by German Lopez
32 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:17 AM | Permalink
Ohio courts hurt poor, Qualls calls for streetcar hearing, House to vote on budget today
A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) found Ohio's poor are regularly victimized by illegal practices in courts that jail the state's poor for failing to pay fines they can't afford. The problem particularly afflicts the state's rural counties, which sometimes openly admit to jailing people even when they can't afford to pay fines. The ACLU says courts need to be more transparent in communicating defendants' rights, provide retroactive credits to those wrongfully incarcerated based on circumstances of poverty and consistently hold hearings to assess defendants' financial viability and willfulness to pay fines.The streetcar is being threatened by a $22.7 million budget gap, and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who is running for mayor and has long supported the streetcar, is calling a meeting to get all the details on how the project got here and whether it's still economically viable. Qualls says it's too soon to jump to conclusions about the project's fate, and she says she would like to see the options and details laid out by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. at the hearing. But Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, a longtime opponent of the streetcar, is already using the news to call for the project's demise. The streetcar is one of few issues dividing the Democratic candidates in the mayoral race, which the latest poll has Qualls leading by 14 points.The Ohio House is expected to vote on a budget
today that would defund Planned Parenthood, ban comprehensive sex
education and fund crisis pregnancy centers that promote
abstinence-only, anti-abortion education. This week, the budget has been
regularly mocked by Democrats for potentially opening teachers to lawsuits if
they explain condoms, other forms of birth control and other basic sex facts to students in a
way that could lead to "gateway sexual activity."The Ohio House budget bill also fails to expand Medicaid — a failing that Moody's is warning could put hospitals at risk for budgetary shortfalls. The report points out that hospitals were supposed to get more patients through a Medicaid expansion, which would be funded almost entirely by the federal government through Obamacare, to make up for a reduction of federal reimbursements for uncompensated care. The Medicaid expansion would have insured 456,000 Ohioans and saved the state money, according to a report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in greater detail here.For student voters, the Ohio House budget bill would also make it more difficult to vote by forcing public universities to withhold essential documents that can be used as voter identification. The rule would make it so universities have to declare students in-state for tuition purposes when issuing them a letter or utility bill to vote, effectively costing universities extra revenue from out-of-state students if they choose to issue the documents. Democratic State Rep. Kathleen Clyde says the move will likely make it so universities never hand over the documents.This week's CityBeat commentary: "Bad Budget Ideas Confound Public Discourse."As the city wrestles with laying off cops and firefighters to balance the budget, Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig is considering a potential job offer in Detroit "very carefully." Craig interviewed for the top cop position in Detroit last week. "I'm humbled they would consider me a top candidate," Craig told The Cincinnati Enquirer.A new poll found Republican Gov. John Kasich in "reasonably good shape" for re-election, beating potential challenger Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald 46-37.Disbarred attorney Stan Chesley resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to by fellow board members.Metro announced new direct, crosstown routes yesterday. The routes will make it easier to travel from the east to west side and vice versa.The Business Courier has a look at the top 10 worst-paying Cincinnati jobs.Five to 15 were killed and more than 150 were injured in a Texas fertilizer plant explosion yesterday.Even though a majority of 54 voted in favor and only 46 voted against it, the background checks bill for gun buyers failed in the U.S. Senate yesterday, failing to overcome what was essentially a filibuster. Ohio's senators were split on the issue, with Sen. Rob Portman voting against the bill and Sen. Sherrod Brown voting in favor. Universal background checks are supported by more than 90 percent of Americans, according to a poll from The New York Times and CBS.Scientists have found magnetic brain stimulation could remove cravings for cigarettes.
by German Lopez
33 days ago
Posted In: News
at 03:43 PM | Permalink
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls calls for public hearing to discuss project
After years of delays and obstructionism, a Tuesday memo from City
Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7 million budget gap is
threatening to put an end to the streetcar project, prompting Vice Mayor
Roxanne Qualls to call for a public hearing to address the issue.
In the city manager’s memo,
the city says it could bring down the potential budget gap to $17.4
million with budget cuts, but the rest would have to come from new
funds. The memo says the budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26
million to $43 million over budget.
The memo says the city will continue working
with “federal partners” to find solutions, but it makes no specific
proposals — a sign the project will likely require new city funds and
private donations to close the gap.
In response to the memo, Qualls, a Democratic mayoral candidate who has long
supported the streetcar, called for a public hearing on April 29 in a statement sent out today. The statement says part of the meeting
will help clarify what would happen with allocated funding if
the project fell apart.
Qualls told CityBeat it’s too early to jump to
conclusions about the project’s fate, but she says it’s time to have a
serious discussion about the project. “We’re at the point where we need
to have a very robust public conversation about this that is based upon
fact,” she says.
At the public hearing, both council members and the public will have time to ask questions. Qualls says she’s interested in getting answers for how the project got to
this point, what the cost issues are, whether the streetcar is still a good economic investment and what
costs are associated with shutting down the project if it’s deemed
“Fundamentally, it’s an issue of what are the costs but
also what are the benefits,” she says. “We need to clearly outline both
for the public.”But opponents, including Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, have responded to the budget gap by criticizing the streetcar project. Cranley, a longtime
opponent of the streetcar, called for the project’s end in a statement
today: “The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people
of Cincinnati from the beginning. ... Ms.
Qualls has already voted to raise property taxes three times to pay for
the project. When is she going to say ‘enough is enough’?”The opposition is nothing new to the project, which has undergone multiple bouts of obstructionism, including two failed referendum efforts in which a majority of voters came out in favor of the streetcar. Qualls says these delays have only made the project’s implementation more difficult.The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing the two Democrats running for mayor this year, making it a contentious political issue (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
The city recently approved two motions to prepare to hire
John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, to help bring
the streetcar’s costs in line (“City Moves to Hire New Streetcar Manager,” issue of April 10). Deatrick was involved in finding savings in the streetcar project, according to the memo.
The hire and shortfall announcement came in the middle of an ongoing local budget crisis that may lead to the layoff of 344 city employees,
including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. The crisis is a result of
legal and referendum efforts holding up the city’s plan to lease parking
assets to the Port Authority, which would have opened up funds to help
balance the budget for the next two years and carry out development projects around the city,
including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).But the streetcar project, including Deatrick’s hire, is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget that employs cops and firefighters. Capital budget funds can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
A statement from Cincinnatians for Progress defended the
streetcar, despite the higher costs now facing the project: “These are
challenging moments for Cincinnati's administration and City Council
regarding the streetcar. Bids came in higher than anticipated. However,
even at a slightly higher cost, the economic benefits of the system far
outweigh these costs. This is a reality that has been outlined in study
after study and confirmed in results from other cities across the
“Nearly 100 years ago, political leaders were having these
same discussions before tragically losing resolve and abandoning the
proposed subway and rail system that was nearly complete. Times have
changed. A new attitude of positivity has taken over our city. We must
continue the pattern of success that encompasses many recent projects
that were difficult and not inexpensive, but well worth the investment.”
1 Comment · Wednesday, April 17, 2013
In the past few weeks, Cincinnati’s
political scene has been engulfed by debate over the budget, often
prompting testy exchanges between city officials.
by German Lopez
42 days ago
Posted In: News
at 02:26 PM | Permalink
City Council committee passes measure allowing “double dipping”
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee moved forward
with two controversial measures in two 5-4 votes today that will allow the
city to rehire retirees while still paying their pensions and create an
executive project director position for the streetcar project.One of the measures repeals the city’s ban on “double dipping,”
which means rehired retirees will be able to
simultaneously cash in a salary and pension payments. The measures will allow the city to hire John Deatrick, the
current project manager for The Banks, to head the streetcar project.
The city could not previously hire Deatrick because he formally retired
from the city and is currently receiving pension payments.
The city says Deatrick has the experience and expertise
necessary to help bring the streetcar project’s costs in line, but
critics say the city should not be hiring someone for the streetcar
project when the city is considering laying off 344 employees, including
189 cops and 80 firefighters, to balance the budget.
Deatrick says the layoffs are unfortunate, but he
emphasizes that they are occurring through the general fund. If he was
hired, Deatrick’s salary would be paid through the capital budget, a
completely separate fund that the city uses for major development
projects. Because of legal and traditional constraints, capital budget funds generally can’t be used to balance the general fund.
“The capital budget generates projects that bring money into the general fund,” Deatrick says.
Deatrick’s point is similar to an argument often touted by City Manager Milton
Dohoney Jr., who says the city needs to economically grow out of structural budget
deficits. Dohoney and other city officials say the true cause of Cincinnati’s
structural budget imbalance has been the city’s dwindling population in
the past decade, and bringing people back to Cincinnati through economic
development projects, including the streetcar, is a better approach than austerity that would cause more
layoffs and economic pain.
Others, particularly Democratic mayoral candidate John
Cranley, aren’t convinced. In a press statement that used vocabulary that often comes from streetcar opponent COAST (Coalition Opposed to
Additional Spending and Taxes), Cranley said, “Since day one the
streetcar has been a poorly conceived, poorly managed boondoggle that is
now costing the city even more money. The fact that this being done
while police officers and firefighters are facing layoffs is a slap in
the face of those who risk so much to make sure that our city is safe.”
But the city says Deatrick’s involvement could help bring
the streetcar project’s costs down, and Deatrick seems to agree. “That’s
been my whole ‘shtick,’ ” Deatrick says, before citing numerous aspects
of the streetcar project he would be interested in looking at to
bring costs in line.Opponents have pointed to the streetcar’s multiple problems, including unexpected costs and delays, as proof the project has been doomed from the start. But Deatrick says it’s normal for big projects to deal with hurdles, and he cautions he would expect to deal with more rising problems if he takes the job.
“Any time you try to build something — even out in the
middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated
issues,” he says. “These things happen, and that’s what project
management is all about.”
Deatrick says he has long supported the streetcar, and he
plans to expand the project up to the University of Cincinnati and the
rest of the uptown area if he’s put in charge.
While Deatrick has discussed heading the streetcar project with
city officials, no formal offers have been made yet. Still, City Council members
and Dohoney repeatedly named Deatrick as a potential candidate in the
special session of City Council today.
Some council members said they were concerned the double-dipping measure will be
used for more similar hires in the future, which could raise
hiring costs as the city pays for multiple employees’ salaries and
pensions at the same time.
Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure
Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young supported the
measures. Democrats Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican
Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman voted in opposition.
Deatrick’s resume shows experience going back decades.
Since June 2008, Deatrick has headed The Banks project, which recently
won the American Planning Association’s 2013 National Planning
Excellence Award for Implementation (“Bank On It,” issue of Jan. 16).
Before that, he worked as deputy director and chief
engineer at the District of Columbia Department of Transportation from
May 2002 to August 2007, where he says he helped manage parts of the
D.C. streetcar, among other projects.
Prior to his work at D.C., Deatrick started his career as an urban development
technician at Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering on September 1973. He helped with many projects around the city before eventually rising to the director position in
November 1999, where he remained until May 2002.
The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing Democratic
mayoral candidates Cranley and Qualls, making the 2013 mayoral race
another important election for the future of the project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
by German Lopez
52 days ago
Critics say mayoral candidate’s proposal is flawed
In response to the March 28 announcement that City Manager
Milton Dohoney Jr. has begun implementing a plan that will lay off cops
and firefighters, mayoral candidate John Cranley released his own budget plan that claims to avoid layoffs and the implementation of the city’s parking plan. But critics say Cranley’s budget is unworkable.
Cranley’s budget uses casino revenue, parking meter
revenue and various cuts to raise nearly $33.8 million — more than the
$25.8 million necessary to balance the budget without a parking plan.
Cranley’s critics have taken to social media to claim
Cranley’s revenue projections are “fantasy.” They also claim the
across-the-board budget cuts ignore the city’s priority-driven budgeting
process, and there’s no certainty that such broad cuts can be carried
out without laying off city employees.
Whether avoiding layoffs is possible through Cranley’s proposal remains unclear, even according
to Cranley’s two-page budget plan, which reads, “We need to identify
only roughly $26 million to cover the 2014 deficit and will reduce some
of these cuts to ensure that there are no layoffs.”
Cranley says there is no certainty that the cuts could be
carried out without any layoffs, but he says he would do everything he
can to prevent personnel cuts: “I believe that people should take pay cuts. … If I
cut the office of the council members’ staff, I can’t force an
individual council member not to lay someone off, but I would certainly
encourage them to reduce salaries as opposed to layoffs.”
In government budget terms, a 10-percent cut to any
department is fairly large — particularly for Cincinnati’s operating
budget, which uses 90 percent of its funds on personnel. In comparison, the cuts from the 2013 sequester, the across-the-board federal
spending cuts that President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats say will
lead to furloughs and layoffs around the nation, ranged between 2
percent and 7.9 percent, depending on the department.
The cuts make up one-third of Cranley’s proposal, while the rest of the money comes from casino and parking meter revenue. For his casino revenue numbers, Cranley cites Horseshoe
Casino General Manager Kevin Kline, who told City Council he
expects the casino to raise $21 million each year, but city officials
have said they only expect $10 million a year.
Cranley insists the extra $11 million will come to fruition.
He says, “I would put my track record of being the chairman of the
budget committee for eight years, which balanced budgets without
layoffs, ahead of the people at the city that estimated the costs of the
Just in case, Cranley says his plan purposely overshoots the $25.8 million deficit to leave some leeway in carrying out cuts. But without the extra $11 million, Cranley’s plan would only raise about $22.8 million — $3 million short of filling the budget gap.
Jon Harmon, legislative director for Councilman Chris
Seelbach’s office, says the city and state were originally expecting a
lot more revenue from the state’s new casinos, but the legalization of
racinos, which enabled racetrack gambling, has pushed revenue projections down.
In February, Ohio’s Office of Budget Management estimated
the Horseshoe Casino will raise $75 million in tax revenue for the city,
state and schools, down from a 2009 estimate of $111 million, after
seeing disappointing returns from Ohio’s already-opened casinos. The
local numbers reflect a statewide revision downward: In 2009, the state
government estimated Ohio’s casinos would take in $1.9 billion a year,
but that projection was changed to $957.7 million a year in February.
Even if Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino does much better
than the state’s other casinos, the way casino revenue is collected and
distributed by the state makes a $21 million windfall unlikely,
according to Harmon. Before the state distributes casino revenue to
cities, counties and schools based on preset proportions, the money is
pooled together, which means all the casinos would have to hit original
estimates for Cincinnati to get $21 million — an unlikely scenario,
according to Harmon.
The other major revenue source in Cranley’s budget is $5.2 million in parking meter revenue, which the city manager’s office told CityBeat in February
is usable for the general fund after months of insisting otherwise.
Some of that money is already used in the general fund under current law, but the parking plan would remove that revenue altogether and replace it with new revenue. Cranley says his plan would forgo the parking plan and secure the $5.2 million in the general fund.
Among other cuts, Cranley’s proposal would eliminate some of
the money that goes to software licensing. With the way the cut is
outlined in Cranley’s two-paged budget proposal, it’s unclear whether it
would hit all software licensing or just some of it, but Cranley says his plan is only reducing $531,554 of about $2.6 million, which he says
still leaves a $1 million increase over 2012’s software licensing
“I’m telling people what my priorities are: police, fire,
parks, recreation, garbage collection, health department (and) human
services,” he says. “I believe that elected officials should not be
paying consultants from Denver to tell people in Cincinnati what their
priorities are. I believe that elected officials should tell the voters
what their priorities are.”Cranley’s comments are critical of the the city’s priority-driven budgeting process, which ranked city programs based on feedback gathered through local surveys and meetings with Cincinnati residents.
With or without the parking plan, Cranley says the city is
facing structural deficit problems. He says his plan permanently
fixes those issues, while the parking plan would only eliminate the deficit for the next two fiscal years.
Cranley and Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns oppose
the city’s parking plan, while Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, another
Democratic mayoral candidate, supports it.
The parking plan, which was approved by City Council on March 6,
would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati
Development Authority to help balance the deficit for the next two
fiscal years and fund development projects, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
But the semi-privatization plan is being held up in court. Most recently, Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler ordered a permanent restraining order on the plan pending a referendum effort. The extended injunction sparked criticism from city officials, who say delays will lead to fiscal and procedural problems.CityBeat’s coverage of other plans:“Parking Stimulus”: Explains the parking plan, which was proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. and supported by City Council.“City Manager Lists Alternatives to Parking Plan”: Explains Plan B, the alternative plan put forward by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. that would lay off 344 city employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions.“Seelbach Announces ‘Plan S’ Budget Alternative”: Explains Councilman Chris Seelbach’s proposed alternative to the parking plan.
by German Lopez
49 days ago
Opening Day today, BMV to offer licenses to DACA recipients, Cranley suggests budget plan
It’s Opening Day today, which means it’s time for a
citywide celebration of the Cincinnati Reds and baseball. At the City Council meeting
last week, Mayor Mark Mallory declared today a local holiday, so if you
need an excuse to sneak in a few beers while watching the parade at
work, say the mayor made you do it.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles will allow the children
of illegal immigrants who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood
Arrivals (DACA) to obtain driver’s licenses.
DACA was signed by President Barack Obama to give recipients the
opportunity to remain in the country legally without fear of
prosecution, but until Friday, the BMV wasn’t sure that qualified
recipients for driver’s licenses.
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his budget plan
Thursday that he says will avoid layoffs and the city’s plan to lease
its parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development
Authority, but critics say the plan is unworkable and some of its
revenue sources are “fantasy.” Cranley’s proposal calls for $21 million
in casino revenue that Horseshoe Casino General Manager Kevin Kline
previously said will be available to City Council, but Jon Harmon,
legislative director for Councilman Chris Seelbach, says the number is
using an outdated model and the city’s estimate of $10 million is more
in line with recent turn of events. The budget proposal also claims to
make its cuts and raise revenue without layoffs, but even Cranley was
uncertain about whether that’s possible.
Opponents of the city’s parking plan say they’ve gathered more than 10,000 signatures
— more than the 8,500 required — but the signatures still need to be
verified before the plan is placed on the ballot. Last week, the
mayor told Cincinnati residents
to not sign the petition because he says it will force the city to make
budget cuts and layoffs. A ruling from Hamilton County Judge Robert
Winkler opened the parking plan to referendum by essentially striking
down the city’s use of emergency clauses.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is backing a wider religious exemption
for contraceptive coverage in health plans. As part of Obamacare,
health insurance plans are required to provide contraceptive coverage — a
measure that may save insurance companies money by preventing expensive pregnancies,
according to some estimates. But DeWine and 12 other Republican state attorney generals argue the mandate infringes on religious liberty.
It’s not just charter schools that do poorly under the state’s new report card system; most urban schools would flunk too.
An analysis by StateImpact Ohio found urban schools actually perform
worse in some areas, supporting arguments from charter school advocates
that the report cards’ harsh grades show a demographic problem in urban areas, not a
lack of quality in education. An analysis of old data by CityBeat in 2012 found Cincinnati Public Schools would fall under the new system.
A new study found bedbugs are afflicting less Cincinnati residents
— suggesting the reversal of a trend that has haunted local homeowners
for years. In the past few years, Cincinnati was marked as one of the
worst cities for bedbugs around the country.
The last two generations are falling behind their parent’s wealth. The trend shows a generational divide behind rising income inequality in the United States.
Ohio gas prices are starting to go down this week.
Scientists still don’t know what’s killing up to half of America’s bees.
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should redirect funding from the streetcar to the MLK/I-71 Interchange, but the funding is specifically attached to the streetcar project.
by German Lopez
68 days ago
Federal grants tied to streetcar, transit projects
The MLK/I-71 Interchange project is supposed to be funded through the city’s parking plan, but mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should instead use federal funding that was originally intended for the streetcar project.
Between 2010 and 2011, the streetcar project was awarded about $40 million in federal grants — nearly $25 million through
the Urban Circulator Grant, $4 million through the Congestion Mitigation
and Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant and nearly $11 million through TIGER 3. The grants are highly competitive and allocated to certain
projects. In the case of Cincinnati, the grants were specifically
awarded to the streetcar after it was thoroughly vetted as a transit, not highway, project.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) website explains why the Urban Circulator Grant is only meant for transit projects like the streetcar:
“Urban circulator systems such as streetcars and rubber-tire trolley
lines provide a transportation option that connects urban destinations
and foster the redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed-use,
The CMAQ Grant’s main goal is to fund projects that
curtail congestion and pollution, with an emphasis on transit projects,
according to the Federal Highway Administration.
The website explains, “Eligible activities include transit
improvements, travel demand management strategies, traffic flow
improvements and public fleet conversions to cleaner fuels, among
The DOT website says TIGER 3 money could go to a highway project,
but one of the program’s goals is promoting “livability,” which is
defined as, “Fostering livable communities through place-based policies
and investments that increase transportation choices and access to
transportation services for people in communities across the United
States.” TIGER 3 is also described as highly competitive by the DOT, so only a few programs get a chance at the money.When asked about the grants’ limitations, Cranley said, “I
believe … the speaker of the house, the senator, the congressman, the
governor and the mayor could petition and get that changed. Just because
that may have been the way they set the grants in the first place
doesn’t mean they can’t change it.”
The parking plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and allocate a portion of the raised funds — $20 million — to the MLK/I-71 Interchange project, but the plan is currently being held up by a lawsuit seeking to enable a referendum.
The streetcar is one of the few issues in which Cranley
and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a streetcar supporter who is also running for mayor, are in stark contrast (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Cranley’s opponents recently accused him of originally
supporting the streetcar when he was a council member through two 2008 City
Council motions, but Cranley says those motions,
which he co-sponsored, only asked the city administration to study the
merits of a streetcar plan, not approve of it. Cranley voted no on the
first streetcar resolution in October 2007 and the motion to actually
build the streetcar in April 2008.
“I’ve never said that I’m against the (streetcar) concept
in all circumstances,” Cranley says. “I wanted to know if there was a
way that they could pay for it in a way that wouldn’t take away from
what I thought were more important priorities.”
by German Lopez
88 days ago
Mayoral candidate speaks on campaign, parking deal, streetcar
For better or worse, Cincinnati will have to deal with
another major election cycle for City Council and the mayor’s office in
2013. With four-year terms for City Council recently approved by voters,
the 2013 election could play one of the most pivotal, long-term roles
in Cincinnati’s electoral history.
But what most people know about the candidates and issues
is typically given through small fragments of information provided by
media outlets. At CityBeat, we do our best to give the full context of
every story, but just once, we decided to give the candidates a chance
to speak for themselves through a question-and-answer format. (Update: Since this article was published, CityBeat interviewed Democratic mayoral candidate Roxanne Qualls for another Q&A here.)
First up, mayoral candidate John Cranley, a former
Democratic council member, has been one of the most outspoken critics of
the recently announced parking plan (“City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan,” issue of Feb. 20) and the Cincinnati streetcar (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23) in his mayoral campaign against fellow Democrat Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. CityBeat
talked with Cranley about these issues and how they relate to the
campaign to get his full take, all in his own words. The conversation
(with some edits for readability) is below.
CityBeat: I know your campaign kick-off was last night. How did that go? Did it have good turnout?
John Cranley: It was awesome. We had over 300 people there. Very diverse crowd. It was just great.
CB: How do you feel about the campaign in
general? It’s pretty early, but how do you feel about the local support
you’ve been getting?
JC: It’s been overwhelming. People are rallying
behind my progressive vision, and trying to stop privatization of
parking meters to Wall Street. And trying to get focus back on
neighborhoods, balance, equity, basic services for everyone, special
attention to those in need and broad opportunities for the working poor.
I think people are very excited for that message, and I’m finding
support in every neighborhood of town.
CB: I noticed that a theme of your
campaign is helping out neighborhoods by spreading the funding not just
to downtown, but neighborhoods as well. Are you hoping to build support
from those areas?
JC: I’m for fairness. I think that right now you
have a disproportionate amount of money — $26 million over budget on the
streetcar, yet they’re still proceeding with it — and the neighborhoods
are forgotten about. But I want to see downtown flourish too, so it’s
not like I’m one or the other. I want the whole city to do better. But I
think there needs to be equity and balance.
CB: You just think the playing field isn’t leveled right now?
JC: Absolutely not. Right now they’re trying to
raise parking meters in neighborhoods to build luxury apartments in
downtown. If that doesn’t show you their values are out of whack, I
don’t know what does.
CB: Speaking on that, the latest news is
the city manager’s parking proposal, which he calls a “public-public
partnership” that will boost economic development. What are your
thoughts on it?
JC: The PR campaign that they’ve been putting out
is very deceptive and willfully so. This is not a public plan; this is
privatization to a Wall Street company. The only elements that matter to
city control are control over rates and control over enforcement. The
city has said repeatedly, dishonestly, that the city will maintain
control over rates and enforcement, but neither one of those statements
The rates are guaranteed to go up 3 percent a year for 30
years on a compounded basis. Prior to the recent increases in parking
rates, the city hadn’t raised rates in 10 or 15 years. Right now, the
elected officials — we live in a democracy, for now. Right now, City
Council decides to raise rates, lower rates, maintain rates. If there’s a
recession in the future, City Council can choose to reduce parking
rates. There might be certain neighborhoods where you want to charge
different rates over others depending on economic demographics of those
areas. Right now, we have complete flexibility to change those rates.
This plan gives Wall Street the right to raise rates by 3 percent every
single year for 30 years. The second thing is enforcement. I’m old-school where I
believe that the government should be the one that has the potential of
putting you in jail. Because if you don’t pay your parking tickets, you
can be indicted and go to jail. Here, we’re giving away the power to
issue tickets to a Wall Street company for 30 years.
Not to mention due process concerns. What happens if you
don’t believe you were late back to your meter? Who do you appeal to?
You appeal to this company from Wall Street, who has a financial
incentive to make you pay. [Editor's Note: Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, told CityBeat the rate
increase cap could be circumvented, but the decision would have to be unanimously
approved by a board with four members appointed by the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority
and one selected by the city manager, then affirmed by the city manager, then get a final nod from the Port Authority. The 3-percent rate increase is
also not automatic, and the Port Authority could decide to not
take it up every year.She also said Xerox, which is not a Wall Street company, would manage
enforcement based on standards set by a contract with the Port Authority. Guggenheim, a Wall Street financial firm, is acting as underwriter and capital provider for the parking plan.]On that point, how is it that there are public
hearings next week and they haven’t released any of the contracts or
documents for this transaction? They are going on a Power Point
presentation, which is their talking points. Everyone is writing it as
if it’s fact, yet the contract and the details haven’t even been
Roxanne is calling public hearings and expecting people to
weigh in on a 30-year decision before the details are released to the
public. How cynical is that?
CB: We might not know the details right now, but you think that shows a lack of transparency?
JC: Of course. I hope you guys will editorialize
about that and stand up against privatizing and outsourcing the city to
CB: In the past, you and I talked about
the next phase of the Smale Riverfront Park not having funding, which
you pinned on the streetcar taking tax revenue that could be used for
it. I couldn’t help but notice that it’s one of the things funded in the
city manager’s parking proposal. Do you see that as evidence to your
JC: Well, of course. They don’t have funding for the Riverfront Park. That’s why they’re selling the city’s parking meters.
The bigger issue is it’s just fundamentally wrong to take
an asset that is a recurring revenue stream for 30 years and try to
monetize it today at the expense of the future generations. It’s
giving Roxanne the ability to try to buy votes by playing Santa Claus
before the election at the expense of the next generation.
CB: Another part of the plan is it’s expanding hours. Do you think that might hurt nightlife in Downtown?
JC: Of course it’s going to hurt restaurants,
nightlife and the Cincinnati Reds, not to mention the neighborhoods —
Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Clifton. They’re going to pay higher meters so
they can pay off their friends to build luxury apartments in downtown.
The equity of this is awful.
CB: Would you be willing to bring up a referendum on this deal?
JC: Absolutely. It’s such a selling-out of the city on a long-term basis, but I think the people should have the final say.
CB: I want to move onto the streetcar.
Even for supporters of the streetcar, the delays are unnerving. The
latest news is these construction requests came way over budget and they
might cause more delays. How do you feel about it?
JC: It’s what we’ve been saying for a long time. A
lot of people’s reputations have been attacked for having said that this
thing would be over budget. I think a lot of people, including Roxanne,
need to fess up that they’ve been misleading the public about this deal
But the real issue is it’s $26 million over budget, it’s
the tip of the iceberg, and it’s going to get worse. And Roxanne is
continuing to spend money on the streetcar. She’s continuing to move
forward. She still says she wants to get it done by the (2015 Major
League Baseball) All-Star Game. She still says that she wants to pay for
future phases. So it doesn’t really matter, from Roxanne’s standpoint,
if it’s $26 million over budget. I think it’s too expensive, we can’t
afford it, we shouldn’t be raising property taxes, etc. We should stop
now and we should try to get our money back.
CB: One of the issues you’ve told me you
have with the streetcar before is a lack of transparency. Do you think
that’s catching up to the city in these budget surprises?
JC: Of course the lack of transparency is catching
up to them. Not only is it the right thing to do what you’re doing with
their money and government; it’s always the right way to manage money.
When you hide problems, it always leads to greater expense later.
CB: We’ve thoroughly covered what you’re against. What positive visions do you have for the city and neighborhoods?
JC: I have lots. On my website, JohnCranley.com,
I have my 10-point plan, which goes in great deal over my positive plan
for the city. We need to focus on jobs and opportunities for the
future. We need to partner with the venture capital and university
entrepreneurship efforts in the city, and I’ll do everything in my power
to help that. We need to work to improve our schools; what we need to
do is get communities involved to adopt under-performing inner-city
schools to improve the standards and opportunities. Third, we need to
adopt my plan to reprogram existing federal dollars into job training
and job opportunities to put people to work in building city’s
infrastructure projects now. Those are probably the three major ones.
The good thing about Cincinnati is we have momentum, which is great. But we’re not getting better fast enough.Update: This story was updated with comment from the city manager’s office to clarify how the parking plan’s rate cap will work and Guggenheim's role.
by German Lopez
73 days ago
Case moved back to common pleas court, hearing set for March 15
The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port
of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today
after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place
until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit
should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining
order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget
for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have
a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things
necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil
rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to
the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on
March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary
restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert
Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to
process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the
Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of
local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to
“If there was even five seconds without a temporary
restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public
statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will
argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are
The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the
emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum.
In an interview on March 7, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat
the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a
political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for
political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency
clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently
voted for emergency clauses.”
The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John
Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a
“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often
doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency
clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on
a vote that I was facing.”CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.