by German Lopez
4 days ago
Public safety layoffs reduced, state unemployment drops, county agency wins award
Council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach proposed a motion
yesterday that would reduce the amount of police layoffs to 25 and
eliminate all firefighter layoffs previously proposed in budget plans
for fiscal year 2014. The huge layoff reduction comes despite months of
warning from the city administration that the city would have to carry
out big public safety layoffs without the parking plan, which is currently stalled in court.
But it’s come with large cuts and shifted priorities in other areas of
the budget, such as reduced funding to parks, health, human services, parades
and outside agencies. (For example, the Health Department warned that cuts to its
services could lead to more rats and bedbugs.) The motion from Qualls and Seelbach came just in time for last night’s public hearing, which mostly focused on the cuts to parks and public safety.
Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7.0 percent
in April, down from 7.1 percent the month before, thanks to increases
in the amount of people employed and decreases in the amount of people
unemployed. The gains coincided with decent job growth throughout the rest of
the nation in April, which dropped nationwide unemployment from 7.6 percent
to 7.5 percent. But the state gains were fairly
mixed, and the amount of construction, professional and business services and federal
and local government jobs actually dropped. The mixed, slow growth helps
explain why conservative and liberal think tanks seemingly disagree with Gov. John Kasich that Ohio is undergoing an “economic miracle.”
The Hamilton County Public Health’s (HCPH) food protection program is apparently the best in the United States and Canada.
The Conference for Food Protection awarded the program the 2013 Samuel
J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award, which “recognizes unsurpassed
achievement in providing outstanding food protection services to
communities,” according to a statement from HCPH.
Homophobic Boy Scouts supporters are rallying nationwide today to support the continuation of the Boy Scouts’ homophobic rules.The Taste of Cincinnati and the the Cubs-Reds series may have helped downtown Cincinnati earn the No. 42 spot in Priceline.com’s top 50 Memorial Day destinations.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirmed
Ohio has been undergoing a boom in oil and gas production in the past
two years thanks to developments in a drilling process known as
fracking, which CityBeat previously covered in further detail here.Duke Energy hired a new contractor — Southern Cross Co. — to carry out gas and line inspections.
Cincinnati-based Kroger developed a new system that will convert food that can’t be sold or donated into clean energy to power one of its distribution centers.
Convergys is selling is downtown Cincinnati headquarters as the company goes through big changes. So far the buyer is unknown.
Jim Kingsbury, CEO of UC Health since 2010, is retiring.
Using an optical illusion to make white people look darker can diminish racial biases, according to a new study.
Earth’s super-dense core is weak.
by German Lopez
5 days ago
Posted In: Budget
at 12:33 PM | Permalink
Qualls, Seelbach propose budget plan that would avert layoffs despite months of warnings
A budget plan proposed by two council members today would eliminate layoffs at the fire department and reduce the amount of police layoffs to 25, down from 49, by making cuts elsewhere, particularly by forcing city employees to take 10 furlough days in fiscal year 2014.Council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach are co-sponsoring the motion. If it's approved by City Council, the amount of city employee layoffs in the fiscal year 2014 budget would drop to 84, down from the original "Plan B" estimate of 344, by amending Mayor Mark Mallory's budget proposal, which was announced yesterday.The news is being well received by public safety advocates, but it's also vindication for some of the city's harshest critics. Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley previously said the city was acting like "the boy who cried wolf" by suggesting it had to lay off 344 city employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions."In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and firefighters, and it never happened," Cranley previously told CityBeat.But avoiding the layoffs comes with large cuts and shifted priorities elsewhere: Furlough days for supervisory and leadership personnel would be bumped up from five to 10 ($250,000 in savings), all council members would be asked to take 10 furlough days ($22,700), City Council's office budgets would be reduced ($18,000), the clerk of council's office budget would also be reduced ($46,000), the departments of community development and economic development would be merged ($171,000) and the account for firefighter's protective gear would be reduced ($100,000). In total, the cuts in the motion add up to $607,000.The cuts would be in addition to larger cuts proposed by the city manager and mayor, which include reduced funding to parks, human services, parades and outside agencies.The motion will be formally introduced at tonight's Budget and Finance Committee meeting, which will also act as a public hearing for budget issues. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Duke Energy Convention Center.The layoff reductions come after the city manager and mayor spent a bulk of the past six months repeatedly warning that the city would have to carry out significant public safety layoffs if the city didn't lease its parking assets to the Port Authority. That plan would have opened up funds to help balance the budget for two years and pay for economic development projects, including a downtown grocery store ("Parking Stimulus," issue of Feb. 27).But the parking plan is now held up in court, and the city is apparently able to avoid most of the layoffs despite the repeated warnings.The city must enact a budget by May 31, which will give the city the required 30 days to implement the plan by fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.
1 Comment · Thursday, May 2, 2013
Politicians here are like helicopter
parents, mishandling the city in the same blatantly narcissistic manner
as parents who bear children for the sole purposes of shaping those
children in their images.
by German Lopez
22 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:18 PM | Permalink
Council meeting covers streetcar's costs, benefits
Convening in packed City
Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but
a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem
convinced.To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.“I'm disappointed in
this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman.
“We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has
already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2
million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have
to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney added that terminating the project would also
reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development
projects.The budget gap was
originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3
million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the
scope” of the
project and push it into a “danger zone.”The budget gap is a
result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget,
has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is
still willing to work on the streetcar project.The city could rework
the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney
said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would
effectively lower costs.Throughout the meeting,
streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the
budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found
streetcars can help grow local economies. He
said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,”
but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s
necessary to compete with other cities.Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which
the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits
to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including
travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic
development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely
supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of
Cincinnati.Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant
buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.The project has faced
continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley,
Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the
economic growth being promised by city officials.Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.The streetcar project
was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state
government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.Duke’s reluctance led to
a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict
Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out,
the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility
lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side
with the city.The city originally expected
$31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those
expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project
is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business
district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and
hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.The streetcar budget
debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s
operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues,
but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to
balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
by German Lopez
22 days ago
Streetcar meeting today, Ohio Senate to modify energy law, state is no 'economic miracle'
City Hall will be hosting a meeting on the streetcar project at 6
p.m. today to figure out what the project’s options are now that it has a $17.4 million budget gap. The meeting was called by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls after City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. explained in a memo that the project has a budget gap because construction bids came in
$26 million to $43 million over budget.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the the Senate Public Utilities Committee, says he wants to “modify,” not repeal, Ohio’s Clean Energy Law
to have more clear-cut compliance standards. Environmentalists say
they’re concerned Seitz will use the review as a front to
water the law down, especially since electricity giant FirstEnergy is pushing
against the law’s energy efficiency standards. CityBeat wrote more about the conflict between environmentalists and FirstEnergy here.
It’s one issue Ohio’s leading liberal and conservative think tanks apparently agree on: Ohio is not the “economic miracle”
often touted by Gov. John Kasich. In the past year, job numbers for the
state have been particularly weak, with public sector losses nearly
making up for very weak private sector gains. The right-leaning Buckeye
Institute for Public Policy Solutions says a complicated tax system is
largely to blame for the stagnant job growth, while the left-leaning
Policy Matters Ohio is mostly focusing on governments’ budget austerity.
A student allegedly shot himself
in front of classmates at LaSalle High School today. Police say he is
currently at a hospital, and there are currently no reports of anyone
else being shot. As of 10:30 a.m., the situation was still developing.After misleading media reports sent the public into a furor, Mayor Mark Mallory agreed to rescind salary raises
that were part of his office’s deficit-reducing budget plan. The plan
gave the mayor’s top aides raises to make up for an increased workload following staff reductions. Even with the raises, the plan
reduced the deficit by $33,000 during the mayor’s remaining time in
office — a fact originally omitted by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Music Hall’s facelift is not happening just yet,
even though approvals from City Council and the Music Hall
Revitalization Company have already paved the way for Cincinnati Center
City Development Corporation (3CDC) to begin renovations. As project
manager, 3CDC will take four to six months to develop a budget, review
designs and go over the legal and financial work necessary to start the
project.Hamilton County is currently tracking to be $1.5 million over budget this year — a budget hole the Board of Commissioners hopes to plug by using the rainy day fund.
One section of the Ohio House budget bill would allow charter schools to enroll out-of-state students and charge them tuition. The policy could involve online schools, which were previously found to have poor results in a CityBeat report.
The relaxed rules potentially add more controversy to a budget plan that’s
already mired in criticism for defunding Planned Parenthood and forgoing
the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.Ohio gas prices are starting 9 cents down this week.
Bad news: The largest HIV vaccine study was shut down after patients contracted the AIDS virus more often than those who didn’t take it.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
An April 16 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7
million budget gap is threatening to put an end to the streetcar
by German Lopez
33 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
34 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.”
by German Lopez
74 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.
by German Lopez
75 days ago
Vice mayor talks immigration, parking plan, streetcar
For better or worse, Cincinnati will have
to deal with
another major election cycle in 2013. With a few hot-button issues
already grabbing the public spotlight, a lot could be at stake when
voters pull the lever on Nov. 5 — making a proper understanding of the
candidates all the more important.
Most people get to know candidates through fragments of information spread out in multiple stories and media outlets, but a comprehensive question-and-answer format provides candidates with a chance to speak on
their own terms. CityBeat already did a one-on-one with Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, which can be read here.
Next up, CityBeat sat down with Vice Mayor Roxanne
Qualls, another Democrat who is running for mayor, to discuss her campaign and what
ideas she’s bringing to the table. Qualls has been a strong advocate of
the streetcar (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23) and parking plan (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), and she says she wants to continue
development in Downtown and Cincinnati’s neighborhoods to create
sustainable growth. We asked her about those issues and more, and the
extensive conversation (with some edits for clarity and brevity) can be
CityBeat: How do you feel about the campaign in general so far?
Roxanne Qualls: I’m very excited about the
campaign. You know, a mayor’s race is very different than a council
race. A mayor’s race has many more components to it: higher fundraising
goals and more intensive outreach. I’ve been very encouraged by the
folks who are volunteering and those who are stepping up and making
contributions. It’s still early, but I’ve been excited.
CB: What kind of support have you seen so far?
RQ: Support is good. A lot of neighborhood folks are
coming forward, partly because of the work I’ve been doing with them on
council to help them achieve their own visions for their
communities and neighborhoods. And I’m also getting support from
different groups of people who I’ve been working for a number of
years on major projects that help move the city and also the
CB: Before we get into parking and the streetcar,
one of the resolutions passed by City Council yesterday asked Congress to pass
comprehensive immigration reform. Do you think there’s anything the city
could do to be more inviting to immigrants?
RQ: Even though it was a resolution and is
therefore a symbolic act of the council, that symbolic act was very,
very important to the members of the immigrant community in Cincinnati
because many other communities are unwilling to say they even want
My own personal and professional belief is that if we’re actually going to grow as a city and really
thrive in the future in a sustainable way, we have to encourage
immigrants to come into the city of Cincinnati. If you look around the
country at cities that have increased their population significantly,
they don’t do it relying on baby boomers moving back to the city and Gen
Y-ers — those folks are important, but they’re not sufficient. You have
to have immigrants come into your community, buy up homes, buy up
stores and regenerate and rejuvenate the neighborhoods.
As a city that went from over 500,000 people to now under
300,000, we have to fill that gap. When I’m mayor, I will set a goal
that by 2025 we will increase our population by 100,000 people. We’re only
going to do that with immigrants.
CB: So what kind of programs do you think would help in that area?
RQ: A couple things, but there are things already
happening that many people are unaware of. For example, if you were to
go to Roberts Paideia at Price Hill, you would find 30
percent of the children there were
not speaking English in their households before attending school. So a very strong
Spanish-speaking community is growing up in Price Hill. First and
foremost, having an educational system that recognizes and responds is
The other thing is to be a very welcoming community,
particularly when it comes to issues of safety and security. We’re very
fortunate that District 3 has become very responsive, as is District 4,
to immigrants. The entire police department is sensitive, but we have a
very high concentration of folks who are Latinos in
District 3 — that’s why I focused on District 3 as very critical in
terms of the response.
The third thing that we need to do is work with organizations like
the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Chinese Chamber of Commerce to
really strengthen business relations and the support that’s
necessary for many of the small businesses that provide opportunities
and employment within those communities. As the city develops its small
business program, we need to pay attention to the fact that very small
businesses — under $100,000, let’s say, in terms of annual volume — are
those businesses that really are neighborhood-serving. They’re
businesses we should be encouraging within the immigrant community.
CB: One of the surprising statistics with public
safety is that a very small amount of the police force — 2 out of 981 —
speaks Spanish. Do you think there’s anything we could do to encourage
more Spanish speakers?
RQ: There’s an increasing recognition
that it’s important for people who provide services to speak more than one
language, so the police department can encourage its members to speak more than
But there are other things we can do in general, not just
that would impact the police. I’ve been trying to do something as simple
as multilingual signage.
The city could also aggressively promote simultaneous translation via its own
website and the information it puts out.
On my own personal website, one of the things that we use is the Google
Translator. So anyone who wants to read anything on the
website, all they have to do is press the Google Translator and
have it translate to any language.
CB: The other thing that was covered in City
Council yesterday was the parking plan. You supported it. What
do you think it will do for the city?
RQ: There are a couple things it’s going to do.
Simply on the level of parking, it’s going to provide the resources to
modernize the system. For the garages, that means all the capital
improvements that are necessary. For the meters, that’s everything
everybody has heard about in terms of putting in electronic meters,
allowing the use of smartphone apps, making it much more convenient for
people and giving us the ability as technology evolves over time to
adapt. For example, we shouldn’t assume that 30 years from now there
will be such things as meters in existence. We need to be able to adapt
in that environment. Already in other countries, you don’t have meters,
but you do have sensors and you do have means of paying, but it doesn’t
involve a physical object to do it with. It’s all oriented toward
customer service and staying up with the times.
The second thing is it gives us the resources to invest in things
like the MLK/I-71 Interchange, which everybody, I believe, at this point
agrees is a major economic development investment and will pay off in
significant job growth in the medical-university area of uptown.
It also allows us to invest in some critical pieces of downtown
development that involve garages and residential development that will
help us capture the market. I think if you read all the papers,
everybody should realize that there’s no available product to meet the
demand for downtown housing. Any time something comes into the market,
it is either rented out or sold out. So we need to
bring residential online at a much faster pace in Downtown.
And we get to increase our reserves, so that the rating
agencies will be encouraged that we’re taking steps to ensure that we
can responsibly manage our budget. And for the moment, for fiscal year 2014,
it will help us reduce the deficit.
So there’s, one, modernization itself and, two, the
ability to invest in opportunities over the long term that will grow our
revenues and help us become more sustainable as a city.
CB: With the modernization part, do you think it’s
necessary to make this deal because the city can’t otherwise afford to
RQ: If you look at the money that
comes into the
current parking system and look at the needs of the parking system, the
current parking system can’t support the level of investment required
for modernization. By doing this lease agreement, those upgrades can
CB: On the deficit-reduction side, how do you think
the city will solve its structural deficit once the one-time money does
RQ: In fiscal year 2014,
obviously a portion of the money is there to help balance the budget.
Other members of council and I feel very strongly that this, starting
now, is the opportunity to bring the structural deficit under control.
Between June 2013 and July 2014, we
need to put in place a deficit reduction plan.
Now, the city manager has begun to talk about some of
that, but that needs to be accelerated. Among the things that we need to
do to make it a realistic possibility is we need to bring certain
players to the table: the folks who represent our collective bargaining
units, fire, police and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees). They have as much of an interest in figuring
out how to deal with this issue as I do as an elected official, as the
city manager does, as anybody does. So they really need to be at the
table, talking — not in negotiations, but just talking — about how we’re
going to begin to approach this in a way that ensures what we all want,
which is a safe community that provides good quality jobs, great
quality service and great quality of life.
The other people that can come to the table is the
business community because they can bring their expertise, help and
resources, but also the civic community and neighborhoods who are the
ones who live and breathe the effects of anything that we do.
The other thing is that we already can begin to identify
certain areas that we should be exploring. Something very simple, for
example, is one of the major expense items is gas. We are buying new
vehicles for the police department that are better for gas mileage, but
we’re not doing that fast enough.
CB: Do you think any of the deficit reduction could involve attrition?
RQ: The bottom line for either police and fire is
there are minimal service levels. For police, how many of the officers
are actually available for the street? For the fire department, how do
you make sure that the response time is within acceptable parameters and
that the consequence of falling below a certain level isn’t such
extensive brownouts that you end up endangering people’s lives?
My own personal feeling is there’s a lot of professional
judgment that needs to be involved in this discussion and decision. I
would be incredibly hesitant to fall below the minimum staffing levels
without the support of Police Chief James Craig or Fire Chief Richard Braun.
CB: How do you feel about the controversy surrounding the emergency clause?
RQ: 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
The emergency clause is necessary so that we can proceed to construct the budget for fiscal year 2014 by July.
CB: So you don’t think the referendum part of the emergency clause could be separated from the part that expedites the process?
RQ: No, because it is going to take until at least
June to get everything in place. We would like to move as quickly as
possible, so before we actually approve the budget by July 1, we actually have the money to balance it. If that doesn’t happen, the city manager will have to start
sending out layoff notices. By law, we would be required to do that
because we would not have that money in place.
CB: So not having the money would force Plan B or something like it?
RQ: Yes, a referendum would result in Plan B or
something similar. Regardless of whether you want to call it Plan B or
Plan Z, people should not be foolish enough to think that there would
not be layoffs. You cannot balance a budget deficit of $25 million
without personnel reductions.
other big item in the mayor’s race is the streetcar. I’ve talked to you
about this in the past, and you said you will push through the next
during your mayor’s term. How exactly do you envision that?
RQ: Currently, there are studies that are being
undertaken that are looking for alternatives in streetcar circulation in
the uptown area.
If we can connect the streetcar into uptown and have it
circulate up there, you have it benefiting these institutions and
immediately adjoining neighborhoods. One of the greatest pressures in
very dense neighborhoods is that we want to take the pressure off of
both the streets in terms of the volume of traffic and parking because
parking garages are very expensive and consume a lot of land. We can
create an environment in the uptown area that would have a
great synergy that would result in the redevelopment of these
neighborhoods. Once people get that as the vision, I think the
streetcar, even for folks who will never use it, becomes more
CB: One of the recurring problems with the streetcar project has been delays. What would you do as mayor to
have the streetcar ready in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball
All-Star Game, which you previously said you would like?
RQ: I have said I want it ready in time for the
2015 All-Star Game, but that was before the three construction bids came in much higher than expected. The big issue
immediately is how to get those costs under control. We have yet to hear
from the administration; they’re still reviewing the bids and
approaches to handling the cost issues.
As mayor, my approach to it would be to insist that the
administration value engineer this project to ensure that for what is
being invested, we are actually getting results that we want.
I am a firm supporter of the streetcar, but I also want
people to be very clear that this is not an open checkbook. I don’t
think anyone — supporter or opponent — has ever believed it’s an open
checkbook. Within the budget that we have given, we should be able to
build this system.
CB: What do you mean by value engineering?
RQ: Look at what the actual proposed design is.
This is kind of standard in all major projects. You have all the
designers and engineers who have put together the original designs for
the system. Then what you do is have other eyes who are also experts sit
down and start looking at it to ask if there are other things we can do to start saving money.
CB: Do you think the framework of the original bid process was off?
RQ: I think very strongly that it was probably off.
We saw that reflected when over 80 contractors downloaded the bid
documents and only three bids were received. That says something about
those bid documents.
CB: A lot of the mayor’s race has focused on the
streetcar and parking deal, but can you give a rundown of some other
ideas you have for the city?
RQ: Absolutely. Well, we already talked about one
(increasing the population of the city by 100,000). There are a variety
of ways to do it — one of which is to be an opening, welcoming city to
everybody, but particularly opening and welcoming to immigrants.
The second thing we need to do is look at the tax
structure. Currently, there is a commission, which I helped establish,
called Investing in the Future Commission, which is examining that and
will be making recommendations on specific things that we can do to
reward people for making the choice to live and work in the city. That’s
When looking at job creation, we know that we are very
fortunate to have Children’s Hospital, the University of Cincinnati and
all of the research coming out of the uptown area. We are very
competitive as a region when it comes to patents, but we are laggards
when it comes to commercialization of research. Given the institutions
we’re blessed to have within city limits, we need to financially support
the environments where commercialization can actually occur to make
sure we are retaining startup businesses so that they don’t just start
here, they stay here. Again, looking at the tax structure would
encourage those startups to stay in a way we’re not doing right now.
When you’re looking at neighborhoods, redevelopment of
neighborhoods is a critical piece of anybody’s agenda. The good news is
we have a lot of good things happening, but neighborhoods need
financial support. Part of the $92 million from the parking deal
is to provide financial support to some neighborhoods. More importantly,
there’s using the casino revenue to actually support transformative
developments in neighborhoods. We’ve started to do that, but we have to
Another area is a stronger partnership with the Cincinnati
Public Schools (CPS) system. There are many people who like to
criticize CPS, but the reality is they have some great-performing
schools. We need to make sure that we capitalize on that relationship by
working in partnership with CPS to ensure that community learning
centers are in enough schools so that any young family with kids has
access. Right now, there are about 600
families on the waiting list because there’s not enough room. That’s a
specific thing we could be doing right now that would really encourage
young families with children to stay in the city.
CB: That covers everything I had to ask. Is there anything you would like to add?
RQ: This election for mayor is about vision,
leadership and results. It’s also about looking to the future and
saying yes to the future. Lots of decisions will have to be made by the
next mayor that will be tough decisions, will require resources and will
require investment. Cincinnati needs a mayor that is willing to say yes
and work with people and organizations to move the community forward.