by German Lopez
City’s rule for MSD projects attempts to increase local employment, job training
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
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
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
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
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
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.
by German Lopez
City’s poor struggle to break free, CPS gains nationwide praise, city and county head to court
With Cincinnati’s child poverty and economic mobility
rates among the worst in the country, it’s clear the city’s poor can get
stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty. Although the impoverished trend
afflicts more than half of the city’s children, every level of
government has in some way cut services to the poor. The end result:
Many Cincinnati neighborhoods show little signs of progress as poor health and economic
indicators pile up. Read CityBeat’s in-depth story here.Following the adoption of community learning centers,
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) continue receiving praise for establishing a workable model for educating low-income
populations. Locally, independent data shows the model has pushed CPS
further than the traditional approach to education, even though the
school district continues struggling with impoverished demographics. A few
hundred miles away, newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
says he will implement the Cincinnati model in the biggest city in the nation.Hamilton County and Cincinnati are heading to court to
decide who can set policy for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD)
projects. The conflict came to a head after Hamilton County
commissioners deliberately halted federally mandated MSD projects to
protest the city’s job training rules for contractors. The
Republican-controlled county argues the rules favor unions, burden
businesses and breach state law, but the city says the rules are
perfectly legal and provide work opportunities for city workers.Commentary: “Legalizing Marijuana Is Serious Business.”With HealthCare.gov mostly fixed, CityBeat
interviewed Trey Daly, who is leading the Ohio branch of an organization
reaching out to the uninsured to get them enrolled in Obamacare.Explainer: Everything you need to know about Mayor John Cranley’s parking plan.University of Kentucky researchers found tolls would, at worst, reduce traffic on a new Brent Spence Bridge by 2 percent.After raising concerns over teacher pay and missed
classroom time, Republicans in the Ohio House delayed a vote on a bill
that would add school calamity days. Gov. John Kasich called for the
bill to help schools that have already exhausted their snow days during
this winter’s harsh weather.Ohio regulators fined Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino
$75,000 for providing credit to early patrons without running the proper
background checks.Cincinnati-based Kroger faces a lawsuit claiming stores
deceived customers by labeling chickens as humanely raised when the
animals were brought up under standard commercial environments.Cincinnati-based crowdfunding startup SoMoLend settled
with Ohio over allegations that it sold unregistered securities and its
founder misled investors. Candace Klein, the founder, resigned as CEO of
the company in August.Comcast intends to acquire Time Warner Cable, one of two major Internet providers in Cincinnati, through a $45 billion deal.U.S. physicists pushed fusion energy closer to reality with a breakthrough formally announced yesterday.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopezGot any news tips? Email them to email@example.com.
by German Lopez
Medical marijuana effort underway, MSD battle continues, FitzGerald challenger questioned
The Ohio Rights Group could get medical marijuana
legalization on the ballot this November, but the group first must gather enough petition signatures. Although the campaign has
medical research and polling in its favor, it’s also struggled to raise a
significant amount of cash to support a statewide campaign. At the same
time, many entrepreneurs see the legalization of medical marijuana as
inevitable; over the past weekend, Comfy Tree Cannabis Collective held a
seminar to advise potential businesses on the inner workings of selling
legalized marijuana.Commentary: “Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.”Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel says the county
is willing to go to court to fight Cincinnati’s “responsible bidder”
rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects. The county says
the rules are illegal, burden businesses and favor unions. But city officials, particularly
Councilman Chris Seelbach, says the rules help train workers and create
local jobs. The rules impose stricter job training requirements on MSD
contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that
would help train new workers in different crafts.Larry Ealy, a Dayton-area man, could challenge
gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, but the
chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party cautions that Ealy
consistently fails to gather enough signatures for his election bids. In
the past, Ealy attempted to run for various offices in Dayton.City officials and the Cincinnati Public Schools Board plan to
announce a new collaboration today. The initiative intends to align and
better implement the city and school district’s shared policy goals.
“We want to establish the framework and make sure the right culture is
there,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who announced the collaboration,
previously told CityBeat. “Then people can do what elected officials are supposed to do: roll up your sleeves and come up with smart, viable policies.”Following the demolition of the University of Cincinnati’s
Wilson Auditorium, it’s unclear what, if anything, will replace the
building.The Ohio Supreme Court reminds state judges that the conditions for jailing people over unpaid fines are limited.As people turned up the heat to deal with the polar vortex, they also drove gas prices — and future bills — up.LED lights make cities look cooler on camera.A new mind-controlled robotic hand comes with a sense of touch.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopezGot any news tips? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
by German Lopez
Death penalty questioned, county advances crime lab, Anna Louise Inn to break ground
For some, Dennis McGuire’s 26-minute, seemingly painful
execution raises constitutional and ethical questions about Ohio’s use
of the death penalty. In particular, the convicted killer’s family and
medical experts say the state’s use of a new cocktail of drugs presented
problems even before McGuire was killed, with one Harvard professor of
anesthesia warning the state prior to the execution that its dosage was
too low for McGuire’s size and the drugs inadequate. Jonathan Groner, a
professor of clinical surgery at Ohio State University, told CityBeat, “I wouldn’t want what he got to have my appendix out. … I would be concerned that I would feel something.”Hamilton County commissioners yesterday accepted a Mount
Airy facility offered to the county as a gift by Catholic Health
Partners, with plans to use the former hospital as the campus for a new
crime lab. The acceptance came despite previous warnings that the Mount
Airy facility could not be taken in by the county if the Board of
Elections didn’t also move its office and early voting to the Mount
Airy location, where only one bus line runs, from its current downtown
office. A party-line tie vote left the Board of Elections move in limbo,
with a tie-breaking decision expected from the Republican secretary of
state in the next few weeks. Democrats oppose the move because it would
limit voting access for people who rely on public transportation, while
Republicans argue free parking at the new facility would outweigh the
loss of bus access.Officials plan to break ground today on the Anna Louise
Inn’s new location at Mount Auburn. The start of construction marks the
beginning of the next chapter for the Inn afters its owner, Cincinnati
Union Bethel (CUB), lost a contentious legal battle against
financial giant Western & Southern. CUB sought to keep the Inn at
the location it has been at since 1909, while Western & Southern aimed to claim the property to invoke its full development vision on the Lytle
Park neighborhood. After two years of litigation, both sides reached a
settlement in which CUB agreed to move.Commentary: Media Should End Reliance on “He Says, She Says.”A local abortion clinic asked a Hamilton County judge to
suspend a state order that would shut down the facility. The Sharonville
clinic would close down by Feb. 4 if courts don’t step in.With bipartisan support, the Ohio House cleared a bill that
reduces the costs and speeds up the process of adoptions. But some
Democrats worry the bill goes too far by shortening the period a
putative father must register with the state if he wants to be able to
consent to an adoption.The tea party failed to put forward a Republican primary challenger to Gov. John Kasich.Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune says
he’s talking to former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford as a potential running
mate in a Democratic primary challenge against gubernatorial candidate
Ed FitzGerald. With less than one week left, Portune needs to name a
running mate and gather 1,000 valid petition signatures to actually run —
a prospect that’s looking dimmer by the day.A federal judge sentenced an Ohio man who threatened to kill President Barack Obama to 16 months in prison.Cincinnati-based Kroger might test an online ordering system.Gladys, the Cincinnati Zoo’s newest gorilla, celebrated her first birthday party with cake.Scientists developed hair-growing cells from ordinary skin cells, potentially providing a new option for curing baldness.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
New crime lab moves forward, but Board of Elections decision remains in limbo
Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday announced they
will accept a Mount Airy facility offered to the county as a gift by
Catholic Health Partners, opening the door to a new county crime lab at the location.
The acceptance comes despite lingering uncertainties about
whether the Board of Elections will also move to the former hospital in
Mount Airy. County commissioners previously warned the Board of
Elections must move with the crime lab to provide the occupancy
necessary to financially justify renovations at the 500,000-square-foot
The decision also comes despite remaining questions about
how exactly the cash-strapped county government will fund the move and
the renovations it entails.
Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco and Sheriff Jim
Neil both lobbied for the new crime lab. Citing expert opinions, they
argue the current crime lab lacks space and needs to be modernized,
which could put criminal evidence and trials at risk.
Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel called the
gift a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” — a sentiment both other
commissioners seemed to follow.
“This is a home run for law enforcement in Hamilton County,” Commissioner Greg Hartmann said.
Commissioners explained they will seek various
opportunities to fill out remaining space in the facility. Mayor John Cranley
on Jan. 23 offered to move some city police services to the facility,
but Hartmann told CityBeat the offer wouldn’t be enough to replace the Board of Elections.
“Without the Board of Elections coming with the crime lab,
that’s not enough occupancy,” Hartmann said. “There would be some good
potential co-location opportunities with the city (at the Mount Airy
facility), but not enough to take up 400,000 square feet.”
But with Wednesday’s development, county commissioners
appear ready to take up the Mount Airy facility and new county crime lab
even if the Board of Elections doesn’t move.
On Monday, the Board of Elections split along party lines
over whether the board should move its offices and early voting from
downtown to Mount Airy, where only one bus line runs. Democrats say the
move would reduce voting access for people who rely on public
transportation to make it to the ballot box. Republicans argue the
potential of free parking at the facility outweighs the lack of public
Of course, part of the issue is political: Democrats
benefit from a downtown voting location that’s easily accessible to
Democrat-leaning urban voters, and Republicans benefit from a location
closer to Republican-leaning suburban voters.
With the board’s tie vote, the issue now goes to the
secretary of state — Republican Jon Husted — to potentially decide. The
secretary of state’s office says Husted will make a decision after he
reviews documents from the Board of Elections explaining both sides of
the tie vote, but spokesperson Matt McClellan says Husted would like to
see the issue resolved locally before he is forced to intervene.
by German Lopez
Officials push to keep early voting downtown, Portune flounders, Ohio joblessness rate falls
Mayor John Cranley yesterday offered free space to the
Hamilton County Board of Elections at the city-owned Shillito’s building
to keep the board’s offices and early voting downtown. The idea comes
in the middle of a debate between Democrats and Republicans on the
Board of Elections over whether they should move their offices — and early
voting — to a Mount Airy facility, where only one bus line runs, to
consolidate county services and avoid the cost
of rent. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann said there
won’t be enough occupancy at the Mount Airy location if the Board of
Elections decides not to move there. For the county, a certain amount of
occupancy must be filled at Mount Airy to financially justify the move
and the renovations it would require. Without the move, the county will
need to find another location or means to build a new county crime lab.Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune yesterday
refused to announce whether he will actually run against gubernatorial
candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, even though he told The Cincinnati Enquirer
the day before that he already made a decision. At this point,
Portune’s lack of organization and name recognition means his chances of beating FitzGerald are slim to none.Ohio’s December unemployment rate dropped to 7.2
percent from 7.4 percent the month before. The amount of employed
and unemployed both increased compared to the previous year. The
state of the economy could decide this year’s statewide elections, even if state
officials aren’t to credit or blame for economic conditions, as CityBeat covered here.It is perfectly legal to forgive back taxes in Hamilton
County. Supporters argue the practice removes a tax burden that likely
wasn’t going to get paid anyway, but opponents worry it could be misused and take away
revenue from schools and other public services that rely on property
taxes.A Hamilton County court ruled against the legality of automated traffic cameras in Elmwood Place. Officials plan to appeal the ruling.More than 10,000 Ohioans lost food stamps this month after
Gov. John Kasich declined to request a federal waiver for work requirements.
Hamilton County officials estimate Kasich’s decision could affect 18,000
food stamp recipients across the county.A new Ohio House bill delays the transition from the Ohio
Graduation Test to new end-of-course exams. The delay aims to provide
more time to vet the tests and allow schools to better prepare for the
changes.Local home sales improved by nearly 21 percent during 2013, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
reported 3 percent more passengers and 9 percent more cargo traffic in
2013.Ohioans spent 5.8 percent more on liquor in 2013 compared
to the year before, reaching a new record in yearly purchases of liquor
across the state.The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards return this Sunday.Telling people they slept better than they did improves their performance on math and word association tests.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Board of Elections considering move to Mount Airy facility
Mayor John Cranley on Thursday offered the Hamilton County Board of Elections free space at the city-owned Shillito’s building to keep their offices and early voting
The offer comes in the middle of a contentious debate
between Democrats and Republicans on the Board of Elections over whether
the county should move the board to a former hospital at Mount Airy,
where only one bus line runs.The Board of Elections currently rents its offices from a private landlord. Moving to the Mount Airy facility would place the board on county-owned property and allow the county to avoid paying rent.
Along with the Board of Elections move, the county wants
to establish a new crime lab at the Mount Airy location. Consolidating
the crime lab and Board of Elections at the Mount Airy facility would
provide the critical mass necessary to financially justify the move and
the renovations it would require, according to county officials.
To solve the critical mass issue if the board moves to the
former Shillito’s building instead, Cranley, a Democrat, said he’s willing to look into
moving some city police services, including SWAT operations, to the
Mount Airy facility.But Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, told CityBeat the offer probably won’t satisfy the county’s needs.
“Without the Board of Elections coming with the crime lab, that’s not enough occupancy,” he said. “There would be some good potential co-location opportunities with the city (at the Mount Airy facility), but not enough to take up 400,000 square feet.”Hartmann said it’s now up to the Board of Elections to accept or reject the Mount Airy facility. If the board declines to move to Mount Airy, Hartmann explained the county would likely drop the Mount Airy plan and the county coroner would go without a new crime lab.
For the city, Cranley’s offer raises questions about what other potential uses exist for the Shillito’s building, given the high property demand downtown. But Cranley said there’s
currently no credible attempt at marketing the facility for other uses.
“The building is vacant, and we spend over $100,000 a year
just to maintain a vacant building,” Cranley said. “I believe that
getting someone in there that takes a significant amount of space is
going to open up the rest of the building, which would be over 200,000
square feet, to make it more marketable. I think long-term it would be
better for the city financially.”
He added, “In the short-term I think there are some things
more important than money. And I think the symbolism of keeping the
Board of Elections and voting downtown is just worth it.”City Council appears to agree with the mayor. Shortly after Cranley announced his offer, council passed a symbolic resolution opposing the Mount Airy move.
From an electoral perspective, part of the issue is which
voting location would favor Democrats or Republicans. Democrats tend to
dominate in urban areas like downtown, while Republicans could benefit
from a facility in Mount Airy that’s closer to suburban voters.
State Rep. Alicia Reece, who joined Cranley for the
announcement, tried to defuse concerns that she, Cranley and other Democrats are
trying to keep voting downtown for electoral gains.
“The reality is the Board of Elections at its current
location has declared both Democrat and Republican winners of
elections,” Reece said. “I think the focus is to just make sure that we
have a facility that everyone can have access to, whether you’re driving
or whether you’re on the bus.”
by German Lopez
New puppy mill laws, Democrats guide council, county proposes sewer compromise
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.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Democratic majority pushes initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and inclusion
City Council on Wednesday advanced a largely progressive
agenda that moves forward with initiatives aimed at job training,
homelessness and inclusion.
The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new
year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on
Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could
indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on
City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for
Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works
(GCWW) projects.The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements
on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship
programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which
also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden
contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted
MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth
of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman
Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on
Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job
training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the
city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at
the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it
until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have
conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed
they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
continues.Supportive housing project in AvondaleA supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus
Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits
for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility
in Avondale.Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.Supporters point to a study conducted for similar
facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing
facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically
comparable areas.Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that
are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted
Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received
state tax credits for the facility back in June.Disparity study
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look
into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the
city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and
women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should
begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the
disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property
tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost
$500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million
grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income
clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
by German Lopez
City, county disagree on contracting rules for federally mandated sewer revamp
Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution that seeks a compromise over Cincinnati's controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.Both sides agree the issue must be resolved soon to avoid a costly legal battle and allow MSD to fully continue work on a federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system. But so far the Democrat-controlled city and Republican-controlled county have failed to reach an agreement."We really are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city," said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, who proposed the resolution commissioners approved Wednesday.The county's proposal creates aspirational inclusion goals and funding for local job training programs for MSD and Greater Cincinnati Water Works. The county estimates the resolution will cost $550,000-$700,000 a year.But it remains unclear if the county's measures will satisfy a majority of City Council, which as of December supported its own set of contracting rules.The city rules require contractors to follow stricter standards for apprenticeship programs, which unionized and nonunion businesses use to train workers in crafts, such as electrical work or plumbing. The rules also ask contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help train newcomers in different crafts.With the county proposal approved, commissioners say it's up to the city to make the next move in the dispute.The county's proposal: