by German Lopez
10 days ago
Police chief leaving to Detroit, council scrutinizes streetcar, Anna Louise Inn sold
The city confirmed today that Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig
will be leaving Cincinnati to take a job in Detroit. During Craig’s
time, the city experienced a significant drop in crime. City officials praised Craig for his attempts to forge better ties between the
Cincinnati Police Department and local communities, particularly by establishing
the External Advisory Committee, a group of active local
community members and business leaders that gives advice on the police department’s policies and procedures. City Manager
Milton Dohoney Jr. said the city will begin a nationwide search for
Craig’s replacement tomorrow.
Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) is selling the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern for $4 million,
and CUB will be relocating the Inn’s services to Mount Auburn. Many Anna Louise Inn
supporters are taking the sale as a sign Western & Southern won,
while others are glad the extensive legal battles are finally over. The
sale came after years of Western & Southern obstructing the planned renovations for the Anna Louise
Inn through court battles and other legal challenges, which CityBeat covered here. In a Q&A with The Cincinnati Enquirer,
Western & Southern CEO John Barrett reflected on the events, saying
his company took the “high road” throughout the controversy — a claim many Anna Louise Inn supporters dispute.
City Council grilled Dohoney
yesterday over fixing the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and
whether paying for the cost overruns to save the project is worth it.
Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that touted
the streetcar project’s return on investment, which was further
supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies
from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati.
Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much and the project,
which now stands at $133 million, is too expensive. A final decision is
expected by the end of May. The streetcar project’s funding comes from
the capital budget, which can’t be used to fix the city’s $35 million
operating budget deficit because of limits established in state law.
The city and county governments are clashing over the city’s hiring policies
for companies bidding on the Metropolitan Sewer District’s (MSD)
construction projects. The city’s laws require construction
firms to have apprenticeship programs, which the city says promotes job
training on top of employment. But the Hamilton County Board of
Commissioners claims the requirements aren’t feasible and put too much
of a strain on companies. Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune
questioned why the city’s policy only applies to MSD and not other local
The Duke Energy Garden is the latest addition to the Smale Riverfront Park.
A Catholic teacher union will not support Carla Hale,
a gay Columbus-area teacher who was fired after she named her
girlfriend in an obituary for her mother. Hale says she was fired over
her sexuality, but the Catholic Church says she was fired for revealing a
“quasi-spousal relationship” outside of marriage. The Catholic Church
opposes same-sex marriage, which means all gay couples are in a
non-marital relationship under the Church’s desired policies.The Internal Revenue Service scandal, which involves IRS officials unfairly scrutinizing conservative groups, is now nationwide. Previous reports pinned the practice on a Cincinnati field office, but numerous IRS offices around the country, including one in Washington, D.C., were found to be guilty of the practice in documents acquired by The Washington Post.
Headline from The Columbus Dispatch: “Man who killed wife, then self: ‘I couldn’t take her mouth anymore.’”
The brain catches grammar errors even when a person doesn’t realize it.
by German Lopez
11 days ago
City manager, council members discuss streetcar funding
At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting today, City
Council members grilled City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on how the city
will fix the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether
paying for the cost overrun to save the project is worth it.
Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments
that suggested the streetcar will provide the city with a large return on investment, which was
supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting
firm, and the University of Cincinnati (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much, and
the project, which the city manager said now stands at an estimated $132 million to $133 million, is
In a memo issued April 30, Dohoney recommended various capital funding sources
to fix the streetcar budget gap, including a temporary reallocation of
Music Hall renovation funds and money that would have otherwise gone to infrastructure projects around the
Dohoney clarified that funding for Music Hall is not being
permanently pulled; instead, his recommendations would delay Music Hall funding
until 2016, which is when the Music Hall project will need the funds, and use currently allocated funding on the streetcar project.
Dohoney added that Otto Budig, president of the Music Hall
Revitalization Company, raised no concerns about the streetcar plan
after it was explained to him.
Dohoney also clarified that his recommendations would not raise taxes.
A few council members, particularly Councilman Chris
Seelbach, asked whether the streetcar project could face future cost
overruns. Dohoney said it’s possible, based on the project’s scope.
“For major projects like this … there is usually an
anticipation that something other than the exact plan may occur
somewhere along the line,” Dohoney said.
For the streetcar project, there are a few remaining uncertainties. Dohoney said he doesn’t know for certain whether Messer
Construction, which responded to the city’s bid process with the lowest construction bid, is still willing
to contract with the city under the terms it previously offered. He said Messer officials have indicated they are still interested, but it remains an uncertainty until a contract is in place.
Another uncertainty is exactly how much laying down the
tracks will cost. Dohoney said it won’t be possible to gauge the exact
cost until Messer or any other company contracts with the city and
begins actual work on the project.
But for those situations, Dohoney said the streetcar project has a $10 million contingency fund available, as required by the federal government.
Councilman Chris Smitherman, who opposes the streetcar project, asked whether there’s a
funding ceiling that, if breached, would make Dohoney stop supporting
the streetcar project. Dohoney said he could not provide a number
without further thought and analysis. When Smitherman later asked if the streetcar
should be built at any cost, Dohoney said no.
When asked what would happen if the project’s cost overruns were not covered, Dohoney said the project would effectively end.
Smitherman asked how the city administration can be
pushing forward with the project, given the cost overruns: “How is the
administration continuing to move forward with a project that without a
vote of council is dead?”
Dohoney responded by saying the city administration does not have to stop by law until it is directed to do so by City Council.
Ending the project would come with its own costs of about
$72 million, according to Dohoney: $19.7 million that was already spent,
$14.2 million in close-out costs and $38.1 million in federal grants
that would have to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney said stopping would also make the federal government reluctant about working with Cincinnati in the future: “They’ve let us know they would not be pleased if we did it.”The city administration is currently working with the federal government to obtain another $5 million that could be used for contingency or to undo some of the overrun fixes being looked at, but federal officials are waiting to see how the city government reacts to the current cost overrun problems before a decision is made, according to Dohoney.
Much of the City Council discussion focused on the streetcar’s merits,
particularly whether the first phase of the project, which would run
from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, could be successful on its own. The
city plans to eventually expand the route to the University of
Cincinnati and hospitals uptown — a route originally part of the first phase of the streetcar project that was cut after Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state-distributed federal funding in 2011.
“If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from
The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said
it's a project worth doing,” Dohoney said. “The intention has always
been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go
But Dohoney later clarified that the first phase of the
project would help invigorate hundreds of vacant lots and buildings in
Over-the-Rhine, which he said would make that phase of the project a
success by itself.
Some opponents of the streetcar have incorrectly attempted
to tie the streetcar project to the city’s $35 million operating budget
deficit, which will likely be closed in part by laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees.
But the streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget,
which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits
established in state law.
by German Lopez
11 days ago
Council to discuss streetcar, bills would protect LGBT, CPS to prevent data scrubbing
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee is set to discuss the plan to close the streetcar budget gap today, which was proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.
on April 30. The plan borrows funding from various capital funding
sources, including a temporary reallocation of Music Hall funds and
money from infrastructure projects surrounding the Horseshoe Casino.
None of the funding pulled can be used to balance the city’s $35 million
operating budget deficit, which is leading to cop and firefighter layoffs, because of limits established in state law
between capital budgets and operating budgets.
A group of bipartisan Ohio legislators proposed bills in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate that would change the state’s anti-discrimination law
to cover gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. The
measures would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the
state’s anti-discrimination law, joining 21 other states and the
District of Columbia, which already have similar laws.The bills have to
be approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Republican
Gov. John Kasich to become law.
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is making changes to prevent attendance data scrubbing following an audit in February
that criticized CPS for the practice. The school district says internal
investigations found no employees intentionally scrubbed data, but the
changes being made should help prevent further problems in the future. The
state auditor’s February report seemed to blame state policy over
individual school districts for the findings. Attendance data scrubbing
can make schools look much better in state reports, which could lead to
increased funds or less regulatory scrutiny from the state.
An audit revealed that the IRS targeted tea party groups
that were critical of government and attempted to educate people on the
U.S. Constitution. The extra scrutiny originated at a
Cincinnati field office.
Most Ohio public university presidents are paid more than the nationwide median salary for the job.
The two brothers of the Cleveland man accused of holding three women captive for about a decade say they have no sympathy for him. One of them called his brother a “monster.”
Ohio gas prices are down this week.
A new study found people can better calm themselves down
by watching their brains on scanners. Participants learned how to
control activity in a certain brain region after just two sessions.
Watch a Canadian astronaut perform David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in space:
by German Lopez
14 days ago
City manager proposes budget plan, budget hearings set, redistricting reform in 2014
The city manager unveiled his budget plan
to solve the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit yesterday. The plan includes less layoffs than expected — particularly to cops and
firefighters — but it proposes an increase to
property taxes. The plan also includes a series of other cuts, including
to all arts funding and subsidies that go to parades, and new fees. The
release for the budget plan says many of the cuts could have been
avoided if the city obtained revenue from the proposed parking plan, which is currently being held up by a referendum effort and court challenges.
The operating budget is separate from the streetcar budget, which uses
capital funds that can’t be used to balance the operating budget because
of limits established in state law.
The budget plan still has to be approved by Mayor Mark
Mallory and City Council to become law, and City Council will hear the
public’s opinion before a vote at three public hearings: May 16 at the
Duke Convention Center, May 20 at College Hill Recreation Center and May
22 at Madisonville Recreation Center. All the hearings will begin at
Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder says he hopes the Constitutional Modernization Commission will produce a ballot initiative for redistricting reform in 2014. Politicized redistricting — also known as “gerrymandering” —
has been traditionally used by politicians in power to redraw
congressional district borders in a way that favors the political party
in charge, but reform could change that. Gerrymandering was used
by national and state Republicans to blunt losses in the 2012 election,
as CityBeat detailed here.
As Ohio struggles to expand Medicaid, our more conservative neighbor to the south is moving forward. CityBeat
covered the Medicaid expansion in Ohio, which the Health Policy
Institute of Ohio says would insure nearly half a million people and
save millions of dollars by 2022, here.
While some Democrats want to attach party labels to Ohio Supreme Court elections, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wants to do away with party primaries for judicial elections.
Former University of Cincinnati President Joseph Steger, the second longest-serving president at UC, died at 76 yesterday.
New York City could soon become the first major city to let non-citizens vote in local elections.
The legislation would allow non-citizens to vote if they are lawfully
present in the United States, have lived in New York City for six months
or more on the date of a given election and meet other requirements
necessary to vote in New York state.
When one simple question makes a huge difference: “When Did You Choose to Be Straight?”
Blood may be the key to seeing how long brain tumor patients have to live and whether their treatment is working.
A new study found oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill sickened fish for at least a year.
Here is a compilation of adorable animals trying to stay awake.
by German Lopez
15 days ago
Council combats human trafficking, Medicare reveals price data, Duke tops 'Dirty Dozen'
With a set of initiatives unanimously approved last week, City Council is looking to join the state in combating Cincinnati’s human trafficking problem.
The initiatives would evaluate local courts’ practices in human
trafficking and prostitution cases and study the need for more
surveillance cameras and streetlights at West McMicken Avenue, a
notorious prostitution hotspot. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who
spearheaded the initiatives, says the West McMicken Avenue study will
serve as a pilot program that could eventually branch out to other
prostitution hotspots in Cincinnati, including Lower Price Hill and Camp
Medicare data released yesterday revealed charges and payments can vary by thousands of dollars
depending on the hospital, including in Cincinnati. Health care
advocates and experts attribute the price disparity to the lack of
transparency in the health care system, which allows hospitals to set
prices without worrying about typical market checks. CityBeat previously covered the lack of health care price transparency in Ohio here.
Duke Energy is the No. 1 utility company polluter
in the nation, according to new rankings from Pear Energy. The rankings
looked at carbon dioxide emissions, which directly contribute to global
warming. Pear Energy is a solar and wind energy company that competes
with utility companies like Duke Energy, but the methodology behind the
rankings was fairly transparent and based on U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency data.
Commentary: “Republicans Continue Voter Suppression Tactics.”
City Council approved form-based code yesterday, which
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls has been working on for years. In a statement,
Qualls’ office called form-based code an “innovative alternative to conventional
zoning” that will spur development. “Cincinnati now joins hundreds of
cities that are using form-based code to build and reinforce walkable
places that create value, preserve character and are the bedrock of
Cincinnati neighborhoods’ competitive advantage,” Qualls said in the statement.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner is looking to amend the Ohio budget bill to add a $100 million voucher program
that would cover preschool for three- and four-year-olds. The details
of the program are so far unclear, but Lehner said she might put most of
the funding on the second year of the biennium budget to give the state
time to prepare proper preschool programs. If the amendment proceeded,
it would join recent efforts in Cincinnati to open up early education
programs to low- and middle-income families. CityBeat covered the local efforts and many benefits of quality preschool here.
Gov. John Kasich says he would back a ballot initiative for a mostly federally funded Medicaid expansion,
which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would insure nearly half
a million Ohioans and save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars
in the next decade. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in further detail here.
Policy Matters Ohio released a lengthy report
yesterday detailing how the state could move towards clean energy and
electric cars and calling for more state incentives for clean energy.
The report praises Cincinnati in particular for using municipal policies
to build local clean energy and keep energy jobs in the city.
The last tenant at Tower Place Mall is moving out.
Scientists are working on a microchip that could be implanted into the brain to restore memories.
They also found proof that seafloor bacteria ate radioactive supernova dust.
3 Comments · Thursday, May 2, 2013
To cyclists, it’s a given that Cincinnati
desperately needs more bike lanes. But recent research shows bike lanes
don’t just pose advantages for cyclists; they can also help local
economies and public health.
0 Comments · Thursday, May 2, 2013
Convening in packed City Council chambers
on April 29, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of
the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by
the city administration on April 16.
Local leaders pledge to support efforts to put more low- and middle-income kids in preschools
1 Comment · Thursday, May 2, 2013
Elected officials and business leaders
often claim preschool is one of the most impactful investments that can
be made in a child’s life. Now, local officials and leaders are
preparing to back that claim with the Cincinnati Preschool Promise.
by German Lopez
24 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:18 PM | Permalink
Council meeting covers streetcar's costs, benefits
Convening in packed City
Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but
a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem
convinced.To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.“I'm disappointed in
this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman.
“We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has
already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2
million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have
to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney added that terminating the project would also
reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development
projects.The budget gap was
originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3
million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the
scope” of the
project and push it into a “danger zone.”The budget gap is a
result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget,
has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is
still willing to work on the streetcar project.The city could rework
the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney
said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would
effectively lower costs.Throughout the meeting,
streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the
budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found
streetcars can help grow local economies. He
said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,”
but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s
necessary to compete with other cities.Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which
the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits
to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including
travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic
development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely
supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of
Cincinnati.Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant
buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.The project has faced
continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley,
Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the
economic growth being promised by city officials.Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.The streetcar project
was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state
government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.Duke’s reluctance led to
a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict
Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out,
the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility
lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side
with the city.The city originally expected
$31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those
expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project
is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business
district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and
hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.The streetcar budget
debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s
operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues,
but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to
balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
by German Lopez
30 days ago
'Enquirer' riles up angry readers with incomplete report
Even though some members of Mayor Mark Mallory's staff
are getting double-digit raises, the mayor's budget is actually being
downsized to rely on less staff members, ultimately shrinking the mayor's
office budget by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1.Some
of Mallory's staff obtained raises because they will be taking up the
former duties of Ryan Adcock, who left earlier in the month to help lead
a task force on infant mortality and will not be replaced. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported
the raises earlier today, but the story at first did not mention that
the budgetary moves will ultimately save the city money. The "Enquirer exclusive" includes a "tell them what you think" section in which citizens can email the mayor's office and copy Enquirer editors. The story was later updated to include the overall savings, though The Enquirer posted a separate blog titled, "Mallory getting an earful on raises," which was a collection of angry emails to the mayor based on the original version of the story.CityBeat
acquired a memo written by Mallory that outlines the rest of the
plan, which will produce savings: "I will not replace Ryan Adcock on my
staff. Instead, I have divided his responsibilities among my remaining
staff. In addition, I will not hire the two part-time staffers that I
had considered hiring. The additional work in the office will be
supplemented by unpaid interns."In
addition, I have enacted internal savings in order to return $20,000
from my FY 2013 office budget to be used for the FY 2014 city budget.
Finally, in preparation of the Mayor’s Office Budget for FY 2014, I am
reducing my office budget by $33,000 for the remaining 5 months of my
spokesperson Jason Barron says the mayor will also not be replacing
staff that leaves from this point forward, which could produce more
savings down the line. As of 6:30 p.m., The Enquirer's homepage still prominently displayed the story out of context, suggesting that the raises will add to the city's $35 million deficit.Shawn Butler, the mayor's director of community
affairs, was given an 11-percent raise; Barron, the mayor's
director of public affairs, was given a 16-percent raise; and Arlen
Herrell, the mayor's director of international affairs, was given a
20-percent raise. Adcock also obtained a 20-percent raise briefly before
leaving, which Barron described to CityBeat as a budgetary technicality.Since
Mallory is term-limited, Barron says the savings will only apply to
Mallory's remaining five months. The mayor who replaces Mallory in
December will decide whether to keep or rework Mallory's policies.Last
year, Barron was paid $66,144 in regular pay, Butler was paid $71,349,
Herrell was paid $59,961 and Adcock was paid $66,049, according to the
city's payroll records. But Barron explained that those numbers were
higher because last year happened to have an extra payday. Under normal
circumstances, Barron is paid $62,740 a year, Butler is paid $67,760,
Adcock was paid $62,740 and Herrell is paid $62,031.