CityBeat Blogs - City Council http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-59.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Hey all. It’s been a busy 24 hours in Cincinnati. Here’s what’s happened. 

Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed a resolution recognizing an alternative ID card for undocumented immigrants, the homeless and others that will be sponsored by the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati and issued by Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio. The card is intended to provide a little extra dignity for the homeless, undocumented, those returning from incarceration and others who may have trouble getting a state-issued ID. City officials say it will also help emergency personnel and other municipal bodies better serve some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

• Council also approved $315,000 in planning funding for a proposed bridge between South Cumminsville and Central Parkway near Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. Currently, an exit from I-74 serves as a gateway between the neighborhood and the college, but it’s being removed as the Ohio Department of Transportation continues its revamp of the I-75 corridor. The proposed bridge has been controversial, and some council members argued it’s unnecessary as bigger infrastructure needs like the Western Hills Viaduct loom. The viaduct, which will need replacement in the next decade, will cost hundreds of millions to fix. Mayor John Cranley, who supports the so-called Elmore Street Bridge in South Cumminsville, says the viaduct replacement is a separate matter that will hinge heavily on state funding, and that the Elmore Bridge will provide much-needed economic benefits to the neighborhoods it serves.

• Council didn’t talk about it in their meeting yesterday, but shortly afterward, city administration dropped a minor bombshell about Cincinnati’s streetcar. Per a memo from City Manager Harry Black, the city will pay $500,000 less than expected for the five streetcars it purchased from CAF USA, the company that constructed them. That’s because some of the cars were delivered late. The cars were supposed to be in the city’s hands by December last year, but the last one wasn’t delivered until earlier this month. The late deliveries didn’t cause any delays in implementation of the transit project, but a clause in the contract between CAF and the city stipulates the financial penalty for late delivery. The city will withhold the money from its payments to CAF.

• The Greater Cincinnati area’s largest construction company is moving its headquarters from Bond Hill to the West End after 
Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved a land deal with Messer Construction. The company will get land at 930 Cutter St. from the city for $2 to build its new $12.5 million headquarters, which will house more than 115 employees. Mayor John Cranley said the deal was an incentive to keep Messer here, and calls it a “huge win” for the city. Messer has said that they were attracted to the location because it’s close to redevelopment happening in downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

• Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioners yesterday voted to move the Hamilton County Board of Elections headquarters from Broadway Avenue in downtown Cincinnati to Norwood. Voting access advocates have decried this move, saying it will make the BOE harder to get to for many in the county and that the HQ should stay centrally located downtown. Supporters of the move, including board of elections members like Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Tim Burke, say the Norwood location will be more central for everyone in the county. Both the four-member board of elections and three-member county commission unanimously approved the move. The move won’t happen until after the 2016 election cycle.

• Here’s an interesting piece about the increasing amount Cincinnati Public Schools spends on advertising to try and compete with the area’s 50 or so charter schools. CPS spent more than $123,000 on billboard, radio and TV ads aimed at parents of children in the district. Next year, that looks to increase to $345,000. CPS loses hundreds of thousands of dollars to charters every year, though that loss has been decreasing recently. The marketing expenditures are somewhat in line with other large urban school districts in Ohio, though far less than suburban schools nearby, many of which have little to worry about in terms of competing with charters.

• Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Ohio over recently passed legislation seeking to strip state and some federal funds from the women’s healthcare provider. Conservative lawmakers cite the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortions as the reason for the move, though the funds being kept from the organization go to health screenings and sex education, not abortions. In its suit, Planned Parenthood claims the law, which will go into effect later this month, is an illegal attempt to penalize it for providing abortions.

• Breaking news: there’s drama in the GOP. Well, ok, you probably already knew that, but anyway. The hangover from the party’s presidential primary is still on the horizon for a lot of Republicans, and one of them could be Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel. As a statewide GOPer, Mandel was expected to line up behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential bid. But instead, Mandel endorsed Rubio, tweaking Kasich’s nose several times in the process. Those snubs included predicting that Kasich would leave the race quickly and voting for Rubio in the Ohio GOP primary. Mandel has made moves to court the hardline conservatives in his party, whose support he will surely need, according to this Cleveland Plain Dealer op-ed, since the Kasich wing of the Ohio GOP now has him squarely in their crosshairs.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Good morning all. Here’s your news today.

It was an eventful day yesterday at Cincinnati City Council. First up, Council weighed in on an ongoing controversy brewing in Clifton and unanimously passed a resolution telling Cincinnati Public Schools not to take back the building housing the Clifton Cultural Arts Center. CCAC occupies a historic former school building across from Clifton/Fairview German Language School. The arts nonprofit took over the building from CPS under an agreement that it would fix up the structure. It’s done that to the tune of $2 million. But now CPS is debating whether or not to exercise a clause in its contract with the CCAC that would let it turn the building back into a school. With its neighboring magnet school bursting at the seams, CPS has eyed renting space in the CCAC building. But the two organizations couldn’t agree on a rental price, and now CPS is at least considering taking the building back. Officials with the school district, however, say Council’s resolution is premature, and that negotiations are ongoing with the CCAC around how to resolve the issue.

• At the Council meeting, Mayor John Cranley revealed that his communications director, Kevin Osborne, would be leaving his post April 8. Osborne, a former reporter with CityBeat, WCPO and other local media, is taking a job as community relations director at the Greater Cincinnati Community Action Agency. Osborne has worked in the mayor’s office since 2014.

• Council also moved forward on a proposal banning non-essential city-funded travel to North Carolina, which recently passed legislation allowing discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community by businesses. Council sent the legislation to committee for further consideration. The ordinance, proposed by Councilman Chris Seelbach, seems likely to pass.

• Remember the big kerfuffle between local Democrats and state rep. primary candidate Ben Lindy, who wrote a law school paper other Democrats said was anti-union? Lindy last month lost in the primary race for a chance at the Ohio House 31st District seat to Brigid Kelly, but the controversy over his campaign is just now getting cleared up. Local unions recently seemed likely to boycott a major party fundraising dinner April 13 over the Hamilton County Democratic Party’s refusal to strip Lindy of his party rights — including access to voter data — over his academic work. But it seems bridges have been mended now. Organized labor will get more seats at the table, so to speak, on the party’s executive committee as part of a reconciliation between the party and the unions, according to party and union officials.

• An attorney for former UC police officer Ray Tensing will be granted access to the medical records of the unarmed black motorist Tensing shot. Stu Matthews requested Samuel DuBose’s records as part of his defense of Tensing, and Hamilton County Court Judge Megan Shanahan granted that request yesterday. Matthews says the records will reveal a medical condition DuBose was suffering from that will expose more about the fateful traffic stop where Tensing shot DuBose. Matthews did not reveal what that condition was or how it played into Tensing’s decision to shoot DuBose in the head after DuBose refused to exit his vehicle during the stop in Mount Auburn.

•A Fairborn Municipal Court judge has found that there is probable cause to charge with a misdemeanor the 911 caller in the police shooting death of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart in 2014. The judge ruled that Ronald T. Richie, the only person in the store to call 911 on Crawford, could face charges of raising false alarms, a first-degree misdemeanor. Richie called 911 and told operators that Crawford was walking around the store pointing a gun at other customers, including children. Video footage of the incident does not show this, however, instead revealing Crawford had the toy pellet gun slung over his shoulder. It's unclear what may happen next, but the judge has recommended the case be turned over to a prosecutor. Crawford died after Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams shot him twice while responding to the 911 call. A grand jury declined to indict Williams in the incident, though an investigation by the Department of Justice is ongoing.

• The Ohio American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, alleging he has unlawfully purged Ohio’s voting registry. At issue is a practice by the state that clears voters who haven’t voted in the past three elections from the state’s registry. Husted says that keeps deceased and out-of-state voters off the registry and prevents voter fraud, but the ACLU says numerous Ohio residents have approached them complaining they’ve been turned away from the polls due to the practice. The group claims that more than 40,000 voters in Cuyahoga County alone have been “unlawfully purged” from voter registries because they haven’t voted in every election. Husted says the practice aligns with state and federal laws, however.

• A political forecasting group at the University of Virginia Center for Politics has moved the race for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman's seat from "leans Republican" to "a toss-up." The group cites the name recognition held by Portman's Democratic challenger, former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, as well as his strength in Ohio's Appalachian counties, which Strickland once represented in the House of Representatives. While the forecast notes Portman's big fundraising lead over Strickland, it also says that favorable conditions in the state for Democrats' presidential candidate, presumably Hillary Clinton, could give Strickland the extra edge needed to scoot past incumbent Republican Portman in November.

• Finally, Ohio Gov. John Kasich yesterday gave his state of the state speech in Marietta. The address mostly focused on the state’s economic recovery and job growth. But Kasich, who remains a long-shot Republican presidential primary candidate, advanced few new policy proposals, instead playing it safe and touting his record. He did touch on the state’s drug addiction crisis, its looming changes to statehouse redistricting, problems with the state’s educational system and other challenges. Kasich also floated new tax cuts in the next state budget, though lawmakers seem lukewarm about the governor’s proposals.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Good morning, Cincinnati! Here are your morning headlines as you gear up for the Opening Day festivities. 

 Well, it's finally here. The giant citywide party that is the kickoff to the start of baseball season. It's my first time experiencing Cincinnati's famous Opening Day celebration, but judging from the amount of Reds fans I've already seen lined up on Race Street this morning, it's going to be a big baseball party. If you're not lucky enough to get to watch the Reds play the Philadelphia Phillies at the Great American Ball Park this afternoon, there are still many festivities well worth ditching school and work for. Some ideas of what to do can be found herehere and here

 The Cincinnati Planning Commission voted Sunday to allow an Atlanta-based developer to move one step closer to building a $90 million apartment complex near the riverfront. The Novare Group plans to build a 25-story apartment building featuring 352 rental units and 3,000-square-feet of retail space. The company says it would like to begin construction this summer to have the complex finished by winter 2017. But before any groundbreaking happens, the plan still has a few more hoops to jump through: The Novare Group will need to submit final development plans to the Planning Commission as well as the City Council for approval before it gets the green light.

 Cincinnati's Metropolitan Sewer District, similar to the Cincinnati Park Board, is facing allegations of bad contracts, questionable relationships and overspending by the Enquirer. An Enquirer investigation has asserted that MSD is paying contractors way too much for their work, and MSD officials have had little oversight over major projects like the $3 billion court-ordered sewer reconstruction project. City Manager Harry Black so far has responded to the Enquirer's requests for MSD public records by tightening their spending policies, drawing up a new ethics policy, launching an audit into the department and has started personally approving all of MSD's contracts. 

 Donald Trump has called for ultimate underdog, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to drop out of the presidential race. Trump is currently campaigning hard in Wisconsin, trying to rouse voters for the state's primary on Tuesday, and said Sunday that Kasich should just throw in the towel because it's impossible for him to secure the GOP nomination with his current delegate count. Kasich is far, far short of the necessary 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. He has secured just 143 delegates, compared to Trump's count of 736 and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's count of 463. Trump said Kasich is doing little more than taking away delegate votes that could be going to him. Kasich's campaign responded by saying that none of the remaining GOP candidates have enough delegates to secure the nomination either. One of Kasich's spokespeople told the Associated Press that Trump should consider taking his own good advice and drop out of the race before the GOP convention in Cleveland this July. 

• Last weekend, during an interview on ABC, Kasich defended the many restrictions on abortion he's signed into law as Ohio governor. His comments come in the wake of the massive pushback Trump received for telling MSNBC that women seeking abortions should be punished if abortion is outlawed. Kasich said that lawmakers must be careful about passing abortion restrictions that don't cause a constitutional conflict and called for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in an attempt to appeal to social conservatives. Well, pro-choice critics say Kasich actually doesn't care about "constitutional conflicts" as the 16 restrictions on abortion providers Kasich has signed into law as governor have caused half of the state's clinics to close.
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<![CDATA[Council Changes Residency Rules; Sewer District Head Keeps Job]]>

Cincinnati City Council today changed a rule that stipulates which public employees must live within city limits. The move effectively exempts embattled Director of Water and Sewers Tony Parrott from having to move to the city after he was punished in June for misleading officials about his residency.

Under the new rules, only the city manager, assistant city manager, city solicitor and police chief will need to live in the city. The 6-2 decision came with some argument, however. Councilmen Kevin Flynn and Wendell Young voted against the rule change. Flynn said he felt it wasn’t fair to make concessions for someone who deliberately misled the city. Young had broader qualms with the change, saying he thinks all high-level city administration employees should have to live in the city from which they get their taxpayer-funded salaries.

“I have great difficulty with people who are in the higher part of the administration who help to create the rules and in many cases enforce the rules, and then are not subject to them,” Young said. “I don’t understand how the city of Cincinnati is good enough to work in, good enough to provide your income, but isn’t good enough to live in.”  

Councilman Charlie Winburn, however, said the situation was actually the city’s fault. In 2012, the city-run sewer district merged with the water works department, which serves both the city as well as most of Hamilton County and parts of Butler and Warren Counties. Winburn says the residency requirements for Parrott’s job should have been updated at that time, since it is now effectively an agency that serves the greater region.

“Are we going to split Mr. Parrott in two now?” Winburn asked. “Do we have to get Solomon in on this thing?”

Other council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, voted for the change on legal grounds. Ohio law forbids residency requirements for some city employees, and there are questions about whether the city’s former rules complied with those laws. City solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said she believes council’s change today falls within the state’s laws.

Parrot, who has served as head of the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works, had listed his residence as a property on Westwood Avenue that turned out to be an empty lot he owned. Meanwhile, he was actually living in Butler County. City officials found out about the discrepancy in June and disciplined Parrott by docking him 40 hours of pay and requiring him to move into the city within 180 days. That time had elapsed and Parrott still hadn’t moved back. Parrott was granted a 45-day extension at the end of the six-month period as the city decided whether to fire him or change its rules.

Wound up in the questions about Parrott’s residency is the city’s court-ordered, $3.2 billion sewer project, a huge undertaking that will stretch into the next decade. The city was ordered to update its sewer system after a lawsuit by homeowners and environmental groups. Some council members say Parrott is integral to that ongoing process. Others, however, say that doesn’t excuse his actions.

“I understand the desire to keep this person in place,” Flynn said, acknowledging Parrott’s big role. “But I cannot support keeping someone who has been dishonest with the city and has continued to be dishonest with the city. I think that does a disservice to the rest of our city employees and to our citizens.”

Parrott has told City Manager Harry Black that he doesn’t want to live in the city for personal reasons but does want to remain at his job.

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<![CDATA[Music Hall Cut From Icon Tax Proposal]]>

Hamilton County Commissioners voted today to axe Music Hall from a proposed sales tax increase designed to pay for renovations to that structure and Union Terminal. Now, only Union Terminal will benefit from the potential tax hike, which county voters will decide on in November. Voters won't get a chance to decide whether a similar hike will pay for Music Hall.

Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council are not happy about the change-up.

“As mayor of this city, I’m deeply offended when we’re treated as second-class citizens in our own county,” Cranley said during a vote approving the city’s contribution to renovations at today’s council meeting. “We have done our part. We will pay the tax if it is passed. In no other jurisdiction, not even Hamilton County, is being asked to cut its budget … for these institutions.”

Cranley said asking city taxpayers for more money represents a kind of double taxation, since they would also be paying the county sales tax increase.

Ostensibly, council was voting to approve annual payments toward upkeep of both Union Terminal and Music Hall for 25 years. The $200,000 yearly commitment to each building adds up to $10 million. Cranley floated the plan last week as a demonstration of the city’s commitment to the landmark buildings.

Council approved that money unanimously, but that vote is mostly symbolic now that the fragile plan to fund both renovations with a tax hike, first proposed by a cadre of area business leaders called the Cultural Facilities Task Force, has fallen through. Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel said the proposed contributions, which the city already makes, don’t represent a renewed effort to fix the buildings.

The city has also pledged another $10 million toward Music Hall repairs. Those contributions weren’t enough for Hartmann, who had been the swing vote on the three-member commission. He signaled he would not vote for the original 14-year, .25 percent sales tax increase designed to raise much of the $331 million needed to repair the buildings.

Instead, he voted with fellow Republican Monzel today for an alternate tax measure that left Music Hall out of the deal, raising $170 million over five years for renovations to Union Terminal only. Democrat Todd Portune, who supported the original plan, voted against the new deal.

Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald, who led the task force designing the original deal, said the new plan jeopardizes more than $40 million in private donations, as well as historic preservation tax credits.

"The idea that somehow there’s going to be more money falling from space or that this money will be put forward for an alternate plan is a fallacious assumption," McDonald told the Cincinnati Business Courier. "That money has been committed to us personally for this plan.”

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called the development “frustrating.”

“I’m not here to add gasoline to the fire, but I think logic is a fair expectation of our elected leaders, and after people have said repeatedly that plans haven’t been vetted, that questions haven’t been answered, they’ve now moved forward with something that has no vetting,” Sittenfeld said, referring to criticisms of the original plan by anti-tax groups like COAST. “I hope people don’t forget what happened eight blocks from City Hall anytime soon.”

Monzel said that the plan's details would be worked out in the coming weeks, and that he wants to keep the county from overextending itself.

“If we limit the scope and focus on the one building that we do have a history with and limit it to five years, we limit our exposure and can be able to handle some of these other issues down the road,” he said.

Council members said that the city has stepped up to take care of the buildings in the past.

“Going back through the real-estate records, it’s clear that time and time again the city has stepped forward,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He highlighted the city’s rescue of Union Terminal from a failed plan to turn it into a mall in the 1980s. The city bought the building from a developer after the plan crashed and burned. Flynn also said the city has made significant contributions to 136-year-old Music Hall's upkeep since the 1800s.

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<![CDATA[A Win-Win of Sorts for Affordable Housing]]> A deal approved by City Council June 25 splits the city’s limited funds among two affordable housing projects, funding one one in Over-the-Rhine and leaving the door open for another that’s been in the works for the last few years in Avondale.

The compromise didn’t come without contentiousness, though.

A 100-unit permanent supportive housing project called Commons of Alaska first proposed in 2008 for Avondale has received support from the majority of council in the past, including indications it would get $500,000 in funding toward the facility. But the project has also been delayed as some in Avondale have protested the plans by Columbus-based National Church Residences.

As controversy stalled the Avondale project, Over the Rhine Community Housing put together an unrelated plan to buy up and rehab affordable housing in the Pendleton District in eastern Over-the-Rhine. The city administration indicated to OTRCH that it would be able to use $1.9 million in federal grant money the city holds to help purchase and restore the properties.

Just a couple catches — that’s all the grant money the city has for affordable housing and it’s the same pool of money that would have gone to NCR for Avondale. The NCR project has been around longer, but some council members are adamantly against it and groups in Avondale opposed to the Commons are vocal and active, continually voicing their opposition to the project.

The Pendleton plan has its own drawbacks. Originally, the plan called for all the available grant money for just 40 units of housing. NCR’s plan called for just a quarter of the funds. OTRCH says the properties in question are very neglected, despite having been rehabbed in the 1990s. They must also be purchased first, which accounts for much of the big price tag.

As City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee met June 23, it looked like a battle was shaping up over the money. But it wasn’t to be, and compromise won the day.

“Affordable housing and permanent supportive housing are in our heart, they’re what we do,” said Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of OTRCH. “It’s a really difficult position to be in right now, because we support the NCR project.”

Rivers asked the Budget Committee to work with both developers to figure out a way to do both projects.

Vice Mayor David Mann offered an amendment to give $1.3 million to OTRCH and hold the other $500,000 or so in grant funds until the NCR project can be sorted out or until another supportive housing project can be worked out. The Budget Committee, and subsequently council, passed that deal.

OTRCH, which had looked likely to get all the $1.9 million it requested, agreed to scale back plans and make the lower funding work so both projects could be done. That doesn’t mean the NCR project has a green light, however.

An alternate site in another part of Avondale is under consideration, but there are a number of procedural hurdles and opposition is still loud against the project.

Some resident groups there say Avondale already has a high concentration of low-income housing, a result of historic inequalities in city planning going back to the 1960s.

Ruth Johnson Watts said she’s lived in North Avondale since 1963.

“When will we stop this trend of keeping crime and poverty concentrated in one or a few neighborhoods?" she asked. "We’re saying that Avondale has reached the capacity for poverty and crime without the necessities of life in our community, like grocery stores, a pharmacy and jobs.”

At least part of the objection to the project is the nature of permanent supportive housing, which provides affordable housing and recovery resources for those who would otherwise be homeless due to addiction problems, mental health issues or disabilities.

Advocates say the housing is a necessary step in a multiple-tiered path out of homelessness, starting when an individual enters a temporary shelter and ending when they are able to achieve independent housing. The city’s Homeless to Homes program calls for supportive housing like the Commons at Alaska would provide, but currently the city only has about 15 percent of the units called for in the plan.

NCR has won national recognition for its work with rehabilitative housing, but the group has caught flack for lack of community outreach in Avondale.

Councilmember Christopher Smitherman lambasted the developer during the Budget Committee meeting, saying the group’s efforts to inform Avondale residents about their plan wasn’t good enough and that NCR should be sending letters to every property owner in the area.

“This isn’t complicated, this community engagement,” he said. “It really frustrates me that we’re here talking about a project where those community stakeholders haven’t even been properly identified and communicated with."

Amy Rosenthal of NCR said the group has reached out to half a dozen key individuals and groups in the area and will continue to work with the community.

During council’s final vote on the compromise yesterday, Councilmember Yvette Simpson suggested that instead of simply opposing more affordable housing in the neighborhood, other council members and Avondale residents should oppose those who aren’t doing the job well.

She said her mother had once been placed in what she called sub-standard permanent supportive housing in Avondale.

“The reality is, when you have a great provider for the people who need it, it can be a stability point for the community as opposed to the many facilities in Avondale and throughout our city that are taking a check from people, and people are wandering off,” Simpson said.

She recalled a personal experience.

“My mother walked home from Avondale to Lincoln Heights and nobody knew she was gone. As someone who has lived with this my entire life, evaluating, trying to find a safe place for a parent, it’s real — you know the difference.”
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<![CDATA[Metro to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits]]> Kim Lahman was doing cartwheels in her mind for Metro this morning.

The organization’s Ridership and Development Director celebrated Metro’s announcement on Thursday that it will provide health and dental benefits to domestic partners of its employees.

Lahman said she has used same-sex partner benefits in the past, when she went back to school.

“[My partner and I] know first-hand what it means to have the flexibility and equality as others do in the workplace,” Lahman said at a press conference at Metro’s office. “This is just a fantastic day and I’m so proud that Metro is able to do the right thing.”

Metro is the first employer to say it will use Cincinnati’s domestic partner registry if the initiative passes next week in City Council. Should it pass, Cincinnati will be the 10th city in Ohio to have a domestic partner registry.

Mayor John Cranley and City Councilman Chris Seelbach attended the press conference and spoke in support of the move.

Cranley called it “symbolically and substantively right” and during   the announcement shared a memory in honor of Maya Angelou, her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

“She ended it with ‘Good morning,’” Cranley said. “I think this is a good morning for Cincinnati, a new day.”

Many of Cincinnati’s major employers, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Macy’s offer same-sex and domestic partner benefits.

Seelbach said while those companies already have systems to evaluate domestic partnerships, the registry will give other companies like Metro an easy way to provide those benefits.

“We are now leaders in the nation and the region to make sure everyone is welcome in our city, regardless of who they love,” Seelbach said. “Everyone should bring their full self to their workplace and be able to do that with health benefits for their partners.”

Seelbach said while Metro is the first to say it will use the registry, other companies like Cincinnati Bell have expressed interest.

Metro is a nonprofit tax-funded public service of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) with around 850 employees.

One of SORTA’s executive statements says the organization is committed to a work environment that “promotes dignity and respect for all.”

Board Chair Jason Dunn said SORTA’s commitment to inclusion is a great business decision.

“It shows that we value our employees,” Dunn said. “It shows that not only is Metro on the cutting edge of transportation but also making sure we are open to talent and we are open to retaining great talent in our system.”

Same-sex partners with a valid marriage license, same-sex partners registered by a government entity and same-sex partners with a sworn affidavit will be recognized by Metro for domestic partner benefits, which will take effect January 1, 2015.

 

 

 

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.

But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.

Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.

The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.

Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.

Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.

Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.

Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.

Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.

The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.

A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.

Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.

Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.

Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.

Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”

The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.

Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even though the developer involved plans to invest another $60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.

Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”

Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million, largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and service cuts.

Commentary:Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.

Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting politics over the city’s needs.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.

Kathy Wilson:Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.

At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Headline:Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”

“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

City Council yesterday expressed support for a barebones parking plan that would upgrade all meters to accept credit card payments and increase enforcement around the city, which should boost annual revenues. The plan does not increase rates or hours at meters, as Mayor John Cranley originally called for. It also doesn’t allow people to pay for parking meters through smartphones. The plan ultimately means death for the parking privatization plan, which faced widespread criticism after the previous city administration and council passed it as a means to jumpstart new investments and help fix the city’s operating budget and pension system.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman plans to pursue changes to the city’s political structure to give more power to the mayor and less to the city manager. Smitherman says the current system is broken because it doesn’t clearly define the role of the mayor. Under Smitherman’s system, the mayor would run the city and hire department heads; the city manager, who currently runs the city and handles hiring, would primarily preside over budget issues; and City Council would pass legislation and act as a check to the mayor. Smitherman aims to put the plan to voters this November.

Commentary: “WCPO’s Sloppy Streetcar Reporting Misses Real Concerns.”

The Cincinnati Art Museum maintains five political cartoons from the famed Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), but none are currently on public display. The cartoons call back to the history before World War II, when most of the world played ignorant to the horrors of the Holocaust and Americans had yet to enter the war. Dr. Seuss loathed the villains on the world stage, and his cartoons promoted a message of interventionism that would eventually lead him to join the Army to help in the fight against the Axis powers. When he returned home, he would write the famous stories and books he’s now so well known for.

Mayor Cranley and some council members appear reluctant to accept a routine grant application that would allow the Cincinnati Health Department to open two more clinics because of the potential effect the clinics could have on the city’s budget. Cranley and other council members also seem concerned that the Health Department played a role in the recent closing of Neighborhood Health Care, which shut down four clinics and three school-based programs after it lost federal funding.

Ohio legislators approved a bill that forces absentee voters to submit more information and reduces the amount of time provisional voters have to confirm their identities from 10 days to one week. For Democrats, the bill adds to previous concerns that Republicans are attempting to suppress voters. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who’s expected to sign the measure into law.

The Ohio legislature continues wrangling over how to give schools more snow days.

More than 175,000 claims have been filed over winter damage, potentially making this winter one of the costliest in decades.

Robot suits could make mixed martial arts blood-free.

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<![CDATA[City Pursues Domestic Partner Registry for Same-Sex Couples]]>

The mayor and a supermajority of City Council backs efforts to establish a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples in Cincinnati, Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office announced Tuesday.

If adopted by the city, the registry will allow same-sex couples to gain legal recognition through the city. That would let same-sex couples apply for domestic partner benefits at smaller businesses, which typically don’t have the resources to verify legally unrecognized relationships, according to Seelbach’s office.

Specifically, the City Council motion asks the city administration to reach out to other cities that have adopted domestic partner registries, including Columbus and eight other Ohio cities, and establish specific guidelines.

Seelbachs office preemptively outlined a few requirements to sign up: Same-sex couples will need to pay a $45 fee and prove strong financial interdependency by showing joint property ownership, power of attorney, a will and other unspecified requirements.

“As a result of a $45 fee to join the registry, we believe this will be entirely budget neutral, meaning it won't cost the city or the taxpayers a single dollar,” Seelbach said in a statement.

If the plan is adopted this year, Cincinnati should gain a perfect score in the next “Municipal Equality Index” from the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that, among other tasks, evaluates LGBT inclusion efforts from city to city. Cincinnati scored a 90 out of 100 in the 2013 rankings, with domestic partner registries valued at 12 points.

Seelbach expects the administration to report back with a full proposal that City Council can vote on in the coming months.

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<![CDATA[What Is Responsible Bidder?]]>

Following county commissioner’s Feb. 12 meeting, the dispute between Cincinnati and Hamilton County over contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects appears to be heading to court.

The court battle comes after the county dismissed multiple concessions from the city and put MSD’s revamp of the local sewer system on hold in protest of the city’s rules. With a federal mandate looming, both sides agree a resolution is needed soon to avoid costly fines from the federal government.

For many across the city and county, the conflict is understandably confusing. The debate has often been mired down by biased media reports and political talking points that obfuscate the issue. Jargon referencing “responsible bidder,” “local hire,” “local preference,” unions, apprenticeship programs, a pre-apprenticeship fund and contractors make it even more difficult to grasp what is going on.

Cutting through the politics, here is what the responsible bidder rules actually do and why the city and county seem incapable of compromise.

What is responsible bidder?

It’s a city ordinance that essentially forces MSD contractors to adopt job training measures known as apprenticeship programs and pay for a pre-apprenticeship fund. By requiring the training options, the city hopes workers will be able to improve their skills and successfully transition to other jobs once their MSD work is finished.

Apprenticeship programs take workers through extensive on-the-job and classroom-based training in which they can hone their skills in a specific craft, such as electrical or plumbing work. Because workers get paid for their work while participating in an apprenticeship, the programs are typically characterized as an “earn-while-you-learn” model.

The pre-apprenticeship fund will put money toward programs that will teach newcomers basic skills, such as math and reading, so they can eventually move up to an apprenticeship program.

The rules don’t apply to every MSD contractor. Contracts worth less than $400,000, which make up roughly half of MSD’s sewer revamp, are exempted.

What about local hire and local preference?

Those are ordinances separate from responsible bidder that give preference to Cincinnati-based businesses. They try to keep MSD contracts within local companies.

What’s the conflict about?

The conflict is between Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which jointly run MSD. The Democrat-controlled city supports the rules, while the Republican-controlled county opposes them.

The city and county also dispute which governing body can set policy for MSD. Under a 1968 agreement, the county owns and funds MSD, and the city operates and maintains it. City Council argues the agreement allows the city to set policy for MSD, but the county disagrees. Both sides acknowledge the set-up is far from ideal.

So, did the city’s rules halt MSD projects?

No. Nothing in the city’s ordinances forces MSD projects to stop. County commissioners singlehandedly halted MSD projects in protest of the city’s rules. If it were up to the city, work would continue today.

Why are these projects so important?

By federal decree, the city needs to revamp the sewer system to bring it up to environmentally safe standards. The project will cost $3.2 billion over 15-20 years, making it one of the most expensive in the city’s history.

If the city and county don’t carry on with the revamp soon, the federal government will begin issuing fines. By some guesses, the fines could begin rolling in by the end of the year.

Why does a majority of City Council support responsible bidder?

Councilman Chris Seelbach, the Democrat who championed the rules, says they will boost local employment and create more job training options for the city’s struggling workforce.

Other Democrats on council agree, although some, like Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, believe the ordinance is “imperfect.”

Does responsible bidder benefit workers?

Some research suggests it would.

The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) in a December report argued apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. workforce.

“By 2020, America is projected to experience a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 5 million workers with technical certificates and credentials,” the report claimed. “Compounding our inadequate workforce development system, research shows that employers are now spending less on training than they have in the past. At the same time, industry surveys show that a lack of qualified workers is a top concern for many employers.”

Citing a 2012 study from Mathematica Policy Research, CAP estimated apprenticeship programs alone can boost a worker’s lifetime earnings and benefits by more than $300,000. Over 36 years of employment, that’s an average gain of nearly $8,400 a year.

Why do county commissioners oppose the rules?

In terms of policy, county commissioners say the responsible bidder rules favor unions and burden businesses.

On a legal basis, the county argues the city’s responsible bidder rules conflict with state law and the local hire and preference rules enforce unconstitutional geographic preferences.

Does responsible bidder actually favor unions?

Since unions tend to offer better and more apprenticeship programs, yes.

But the rules don’t exclude non-union businesses from participating. For example, Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors maintains some non-union apprenticeship programs that would qualify under the law.

Still, most of the union favoritism debate centered around a regulation the city actually offered to give up. Specifically, under current rules employers are only eligible to contract with MSD if they have apprenticeship programs that have graduated at least one person a year for the past five years. In October, Seelbach offered to strip the mandate and replace it with an incentive program. The county seemed unmoved by the proposal.

What about businesses? Does responsible bidder burden them?

By requiring businesses to adopt apprenticeship programs and put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund, the law certainly places more regulations on businesses. Whether the requirements are a burden is subjective.

John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors and an opponent of the law, told CityBeat the pre-apprenticeship fund’s requirement will increase business costs by $2-3 million over 15-20 years.

Citing MSD estimates for the cost of labor, Rob Richardson, regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the fund will cost businesses $1.5 million.

Even if someone accepts Morris’ estimate, the requirement adds up to at most 0.1 percent of the $3.2 billion project.

More broadly, some supporters of the city’s rules question whether placing a burden on businesses is innately a bad thing. The basic point of government regulations is to make the economy and businesses work better for the public. In that sense, regulations are always going to burden businesses to some extent.

For example, financial regulations burden big banks and financial institutions. But many Americans agree the regulations are necessary to avoid another financial crisis like the one that plunged the country into the Great Recession.

Still, critics argue the extra regulations would increase the cost of business, and the impact could ultimately be felt by MSD ratepayers.

Why don’t the city and county just compromise?

They kind of tried, but it seems the philosophical split between Hamilton County Republicans and Cincinnati Democrats is too strong to reach a substantial agreement.

The city, for example, has offered multiple concessions to the county. In May, City Council modified the law to ease some requirements and add an exemption for contracts worth less than $400,000, which covers half of the contracts involved in MSD’s sewer revamp. In October, Seelbach offered to replace a strict mandate with a looser incentive program. Seelbach also told CityBeat on Feb. 6 that he would consider raising the contract exemption from $400,000 to $750,000.

In return, the county rejected the concessions and instead offered to establish aspirational inclusion goals and some funding for local job training programs — as long as the city repealed its rules altogether.

Which side would win the court battle?

It’s hard to say. Both sides — and their lawyers — seem pretty confident about their legal standing.

So what’s next?

At the current rate, it looks like the city and county are heading to court. Whether the process involves a full-on legal battle or mediation between the city and county’s lawyers remains uncertain, but it’s clear something will eventually have to give.

This blog post will be regularly updated as the situation develops.

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<![CDATA[What Is Cranley’s Parking Plan?]]>

Mayor John Cranley on Feb. 12 officially unveiled his plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, providing the first clear option for the city’s parking system since the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority agreed to halt the previous plan.

The proposal seeks to effectively replace the previous administration’s parking privatization plan, which outsourced the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority and several private companies, and maintain local control of the city’s parking assets.

Here’s a breakdown of the plan and all its finer details.

What is Cranley’s parking plan?

It’s a plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages. More specifically, Cranley calls his proposal a “framework” that focuses on upgrading the city’s parking meters and keeps City Council’s control of parking rates and hours.

Cranley’s plan, based on a Feb. 7 memo from Walker Parking Consultants, achieves his goals in a few ways:

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to upgrade all parking meters to accept credit card payments.

• The amount of enforcement officers under the city’s payroll would increase to 15, up from five, to provide greater coverage of the city’s parking meters. (Currently, a few areas, including major hubs like the University of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, are effectively unenforced for two to five hours a day, according to Walker.)

• Neighborhood meter rates would go up by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. Downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour.

• Sundays and holidays remain free.

Cranley says the underlying idea is to maintain a few key principles, particularly local control over rates and hours. He cautions Walker’s proposal, including expanded enforcement hours, could change with public input and as City Council puts together the final plan.

Does the plan let people use smartphones to pay for parking meters?

No. Cranley says the upgraded meters will support the technology, but it will be up to council to decide whether it’s enabled in the future.

Smartphone capability is a double-edged sword: It introduces its own set of costs, including shorter battery life for meters. It also allows customers to avoid under- and overpaying at parking meters, which decreases citation and meter revenues. But smartphone access also increases ease of use, which could lead to higher revenues by making it easier to pay.

The parking privatization plan promised to provide smartphone access at all parking meters. The previous administration and Port Authority championed the feature as key to increasing convenience and revenue.

OK, that explains the parking meters. What about the parking garages?

Cranley’s plan makes two changes to garages:

• The Port Authority would take over Fountain Square South Garage. The Port would be required to cover expenses for the garage, but any net revenue could be used on projects within the city.

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to build a garage at 7th and Broadway streets.

Otherwise, things remain the same as today.

In other words, the city would be on the hook for parking garage repairs and upgrades, which Walker estimates would cost roughly $8 million in capital expenses over the next five years.

But the city would also continue directly receiving around $2 million per year in net revenue from parking garages, according to Walker.

Still, the city isn’t allowed under state law to use the revenue from parking garages for anything outside the parking system.

The parking privatization plan tried to do away with the restriction by putting the Port Authority in charge of garages. State law allows agencies like the Port to tap into garage revenues for other uses, such as development projects.

But without the previous administration’s plan, Cranley claims the Port Authority declined to take over more facilities beyond Fountain Square South Garage. Given the rejection, Cranley says its up to council to figure out another way to leverage garage revenues beyond putting them back in the parking system.

What does Cranley’s plan do about the thousands of parking tickets already owed to the city?

Nothing. By Cranley’s own admission, the city needs to do a better job collecting what its owed. But he says that’s something City Council will have to deal with in the future.

So why did Cranley oppose the parking privatization plan?

Cranley vehemently opposed giving up local control of the city’s parking assets. He warned that outsourcing meters to the Port Authority and private companies would create a for-profit incentive to ratchet up parking rates and enforcement.

The previous administration disputed Cranley’s warnings. They pointed out an advisory board, chaired by four Port Authority appointees and one city appointee, would need to unanimously agree on rate and hour changes, and the changes could be vetoed by the city manager.

Without any changes from the advisory board, the 30-year privatization plan hiked downtown parking meter rates by 25 cents every three years and neighborhood rates by 25 cents every six years. The plan also expanded enforcement hours to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. in Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown.

Still, City Council would lose its control of rates and hours under the privatization plan. Cranley and other opponents argued the outsourcing scheme could insulate the parking system from public — and voter — input.

Cranley also opposed the privatization plan’s financial arrangement.

Under the old deal, the city would receive a lump sum of $85 million and annual installments of $3 million, as long as required expenses, such as costly garage upgrades or repairs, were met.

In comparison, the city currently gets roughly $3 million in net revenue from parking meters and another $2 million in net revenue from parking garages. (As noted earlier, the parking garage revenue can only be used for parking expenses.)

Cranley characterizes the lump sum as “borrowing from the future” because it uses upfront money that could instead be taken in by the city as annual revenue.

Related: Compare Cranley’s plan with the parking privatization plan.

Why does Cranley think his proposal is necessary?

It solidifies the death of the parking privatization plan. That’s important to begin the process of legally dismantling the previous plan.

The plan also increases net parking meter revenues from roughly $3 million to $6 million in the next budget year and more than $7 million per year within five years, according to Walker’s original estimates. (The estimates are likely too high because they assumed evening hours would expand around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But Cranley shelved the expansion of hours, with no estimates for how the changes will affect revenues.)

Since parking meter revenue, unlike garage revenue, can be used for non-parking expenses, the extra revenue could help plug the $20 million gap in the $370 million operating budget.

Why do some people oppose Cranley’s plan?

Some people supported the parking privatization plan. They saw the lump sum as a great opportunity to invest in development projects around the city. Without the lump sum, critics claim Cranley’s plan accepts all the pain of the previous plan — increased enforcement, rates and hours — for very little gain, even though the city would get more annual revenue and upgraded parking meters and garages.

Politics are also involved. After the contentious streetcar debate, there’s not much Cranley can do without some critics speaking out.

When will Cranley’s plan go into effect?

City Council first has to approve Cranley’s plan for it to become law. Council will likely take up and debate the plan at the Neighborhood Committee on Feb. 24 and set a more concrete timeline after that.

This blog post will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Latest update: Feb. 19.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Mayor John Cranley yesterday announced a plan to add another recruit class to the Cincinnati Fire Department and effectively eliminate brownouts, but it remains unclear how the class will be paid for in the long-term. The Fire Department applied for a federal grant that would cover the costs for two years, but the city would need to pay for the new firefighters salaries after that. To some City Council members, the proposal, along with other plans to add more police recruits and fund a jobs program for the long-term unemployed, raises questions about what will get cut in the budget to pay for the new costs.

Gov. John Kasich’s administration has led an aggressive effort to shut down abortion clinics around the state, and a clinic in Sharonville, Ohio, could be the next to close after the administration denied a request that would have allowed the clinic to stay open without an emergency patient transfer agreement. The process has apparently involved high-ranking officials in the Ohio Department of Health, which one regulator says is unusual. The threat to the Sharonville clinic follows the passage of several new anti-abortion regulations through the latest state budget, but state officials say the new regulations were unnecessary to deny the Sharonville clinic’s request to stay open.

Unions broadly support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s campaign, but at least one union-funded group, Affiliated Construction Trades (ACT) Ohio, seems to be throwing its weight behind Kasich, a Republican. The surprising revelation shows not every union group has kept a grudge against Kasich and other Republicans after they tried to limit public employees’ collective bargaining rights through Senate Bill 5 in 2011. ACT Ohio says its support for Kasich is related to jobs, particularly Kasich’s support for infrastructure projects. The jobs market actually stagnated after Kasich took office, which some political scientists say could cost Kasich his re-election bid even though economists say the governor isn’t to blame.

Talk of tolls continues threatening the $2.65 billion Brent Spence Bridge project as opposition from Northern Kentuckians remains strong. Ohio and Kentucky officials insist tolls are necessary to replace the supposedly dangerous bridge because the federal government doesn’t seem willing to pick up the tab.

Ohio gas prices keep rising.

A Dayton University student froze to death after falling asleep outside, with alcohol a possible factor.

Airplane pilots often head to the wrong airport, according to new reports.

Watch people tightrope walk between hot air balloons.

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<![CDATA[City, Schools Join Forces in New Collaborative]]>

Cincinnati officials and Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) leaders on Thursday promised to work in greater collaboration through the Alliance for Community and Educational Success (ACES), a new joint operation that will attempt to align the city and school district's shared policy goals.

ACES plans to focus on five areas: population growth, workforce development, safe and livable neighborhoods, wellness and access to technology.

As a few examples, the city could help CPS establish better Internet access at low-income schools, align marketing to attract more residents, sustain school resource officers that help keep schools safe and set up internships within the city's workforce.

"While the city and school system are separate entities, we all know that our schools are the most powerful tool for growth that we've got," said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

City and school leaders cautioned that the collaborative alone shouldn't affect their budgets, although future initiatives could require new funding.

To enforce the collaborative, City Council's Education and Entrepreneurship Committee and the Cincinnati Board of Education members will meet on a monthly basis. Sittenfeld said he will regularly call on city department directors to make sure city services are being delivered in cooperation with the local school system.

The collaborative will also try to bring in outside education groups, such as the Strive Partnership as it works on providing a universal preschool program in Cincinnati.

School officials praised the announcement.

"Without good schools, we don't have good cities. Without good cities, we don't have good schools," said Alecia Smith, principal of Rothenberg Academy, where city and school leaders gathered for the announcement.

Cincinnati Board of Education President Eve Bolton argued the announcement should make voters more confident when supporting property tax levies for the schools, which voters might be asked to do again in 2015.

"I think it will increase the confidence by the voters and by the taxpayers that what resources exist are being best leveraged together," she said. "There's no infighting or turf wars being waged and wasting their dollars."

City and school leaders previously worked together for CPS' $1 billion school facilities master plan, which officials credit with effectively rebuilding major aspects of the school district.

ACES could also help bring in another major player — the city — into community learning centers, a CPS-led initiative that brings in various outside resources, including health clinics and college preparation programs, to turn schools into service hubs.

Community learning centers have been recognized around the country for their success in lifting low-income schools. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to adopt the model in the city that just elected him last November.

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<![CDATA[Two-Hour Streetcar Pass Could Cost $1.75]]>

Riding the streetcar will cost $1.75 for two hours and $3.50 for 24 hours, according to a model unveiled Wednesday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager.

The model also set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight.

Under the model, the streetcar should sustain 3,000 daily boardings, Grether said. But that estimate is very conservative and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games, he cautioned.

Grether presented the projections during a presentation at City Council’s Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick also released numbers that show the project remains on budget and time.

But Deatrick warned council members of one potential hurdle: The originally contracted steel supplier took another job after City Council delayed the streetcar project for three weeks, which could force the city to delay construction of a maintenance facility for two months or hire a steel supplier outside the region.

City officials also said they are looking at potential funding avenues for the next phase of the streetcar project, which would establish a rail line from Findlay Market up the Vine Street hill. The goal, they said, is to clear up any misconceptions about what the next phase of the project would cost.

The latest federal budget allocated $600 million in TIGER grants and $2 billion in Federal Transit Administration New/Small Starts grants that could go to a future phase of the streetcar project.

City Council would need to approve the next phase of the streetcar project before it could move forward.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

The Hamilton County Board of Elections remains split on whether to move its offices and early voting from downtown to Mount Airy. The two Democrats on the board oppose the move because it could make voting more difficult for Over-the-Rhine and downtown residents. The two Republicans on the board support the plan because it will consolidate operations with the county, which plans to move the county crime lab to the Mount Airy site, and add free parking. If the board remains split, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted will break the tie.

Councilman Charlie Winburn shelved his idea to sell the city-owned Southern Railway to help shore up Cincinnati’s underfunded pension system. It’s unlikely the idea would have made it through City Council or Mayor John Cranley. The proposal seemed a bit hypocritical coming from Winburn, who criticized the previous city administration for attempting to sell off or lease long-term revenue sources, such as the city’s parking system, for lump sums. Still, the pension issue remains a major concern for local officials; Winburn asked council members to help find a solution to the problem this year.

The Ohio Department of Health ordered a Cincinnati-area abortion clinic to close after it failed to reach a patient transfer agreement with a local hospital, as required by law. The clinic, located in Sharonville, plans to appeal the ruling. The facility has failed to establish a patient transfer agreement since 2010, but previous Democratic administrations exempted the clinic from the regulations. At the current rate of closures, Ohio could soon fall below 10 available abortion clinics for the first time in decades. For several clinics, part of the issue stems from anti-abortion restrictions in the 2014-2015 state budget approved by Gov. John Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the Ohio legislature.

Council last week approved form-based code for a third neighborhood, Walnut Hills. The regulation allows neighborhoods to bring in new development while hopefully keeping the historic charm and character of the city.

The Cincinnati Bengals asked Hamilton County to hand over sole ownership of naming rights for Paul Brown Stadium, but county commissioners don’t seem keen on the idea.

Over-the-Rhine residents have mobilized to save two old buildings that the Freestore Foodbank originally planned to tear down. Ryan Messer, who is leading the charge to save the buildings, said on Facebook today that the Freestore Foodbank agreed to hold off on the demolitions while both parties meet with residents willing to buy and renovate the buildings.

Federal authorities questioned an Ohio man wearing Google Glass at a movie theater over fears he was attempting to record the film. No action was taken after the man confirmed the Google Glass is also a pair of prescription glasses and the recording function was turned off.

Robots could replace one-fourth of U.S. combat soldiers by 2030, according to a general.

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<![CDATA[Cranley Calls for End to 'Double Dipping']]>

Mayor John Cranley told CityBeat Friday that he's still troubled by the practice of "double dipping," but he said the incoming assistant city manager is only eligible to receive a salary and pension benefits because of policy set by City Council.

Bill Moller will be rehired by the city in February to fill in as assistant city manager. Because Moller is a city retiree, he'll be eligible to draw a city salary ($147,000 a year) and pension benefits.

The concern: Allowing city workers to double dip, or tap into both a salary and pension benefits, could encourage the kinds of abuse already seen in other municipalities, where public workers can reach eligibility for maximum pension benefits, retire one day and get rehired the next day to effectively receive both a salary and pension.

The extra cost — effectively a double payout for city retirees who are rehired — could further strain Cincinnati's structurally imbalanced operating budget.

On the campaign trail, Cranley called double dipping "abusive" after City Council repealed a ban on the practice so the administration could hire John Deatrick, a city retiree, to lead the $132.8 million streetcar project.

Cranley said he will sign any legislation reinstating the ban on double dipping. As a council member, Cranley supported the ban when it was originally instated in 2008.

Under the previous ban, city retirees rejoining the administration would need to temporarily forfeit pension benefits or face substantial limits on salaries and health benefits.

Despite his opposition to double dipping, Cranley cautioned that he still supports Moller's hire.

"Obviously I like Bill Moller," he said. "But the city manager is working within current policy."

The city administration on Tuesday justified Moller's hire by pointing to his previous budget and finance experience in Cincinnati, Hamilton and Covington.

"At this point in time, Cincinnati needs not only someone who is proficient in all aspects of municipal finance, but in the aspects of the city of Cincinnati’s finances in particular. Mr. Moller has that experience," wrote Interim City Manager Scott Stiles in a memo.

It remains unclear whether a ban on double dipping would influence Moller's decision to return to the city administration.

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Ohio now bans abusive dog breeding practices that previously earned the state a reputation as one of the laxest for dog breeding rules in the nation. With the new rules, dog breeders must maintain improved living conditions for the dogs, including standards for cage size, regular grooming, veterinary examinations and socialization. The rules earned praise from many animal activists as a step forward, but some say the bill should act as a start that leads to even stronger regulations.

City Council advanced a largely progressive agenda that moves forward with initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and inclusion. Specifically, the Democratic majority on council acted as the foundation in keeping controversial contracting rules for sewer contracts, continuing support for a permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale and approving a new study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts. With the Democratic coalition seemingly established on most issues facing the city, it’s now much clearer what direction council will take the city over the next four years.

Hamilton County commissioners yesterday proposed a compromise with the city over controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works projects. Although both sides agree the issue must be resolved soon to avoid a costly legal battle and allow MSD to carry on with work on a federally mandated overhaul of the local sewer system, the Democratic-controlled city and Republican-controlled county have failed to reach a resolution. Since the county put MSD projects on hold in protest of the city’s rules, $152 million worth of sewer projects and 649 potential jobs have been put on hold, according to data from Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the rules.

Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach questioned whether recent personnel changes at City Hall violated the city charter. The concern is whether Mayor John Cranley pushed Interim City Manager Scott Stiles to move John Curp from his previous role as city solicitor to chief counsel of the city’s utilities. Sittenfeld and Seelbach noted the charter prevents the mayor and council members from interfering with personnel decisions. But Stiles declined to answer and sidestepped Seelbach and Sittenfeld’s questions.

Commentary: “Republicans Continue Hindering Access to the Ballot.”

Cincy Bike Share still needs more funds to launch.

Cincinnati has the most unhappy employees in the country, according to an analysis by CareerBliss.

Ohio Democrats and Republicans have begun a push for a May 6 ballot initiative that would expand state spending on road, bridge, water, sewer and other local public works projects.

Micah Kamrass yesterday filed petition signatures with the Hamilton County Board of Elections, making him the likely Democratic candidate to replace State Rep. Connie Pillich, a Democrat, as she runs for state treasurer. Kamrass will likely face off against Republican Rick Bryan.

A condemned Ohio killer will be executed with a new, never-tried lethal injection method adopted after the state’s previous drug supplies dried up.

Ohio high-school students could receive some school credit for off-campus religious education attended during regular school hours, thanks to a new bill passed by the Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives.

If damage related to potholes is $10,000 or less, drivers can file a complaint at the little-known Ohio Court of Claims and get their money back. In the past five years, reimbursements for more than 1,300 Ohioans cost the state nearly half a million dollars.

The secretary of state’s office announced early voting hours for the upcoming primary election here. If Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune decides to stay in the gubernatorial race and challenge Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the primary election would decide which Democrat will face off against Republican Gov. Kasich in November.

Most Americans avoided vaccinations during the previous flu season — a trend experts attribute to increased complacency toward the virus.

University of Cincinnati researchers say they wants to dispel the belief that drones are only used to kill.

For example, a collapsible, camera-toting drone currently in development could be used just to spy on people.

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