Ohio’s inspector general released a report today criticizing the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for improperly reimbursing federal stimulus funds to hired organizations that did not follow rules.
In a statement, Inspector General Randall Meyer’s office said ODJFS “failed to adequately oversee federal grant funds applied to the Constructing Futures jobs training initiative for Central Ohio.”
The report released by Meyer’s office today, which focused on stimulus programs in central Ohio, outlined a few instances of ODJFS failing to oversee proper standards. In total, the department, which was put in charge of carrying out job training funds in Ohio from the stimulus package President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009, wrongly reimbursed companies it hired for $51,700.81.
In central Ohio, ODJFS hired two organizations to carry out the job training program, or Workforce Investment Act: Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) and Construction Trades Networks (CTN). At ABC, the inspector general found limited problems with faulty reimbursements involving a newspaper subscription, travel and mileage totaling less than $100. The money was not accounted for as a questionable cost since it was so small.
However, at CTN, the faulty reimbursements piled up. The organization was reimbursed $560.61 for phone calls made prior to being hired as part of the federal grant. It was also reimbursed $1,613.62 for its invoices, even though documentation was not provided to link phone calls as necessary to the grant program.
Under the federal stimulus rules, CTN was required to provide 25 percent of its own funds for the program. CTN planned on using $91,800 of in-kind funds — payment that isn’t cash — by paying for trainee wages. The organization paid $60,927.70 by the end of the grant period, and the organization was reimbursed for $49,526.64 by ODJFS, even though the charges were supposed to be carried by CTN. The inspector general requested CTN give the money back to ODJFS.
When the inspector general contacted the organization to explain the findings, CTN attributed the requests for faulty reimbursements to confusion caused by multiple administrative changes at ODJFS.
“In addition, monitoring visits by ODJFS were not conducted until after the grant period expired, even though the partnerships were told the visits would occur as grant activities were underway,” the report said.
Meyer’s office concluded ODJFS should review the questioned costs, work to keep consistent guidelines through administrative changes and monitor grant funds during the grant period.
The full inspector general report can be found here.
A report was released for northwestern Ohio was released on May 10, and it also found wrongdoing. It can be found here. A report for stimulus programs in southwestern Ohio will be released later.ODJFS could not be immediately provide comment on the report. This story will be updated if comments become available.
UPDATE (3:28 P.M.): Benjamin Johnson, spokesperson for ODJFS, provided a comment shortly after this story was published.
“As the report mentions, these were expenditures by local entities, not by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services,” he says. “We appreciate the inspector general bringing this to our attention, and we'll work to resolve the matter.”
Our friends at Pittsburgh City Paper have roundup stories and a comprehensive blog section of coverage from the recent G-20 summit in their town (with some video, including this shot of police roughing up a protester). Much of the coverage focuses on the arrest of more than 100 people at a demonstration last Friday in the Oakland neighborhood near the University of Pittsburgh.
A web site called What Happened at Pitt?!?! has been launched by students there to focus attention on alleged police misconduct during the protest. As the web site asks, certainly rhetorically, "Why were we beaten? Why were we shot at? Why were we arrested? Why were we treated as criminals in our own neighborhood?" Students are holding a rally tonight called "Oakland Unites for First Amendment Rights."
When CityBeat profiled the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in May, just after the conservative organization held a private meeting in Cincinnati, some of its members downplayed conspiracy theories about the group and its love of secrecy.
Fueled by corporate donations, ALEC is credited with working quietly behind the scenes to draft legislation that can then be introduced by elected state lawmakers. Among its efforts, ALEC spearheaded the push in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere to introduce bills that limited or abolished collective bargaining rights for public-sector labor unions.
The membership list that contains the names of the roughly 2,000 state legislators and about 300 private-sector supporters who belong to ALEC is kept confidential.
State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township), who sits on ALEC's board of directors, noted in the CityBeat article that the identity of its sponsors aren't kept secret. They include the American Petroleum Institute, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Coors and the National Rifle Association.
Now with the help of Aliya Rahman, an activist based at Miami University in Oxford who organized the Cincinnati protest, The Nation magazine has obtained more than 800 documents representing decades of ALEC's model legislation. The treasure trove of materials is featured in The Nation's Aug. 1-8 issue, which currently is on sale.
[UPDATE: Read more about Rahman's path to unearthing the documents here.]
In conjunction with the Center for Media and Democracy, The Nation asked policy experts to analyze this never-before-seen archive.
As The Nation's John Nichols writes, “Inspired by Milton Friedman’s call for conservatives to 'develop alternatives to existing policies (and) keep them alive and available,' ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces.”
A full archive of the exposed ALEC legislation is available here.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday laid out five steps that he said would have America “roaring back” during his first campaign stop since formally accepting the Republican nomination.
At Cincinnati's Union Terminal, Romney was joined on stage by his wife Anne, who spoke briefly, echoing her convention speech meant to humanize her husband.
He said his plan involved encouraging development in oil and coal, implementing a trade policy that favored American companies and not “cheaters” like China, making sure workers and students had skills to succeed in the coming century, reducing the deficit and encouraging small business growth.
“America is going to come roaring back,” Romney told the crowd of thousands packed inside Union Terminal.
Not everyone was so impressed with the GOP nominee’s promises.
About an hour after the Romney campaign event, Cincinnati Democratic leaders held a news conference to rebut the Republican’s speech.
“Much of his (Romney’s) speech was like his speech in Tampa, which is where Romney gave Cincinnatians nothing more than vague platitudes, false and misleading attacks without one single tangible idea on how to move forward,” said Democratic/Charterite Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson.
Simpson, along with Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas and Bishop Bobby Hilton, attacked the tax plan put forward by Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. They said it would cut taxes for the richest Americans while raising taxes on the middle class by about $2,000 per household, citing an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
“Mitt Romney’s plan would take Ohio and Cincinnati backwards, and we don’t have time to go backwards,” Hilton said.
Hilton credited Cincinnati’s revitalization and urban development in part on federal money obtained from Obama’s stimulus plan.
“We deserve better than this. We deserve better than Romney/Ryan,” he said.
Romney would have disagreed with Hilton’s assessment of Cincinnati’s growth. During his speech he praised Ohio Gov. John Kasich, crediting him with bringing jobs and businesses to the state.
Romney also took time to attack President Barack Obama’s record in office. The GOP nominee said in preparation for his convention speech he read many past convention speeches — including Obama’s.
“He was not one of the ones that I wanted to draw from, except I could not resist a couple of things he said, because he made a lot of promises,” Romney said. “And I noted that he didn't keep a lot of promises.”
Romney also criticized what he called the bitterness and divisiveness of Obama’s campaign, saying as president he would bring the country together. He mentioned the “patriotism and courage” of the late Neil Armstrong, who was honored in a private service in Cincinnati on Friday.
“I will do everything in my power to bring us together, because, united, America built the strongest economy in the history of the earth. United, we put Neil Armstrong on the moon. United, we faced down unspeakable darkness,” Romney said.
“United, our men and women in uniform continue to defend freedom today. I love those people who serve our great nation. This is a time for us to come together as a nation.”
The candidate’s remarks ignited the crowd of thousands, many of whom wore shirts with slogans like “Mr. President, I did build my business,” in response to a remark made by Obama about businesses being helped to grow by government contracts and infrastructure, and “Mitt 2012: At least he never ate dog meat,” referring to a passage in Obama’s 2008 memoir during which he recalls being fed dog meat as a boy in Indonesia.
Steve Heckman, a 62-year-old environmental consultant from Springfield, Ohio, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but will likely vote for Romney in this election.
He said he’d written “some pretty ugly stuff” about Romney in the past but felt jobs was the No. 1 issue and thought the Obama administration’s policies were sending them out of the country.
“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has, to me, become a little too almost like a fringe group, putting so much pressure on businesses that they are moving to Canada,” Heckman said. “Things like air permits, the EPA is taking too long to issue them. It’s not just power plants they’re affecting, but all manufacturing.”
Heckman said he didn’t blame the president personally but thinks whoever he put in charge of the agency is being too strict.
“I grew up when the EPA was first put in place in the '70s, and they were, in my opinion, doing God’s work,” he said, citing the cleaning up of rivers such as the Cuyahoga near Cleveland, which famously caught fire because of pollution in 1969.
“I support the EPA, but it’s driving businesses out of here.”
Speaking ahead of Romney were U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio treasurer and GOP senatorial candidate Josh Mandel and Republican U.S. House candidate for Ohio’s 2nd District, Brad Wenstrup.
“This election is all about changing Washington,” Mandel said. “The only way to change Washington is to change the people we send there.”
Cincinnati’s Music Hall will be getting renovations, but the project will be much smaller than anticipated. Instead of the previously estimated $165 million, the project, which involves the city leasing the iconic building to the Music Hall Revitalization Company (MHRC) for 75 years, will only cover approximately $95 million.
At a joint press conference Wednesday, Mayor Mark Mallory and Otto Budig, president of MHRC, officially announced the plan, which City Council will take up early next year.
Not many details or a timeline were announced at the press conference, but some information did come to light. The renovations will include more comfortable seating, extra restroom capacity, heating, air conditioning, improved plumbing and new escalator models. During the renovations, Music Hall, home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet, will be closed for an estimated 17 months.
“We will do this in a manner that carries with it the surety that the project will be complete,” Budig said. “The worst thing we could do is start this project without the natural resources and pledges available.”
On top of the leasing agreement, the city will also help fund the project through tax credits.
The lease continues the trend of public-private partnerships city government has used to revitalize Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati in recent years. From the Banks to Washington Park, the city of Cincinnati has pushed to be seen as a more attractive, business-friendly environment.
However, that has come with some push back. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) and city have previously faced criticisms from homeless advocates for allegedly discriminatory rules at Washington Park, which were later voted down by the Cincinnati Park Board.
Some public officials have also raised concerns about the city giving away too many of its public assets. The 2013 budget currently relies on a proposal that will privatize Cincinnati’s parking assets, a plan that has faced heavy criticism from Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and mayoral candidate John Cranley. City Manager Milton Dohoney argues the privatization plan is necessary to avoid 344 layoffs.
Cincinnati native Kathleen Sebelius is leaving her job as Kansas governor to become the new Secretary of Health and Human Services. President Obama announced her appointment this afternoon at the White House.
She fills the cabinet spot originally intended for former Sen. Tom Daschle.
After WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange voluntarily turned himself into British authorities today, he was denied bail and remains in custody until at least Dec. 14, according to The Guardian newspaper in London.
Assange, 39, was told by London Metropolitan police about new charges he faces in connection with two sexual encounters he had in Sweden. "He is accused by the Swedish authorities of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010," the newspaper reported.
A ruling that resulted in a temporary halt in Ohio executions last week means there are 148 inmates on Ohio's death row with uncertain futures. Ohio's death penalty is currently under scrutiny, largely due to opposition that's been raised from documented failures to follow protocol in state executions.
In January, Federal District Court Judge Gregory Frost of Newark, Ohio halted condemned murderer Charles Lorraine's Ohio execution because Ohio has allegedly demonstrated problems over the last several months upholding the execution protocol the state put in place itself in 1981. On Feb. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Frost's decision, saying that because Ohio had been proven to stray from its own execution policies, it couldn't be trusted to carry out Lorraine's execution or any other death sentences. The next execution in Ohio is scheduled for April.
Frost is one of several advocating for the abandonment on Ohio's death penalty. "For close to eight years, the Court has dealt with inmate challenges to the constitutionality of Ohio’s execution protocol. During that time, the litigation has morphed from focusing primarily on allegations of cruel and unusual punishment to allegations of equal protection violations. Ohio has been in a dubious cycle of defending often indefensible conduct, subsequently reforming its protocol when called on that conduct, and then failing to follow through on its own reforms," said Frost in his written opinion.
He goes on to describe instances in which state agents lied to the Court concerning state executions, expressing frustration about the state's lack of commitment to constitutional execution. "No judge is a micro-manager of executions and no judge wants to find himself mired in the ongoing litigation in which he must continually babysit the parties," said Frost.
That's just a piece of it; there are other judicial bigwigs hoping to have Ohio's death penalty overturned, including Senior Associate Justice for the Ohio Supreme Court Paul Pfiefer, who helped write Ohio's death penalty law when he was a state senator more than 30 years ago. According to Pfeifer, he's changed his mind because he sees the option of life without the possibility of parole more moral and socially beneficial.
Evidently, most of the deviations from the execution regulations were minor paperwork technicalities. Huffington Post reports the errors included switching the official whose job it was to announce the start and finish times of the lethal injection and not properly documenting that the inmate's medical records were reviewed.
Those in support of the hold, however, make another point. Controlling life and death is the most important power the state of Ohio holds; if it can't follow minor rules that it set for itself, who's to say there won't be larger, more detrimental errors in the future?
It's difficult to tell whether or not Ohio will just get a slap on the wrist for its slip-ups or if reform will be seriously considered. The death penalty has almost always been a part of Ohio's history, since it became a state in 1803. Ohio ranked third in the U.S. for executions among the 34 states that have the death penalty in 2011.
Listen to Paul Pfeifer and hear more about the controversy on The Sound of Ideas radio program below.
The partnership will aid small businesses and startups through crowd funding, which connects multiple potential lenders so no single investor, including the city government, is carrying the a bulk of the burden. Since crowd funding gets more investors involved, it can also raise more money for promising startups and small businesses.
Businesses will be picked through SoMoLend’s typical application process, which emphasizes startups and small businesses. Successful applicants usually have 15 or fewer employees, meet a few standards regarding business and personal finances and prove they actually need a commercial loan. In the past, businesses have raised as much as $1 million in loans with SoMoLend.
Applicants will also have to go through the city’s application process. The city government will look at how many jobs are created, what’s the capital investment involved, how much the city will give relative to private lenders and other similar metrics.
Even as the economy recovers, small businesses and startups are having a tough time getting loans in comparison to bigger businesses. So the focus on small businesses and startups is in part to bring beneficial fairness to the system, says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson. “Access to capital at all levels has to happen. And the city government feels like small businesses are key to growth in our local economy.”
The partnership’s focus on startups is economically sound. Governments and politicians love to herald small businesses as the drivers of economic growth, but studies suggest startups are more deserving of the praise. A paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that young small businesses, or startups, are the key drivers to economic and job growth.
As for why SoMoLend was picked over other platforms, Olberding says location and history played a role: “It’s a local small business, so it’s … demonstrating what we’re talking about. It’s also a demonstrated success in terms of bringing viable businesses to the market.”
The partnership is part of an ongoing effort to spur small businesses and startups in Cincinnati. SBAC was created in 2012 to pave a clearer, better path that encourages such businesses in the city. SBAC reviewed, gave feedback and approved the new partnership earlier today.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, head of SBAC, praised the partnership in a statement: “I am excited that the SBAC approved the city’s new partnership with SoMoLend today. By making city lending more efficient and expanding the network of small businesses receiving city assistance, this new partnership fits well into the SBAC’s goal of making Cincinnati a better place for small business.”