Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.
Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.
“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.
Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.
The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.
Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.
“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”
Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities.
Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.
If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.
The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes.
The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.
Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Monday asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to shut down a facial recognition program used by law enforcement until state officials verify and develop safety protocols that protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy.
DeWine formally announced the program’s existence in a press conference Monday. It allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.
The program has been live for more than two months and so far used for 2,677 searches. In that time span, the program was kept hidden from the public and hasn’t been checked by outside groups for proper safety protocols.
The attorney general’s office is just now putting together an independent panel of judges, public defenders, chiefs of police, sheriffs and other public safety officials to look at the program and gauge whether currently standing protections are adequate.
“The time for press conferences and advisory boards was months ago,” said Gary Daniels, associate director of ACLU of Ohio, in a statement. “This system needs to be shut down until there are meaningful, documented rules in place to keep this information secure, protect the privacy of innocent people and prevent government abuse of this new tool.”
Shortly after unveiling the program at a press conference, DeWine acknowledged it should have been revealed to the public earlier: “In hindsight, if I had to over again, we would have put out a release the day that it went up or before that.”
Still, DeWine defended the program’s ability to connect law enforcement with criminal suspects.
“Historically for, I don’t know, decades, law enforcement has had the ability to pull up the (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) information,” DeWine said, before noting that similar facial recognition programs have been adapted by federal officials and 28 other states.
DeWine also explained that he thinks the current protections for the program are good enough, but he said it’s prudent to have an independent group verify the standards.
Misusing the program qualifies as a fifth-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of six months to one year.
David Pepper, who’s running for attorney general in 2014
against DeWine, criticized the current attorney general for how the program has been handled.
“It is highly irresponsible for the Attorney General of Ohio to launch something this expansive and this intrusive into the lives of law-abiding citizens without ensuring the proper protocols were already in place to protect our privacy,” Pepper said in a statement. “To have kept this a secret for this long only makes it worse.”
DeWine said the independent group will be given 60 days to come up with recommendations. His office intends to announce who will serve on the group in the next few days.
Duke Energy announced Thursday night that it will help fund a campaign to raise private and government money to replace the outdated Brent Spence Bridge. It will cost about $2.3 billion to replace the span, which carries traffic from I-75 and I-71 over the Ohio River.
Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig said an audit to determine methods for improving the Police Department’s efficiency is continuing. Among the latest recommendations, the department will no longer seek accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and that response of a recent shift to 10-hour workdays has been positive.
Three development groups have submitted proposals to Covington officials, each vying to be selected to reshape that city’s riverfront area. One of the proposals, drafted by Corporex Realty & Investment and Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment, involves refurbishing the Waterfront Restaurant and creating a floating boardwalk, marina and wharf.
A Cincinnati police officer assigned to the Drug Abuse and Resistance Education (DARE) program was suspended without pay this week after she was charged with tampering with records, securing writings by deception and forgery. Sandra Johnson, 38, allegedly said she taught DARE classes and got paid for them when she didn’t. DARE is among the programs being ended by Chief Craig; he has called it ineffective.
In news elsewhere, German President Christian Wulff resigned from his position today as head of state amid mounting criticism over a home loan scandal. Wulff has been plagued by allegations since mid-December over his connections to wealthy businessmen, initially over an advantageous home loan from a friend's wife. He then faced claims he tried to hush up the story, as well as reports of free vacations accepted from friends.
The Obama administration’s newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to begin monitoring and regulating debt collectors and credit bureaus for the first time. Richard Cordray, the agency’s director, said he wants to ensure people aren’t subjected to abusive practices.
An influential group of scientists issued a report this week pressing U.S. officials to tighten regulations of so-called “fracking” operations to reduce environmental and health risks. The independent review of fracking by professors at the University of Texas in Austin said that the development of shale gas was "essential to the energy security of the U.S. and the world,” but added the process needs more oversight.
The recent brouhaha over a new federal rule that requires insurance coverage of birth control for women reveals that the Roman Catholic Church has lost its influence in U.S. politics, some observers said. An AlterNet article noted that even though the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops remains opposed to a compromise rule pushed by President Obama, many other Catholic groups — including the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and the Catholic Health Association — are ignoring the conference and accepting it.
Police in Fort Worth, Texas, have arrested 16 students in a major drug bust at Texas Christian University, a conservative evangelical institution. The drugs involved included marijuana, ecstasy pills, a powdered form of ecstasy commonly called “molly” and prescription drugs such as Xanax, hydrocodone and Oxycontin. Four football players were among those arrested.
City Manager Milton Dohoney announced on Sept. 13 that Jeffrey Blackwell, the current deputy chief of the Columbus Division of Police, is being appointed to Cincinnati’s top police job.
The appointment ends a months-long process as the city searched for a replacement for former Police Chief James Craig, who left in June to take the top police job in his hometown, Detroit.
Blackwell was picked over three other finalists: Paul Humphries, who’s been acting Cincinnati Police chief since Craig left; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.
In a statement, the city touted Blackwell’s accomplishments in Columbus: Blackwell is a 26-year veteran of the police force, he was commended for his outreach to young people, he helped reach out to significant immigrant populations such as Somalians and Latinos, he advanced the use of technology and he worked with the city and communities to reduce crime and costs.
“Jeff understands that we have to work with the various communities we serve to build a culture of understanding and respect. In particular, I have spoken to him about our need to work in partnership with other organizations to reach teen youth and young adults to move the needle on reducing crime in this community,” Dohoney said in a statement.
With the decision, Blackwell will be put in charge of implementing new policies and leading the Cincinnati Police Department.
The appointment was made without much public input, even though some City Council members previously called on Dohoney to open up the process. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Sept. 9 sent a letter to the city manager asking him to hold town halls in which the public could ask questions and evaluate the police chief candidates.
The city manager is ultimately in charge of who gets appointed to the city’s top police job.
Residents will get a chance to ask Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig some questions at a public meeting this week.
Craig, who was sworn in as the city’s 13th police chief in August, will be the featured speaker at the annual meeting of Citizens for Civic Renewal (CCR). The session will be held from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Kingsgate Marriott Conference Center in Corryville, near the University of Cincinnati.
In news you've likely already heard from your favorite website, social network, radio station, print publication, TV or the guy in your neighborhood who likes to talk about current events, President Barack Obama yesterday announced his support for same-sex marriage, becoming the first-ever sitting president to do so. The news has spawned analysis from across the land, ranging from “risky but inevitable” to “matters less than you think.” The Enquirer says the decision is going to “echo in Ohio” (whatever that means).
One thing we know for sure: Hollywood celebs are preparing to pack George Clooney's house tonight and fill up Obama's briefcase with money.
The “No. 2 official at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office” says the jail being next to the casino will be bad for business, according to an Enquirer story detailing worries over jail overcrowding leading to accused criminals to go into the casino to “get warm, panhandle customers or just give visitors a bad impression of Cincinnati.”
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune yesterday cancelled a new truck order for Paul Brown Stadium, instead giving the vehicles to Parking Operations. Parking Operations was supposed to get the stadium's used trucks after the stadium received new ones, but Portune said the stadium doesn't need brand new stuff all the time.
Up north, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman says his city wants an NBA basketball team now that the public has purchased the arena the Columbus Blue Jackets play in.
Poll watch: Portman on GOP ticket doesn't change Ohio race
New claims for unemployment benefits dropped again last week, nearing a four-year low.
Facebook will soon launch an App Center, because it's so annoying to have to leave Facebook to get cool new apps.
Famous hairdresser Vidal Sassoon died
yesterday after a bout with leukemia. He apparently played a large
role in creating “wash and go” hairstyling and later
revolutionizing the hair-care industry. Here's a Philadelphia
Inquirer obit. And five ways Vidal Sassoon changed people's hair. Sassoon, according to the book Insider's Guide to Cincinnati, had a home in Mount Adams (his wife was a Greater Cincinnati native).
O’l girl Leslie Ghiz is back on local government’s payroll after being hired by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, which will allow her to run in a judicial race as a badass crime-fighting prosecutor (The Enquirer’s words, not mine). Deters, of course, is the former chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party and Ghiz is the former City Council woman who was voted out last fall and then decided to move out of Cincinnati.
Tim Burke, head of the Hamilton County Democratic Party called the move “political as hell,” while Ghiz had Deters’ spokeswoman explain how Deters’ office is still allowed to hire one more lawyer if it wants to.
Ghiz will earn a $55,000 salary, down from $60,000 she made in the part-time position of City Councilperson.
Gov. Kasich is apparently really proud of the new energy goals he outlined yesterday, as evidenced by the 15 press releases he's sent to the media since then. Kasich: We have other stuff to write about other than your thoughts on how cool it is that someone called Ohio “the Saudi Arabia of coal.”
Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig would like to skip the police certification process even though he wouldn’t be able to arrest people if he does.
Riverbend has gone the way of 1970’s Riverfront Stadium, installing artificial turf on its concert lawn.
Milford 15-year-old Eben Franckewitz was voted off American Idol island last night, not quite reaching the round of 13. Good try, Eben!
Oh snap! Obama on Iran: “I don’t bluff.”
Unfortunately, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are coming to Ohio, and they’re reportedly “neck-and-neck.”
A mentally disabled South Carolina man who has been on death row for 30 years could soon be out of prison for a bond hearing. Edward Lee Elmore’s sentence has already been overturned three times and reduced from the death sentence to life in prison. From The Washington Post:
As other death row inmates were exonerated because of new DNA testing technology, Elmore’s attorneys asked a judge in 2000 to overturn his convictions because a blond hair found on Edwards after her death did not match her or Elmore.
Elmore’s lawyers thought the blond hair may have belonged to Edwards’ next-door neighbor and they asked a judge to exhume the man’s body to test his DNA, but a judge denied the request.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Elmore began to see his fate turn around. A South Carolina judge ruled he was mentally unfit and could not be executed, per a 2002 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
State prosecutors didn’t oppose a judge’s decision to sentence him to life in prison, and Elmore was, after 28 years, moved from the state’s death row to another maximum-security prison.
Weather services (and people know what the sky is supposed to look like) are concerned about tornadoes in the Midwest today. Most worrisome are extreme southern Indiana, central Kentucky and north-central Tennessee, with storms expected across the Gulf Coast states afterward.
Google offers some answers to questions about its weird privacy changes.
Oh, and it’s Bockfest Weekend. Grab your digital camera and the biggest mug you can find.
City Council took a contentious vote on Thursday to give the city manager a pay raise and a bonus.
Those in favor of the 10 percent raise and $35,000 bonus for Milton Dohoney say he is underpaid, has done a great job for the city and has gone five years without a merit raise. Those opposed say it’s bad timing and sends the wrong message when many city workers have also gone years without a pay increase.
Dohoney was hired in August 2006. He hasn’t received a merit raise since 2007, but has collected bonuses and cost of living adjustments over the years. He currently makes about $232,000 and the raise would bump that up to $255,000. Dohoney made $185,000 when he started the job.
Council approved the raise on a 6-2 vote, with councilmen Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach voting against it.
Before the vote, Mayor Mark Mallory lauded the manager, saying he set high expectations and didn’t expect Dohoney to meet them, but the manager exceeded all of them.
“To do anything other than that (approve the raise) is a backhanded slap in the face and actually a statement that we want the manager gone,” Mallory said. “We are going to give him a raise. And from where I sit we’re not giving him a big enough raise.”
The raise came from a performance review conducted by Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and sole council Republican Charlie Winburn.
Winburn said the city manager’s financial management system is impeccable, Dohoney has pushed economic development, he has expanded the tax base and made sacrifices by not receiving a raise for the previous five years.
Other members of council pointed out that Dohoney isn’t the only city employee who has gone a while without a raise.
“For me, look, 4 years ago I turned down a job at Google where I’d be making a hell of a lot more money,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told 700WLW radio host Scott Sloan. “This is public service. This is already the city’s highest-paid employee.”
Sittenfeld missed the council meeting Thursday afternoon because he was out of town on a personal matter, according to an aide.
Sittenfeld and others have raised questions over whether it is wise to give Dohoney a raise and bonus when the city faces an estimated $34 million budget deficit. Councilman Wendell Young said the raise would not hurt the budget.
Opponents also argued that it would look bad to give the manager a raise when other city employees are dealing with wage freezes. Police, for instance, agreed during contact negotiations this year to a two-year wage freeze. Though they received a raise in 2009.
Smitherman said city employee unions may keep that in mind during upcoming negotiations.
"Unions are going to remember this council extended a $35,000 bonus to the city manager.”