by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:49 AM | Permalink
Streetcar fund healthier than thought; Boehner wins speakership again, proposes fruit ladders to the stars; Ferguson grand juror sues St. Louis County prosecutor
Hey all! My colleague, CityBeat arts editor Jac Kern, just got engaged over the holiday and there’s champagne everywhere in the office right now. Congrats! Now I’m going to try to power through the distraction to bring you the news because I’m a soldier like that.So the streetcar contingency budget, which is set aside for unforeseen complications and cost overruns, is healthier than previously thought, officials announced yesterday. Last month, streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced that the worst-case scenarios his office ran had the fund down to about $80,000 after everything was paid out. But after some political blowback, especially from streetcar foe Mayor John Cranley, Deatrick and company went back to the drawing board, reassessed costs and adjusted that figure. The new estimate is that the contingency fund has about $1.3 million left. What changed? Not much. Deatrick says the streetcar team renegotiated some contracts and scaled back a fence around the streetcar substation. That fence was set to be solid brick, but will now be partially steel. Some council members, including Chris Seelbach, expressed concerns that the project was being scaled back due to political pressure, but officials with the project say it will run the same distance with the same number of cars for the same amount of time and that it hasn’t been scaled back in any meaningful way.• As the weather gets colder, demands on area homeless shelters are increasing, straining space available for those with nowhere else to go. While a funding increase council passed last month has given area shelters more money to work with, demand may outpace the increase."The demand for winter shelter has been greater than expected this winter," Strategies to End Homelessness President and CEO Kevin Finn said in a statement. "... Such increased and early demand could exhaust resources that we hope will last us through February."• Local grilled cheese dynamo Tom + Chee is expanding, its founders report, with plans to open five new restaurants in Southern Texas, mostly in suburbs of Houston. The company has partnered with the Tunica-Biloxi tribe to bring the restaurants to the region. The new restaurants will join 13 others in Georgia, Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee. • Northern Kentucky residents who have been touched by the region’s heroin epidemic took their concerns to the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfurt yesterday. One-hundred-thirty Northern Kentuckians came to the rally asking for changes to state laws that could cut down the number of heroin overdose deaths. Among the policy changes advocates are asking for: repeal of a law that keeps Kentucky police from carrying anti-overdose drugs like Narcan. Police in Cincinnati and many other cities carry the drugs, which can mean the difference between life and death for overdose victims. A new program in Kentucky will give state funds to three hospitals to provide Narcan kits to emergency overdose patients, including St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Fort Thomas. The hospital was chosen due to the high number of overdose victims it treats. • It’s official. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, has lived to fight another day as speaker of the house. Boehner held the most powerful perch in the House despite challenges from the far-right wing of the Republican party, who hold that he didn’t do enough to repeal Obamacare and cut the federal budget. Tea party-affiliated reps had a similar mutiny attempt last session, in 2013, when 12 voted against Boehner for speaker. This time, opposition doubled, as 24 conservative House members voted against him. Boehner still coasted to a win, but the drama highlights the continued fissures in the party. Even as it grows more powerful— the 246 seats Republicans hold in the House are the most they’ve had since the 1940s — it’s clear there’s little agreement about what should be done with that power. Perhaps in reflection of this mixed-up mindset, Boehner offered this lumpy, ill-formed bag of metaphors on the House floor after his win.“So let’s stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong,” Boehner said. “May the fruits of our labors be ladders our children can use to climb to the stars.”Fruit ladders to the stars, y’all.Boehner was quick to deal out discipline to members who voted against him, having two Republicans who voted against him kicked off the House’s powerful rules committee, which sets the agenda for the House. • One of the grand jurors in the Darren Wilson case is suing the St. Louis County prosecutor over what he says were misleading statements about the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson. Prosecutor Robert McCullough presented evidence to the grand jury after the August shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown by Ferguson Police officer Wilson. The grand jury member accuses McCullough of misleading the public about the grand jury’s deliberations and is asking to be able to speak publicly about the case in his suit. The juror, who so far has remained anonymous, is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Brown’s shooting along with other police shootings of unarmed black citizens have triggered civil unrest and activism around the country. • Finally, this isn’t really news related but I have to share it anyway. Here are the ladies of Downton Abby, which just started a new season, playing Cards Against Humanity. Warning: it gets a lil raunchy. Also, you’re welcome.
0 Comments · Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Tea party activists and fiscal conservatives are securing
seats on local school boards across the Tristate and taking their anger
over big government and Obama out on tax levies and Common Core
standards. CINCINNATI -1
by German Lopez
Tea party lands school board seats, death penalty scrutinized, AG campaigns spar over role
Fiscal conservatives and tea party activists won more
seats on local school boards last year, putting them in the awkward
position of supposedly looking out for the school’s best interests while
rejecting property tax levies that could boost schools’ resources and outcomes. As one example, a member of the Coalition
Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) now sits on the board for Kings Schools in Warren County that she once sued for public records.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Sunday
called on Gov. John Kasich to immediately halt the death penalty across
the state, following the botched, 26-minute execution of convicted
killer Dennis McGuire. The execution, the longest since Ohio restarted using
capital punishment again in 1999, utilized a new cocktail of drugs that had
never been tried before in the United States. It’s unclear whether
state officials will use the same drugs for the five other executions
planned for the year.David Pepper, the Democratic candidate for attorney
general, says Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine should stop
defending court-rejected, unconstitutional voting and ballot restrictions. DeWine argues that it’s the attorney general’s job to
defend Ohio and its laws, regardless of his opinion on constitutionality. But
DeWine actually stepped aside and assigned a separate attorney to a case
involving restrictions on “false statements” in political campaigns
because, according to him, the law’s constitutionality is questionable.Martin Luther King Jr. and modern Republicans would likely
stand in opposition on numerous issues, including voting rights, the
death penalty and reproductive rights.A top policy aide for Gov. Kasich says local
governments should share more services. But some municipal officials argue the Kasich
administration is just trying to deflect criticisms regarding local government
funding cuts carried out by his Republican administration and the
Republican-controlled legislature over the past few years.The Justice Department is investigating a former chief
judge of Cincinnati’s federal appeals court for nearly $140,000 in
travel expenses he took during his four and a half years on the bench.Fewer Ohio students need remedial college classes following high school graduation.U.S. House Speaker John Boehner called a fellow Republican an asshole, according to Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.Seven out of 10 people will live in cities by 2050, according to Popular Science.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
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
“censorship.” WORLD -1
by German Lopez
LGBT groups debate ballot timing, Kasich gets tea party challenge, Portune's ethics disputed
Ohio’s leading LGBT groups still disagree whether same-sex
marriage should appear on the ballot in 2014 or 2016, but FreedomOhio
says it’s continuing with efforts to put the issue to a public vote
within a year. The debate could decide when gay couples in Ohio will get
the same rights already granted to couples in other states. In its defense, FreedomOhio cites polling that shows its
amendment has support from 56 percent of Ohio voters. But that same poll
also put Ohioans within the margin of error — 47 percent in favor and
48 percent in opposition — on the general question of same-sex marriage
legalization, which other LGBT groups point to as a sign Ohio needs more
time before it’s ready.
Clermont County tea party leader Ted Stevenot will mount a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John
Kasich. Stevenot has long criticized Kasich for his support for the
federally funded Medicaid expansion, which now allows anyone up to 138
percent of the federal poverty level to enroll for Medicaid. Stevenot
has also called on Kasich to support anti-union legislation commonly
known as “right-to-work.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune’s
challenge against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is
off to a rough start: A former law partner said Portune isn’t “ethically
… suited to be governor,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Portune on Monday announced his intent to challenge FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, despite opposition from various state
Commentary: “What to Watch in 2014.”
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm
warning, up from a winter weather advisory, for southwest Ohio today
between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The region should get 3-5 inches of snow, with
most of it coming this morning and early afternoon.Three new local homeless shelters expect to start construction in 2014.Eighty local organizations across Ohio, including three in
Hamilton County, are receiving more than $26.3 million in state funds for homeless
prevention, emergency shelters and transitional and supportive housing
projects.The federal government awarded Ohio $10.8 million for getting low-income children health insurance.Check out The Onion’s best videos of 2013.
Here are the best astronomy and space pictures of 2013, according to Phil Plait of Slate.
Popular Science published its science predictions for 2014.CityBeat is hiring a full-time associate editor. Click here for more information.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
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
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
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
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.