by German Lopez
Streetcar moves forward, sewer compromise hits impasse, Kasich's approval at all-time high
The streetcar project is moving forward
following yesterday’s votes from City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability
measures that will keep the public updated on the project’s progress.
The increased funding fixes the project’s $17.4 million budget gap by
issuing more debt and pulling funding from various capital projects,
including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. The
accountability measures will require the city administration to report
to City Council on the streetcar's progress with a timeline of key
milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing
assessments and monthly progress reports.
At the same committee meeting, council members failed to carry out a repeal of “local hire” and “local preference” laws,
which was part of an earlier announced compromise
between the city and county that would allow work on sewer projects to
continue. At this point, it’s unclear whether the Hamilton County Board of
Commissioners will repeal the funding hold on sewer projects. The
commissioners passed the hold after City Council modified its
“responsible bidder” law in May. The city says the laws encourage local
job creation and training, but the county claims the rules favor unions
and impose extra costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects.
Republican Gov. John Kasich’s approval ratings hit an all-time high of 54 percent
in a new Quinnipiac University poll, helping him hold a 14-point lead
against likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald. “All in all, at this
stage, Kasich has done a pretty good job appealing to voters across the
state,” said Quinnipiac's Peter Brown. “FitzGerald remains pretty much
an unknown to most Ohioans, with only one in four voters knowing enough
about him to have formed an opinion. The election is a long way away,
but the next stage will be the race to define FitzGerald, positively by
the candidate himself and negatively by the Kasich folks.”
The Cincinnati office for the Internal Revenue Service also targeted liberal groups,
particularly those who used the terms “progressive” and “occupy.” The
IRS has been under scrutiny in the past few months for targeting
conservative groups by honing in on terms such as “tea party” and
Ohio gave tax incentives
to four more Cincinnati-area businesses. Overall, 15 projects received
the breaks to supposedly spur $379 million in investment across Ohio.
Miami University banned smoking in cars on campus and raised tuition.
Headline: “Columbus man rips off his penis while high on drugs.”
Here is a history of red panda escapes.
A study found people find others more attractive after getting a shock to the brain.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
, City Council
at 12:49 PM | Permalink
Council member could permanently resign if he wins re-election
Council member Chris Smitherman announced in a statement today that he will leave his post as president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP while he runs for re-election to City Council.If he does win re-election, Smitherman will offer his permanent resignation to the local chapter's executive committee, which can then accept or reject Smitherman's leave.James Clingman, a vice president of the NAACP and founder of the Greater Cincinnati African-American Chamber of Commerce, will take Smitherman's spot for now.Smitherman, City Council's sole Independent, has come under criticism recently to step down from his NAACP post as he runs for office. Others have also criticized Smitherman's involvement with political organizations like the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and his support for Republican City Council candidates — involvement and support that critics argue are too political for the NAACP.A memo titled "Election Year Dos and Don'ts" from the NAACP tells members to avoid partisan, political activity."Although NAACP units are 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations, the national NAACP is a 501(c)(3) organization which is restricted in how it can assist people in registering or getting out to vote. In addition, NAACP policy specifically prohibits units’ engagement in political campaign activity. This means that NAACP units cannot endorse or oppose candidates running for public office, make financial or in-kind contributions to candidates, political parties, or PACs, or engage in other activity that is designed or targeted to influence the outcome of any candidate election," the memo reads.By separating himself from the NAACP, Smitherman can continue his political activities without violating federal and national NAACP rules.
1 Comment · Wednesday, June 12, 2013
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 voters.
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.