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Debate Heats Up on Parks Charter Amendment

0 Comments · Wednesday, October 14, 2015
A proposal by Mayor John Cranley to amend Cincinnati’s charter in order to raise funds for the city’s parks has created a good deal of controversy ahead of the Nov. 3 election, where voters will decide whether or not to adopt it.   
by Nick Swartsell 10.13.2015
Posted In: News at 01:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Parks Tax Fight Gets Real

A 95-year-old civil rights icon says she hung up on Cranley; local lawyer wants campaign money returned to Parks Board

As voters get nearer to weighing in on Mayor John Cranley's proposed amendment to Cincinnati's charter that would create a permanent property tax to fund the city's parks, things are getting contentious. Supporters of Issue 22, which would raise property taxes by about $35 for a $100,000 house, say it will help Cincinnati create “world class parks,” boost neighborhoods and economic development throughout the city. But detractors say the amendment gives too much control to the mayor and will allow him to take on debt the city will be paying for years to come, money that will be used to boost for-profit ventures in the city’s public parks.Former Cincinnati vice mayor and civil rights leader Marian Spencer today said that Mayor John Cranley had harsh words for her regarding her opposition to the proposed charter amendment."He said to me, angrily, 'Your face will be on the Enquirer, the front page, opposing the levy, and you're not going to like that,' " Spencer said during an appearance today on 1230 AM WDBZ. "I told him I'm 95 and nobody tells me how to vote. He didn't have anything else to say because I think I hung up."Cranley remembers the conversation differently, though, according to a social media post by Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Carrie Blackmore Smith reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier. According to that post, Cranley says he didn't threaten Spencer, but merely told her she would be the most prominent opponent of the amendment if she came out against it. Spencer originally supported the levy, but says once she read the full text of the amendment, she pulled her endorsement. She says she's concerned that the proposed tax increase is a permanent charter amendment, which she called "bad policy" in a letter to Parks Board Director Willie Carden last month. She also expressed consternation in that letter that the amendment language doesn't guarantee that improvements made to parks will be free of admissions charges to Cincinnati residents. Finally, she said in the missive that large changes to the city's parks should be initiated by citizens, not the mayor, and should go through the normal budget process involving City Council.Spencer's letter isn't the only unfriendly missive in Carden's mailbox lately.In a letter delivered to the parks director today, Cincinnati attorney Timothy Mara of anti-Issue 22 group Save Our Parks called a $200,000 contribution to a campaign boosting the parks levy “illegal” and demanded the money be taken back. "Given the facts as we know them, it is imperative that the Park Board act today to set this matter right by first securing the return of its $200,000 campaign contribution," Mara wrote in the letter delivered this morning. Cranley appears in the television ad funded in part with the park board's contribution, touting the charter amendment as he plays various sports including football, basketball and baseball. The ad features slick production and is running in local markets.The two sides of the fight battled it out at a public debate hosted by The Cincinnati Enquirer Oct. 12 at The Phoenix downtown. Don Mooney, a Cincinnati attorney who has helped organize opposition to the plan, argued against the amendment, while environmentalist Brewster Rhoads presented the case for it. Cranley himself was invited to participate in the event, but declined unless he would not be on the stage at the same time as the opposition and could speak last, according to the Enquirer. At the debate, Mooney blasted Cranley’s proposal, calling it a “slush fund” for the mayor. He pointed to the ballot language, which gives control over the money raised to the mayor and the Cincinnati Park Board. The mayor appoints the park board with council approval. Critics like Mooney have questioned why the amendment language doesn’t stipulate any requirements for Cincinnati City Council or community involvement.That, Mooney says, primes Cincinnati for “a commercial and corporate takeover of our parks.” Mooney cites recent closures of Washington Park due to for-profit events as evidence for this, as well as a proposed public-private partnership with Western & Southern to remake Lytle Park downtown.But Rhoads says the amendment is about boosting Cincinnati’s public parks, not selling them off. He says for-profit events like those at Washington Park are rare events that put much-needed funds in the city’s coffers for parks. At the debate, Rhoads also pushed back against the assertion that the mayor will control the funds raised by the amendment. Ohio law requires City Council to approve any bonds issued by the city, he said, giving the elected body a say over which projects will be funded by the amendment. Rhoads did acknowledge that the amendment’s language would be better if it had specific guidelines for community involvement, but said that the parks board does a good job with getting the community engaged.“It’s not a perfect plan,” he said. “But we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”The mayor has proposed 16 projects to be funded by bonds issued with seed money from the property tax increase, though none are specifically listed in the amendment language. Among these are an effort to save and restore the former King Records site in Evanston and create a museum there; millions in funding for the Wasson Way bike path, which would cut through a number of East Side neighborhoods on its way into Uptown; and money to give large urban woods like Burnet Woods and Mount Airy Forest facelifts. All told, the price tag for those projects comes to about $80 million.Rhoads argued that the city doesn’t have enough money to fund park maintenance currently. He and other supporters say 25 percent of the money raised by the property tax levy will go toward maintenance costs. Critics, however, point out that the language on the ballot only stipulates that the 25 percent cannot be used toward debt service for capital projects, not a requirement for it to be used for maintenance. Mooney questioned how the city doesn’t have enough money for park maintenance when the Park Board has millions in its accounts and was able to spend $200,000 to fund the pro-Issue 22 ad featuring Cranley. Rhoads demurred on that question, saying he doesn’t speak for the Issue 22 campaign. Parks Board President Carl Budig said the donation to the campaign came from a special endowment. He defended the contribution as appropriate and legal.Mara pushed back against that assertion, however."The fact that the money may originally have come from an endowment or donation to the Park Board does not mean that the $200,000 political campaign gift is legal," he wrote in the letter. "Once accepted by the Park Board, that money became 'public funds' subject to the above-described prohibition against campaign expenditures by a public entity."
 
 

City Reveals Steps to Eliminate Gender, Racial Inequities in Contracting

0 Comments · Wednesday, October 7, 2015
City of Cincinnati officials on Sept. 30 unveiled ordinances to address inequalities in the city’s contracting practices, including race- and gender-based requirements for contractors.   

Executive Session Charter Amendment Chances Dim

0 Comments · Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Mayor John Cranley Aug. 26 vetoed a proposed amendment to the city’s charter that would allow Cincinnati City Council to meet in executive session about specific topics.   

Worst Week Ever! Aug. 12-18

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Jailed labor force financially benefits Clermont County; Shakespeare likely high on weed a lot; Papa John's settles with delivery drivers after shorting them for a while; Mayor Cranley appoints guy to Historic Conservation Board who loves tearing down old buildings; Rabbit Hash frets over proposed Rising Star Casino ferry plan.  

Task Force Suggests Reducing Mayoral Power

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 5, 2015
A task force charged with suggesting amendments to Cincinnati’s charter has floated two ideas that could strip the city’s mayor of major powers, and Mayor John Cranley isn’t happy about it.     

ADA Anniversary Rally Highlights Struggle for Disabled

0 Comments · Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Cincinnatians marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act with a pride march July 27 designed to underscore the many issues that disabled Cincinnatians still face.   

Questions Swirl Around Resignation Papers for Police Chief; City Makes Deal for Wasson Way Bike Trail Land

0 Comments · Tuesday, June 2, 2015
The city of Cincinnati recently drew up resignation documents for Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, according to a May 29 report by the Cincinnati Business Courier. That revelation has led to speculation over whether Blackwell was on the verge of being dismissed from his position, though city officials say that isn’t the case.  

City Desk July 15-21

0 Comments · Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The city of Cincinnati on July 10 released documents showing what it would have offered Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell had he left the department last May after discussions with City Manager Harry Black.    

Mayor, Council Democrats Battle over City Budget

0 Comments · Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on June 15 wrangled over the city’s upcoming $1 billion budget, passing the operating portion of that financial plan but leaving a fight over capital spending for another day.  

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