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
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.
The people, budgets and controversies CityBeat covered while writing about the streetcar all year
0 Comments · Thursday, December 26, 2013
Just like it was a big year for Cincinnati and Ohio, it was a big year for the CityBeat news team.
1 Comment · Wednesday, December 18, 2013
As some council members discuss shutting down a permanent housing project in Avondale, a study finds the facility wouldn't damage the neighborhood.
by German Lopez
Feds won't extend streetcar deadline, streetcar closer to ballot, study backs housing projects
The Federal Transit Administration told Mayor John Cranley
and streetcar supporters that it won’t extend its Dec. 20 deadline for
federal grants funding roughly one-third of the $132.8 million street
project. Without the federal grants, the project would likely die
because local officials say they are not willing to make up the loss with local
funds. That means the city has until Friday to decide whether to
continue the project — a decision that could come down to City
Council’s swing votes, Kevin Flynn and David Mann, and whether private
contributors agree to pay for the streetcar’s annual operating costs over the next three
decades.Meanwhile, streetcar supporters say they have enough
signatures to get the streetcar on the ballot. But without the federal
funds, a public vote might not be enough to save the project since the charter amendment only calls for using funds allocated as of Nov. 30, 2013.
While some City Council members might vote to rescind
support for state tax credits going to a supportive housing project in
Avondale, a study commissioned by the group in charge of the project
found similar facilities in Columbus don’t harm neighborhoods in which
they’re located. The study, conducted by two independent groups, found
crime continued to increase in most areas surrounding five supportive
housing facilities, but the increases were roughly the same as or less
than demographically similar areas in Columbus. Researchers
were also told in numerous interviews with Columbus residents that the
facilities had a positive effect or no impact on the area. CityBeat covered the controversy surrounding the Avondale facility in greater detail here.Hamilton County’s shrinking government might sell off
several downtown buildings to accommodate the size reduction. The
buildings could be converted to condominiums or hotels to appease high
demand for downtown residential space.
Despite previously criticizing tax breaks for Cincinnati
businesses, Chris Finney of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending
and Taxes (COAST) will receive tax credits to open his own law firm in
Clermont County on Jan. 1. Addressing the so-called heroin epidemic is a top priority
for Ky. officials in 2014. Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky have
quadrupled since 1999, putting Kentucky’s numbers above every state
except West Virginia and New Mexico, according to a study released in
November.Some Ohio wildlife officers wrongfully
hunted deer while on the job, according to the state’s inspector
general.Ohio gas prices dropped in the last work week before Christmas.The Mega Millions jackpot could break last year’s record $656 million prize.A video game might help diabetics control their blood sugar by putting them through a genuine workout.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Cincinnati’s winter shelter opened on Dec. 10, days after a winter storm caused the city to declare a snow emergency, and will remain open through February.
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
A City Council committee voted
to rescind council’s support for a 99-unit
supportive housing facility in Avondale that would aid chronically
homeless, disabled and low-income individuals.
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Local leaders could once again prove how little they care about homelessness and poverty if they rescind their support for a housing project in Avondale.
by German Lopez
Streetcar audit begins, streetcar campaign launches, committee opposes housing project
Work began yesterday on an audit of Cincinnati’s $132.8
million streetcar project, but streetcar supporters are upset the audit
will only look at the costs and not the potential return on investment.
The city hired KPMG, an auditing firm, to review the
streetcar’s completion, cancellation and operating costs by Dec. 19, the day the federal government says it will pull up
to $44.9 million in grants funding roughly one-third of the project.
Losing the federal funding would most likely act as a death blow for the
project, since most local officials — even some streetcar supporters —
say they’re unwilling to allocate a similar amount of funding through local sources. Mayor John Cranley and City Council asked for the audit before they decide whether to continue or permanently cancel the project.Meanwhile, streetcar supporters yesterday kicked off a
petition-gathering campaign to get a city charter amendment on the
ballot that would task the city with continuing the streetcar project.
But given the federal government’s Dec. 19 deadline, it’s unclear
whether the ballot measure, which could go to voters as late as May,
stands much of a chance. Streetcar supporters say they’ll lobby the
federal government to keep the funding on hold until voters make the
final decision on the project.A City Council committee yesterday voted to rescind council’s support for a supportive housing complex in Avondale that would
aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income Cincinnatians. But
because National Church Residence already obtained state tax credits for the project in
June, it might be able to continue even without council
support. The committee’s decision comes in the middle of of a
months-long controversy that has placed neighborhood activists and
homeless advocates at odds. The full body of City Council could make the
final decision on its support for the project as early as today’s 2
p.m. meeting.City Council could also move today to repeal a
“responsible bidder” ordinance that has locked the city and county in
conflict over the jointly owned and operated Metropolitan Sewer
District (MSD). The conflict comes at a bad time for MSD, which is under a federal mandate to revamp the city’s sewer system. Councilman Chris
Seelbach argues the ordinance, which he spearheaded, improves local job
training opportunities, but opponents claim it places too much of a
burden on businesses and could open the city to lawsuits. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.Some City Council members are concerned Interim City
Manager Scott Stiles’ compensation package could act as a “golden
parachute.”State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati yesterday resigned
as running mate for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald.
Kearney’s decision came after media outlets reported that he, his wife and his
business had up to $826,000 in unpaid taxes. The controversy grew so
thick that Democrats decided Kearney was too much of a
distraction in the campaign against Republican Gov. John Kasich.
An Ohio House Republican pitched a proposal that would
slightly increase the state’s oil and gas severance tax, but the
industry isn’t united in support of the measure. When it was first
discussed, the House plan was supposed to act as a downscaled but more
palatable version of Gov. Kasich’s proposal, which received wide
opposition from the oil and gas industry.Speaking against a bill that would tighten sentences
for nonviolent felony offenders, Ohio’s prison chief said the state is
on its way to break an inmate record of 51,273 in July. The state in the past few years attempted to pass sentencing reform to reduce the
inmate population and bring down prison costs, but the measures only
registered short-term gains. The rising prison population is one reason
some advocates call for the legalization and decriminalization of drugs,
as CityBeat covered in further detail here.More than one-third of Ohio third-graders could be held back after they failed the state
reading test this fall. But
the third-graders will get two more chances in the spring and summer to
retake the test. Under a new state law dubbed the “Third Grade Reading
Guarantee,” Ohio third-graders who fail the reading test must be held
back starting this school year.
Only 5,672 Ohioans signed up for new health plans through
the Obamacare marketplace in November. Still, total enrollment in
federal marketplaces was four times higher than it was in October as the
troubled Obamacare website (HealthCare.gov) improved. Reports indicate
the website also vastly improved right before the White House’s
self-imposed December deadline to get the website working better.William Mallory Sr., prominent local politician and ex-Mayor Mark Mallory’s father, died yesterday morning.A home kit allows anyone to find antibiotics in leaves, twigs, insects and fungi.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Commons at Alaska in Avondale snared by controversy
A City Council committee on Tuesday voted to rescind
council’s support for state tax credits going to a 99-unit supportive
housing facility in Avondale that would aid chronically homeless,
disabled and low-income individuals.But since National Church Residences already obtained tax credits for the project from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in June, it’s possible the project could continue even if council stands in opposition, according to Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
Still, the decision from the Economic Growth and Infrastructure
Committee comes in the middle of a months-long controversy that
has placed neighborhood activists and homeless advocates in a heated
dispute. (CityBeat first covered the issue in greater detail here.)
Independent Christopher Smitherman and Republican Amy
Murray, the two present members of the committee, both voted to pull support from the project. The issue will now
go to a nine-member City Council, which consists of five Democrats, and
Democratic Mayor John Cranley.
Smitherman, chair of the committee, claimed the project’s issues spawned from a lack of community engagement.
“I want everybody to take a pause,” Smitherman said.
“Respecting our city, in my opinion, means that you do the community
engagement at the level that reflects the magnitude of what you want to
Smitherman’s comments followed testimony from neighborhood activists who oppose the facility and homeless advocates who support it.
Opponents insist they support policies addressing homelessness. But
they argue the “massive” facility would alter the neighborhood, worsen
Avondale’s problems with poverty and damage revitalization efforts.
Supporters claim the dispute stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude that predominates so many supportive housing facilities.
“In our society, we have a tendency to say we don't want
‘those people’ in our neighborhoods. And history dictates to us that
conversations that start with ‘we don't want those people here’ don't
typically end well,” said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater
Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness
said the facility is part of his organization’s Homeless to Homes plan, which council
previously approved to address Cincinnati’s struggles with homelessness. Finn’s organization aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 in 2012 to roughly 3,500 in 2017.
The Avondale facility could also help reduce Cincinnati’s high levels of poverty. More than half of Cincinnati’s children and more than one-third of the city’s general population live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey.The full body of City Council could take up the issue as early as Wednesday. Smitherman advised both sides to attend the council meeting and state their cases.Updated with additional information from Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.