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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 06.26.2013
Posted In: News, LGBT Issues, Courts at 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
pride_seelbach_jf

Local, State Leaders React to LGBT Rulings

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down federal ban on same-sex marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a ruling that effectively requires the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages for couples who reside in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

The DOMA ruling also sets a powerful historical precedent by extending equal protection rights to gay and lesbian individuals.

In another ruling, the Supreme Court vacated a case on California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in that state, and effectively sent the case back down to a lower court that deemed Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The ruling means California will likely begin giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but the ruling’s effects will not go beyond California’s borders.

For gay and lesbian Ohioans, the DOMA ruling adds yet another incentive to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. If FreedomOhio’s efforts to get the issue on the ballot in 2014 are successful, Ohio’s gay couples will have their marriages recognized at all levels of government. (The group previously aimed for 2013, but it now says it needs more time.)

So far, it remains unclear whether the ruling will extend to same-sex couples who get married in other states but live in Ohio. If so, Ohio gay couples could get married in Massachusetts, return to Ohio and be eligible for federal marriage benefits — but not state marriage benefits. Legal experts and federal officials will surely debate the issue in the coming months to develop a clearer answer.

Still, there’s been a lot of cheering and jubilation about the historical rulings, which are widely seen as victories for LGBT rights. Below are some of those reactions from local and state leaders, gathered through interviews and statements.

Also, make sure to check out CityBeat's Pride Issue for more coverage on LGBT issues.

Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay council member:

“It’s pretty amazing. Just as President Obama when he announced his support for marriage equality, this feels like just as much of a milestone, if not more because of the legal significance of the rulings. This is proof that the tides have turned and the laws are changing. We are realizing full equality for LGBT people across this entire country.”

“The fact that they used the equal protection clause means this case will be used across the country for every type of law that has an impact on LGBT people. The Supreme Court just set a new precedent for the rights of any government to discriminate against gays and lesbians. It’s far broader than just the repeal of DOMA, which in itself is an incredible feat. But the precedent that it’s setting for scrutiny on the basis of sexual orientation will have an effect on laws throughout this country for decades to come.”

Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio:

“We are elated that the Supreme Court has repealed DOMA and in effect rejected Proposition 8. These decisions are proof that the tide of acceptance for all couples is turning in this country, and we have taken two more important steps toward true equality.

“This important moment, however, does not change the reality that Ohio still has a constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage. Ohio voters can address the civil rights issue of our generation by voting for the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom amendment. We are elated and our resolve has been doubled to collect signatures. The journey continues. We will bring marriage equality to Ohio in November, 2014.”

Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party:

“I’m deeply thankful that the Defense of Marriage Act has finally been struck from our country’s books, and that millions across the nation and Ohio are one step closer to equal and fair treatment under the law. DOMA implemented discrimination into the highest law of the land, and it’s a great day that this ugly reminder of a different time is finally gone.

“Ohio Democrats are honored to stand with our LGBT brothers and sisters in the fight to earn marriage equality for all, and continue our march to overcome the prejudice of the past. But despite our victories across the nation, Ohio Republicans in the Statehouse and Governor’s office remain committed to keeping prejudice enshrined in law.”

John Boehner, U.S. Speaker of the House and Republican from West Chester, Ohio:

“Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis and President (Bill) Clinton signed it into law. The House intervened in this case because the constitutionality of a law should be judged by the Court, not by the president unilaterally. While I am obviously disappointed in the ruling, it is always critical that we protect our system of checks and balances. A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.”

German Lopez, gay staff writer at CityBeat:

“Cool.”

Danny Cross, CityBeat editor:

DOMA was a real horseshit piece of legislation, and we're happy those old bastards in the Supreme Court did the right thing.

Update (1:47 p.m.): Added more reactions.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.12.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Budget, Courts at 02:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Court Sides with City on Parking Plan

City plans to move forward as some council members suggest a repeal

In a 2-1 ruling today, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not subject to a referendum and may move forward.

But opponents are pushing for a stay on the ruling as they work on an appeal, which could put the case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.

For the city, the ruling means it can potentially move forward with leasing parking meters and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority for a one-time payment of $92 million and an estimated $3 million in annual increments. The city originally planned to use the funds for development projects, including a downtown grocery store and the uptown interchange, and to help balance the city’s budget for the next two years.

But critics, including those who led the referendum efforts, are calling on the city to hold off on the lease. They argue the plan, which raises parking meter rates and expands meters’ operation hours, will hurt downtown business.

In a statement, City Manager Milton Dohoney praised the ruling, but he clarified that the city will not be able to allocate parking plan funds until potential appeals of todays ruling are exhausted or called off.

“The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds. Once there is legal certainty, the Administration will look at the budget to determine if there are items that may need to be revisited and bring those before Members of City Council, as appropriate,” he said.

Jason Barron, spokesperson for Democratic Mayor Mark Mallory, says the city will now be able to re-evaluate current plans for the budget and other projects.

“Council will get a chance to look at the budget again and undo some of the stuff that they’ve done, but some of the cuts will definitely stay — that way we continue to move towards balance,” he says.

But first, the city must follow through with legal processes to get Judge Robert Winkler’s original order on the parking plan lifted, which will then allow the city and Port Authority to sign the lease.

Already, some council members are pushing back. Following the ruling, Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Laure Quinlivan announced that they plan to introduce a motion that would repeal the parking plan.

But Barron says City Council would need six out of nine votes to overrule Mallory and other supporters of the parking plan, which he says is unlikely.

At today’s City Council meeting, Quinlivan and Seelbach were unable to introduce the motion, which has five signatures, because the motion requires six votes for immediate consideration and to overrule the mayor, who opposes a repeal. The motion also needs to be turned into an ordinance to actually repeal the parking plan.

In a statement, Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized the ruling and city. He said the plan should be subject to referendum: “This decision affects an entire generation and shouldn’t be made by people who are trying to spend a bunch of money right before an election, while leaving the bill for our kids to pay.”

Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is also running for mayor, praised the ruling in a statement.

My goal is that proceeds from the parking proposal are used to put the city on a path to a structurally balanced budget by 2017,” she said.

Qualls said she will introduce a motion that calls on the city administration to draw up a plan that would use parking funds on long-term investments that support long-term fiscal sustainability,” including neighborhood development, other capital projects, the city’s reserves and the city’s pension fund.

The ruling also allows the city to once again use emergency clauses, which the city claims eliminate a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.

Judges Penelope Cunningham and Patrick DeWine cited legal precedent and the context of the City Charter to rule the city may use emergency clauses to expedite the implementation of laws, including the parking plan.

“Importantly, charter provisions, like statutes and constitutions, must be read as a whole and in context,” the majority opinion read. “We are not permitted — as the common pleas court did, and Judge Dinkelacker’s dissent does — to look at the first sentence and disassociate it from the context of the entire section.”

Judge Patrick Dinkelacker dissented, claiming the other judges are applying the wrong Ohio Supreme Court cases to the ruling.

“In my view, the charter language is ambiguous and, therefore, we must liberally construe it in favor of permitting the people of Cincinnati to exercise their power of referendum,” Dinkelacker wrote in his dissent.

The parking plan leases the city’s parking meters and garages to the Port Authority, which will use a team of private operators from around the country — AEW Capital, Xerox, Denison Parking and Guggenheim — for operations, technology upgrades and enforcement.

The city originally argued the parking plan was necessary to help balance the budget without laying off cops and firefighters and pursue major development projects downtown.

Since then, the city used higher-than-expected revenues and cuts elsewhere, particularly to parks and human services funding, to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget without laying off public safety personnel.

City Council is also expected to vote today on an alternative funding plan to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage on Fourth and Race streets downtown. The project was originally attached to the parking plan.

Dohoney asked City Council in a statement to pursue the alternative plan today.

We are asking Council to pass the development deal today so that the developers have the city’s commitment and can move ahead with their financing,” he said. If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long cry for a grocery store, we must move forward.

CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.

Updated at 1:39 p.m.: Added comments from the city manager’s statement.

Updated at 2:00 p.m.: Added comments from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls statement.

Updated at 3:23 p.m.: Added results of City Council meeting.

Updated at 10:35 a.m. on June 13: Added latest news about appeal.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.18.2013
Posted In: News, Courts, Streetcar at 09:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_fines

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio courts hurt poor, Qualls calls for streetcar hearing, House to vote on budget today

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) found Ohio's poor are regularly victimized by illegal practices in courts that jail the state's poor for failing to pay fines they can't afford. The problem particularly afflicts the state's rural counties, which sometimes openly admit to jailing people even when they can't afford to pay fines. The ACLU says courts need to be more transparent in communicating defendants' rights, provide retroactive credits to those wrongfully incarcerated based on circumstances of poverty and consistently hold hearings to assess defendants' financial viability and willfulness to pay fines.

The streetcar is being threatened by a $22.7 million budget gap, and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who is running for mayor and has long supported the streetcar, is calling a meeting to get all the details on how the project got here and whether it's still economically viable. Qualls says it's too soon to jump to conclusions about the project's fate, and she says she would like to see the options and details laid out by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. at the hearing. But Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, a longtime opponent of the streetcar, is already using the news to call for the project's demise. The streetcar is one of few issues dividing the Democratic candidates in the mayoral race, which the latest poll has Qualls leading by 14 points.

The Ohio House is expected to vote on a budget today that would defund Planned Parenthood, ban comprehensive sex education and fund crisis pregnancy centers that promote abstinence-only, anti-abortion education. This week, the budget has been regularly mocked by Democrats for potentially opening teachers to lawsuits if they explain condoms, other forms of birth control and other basic sex facts to students in a way that could lead to "gateway sexual activity."

The Ohio House budget bill also fails to expand Medicaid — a failing that Moody's is warning could put hospitals at risk for budgetary shortfalls. The report points out that hospitals were supposed to get more patients through a Medicaid expansion, which would be funded almost entirely by the federal government through Obamacare, to make up for a reduction of federal reimbursements for uncompensated care. The Medicaid expansion would have insured 456,000 Ohioans and saved the state money, according to a report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in greater detail here.

For student voters, the Ohio House budget bill would also make it more difficult to vote by forcing public universities to withhold essential documents that can be used as voter identification. The rule would make it so universities have to declare students in-state for tuition purposes when issuing them a letter or utility bill to vote, effectively costing universities extra revenue from out-of-state students if they choose to issue the documents. Democratic State Rep. Kathleen Clyde says the move will likely make it so universities never hand over the documents.

This week's CityBeat commentary: "Bad Budget Ideas Confound Public Discourse."

As the city wrestles with laying off cops and firefighters to balance the budget, Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig is considering a potential job offer in Detroit "very carefully." Craig interviewed for the top cop position in Detroit last week. "I'm humbled they would consider me a top candidate," Craig told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

A new poll found Republican Gov. John Kasich in "reasonably good shape" for re-election, beating potential challenger Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald 46-37.

Disbarred attorney Stan Chesley resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to by fellow board members.

Metro announced new direct, crosstown routes yesterday. The routes will make it easier to travel from the east to west side and vice versa.

The Business Courier has a look at the top 10 worst-paying Cincinnati jobs.

Five to 15 were killed and more than 150 were injured in a Texas fertilizer plant explosion yesterday.

Even though a majority of 54 voted in favor and only 46 voted against it, the background checks bill for gun buyers failed in the U.S. Senate yesterday, failing to overcome what was essentially a filibuster. Ohio's senators were split on the issue, with Sen. Rob Portman voting against the bill and Sen. Sherrod Brown voting in favor. Universal background checks are supported by more than 90 percent of Americans, according to a poll from The New York Times and CBS.

Scientists have found magnetic brain stimulation could remove cravings for cigarettes.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.10.2013
Posted In: Health, News, Budget, Courts at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Morning News and Stuff

House reworks Kasich budget, pro-choice group criticizes budget, city asks for stay on ruling

Ohio House Republicans released their own budget proposal yesterday that does away with many of Gov. John Kasich’s proposed policies. The budget gets rid of the Medicaid expansion, the oil and gas severance tax and the sales tax expansion. It also reduces the state income tax cut to 7 percent, down from 20 percent in Kasich’s plan. The amount of schools getting no increased funding under a new school funding formula decreased from 368 in Kasich’s plan to 175 in the House plan, addressing issues that selective wealthy schools were benefiting too much from Kasich’s proposed school funding formula. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal in detail here.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is criticizing the Ohio House’s proposed budget for defunding Planned Parenthood and redirecting federal funds to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). A study from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, which is highly supportive of abortion rights, found 47 percent of CPCs gave inaccurate medical information regarding a link between mental health problems and abortion, and 38 percent provided false information about the connection between breast cancer, infertility and abortion, among other findings.

The city of Cincinnati is asking Judge Robert Winkler to stay his previous ruling so the city can use emergency clauses to expedite legislation. City Solicitor John Curp says the city needs emergency clause powers in case of natural disasters and to advance economic development deals that need to be implemented before 30 days. The city previously used emergency clauses to avoid a 30-day waiting period for implementing laws, but Winkler ruled the clauses do not nullify the right to referendum, effectively eliminating the use of emergency clauses because the city now always has to wait 30 days in case of a referendum effort. The ruling was given after City Council used an emergency clause to expedite the lease of the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority to help balance deficits and fund economic development.

With the support of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, City Council is looking to study youth poverty, homelessness and other issues to better prioritize city policy. The $175,000 study, which will be mostly privately funded, will look at multiple factors affecting the city’s youth, including crime, poverty, homelessness and educational opportunities. Simpson says the study will be the first comprehensive look at the city’s youth.

Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown’s bill to end Too Big to Fail was leaked to the press Friday, and The Washington Post has an analysis on what it does here. While the bill doesn’t explicitly break up big banks, it does severely limit big banks in a way that may encourage them to downsize. Brown will co-sponsor the bill with Republican La. Sen. David Vitter, making it a bipartisan compromise. CityBeat covered Brown’s efforts in further detail here.

Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign is complaining someone bugged a meeting to listen in on staff’s plans for the 2014 election. Jesse Benton, campaign manager for McConnell, said in a statement, “Today’s developments ... go far beyond anything I’ve seen in American politics and are comparable only to Richard Nixon’s efforts to bug Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate 40 years ago.” During the meeting, McConnell’s staff alluded to labeling potential opponent Ashley Judd as “unbalanced” by bringing up past mental health problems. Meanwhile, recent polling found McConnell is no lock for re-election.

As the media ramps up fears of another Korean war, many analysts feel there is no chance of war. Meanwhile, South Koreans seem more bored than concerned with the North’s threats.

Scientists discovered evidence of “dark lightning,” which may emanate from thunderstorms alongside visible lightning.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.15.2013
Posted In: News, Courts, Parking at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Ruling to Determine Parking Plan's Future

City, parking plan opponents meet in court, judge unlikely to rule today

The city of Cincinnati and opponents of the parking plan met in court today to debate whether laws passed with emergency clauses are subject to referendum — a crucial legal issue as the city attempts to speed ahead with plans to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the deficit and foster economic development.

After hearing extensive legal arguments from both sides, Judge Robert Winkler, who presided over the hearings, said a decision is unlikely today.

Curt Hartman, who represented opponents of the parking plan, argued the city charter’s definition of emergency clauses is ambiguous, and legal precedent supports siding with voters’ right to referendum when there is ambiguity.

Terry Nestor, who represented the city, said legal precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law is not contradicted in the city charter.

Cincinnati’s city charter does not specify whether emergency legislation is subject to referendum, but state law explicitly says emergency laws are not subject to referendum.

Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, previously told CityBeat that if the parking plan is held up for too long in legal battles, the city will have to carry out spending cuts before July to balance the budget in time for the 2014 fiscal year.

Emergency clauses remove a 30-day waiting period on approved legislation, and the city claims they also remove the possibility of referendum.

City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6 before attaching an emergency clause to the law in a 6-3 vote. But the law was quickly put on hold by a temporary restraining order from Winkler after a lawsuit was filed in favor of subjecting the plan to referendum.

Opponents of the parking plan say they’re concerned the plan will cede too much control over the city’s parking meters, which they say could lead to skyrocketing parking rates. 

The city says rates are set at 3 percent or inflation, but the rate can change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The special committee would comprise of four people appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager.

The city is pursuing the parking plan to help balance the city’s deficit for the next two fiscal years and enable economic development projects (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).

 
 
by German Lopez 02.12.2013
Posted In: Anna Louise Inn, Courts, Development, News at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
anna louise inn

Anna Louise Inn, Western & Southern Returning to Court

Hearings set with Judge Norbert Nadel for April

The Anna Louise Inn and Western & Southern will meet again in court in April to begin the next chapter of the ongoing zoning dispute between the longtime neighbors. 

In a Feb. 8 ruling, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the Inn, filed an incomplete permit application. The ruling asks CUB to resubmit the funding requests to the city of Cincinnati — except this time CUB will have to include details about previously omitted parts of the Anna Louise Inn and the Off the Streets program. 

But Tim Burke, attorney for CUB, says CUB already carried out the court’s requirements. After Judge Norbert Nadel ruled May 4 that the Inn didn’t properly fill out its original application, CUB started a second chain of applications to obtain a conditional use permit to meet Nadel’s zoning specifications. The new applications have been approved by Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board and the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals, but Western & Southern is appealing those rulings as well.

Last week’s appeals court ruling sent the case back down to the lower court on a legal technicality. With the ruling, all the Anna Louise Inn cases, including the separate chain of zoning appeals, are essentially consolidated to Nadel. 

The dispute began in 2010, when Western & Southern sued the Anna Louise Inn over zoning issues to block $13 million in city- and state-distributed federal loans to renovate the building. Western & Southern declined an opportunity to purchase the building in 2009, but now seems interested in turning it into a luxury hotel. 

The Anna Louise Inn is a 103-year-old building that provides shelter to low-income women. Its Off the Streets program helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around.

For more information about this ongoing dispute, visit CityBeat's collection of coverage here.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.08.2013
Posted In: Anna Louise Inn, News, Courts at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Anna Louise Inn

Anna Louise Inn Could Be Back at Square One

Appeals court says incomplete application must be refiled with lower court

The latest appeals court ruling did not give the Anna Louise Inn much peace of mind in its ongoing feud with Western & Southern. On Friday, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals affirmed most of a lower court’s ruling against the Anna Louise Inn, but it sent the case back down to the lower court on a legal technicality.

The ruling means the case could restart, potentially setting Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the inn, and Western & Southern on another path of court hearings and appeals that will take up taxpayer money and the courts time — all because Western & Southern is bitter it didn’t purchase the Anna Louise Inn when given the opportunity.

By agreeing with the lower court that Cincinnati Union Bethel filed an incomplete application, the appeals court is now asking the owners of the Anna Louise Inn to resubmit their funding requests to the city of Cincinnati — except this time Cincinnati Union Bethel will have to include details about previously omitted parts of the Anna Louise Inn and the Off the Streets program.

But Tim Burke, Cincinnati Union Bethel’s attorney, is hopeful the process will not have to restart. He says Cincinnati Union Bethel already carried out the appeals court’s requirements. After Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel handed down his May 4 ruling against the Anna Louise Inn, Cincinnati Union Bethel started a second chain of zoning and permit applications to obtain a conditional use permit that met Nadel’s specifications. So far, the applications have been approved by Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board and the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals, but Western & Southern is appealing those rulings as well.

Burke and Cincinnati Union Bethel hope to meet with Nadel Monday to make their case. If they’re successful, they’ll stave off another series of court hearings and appeals.

Burke says the case has been a uniquely negative experience — previously calling it one of the most frustrating of his career. He says Western & Southern’s actions are pure obstructionism: “They benefit from delays, and that’s all they’re trying to do.”

Cincinnati Union Bethel wants to use city funds to help finance $13 million in renovations for the Anna Louise Inn, which are necessary to keep the building open and functional.

The Anna Louise Inn is a 103-year-old building that provides shelter to low-income women. Its Off the Streets program helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around.

Western & Southern previously supported the Anna Louise Inn and the Off the Streets program with direct donations, but the friendly relations abruptly ended when Cincinnati Union Bethel refused to sell the building to Western & Southern, instead opting to renovate the Inn. At that point, Western & Southern began a series of legal challenges meant to obstruct Cincinnati Union Bethel’s renovation plans.

The zoning debate centers around whether the Anna Louise Inn qualifies as a “special assistance shelter” or “transitional housing.” The Anna Louise Inn originally claimed to be transitional housing, but Nadel ruled the building is a special assistance shelter. After that ruling, Cincinnati Union Bethel obtained a conditional use permit for the new classification, but Western & Southern is now disputing the approval of that permit.

For more information about this ongoing dispute, visit CityBeat's collection of coverage here.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.24.2013
Posted In: Budget, Courts, News at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

City Negotiating Settlement Over Pension-Funding Lawsuit

April deadline to settle with AFSCME over accusations of underfunding

The city of Cincinnati and a union representing city workers are currently negotiating an out-of-court settlement for a lawsuit involving the city's pension program.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) claimed in a 2011 lawsuit that the city government isn’t meeting funding requirements. A Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas motion filed Jan. 4 and accepted Jan. 23 gives the city and AFSCME until April to settle the case out of court.

By law, Cincinnati is required to heed to the Cincinnati Retirement System (CRS) Board of Trustees when setting the percent of payroll the city must contribute to retirees. But the AFSCME lawsuit argues the city hasn’t been making contributions dictated by the board.

The lawsuit, which dates back to June 2011, cites minutes from a CRS Board of Trustees meeting on July 20, 2010 to show the board accepted a report from Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting, LLC. The report asked the city to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to retiree benefits — 12.32 percent to retiree health benefits and 33.9 percent to other CRS benefits — during the 2011 fiscal year.

Instead, the city biennial budget for 2011 and 2012 established a contribution rate of 17 percent — way below the recommended sum.

The AFSCME lawsuit alleges the low contributions reflect a “longstanding pattern” from city government. It points to a 2002 report from the CRS Board of Trustees that found the city was not meeting requirements set by the board then, either.

The lawsuit asks for a court mandate requiring city government to find out how much it needs to contribute, establish a mechanism for collecting the amounts required and appropriate and contribute the required amounts.

City Solicitor John Curp says the debate is between long-term and short-term interests. On AFSCME’s side, the union wants to get as much from payroll contributions as possible for represented retirees, even if it means a short-term economic and budget shock for the city. On the city’s side, City Council is more interested in meeting long-term requirements for the pension fund, instead of keeping up with shifting annual numbers that could negatively impact the city economy and budget.

City government’s approach attempts to balance short-term and long-term needs with a long-term goal. It means the city pension is underfunded during some years, particularly when the economy is in a bad state. But it keeps rates steady, letting the city avoid sudden funding changes that would require spending cuts or tax hikes to keep the budget balanced.

By adopting a large short-term contribution rate, the city would likely hurt its budget in ways that would negatively affect city employees represented by AFSCME. If the city was forced to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to CRS — up from 17 percent — it would probably be forced to cut spending elsewhere, which would lead to layoffs.

This story was updated on Jan. 25 at 12:40 p.m. to reflect comments from City Solicitor John Curp.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.27.2012
Posted In: Homelessness, News, Economy, Business, Courts, Prisons at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
scioto jcf

Morning News and Stuff

Youthful prisons get mixed report, Leis to stay on public payroll, shelter move approved

Despite problems with staff and records, a report is calling changes to Ohio’s youth prisons system a model for the nation. The report from a court-appointed monitor praised the Ohio Department of Youth Services for reducing the number of offenders in secure confinement and spreading services for youthful offenders around the state. However, the report also points out staff shortages, inadequate teachers and inconsistent medical records. Advocates for youthful offenders claim the bad findings show a need for continued court supervision.

There’s a new sheriff in town, and the old one is becoming a visiting judge. Simon Leis, who served as sheriff for 25 years, is best known for going after an allegedly obscene Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and prosecuting pornographer Larry Flynt. As visiting judge, he will take on cases other judges are assigned but can’t get to due to full dockets.

An appeals court is allowing City Gospel Mission to move to Queensgate. The special assistance shelter wants to move from its current Over-the-Rhine property to Dalton Avenue, but businesses and property owners at Queensgate oppose the relocation. In its opinion, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals said opponents to the relocation “have not raised any genuine issues of material fact in support of their constitutional attack upon the notwithstanding ordinance in their capacity as neighboring businesses and property owners.”

Butler County nonprofit services are worried that a greater need for their services in 2013 will force more budget tightening.

U.S. retailers did not have a good Christmas. Holiday sales were at the lowest they’ve been since 2008. The disappointing sales have forced retailers to offer big discounts in hopes of selling excess inventory.

Former president George H.W. Bush is in intensive care “following a series of setbacks including a persistent fever,” according to his spokesperson.

The Food and Drug Administration says FrankenFish, a giant, genetically modified salmon, is environmentally safe.

Fun fact: More Iranians worry about global warming than Americans. 

Colleges are now helping students scrub their online footprints.

Antifreeze now tastes bitter to deter animals and children from eating it.

Scientists have developed a highly advanced robot boy capable of doing chores. Keep its face in mind, for you could be looking at the first of our future robot overlords.

 
 

 

 

 
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