by German Lopez
104 days ago
Police program raises privacy issues, parking plan explained, streetcar project continues
With the backing of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine,
law enforcement around the state have been secretly using facial
recognition software for the past two months that scans driver’s licenses and mug shots to identify crime suspects. In emails and documents obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer,
DeWine and other state officials apparently couldn’t agree whether the
program is in beta testing or full launch and when they should tell the
public about it. The program went live without the attorney general’s
initial approval and many protocols that protect Ohioans’ security and
privacy, raising concerns about whether law enforcement have been able
to abuse the new tool.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Friday acknowledged it will ramp up enforcement and tickets
once it takes over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, but
it claimed the move is meant to encourage people to pay up, not raise
revenue that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port or
the private operators it’s hiring. The Port also said it had taken
steps to make the parking lease a better deal for locals, including a
reduction in operation hours in neighborhoods and some downtown areas.
The city is leasing its parking assets to the Port for a one-time
injection of revenue and annual installments that are supposed to go to
development projects that will grow the city’s tax base. But opponents
of the lease say it will take away too much control of the city’s
parking services and hurt businesses and residents by raising parking
rates and hours.
Vacant buildings at the corner of Henry and Race streets
will be demolished today to make room for a maintenance facility for
Cincinnati’s streetcars — just the latest sign the project is moving
forward. Mayor Mark Mallory, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and John
Deatrick, streetcar project executive director, will attend the
demolition and a press event preceding it, which will take place at 1
A new video from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) shows how bad traffic
will get if the Brent Spence Bridge isn’t replaced. In the video, OKI
claims the current state of the bridge is dangerous and damages the economy. The bridge project is currently estimated at $2.5 billion. At least part of
that sum will be paid with tolling if state officials get their way.
Qualls and Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary
Ronan will today discuss a district-wide travel plan that intends to
provide safe routes for students walking and biking to school. The plan, which would use Ohio Department of Transportation
funds, makes improvements to crosswalks and pedestrian crossing signals,
among other changes. Qualls’ office says the plan is timely as CPS today
begins its first week back to school.
Cuts in all levels of government, which Republican state officials call “right-sizing,” might be hindering Ohio’s economic recovery.
Only California, New York and Florida have cut more public jobs than
Ohio. At the same time, Ohio’s job growth over the past year has
stagnated at 0.7 percent. The state has cut local government funding by
half since Kasich took office, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Ohio gas prices once again increased this week, but they still remain below the national average.
The USS Cincinnati, a Cold War era submarine, is coming to the city. Some locals have been working on getting the submarine’s sail installed along the riverfront as a memorial.
NASA put up a video explaining how it would land on an asteroid.
How P.G. Sittenfeld found himself at the center of the city’s parking plan drama
2 Comments · Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was
one of the first to find out about a memo that’s spurred renewed calls
to halt the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages
to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.
by German Lopez
122 days ago
Mayor Mark Mallory praises day's work as "huge day of progress for Cincinnati"
City Council met today for the first time since June and passed several development deals and projects spanning six Cincinnati neighborhoods.The approved deals include a 15-year tax abatement for the second phase
of The Banks, which will produce 305 apartments and 21,000 square feet
of retail space; several other apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a small
business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel Community Center; and a new
homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn.The projects are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the city. That could prove particularly timely for downtown Cincinnati, which is currently struggling to meet high demand from a growing market of aspiring property renters, leasers and buyers."Today is a huge day of progress for Cincinnati," Mayor Mark Mallory
said in the statement. "The momentum has been building in our city for a
while. And now, developers and businesses are lining up to do projects
in the city because they see all of the progress and they want to be a
part of it. This is the vision — our success is leading to more
success."Among the other items, Council passed a motion asking the city administration to look into a disparity study and a resolution condemning a ballot initiative that would change the city's pension program by pushing future public employees into a less generous 401K-style plan.Today's meeting was Council's only full session for July and August, which is why the agenda was so packed. That's irked some council members and critics, who argue Council should be in session for more of the summer."Council has no shortage of issues to consider and challenges to address — this should NOT be our only Council meeting of the summer," tweeted Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld during today's meeting.Council is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 11.
by German Lopez
128 days ago
Cranley outraises Qualls, city pension recommendations stalled, layoffs at 'The Enquirer'
Ex-Councilman John Cranley is outraising
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in the mayoral race by $124,000, but the
history and research of money in politics suggest the lead might not
matter much, if at all. Mayor Mark Mallory was outspent more than
three-to-one in the 2005 mayoral race by David Pepper, but Mallory won
the vote 52-48 percent. Political scientists argue fundraising and
campaigns generally have a marginal impact, while economic growth, the
direction of the city, state and country, incumbency or successorship,
name likability and recognition, and political affiliation have much
bigger effects. [Correction: This originally said $134,000 when the correct number is $124,000.]
The board that manages Cincinnati employees’ struggling pension system won’t make a recommendation to City Council Monday,
as originally planned, because it can’t decide how much taxpayers and
employees should suffer to help fix the $862 million unfunded liability.
Board members couldn’t agree on the proper balance between benefit
cuts and increased funding from the city. Credit rating agency Moody’s
on July 15 downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating
from Aa1 to Aa2 and revised the bonds’ outlook to “negative.” Moody’s
stated one of the biggest causes of concern for Cincinnati’s debt
outlook is its pension fund.
There were massive layoffs at The Cincinnati Enquirer
and its parent company Gannett yesterday, including the reported
closing of the newspaper’s Kentucky office. As of the latest update from
more than 200 people were laid off nationwide and 11 lost their jobs at
the Cincinnati offices. The news comes just two weeks after Gannett CEO
Gracia Martore proudly claimed on July 22, “We are accelerating our transformation into the ‘New Gannett’ every day.”
Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who held and raped three women at his house for years, yesterday was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years.
A few dozen residents organized by a conservative group asked the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority
to kill Cincinnati’s parking lease at a meeting Thursday. The Port is
taking control over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages as
part of a controversial deal that will net the city $92 million up front
and $3 million or more a year afterward. CityBeat covered the lease in further detail here.
While the Port Authority meeting apparently warranted live
tweeting and various articles from several outlets, other local media outlets never covered a streetcar social that involved roughly 200 supporters of the Cincinnati streetcar and Mayor Mallory.
State officials claim average costs for health insurance
will soar by 41 percent for Ohioans who buy coverage online under
Obamacare, but experts say the state’s claims are misleading.
“These are sticker prices, and very few people will pay these prices,”
said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family
Foundation. “Many will qualify for subsidies.” The Republican officials
touting the claims of higher costs, including Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, have opposed
Obamacare from the start.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is once again asking for an ethics probe
of Gov. John Kasich and JobsOhio, the privatized development
agency established by Republicans to replace the Ohio Department of
Development. Republicans claim JobsOhio is creating thousands of job in
the state, but Democrats argue the agency’s secretive nature makes it
difficult to verify whether taxpayer dollars are being effectively used.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced a
statewide Internet cafe investigation spanning to an establishment in
Middletown. “We are still in the beginning stages of what we expect to
be a very lengthy investigation,” DeWine said in a statement. “While it
is too early in the investigation to go into specifics, we do believe
the alleged criminal activity at these locations goes beyond illegal
gambling.” Earlier in the year, Gov. John Kasich and the state
legislature effectively banned Internet cafes, which they claimed were
hubs for online gambling and illegal activity.
The Ohio crime lab received about 3,300 untested rape kits
from law enforcement around the state and found nearly 400 DNA matches
after testing more than 1,300 of the kits. DeWine says the extensive tests are
helping solve sexual assault crimes.
The Cincinnati Zoo has a region-wide economic impact of $143 million, according to a study from the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center.
Just one day after announcing he’s quitting the mayoral race, Libertarian Jim Berns is asking to rejoin. Berns withdrew from the race
Wednesday in protest of the mayoral primary election and debate
schedule. In a statement, he said he had changed his mind because
staying in the race supposedly allows him to shed light on important issues.
Keeping Cincinnati Beautiful is offering a one-day free recycling event Saturday for hard-to-recycle items.
Evolution punishes selfish people, according to a game theory study.
by German Lopez
129 days ago
History suggests fundraising is not necessarily an indicator of strength
Ex-Councilman John Cranley is outraising Vice Mayor
Roxanne Qualls in the 2013 mayoral race by roughly $124,000. Some are
calling the fundraising lead an important indicator of strength, but the history and research of money in politics show the lead might
not matter much, if at all.
The numbers came in yesterday as political candidates from
around the state filed their finance reports. So far, Cranley has
raised about $472,000, compared to Qualls’ $348,000. Of that money,
Cranley has about $264,000 still in hand, and Qualls has nearly
The disparity is unsurprising to the campaigns. The
Cranley campaign has always said it needs $1 million to win. Qualls,
who’s been polled as the slight favorite, has a tamer goal of $750,000.
The City Council races are similarly sprawled with cash.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is leading the pack with nearly $279,000,
while newcomer Greg Landsman topped challengers and even
some council members with a total raised of $165,000.
Given all the cash pouring into the campaigns, many people
assume it plays a pivotal role. But a look at the history and research
shows fundraising might not matter all that much.
Money clearly didn’t matter in the 2005 mayoral race.
During that campaign, former State Sen. Mark Mallory spent nearly
$380,000. Ex-Councilman David Pepper spent $1.2 million — more than
three times his opponent. Mallory still won the vote 52-48 percent.
In contrast, money might have boosted Sittenfeld to second
place in the 2011 Council races, putting the relatively new challenger
only behind the widely known Qualls. Sittenfeld raised $306,000 for that
campaign, the most out of anyone in the race.
Still, most political science points to money having a
marginal, if any, electoral impact. Jennifer Victor, a political science professor
at George Mason University, explains the research in her blog: “Campaigning may help voters focus their attention (see this), be persuasive in some cases (see this), and help deliver successful message (see this).
Frequently, macro-economic trends are the best predictors of
presidential elections. History tells us that all that money spent by
outsiders may not affect the outcome of the election — because campaigns
(generally) don’t matter (see political science research here, here, and here, for example).”
Instead, political scientists cite other factors as
much more important indicators: economic growth, the direction of the city, state
and country, incumbency or successorship, name likability and
recognition, and political affiliation.The mayoral primary election is Sept. 10, followed by the final election on Nov. 5. The next finance reports are due Oct. 24.[Correction: This story originally said $134,000 when the correct number is $124,000.]
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 31, 2013
A motion proposed by a majority of City
Council on July 30 would use leftover revenue from the previous budget
year to undo cuts to various programs, including human services, parks
and the Health Department.
by German Lopez
130 days ago
More JobsOhio controversy, Council undoing cuts, stadium improvements to cost millions
Six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial
ties to companies that have received tax credits and other help from the
agency and state government, an investigation from Dayton Daily News
discovered. The members are connected in various ways: Some are
employed by the companies, others sit on their boards and a few just own
stocks. The conflicts of interest that could undermine
JobsOhio’s goals. The privatized development agency was established by
Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators to replace the
Ohio Department of Development. Republicans claim JobsOhio’s privatized
nature allows it to move at “the speed of business” when luring
companies to the state. But Democrats argue that the agency is
unaccountable and draining state funds without any clear indication of
where the money is going.
Meanwhile, JobsOhio gave financial aid
to a company that simply shifted jobs from one city to another. The
agency gave Timbertech a 50-percent credit to create 85 jobs in
Wilmington, Ohio. The company is abiding, but it’s simultaneously
closing down a Columbus factory at the loss of 58 jobs.
Cincinnati will end up not laying off any city employees after City Council undoes $4 million in budget cuts
with leftover revenue from the previous budget year. The restorations
will reverse some or all of this year’s cuts to human services, parks,
the Health Department and other city programs. Council members called
the higher-than-projected revenue evidence that Cincinnati’s economic
strategy is working. But the reversals also raise questions about the
city administration’s original claims: When the 2014 budget was first
being considered, Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration said the
city would have to lay off 344 workers, including many cops and
firefighters, to balance the budget without the parking lease.
But without any of the parking money allocated, the city managed to avert all layoffs and undo a bulk of cuts, largely by using better-than-expected revenues from the past budget
Fixing up the Great American Ball Park for the All-Star Game could cost county taxpayers $5 million.
The All-Star costs are just one part of the $27 million taxpayers will
pay to improve stadiums in Hamilton County over the next five years.
Stadiums are often touted by local officials as a way to boost the
economy, but economists and urban planners have found that publicly
funded sports arenas don’t lead to sizable economic growth.
Ohio’s job growth is so slow that it will take nearly five years to recover all the jobs lost during the Great Recession.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is leading fundraising for this year’s Council campaigns.
The Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce is hosting two mayoral debates.
This year’s candidates are Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, ex-Councilman
John Cranley, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble. Qualls and Cranley are
considered the two frontrunners.
The Cincinnati Art Museum is calling on community contributions to finish the second half of its renovations. The museum has raised $2.7 million out of the $6 million it needs.
Red Squirrel, a local restaurant chain, is closing down three of five eateries.
Internet-based psychotherapy apparently works.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:49 PM | Permalink
Officials blame Moody’s downgrade on methodology changes, state policy
It might cost Cincinnati more to issue debt following a credit rating downgrade by Moody’s. In a report released on July 15, the credit ratings agency downgraded the city’s general bonds from Aa1 to Aa2 and revised the bonds’ outlook to “negative.”“The negative outlook reflects the expectation that the city will continue to face challenges in attaining structurally balanced operations, stemming from its unfunded pension liabilities and reliance on a number of one-time budgetary solutions in recent years,” the report reads.In a memo to the mayor and City Council, City Manager Milton Dohoney put the blame on Moody’s methodological changes that now account for state pension funds that Cincinnati has no direct control over. Specifically, Moody’s now looks at the state-managed Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) and Ohio Police and Fire Retirement System (OP&F) when scoring Cincinnati, instead of just the Cincinnati Retirement System (CRS), which the city directly operates.“It is important to note the Ohio Revised Code provides the percentage each employer pays into OPERS and OP&F as its contribution. The City has paid 100 (percent) of this contribution each year as required. The City has no ability to impact the unfunded liability of OPERS or OP&F,” Dohoney wrote in the memo.Still, some of the blame lies on the city’s pension fund, which is lacking a long-term strategy for sustainability, according to Moody’s. The CRS board is currently looking at scenarios to address the city’s long-term liabilities. Its next meeting is on Aug. 1, and it could produce changes that would be presented to City Council, according to the city manager’s memo.The report also takes issue with the city’s repeated use of one-time sources to fix budget gaps. Since 2001, the city’s annual operating budgets have used one-time sources instead of achieving structural balance with long-term cuts and sources of revenue.Critics argue the one-time sources only delay fiscal woes instead of permanently fixing the budget shortfalls. Supporters claim the one-time methods allow the city to balance its budget without taking austere measures that would lead to city layoffs and hurt growth while the economy is in recovery.Moody’s also claims the city has relatively weak socioeconomic indicators, particularly resident income levels and historical unemployment rates. The report from Moody’s does give Cincinnati some good credit, citing a “pressured but still satisfactory financial position,” the recent stabilization of earnings taxes, financial flexibility provided by an available but untapped levy authority, the city’s economically diverse population and an above-average debt position. Bonds are typically issued when the city needs a temporary infusion of funds for capital projects, such as the Cincinnati streetcar.Updated with more context.
by German Lopez
Parking lease facing legal dispute, critical memo dismissed, mayor to attend streetcar social
In a letter to the city solicitor, a conservative organization is threatening more legal action
to stop the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages
to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Coalition Opposed to
Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) claims the city manager exceeded his authority when he
made two “significant and material” changes to the lease agreement after
City Council approved the deal in March. If the city solicitor doesn’t
take up the legal challenge, COAST could sue the city by itself.
Supporters of the parking lease argue it’s necessary to fund development
projects in the city and modernize the city’s parking services, but
opponents say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking
meters, lots and garages and will hurt businesses downtown.
The Business Courier reports that a critical parking memo was supposed to provide a “strike point” for negotiations between the Port Authority and Xerox,
which will manage the city’s parking meters under a lease agreement.
But the city administration didn’t begin sharing the June 20 memo with
anyone else, including the Port Authority, until July 12, after council
members and media outlets began asking the city administration about it.
The memo suggested the city is getting a bad deal from the parking lease agreement and overpaying Xerox. Port and city officials argue the memo relied on outdated information and made technical errors.
Mayor Mark Mallory will today join fellow streetcar supporters
at Rhinegeist Brewery to discuss the streetcar project’s latest news
and future. The city on July 15 set an opening date of Sept. 15, 2016
after finalizing a construction contract with Messer Construction, Prus
Construction and Delta Railroad, which was made possible after City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap in June. CityBeat recently debunked some of the misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project here.
Commentary: “Zimmerman Reactions Overlook Broader Racial Issues in America.”
Public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down
following city and state funding cuts. The organization’s demise is a
great loss to producers like Rufus Johnson, who used its resources for years. The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the
state eliminated a fund that was provided by Time Warner Cable, but even the local funding was fully cut in the budget passed in May. City officials
have justified the cuts by pointing to citizen surveys that ranked Media
Bridges poorly in terms of budgetary importance, but a CityBeat
analysis found the surveys were skewed against the low-income
Cincinnatians that benefit the most from public access programs like
State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, is facing multiple felony charges
related to securities fraud. A lawsuit filed in Hamilton County by
investors alleges that money invested at the request of Beck and others
was used for personal gain — specifically, Beck’s campaign — instead of a
business investment as originally intended. Beck has been in power
since 2009, and his current term is set to expire in 2014.
A former poll worker was sentenced to five years for voter fraud after she voted twice for herself and three times for her sister, who’s been in a coma since 2003.
The driver who last August accidentally hit and killed a local cyclist is awaiting his sentence.
Local bike advocacy groups are asking courts to give the maximum
penalty to the driver, who’s facing at most six months in jail and a
The local housing market is rapidly recovering in a
continuing good sign for the economy, with single-family home permits up
48 percent in June compared to the year before, according to the Home
Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds games are No. 3 for local TV ratings in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.
Xavier University is laying off 31 employees and cutting 20 currently vacant positions.
A Miami University student is getting an astronaut scholarship, making him one of 28 students nationwide to receive the honor.
Entrepreneur says Cincinnati is an “unexpected hub for tech startups.”
A new self-aiming rifle would outshoot human snipers.
Popular Science has a guide for arguing against anti-vaccine crazies here.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:55 AM | Permalink
Supporters gathering Thursday to discuss project
Mayor Mark Mallory will join fellow streetcar
supporters Thursday to discuss how the project is coming along and where
The event is the monthly streetcar social, hosted by Cincinnatians for Progress.
Organizers expect to pull in nearly 100 people from around
the city to discuss topics and issues surrounding the project. It will take place on Thursday, July 18, between 5:30 p.m. to 8
p.m. at Rhinegeist Brewery, 1910 Elm St., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202. For
more information, check out the event’s Facebook page.
Mallory, who’s term-limited from running for reelection
this year, has spearheaded efforts to build a streetcar in Cincinnati.
He’s been joined by a steady Democratic majority in City Council, which
most recently approved $17.4 million more in funding for the project
alongside several accountability measures that will require the city
manager to regularly update council and the public on the project’s
In the past week, the city announced the streetcar is set to open for service on Sept. 15, 2016, after city officials and bidders finalized details for a construction contract.
CityBeat’s cover story for the week of July 10 debunked the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the Cincinnati streetcar project.
Streetcar supporters argue the project will foster
economic growth and development in Cincinnati, particularly downtown — a
claim backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of
Opponents claim the project, which now stands at $133
million after recent cost overruns were fixed, is too expensive. They doubt it will succeed in spurring growth