by German Lopez
Incoming assistant city manager eligible to receive pay and pension benefits
Mayor John Cranley told CityBeat Friday that he's still troubled by the practice of "double dipping," but he said the incoming assistant city manager is only eligible to receive a salary and pension benefits because of policy set by City Council.Bill Moller will be rehired by the city in February to fill in as assistant city manager. Because Moller is a city retiree, he'll be eligible to draw a city salary ($147,000 a year) and pension benefits.The concern: Allowing city workers to double dip, or tap into both a
salary and pension benefits, could encourage the kinds of abuse
already seen in other municipalities, where public workers can reach eligibility for
maximum pension benefits, retire one day and get rehired the next day to effectively receive both a salary and pension. The extra cost — effectively a double payout for city retirees who are rehired — could further strain Cincinnati's structurally imbalanced operating budget.On the campaign trail, Cranley called double dipping "abusive" after City Council repealed a ban on the practice so the administration could hire John Deatrick, a city retiree, to lead the $132.8 million streetcar project.Cranley said he will sign any legislation reinstating the ban on double dipping. As a council member, Cranley
supported the ban when it was originally instated in 2008.Under the previous ban, city retirees rejoining the administration would need to temporarily forfeit pension benefits or face substantial limits on salaries and health benefits.Despite his opposition to double dipping, Cranley cautioned that he still supports Moller's hire."Obviously I like Bill Moller," he said. "But the city manager is working within current policy."The city administration on Tuesday justified Moller's hire by pointing to his previous budget and finance experience in Cincinnati, Hamilton and Covington."At this point in time, Cincinnati needs not only someone
who is proficient in all aspects of municipal finance, but in the
aspects of the city of Cincinnati’s finances in particular. Mr. Moller
has that experience," wrote Interim City Manager Scott Stiles in a memo.It remains unclear whether a ban on double dipping would influence Moller's decision to return to the city administration.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:25 PM | Permalink
Constitutional amendment could appear on November ballot
State Rep. Alicia Reece and other activists are mobilizing a campaign to get a "Voter Bill of Rights" on the Ohio ballot this November.If approved by voters, the constitutional amendment would preserve the 35-day early voting period, expand early voting hours, allow voters to cast a provisional ballot anywhere in a given county, advance online voter registration and effectively prevent legislators from passing stricter voter ID laws in the future.But before it ends up on the ballot, supporters will need to gather 1,000 petition signatures to get the initiative in front of the attorney general and collect 385,247 total signatures by July 2 to file the petition to the secretary of state.The Democrat-backed amendment is in direct response to attempts by Republicans, including Secretary of State Jon Husted and Gov. John Kasich, to shorten Ohio's early voting period and otherwise restrict access to the ballot.A bill currently working through the Ohio legislature would trim the early voting period from 35 to 29 days and effectively end the "Golden Week" in which voters can register to vote
and file a ballot on the same day. It's expected Kasich and Republican legislators will approve the bill.Republicans say the limits are supposed to prevent voter fraud and establish uniform voting standards across the state. Otherwise, some counties might establish longer early voting hours than others.But some Republicans acknowledge that restrictions on early voting could suppress constituents that typically elect Democrats, obviously to Republicans' advantage."I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process
to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout
machine," wrote Doug Preisse, close adviser to Kasich, in a 2012 email to The Columbus Dispatch.The constitutional amendment could also help address concerns raised last year when the U.S. Supreme Court repealed parts of the Voting Rights Act that allowed the federal government to better regulate state-level restrictions on voting.In response to some of the concerns, Democratic candidates plan to hold a voting rights forum in Cincinnati on Martin Luther King Jr. Day next Monday. Attorney general candidate David Pepper, secretary of state candidate Nina Turner and state auditor candidate John Carney are scheduled to attend.The Voter's Bill of Rights:
by German Lopez
Troubled execution draws critics, activists push voters' rights, Preschool Promise needs help
A condemned Ohio killer took more than 20 minutes to die in an execution carried out yesterday with a combination of drugs never tried before in the United States. The execution was one of the longest since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. Throughout the nearly 25 minutes that Dennis McGuire took to die, he reportedly gasped and loudly snorted as family members and reporters watched. McGuire's attorney called the execution "a failed, agonizing experiment" and added, "The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names." The new execution method was adopted after the previous drug's supplies ran out because a manufacturer declared it off limits for state-sanctioned kills.In response to the troubled execution, the family plans to file a lawsuit. Ohioans to Stop Executions also called for a moratorium on the death penalty.State Rep. Alicia Reece and other activists are pushing a Voter Bill of Rights that could end up in front of Ohio voters in November. If approved by voters, the constitutional amendment would preserve the 35-day early voting period, expand early voting hours, allow voters to cast a provisional ballot anywhere in the county and advance online voter registration. Many of those measures are controversial to Republicans, who have repeatedly tried to limit early voting in the past couple years. But to get the amendment on the ballot, activists will need to wade through the long, costly process of gathering roughly 385,000 eligible signatures by July 2.Commentary: "Republicans Continue Hindering Access to the Ballot."Cincinnati's campaign for universal preschool is looking for volunteers to help raise awareness and shape the final proposal. The big question is how tuition credits for local families, particularly low-income parents, would be funded under the proposal. Despite the remaining questions, voters could vote on the initiative in November. CityBeat covered the Preschool Promise in greater detail here.The National Weather Service called a Winter Weather Advisory
for most of the Cincinnati area until 4 p.m. today. Drivers should
expect reduced visibility and one or two inches of snow, mostly before
noon.As expected, Ohio officials appealed a ruling that forces the state to acknowledge same-sex marriages on death certificates.The University of Cincinnati is spending more than $500,000 this year on
lights, cameras and off-duty patrols, among other measures, to address continuing concerns about violent crimes around campus.
But some students and parents say the school should pursue more
aggressive efforts, such as selling anti-crime tools in the campus
bookstore.Greater Cincinnati Water Works reopened local intakes along the Ohio River after the W. Va. chemical spill passed yesterday.Cincinnati officials admit yesterday that a pile of old road salt should have been used before other supplies, but the city says it will use the remaining pile before purchasing more salt. Councilman Charlie Winburn raised questions about the salt after he discovered the $316,000 pile.Cincinnati ranked fifth for number of bedbug treatments in 2013.More than 50,000 employees will get job training through the second round of the Ohio Incumbent Workforce Training Voucher Program, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency.Extreme heat forced authorities to suspend the Australian Open for more than four hours yesterday and caused one athlete to hallucinate images of Snoopy.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
City appears ready to pause streetcar project
3 Comments · Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City
Council appear ready to halt Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar
project on Dec. 4.
by German Lopez
New puppy mill laws, Democrats guide council, county proposes sewer compromise
Ohio now bans abusive dog breeding practices that previously earned the state a reputation as one of the laxest for dog breeding rules in the nation. With the
new rules, dog breeders must maintain improved living conditions for the
dogs, including standards for cage size, regular
grooming, veterinary examinations and socialization. The rules earned praise from many animal activists as a step forward, but some say the bill should act as a start that leads to even stronger
regulations.City Council advanced a largely progressive agenda that
moves forward with initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and
inclusion. Specifically, the Democratic majority on council acted as the
foundation in keeping controversial contracting rules for sewer
contracts, continuing support for a permanent supportive housing
facility in Avondale and approving a new study that will look into
potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards
business contracts. With the Democratic coalition seemingly established
on most issues facing the city, it’s now much clearer what direction
council will take the city over the next four years.Hamilton County commissioners yesterday proposed a
compromise with the city over controversial contracting rules for
Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works
projects. Although both sides agree the issue must be resolved soon to
avoid a costly legal battle and allow MSD to carry on with work on a
federally mandated overhaul of the local sewer system, the
Democratic-controlled city and Republican-controlled county have failed
to reach a resolution. Since the county put MSD projects on hold in
protest of the city’s rules, $152 million worth of sewer projects and
649 potential jobs have been put on hold, according to data from
Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the rules.Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach questioned
whether recent personnel changes at City Hall violated the city charter.
The concern is whether Mayor John Cranley pushed Interim City Manager
Scott Stiles to move John Curp from his previous role as city solicitor
to chief counsel of the city’s utilities. Sittenfeld and Seelbach noted
the charter prevents the mayor and council members from interfering with
personnel decisions. But Stiles declined to answer and sidestepped Seelbach and Sittenfeld’s questions.Commentary: “Republicans Continue Hindering Access to the Ballot.”Cincy Bike Share still needs more funds to launch.Cincinnati has the most unhappy employees in the country, according to an analysis by CareerBliss.Ohio Democrats and Republicans have begun a push for a May
6 ballot initiative that would expand state spending on road, bridge,
water, sewer and other local public works projects.Micah Kamrass yesterday filed petition signatures with the
Hamilton County Board of Elections, making him the likely Democratic
candidate to replace State Rep. Connie Pillich, a Democrat, as she runs for state
treasurer. Kamrass will likely face off against Republican Rick Bryan.A condemned Ohio killer will be executed with a new,
never-tried lethal injection method adopted after the state’s previous
drug supplies dried up.Ohio high-school students could receive some school credit
for off-campus religious education attended during regular school
hours, thanks to a new bill passed by the Republican-controlled Ohio
House of Representatives.If damage related to potholes is $10,000 or less, drivers
can file a complaint at the little-known Ohio Court of Claims and get
their money back. In the past five years, reimbursements for more than
1,300 Ohioans cost the state nearly half a million dollars.The secretary of state’s office announced early voting
hours for the upcoming primary election here. If Hamilton County
Commissioner Todd Portune decides to stay in the gubernatorial race and
challenge Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the primary election would decide which Democrat will face off against Republican Gov. Kasich
in November.Most Americans avoided vaccinations during the previous flu
season — a trend experts attribute to increased complacency toward the
virus.University of Cincinnati researchers say they wants to
dispel the belief that drones are only used
to kill.For example, a collapsible, camera-toting drone currently in development could be used just to spy on people.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
More than 40 "Promise Ambassadors" trained so far; goal is 100 by Feb. 17
As the campaign to provide universal preschool in
Cincinnati kicks into gear, organizations involved in the Preschool
Promise are seeking more volunteers to train as “Promise Ambassadors” who will help raise awareness and gather feedback for the proposal.Although there’s no major resistance to universal
preschool at a local level, the big question is how the city will fund
it. Will it take a hike in property or income taxes? Will city and
school funds be involved? Will it rely on philanthropic channels? What
about a mix of all the options?
As an ambassador, volunteers will gather feedback on the big questions facing the campaign and raise awareness on the study-backed benefits of preschool.
“As an ambassador you can engage however you feel
comfortable: hosting house parties, speaking at meetings and events,
organizing community forums or simply helping generate awareness about
the importance of quality preschool for every child in our city,” the
campaign said in a release.
Greg Landsman, executive director of the education-focused
Strive Partnership, said on Facebook that more than 40 ambassadors have
been trained so far. The goal is to train 100 by President’s Day, Feb.
The policy would mirror a program in Denver that provides
tuition credits to families on an income-based sliding scale, so
low-income parents would get the most help while the wealthiest would get the least.
Among other benefits, a study from consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates found the Denver program
gives low- and middle-income families more opportunities to climb the
Landsman previously told CityBeat the measure should end up on the November ballot.
The campaign is offering several training sessions, which can be attended with an RVSP to BooneS@strivepartnership.org:• Jan. 22, 6–7:30 p.m. at 4C for Children, 1924 Dana Ave., Cincinnati.• Jan. 28, 2:30–4 p.m. at 4C for Children, 1924 Dana Ave, Cincinnati.
• Jan. 29, 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m. at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.• Feb. 5, 6–7:30 p.m. at 4C for Children, 1924 Dana Avenue, Cincinnati.• Feb. 6, 2:30–4 p.m. at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.• Feb. 7, 9-10:30 a.m. at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.• Feb. 10, 10:30 a.m.-noon at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.• Feb. 11, 2:30-4 p.m. at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.CityBeat covered the Preschool Promise in greater detail here.
by German Lopez
Democratic majority pushes initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and inclusion
City Council on Wednesday advanced a largely progressive
agenda that moves forward with initiatives aimed at job training,
homelessness and inclusion.
The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new
year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on
Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could
indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on
City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for
Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works
(GCWW) projects.The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements
on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship
programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which
also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden
contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted
MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth
of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman
Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on
Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job
training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the
city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at
the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it
until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have
conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed
they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
continues.Supportive housing project in AvondaleA supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus
Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits
for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility
in Avondale.Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.Supporters point to a study conducted for similar
facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing
facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically
comparable areas.Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that
are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted
Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received
state tax credits for the facility back in June.Disparity study
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look
into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the
city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and
women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should
begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the
disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property
tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost
$500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million
grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income
clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
Puppy Mill Bill finally ends Ohio’s dubious distinction as one of the country’s least regulated states for commercial dog breeding
6 Comments · Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Dog breeders can no longer rely on Ohio to allow their neglectful, irresponsible habits.
by German Lopez
City, county disagree on contracting rules for federally mandated sewer revamp
Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution that seeks a compromise over Cincinnati's controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.Both sides agree the issue must be resolved soon to avoid a costly legal battle and allow MSD to fully continue work on a federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system. But so far the Democrat-controlled city and Republican-controlled county have failed to reach an agreement."We really are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city," said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, who proposed the resolution commissioners approved Wednesday.The county's proposal creates aspirational inclusion goals and funding for local job training programs for MSD and Greater Cincinnati Water Works. The county estimates the resolution will cost $550,000-$700,000 a year.But it remains unclear if the county's measures will satisfy a majority of City Council, which as of December supported its own set of contracting rules.The city rules require contractors to follow stricter standards for apprenticeship programs, which unionized and nonunion businesses use to train workers in crafts, such as electrical work or plumbing. The rules also ask contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help train newcomers in different crafts.With the county proposal approved, commissioners say it's up to the city to make the next move in the dispute.The county's proposal:
by German Lopez
City personnel changes spur backlash, county seeks MSD compromise, judge indicted again
The latest administrative shakeups at City Hall spurred
controversy after the city administration confirmed City Solicitor John
Curp will leave his current position and one of the new hires — Bill
Moller, a city retiree who will become assistant city manager — will be
able to “double dip” on his pension and salary ($147,000 a year). Councilman
P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at today’s council meeting. The hiring decisions are up to Interim City Manager
Scott Stiles, but some council members say they should be more closely
informed and involved. (This paragraph was updated after council members called off the special session.)Hamilton County commissioners plan to vote on a resolution
today that attempts to compromise with City Council on controversial
contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects. Both
the Democrat-controlled city and Republican-controlled county agree the
issue needs to be resolved soon so MSD can get on with a $3.2 billion
sewer revamp mandated by the federal government. But it remains unclear
whether the county’s compromise, which adds some inclusion goals and
funding for training programs, will be enough for City Council. In
December, Democratic council members refused to do away with the city’s
contracting rules, which require MSD contractors to meet stricter job
training standards and programs.Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was
indicted on a ninth felony charge yesterday. The charge — for misusing
her county credit card — comes on top of eight other felony counts for
allegedly backdating court documents and stealing from office. In
response to the first eight charges, the Ohio Supreme Court disqualified
Hunter as she fights the accusations and replaced her with a formerly retired judge, who will be
aided by the juvenile court’s permanent and visiting judges in
addressing Hunter’s expansive backlog of cases.A bipartisan proposal would allow Ohioans to recall any elected official in the state.Duke Energy cut a $400,000 check to the Greater Cincinnati
Port Authority for redevelopment projects at Bond Hill, Roselawn and
Queensgate.Sixty-two people will be dropped from Hamilton County
voter rolls because they didn’t respond to a letter from the board of
elections challenging their voting addresses.It’s official: Democrat Charlie Luken and Republican Ralph
Winkler will face off for the Hamilton County Probate Court judgeship.Facing state cuts to local funding, a Clermont County
village annexed its way to higher revenues. But the village has drawn
controversy for its tactics because it explicitly absorbed only public
property, which isn’t protected from annexation under state law like
private property is.More Ohio inmates earned high school diplomas over the
past three years, putting the state ahead of the national average in
this area, according to a report from the Correctional Institution
Inspection Committee.Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear says he supports legislative
efforts to increase Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 over the next
three years.One Malaysian language describes odors as precisely as English describes colors.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez