Mayor-elect John Cranley laid out his plans and priorities for his first term at his first press conference yesterday. Cranley says two of his top priorities are undoing the $133 million streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. He also spoke on some of his more positive ideas, including the interchange project at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive, 3CDC-style public-private partnerships to revitalize neighborhoods and development of the Wasson Way bike trail, old Swifton Commons and Westwood Square.
It remains unclear how much it would cost to actually cancel the streetcar project. As of September’s monthly progress report, $94 million is tied to contractual obligations, $23 million is already spent and nearly $45 million in federal grants is still attached to the project. And if contractors, subcontractors and taxpayers sue the city to complete the project, it could impose litigation costs on the operating budget instead of the capital budget currently financing construction. Supporters of the streetcar also say cancellation could tarnish relationships with the federal government and contractors, which have a stake in the project’s completion. At his press conference yesterday, Cranley said he’d weigh the costs and benefits of cancellation and would continue the project if he deems it cheaper.
Meanwhile, Cranley might travel to Washington, D.C., to discuss reprogramming nearly $45 million in federal grants from the streetcar project to the I-71/MLK interchange project. In a June 19 letter, the U.S. Department of Transportation claimed it would take back nearly $41 million of the grant money if the streetcar project were canceled. City officials say they’ve already spent $2 million from the grants on the streetcar project, and, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding, that would need to be repaid through the operating budget if the project were terminated.Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature passed a bill that imposes new restrictions on minor political parties trying to get on the state ballot. The requirements force minor parties to meet higher petition signature and voting thresholds to get and remain on the ballot. Ohio Libertarians say they plan to sue to block the changes from becoming law in 90 days. Democrats and minor parties say the changes are meant to protect Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014; they argue that, without the new requirements, tea party challengers upset with Kasich over his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion could take away enough votes and spoil the election in favor of a Democrat. CityBeat covered the Senate version of the bill in further detail here.
Hamilton County commissioners yesterday unanimously approved the first budget in six years that didn’t require major cuts or revenue increases to achieve balance, but the budget also had very little in terms of new policies. Commissioners also approved a separate plan from the Port Authority, a city- and county-funded development agency, to expand its borders; the Port now needs to work out agreements with other jurisdictions before the expansion becomes official.
Janitors in Cincinnati are striking against New York City-based ABM in a push for wage hikes and health benefits. In supporting the efforts, Councilman Chris Seelbach says the strike and media attention surrounding it should hopefully put pressure on Cincinnati’s Fortune 500 companies that hire ABM to clean their buildings.
Commentary: “Republicans Continue Denying Social Progress.”
After only 28.8 percent of registered Cincinnati voters participated in the mayoral and City Council elections, The Cincinnati Enquirer asked those who didn’t show up to vote to explain themselves. The answers ranged from total apathy toward the streetcar project to disdain and distrust for the city’s government and political system.
Voters on Tuesday approved more than half of Ohio school levies.
The University of Cincinnati yesterday signed an agreement that will increase collaboration with NASA.
Blockbuster is closing down its remaining company-owned stores in the United States.
Biking in traffic can have some complicated results as bikers breathe in traffic exhaust.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.