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by German Lopez 08.20.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Government, Governor at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City refuses parking lease challenge, Qualls calls for transparency, Kasich losing in new poll

City Solicitor John Curp rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the citys parking lease without City Council's explicit approval. Curp wrote in a letter that the two changes disputed by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) were within the lease’s terms and only made because COASTs previous lawsuit forced the city to delay leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. If COAST hadn’t pursued the lawsuit, the city would have been able to continue with the original timetable for the parking lease.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls yesterday unveiled a motion calling for the first expansion of local disclosure and reporting requirements since 1997 that would impose new rules on city officials, lobbyists and contractors and require the city administration to post the disclosed information on the city’s website. Qualls said in a statement that the update is particularly timely because the Metropolitan Sewer District is taking on a federally mandated $3.2 billion, 15-year reworking of the city’s sewers, which will presumably involve many lobbyists trying to get lucrative contracts for businesses they represent.

New poll results from Public Policy Polling (PPP) show Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald beating Gov. John Kasich 38-35 percent in the 2014 election. Kasich’s approval rating now stands at 42-47 percent, down 10 points from November. Most respondents still seem unaware of FitzGerald, with 62 percent saying they aren’t sure if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of him. PPP is affiliated with Democrats, but the polling firm performed well in the 2012 presidential race and, if anything, favored Republicans with its results.

Hop On Cincinnati is asking the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District to support a trackless trolley that the group says could live alongside the Cincinnati streetcar. The trolley, estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million, would be similar to the system in Northern Kentucky, and each route would run past major garages to allow people to park before getting on board. If the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District gives the project approval, it could get federal funding.

Investors are upset with SoMoLend, the crowdfunding incubator that has been targeted by a state investigation with accusations of fraud. Critics of the company say that the allegations could hurt future crowdfunding pursuits and harm the state. Shortly after the charges came to light, the city of Cincinnati announced it would cut ties with SoMoLend, which partnered with the city to connect small businesses and startups with up to $400,000 in loans.

Ohio is the seventh worst state for debt, according to a recent study from NerdWallet.com.

The number of low-income Ohio children in Head Start, the early education program, will drop by more than 1,800 following automatic spending cuts at the federal level. CityBeat previously covered the cuts here.

Ohio’s top waterways watchdog is stepping down from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency after his boss and Kasich asked him to step down. Kasich was apparently angered by an email in which George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio EPA’s division of surface water, told his staff that the coal industry wants permits that would damage the state’s streams and wetlands and break state and federal laws.

Various state officials are criticizing a “stand your ground” bill currently sitting in the Ohio legislature. The self-defense law has been scrutinized because of George Zimmerman, a Florida resident who was acquitted of murder in the shooting of unarmed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Many people blame Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which expands self-defense rights, for Martin’s death. Zimmerman’s legal defense team didn’t invoke the law, but the judge involved in the case mentioned it in her jury instructions.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says some school safety plans would be “useless” during a real shooting because they’re too long and complicated.

Ohio is releasing school report cards this week, but the standards may be biased against income and racial diversity.

Cincinnati-based Macy’s stocks plunged last week, alongside other Cincinnati stocks and the rest of the market.

Renowned “Star Trek” actor George Takei will lead Cincinnati in the Chicken Dance at Oktoberfest this year.

Ancient Egyptian jewelry was made from meteorites.

 
 
by German Lopez 08.19.2013
Posted In: News, Parking at 08:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
coast_online

City Denies COAST's Parking Lease Challenge

City solicitor says conservative group's previous lawsuit forced changes

City Solicitor John Curp on Aug. 15 rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the city's parking lease without City Council's explicit approval.

With Curp's denial, the conservative group behind the request — the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) — is now legally able to once again sue the city over its plans to lease Cincinnati's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. It would be the second time COAST has taken major legal action over the parking plan.

In a letter to COAST's attorney, Curp writes that the two changes COAST called "significant and material" in its July 17 letter were shifts in dates and time limits that were necessary because a previous lawsuit from COAST forced the city to delay implementation of the parking lease for more than two months. In other words, COAST is trying to use the delays it forced to stop the parking lease once again.

Curp also argues in his letter that the lease gave the city manager the power to make changes that keep the lease "substantially in the form" approved by Council and authorizes city officials to "take all necessary and proper actions" to carry out the lease. Curp writes the disputed changes were within those terms.

In response to Curp's denial, COAST member and attorney Chris Finney told The Cincinnati Enquirer that COAST will pursue another lawsuit against the parking lease if Council doesn't vote on the disputed changes.

Although a majority of Council now says it opposes the parking lease, Mayor Mark Mallory has said he will hold any legislation trying to repeal or undo key elements of the deal.

Under the parking lease, the city will receive a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. Private operators will also be tasked with modernizing Cincinnati's parking assets so parking meters can accept credit cards and payment through a smartphone.

Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage the city's parking assets for development projects and modernize the city’s parking services.

Opponents say the lease gives up too much public control over the city’s parking assets and will hurt local residents and businesses by causing meter rates and operation hours to go up.

The parking plan has been engulfed in political controversies since it was first unveiled by the city manager in October. Most recently, the city administration withheld a memo that was critical of the plan from the public, City Council and Port Authority — a move that triggered outrage about the administration's lack of transparency.

 
 
by German Lopez 08.16.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Abortion, Parking at 08:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio’s jobless rate unchanged, Port patches parking lease, anti-abortion bill returns

Ohio’s unemployment rate remained at 7.2 percent in July, unchanged from June, according to new data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The amount of employed Ohioans went up by 5,300 from month-to-month and 37,700 year-over-year, showing stronger signs of job growth than earlier in the year. But the amount of jobless Ohioans still looking for jobs went up by 3,000 between June and July. In the past year, the private service-providing sector, education and health services and leisure and hospitality have gained the most jobs, while local government and construction jobs have plummeted.

The Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati proposed keeping neighborhood parking meter hours the same under a lease agreement with Cincinnati in which the city is handing over control of its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port and the agency is tasking private companies with operating the assets. Keeping the meter hours the same as today, instead of expanding them as previously suggested, would lower Cincinnati’s upfront lease revenue from $92 million to $88.3 million and reduce annual payments, which were originally projected at $3 million but estimated to go up over the life of the lease. Still, the move would satisfy neighborhood residents and businesses who were worried the expanded hours would quickly become a financial hassle. CityBeat covered the parking lease and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

Republican legislators are reintroducing a bill that would ban abortions in Ohio as early as six weeks after conception, even though questions remain about the proposal’s constitutionality. The bill has been dubbed the “heartbeat bill” because it prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. A federal judge on July 22 blocked a similar law in North Dakota after deeming it unconstitutional. “The United States Supreme Court has unequivocally said that no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability,” wrote U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, who was appointed to the District of North Dakota seat by former President George W. Bush in 2002. Health experts generally agree viability is not reached until 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

Part of the Cincinnati streetcar route could be operational in late 2015, much earlier than the Sept. 15, 2016 date the city previously announced for the entire track.

The Ohio Ethics Commission won’t investigate Gov. John Kasich’s relationship with a company that received $619,000 in tax credits from JobsOhio because Kasich supposedly made a clean break from the company upon taking office. JobsOhio, the privatized development agency established by Kasich and Republican legislators, has been mired in controversy in the past few weeks for providing state aid to companies that have direct financial ties to JobsOhio board members and the governor.

Meanwhile, Kasich is fueling speculation that he will run for president in 2016.

Cincinnati mayoral candidate and ex-Councilman John Cranley on Thursday unveiled an innovation plan that he says will boost government transparency and help foster Cincinnati’s newly gained reputation as a tech startup hub. The plan would take $5 million in capital funds over four years and ask local startup incubators Cintrifuse, The Brandery and CincyTech where they would like to see the money going. It would also call for hiring a chief innovation officer (CIO) and creating “CincyData,” a transparency initiative that would gather and publish city data to create “a more efficient, effective and user-friendly City government.” Under the plan, both the CIO position and CincyData would be leveraged to find new ways to carry out city services in the hopes of running the local government more efficiently.

Cincinnati Public Schools’ ratings are likely to dip as the school district transitions into Common Core standards and a new state report card system. Superintendent Mary Ronan says the district is doing well but needs to work on getting kids’ reading scores up to grade level. CityBeat originally covered the ratings drop here and some of the hurdles faced by CPS in the past few years here.

New data show the growth of health care costs is slowing down in the Cincinnati area.

Ohio will come up with a new plan to execute condemned inmates no later than Oct. 4 to deal with the state’s expiring supply of drugs used to carry out capital punishments. Specifics were not detailed in court filings.

Procter & Gamble is recalling dog and cat food because some of the product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

Science confirmed pulling out is a bad way to avoid pregnancy.

 
 
by German Lopez 08.07.2013
Posted In: City Council, News, Business, Racism, Parking at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
disparity study

Council Members Rally Behind Racial Disparity Study

Proposal uses parking lease funds to measure disparity among contracted businesses

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.30.2013
Posted In: News, Business, Health care, Parking at 08:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City mulling disparity study, Medicaid expansion bill underway, parking hours criticized

City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies. The study could cost between $500,000 to $1 million, according to city officials. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court case, the city must carry out the study before it can impose policies that favorably target minorities or women with business contracts. Since the city's last race- and gender-based program was dismantled in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to a low of 2.7 percent in 2007, but rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively unchanged. But the numbers could be understating how many minority-owned businesses there are because classifying as one is now voluntary, while it was mandatory in the 1990s.

State Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee, says he wants to move on a package of bills that would include the Medicaid expansion by early October. The bills will also tackle other issues, such as how to deal with growing concerns about opiate addiction in Ohio. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the federally funded Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate roughly $1.8 billion for the state in the next year. But Republican legislators in the General Assembly say they're concerned the federal government won't be able to uphold its commitment to the expansion. Recent polling found about 63 percent of Ohioans support expanding Medicaid.

East side residents pleaded with Greater Cincinnati Port Authority officials yesterday to reduce enforcement hours for parking meters under the city's controversial parking lease. The plan allows for enforcement until 9 p.m., but residents say it should only go to 6 p.m. to avoid hurting local businesses that might rely on free parking during the evening. The city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then manage the assets through private operators from around the country. The city administration estimates the deal will produce $92 million up front and at least $3 million a year afterward for Cincinnati, which officials plan to use for development projects and to help close budget gaps.

Meanwhile, opponents of the parking lease appealed their legal challenge to the Ohio Supreme Court. Opponents argue the lease should be susceptible to voter referendum. The city claims Cincinnati's emergency clause powers allow council members to expedite laws and remove the possibility of referendum altogether. The legal challenge was initially successful in a lower court, but the appeals court ultimately sided with the city. It's unclear whether the Ohio Supreme Court will hear the challenge.

Legal experts say it's unclear which, if any, of Ohio's new abortion restrictions could survive a court battle. The anti-abortion measures, which were passed in the state budget by Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich, impose a series of regulatory hurdles that require extra medical procedures prior to getting an abortion and could be used to shut down abortion clinics.

An internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report suggests that fracking, an oil- and gas-extraction process, can contaminate underground drinking water. The findings could have implications for Ohio, which is currently undergoing a fracking boom as companies rush to tap into oil and gas reserves in northeastern parts of the state. CityBeat covered Ohio’s fracking boom in further detail here.

Councilwoman Pam Thomas and ex-Councilman Cecil Thomas want everyone to know that they have not endorsed anyone for mayor.

Ryan Widmer's mother, who gained notoriety for defending Widmer during his three trials, was found dead yesterday. There were no obvious signs of trauma or foul play. Widmer is currently serving 15 years for drowning his wife in a bathtub in 2008.

Scientists may have to genetically modify oranges to save them from a deadly disease.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.25.2013
Posted In: Budget, News, Parking, Infrastructure at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_pgsittenfeld_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Behind the parking plan drama, state budget cuts local funding, bridge to get federal bump

Being one of the first to discover a critical memo put Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at the center of an ongoing drama regarding the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The memo criticized the financial details of the lease, but it was kept from the Port, City Council and the public for nearly a month. Ever since the controversial parking plan passed City Council and was upheld in court, concerned citizens, business leaders and critics like Sittenfeld have been calling on the city and Port to rework or halt the deal. So far, the city and Port have stuck to their support. The city will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the lease, which it currently plans to use to help balance city budgets and fund development projects, such as the I-71/MLK Interchange.

The latest state budget secured more cuts to city and county governments, putting local governments at a $1.5 billion shortfall in the next two years compared to 2010 and 2011, according to a new report from progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio. Republican Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators slashed local government funding in 2011 to help fix an $8 billion budget hole. But the latest state budget, which Kasich signed into law in June, was awash in extra revenues because of Ohio’s economic recovery — so much so that legislators passed $2.7 billion in tax cuts. For Cincinnati, the original cuts cost the city more than $22 million in revenue.

The Brent Spence Bridge was bumped up in a federal funding priority list through a successful amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican. The amendment prioritized $500 million for obsolete and structurally unsound bridges, but it’s so far unclear how much of the money will go to the Brent Spence Bridge project, which state officials estimate will cost $2.7 billion. Currently, Ohio and Kentucky officials plan to pay for the bridge project by enacting tolls.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor this year, is calling on the city manager to produce a plan that would structurally balance Cincinnati’s operating budget by 2016. “To build on the momentum Cincinnati is now experiencing, we must set a course now for a fiscally sustainable future,” Qualls said in a statement. “That’s why I’m urging that we have a plan to reach structural balance by 2016, restore reserves and increase the city’s pension contribution, minimize using the parking lease payment to restore budget cuts and continue to invest in neighborhoods and jobs to grow revenue.” The announcement comes more than one week after Moody’s, the credit rating agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating and criticized the city for its exposure to unsustainable pension liabilities and reliance on one-time sources to fix budget gaps.

Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who’s also running for mayor, is rolling out his jobs plan today. The initiative will provide a job training program for individuals facing long-term unemployment or underemployment, which the Cranley campaign estimates will result in 379 individuals per year obtaining full-time, permanent jobs. The program will be mainly paid for by pulling funds from the city’s Office of Environmental Quality, Department of Finance, travel and the state lobbyist. “My deepest conviction is that there is dignity in work. I believe all able-bodied adults should work and be self-sufficient. And I believe society has an obligation to ensure the opportunity to work exists,” Cranley said in a statement.

On Second Thought: “Facts vs. Perceptions in Trayvon Martin Coverage.”

Police yesterday shot and killed Roger Ramundo, an allegedly armed Clifton resident. Officers had been called to the area of Clifton and Ludlow avenues by a mental health provider, who said there was a person with mental health issues armed with a gun, according to interim Cincinnati Police Chief Paul Humphries. Police said they tried to first subdue Ramundo with Tasers during an ensuing struggle, but they were unsuccessful and the man pulled out his gun and fired a shot. That’s when one officer fired two shots that hit Ramundo, who was then taken to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Gov. Kasich isn’t providing clemency to a Cleveland killer who stabbed his victim 17 times, overruling a rare plea for mercy from prosecutors but siding with a majority of the state parole board. Billy Slagle will be executed on Aug. 7.

Ohio will take a hands-off approach to promoting Obamacare, even though outreach will be crucial for the controversial health care law. President Barack Obama’s administration estimates it will have to enroll millions of young adults into health care plans to turn the law into a success.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County is investigating if Obamacare could result in lower property taxes by allowing the county to shift costs to the federal government.

A Cincinnati money manager is being accused of running an “elaborate Ponzi scheme” that cost investors “tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to a July 20 complaint filed in the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

The average price of a flight from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport dropped, but the airport is still the second-most expensive in the nation.

CityBeat gave Internet cat-celebrity Lil Bub an in-depth look in this week’s issue. Find it online here.

Want to maximize your tan? Here is how close you could get to the sun and survive.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.19.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Economy, Taxes at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Port wants parking lease money, Ohio No. 2 for job losses, Kasich plans more tax cuts

New documents acquired by The Cincinnati Enquirer show the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority wants $27 million of the city’s $92 million parking lease. The Port Authority, a city-funded development agency, says it would use the money for various projects around the city. The request, which has been supported by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, may explain why the Port Authority inexplicably took four days to sign its lease agreement with the city: It wanted some of the money for itself. The city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire various private operators from around the country to manage the assets. The deal will provide $92 million up front and at least $3 million a year afterward, which the city plans to use for development projects and to plug budget gaps.

Ohio lost the No. 2 most jobs in the nation last month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That pushed the state unemployment rate to 7.2 percent in June, up from 7 percent in May, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services found. The state lost 12,500 jobs in June, with the private sector showing losses across the board. The month’s big losses mean the state has only added 15,000 jobs in the past year, even though the state actually topped job growth in May with more than 32,000 new jobs. In June, Pew Charitable Trusts found Ohio was the No. 46 state for job growth between April 2012 and April this year.

Gov. John Kasich says he wants to further cut state taxes to reduce the bracket for the wealthiest Ohioans to less than 5 percent. Such a cut could require raising regressive taxes that put more of a burden on the state’s poorest, such as the sales tax. The latest two-year state budget, which Kasich signed into law, did just that, as CityBeat previously covered: It cut income taxes in a way that favored the wealthy, then it raised sales taxes in a way that forced the lowest-income Ohioans to pay more.

A report released yesterday suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation. The Environment Ohio report finds the state’s regulations on “fracking,” an oil and gas extraction process, require too little financial assurance from drilling companies to dissuade dangerous risks. In Ohio, fracking well operators are required to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well, but even those payments can be avoided through regulatory loopholes. At the same time, damage caused by fracking can cost communities and the state millions of dollars, and simply reclaiming the well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says he wouldn’t have prosecuted George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old last year in Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter and second-degree murder by a jury on July 13 after he claimed self-defense.

A lack of local access to healthy foods was linked to higher obesity rates in a study released yesterday. That could be troubling news for Avondale and other Cincinnati neighborhoods that are deemed “food deserts,” areas that don’t have reasonable access to healthy foods. CityBeat covered the efforts of some city officials, including Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, to end food deserts here.

Cincinnati is looking for feedback on local bike projects.

The American Civil Liberties Union is asking Ohio to avoid shutting off electricity in state prisons, calling the practice “dangerous” as temperatures approach 100 degrees. Ohio’s prisons have already shut down electricity twice in the afternoon this week and relied on backup generators. The shutdowns are commonly deployed as part of a power agreement that’s generated $1.3 million for the state since 2010.

Harris Teeter Supermarkets shareholders are suing to stop a planned acquisition from Kroger.

Detroit yesterday became the biggest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.

An “invisibility wetsuit” hides people from sharks.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.18.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Streetcar, Courts at 09:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Parking lease facing legal dispute, critical memo dismissed, mayor to attend streetcar social

In a letter to the city solicitor, a conservative organization is threatening more legal action to stop the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) claims the city manager exceeded his authority when he made two “significant and material” changes to the lease agreement after City Council approved the deal in March. If the city solicitor doesn’t take up the legal challenge, COAST could sue the city by itself. Supporters of the parking lease argue it’s necessary to fund development projects in the city and modernize the city’s parking services, but opponents say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking meters, lots and garages and will hurt businesses downtown.

The Business Courier reports that a critical parking memo was supposed to provide a “strike point” for negotiations between the Port Authority and Xerox, which will manage the city’s parking meters under a lease agreement. But the city administration didn’t begin sharing the June 20 memo with anyone else, including the Port Authority, until July 12, after council members and media outlets began asking the city administration about it. The memo suggested the city is getting a bad deal from the parking lease agreement and overpaying Xerox. Port and city officials argue the memo relied on outdated information and made technical errors.

Mayor Mark Mallory will today join fellow streetcar supporters at Rhinegeist Brewery to discuss the streetcar project’s latest news and future. The city on July 15 set an opening date of Sept. 15, 2016 after finalizing a construction contract with Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad, which was made possible after City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap in June. CityBeat recently debunked some of the misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project here.

Commentary: “Zimmerman Reactions Overlook Broader Racial Issues in America.”

Public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down following city and state funding cuts. The organization’s demise is a great loss to producers like Rufus Johnson, who used its resources for years. The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the state eliminated a fund that was provided by Time Warner Cable, but even the local funding was fully cut in the budget passed in May. City officials have justified the cuts by pointing to citizen surveys that ranked Media Bridges poorly in terms of budgetary importance, but a CityBeat analysis found the surveys were skewed against the low-income Cincinnatians that benefit the most from public access programs like Media Bridges.

State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, is facing multiple felony charges related to securities fraud. A lawsuit filed in Hamilton County by investors alleges that money invested at the request of Beck and others was used for personal gain — specifically, Beck’s campaign — instead of a business investment as originally intended. Beck has been in power since 2009, and his current term is set to expire in 2014.

A former poll worker was sentenced to five years for voter fraud after she voted twice for herself and three times for her sister, who’s been in a coma since 2003.

The driver who last August accidentally hit and killed a local cyclist is awaiting his sentence. Local bike advocacy groups are asking courts to give the maximum penalty to the driver, who’s facing at most six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The local housing market is rapidly recovering in a continuing good sign for the economy, with single-family home permits up 48 percent in June compared to the year before, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Reds games are No. 3 for local TV ratings in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Xavier University is laying off 31 employees and cutting 20 currently vacant positions.

A Miami University student is getting an astronaut scholarship, making him one of 28 students nationwide to receive the honor.

Entrepreneur says Cincinnati is an “unexpected hub for tech startups.”

A new self-aiming rifle would outshoot human snipers.

Popular Science has a guide for arguing against anti-vaccine crazies here.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.17.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Courts at 08:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
coast_online

Parking Lease Facing Another Legal Challenge

Conservative group claims city manager exceeded authority with changes

In a letter to the city solicitor, a conservative organization is threatening more legal action to stop the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) claims the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the lease agreement after City Council approved the deal in March. That, the letter states, exceeds the city manager’s authority.

The two changes in question: First, the city changed the original June 30 deadline for issuing bonds that will finance the deal to a less specific 90-day period that will kick in once the agreement is in full effect. Second, the city added sections that allow the Port to review and potentially terminate the lease within 75 days.

The changes were made after another legal challenge delayed the leases implementation.

The letter asks City Solicitor John Curp to review the allegations and sue the city. If he doesn’t, COAST would gain the legal standing necessary under Ohio law to sue the city by itself.

“The law requires that before a lawyer can sue the city and ask taxpayers to pay his fees he must send a letter of this type,” Curp explained in an email.

Curp also wrote that the city will review the allegations and respond within a month.

“Today’s letter is an attempt to comply with part of the legal process that would allow the authors to claim attorneys fees from taxpayers,” he wrote. “The Law Department will review the issues raised, attempt to engage the authors constructively and respond appropriately. The policy of the Law Department is to defend aggressively against claims from lawyers that seek taxpayers dollars to fund their litigation against the City of Cincinnati.”

COAST is pursuing the legal challenge as a longtime critic of the parking lease. The organization supported the previous lawsuit against the lease, which an appeals court struck down.

The letter comes in the middle of another controversy over a June 20 memo that the city administration kept from the public, Port Authority and City Council for three-plus weeks, until council members and media outlets enquired about it. The memo suggested the city is getting a bad deal from the lease agreement. Port and city officials argue the memo made technical errors and used outdated information.

Under the parking lease, the city will receive a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates.

Supporters of the parking lease argue it’s needed to raise funds for development projects and modernize the city’s parking services.

Opponents say the lease gives up too much control over the city’s parking meters, lots and garages and will hurt businesses downtown by causing meter rates and operation hours to go up.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.17.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Parking, Fracking at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City debt outlook worsens, Port apologizes for email about parking memo, fracking tax fails

It may become more expensive for the city to issue debt after Moody’s downgraded the city’s bond rating. The credit rating agency pinned the blame on the city’s exposure to local and state retirement systems, as well as the city’s reliance since 2001 on one-time sources to balance the operating budget. Still, Moody’s does give the city some credit for its economically diverse population and recently stabilized earnings tax, despite docking the city for bad socioeconomic indicators, particularly resident income levels and historical unemployment rates.

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority’s CEO Laura Brunner is apologizing to the public and council members following the exposure of an email that implied she was trying to keep a critical parking memo away from public sight. Brunner says she was just trying to buy time so she could directly show the memo to the Port Authority’s board before it was reported by news outlets, but she acknowledges that her email was ill-conceived and came off as an attempt to stifle transparency. The memo suggests Cincinnati is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Port Authority and several private operators, but the Port Authority and city officials argue the memo is outdated and full of technical errors.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has a report detailing political contributions from oil and gas companies that may have helped bring down a state “fracking tax,” which was supposed to raise state revenue from Ohio’s ongoing oil and gas boom. Apparently, many of the Republican legislators who staunchly opposed the oil and gas severance tax also took in a lot of money from the same companies who would have to pay up. The tax proposal was effectively dead on arrival, even with the hyperbolic support of Republican Gov. John Kasich. Fracking is an extraction technique that pumps millions of gallons of water underground to free up oil and gas. CityBeat covered its effects on Ohio in further detail here.

Water utility leaders are meeting in Cincinnati this week to discuss sustainable business models. In Cincinnati, water usage has dropped while expenses to treat water and waste water have escalated, causing the Metropolitan Sewer District to take in less money. The conference will discuss models that can adjust around this trend while keeping rates low for customers.

The owners of The Hanke Exchange, a collection of buildings in Over-the-Rhine, say occupancy is going up as a result of the promise of the Cincinnati streetcar. The property is now at 84 percent occupancy rate, up from 28 percent three years ago.

Dayton and Cincinnati will hold rallies Saturday showing support for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black 17-year-old who was killed by George Zimmerman last year. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder by a jury last Saturday.

Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, was confirmed to direct the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the top agency that will regulate the financial institutions that played a role in causing the Great Recession.

The Hamilton County Young Democrats are hosting a free event today to meet Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner, who’s also running for secretary of state next year against Republican incumbent Jon Husted.

If the sun suddenly went out, humanity could take a few weeks to die out and perhaps live in Iceland.

 
 

 

 

 
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