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Ohio Ranks Poorly in Transparency Study

0 Comments · Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Ohio scored fifth-worst in a nationwide government transparency survey conducted by a national consumer group focused on investigating and advocating for American citizens against powerful interest groups.  
by Anthony Skeens 04.09.2014 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Ohio Ranks Poorly in Government Transparency

Options for tracking government spending rank higher than only four states in the U.S.

Ohio scored fifth-worst in a nationwide government transparency survey conducted by a national consumer group focused on investigating and advocating for American citizens against powerful interest groups. The group gave Ohio a “D-” ranking after its government spending transparency website earned 51 points out of 100 in U.S. Public Interest Research Group's fifth annual “Following the Money” report.  “Ohio’s been kind of sinking through the ratings year by year,” says Phineas Baxendall, a U.S. PIRG senior policy analyst and co-author of the report released on Tuesday. “It used to do much better, which doesn’t mean they’re dismantling their transparency systems. It just means our standards get tougher each year and they’re more staying in place while other states are improving.” Ohio’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t offer certain customizable search options including bid award recipients, keywords, agency and bulk download searches. Ohio’s poor score follows three years of ranking in the bottom half of the study.   Researchers look for transparency websites to be comprehensive, one-stop and offer simple search formats.  The nation as a whole is moving toward a more transparent approach to documenting government spending. Since PIRG began the study, all six categories it uses to compile rankings have shown an increase in states performing specific duties. The largest leaps in the past five years involve showing how a project benefits from taxpayer subsidies, which has seen an increase from two to 33 states, and how tax money is spent with an increase from eight to 44 states. All states now have ledger listings for transactions of any government spending on a website, compared to only 32 five years ago.  Ohio’s score doesn’t reflect Cincinnati’s efforts to be transparent. In a 2013 study in transparency of the 30 largest cities in America, Cincinnati scored a “B+” for providing ledger listings for spending information, allowing Cincinnatians to view where money is spent, specific recipients of tax subsidies and the existence of a service request center allowing residents to notify officials about quality of life issues.  Suggestions for improvement included making checkbook-level spending information searchable by the vendor who received the money and developing a comprehensive transparency website. “We feel strongly that this isn’t a partisan issue, and the fact that states that do best in our rankings show no political pattern, with Texas and Massachusetts standing side-by-side, sort of speaks that this is one of those issues that should not be politicized,” Baxendall says. “We look forward to advancement in transparency in Ohio regardless of who is in office.”
 
 
by German Lopez 10.06.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, City Council at 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Council Candidates Agree to Support All Neighborhoods

Eighteen of 21 candidates participated in Oct. 5 forum

Just one month before voters pick nine council members at the ballot box on Nov. 5, 18 of 21 City Council candidates on Oct. 5 participated at a candidate forum that covered issues ranging from better supporting low-income Cincinnatians to expanding downtown's growth to all 52 neighborhoods.During the event, the candidates agreed Cincinnati is moving forward, but they generally agreed that the city needs to carry its current economic growth from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to all 52 neighborhoods. Participating candidates particularly emphasized public safety and government transparency, while a majority also focused on education partnerships and human services for the poor and homeless, which have been funded below council's goals since 2004.The three City Council candidates not in attendance were Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman and Independent challenger Tim Dornbusch. The absences prompted forum moderator Kathy Wilson, who's also a columnist at CityBeat, to remind the audience that "a vote is a precious thing" and candidates should work to earn support by engaging the public.Councilman Chris Seelbach and challenger David Mann, both Democrats, had surrogates stand in for them. Seelbach was attending a wedding, and Mann was celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his family.The forum was hosted by The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and sponsored by CityBeat and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area.Here are the highlights from the 18 participating candidates, in order of their appearance:Wendell Young (Democrat, incumbent): Young said Cincinnati should put basic services and public safety first, but he added that the city should also help address "quality of life issues" such as providing "world-class parks." He also said Cincinnati needs to structurally balance its budget, which has relied on one-time funding sources since at least 2001, and make further adjustments to the underfunded pension system. Young also explained that the city needs to strengthen its partnerships with local organizations to help combat homelessness, affordable housing, child poverty and infant mortality.Laure Quinlivan (Democrat, incumbent): Quinlivan proudly pointed out she's the "only elected mom" on City Council. She said her goal is to make Cincinnati "cleaner, greener and smarter" by focusing on population and job growth and thriving neighborhoods. To spur such growth, Quinlivan claimed the city needs the streetcar project and more bike and hike trails, both of which she argued will attract more young adults to Cincinnati. Unlike other candidates, Quinlivan publicly supported potentially "rightsizing" — or cutting — Cincinnati's police and fire departments to structurally balance the budget. She also said the city should provide more options for health insurance to city employees so they don't all get a so-called "Cadillac plan" that's expensive for the city.P.G. Sittenfeld (Democrat, incumbent): Sittenfeld touted downtown and Over-the-Rhine's turnaround as a model for economic growth that Cincinnati should expand to all neighborhoods. He argued the model is what attracts companies like Pure Romance to Cincinnati, as the company mentioned the city's recent urban growth as one reason it decided to stay here. (Of course, the nearly $699,000 in tax incentives over 10 years probably help as well.) When asked about his opposition to the current streetcar project, Sittenfeld said the current project is fiscally irresponsible because of its previous budget problems, which City Council fixed in June, and reduction in funding from the state government, which forced the city to pick up more of the funding share. Sittenfeld said his past two years on council were a success, but he added, "I'm not done yet."Amy Murray (Republican and Charterite, challenger): Murray said her campaign is focused on creating a fiscally sound city by structurally balancing the budget and fixing the underfunded pension system. But she said she would do both without increasing taxes, which could force the city to cut services and retirement benefits. When asked about her opposition in 2011 to extending city employee benefits to LGBT spouses, Murray said she never had a problem with extending the benefits to LGBT individuals — which City Council did in 2012 — but was simply acknowledging that providing the extra benefits requires making cuts elsewhere to balance the budget. (Opponents previously said the issue should be about equality and fairness, not costs.)Vanessa White (Charterite, challenger): White said her main goals are reducing poverty in Cincinnati, providing more education opportunities to residents and expanding citizen access to city officials. When specifying her goals for education, White said Cincinnati needs to do a better job incentivizing internships for youth at local businesses and touted the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, which seeks to expand preschool education opportunities in Cincinnati. To increase transparency and outreach, White said she would assign City Hall staffers to answer citizens' questions after council meetings.Michelle Dillingham (Democrat, challenger): Dillingham said the role of local government is to spur growth in abandoned areas that have been failed by the private sector. But to successfully do this, she said the city needs to engage and reach out to its citizens more often. As an example, she cited the development of an affordable housing complex in Avondale, which has been snared by sudden public outcry from a neighborhood group. Dillingham said supporting affordable housing is also more than just providing expanded services; she explained that she supports creating more jobs that would provide a living wage, which would then let more locals own or rent a home without exceeding 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs. At the end, Dillingham touted her 10-point plan to give more Cincinnatians "a seat at the table" and make the city government more inclusive.Mike Moroski (Independent, challenger): Moroski said he intends to focus on growing Cincinnati's population, reducing re-entry into the criminal justice system and lowering child poverty. He also touted support for development projects and infrastructure, including the streetcar project. At the same time, Moroski argued some development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown is pricing low-income people out of the city's booming areas — an issue he would like to address. Moroski also said he backs efforts to increase Cincinnati's human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years. When asked about his lack of government experience, Moroski said he sees it as a "gift" and "blessing" that's given him a fresh, outside perspective. "I will be the voice for the voiceless," he said.Melissa Wegman (Republican, challenger): Wegman opened by showing off her business credentials and neighborhood advocacy. When asked what she means when she says she'll bring a "business perspective" to council, she said she would like to see the city put more support toward small businesses. In particular, Wegman said underserved neighborhoods need more city help and funding. She also told panelists that she opposes Issue 4, which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot and would semi-privatize Cincinnati's pension system.Kevin Flynn (Charterite, challenger): Flynn said Cincinnati's budget problems are by far the most important issues facing the city, but he also trumpeted the local government's lack of transparency and engagement as major issues. He explained he's particularly opposed to the mayor's pocket veto, which allows the mayor to entirely dictate what legislation is voted on by council and potentially block any legislation he or she disagrees with. Flynn said he would like to see more citizen engagement on budget issues and more open debate between council members during public meetings.Greg Landsman (Democrat and Charterite, challenger): Landsman stated his focus is on population, job and revenue growth, which could help him achieve his goal of a structurally balanced budget. He said the city needs to do more to attract and retain young people. Although Landsman acknowledges the city's progress, he said Cincinnati is undergoing a "tale of two cities" in which some neighborhoods prosper and others flounder. Landsman also suggested increasing human services to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years and improving city management in other areas, including the budget, pension system and roads.Kevin Johnson (Independent, challenger): Johnson said the role of government should be to balance out the private sector and provide a safety net for those who fall through the system. He said the city needs to do more to tackle income inequality by "investing in people." Johnson said he supports recent efforts to create a land bank system for struggling neighborhoods, which aim to increase homeownership by making it more affordable and accessible. Johnson also claimed that people are tired of party politics and would like to see more transparency in government.David Mann (Democrat and Charterite, challenger), represented by campaign manager John Juech: Speaking for Mann, Juech said his candidate got into the campaign to address Cincinnati's budget problems. Juech explained Mann will leave "all options on the table," whether it's revenue increases or service cuts, to structurally balance the budget. When asked whether Mann, who previously served 18 years on council, really deserves more time in the local government, Juech explained that Mann's experience makes him a "walking Cincinnati historian." He also argued that Mann has great relationships with county officials, particularly Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, that could make it easier to jointly manage some city services in a way that would drive down costs.Yvette Simpson (Democrat and Charterite, incumbent): Simpson said she measures progress in Cincinnati by "how well the least of us do," which drove her to start the Cincinnati Youth Commission and other partnerships that help connect the city's youth to jobs. Although Simpson said she supports boosting funding to human services and building better relationships with human services agencies, she said providing more funding is hindered by a "simple math problem" and the city needs to balance its budget before it can provide more and better services. Simpson also said the city could and should do a better job engaging the public with big ideas.Chris Seelbach (Democrat, incumbent), represented by legislative director Jon Harmon: Reading a statement from Seelbach, Harmon said Cincinnati is on the rise but still needs to improve in various areas. In particular, he said the city needs to do a better job funding all 52 neighborhoods, providing more opportunities for low-income Cincinnatians and eventually increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget. Harmon also touted City Council's progress with infrastructure issues, including increased road paving and bridge funding. By addressing these issues and occasionally making "tough choices," Harmon said Seelbach hopes to continue growing the city.Pam Thomas (Democrat, incumbent): Thomas claimed she wants local government to be open, honest and transparent. She said the city's progress should be gauged through education metrics, particularly local graduation rates and, starting next year, the city's success in meeting state-mandated third-grade reading proficiency standards. Thomas replaced her husband on council after she was appointed by him and other council members earlier in 2013, but Thomas said that, unlike him, she opposes the current streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to fund development projects and help balance the budget.Shawn Butler (Democrat, challenger): To Butler, progress means reducing income inequality, creating jobs and growing the city's population. Although Butler, who is Mayor Mark Mallory's director of community affairs, said he's generally supportive of the mayor's policies, he said the city could do a better job selling itself and reaching out to the business community. Butler also touted his experience, particularly how he's gone through eight budget cycles during his time with the mayor. To structurally balance the budget, Butler said he wouldn't increase the earnings tax and would instead pursue other options, such as tapping into money from the parking plan and cutting services.Angela Beamon (Independent, challenger): Beamon said she would ensure city services are spread out to all citizens and neighborhoods. She suggested struggling neighborhoods are underserved — not "underperforming," a term she doesn't adhere to — and the city should do more to reach out to them. Beamon also stood firm on her opposition to the streetcar project. Instead of funding the streetcar, she said city resources should go toward promoting business ownership and services that help the underprivileged.Sam Malone (Republican, challenger): Malone said his goal is to make all of Cincinnati's neighborhoods thrive with more businesses. He said since he lost his re-election to City Council in 2005, he's managed a small business and learned how it feels to be on the other side of the government-business relationship. Malone said his campaign slogan ("I love everybody, I come in peace") best exemplifies how he's led his life. When asked about a 2005 incident in which he disciplined his son with a belt, Malone claimed he's "running on issues" and his parenting tactics were deemed lawful by a court.
 
 

Qualls Calls for More Government Transparency

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls on Aug. 19 unveiled a motion that calls for the first expansion of local disclosure and reporting requirements since 1997.  

Cranley Unveils Innovation Plan

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Cincinnati mayoral candidate and ex-Councilman John Cranley on Aug. 15 announced his two-part innovation plan.  

Gov. Kasich’s Bias Toward Secrecy

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Like many politicians, Gov. John Kasich touted transparency and openness on the campaign trail, but this year’s JobsOhio controversies have proven that the governor was all talk and no action when he made such claims.   
by German Lopez 08.20.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Government, Governor at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

City refuses parking lease challenge, Qualls calls for transparency, Kasich losing in new poll

City Solicitor John Curp rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the city’s parking lease without City Council's explicit approval. Curp wrote in a letter that the two changes disputed by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) were within the lease’s terms and only made because COAST’s previous lawsuit forced the city to delay leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. If COAST hadn’t pursued the lawsuit, the city would have been able to continue with the original timetable for the parking lease. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls yesterday unveiled a motion calling for the first expansion of local disclosure and reporting requirements since 1997 that would impose new rules on city officials, lobbyists and contractors and require the city administration to post the disclosed information on the city’s website. Qualls said in a statement that the update is particularly timely because the Metropolitan Sewer District is taking on a federally mandated $3.2 billion, 15-year reworking of the city’s sewers, which will presumably involve many lobbyists trying to get lucrative contracts for businesses they represent. New poll results from Public Policy Polling (PPP) show Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald beating Gov. John Kasich 38-35 percent in the 2014 election. Kasich’s approval rating now stands at 42-47 percent, down 10 points from November. Most respondents still seem unaware of FitzGerald, with 62 percent saying they aren’t sure if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of him. PPP is affiliated with Democrats, but the polling firm performed well in the 2012 presidential race and, if anything, favored Republicans with its results. Hop On Cincinnati is asking the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District to support a trackless trolley that the group says could live alongside the Cincinnati streetcar. The trolley, estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million, would be similar to the system in Northern Kentucky, and each route would run past major garages to allow people to park before getting on board. If the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District gives the project approval, it could get federal funding. Investors are upset with SoMoLend, the crowdfunding incubator that has been targeted by a state investigation with accusations of fraud. Critics of the company say that the allegations could hurt future crowdfunding pursuits and harm the state. Shortly after the charges came to light, the city of Cincinnati announced it would cut ties with SoMoLend, which partnered with the city to connect small businesses and startups with up to $400,000 in loans. Ohio is the seventh worst state for debt, according to a recent study from NerdWallet.com. The number of low-income Ohio children in Head Start, the early education program, will drop by more than 1,800 following automatic spending cuts at the federal level. CityBeat previously covered the cuts here. Ohio’s top waterways watchdog is stepping down from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency after his boss and Kasich asked him to step down. Kasich was apparently angered by an email in which George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio EPA’s division of surface water, told his staff that the coal industry wants permits that would damage the state’s streams and wetlands and break state and federal laws. Various state officials are criticizing a “stand your ground” bill currently sitting in the Ohio legislature. The self-defense law has been scrutinized because of George Zimmerman, a Florida resident who was acquitted of murder in the shooting of unarmed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Many people blame Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which expands self-defense rights, for Martin’s death. Zimmerman’s legal defense team didn’t invoke the law, but the judge involved in the case mentioned it in her jury instructions. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says some school safety plans would be “useless” during a real shooting because they’re too long and complicated. Ohio is releasing school report cards this week, but the standards may be biased against income and racial diversity. Cincinnati-based Macy’s stocks plunged last week, alongside other Cincinnati stocks and the rest of the market. Renowned “Star Trek” actor George Takei will lead Cincinnati in the Chicken Dance at Oktoberfest this year. Ancient Egyptian jewelry was made from meteorites.
 
 
by German Lopez 08.19.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Government at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
qualls

Qualls Calls for More Government Transparency

Disclosure and reporting requirements haven’t been updated since 1997

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls today unveiled a motion that calls for the first expansion of local disclosure and reporting requirements since 1997 that would impose new rules on city officials, lobbyists and contractors and task the city administration with posting the disclosed information on the city’s website. Qualls said the proposal is particularly timely as the Metropolitan Sewer District begins working on a federally mandated $3.2 billion, 15-year revamp of the city’s sewer system. That project will presumably involve a bevy of lobbyists as businesses rush to grab lucrative contracts granted by city officials. “For citizens to have confidence that their government is working on their behalf, it must be transparent,” Qualls said in a statement. “Sadly, it often takes a scandal to make these kinds of reforms happen. The good news is that we can take these responsible steps now to instill safeguards and promote integrity and accountability through a healthy dose of sunshine.” Qualls claims the updates would be particularly prudent given the rise of the Internet in the past 16 years. “Technology has brought us into the age of the Internet,” she said in a statement. “The public has heightened expectations for ready, convenient access to information about the decisions of their elected leaders.” The motion asks for various new rules, including clarifications for current requirements, greater protections for whistleblowers, a two-year restriction on becoming a local lobbyist after leaving public office and a requirement that city officials make known through writing their potential conflicts of interest when they recuse themselves from votes. If the motion is approved by City Council, the city administration would be required to present the formal ordinance that would take up the proposed measures. The proposal comes in light of scandals in Chicago, San Antonio, Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, that led to changes in those local governments. In July, Cincinnati’s government was mired in its own controversy after the city administration withheld a memo that criticized the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. Qualls, a Democrat who’s running for mayor, sent out the motion just a few days after John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, announced his innovation plan, which calls for greater government efficiency and transparency.
 
 

Healthy Discussion

Study: Consumers need more options for accessing health care information and costs

0 Comments · Wednesday, April 10, 2013
In Cincinnati, an ankle MRI can range in price from $367.46 to $2,865.42 — a variation that is leading some companies to specialize in bringing transparency to the health care market.   
by Andy Brownfield 10.26.2012
 
 
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Ohio Could See Ethics Overhaul

State Senate President wants to see legislation focusing on disclosure, transparency

The Ohio State Senate’s top Republican wants to beef up ethics laws for state lawmakers. Senate President Tom Niehaus tells The Columbus Dispatch that he plans on rolling out a new ethics bill within a few weeks. He didn’t offer specifics on what it would cover, but said disclosure and transparency would be the main themes. Ohio’s ethics laws governing the relationship between public officials and lobbyists haven’t seen significant updates in more than 17 years. Niehaus told the newspaper he wants to see lawmakers vote on it before his legislative career ends this year. The last major overhaul of Ohio ethics laws came in 1994, when the legislature banned public officials from receiving money to appear at dinners and receptions and required disclosure of all gifts costing more than $25. The law also banned gifts costing more than $75, but oftentimes lobbyists will split up more expensive gifts among a number of lobbyists.
 
 

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