by German Lopez
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.
by German Lopez
Parking meter enforcement will go up, but Port says it's not for revenue
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority today acknowledged that it will increase enforcement when it takes over Cincinnati's parking meters, but the agency says its goal is to encourage people to pay up, not raise revenues that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port Authority and the private operators it's hiring.In a much-awaited presentation, the quasi-public development agency rolled out board members and statistics to explain why the city should lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port, which will hire various private companies to operate the assets.Much of the controversy surrounding the lease has focused on enforcement, which critics argue will be ratcheted up under the deal. Port officials clarified that the deal will involve more enforcement officers and more aggressive tactics, but Laura Brunner, CEO of the Port, claimed there will be limits. For example, parking meters won't have built-in connectivity that allows officers to immediately detect when a meter is going unpaid, which means enforcers will have to make regular rounds and checks, just as they do today, before issuing a ticket.Lynn Marmer, a Port board member and vice chairwoman of Kroger, said increased enforcement is necessary because most people currently don't pay for the parking services they use. She blamed that on the city's dwindling enforcement for parking violations: The city handed out 65,000 tickets in 2012, down from 104,000 in 2008."I think it's unlikely we all got better at following the rules and paying fines," Marmer said.The Port doesn't expect enforcement to reach the levels of 2008 any time soon, but Brunner and others said that tickets will gradually rise once the Port Authority hands the parking meters over to private operators.One of those private operators is Xerox, which will manage Cincinnati's parking meters under the deal. The Port says it plans to establish a 10-year contract with Xerox, but the contracts will be reviewed quarterly to ensure the company is doing a good job. If not, the contract can be terminated.Port officials stated that Xerox will not get revenue based on stringent enforcement. Instead, the Port will regularly review Xerox based on a series of measurements that attempt to gauge how efficiently the company is running the city's parking meters.Port officials also reemphasized that parking meter enforcement hours in neighborhoods — meaning outside of downtown and Over-the-Rhine — will only last until 6 p.m., instead of 9 p.m. as originally called for in the plan. Downtown and Over-the-Rhine meters will still be extended to 9 p.m., although some areas on the edges of downtown, such as Broadway Street, are exempt and enforcement will only run through 6 p.m. in those places.The change for neighborhood meter hours will presumably lower how much Cincinnati gets from leasing its parking assets to the Port, but officials weren't ready to unveil exactly how much money the city will get. Previous city estimates put the lump sum at $92 million and annual installments at a minimum of $3 million, but that was before the Port's changes.Prepared statements show if the final lump sum falls under $85 million, the city manager will need to approve the changes before the Port can move forward with the deal.The decrease in hours also comes with a caveat: It will be possible for the city manager, Port and an independent board appointed by the Port and city manager to expand parking meter hours in the future. But such a change would require approval from all three governing bodies.Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who's running for mayor and opposes the parking lease, says the Port's presentation did nothing to address his concerns. Claiming that "the devil's in the details," Cranley pointed out that the Port still hasn't released the actual contracts or bond documents.Brunner said the documents should be released within a month, and the Port plans to give the public two weeks to review the details between the documents' release and the Port's final vote.Cranley argued that might not be enough time. He told CityBeat that the city "almost gave away" free Sunday and holiday parking under its original lease agreement. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld's office had to catch the error and refer it to the city administration before it was corrected.The Port's presentation was meant to wrap up the agency's due diligence of the parking lease as it approaches a Sept. 4 deadline. Going into the presentation, Marmer explained, "Frankly, we were more skeptical (of the parking lease) than neutral."Emails previously acquired by CityBeat back Marmer's skepticism. Writing to other Port officials in June, Marmer expressed concerns that the parking lease has been poorly handled and will snare the Port with controversy. "This whole parking issue has been a gigantic distraction from our core mission," she claimed.Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage Cincinnati's parking assets to pay for development projects that will grow the city's tax base. Opponents argue it will take too much control out of the city's hands, cause parking rates and enforcement to skyrocket and hurt businesses and residents.The parking lease has been engulfed in political controversy ever since it was announced in October. Most recently, the city administration was criticized for failing to disclose an independent consultant's memo that found the city was getting a bad deal from the lease. City officials argue the memo was outdated, so they didn't feel the need to release its details. With its due diligence nearly finished, the Port will now finalize contracts, update the financial model for the lease and vote on the bonds and contracts that will complete the deal. If all goes as planned, the Port's new system will be in place by April next year.This story was updated to clarify some wording and what parking meters will be enforced until 9 p.m.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 21, 2013
City Solicitor John Curp on Aug. 15
rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of
Cincinnati over changes made to the city’s parking lease without City
Council’s explicit approval.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 08:17 PM | Permalink
City solicitor says conservative group's previous lawsuit forced changes
City Solicitor John Curp on Aug. 15 rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the city's parking lease without City Council's explicit approval.With Curp's denial, the conservative group behind the request — the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) — is now legally able to once again sue the city over its plans to lease Cincinnati's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. It would be the second time COAST has taken major legal action over the parking plan.In a letter to COAST's attorney, Curp writes that the two changes COAST called "significant and material" in its July 17 letter were shifts in dates and time limits that were necessary because a previous lawsuit from COAST forced the city to delay implementation of the parking lease for more than two months. In other words, COAST is trying to use the delays it forced to stop the parking lease once again.Curp also argues in his letter that the lease gave the city manager the power to make changes that keep the lease "substantially in the form" approved by Council and authorizes city officials to "take all necessary and proper actions" to carry out the lease. Curp writes the disputed changes were within those terms.In response to Curp's denial, COAST member and attorney Chris Finney told The Cincinnati Enquirer that COAST will pursue another lawsuit against the parking lease if Council doesn't vote on the disputed changes. Although a majority of Council now says it opposes the parking lease, Mayor Mark Mallory has said he will hold any legislation trying to repeal or undo key elements of the deal. Under the parking lease, the city will receive a $92
million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according
to city estimates. Private operators will also be tasked with modernizing Cincinnati's parking assets so parking meters can accept credit cards and payment through a smartphone.Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage the city's parking assets for development projects and modernize the city’s parking
services.Opponents say the lease gives
up too much public control over the city’s parking assets
and will hurt local residents and businesses by causing meter rates and operation
hours to go up.The parking plan has been engulfed in political controversies since it was first unveiled by the city manager in October. Most recently, the city administration withheld a memo that was critical of the plan from the public, City Council and Port Authority — a move that triggered outrage about the administration's lack of transparency.
by German Lopez
City refuses parking lease challenge, Qualls calls for transparency, Kasich losing in new poll
City Solicitor John Curp rebuked a conservative group
that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the
city’s parking lease without City Council's explicit approval. Curp
wrote in a letter that the two changes disputed by the Coalition Opposed
to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) were within the lease’s terms
and only made because COAST’s previous lawsuit forced the city to delay
leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati
Port Authority. If COAST hadn’t pursued the lawsuit, the city would have
been able to continue with the original timetable for the parking
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls yesterday unveiled a motion
calling for the first expansion of local disclosure and reporting
requirements since 1997 that would impose new rules on city officials,
lobbyists and contractors and require the city administration to post
the disclosed information on the city’s website. Qualls said in a
statement that the update is particularly timely because the
Metropolitan Sewer District is taking on a federally mandated $3.2
billion, 15-year reworking of the city’s sewers, which will presumably
involve many lobbyists trying to get lucrative contracts for businesses
New poll results from Public Policy Polling (PPP) show Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald beating Gov. John Kasich 38-35 percent in the 2014 election. Kasich’s approval rating now
stands at 42-47 percent, down 10 points from November. Most respondents
still seem unaware of FitzGerald, with 62 percent saying they aren’t
sure if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of him. PPP is
affiliated with Democrats, but the polling firm performed well in the
2012 presidential race and, if anything, favored Republicans with its results.
Hop On Cincinnati is asking the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District to support a trackless trolley
that the group says could live alongside the Cincinnati streetcar. The
trolley, estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million, would be similar
to the system in Northern Kentucky, and each route would run past major
garages to allow people to park before getting on board. If the Hamilton
County Transportation Improvement District gives the project approval,
it could get federal funding.
Investors are upset with SoMoLend,
the crowdfunding incubator that has been targeted by a state
investigation with accusations of fraud. Critics of the company say that
the allegations could hurt future crowdfunding pursuits and harm the
state. Shortly after the charges came to light, the city of Cincinnati
announced it would cut ties with SoMoLend, which partnered with the city to connect small businesses and startups with up to $400,000 in loans.
Ohio is the seventh worst state for debt, according to a recent study from NerdWallet.com.
The number of low-income Ohio children in Head Start, the early education program, will drop by more than 1,800 following automatic spending cuts at the federal level. CityBeat previously covered the cuts here.
Ohio’s top waterways watchdog is stepping down from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency after his boss and Kasich asked him to step down. Kasich was apparently angered by an email in which George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio EPA’s division of surface water, told his staff that the coal industry wants
permits that would damage the state’s streams and wetlands and break
state and federal laws.
Various state officials are criticizing a “stand your ground” bill
currently sitting in the Ohio legislature. The self-defense law has
been scrutinized because of George Zimmerman, a Florida resident who was
acquitted of murder in the shooting of unarmed black 17-year-old
Trayvon Martin. Many people blame Florida’s “stand your ground” law,
which expands self-defense rights, for Martin’s death. Zimmerman’s legal
defense team didn’t invoke the law, but the judge involved in the case mentioned it in her jury
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says some school safety plans would be “useless” during a real shooting because they’re too long and complicated.
Ohio is releasing school report cards this week, but the standards may be biased against income and racial diversity.
Cincinnati-based Macy’s stocks plunged last week, alongside other Cincinnati stocks and the rest of the market.
Renowned “Star Trek” actor George Takei will lead Cincinnati in the Chicken Dance at Oktoberfest this year.
Ancient Egyptian jewelry was made from meteorites.
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
Proposal uses parking lease funds to measure disparity among contracted businesses
Cincinnati council members and community leaders today explained and defended plans to use the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses.But before City Council unanimously passed the motion at today's meeting, it was amended to allow the city administration to find alternate sources of funding.Since the city dismantled its last minority- and
women-owned business program in 1999, contract participation rates for
minority-owned businesses have plummeted, while rates for women-owned
businesses have remained relatively flat.But because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, governments must conduct a study to prove there's a race- or gender-based disparity before policies can be adjusted to favor such groups.Cincinnati has not taken up a disparity study since 2002. That study found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time."This is an opportunity to respond to a complaint and
concern that has been around for as long as I can remember," Councilman
Wendell Young said.City officials claim they couldn't conduct another study until the administration finished implementing recommendations from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were criticized for neglecting the city's small business program.But the holdup has also been brought on by the study's cost, which city officials currently estimate between $500,000 and $1.5 million. Some critics argue the money would be better spent elsewhere.Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who's running for mayor this year, defended the cost by explaining a disparity study can potentially lead to economic development by lifting minority groups, who currently face unemployment rates higher than white Cincinnati residents. She said it's on the city to ensure everyone, including women and minorities, benefit from Cincinnati's economic growth.Other critics, particularly mayoral candidate John Cranley, have criticized the motion's suggestion for funding. The motion asks the city administration to fund the study with part of the upfront money that will come from leasing the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but it does allow the city administration to find other funding options if possible.Cranley, who supports conducting a disparity study but opposes the parking lease, says the money should come from other, unnamed sources because parking funds are currently being held up while the city hashes out legal uncertainty surrounding the lease and the Port Authority works out contracts with private operators that will manage Cincinnati's parking assets.In response to those concerns, Qualls said that "money doesn't grow on trees" and Council has to make do with what it has.Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the parking lease, but he supports using parking funds for the disparity study. He says that, while he may have voted against the lease, the vote is done and the money is there.The amended motion was unanimously passed by City Council today. It asks the city administration to present a budget and timetable for the study at the Budget and Finance Committee's first October meeting.Updated at 3:18 p.m. with results of City Council meeting.
by German Lopez
Behind the parking plan drama, state budget cuts local funding, bridge to get federal bump
Being one of the first to discover a critical memo put Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at the center of an ongoing drama
regarding the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and
garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The memo criticized
the financial details of the lease, but it was kept from the Port, City
Council and the public for nearly a month. Ever since the controversial
parking plan passed City Council and was upheld in court, concerned
citizens, business leaders and critics like Sittenfeld have been calling
on the city and Port to rework or halt the deal. So far, the city and
Port have stuck to their support. The city will get a $92 million lump
sum and at least $3 million a year from the lease, which it currently
plans to use to help balance city budgets and fund development projects,
such as the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The latest state budget secured more cuts to city and county governments,
putting local governments at a $1.5 billion shortfall in the next two
years compared to 2010 and 2011, according to a new report from
progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio.
Republican Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators slashed local
government funding in 2011 to help fix an $8 billion budget hole. But
the latest state budget, which Kasich signed into law in June, was awash
in extra revenues because of Ohio’s economic recovery — so much so that
legislators passed $2.7 billion in tax cuts. For Cincinnati, the
original cuts cost the city more than $22 million in revenue.
The Brent Spence Bridge was bumped up in a federal funding priority list
through a successful amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio
Republican. The amendment prioritized $500 million for obsolete and
structurally unsound bridges, but it’s so far unclear how much of the
money will go to the Brent Spence Bridge project, which state officials
estimate will cost $2.7 billion. Currently, Ohio and Kentucky officials
plan to pay for the bridge project by enacting tolls.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor this
year, is calling on the city manager to produce a plan that would
structurally balance Cincinnati’s operating budget by 2016. “To build on
the momentum Cincinnati is now experiencing, we must set a course now
for a fiscally sustainable future,” Qualls said in a statement. “That’s
why I’m urging that we have a plan to reach structural balance by 2016,
restore reserves and increase the city’s pension contribution, minimize
using the parking lease payment to restore budget cuts and continue to
invest in neighborhoods and jobs to grow revenue.” The announcement
comes more than one week after Moody’s, the credit rating agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating
and criticized the city for its exposure to unsustainable pension
liabilities and reliance on one-time sources to fix budget gaps.
Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who’s also running for mayor,
is rolling out his jobs plan today. The initiative will provide a job
training program for individuals facing long-term unemployment or
underemployment, which the Cranley campaign estimates will result in 379
individuals per year obtaining full-time, permanent jobs. The
program will be mainly paid for by pulling funds from the city’s Office of
Environmental Quality, Department of Finance, travel and the state
lobbyist. “My deepest conviction is that there is dignity in work. I
believe all able-bodied adults should work and be self-sufficient. And I
believe society has an obligation to ensure the opportunity to work
exists,” Cranley said in a statement.On Second Thought: “Facts vs. Perceptions in Trayvon Martin Coverage.”
Police yesterday shot and killed
Roger Ramundo, an allegedly armed Clifton resident. Officers had
been called to the area of Clifton and Ludlow avenues by a mental health
provider, who said there was a person with mental health issues armed with a gun, according to interim Cincinnati Police Chief Paul
Humphries. Police said they tried to first subdue Ramundo with Tasers
during an ensuing struggle, but they were unsuccessful and the man
pulled out his gun and fired a shot. That’s when one officer fired two
shots that hit Ramundo, who was then taken to University Hospital, where
he was pronounced dead.
Gov. Kasich isn’t providing clemency
to a Cleveland killer who stabbed his victim 17 times, overruling a
rare plea for mercy from prosecutors but siding with a majority of the
state parole board. Billy Slagle will be executed on Aug. 7.
Ohio will take a hands-off approach
to promoting Obamacare, even though outreach will be crucial for the controversial
health care law. President Barack Obama’s administration estimates it
will have to enroll millions of young adults into health care plans to turn the law into a success.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County is investigating if Obamacare could result in lower property taxes by allowing the county to shift costs to the federal government.
A Cincinnati money manager is being accused of running an “elaborate Ponzi scheme”
that cost investors “tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars,”
according to a July 20 complaint filed in the Hamilton County Common
The average price of a flight from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport dropped, but the airport is still the second-most expensive in the nation.
CityBeat gave Internet cat-celebrity Lil Bub an in-depth look in this week’s issue. Find it online here.
Want to maximize your tan? Here is how close you could get to the sun and survive.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 24, 2013
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
by German Lopez
Port wants parking lease money, Ohio No. 2 for job losses, Kasich plans more tax cuts
New documents acquired by The Cincinnati Enquirer show the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority wants $27 million of the city’s $92 million parking lease.
The Port Authority, a city-funded development agency, says it would use
the money for various projects around the city. The request, which has
been supported by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, may explain why the Port
Authority inexplicably took four days to sign its lease agreement with the city:
It wanted some of the money for itself. The city is leasing its parking
meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire
various private operators from around the country to manage the assets.
The deal will provide $92 million up front and at least $3 million a
year afterward, which the city plans to use for development projects and
to plug budget gaps.
Ohio lost the No. 2 most jobs in the nation last month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That pushed the state unemployment rate to 7.2 percent in June, up from 7 percent in May, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
found. The state lost 12,500 jobs in June, with the private sector
showing losses across the board. The month’s big losses mean the state
has only added 15,000 jobs in the past year, even though the state
actually topped job growth in May with more than 32,000 new jobs. In
June, Pew Charitable Trusts found Ohio was the No. 46 state for job growth between April 2012 and April this year.
Gov. John Kasich says he wants to further cut state taxes to reduce the bracket for the wealthiest Ohioans
to less than 5 percent. Such a cut could require raising regressive
taxes that put more of a burden on the state’s poorest, such as the
sales tax. The latest two-year state budget, which Kasich signed into
law, did just that, as CityBeat previously covered:
It cut income taxes in a way that favored the wealthy, then it raised
sales taxes in a way that forced the lowest-income Ohioans to pay more.
A report released yesterday suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs
if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation. The
Environment Ohio report finds the state’s regulations on “fracking,” an
oil and gas extraction process, require too little financial assurance
from drilling companies to dissuade dangerous risks. In Ohio, fracking
well operators are required to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well, but even those payments can be avoided through regulatory
loopholes. At the same time, damage caused by fracking can cost
communities and the state millions of dollars, and simply reclaiming the
well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says he wouldn’t have prosecuted George Zimmerman,
the man who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old last year in
Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter and
second-degree murder by a jury on July 13 after he claimed self-defense.
A lack of local access to healthy foods was linked to higher obesity rates
in a study released yesterday. That could be troubling news for
Avondale and other Cincinnati neighborhoods that are deemed “food
deserts,” areas that don’t have reasonable access to healthy foods. CityBeat covered the efforts of some city officials, including Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, to end food deserts here.
Cincinnati is looking for feedback on local bike projects.
The American Civil Liberties Union is asking Ohio to avoid shutting off electricity in state prisons,
calling the practice “dangerous” as temperatures approach 100
degrees. Ohio’s prisons have already shut down electricity twice in the
afternoon this week and relied on backup generators. The shutdowns are commonly deployed as part of a power
agreement that’s generated $1.3 million for the state since 2010.
Harris Teeter Supermarkets shareholders are suing to stop a planned acquisition from Kroger.
Detroit yesterday became the biggest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.
An “invisibility wetsuit” hides people from sharks.