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
Balanced budget, pension reform among tough tasks facing incoming council members hoping not to raise taxes
1 Comment · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
of newly elected council members say they’re committed to structurally
balancing Cincinnati’s operating budget — a promise repeated by
Mayor-elect John Cranley on the campaign trail and following the Nov. 5
by German Lopez
Councilman Kevin Flynn still undecided on whether to cast deciding vote to restart project
It's decision day for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar
But hours before City Council expects to make a decision,
it's unclear whether the legislative body has the six votes necessary to
overcome Mayor John Cranley's veto and restart construction for the streetcar
The deciding vote will most likely come from Charterite
Kevin Flynn, who says he's working behind the scenes with undisclosed private
entities to get the streetcar's operating costs off the city's books. If that
deal pulls through, Flynn would provide the sixth vote to keep going.
The project already has five votes in favor: Democrats David
Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young.
Three council members have long opposed the project:
Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher
It's a big financial decision for the city.
If the city goes forward with the project, it would cost
$53.9-$68.9 million, depending on whether the city convinces courts Duke Energy
should pay for $15 million in utility costs, according to an audit from
consulting firm KPMG.
If the city cancels, it will incur $16.3-$46.1 million
in additional close-out costs, the same audit found. But it will get nothing for
those tens of millions spent and could face costly litigation in the future.
Council expects to make a final decision at Thursday's 2
p.m. meeting. Follow @germanrlopez on Twitter for live updates.
by German Lopez
Compensation package remains controversial after changes
City Council on Wednesday officially appointed Scott
Stiles as interim city manager, but only after a testy exchange over the
compensation package left three of eight present council members as
“no” votes.The package gives Stiles a raise if he returns to his previous role as one of two assistant city managers, which three council members said is unfair to lesser-paid city
workers, such as trash collectors, and the other assistant city manager, David Holmes, who won’t get comparable pay increases.
The package appoints Stiles to the city’s top job at a
salary of $240,000 a year, less than the previous city manager’s
If the city appoints someone other than Stiles as
permanent city manager, Stiles will be placed back in the assistant city
manager role with a $180,000 salary, roughly $33,500 more than the
other assistant city manager.
If a permanent city manager decides to relieve Stiles of
the assistant city manager position, the city will be required to make a
good faith effort to find Stiles some form of employment within the
city until 2018, which would allow Stiles to collect his full pension
payment upon retirement.
Council Members David Mann, Charlie Winburn, Amy Murray,
Kevin Flynn and Christopher Smitherman voted in favor of the appointment
and package, while Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young
voted against it. P.G. Sittenfeld was absent.
Simpson and Seelbach said they have no problem giving
Stiles a $240,000 salary while he’s in the interim city manager
position, but both argued it’s unfair to other city workers to give only
Stiles a raise if he’s reappointed as assistant city manager.
Simpson pointed out that the package would also increase
the city administration budget if the new permanent city manager decides
to keep Stiles and Holmes as assistant city managers at the agreed-upon
Mayor John Cranley argued Simpson, Seelbach and Young were
trying to introduce a new standard that wasn’t present in the previous
council, where Simpson, Seelbach and Young were in the majority
“I would have appreciated long-term thinking when I was
saddled with a $255,000 severance payment,” he said, referencing a
severance package the previous council gave to former City Manager
Milton Dohoney after Cranley announced Dohoney would resign on Dec. 1.
Simpson argued the severance package wouldn’t have been
necessary if Cranley agreed to keep Dohoney on the job until a permanent
replacement was found.
“It’s our job to protect the taxpayer,” Simpson said.
Vice Mayor Mann pointed out that if the city doesn’t fill
the assistant city manager role while Stiles presides as interim city
manager, the city will actually save money by leaving a salaried
administrative position vacant for six months.
Cranley previously said the city will conduct a national
search for a permanent city manager. Council members at Wednesday’s
meeting estimated the effort should take six months.
by German Lopez
Council pauses streetcar, issue could make it to ballot, groups call for police camera fixes
City Council yesterday voted to allocate $1.25 million to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project
and study how much it will cost to continue or cancel the project. The
final 5-4 votes to pause came despite offers from private contributors
to pay for the $250,000 study and construction for the one or two weeks
necessary to carry out the cost analysis. The city administration warned
council earlier in the day that pausing the project for one month could
cost $2.56-$3.56 million, while previous estimates put continuing
construction for the month at $3 million. After the cost study is
finished, council members expect to make a final decision on whether to
continue or cancel the project.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson filed a motion
to draw up a city charter amendment that would task the city with
completing the current streetcar project. If the charter amendment gets council approval,
Cincinnatians would vote on the issue approximately 60 to
120 days afterward. But it’s unclear whether the
$44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar project would survive through the months; the federal
government previously warned a delay could be grounds for pulling the money.
Commentary: “Atmosphere at City Hall Changes for the Worse.”
Following various cases of malfunctioning or disabled police cruiser cameras, various groups, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, are asking to get to the bottom of the issue.
Police officials say old, deteriorating technology is to blame, but critics claim some officers are purposely tampering with the technology to
avoid filming themselves during controversial moments in the line of
duty. For both sides, getting the cameras working could be mutually
beneficial; functioning cameras would allow police to clear their names but also show when officers make mistakes.
The University of Cincinnati asked Hamilton County judges to crack down on criminals targeting students on or near campus.
State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati says he won’t give up his Democratic candidacy for lieutenant governor despite $825,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes.
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati canceled a vote
for a proposal that would greatly weaken Ohio’s renewable energy
and efficiency standards. But he vowed to pursue a “three-pronged strategy to reform the current
envirosocialist mandates,” including potential litigation. Environmental
groups argued Seitz’s proposal would have effectively eliminated the
state’s energy standards. According to a study from Ohio State University and
the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, repealing the standards
would increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over the next
12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s proposal in greater detail here.
The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature yesterday approved a bill
that establishes a state panel to oversee Medicaid and recommend
changes for the costly program. Republicans insist the measure isn’t
about reducing benefits or eligibility for Medicaid; instead, they argue
it’s about finding ways to cut growing health care costs without making
such cuts. Gov. John Kasich must sign the bill for it to become law.
Months after rejecting Kasich’s proposal to do so, Ohio House leaders introduced a scaled-down measure
that would slightly raise the oil and gas severance tax and cut income
taxes. Unlike the governor’s previous proposal, the House plan seems to
have support from the oil and gas industry.
Another Ohio House bill seeks to reintroduce prayer in public schools.
Ohioans are borrowing more to pay for college, but the debt load remains less than the national average.
Headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “CVG board votes to hire investigator for butt-dialed call.”
It seems Metropolitan Sewer District rates will increase by 6 percent.
Cincinnati could get three to six inches of snow tomorrow.
Robert Carr, a 49-year-old Cincinnati man, has been going into the homes of strangers and trying to claim them as his own. He’s now being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center on six felony charges for breaking into homes.
Ohio gas prices fell below $3 a gallon.
According to a study from the Library of Congress, 70 percent of America’s silent films are lost and a good portion of the remaining films are in poor condition.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 05:12 PM | Permalink
City gains 13 points in HRC’s index ranking treatment of LGBT community
Cincinnati obtained a 90 out of 100 in the 2013 Municipal Equality Index released by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on Tuesday, giving the city a 13-point bump compared to 2012’s mixed score.
The city aced categories for its relationship with the
LGBT community, law enforcement and non-discrimination laws, which ban
employment, housing and public accommodation discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also fared well with municipal services and opportunities provided to city workers.
The index also gave Cincinnati various bonus points, including three
for the election of Councilman Chris Seelbach, the city’s first openly
gay elected official.
But the city was docked for failing to recognize LGBT
relationships through a domestic partner registry. Seelbach
told CityBeat last week that establishing a registry will be one of his priorities in his upcoming four-year term.
This year, establishing a domestic partner registry would have been enough to give Cincinnati a
perfect overall score in the Municipal Equality Index — a strong upward
shift from the 77 out of 100 the city received in 2012.
The 90 out of 100 was enough to place Cincinnati in
the top 25 percent of cities. The top 10 percent got a 96 or higher, and
25 of 291 cities got perfect scores in 2013.
by German Lopez
Supporters hold town hall-style meeting in effort to stop cancellation of project
Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project on Thursday night packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square to start a two-week campaign that seeks to prevent the incoming mayor and City Council from canceling the ongoing project.Turnout was particularly strong as supporters reached the 200-person capacity at Mercantile Library before the event started. Another 200 watched the event from the Jumbotron screen at Fountain Square, according to the event's organizers.In attendance were several Over-the-Rhine business owners and residents; council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young; and several supporters of the project from around the city.The goal of the event was to organize supporters and begin a lobbying campaign to convince the three perceived swing votes in the incoming council — Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — to support continuing the project. All three have spoken against the streetcar in the past, but they told CityBeat they want to fully account for the project's cancellation costs, completion costs and potential return on investment before making a final decision.Speakers urged supporters to contact the nine newly elected council members and raise awareness about the streetcar's benefits before Mayor-elect John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and the new City Council take office in December.Ryan Messer, a lead organizer of the effort to save the streetcar, spoke about the advantages of the streetcar project for much of the event. "This is a good economic tool that helps all of Cincinnati," he repeatedly stated.Supporters have some empirical evidence to base their claims on. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR found the streetcar project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. The HDR study was later evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.Project executive John Deatrick acknowledges the 2007 study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. But he says the streetcar project is supposed to be viewed as an economic development vehicle, not just another transit option.Supporters also warned of the potential costs of canceling the streetcar project. Hours before the gathering, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated the city would lose nearly $41 million in federal grant dollars if the project were canceled, and another $4 million would be placed in the hands of Gov. John Kasich to do as he sees fit.City spokesperson Meg Olberding previously told CityBeat that the city already spent about $2 million of the federal funds. If the project were canceled, she says the money would have to be repaid through the operating budget that funds police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget currently financing the streetcar project.The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001, so adding millions in costs to it could force the city to cut services or raise taxes.The FTA letter might already be playing an influence for at least one of the swing votes on City Council. On the elevator ride up to Mercantile Library, Sittenfeld told Seelbach and CityBeat, "I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column."Another threat for the city is potential litigation from contractors, subcontractors, taxpayers and Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses who invested in the project or along the streetcar line with the expectation that the project would be completed. Litigation costs would also come out of the operating budget, according to Olberding."As a trial lawyer, this is actually appealing," said Democratic attorney Don Mooney. "For the city, not so much."Supporters also outlined the potential damage that pulling from the project could do to the city's image, given that developers, businesses and the federal government have put their support and dollars toward the streetcar."Is Cincinnati that city that will dine you and wine you and leave you alone at the altar?" Young asked.But if the lobbying effort, cancellation costs and threat of litigation aren't enough, supporters also presented one more option to save the streetcar: a ballot initiative. Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to allowing some sort of streetcar referendum on the ballot.The ultimate goal for supporters of the streetcar, beyond ensuring sustainable growth in the urban core, is to connect all of Cincinnati through a vast transit network, much like the streetcar lines that ran through Cincinnati before the city government dismantled the old system in the 1950s.That provides little assurance to opponents of the streetcar project. Cranley and at least three hard-liners in the incoming City Council — Amy Murray, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman — claim the project is too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Discussing more phases makes the project appear even costlier to opponents who are already concerned with costs.In its comprehensive plan for 2040, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments put the cost of various extensions — to the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Broadway Commons area near the Horseshoe Casino — at more than $191 million, or $58 million more than the estimated cost for the current phase.But if Cincinnati never completes the first phase of the streetcar project, supporters say it could be decades before other light rail options are considered.
Janitors strike against New York City-based company contracted by local Fortune 500 companies to clean their buildings
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 6, 2013
On Thursday, Oct. 31, ABM janitors went
on strike against the company. ABM’s contract with Cincinnati’s SEIU
Local 1 employees expired last October, and official negotiations were
halted shortly thereafter when SEIU and ABM failed to mediate terms for a
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Chris Seelbach is probably CityBeat’s
most confident choice for City Council.
by German Lopez
Conservative group has history of anti-LGBT causes
Mayoral candidate John Cranley says he would reject an endorsement from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes
(COAST), a conservative group formed in 1999 with a history of anti-LGBT causes.“I don’t want it. I’m not a member of COAST,” Cranley says.
The response comes just two days after COAST on Oct. 8 tweeted that it supported Cranley and council candidates Amy Murray, Chris Smitherman and Charlie
Winburn for a “change of direction.” The group later claimed the tweets weren’t endorsements, but not before
progressives called on candidates to reject COAST’s support.Councilman Chris Seelbach responded to COAST’s apparent interest in influencing the mayoral and City Council races on his Facebook page: “Regardless of the politics involved, anyone who wants my
support should make it clear: COAST is a hate-driven, fringe
organization that should not be apart (sic) of any conversation on how
to make Cincinnati a better place.”CityBeat couldn’t immediately reach
Murray, Smitherman or Winburn for comment on whether they would accept
COAST's support for their campaigns. But Smitherman, who is president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when he’s not campaigning, often teams up with COAST on local issues.
Seelbach, who has been a favorite target of COAST, tells CityBeat there’s no doubt the group’s vitriolic opposition is at least partly based on hate.
“Without question, I believe COAST targets me because I’m
gay,” Seelbach says. “In some ways, I’m a symbol of everything that they
hate, which is LGBT progress.”Cranley agrees the group is hateful. He points out that some COAST members have criticized him over the years for supporting LGBT causes, including hate crime legislation in 2003.
In the 1990s, Chris Finney, chief legal crusader for
COAST, authored Article XII, the city charter amendment approved by
voters in 1993 that barred the city from deeming gays a protected class
in anti-discrimination statutes.
In a June 1994 Cincinnati Post article,
Finney said landlords should not be legally required to rent to gay or
lesbian tenants. Finney explained, “Because there may be some who don’t
want their family dining next to a homosexual couple whose actions they
find offensive.” To critics, the remarks seemed fairly similar to
arguments leveled in support of racial segregation in the 1960s.COAST chairman Tom Brinkman and member Mark Miller were also part of Equal Rights Not Special Rights, which defended Article XII in court in 1997.
When City Council passed hate crime legislation protecting
gays and lesbians in 2003, Brinkman criticized the Catholic members of City Council at the time — including Cranley, who sponsored the legislation — for sending “the message that you openly approve of homosexuality.”Back then, Cranley responded, “We have a little something in this
country called the separation of church and state. Mr. Brinkman asked
me to read the Catechism. I ask him to read the U.S. Constitution.”
Around the same time, Seelbach prepared and then helped lead the 2004
campaign that did away with Article XII. For Cincinnati, the repeal of
the city charter amendment, just 11 years after voters approved it,
exemplified the more tolerant, open direction the country was moving in regards to the LGBT community.
But while the country has embraced greater equality for
LGBT individuals, Seelbach says COAST hasn’t done the same. Even though
Seelbach voted against the parking plan that COAST also opposes, the
conservative organization has regularly targeted Seelbach in blog posts
and emails criticizing the plan, which leases the city’s parking meters,
lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.
In March, COAST sent out a doctored image that compared
Seelbach to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ in the Christian
religion, for approving an emergency clause on the parking plan that
effectively exempted the plan from a voter referendum. Seelbach voted
against the parking plan itself when it came to a vote.
“I don’t believe in running our city by referendums,”
Seelbach says. “What we currently have is a representative democracy. We
elect people that we hold accountable by either re-electing them or
not, and we trust the people that we elect to research the policies and
make informed decisions. I think that’s the best system.”
Most recently, COAST went after Seelbach for his trip to
Washington, D.C., where he received the Harvey Milk Champion of Change
award for his efforts to protect and promote Cincinnati’s LGBT
community. The city paid more than $1,200 for the trip, which COAST
called into question with legal threats. Even though City Solicitor John
Curp, the city’s top lawyer, deemed the allegations frivolous, Seelbach
agreed to reimburse the funds to stave off a lawsuit that could have
cost the city more than $30,000.
At the same time, media outlets, including WCPO and The Cincinnati Enquirer,
have closely covered COAST’s allegations and commonly turned to the
group to get the conservative side of different issues, ranging from the
streetcar project to the pension system. Both media outlets have
characterized COAST as a “government watchdog group,” ignoring the organization’s history of conservative activism and crafting legislation.
The favorable attention might be turning around. The Enquirer recently scrutinized COAST’s lawsuits against the city, which revealed the group, which frames itself as an
anti-tax, anti-spending watchdog, could cost the city more than $500,000
in legal fees. The city solicitor also estimated his office puts the
equivalent of one full-time employee on COAST’s cases, with the typical
city civil attorney making about $65,000 a year, according to The Enquirer.
Seelbach acknowledges the vast differences between the
black and LGBT civil rights movements, but he says a group with a
similarly discriminatory past wouldn’t get the kind of media coverage and
attention COAST does, at least without the proper context.
“If there was a group that had a history of fighting for
segregation, … there is absolutely no way anyone, much less media, would
quote or accept support in any form,” Seelbach says.This story was updated at 5:09 p.m. with more context.