As part of CityBeat's continuing election coverage, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.
Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.
During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.
Today’s question is, “What are your thoughts on consolidating some city and county services? If you support the concept, are there specific services that should be considered for consolidation? Conversely, are there specific services that should be deemed off-the-table?”
Cincinnati inched closer to equality after moving forward Monday with a measure that would allow city employees in same-sex and other partnerships to receive health insurance benefits.
With a push by Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay councilman in Cincinnati, the measure passed the finance committee with the support of all council members except Charlie Winburn, who abstained.
The approval came after a city report found that same-sex benefits could cost as much as $543,000 a year if 77 partners took advantage of the benefits.
The report suggested City Council mimic a system already in place in Columbus, which requires partners to prove financial interdependency and that they have been together for six months.
If the measure passes City Council, Cincinnati would be more caught up with other cities, states, countries and companies that already grant health benefits to same-sex couples. Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign estimated that 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health benefits to same-sex couples, including Procter and Gamble and Fifth Third Bank.
Altogether, it seems like a small step toward equality. What’s unfortunate is none of it would be required if same-sex marriage was legal in Ohio. If it was, same-sex couples could get marriage benefits, including health-care coverage.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Tuesday approved the petition language for an amendment that would overturn Ohio’s 2004 ban on gay marriage. The new amendment would define marriage as “a union of two consenting adults, regardless of gender.”
The amendment now moves forward to the Ohio Ballot Board. If approved, it will then require 385,253 signatures from registered voters and, finally, voter approval.
Ohio banned same-sex marriage in 2004 with a majority vote of 62 percent. But Ian James, co-founder of the Freedom to Marry Coalition, told the Huffington Post that he is optimistic things will be different this time, citing recent polls that show the nation is moving toward support of gay marriage.
As CityBeat did in the 2007 and 2009 election cycles, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.
Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.
During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.
Today’s question is, “With the city facing a potential $33 million deficit next year, what specific cuts and/or revenue enhancements would you propose or support to eliminate the shortfall?”
The Hamilton County Republican Party endorsed five people Thursday night in this November's elections for Cincinnati City Council.
As expected, the GOP slate includes all three of the party's incumbents: Leslie Ghiz, Charlie Winburn and recent appointee Amy Murray. Also getting the nod were Wayne Lippert and Catherine Smith Mills.
Just one month before voters pick nine council members at the ballot box on Nov. 5, 18 of 21 City Council candidates on Oct. 5 participated at a candidate forum that covered issues ranging from better supporting low-income Cincinnatians to expanding downtown's growth to all 52 neighborhoods.
During the event, the candidates agreed Cincinnati is moving forward, but they generally agreed that the city needs to carry its current economic growth from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to all 52 neighborhoods. Participating candidates particularly emphasized public safety and government transparency, while a majority also focused on education partnerships and human services for the poor and homeless, which have been funded below council's goals since 2004.
The three City Council candidates not in attendance were Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman and Independent challenger Tim Dornbusch. The absences prompted forum moderator Kathy Wilson, who's also a columnist at CityBeat, to remind the audience that "a vote is a precious thing" and candidates should work to earn support by engaging the public.
Councilman Chris Seelbach and challenger David Mann, both Democrats, had surrogates stand in for them. Seelbach was attending a wedding, and Mann was celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his family.
Here are the highlights from the 18 participating candidates, in order of their appearance:
Wendell Young (Democrat, incumbent): Young said Cincinnati should put basic services and public safety first, but he added that the city should also help address "quality of life issues" such as providing "world-class parks." He also said Cincinnati needs to structurally balance its budget, which has relied on one-time funding sources since at least 2001, and make further adjustments to the underfunded pension system. Young also explained that the city needs to strengthen its partnerships with local organizations to help combat homelessness, affordable housing, child poverty and infant mortality.
Laure Quinlivan (Democrat, incumbent): Quinlivan proudly pointed out she's the "only elected mom" on City Council. She said her goal is to make Cincinnati "cleaner, greener and smarter" by focusing on population and job growth and thriving neighborhoods. To spur such growth, Quinlivan claimed the city needs the streetcar project and more bike and hike trails, both of which she argued will attract more young adults to Cincinnati. Unlike other candidates, Quinlivan publicly supported potentially "rightsizing" — or cutting — Cincinnati's police and fire departments to structurally balance the budget. She also said the city should provide more options for health insurance to city employees so they don't all get a so-called "Cadillac plan" that's expensive for the city.
P.G. Sittenfeld (Democrat, incumbent): Sittenfeld touted downtown and Over-the-Rhine's turnaround as a model for economic growth that Cincinnati should expand to all neighborhoods. He argued the model is what attracts companies like Pure Romance to Cincinnati, as the company mentioned the city's recent urban growth as one reason it decided to stay here. (Of course, the nearly $699,000 in tax incentives over 10 years probably help as well.) When asked about his opposition to the current streetcar project, Sittenfeld said the current project is fiscally irresponsible because of its previous budget problems, which City Council fixed in June, and reduction in funding from the state government, which forced the city to pick up more of the funding share. Sittenfeld said his past two years on council were a success, but he added, "I'm not done yet."
Amy Murray (Republican and Charterite, challenger): Murray said her campaign is focused on creating a fiscally sound city by structurally balancing the budget and fixing the underfunded pension system. But she said she would do both without increasing taxes, which could force the city to cut services and retirement benefits. When asked about her opposition in 2011 to extending city employee benefits to LGBT spouses, Murray said she never had a problem with extending the benefits to LGBT individuals — which City Council did in 2012 — but was simply acknowledging that providing the extra benefits requires making cuts elsewhere to balance the budget. (Opponents previously said the issue should be about equality and fairness, not costs.)
Vanessa White (Charterite, challenger): White said her main goals are reducing poverty in Cincinnati, providing more education opportunities to residents and expanding citizen access to city officials. When specifying her goals for education, White said Cincinnati needs to do a better job incentivizing internships for youth at local businesses and touted the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, which seeks to expand preschool education opportunities in Cincinnati. To increase transparency and outreach, White said she would assign City Hall staffers to answer citizens' questions after council meetings.
Michelle Dillingham (Democrat, challenger): Dillingham said the role of local government is to spur growth in abandoned areas that have been failed by the private sector. But to successfully do this, she said the city needs to engage and reach out to its citizens more often. As an example, she cited the development of an affordable housing complex in Avondale, which has been snared by sudden public outcry from a neighborhood group. Dillingham said supporting affordable housing is also more than just providing expanded services; she explained that she supports creating more jobs that would provide a living wage, which would then let more locals own or rent a home without exceeding 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs. At the end, Dillingham touted her 10-point plan to give more Cincinnatians "a seat at the table" and make the city government more inclusive.
Mike Moroski (Independent, challenger): Moroski said he intends to focus on growing Cincinnati's population, reducing re-entry into the criminal justice system and lowering child poverty. He also touted support for development projects and infrastructure, including the streetcar project. At the same time, Moroski argued some development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown is pricing low-income people out of the city's booming areas — an issue he would like to address. Moroski also said he backs efforts to increase Cincinnati's human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years. When asked about his lack of government experience, Moroski said he sees it as a "gift" and "blessing" that's given him a fresh, outside perspective. "I will be the voice for the voiceless," he said.
Melissa Wegman (Republican, challenger): Wegman opened by showing off her business credentials and neighborhood advocacy. When asked what she means when she says she'll bring a "business perspective" to council, she said she would like to see the city put more support toward small businesses. In particular, Wegman said underserved neighborhoods need more city help and funding. She also told panelists that she opposes Issue 4, which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot and would semi-privatize Cincinnati's pension system.
Kevin Flynn (Charterite, challenger): Flynn said Cincinnati's budget problems are by far the most important issues facing the city, but he also trumpeted the local government's lack of transparency and engagement as major issues. He explained he's particularly opposed to the mayor's pocket veto, which allows the mayor to entirely dictate what legislation is voted on by council and potentially block any legislation he or she disagrees with. Flynn said he would like to see more citizen engagement on budget issues and more open debate between council members during public meetings.
Greg Landsman (Democrat and Charterite, challenger): Landsman stated his focus is on population, job and revenue growth, which could help him achieve his goal of a structurally balanced budget. He said the city needs to do more to attract and retain young people. Although Landsman acknowledges the city's progress, he said Cincinnati is undergoing a "tale of two cities" in which some neighborhoods prosper and others flounder. Landsman also suggested increasing human services to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years and improving city management in other areas, including the budget, pension system and roads.
Kevin Johnson (Independent, challenger): Johnson said the role of government should be to balance out the private sector and provide a safety net for those who fall through the system. He said the city needs to do more to tackle income inequality by "investing in people." Johnson said he supports recent efforts to create a land bank system for struggling neighborhoods, which aim to increase homeownership by making it more affordable and accessible. Johnson also claimed that people are tired of party politics and would like to see more transparency in government.
David Mann (Democrat and Charterite, challenger), represented by campaign manager John Juech: Speaking for Mann, Juech said his candidate got into the campaign to address Cincinnati's budget problems. Juech explained Mann will leave "all options on the table," whether it's revenue increases or service cuts, to structurally balance the budget. When asked whether Mann, who previously served 18 years on council, really deserves more time in the local government, Juech explained that Mann's experience makes him a "walking Cincinnati historian." He also argued that Mann has great relationships with county officials, particularly Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, that could make it easier to jointly manage some city services in a way that would drive down costs.
Yvette Simpson (Democrat and Charterite, incumbent): Simpson said she measures progress in Cincinnati by "how well the least of us do," which drove her to start the Cincinnati Youth Commission and other partnerships that help connect the city's youth to jobs. Although Simpson said she supports boosting funding to human services and building better relationships with human services agencies, she said providing more funding is hindered by a "simple math problem" and the city needs to balance its budget before it can provide more and better services. Simpson also said the city could and should do a better job engaging the public with big ideas.
Chris Seelbach (Democrat, incumbent), represented by legislative director Jon Harmon: Reading a statement from Seelbach, Harmon said Cincinnati is on the rise but still needs to improve in various areas. In particular, he said the city needs to do a better job funding all 52 neighborhoods, providing more opportunities for low-income Cincinnatians and eventually increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget. Harmon also touted City Council's progress with infrastructure issues, including increased road paving and bridge funding. By addressing these issues and occasionally making "tough choices," Harmon said Seelbach hopes to continue growing the city.
Pam Thomas (Democrat, incumbent): Thomas claimed she wants local government to be open, honest and transparent. She said the city's progress should be gauged through education metrics, particularly local graduation rates and, starting next year, the city's success in meeting state-mandated third-grade reading proficiency standards. Thomas replaced her husband on council after she was appointed by him and other council members earlier in 2013, but Thomas said that, unlike him, she opposes the current streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to fund development projects and help balance the budget.
Shawn Butler (Democrat, challenger): To Butler, progress means reducing income inequality, creating jobs and growing the city's population. Although Butler, who is Mayor Mark Mallory's director of community affairs, said he's generally supportive of the mayor's policies, he said the city could do a better job selling itself and reaching out to the business community. Butler also touted his experience, particularly how he's gone through eight budget cycles during his time with the mayor. To structurally balance the budget, Butler said he wouldn't increase the earnings tax and would instead pursue other options, such as tapping into money from the parking plan and cutting services.
Angela Beamon (Independent, challenger): Beamon said she would ensure city services are spread out to all citizens and neighborhoods. She suggested struggling neighborhoods are underserved — not "underperforming," a term she doesn't adhere to — and the city should do more to reach out to them. Beamon also stood firm on her opposition to the streetcar project. Instead of funding the streetcar, she said city resources should go toward promoting business ownership and services that help the underprivileged.
Sam Malone (Republican, challenger): Malone said his goal is to make all of Cincinnati's neighborhoods thrive with more businesses. He said since he lost his re-election to City Council in 2005, he's managed a small business and learned how it feels to be on the other side of the government-business relationship. Malone said his campaign slogan ("I love everybody, I come in peace") best exemplifies how he's led his life. When asked about a 2005 incident in which he disciplined his son with a belt, Malone claimed he's "running on issues" and his parenting tactics were deemed lawful by a court.
With all the last-minute deal-making and back and forth among Cincinnati officials, some residents remain confused about details of the city's operating budget for this year. At least, that's the impression CityBeat gets based on its feedback.
Among the most asked-about items is exactly which city-owned swimming pools are affected by budget cuts to help reduce Cincinnati's $54.7 million deficit. In all, 19 of its 33 pools won't open next summer.
Three activists associated with The Cincinnati Beacon blog have lodged a formal complaint with the city's attorneys today, alleging some City Council members “behaved secretly and in contradiction of the charter” during a recent budget dispute.
Also, other critics are researching whether the council members' action violated state law.
In the heated debate over budget cuts at City Hall, several groups are alleging Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding is “two-faced” and told various individuals during his 2009 campaign that he would end his support for the proposed streetcar project.
City Council plans to vote today on 11 ordinances that would indefinitely pause the $132.8 million streetcar project while council members review and weigh the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion. The measures are expected to pass. Because they each allocate at least $100,000 in funding, the ordinances are not susceptible to referendum. Although Mayor John Cranley repeatedly defended the “people’s sacred right of referendum” in opposition to the parking privatization plan while on the campaign trail, he now says he doesn’t want the city to be forced to continue spending on the streetcar project he adamantly opposes until November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.
If a 1930 Ohio Supreme Court ruling applies, Cincinnati could be responsible for paying to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks, but the city might be able to charge some of those costs back to utility companies, according to a newly disclosed 2011 memo from a city attorney to former City Manager Milton Dohoney. The memo is the latest twist in the ongoing legal battle between Duke Energy and the city over who has to pay $15 million to move utility lines for the streetcar project. If the city loses the case, the cost of the project could climb from $132.8 million to $147.8 million. But it’s still unclear how much the 1930 case applies, given that the 1930 streetcar system was owned by a private company and the 2016 version would be owned by the city.
Editorial from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Pausing streetcar same as killing it.”
Mayor Cranley and City Council agreed to delay a vote on Willie Carden’s nomination for city manager to give council members enough time to meet with the candidate one-on-one and “digest” ordinances for his nomination. The nomination of Carden, who currently heads the Parks Department, has been plagued by some controversy because of Carden’s decision to live outside Cincinnati, which violates the rules set by the city charter for the city manager, and recently uncovered ethics issues in which Carden wrongfully took pay from both the private Parks Foundation and city.
City Council also delayed voting on new rules for a week to give council members more time to analyze and discuss the rules. Until then, City Council will operate under the standard Robert's Rules of Order. One possible change to the rules would increase the time given to public speakers during committee meetings from two to three minutes.
Watch Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld outmaneuver Mayor Cranley here.
The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday unanimously dismissed a request to compel JobsOhio to disclose various documents. The court argued that state law passed by Republican legislators largely exempted JobsOhio from public record requests, which means the privatized development agency can keep most of its inner workings secret. Republicans argue the agency’s secretive, privatized nature is necessary to quickly establish business deals around the state, while Democrats claim the anti-transparency measures make it too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable as it uses taxpayer dollars.
The addition of measures that would create state and county councils to help get people off Medicaid ruined some of the bipartisan efforts behind Medicaid overhaul legislation, but Republican legislators still intend to bring the legislation to an Ohio House vote today. Republicans argue the controversial amendments merely update the “framework” under which counties can streamline efforts to get people off public assistance programs. But Democrats say the last-minute measures might have unintended consequences, including one portion that might give the state council the ability to change — and potentially weaken — Medicaid eligibility requirements.
An Ohio Senate bill would revamp and reduce teacher evaluation requirements to make them less costly and burdensome for school districts. The current standards require an annual evaluation of any Ohio teacher rated below “accomplished” and, according to some school districts, create high costs and administrative burdens that outweigh the benefits.
For the second time in two weeks, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter left court in an ambulance after supposedly passing out in court. Hunter faces increasing pressure from higher courts to rule on long-stalled cases.
A 9-year-old boy who was abandoned by his adoptive parents in Butler County allegedly threatened to kill his adoptive family.
Here is how bars are using cutting-edge technology to make better drinks.
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project on Wednesday after moving forward yesterday with 11 ordinances that aren’t susceptible to referendum. The bills allocate $1.25 million to stop contracts tied to the project and hire expert consultants to study what it would cost to continue or suspend the project — information a majority of council plans to use to gauge whether the project should continue after the pause. Streetcar supporters planned to hold some sort of referendum on the pause ordinances, but Cranley, who previously spoke in favor of the “people’s sacred right of referendum,” now says that the city shouldn’t be required to continue spending on the project until voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.
Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration yesterday announced it froze $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar until Cincinnati agrees to move ahead with the project. The decision shows Cranley and other opponents of the project were in the wrong when they claimed they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the grant money to other projects. But the decision should also come as little surprise to the new mayor and council, considering federal officials warned of the consequences of canceling the streetcar project on three separate occasions in the past six months.
The Haile U.S. Bank Foundation also joined the fray yesterday with an email to city officials plainly stating that the streetcar project’s cancellation “will definitely cause us to pause and reconsider whether the City can be a trusted partner” and endanger contributions to the carousel in Smale Riverfront Park, the shared-use kitchen at Findlay Market and the renovations of the Globe Building and Music Hall. The email also offered to pay for a study that would evaluate the costs of the streetcar project going forward. But Cranley brushed off the letter as a threat and argued the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation “can’t be a passive-aggressive dictator of legislative process.”
Although his nomination to the city manager spot was initially met with praise, some are beginning to raise questions about Willie Carden’s refusal to live in Cincinnati and his history, including an ethics probe that found he was wrongfully taking pay from both the city and private Parks Foundation. Councilman Chris Seelbach said he’s also worried about the process for Cranley’s pick, which didn’t involve a national search and never put any other candidates in front of council.
Democrats on the Hamilton County Board of Elections have asked state officials to investigate Republican Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters for improperly voting.
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati plans to introduce on Wednesday a new version of his overhaul of the state’s renewable energy and efficiency requirements. The new version will dampen a plan that would have allowed Canadian hydroelectric power facilities to satisfy Ohio’s renewable energy requirements, but it will also allow decades-old hydro plants along the Ohio River to fulfill the requirement. Seitz and other supporters of the overhaul argue it’s necessary to make the requirements friendlier to businesses and consumers. But opponents of the bill, including businesses and environmentalists, argue it would effectively ruin Ohio’s energy requirements and, according to a study from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, cost Ohioans $3.65 billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered the proposal in greater detail here.
Ohio schools can now tap into a $12 million program to make their facilities safer through various new measures, including a radio system directly connected to emergency responders, cameras and intercoms. “Naturally, after Sandy Hook, I think we were all just extremely upset about that, and you want to be able to do something,” Republican State Sen. Gayle Manning told StateImpact Ohio.
A report found staff weren’t at fault for the high-profile prison suicides of Billy Slagle, whose case CityBeat covered in further detail here, and Ariel Castro, who held three women captive in his home for nearly a decade.
Popular Science argues Amazon’s plan for delivery drones isn’t realistic.
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to halt Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project on Wednesday — and voters might not get a final say on whether they approve of the pause.
In front of council are 11 ordinances totaling $1.25 million that would stop contracts tied to the streetcar project while the city hires expert consultants to review the costs of continuing or suspending the project.“I think cancellation is what we should do,” Cranley said at Monday’s council meeting. “But a majority of council wants to pause and ask questions.”
One immediate concern for supporters of the project: Because the ordinances appropriate funds, they are not susceptible to referendum.
Cranley repeatedly touted the “people’s sacred right of referendum” in opposition to the parking privatization plan while on the campaign trail, but he now argues the city shouldn’t be forced to continue spending on the streetcar project until voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.
Cranley encouraged streetcar supporters to instead push a ballot initiative that doesn’t require the city to continue funding the project.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who supported a referendum on the parking plan, argued Cranley’s position was hypocritical.
“I don’t want to have the voters’ voice suppressed,” he said.
Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced that he’s voting to continue the streetcar project. He asked, “Are we going to have tens of millions of dollars of wasted money or something to show for it?”
In response to the concerns, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a streetcar supporter, said she will have her staff draw up a motion to place the streetcar project on the ballot.
But Councilman Chris Seelbach, who also supports the streetcar, countered that the ballot initiative would not matter if the project is paused and the federal government decides to effectively kill the streetcar by taking back $44.9 million in federal grants that are funding one-third of the project’s costs.
The Federal Transit Administration on Monday stated the grant money is already frozen pending a council decision to advance the project.
Simpson questioned whether the ordinances allocated enough money to pause the project. Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad (MPD) estimate they’ll need $590,000 to suspend work for a month. The ordinance halting MPD’s contract allocates only $100,000.
On top of the $1.25 million — or $1.74 million, if MPD’s estimate is counted — allocated to pause the project, the suspension would also force the city to pay for unemployment insurance as construction companies lay off 200 workers involved in the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick estimates that will cost $419,000 if workers are kept unemployed for a month.
So the city could pay nearly $2.16 million to pause the project for a month. In comparison, Deatrick says one month of construction would cost the city $3 million.
The pause costs would also come from the contingency fund for the streetcar project, according to Deatrick. The $7.4 million contingency fund is already counted as part of the $132.8 million project, but it could go unspent if the project continues without complications.
Deatrick on Nov. 21 warned the costs of canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
(The issue of cancellation costs was first reported by CityBeat in October as a follow-up with city officials to a July story that outlined the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project.)Supporters of the streetcar project argue it’s necessary to spur economic development along the planned 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR, which was later validated by the University of Cincinnati, found the project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.
Opponents argue the project is far too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.“I believe the progress of Cincinnati is going to continue,” Cranley said. “Our future is bullish and bright in downtown and Over-the-Rhine with or without the streetcar.”
A majority of City Council expects to vote in favor of the ordinances at its full meeting on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Council members who oppose the project plan to use the time-out to weigh the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
Federal grants for the $132.8 million streetcar project are on hold
until City Council votes to continue the project, according to a Dec. 2 email from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to Cincinnati officials.
The decision means Cincinnati can no longer tap into $44.9 million in federal grants until Mayor John Cranley and a majority of the newly sworn-in City Council, both of which have shown opposition to the streetcar project, agree to continue with ongoing construction.
“As per our telephone conversation, early last week, the Administrator decided to restrict further access to the Federal project funds until the FTA received an affirmative signal from the city’s newly elected officials that the city intends to proceed with the project on the agreed-upon schedule,” wrote Marisol Simon, FTA regional administrator in Chicago. “This measure was taken to protect the taxpayer funds not yet drawn down by the city from being subject to a potential debt collection action.”
The FTA’s decision shows Cranley and other streetcar opponents were in the wrong when they insisted they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the money to other projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.
But the consequence should come as little surprise to elected officials. In two letters to former Mayor Mark Mallory and a phone conference with City Council, federal officials warned the city they would pull the funding if the streetcar project were canceled.
The news comes on the same day City Council plans to vote to pause the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed against the costs of continuing.
It also comes two days after streetcar builder CAF USA warned the city of substantial costs that would be incurred if the streetcar project were canceled.
Even if council only pauses the project, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick says the path forward is unknown because it’s unclear how the city will fund costs associated with a pause.
The costs would presumably come out of the project’s contingency
fund, according to Deatrick, but pulling money out of the contingency
fund for a delay or pause changes the scope of the project and could face federal resistance.
On Nov. 21, Deatrick said the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were sworn in yesterday. Two days prior to the ceremony, Cranley announced his appointments for council committees that play a crucial role in passing legislation through City Hall, but the choices were not without controversy as Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own party for the two most powerful committees. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican, will head the Budget and Finance Committee, and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee. Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young also didn’t receive any appointments; both supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor’s office. CityBeat covered the new City Council’s priorities in further detail here.
Among the new city government’s first priorities is canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project, but not if supporters of the project have anything to say about it. Hundreds of streetcar supporters yesterday gathered in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route to show their solidarity. They’re threatening a referendum on any action council takes to pause or cancel the project, but some are concerned council will attach a funding measure to legislation that would allow a cancellation or pause ordinance to go into effect immediately, even if the project makes it onto the November 2014 ballot.
Meanwhile, the company in charge of building the actual streetcars wrote a letter to former Mayor Mark Mallory on Nov. 30 threatening substantial costs if the project were canceled. The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF USA to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs. For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears that canceling the streetcar could lead to litigation from contractors and subcontractors as they seek their full payday. The legal costs for such lawsuits would fall on an already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services such as cops and firefighters instead of a capital budget that finances capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
Councilman Smitherman told The Business Courier that he wasn’t aware his brother’s construction company, Jostin Construction, was involved with the streetcar project, but a 2009 press release from the local branch of the NAACP shows Smitherman acknowledging his brother’s ties to the project. Still, a Nov. 21 letter confirms that Jostin pulled out of the project. The connection is important because it presents a potential conflict of interest for Smitherman, a streetcar opponent who will likely act as one of the five necessary votes to pause and potentially cancel the project. It also raises questions about the validity of Smitherman’s anti-streetcar votes in the past few years.
Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months, according to an index from the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’ economic health.
A Republican and Democrat in the Ohio House proposed using the $400 million in savings from the federally funded Medicaid expansion to boost the local government fund, but it seems most of the Republican leadership in the Ohio Senate intends to use the savings on a tax cut. The savings are a result of the Controlling Board’s controversial decision to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program with federal funds, which should shift some Medicaid expenses from the state to the federal level.
More women will get access to maternity leave under Obamacare.
The federally run Obamacare website relaunched in the past week, but it’s unclear if the fixes will make it easier for Ohioans to obtain health insurance.
Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, gas prices dropped across the state.
Michelle Dillingham, who lost in her bid for City Council, started her own progressive blog: The Cincinnati Forum.
The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.
The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in.
"CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.
The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.
For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.
City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.
Read the full letter below:
Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.
Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.
The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project, which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to referendum.
But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.
Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.
Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati.
But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.
Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.
Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.
Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.
Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.
Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.
A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.
On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.
The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.
Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.
Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.
Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.
Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.
Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.
CityBeat’s German Lopez noted on Twitter the irony of The Enquirer now supporting both the streetcar and parking plan while the candidate it endorsed attempts to unravel both — Cranley already stopped the parking plan. The comment drew a response from Enquirer Editor Carolyn Washburn, who is on the newspaper’s editorial board along with Publisher Margaret Buchanan and Editorial Page Editor David Holthaus.
The editorial includes the following paragraph: “In endorsing Cranley, we said he would ‘have to rein in his dictatorial tendencies and discipline himself to be diplomatic, respectful and collaborative.’ What we’ve seen so far is a matter for concern. Hurling insults at professionals like streetcar project manager John Deatrick isn’t what we need. Deatrick enjoys a good reputation as someone who has managed The Banks project and the rebuild of Fort Washington Way. He needs to stay on the streetcar project.”
The editorial was published the same day City Council put completing the project into law and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced his decision to support the project’s completion, which Lopez pointed out leaves Council short of the six votes required for an emergency clause that would immediately halt the project without leaving it open to referendum. Without the emergency clause, streetcar supporters could gather the required signatures to put a 5-4 cancellation vote to referendum, which would force the city to continue working on the project until voters decide on it in November.
Mayor-elect Cranley will hold a vote to stop the project on Monday. With Sittenfeld set to vote against halting the project, Cranley will need either newly elected David Mann or Kevin Flynn to vote in favor of stopping it. Both are on the record as being against the project but have left room to consider the financial realities before making their final decisions.
Cranley announced this morning that he will name the new city manager at 2 p.m. today. Cranley removed former city manager Milton Dohoney last week.
A story by The Enquirer’s Mark Curnutte yesterday detailed life expectancy disparities among Cincinnati’s poor neighborhoods, finding a 20 year difference at times between citizens of predominantly black or urban Appalachian neighborhoods and people of wealthy white neighborhoods like Mount Lookout, Columbia Tusculum and Hyde Park. The Cincinnati Health Department will release more statistics Tuesday and a community discussion on the issue is set for Jan. 10.
Pope Francis yesterday criticized the world’s growing wealth disparity, mentioning things like “idolatry of money” and “a new tyranny” in a 50,000-word statement that sharply criticized trickle-down economics.
The Pope via The Washington Post:
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. … Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."
OTR restaurant Kaze will begin offering lunch hours starting on Black Friday.
Away from home and tired of “Friends-giving” gatherings? Here’s a bunch of restaurants serving good stuff on Thanksgiving day.
Skip Black Friday craziness and use CityBeat’s Gift Guide to shop local this holiday season. There are also plenty of local retailers you can hit up online if you don't wait until the last minute!
If you’re traveling to some stuck-up East Coast city for Thanksgiving, charge the iPad or whatever because there are going to be some storms.
And high winds might cause the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to take all the air out of the Snoopy balloons so no one flies up into the air like in movies.
The NSA reportedly considered revealing the “porn-browsing history” of certain people considered to have ties to terrorist activity in order to discredit them.
Great, now America’s durable goods orders are down. Thanks a lot, government shutdown!
At least the country’s jobless claims are back to pre-recession levels. Thanks, Obama?
The University of Cincinnati Bearcats beat UMass Lowell in basketball last night and senior forward Justin Jackson jammed one in the hoop hard.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Monday announced he will vote to continue the $132.8 million streetcar project.
Sittenfeld’s support for the project means the incoming City Council might not have the six votes required for an emergency clause that would immediately halt the project and make a cancellation vote insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully put a cancellation vote to referendum, the project would be forced to continue until the streetcar once again appears on the ballot in November 2014. The continuation would sink more costs into the project as construction is forced to progress for nearly a year.
Sittenfeld’s announcement preceded a vote from the outgoing City Council to officially write the streetcar project into law, which means Mayor-elect John Cranley, a streetcar opponent, won’t be able to take administrative action to halt the project and instead must bring the project to a City Council vote after he and other newly elected officials take office on Sunday.
The two remaining swing votes in the incoming council — David Mann, who Cranley on Monday named as his choice for vice mayor, and Kevin Flynn — previously discussed delaying the project as council analyzes whether it should permanently cancel or continue with currently ongoing construction.
But Sittenfeld equated a delay to total cancellation after warnings from the federal government made it clear that the city could lose federal funds for the project even if it only delayed progress.
If either Flynn or Mann move to support the streetcar project, streetcar proponents would gain a five-vote majority on the nine-member council to continue the project and preclude a referendum.
Sittenfeld characterized his decision as the better of “two bad choices.”
“We can pursue a project that has never earned broad public consensus and that has yet to offer a viable and sustainable budget,” he said at a press conference, “or we can scrub the project and throw away tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, forgo a massive federal investment and have nothing to show for the enormous effort and expense.”
To explain his decision, Sittenfeld cited concerns about how much money has been dedicated to the project at this point, including $32.8 million in sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, according to estimates from the city. Sittenfeld noted that, at the very least, half of the city’s $87.9 million share of the project will be spent even if the city pulls the plug now.
Sittenfeld also voiced concerns that pulling back from the project and effectively forfeiting $44.9 million in allocated federal funds would damage Cincinnati’s reputation with the federal government. That could hamper projects he sees as much more important, such as the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge project.
“I did my part to avoid getting us into this reality, but it cannot be wished away,” Sittenfeld said.
There was one major caveat to Sittenfeld’s decision: the operating costs for the streetcar, which the city estimates at $3.4-$4.5 million a year.
Sittenfeld said the cost must not hit Cincinnati’s already-strained operating budget and instead must be paid through fares, sponsorships, private contributions and a special improvement district that would raise property taxes near the streetcar line.
A special improvement district would require a petitioning process in which property owners holding at least 60 percent of property frontage near the streetcar line would have to sign in favor of taking on higher property taxes to pay for the streetcar.
“Ultimately, that’s a decision for the citizens,” Sittenfeld said.
If the special improvement district doesn’t come to fruition, Sittenfeld cautioned that the streetcar project would be more difficult to support going forward.
Asked whether Sittenfeld thinks some of the people who voted for him will see his decision as a betrayal, he responded that his conclusion shows the “thoughtfulness and carefulness” people expect of him when it comes to taxpayer dollars, given the costs of cancellation.