The tea party-backed amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s ailing pension system gathered enough signatures earn a place on the November ballot.
Of 14,215 signatures scrutinized so far, 8,653 were valid, according to Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. That clears the requirement of 7,443 signatures, but the numbers will grow as the board continues counting petitions.
The success follows a well-funded effort from Cincinnati for Pension Reform, which paid California-based Arno Petition Consultants nearly $70,000 to collect enough signatures, according to petition documents obtained through the city.
The amendment would privatize pension plans so city employees hired after January 2014 contribute to and manage their own retirement accounts — a shift from the current set-up in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board.
But unlike private-sector employees, city workers might not qualify for Social Security benefits, which means they would lack the safety net and benefits that shield them from bad investments.
Alternatively, the city could be required to pay into Social Security. An Aug. 5 report from the city administration claims that would make the tea party-backed system more expensive than the current pension system, which would defeat the reform’s main intention.
Supporters of the tea party amendment say it’s necessary because Cincinnati is dragging its feet in addressing an $862 million pension liability, which earned the city a downgraded bond rating from Moody’s in a July 15 report. Although the city passed reforms in 2011 addressing future pension costs, the unfunded liability actually grew by $134 million between 2012 and 2013.
The Cincinnati Retirement System board is working on changes that would address the unfunded liability, but so far no agreement has been reached as board members argue over whether taxpayers or retirees should be hit hardest by more cost-cutting measures.
City officials acknowledge the issues with the current pension system, but they claim the tea party-backed amendment would exacerbate cost problems and reduce payments to future city retirees.
“Under the guise of ‘reform,’ a well-financed out-of-state group is pushing an amendment that spells economic disaster for the future city retirees and the city’s budget,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said in a statement. “Current and future retirees need an income they can live on. This amendment is a budget-buster for retirees and the city.”
City Council condemned the amendment in a resolution unanimously passed on Aug. 7.
CityBeat’s Aug. 14 news story will give an in-depth look at the amendment and the campaign behind it.
This story was updated at 5:07 p.m. with the most up-to-date numbers.
The city of Cincinnati is suspending its relationship with SoMoLend, the local startup that the city partnered with in December to connect small businesses and startups to $400,000 in loans.
The broken partnership comes in response to accusations of fraud from the Ohio Division of Securities that have forced SoMoLend to stop giving out loans in the state and could lead to the business’s shutdown.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat in an email that although the city partnered with SoMoLend in December, it has yet to give out any loans through the crowdfunding incubator.
The Ohio Division of Securities says SoMoLend failed to gather the proper federal and state licenses for a peer-to-peer lending business and falsely inflated its performance and financing figures.
SoMoLend gained local and national recognition for supposedly helping foster startup and small businesses by linking them to loans through crowdfunding — a particularly promising proposition given the state of the economy and research from the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows startups are the best drivers for economic and job growth.
But with the extent of the charges, it’s questionable whether SoMoLend had any success to begin with.
Candace Klein, CEO of SoMoLend, told The Cincinnati Enquirer on Sunday that the company is currently in talks with the state. She stressed that the Ohio Division of Securities won’t issue a final order against SoMoLend until after a hearing scheduled for October.
SoMoLend, which stands for Social Mobile Local Lending, was founded in 2011. The business’s specialty is using crowdfunding tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders. It then packages the loans to sell them as notes and charges a fee or commission for its services.
New York City mayoral candidates see Cincinnati Public Schools’ (CPS) community learning centers as a model for their city’s schools. The centers bring members of the community, including dental clinics, mental health therapists and mentors from local banks and churches, to a school hub to keep students engaged after traditional classroom hours end. But an analysis from The New York Times also finds that progress has been fairly modest, with some schools in the district still struggling and graduation and attendance rates showing little sign of improvement. Still, CPS officials argue the initiative has helped mitigate the effects of poverty and hunger in the classroom. CityBeat covered CPS and its community learning centers back in October here.
The city of Cincinnati could take control of the Emery Theatre following a legal dispute between the Requiem Project, a nonprofit seeking to renovate the theater, and the University of Cincinnati, Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership and the Emery Center Corporation, the group of leasers and owners trying to push Requiem out of the building. Requiem stated in a letter Friday that it would approve of the city taking over the building, a possibility currently being analyzed by Cincinnati’s legal team. CityBeat first covered the Emery Theater situation in further detail here.
SoMoLend, the local startup and city partner that connects small businesses seeking loans and lenders, is being accused of fraud by the state of Ohio. The charges could force the high-profile business to shut down; for the time being, it’s not giving out any loans in the state. In December, the city of Cincinnati teamed up with SoMoLend in a partnership that was meant to land local small businesses and startups much-needed loans through crowdfunding.
Ohio will spend $6.2 million this fiscal year to combat gambling addictions. With casinos, racinos and gambling generally expanding in Ohio, the state government is directing more money to county mental health and addiction boards to ensure problem gamblers are treated.
The two officers who were on the clock when death row inmate Billy Slagle hung himself have been put on paid administrative leave while the Ohio prisons department investigates what happened. Slagle was convicted of murder and sentenced to death — a punishment the Ohio Parole Board and Gov. John Kasich upheld in July despite pleas from a county prosecutor — but he hung himself days before he was supposed to be executed. CityBeat covered Slagle’s case in further detail here.
Attorney General Mike DeWine is asking Ohioans to be cautious of unsolicited phone calls offering medical alert devices.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino accidentally awarded two $1 million prizes on Saturday night. It turns out the casino gave a $1 million check to the wrong Kevin Lewis, so it decided to keep course with the original check and give another $1 million to the Lewis the check was originally intended for.
Cursive might get kicked from the classroom.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is directing federal prosecutors to minimize the use of mandatory minimum drug sentences. The change will mostly benefit drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels and no history of violence.
Ohio gas prices dropped this week and remain below the national average.
Actual headline: “Video shows thief stealing cigarettes.”
Check out Kings Island’s new roller coaster: Banshee.
Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN’s medical respondent, is now down with marijuana.
Hamilton County fares worse
than Ohio overall in a series of measurements for children’s
economic well-being, health, education and safety, according to a report released Aug. 7.
The 2013 “Ohio’s Kids Count” report from the Children’s Defense Fund and Annie E. Casey Foundation finds Hamilton County has a higher median income than Ohio does on average. But the county fares worse than the state in various categories, including childhood poverty, fourth-grade reading and math proficiency, felony convictions and the amount of babies with low birth weights, an early sign of poor health.
One example: Hamilton County’s childhood poverty rate is 27.7 percent, while Ohio’s overall rate is 23.9 percent. If the county brought the rate down to the state average, it would pull more than 3,000 local children out of poverty.
Hamilton County’s childhood poverty rate dropped from 28.5 percent to 27.7 percent between 2010 and 2011.
The report uses state data from between 2009 and 2011 to look at various indicators for children under the age of 18. Some of the data differs from findings from other groups, such as the National Center for Children in Poverty, which found about 48 percent of Cincinnati’s children are in poverty.
The report claims many of the measured indicators are socially and economically linked, so it should come as little surprise that Hamilton County is doing worse across the board. Still, it advises local, state and federal officials to continue taking action to bring down the troubling numbers.
In Cincinnati, City Hall has historically failed to meet its goals for human services funding, which in part helps homeless youth and other struggling children.
But local leaders, including city officials and business executives, have backed the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, which aims to place more low- and middle-income Cincinnati children in early education programs. Shiloh Turner, vice president for community investment at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, today wrote in an email to CityBeat that Preschool Promise backers are currently looking at funding options and will iron out plans and partnerships through meetings scheduled for the next three months.
The Kids Count report credits Ohio officials in particular for approving a new voucher program that will subsidize preschool for families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The program is expected to reach 7,000 children in the state over the next two years.
But the state has generally cut education funding since Gov. John Kasich took office, leaving Cincinnati Public Schools with $15 million less state funding than it received in 2009.
At the same time, the federal government is set to cut its food stamp program in November, which progressive think tanks like the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities argue will hurt low-income families in Ohio.
On Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio unanimously ruled that Akron, Ohio-based energy supplier FirstEnergy Corp. must credit its Ohio customers $43.3 million for overcharging for renewable energy credits (RECs) from 2009-2011 that it purchased from its affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.
RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy credits that represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sourced from an eligible renewable energy resource. First Energy Solutions is an energy generator and supplier, while First Energy Corp. is an electricity distributor, which means that it sources its electricity from elsewhere, which requires them to issue bids seeking the most competitively priced energy from a supplier such as First Energy Solutions.
According to the First Energy Corp. website, First Energy Solutions is the competitive subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. Both suppliers are based in Akron. An audit conducted by Exeter Associates Inc. revealed that FirstEnergy Corp. paid 15 times more than any other company in the country to purchase the RECs from FirstEnergy Solutions, and FirstEnergy Corp. passed that overcharge onto consumers.
In a copy of the order issued yesterday by the PUC obtained by CityBeat, it states that, "The Companies contend that, given the nascent market, lack of market information available to the Companies, and uncertainty regarding future supply and prices, the Companies' decisions to purchase in-state RECs were reasonable and prudent."
In summary, FirstEnergy contends that because it was scrambling to find a way to meet the state's Clean Energy Law requirements, it had to buy these RECs no matter the cost, and that there are no legal specifications within the Clean Energy Law that requires RECs be purchased or sold at market price; and that the costs issued to them, and subsequently, customers, weren't unreasonable.
The Ohio Consumers Counsel, however, says that there were cheaper alternatives available and that FirstEnergy should have checked with the PUC prior to paying 15 times more for RECs than any other country had in the past. If they'd rejected the exorbitant bids, says OCC, and instead consulted with PUC and OCC, they could have come up with a solution to prevent from charging customers excessively high rates.
In June 2012, FirstEnergy Solutions was the winning bidder in Cincinnati's energy aggregation program, which is supposed to allow us to receive lower "aggregate" rates for buying in bulk. At the time, FirstEnergy touted the merits of its "100 percent green" energy supply, sourced from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable resources. The bid was expected to save homeowners around $133 annually.
What enabled FirstEnergy to provide the "clean" energy was its use of a system with non-tangible renewable energy credit (RECs) that each represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sources from a renewable energy resource.
Purchasing the credits from its subsidiary allows FirstEnergy Corp. to meet the state's renewable energy standard, which requires that by 2025 all Ohio utility companies provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources.
Because the lawsuit issued by the PUC examines only the amount paid for RECs during compliance periods between 2009 and 2011, Cincinnati customers who switched to FirstEnergy Solutions last June should not be affected, although the FirstEnergy arms' ambiguous behavior, says Dan Sawmiller, a Sierra Club member who manages Ohio's Beyond Coal campaign, is a likely indicator that the company may be engaging in other unethical practices related to consumer transparency.
The company has not been devoid of controversy in the past. In March, CityBeat reported on state environmental groups' concerns with the movement to lower requirements for defining renewable energy and energy efficiency; FirstEnergy was part of the bloc working to weaken Ohio's Clean Energy Law in hopes of keeping corporation costs low. FirstEnergy was also chastised by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2009 for distributing and charging customers for energy-efficient light bulbs without receiving customers' authorization.
Sawmiller commended the PUC for fining First Energy, although he suggests the fine is likely modest for the actual damages. He still expresses concern about the need for corporate separation between the two FirstEnergy arms. "The commission left much to be desired in terms of transparency, leaving customers in the dark about what types of renewables are being provided, where are they coming from and at what cost," says Sawmiller in Sierra Club's press release.
City Council met yesterday for the first time since June and passed various development deals that span six Cincinnati neighborhoods. The deals include a 15-year tax abatement for the second phase of The Banks, which will produce 305 apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space; several other apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a small business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel Community Center; and a new homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn. The deals are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the city, which could help meet the high demand for new residential space downtown.
City Council also approved a motion that asks the city administration to begin preparations for a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favor minority- and women-owned businesses. The motion asks the administration to either use part of the upfront money from leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority or find an alternative source of funding. The study is required because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, which declared that governments must prove there’s racial or gender-based disparity before changing policies to favor such groups. Since the city disbanded its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999, contract participation rates have plummeted for minority-owned businesses and remained relatively flat for women-owned businesses.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials still have not reached a compromise on several local hiring and bidding policies for the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), which is owned by the county but run by the city. A moratorium on the controversial city policies expired on Aug. 1, prompting county commissioners to block an upcoming MSD project in a vote Wednesday. Councilman Chris Seelbach told WVXU that those working on a compromise just need a little more time, but he’s confident they’ll be able to reach an agreement. City Council passed hiring and bidding rules in May this year and June 2012 that require MSD contractors to meet certain job training requirements that council members say will lead to more local jobs, but county commissioners argue the standards are too strenuous and favor unions. CityBeat covered the dispute in further detail here.
State Reps. Connie Pillich and Denise Driehaus of Cincinnati will hold a press conference today asking Gov. John Kasich to launch an ethics investigation into JobsOhio, the privatized development agency. State Democrats have been particularly critical of JobsOhio since a Dayton Daily News report found six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial ties to companies that have taken state aid from the development agency. Republicans argue that JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature allows it to expedite deals that bring businesses and jobs to the state, but Democrats claim the set-up lacks transparency and fosters corruption.
Only one-third of Ohio school levies were approved in a special election Tuesday. Despite an increase in funding in the most recent two-year state budget, state funding to schools has been slashed since Gov. John Kasich took office.
The Charter Committee’s second round of endorsements for
this year’s City Council elections went to Democrats Greg Landsman and
David Mann and Republican Amy Murray. Previous endorsements went to Independents Kevin Flynn and Vanessa White and Democrat Yvette Simpson. The Charter Committee isn’t generally seen as a traditional political party, but it holds a lot of sway in local politics.
The Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino’s monthly revenue for July was higher than it was in June but lower than March. For local and state officials, the trend up is a welcome sign as they hope to tap into the casino for tax revenue.
Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s are facing a boycott for opposing legislation in Texas that would make it easier for women to sue over wage discrimination.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is finding a niche with smaller airlines like Ultimate Air.
An app dubbed “lockout insurance” lets users scan keys then 3-D print them.
City Council met today for the first time since June and passed several development deals and projects spanning six Cincinnati neighborhoods.
The approved deals include a 15-year tax abatement for the second phase of The Banks, which will produce 305 apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space; several other apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a small business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel Community Center; and a new homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn.
The projects are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the city. That could prove particularly timely for downtown Cincinnati, which is currently struggling to meet high demand from a growing market of aspiring property renters, leasers and buyers.
"Today is a huge day of progress for Cincinnati," Mayor Mark Mallory said in the statement. "The momentum has been building in our city for a while. And now, developers and businesses are lining up to do projects in the city because they see all of the progress and they want to be a part of it. This is the vision — our success is leading to more success."
Among the other items, Council passed a motion asking the city administration to look into a disparity study and a resolution condemning a ballot initiative that would change the city's pension program by pushing future public employees into a less generous 401K-style plan.
Today's meeting was Council's only full session for July and August, which is why the agenda was so packed. That's irked some council members and critics, who argue Council should be in session for more of the summer.
"Council has no shortage of issues to consider and challenges to address — this should NOT be our only Council meeting of the summer," tweeted Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld during today's meeting.
Council is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 11.
Cincinnati council members and community leaders today explained and defended plans to use the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses.
But before City Council unanimously passed the motion at today's meeting, it was amended to allow the city administration to find alternate sources of funding.
Since the city dismantled its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses have plummeted, while rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively flat.
But because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, governments must conduct a study to prove there's a race- or gender-based disparity before policies can be adjusted to favor such groups.
Cincinnati has not taken up a disparity study since 2002. That study found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time.
"This is an opportunity to respond to a complaint and concern that has been around for as long as I can remember," Councilman Wendell Young said.
City officials claim they couldn't conduct another study until the administration finished implementing recommendations from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were criticized for neglecting the city's small business program.
But the holdup has also been brought on by the study's cost, which city officials currently estimate between $500,000 and $1.5 million. Some critics argue the money would be better spent elsewhere.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who's running for mayor this year, defended the cost by explaining a disparity study can potentially lead to economic development by lifting minority groups, who currently face unemployment rates higher than white Cincinnati residents. She said it's on the city to ensure everyone, including women and minorities, benefit from Cincinnati's economic growth.
Other critics, particularly mayoral candidate John Cranley, have criticized the motion's suggestion for funding. The motion asks the city administration to fund the study with part of the upfront money that will come from leasing the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but it does allow the city administration to find other funding options if possible.
Cranley, who supports conducting a disparity study but opposes the parking lease, says the money should come from other, unnamed sources because parking funds are currently being held up while the city hashes out legal uncertainty surrounding the lease and the Port Authority works out contracts with private operators that will manage Cincinnati's parking assets.
In response to those concerns, Qualls said that "money doesn't grow on trees" and Council has to make do with what it has.
Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the parking lease, but he supports using parking funds for the disparity study. He says that, while he may have voted against the lease, the vote is done and the money is there.
The amended motion was unanimously passed by City Council today. It asks the city administration to present a budget and timetable for the study at the Budget and Finance Committee's first October meeting.
Updated at 3:18 p.m. with results of City Council meeting.
Six out of nine City Council members signed a motion to use money from the city’s parking lease to conduct a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies. Democrats Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach, Pam Thomas and P.G. Sittenfeld signed the motion. The study, which could cost between $500,000 and $1 million, is required to change city contracting policies after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that governments must prove there is a racial or gender-based disparity before changing rules to favor any specific race or gender. CityBeat first covered a disparity study in further detail here. Council members will hold a press conference about the issue at noon today.
Petitioners pushing to reform Cincinnati’s public retirement system with a controversial city charter amendment turned in almost 16,000 signatures to City Hall yesterday. Of those signatures, 7,443 have to be validated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The plan would put future city workers in individual retirement accounts similar to 401K plans used in the private sector. But city officials argue that, unlike private workers, public employees don’t get Social Security benefits on top of their pensions, which means public workers could get considerably less retirement money under the amendment than someone would in the private sector. Supporters of the amendment point to the city’s struggles with properly funding its pension system, which led to a bond rating downgrade from credit rating agency Moody’s. Opponents of the amendment plan to hold a press conference in front of City Hall at 3 p.m. today or after today’s Council meeting, whichever is later.
A majority of City Council on Tuesday sided with the Windholtz family, who will now be able to sell and demolish the old Lenhardt’s restaurant building — also known as the Goetz House — in Clifton Heights. Only Councilwoman Yvette Simpson sided with community members who argued that the building should be declared a historical landmark and preserved. “If I were counting votes, I would go with the community. There are a whole bunch of you and a very few people named Windholtz,” Councilman Wendell Young said. “I believe that the courage to do what’s right this time is to side with the family.”
Election results from yesterday: The Norwood tax levy failed, the Arlington Heights levy failed with a tie vote and the Cleves tax levy passed.
Gov. John Kasich says there’s no need to change oversight over JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that has been mired in controversy in the past few weeks. Most recently, a story in the Dayton Daily News found six of nine members on the JobsOhio board had direct financial ties to companies receiving state aid. Republicans argue JobsOhio’s privatized nature allows it to move quickly with deals that bring in businesses and jobs to the state, but Democrats say the secretive agency is too difficult to hold accountable and could be wasting taxpayer dollars.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland is calling on Ohioans to act now and reduce the effects of global warming. Strickland is apparently siding with the near-unanimous scientific consent that global warming is real and man-made. Scientists generally want to reduce carbon and other greenhouse-gas emissions enough so global warming doesn’t exceed two degrees Celsius, but the planet is currently on a path to warm by five degrees Celsius. If that trend continues, there could be devastating effects, including more drought and other extraordinary weather events.
The second phase of The Banks might include a grocery store.
Procter & Gamble plans to move 50 customer service jobs from Cincinnati to San Jose, Costa Rica.
The house of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who held captive and raped three women for more than a decade, was demolished today. The neighborhood is still celebrating the capture of Castro, who was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years last week, but many in the area are wondering how the man got away with his crimes for so long.
Entrepreneurs were more likely to cause trouble than teenagers, according to a new study.