0 Comments · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The American Family Association got real mad last week
when it found out Radio Shack is not using the word “Christmas” in its
holiday sales, calling for a boycott of the retailer due to
by German Lopez
41 days ago
Posted In: News
at 04:59 PM | Permalink
COAST attorney files lawsuit following board of elections ruling
A lawsuit filed on Oct. 23 asks the Hamilton County Court of Appeals to compel the Hamilton County Board of Elections to scrub UrbanCincy.com owner Randy Simes off the local voter rolls.
The lawsuit was filed less than two weeks after the board
of elections ruled that Simes is eligible to vote in
The case has been mired in politics since it was
first filed to the board of elections. Simes’ supporters claim the legal actions are meant to suppress Simes’ support for the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ mayoral campaign. Proponents of the lawsuit argue they’re just trying to uphold the integrity of voting. Attorney Curt
Hartman is spearheading the lawsuit. He regularly represents the Coalition Opposed to
Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group that opposes the streetcar project and Qualls.
The lawsuit claims Simes isn’t legally able to vote in
Cincinnati because he currently resides in South Korea and lived in Chicago
prior to the move overseas.Ohio election law requires a place of residency to vote,
but someone can remain on the voter rolls if he or she intends to return
to the city or state while in another part of the country or overseas.
Simes’ supporters, who the board of elections sided with
on Oct. 14, claim Simes has every intention of returning to Cincinnati
when he’s done with his work in South Korea. Simes’ contract
with his employer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, states he’ll return to
Cincinnati in two years.
Until then, Simes is registered to vote at a condominium owned by his friend and business colleague, Travis Estell.
According to Estell’s testimony to the
board of election, Simes kept a key and sometimes stayed for a week when he came and went from the residence throughout the spring and summer. Simes also has credit card and bank mail sent to the
address, and he attempted to change his registered driver’s license
address to match the residence, Estell said.But Hartman says the evidence, which was gathered largely through Simes’ social media activities, shows Simes was a visitor, not a resident. He cites Estell’s testimony that Simes lived out of a suitcase and didn’t pay rent when he stayed in Cincinnati.Tim Burke, chairman of the board of elections and Hamilton
County Democratic Party, says there’s a reason three out of four members of the
board, including one Republican, agreed Simes should remain on the voter
“The facts that were presented didn’t rise to the legal
standard of clear and convincing evidence to justify depriving the voter
of his right to vote,” Burke says.
Burke likens the arrangement to a Procter & Gamble
employee who spends a year or two overseas but still keeps the right to
vote in Cincinnati. Burke says someone could even
sell his home in Cincinnati and keep his right to vote from
the sold residence.Hartman says the comparison doesn’t work because a Procter & Gamble employee would live in and keep ties to Cincinnati prior to moving overseas. He claims Simes’ decision to register to vote from Chicago in 2012 effectively broke his electoral ties with Cincinnati and Ohio.But the argument could be rendered moot. Burke, who is named as one of the defendants in the
lawsuit, says the legal challenge might not make it to court
because two different people filed the lawsuit to the court of appeals and complaint to the
board of elections. That could render the
lawsuit procedurally defective and lead to a dismissal, according to Burke.The lawsuit currently has no scheduled hearing or judge,
but Hartman says he hopes to expedite hearings in time for the Nov. 5
by German Lopez
45 days ago
Financial disclosures show mostly out-of-town contributions to pension privatization effort
Issue 4, the ballot initiative that would semi-privatize
Cincinnati’s pension system, obtained most of its financial support from
out-of-town tea party groups, according to financial disclosure forms
filed to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Oct. 24.
The report confirms concerns previously raised by city
officials, unions and mayoral and City Council candidates: The pension
privatization effort is coming from outside Cincinnati and, in some
Up to Oct. 16, Cincinnati for Pension Reform, which
successfully placed Issue 4 on the ballot, received more than $231,000
from campaign contributors. Of that money, $209,500 came from groups in West Chester, Ohio — organizations called Jobs and Progress Fund, A Public Voice,
Ohio 2.0 and Ohio Rising — and $20,000 came from the Virginia-based
Liberty Initiative Fund, which CityBeat previously reported as an early supporter of pension privatization schemes around the country.Chris Littleton, a leading consultant for Issue 4 and long-time tea party activist, is also based in West Chester. He’s blogged about his involvement in Ohio Rising and Ohio 2.0, and he helped create the Cincinnati Tea Party and Ohio Liberty Coalition, another tea party group.
Upon receiving the contributions, Cincinnati for Pension Reform used
more than $215,000 to circulate petitions, email blasts, advertisements
and other typical campaign expenses.
The infusion of cash from out-of-town sources also helps
explain why Cincinnati for Pension Reform managed to mobilize its
efforts so quickly and without the knowledge of many city officials, who
previously said they’re bewildered by the effort and don’t know where
it came from.
If approved by voters, Issue 4 would semi-privatize
Cincinnati’s pension system so city employees hired after January 2014
would contribute to and manage individual retirement accounts, which
would also be supported by a proportional match from the city. That’s a
shift from the current system in which the city pools pension funds and
manages the investments through an independent board. The idea is to
move from a public plan and instead imitate a 401k plan that’s often
seen in the private sector.
The conservative Buckeye Institute, which supports Issue 4, previously studied the proposal and found it could greatly reduce retirement benefits for city employees.
Although the Buckeye Institute’s report claims Issue 4 could ultimately
save Cincinnati money, it was laced with caveats that could actually
lead to higher costs for the city.
Another study from a finance professor at Xavier University found
Issue 4, if approved, could force the city to cut services, excluding
police and firefighters, by up to 41 percent or increase taxes by a
similar amount in the near term by mandating that the city more
expediently pay off the current pension system’s $862 million unfunded
A major concern for critics of Issue 4 is that it could
cost the city its Social Security exemption. Under the current pension
system, the city doesn’t have to pay into Social Security. If Issue 4
passes, the city’s contributions to the pension system might not be
generous enough to keep the exemption, which could force the city to
make costly Social Security payments.
And if the city doesn’t lose its exemption, city workers
would be left with an individual retirement plan that wouldn’t have the
safety net of Social Security — unlike private-sector workers who get
both an individual retirement account and Social Security.
Supporters of Issue 4 dismiss the criticisms. They say
that Issue 4 is necessary to address Cincinnati’s large unfunded pension
liability, which credit ratings agency Moody’s cited as one of the reasons it downgraded the city’s bond rating in July.
The city’s leaders, who unanimously oppose Issue 4, say
they are working on solving the liability, but they argue it’s better to
reform the system, not scrap it altogether.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat
that pension issues for current city employees are covered by reforms
passed in 2011, and she says City Council will take up further reforms
to address the unfunded liability after the election in November.
Voters will make the final decision on Issue 4 on Nov. 5.The full financial report:
Updated with more information Chris Littleton and the involved groups.
by German Lopez
55 days ago
Ohio Supreme Court forces board to change ballot language for pension amendment
More than 3,000 Cincinnatians who already voted early will
get new ballots in the mail after an Ohio Supreme Court decision forced
the Hamilton County Board of Elections to change the ballot language
for Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize
Cincinnati’s pension system.
It remains unclear whether the early voters, who represent
roughly 1.5 percent of registered Cincinnati voters, will have their
old votes for or against Issue 4 counted if they fail to send in a new ballot with
the new language. The board will decide on that issue after hearing
back from state officials and reviewing election law, according to Sally
Krisel, deputy director of Hamilton County Board of Elections.
The Ohio Supreme Court on Oct. 10 upheld most of the
ballot language for Issue 4, including portions that claim the amendment
could lead to higher taxes and cut city services. But the court also
ordered the Board of Elections to add language describing how much
Cincinnati can contribute to retirement accounts under the new system
and how the amendment will affect future retirees.
The court’s decision came after the Board of Elections received more than 3,000 ballots from early voters. Those voters will now get new ballots with revised language for Issue 4.
Cincinnati for Pension Reform, the
tea party group behind Issue 4, sued the Board of Elections to get the
ballot language changed. The organization complained that the ballot language included speculation not included in the actual city charter amendment, but the Supreme Court ultimately allowed the language to remain.
Krisel says the original ballot language was suggested by
the city, approved by the board and signed off by Ohio’s secretary of
Although the Ohio Supreme Court asked the board to add new sections, Krisel notes the additions have very little to do with the
tax and spending portions that led Cincinnati for Pension Reform to sue
in the first place. The court’s ruling instead took issue with how the board used its discretion on other issues.
If approved by voters, the charter
amendment would move future city employees into individual retirement
accounts similar to 401k plans that are common in the private sector.
Currently, the city pools pension funds into a public system and manages
the investments through an independent board.
City officials and other opponents of Issue 4 argue the
amendment could increase costs and cut benefits for city employees. Both
the concerns were acknowledged in a Sept. 27 report from the conservative Buckeye Institute, even though the think tank actually backs Issue 4.
Supporters of Issue 4 argue it’s necessary to address
Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability, which reached $862 million
in 2013 after the city underfunded the pension system for years and
economic downturns shrunk investments financing the system. Moody’s
named the liability as one of the reasons it downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating.
City officials acknowledge the enormous financial problems posed by the unfunded pension liability,
but they say it would be better to make reforms within the system
instead of scrapping it altogether.
City Council passed reforms in 2011 that address future
costs, and council is expected to take up reforms that address the
unfunded liability after the November election, Vice Mayor Roxanne
Qualls previously told CityBeat.
Voters will make the final decision on Issue 4 on Nov. 5.
by German Lopez
66 days ago
Pension proposal could reduce benefits, energy bill contested, needle exchanges approved
Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.
Local business groups, unions, progressive organizations,
the mayor and all council members are united against a tea party-backed
ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system,
and a Sept. 27 report from the conservative Buckeye Institute helps explain the opposition.
The report echoes concerns from both sides: It finds new employees
would have their benefits cut by one-third under the tea party’s
proposed system, but it also shows that, when measured differently,
Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability might currently stand at $2.57
billion, more than three times the $862 million estimate city officials
typically use. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system
so future city employees contribute to and manage their own individual
retirement accounts; under the current system, the city pools pension
funds and manages the investments through an independent board. The idea
is to move workers from a public system to private, 401k-style plans.
Voters will decide on the amendment when it appears on the ballot as
Issue 4 on Nov. 5.
Environmental and business groups argued in front of the Ohio Senate yesterday that a new deregulatory bill would effectively gut Ohio’s energy efficiency standards and hurt the state’s green businesses,
but the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), claims
it’s “not as loosey-goosey” as environmental and business groups make it
seem. The biggest point of contention: Seitz’s bill would allow utility
companies to count energy savings that are seen as “business as usual”
toward energy efficiency standards. That, green groups argue, would let
businesses claim they’re becoming more energy efficient without making
any real energy-efficiency investments. It could also cost Ohioans more
money: A previous report from Ohio State University and the Ohio
Advanced Energy Economy coalition found the bill could increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by
$3.65 billion over 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s bill in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the deregulatory attempts here.
The Ohio House yesterday approved a bill
that expands local authority to pursue needle-exchange programs that
would provide clean needles to drug addicts. Supporters of the bill say
it would help local communities reduce drug-related infections and
perhaps drug addiction, but opponents claim it surrenders to drug pushers by enabling more
drug activity. A 2004 study from the World Health Organization
found “a compelling case that (needle-exchange programs) substantially
and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among (injection drug
users) and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at
either the individual or societal level.” CityBeat covered the war on drugs and the changing approach to combating Ohio and the nation’s drug problems in further detail here.
Some help for voting: “2013 City Council Candidates at a Glance.”
The Cincinnati Bengals want a new high-definition scoreboard
that could cost county taxpayers $10 million. But taxpayers don’t have
much of a choice in the matter; the stadium lease requires taxpayers
purchase and install new technology, including a scoreboard, at the
Bengals’ request once the technology is taken up at 14-plus other NFL
Women gathered at the Ohio Statehouse
yesterday to protest measures in the recently passed state budget that
restrict access to legal abortions and defund family planning clinics,
including Planned Parenthood. CityBeat covered the state budget, including the anti-abortion restrictions, in further detail here.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio says Republican legislators should forget their fight against Obamacare
and instead focus on a deficit-reduction package. Republicans helped
cause a federal government shutdown by only passing budget bills that
weaken Obamacare, but Democrats have refused to negotiate over the
health care law, which is widely viewed as President Barack Obama’s
legacy-defining domestic policy. Meanwhile, Obamacare’s online
marketplaces opened on Tuesday, allowing participants to compare and
browse subsidized private insurance plans. CityBeat covered the marketplaces and efforts to promote them in further detail here.
The $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project will require tolls,
according to a study released by Kentucky and Ohio transportation
officials on Thursday. Officials at every level of government have been
pursuing a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge as concerns mount
over its economy-damaging inadequacies.
A $26 million residential and retail development project is coming just north of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino.Greater Cincinnati Water Works is using an extra layer of ultraviolet disinfection treatment to make local water cleaner.
The second round of Ohio’s job training program offers $30 million to help businesses train workers so they can remain competitive without shedding employees.
“Project Censored” analyzes the stories the mainstream media failed to cover in the past year. Check the list out here.
A new study found eye contact makes people less likely to agree with a persuasive argument, especially if they’re skeptical in the first place.
Conservative study suggests tea-party backed pension amendment would reduce benefits
2 Comments · Wednesday, October 2, 2013
A conservative group’s report helps explain why most of Cincinnati’s political establishment strongly opposes a tea party-backed pension amendment.
by German Lopez
72 days ago
Posted In: News
at 04:29 PM | Permalink
Conservative group finds city’s pension liability could be three times current estimate
A Sept. 27 report
from the conservative Buckeye Institute echoes claims made by both
sides in Cincinnati’s pension debate: A tea party-backed amendment, if
approved by voters on Nov. 5, would reduce retirement benefits for new
city employees by one-third. At the same time, the city’s unfunded
pension liability might be three times what officials currently
The Buckeye Institute’s summary of the report vaguely supports the tea party-backed amendment and touts its benefits, but the details and findings in the report are much more mixed.The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so city employees hired after January 2014 would contribute to and
manage individual retirement accounts, which would also be supported by
a proportional match from the city. That’s a shift from the current
system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments
through an independent board. The idea is to move from a public plan
and instead imitate a 401k plan that’s often seen in the private sector.Opponents of the amendment say it would massively reduce
city benefits and actually increase costs for the city — two issues that the Buckeye
Institute’s report acknowledges as real possibilities.Officials are also concerned that the city would be forced
to pay into Social Security, which would impose additional costs, if
the tea party-backed system isn’t exempt from the federal retirement
program. The current pension system absolves the city government from paying into Social
Security.Supporters of the amendment say the drastic changes are
necessary to help solve the city’s growing pension liability, which city
officials put at $862 million.The Buckeye Institute report argues that even the city
estimates are too low. When pricing the city’s pension liabilities
through fair market value — a measure widely embraced by economists —
the unfunded costs actually stand at $2.57 billion. That puts the pension
system at 35 percent funding, which means the city will have to make up
the 65-percent hole with extra payments.But the report also confirms a key claim for the amendment’s opposition: Future city
employees would get about one-third less benefits under the tea party’s proposed system than they would under
the current pension system.The benefit reductions should save Cincinnati $19.7 million a year, according to the report. But the savings estimate doesn’t consider cost-of-living adjustments, which the report says will rise for future employees and shrink savings over time. The estimate also assumes the tea party’s
proposed system will be able to keep Cincinnati’s Social Security
exemption, which city officials say is unlikely.
Despite the reductions, the Buckeye Institute claims the final benefits will be
better than comparable 401k plans in the private sector, but the
assumption hinges on the city meeting its full contribution to
employees’ individual retirement accounts. The tea party amendment allows — but it doesn’t require —
the city to contribute up to 9 percent of an employee’s salary to retirement accounts. The city
contributes only 2 percent of payroll under the current system, which
is already strained for costs.The report also acknowledges that, if interpreted a
certain way, the tea party amendment could force the city to pay for its
unfunded pension liability in just 10 years, down from 30 years. Paying
the liability that quickly
could prove unmanageable for a city that hasn’t passed a structurally
balanced budget since 2001.
The pension amendment is backed by tea party groups, some of which may reside outside of Cincinnati and Ohio. They argue the reform is necessary to stabilize the city-funded retirement system.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati for Pension Responsibility announced
its formation on Sept. 27 and promised to get voters to oppose a “risky
plan” that “could cost taxpayers millions.” Mayor Mark Mallory, all current council
members, the AFL-CIO, ProgressOhio and other groups have joined the opposition.
Opponents readily acknowledge the current system’s
problems and unfunded liability, but they argue the city would be better
off making reforms within the current system instead of adopting the
tea party’s plan. Some of those reforms are expected to come before City
Council in the next couple months.
Voters will make the final decision on the tea party’s pension amendment when it appears as Issue 4 on the Nov. 5 ballot.
by German Lopez
76 days ago
Food stamp rules to hit locals, city defends allowances, charterites oppose pension initiative
Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for
federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients
in Hamilton County to meet work requirements
if they want the benefits to continue. That means "able-bodied"
childless adults will have to work or attend work training sessions for 20 hours a week starting in October to continue getting food assistance. The renewed rules are coming just one month before federal stimulus funds for the food stamp program are set to expire, which will push down the $200-a-month food benefits
to $189 a month, or slightly more than $2 a meal, in November. In light of the new requirements, the Hamilton County
Department of Job and
Family Services will help link people with jobs through local partnerships and
Hamilton County's SuperJobs Center,
but that might be difficult for food stamp recipients who have past
convictions, mental health problems and other barriers to employment.The city administration defended its proposal to restore $26,640 in car allowances
for the mayor, city manager and other director-level positions in the
city government, just a few months after the city narrowly avoided
laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees by making cuts in
various areas, including city parks. City spokesperson Meg Olberding
says car allowances are part of traditional compensation packages in
other cities Cincinnati competes with for recruitment, and she says that
the compensation was promised to city directors when they were first
hired for the jobs. But Councilman Chris Seelbach says the proposal is
out of touch and that he's more concerned about lower-paid city employees,
such as garbage collectors, who haven't gotten a raise in years, much
less a $5,000 car allowance. The Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, came out against the tea party-backed pension ballot initiative. The committee recognizes Cincinnati needs pension reform soon, but it says the tea party proposal isn't the right solution. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati's pension system so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who are under a different system — would have to contribute to and manage 401k-style retirement accounts. Under the current system, the city pools and manages pension funds through an independent board. Supporters argue the amendment is necessary to deal with the city's growing pension liability, but opponents, including all council members, argue it would actually cost the city more and decrease employees' benefits. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups behind it in further detail here.State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County wants U.S. Judge Timothy Black impeached because the judge ruled Ohio must recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple's marriage in a death certificate. The judge gave the special order for locals James Obergefell and John Arthur, who is close to death because of a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says if the city were to synchronize its mayoral primary elections with other state and county elections, it could save money by spreading the share of the costs. The Sept. 10 primary cost Cincinnati $437,000. The change would require altering the city charter, which needs voter approval.The Ohio Department of Education will soon release revised report card grades for Cincinnati Public Schools and other school districts following an investigation that found the school districts were scrubbing data in a way that could have benefited their state evaluations.An Ohio bill would ban drivers younger than 21 from driving with non-family members in the car and bump the driving curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., with some exceptions for work and school.A University of Cincinnati football player is dead and three others are injured following a single-car crash.Ohio gas prices rose as the national average dipped.Here is a map of air pollution deaths around the world.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Despite unanimous opposition, City
Council on Sept. 3 fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and
voted to allow a controversial pension amendment to appear on the ballot
by German Lopez
96 days ago
City Council reluctantly allows ballot initiative to move forward
Despite unanimous opposition, City Council fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and voted to allow a controversial pension amendment to appear on the ballot this
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls explained that all council
members oppose the amendment, but it’s part of City Council’s
ministerial duties to allow ballot initiatives if petitioners
gather enough signatures to put the issue to a public vote. The Hamilton County Board of Elections
announced on Aug. 12 that petitioners had gathered enough signatures to
clear the 7,443 requirement.
The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system
so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are
under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual
401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and
manages the investments through an independent board.
City officials oppose the
amendment. They say it will cost the city more and hurt retirement gains
for city employees.
One new concern: As written, the amendment could force the
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to revoke tax-exempt status for city
employees’ retirement plans. Paula Tilsley, executive director of the
Cincinnati Retirement System, says the new tax burden would force
someone in a lower tax bracket with $100,000 in retirement savings to
immediately pay $15,000 in taxes.
Supporters of the amendment, including out-of-state tea
party groups, argue it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s present and
future pension liabilities, which currently stand at $862 million.
The current liability is a result of two issues: City
Council has underfunded the pension system by varying degrees since at
least 2003, and economic downturns have hurt investments in the city’s
That outstanding liability was one of the factors that led Moody’s, a credit ratings agency, to downgrade Cincinnati’s bond rating on July 15.
City officials say they’ve already taken steps to resolve future costs and the only remaining concern is how to
pay for the current liability. In 2011, City Council raised the retirement age and reduced pension benefits for city employees
“This council adopted some of the most sweeping changes to
any public pension system in the country for current and future
employees,” Qualls said.
Councilman Chris Smitherman clarified he doesn’t support
the proposed amendment, but he says City Council has done a poor job
with the current pension system.
“My recommendation to this council is to put forth a
solution to solve the problem,” Smitherman said. “You can’t have your
cake and eat it too. You can’t say, ‘This is bad,’ and then underfund
Tilsley says the pension board will make recommendations
to City Council within a month to address the current pension liability.
The board estimates the changes would keep the system 100 percent
funded after 30 years.
CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups that might be behind it in further detail here.Updated (2:17 p.m.): Updated to reflect the full City Council vote.