A City Council committee wants Cincinnati’s leadership to investigate whether workers in a Clifton Heights development project are being paid what they’re supposed to.
The Strategic Growth Committee on Wednesday passed a motion asking the city administration to report back on wage payments to workers on the U Square development. The project includes a parking garage as well as residential and commercial units.
Under Ohio law, workers on projects funded by cities must be paid a prevailing wage, which is equivalent to the wage earned by a union worker on a similar project.
The city only has money invested in the garage, and the state of Ohio recently ruled that workers on other parts don’t have to be paid prevailing wage.
Council members Wendell Young, Cecil Thomas and Laure Quinlivan produced a video in which they interviewed carpenters who said they were being paid less than the prevailing wage.
At issue is a letter from developer Towne Properties that says the company will pay all workers prevailing wage anyway. Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said his company cuts a check to subcontractors respecting that agreement, so if workers aren’t being paid the proper amount it’s their fault.
City Solicitor John Curp told members of the Strategic Growth Committee that under city and state law, the subcontractors are not required to pay workers a prevailing wage on parts of the project that are not getting public funding. He said the letter from the developer does not hold the weight as a legal contract.
Young, Thomas, Quinlivan and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld all expressed the need to overhaul the way the city enters into development contracts to better protect workers.
However, City Manager Milton Dohoney hinted that overzealous requirements for high wages could chase off some development projects.
He said that a project like U Square is tied to the Clifton location because of its proximity to the University of Cincinnati, but the city can’t be too restrictive when it comes to businesses that could expand elsewhere.
Dohoney said the city also doesn’t currently have the manpower to do the kind of aggressive enforcement that the council members were asking for.
Councilman Young countered that he would like to see the city be as aggressive with enforcement as they are with making economic development deals.
“We want to change the rules of the game to make sure everyone is treated equal,” Young said.
Some members of city council agreed that the city needs to take a hard look at the way it inspects projects done with taxpayer money, but they took no action during a special joint committee meeting Thursday to discuss allegations that workers were being underpaid at the University Square development in Clifton.
Council members Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young presented a video investigation they conducted, which included interviews with workers on the project who claim they were being taken advantage of by the University Square developers.
Under Ohio and Cincinnati law, workers on projects funded by taxpayers must be paid a so-called “prevailing wage” (the same as a unionized worker) and be given benefits.
In Cincinnati, that wage is $23.17 an hour for the carpentry work done by the workers interviewed for the video.
The workers in the video claimed they were paid $500 for working a 60-hour week.
“Five-hundred dollars a week to me when you don’t have a job, that’s a lot,” said Garrick Foxx, a construction worker on the project.
“But actually when you average it out, it’s not. Like to the hour-wise it’s probably like 9-something, so like I could actually make that working at McDonalds.”
The University Square developer — a collaboration between Towne Properties and Al. Neyer, Inc. — is building a complex with a parking garage, residential units and retail space.
The City of Cincinnati has $21 million invested in the parking garage. The State of Ohio recently ruled that the prevailing wage provisions apply only workers constructing the garage that the city has money invested in.
Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said the controversy was ginned up by unions and it hasn’t been proven that workers are being underpaid.
“All of this was started by the unions themselves because they became very unhappy when the State of Ohio said a sizeable portion of our project was not subject to prevailing wage,” Bortz said. “They tried then to discredit and intimidate anyone who is on the other side of the table.”
Bortz said he agreed to pay a prevailing wage even to workers who worked on parts of the project not subject to the law. He said he cuts a check to the subcontractors based on that agreement.
“Whether any of those subcontractors might have been unfair to the workers, we do not know,” Bortz said. “If they were, they should be made to be fair.”
Deputy City Solicitor Aaron Herzig said if the contract required a particular wage be paid and it wasn’t, the city can bring a breach of contract action against the developers. But to start an investigation, a complaint must first be made.
The council members asked that their investigation be considered a formal complaint.
Conservative groups are pushing Ohio to purge its voter rolls. The move is largely seen by Democrats as an attempt to disenfranchise and suppress voters. The groups in support of the purge, which include Judicial Watch and True the Vote, typically cite voter-related errors and voter fraud as the main reason for their efforts, but there have been 10 cases of in-person voter fraud since 2000, according to a News21 study. Florida Gov. Rick Scott also pushed for a voter purge in his state, but Democrats vowed to fight the purge at every step.The Historic Conservation Board ruled in favor of the Anna Louise Inn yesterday. The ruling means the inn can now move ahead with its multi-million renovation project. The board’s ruling was despite Western & Southern, which has tried to block the renovation as part of a broader attempt to shut down the inn and buy up the property. CityBeat extensively covered W&S’s attempts here.
Cincinnati is No. 7 in the country for job growth, a study from Arizona State University found. Cincinnati beat out Riverside, Calif., but it lost to San Francisco, Denver, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and San Diego.Secretary of State Jon Husted was advised to fire the Democrats on the Montgomery Board of Elections by Jon Allison, who overheard the hearing on the firings on Aug. 20. Allison is also the former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Bob Taft. The Democrats on the board attempted to expand in-person early voting to weekends despite Husted’s call to uniform voting hours that include no weekend voting. Ohio Democratic Party Chris Redfern said the recommendation was “no surprise” and the Republican Party should be expected to support voter suppression by now.
Josh Mandel, excessive liar, Ohio treasurer and senatorial candidate for Ohio, described Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio as “un-American” for his vote supporting the auto bailout, which helped protect 850,000 jobs in Ohio’s auto industry. But Mandel still refuses to give specifics on what he would have done differently to protect the auto industry.The federal government has given the go-ahead for fracking in Wayne National Forest in Ohio. The go-ahead will open up more than 3,300 acres for auction. Environmental critics say fracking is unsafe and should be banned, but Gov. John Kasich insists the process can be made safe with proper regulations. Previous analyses have found natural gas, which is produced from fracking, could help combat climate change. CityBeat previously covered the uncertainty behind fracking here.
Kentucky is getting another creationist attraction. Apparently not content with the false claims asserted at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, a new group wants to build a brick-and-mortar for the Founders of Creation Science Hall of Fame.Republicans almost went a day without saying something offensive about women. Tom Smith, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania’s senate seat, compared pregnancy from rape to pregnancy out of wedlock. Last week, Paul Ryan, Republican vice presidential candidate, described rape as a "method of conception."
Most people might not remember it since it’s rarely mentioned in the news anymore, but America is still at war in Afghanistan. Yesterday, the Taliban beheaded 17 civilians for having a party, two U.S. soldiers were killed by an Afghan soldier and 10 Afghan soldiers died to insurgents.A private funeral service is planned in Cincinnati for Neil Armstrong, who died last Saturday. A public funeral will be held at Wapakoneta. Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. His first steps inspired curiosity and innovation around the world when he said, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Politicians will talk up Armstrong’s accomplishment in the following days, but Democrats and Republicans both supported cuts to NASA’s budget in recent years that Armstrong opposed.
The Conservation Board staff reviewed the standards required for conditional use and the Anna Louise Inn’s application, concluding that the facility should be allowed to operate as a “special assistance shelter.”
The Board is expected to rule on the permit Aug. 27 after receiving the recommendation and hearing testimony from the Inn’s administrators and supporters. Representatives from Western & Southern Financial Group, which sued the Anna Louise Inn over zoning violations in 2011, will also have an opportunity to testify.
CityBeat last week reported the details of Western & Southern’s failure to purchase the Anna Louise Inn when it had the chance and the company’s subsequent attempts to force the Inn out of the neighborhood (“Surrounded by Skyscrapers", issue of Aug. 15).
Tim Burke, lawyer for the Anna Louise Inn, is pleased with the staff’s determination that the renovation met all qualifications for conditional use.
“I was certainly optimistic that we would get a positive recommendation,” Burke says. “This is obviously an extremely positive recommendation and we agree with it.”
The staff recommendation states that the Anna Louise Inn “creates, maintains and enhances areas for residential developments that complement and support the downtown core” and that “no evidence has been presented of any negative public health, safety, welfare or property injury due to the current use.” It also notes that “the Anna Louise Inn is a point of reference from which all other new and renovated buildings must be designed in order to be compatible with the district.”
The Anna Louise Inn only applied for the conditional use permit because Judge Norbert Nadel ruled in Western & Southern’s favor on May 4, determining that the Inn is a “special assistance shelter” rather than “transitional housing,” which froze $12.6 million in city- and state-distributed loans for the Inn’s planned renovation. The Anna Louise Inn appealed that decision but also applied for the conditional use permit from the Conservation Board under the judge’s definition, because special assistance shelters qualify for conditional use permits under the city’s zoning code.
Francis Barrett, lawyer for Western & Southern, appears to have taken exception to the Anna Louise Inn’s application. He sent a letter to the Conservation Board Aug. 20 stating that “the description of the proposed uses set forth in the application for conditional use approval … is not the same as nor consistent with the Court’s decision.”
Barrett didn't return a message left by CityBeat with the receptionist at his law firm after a Western & Southern media relations representative directed CityBeat to contact him there. Francis Barrett is the brother of Western & Southern CEO John F. Barrett.
UPDATE: Francis Barrett returned CityBeat’s call after this story was published. His comments are at the end.
Burke doesn’t know what Barrett meant by suggesting that the proposed uses in the Anna Louise Inn’s application for conditional use don’t follow Nadel’s May 4 ruling.
“We’re doing what they argued in court,” Burke says. “Judge Nadel’s decision doesn’t ever exactly say ‘you’re a special assistance shelter.’ It certainly refers to the Off the Streets program that way and it certainly refers to (the Anna Louise Inn) as a single unified use. It says ‘go back to the appropriate administrators and seek conditional use approval.’ That’s what we’re doing.”
Stephen MacConnell, president and CEO of Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the Anna Louise Inn, says the hearing will involve testimony from himself and Mary Carol Melton, CUB executive vice president, along with supporters of the Anna Louise Inn.
“We’ll bring a few witnesses just to basically lay out the situation,” MacConnell says. “The board will already have the staff recommendation, so the witnesses that we’ll bring will briefly testify about how we meet the required standards.”
Western & Southern will have a chance to appeal if the Historic Conservation Board grants the conditional use permit. Burke expects that to happen.
“What I’m pissed about is Western & Southern, they don’t give a damn,” Burke says. “We can do exactly what Judge Nadel told us to do and get it approved as a conditional use. They will appeal it to the zoning board of appeals. We can win it there and they will appeal it and get it back in front of Judge Nadel and then I don’t know what will happen.”
The hearing is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27 at Centennial Plaza Two, 805 Central Ave., Seventh Floor.
UPDATE 5:36 P.M.: Regarding the letter Francis Barrett sent the Conservation Board Aug. 20 stating that “the description of the proposed uses set forth in the application for conditional use approval … is not the same as nor consistent with the Court’s decision,” Barrett said Friday evening: “I just felt that the description in the submission was different from the description in the decision. I would say it was just not complete.”
When asked for specifics, Barrett said: “I’d have to get the decision out and look at it carefully. I don’t have it in front of me I just thought in general.”
Barrett said Western & Southern will give a presentation to the Historic Conservation Board on Monday but declined to elaborate because it wasn’t finalized.
When asked if Western & Southern will appeal a ruling in favor of the Anna Louise Inn, Barrett said: “It all depends what the decision states.”
The Ohio Republican Party has given an excuse for Franklin County Republican Party Chairman Doug Preisse’s racist comment: Preisse thought he was off the record. The defense solidifies that Preisse, who is also a top adviser to Gov. John Kasich, was being honest — just not public — when he wrote in an email to The Columbus Dispatch, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” The comment was supposed to defend the Ohio Republican Party’s position against expanding in-person early voting, but it only revealed that racial politics play a pivotal role in the Republican Party’s opposition to expanded voting.
Cincinnati has revealed the first master plan for the city since 1980. The plan seeks to put back an emphasis on urban living with policies that are friendlier to the environment and non-automotive transportation.President Barack Obama’s campaign will host an open house at the campaign’s new offices at Over-the-Rhine tomorrow. John Legend will be there.
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank is facing a class action lawsuit for what the plaintiff calls “payday loans.” The plaintiff alleges that the bank was charging illegally high interest rates.
University of Cincinnati President Greg Williams is stepping down, citing personal reasons. Santa Onos, who previously served as provost, will take over temporarily as interim president.Greater Cincinnati’s unemployment rate, which is not adjusted for seasonal factors, remained at 7.2 percent in July. The number is lower than the state’s unadjusted rate of 7.4 percent and the federal unadjusted rate of 8.6 percent. Governments typically give numbers that are seasonally adjusted, which is why in July a 7.2 percent unemployment rate was reported for Ohio and an 8.3 percent unemployment rate was reported for the United States.
The Ohio Hospital Association is backing the Medicaid expansion. The expansion is an optional part of Obamacare. The Dispatch blog calls the expansion “costly,” but Medicaid expansions can actually save the state money by eliminating uncompensated hospital visits — on top of possibly saving lives.
The Ohio Board of Education will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow. The meeting will set the “process and criteria” for the Board’s search for a new superintendent of public instruction.The Horseshoe Casino will begin hiring today. The casino is looking to fill more than 750 positions.
Forty-one Greater Cincinnati companies made it on the latest Inc. 5000 list.
Obama was in Columbus yesterday. During the trip, the president talked mostly about young people and education in an attempt to rally the youth vote.
U.S. spending on health care is set to rise by 50 percent by 2020, a new report says. As part of Obamacare and other programs, the federal government is trying to bring health-care costs down, which have risen faster than the rate of inflation in recent history.
Scientists have caught a glimpse of a red giant — an expanding star in its final stages — devouring one of its own planets. The same will happen to our galaxy someday, painting a fairly grim future for Earth. Fortunately, humanity has a few billion years to find a solution.
The City of Cincinnati today released the final draft for its plan to “re-establish (Cincinnati) as a model of a thriving urban city.” Plan Cincinnati, which will be taken up in a public hearing on Aug. 30 at 6 p.m., is the first master plan for Cincinnati since 1980.
The primary goal behind the plan is to transition the city away from a model that emphasizes suburban living back to a more urban model. The plan’s report justifies the shift by attributing it to a new societal need.
“Dissatisfied, American society is now beginning to reverse the trend (of suburban living) with the hope of returning to an environment that is more economically and environmentally sustainable, less dependent on the automobile, closer in scale to human form, and ultimately, truly more livable,” the report says.
The plan will make this transition with six guiding principles: Provide more transportation choices, promote equitable, affordable housing, enhance economic competitiveness, support existing communities, coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment, and value communities and neighborhoods.
The vague principles are outlined in greater detail in the 228-page report, which can be read in full here.
One of the key parts of the plan is its expansion of options for non-automotive travel. The plan promises to focus more work on bicycle paths, support a Bicycle and Pedestrian Program and build links between bicycle systems to allow more cycling through the city. The city will also “design and construct the Ohio River Bike Trail through Cincinnati” and make the city safer for cyclists by making roads smoother and cleaner.
The plan also encourages other transportation programs. Establishing better coordination with Metro buses, building intercity rail systems and integrating the new streetcar into a greater transportation model are a few of the many suggestions in the plan. With these systems, the plan hopes to “facilitate economic development opportunities.”
Beyond transportation, the plan also seeks to establish environmentally friendly programs. Some of the suggestions are developing a green construction incentive program, implementing smart grid networks and reforming the LEED tax abatement program to include additional energy efficient rating systems.
However, the plan is missing one important detail: cost. The report says Plan Cincinnati will be reviewed every year using the new Priority-Driven Budgeting process, but no estimates for cost are currently available. Katherine Keough-Jurs, senior city planner, explained why in an email: “That is not something that we provide. We have found over the years that providing cost estimates in long-range plans is problematic and the estimates can be misleading. Also, some of the Action Steps listed are not necessarily things that would have a monetary cost associated.”
Without much fanfare
but with supporters looking on in the Losantiville Room in Union Terminal,
Cincinnati City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday banning the injection of
wastewater underground within city limits.
“I’m proud to be on the first City Council to ban injection wells,” said Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who submitted the ordinance to council.
“I want to give props to the solicitors … who have come up with a very unusual thing in City Council — a one page ordinance.”
The ordinance, which passed unanimously after being voted out of committee on Tuesday, is aimed at preventing the injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, under Cincinnati. Its injection has been linked to a dozen earthquakes in northern Ohio.
Opponents also worry that the chemicals in the water, which is used to drill underground to free up gas and oil, can seep into drinking water. Oil and gas companies aren’t required to disclose which chemicals they use.
It’s unclear if the city’s ban on wastewater injection would hold up against a 2004 state law that gives the state of Ohio sole power in regulating oil and gas drilling. That regulatory power also extends to Class 2 injection wells.
At a news conference earlier in the day, Quinlivan cited a ProPublica story that said between 2007 and 2010, one well integrity violation was filed for every six wastewater injection wells.
She says data like this makes it clear injection wells are
Food and Water Watch organizer Alison Auciello spoke in
support of the City Council ordinance at the news conference.
“We’re pleased City Council has moved swiftly for the protection of its citizens,” Auciello said.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has received no injection well permit requests for southwestern Ohio, but Auciello says the legislation is a good preventive measure.
Heidi Hetzel-Evans, a spokesperson for ODNR, says it wouldn't be feasible to build injection wells in southwestern Ohio due to the region's geology.
"It's safe to say oil and gas drilling has no direct impact on southwestern Ohio," Hetzel-Evans says.
Auciello says more bans like the Cincinnati ordinance are necessary in Ohio. She says she’s concerned that Ohio is being turned into a dumping ground as massive amounts of wastewater from Pennsylvania are brought to Ohio due to a lack of regulation.
Auciello also echoed calls from environmental groups to ban fracking in Ohio. However, fracking supporters — including Gov. John Kasich — insist the process can be made safe with proper regulations.
This story was updated to reflect City Council's afternoon vote.
Nobody stood up for fracking in today's City Council committee meeting that saw dozens of people urge council to pass an ordinance banning injection wells within Cincinnati.
All members of the Strategic Growth Committee voted in favor of the proposed ordinance, with the exception of Councilman Chris Seelbach, who was recovering after allegedly being assaulted in downtown Monday night.
If approved, the ordinance would prohibit injections wells — which inject wastewater underground — from being allowed within city limits. It now goes before the full council.
The practice is commonly associated with hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” — which uses chemical-laced water to drill for oil and gas. Fracking fluid injected underground has been tied to a dozen earthquakes in northeastern Ohio.
A 2004 Ohio law puts regulation of oil and gas drilling under the state’s purview, preventing municipalities from regulating the drilling.
The wording of the proposed Cincinnati ordinance doesn’t mention oil or gas drilling, which proponents say they hope will keep it from clashing with the state law if it passes.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans tells CityBeat that injection wells also fall under ODNR’s purview.
She says she isn’t sure if the proposed Cincinnati ordinance would conflict with the state law.
“It’s very hard for ODNR to speculate on what might happen,” she says, adding that there aren’t any injection wells or applications for them in the Cincinnati area. “This may not be an issue that’s ever tested.”
That didn’t stop the dozens of people who spoke in favor of the ordinance at the committee meeting from erupting into applause once the ordinance was approved.
Barbara Wolf, a documentarian who has made a video about Cincinnati’s Water Works, said that the city has some of the cleanest water in the world, and chemicals from hydraulic fracturing could jeopardize that.
“We are studied by other countries,” Wolf said. “If it (fracking fluid) goes into the Ohio River, we don’t know what the chemicals are. It’s very hard to clean up chemicals if you don’t know what they are. And that’s one of the things we do really well: clean up chemicals.”
Steve Chabot’s self-righteous attempt to block federal
streetcar funding found new criticism yesterday, as The Enquirer spoke to
several credible sources who say his amendment is broad enough to affect
federal funding for transportation projects beyond the streetcar,
including bus lanes or ferries.
Mayor Mark Mallory and 3CDC representatives were scheduled to kick off a grand opening celebration of Washington Park at 10 a.m. this morning. The $48 million renovation includes an underground parking garage, concession building, dog park and concert space. A rally against the renovation and displacement of residents was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. CityBeat’s Mike Breen blogged away yesterday about the park’s scheduled weekly music series.
It’s going to be another sucky hot weekend in Cincinnati.
U.S. hiring is being weak again.
Walgreens is buying mass drug store chains, preparing to cash in on that ObamaCare money.
Brad Pitt’s mom wrote a pro-Mitt Romney, anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage letter to the editor of a Missouri newspaper. Brad, for the record, is pro-gay marriage and donated to the 2008 anti-Proposition 8 campaign in California.
I have given much thought to Richard Stoecker’s letter (“Vote for Mormon against beliefs,” June 15). I am also a Christian and differ with the Mormon religion.
But I think any Christian should spend much time in prayer before refusing to vote for a family man with high morals, business experience, who is against abortion, and shares Christian conviction concerning homosexuality just because he is a Mormon.
Any Christian who does not vote or writes in a name is casting a vote for Romney’s opponent, Barack Hussein Obama — a man who sat in Jeremiah Wright’s church for years, did not hold a public ceremony to mark the National Day of Prayer, and is a liberal who supports the killing of unborn babies and same-sex marriage.
I hope all Christians give their vote prayerful consideration because voting is a sacred privilege and a serious responsibility.
First they were telling us that the Higgs boson is the building block of the universe. How Professor Peter Higgs says he has no idea what the discovery will mean in practical terms. Come on, Higgs!
Apparently 250,000 people are going to wake up without the Internet on Monday.
Scientists believe they’ve created the most realistic robot legs ever.
It was “Rich People Voice Their Concerns Night” at city councils across town last night, as proponents of the $1 sale of Music Hall packed Cincinnati City Council chambers even though the proposed lease deal wasn’t on the agenda. Mayor Mark Mallory insisted that any middle ground that will allow the nonprofit Music Hall Revitalization Co. to renovate the building will require that the city retain ownership.
Across town (and about 10 miles northeast toward the area with mass trees), Madeira City Council shot down a plan to develop a luxury apartment complex on Camargo Road. Council voted 6-1 to scrap the plan for a 184-unit complex after residents who voiced concern said the complex would be “too dense” and take away from the city’s single-family character. Word on the street is that the Council majority didn’t want scumbag renters like this guy to be able to move into the neighborhood and start playing music really loud out of their car stereos.
Cincinnati City Council yesterday pretty much canceled its plans to build an atrium at City Hall. Six council members approved a motion asking administrators to shut it down, and City Manager Milton Dohoney says he’ll abide by it even though he technically doesn’t have to because the funding was approved in a spending ordinance.
Council also voted yesterday to keep the property tax rate pretty much the same next year despite a projected deficit.
Now that the Supreme Court has temporarily upheld part of Arizona’s racist
controversial immigration law, no-name state legislators in Ohio and
Kentucky plan to break out the laws they couldn’t previously get passed.
According to The Enquirer’s Mark Curnutte (who apparently won a
national book award for his work covering poverty in Haiti — big ups,
Curnutte!), some dudes named Courtney Combs (R-Ross Township, Ohio) and
John Schickel (R-Union, Ky.) have some great ways to rid of their states'
illegal immigrants, at least until the court strikes down the rest of
New York Times: "Arizona Ruling Only a Narrow Opening for Other States"
Housing prices are going up in most cities due to low interest rates and cheap prices.
A new Obama campaign ad refers to Mitt Romney as “outsourcer in chief.” Ouch!
The War on Drugs is making the AIDS epidemic worse by driving people away from treatment, according to a report released today by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
California condors are being threatened by lead poisoning from bullets left behind in dead carcasses shot by hunters, which the birds eat.
Facebook changed users' listed email accounts, and people on the Internet are mad. Gizmodo explains how to fix it.
The Spice Girls are reuniting to create a musical called Viva Forever! at London's Piccadilly Theatre.