by German Lopez
116 days ago
Pension amendment to appear on ballot, city cuts ties with SoMoLend, heartbeat bill returns
A tea party-backed pension amendment yesterday cleared the hurdle of 7,443 petition signatures required to appear on the November ballot. Cincinnati
for Pension Reform, the group behind the amendment, had previously paid
nearly $70,000 to petitioners to gather signatures. The amendment
would privatize pension plans so the city and city employees hired after
January 2014 would contribute to individual retirement accounts that
the employee would then manage by independently selecting investments.
That’s a shift from the current system in which the city pools pension
funds and manages the investments through an independent board. But
unlike private-sector employees, city workers might not qualify for
Social Security, which means they’ll lack the safety net that typically
comes with risky 401k-style plans. If workers do qualify for Social
Security, the city would have to pay into the federal entitlement
program, which would cost the city more money, according to an Aug. 5
report from the city administration.
Cincinnati is cutting ties with SoMoLend,
the local startup that had previously partnered with the city to
connect small businesses and startups with $400,000 in loans. SoMoLend
has been accused of fraud by the Ohio Division of Securities, which says
the local company exaggerated its performance and financial figures
and lacked the proper licenses to operate as a peer-to-peer lending
business. The Division of Securities won’t issue a final order until
after a hearing in October. SoMoLend’s specialty is using crowdfunding
tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders.
Ohio Republicans are considering bringing back the “heartbeat bill,”
the controversial anti-abortion bill that would ban induced abortions
after a heartbeat is detected, which could happen as early as six weeks
into a pregnancy. The bill could be reintroduced next week. That would
come just a couple months after Republican legislators and Gov. John
Kasich approved a slew of anti-abortion measures through the two-year state budget.
The Ohio Senate will today hear testimony
from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio about projections that show
the state could save money if it takes up the Medicaid expansion. As
part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to
include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In
return, the federal government will pay for the expansion for the first
three years and wind down to paying 90 percent of the costs after that.
The Health Policy Institute previously estimated the expansion would
save Ohio roughly $1.8 billion and insure nearly half a million Ohioans in the
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is touting Cincinnati Safe Student Housing,
a website that allows university students to pick from housing options
that passed a free fire inspection. The website was unanimously approved
by City Council following several university students’ deaths to fires,
which council members argue could have been prevented with stronger
The new owner of the former Terrace Plaza Hotel says he will reopen the building as a hotel.
Alan Friedberg, managing principal of the company that bought the
building earlier this year, says the process of bringing back the
building will take a lot of time and work, considering it’s now been
vacant for three years.
Four Greater Cincinnati hospitals have been recognized for protecting the LGBT rights of patients and employees by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation: Bethesda North
Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Cincinnati
Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana in Ohio. DeWine claims the summary for the ballot initiative is untruthful and leaves out various important details.
Mason, a Cincinnati suburb, was ranked one of the top 10 places to live by CNNMoney. Maybe CNN really likes Kings Island.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown was in Cincinnati yesterday to
call on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to expedite processing
on benefit claims. The VA currently has a backlog of 500,000 veterans,
according to a press release from Brown’s office.
Introducing Elon Musk’s Hyperloop,
a proposal for a railway system that would use high-pressure tubes to
shoot passengers around the country. It’s estimated traveling from Los
Angeles to San Francisco, which normally takes about five and a half
hours, would only take 30 minutes in the tubes.
by German Lopez
121 days ago
Council OKs development deals, racial disparity study advances, no MSD compromise yet
City Council met yesterday for the first time since June and passed various development deals
that span six Cincinnati neighborhoods. The deals include a 15-year tax
abatement for the second phase of The Banks, which will produce 305
apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space; several other
apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a
small business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel
Community Center; and a new homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn. The deals are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the
city, which could help meet the high demand for new residential space
City Council also approved a motion
that asks the city administration to begin preparations for a disparity
study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting
policies to favor minority- and women-owned businesses. The motion asks
the administration to either use part of the upfront money from
leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater
Cincinnati Port Authority or find an alternative source of funding. The
study is required because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, which
declared that governments must prove there’s racial or gender-based
disparity before changing policies to favor such groups. Since the city
disbanded its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999,
contract participation rates have plummeted for minority-owned
businesses and remained relatively flat for women-owned businesses.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials still have not reached a compromise
on several local hiring and bidding policies for the Metropolitan Sewer
District (MSD), which is owned by the county but run by the city. A
moratorium on the controversial city policies expired on Aug. 1,
prompting county commissioners to block an upcoming MSD project in a
vote Wednesday. Councilman Chris Seelbach told WVXU that those working on a compromise just need a little more time, but he’s confident they’ll
be able to reach an agreement. City Council passed hiring and bidding
rules in May this year and June 2012 that require MSD contractors to
meet certain job training requirements that council members say will
lead to more local jobs, but county commissioners argue the standards
are too strenuous and favor unions. CityBeat covered the dispute in further detail here.
State Reps. Connie Pillich and Denise Driehaus of
Cincinnati will hold a press conference today asking Gov. John Kasich to
launch an ethics investigation into JobsOhio, the privatized
development agency. State Democrats have been particularly critical of JobsOhio
since a Dayton Daily News report
found six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial ties to
companies that have taken state aid from the development agency.
Republicans argue that JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature allows it
to expedite deals that bring businesses and jobs to the state, but
Democrats claim the set-up lacks transparency and fosters corruption.
Only one-third of Ohio school levies were approved in a special election Tuesday. Despite an increase in funding in the most recent two-year state budget, state funding to schools has been slashed since Gov. John Kasich took office.
The Charter Committee’s second round of endorsements for
this year’s City Council elections went to Democrats Greg Landsman and
David Mann and Republican Amy Murray. Previous endorsements went to Independents Kevin Flynn and Vanessa White and Democrat Yvette Simpson. The Charter Committee isn’t generally seen as a traditional political party, but it holds a lot of sway in local politics.
The Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino’s monthly revenue for July was higher than it was in June but lower than March. For local and state officials, the trend up is a welcome sign as they hope to tap into the casino for tax revenue.
Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s are facing a boycott for opposing legislation in Texas that would make it easier for women to sue over wage discrimination.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is finding a niche with smaller airlines like Ultimate Air.
An app dubbed “lockout insurance” lets users scan keys then 3-D print them.
by German Lopez
121 days ago
Mayor Mark Mallory praises day's work as "huge day of progress for Cincinnati"
City Council met today for the first time since June and passed several development deals and projects spanning six Cincinnati neighborhoods.The approved deals include a 15-year tax abatement for the second phase
of The Banks, which will produce 305 apartments and 21,000 square feet
of retail space; several other apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a small
business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel Community Center; and a new
homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn.The projects are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the city. That could prove particularly timely for downtown Cincinnati, which is currently struggling to meet high demand from a growing market of aspiring property renters, leasers and buyers."Today is a huge day of progress for Cincinnati," Mayor Mark Mallory
said in the statement. "The momentum has been building in our city for a
while. And now, developers and businesses are lining up to do projects
in the city because they see all of the progress and they want to be a
part of it. This is the vision — our success is leading to more
success."Among the other items, Council passed a motion asking the city administration to look into a disparity study and a resolution condemning a ballot initiative that would change the city's pension program by pushing future public employees into a less generous 401K-style plan.Today's meeting was Council's only full session for July and August, which is why the agenda was so packed. That's irked some council members and critics, who argue Council should be in session for more of the summer."Council has no shortage of issues to consider and challenges to address — this should NOT be our only Council meeting of the summer," tweeted Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld during today's meeting.Council is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 11.
by German Lopez
122 days ago
Council to fund disparity study, pension reform signatures turned in, Goetz House might fall
Six out of nine City Council members signed a motion to use money from the city’s parking lease
to conduct a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and
women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s
contracting policies. Democrats Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Wendell
Young, Chris Seelbach, Pam Thomas and P.G. Sittenfeld signed the motion.
The study, which could cost between $500,000 and $1 million, is
required to change city contracting policies after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that governments must
prove there is a racial or gender-based disparity before changing rules to favor any specific race or gender. CityBeat first covered a disparity study in further detail here. Council members will hold a press conference about the issue at noon today.
Petitioners pushing to reform Cincinnati’s public retirement system with a controversial city charter amendment turned in almost 16,000 signatures to City Hall yesterday.
Of those signatures, 7,443 have to be validated by the Hamilton County
Board of Elections. The plan would put future city workers in individual
retirement accounts similar to 401K plans used in the private sector.
But city officials argue that, unlike private workers, public employees
don’t get Social Security benefits on top of their pensions, which means
public workers could get considerably less retirement money under
the amendment than someone would in the private sector. Supporters of the amendment point to the city’s struggles with properly funding its pension system, which led to a bond rating downgrade from credit rating agency Moody’s. Opponents of the
amendment plan to hold a press conference in front of City Hall at 3
p.m. today or after today’s Council meeting, whichever is later.
A majority of City Council on Tuesday sided with the Windholtz family,
who will now be able to sell and demolish the old Lenhardt’s
restaurant building — also known as the Goetz House — in Clifton
Heights. Only Councilwoman Yvette Simpson sided with community members
who argued that the building should be declared a historical landmark
and preserved. “If I were counting votes, I would go with the community.
There are a whole bunch of you and a very few people named Windholtz,”
Councilman Wendell Young said. “I believe that the courage to do what’s
right this time is to side with the family.”
Election results from yesterday: The Norwood tax levy failed, the Arlington Heights levy failed with a tie vote and the Cleves tax levy passed.
Gov. John Kasich says there’s no need to change oversight over JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that has been mired in controversy in the past few weeks. Most recently, a story in the Dayton Daily News
found six of nine members on the JobsOhio board had direct financial
ties to companies receiving state aid. Republicans argue JobsOhio’s
privatized nature allows it to move quickly with deals that bring in
businesses and jobs to the state, but Democrats say the secretive agency
is too difficult to hold accountable and could be wasting taxpayer
Former Gov. Ted Strickland is calling on Ohioans
to act now and reduce the effects of global warming. Strickland is
apparently siding with the near-unanimous scientific consent that global
warming is real and man-made. Scientists generally want to reduce
carbon and other greenhouse-gas emissions enough so global warming
doesn’t exceed two degrees Celsius,
but the planet is currently on a path to warm by five degrees Celsius.
If that trend continues, there could be devastating effects, including
more drought and other extraordinary weather events.
The second phase of The Banks might include a grocery store.
Procter & Gamble plans to move 50 customer service jobs from Cincinnati to San Jose, Costa Rica.
The house of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who held captive and raped three women for more than a decade, was demolished
today. The neighborhood is still celebrating the capture of Castro, who
was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years last week, but many in the area
are wondering how the man got away with his crimes for so long.
Entrepreneurs were more likely to cause trouble than teenagers, according to a new study.
by German Lopez
128 days ago
History suggests fundraising is not necessarily an indicator of strength
Ex-Councilman John Cranley is outraising Vice Mayor
Roxanne Qualls in the 2013 mayoral race by roughly $124,000. Some are
calling the fundraising lead an important indicator of strength, but the history and research of money in politics show the lead might
not matter much, if at all.
The numbers came in yesterday as political candidates from
around the state filed their finance reports. So far, Cranley has
raised about $472,000, compared to Qualls’ $348,000. Of that money,
Cranley has about $264,000 still in hand, and Qualls has nearly
The disparity is unsurprising to the campaigns. The
Cranley campaign has always said it needs $1 million to win. Qualls,
who’s been polled as the slight favorite, has a tamer goal of $750,000.
The City Council races are similarly sprawled with cash.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is leading the pack with nearly $279,000,
while newcomer Greg Landsman topped challengers and even
some council members with a total raised of $165,000.
Given all the cash pouring into the campaigns, many people
assume it plays a pivotal role. But a look at the history and research
shows fundraising might not matter all that much.
Money clearly didn’t matter in the 2005 mayoral race.
During that campaign, former State Sen. Mark Mallory spent nearly
$380,000. Ex-Councilman David Pepper spent $1.2 million — more than
three times his opponent. Mallory still won the vote 52-48 percent.
In contrast, money might have boosted Sittenfeld to second
place in the 2011 Council races, putting the relatively new challenger
only behind the widely known Qualls. Sittenfeld raised $306,000 for that
campaign, the most out of anyone in the race.
Still, most political science points to money having a
marginal, if any, electoral impact. Jennifer Victor, a political science professor
at George Mason University, explains the research in her blog: “Campaigning may help voters focus their attention (see this), be persuasive in some cases (see this), and help deliver successful message (see this).
Frequently, macro-economic trends are the best predictors of
presidential elections. History tells us that all that money spent by
outsiders may not affect the outcome of the election — because campaigns
(generally) don’t matter (see political science research here, here, and here, for example).”
Instead, political scientists cite other factors as
much more important indicators: economic growth, the direction of the city, state
and country, incumbency or successorship, name likability and
recognition, and political affiliation.The mayoral primary election is Sept. 10, followed by the final election on Nov. 5. The next finance reports are due Oct. 24.[Correction: This story originally said $134,000 when the correct number is $124,000.]
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 31, 2013
City Council might use leftover revenue
from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease to fund a
disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned
businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 31, 2013
A motion proposed by a majority of City
Council on July 30 would use leftover revenue from the previous budget
year to undo cuts to various programs, including human services, parks
and the Health Department.
by German Lopez
129 days ago
More JobsOhio controversy, Council undoing cuts, stadium improvements to cost millions
Six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial
ties to companies that have received tax credits and other help from the
agency and state government, an investigation from Dayton Daily News
discovered. The members are connected in various ways: Some are
employed by the companies, others sit on their boards and a few just own
stocks. The conflicts of interest that could undermine
JobsOhio’s goals. The privatized development agency was established by
Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators to replace the
Ohio Department of Development. Republicans claim JobsOhio’s privatized
nature allows it to move at “the speed of business” when luring
companies to the state. But Democrats argue that the agency is
unaccountable and draining state funds without any clear indication of
where the money is going.
Meanwhile, JobsOhio gave financial aid
to a company that simply shifted jobs from one city to another. The
agency gave Timbertech a 50-percent credit to create 85 jobs in
Wilmington, Ohio. The company is abiding, but it’s simultaneously
closing down a Columbus factory at the loss of 58 jobs.
Cincinnati will end up not laying off any city employees after City Council undoes $4 million in budget cuts
with leftover revenue from the previous budget year. The restorations
will reverse some or all of this year’s cuts to human services, parks,
the Health Department and other city programs. Council members called
the higher-than-projected revenue evidence that Cincinnati’s economic
strategy is working. But the reversals also raise questions about the
city administration’s original claims: When the 2014 budget was first
being considered, Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration said the
city would have to lay off 344 workers, including many cops and
firefighters, to balance the budget without the parking lease.
But without any of the parking money allocated, the city managed to avert all layoffs and undo a bulk of cuts, largely by using better-than-expected revenues from the past budget
Fixing up the Great American Ball Park for the All-Star Game could cost county taxpayers $5 million.
The All-Star costs are just one part of the $27 million taxpayers will
pay to improve stadiums in Hamilton County over the next five years.
Stadiums are often touted by local officials as a way to boost the
economy, but economists and urban planners have found that publicly
funded sports arenas don’t lead to sizable economic growth.
Ohio’s job growth is so slow that it will take nearly five years to recover all the jobs lost during the Great Recession.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is leading fundraising for this year’s Council campaigns.
The Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce is hosting two mayoral debates.
This year’s candidates are Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, ex-Councilman
John Cranley, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble. Qualls and Cranley are
considered the two frontrunners.
The Cincinnati Art Museum is calling on community contributions to finish the second half of its renovations. The museum has raised $2.7 million out of the $6 million it needs.
Red Squirrel, a local restaurant chain, is closing down three of five eateries.
Internet-based psychotherapy apparently works.
by German Lopez
130 days ago
Human services, parks among programs getting funding restorations
A motion proposed by a majority of City Council today would use leftover
revenue from the previous budget year to undo cuts to various programs,
including human services, parks and the Health Department. The restorations mean no city workers will be laid off as a result of the operating budget passed in May. Previously, 60 positions had been cut, but many employees remained in different offices while the budget situation was worked out.
The cuts were previously approved with the 2014 budget
before council members knew final revenue numbers for fiscal year 2013,
which ended June 30. Council had to pass the budget 30 days early
because the city’s use of emergency clauses, which eliminate a waiting
period on passed laws, was being held up in court.
The city ended up with roughly $10 million more revenue
than projected in the past budget year. The Council motion uses nearly
$4 million to undo some of the $20 million in cuts carried out in the
latest budget. The rest of the extra revenue will be held until the city
manager makes further suggestions, but some of that money will likely
be saved for next year’s budget gap, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said at a
Human services funding is getting more than $510,000
restored, putting the program at 0.4 percent of the operating budget.
Cincinnati has historically set a goal of directing 1.5 percent of the
operating budget to human services, which flows through various agencies
that aid low-income and homeless Cincinnatians.
The Health Department is getting the largest restoration
at $900,000, allowing the city to bring back positions affecting junked
vehicles, rodent control, litter and weed response, infant mortality and
Parks will also get back $400,000 out of $1 million that
was cut in the previous budget. Another $312,000 is being used to
restore recreation funding, particularly to keep the Busch Center open.
Other programs getting money back: the Center for Closing
the Health Gap, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Film Commission,
African American Chamber of Commerce, Urban Agriculture Program, Office
of Environmental Quality, Neighborhood Support Fund, Neighborhood
Business District Support Fund, Law Department and funding to 3CDC for
Fountain Square maintenance.
Qualls claimed the higher-than-projected revenues are evidence the city’s economic strategy is so far successful.
“Cincinnati’s strategy of investing in jobs,
neighborhoods, people is working,” she said. “We are seeing an increase
in revenue as a result of investments we are making.”
Qualls also acknowledged that the budget debate has felt
like a “roller coaster” for many citizens. Originally, Mayor Mark Mallory’s
administration claimed it would have to lay off police and firefighters
if the city didn’t lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the
Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. But when the parking lease
was held up in a court challenge, Council managed to pass a budget
without the public safety layoffs. Now, Council is undoing further cuts and moving forward with the parking lease.
After the press conference, Qualls told CityBeat that some of the unused revenue may also be used to finance a disparity study
that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting
policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses.
by German Lopez
130 days ago
City mulling disparity study, Medicaid expansion bill underway, parking hours criticized
City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease
to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and
women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s
contracting policies. The study could cost between $500,000 to $1 million, according to city officials. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court case, the city must carry out the study before it can impose policies that favorably target minorities or women with business contracts. Since the city's last race- and gender-based program was dismantled in 1999, contract participation rates for
minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to
a low of 2.7 percent in 2007, but rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively unchanged. But the numbers could be understating how many minority-owned businesses there are because classifying as one is now voluntary, while it was mandatory in the 1990s.State Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee, says he wants to move on a package of bills that would include the Medicaid expansion by early October. The bills will also tackle other issues, such as how to deal with growing concerns about opiate addiction in Ohio. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the federally funded Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate roughly $1.8 billion for the state in the next year. But Republican legislators in the General Assembly say they're concerned the federal government won't be able to uphold its commitment to the expansion. Recent polling found about 63 percent of Ohioans support expanding Medicaid.East side residents pleaded with Greater Cincinnati Port Authority officials yesterday to reduce enforcement hours for parking meters under the city's controversial parking lease. The plan allows for enforcement until 9 p.m., but residents say it should only go to 6 p.m. to avoid hurting local businesses that might rely on free parking during the evening. The city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then manage the assets through private operators from around the country. The city administration estimates the deal will produce $92 million up front and at least $3 million a year afterward for Cincinnati, which officials plan to use for development projects and to help close budget gaps.Meanwhile, opponents of the parking lease appealed their legal challenge to the Ohio Supreme Court. Opponents argue the lease should be susceptible to voter referendum. The city claims Cincinnati's emergency clause powers allow council members to expedite laws and remove the possibility of referendum altogether. The legal challenge was initially successful in a lower court, but the appeals court ultimately sided with the city. It's unclear whether the Ohio Supreme Court will hear the challenge.Legal experts say it's unclear which, if any, of Ohio's new abortion restrictions could survive a court battle. The anti-abortion measures, which were passed in the state budget by Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich, impose a series of regulatory hurdles that require extra medical procedures prior to getting an abortion and could be used to shut down abortion clinics.An internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report suggests that fracking, an oil- and gas-extraction process, can contaminate underground drinking water. The findings could have implications for Ohio, which is currently undergoing a fracking boom as companies rush to tap into oil and gas reserves in northeastern parts of the state. CityBeat covered Ohio’s fracking boom in further detail here.Councilwoman Pam Thomas and ex-Councilman Cecil Thomas want everyone to know that they have not endorsed anyone for mayor.Ryan Widmer's mother, who gained notoriety for defending Widmer during his three trials, was found dead yesterday. There were no obvious signs of trauma or foul play. Widmer is currently serving 15 years for drowning his wife in a bathtub in 2008.Scientists may have to genetically modify oranges to save them from a deadly disease.