by German Lopez
113 days ago
Tea party-backed reform would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system
Councilman Chris Smitherman told CityBeat he doesn’t support the pension amendment that will appear on the ballot this November, which means no council member approves of the controversial proposal.
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 and unions claim the amendment will cost
the city more and hurt retirement gains for public employees. Tea party groups say
the amendment is necessary to address the city’s growing pension costs,
including an $862 million unfunded liability.
“I do not support the amendment. I have introduced several
solutions that have been ignored by council and your paper,” Smitherman
wrote in an email.
The other eight members of City Council — seven Democrats
and one Republican — on Aug. 7 approved a resolution
that condemned the tea party amendment. But Smitherman, an Independent,
wasn’t present at the meeting.
CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups that could be behind it in further detail here.
by German Lopez
Prison company currently owns and operates Ohio's Lake Erie Correctional Institution
The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) lost four prison contracts in June as a result of rising violence and turmoil in the corrections facilities, echoing many of the same problems critics claim are found in a CCA-owned facility located in northeastern Ohio.A report from the American Civil Liberties Union found CCA lost contracts in Idaho, Texas and Mississippi this month. The most recent announcement came Wednesday in Idaho, where a prison was allegedly deemed so dangerous that prisoners took to calling the facility "Gladiator School."Two of the contracts are being sold to other companies, which the ACLU claims is a bad idea."Rather than repeatedly handing off authority to a revolving door of contractors, states need to both take responsibility for their own prisons and reduce the number of people entering the criminal justice system in the first place," wrote Carl Takei of the ACLU National Prison Project. "Only then can they unshackle themselves from the false promise of for-profit imprisonment."In May, CityBeat published an in-depth report about the CCA-owned prison in Ohio, which detailed evidence of rising violence and unsanitary conditions first exposed to CityBeat by concerned inmates and their families.CityBeat could not reach CCA for immediate comment on the ACLU report. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.
by German Lopez
City now waits on lower court to sign lease
The Hamilton County Court of Appeals today refused to delay enforcement of its earlier ruling on the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which will allow the city administration to sign the lease as soon as a lower court rescinds its original injunction on the plan.
On June 12, the court reversed a lower court’s ruling and sided with the city over critics of
the parking plan, deciding that the city can use emergency clauses to avert referendum
efforts on passed legislation, including the parking plan. Emergency clauses also allow the city to
avoid a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws.
For Cincinnati, the plan will first produce a $92 million one-time payment.
Following that, the city will get an estimated $3 million a year, which
the city says will eventually increase to $7 million and continue
Still, the city says it won’t spend any funds
until there is legal certainty, meaning until potential appeals are
“The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan
until there is legal certainty around the funds,” City Manager Milton
Dohoney said in a statement on June 12. “Once there is legal certainty,
the Administration will look at the budget to determine if there are
items that may need to be revisited and bring those before Members of
City Council, as appropriate.”
Opponents are planning to appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Opponents gathered more than 12,000 signatures supporting a
referendum on the parking plan. But with the appeals court ruling, that
referendum may never come to pass.
The city says the parking plan’s funds will be used to accelerate economic growth, but critics argue the parking
plan will hurt downtown businesses by expanding parking meter hours and
increasing meter rates.
City Council began discussing potential changes to the parking plan in a Budget and Finance Committee meeting today. The meeting largely focused on whether City Council could repeal or rework the parking plan with a simple majority or supermajority.Following the June 12 ruling, five out of nine council
members signed a motion to repeal the parking plan. But City Council would
need to pass an ordinance for any changes to be legally binding.
An ordinance would likely need six votes to overrule the mayor’s veto powers. City Solicitor John Curp told City Council the mayor also has the power through the City Charter to hold any proposed ordinances until the end of his term on Nov. 30, which means the mayor can effectively stop all repeal attempts.Mayor Mark Mallory supports the parking plan. Jason Barron, his spokesperson, previously told CityBeat Mallory would reject a repeal.
by German Lopez
City plans to move forward as some council members suggest a repeal
In a 2-1 ruling today, the Hamilton County Court of
Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not
subject to a referendum and may move forward.But opponents are pushing for a stay on the ruling as they work on an appeal, which could put the case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
For the city, the ruling means it can potentially move forward with
leasing parking meters and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority for a one-time
payment of $92 million and an estimated $3 million in annual increments. The city originally planned
to use the funds for development projects, including a downtown grocery
store and the uptown interchange, and to help balance the city’s budget
for the next two years.
But critics, including those who led the referendum
efforts, are calling on the city to hold off on the lease. They argue
the plan, which raises parking meter rates and expands meters’
operation hours, will hurt downtown business.In a statement, City Manager Milton Dohoney praised the ruling, but he clarified that the city will not be able to allocate parking plan funds until potential appeals of today’s ruling are exhausted or called off.“The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds. Once there is legal certainty, the Administration will look at the budget to determine if there are items that may need to be revisited and bring those before Members of City Council, as appropriate,” he said.
Jason Barron, spokesperson for Democratic Mayor Mark Mallory, says the city will now be able to re-evaluate current plans for the
budget and other projects.
“Council will get a chance to look at the budget again and
undo some of the stuff that they’ve done, but some of the cuts will
definitely stay — that way we continue to move towards balance,” he
But first, the city must follow through with legal
processes to get Judge Robert Winkler’s original order on the parking
plan lifted, which will then allow the city and Port Authority to sign the lease.Already, some council members are pushing back. Following the ruling, Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Laure Quinlivan announced that they plan to introduce a motion that would repeal the parking plan.But Barron says City Council would need six out of nine votes to overrule Mallory and other supporters of the parking plan, which he says is unlikely.At today’s City Council meeting, Quinlivan and Seelbach were unable to introduce the motion, which has five signatures, because the motion requires six votes for immediate consideration and to overrule the mayor, who opposes a repeal. The motion also needs to be turned into an ordinance to actually repeal the parking plan.
In a statement, Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized the ruling and city. He said the plan
should be subject to referendum: “This decision affects
an entire generation and shouldn’t be made by people who are trying to
spend a bunch of money right before an election, while leaving the bill
for our kids to pay.”Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is also running for mayor, praised the ruling in a statement.“My goal is that proceeds from the parking proposal are used to put the city on a path to a structurally balanced budget by 2017,” she said.Qualls said she will introduce a motion that calls on the city administration to draw up a plan that would use parking funds on “long-term investments that support long-term fiscal sustainability,” including neighborhood development, other capital projects, the city’s reserves and the city’s pension fund.
The ruling also allows the city to once again use
emergency clauses, which the city claims eliminate a 30-day waiting
period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.
Judges Penelope Cunningham and Patrick DeWine cited legal
precedent and the context of the City Charter to rule the city may use
emergency clauses to expedite the implementation of laws, including the
“Importantly, charter provisions, like statutes and
constitutions, must be read as a whole and in context,” the majority opinion
read. “We are not permitted — as the common pleas court did, and Judge
Dinkelacker’s dissent does — to look at the first sentence and
disassociate it from the context of the entire section.”
Judge Patrick Dinkelacker dissented, claiming the other
judges are applying the wrong Ohio Supreme Court cases to the
“In my view, the charter language is ambiguous and,
therefore, we must liberally construe it in favor of permitting the
people of Cincinnati to exercise their power of referendum,” Dinkelacker
wrote in his dissent.The parking plan leases the city’s parking meters and
garages to the Port Authority, which will use a team
of private operators from around the country — AEW Capital, Xerox,
Denison Parking and Guggenheim — for operations, technology upgrades and
The city originally argued the parking plan was necessary
to help balance the budget without laying off cops and firefighters and
pursue major development projects downtown.
Since then, the city used higher-than-expected revenues and cuts elsewhere, particularly to parks and human services funding, to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget without laying off public safety personnel.
City Council is also expected to vote today on an alternative funding plan to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage on Fourth and Race streets downtown. The project was originally attached to the parking plan.Dohoney asked City Council in a statement to pursue the alternative plan today.“We are asking Council to pass the development deal today so that the developers have the city’s commitment and can move ahead with their financing,” he said. “If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long cry for a grocery store, we must move forward.”
CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.Updated at 1:39 p.m.: Added comments from the city manager’s statement.Updated at 2:00 p.m.: Added comments from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ statement.Updated at 3:23 p.m.: Added results of City Council meeting.Updated at 10:35 a.m. on June 13: Added latest news about appeal.
by German Lopez
Another anti-abortion amendment, Kasich prevents JobsOhio audit, streetcar funds remain
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.Also, take our texting while driving survey here.The Ohio Senate proposed a budget amendment
yesterday that would ban abortion providers from transferring
patients to public hospitals. The rule continues a series of
conservative pushes on social issues in the ongoing budget process that began in the Ohio House. The
Ohio House budget bill effectively defunded Planned Parenthood and funded anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, while the Ohio Senate accepted those measures and added another rule that potentially allows the health director to shut down abortion clinics.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill
that will prevent a full public audit of JobsOhio, the private
nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators to
replace the Ohio Department of Development. The bill defines liquor
profits, which were public funds before JobsOhio, and private funds in a
way that bars the state auditor from looking into any funding sources
that aren’t owed to the state. Last week, Democratic gubernatorial
candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Kasich to veto the bill,
claiming, “The people’s money is the people’s business, and this bill,
which slams shut the door on accountability, is simply unacceptable.”
The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) says the $4 million going to the streetcar is a done deal.
Republican county commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann tried to
get OKI to pull the funds, but there now seems to be a general
consensus that the money is contractually tied to the Southwest Ohio
Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and, therefore, the streetcar
project. City Council is likely to consider a plan to plug the streetcar project’s budget gap later this month.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is handing out marijuana plants
at a campaign event today, even though the event may run foul of state
law. Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally
considered the top contenders in this year’s mayoral race, but Berns
has differentiated himself by putting marijuana legalization in his
platform. While drug prohibition policies are generally dictated at
state and federal levels, cities can decriminalize or legalize certain
drugs and force police departments to give prohibition enforcement lower priority.
Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is retiring July 1
following controversial remarks about “those damn Catholics,” the
University of Notre Dame and others. Gee, a Mormon, says he has regrets,
but the gaffes didn’t compel him to retire. In a statement, OSU
credited Gee with helping the school build an academic profile of a
“highly selective, top-tier public research institution.”
Local officials cut the ribbon yesterday for the Roebling Bridge, the latest piece of infrastructure to debut at The Banks.
Fort Hamilton Hospital has a new president.
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank has loaned more than any other big bank in the country, according to a new study.
How do mosquitoes survive storms? Popular Science has the answer.
Researchers unveiled a drone that can be controlled by thoughts. Next stop: the Iron Man suit.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Republicans are attempting to block a full public audit of JobsOhio — signaling they have something to fear.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed
FitzGerald on May 31 called on Republican Gov. John Kasich to veto a
bill that would prevent State Auditor Dave Yost from fully auditing
by German Lopez
FitzGerald calls on Kasich to veto bill
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is calling on Republican Gov. John Kasich to veto a bill that would prevent State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, from fully auditing JobsOhio, following months of controversy surrounding the private nonprofit entity."I further encourage the Governor to return to
negotiations with Auditor Yost, with the explicit goal of establishing
an open and transparent process by which the people of Ohio can be sure
JobsOhio is spending our tax dollars efficiently, and that the program
is doing what it is supposed to be doing: creating Ohio jobs,"
FitzGerald said in a statement. "The people’s money is the people’s
business, and this bill, which slams shut the door on accountability, is
simply unacceptable."Yost claims he can audit JobsOhio's liquor profits, which add up to $100 million a year, and private funds, such as donations.But the bill effectively defines JobsOhio's liquor profits as private funds that can't be audited by the state
auditor. Under the proposal, Yost could only audit liquor profits and excise taxes that JobsOhio owes to the state, with all other funds effectively deemed private.
JobsOhio was established by Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The agency's liquor profits come from a lease deal with the
state to run Ohio's liquor operations. Yost argues the liquor profits are
intrinsically public money because the money would be in public hands if JobsOhio wasn't handling
operations.But other Republicans, led by Kasich, say
opening JobsOhio to full audits would slow down the agency, hindering its
ability to quickly react to economic changes and tides. Kasich has often said the private nature of JobsOhio allows it to move at the "speed of business," which he claims fosters stronger economic development in Ohio.Democrats have pushed back against the notion, saying JobsOhio's private nature only makes it more difficult to hold the state government accountable. With the latest bill, Democrats, who have now taken to dubbing the agency "RobsOhio," say their concerns are being vindicated.But the bill could have far-reaching effects beyond JobsOhio that would effectively disallow the state auditor to audit privately funded accounts in any institution that receives public funding.Despite Yost's pleas to involve him in the process, the auditing bill was passed through the Ohio House and Senate in just two days without his input.Democrats were quick to criticize the bill, asking what JobsOhio has to hide.Kasich is expected to sign the bill to make it law.JobsOhio isn't the only privatization scheme pushed by Kasich. He also sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, a northeastern Ohio prison, to the Corrections Corporation of America. So far, inmate reports and inspections have largely found deplorable conditions at the Lake Erie facility ("From the Inside," issue of May 29).
by German Lopez
Seitz compares energy efficiency to Stalin, Music Hall lease coming, casino revenues today
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, compared Ohio’s energy efficiency laws
to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan. Seitz is
leading the charge on a review of the state’s energy efficiency and
renewable energy standards, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
The review has been supported by Akron-based First Energy, an energy
company that has long opposed Ohio’s energy efficiency standards. But
environmental groups say they’re worried the review will water down a
law that has brought clean energy and jobs to the state.
Cincinnati is poised to approve
a lease of Music Hall that will allow renovations to move
forward. The plan would lease the Music Hall for 75 years to carry out
renovations that will likely cost between $50 million and $100 million,
with the city contributing about $10 million. CityBeat covered the plan when it was first announced here.
In the midst of Cincinnati’s heated budget battle, the
Ohio Casino Control Commission will release its monthly revenue estimates for
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino today. City officials estimated that about
$9 million to $11 million will be available at a City Council meeting
Thursday — seemingly the only point of agreement in a testy exchange over the city’s budget
that left city leaders with no consensus on local
budget woes. Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley and others have
proposed using casino revenue to help balance the city’s budget without
layoffs, but Cranley’s $21 million estimate has drawn criticism for being unrealistic.
The Ohio House is likely to propose alternatives
to Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan this week. State legislators have
criticized Kasich’s plan for favoring the wealthy, raising taxes for
many Ohioans and expanding Medicaid with the use of federal funds. CityBeat covered the governor’s plan in further detail here.
National parks around Ohio are cutting hours and hiring
because of sequestration, a series of across-the-board budget cuts that
began March 1 after congressional inaction. The cuts have forced the
James A. Garfield National Historic Site at Mentor, Ohio, to close on
Sundays, which means about 30,000 tourists will be unable to visit this
year, according to Todd Arrington, chief of
interpretation and education at the park.
Ohio’s rural speed limit is being changed to 70 mph, and signs will soon reflect that.
Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain’s only female prime minister, died at age 87.
A fusion rocket could shoot people to Mars in 30 days.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 11:26 AM | Permalink
City, parking plan opponents meet in court, judge unlikely to rule today
The city of Cincinnati and opponents of the parking plan
met in court today to debate whether laws passed with emergency clauses are subject to
referendum — a crucial legal issue as the city attempts to speed ahead
with plans to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater
Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the deficit and foster
After hearing extensive legal arguments
from both sides, Judge Robert Winkler, who presided over the hearings, said
a decision is unlikely today.
Curt Hartman, who represented opponents of the parking plan, argued
the city charter’s definition of emergency clauses is ambiguous, and
legal precedent supports siding with voters’ right to referendum when
there is ambiguity.
Terry Nestor, who represented the city, said legal
precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law
is not contradicted in the city charter. Cincinnati’s city charter does not specify whether
emergency legislation is subject to referendum, but state law explicitly
says emergency laws are not subject to referendum.Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, previously told CityBeat that if the parking plan is held up for too long in legal battles, the city will have to carry out spending cuts before July to balance the budget in time for the 2014 fiscal year.Emergency clauses remove a 30-day waiting period on approved legislation, and the city claims they also remove the possibility of referendum.
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6 before attaching an emergency clause to the law in a 6-3 vote. But the law was
quickly put on hold by a temporary restraining order from Winkler after a lawsuit was filed in favor of subjecting the plan to referendum.
Opponents of the parking plan say they’re concerned the
plan will cede too much control over the city’s parking meters, which
they say could lead to skyrocketing parking rates.
The city says rates are set at 3 percent or inflation, but the rate can
change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval
from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The
special committee would comprise of four people appointed by the Port Authority
and one appointed by the city manager.
The city is pursuing the parking plan to help balance the
city’s deficit for the next two fiscal years and enable economic
development projects (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).