State Auditor Dave Yost released an audit today looking at Value Learning and Teaching (VLT) Academy’s 2010-2011 school year, and the findings are not pretty. The charter school, which is located in downtown Cincinnati, was found to be potentially overpaying in multiple instances — including potential conflicts of interest.
“Those who are entrusted with taxpayer dollars must take special care and spend them wisely,” Yost said in a statement. “This school appears to have management issues that must be addressed quickly.”
In a potential conflict of interest, the school paid Echole Harris, daughter of the school’s superintendent, $82,000 during the school year and $17,000 for a summer contract for the position of EMIS coordinator, who helps provide data from VLT Academy to the state. Mysteriously, the school did not disclose the summer contract in its financial statements. The school says the superintendent abstained from all decisions related to Harris and presented the summer contract to the school board. Still, Yost referred the situation to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
The audit also criticized VLT Academy for approving a $249,000 bid for janitorial services that were owned and provided by a school employee. The bid was the most expensive among other offers ranging between $82,000 and $135,600. According to the school’s own minutes, “Each company states that they can deliver a work product that will meet or exceed the standards provided in our checklist,” adding little justification to the high payment and potential conflict of interest. The school insists its pick was the best qualified because it offered additional services. The bid approval was also referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
The school was found to be overpaying its IT director as
well. Keenan Cooke’s salary for the 2010-2011 school year was supposed to
be $55,000, but the school overpaid him by $3,333 with no record of
intent. The state asked for Cooke and Judy McConnell, VLT Academy’s
fiscal officer, to return the excess payment to the state. The school acknowledged McConnell's responsibility.
To make the potentially excess payments worse, VLT Academy had a net asset deficiency of $412,754 as of June 30, 2011, according to the audit. The school promised the auditor it will cut costs and find revenue generators to make up for the loss.
President Barack Obama will visit Cincinnati Monday. No
details were given for the event. Last time Obama was in
Cincinnati, he held a town hall meeting to tout his support for small
businesses and the LGBT community. Ohio is considered a vital swing
state for the presidential election, and it’s widely considered a
must-win for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. However, after the
Democratic National Convention, aggregate polling at FiveThirtyEight and
RealClearPolitics hugely favors Obama, establishing many paths for the
Democrat to clinch the presidency. Obama could lose Ohio, Virginia and
Florida and still win the election, which shows how many options he has to victory.
The 2013 Hamilton County budget process is “challenging,” says Commissioner Greg Hartmann. He says the county is dealing with a $200 million budget instead of the $300 million budget of six years ago, which is presenting new problems. Hamilton County Sheriff Si Leis said budget cuts could lead to up to 500 jail bed cuts. CityBeat previously covered the county commissioners’ inability to tackle challenging budget issues — sometimes at the cost of the taxpayer.
State Auditor Dave Yost says his investigation into attendance fraud at Ohio schools could last well into the year. The investigation, which began after Lockland Schools in Hamilton County were found of attendance fraud, is slowed down by the state’s data-reporting system, according to Yost. Schools may falsely alter their attendance reports to improve grades in the state report card.Secretary of State Jon Husted has been sued again. This time he’s being sued by the Democratic Montgomery County election officials he fired. The officials tried to expand in-person early voting hours in Montgomery County to include weekend voting, but the move violated Husted’s call for uniform hours across the state.
The Ohio EPA will host a workshop in Cincinnati on Sept. 25. The workshop will focus on the Ohio Clean Fund and other tools and incentives to help individuals and groups embrace clean energy.
For the first time since December, Ohio's tax collections were lower than expected. The state was $43 million below estimates in August.
A study found wind power could meet the world’s energy needs. Wind currently supplies 4.1 percent of the United States’ energy needs. Obama greatly boosted the production of wind energy with tax credits. Romney vowed to repeal the tax credits in a brief moment of substance.
Vice President Joe Biden will make a stop at
Cincinnati this weekend. Cincinnati has quickly become a pivotal part of
the presidential election. Ohio is widely considered to be a must-win for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. However, polling in Ohio has consistently favored President Barack Obama and Biden in the past few months, although Romney did receive a decent bump in Ohio during and after the Republican National Convention. A similar bump could come for Obama and Biden after the Democratic National Convention, which ended last night. Last week, Romney was also in Cincinnati. CityBeat covered Romney's rally here.
The national economy added 96,000 jobs in August, pushing the unemployment rate down to 8.1 percent. The amount of jobs added is less than economists expected, even though it does signify some good news.Ohio may delay its new letter grading system for schools. The system is a lot tougher on schools and school districts than the previous system. Using data released by the Ohio Department of Education, CityBeat previously found the new system would flunk 23 schools at Cincinnati Public Schools.
The Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission ruled Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig must take Ohio’s standard police exam. Craig insists he shouldn’t have to take the exam due to his extensive experience.The Horseshoe Casino is coming along quickly. It is currently 75 percent complete and still expected to open spring 2013.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble may be cutting more than the originally planned 5,700 non-manufacturing jobs next February. The company is also planning nine new product launches.On the bright side, Kohl’s is hiring 1,200 seasonal workers for its Monroe facility.
The state auditor released a new audit detailing the use
of state airplanes. According to the report, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor used
several routes “for convenience” to get closer to an airport near her
home. Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder also used a plane to go to a
private event. Taylor and Batchelder both reimbursed the state.
Scientists made a monkey control a robot hand with his mind.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday laid out five steps that he said would have America “roaring back” during his first campaign stop since formally accepting the Republican nomination.
At Cincinnati's Union Terminal, Romney was joined on stage by his wife Anne, who spoke briefly, echoing her convention speech meant to humanize her husband.
He said his plan involved encouraging development in oil and coal, implementing a trade policy that favored American companies and not “cheaters” like China, making sure workers and students had skills to succeed in the coming century, reducing the deficit and encouraging small business growth.
“America is going to come roaring back,” Romney told the crowd of thousands packed inside Union Terminal.
Not everyone was so impressed with the GOP nominee’s promises.
About an hour after the Romney campaign event, Cincinnati Democratic leaders held a news conference to rebut the Republican’s speech.
“Much of his (Romney’s) speech was like his speech in Tampa, which is where Romney gave Cincinnatians nothing more than vague platitudes, false and misleading attacks without one single tangible idea on how to move forward,” said Democratic/Charterite Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson.
Simpson, along with Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas and Bishop Bobby Hilton, attacked the tax plan put forward by Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. They said it would cut taxes for the richest Americans while raising taxes on the middle class by about $2,000 per household, citing an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
“Mitt Romney’s plan would take Ohio and Cincinnati backwards, and we don’t have time to go backwards,” Hilton said.
Hilton credited Cincinnati’s revitalization and urban development in part on federal money obtained from Obama’s stimulus plan.
“We deserve better than this. We deserve better than Romney/Ryan,” he said.
Romney would have disagreed with Hilton’s assessment of Cincinnati’s growth. During his speech he praised Ohio Gov. John Kasich, crediting him with bringing jobs and businesses to the state.
Romney also took time to attack President Barack Obama’s record in office. The GOP nominee said in preparation for his convention speech he read many past convention speeches — including Obama’s.
“He was not one of the ones that I wanted to draw from, except I could not resist a couple of things he said, because he made a lot of promises,” Romney said. “And I noted that he didn't keep a lot of promises.”
Romney also criticized what he called the bitterness and divisiveness of Obama’s campaign, saying as president he would bring the country together. He mentioned the “patriotism and courage” of the late Neil Armstrong, who was honored in a private service in Cincinnati on Friday.
“I will do everything in my power to bring us together, because, united, America built the strongest economy in the history of the earth. United, we put Neil Armstrong on the moon. United, we faced down unspeakable darkness,” Romney said.
“United, our men and women in uniform continue to defend freedom today. I love those people who serve our great nation. This is a time for us to come together as a nation.”
The candidate’s remarks ignited the crowd of thousands, many of whom wore shirts with slogans like “Mr. President, I did build my business,” in response to a remark made by Obama about businesses being helped to grow by government contracts and infrastructure, and “Mitt 2012: At least he never ate dog meat,” referring to a passage in Obama’s 2008 memoir during which he recalls being fed dog meat as a boy in Indonesia.
Steve Heckman, a 62-year-old environmental consultant from Springfield, Ohio, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but will likely vote for Romney in this election.
He said he’d written “some pretty ugly stuff” about Romney in the past but felt jobs was the No. 1 issue and thought the Obama administration’s policies were sending them out of the country.
“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has, to me, become a little too almost like a fringe group, putting so much pressure on businesses that they are moving to Canada,” Heckman said. “Things like air permits, the EPA is taking too long to issue them. It’s not just power plants they’re affecting, but all manufacturing.”
Heckman said he didn’t blame the president personally but thinks whoever he put in charge of the agency is being too strict.
“I grew up when the EPA was first put in place in the '70s, and they were, in my opinion, doing God’s work,” he said, citing the cleaning up of rivers such as the Cuyahoga near Cleveland, which famously caught fire because of pollution in 1969.
“I support the EPA, but it’s driving businesses out of here.”
Speaking ahead of Romney were U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio treasurer and GOP senatorial candidate Josh Mandel and Republican U.S. House candidate for Ohio’s 2nd District, Brad Wenstrup.
“This election is all about changing Washington,” Mandel said. “The only way to change Washington is to change the people we send there.”
Duke Energy told city officials to OK an operating deal for the streetcar before trying to talk costs. The fighting words are in the middle of an ongoing feud between city officials and Duke Energy about who will move utility lines and pipes to accommodate the streetcar. The operating details will help Duke know what “unbreakable rules” about maintenance and emergency repairs exist and where the streetcar will go, according to the company’s spokesperson. CityBeat previously covered the streetcar issue and all the pettiness from Duke here.
A suspended frat is suing Miami University. The frat was suspended after a fireworks battle led to the discovery of illegal substances in the frat. The frat claims the university improperly suspended it, damaged its business and property, and made libelous allegations out of “malice, hatred and ill will.” The frat says it shouldn’t have been suspended without a written complaint, but Miami's spokesperson said the university is allowed to suspend students without a written complaint if there is a pending investigation.Ohio will soon begin tying college funding to graduation rates. If only that was done with e-schools.
Equality Ohio announced Columbus, Ohio made a step forward in LGBT rights yesterday. It is now among the few cities in Ohio to have a domestic partner registry, which allows same-sex couples to legally declare their relationships without marriage or civil unions. Toledo, Cleveland, Athens and Dayton also have registries.
Secretary of State Jon Husted wrote a “guest column” on his own website defending early voting rules in Ohio. Republicans are facing criticism over bringing racial politics and poor arguments into the early voting debate.
The University of Cincinnati’s new interim president just got a nice raise.The state texting-while-driving ban goes into effect tomorrow.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio made his speech at the Republican national convention yesterday. In the speech, he criticized President Barack Obama for the current state of the economy. In return, Democrats criticized Portman for his budget work for former President George W. Bush, whose administration is widely blamed for the current economic crisis.It seems like Paul Ryan spent a lot of time lying in
UPDATE: 5:11 p.m. Updated with comment from Miami University spokeswoman.
A Miami University fraternity that was suspended after an alleged fireworks battle led to police finding drugs when executing a search warrant has filed a lawsuit with the frat demanding $10 million from the university.
The Phi Kappa Tau chapter at Miami university alleges in their lawsuit that university officials improperly suspended the fraternity, damaged its business and property and made libelous allegations out of “malice, hatred and ill will.”
The frat is suing for compensation as well as $10 million in punitive damages and attorneys fees. The Tuesday court filing demanded a trial by jury.
The fraternity was suspended after members of the Phi Kappa Tau and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternities allegedly threw lit fireworks between their two frat houses.
When Oxford police officers tried to investigate, students refused to let them into the houses without warrants. So the police got warrants.
According to the filing, inside the Phi Kappa Tau house police found fireworks, a baggy of marijuana and two pipes.
The lawsuit alleges that the university improperly suspended the fraternity because it did so in the absence of any written complaint. It claims that there are no police complaints or charges as of the lawsuit’s filing.
The suit also alleges that the university recklessly made false statements damaging the reputation of the fraternity and causing some of its members “severe emotional distress.”
Miami University spokeswoman Claire Wagner declined to comment on the lawsuit. However, she said the school's student code allows the Dean of Students or a designee to issue a summary suspension without a written complaint if there is a pending investigation. She said the university, as well as Oxford fire and police, are investigating the incident.
University of Cincinnati President Greg
Williams stepped down yesterday. According to reports, Williams
walked into a UC Board of Trustees meeting, announced he was resigning effective
immediately and left.
Greg Hand, spokesperson for UC, said Williams resigned for “personal reasons.” No further explanation was provided by Williams.
Santa Ono, UC provost, is taking over temporarily as interim president. In a tweet, he promised to give the university 150 percent.
Williams was at UC since 2009. A year after arriving, he introduced his UC2019 plan. The plan seeks to make the university into a top school by 2019. The plan also implied Williams had long-term plans for UC, making his abrupt resignation even stranger.
The Board of Trustees seemed happy with Williams — at least happy enough to give him a raise. On Sept. 20, 2011, the Board gave Williams a $41,000 raise, bringing his salary up to $451,000. He also got a $102,500 bonus.
The news took UC students by surprise. Lane Hart, student body president at UC, told the school's independent student newspaper, The News Record, he was “shocked” when he heard the news.
To give credit where credit is due, when The Cincinnati Enquirer first reported the story, the newspaper mentioned that Margaret Buchanan, president and publisher at The Enquirer, is on the UC Board of Trustees. However, The Enquirer did not mention asking Buchanan about the resignation — an omission that raised questions for Jim Romenesko, a popular journalism blogger. Since then, The Enquirer emailed Romenesko saying Buchanan did not know any extra information.
Buchanan's ties to local groups the newspaper frequently covers have failed to be disclosed in the past. Previously, CityBeat found in stories related to 3CDC, which Buchanan is also involved in as a member of the executive committee, The Enquirer overwhelmingly failed to report the possible conflict of interest. The newspaper only reported the connection one out of 32 times, although the number could be inflated due to The Enquirer’s system of posting duplicate articles. In one particular story, The Enquirer praised 3CDC but failed to bring up Buchanan’s role overseeing publicity and marketing there.
Update: This blog incorrectly said Doug Preisse is the chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party. He is the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party.
“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine,” Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, told The Columbus Dispatch in an email over the weekend. The admission to outright racism came at the height of a controversy regarding weekend voting in Montgomery County. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is trying to enforce uniform in-person early voting hours with no weekend voting across the state to avoid any discrepancies that caused a previous controversy, but county Democrats in Dayton wanted to have weekend voting anyway. When county Democrats refused to back down in a Board of Elections meeting, Husted, the state official who is supposed to empower voters as much as possible, suspended them from the Board. The move sparked criticism from state Democrats, which eventually led to Preisse’s admission to playing racial politics.
The Ohio Board of Education is meeting today and is expected to discuss its search for a new superintendent of public instruction. Former Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner had to leave after an investigation found he had been misusing state resources and encouraging legislation that benefited an employer.Taxpayers could be paying $300,000 so county officials can avoid a tough decision. The move would preserve the property tax rollback and let the county hold off on making a payment on the stadiums this fiscal year. Two out of three county commissioners told the Enquirer they like the idea.
Schools in the Greater Cincinnati area seem to be using different grading scales. The disparity could put some students in a worse spot when applying to college.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is suing a Cincinnati man over a Craigslist scam.The Greater Cincinnati area could soon host more film, television and video game production thanks to new tax incentives.
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland could be making an appearance at the Democratic national convention. The convention is a time for parties to show off their new candidates and party platforms.Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin of Missouri told KTVI-TV, “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” The extremely offensive, factually incorrect comment was quickly picked up by media outlets, and the senatorial candidate is now saying he “misspoke.” But misspeaking typically means messing up one or two words. Misspeaking does not mean making a clearly spoken argument with a very clear point.
Lack of funding could be hurting national parks.Here is a spider with claws.
Carbon dioxide emissions fell to a 20-year low this year, largely thanks to natural gas that was made cheaper and more plentiful due to the fracking boom in Ohio and other states. The news is a surprising turnaround for climate change activists, but critics worry that methane — a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — emitted from natural gas operations could still pose a significant climate threat. Environmental groups are generally opposed to fracking, but supporters, like Gov. John Kasich, insist it can be made safe with enough regulations. CityBeat previously covered the concerns and questions behind fracking here.
The Ohio Department of Education has had a rough year, and in a few ways, it’s back to square one. On top of the search for a new superintendent of public instruction, the Department of Education has had to deal with budget cuts and layoffs, a new Board of Education member with no college degree or known resume, and the department is now being investigated by the state auditor.The White House has announced a $30 million manufacturing hub for Ohio that will act as a model for the rest of the United States. The hub will bring together universities and businesses in order to increase growth and collaboration and decrease risk.
Ohio has seen an uptick of businesses requesting to work in the state, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. Estimates show 6,137 new entities applied to work in the state during July, up from 5,472 during July 2011. The state has also seen 52,728 new business requests so far in 2012, up from 49,460 during the same January-to-July period in 2011. The news shows some signs of strengthening economic growth in Ohio.But Ohio’s unemployment rate barely moved in July. The unemployment rate remained at 7.2 percent, the same as June’s unemployment rate, even though 2,000 jobs were added.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. EPA, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and energy companies met yesterday to work out how Ohio will enforce new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The new standards will greatly reduce toxic pollutants given off by power plants, according to the National Resources Defense Council.Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor claims there’s a funding shortage for courts. The shortage could make it difficult for some cases and people to see their day in the courtroom.
Environmental groups are asking for more rules for wastewater injection wells, the wells used to dump wastewater produced during fracking. But state regulators aren’t sure more rules are necessary.Fifty-eight state Republican lawmakers have never broken from the very conservative Ohio Chamber of Commerce in a vote.
Sen. Rob Portman will be speaking at the Republican national convention. The convention will make Mitt Romney’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate official. Conventions are also a time for political parties to show off their new party platforms.
President Barack Obama is coming back to Ohio next Tuesday. The president will be staying in Columbus this time around.
Tax Policy Center to conservative critics: No matter what you say, Romney’s tax plan is still mathematically impossible.
Americans love computers, but they hate the oil and gas industry.It’s taking more than three days, but the famous Jesus statue is rising again.
A Hamilton County budget shortfall could force officials to cut more than 300 county jobs, according to Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman. If the county doesn’t fix its problems, it could fall into “fiscal emergency.” Officials are worried some cuts could jeopardize functions required by state law. A recent study found that the national unemployment rate would be at 7.1 percent if it wasn’t for government job cuts.More than $85 million has been awarded to local transportation projects by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments. The funding will go to Metro buses, roads, traffic signals and more.
City Councilmember Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on City Council, is thinking about running for mayor in 2013. Mayor Mark Mallory is currently serving his last term, so he will not be able to run again.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said he is considering establishing uniform early voting hours statewide. Recently, Democrats have been accusing Republicans of a statewide conspiracy to extend voting hours in Democratic counties and shrink voting hours in Republican counties.
Ohio was the 13th fattest state in 2011, according to a new report from the Center of Disease Control. Fortunately, Ohio managed to stay under a 30 percent obesity rate, unlike the 12 fattest states.In the future, Ohio will be the ninth worst state to live in, according to a new Gallup analysis. Ohio still beat Kentucky, which ranked third worst. Not so fortunately, Utah topped the ranks. I’ve been to Utah, and I prefer Ohio. I don’t trust your math, Gallup!
Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican who is also running against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown for U.S. Senate, is scheduled to appear with presidential candidate Mitt Romney today. Mandel is also famous for earning the “Pants on Fire” crown from Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer for his excessive lying in campaign ads.
The Medicaid expansion does not have to be permanent, according to federal officials. States can expand then scale back, although it will cost federal funds. Medicaid expansions have been proven to save lives and boost health, but Gov. John Kasich is still undecided about the expansion.
The Cincinnati Museum Center earned top accreditation.
Unmanned drones could soon be flying in domestic skies.