“I make $27,000 a year,” says Nash, who has worked for the health department since 1986. “That’s what I survive on. A raise would mean a lot.”
A cadre of local and statewide Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, State Reps. Alicia Reece and Denise Driehaus, State Sen. Cecil Thomas, Mayor John Cranley, Vice Mayor David Mann, council members Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune appeared this morning at the Local 392 Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall on Central Parkway to help launch the initiative.
For Nash and many other city workers, the most notable part of the initiative is the pay increase. Should the ordinance pass, full-time city works will make a minimum of $15 an hour, up from $12.58. Part-time and seasonal workers would make $10.10, up from $8.25. For Nash, the raise would mean an extra $4,000 a year, putting her closer to the city’s median household income of $33,681.
More than 1,000 city employees, or about 20 percent of the city's workforce, makes under those minimums now. The wage boost would cost the city about $1 million in its first year, according to city officials.
Mayor Cranley framed the initiatives in broad terms, citing a decades-long trend of stagnant wage growth for many in the middle class. He blamed off-shoring of jobs, deregulation of Wall Street and an over-reliance on trickle-down economics for wage disparities.
“Cincinnati by itself is not going to solve this problem on its own,” he said. “But we can be a moral voice for the direction we want to go. And we can affect the people we can affect. For those individuals, we can make an enormous difference.”
Sen. Brown, a long-time proponent of a federal $15 minimum wage, applauded the initiative.
“Once again, Cincinnati takes an important step, one that has never happened in the state," he said. "It’s high time that Washington followed the lead of Cincinnati and raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”
Critics of minimum wage increases say they raise payroll expenses to unsustainable levels and make it harder for businesses to turn a profit.
Cranley acknowledged that the wage increase will cost the city more money in the short-term, but touted the long-term boost in spending power it will unlock for Cincinnati residents. Brown echoed Cranley and other Democrats in saying the wage boost will improve the economy for all over time and said he hoped it would influence private employers to do the same.
“Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour means money in the pockets of hardworking families,” he said. “I assume Ms. Nash and others who get the $15 minimum wage aren’t going to put it in a Swiss bank account, or use it to shut down production in Cincinnati or somewhere else and move it to Bangladesh."
Overall, Council will consider three ordinances tied to the initiative: one tightening requirements on insurance, licensing and safety procedures, specifically relating to crane operations after an accident at a construction site on The Banks recently. Another would require companies receiving city tax incentives and other development aid to pay contractors and employees prevailing wages; and a third that will boost wages for city workers.
Carden and the Park Board have been under scrutiny for the project since a memo from City Manager Harry Black and Chief Procurement Officer Patrick Duhaney's on Mar. 22 alleged that some of the Parks Department's contracting practices were risky for the city. According to the memo, the master service agreements used by the department for Smale's construction were supposed to be used only for covering routine maintenance. The contracts didn't have enough performance bonds, meaning they weren't able to hold the companies accountable enough for their work on a project as large as the Smale Riverfront Park during or after construction. A recent Enquirer report also alleged the contracts weren't publicly bid as required by state law.
Carden and other department officials defended the Parks Department's decision on Monday, saying the use of master service agreements has been a longstanding city policy and the contracts were approved by the city's finance department. They also said they were under pressure to finish the park in time for the All-Star Game, which took place last July.
Several council members strongly defended Carden, blaming poor city policy and Mayor John Cranley's failed parks levy from last year's election for unfairly putting Carden under the microscope. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson called the whole scandal "a witchhunt," praised Carden for his work on the city's parks and said she was "ashamed of the way the (city) responded."
Councilman Charlie Winburn, the chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, also blamed the city for the scrutiny the Park's Department is now facing from Black and the Enquirer.
"It has put these fine people in a bad position," Winburn said.
• Mayor John Cranley and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown will announce a new city labor and workplace initiative this morning. Cranley and Brown will also be joined by council members Yvette Simpson, P. G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young to announce new workplace safety and city labor reforms for the middle class, according to a release from the mayor's office.
• Cincinnati Metro and Uber announced a new partnership this morning so people can Uber to the bus — well, once, at least. Uber Cincinnati will be giving away one free ride with the idea that it will show people just how easy it is to Uber to the bus or from a bus stop to a nearby destination. Casey Verkamp, the general manager of Uber Cincinnati, claims many people use Uber to get to the bus. Previous studies have shown that Cincinnati's bus service is coming up short when it comes to getting people to work. Metro riders can redeem this offer by texting "cincymetro" to 827222.
• No more free parking at Covington's MainStrasse Village. Pay stations along Main and West Sixth streets were installed last Saturday and will go live tomorrow. The city's decision is intended to make it easier for visitors and residents to find parking amid an increase in business activity in the area.
• The Ohio Supreme Court announced a new rule Monday that will severely limit the shackling of juveniles in courts. The decision came after concerned parties like the American Civil Liberties Union approached Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor's court personnel about the way juveniles were being treated in courts. They claimed shackling is a much bigger problem in Ohio than other places. The Supreme Court issued a "presumption against shackling" effective July 1, meaning courts can only shackle kids if their behavior is deemed a big enough threat or they're considered a flight risk.
• Cincinnati placed seventh on Realtor.com's list of the 10 trendiest U.S. cities. OK, the list is actually the 10 trendiest cities that you can afford. But is it really worth living in Brooklyn or San Francisco if you don't the money to go out? The list looked into the 500 largest cities in the country and came up with the list based on the number of foodie hotspots, bike shops, yoga studios, cultural outlets and the population increase of 25- to 34-year-olds in each town and then compared that to the average home prices. Nearby cities Ann Arbor, Mich. and Pittsburgh, Penn., also made the list.
• Ohio might be one step closer to legalizing medical marijuana. The Ohio House medical marijuana task force will hold its last meeting this Thursday and could introduce a bill into the House as early as this summer. The task force has been forming a plan to introduce the issue to the legislature over the course of seven hearings where it heard testimony from business leaders and medical experts. Twenty-three states along with Washington D.C. have already enacted laws to allow the use of medical marijuana. Last November, Ohio voters shot down a ballot initiative by the group ResponsibleOhio to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes.
• Is it finally time for Ohio to say goodbye to its "tampon tax"? The Ohio Court of Claims filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of four women this month claiming the state's 5.4-percent sales tax on feminine hygiene products is discriminatory against women. It's seeking a refund of $66 million to Ohio female customers. Meanwhile, two bills introduced by State Rep. Greta Johnson, D-Akron, also call for the end of the taxation and are pending in the House.
• Ohio Democrats are putting pressure Republican Sen. Rob Portman to allow a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, Obama's nomination for the vacant Supreme Court seat. Portman, who is up for re-election this November, has followed the position of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying the Senate should not grant a hearing or confirmation vote of Garland. Democrats say their reasoning — Obama's lame-duck status — is just an attempt to block the president's nomination. Ohio Democrats have recently been circulating an old video clip in which Portman calls the confirmation process a responsibility of the Senate, along with an independent poll that found most Americans want the Senate to give Garland a hearing. On Friday, the White House also organized a press call with a University of Cincinnati law professor and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown where they criticized the GOP's decision legally to block Obama's nomination.
• Here's something scary given the current tense climate of the Republican party. More than 25,000 people have signed a Change.org petition to allow guns inside the Republican National Convention this summer. The Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where the convention will be held in July, does not allow firearms. The petition calls on Gov. John Kasich, who is also running for the Republican presidential nomination, to use his executive authority to override the center's gun-free policy.
• Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders won big in the primaries this weekend. Sanders swept the western states of Hawaii, Idaho and Washington, pulling in at least 71 percent of the vote in each state. The victory still only slightly narrowed the margin between Sanders and frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Republicans, on the other hand, got to enjoy Easter egg hunts and binging on chocolate. They did not hold any primaries this weekend.
Good morning all. Here’s what’s up today.
Well, it was enlightening while it lasted. Cincinnati city administration yesterday released, then quickly pulled, a study on safety issues surrounding the Central Parkway Bikeway requested by City Councilman Christopher Smitherman. Smitherman recently introduced a motion to remove the lanes, citing safety concerns.
The study, completed by the city’s department of transportation and signed by City Manager Harry Black, found that that the stretch of Central Parkway with the bike lane does not have any more accidents than comparable streets without lanes. It concluded with a recommendation that the lanes remain. The city quickly pulled the study from its website, however, saying it had not been completely reviewed and approved. You can read our story on the erstwhile study here.
• Speaking of contentious projects that move people from one place to another… yeah, that’s right, it’s more about the streetcar. Here’s a story about the way other cities with streetcars handle big downtown events, in the wake of Council’s move passing an ordinance that will shut ours down for seven events a year until at least 2018. Here’s a hint: Other cities don’t do that usually, at least not to the extent that Cincinnati will.
• Things continue to get real-er around the Cincinnati Parks Board. The city has halted construction on a $1 million project on Cincinnati’s riverfront Serpentine Wall following revelations that the board carried over preexisting maintenance contracts instead of putting tens of millions of dollars of construction work out to public bid on Smale Riverfront Park. Those preexisting “master contracts” aren’t bonded or insured for the work being done, putting the city at financial risk, city officials say. Meanwhile, park board chair Otto M. Budig, a prominent philanthropist and civic leader, has said that things could and should have been done differently with those contracts, but also pointed out the time-sensitive nature of getting the park ready for prime-time by last summer’s MLB All-Star Game.
• Have you seen this depressing Twitter war between the two corporate behemoths that comprise Cincinnati’s major media outlets? TV news station WCPO recently began adding the hashtag #dropthepaper to its marketing campaigns for its so-called “Insiders” program, where you pay them to get like, more stories about the streetcar or something? Unclear. Anyway, we don’t think they were talking about us (we’re like those kids in your high school who were too uncool to even get picked on. It’s a good place to be really). Instead, it seems this was a less-than-passive aggressive swipe at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Enquirer reporters and other print news types have taken umbrage at the campaign, which some have called unprofessional (and worse). Anyway, national journalism commentators like Jim Romanesko and Nieman Lab have picked up the story. Cincinnati: the city where everyone argues about everything, all the time, and where trying too hard on social media is part of building your media brand.
• More signs our state’s economy is lagging behind the rest of the U.S.: Ohio ranks 38th in the country for personal income growth and is last in the Great Lakes region. Even Michigan, home of Detroit and Flint, has beaten us — in fact, they were the best in the region. What’s more, Ohio’s income growth rate, 3.1 percent, has fallen from a year ago, when it was 3.85 percent. Overall, California had the highest rate of personal income growth while North Dakota fared the worst.
• So, as you know, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is experiencing a strange kind of political afterlife as a somehow-still-campaigning candidate for the GOP presidential primary. He has no mathematical chance of winning the nomination in the traditional way, but he’s hanging in there in hopes of a brokered convention. One of the side effects of that doggedness is that a certain degree of harsh light is now being shined on the Big Queso. This story in The New York Times today explores Kasich’s reputation as a brash, kind of rude politician — a rep that plays directly counter to the reasonable, even friendly, image he’s worked hard to cultivate in his campaign. Meanwhile, those within his party have continued to rebuke Kasich for continuing his campaign. The latest hater? Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is considering making an endorsement in the primary race. Walker threw a little shade at his fellow GOP governor when he said he hasn’t decided who he’ll endorse, but he has decided he’s NOT endorsing Kasich. Oof.
Ninety-nine babies Hamilton County babies died before their first birthday last year, according to the annual report by the Cradle Cincinnati, a nonprofit formed three years ago to address the high infant mortality rate in the region.
According to its report released Thursday, the issue is still a pressing concern for the county. In 2015, Hamilton County's infant mortality rate was nine deaths per 1,000 babies born. The good news is that it's fallen slightly from 2011-2014 when it was 9.3, and more significantly from 2001-2010 when it was at 10.7.
But it's still higher than Ohio's rate of 6.8 and the national rate of 5.8.
African-American babies are disproportionally affected, with a rate of 16.3 per 1,000 from 2011-2015. In contrast, the rate for white babies was 5.9 and Hispanic was 4.8.
Out of 231 counties with a population over 250,000, Hamilton County ranks number 219 for infant mortality.
Of the nearly 99 infant deaths last year, 53.6 percent didn't even making it past one day. The main causes were premature births, unsafe sleeping and birth defects.
"The majority of these babies are dying before they leave the hospital because they are born too soon," the report says.
Though the rate of premature babies born in Hamilton County dropped down to 10.6 per 1,000 from 11.1 from 2010-2014, it's still above the national average of 9.6 percent.
The county's sleep-related infant deaths doubled in 2015. Fourteen infants died from this last year after a record all time low of seven in 2014.
Cradle Cincinnati's report offers recommendations to address some of the main factors contributing to infant mortality. It says babies should sleep on their back and completely alone in cribs. Expectant mothers should seek health care, control diabetes and take folic acid during pregnancy.
But the report also acknowledges that the issue is deeply rooted in systemic problems surrounding race, poverty, economic status and low education levels that aren't easy to quickly address, and calls on other organizations to start addressing the issue as well.
"There is no quick fix, and this complex problem needs a strategic solution implemented by many aligned organizations," it says.
A memo written today by Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black detailed results of a study by the city's transportation department revealing that the stretch of Central Parkway that includes the city's controversial bike lane has had no more accidents than comparable streets without lanes.
"Changing any street from full-time parking to rush-hour restricted parking does require an adjustment in drivers’ behavior and expectations," the memo reads. "However, the number of crashes between the 1600 block and the 2000 block of Central Parkway (Liberty Street to Ravine Street) is comparable to similar streets citywide."
The study compared the stretch of Central Parkway with the lanes to Glenway Avenue between Rapid Run Road and Gilsey Avenue and Hamilton Avenue between Spring Grove Avenue and Bruce Avenue. Central Parkway had seven parked-car crashes and 62 total accidents in 2015, according to the study. Glenway had 13 parked car crashes and 91 total crashes. Hamilton Avenue had seven parked car crashes and 51 total crashes.
Controversy has raged over the lanes since they were first proposed in 2012. A pitched battle over parking along Central Parkway led to a $100,000 compromise that re-routed the lane around parking in front of the Mohawk Building along the sidewalk. Since that time, there have been complaints about a large number of car accidents along the route.
Last month, Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman introduced a motion calling for removal of the lanes, citing citizen complaints about safety. Meanwhile, community councils in Over-the-Rhine and Clifton have come out in support of the lanes and have asked that they be extended.
The memo recommends that the lanes stay in place.
“Given the reduced risk of injury to bicyclists, the administration does not recommend removal of the bike lanes,” the memo reads. “However, DOTE will continue to monitor conditions, and improvements may be made in the future as best practices evolve.”
UPDATE: City administration has since pulled the report, saying it was released prematurely.
"The report in response to Council Motion No. 2016000342 was issued prematurely and has been recalled," according to a statement issued by City of Cincinnati Director of Communications Rocky Merz. "Before being presented to the City Manager for review, the item was not fully vetted and has not undergone a complete administrative review. We are working swiftly to respond to the City Council motion and the report will be re-issued once all necessary review and consideration has occurred."
You can still find the original report here.
Vice Mayor David Mann isn't too happy about the report being pulled, according to Cincinnati Business Courier reporter Chris Wetterich.
"I believe that report on the bike lane is one of the best reports I’ve seen because it’s evidence based," Wetterich reported Mann saying.
It took two and a half hours of debate at the transportation committee Tuesday, followed by another half hour of bickering at yesterday's City Council meeting, but they did it. In a vote of 6-2, Council finally approved the sunset ordinance that would allow the organizers of seven events to halt streetcar service. The ordinance would be active through 2018, the first two years of the streetcar's operation, and would allow organizers of the Flying Pig Marathon, Taste of Cincinnati, the Opening Day Parade, Oktoberfest, the Thanksgiving Day 10k, the Heart Mini Marathon and the Health Expo to give the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority a 90 day heads up to stop the streetcar during their event. Mayor John Cranley said at the meeting yesterday that these longstanding events need time to adjust to the streetcar.
• Cincinnati Parks Director Willie Carden could be in big trouble following the recently uncovered drama surrounding the Smale Park construction. On Tuesday The Enquirer published an article claiming Carden hadn't been entirely honest about the bidding process for the park's construction contracts. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, City Manager Harry Black released a memo saying the park's contracting process was a risky move for the city. So what will happen to Carden? It's up to the Cincinnati Board of Park Commissioners to determine whether he will be punished — or even fired from his position — for the deals.
• Last year, the big election issue for Cincinnati (and the rest of Ohio) was marijuana, oligarchies and a weird mascot named Buddy. This year it looks like it will be education — preschool, to be specific. Preschool Promise, the group working on a ballot initiative to fund two years of preschool for Cincinnati children, could be battling alongside Cincinnati Public Schools' own levy for a preschool expansion on the ballot. Preschool Promise has yet to specifically say what kind of tax levy it's planning on asking Cincinnatians to approve to fund its ambitious plan. The current options are a hike in the city's property tax or earnings tax, or a countywide sales tax. CPS will ask for a property tax levy. Preschool Promise director Greg Landman says the group is still in negotiations with CPS to figure out how to make sure kids will get their preschool, politics aside. But as the election draws closer, many details have yet to come out.
• The number of Hamilton County babies who died because of unsafe sleeping conditions doubled in 2015, according to the annual report by nonprofit Cradle Cincinnati. According to its 2015 report, 14 babies died from sleep-related deaths, while just seven did in 2014. Hamilton County struggles with a higher than average infant mortality rate. The county's 2015 infant mortality rate was nine for every 1,000 babies born, while Ohio's was 6.8 and the national average was 5.8, according to the report.
City Council passed an ordinance today that could halt the streetcar's operation during seven downtown heritage events during its first two years of operation.
The sunset ordinance would give the organizers of the Flying Pig Marathon, Taste of Cincinnati, Oktoberfest, Opening Day Parade, Thanksgiving 10K, Health Expo and the Heart Mini Marathon 90 days before their event to alert Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) to stop service. The ordinance is effective through 2018 when City Council will re-evaluate it.
After a two-and-a-half-hour debate in Council's Transportation Committee on Tuesday, the ordinance passed on Wednesday after about a half hour of debate in a vote of 6-2. Council members Wendell Young and Yvette Simpson voted against it; Councilman Chris Seelbach was absent from the meeting.
Mayor John Cranley, who introduced the ordinance, said event organizers had expressed interest in adapting their events to the streetcar but that there needs to be an adjustment period so they are not forced to do something drastic like move the event.
"Some people are out there spinning this as if it's an attempt to hurt the streetcar," Cranley said. "I think it would be very bad for the streetcar if somehow these issues weren't resolved."
Cranley also said the police and fire departments have expressed safety concerns about the streetcar's operation during events, which sometimes serve alcohol and often attract tens of thousands of attendees.
Simpson said she believed Council needed more time to make the decision and to consider all possible options.
"I just requested that we have more time," she said. "This is a very important endeavor for the organizations involved and the streetcar."
Councilman Kevin Flynn responded to Simpson, saying he believed the closures would amount to just 12 hours total, often during off-peak hours like Sundays.
"I think that we had the information we needed," he said.
Councilwoman Amy Murray, who is also the chair of the transportation committee, said it would be closed the minimum amount of time as required by any particular event.
Neither Mayor Cranley nor any council members directly addressed concern over the potential loss of revenue the streetcar could face by closing during heavily attended events. It is currently facing possible budget deficits for its first two years of operation.
Good morning, Cincinnati. With sad news coming out of Belgium and historic news coming out of Cuba, it's a big day for international news. But first, here are your local headlines.
• Cincinnati's Historic Preservation Board has approved a real estate developer's request to tear down two buildings located downtown at the corner of Eighth and Main streets. The request passed Monday in a vote of 5-1 pushing forward Hyde Park-based Greiwe Development Group's $50 million plan to build two new 14-story buildings to house 60 luxury condos. One of the buildings set for demolition is a six-story Italianate building, built as a warehouse in 1875. The other is a not-so-historical two-story building from the last century. The developers told the board that they had determined renovating the structures would result in a loss in their investment.
• Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to be in Cincinnati this morning. Given how President Barack Obama is currently soaking up the Cuban sunshine in Havana, I would say Biden drew the executive short straw for travel this week. Biden will speak to a private fundraising event for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Ted Strickland and has no public appearances scheduled. So if you want to catch a glimpse of the VP, you'll probably have to cough up the $500 entry fee for Strickland's event.
• The Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response team wants to make sure Easter eggs are the only things kids are finding in their yards this upcoming holiday weekend. The group issued a warning Monday for parents to check for syringes before sending their kids out on Easter egg hunts. Health experts say the heroin epidemic sweeping region has led to an increase in discarded, used syringes popping up in public places. If you do happen to find one this weekend (or ever), you can learn about proper disposal here.
• TourismOhio is launching a new campaign to boost tourism in the state. The campaign called "Ohio. Find It Here." will debut today and is targeted at the state's residents between the ages of 25 to 54. Mary Cusick, the director of TourismOhio said Governor John Kasich and the Development Services Agency asked her to "make Ohio look cool," which it is not, according to the tourism group's survey of residents of Ohio and its neighboring states. The new campaign is being released in time for Ohio's longer, sunnier months and will highlight the many fun and diverse activities the state has to offer. The state received more than $40 billion from tourism in 2014, the majority coming from in-state travelers.
• Today voters in both parties in Arizona and Utah go to the polls, while Idaho Democrats hold their caucuses. Some Republicans are sweating the results as many in the party remain uncomfortable with frontrunner Donald Trump's lead. On the other side, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders aims for Utah and Idaho, where he is leading in polls, as tries to catch up to opponent Hillary Clinton's solid lead.
• President Obama made his keynote speech in Havana today. In a major speech that was televised to 11 million Cubans on national television, Obama stood by Cuban leader Raul Castro and called on Congress to lift the trade embargo that has been in place since 1961 and normalize relations with the island nation. The president arrived in Cuba on Sunday with his family and is the first president to visit the country since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. You can read a recap here.