by German Lopez
Council allows pension amendment, parking lease in court again, county to evict squatters
Despite unanimous opposition, City Council yesterday fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and reluctantly voted to allow the controversial pension amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system
so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are
under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual
401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and
manages the investments through an independent board. City officials,
including all council members, oppose the amendment because they say it
will cost the city more and hurt benefits for city employees. Supporters of the amendment, who are backed by out-of-state tea party
groups, claim it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s rising pension
costs. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.
The conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is once again taking the parking lease to court. The legal pursuit comes after City Solicitor John Curp denied COAST’s challenge.
COAST claims that the city manager made “significant and material”
changes to the parking lease, but Curp said the changes were
ministerial and only made as a result of delays caused by COAST’s first
legal challenge against the parking lease. If the latest legal tactic is
successful, City Council could be forced to vote on the changes made to
the parking lease, which could endanger the entire lease because a
majority of council members now say they oppose the plan. A hearing is
scheduled for the challenge today at 11:30 a.m.
Hamilton County is evicting homeless squatters from its courthouse,
but it plans to carry out the evictions by connecting the homeless with
existing services. “We don’t want to get mired down in too much
political debate,” Hamilton County Sheriff’s Major Charmaine McGuffey
told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s a public health hazard.”
About 750 people in Hamilton County are homeless throughout any typical
night; of those, 700 spend the night in shelters and the rest, who are mostly downtown, sleep
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor against
ex-Councilman John Cranley, yesterday unveiled two TV advertisements: “Neighborhoods” and “Wheelbarrow.”
The first ad touts Qualls’ supports for neighborhood
investments. The second ad is particularly aggressive and claims Cranley
was forced to resign from City Council because of ethics issues regarding his personal
The number of Ohioans on welfare dropped over the past few years
as Gov. John Kasich’s administration enforced federal work
requirements. Ben Johnson, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Job
and Family Services, says the efforts have brought the state’s welfare
program into federal compliance.
Ariel Castro, the man convicted for the decade-long
kidnapping, beating and raping of three Cleveland women he held captive,
was found hanging in his prison cell on Tuesday after an apparent suicide.
Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday released an update
on the state’s sexual assault kit testing initiative: So far, the
attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation has received 3,530
previously untested rape kits from 105 law enforcement agencies in Ohio.
The agency has tested 1,488 kits, leading to to 460 hits in the
Combined DNA Index System.
Internet cafe owners submitted petitions yesterday to put a law that effectively banned their businesses on the ballot. State officials claim the cafes were hubs for criminal and illegal gambling activity, but cafe owners say the ban is unfair.
This frog listens with its mouth.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 28, 2013
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on
Aug. 23 acknowledged that it will increase enforcement when it takes
over Cincinnati’s parking meters.
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
Ohio’s jobless rate unchanged, Port patches parking lease, anti-abortion bill returns
Ohio’s unemployment rate remained at 7.2 percent in July, unchanged from June, according to new data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The amount of employed Ohioans went up by 5,300 from month-to-month and
37,700 year-over-year, showing stronger signs of job growth than earlier in the year. But the amount of jobless Ohioans still looking for jobs went up by
3,000 between June and July. In the past year, the private
service-providing sector, education and health services and leisure and
hospitality have gained the most jobs, while local government and
construction jobs have plummeted.
The Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati proposed keeping neighborhood parking meter hours the same under a lease agreement with Cincinnati in which the city is handing over control of its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port and the agency is tasking private companies with operating the assets. Keeping the meter hours
the same as today, instead of expanding them as previously suggested,
would lower Cincinnati’s upfront lease revenue from $92 million
to $88.3 million and reduce annual payments, which were originally
projected at $3 million but estimated to go up over the life of the
lease. Still, the move would satisfy neighborhood residents and businesses who were worried the expanded hours would quickly become a financial hassle. CityBeat covered the parking lease and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.
Republican legislators are reintroducing a bill that would ban abortions in Ohio as early as six weeks after conception,
even though questions remain about the proposal’s constitutionality.
The bill has been dubbed the “heartbeat bill” because it prohibits
abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. A federal judge on July
22 blocked a similar law in North Dakota after deeming it
unconstitutional. “The United States Supreme Court has unequivocally
said that no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her
pregnancy at a point prior to viability,” wrote U.S. District Judge
Daniel Hovland, who was appointed to the District of North Dakota seat
by former President George W. Bush in 2002. Health experts generally
agree viability is not reached until 24 weeks into the pregnancy.
Part of the Cincinnati streetcar route could be operational in late 2015, much earlier than the Sept. 15, 2016 date the city previously announced for the entire track.
The Ohio Ethics Commission won’t investigate Gov. John Kasich’s relationship with a company
that received $619,000 in tax credits from JobsOhio because Kasich
supposedly made a clean break from the company upon taking office.
JobsOhio, the privatized development agency established by Kasich and
Republican legislators, has been mired in controversy in the past few
weeks for providing state aid to companies that have direct financial
ties to JobsOhio board members and the governor.
Meanwhile, Kasich is fueling speculation that he will run for president in 2016.
Cincinnati mayoral candidate and ex-Councilman John Cranley on Thursday unveiled an innovation plan
that he says will boost government transparency and help foster
Cincinnati’s newly gained reputation as a tech startup hub. The plan
would take $5 million in capital funds over four years and ask local
startup incubators Cintrifuse, The Brandery and CincyTech where they
would like to see the money going. It would also call for hiring a chief
innovation officer (CIO) and creating “CincyData,” a transparency
initiative that would gather and publish city data to create “a more
efficient, effective and user-friendly City government.” Under the plan,
both the CIO position and CincyData would be leveraged to find new ways
to carry out city services in the hopes of running the local government
Cincinnati Public Schools’ ratings are likely to dip
as the school district transitions into Common Core standards and a
new state report card system. Superintendent Mary Ronan says the
district is doing well but needs to work on getting kids’ reading scores
up to grade level. CityBeat originally covered the ratings drop here and some of the hurdles faced by CPS in the past few years here.
New data show the growth of health care costs is slowing down in the Cincinnati area.
Ohio will come up with a new plan to execute condemned inmates
no later than Oct. 4 to deal with the state’s expiring supply of drugs
used to carry out capital punishments. Specifics were not detailed in
Procter & Gamble is recalling dog and cat food because some of the product may be contaminated with Salmonella.
Science confirmed pulling out is a bad way to avoid pregnancy.
by German Lopez
City mulling disparity study, Medicaid expansion bill underway, parking hours criticized
City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease
to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and
women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s
contracting policies. The study could cost between $500,000 to $1 million, according to city officials. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court case, the city must carry out the study before it can impose policies that favorably target minorities or women with business contracts. Since the city's last race- and gender-based program was dismantled in 1999, contract participation rates for
minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to
a low of 2.7 percent in 2007, but rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively unchanged. But the numbers could be understating how many minority-owned businesses there are because classifying as one is now voluntary, while it was mandatory in the 1990s.State Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee, says he wants to move on a package of bills that would include the Medicaid expansion by early October. The bills will also tackle other issues, such as how to deal with growing concerns about opiate addiction in Ohio. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the federally funded Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate roughly $1.8 billion for the state in the next year. But Republican legislators in the General Assembly say they're concerned the federal government won't be able to uphold its commitment to the expansion. Recent polling found about 63 percent of Ohioans support expanding Medicaid.East side residents pleaded with Greater Cincinnati Port Authority officials yesterday to reduce enforcement hours for parking meters under the city's controversial parking lease. The plan allows for enforcement until 9 p.m., but residents say it should only go to 6 p.m. to avoid hurting local businesses that might rely on free parking during the evening. The city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then manage the assets through private operators from around the country. The city administration estimates the deal will produce $92 million up front and at least $3 million a year afterward for Cincinnati, which officials plan to use for development projects and to help close budget gaps.Meanwhile, opponents of the parking lease appealed their legal challenge to the Ohio Supreme Court. Opponents argue the lease should be susceptible to voter referendum. The city claims Cincinnati's emergency clause powers allow council members to expedite laws and remove the possibility of referendum altogether. The legal challenge was initially successful in a lower court, but the appeals court ultimately sided with the city. It's unclear whether the Ohio Supreme Court will hear the challenge.Legal experts say it's unclear which, if any, of Ohio's new abortion restrictions could survive a court battle. The anti-abortion measures, which were passed in the state budget by Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich, impose a series of regulatory hurdles that require extra medical procedures prior to getting an abortion and could be used to shut down abortion clinics.An internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report suggests that fracking, an oil- and gas-extraction process, can contaminate underground drinking water. The findings could have implications for Ohio, which is currently undergoing a fracking boom as companies rush to tap into oil and gas reserves in northeastern parts of the state. CityBeat covered Ohio’s fracking boom in further detail here.Councilwoman Pam Thomas and ex-Councilman Cecil Thomas want everyone to know that they have not endorsed anyone for mayor.Ryan Widmer's mother, who gained notoriety for defending Widmer during his three trials, was found dead yesterday. There were no obvious signs of trauma or foul play. Widmer is currently serving 15 years for drowning his wife in a bathtub in 2008.Scientists may have to genetically modify oranges to save them from a deadly disease.