The White House announced today that Councilman Chris Seelbach has won the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award, which recognizes 10 community leaders around the nation each year for a commitment to equality and public service.
Seelbach, Cincinnati's first openly gay council member, won the award after he was nominated by the the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). He will officially receive the award at a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday.
"I am humbled and proud to be recognized by the White House for my efforts on City Council and extremely grateful to the people of Cincinnati for giving me the opportunity to effect positive change in our community. In order to create a city where more people want to live, work and raise a family, we must continue fighting to make sure all people feel welcomed, valued and respected," Seelbach said in a statement.
The award recognizes Seelbach's accomplishments, but it also shows Cincinnati's progress in the past few years.
During Seelbach's time in office, the city's police and fire departments created a LGBT liaison.
Most recently, Seelbach co-sponsored a motion that will help avert police and fire layoffs in the fiscal year 2014 budget plan. He also spearheaded "responsible bidder" changes that require bidders on most Metropolitan Sewer District projects to offer apprenticeship programs.
The Harvey Milk Champion of Change award is named after Harvey Milk, who became California's first openly gay elected official when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was assassinated on Nov. 10, 1978 — only 10 months after he was sworn into office.
Mayor Mark Mallory will deliver his operating budget proposal to City Council today after making changes to the city manager’s proposal, which hikes property taxes and lays off 201 city employees, including cops and firefighters. City Council will then be able to change and give final approval to the budget plan before June 1. Some of the cuts may hit parks the hardest, but city administration officials are cautioning that they did not recommend the specific cuts being outlined, and it’s up to the Cincinnati Parks Board to decide which areas the cuts will impact. The city planned to help balance its $35 million operating budget deficit with the parking plan, but that plan is currently being held up in court.
The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is speaking out against the settlement to sell the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern for $4 million. “What has been served today is not justice nor moral on the part of Western & Southern, and we will push for a day when Western Southern recognizes their wrong-doings, asks for forgiveness and turns to doing good,” said Josh Spring, executive of the Homeless Coalition, in a statement. The group is asking supporters of the Anna Louise Inn to meet at the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church Friday at 6 p.m. to discuss further action.
City Council is likely to keep its ability to call votes on different items in larger ordinances and motions after seemingly failing to get support from six elected council members. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who proposed the changes, says the power is confusing because there’s no hard standard set for what is separable, but Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who has used the power before and supports it, says the rule retains choice and flexibility. City Council is currently reviewing many of its procedural rules, according to Simpson.
Ohio’s third grade reading guarantee was reworked by the Ohio House in part to relax standards for teachers. Previously, the law mandated teachers providing reading guarantee services to have taught the subject for at least three years, which critics of the law previously called “impossible to meet.”
The Ohio House is slowing down with its Internet cafe moratorium bill while the Ohio Senate works on its bill that would effectively ban the businesses altogether. State officials, particularly Attorney General Mike DeWine, have warned that Internet cafes are prone to criminal activity, but supporters say the businesses are just providing a demanded service.
The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending states strengthen drunken driving standards from a blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.
Here is the science behind hating nails on a chalkboard.
At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting today, City Council members grilled City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on how the city will fix the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overrun to save the project is worth it.
Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that suggested the streetcar will provide the city with a large return on investment, which was supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much, and the project, which the city manager said now stands at an estimated $132 million to $133 million, is too expensive.
In a memo issued April 30, Dohoney recommended various capital funding sources to fix the streetcar budget gap, including a temporary reallocation of Music Hall renovation funds and money that would have otherwise gone to infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino.
Dohoney clarified that funding for Music Hall is not being permanently pulled; instead, his recommendations would delay Music Hall funding until 2016, which is when the Music Hall project will need the funds, and use currently allocated funding on the streetcar project.
Dohoney added that Otto Budig, president of the Music Hall Revitalization Company, raised no concerns about the streetcar plan after it was explained to him.
Dohoney also clarified that his recommendations would not raise taxes.
A few council members, particularly Councilman Chris
Seelbach, asked whether the streetcar project could face future cost
overruns. Dohoney said it’s possible, based on the project’s scope.
“For major projects like this … there is usually an anticipation that something other than the exact plan may occur somewhere along the line,” Dohoney said.
For the streetcar project, there are a few remaining uncertainties. Dohoney said he doesn’t know for certain whether Messer
Construction, which responded to the city’s bid process with the lowest construction bid, is still willing
to contract with the city under the terms it previously offered. He said Messer officials have indicated they are still interested, but it remains an uncertainty until a contract is in place.
Another uncertainty is exactly how much laying down the tracks will cost. Dohoney said it won’t be possible to gauge the exact cost until Messer or any other company contracts with the city and begins actual work on the project.
But for those situations, Dohoney said the streetcar project has a $10 million contingency fund available, as required by the federal government.
Councilman Chris Smitherman, who opposes the streetcar project, asked whether there’s a funding ceiling that, if breached, would make Dohoney stop supporting the streetcar project. Dohoney said he could not provide a number without further thought and analysis. When Smitherman later asked if the streetcar should be built at any cost, Dohoney said no.
When asked what would happen if the project’s cost overruns were not covered, Dohoney said the project would effectively end.
Smitherman asked how the city administration can be pushing forward with the project, given the cost overruns: “How is the administration continuing to move forward with a project that without a vote of council is dead?”
Dohoney responded by saying the city administration does not have to stop by law until it is directed to do so by City Council.
Ending the project would come with its own costs of about $72 million, according to Dohoney: $19.7 million that was already spent, $14.2 million in close-out costs and $38.1 million in federal grants that would have to be returned to the federal government.
Dohoney said stopping would also make the federal government reluctant about working with Cincinnati in the future: “They’ve let us know they would not be pleased if we did it.”
The city administration is currently working with the federal government to obtain another $5 million that could be used for contingency or to undo some of the overrun fixes being looked at, but federal officials are waiting to see how the city government reacts to the current cost overrun problems before a decision is made, according to Dohoney.
Much of the City Council discussion focused on the streetcar’s merits,
particularly whether the first phase of the project, which would run
from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, could be successful on its own. The
city plans to eventually expand the route to the University of
Cincinnati and hospitals uptown — a route originally part of the first phase of the streetcar project that was cut after Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state-distributed federal funding in 2011.
“If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said it's a project worth doing,” Dohoney said. “The intention has always been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go beyond that.”
But Dohoney later clarified that the first phase of the project would help invigorate hundreds of vacant lots and buildings in Over-the-Rhine, which he said would make that phase of the project a success by itself.
Some opponents of the streetcar have incorrectly attempted to tie the streetcar project to the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit, which will likely be closed in part by laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees. But the streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Cincinnatians to take part in the Greater Cincinnati Day of Fasting today and put off lunch to help support the Freestore Foodbank. Sittenfeld’s office said in a press release that the event will allow participants to “experience a small measure of the hunger that is a part of many people’s daily lives.” There will be a ceremony for the event at noon in Fountain Square, where participants will be able to donate to the Freestore Foodbank.
March was another decent month for jobs in Cincinnati, with the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropping to 7.5 percent, down from a revised 7.9 percent in February and 8 percent in March 2012. Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, says most of the job growth is attributable to Cincinnati’s growing health care services, but manufacturing has also provided a local boon.
An anonymously posted video questions the legitimacy of some parking plan referendum petitions, but so far no formal challenges have been filed against the referendum effort. Even if somebody were to file a challenge, Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke says it would required a lot — nearly 4,000 signatures — to halt a referendum: “Because they are so far over, there’s going to have to be more evidence by any petitioner that there are problems well beyond those five or six sights shown in the video.”
There is now a local effort to embrace the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, a private-public partnership that would get more local children in preschool. The current goal is to get 25 to 50 children in preschool in a pilot program this fall. Studies show preschool is one of the best investments that can be made for the economy in the long term. Local preschool services were recently cut as a consequence of federal sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts that began March 1.
UC President Santa Ono is recommending the school freeze in-state tuition for the next school year — a measure the UC Board of Trustees will consider in June. Ono also said he will not take a salary increase or bonus for the next two years, and he is asking the school to sell the presidential condo and use the money to pay for scholarships.
While testifying to legislators reviewing his two-year budget request, State Treasurer Josh Mandel said his office has been targeted by cyberattacks, and the technology currently available to his department is not good enough to hold off the attacks.
Humana will hire 60 people for its customer service center in downtown.
Brain cells will control the power plants of the future.
In a press release, Mayor Mark Mallory proclaimed today Zips’ Cafe Day because the restaurant is finally adding bacon to its cheeseburger lineup.
The Democratic Party’s nominating committee announced who it’s supporting for City Council Friday: Greg Landsman, who heads the Strive Partnership and worked for former Gov. Ted Strickland; Shawn Butler, Mayor Mark Mallory’s director of community affairs; Michelle Dillingham, a community activist; and the six incumbents, which include Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young. The nominations still have to be approved by the Cincinnati Democratic Committee.
Petitioners against the city’s parking plan are supposed to get their final tally on referendum today, but a new video shows at least some of the petitions may have been signed without a legitimate witness, which are needed to validate a signature. The Hamilton County Board of Elections announced Thursday that petitioners had met the necessary threshold of 8,522 signatures, but the video casts doubts on whether those signatures were legitimately gathered. The city wants to lease its parking assets to help balance the deficit for the next two years and fund development programs around the city (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), but opponents worry higher parking rates and extended hours will harm the local economy. Here is the embedded video:
The Ohio Senate could restore Gov. John Kasich’s tax, school funding and Medicaid plans when it votes on the biennium budget for 2014 and 2015. Kasich’s tax and education funding plans were criticized by Democrats and progressive groups for favoring the wealthy, but the Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would expand Medicaid coverage to 456,000 low-income Ohioans and save the state money, was mostly opposed by state Republicans. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in further detail here.
New polling from Quinnipiac University found a plurality of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage rights — granting promising prospects to Freedom Ohio’s ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage in the state this year.
An audit on JobsOhio could take months, according to State Auditor Dave Yost’s office. Gov. John Kasich was initially resistant to a full audit, but Yost eventually won out, getting full access to JobsOhio’s financial records. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that is meant to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.
In response to not getting a Democratic endorsement for his City Council campaign, Mike Moroski, who was fired from his job at Purcell Marian High School for supporting gay marriage, launched the Human Party.
Cincinnati received an “F” for business friendliness in the 2013 Thumbtack.com U.S. Small Business Friendliness Survey from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Embattled attorney Stan Chesley will no longer practice law in Ohio. Chesley, who has been criticized for alleged misconduct, was recently disbarred in Kentucky. He recently resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to in a letter from fellow board members.
Ohio gas prices are shooting back up.
PopSci has an infographic showing sharks should be much more scared of humans than humans should be afraid of sharks.
In a memo to the mayor and City Council members last night, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed the streetcar is facing a $22.7 million shortfall because construction bids were way over budget. The memo says $5.3 million of that budget gap could be brought down through cuts, but fixing the rest requires $17.4 million in additional funds. The memo comes at a time the city is attempting to balance its operating budget by laying off cops and firefighters. But as John Deatrick explained when the city moved to hire him for the streetcar project, the streetcar is part of the capital budget, which is separate from the operating budget and can't be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
The budget bill heading to the Ohio House floor would ban comprehensive sex education, defund Planned Parenthood and fund crisis pregnancy centers that pro-choice groups consider "anti-choice." Citing "gateway sexual activity," the bill would open teachers to up to $5,000 in fines for explaining the use of condoms and other birth control to students, and it also bans the distribution of any birth control on school grounds. The bill takes its anti-contraceptive measures to promote an abstinence-only education program. Research has found abstinence-only programs to be generally ineffective, while birth control programs ultimately save money by avoiding costly pregnancies and sexually transmitted infection treatment.
Councilman Cecil Thomas is stepping down, and he will be replaced by his wife of 32 years, Pam Thomas. The appointment has raised questions about how council members are replaced upon resignation, but Thomas says he's just following the rules. Under the current system, designees appoint successors to council seats, but the designees give great weight to the incumbent's input.
JobsOhio repaid $8.4 million to Ohio yesterday — fulfilling a promise it made in March that it would fully repay the state for public funding received since it opened on July 5, 2011. The sum is much higher than the $1 million state officials originally said would go to the agency. JobsOhio's finances came under criticism after it was revealed that Gov. John Kasich was redirecting public funds to the agency, prompting a closer look from State Auditor Dave Yost. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that Kasich and Republicans established to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.
In light of the Boston Marathon bombings, Flying Pig Marathon organizers are evaluating security measures, but they're not sure whether additional measures are needed just yet. The Flying Pig Marathon is expected to draw more than 20,000 participants on May 5 — close to the 23,000 who typically attend the Boston Marathon. Still, only about 150,000 spectators are expected at the Flying Pig Marathon, while about 500,000 typically spectate the Boston Marathon.
City Council is expected to vote today in support of expanding mobile food vending in the city and make the program, which is handled by 3CDC, permanent. The new mobile vending spots will be near nightlife areas in Over-the-Rhine and during the day at Washington Park.
TriHealth and Mercy Health are among the top 15 hospital systems in the United States, according to a new ranking from Truven Health Analytics.
When renewing its contract with Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., Kroger asked the company to move its center from Des Moines, Iowa, to Cincinnati, bringing an estimated 55 new jobs to the city.
New surgical tape works like a parasitic worm for extra stickiness.
For the first time, scientists are being allowed to study psychedelics for potential medical treatments.
Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas’ last City Council meeting will be Wednesday, after which he will be replaced by his wife of 32 years, Pam Thomas.
“Her qualifications are impeccable,” Thomas told reporters Tuesday. “She will give this city a good representation.”
Thomas’ wife ran for Hamilton County clerk of courts last year, ultimately losing to Tracy Winkler. But Thomas said she won 70 percent of the vote in Cincinnati, making her an obviously strong contender as a local candidate.
Thomas’ recommendation has raised questions among critics about how council members are replaced upon resignation. Incumbents can only make recommendations to successor designees, who make the final decision, but as Councilman Wendell Young, one of Thomas’ designees, noted at the meeting, the designees typically give great weight to the incumbent’s recommendation.
When asked whether council members should have so much power in recommending appointees, Thomas said, “I just follow the rules.” He said if City Council wants to change the rules, it can.Thomas said he will now run for the State Senate seat being left vacant by State Sen. Eric Kearney, who is term limited. He acknowledged the State Senate may be a more difficult place for Democrats, which are in the minority at the state level, but he said he hopes to “bridge divides” if he serves.
Until then, Thomas said he is looking forward to his time off, although he will miss having a role in local politics: “It's going to be tough to not be able to have that direct hands-on.”
Thomas said he wanted to step down earlier in the year, but he decided to stay in office to see if the city could avoid laying off cops and firefighters by balancing the fiscal year 2014 budget through the parking plan (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), which Thomas strongly supports. With the parking plan now in legal limbo and the layoffs going through, Thomas is stepping down.
Two explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday led to the deaths of at least three and injured at least 140 others, with the deaths including an 8-year-old boy. So far, it is unclear who carried out the bombings. Police said the two bombs were set in trash cans, less than 100 yards apart, near the finish line of the marathon. Officials said police also found two bombs in different locations, but they were not set off. At least 134 entrants from Greater Cincinnati were at the marathon, but none are believed to be hurt, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The bombings were carried out on Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts-based holiday that commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution, and tax day. They were the first major act of terrorism on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
Councilman Cecil Thomas is set to make a major announcement today at 11:30 a.m. The speculation is that Thomas will officially announce he’s appointing his wife Pamula Thomas to replace him on City Council — a move he’s hinted at for a couple months now. Thomas is term limited from running again in City Council, but appointing his wife to his seat could give her some credibility and experience to run in November.
Federal sequestration, a series of across-the-board budget cuts at the federal level, is already having an effect on Cincinnati and Ohio, with cuts taking place for education, housing and the environment. In Cincinnati, the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency plans to carry out $1 million in cuts by dropping 200 kids from the Head Start program, which helps low-income families get their children into preschool and other early education programs. Wendy Patton, a senior project director at Policy Matters Ohio, says the cuts are only the “tip of the iceberg.”
David Pepper, a Democrat who previously served on City Council and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, announced yesterday that he will run for state attorney general. “I have been traveling the state for years now listening to working and middle class Ohioans and it is clear they want a change, a new direction at all levels,” Pepper said in a statement. “I’m running for Ohio Attorney General because Ohioans deserve better.” In the statement, Pepper touted his experience working with law enforcement in Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
At least seven members of the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees are asking fellow member Stan Chesley to resign after Chesley’s permanent disbarment by the Kentucky Supreme Court last month. A letter to Chesley from his fellow board members cited the Kentucky Supreme Court ruling, claiming he “engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
Greater Cincinnati housing permits increased by 41 percent in the first quarter of 2013, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati. The numbers are another sign the local economy is quickly recovering from the Great Recession.
Convergys plans to fill 1,000 work-at-home call jobs in 60 days.
DunnhumbyUSA is preparing for future growth in Cincinnati by building a new headquarters.
Solar panels may be used to make natural gas 20 percent more efficient and therefore pollute 20 percent less greenhouse gases.
Two new studies of mice and rat skin cells could be used to treat brain disease.
About 48 percent of Cincinnati’s youth are in poverty — a statistic that has haunted Cincinnati and landed the city in third place for the nation’s highest poverty rates. Now, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is trying to figure out the underlying causes to better prioritize city programs.
At City Council’s Livable Communities Committee today, Simpson and her staff gave a presentation supporting a citywide study that would give an in-depth look at the city’s youth and their issues, including crime, poverty, homelessness and educational opportunities. It would be the first comprehensive study of the city’s youth.
The $175,000 study, which Simpson says would be mostly funded through private donations, will work through three phases: Look at existing data to set goals and expectations, conduct surveys with 500 parents and 1,500 youth and gather 40 in-depth youth profiles.
Simpson told CityBeat the study would help the city establish better budget priorities for youth programs: “If resources were abundant, how much would it take for us to really be able to make a significant impact? But also understanding that resources aren’t abundant, where should we put the resources in order to make maximum impact?”
With better priorities, Simpson says the city would also be able to create better collaboration between the city’s many individuals, agencies and organizations that currently work to address youth issues. “When you work together, you’re going to be better,” she says.
That’s particularly important in Cincinnati, which Simpson says is “very disparate” in terms of wealth and resources. Simpson says she would like to leverage the city’s centers of wealth in a way that would better benefit some of the poorer, needier areas.
Simpson says the study is necessary because there is a lack of local data for the city’s youth, with Cincinnati Children’s Child Well-Being Survey being the only comprehensive local study in recent years.
To Simpson, the importance of understanding the city’s youth and how their situation can be improved has been validated by her personal experience.
“I was supposed to have a student shadowing me yesterday, who’s a very, very capable young man, but he’s homeless,” she says. “He didn’t show up yesterday because he slept outside the night before.”
Carrying out the study and recalibrating the city’s programs to provide more consistency, whether it’s through education or simply providing more permanent shelter, will have huge effects on the city’s youth, Simpson says.
The Youth Commission of Cincinnati was formed in the spring of 2012 to help local government establish better priorities and policies for youth programs. The study, which has been under planning and development since July, is meant to help accomplish those goals.
Cincinnati’s plan to lease parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains on hold as a lawsuit arguing the law should be subject to referendum works through the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and takes away the possibility of a referendum. Emergency clauses are routinely deployed in City Council, but opponents of the parking plan say that doesn’t make them right.
Whether the parking deal does go through or not, the Tower Place Mall renovations will be carried out. The city originally included the renovations as part of the plan, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the city is planning on selling the the property to a subsidiary of JDL Warm Construction for an undisclosed sum, and the company will then pay an estimated $5 million for the redevelopment.
Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand the sales tax to fund tax cuts is being heavily criticized by some members of the business community, but Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance & Appropriations Committee, says he is looking into ways to save the proposal. Kasich’s plan would expand the application of the sales tax to include more services, including cable TV and admission to sport events, but it would lower the sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5 percent and carry out 20-percent across-the-board income tax cuts. CityBeat wrote about Kasich’s budget proposal in further detail here.
As part of Kasich’s education plans, the state’s school voucher program is expanding to help students meet a Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires third-graders pass a test in reading proficiency before they can move onto fourth grade. Supporters argue the voucher program provides more choice and control for parents, but opponents say the state should not be paying for private educations. A previous Policy Matters Ohio report found expanded school choice through more vouchers can have negative effects on education, including worse results for students and teachers.
State Auditor Dave Yost is pushing for a full audit of JobsOhio, the publicly funded private, nonprofit agency, but Republican state legislators are joining Kasich in opposition. The opposing Republicans say the state auditor can track any public funds used for JobsOhio, but they say the agency is allowed to keep its private funds under wraps. Kasich says he plans to replace the Ohio Department of Development, which can be fully audited by the state auditor at any time, with JobsOhio.
The Ohio Department of Education apparently knew or should have known of ongoing data scrubbing in schools as early as 2008, according to The Toledo Blade. Emails acquired by The Blade show officials analyzed and discussed data reports that year after media reports detailed how urban districts excluded thousands of test scores on state report cards.
Supporters of the Anna Louise Inn gathered Friday in celebration of International Women’s Day and to stand against Western & Southern’s repeated efforts to run the Inn out of the neighborhood.
The U.S. Census Bureau says Cincinnati commutes are much shorter than the national average, with only 2.9 percent of Cincinnatians spending more than 60 minutes one-way during their commute, as compared to the 8.1 percent national average.
The Cincinnati Enquirer unveiled its new tabloid format today. Ben Kaufman says it looks nice and arrived on time.
The Killers are coming to the Horseshoe Casino.
A new study says results from fMRI scans are unintentionally distorted and inaccurate — to the point that some studies on the human brain that use fMRI results may be seriously questionable.