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by German Lopez 11.06.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, Streetcar at 04:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
john cranley

Mayor-Elect Explains Vision for First Term

Cranley promises to cancel streetcar project and shift city’s priorities

Mayor-elect John Cranley invited reporters to his home in Mt. Lookout on Wednesday to discuss his plan and priorities for his first term as mayor of Cincinnati.

Cranley claims the invitation to his house represents the kind of accessible, transparent leadership he’ll take up when he begins his term on Dec. 1.

Speaking on his immediate priorities, Cranley says he already contacted the nine newly elected council members and intends to build more collaboration with all sides of the aisle, which will include a mix of five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent starting in December.

One of Cranley’s top priorities is to cancel the $133 million streetcar project, which Cranley and six newly elected council members oppose. He also argues that the city should stop spending on ongoing construction for the project.

“Seriously, look at who got elected yesterday. At some point, this is a democracy. We shouldn’t be agitating voters like this,” Cranley says. “Let’s not keep spending money when it looks like the clear majority and the clear mandate of yesterday’s election was going in a different direction.”

But in response to recent reports that canceling the streetcar project could carry its own set of unknown costs, he says he will weigh the costs and benefits before making a final decision. If the cost of cancellation is too high, Cranley acknowledges he would pull back his opposition to the project.

Canceling the streetcar project would also require an ordinance from City Council.

Mike Moroski, who on Tuesday lost in his bid for a council seat, already announced on Twitter that he’s gathering petition signatures for a referendum to prevent the project’s cancellation.

Cranley promises he won’t stop a referendum effort by placing an emergency clause on an ordinance that cancels the project, but he expressed doubt that a referendum would succeed.

On the current city administration’s plan to lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, Cranley says he will work with fellow lawyers David Mann and Kevin Flynn, both of who won seats for council on Tuesday, to find a way to cancel the deal.

But that could prove tricky with the lease agreement already signed by the city and Port Authority, especially as the Port works to sell bonds — perhaps before Cranley takes office — to finance the deal and the $85 million payment the city will receive as a result.

Cranley also promises to make various development projects his top priority, particularly the interchange for Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. He says he will lobby White House officials to re-appropriate nearly $45 million in federal grant money for the streetcar project to the interchange project, even though the U.S. Department of Transportation told the city in a June 19 letter that it would take back nearly $41 million of its grant money if the streetcar project were canceled.

Cranley vows he will also work with local businesses to leverage public and private dollars to spur investment in Cincinnati’s neighborhoods — similar to what the city did with Over-the-Rhine and downtown by working with 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation).

“We want to have some big early wins,” Cranley says. “We want to get moving within a year on the Wasson Way bike trail, see significant progress at the old Swifton Commons and see Westwood Square developed.”

He adds, “And we intend to reverse the one-trash-can policy, which I think is a horrible policy. … There have been several stories about illegal dumping that have resulted from that.”

Cincinnati’s pension system and its $862-million-plus unfunded liability also remain a top concern for city officials. Cranley says he will tap Councilman Chris Smitherman to help bring costs in line, but no specifics on a plan were given.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.06.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor, City Council at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Voters elect anti-streetcar majority, pension privatization rejected, turnout at record low

Voters last night elected an anti-streetcar City Council majority and mayor, which raises questions about the $133 million project’s future even as construction remains underway. Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who ran largely on his opposition to the project, easily defeated streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls 58-42 percent, while non-incumbents Democrat David Mann, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Republican Amy Murray replaced Qualls, Laure Quinlivan and Pam Thomas on council to create a 6-3 anti-streetcar majority with Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman. Democrats Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — all supporters of the project — also won re-election. It remains unclear if the new government will actually cancel the project once it takes 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.

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

At 28 percent, citywide voter turnout was at the lowest since 1975, Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Ohio Libertarians are threatening to sue if Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature pass a bill that would limit ballot access for minor parties. Although many of the new requirements for signatures and votes were relaxed in the Ohio House, minor parties claim the standards are still too much. Critics, who call the bill the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act,” claim the proposal exists to protect Republicans, particularly Kasich, from third-party challengers who are unhappy with the approval of the federally funded Medicaid expansion. CityBeat covered the Ohio Senate proposal in further detail here.

Meanwhile, the Kasich administration stands by its decision to bypass the legislature and go through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, to enact the federally funded Medicaid expansion despite resistance in the Ohio House and Senate. The Ohio Supreme Court recently expedited hearings over the constitutional conflict, presumably so it can make a decision before the expansion goes into effect in January. Opponents of the expansion, particularly Republicans, argue the federal government can’t afford to pay for 90 to 100 percent of the expansion through Obamacare as currently planned, while supporters, particularly Kasich and Democrats, say it’s a great deal for the state that helps cover nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Across the state, voters approved most school levy renewals but rejected new property taxes.

Maximize your caffeine: The scientifically approved time for coffee drinking is between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

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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 11.05.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor, City Council at 04:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Officials Report Smooth Election Day

Turnout much higher than mayoral primary

Early reports from the Hamilton County Board of Elections indicate Election Day is proceeding with minimal problems and voter turnout is considerably better than it was for the Sept. 10 mayoral primary.

“There’s always bumps in every election … but nothing highly unusual,” says Sally Krisel, deputy director of the board of elections.

Countywide voter turnout was estimated at 20 percent around noon, with turnout in Cincinnati stronger than the rest of the county, according to Krisel. But she cautions that the numbers are still unclear and could completely change, particularly after work hours.

Turnout is particularly strong in wards one, four and five, according to Krisel. That could be good news for mayoral candidate John Cranley, who handily won all three wards in the primary against opponents Roxanne Qualls, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble.

But since citywide voter turnout was an abysmal 5.74 percent in the primary election, it remains uncertain how much primary results will ultimately reflect on Tuesday’s election. Historically, Cincinnati’s mayoral primaries failed to predict the winner of the general election.

Cranley obtained nearly 56 percent of the vote on Sept. 10, while Qualls got slightly more than 37 percent. Both candidates received enough support to advance to Tuesday’s ballot, but the Qualls campaign acknowledged the lopsided results were disappointing.

To obtain the Election Day numbers, the county is for the first time tracking ballot usage. Krisel says the measure allows the county to gauge countywide voter turnout and whether more ballots are needed in different voting locations.

Tuesday’s votes come in addition to 20,500 absentee and early voters across the county, about 90 percent of who already submitted ballots to the board of elections. Krisel claims that’s about half the amount of early voters from two years ago, but she says she doesn’t know whether that will reflect on the final turnout numbers.

The election is the first time Cincinnati voters will elect City Council members for four-year terms, which means Tuesday’s results will effectively set the city’s agenda for the next four years. Voters are also deciding on a new mayor, the Cincinnati Public Schools board, two property tax levies for the local library and zoo, and a proposal that would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system for city employees.

Polls will remain open until 7:30 p.m. To find out where to vote, visit the board of elections website.

For more election coverage and CityBeat’s endorsements, go to the official election page here.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.31.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Mayor at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
bank on

Bank On Greater Cincinnati Helped 1,700 Residents

Previous study linked high savings to economic mobility

Mayor Mark Mallory announced on Thursday that the Bank On Greater Cincinnati initiative during its first two years reached 1,700 residents previously without a bank account, which could help boost their economic mobility. The residents kept an average of $701 in their new accounts.

The initiative connects local residents with traditional financial services so they’re less reliant on check cashing and payday lending businesses. The average user of payday lending services spends $900 a year in fees, according to the mayor’s office.

Of course, the initiative benefits banks as well by connecting them to more potential customers who otherwise might forgo traditional banking services.

Bank On Greater Cincinnati is a partnership between Cincinnati, Covington, Newport, SmartMoney, the Cincinnati branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and 13 participating banks.

SmartMoney now manages Bank On in conjunction with Greater Cincinnati Saves, which encourages individuals to make a pledge to grow their savings. In the seven months that both initiatives worked together, 490 people took the pledge, a 220-percent increase over previous years, according to the mayor’s office.

“We are helping move people into the financial mainstream so they can begin to save and build assets,” Mallory said in a statement. “I want to thank all of our partners that help make this initiative so successful. Bank On will continue to help families establish bank accounts and receive strong financial education to help them manage their money.”

A November 2009 study from the Economic Mobility Project found a connection between savings and economic mobility. According to the study, high personal savings can greatly benefit both an individual during his or her lifetime or the individual’s children.

“Seventy-one percent of children born to high-saving, low-income parents move up from the bottom income quartile over a generation, compared to only 50 percent of children of low-saving, low-income parents,” the study found.

The improvement could add up for Cincinnati, which is still mired in troubling economic indicators despite some economic progress in the past few years. More than half of the city’s children lived in poverty in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Another study released in July by economists at Harvard University and University of California, Berkeley, found Cincinnati ranked 650 among 728 markets analyzed for upward economic mobility.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.31.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor, Government at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Election Issue hits stands, ballot restrictions move forward, Cranley helped move jobs

CityBeat’s full Election Issue is in stands now. Check out our feature stories on three remarkable City Council challengers: Mike Moroski, Michelle Dillingham and Greg Landsman. Find the rest of our election coverage, along with our endorsements, here.

The Ohio legislature is working through a bill that would limit ballot access for minor parties, which argue the petitioning and voting requirements are meant to help Gov. John Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014. The Ohio House narrowly passed the bill yesterday with looser restrictions than those set by the Ohio Senate earlier in the month, but a legislative error in the House means neither chamber will hammer out the final details until they reconvene next week. Republicans say the bill is necessary to set some basic standards for who can get on the ballot. Democrats have joined with minor parties in calling the bill the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act” because it would supposedly protect Kasich from tea party and other third-party challengers after his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion turned members of his conservative base against him.

As an attorney and lobbyist at Keating, Muething & Klekamp (KMK), mayoral candidate John Cranley helped payroll company Paycor finalize plans to move its headquarters — and 450 to 500 jobs with it — from Queensgate in Cincinnati to Norwood, Ohio. Specifically, KMK and several of its employees, including Cranley, helped Paycor and Norwood set up a tax credit deal to incentivize the company’s relocation. The Cranley campaign says he was just doing his job after Paycor went to KMK, not the other way around. But supporters of Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Cranley’s opponent in the mayoral race, say he shouldn’t be helping companies leave the city he wants to lead. Paycor’s move in 2014 means the city will have to take back some of the money it gave the company, through two tax deals that Cranley approved while on City Council, to encourage it to stay in Cincinnati through 2015. Cranley received a $1,100 campaign contribution from Paycor CEO Bob Coughlin on Aug. 20.

Opinion:
• “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Streetcar?
• “The Folly of Privatization.”

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) board travels widely and often dines at public expense, according to an investigation from The Cincinnati Enquirer. Among other findings, The Enquirer found the CVG board, which is considered a governmental agency, has a much more lenient travel expense policy for itself than it does for staff members, and it sometimes uses airport funds to pay for liquor. On Twitter, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartman called the findings outrageous and demanded resignations.

Northside property crime is on the rise, and police and residents are taking notice. Business leaders in the neighborhood are concerned the negative stigma surrounding the crime will hurt their businesses.

With federal stimulus funding expiring in November, 1.8 million Ohioans will get less food assistance starting tomorrow. The news comes after 18,000 in Hamilton County were hit by additional restrictions this month, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Hamilton County commissioners yesterday agreed to pay $883,000 to cover legal fees for Judge Tracie Hunter and her legal team. The Hamilton County Board of Elections racked up the bill for the county by repeatedly appealing Hunter’s demands that the board count more than one-third of previously discarded provisional ballots, which were enough to turn the juvenile court election in Hunter’s favor. Hunter’s opponent, John Williams, later won a separate appointment and election to get on the juvenile court.

Metro, Cincinnati’s local bus service, announced it’s relaxing time limits on transfer tickets, which should make it easier to catch a bus without sprinting to the stop.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp laid off nearly 500 employees in the past six months, with some of the layoffs hitting Cincinnati. The bank blames the job cuts on slowdowns in the mortgage business.

A new study finds cheaters are more likely to strike in the afternoon.

Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. If you don’t vote early, you can still vote on Election Day (Nov. 5). Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

Follow CityBeat on Twitter:
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by German Lopez 10.30.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, Mayor, News at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
 
 
john cranley

Cranley Helped Paycor Move 450 to 500 Jobs out of Cincinnati

Mayoral candidate represented company as it moved headquarters to Norwood

As an attorney and lobbyist at Keating, Muething & Klekamp (KMK), mayoral candidate John Cranley helped payroll company Paycor finalize plans to move its headquarters — and 450 to 500 jobs with it — from Queensgate in Cincinnati to Norwood, Ohio.

Specifically, KMK helped Paycor and Norwood set up a tax credit deal to incentivize the company’s relocation. Throughout the process, the law firm called on several of its employees, including Cranley, to help with the negotiations.

For Paycor, the move comes after more than two decades in Cincinnati. The company originally looked in Cincinnati for bigger headquarters with better parking options, but ultimately couldn’t find a location to its liking, according to a May 2012 memo from the city manager. So when Paycor found a location outside city limits and worked out a tax incentive package with Norwood and Ohio, it decided to move.

Cities and states often deploy incentive packages, ranging from property tax abatements to deductions on income taxes, to attract and retain companies. Pure Romance, a $100-million-plus “relationship enhancement” company, recently agreed to move from Loveland, Ohio, to downtown Cincinnati after securing such a tax deal with the city.

Paycor broke ground on its new headquarters in December and plans to move there next spring. The transition will pull 450 to 500 employees out of Cincinnati, and the company plans to add another 250 to 300 employees over time at its new facilities.

Cranley campaign manager Jay Kincaid says Cranley and KMK won’t comment on the details of their work with Paycor or other clients for ethical reasons. But Kincaid says Cranley was just doing his job after Paycor went to KMK, not the other way around.

“In the legal profession you’re asked to represent clients, and you do it to the best of your ability,” Kincaid says. “At the time I don’t think (Cranley) was even running for office. The firm came to him and said, ‘Hey, we have a job that we need you to work on.’ And he did the work, just like anyone else would at their job.”

Norwood City Council approved the deal with Paycor on Oct. 23, 2012. Cranley announced his mayoral campaign three weeks later, on Nov. 14.

Cranley’s critics argue that a mayoral candidate shouldn’t be helping companies leave the city he wants to lead.

“It is disappointing that John (Cranley) helped Paycor leave the city with its over 450 tax-paying jobs. His efforts undercut the city’s efforts to retain jobs and businesses,” said Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is running against Cranley, in an emailed statement.

The move comes despite Cincinnati’s various attempts to hang on to Paycor, including previous tax deals. In 2001, then-Councilman Cranley and the rest of City Council approved tax incentives to keep the company in Cincinnati, retain its 142 jobs at the time and create another 25. The city administration estimated the deal would cost the city $225,750 and generate $546,000 in net tax revenue over five years.

In 2006, Cranley and seven council members approved another incentive package to further secure Paycor’s stay in Cincinnati.

But the deals also required Paycor to remain in Cincinnati through 2015. Since Paycor’s move violates the agreement, the city administration says it plans to claw back some of the tax benefits given to the company.

In other words, Cranley in 2001 and 2006 approved tax deals with Paycor that the company, with his help, is now set to break.

City spokesperson Meg Olberding says the clawback process will begin after Paycor moves to Norwood in 2014. So if Cranley is elected by voters on Nov. 5, he would be mayor as the city is taking back some of the money it gave away.

Although the city is taking a hit, Cranley’s relations with the payroll company appear unscathed. Paycor CEO Bob Coughlin contributed $1,100 to Cranley’s campaign on Aug. 20, according to campaign finance reports.

Updated with more details about the tax deals between Cincinnati and Paycor.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.30.2013
Posted In: Museum, Mayor, News, Courts at 08:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
mark mallory

Morning News and Stuff

Mallory touts city's turnaround, museum could get off taxes, county gets break on legal bill

During his final state of the city address yesterday, Mayor Mark Mallory touted Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, which began during his eight years as mayor. He also fought back against the neighborhoods-versus-downtown rhetoric that has permeated on the campaign trail in the past year; he pointed out that throughout his past two terms the city government both invested $529 million in neighborhoods and oversaw the revitalization of downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Looking to the future, Mallory said the city should use its federally mandated overhaul of the sewer system as an opportunity to bring in private investment that could revitalize the West Side and help build a bridge from the West Side to Kentucky, near the airport.

A new report found the Museum Center could wean itself off taxes, but the report says it should first more than triple its endowment and, perhaps by applying for historic tax credits, rebuild its crumbling Union Terminal home. The report comes at the request of county commissioners, who are discussing whether they should allow a property tax levy on the May ballot to help the museum. It finds that if Union Terminal is repaired and restored, the museum could afford to operate without taxpayer help.

If county commissioners agree to make the payment today, Hamilton County could get a 4-percent break on its $920,501 legal bill to Democratic Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter and her legal team. The Hamilton County Board of Elections racked up the bill for the county after the board decided to contest Hunter’s legal challenge to count more than one-third of previously discarded provisional ballots, which were enough to turn the juvenile court election in Hunter’s favor. Hunter’s opponent at the time, Republican John Williams, eventually won a seat on the juvenile court through a different election.

City Council candidates have raised $2 million in the ongoing election cycle.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted says that his office, with the help of county boards of election, has virtually eliminated duplicate voters from the rolls.

Traffic deaths in Ohio could hit a record low in 2013.

Graeter’s plans to open an ice cream parlor in Over-the-Rhine.

Here are seven gorgeous images of space from NASA.

Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. If you don’t vote early, you can still vote on Election Day (Nov. 5). Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

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by German Lopez 10.22.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor at 04:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
roxanne qualls

Cranley’s Latest Attack on Qualls Deemed Invalid

City solicitor, ethics director: Realty work not a conflict of interest

City Solicitor John Curp and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said in an Oct. 22 email exchange that it was OK for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to retain her job as a realtor and vote in support of the streetcar project, even though the project could indirectly benefit Qualls by increasing property values — and therefore her compensation as a realtor — along the route.

The email exchange was provided to CityBeat and other media outlets after mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized Qualls, who is also running for mayor, for the alleged conflict of interest at an Oct. 22 press conference.

Curp stated in an email to Nick that Qualls’ potential gains from the streetcar project are too speculative and indirect to present a conflict of interest or ethical violation because the real estate sales are “arms-length transactions between private parties” with a flat 1 to 2 percent fee.

Nick’s emailed response cited two previous Ohio Ethics Commission opinions to support Curp’s analysis.

“It would be unreasonable to hold that lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, and other professionals have an interest in the contracts of their business clients. In general, such professionals are not deemed to be interested in the business dealings of a client, merely because they receive fees for professional services,” according to a February 1986 opinion.

The opinion then clarifies that ethics violations must be directly tied to a project. For example, an insurance agent on City Council would violate ethics law if he or she voted on a construction contract in which his or her insurance agency is charged with handling bond sales for the contract in some way.

Curp also noted that Qualls had asked about the potential conflict of interest on “a minimum of two prior occasions.”

Nick told CityBeat in a phone interview that it’s normal for city officials to go through city solicitors before going to the Ohio Ethics Commission with an ethical question. If the city solicitor and commission agree a formal analysis isn’t necessary, the situation is resolved with brief guidance.

For Cranley, the concerns suggest a contradiction to his previously touted beliefs about the streetcar.

Supporters of the streetcar project, including Qualls, often tout potential property value increases and the economic gains they would bring to Cincinnati as a reason to back the project. The economic gains were supported by studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati, which found the streetcar would produce a three-to-one return on investment in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.

Critics, including Cranley, say such property value increases are overblown to falsely justify what they call a “pet project.”

But if the property values never materialize, Qualls isn’t financially benefiting in the way Cranley’s campaign described.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.15.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Mayor at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

City Sets First Streetcar Tracks

Project moves forward despite political and financial hurdles

Standing in front of roughly 40 supporters, city leaders gave the order on Tuesday to lay down the first two streetcar tracks.

The milestone has been years in the making for the $133 million streetcar project — ever since City Council approved the streetcar plan in 2008 and the project broke ground in February 2012.

“This is another great day in our great city,” proclaimed Mayor Mark Mallory, a major proponent of the streetcar. “This is the project that will not stop.”

Political and financial hurdles snared the massive project in the past five years, but city officials say the construction phase is so far within budget and on time, putting it on track to open to the public on Sept. 15, 2016.

Until then, City Manager Milton Dohoney asked for patience as construction progresses.

But not everyone was happy with the milestone. Ex-Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for not delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December.

“The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people of Cincinnati from the beginning,” Cranley said in a statement. “To lay track for a project that can’t be completed for three years right before an election that will serve as a referendum on the project is a slap in face to the voters.”

Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.

Multiple streetcar supporters at the event told CityBeat that Cranley’s demands are ridiculous. They say that delaying a project with contractual obligations and deadlines for two months because of a political campaign would cripple the city’s ability to take on future projects as weary contractors question the city’s commitments.

Streetcar supporters back the project as both another option for public transit and an economic development driver. Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found the Over-the-Rhine and downtown loop will produce a three-to-one return on investment.

Opponents say the project is too costly. They argue the project forced the city to raise property taxes and forgo other capital projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 75 and Martin Luther King Drive.

The project already went through two referendums in 2009 and 2011 in which voters effectively approved the streetcar.

Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in federal funds from the project in 2011 after he won the 2010 gubernatorial election against former Gov. Ted Strickland, whose administration allocated the money to the streetcar.

Earlier in 2013, City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap after construction bids for the project came in higher than expected.

Despite the hurdles, city leaders remain committed to the project. They estimate the first section of the track — on Elm Street between 12th and Henry streets — will be finished in January 2014.

 
 

 

 

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by Rachel Podnar 05.29.2014 55 days ago
Posted In: LGBT Issues, Public Transit, City Council, Mayor at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
34654622-c5a6-4ae7-8f05-0b2569894db9

Metro to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits

Organization could become first to utilize city’s proposed domestic partner registry

Kim Lahman was doing cartwheels in her mind for Metro this morning.

The organization’s Ridership and Development Director celebrated Metro’s announcement on Thursday that it will provide health and dental benefits to domestic partners of its employees.

Lahman said she has used same-sex partner benefits in the past, when she went back to school.

“[My partner and I] know first-hand what it means to have the flexibility and equality as others do in the workplace,” Lahman said at a press conference at Metro’s office. “This is just a fantastic day and I’m so proud that Metro is able to do the right thing.”

Metro is the first employer to say it will use Cincinnati’s domestic partner registry if the initiative passes next week in City Council. Should it pass, Cincinnati will be the 10th city in Ohio to have a domestic partner registry.

Mayor John Cranley and City Councilman Chris Seelbach attended the press conference and spoke in support of the move.

Cranley called it “symbolically and substantively right” and during   the announcement shared a memory in honor of Maya Angelou, her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

“She ended it with ‘Good morning,’” Cranley said. “I think this is a good morning for Cincinnati, a new day.”

Many of Cincinnati’s major employers, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Macy’s offer same-sex and domestic partner benefits.

Seelbach said while those companies already have systems to evaluate domestic partnerships, the registry will give other companies like Metro an easy way to provide those benefits.

“We are now leaders in the nation and the region to make sure everyone is welcome in our city, regardless of who they love,” Seelbach said. “Everyone should bring their full self to their workplace and be able to do that with health benefits for their partners.”

Seelbach said while Metro is the first to say it will use the registry, other companies like Cincinnati Bell have expressed interest.

Metro is a nonprofit tax-funded public service of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) with around 850 employees.

One of SORTA’s executive statements says the organization is committed to a work environment that “promotes dignity and respect for all.”

Board Chair Jason Dunn said SORTA’s commitment to inclusion is a great business decision.

“It shows that we value our employees,” Dunn said. “It shows that not only is Metro on the cutting edge of transportation but also making sure we are open to talent and we are open to retaining great talent in our system.”

Same-sex partners with a valid marriage license, same-sex partners registered by a government entity and same-sex partners with a sworn affidavit will be recognized by Metro for domestic partner benefits, which will take effect January 1, 2015.

 

 

 

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 04.22.2014 92 days ago
Posted In: Mayor, News at 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
parkway

New Bikeway Proposal Could Cost Additional $110,000

Vice Mayor Mann set to introduce motion to save parking spaces

The city’s cost of a long-planned piece of cycling infrastructure could more than double if City Council approves a motion Vice Mayor David Mann planned to introduce on April 23. 

Mayor John Cranley successfully paused the Central Parkway Bikeway Project for public discourse in response to a handful of business owners and residents taking exception to it, and a spokesman for Mann shared his suggested compromise with CityBeat today.

In response to an April 21 special Neighborhoods Committee meeting, Mann seeks to alter the bike route to appease people who don’t want to see parking spaces removed, but the updated plan will cost an additional $110,00 on top of the $82,600 the city would pay under the original plan, which would create the beginning of a cycling corridor running from Elm Street downtown to Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. The project was supposed to break ground next month and could lose $330,400 in federal money if the contract isn’t awarded by May 1. 

“We routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as a city to create new jobs in our community,” Mann said in a statement. “We should not approve a new project that places 60 newly created jobs in jeopardy when such a sensible accommodation is available.”

The planned bikeway is an innovative piece of cycling infrastructure meant to better protect cyclists along a critical thoroughfare that would connect a number of inner-city neighborhoods and business districts. The lane will be protected, meaning cyclists will have their own lane with a buffer separating them from traffic; in some areas plastic bollards will separate the bike and automobile lanes. The street will not be widened, so traffic lanes will be impacted through restriping, and parking will be restricted during peak traffic hours in the morning and evening. 

Opponents of the project are concerned about losing public, on-street parking for parts of the day as well as potentially encountering traffic issues from shaving lanes from Brighton Place to Liberty Street. They also worry the bollards will become a blight issue and emergency vehicles will be impeded during one-lane hours.

Mann’s motion supports an alternative plan for a section running from Ravine Street to Brighton Place that would preserve 23 parking spaces full-time, alter 4,300 square feet of greenspace and remove 15 trees at an estimated cost of $110,000. The parking spaces would benefit a building owner and his tenants at 2145 Central Parkway. 

City Councilman Chris Seelbach and others demonstrated frustration with the administration’s interest in stepping in at the 11th hour. 

“I think we have reached a new era in Cincinnati: two steps forward, pause, lots of long meetings, two steps forward, and I’m convinced after the pause and lots of long meetings, we will continue to go two steps forward today,” Seelbach said at the April 21 meeting. 

Mayor Cranley requested City Manager Scott Stiles delay awarding a contract after meeting with local business owner Tim Haines, who purchased a vacant building located at 2145 Central Parkway in 2012 for $230,000. His building now houses 65 employees from 12 different businesses including his own, Relocation Strategies. Haines has become a mouthpiece for the opposition to the bikeway — though he adamantly states he is not against the lane; he is just against the project’s current incarnation as it affects Central Parkway near his business, which utilizes 500 feet of on-street, unmetered parking, which translates to 30 parking spaces.

“If parking wasn’t an issue, I would open up my arms and welcome the bike path,” Haines says. “Parking for my 65 tenants is in jeopardy. As a business owner I have to fight for my tenants. … Could they park and walk a quarter of a mile? They could, but that’s not what they signed up for when they moved in.”

Haines has a 16-space parking lot adjacent to his building that some of his tenants use and also owns a parking lot across the street that is in disrepair. Haines says he already cleared it of underbrush to cut down criminal activity and disposed of dozens of tires and beer bottles. He says it would cost up to $300,000 to upgrade the lot. 

During the April 21 presentation, Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) Director Michael Moore presented the committee with an alternative recently developed with Cranley’s office that he said would appease Haines and his tenants but would cost more money. Moore pushed the notion that the alternative creates a more balanced bikeway plan.

The original plan, passed by council last year, restricts parking in front of Haines’ building from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Moore’s alternative, which Mann is on board with, is to ramp the bike lane over the curb adjacent to a sidewalk where there is currently a tree-lined area in front of Haines’ building and another business in order to preserve public parking full-time. 

At the meeting, council member Young took exception to the suggestion of changing the project at this point.  

“For the life of me, I don’t see where the reasonableness and the balance is with people who come so far after the fact that want us to make these changes and the dollar amount it’s going to cost the taxpayers to get it done,” Young said. “I am appalled that people can come after the fact and tie up all these people down here to simply want accommodations for them.”

Mann shared another perspective.

“There’s a gentleman who has brought 60 jobs to the city, including some folks who have Parkinson’s and use the building, and the proposal that’s being made seems to me to represent balance,” Mann said. “We spend millions of dollars, typically, to support development, to support jobs, and you’re saying that the proposal that was originally approved by this council without a hearing like this is so pristine that it cant be adjusted in any way, and if it’s adjusted that is a statement of imbalance? I just don’t follow that.”

For the past year and a half, DOTE conducted surveys, sought public input and developed plans for the bikeway. After a strong consensus, the department chose the protected bikeway plan. The bikeway is estimated to add just three seconds of motorist commute time by 2030, though some naysayers suggest that delivery trucks will clog the lanes and the turn left from Ravine Street will create an even longer lag. 

Community outreach for the design began in March of last year with eight community council meetings. Letters were mailed to residents, businesses and property owners, but Haines and several other business owners stated they didn’t receive any and weren’t aware of the project until late last year. 

A website designed for public feedback also garnered about 600 messages mainly supporting the bikeway project. DOTE held an open house last September and the Over-The-Rhine and Northside community councils, Findlay Market and Northside Business Association endorsed the project. 

Simpson expressed frustration with halting progress for a last-minute meeting.

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate process,” she said. “Really, technically you can go over everything over the past two years. The reality is we need to look forward. If we want to be less auto-focused and more focused on other types of transit, we’re going to have to ruffle a couple of feathers.”

Supporters — some who biked to the April 21 meeting and utilized a bike valet setup in front of City Hall — represented various groups of the community from health and community councils to business owners and cyclists. Their number doubled opponents — mainly business owners along Central Parkway in the West End and the West End Community Council, though some West End residents and business owners supported the original bikeway plan.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.07.2014 139 days ago
Posted In: News, Drugs, Voting, Development, Mayor at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Early voting agreement sought, downtown project scrutinized, drug abuse reportedly drops

Mayor John Cranley is trying to find a compromise over whether early voting will move out of downtown after the 2016 general election, as some Republicans in the county government have suggested. Cranley called for a meeting with Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, Cincinnati NAACP President Ishton Morton and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel. The meeting will aim to “discuss alternatives the City of Cincinnati can offer to accommodate early voting downtown after the 2016 elections. (Cranley) believes that such a discussion is consistent with the recommendation of the secretary of state that there be an effort to find a nonpartisan solution to the existing disagreement.”

With a $12 million price tag in mind, Cranley remains worried Cincinnati is paying too much for a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. But the project is truly one of a kind, claims The Business Courier: The tower would boast nearly twice the number of luxury apartments of any other project underway in Over-the-Rhine or downtown. And it would replace a decrepit garage and establish the first full-scale grocery store downtown in decades.

A study found Ohio teens’ painkiller abuse dropped by 40 percent between 2011 and 2013. State officials quickly took credit for the drop, claiming their drug prevention strategies are working. But because the Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey only has two sets of data on painkillers to work with — one in 2011 and another in 2013 — it’s possible the current drop is more statistical noise than a genuine downturn, so the 2015 and 2017 studies will be under extra scrutiny to verify the trend.

Similarly, fewer Ohio teens say they’re drinking and smoking. But 46 percent say they text while driving.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in January, down from 7.3 percent the year before. The numbers reflect both rising employment and dropping unemployment in the previous year.

To prove his conservative bona fides, Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted a rifle when he walked on stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, will headline a Hamilton County Republican Party dinner.

Researchers studied a woman who claims she can will herself out of her body.

Personal note: This is my last “Morning News and Stuff” and blog for CityBeat. After today, I will be leaving to Washington, D.C., for a new journalistic venture started by bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate. (CityBeat Editor Danny Cross wrote a lot of nice things about the move here, and my last commentary touched on it here.) Thank you to everyone who read my blogs during my nearly two years at CityBeat, and I hope I helped you understand the city’s complicated, exciting political and economic climate a little better, even if you sometimes disagreed with what I wrote.

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by German Lopez 03.06.2014 140 days ago
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Downtown project gets path forward, feds to pay for firefighters, health board defies mayor

Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.

But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.

Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.

The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.

Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.

Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.

Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.

Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.

Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.

The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.

A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.

Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.

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by German Lopez 03.05.2014
 
 
greenpeace P&G

Morning News and Stuff

Anti-P&G protesters face court, 3CDC to resolve project, mayor denies politics in board pick

A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.

Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.

Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.

Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”

The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.

Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”

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by German Lopez 03.04.2014
Posted In: News, Development, Budget, City Council, Mayor at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Morning News and Stuff

Mayor blocks downtown development, city leaders push for Google Fiber, budget gap grows

Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even though the developer involved plans to invest another $60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.

Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”

Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million, largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and service cuts.

Commentary:Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.

Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting politics over the city’s needs.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.

Kathy Wilson:Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.

At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Headline:Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”

“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

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by German Lopez 02.27.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, History, Mayor, City Council, city manager at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

Council backs parking plan, strong mayor gains support, museum keeps Dr. Seuss cartoons

City Council yesterday expressed support for a barebones parking plan that would upgrade all meters to accept credit card payments and increase enforcement around the city, which should boost annual revenues. The plan does not increase rates or hours at meters, as Mayor John Cranley originally called for. It also doesn’t allow people to pay for parking meters through smartphones. The plan ultimately means death for the parking privatization plan, which faced widespread criticism after the previous city administration and council passed it as a means to jumpstart new investments and help fix the city’s operating budget and pension system.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman plans to pursue changes to the city’s political structure to give more power to the mayor and less to the city manager. Smitherman says the current system is broken because it doesn’t clearly define the role of the mayor. Under Smitherman’s system, the mayor would run the city and hire department heads; the city manager, who currently runs the city and handles hiring, would primarily preside over budget issues; and City Council would pass legislation and act as a check to the mayor. Smitherman aims to put the plan to voters this November.

Commentary: “WCPO’s Sloppy Streetcar Reporting Misses Real Concerns.”

The Cincinnati Art Museum maintains five political cartoons from the famed Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), but none are currently on public display. The cartoons call back to the history before World War II, when most of the world played ignorant to the horrors of the Holocaust and Americans had yet to enter the war. Dr. Seuss loathed the villains on the world stage, and his cartoons promoted a message of interventionism that would eventually lead him to join the Army to help in the fight against the Axis powers. When he returned home, he would write the famous stories and books he’s now so well known for.

Mayor Cranley and some council members appear reluctant to accept a routine grant application that would allow the Cincinnati Health Department to open two more clinics because of the potential effect the clinics could have on the city’s budget. Cranley and other council members also seem concerned that the Health Department played a role in the recent closing of Neighborhood Health Care, which shut down four clinics and three school-based programs after it lost federal funding.

Ohio legislators approved a bill that forces absentee voters to submit more information and reduces the amount of time provisional voters have to confirm their identities from 10 days to one week. For Democrats, the bill adds to previous concerns that Republicans are attempting to suppress voters. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who’s expected to sign the measure into law.

The Ohio legislature continues wrangling over how to give schools more snow days.

More than 175,000 claims have been filed over winter damage, potentially making this winter one of the costliest in decades.

Robot suits could make mixed martial arts blood-free.

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by German Lopez 02.25.2014
Posted In: News, LGBT, City Council, Mayor at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pride_seelbach_jf

City Pursues Domestic Partner Registry for Same-Sex Couples

Seelbach touts measure to boost Cincinnati’s LGBT inclusion score

The mayor and a supermajority of City Council backs efforts to establish a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples in Cincinnati, Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office announced Tuesday.

If adopted by the city, the registry will allow same-sex couples to gain legal recognition through the city. That would let same-sex couples apply for domestic partner benefits at smaller businesses, which typically don’t have the resources to verify legally unrecognized relationships, according to Seelbach’s office.

Specifically, the City Council motion asks the city administration to reach out to other cities that have adopted domestic partner registries, including Columbus and eight other Ohio cities, and establish specific guidelines.

Seelbachs office preemptively outlined a few requirements to sign up: Same-sex couples will need to pay a $45 fee and prove strong financial interdependency by showing joint property ownership, power of attorney, a will and other unspecified requirements.

“As a result of a $45 fee to join the registry, we believe this will be entirely budget neutral, meaning it won't cost the city or the taxpayers a single dollar,” Seelbach said in a statement.

If the plan is adopted this year, Cincinnati should gain a perfect score in the next “Municipal Equality Index” from the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that, among other tasks, evaluates LGBT inclusion efforts from city to city. Cincinnati scored a 90 out of 100 in the 2013 rankings, with domestic partner registries valued at 12 points.

Seelbach expects the administration to report back with a full proposal that City Council can vote on in the coming months.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.12.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, City Council, Mayor at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
news1_parkingmeters

What Is Cranley’s Parking Plan?

Proposal could increase parking enforcement, hours and rates

Mayor John Cranley on Feb. 12 officially unveiled his plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, providing the first clear option for the city’s parking system since the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority agreed to halt the previous plan.

The proposal seeks to effectively replace the previous administration’s parking privatization plan, which outsourced the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority and several private companies, and maintain local control of the city’s parking assets.

Here’s a breakdown of the plan and all its finer details.

What is Cranley’s parking plan?

It’s a plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages. More specifically, Cranley calls his proposal a “framework” that focuses on upgrading the city’s parking meters and keeps City Council’s control of parking rates and hours.

Cranley’s plan, based on a Feb. 7 memo from Walker Parking Consultants, achieves his goals in a few ways:

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to upgrade all parking meters to accept credit card payments.

• The amount of enforcement officers under the city’s payroll would increase to 15, up from five, to provide greater coverage of the city’s parking meters. (Currently, a few areas, including major hubs like the University of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, are effectively unenforced for two to five hours a day, according to Walker.)

• Neighborhood meter rates would go up by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. Downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour.

• Sundays and holidays remain free.

Cranley says the underlying idea is to maintain a few key principles, particularly local control over rates and hours. He cautions Walker’s proposal, including expanded enforcement hours, could change with public input and as City Council puts together the final plan.

Does the plan let people use smartphones to pay for parking meters?

No. Cranley says the upgraded meters will support the technology, but it will be up to council to decide whether it’s enabled in the future.

Smartphone capability is a double-edged sword: It introduces its own set of costs, including shorter battery life for meters. It also allows customers to avoid under- and overpaying at parking meters, which decreases citation and meter revenues. But smartphone access also increases ease of use, which could lead to higher revenues by making it easier to pay.

The parking privatization plan promised to provide smartphone access at all parking meters. The previous administration and Port Authority championed the feature as key to increasing convenience and revenue.

OK, that explains the parking meters. What about the parking garages?

Cranley’s plan makes two changes to garages:

• The Port Authority would take over Fountain Square South Garage. The Port would be required to cover expenses for the garage, but any net revenue could be used on projects within the city.

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to build a garage at 7th and Broadway streets.

Otherwise, things remain the same as today.

In other words, the city would be on the hook for parking garage repairs and upgrades, which Walker estimates would cost roughly $8 million in capital expenses over the next five years.

But the city would also continue directly receiving around $2 million per year in net revenue from parking garages, according to Walker.

Still, the city isn’t allowed under state law to use the revenue from parking garages for anything outside the parking system.

The parking privatization plan tried to do away with the restriction by putting the Port Authority in charge of garages. State law allows agencies like the Port to tap into garage revenues for other uses, such as development projects.

But without the previous administration’s plan, Cranley claims the Port Authority declined to take over more facilities beyond Fountain Square South Garage. Given the rejection, Cranley says its up to council to figure out another way to leverage garage revenues beyond putting them back in the parking system.

What does Cranley’s plan do about the thousands of parking tickets already owed to the city?

Nothing. By Cranley’s own admission, the city needs to do a better job collecting what its owed. But he says that’s something City Council will have to deal with in the future.

So why did Cranley oppose the parking privatization plan?

Cranley vehemently opposed giving up local control of the city’s parking assets. He warned that outsourcing meters to the Port Authority and private companies would create a for-profit incentive to ratchet up parking rates and enforcement.

The previous administration disputed Cranley’s warnings. They pointed out an advisory board, chaired by four Port Authority appointees and one city appointee, would need to unanimously agree on rate and hour changes, and the changes could be vetoed by the city manager.

Without any changes from the advisory board, the 30-year privatization plan hiked downtown parking meter rates by 25 cents every three years and neighborhood rates by 25 cents every six years. The plan also expanded enforcement hours to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. in Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown.

Still, City Council would lose its control of rates and hours under the privatization plan. Cranley and other opponents argued the outsourcing scheme could insulate the parking system from public — and voter — input.

Cranley also opposed the privatization plan’s financial arrangement.

Under the old deal, the city would receive a lump sum of $85 million and annual installments of $3 million, as long as required expenses, such as costly garage upgrades or repairs, were met.

In comparison, the city currently gets roughly $3 million in net revenue from parking meters and another $2 million in net revenue from parking garages. (As noted earlier, the parking garage revenue can only be used for parking expenses.)

Cranley characterizes the lump sum as “borrowing from the future” because it uses upfront money that could instead be taken in by the city as annual revenue.

Related: Compare Cranley’s plan with the parking privatization plan.

Why does Cranley think his proposal is necessary?

It solidifies the death of the parking privatization plan. That’s important to begin the process of legally dismantling the previous plan.

The plan also increases net parking meter revenues from roughly $3 million to $6 million in the next budget year and more than $7 million per year within five years, according to Walker’s original estimates. (The estimates are likely too high because they assumed evening hours would expand around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But Cranley shelved the expansion of hours, with no estimates for how the changes will affect revenues.)

Since parking meter revenue, unlike garage revenue, can be used for non-parking expenses, the extra revenue could help plug the $20 million gap in the $370 million operating budget.

Why do some people oppose Cranley’s plan?

Some people supported the parking privatization plan. They saw the lump sum as a great opportunity to invest in development projects around the city. Without the lump sum, critics claim Cranley’s plan accepts all the pain of the previous plan — increased enforcement, rates and hours — for very little gain, even though the city would get more annual revenue and upgraded parking meters and garages.

Politics are also involved. After the contentious streetcar debate, there’s not much Cranley can do without some critics speaking out.

When will Cranley’s plan go into effect?

City Council first has to approve Cranley’s plan for it to become law. Council will likely take up and debate the plan at the Neighborhood Committee on Feb. 24 and set a more concrete timeline after that.

This blog post will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Latest update: Feb. 19.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.10.2014
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor, 2014 election, Abortion at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

City plans to add firefighters, abortion clinics under threat, Kasich gets union supporters

Mayor John Cranley yesterday announced a plan to add another recruit class to the Cincinnati Fire Department and effectively eliminate brownouts, but it remains unclear how the class will be paid for in the long-term. The Fire Department applied for a federal grant that would cover the costs for two years, but the city would need to pay for the new firefighters salaries after that. To some City Council members, the proposal, along with other plans to add more police recruits and fund a jobs program for the long-term unemployed, raises questions about what will get cut in the budget to pay for the new costs.

Gov. John Kasich’s administration has led an aggressive effort to shut down abortion clinics around the state, and a clinic in Sharonville, Ohio, could be the next to close after the administration denied a request that would have allowed the clinic to stay open without an emergency patient transfer agreement. The process has apparently involved high-ranking officials in the Ohio Department of Health, which one regulator says is unusual. The threat to the Sharonville clinic follows the passage of several new anti-abortion regulations through the latest state budget, but state officials say the new regulations were unnecessary to deny the Sharonville clinic’s request to stay open.

Unions broadly support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s campaign, but at least one union-funded group, Affiliated Construction Trades (ACT) Ohio, seems to be throwing its weight behind Kasich, a Republican. The surprising revelation shows not every union group has kept a grudge against Kasich and other Republicans after they tried to limit public employees’ collective bargaining rights through Senate Bill 5 in 2011. ACT Ohio says its support for Kasich is related to jobs, particularly Kasich’s support for infrastructure projects. The jobs market actually stagnated after Kasich took office, which some political scientists say could cost Kasich his re-election bid even though economists say the governor isn’t to blame.

Talk of tolls continues threatening the $2.65 billion Brent Spence Bridge project as opposition from Northern Kentuckians remains strong. Ohio and Kentucky officials insist tolls are necessary to replace the supposedly dangerous bridge because the federal government doesn’t seem willing to pick up the tab.

Ohio gas prices keep rising.

A Dayton University student froze to death after falling asleep outside, with alcohol a possible factor.

Airplane pilots often head to the wrong airport, according to new reports.

Watch people tightrope walk between hot air balloons.

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