by German Lopez
Downtown grocery advances, city pension in trouble, county to investigate “double voters”
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a development plan for Fourth and Race streets to build a downtown grocery store, a luxury apartment tower and a garage that will replace Pogue’s Garage. The project will cost $80 million, with the city paying
$12 million through a five-year forgivable loan and private financing paying for the remaining $68 million. The city’s loan is being financed through urban renewal
funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used
for capital investment projects downtown. The project was originally attached to the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, but the city administration says the urban renewal funds opened up after a hotel-convention center deal collapsed.
The city’s pension fund saw a return of 12 percent in
fiscal year 2012, but the amount of money the city owes and should
contribute to the pension fund continues to go up.
The higher costs will likely force City Council to put more money
toward the pension, which means less money for other services. City Council has underfunded the pension system by varying
degrees since 2003 — a problem that was further exacerbated by the
economic downturn of 2008, which cost the city’s pension fund $102
million. Consultants suggested City Council view the pension fund
as “not being of good health” and make changes that would help make the
pension fund more “robust” and less volatile.As county and state officials move to investigate and potentially prosecute 39 “double voter” cases, local groups are pushing back with warnings that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among voters. Most of the cases cover voters who mailed in an absentee
ballot then showed up to vote on Election Day. Although the voters voted
twice, their votes were only counted once. Critics of the investigations, including Hamilton County Democrats, cite Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2),
which says voters who show up to vote on Election Day after filing an
absentee ballot should be given a provisional ballot. Hamilton County
Republicans say they’re not prejudging anyone and just want an
Following a report that found Ohio’s juvenile correction facilities are among the worst in the nation for rape and other sexual assaults against incarcerated youths, the state is assigning assessors to the facilities to ensure proper protections and improvements are being put in place.The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority is looking to expand its coverage to better market the region. The Port Authority’s plans call for enlisting 18 counties across Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
A derailed train hit a local electrical tower yesterday, temporarily shutting down power for part of the region.
Fatal collisions between cars and trains at public railroad crossings increased in 2012 to the highest level since 2008.
The former Terrace Plaza Hotel was sold, but it’s not clear what will come next for the building.An experimental form of male birth control involves injecting gold into testes and zapping them with infrared light.
Another one of Saturn’s moons may contain an underground ocean.
by German Lopez
Posted In: Voting
at 10:27 AM | Permalink
Critics warn of potential chilling effect
As county and state officials move to investigate and
potentially prosecute voter fraud cases, local groups are pushing back,
warning that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls became the latest to speak out
in a letter to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and Ohio Secretary
of State Jon Husted.
“The current legal investigations perpetuate the idea that
voter fraud is widespread, when it’s not true,” she wrote. “We need to
work together to give citizens the confidence that the election process
is fair and accessible to those who have followed the law and
pre-determined process. When citizens are confused about the process of
voting they are intimidated from exercising their full rights to vote,
which erodes confidence in and the integrity of our democracy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) and
League of Women Voters of Ohio sent similar letters to Husted in the
past few weeks, echoing fears that the investigations will intimidate
voters into staying out of future elections.
The controversy surrounds 39 “double voter” cases recently sent to the county prosecutor by the Hamilton County Board of
Elections. In most of the cases, the voters in question sent in an
absentee ballot prior to Election Day then voted on Election Day through a provisional
ballot, which are given to voters when there’s questions about
eligibility. Even though the voters technically voted
twice, their votes were only counted once.
The letters from Qualls and the League of Women Voters claim
the cases were sent to the county prosecutor based on a narrow
interpretation of state law and other sections of election law back the voters’ actions.
The letters reference Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2),
which says, “If a registered elector appears to vote in that precinct
and that elector has requested an absent voter's ballot for that
election and the director has received a sealed identification envelope
purporting to contain that elector's voted absent voter's ballots for
that election, the elector shall be permitted to cast a provisional
ballot under section 3505.181 of the Revised Code in that precinct on the day of that election.” The law goes on to clarify only one of the votes should be counted.
Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of
Elections on May 31, siding with the Republicans on the board who wanted
to send the case to the county prosecutor.
Alex Triantafilou, an elections board member and chairman
of the Hamilton County Republican Party, says Republicans just want an investigation.
“I think anytime a person casts two ballots we ought to
ask why,” Triantafilou says. “This is not to prejudge any of these cases
as criminal charges. That’s not been our intention. What we want is a
qualified investigator to ask the question and then answer it.”
Tim Burke, chairman of the local elections board and the
Hamilton County Democratic Party, disagrees: “This is a damn shame.
What’s happening to those voters is absolutely wrong.”
Burke claims the law was followed and no further investigation is necessary. He alleges
Republicans are trying to suppress voters.
“I fear that what’s going on is that elements of the
Republican Party want to create the impression that there is massive
voter fraud going on, and they want to scare the hell out of people to
intimidate them and discourage them from voting in the future,” Burke
says. “I think part of what’s going on here is an effort to identify
voter fraud in order to justify more restrictions on voting rights.”
Triantafilou argues Democrats, including Burke, are
playing politics: “It’s a continuation of the kind of fear that
Democrats try to instill in the electorate, and it’s a political weapon.
We’re not trying to do that. They alleged voter suppression in the last
election cycle. That was nonsensical. The problem really is fraud.”
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:29 PM | Permalink
Campaign event could violate state law
Update (June 5, 11:20 p.m.): Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns didn't hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday, instead admitting to multiple media outlets that he was misleading the public to raise awareness of his campaign and marijuana legalization platform. Berns handed out tomato plants instead, which look similar to marijuana plants.In perhaps an act of civil disobedience, Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is planning to hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday.But the event could run foul of state law for both Berns and attendees. Ohio law prohibits obtaining, possessing or using a controlled substance — a category that includes marijuana.The event will take place at the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Clifton Avenue on Wednesday at 5 p.m."If you want one of the plants I suggest you get there early," Berns said in a statement.In this year's mayoral race, Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally considered the top contenders, although neither candidate has received an official endorsement from the local Democratic Party.Berns has differentiated himself from the frontrunners by pushing marijuana legalization in his platform. Drug prohibition laws are generally dictated at state and federal levels, but city governments can legalize or decriminalize certain drugs and force police departments to give the issue lower priority.Marijuana is already decriminalized in Ohio. Cincinnati re-criminalized the drug in 2006, but the drug was decriminalized through a city budget passed in 2010.Some groups are attempting to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio. CityBeat covered those efforts in further detail here.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed
FitzGerald on May 31 called on Republican Gov. John Kasich to veto a
bill that would prevent State Auditor Dave Yost from fully auditing
by German Lopez
FitzGerald calls on Kasich to veto bill
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is calling on Republican Gov. John Kasich to veto a bill that would prevent State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, from fully auditing JobsOhio, following months of controversy surrounding the private nonprofit entity."I further encourage the Governor to return to
negotiations with Auditor Yost, with the explicit goal of establishing
an open and transparent process by which the people of Ohio can be sure
JobsOhio is spending our tax dollars efficiently, and that the program
is doing what it is supposed to be doing: creating Ohio jobs,"
FitzGerald said in a statement. "The people’s money is the people’s
business, and this bill, which slams shut the door on accountability, is
simply unacceptable."Yost claims he can audit JobsOhio's liquor profits, which add up to $100 million a year, and private funds, such as donations.But the bill effectively defines JobsOhio's liquor profits as private funds that can't be audited by the state
auditor. Under the proposal, Yost could only audit liquor profits and excise taxes that JobsOhio owes to the state, with all other funds effectively deemed private.
JobsOhio was established by Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The agency's liquor profits come from a lease deal with the
state to run Ohio's liquor operations. Yost argues the liquor profits are
intrinsically public money because the money would be in public hands if JobsOhio wasn't handling
operations.But other Republicans, led by Kasich, say
opening JobsOhio to full audits would slow down the agency, hindering its
ability to quickly react to economic changes and tides. Kasich has often said the private nature of JobsOhio allows it to move at the "speed of business," which he claims fosters stronger economic development in Ohio.Democrats have pushed back against the notion, saying JobsOhio's private nature only makes it more difficult to hold the state government accountable. With the latest bill, Democrats, who have now taken to dubbing the agency "RobsOhio," say their concerns are being vindicated.But the bill could have far-reaching effects beyond JobsOhio that would effectively disallow the state auditor to audit privately funded accounts in any institution that receives public funding.Despite Yost's pleas to involve him in the process, the auditing bill was passed through the Ohio House and Senate in just two days without his input.Democrats were quick to criticize the bill, asking what JobsOhio has to hide.Kasich is expected to sign the bill to make it law.JobsOhio isn't the only privatization scheme pushed by Kasich. He also sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, a northeastern Ohio prison, to the Corrections Corporation of America. So far, inmate reports and inspections have largely found deplorable conditions at the Lake Erie facility ("From the Inside," issue of May 29).
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 09:14 AM | Permalink
Measure may limit voting, city tops LEED certified buildings, Medicaid could be on ballot
Today is primary election day in Ohio, but there are no
ballot items in Cincinnati. Some Hamilton County precincts outside the
city have ballot issues, which are listed here. Polls will be open between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
An amendment snuck into the budget bill approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio House would force universities to decide
between providing the proper documentation for voting to out-of-state
students or getting extra money from out-of-state tuition rates,
prompting concerns from Democrats that Republicans are attempting to
limit voting opportunities once again. Republicans spent a bulk of the
lead-up to the 2012 election approving measures that limit voting,
including a later-repealed set of laws that greatly reduced early voting
About 82 percent of all Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings in Ohio are in
Cincinnati, and the reason is likely local tax incentives,
which allow Cincinnatians to eliminate property taxes for up to
15 years by retrofitting businesses and homes in an environmentally
friendly manner. CityBeat covered Cincinnati’s successes in solar energy here and FirstEnergy’s campaign to weaken Ohio’s energy efficiency standards here.
If legislators fail to take up the Medicaid expansion, the issue could appear on the ballot
on November 2014. Supporters of the expansion, including Gov. John
Kasich, say the expansion will help insure hundreds of thousands of
Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade, but Republican
legislators say they’re concerned the federal funds backing the
expansion will eventually dry up. CityBeat covered the Ohio House budget bill, which effectively rejected the expansion for the time being, here.
The Ohio Department of Transportation says 2,230 bridges in the state need repairs, but there’s not enough funding to make it happen.
Ohio banks are warning of possible cyberattacks
that could happen today. The Ohio Bankers League and the Ohio Credit
Union League said the attacks would impact online services but not the
security of customers’ bank accounts.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has the second highest airfares in the nation, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble was ranked No. 7 in a ranking for top 50 most diverse companies by DiverseInc.
Sometimes human brains make people do bad things, such as enjoying high-calorie foods even when the foods aren’t delicious.
by German Lopez
Ohio may allow open containers, Medicaid may be on ballot, pollution afflicts region
State Sen. Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati Democrat, introduced a bill
in the Ohio Senate yesterday that would allow opened alcoholic
beverages in “entertainment districts,” which must have populations of more than
50,000 within one-half mile by one-half mile. Kearney said Over-the-Rhine
would be an ideal benefactor of the new bill. “Senate Bill 116 will
promote tourism and business development across the state,” Kearney said
in a statement. “By modifying Ohio’s law, this will provide an
opportunity for developments such as the Over-the-Rhine Gateway in
Cincinnati and The Flats in Cleveland to create an entertainment
experience and attract more customers.”
Supporters of the Medicaid expansion say they may attempt to put the issue on the November ballot
if the Ohio General Assembly fails to take action by fall. Republicans
in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate have so far rejected Gov. John
Kasich’s pleas for an expansion, instead moving toward asking the federal government for a Medicaid waiver
that would allow the state to make broader
reforms. At least 90 percent of the expansion would be funded by the
federal government. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion and other aspects of the Ohio House budget bill in further detail here.
The Greater Cincinnati region and Hamilton County ranked among the worst in the nation
in the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report.
The report, which used 2009-2011 U.S. EPA data, found Greater Cincinnati
to be No. 10 worst for year-round particle pollution and No. 14 for
ozone pollution. Still, the report did find overall improvement around
the nation, with Greater Cincinnati making some advances in pollution
reduction in the past few decades.
A new Ohio law going into effect today will require school coaches to acquire additional concussion awareness training.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross says the
training will make it easier for coaches to identify symptoms of
concussions and get help for students.
A University of Cincinnati study found it could be cost-effective to screen at-risk populations for hepatitis C.
A vegetarian lifestyle may fit some of CityBeat’s most beautiful employees, but Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble says pets need a more expansive diet.
Not only do they have multiple cultural traditions, but humpback whales also learn new tricks by watching their friends.
by German Lopez
Board of Elections looking into anonymous video, but no formal challenge filed
A YouTube video
posted Sunday suggests that some of the parking plan referendum petition
signatures might have been gathered without a legitimate witness, but city
and county officials are so far unsure whether the video, which was posted anonymously, will amount to
much.Under Ohio law, petitions require signatures from both a supporter, who must reside in Cincinnati in the case of parking petitions, and a witness, who must be an Ohio resident and witness the act of someone signing the petition. The video shows what seems to be parking petitions placed on business counters with limited supervision — potential evidence that some of the parking petitions were signed without a witness present.
Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic
Party and Hamilton County Board of Elections, says the Board of
Elections is currently looking into what process needs to be followed as a result of the video.
Traditionally, Burke says, someone has to file a challenge,
which would then be investigated by the board. At that point, the board
would rely on subpoenas to get testimony from witnesses to determine
whether their petitions were valid.
“Under oath, circulators are likely to tell us the truth,”
Burke says. “Did you witness all the signatures on that parking petition? If he says no or she says no, ... then none of those
signatures are valid.”But Burke says it’s so far unclear whether that process will happen.
“The video is interesting, but it doesn’t prove anything,”
he says. “Any challenger would have to link each one of those shots in
the video to specific petitions that were signed by the circulator of
the petition that was on those counters.”
Even if someone did bring a challenge, it would
require nearly 4,000 invalid signatures to halt the parking plan referendum effort.
Yesterday, the Board of Elections announced the referendum effort had
gathered 12,446 valid signatures — considerably more than the 8,522
“Because they are so far over, there’s going to have to be
more evidence by any petitioner that there are problems well beyond
those five or six sights shown in the video,” Burke says.Circulators who mishandled the process would
not face charges; instead, the signatures would simply be
discarded, according to Burke.
City Solicitor John Curp says the city’s law department is
taking “no side on whether there’s a vote,” and the city administration
has not taken action based on the video.
Curp says he would like to confirm whether those are parking petitions and if the video is factual in its presentation.
“If those were parking petitions, that was certainly troubling,” he says. “I hope this gets worked out in a timely manner.”
The parking plan would lease the city’s parking assets to
the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to help balance the city’s
operating budget deficits for the next two years and fund development
projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
Opponents say they’re concerned the plan will lead to
higher parking rates and extended hours that will hurt the local
economy. With 12,466 valid signatures, their referendum effort is
expected to culminate in a vote this November.
City officials previously warned that without the parking plan the city will have to lay off cops and firefighters.
The full video is embedded below:
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 09:00 AM | Permalink
House budget bill may suppress student voters, tax plan favors wealthy, police chief may go
An amendment in the Ohio House budget bill last week would make it so universities have to decide
between providing voting information to students or retaining millions
of dollars in out-of-state tuition money. The amendment would make it so
universities have to classify students as in-state — a classification
that means lower tuition rates — when providing documents necessary for
voting. Republicans claim the measure is “common sense” because anyone
voting for Ohio’s elections should be an Ohio resident. But the
amendment has provoked criticism from Democrats and universities alike,
who say universities are being thrown into the middle of a voter
An analysis from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio found
the tax plan currently working through the Republican-controlled Ohio
legislature favors the wealthy.
The analysis also claimed there’s little evidence the across-the-board
tax cuts suggested would significantly help Ohio’s economy.
The plan still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio
Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Council members are asking Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to remain in Cincinnati
instead of taking a job in Detroit, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.
didn’t seem convinced that much can be done. Dohoney said Craig’s
hometown is Detroit, a city that has suffered in recent years as the
local economy has rapidly declined.
Democratic Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is running for governor, and he will make Cincinnati one of his first stops
for his campaign kick-off tour. FitzGerald is challenging Republican
Gov. John Kasich in 2014, who has held the governor’s office since 2010. A recent poll found Kasich in a comfortable position with a nine-point lead on
FitzGerald, but many respondents said they don’t know enough about
FitzGerald to have an opinion on him.
Greater Cincinnati home sales hit a six-year high in March,
with 2,190 homes sold. The strong housing market, which is recovering
from a near collapse in 2008, is widely considered by economists to be a
good sign for the overall economy.
But Ohio’s venture capital investments dropped to a two-year low, according to data from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.
The Ohio EPA and Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District are partnering up to provide a $250,000 grant to help purchase equipment to screen, clean and sort glass — an important part of the recycling industry.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Cincinnatians to
forgo lunch on April 24 to take part in the Greater Cincinnati Day of
Fasting. The event will let participants “experience a small measure
of the hunger that is a part of many people’s daily lives,” according to
a press release from Sittenfeld’s office. Participants are also being
asked to donate money to the Freestore Foodbank. A ceremony for the
event will be held on April 24 at noon in Fountain Square.
The U.S. Senate is moving toward approving bill that would allow states to better enforce and collect online sales taxes.
Mars One is calling all applicants for a mission to colonize Mars in 2023.
The sport of the future is here: combat juggling:
by German Lopez
Streetcar construction bids come over budget
The latest batch of bad streetcar news provoked a harsh
memo to the city manager’s office from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who has long supported the $125
million transit project. In the memo, Qualls wrote about “serious
concerns” regarding the project’s costs and timetable.
“Whether people support or oppose the streetcar project,
everyone has a vested interest in getting the most for our public
dollars and in having the highest confidence in the management of the
project,” Qualls wrote. “While a council majority has continued to
support the project, council has not given the administration a ‘blank
The memo suggested putting the streetcar project through
“intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in
line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major
League Baseball All-Star Game.
The memo is in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over
budget. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the bids leave the city with
two options: The city could take up the current bids, which could have their costs brought down upon further review, or the city could reject the
bids and rebid the project, which would cause delays. But Olberding also cautions that the administration is still working on fully reviewing the bids — a process that could take weeks or longer.
Qualls is running for mayor against John Cranley, a former
Democratic council member. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of the
streetcar project — creating a strong contrast between the two candidates that has placed the streetcar
in the center of the 2013 mayoral race.
Earlier today, Cranley held a press conference asking the
city to halt the streetcar project. In a statement, he argued it is “irresponsible” to continue work on the streetcar in light of the higher
CityBeat previously covered the streetcar and how it relates to the race between Qualls and Cranley (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).