0 Comments · Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Not too hot, not too cold, just right: A Russian bear
broke into a couple’s Siberian country cottage and instead of eating
them, it devoured an entire pot of borscht. WORLD +1
by German Lopez
County shut down $3.2 billion MSD project in response to city rules
Councilman Chris Seelbach on Oct. 3 announced another
concession in the ongoing city-county dispute over contracting rules for the jointly operated Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).
At the heart of the issue is a federal mandate requiring
Cincinnati to retrofit and revamp its sewer system. The project
is estimated to cost $3.2 billion over 15 years, making it the largest
infrastructure undertaking in the city’s history.
But Hamilton County commissioners have put most of the
project on hold until the county resolves its conflict with City
Council, which unanimously passed in June 2012 and modified in May
“responsible bidder” rules that dictate how MSD contractors should train
Critics say the law’s apprenticeship program and
pre-apprenticeship fund requirements put too much of a burden on nonunion businesses. Supporters claim the requirements
help create local jobs and train local workers.
The city law requires bidders to follow specific
standards for apprenticeship programs, which are used by unionized and
nonunion businesses to teach an employee in a certain craft, such as
plumbing or construction. It also asks contractors to put 10 cents for
each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help teach
applicants in different crafts.
The concession announced on Oct. 3 would replace a mandate with an incentive program.
The mandate tasked contract bidders to prove their
apprenticeship programs have graduated at least one person a year for
the five previous years.
The incentive program would strip the mandate and
replace it with “bid credits,” which would essentially give a small
advantage to bidders who prove their apprenticeship programs are
graduating employees. That advantage would be weighed along with many other
factors that go into the city’s evaluation of bidders.
Seelbach says the concession will be the sixth the city has given to the county, compared to the county’s single concession.
The city has already added several exemptions to its
rules, including one for small businesses and another for all contracts
under $400,000, which make up half of MSD contracts. The city also
previously loosened safety training requirements and other apprenticeship rules.
Meanwhile, the county has merely agreed to require
state-certified apprenticeship programs, although with no specific
standards like the city’s.
The five-year graduation requirement was the biggest
sticking point in the city-county dispute. It’s now up to commissioners
to decide whether the concession is enough to let MSD work go forward.
If not, the dispute could end up in court as the federal government
demands its mandate be met.
by German Lopez
Seelbach helps gunshot victim, Pure Romance to stay in Ohio, Council denies car allowances
Councilman Chris Seelbach last night helped a gunshot victim
before the man was taken to the hospital. Seelbach
posted on Facebook that he was watching The Voice with his partner,
Craig Schultz, when they heard gun shots. They went to their
window and saw a man walking across Melindy Alley. When Seelbach asked
what happened, the man replied, “I was shot.” Seelbach then ran down and
held his hand on the wound for 10 to 15 minutes before emergency
services showed up. “We have a lot of work to do Cincinnati,” Seelbach
wrote on Facebook. Police told The Cincinnati Enquirer the victim seemed to be chosen at random.Pure Romance yesterday announced it will remain in Ohio
and move to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John
Kasich’s administration not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus
company, which hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions
and other “relationship enhancement” products. The reason for Pure Romance’s decision: The city,
which was pushing for Pure Romance despite the state’s refusal, upped its tax break offer
from $353,204 over six years to $698,884 over 10
years. Kasich previously justified his administration’s refusal with
claims that Pure Romance just didn’t fall into an industry that Ohio
normally supports, such as logistics and energy. But Democrats argue the
tax credits were only denied because of a prudish, conservative
perspective toward Pure Romance’s product lineup.
City Council yesterday unanimously rejected
restoring car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the
city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and
council members. Councilman Seelbach said he hopes the refusal
sends “a signal to the administration that this Council is not
interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive
perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.” The
restorations were part of $6.7 million in budget restorations proposed
by City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city administration previously
argued the car allowances were necessary to maintain promises to hired city directors and keep the city competitive in terms of recruitment, but
council members called the restorations out of touch.
The Cincinnati area’s jobless rate dropped from 6.9 percent in August 2012 to 6.7 percent in August this year as the economy added 11,500 jobs, more than the 3,000 required to keep up with annual population growth.
The former chief financial officer for local bus service Metro is receiving a $50,000 settlement
from the agency after accusing her ex-employer of retaliating against her
for raising concerns about issues including unethical behavior and
theft. Metro says it’s not admitting to breaking the law and settled to
Ohio House Democrats say state Republicans denied access to an empty hearing room
for an announcement of legislation that would undo recently passed
anti-abortion restrictions. But a spokesperson for the House Republican
caucus said the speaker of the House did try to accommodate the
announcement and called accusations of malicious intent “absurd.” The
accusations come just one week after the state’s public broadcasting group pulled cameras from an internal meeting
about abortion, supposedly because the hearing violated the rules. The legislation announced by Democrats yesterday undoes
regulations and funding changes passed in the state budget
that restrict abortion and defund family planning clinics, but the
Democratic bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled
Ohioans will be able to pick from an average of 46 plans
when new health insurance marketplaces launch on Oct. 1 under
Obamacare, and the competition will push prices down, according to a new
report. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here.
Ohio lawmakers intend to pursue another ban on Internet cafes
that would be insusceptible to referendum, even as petitioners gather signatures to get the original ban on the November 2014
ballot. State officials argue the ban is necessary because Internet
cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are
hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafe owners say what
they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of
value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money.
Ohio tea party groups can’t find candidates to challenge Republican incumbents.
The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed the first openly gay U.S. appeals court judge.
The Cincinnati area is among the top 20 places for surgeons, according to consumer finance website ValuePenguin.
A graphic that’s gone viral calls Ohio the “nerdiest state.”
Insects apparently have personalities, and some love to explore.
by German Lopez
Human services and parks funding to be restored; more than $70,000 stripped from motion
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday
unanimously stripped budget restorations that would have reinstated car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners,
including the mayor, city manager and council members.
“It seems disingenuous that we would restore funding to
the top earners in our city for car allowances and cost-saving days and
also show, as we did last June, that we are willing to make sacrifices
along with our employees,” Councilman Chris Seelbach said at the
committee meeting. “When we ask people not to take a raise for five
years or to not take a car allowance, it’s important for us to also make
Seelbach added that he hopes City Council’s decision will
send “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested
in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to
people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.”
The city previously eliminated some paid work days and car allowances as part of broader cuts to balance the city’s operating budget without laying off cops or firefighters. But City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 asked council members to use higher-than-projected revenues to undo $6.7 million in cuts, including $26,640 in car allowances for city directors, $18,000 in council members’ office budgets and $26,200 in paid work days for council members and the mayor.City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat
on Friday that restoring the car allowances is a matter of basic
fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness. She said
the car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered
in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The
allowances, she added, were also promised to city directors as part of
their pay packages when they were first hired for the job.
But some council members, particularly Seelbach, called the restorations out of touch.
“I’m more concerned with the garbage worker who’s making
barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour
raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance,” Seelbach told CityBeat
on Friday. “If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making
$100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car
allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not
more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no
The City Council motions passed on Tuesday remove the
provisions for car allowances, paid work days and City Council office budgets but keep earlier
proposals from council members, including restorations to human services funding and city parks.
by German Lopez
Food stamp rules to hit locals, city defends allowances, charterites oppose pension initiative
Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for
federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients
in Hamilton County to meet work requirements
if they want the benefits to continue. That means "able-bodied"
childless adults will have to work or attend work training sessions for 20 hours a week starting in October to continue getting food assistance. The renewed rules are coming just one month before federal stimulus funds for the food stamp program are set to expire, which will push down the $200-a-month food benefits
to $189 a month, or slightly more than $2 a meal, in November. In light of the new requirements, the Hamilton County
Department of Job and
Family Services will help link people with jobs through local partnerships and
Hamilton County's SuperJobs Center,
but that might be difficult for food stamp recipients who have past
convictions, mental health problems and other barriers to employment.The city administration defended its proposal to restore $26,640 in car allowances
for the mayor, city manager and other director-level positions in the
city government, just a few months after the city narrowly avoided
laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees by making cuts in
various areas, including city parks. City spokesperson Meg Olberding
says car allowances are part of traditional compensation packages in
other cities Cincinnati competes with for recruitment, and she says that
the compensation was promised to city directors when they were first
hired for the jobs. But Councilman Chris Seelbach says the proposal is
out of touch and that he's more concerned about lower-paid city employees,
such as garbage collectors, who haven't gotten a raise in years, much
less a $5,000 car allowance. The Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, came out against the tea party-backed pension ballot initiative. The committee recognizes Cincinnati needs pension reform soon, but it says the tea party proposal isn't the right solution. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati's pension system so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who are under a different system — would have to contribute to and manage 401k-style retirement accounts. Under the current system, the city pools and manages pension funds through an independent board. Supporters argue the amendment is necessary to deal with the city's growing pension liability, but opponents, including all council members, argue it would actually cost the city more and decrease employees' benefits. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups behind it in further detail here.State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County wants U.S. Judge Timothy Black impeached because the judge ruled Ohio must recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple's marriage in a death certificate. The judge gave the special order for locals James Obergefell and John Arthur, who is close to death because of a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says if the city were to synchronize its mayoral primary elections with other state and county elections, it could save money by spreading the share of the costs. The Sept. 10 primary cost Cincinnati $437,000. The change would require altering the city charter, which needs voter approval.The Ohio Department of Education will soon release revised report card grades for Cincinnati Public Schools and other school districts following an investigation that found the school districts were scrubbing data in a way that could have benefited their state evaluations.An Ohio bill would ban drivers younger than 21 from driving with non-family members in the car and bump the driving curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., with some exceptions for work and school.A University of Cincinnati football player is dead and three others are injured following a single-car crash.Ohio gas prices rose as the national average dipped.Here is a map of air pollution deaths around the world.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In partnership with the Cincinnati Police
Department, City Councilman Chris Seelbach on Sept. 5 unveiled a
legislative plan that would crack down on cellphone thefts by making it
more difficult to sell stolen devices.
by German Lopez
Medicaid expansion vote stalls, Lunken Airport mismanaged, streetcar spurs campaigns
Republican lawmakers say they won’t hold any votes on the Medicaid expansion until October or later,
even though state officials say the expansion must be approved by
October to have it in place by 2014. Implementing the expansion at the start of 2014 would coincide with the implementation
of other major programs in Obamacare. Gov. John Kasich supports the
expansion, but he’s had trouble convincing his fellow Republicans to
join him. The expansion would be mostly funded by the federal
government, which would pay for the entire policy for the first three
years then phase down to indefinitely paying for 90 percent of the cost.
Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an
analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a
million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next
decade. Michigan, which is also dominated by Republicans, on Tuesday approved its own Medicaid expansion.
An internal audit found the city of Cincinnati has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have gone toward improving the city-owned Lunken Airport through poor management and technology problems. In response, Councilman Chris Seelbach wrote on Twitter, “Lunken oversights
completely unacceptable. Meeting w/ City & Lunken Mngr to work on
detailed correction plan later this week.” The city is planning on
making changes that should avoid losing revenue in the future.
Streetcar supporters plan to hold a fundraiser
today for mayoral candidate Roxanne Qualls and City Council candidate
Wendell Young. The fundraiser shows the extra steps now being taken by
streetcar supporters, who have been proudly flaunting their support
every month through “streetcar socials,” the latest of which Mayor Mark Mallory attended. Ever since its inception, the streetcar has been mired in controversy and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
A central Ohio lawmaker is renewing a legislative push
for attaching drug tests to welfare benefits. The measure is meant to
lower costs and ensure welfare money isn’t going to drug dealers. As CityBeat previously covered,
the testing requirement can actually increase the cost of welfare
programs: In Florida, the state government’s program had a net loss of
$45,780 after it reimbursed all falsely accused welfare recipients of
their drug tests. Only 108 people out of the 4,086 accused, or 2.9
percent, tested positive, and most tested positive for marijuana,
according to The Miami Herald.
Heavy construction and improvements that will modernize and widen Interstate 75 are expected to continue for the next decade.
Much of the work is being funded by Kasich’s Ohio Turnpike plan, which
sells bonds that will be repaid with excess Turnpike polls.
Jeff Ruby yesterday responded to a lawsuit
filed on Monday against his restaurant chain. Ruby says his servers “are
highly compensated — averaging $65,000 a year, with shifts that average
seven hours a day.” The lawsuit alleges that management at Ruby’s
restaurants took tips from three employees, which supposedly left them
earning less than minimum wage.
United Way of Greater Cincinnati plans to raise $62.8 million with its campaign this year. The organization supports Cincinnati’s human services, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Google Glass could be used to improve surgeries in the future.
by German Lopez
Seelbach calls for Voting Rights Act rework, 3CDC upkeep criticized, politics in budget veto
Councilman Chris Seelbach and other local leaders are
calling on Congress to rework the Voting Rights Act following a U.S.
Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions. Supporters of
the Voting Rights Act argue it’s necessary to prevent discrimination and
protect people’s right to vote, while critics call it an outdated
measure from the Jim Crow era that unfairly targeted some states with
forgone histories of racism. “Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s
decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, five states are already moving
ahead with voter ID laws, some of which had previously been rejected by
the Department of Justice as discriminatory,” Seelbach said in a
statement. “The right to vote is one of the most sacred values in our
nation and Congress should act immediately to protect it”.
Nonprofit developer 3CDC says it’s restructuring staff and guidelines to take better care of its vacant buildings
following criticisms from residents and the local Board of Housing
Appeals. The board has fined the 3CDC three times this year for failing
to maintain Cincinnati’s minimum standards for vacant buildings, which
require owners keep the buildings watertight and safe for emergency
personnel to enter.
Gov. John Kasich said the funding allocation belonged in
the capital budget — not the operating budget he signed into law — when
he vetoed money going to State Treasurer Josh Mandel’s office, but The Columbus Dispatch reports it might have been revenge
for Mandel’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion and an oil-and-gas
severance tax. Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols says the allegation is
“silly” and “absurd,” adding that Kasich said he would work with Mandel
on allocating the money during the capital budget process. The state
treasurer’s office says it needs the $10 million to upgrade computers
against cyberattacks. Mandel was one of the first state Republicans to
come out against the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered here and here.
A series of mandatory across-the-board federal spending
cuts was supposed to take $66 million from Ohio schools, but state
officials say they’ll be able to soften the blow with $19 million in unspent federal aid.
The federal cuts — also known as “sequestration” — were part of a debt
deal package approved by Congress and President Barack Obama that kicked
in March 1. Prior to its implementation, Obama asked Congress to rework
sequestration to lessen its negative fiscal impact, but Republican
legislators refused. CityBeat covered some of sequestration’s other statewide effects here.
The mayoral race officially dropped down to four candidates yesterday, with self-identified Republican Stacy Smith failing to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot.
Check out the Cincinnati Zoo’s latest expansion here.
Headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Where does John Cranley live?”
It’s now legal to go 70 miles per hour in some state highways.
Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s came in at No. 2 and No. 14 respectively in an annual list of the nation’s top 20 retailers from STORIES magazine.
The Tribune Co. is buying Local TV LLC in Newport for $2.7 billion to become the largest TV station operator in the nation.
Human head transplants may be closer than we think (and perhaps hope).
by German Lopez
U.S. Supreme Court strikes down federal ban on same-sex marriage
The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down the federal
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a ruling that effectively requires the
federal government to recognize same-sex marriages for couples who
reside in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
The DOMA ruling also sets a powerful historical precedent by extending equal protection rights to gay and lesbian individuals.In another ruling, the Supreme Court vacated a case on California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in that state, and effectively sent the case back down to a lower court that deemed Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The ruling means California will likely begin giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but the ruling’s effects will not go beyond California’s borders.
For gay and lesbian Ohioans, the DOMA ruling adds yet another incentive to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. If FreedomOhio’s efforts to get the issue on the ballot in 2014 are successful, Ohio’s gay couples will have their marriages recognized at all levels of government. (The group previously aimed for 2013, but it now says it needs more time.)
So far, it remains unclear whether the ruling will extend
to same-sex couples who get married in other states but live in Ohio. If so, Ohio gay couples could get married in Massachusetts, return to Ohio and be eligible for federal marriage benefits — but not state marriage benefits. Legal experts and federal officials will surely debate the
issue in the coming months to develop a clearer answer.
Still, there’s been a lot of cheering and jubilation about
the historical rulings, which are widely seen as victories for LGBT rights. Below are some of
those reactions from local and state leaders, gathered through
interviews and statements.Also, make sure to check out CityBeat's Pride Issue for more coverage on LGBT issues.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay council member:
“It’s pretty amazing. Just as President Obama when he
announced his support for marriage equality, this feels like just as
much of a milestone, if not more because of the legal significance of
the rulings. This is proof that the tides have turned and the laws are
changing. We are realizing full equality for LGBT people across this
“The fact that they used the equal protection clause means
this case will be used across the country for every type of law that
has an impact on LGBT people. The Supreme Court just set a new precedent for
the rights of any government to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
It’s far broader than just the repeal of DOMA, which in itself is an
incredible feat. But the precedent that it’s setting for scrutiny on the
basis of sexual orientation will have an effect on laws throughout this
country for decades to come.”
Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio:
“We are elated that the Supreme Court has repealed DOMA
and in effect rejected Proposition 8. These decisions are proof that the
tide of acceptance for all couples is turning in this country, and we
have taken two more important steps toward true equality.
“This important moment, however, does not change the
reality that Ohio still has a constitutional amendment banning
same-gender marriage. Ohio voters can address the civil rights issue of
our generation by voting for the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom
amendment. We are elated and our resolve has been doubled to collect
signatures. The journey continues. We will bring marriage equality to
Ohio in November, 2014.”
Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party:“I’m
deeply thankful that the Defense of Marriage Act has finally been
struck from our country’s books, and that millions across the nation and
Ohio are one step closer to equal and fair treatment under the law.
DOMA implemented discrimination into the highest law of the land, and
it’s a great day that this ugly reminder of a different time is finally
gone. “Ohio Democrats are honored to stand with our LGBT brothers and sisters
in the fight to earn marriage equality for all, and continue our march
to overcome the prejudice of the past. But despite our victories across
the nation, Ohio Republicans in the Statehouse and Governor’s office
remain committed to keeping prejudice enshrined in law.” John Boehner, U.S. Speaker of the House and Republican from West Chester, Ohio:
“Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act on an
overwhelmingly bipartisan basis and President (Bill) Clinton signed it into
law. The House intervened in this case because the constitutionality of a
law should be judged by the Court, not by the president unilaterally.
While I am obviously disappointed in the ruling, it is always critical
that we protect our system of checks and balances. A robust national
debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my
hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and
German Lopez, gay staff writer at CityBeat:
“Cool.”Danny Cross, CityBeat editor: “DOMA was a real horseshit piece of legislation, and we're happy those old bastards in the Supreme Court did the right thing.”Update (1:47 p.m.): Added more reactions.
by German Lopez
Streetcar vote today, sewer project compromise reached, "megadeals" fail expectations
The federal government is committing another $5 million to Cincinnati’s streetcar project,
but the city must first close the budget gap that has recently put the
project in danger. The U.S. Department of Transportation is also asking
the city to restore certain aspects of the project, including a
passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power
substations from public view. City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee is expected to vote on the project’s $17.4 million budget gap
today. The latest proposed fixes from the city manager would pull funding from multiple capital projects, including improvements around the Horseshoe Casino, and issue more debt.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County announced a compromise
Friday that will end the county's funding hold on sewer projects. As a
result, the city will be required to rework its “responsible bidder”
ordinance and repeal the “local hire” and “local preference” laws that
incited county commissioners into passing the funding hold in the first
place. The city says its responsible bidder law creates local jobs and
encourages job training, but the county argues that law’s rules favor
unions and push up costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the city-county conflict in further detail here.
Ohio is No. 3 in the nation for “megadeals”
— massive government subsidies to corporations that are meant to
encourage in-state job creation — but a new report found many of the
deals rarely produce the kind of jobs initially touted by public
officials. For Cincinnati, the risks of megadeals are nothing new: In
2011, the city’s $196.4 million megadeal with Convergys collapsed when the company failed to keep downtown employment at or above
1,450, and the company agreed to pay a $14 million reimbursement to the city.
As of Friday, Cincinnati is officially leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Port announced it had signed the lease Friday, putting an end to a four-day controversy
over whether the agency was going to sign the lease at all. The city
will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the
deal, according to city estimates. Current plans call for using the
money to help balance city budgets and fund economic development
projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The prison company that owns and operates a northeastern Ohio prison lost four contracts around the nation in June, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In May, CityBeat released an in-depth report
looking at the Corrections Corporation of America’s handling of the
Lake Erie Correctional Institution, finding evidence of rising violence
and unsanitary conditions.
About one in three Ohio children live in a home where neither parent has a full-time, year-round job,
and a quarter now live in poverty. Although Ohio’s overall ranking
improved in Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report card on the
well-being of children, the state worsened in three out of four economic
President Barack Obama will make a speech
tomorrow unveiling sweeping plans for climate change. The president is
expected to impose a series of regulations, particularly on power
plants, with executive powers, which means the plans won’t require
Ohio gas prices are still coming down this week.
Plants apparently do math to get through the night.
Some diseases, including some types of cancer, are now being diagnosed by smell.Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Today is the last day to submit your questions here. We’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders
from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or
know anyone willing to participate, email email@example.com.