Despite unanimous opposition, City Council yesterday fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and reluctantly voted to allow the controversial pension amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and manages the investments through an independent board. City officials, including all council members, oppose the amendment because they say it will cost the city more and hurt benefits for city employees. Supporters of the amendment, who are backed by out-of-state tea party groups, claim it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s rising pension costs. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.
The conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is once again taking the parking lease to court. The legal pursuit comes after City Solicitor John Curp denied COAST’s challenge. COAST claims that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the parking lease, but Curp said the changes were ministerial and only made as a result of delays caused by COAST’s first legal challenge against the parking lease. If the latest legal tactic is successful, City Council could be forced to vote on the changes made to the parking lease, which could endanger the entire lease because a majority of council members now say they oppose the plan. A hearing is scheduled for the challenge today at 11:30 a.m.
Hamilton County is evicting homeless squatters from its courthouse, but it plans to carry out the evictions by connecting the homeless with existing services. “We don’t want to get mired down in too much political debate,” Hamilton County Sheriff’s Major Charmaine McGuffey told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s a public health hazard.” About 750 people in Hamilton County are homeless throughout any typical night; of those, 700 spend the night in shelters and the rest, who are mostly downtown, sleep outside.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor against ex-Councilman John Cranley, yesterday unveiled two TV advertisements: “Neighborhoods” and “Wheelbarrow.” The first ad touts Qualls’ supports for neighborhood investments. The second ad is particularly aggressive and claims Cranley was forced to resign from City Council because of ethics issues regarding his personal investments.
The number of Ohioans on welfare dropped over the past few years as Gov. John Kasich’s administration enforced federal work requirements. Ben Johnson, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, says the efforts have brought the state’s welfare program into federal compliance.
Ariel Castro, the man convicted for the decade-long kidnapping, beating and raping of three Cleveland women he held captive, was found hanging in his prison cell on Tuesday after an apparent suicide.
Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday released an update on the state’s sexual assault kit testing initiative: So far, the attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation has received 3,530 previously untested rape kits from 105 law enforcement agencies in Ohio. The agency has tested 1,488 kits, leading to to 460 hits in the Combined DNA Index System.
Internet cafe owners submitted petitions yesterday to put a law that effectively banned their businesses on the ballot. State officials claim the cafes were hubs for criminal and illegal gambling activity, but cafe owners say the ban is unfair.
This frog listens with its mouth.
The Ohio Supreme Court today rejected an appeal for a legal challenge that threatened Cincinnati’s parking plan and the city’s emergency powers.
The lawsuit, which was backed by the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), claimed the city could not bypass a referendum on its plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority by invoking an emergency clause.
City Council regularly uses emergency clauses on passed legislation to bypass a 30-day waiting period for implementing laws. The clauses also make legislation immune to a referendum.
COAST, which opposes the city’s parking lease, argued the City Charter doesn’t clearly define emergency clauses to deny a referendum.
Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler sided with COAST in the first round, but the ruling was appealed and the Hamilton County Court of Appeals ultimately ruled in favor of the city.
With the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal, the appeal court’s ruling stands.
City Solicitor John Curp applauded the decision in an email to various media outlets.
“I believe that politics belong in the legislative branch of government and not in our courts. This decision reaffirms that politics should stay on the Council floor and short-term political interests not be dragged through the judiciary where the consequences can have a long-standing impact on the public safety and economic interests of the City,” Curp wrote. “Consistency in interpreting long-standing legal rules is important in promoting a vibrant business climate in the City. The Courts have reaffirmed that the City of Cincinnati is free to operate at the speed of business.”
COAST is now trying another legal challenge against the city’s parking lease. This time, the conservative group is claiming that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the lease without City Council approval.
Curp declined to take up the second legal challenge after concluding that the changes made to the lease were ministerial and a result of delays caused by COAST’s first legal challenge. But by having its proposed challenge denied, COAST gained the legal rights to sue the city over the issue.
Supporters of the parking lease argue the plan is necessary to leverage the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to finance development projects that will grow the city’s tax base.
Opponents claim the lease gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets and will hurt businesses by causing parking rates and enforcement hours to rise.
CityBeat covered the controversy surrounding the parking lease in further detail here.
City Council will hold a special meeting at 2 p.m. today to discuss alternatives to laying off cops and firefighters to balance the budget, which CityBeat covered in detail here. Council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld are pushing to use casino revenue and cuts elsewhere in the budget to avoid cutting public safety services. A spokesperson for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat running for mayor, told CityBeat that Qualls will also consider every option available. John Cranley, another Democratic candidate for mayor, has long called the threat of layoffs “the boy crying wolf.”
City Council unanimously passed a motion yesterday that will require all parades receiving financial support from the city to adhere to the city’s anti-discrimination policies. Council members cautioned that the measure won’t require event hosts to invite fringe groups, but it will ensure LGBT individuals, people of color and women are allowed to participate in future events. The measure was inspired by a recent controversy surrounding the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which barred an LGBT group from participating.
An appeals court will hear arguments over the Cincinnati parking plan and the city’s use of emergency clauses on May 6, even though the city had asked for a final decision by May 1. Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler’s original ruling decided emergency clauses do not remove the possibility of a referendum. Emergency clauses are regularly used by City Council to remove a 30-day waiting period on passed legislation, but the city says that power is weakened by Winkler’s ruling since the city will now have to wait for referendum efforts to safely begin implementation.
Meanwhile, referendum organizers against the parking plan are expected to drop off petitions at City Hall later today. Organizers previously said they have more than 10,000 unverified signatures, but they’ll need 8,522 verified signatures to get the issue on the ballot. The parking plan, which CityBeat explained in further detail here, would lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Development Authority to raise funds that would be used to help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years and launch development projects, including a downtown grocery store.
This week’s CityBeat commentary: “Poor Messaging Holds Back Parking Plan.”
JobsOhio agreed to let State Auditor Dave Yost check their books — private funds and all — last month, but Yost says he’s still in talks with the agency about future audits. JobsOhio is a publicly funded, nonprofit corporation established by Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.
Kasich’s advice for opponents of the Medicaid expansion: “Kick them in the shins.” As part of a broader budget proposal, the governor is seeking to take advantage of Obamacare to expand Medicaid with financial support from the federal government, but some Republican legislators fear the money won’t be there in a few years. Independent analysts say the Medicaid expansion will save Ohio money, which CityBeat covered alongside Kasich’s budget in further detail here.
The cost of Reds games has gone down since last season, according to one study.
Ohio’s improving economy is leading to less problem loans in the statewide mortgage market.
Headline: “Nobody Wants a Facebook Phone.”
A new laser zaps away cocaine addiction from rats.
Ohio’s unemployment rate remained at 7.2 percent in July, unchanged from June, according to new data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The amount of employed Ohioans went up by 5,300 from month-to-month and 37,700 year-over-year, showing stronger signs of job growth than earlier in the year. But the amount of jobless Ohioans still looking for jobs went up by 3,000 between June and July. In the past year, the private service-providing sector, education and health services and leisure and hospitality have gained the most jobs, while local government and construction jobs have plummeted.
The Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati proposed keeping neighborhood parking meter hours the same under a lease agreement with Cincinnati in which the city is handing over control of its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port and the agency is tasking private companies with operating the assets. Keeping the meter hours the same as today, instead of expanding them as previously suggested, would lower Cincinnati’s upfront lease revenue from $92 million to $88.3 million and reduce annual payments, which were originally projected at $3 million but estimated to go up over the life of the lease. Still, the move would satisfy neighborhood residents and businesses who were worried the expanded hours would quickly become a financial hassle. CityBeat covered the parking lease and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.
Republican legislators are reintroducing a bill that would ban abortions in Ohio as early as six weeks after conception, even though questions remain about the proposal’s constitutionality. The bill has been dubbed the “heartbeat bill” because it prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. A federal judge on July 22 blocked a similar law in North Dakota after deeming it unconstitutional. “The United States Supreme Court has unequivocally said that no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability,” wrote U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, who was appointed to the District of North Dakota seat by former President George W. Bush in 2002. Health experts generally agree viability is not reached until 24 weeks into the pregnancy.
The Ohio Ethics Commission won’t investigate Gov. John Kasich’s relationship with a company that received $619,000 in tax credits from JobsOhio because Kasich supposedly made a clean break from the company upon taking office. JobsOhio, the privatized development agency established by Kasich and Republican legislators, has been mired in controversy in the past few weeks for providing state aid to companies that have direct financial ties to JobsOhio board members and the governor.
Meanwhile, Kasich is fueling speculation that he will run for president in 2016.
Cincinnati mayoral candidate and ex-Councilman John Cranley on Thursday unveiled an innovation plan that he says will boost government transparency and help foster Cincinnati’s newly gained reputation as a tech startup hub. The plan would take $5 million in capital funds over four years and ask local startup incubators Cintrifuse, The Brandery and CincyTech where they would like to see the money going. It would also call for hiring a chief innovation officer (CIO) and creating “CincyData,” a transparency initiative that would gather and publish city data to create “a more efficient, effective and user-friendly City government.” Under the plan, both the CIO position and CincyData would be leveraged to find new ways to carry out city services in the hopes of running the local government more efficiently.
Cincinnati Public Schools’ ratings are likely to dip as the school district transitions into Common Core standards and a new state report card system. Superintendent Mary Ronan says the district is doing well but needs to work on getting kids’ reading scores up to grade level. CityBeat originally covered the ratings drop here and some of the hurdles faced by CPS in the past few years here.
New data show the growth of health care costs is slowing down in the Cincinnati area.
Ohio will come up with a new plan to execute condemned inmates no later than Oct. 4 to deal with the state’s expiring supply of drugs used to carry out capital punishments. Specifics were not detailed in court filings.
Procter & Gamble is recalling dog and cat food because some of the product may be contaminated with Salmonella.
It may become more expensive for the city to issue debt after Moody’s downgraded the city’s bond rating. The credit rating agency pinned the blame on the city’s exposure to local and state retirement systems, as well as the city’s reliance since 2001 on one-time sources to balance the operating budget. Still, Moody’s does give the city some credit for its economically diverse population and recently stabilized earnings tax, despite docking the city for bad socioeconomic indicators, particularly resident income levels and historical unemployment rates.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority’s CEO Laura Brunner is apologizing to the public and council members
following the exposure of an email that implied she was trying to keep a
critical parking memo away from public sight. Brunner says she was just trying
to buy time so she could directly show the memo to the Port Authority’s
board before it was reported by news outlets, but she acknowledges that
her email was ill-conceived and came off as an attempt to stifle
transparency. The memo suggests Cincinnati is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Port Authority and several private operators, but the Port Authority and city officials argue the memo is outdated and full of technical errors.
The Cincinnati Enquirer has a report detailing political contributions from oil and gas companies that may have helped bring down a state “fracking tax,” which was supposed to raise state revenue from Ohio’s ongoing oil and gas boom. Apparently, many of the Republican legislators who staunchly opposed the oil and gas severance tax also took in a lot of money from the same companies who would have to pay up. The tax proposal was effectively dead on arrival, even with the hyperbolic support of Republican Gov. John Kasich. Fracking is an extraction technique that pumps millions of gallons of water underground to free up oil and gas. CityBeat covered its effects on Ohio in further detail here.
Water utility leaders are meeting in Cincinnati this week to discuss sustainable business models. In Cincinnati, water usage has dropped while expenses to treat water and waste water have escalated, causing the Metropolitan Sewer District to take in less money. The conference will discuss models that can adjust around this trend while keeping rates low for customers.
The owners of The Hanke Exchange, a collection of buildings in Over-the-Rhine, say occupancy is going up as a result of the promise of the Cincinnati streetcar. The property is now at 84 percent occupancy rate, up from 28 percent three years ago.
Dayton and Cincinnati will hold rallies Saturday showing support for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black 17-year-old who was killed by George Zimmerman last year. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder by a jury last Saturday.
Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, was confirmed to direct the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the top agency that will regulate the financial institutions that played a role in causing the Great Recession.
The Hamilton County Young Democrats are hosting a free event today to meet Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner, who’s also running for secretary of state next year against Republican incumbent Jon Husted.
If the sun suddenly went out, humanity could take a few weeks to die out and perhaps live in Iceland.
The Hamilton County Court of Appeals today refused to delay enforcement of its earlier ruling on the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which will allow the city administration to sign the lease as soon as a lower court rescinds its original injunction on the plan.
On June 12, the court reversed a lower court’s ruling and sided with the city over critics of the parking plan, deciding that the city can use emergency clauses to avert referendum efforts on passed legislation, including the parking plan. Emergency clauses also allow the city to avoid a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws.
For Cincinnati, the plan will first produce a $92 million one-time payment. Following that, the city will get an estimated $3 million a year, which the city says will eventually increase to $7 million and continue climbing afterward.
Still, the city says it won’t spend any funds until there is legal certainty, meaning until potential appeals are exhausted.
“The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds,” City Manager Milton Dohoney said in a statement on June 12. “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.”
Opponents are planning to appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Opponents gathered more than 12,000 signatures supporting a referendum on the parking plan. But with the appeals court ruling, that referendum may never come to pass.
The city says the parking plan’s funds will be used to accelerate economic growth, but critics argue the parking
plan will hurt downtown businesses by expanding parking meter hours and
increasing meter rates.
City Council began discussing potential changes to the parking plan in a Budget and Finance Committee meeting today. The meeting largely focused on whether City Council could repeal or rework the parking plan with a simple majority or supermajority.
Following the June 12 ruling, five out of nine council members signed a motion to repeal the parking plan. But City Council would need to pass an ordinance for any changes to be legally binding.
An ordinance would likely need six votes to overrule the mayor’s veto powers.
City Solicitor John Curp told City Council the mayor also has the power through the City Charter to hold any proposed ordinances until the end of his term on Nov. 30, which means the mayor can effectively stop all repeal attempts.
Mayor Mark Mallory supports the parking plan. Jason Barron, his spokesperson, previously told CityBeat Mallory would reject a repeal.
It’s been three days since City Manager Milton Dohoney signed an agreement to lease Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, and the Port Authority still hasn’t signed the agreement.
Port Authority spokesperson Gail Paul told CityBeat she had no definitive information on when or whether the Port Authority will sign the lease, but she said she would contact CityBeat when she learned more.
The lease would produce a $92 million lump sum for the city, followed by at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. But it would hand over majority control of Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port Authority, which will operate and upgrade the meters, lots and garages through four private companies from around the nation.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported the Port Authority has yet to sign the lease because it first wants a financial guarantee that the city will not threaten to cut future funding. In May, City Council considered pulling $100,000 out of $700,000 in annual funding from the Port Authority as part of a broader cut to outside agencies. The threat apparently made Port Authority officials concerned about future funding.
The city originally claimed the parking plan will keep local control of the city’s parking assets through the Port Authority. But the delay has raised doubts about local control, given that the Port Authority is going against the will and assumptions of the city government.
When asked whether the delay on signing the lease raises question about local control, Paul responded, “That’s an interesting take on it.” She says the Port Authority isn’t refusing to sign the lease, but the agency’s board is getting “reacquainted” with the plan and has a few lingering questions.
Paul added the Port Authority understands there’s a lot of public interest in the plan. She said the organization is paying attention to feedback and criticisms.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding said
she’s confident the Port Authority will sign the lease.
Olberding responded to questions about local control by pointing out the Port Authority “has been at the table since the beginning.” She added, “The local control is not only through the Port, but also through the advisory board. The board members are citizens as well. So that local control will still be there.”
The advisory board will be made up of five members: four appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager.
The board would be able to make changes to various aspects of the parking plan, including parking meter rates. Under the original agreement, rates downtown will go up by 25 cents every three years, and rates in neighborhoods will go up by 25 cents every six years. The advisory board will be able to approve a hike or reduction in those rates, but those changes would also require approval from the city manager and Port Authority’s board.
Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State speech last night, promising to combat Ohio’s heroin epidemic, cut taxes and create jobs across the state. The speech didn’t promise any new, huge proposals; instead, it focused on expanding the approach Kasich has taken to governing Ohio in the past four years. Democrats criticized the speech for failing to note Ohio’s recent economic struggles, with the state now among the worst in the nation for job growth. Meanwhile, a recent analysis from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio found Kasich’s proposed tax cut would benefit the wealthy.
Ohioans are moving left on marijuana and same-sex marriage, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday. The poll found 87 percent of Ohioans now support legalizing marijuana for medical uses, and 51 percent support allowing adults to legally possess a small amount of the drug. Meanwhile, half of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage, compared to 44 percent who do not. Whether the widespread support translates to ballot issues remains to be seen. CityBeat covered Ohio’s medical marijuana movement here and same-sex marriage efforts here.
The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) plans to alleviate parking problems in Over-the-Rhine by adding a parking meter to every parking space in the neighborhood and asking City Council to allow residential parking permits in neighborhoods that mix commercial and residential. (Today, the city code allows residential parking permits only in neighborhoods that are 100 percent residential.) The plan would add 162 metered spaces to the 478 currently metered spaces, and 637 spaces would be designated for residents.
City Council could move to officially dissolve the parking privatization plan as soon as Wednesday. What will replace the plan is still unclear, but CityBeat compared Mayor John Cranley’s proposal to the parking privatization plan here.
Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell says officers responded appropriately to an incident in which police shot and killed a suspect. Blackwell said police had to respond with deadly force when the suspect came out of his house with a rifle.
Cincinnati-based Kroger could buy supermarket rival Safeway.
An alarming video shows old arctic ice vanishing as a result of global warming, even though old ice is more resistant to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
For many neighborhoods, the lack of access to fresh, healthy fruits, vegetables and foods is a big problem, but Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is helping address the problem, at least in the short term, through mobile produce zones that will be placed in eight neighborhoods generally considered “food deserts.” Quinlivan acknowledges the solution is a stopgap, but Michael Widener, assistant professor in University of Cincinnati’s Geography Department, says it’s a start that could help many local residents as a better solution is worked on.
In a 2-1 ruling yesterday, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not subject to a referendum and may move forward. Parking opponents are appealing the decision and pushing for a stay. For the city, the parking plan will potentially unlock millions of dollars over 30 years, including a $92 million upfront payment. But opponents argue the terms of the deal, which include increased parking meter rates and operation hours, will hurt downtown business. The ruling also returned the city’s emergency clause powers, which the city says allow it to bypass a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.
City Council unanimously approved a development deal for Fourth and Race streets downtown to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage to replace Pogue’s Garage. With council approval, construction could begin late this year, with developers hoping to finish in 2015. The deal will be headed by Indianapolis-based development company Flaherty and Collins. The city’s share of the $80 million deal will be $12 million, paid for with a five-year forgivable loan financed by urban renewal funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used for downtown capital projects.
Commentary: “‘Jobs’ Budget Attacks Women’s Health Options”
The first mayoral candidate forum is tonight at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital MERC Auditorium at 620 Oak Street from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Candidates Roxanne Qualls, John Cranley, Jim Berns and Stacy Smith are scheduled to participate.
After nearly six years of no pay increases for non-union workers, Hamilton County commissioners approved raises for some county employees yesterday. The raises will be merit-based, but they will not exceed 3 percent of what the county pays in wages each year.
Few owners actually register their exotic animals. The state began requiring exotic animal registration after a man in Zanesville, Ohio, released 56 exotic animals and committed suicide.
Pending approval from the board of trustees, the University of Cincinnati is hiring Beverly Davenport Sypher as senior vice president for academic affairs. Previously, Davenport Sypher was the vice provost for faculty affairs at Purdue University.
An ongoing study found women who are denied abortions have poorer health and are more likely to live in poverty two years on.
In Japan, cyclists can now store their bikes in underground robot caverns.
Updated at 11:10 a.m.: Added information about first mayoral candidate forum.
The city administration yesterday disputed the findings of a June 20 memo that suggested the city is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but controversy remains about why the city administration withheld the memo from City Council and the Port Authority for three-plus weeks. Opponents of the parking plan are now attempting to use the memo to convince the Port Authority to reject the lease with Xerox, but the Port Authority insists that the memo is laced with inaccuracies and technical errors. The city is pursuing the lease to obtain a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. The money will be used to pay for future budget gaps and development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
City Manager Milton Dohoney defended the city administration’s decision to withhold the June 20 memo, but several council members are angered by what they call a “lack of transparency.” Still, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls argued the administration’s decision to keep the memo from City Council was understandable because the memo was based on faulty information.The Cincinnati streetcar got an opening date yesterday: Sept. 15, 2016. The grand opening comes after years of political controversy, pulled funding and two referendum efforts nearly killed the project. Ever since it was first proposed, the streetcar project has been engulfed in misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered here.
A federal judge made permanent his earlier decision that Ohio must count provisional ballots if they’re submitted in the right polling place but wrong precinct. The ruling is being taken as a victory by voting-rights advocates.
Cincinnati is negotiating to claw back its incentive with Kendle International Inc., which agreed in 2008 to keep its headquarters and create jobs at the city’s Carew Tower. The agreement gave Kendle $200,000 over 10 years on the condition it steadily grew jobs. The failure may add further doubt to the value of job deals, which were criticized earlier in the year by a report CityBeat covered here.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital and Bethesda North Hospital are among the best hospitals in the nation, according to U.S. News’s “Best Hospitals” feature.
Here are some of the odd things that made it into the two-year state budget.
Gov. John Kasich signed a Columbus school plan that will allow levy money to be shared with charter schools that partner with the Columbus school district.
The Senate is the best place in the country to eat hot dogs, according to Food & Wine.
More U.S. hospitals now treat gay parents equally.
Dogs apparently can watch television, which is good news for an Israeli channel explicitly aimed at dogs.