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.
The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.
“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.
The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.
“If there was even five seconds without a temporary restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are void.”
The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum.
In an interview on March 7, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently voted for emergency clauses.”
The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a referendum effort.
“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on a vote that I was facing.”
CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.
A new report found “renters by choice” — those who can afford to own a house but choose not to — and people returning to the market in the Great Recession’s aftermath may be driving a rush to rent in Cincinnati, reports The Cincinnati Enquirer. The report from CB Richard Ellis found the average apartment occupancy rate was 93.6 percent in 2012, underscoring the need for new apartments in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine. News of the report came just one day after City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. announced his parking plan, which will add 300 luxury apartments to Downtown.
Gov. John Kasich and Ohio legislators are getting some bad feedback on the governor’s plan to broaden the sales tax, reports Gongwer. Numbers from Policy Matters Ohio found the sales tax plan would outweigh sales and income tax cuts for the lower classes, but won’t be enough to dent tax savings for the wealthiest Ohioans. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in detail here.
Not much new information came from a special City Council meeting last night that covered Cincinnati’s public retirement system, reports WVXU. The one piece of new information was that preliminary numbers show Cincinnati's Retirement System had an 11.9 percent return on its investments in 2012 — higher than the 7.5 percent that was originally projected.
Mayor Mark Mallory is using his plan to lower Cincinnati’s infant mortality rate to try to win the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge. Mallory’s proposal would create an Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which allows pregnant women to enroll in First Steps, a care program that maintains a secure database of new mothers and monitors pregnancies, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. The program could be especially helpful in Cincinnati, which has a higher infant mortality rate than the national average. The Bloomberg challenge pits mayors around the country against each other to win $5 million or one of four $1 million prizes for their programs aimed at solving urban problems and improving city life. With Mallory’s program, Cincinnati is one of 20 finalists in the competition. Fans can vote on their favorite program at The Huffington Post.
A local nun may have committed voter fraud, reports WCPO. Rose Marie Hewitt, the nun in question, died Oct. 4, but the Hamilton County Board of Elections still received a ballot from her after she died. Hewitt apparently filed for an absentee ballot on Sept. 11 — less than one month before she died. In a letter to Board of Elections director Tim Burke, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters wrote there’s enough probable cause to believe criminal activity occurred.
In 2012, 88,068 new entities filed to do
business in the state — making the year the best ever for new state filings, according to Secretary of State Jon Husted.
A new bill in the Ohio legislature that allows poll workers to help blind, disabled and illiterate voters file their ballots is getting widespread support, but another bill that makes it more difficult to get issues on the ballot is getting a stern look from Democrats, reports Gongwer.
Think your landlord is bad? An Ohio landlord allegedly whipped a late-paying tenant, reports The Associated Press.
The University of Cincinnati surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal for the Proudly Cincinnati campaign, reports the Business Courier.
President Barack Obama is coming back to Ohio to give the commencement speech at Ohio State University, reports the Business Courier.
Donald Trump is threatening Macy’s protesters with a lawsuit because they want the Cincinnati-based retailer to cut ties with Trump, who is currently contracted as a spokesperson, reports the Business Courier.
Popular Science has seven reasons coffee is good for you.
In a presentation to City Council Feb. 19, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled an unexpected parking proposal that will solve a $25.8 million budget deficit for the 2014 fiscal year and avoid full privatization. The 30-year plan will also put more than $100 million toward economic development in the city.
The plan involves teaming up with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and some private operators to manage and modernize Cincinnati’s parking assets. Dohoney called it a “public-public partnership” that will allow Cincinnati to keep control over rates, operation hours and the placement of meters.
The money raised by the plan will be used for multiple development projects around the city, including the I-71/MLK Interchange, Tower Place Mall and a high-rise that will house a downtown grocery store.
The new parking plan will cap rate increases at 3 percent or the cost of living, with any increases coming in 25-cent increments. Private operators will not be allowed to change operation hours, but hours will be initially expanded to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. downtown and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in neighborhoods.
The proposal will not immediately increase downtown’s $2-an-hour rates, but it will increase all neighborhood parking meters to 75 cents an hour. Afterward, the rate cap will make it so downtown rates can only be increased every four years and neighborhood rates can only be increased every 10 to 11 years.
But the rate hikes will only come after technological improvements are made to parking meters. The new meters will allow users to pay with a smartphone, which will enable remote payment without walking back to the meter. After the plan’s 30 years are up, parking assets will be returned to the city with all the new technological upgrades, according to Dohoney.
Some critics were originally concerned that private operators will aggressively enforce parking rules to run bigger profits, but Dohoney said enforcement standards will remain the same.
Enforcement will be done through booting instead of towing, according to the plan. Booting will only be used after the accumulation of three unpaid parking tickets, which is similar to how towing works today. The boots will be automatically removed once the tickets are paid, which will be possible to do remotely through a smartphone.
The plan, which is a tax-exempt bond deal, will provide the city with $92 million upfront cash and $3 million in annual installments after that, although the city manager said the yearly payments will increase over time. The city originally promised $7 million a year from the deal, but Dohoney said estimates had to be brought down as more standards and limitations were attached to address expressed concerns.
The money will first be used to pay for a $25.8 million deficit in the 2014 fiscal year. Another $6.3 million will be set aside for the working cap reserve and $20.9 million will be put in a reserve to pay for a projected deficit in the 2015 fiscal year.
The rest of the funds will be used for economic development. About $20 million will go to the I-71/MLK Interchange, which would match $40 million from the state. The project is estimated to create $750 million in economic impact, with $460 million of that impact in Hamilton County. Dohoney says the economic impact will create 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs, and ultimately bring in $33 million in earnings taxes, which means the plan will eventually pay for itself. He also says the funding from the parking deal will allow the city and state to complete the project within two to three years, instead of the seven to 10 years it would take if the city waited for support from the federal government.
If the state does not agree to take up the I-71/MLK Interchange project, Dohoney promised a “mega job deal” that will create 2,500 jobs.
With $12 million for development and $82 million in leveraged funds, the city will also take on massive development projects downtown. Tower Place Mall will undergo a massive conversion. The city will also tear down Pogue’s Garage at Fourth and Race streets and replace it with a 30-floor high-rise that will include 300 luxury apartments, 1,000 parking spaces and a grocery store.
The plan will also use $3 million for the Wasson Line right-of-way and $4 million for the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park, which should be completed in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
AEW, Xerox, Denison and Guggenheim will partner with the city and Port Authority for the plan. AEW will manage assets, Xerox will handle parking operations and on-street spaces, Denison will operate off-street spaces and manage facilities and equipment and Guggenheim will act as underwriter and capital provider.
After the City Council hearing, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld released a statement that raised concerns about expanded meter operation hours, which Sittenfeld fears could burden certain neighborhoods. He also pointed out the plan will not fix Cincinnati’s long-term structural deficit problems. Still, he said the local Port Authority’s management could make the plan “worthy of support.”
Sittenfeld has been skeptical of the parking plan since it was first announced in October. In the past, he warned privatization could cause parking rates to skyrocket. ©
Gov. John Kasich will give his State of the State address today in Lima, where he is expected to cover his budget plan, jobs and tax reform. It will air live at The Ohio Channel at 6:30 p.m. During his last State of the State speech, the governor lacked focus, imitated a Parkinson’s patient and called Californians “wackadoodles,” leading outlets like The Hill to call the speech “bizarre.”
The next state superintendent of public instruction could be Richard Ross, Gov. John Kasich’s education policy adviser, or acting superintendent Michael Sawyers, according to StateImpact Ohio. Ross apparently has Kasich’s support, making him a favorite. Stan Heffner, the previous state superintendent, was forced to resign after misusing state resources.
New legislation will be introduced by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld to City Council today to require all rental properties to be equipped with photoelectric smoke detectors. The photoelectric detectors have better protection against smoldering, smoky fires, which cause more fatalities than the flaming, fast-moving fires picked up by ionization form of detectors, according to the vice mayor’s office. Qualls and Sittenfeld are introducing the legislation after hearing stories from Dean Dennis and Doug Turnbull of Fathers for Fire Safety, who both lost children to house fires.
The Horseshoe Casino’s parking plan was revealed yesterday, reports WVXU. Parking will be free for guests on opening day from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It will also remain free on weekends. Weekday parking will be free for guests who play slots or table games for 30 minutes, play an hour of poker or spend at least $25 in a restaurant or gift shop. Otherwise, parking will cost $1 for the first hour, up to a daily maximum of $14.
Restaurants around the country are discovering that fewer calories brings better health and business, according to Dayton Daily News.
Ohio gas prices are continuing their movement up, according to the Associated Press.
Glass was found in Kellogg’s Special K Red Berries cereal, prompting a recall, reports WCPO.
Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked yesterday, which raises all-important questions: How did anyone notice? Why are people following fast food chains on Twitter?
Popular Science has an in-depth report on how neuroscience will allow scientists to rewire the brain to battle seizures, dementia, blindness, paralysis and deafness.
New legislation will be introduced by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Feb. 19 to require all rental properties to be equipped with photoelectric smoke detectors.
Photoelectric detectors are supported by fire safety advocates because they better detect smoldering, smoky fires. According to the vice mayor’s office, these kinds of fires have been linked to more fatalities than the flaming, fast-moving fires picked up by the more traditional ionization smoke detectors.
The ionization detectors also pose another risk: They are often set off by cooking fumes, leading many homeowners and tenants to simply pull out the batteries to turn the detectors off. In some cases, people forget to put the batteries back in, putting them at greater risk of a fatal fire.
Ionization detectors are more common in homes because they are typically cheaper. Their ability to pick up fast-moving fires also makes them better suited for catching fires that can spread more quickly.
Qualls and Sittenfeld are introducing the legislation after hearing stories from Dean Dennis and Doug Turnbull of Fathers for Fire Safety, who both lost children to house fires. “After meeting with Dean and Doug, hearing their story and learning more about photoelectric alarms, we knew we had to do something locally to better protect citizens,” Qualls and Sittenfeld said in a joint statement.
The legislation has been endorsed by the Cincinnati Real Estate Investors Association and the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Apartment Association. Representatives from both organizations will join Qualls, Sittenfeld, Dennis, Turnbull and Fire Chief Richard Braun in a press release unveiling the legislation at 10 a.m. on Feb. 19.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends the use of both kinds of detectors. Hybrid detectors with both photoelectric and ionization technologies can be purchased, but they are more expensive than their individual counterparts.