio legislature and expand Medicaid eligibility for at least two years with federal funds approved by the Controlling Board, an obscure seven-member legislative panel.

Ohio’s controversial facial-recognition program can be used by some federal and out-of-state officials, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search state databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases. Shortly after the program was revealed, Gov. Kasich compared it to privacy-breaching national intelligence agencies.

Ohio students aren’t as good at math and science as students in China, Japan, Korea and Singapore, among other countries.

A bipartisan “open container” bill would allow cities, including Cincinnati, to legalize drinking alcohol in the streets. In the case of Cincinnati, the city could allow public drinking in up to two districts if the bill passed. Supporters of the bill say it would boost economic activity in certain areas, but some are concerned the bill will enable “trash and rowdiness.”

Cincinnati leads the way on Twitter.

Vitamin B2, which is commonly found in cottage cheese, green veggies and meat, could be used to 3-D print medical implants.

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. Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

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.

Follow CityBeat on Twitter:
• Main: @CityBeatCincy
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• German Lopez: @germanrlopez

 
 
by German Lopez 10.24.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Pensions at 03:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tea party pensions

Few Local Contributions to Issue 4 Campaign

Financial disclosures show mostly out-of-town contributions to pension privatization effort

Issue 4, the ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, obtained most of its financial support from out-of-town tea party groups, according to financial disclosure forms filed to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Oct. 24.

The report confirms concerns previously raised by city officials, unions and mayoral and City Council candidates: The pension privatization effort is coming from outside Cincinnati and, in some instances, Ohio.

Up to Oct. 16, Cincinnati for Pension Reform, which successfully placed Issue 4 on the ballot, received more than $231,000 from campaign contributors. Of that money, $209,500 came from groups in West Chester, Ohio — organizations called Jobs and Progress Fund, A Public Voice, Ohio 2.0 and Ohio Rising — and $20,000 came from the Virginia-based Liberty Initiative Fund, which CityBeat previously reported as an early supporter of pension privatization schemes around the country.

Chris Littleton, a leading consultant for Issue 4 and long-time tea party activist, is also based in West Chester. He’s blogged about his involvement in Ohio Rising and Ohio 2.0, and he helped create the Cincinnati Tea Party and Ohio Liberty Coalition, another tea party group.

Upon receiving the contributions, Cincinnati for Pension Reform used more than $215,000 to circulate petitions, email blasts, advertisements and other typical campaign expenses.

The infusion of cash from out-of-town sources also helps explain why Cincinnati for Pension Reform managed to mobilize its efforts so quickly and without the knowledge of many city officials, who previously said they’re bewildered by the effort and don’t know where it came from.

If approved by voters, Issue 4 would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so city employees hired after January 2014 would contribute to and manage individual retirement accounts, which would also be supported by a proportional match from the city. That’s a shift from the current system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. The idea is to move from a public plan and instead imitate a 401k plan that’s often seen in the private sector.

The conservative Buckeye Institute, which supports Issue 4, previously studied the proposal and found it could greatly reduce retirement benefits for city employees. Although the Buckeye Institute’s report claims Issue 4 could ultimately save Cincinnati money, it was laced with caveats that could actually lead to higher costs for the city.

Another study from a finance professor at Xavier University found Issue 4, if approved, could force the city to cut services, excluding police and firefighters, by up to 41 percent or increase taxes by a similar amount in the near term by mandating that the city more expediently pay off the current pension system’s $862 million unfunded liability.

A major concern for critics of Issue 4 is that it could cost the city its Social Security exemption. Under the current pension system, the city doesn’t have to pay into Social Security. If Issue 4 passes, the city’s contributions to the pension system might not be generous enough to keep the exemption, which could force the city to make costly Social Security payments.

And if the city doesn’t lose its exemption, city workers would be left with an individual retirement plan that wouldn’t have the safety net of Social Security — unlike private-sector workers who get both an individual retirement account and Social Security.

Supporters of Issue 4 dismiss the criticisms. They say that Issue 4 is necessary to address Cincinnati’s large unfunded pension liability, which credit ratings agency Moody’s cited as one of the reasons it downgraded the city’s bond rating in July.

The city’s leaders, who unanimously oppose Issue 4, say they are working on solving the liability, but they argue it’s better to reform the system, not scrap it altogether.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat that pension issues for current city employees are covered by reforms passed in 2011, and she says City Council will take up further reforms to address the unfunded liability after the election in November.

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

The full financial report:


Updated with more information Chris Littleton and the involved groups.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.24.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Prisons at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Liberty for Sale

Audit: Private Prison Retains Increased Levels of Violence

New audit of Lake Erie facility finds improvements, but some problems linger

A re-inspection of the privatized Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LECI) found the prison is “heading in a positive direction,” but the facility is still on pace in 2013 to maintain increased levels of violence similar to the year before, according to the report.

In 2011, LECI became the first state prison in the country to be sold to a private company after Ohio, under the urging of Gov. John Kasich, sold the facility to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) as a cost-cutting measure. Since then, multiple inspections found deteriorating health and safety conditions that anti-privatization critics warned of prior to the sale.

The audit, published on Oct. 8 but conducted on Sept. 9 and 10, comes from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), Ohios independent prison watchdog.

The inspection was announced beforehand, unlike the unannounced audit on Jan. 22 that found a sharp rise in violence and various health problems. In other words, CCA had time to prepare for the latest inspection but not the one conducted earlier in the year, which could explain some of the mixed improvements.

“The CIIC inspection team’s overall sense is that conditions have improved,” the report claimed. “CCA has poured significant resources into the prison, including removing or changing staff, hiring on former (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction) staff, investing in additional security measures, and bringing in outside consultants.”

But for all the improvements, CIIC found issues of safety, security and inmate discipline linger: “Although improved slightly, the percentage of inmates reporting that they feel unsafe or very unsafe is still high.”

CIIC found inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults remain on track to match 2012’s higher levels of violence. The previous CIIC audit found inmate-on-inmate violence had increased by 188 percent and inmate-on-staff violence had increased by more than 300 percent between 2010 and 2012.

Staff reportedly told inspectors that there was “significant progress” in rates of violence throughout 2013, but the provided statistics for the year don’t reflect an improvement.

In some areas, conditions measurably worsened: CIIC reported that a “significantly higher percentage of inmates” tested positive for illegal substances in the first eight months of 2013 compared to the same time span in 2012.

Disciplinary actions and use of force were noted concerns for CIIC, even though LECI staff apparently made strides to exert more control over the inmate population. The prison also has more serious misconduct than similar minimum- and medium-security facilities.

CIIC didn’t formally inspect medical services and recreational facilities, but inspectors received various complaints from inmates in both areas. The amount of inmate grievances against staff actions also remain higher than the years before CCA took over the facility, although CIIC found slight improvement.

Still, the report repeatedly praised CCA for its improvements, particularly in rehabilitation and reentry services, better performance of rounds and shakedowns, and stronger health services and records. One example: CIIC found inmates are receiving 47.9 percent more GED diplomas, which certify a high school-level education, than they did in 2011, putting LECI’s GED achievement level at the average for similar prisons.

Staffing issues also improved, although the staff turnover rate remains above the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction average and security officers reported poor morale because of low wages.

For some critics of privatization, the poor conditions come as no surprise. Before CCA bought LECI, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio repeatedly warned that the for-profit incentive encourages private prison companies to cut services, security and staff while maintaining as many prisoners as possible, since the prison’s pay is based on how many inmates it holds.

CityBeat previously reported on the deteriorating conditions at LECI after inmates’ insider accounts, requested public records and numerous state reports found increasing violence and health concerns (“From the Inside,” issue of May 29).

The full CIIC audit:

 
 
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 10.23.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Economy at 03:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

National Report Criticizes JobsOhio, Other Privatized Agencies

Good Jobs First says privatized agencies create scandals, not jobs

JobsOhio and other privatized development agencies have created scandals and potential conflicts of interests instead of jobs, claims an Oct. 23 report from Good Jobs First, a research center founded in 1998 that scrutinizes deals between businesses and governments.

The report looked at privatized development agencies in seven states, including Ohio, and found that many of the same problems and scandals appear from state to state.

“These experiments in privatization have, by and large, become costly failures,” the report found. “Privatized development corporations have issued grossly exaggerated job-creation claims. They have created ‘pay to play’ appearances of insider dealing and conflicts of interest. They have paid executives larger salaries than governors. They have resisted basic oversight.”

The report focuses much of its findings on JobsOhio, a privatized development agency that Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators established in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The agency uses tax subsidies and other financial incentives to attract companies to Ohio with the intention of creating jobs.

But the report states JobsOhio “assembled a board of directors whose members included some of (Kasich’s) major campaign contributors and executives from companies that were recipients of large state development subsidies. It received a large transfer of state monies about which the legislature was not informed, intermingled public and private monies, refused to name its private donors, and then won legal exemption (advocated by Gov. Kasich) from review of its finances by the state auditor.”

It found similar issues in privatized development agencies in Wisconsin, Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan. In some cases, the scandals have cost states millions of dollars with little job creation to show for it, according to the report.

The latest report concurred many of the findings in a similar 2011 report from Good Jobs First, which sought to warn states, including Ohio, about the potential risks of privatized development agencies.

For JobsOhio, a major cause for concern in the report is how difficult it is to hold the agency accountable. State legislators have approved multiple measures that shield JobsOhio from public scrutiny, including exemptions that exclude the agency from public records laws, open meeting rules and the possibility of a full public audit.

Some of the controversy also focuses on how the state funds JobsOhio.

“The proposal called for ‘leasing’ the state liquor profits ($228 million the year prior) for up to 25 years to JobsOhio, which would eventually issue $1.4 billion in bonds to pay for the use of the funds,” according to the report. “Critics charged that this was not a fair market price for profits that could potentially amount to $6 billion over the term of the agreement.”

The report laments that the privatized and secretive agency represents a shift for Ohio, which the report claims “was an early practitioner of online subsidy disclosure.”

Good Jobs First concludes privatized development agencies perpetuate an economic environment in which big companies already have too much say.

“The privatization structures we describe here, including the increasing use of corporate seats for sale on governing or advisory boards, absolutely favor large businesses that have the money and executive staff time to pay and play at such levels,” the report concluded. “But small businesses already get short shrift in economic development resource allocation, and they are still suffering the most in the Great Recession’s aftermath.”

The organization also takes issue with the idea that public agencies aren’t “nimble”: “In all of our years tracking development deals, we have yet to hear of a state agency that lost an important deal because it failed to provide labor market or real estate or incentive data in a timely manner.”

Asked about the report, Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols responded in an email, “We don't pay much attention to politically-motivated opponents whose mission is to combat job creation.”

Kasich and other Republicans claim JobsOhio’s privatized, secretive nature is necessary to secure job-creating development deals with private companies in an economic environment that, through the Internet and globalization, moves more quickly than ever before.

Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, claim the agency is ripe for abuse, difficult to hold accountable and unclear in its results.

State Auditor Dave Yost plans to release an audit of JobsOhio soon, but no specific date or time frame is set for the release. The audit was granted prior to state legislation that barred the state auditor from doing a full sweep of JobsOhio’s financial details.

The full report:


 
 

 

 

 
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