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by 12.12.2008
Posted In: News, 2008 Election at 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)
 
 

County Politics, Republican Style

Anyone familiar with Hamilton County government knows that a large segment of the jobs are essentially political appointments, given to cronies of whichever party controls the particular office doing the hiring.

Still, the political quid pro quo is usually kept somewhat discreet and hidden from public view. Not his time.

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by Hannah McCartney 05.03.2012
Posted In: News at 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
medicaid

Changes in Ohio Medicaid Coming Next January

Experts weigh pros and cons in transition

In yet another effort to save tax dollars and fill holes in the state budget, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and his health care advisers will streamline the state’s Medicaid system by altering the availability to care plans and condensing care regions.

There are currently 38 health plans and 10 regions in the state of Ohio, which provide services to more than 1.6 million Ohioans each year. When changes in the system are implemented January 1, 2013, the availability will condense to five statewide plans and only three geographic regions, according to a press release from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS). 

The change is billed by Kasich's office as a way to simplify the way it offers coverage, eventually making a more sustainable, efficiently run program, which will supposedly trump the short-term inconveniences caused by the switch.

According to The Enquirer, Medicaid costs the state of Ohio around $4.8 billion each year — nearly one fifth of the state’s budget. Those costs continue to grow.

Bloomberg Businessweek
reports that the new plan will also mandate higher care standards and offer financial incentives to doctors, hospitals and other providers to help improve care quality and patient health.

Selected managed care organizations include: Aetna Better Health of Ohio, CareSource, Meridian Health Plan, Paramount Advantage and United Healthcare Community Plan of Ohio. Managed care organizations who lost the bid include incumbent providers Centene, AmeriGroup and Molina Healthcare, among others.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the loss of business marks a blow for those providers, who have benefited from covering "dual-eligible" patients — those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid services. WSJ reports that dual-eligible patients are seen as a $300 billion opportunity for managed care firms. Because Ohio is pushing to start better coordinating care for dual-eligible patients, dropped insurers will likely lose a piece of that pie.

Streamlining the selection of managed care organizations available should help, in turn, streamline processes for dual-eligible patients, who often encounter difficultly in coordinating coverage with both Medicaid and Medicare services, says Jim Ashmore, performance improvement section chief for Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services (HCJFS).

ODJFS reports that the new providers were selected using a fair, through and open application process that was “based on applicants’ past performance in coordinating care and providing high-quality health outcomes.” Although the changes are generally perceived as a positive move forward, service providers, including doctors and health centers, acknowledge that the disruption in services could cause serious confusion when recipients are forced to find new providers and obtain new Medicaid cards. In Kentucky, the three private managed care companies which provided Medicaid services to more than 500,000 patients have received an influx of care-related complaints, including inefficiency in authorizing services and payment issues. 

Ashmore challenges the notion that the transition will be a bumpy one, noting patients have little to worry about: When the transition is made, everyone will likely receive an enrollment package in the mail that will outline steps to switch over new care providers.

 
 
by Stephen Carter-Novotni 04.08.2009
Posted In: News at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)
 
 

Death: Cincinnati Writer Whitney Holwadel Smith

Cincinnati native Whitney Holwadel Smith, born April 10, 1984, died April 4, 2009, of suicide at the United States Penitentiary (USP) in Terre Haute. Smith had reportedly been depressed and emotionally broken after being forced to spend more than a year in the Segregated Housing Unit (The Hole).

Smith grew up in Mount Lookout and was sentenced to the Dayton Correctional Institution as an adult for his first robbery at 17-years-old. From 2002-2003 he wrote a regular column on prison life and his struggle to rehabilitate for XRay Cincinnati Magazine which I published. Smith was released in 2005 and convicted the same year for bank robbery. He was sentenced to more than six years at the USP Terre Haute. Smith's blog, Super Friends: The life and times of an inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute has been published since November 2008. It was notable for being an unusually lucid and frank account of prison life. Smith's writing was variously acerbic, humorous, brutal and hopeful.

After his 2005 release, Whit lived in my home. He was a kind young man with a good heart and a broken one, too. He was my friend. After many discussions in both the outside world and behind barbed wire fences, I still don't fully understand why he committed the crimes he did. He walked through his short life with a corrupted mind that led him to poor choices again and again. His choices to be a criminal were his and he deserved his time, but I also earnestly believe he was let down by a justice system that should help offenders rehabilitate — that is to restore dignity — rather than beat them down into someone more jaded and injured than they were at the time of their arrest. My 2005 CityBeat article Prisoners Forever articlewas inspired by Whit's journey through the prison system.

A memorial for Whit will be held on Wednesday, April 8 at 2:30 p.m. at the Civic Garden Center, 2715 Reading Rd. at 2:30 p.m. It is open to the public.

If you would like to make a donation in Whit's memory, the family has asked that those be made to Circle Tail, an animal shelter in Loveland, Ohio. Whit had recently told his father, Jeff Smith, that he hoped to volunteer at an animal shelter when he got out of prison. Circle Tail works with a several prisons to foster their shelter animals before they are placed in a permanent home.


 
 
by German Lopez 11.05.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor, City Council at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
john cranley

Streetcar Loses in Mayoral and City Council Elections

John Cranley wins mayoral race; three non-incumbents win City Council seats

Cincinnati’s streetcar project lost big on Tuesday as voters ushered in ex-Councilman John Cranley over Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in the mayoral race and three non-incumbents who oppose the project to City Council, according to unofficial election results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

With all precincts reporting, Cranley handily defeated Qualls 58-42 percent. Cranley ran largely on his opposition to the $133 million streetcar, while Qualls promised to expand the project.

Voters also elected three non-incumbents to City Council: Democrat David Mann, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Republican Amy Murray. The three non-incumbents oppose the streetcar project, which means re-elected Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman are now part of a 6-3 majority on council that opposes the project.

Democrats Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — all supporters of the streetcar project — also won re-election. Incumbent Democrats Laure Quinlivan and Pam Thomas lost.

It’s unclear if the newly elected council and mayor will stop current construction on the streetcar once they take power in December, given concerns about contractual obligations and sunk costs that could make canceling the project costly in terms of dollars and Cincinnati’s business reputation.

But Cranley and the six anti-streetcar elects on City Council vested much of their campaigns on their opposition to the project, which they claim is too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.

Supporters argue the project will produce a three-to-one return on investment — an estimate derived from a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR and a follow-up assessment to the HDR study from the University of Cincinnati.

City Council’s new make-up will be five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent. That’s a shift from the current make-up of seven Democrats, one Republican and one Independent.

The new council slate will be the first to take up four-year terms following a city charter amendment voters approved in 2012.

Sittenfeld also landed a huge win and easily topped the City Council race with 10,000 more votes than Winburn, who, at 27,000 votes, got the second most ballots cast in his favor out of the nine council victors. Sittenfeld netted nearly 5,000 more votes than Cranley did in the mayoral race, although Cranley ran in a head-to-head race with Qualls while Sittenfeld was one of nine candidates voters could pick out of a pool of 21.

Citywide voter turnout ended up at roughly 28 percent.

Other election results:

Cincinnati voters rejected Issue 4, which would have privatized Cincinnati’s pension system for city employees, in a 78-22 percent vote.

In the Cincinnati Public Schools board election, Melanie Bates, Ericka Copeland-Dansby, Elisa Hoffman and Daniel Minera won the four seats up for grabs.

Hamilton County voters overwhelmingly approved property tax levies for the Cincinnati Zoo and Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in 80-20 percent votes.

This story was updated with the final reported results.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.27.2012
Posted In: News, Prisons, Government at 11:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Liberty for Sale

ODRC: No More Privatizing Ohio Prisons

State agency says Ohio will focus on lowering recidivism

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) on Tuesday said it will not seek further privatization of state prisons. The announcement was made less than a week after CityBeat published an in-depth story detailing the various problems posed by privatizing prisons (“Liberty for Sale,” issue of Sept. 19). 

Gary Mohr, director of ODRC, made the announcement while talking to legislative reporting service Gongwer in Columbus Tuesday.

We're going to stay the course on those (sentencing reforms) and I think privatizing additional prisons would take away from that reform effort that we have, so I'm not anticipating privatizing any more prisons in the short term here,” he told Gongwer.

Ohio became the first state to sell one of its own prisons to a private prison company in 2011. The ACLU criticized the move for its potential conflict of interest. The organization argued that the profit goal of private prison companies, which make money by holding as many prisoners as possible, fundamentally contradicts the public policy goal of keeping inmate reentry into prisons and prison populations as low as possible.

In his comments to Gongwer, Mohr said the state will now focus on lowering recidivism, not increasing privatization: I don't think you can go through upheaval of a system and continue to put prioritization on reform at the same time. I think if we were to re-engage again on privatization of prisons, then we're going to take the eye off the ball a little bit, and I think we're making great progress. It's a matter of focus.

In the past, the ACLU and other groups criticized Mohr's previous ties to private prison companies — particularly his private work for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) before he became the director for ODRC. CCA in 2011 became the first private company in Ohio's history to purchase a state prison. The connection presents another possible conflict of interest, and it is only one of the many connections between CCA and Gov. John Kasich's administration.

Mike Brickner, ACLU researcher and director of communications and public policy, praised ODRC's decision in a statement: “Despite millions spent by private companies trying to convince policy makers and local governments otherwise, numerous studies have shown private prisons put their own profit ahead of good public policy. ODRC is wise to see that the privatization model distracts from their important efforts to shrink inmate population and reduce recidivism.”

But Brickner also made further demands from the state: “ODRC should go a step further by making a commitment not to privatize additional prison services such as food and medical care. Arguments for privatizing these services use the same faulty logic as the arguments for privatizing entire prisons.”

CityBeat was not able to immediately reach ODRC for comment on Mohr’s announcement. This story will be updated if comments become available.

During the course of researching and reporting last week's story on prison privatization in Ohio, CityBeat found the ODRC to be dismissive of our interest in speaking with Mohr or a spokesperson about private prisons. During two weeks of correspondence, CityBeat received numerous excuses as to why the ODRC couldn't grant an interview and eventually received two emails with the exact same statement — one from ODRC, a state department, and one from Management and Training Corporation, a private company that manages prisons in Ohio. The statement added a strange twist to the already-suspicious fact that the ODRC didn't want to talk about its prison privatization plan with the media. A full explanation of the issues ODRC posed to the reporting process can be found in the editor's note at the end of the cover story.

 
 
by Danny Cross 02.16.2012
 
 
monsanto lede

Monsanto Is Pissing a Lot of People Off

You poison one little French farmer and all hell breaks loose. Giant chemical-maker Monsanto yesterday announced it plans to appeal a Monday ruling that one of its herbicides in 2004 poisoned French farmer Paul Francois, who says inhaling a Monsanto weedkiller led to “memory loss, headaches and stammering”(coincidentally, these are the same symptoms of the accidental hangover™).

In addition to the French farmer being pissed enough at the company for giving him a hangover when he was trying to work his farmland, there are about a million other people officially declaring themselves as against Monsanto via “Millions Against Monsanto,” an organic consumers association that campaigns for “health, justice, sustainability, peace and democracy.” If you accept the possibility of Monsanto obstructing even a majority of these five concepts, it’s easy to believe the company has enemies from a lot of different backgrounds.

That’s why Monday’s ruling by a French court finding Monsanto legally responsible for poisoning Francois and ordering it to compensate him has enlivened a bunch of angry activists.

Millions Against Monsanto offers a wealth of content documenting the agricultural biotechnology corporation’s government ties, tendencies to take small dairies to court, refusal to compensate veterans for Agent Orange and getting their nasty chemicals in normal people’s water supplies. (Wikipedia is hilariously filled with references to things like dumping toxic waste in the UK, Indonesian bribing convictions and fines for false advertising.) Even 'ol boy Obama has gotten caught up in the mix with charts like this one circulating on Facebook:

The latest news out of Millions Against Monsanto is the moving forward of a California ballot initiative to require mandatory GMO labeling that polls show has 80 percent support. According to the site:

"A win for the California Initiative would be a huge blow to biotech and a huge victory for food activists. Monsanto and their minions have billions invested in GMOs and they are willing to spend millions to defeat this initiative. California is the 8th largest economy in the world. Labeling laws in CA will affect packaging and ingredient decisions nation-wide. The bill has been carefully written to ensure that it will not increase costs to consumers or producers."

Back in France, our friendly farmer will have to wait a while for whatever compensation poisoning amounts to, as Monsanto says it will appeal the ruling. According to The Washington Post: Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher says the company does not think there is “sufficient data” to demonstrate a link between the use of Lasso herbicide and the symptoms Francois reported.

"We do not agree any injury was accidentally caused nor did the company intentionally permit injury," Helscher said. "Lasso herbicide was ... successfully used by farmers on millions of hectares around the world."
 
 
by Danny Cross 09.20.2012
 
 
anna louise inn

Anna Louise Inn Wins Zoning Appeal

Western & Southern expected to appeal something else next week

In the ongoing saga of Western & Southern vs. the Anna Louise Inn, there have been several court cases and zoning rulings, most of which have been appealed by one side or the other. Today it was the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals’ turn to rule on something that’s already been ruled on, and it went in favor of the Anna Louise Inn. 

The Board upheld a certificate of appropriateness for the Anna Louise Inn’s planned renovation, which essentially also upholds the Historic Conservation Board’s right to issue a conditional use permit — at least for now. Western & Southern is expected to appeal that permit, granted by the Conservation Board Aug. 27, before its 30-day window to do so expires. 

Before this series of appeals can play out, the 1st District Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the Anna Louise Inn’s appeal of Judge Norbert Nadel’s May 27 ruling, which set in motion the Inn’s attempts to secure zoning approval from the Historical Conservation Board in the first place. 

(All of this could have been avoided if Western & Southern would have purchased the Anna Louise Inn when it had the chance. CityBeat previously reported the details of Western & Southern’s failure to purchase the Inn and the company’s subsequent attempts to force the Inn out of the neighborhood here.)

About 40 people attended today’s hearing, including City Councilman Wendell Young, who said he supports the Anna Louise Inn but was not there to testify on its behalf. 

By upholding the certificate of appropriateness, the ruling keeps alive a conditional use permit that could allow the Anna Louise Inn to move forward with a $13 million renovation of its historic building, once the expected appeals process plays out. (CityBeat covered the Aug. 27 Historical Conservation Board hearing here.)

The Board heard brief arguments from lawyers for both Western & Southern and Cincinnati Union Bethel and then entered executive session for about 15 minutes before ruling in favor of the Anna Louise Inn. 

Western & Southern lawyer Francis Barrett, who is the brother of Western & Southern CEO John Barrett and a member of the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees, told CityBeat after the meeting that he disagreed with the board’s finding because a designed expansion of the building’s fifth floor has not yet had its use approved. 

“With this case, the Historical Conservation Board is basically approving for the certificate of appropriateness the design of the building,” Barrett said. “But the design included an expansion of the fifth floor, and until that use issue is resolved the code reads, in my opinion, you can’t approve the design because the use hasn’t been approved.”

Barrett during the hearing read a written statement to the board arguing two main points: that the Historic Conservation Board didn’t have the jurisdiction to grant the certificate of appropriateness; and even if it did, Barrett argued, the physical expansion planned makes it a non-conforming use which wouldn’t qualify for the building permit. 

Cincinnati Union Bethel attorney Tim Burke told the Board that the Anna Louise Inn is not seeking a permit for non-conforming use because it already received a conditional use permit from the Historic Conservation Board. 

“Western & Southern is doing everything it can to block this renovation from happening,” Burke told the Board.

At the Historic Conservation Board hearing last month Western & Southern tried paint a picture of the Anna Louise Inn’s residents contributing to crime in the area because a condition of the conditional use permit is that the building’s use will not be detrimental to public health and safety or negatively affect property values in the neighborhood. But the Board granted the permit, stating that the Anna Louise Inn will not be detrimental to public health and safety or harmful to nearby properties in the neighborhood and that the Board found no direct evidence connecting residents of the Anna Louise Inn to criminal activity in the neighborhood. Western & Southern has until next week to appeal that ruling.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.06.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, News, Humor, LGBT Issues, Marijuana at 03:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
nuclear explosion

Gay Marriage, Marijuana Legalized; Still No Apocalypse

With voter approval, Washington state embraces new freedoms

This morning, social conservatives around the world dug themselves into Armageddon-resistant bunkers, preparing for what they knew was coming. Today, marijuana and same-sex marriage were being legalized in Washington state.

But the bunkers may have been a waste of time and money, considering the end of the world didn’t occur. In fact, it seems like a lot of people are happy with the legal changes, which voters approved on Nov. 6.

From the perspective of this CityBeat writer, same-sex marriage would be great. It’s something I wrote about extensively before (“The Evolution of Equality,” Nov. 28 issue). As a refresher, not only does same-sex marriage bring a host of benefits to same-sex couples, but it also produces economic benefits for everyone. A recent study from Bill LaFayette, founder of Regionomics LLC, found that legalizing gay marriage would grow Ohio’s gross domestic product, which measures economic worth, by $100-$126 million within three years.

Marijuana has similar benefits. Not only does it give people the freedom to put a relatively harmless plant into their bodies, but it also provides a big boon to state budgets. For Washington, it’s estimated the marijuana tax will bring in as much as $500 million a year. 

Legalization also creates jobs and economic growth as businesses pop up to sell the product and customers buy the plant to toke up. Washington State’s Office of Financial Management estimates the marijuana market will be worth about $1 billion in the state. Considering the state is about 2 percent of the U.S. population, that could be extrapolated to indicate a potential $50 billion nationwide market.

Still, public use of marijuana and driving while intoxicated remain illegal. In a press conference Wednesday, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said, “If you're smoking in plain public view, you're subject to a ticket. … Initiative 502 uses the alcohol model. If drinking in public is disallowed, so is smoking marijuana in public.”

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) seems a bit friendlier. In an email today, SPD told officers to only give verbal warnings until further notice. The warnings should essentially tell people to take their marijuana inside, or, as SPD spokesperson Jonah Spangenthal-Lee put it on the SPD Blotter, “The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a ‘Lord of the Rings’ marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to.”

The Washington law also faces possible federal resistance. Even though the state legalized pot, the drug is still illegal under federal law. That means the feds can still shut down marijuana businesses and arrest buyers, just like they have with legal medical marijuana dispensaries in the past.

In fact, maybe the limitations are what’s keeping the apocalypse at bay. Maybe social conservatives will get to make use of those bunkers if the rest of the country catches on to Washington’s example.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 08.08.2013
Posted In: Energy, Environment, Ethics, News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
first energy

FirstEnergy Penalized $43.3 Million for Overcharging Customers

Company overpriced renewable energy credits purchased from affiliate company

On Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio unanimously ruled that Akron, Ohio-based energy supplier FirstEnergy Corp. must credit its Ohio customers $43.3 million for overcharging for renewable energy credits (RECs) from 2009-2011 that it purchased from its affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.

RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy credits that represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sourced from an eligible renewable energy resource. First Energy Solutions is an energy generator and supplier, while First Energy Corp. is an electricity distributor, which means that it sources its electricity from elsewhere, which requires them to issue bids seeking the most competitively priced energy from a supplier such as First Energy Solutions.

According to the First Energy Corp. website, First Energy Solutions is the competitive subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. Both suppliers are based in Akron. An audit conducted by Exeter Associates Inc. revealed that FirstEnergy Corp. paid 15 times more than any other company in the country to purchase the RECs from FirstEnergy Solutions, and FirstEnergy Corp. passed that overcharge onto consumers. 

In a copy of the order issued yesterday by the PUC obtained by CityBeat, it states that, "The Companies contend that, given the nascent market, lack of market information available to the Companies, and uncertainty regarding future supply and prices, the Companies' decisions to purchase in-state RECs were reasonable and prudent."

In summary, FirstEnergy contends that because it was scrambling to find a way to meet the state's Clean Energy Law requirements, it had to buy these RECs no matter the cost, and that there are no legal specifications within the Clean Energy Law that requires RECs be purchased or sold at market price; and that the costs issued to them, and subsequently, customers, weren't unreasonable.

The Ohio Consumers Counsel, however, says that there were cheaper alternatives available and that FirstEnergy should have checked with the PUC prior to paying 15 times more for RECs than any other country had in the past. If they'd rejected the exorbitant bids, says OCC, and instead consulted with PUC and OCC, they could have come up with a solution to prevent from charging customers excessively high rates.

In June 2012, FirstEnergy Solutions was the winning bidder in Cincinnati's energy aggregation program, which is supposed to allow us to receive lower "aggregate" rates for buying in bulk. At the time, FirstEnergy touted the merits of its "100 percent green" energy supply, sourced from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable resources. The bid was expected to save homeowners around $133 annually.

What enabled FirstEnergy to provide the "clean" energy was its use of a system with non-tangible renewable energy credit (RECs) that each represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sources from a renewable energy resource.

Purchasing the credits from its subsidiary allows FirstEnergy Corp. to meet the state's renewable energy standard, which requires that by 2025 all Ohio utility companies provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources.

Because the lawsuit issued by the PUC examines only the amount paid for RECs during compliance periods between 2009 and 2011, Cincinnati customers who switched to FirstEnergy Solutions last June should not be affected, although the FirstEnergy arms' ambiguous behavior, says Dan Sawmiller, a Sierra Club member who manages Ohio's Beyond Coal campaign, is a likely indicator that the company may be engaging in other unethical practices related to consumer transparency. 

The company has not been devoid of controversy in the past. In March, CityBeat reported on state environmental groups' concerns with the movement to lower requirements for defining renewable energy and energy efficiency; FirstEnergy was part of the bloc working to weaken Ohio's Clean Energy Law in hopes of keeping corporation costs low. FirstEnergy was also chastised by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2009 for distributing and charging customers for energy-efficient light bulbs without receiving customers' authorization.

Sawmiller commended the PUC for fining First Energy, although he suggests the fine is likely modest for the actual damages. He still expresses concern about the need for corporate separation between the two FirstEnergy arms. "
The commission left much to be desired in terms of transparency, leaving customers in the dark about what types of renewables are being provided, where are they coming from and at what cost," says Sawmiller in Sierra Club's press release.

 
 
by 06.25.2010
Posted In: News, Business, Protests at 04:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 

PETA Again Asks for Kroger Change

An animal rights group had one of its members question executives of the Kroger Co. grocery store chain at its annual shareholders meeting held here Thursday.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had member Lindsay Rajt, who also is a Kroger shareholder, ask during the meeting whether Kroger has plans to move toward a less cruel method of poultry slaughter, called "controlled-atmosphere killing" (CAK), instead of its current practice.

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