A City Council committee wants Cincinnati’s leadership to investigate whether workers in a Clifton Heights development project are being paid what they’re supposed to.
The Strategic Growth Committee on Wednesday passed a motion asking the city administration to report back on wage payments to workers on the U Square development. The project includes a parking garage as well as residential and commercial units.
Under Ohio law, workers on projects funded by cities must be paid a prevailing wage, which is equivalent to the wage earned by a union worker on a similar project.
The city only has money invested in the garage, and the state of Ohio recently ruled that workers on other parts don’t have to be paid prevailing wage.
Council members Wendell Young, Cecil Thomas and Laure Quinlivan produced a video in which they interviewed carpenters who said they were being paid less than the prevailing wage.
At issue is a letter from developer Towne Properties that says the company will pay all workers prevailing wage anyway. Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said his company cuts a check to subcontractors respecting that agreement, so if workers aren’t being paid the proper amount it’s their fault.
City Solicitor John Curp told members of the Strategic Growth Committee that under city and state law, the subcontractors are not required to pay workers a prevailing wage on parts of the project that are not getting public funding. He said the letter from the developer does not hold the weight as a legal contract.
Young, Thomas, Quinlivan and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld all expressed the need to overhaul the way the city enters into development contracts to better protect workers.
However, City Manager Milton Dohoney hinted that overzealous requirements for high wages could chase off some development projects.
He said that a project like U Square is tied to the Clifton location because of its proximity to the University of Cincinnati, but the city can’t be too restrictive when it comes to businesses that could expand elsewhere.
Dohoney said the city also doesn’t currently have the manpower to do the kind of aggressive enforcement that the council members were asking for.
Councilman Young countered that he would like to see the city be as aggressive with enforcement as they are with making economic development deals.
“We want to change the rules of the game to make sure everyone is treated equal,” Young said.
People are feeling better about downtown and Over-the-Rhine, according to a new survey. Out of respondents who said they visited downtown, about 83 percent said their opinion of Over-the-Rhine was more favorable now than it was in the last year. Bars and parks topped activities, while dining and events on Fountain Square topped attractions.
The E.W. Scripps Company posted its best TV revenues ever thanks to the presidential election. The company’s consolidated revenues rose 31 percent to $220 million. The company recently netted a $750,000 tax break from Cincinnati City Council to hire for 125 new local jobs and retain 184 current employees.
The University of Cincinnati’s Women's Health Center will open a branch in West Chester in spring 2013. The new offices will have 47 exam rooms, large and small conference rooms, a retail store and a café.
Ohio Republicans are renewing their anti-abortion agenda. Much to the dismay of pro-choice groups, Gov. John Kasich appointed two people from Ohio Right to Life to important positions, and the Ohio Senate is now looking into a new version of the heartbeat bill. Starting with a hearing Wednesday, Ohio Republicans will also move to defund Planned Parenthood.
In his post-election presser, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted suggested basing Ohio’s electoral vote on congressional districts. Due to how Republicans redrew district boundaries, that would have given Mitt Romney most of Ohio’s electoral votes even though Romney lost the popular vote. Districts were redrawn by the Republican-controlled process to give Republicans an advantage in congressional races. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn to include Republican-leaning Warren County, which shifted the district in favor of Republicans and diluted Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urbanites. The proposal seems like another attempt at voter suppression from a secretary of state that has been heavily criticized for how he and his party handled the run-up to the election.
Redistricting also helped Ohio Republicans take Congress.
Last-minute negotiations may push Ohio’s puppy mills bill to the finish line. The state currently has a reputation as one of the worst for abusive puppy mills, and the bill would try to place some additional regulations on the mills. CityBeat previously covered the puppy mill and dog auction problem in Ohio.
A new study found Ohio may be one of the worst states to retire in.
The state did poorly in terms of property crime and life expectancy of
seniors, but it was found to have good economic conditions, a
relatively low tax burden and lower-than-average cost of living.
Ohioans’ food stamp benefits will drop by $50 a month next year. The change is coming due to a shift in how the federal government calculates utility expenditures for food stamp recipients.
Ohio’s Third Grade Guarantee, which requires holding back third-graders who do not meet state reading standards, now has some research supporting it. A new study found girls who struggle to read early on are more likely to become teen mothers. However, other research shows holding kids back hurts more than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of School Psychologists found grade retention has “deleterious long-term effects,” both academically and socially.
In response to President Barack Obama’s re-election, the infamous boss of Ohio-based Murray Energy fired more than 150 workers around the country. One of those workers decided to leak a letter from the boss. The letter blames the firings on Obama’s supposed “war on coal,” but it’s likely the coal industry would be facing trouble even if Obama wasn’t in office.
Climate change just got a lot worse. It might make some coffee beans go extinct.
Two gay penguins became dads at the Odense Zoo in Denmark.
Ever wanted a microscopic glimpse at a Pop Tart? Well, you're getting it anyway.
UPDATE 11-8-12: An aide to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls tells CityBeat that the $7 million loan will only go toward moving two of the shelters: the Drop Inn Center and a new women's shelter to be operated by the YWCA. Because the City Gospel Mission requires a religious component to is outreach to the homeless, it cannot receive federal funding. The original story follows below.
City Council on Wednesday signed off on a plan to apply for federal loans to help move three Cincinnati homeless shelters to new locations.
Council members voted with all but one approving the application for $37 million in loans, $7 million of which would move the Washington Park-area shelters.
If the loan is approved, the City Gospel Mission would move to the West End, a new women’s shelter would be build in Mount Auburn and the Drop Inn Center would move to a yet-undetermined location.
Cincinnati had pledged $10 million toward relocating the shelters. The loan would be paid back at $532,000 a year for the next 20 years.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole dissenting voice. He said he supports the homeless, but he is wary of the risks of the loan and the city’s ability to pay it back.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, who said he moved to Over-the-Rhine shortly after the 2001 riots, voted to approve applying for the loan, but also voiced some concern.
“The reason I moved is because I loved it; I fell in love with the diversity of the neighborhood,” he said, noting income diversity as well as racial and ethnic.
“I would hope that we could find a location for the Drop that is in Over-the-Rhine and there isn’t a continued effort to push low income people out of Over-the-Rhine.”
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said the shelters the city has now are perfectly adequate and the money could be spent better developing affordable housing and creating jobs to help eliminate homelessness.
“Historically a majority of shelters started between 1982 and 1990 because in that era we cut dollars to housing and employment,” Spring said.
“Shelters were never created to end homelessness. Shelters were created for people to have a safe place once everything else had failed them. We shouldn’t let everything else fail them.”
The 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals released its decision this morning, just a few hours after one of the three judges who ruled against the retirees was reelected. Judge Pat Fischer, a Republican, was on the ballot Tuesday — and now there is no way to know whether the ruling could have had any adverse impact on his reelection bid.
The retirees, a group that included former City Clerk Sandy Sherman, contended their benefits could be increased, but that they were not subject to reduction. The appeals court scuttled the argument:
“At issue in this case is an ordinance enacted by the city council in 2009. The ordinance amended sections of the code pertaining to the retirement system. … After the 2009 ordinance, the plaintiff-appellants would have a deductible to $200 and out-of-pocket caps for healthcare and prescriptions of $2,000. The ordinance provided that the revisions to the retirement system would become effective on January 1, 2010.”
The appeals court said hospital and medical benefits were in addition to retirement pension payments and were not subject to vesting, which meant they could be changed by ordinance.
“The distinction between the retirement allowances and the healthcare benefits has been maintained throughout the existence of the retirement system. The distinction is significant,” the appeals court ruled.
The case could still be taken to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The following table shows the fund's assets, and the funding ratio, through 2010:
Some members of city council agreed that the city needs to take a hard look at the way it inspects projects done with taxpayer money, but they took no action during a special joint committee meeting Thursday to discuss allegations that workers were being underpaid at the University Square development in Clifton.
Council members Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young presented a video investigation they conducted, which included interviews with workers on the project who claim they were being taken advantage of by the University Square developers.
Under Ohio and Cincinnati law, workers on projects funded by taxpayers must be paid a so-called “prevailing wage” (the same as a unionized worker) and be given benefits.
In Cincinnati, that wage is $23.17 an hour for the carpentry work done by the workers interviewed for the video.
The workers in the video claimed they were paid $500 for working a 60-hour week.
“Five-hundred dollars a week to me when you don’t have a job, that’s a lot,” said Garrick Foxx, a construction worker on the project.
“But actually when you average it out, it’s not. Like to the hour-wise it’s probably like 9-something, so like I could actually make that working at McDonalds.”
The University Square developer — a collaboration between Towne Properties and Al. Neyer, Inc. — is building a complex with a parking garage, residential units and retail space.
The City of Cincinnati has $21 million invested in the parking garage. The State of Ohio recently ruled that the prevailing wage provisions apply only workers constructing the garage that the city has money invested in.
Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said the controversy was ginned up by unions and it hasn’t been proven that workers are being underpaid.
“All of this was started by the unions themselves because they became very unhappy when the State of Ohio said a sizeable portion of our project was not subject to prevailing wage,” Bortz said. “They tried then to discredit and intimidate anyone who is on the other side of the table.”
Bortz said he agreed to pay a prevailing wage even to workers who worked on parts of the project not subject to the law. He said he cuts a check to the subcontractors based on that agreement.
“Whether any of those subcontractors might have been unfair to the workers, we do not know,” Bortz said. “If they were, they should be made to be fair.”
Deputy City Solicitor Aaron Herzig said if the contract required a particular wage be paid and it wasn’t, the city can bring a breach of contract action against the developers. But to start an investigation, a complaint must first be made.
The council members asked that their investigation be considered a formal complaint.
In-person early voting is underway in Ohio. Find your nearest polling booth here.
A City Council committee approved $13.5 million that will be going to Over-the-Rhine development. Of that money, $6 million will go to the second phase of the Mercer Commons project, which is being developed by Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). The rest will help 3CDC redevelop 18 different buildings that are mostly around Washington Park. City Council will vote on the funding today.
Cincinnati’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent, but the drop was mostly attributed to people leaving the labor force. Between September 2011 and September 2012, Cincinnati’s labor force has actually shrunk. Still, more people were employed in September 2012 than were employed in September 2011.
The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority is asking Cincinnati for $8.5 million to secure a Jordan Crossing shopping center project at Bond Hill. The funds would pay for the demolition, site preparation, marketing and redevelopment of the project.
In the second wave of interim results from an ongoing investigation into Ohio schools’ attendance data reporting, State Auditor Dave Yost found no evidence of attendance scrubbing in schools with levies on the 2012 ballot. The investigation included Cincinnati Public Schools, which means CPS was found to be clean. In a statement, Yost said, “I’m surprised and pleased. To have zero incidents of ‘scrubbing’ is encouraging news.” The full findings for both interim reports can be found here.Clifton is set to get a neighborhood grocery store soon. The neighborhood has been without one since January 2011. City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee helped spur the new project with a tax abatement program.
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners held a budget hearing yesterday, but not much new information came out. Board President Greg Hartmann insists public safety is a priority, but he says the sheriff’s office will have to deal with some across-the-board cuts. The cuts won’t include closing the jail, decreasing courtroom security or eliminating contracts with townships for patrols. The board has two more public meetings on Oct. 29 and 30.
The controversial billboards accused of attempting to suppress voters are being taken down by Norton Outdoor Advertising, the Cincinnati company that hosted the billboards. Meanwhile, P.G. Sittenfeld and Lamar Advertising Company, a different billboard company, are putting up 10 billboards that read, “Hey Cincinnati, voting is a right not a crime!” The new billboards are supposed to encourage voting.
The University of Cincinnati has a new president: Santa Ono. The official promotion was unanimously approved by the UC Board of Trustees. Ono has been serving as interim president since Aug. 21, when former President Greg Williams suddenly resigned due to “personal reasons.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer is being accused of age discrimination in a recently amended lawsuit. In the lawsuit, eight former employees claim they were fired and replaced with younger, less qualified employees.
A new rumor is going around that says it’s possible to tamper with voting results, but fact checkers and election officials are saying it’s not possible. The rumors started due to the Romneys’ investments in an electronic voting company.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Here is a list of some of the department’s accomplishments: The amount of rivers meeting aquatic life standards went from 21 to 89 percent between the 1980s and today, carbon monoxide in the air is down 80 percent since the 1970s, sulfur dioxide is down 71 percent, lead is down 95 percent and 99 percent of community public water systems now meet health standards, up from 85 percent in 1993.
Miami University says it will discipline two students responsible for putting up an offensive flyer about getting away with rape in a coed dorm bathroom.
Metro revealed its plans for an Uptown Transit District. The district, which will cost Metro $6.9 million, is meant to better suit the needs and growth of Uptown.
Two Democratic state lawmakers are planning legislation to slow down the privatization of the Ohio Turnpike. Gov. John Kasich’s administration is currently paying $3.4 million to KPMG, a private consulting and accounting firm, to study whether leasing the turnpike to the highest private bidder would benefit the state. Kasich says he could use the money saved for transportation projects all around the state. But northern Ohio residents do not seem happy with giving up a valuable asset they helped invest in, especially if the revenue from the Ohio Turnpike goes to regions outside of northern Ohio.
There's more evidence sushi sucks. Popular Science has an article and graph showing how raw food kept primates stupid.
A Democratic operative who once served as former Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley’s campaign manager already is staking out cyber turf in advance of Cranley’s rumored run for mayor of Cincinnati. Two Internet domains have been registered for CranleyForMayor on GoDaddy.com. The domains were created three months ago. As yet, no active websites are operating on CranleyForMayor.org or CranleyForMayor.info.
Both sites are held in the name of Jay Kincaid, a longtime Democratic operative in Cincinnati. This year, Kincaid has been working on the campaigns of Denise Driehaus, who is seeking reelection to the Ohio House, and Steve Black, who is running for Common Pleas Judge. (Kincaid is engaged to Black’s daughter.) Kincaid ran Cranley’s successful 2007 campaign for reelection to Cincinnati City Council and was paid about $26,000 for the work. Obviously, he and Cranley go back a long way. It’s doubtful Kincaid would have staked out the Internet domains for another candidate to double-cross Cranley. There have been instances where people have grabbed domains to shut out opponents, or set up spoof and decoys as dirty tricks. By all accounts, Kincaid is described as a trusted adviser.
So far, there’s been no official announcement that Cranley is running for mayor. Yet there have been plenty of rumors. Cranley recently positioned himself as an opponent of Mayor Mark Mallory’s efforts to finance the streetcar project, a move that put him back in the news. Registering Internet domains is likely to add to the speculation. All candidates these days have websites, and the portals are central to fundraising, getting out the word on issues and scheduling events.
Who else might be running to succeed Mallory, who is term-limited out of office next year? Among the D’s, names being mentioned include Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Democratic State Sen. Eric Kearney and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Kearney is the highest-ranking Democrat in the Ohio Senate, and can’t run for reelection due to term limits. He’s reportedly told people he wants to move into the mayor’s office, but he’s also said to have recently changed his mind. The word from Democratic insiders about Kearney: Stay tuned. Qualls, who served as mayor in the 1990s, is said to be a definite. Sittenfeld is called a complete question mark.
On the GOP side, Charlie Winburn might run again. And Chris Smitherman is considered a possibility as either a Democrat, Republican, under a Third Party flag or an independent.
The three measures set up $15 million to front to Duke Energy to move utility lines out of the proposed path; changes the source of funding to repay some $25 million in bonds used to pay for the streetcar; sells $14 million in bonds for streetcar improvements; and changes the municipal code to clarify that it is the responsibility of a utility to relocate its structures.
The $15 million comes from the $37 million sale of city-owned land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
Council voted 6-3 to approve the front money, improvement bonds and bond repayment, a vote that largely mirrored a Monday Budget and Finance Committee vote. Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole “no” vote on the ordinance to change the municipal code.
Councilmembers Cecil Thomas, Wendell Young, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson voted to pass funding, while Councilmembers Smitherman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Charles Winburn voted against.
“My concern with all of these votes … in particular the Blue Ash Airport dollars, these were promises that you made to the neighborhoods and I don’t have the confidence that the legal battle against Duke Energy is going to yield a 100 percent win for the city of Cincinnati, so there’s no assurance that these dollars are going to come back,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman, one of the most vocal opponents of the streetcar.
“I want to be clear that it’s something that I don’t support.”
The $15 million would be fronted to Duke to move its lines while the city and utility work out who is responsible for funding the move.
Duke estimates the full cost at $18 million and argues
that the lines would not have to be moved if the streetcar wasn’t being
built. The city maintains that it has always been the responsibility of
utilities to move or upgrade their structures — which the third measure
clarified in the municipal code. If the city loses a legal battle against Duke, it will not
recoup the $15 million.
The second proposal switches the source of funding for
streetcar bonds from money coming into city coffers from southern
downtown and the riverfront area to a 1995 fund set up to collect
service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks. The measure wouldn't use any additional new money for the streetcar.
That downtown area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as
expected but the city hopes to repay the other fund once the downtown
district — which includes the Banks and the casino — rebounds.
Cincinnati City Council plans to move $29 million in funds to avoid further delays for the streetcar
project, but the city is still looking at a 2015 opening date. City officials announced Wednesday that a council
committee will vote Monday on three pieces of legislation to keep the
$110 million project in line with the recently announced delayed opening.
One measure would front $15 million to help Duke Energy move underground utility lines from the path of the proposed streetcar route. That money comes from the recent $37 million sale of land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
The city thinks it will get this money back once a dispute with Duke is resolved. The city contends that Duke is responsible for moving the lines, which the utility estimates will cost $18.7 million. Duke counters that the lines only have to be moved because of the streetcar construction, so the city should foot the bill.
“We’re fronting money for the Duke work until we can work out who pays for it with Duke,” city spokeswoman Meg Oldberding said. “It’s to keep the project on time and on budget. Delays would escalate the cost.”
Another ordinance would change the municipal code to “confirm the city’s existing rights” and clarify that utilities pay for the cost of relocating facilities unless otherwise negotiated, according to a news release.
Oldberding said Cincinnati has always maintained that it is the utility’s responsibility to relocate their facilities, so it is not a change in the city’s position.
The final ordinance would change the funding source that is repaying $25 million in bonds sold as part of the original plan to fund the streetcar.
Those bonds were originally being repaid with money coming into city coffers from southern downtown and the riverfront area.
That area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as expected, so the ordinance would have $14 million of the bonds repaid from a 1995 fund set up to collect service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks.
Oldberding said once the downtown district rebounds — it includes the Banks and the casino — it would repay the other fund.
The ordinances would not add to the project’s cost. Construction is scheduled to begin early next year.