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
City, schools to collaborate, protesters call for MSD work, some question The Banks’ success
Cincinnati officials and Cincinnati Board of Education
leaders yesterday announced a new collaborative that aims to share and
align the city and Cincinnati Public Schools’ (CPS) policy goals. The
initiative will focus on five areas: population growth, workforce
development, safe and livable neighborhoods, wellness and access to
technology. City and school officials say the collaborative alone won’t
hit their budgets, but future joint initiatives could obviously carry
their own costs.Councilman Chris Seelbach and union supporters yesterday
gathered outside the Hamilton County Administrations Building to call on
county commissioners to open bidding on several Metropolitan Sewer
District (MSD) projects. County commissioners blocked the work in
protest of Cincinnati’s “responsible bidder” rules, which require MSD
contractors to meet more stringent job training requirements and pay
into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will train new workers in different
crafts. The Republican-controlled county says the rules are illegal,
favor unions and burden businesses, but the Democrat-controlled city
says the standards help train local workers and create local jobs.Meanwhile, county commissioners appear ready to take the
city-county dispute to court. If the conflict isn’t resolved by the end
of the year, the federal government could impose fines to force work on
a mandatory overhaul of the local sewer system to fully continue,
according to Commissioner Chris Monzel.Cincinnati’s riverfront has come a long way, but The Cincinnati Enquirer
and others seem unhappy The Banks is taking so long to fully develop. A
lot was promised with the initial plan for the riverfront, but the
Great Recession and other hurdles slowed down the development of condos,
office and retail space and a hotel. For some business owners, the
slowdown has made it much harder to get by unless a major event — a Reds
or Bengals game, for example — is going on, particularly during bad
winters. In particular, struggling Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers says she “would like
to see more retail, a hotel, a movie theater.”Following Councilman Charlie Winburn’s warnings that the
city wastefully bought too much road salt, the city is actually running
low on salt and waiting on an order of 3,500 tons. Over the past couple months,
Winburn accused the city of wasting money when he “discovered” a pile of
unused road salt. Despite Winburn’s attempts to make “saltgate” into a thing, it turns out the city bought the salt when it was
cheaper and planned to use it in the future.Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center plans to
reopen a pediatric health clinic that abruptly closed down when
Neighborhood Health Care Inc. shut down operations. The clinic expects
to see 500 needy children and teenagers each month.Local Republicans are still looking to host the Republican National Convention in 2016.Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald asked
Republican Gov. John Kasich to pledge he would serve his full four years
if he won re-election, meaning Kasich would be unable to run for
president in 2016.Doctors say technology must prevent texting while driving.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
Council OKs development deals, racial disparity study advances, no MSD compromise yet
City Council met yesterday for the first time since June and passed various development deals
that span six Cincinnati neighborhoods. The deals include a 15-year tax
abatement for the second phase of The Banks, which will produce 305
apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space; several other
apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a
small business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel
Community Center; and a new homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn. The deals are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the
city, which could help meet the high demand for new residential space
City Council also approved a motion
that asks the city administration to begin preparations for a disparity
study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting
policies to favor minority- and women-owned businesses. The motion asks
the administration to either use part of the upfront money from
leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater
Cincinnati Port Authority or find an alternative source of funding. The
study is required because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, which
declared that governments must prove there’s racial or gender-based
disparity before changing policies to favor such groups. Since the city
disbanded its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999,
contract participation rates have plummeted for minority-owned
businesses and remained relatively flat for women-owned businesses.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials still have not reached a compromise
on several local hiring and bidding policies for the Metropolitan Sewer
District (MSD), which is owned by the county but run by the city. A
moratorium on the controversial city policies expired on Aug. 1,
prompting county commissioners to block an upcoming MSD project in a
vote Wednesday. Councilman Chris Seelbach told WVXU that those working on a compromise just need a little more time, but he’s confident they’ll
be able to reach an agreement. City Council passed hiring and bidding
rules in May this year and June 2012 that require MSD contractors to
meet certain job training requirements that council members say will
lead to more local jobs, but county commissioners argue the standards
are too strenuous and favor unions. CityBeat covered the dispute in further detail here.
State Reps. Connie Pillich and Denise Driehaus of
Cincinnati will hold a press conference today asking Gov. John Kasich to
launch an ethics investigation into JobsOhio, the privatized
development agency. State Democrats have been particularly critical of JobsOhio
since a Dayton Daily News report
found six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial ties to
companies that have taken state aid from the development agency.
Republicans argue that JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature allows it
to expedite deals that bring businesses and jobs to the state, but
Democrats claim the set-up lacks transparency and fosters corruption.
Only one-third of Ohio school levies were approved in a special election Tuesday. Despite an increase in funding in the most recent two-year state budget, state funding to schools has been slashed since Gov. John Kasich took office.
The Charter Committee’s second round of endorsements for
this year’s City Council elections went to Democrats Greg Landsman and
David Mann and Republican Amy Murray. Previous endorsements went to Independents Kevin Flynn and Vanessa White and Democrat Yvette Simpson. The Charter Committee isn’t generally seen as a traditional political party, but it holds a lot of sway in local politics.
The Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino’s monthly revenue for July was higher than it was in June but lower than March. For local and state officials, the trend up is a welcome sign as they hope to tap into the casino for tax revenue.
Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s are facing a boycott for opposing legislation in Texas that would make it easier for women to sue over wage discrimination.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is finding a niche with smaller airlines like Ultimate Air.
An app dubbed “lockout insurance” lets users scan keys then 3-D print them.
As city and county clash on “responsible bidder” law, $3.2 billion sewer project looms
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Cincinnati's biggest sewer project in history is being threatened by a city-county conflict over how contracts should be awarded and whether job training is part of the government's role.
by German Lopez
at 10:14 AM | Permalink
Council to vote on parking, hospitals push Medicaid expansion, MSD upgrades coming
City Council will vote today on the controversial plan
to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati
Development Authority. The plan would give up some control over the city’s
parking meters and garages to generate revenue to fund downtown
development projects and help balance the deficit for the next two
years. Before the City Council vote, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.
will hold a presentation on solving Cincinnati’s long-term structural
deficit problems, which Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan said was a
remaining concern even if the parking plan passed. CityBeat previously covered the parking plan here, the city manager’s and John Cranley’s alternatives here, Councilman Chris Seelbach’s alternative here and the Budget and Finance Committee vote on the plan here.
Hospital groups are telling lawmakers that the Medicaid expansion is “necessary”
to preserve facilities that will face big cuts in the next year. Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), hospitals will lose funding from the federal government,
but the cuts were supposed to be made up with the prospect of more
customers. If the state doesn’t expand Medicaid, the hospitals will
still lose funding, and they won’t get many of their potential new customers. As
part of Obamacare, the federal government is carrying the full cost of
the expansion for the first three years. After that, the federal
government’s share is brought down to 95 percent and ultimately phased
down to 90 percent. By some estimates, the Medicaid expansion would save Ohio
money by shifting costs from the state to the federal government and
generate more revenue through increased economic security. Gov. John
Kasich suggested the expansion in his budget proposal, which CityBeat covered here.
Cincinnati and cities all around the nation are facing new federal requirements
to update sewer systems to better handle stormwater runoff, which can
mix with sewage and spill into rivers. Tony Parrott, executive director
of the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), says his agency has developed
software to prioritize upgrade projects and make them more efficient. CityBeat previously covered some of MSD’s efforts here.
A bill sponsored by Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, would limit the window
for collecting additional signatures for a state ballot initiative to
10 days if the secretary of state deems the initial petition signatures
short of minimum requirements. Seitz says the bill will eliminate a
loophole that allows politically motivated petitioners to extend and
abuse the state’s petitioning process, and Secretary of State Jon Husted
says the bill “is on the right track.” Opponents are calling the bill
“punitive” and saying it will weaken Ohioans’ rights to take up ballot
initiatives and referendums.
Supporters of Internet sweepstakes parlors are saying that a state ban on the establishments would be unconstitutional
and would potentially face litigation. Luther Liggett, an attorney
representing Internet Sweepstakes Association of Ohio, said a Toledo
appeals court ruling found Internet cafe games are not gambling because
the outcome is predetermined. He also said a ban would violate
constitutional protections against retroactively negating contracts,
which internet cafes hold with employees, real estate owners and
Greater Cincinnati Walmart stores are installing rooftop solar panels
as part of the retailer’s nationwide green initiative to completely
power all its stores with renewable energy. The arrays on 12 Ohio
Walmart stores will generate enough electricity to power 820 homes
year-round and eliminate carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the
output of 1,152 cars.
The University of Cincinnati could get $30 million
as a result of the reported settlement with seven schools breaking away
from the Big East to form their own non-football conference.
The average American severely underestimates
how bad wealth inequality is, according to a YouTube video that went
viral over the weekend. If the inequality trend is truly downplayed,
that could have bad repercussions for Ohio: A previous report
from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found
Ohio’s income gap — the income difference between the rich and poor — is
wide and growing, and low-income and middle-income Ohioans have
actually seen their incomes drop since the 1990s.
How did you fare in the aftermath of the winter storm yesterday? Some southwest Ohio areas were reporting widespread power outages.
Indiana lawmakers are considering changes
to their state’s casinos to make them more competitive with
Cincinnati’s newly opened Horseshoe Casino and other Ohio
establishments. The Indiana Senate already passed a bill that would
allow riverboat casinos to move on shore and racinos to replace
electronic game tables with live dealers. The bill is now going to the
Indiana House for approval.
A gay couple was kicked out of a California mall
for holding hands and kissing. Apparently, the security officer who
kicked the couple out paid very close attention to the make-out session;
in a recording, the officer said that he counted the couple kissing 25
A new study suggested Europa, Jupiter’s moon, could have salt water on its surface, which would be good for potential extraterrestrial life.