Halting Progress

Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents fight back as newly elected city government threatens to cancel streetcar project

1 Comment · Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents are organizing with supporters of the $133 million streetcar project in a last-stand effort to keep the project on track.   
by German Lopez 10.30.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, Mayor, News at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
john cranley

Cranley Helped Paycor Move 450 to 500 Jobs out of Cincinnati

Mayoral candidate represented company as it moved headquarters to Norwood

As an attorney and lobbyist at Keating, Muething & Klekamp (KMK), mayoral candidate John Cranley helped payroll company Paycor finalize plans to move its headquarters — and 450 to 500 jobs with it — from Queensgate in Cincinnati to Norwood, Ohio. Specifically, KMK helped Paycor and Norwood set up a tax credit deal to incentivize the company’s relocation. Throughout the process, the law firm called on several of its employees, including Cranley, to help with the negotiations. For Paycor, the move comes after more than two decades in Cincinnati. The company originally looked in Cincinnati for bigger headquarters with better parking options, but ultimately couldn’t find a location to its liking, according to a May 2012 memo from the city manager. So when Paycor found a location outside city limits and worked out a tax incentive package with Norwood and Ohio, it decided to move. Cities and states often deploy incentive packages, ranging from property tax abatements to deductions on income taxes, to attract and retain companies. Pure Romance, a $100-million-plus “relationship enhancement” company, recently agreed to move from Loveland, Ohio, to downtown Cincinnati after securing such a tax deal with the city. Paycor broke ground on its new headquarters in December and plans to move there next spring. The transition will pull 450 to 500 employees out of Cincinnati, and the company plans to add another 250 to 300 employees over time at its new facilities. Cranley campaign manager Jay Kincaid says Cranley and KMK won’t comment on the details of their work with Paycor or other clients for ethical reasons. But Kincaid says Cranley was just doing his job after Paycor went to KMK, not the other way around. “In the legal profession you’re asked to represent clients, and you do it to the best of your ability,” Kincaid says. “At the time I don’t think (Cranley) was even running for office. The firm came to him and said, ‘Hey, we have a job that we need you to work on.’ And he did the work, just like anyone else would at their job.” Norwood City Council approved the deal with Paycor on Oct. 23, 2012. Cranley announced his mayoral campaign three weeks later, on Nov. 14. Cranley’s critics argue that a mayoral candidate shouldn’t be helping companies leave the city he wants to lead. “It is disappointing that John (Cranley) helped Paycor leave the city with its over 450 tax-paying jobs. His efforts undercut the city’s efforts to retain jobs and businesses,” said Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is running against Cranley, in an emailed statement. The move comes despite Cincinnati’s various attempts to hang on to Paycor, including previous tax deals. In 2001, then-Councilman Cranley and the rest of City Council approved tax incentives to keep the company in Cincinnati, retain its 142 jobs at the time and create another 25. The city administration estimated the deal would cost the city $225,750 and generate $546,000 in net tax revenue over five years.In 2006, Cranley and seven council members approved another incentive package to further secure Paycor’s stay in Cincinnati. But the deals also required Paycor to remain in Cincinnati through 2015. Since Paycor’s move violates the agreement, the city administration says it plans to claw back some of the tax benefits given to the company. In other words, Cranley in 2001 and 2006 approved tax deals with Paycor that the company, with his help, is now set to break. City spokesperson Meg Olberding says the clawback process will begin after Paycor moves to Norwood in 2014. So if Cranley is elected by voters on Nov. 5, he would be mayor as the city is taking back some of the money it gave away. Although the city is taking a hit, Cranley’s relations with the payroll company appear unscathed. Paycor CEO Bob Coughlin contributed $1,100 to Cranley’s campaign on Aug. 20, according to campaign finance reports.Updated with more details about the tax deals between Cincinnati and Paycor.

The Folly of Privatization

0 Comments · Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Privatization schemes in Cincinnati and Ohio just went through a bad month.   
by German Lopez 10.29.2013
Posted In: News, Voting, Economy, 2013 Election at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Morning News and Stuff

State job numbers mislead, Cranley didn't repay $75,000 loan, county to vote on budget

Many jobs the state government claims it’s creating don’t actually exist, according to The Toledo Blade. The Ohio Development Services Agency claims it improved its process for tracking the effects of taxpayer-financed loans, grants and subsidies, but The Blade found errors led to more than 11,000 claimed jobs that likely don’t exist. Part of the problem is that the state relies on companies to self-report job numbers; although the Ohio Development Services Agency is supposed to authenticate the reports, officials almost never visit businesses that get tax incentives. The discrepancy between claimed job creation and reality raises more questions about the efforts of JobsOhio, the privatized development agency established by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators that recommends many of the tax subsidies going to Ohio businesses. CityBeat covered JobsOhio in further detail here. Mayoral candidate John Cranley didn’t repay a $75,000 loan for his Incline Village Project in East Price Hill that was meant to go to a medical office and 77 apartments that never came to fruition. Kathy Schwab of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which loaned the money to Cranley’s former development company, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that they worked out terms to repay the loan after the news broke yesterday. Supporters of Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ mayoral campaign say the news casts doubt on whether Cranley is as fiscally responsible as he’s led on while stumping on the campaign trail. As The Enquirer notes, Cranley is very proud of the Incline Project and often touts it to show off his experience building a successful project in the private sector.Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote on a budget on Nov. 6. This year’s budget is the first time in six years that the county won’t need to make major cuts to close a gap. But the commissioners also told WVXU that it’s unlikely they’ll take up the county coroner’s plan for a new crime lab, which county officials say is a dire need. A lawsuit filed on Oct. 23 asks the Hamilton County Court of Appeals to compel the Hamilton County Board of Elections to scrub UrbanCincy.com owner Randy Simes off the voter rolls, less than two weeks after the board of elections ruled Simes is eligible to vote in Cincinnati. The case has been mired in politics since it was first filed to the board of elections. Simes’ supporters claim the legal actions are meant to suppress Simes’ support for the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ mayoral campaign. Proponents of the lawsuit, who are backed by the attorney that regularly supports the anti-streetcar, anti-Qualls Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), argue they’re just trying to uphold the integrity of voting. The dispute hinges on whether Simes’ registered residence for voting — a condo owned by his friend and business colleague, Travis Estell — is a place where he truly lived or just visited throughout 2013. Currently, no hearing or judge is set for the lawsuit. Pure Romance officially signed a lease for new headquarters in downtown Cincinnati, which means the $100-million-plus company is now set to move from its Loveland, Ohio, location starting in January 2014. Pure Romance originally considered moving to Kentucky after Ohio reneged on a tax deal, but council ultimately upped its offer to bring the company to Cincinnati. As part of its deal with the city, Pure Romance will get $854,000 in tax breaks over the next 10 years, but it will need to stay in Cincinnati for 20 years. The city administration estimates the deal will generate $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades and at least 126 high-paying jobs over three years. One in six Ohioans lived in poverty in 2012, putting the state poverty rate above pre-recession levels, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Two Butler County students were arrested yesterday after they allegedly threatened to go on a shooting spree on Facebook. Rachel Maddow accused Ky. Sen. Rand Paul of plagiarizing his speech off Wikipedia. The Taste of Belgium’s next location: Rookwood Exchange. Pollinating bees could deliver pesticides in the future. Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here. Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez 10.18.2013
Posted In: News, Police, Abortion, The Banks at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
county courthouse

Morning News and Stuff

Audit slams former sheriff, part of The Banks sold, local abortion clinic could close

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.An audit of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) found former Sheriff Simon Leis crippled technological developments, stacked leadership positions with political cronies and still kept his staff fiercely loyal during his 25 years in charge of HCSO. The Oct. 15 audit claims the agency was “largely frozen in time” and didn’t meet the most basic modern standards, including a failure to adopt computer spreadsheets and other modern technologies instead of keeping paper-based records that only one person can access at a time. The audit claims a few possible consequences for Hamilton County: outdated policing policies, exposure to possible litigation and an overworked, under-trained staff. To fix the mistakes, the audit recommends various investments and changes to policies that could prove costly to the county — perhaps too costly to a county government that has been forced to make budget cuts for the past six years. Read more about the audit here. Developers sold the apartments and 96,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space in the first phase of The Banks for $79.5 million. In a memo, City Manager Milton Dohoney claimed the sale is a sign of the strong market that’s being built in Cincinnati. Dohoney noted that the sale will provide nearly $1.2 million for the city and county, which will likely go to other projects in The Banks, and allow Carter and The Dawson Company to repay the city and county’s nearly $4.7 million retail fit-up loan three years in advance. The sale should also increase the property’s assessed value, which Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes previously put at $52 million, or $27.5 million less than it actually sold for, and subsequently lead to higher property-based tax revenue, according to Dohoney. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) could force the Lebanon Road Surgery Center, a Cincinnati-area abortion clinic, to close after a health examiner upheld ODH’s decision to revoke the clinic’s license because it couldn’t establish a patient transfer agreement with a nearby hospital. Abortion rights advocates touted the closure as another example of how new regulations in the recently passed state budget will limit access to legal abortions across the state. But ODH handed down its original decision for the Cincinnati-area abortion clinic in November 2012, more than half a year before Gov. John Kasich in June signed the state budget and its anti-abortion restrictions into law. Meanwhile, Ohio Right to Life praised the state for closing down or threatening to close down five abortion clinics this year. Reminder: Officials project the streetcar will have a much greater economic impact in downtown than Over-the-Rhine, despite what some detractors may claim.The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office last night began threatening to arrest homeless people who refuse to leave the Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center and find another place to sleep, according to Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. The sheriff’s office says the steps are necessary to put an end to public urination and defecation on county property, but homeless advocates say the county should focus on creating jobs and affordable housing to solve the root of the problem. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here. Former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson questioned her fellow Republicans’ legal threats against Gov. John Kasich’s plan to bypass the legislature and get the federally funded Medicaid expansion approved through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel. Davidson says Kasich is on “firm ground” legally because the state budget contained a provision that allows the state’s Medicaid director to expand the program. The Kasich administration on Oct. 11 announced its intention to call on the Controlling Board to take up the expansion, which will use federal Obamacare funds for two years to extend Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade. Ohio Libertarians and Greens threatened to sue the state if the legislature passes a bill that would limit ballot access for minor political parties. The Ohio Senate already approved the legislation, and an Ohio House committee is expected to vote on it at a hearing on Oct. 29. More charges have been filed against a local spine doctor accused of carrying out unnecessary surgeries in the Cincinnati area and Florence, Ky., and billing health care programs millions of dollars, according to court documents released Thursday. A race car managed to swap fossil fuels for hydrogen power.
by German Lopez 10.07.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar at 03:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

CAF Unveils Cincinnati Streetcar Renderings

Spanish company hired by city to design, build cars

The Cincinnati streetcar took another step forward on Monday when car builder CAF USA unveiled renderings for the $133 million project. The city has hired CAF to supply five cars. The latest details show the cars will have four doors on each side and be capable of moving in both directions on a track. The cars are also completely low-floor, which should make boarding, disembarking and moving around the streetcar easier. CAF, which is based in Spain, has supplied cars for a few other U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, Houston and Sacramento, Calif. John Deatrick, the streetcar project’s executive director, told CityBeat on Thursday that he’s been in regular contact with CAF USA since he joined the project in August. Unlike most other streetcars around the world, the Cincinnati cars are particularly tuned to handle sharp turns, according to Deatrick. That’s because the city didn’t want to expand roads and knock down buildings just to accommodate the transit network. Deatrick says the true test for the cars will come once they’re shipped and tested on a completed Over-the-Rhine loop in June 2015. The streetcar is set to open for use on Sept. 15, 2016. Check out the renderings here.
by German Lopez 09.27.2013
Posted In: News, Women, Development, Privatization at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Conflicts of interest at JobsOhio, transportation projects approved, Ohio women fare poorly

CityBeat is participating in a City Council candidate forum on Oct. 5. Have any questions you would like to ask candidates? Submit them here. State Auditor Dave Yost says he will investigate the potential conflicts of interest found by the Ohio Ethics Commission for nine of 22 top JobsOhio officials, including six of nine board members. For critics, the conflicts of interest add more concerns about JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that proposes tax breaks for businesses and has been mired in controversy ever since it was set up by Gov. John Kasich and Republicans to replace the Ohio Department of Development. Because the agency is privatized and deals with private businesses, many of its dealings are kept from the public under state law. Republicans argue the secrecy is necessary to allow JobsOhio to more quickly establish job-creating development deals, but Democrats say the secrecy makes it too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable.A state board approved nearly $3 billion in transportation projects proposed by Kasich, including work on the MLK/I-75 Interchange in Cincinnati that city and state officials say will create thousands of jobs in the region. The projects will require additional state and local money to be fully funded over the next few years. In comparison to men, Ohio women have lower incomes, hold fewer leadership roles and disproportionately suffer from the state’s high infant mortality rate. The issues placed Ohio at No. 30 out of 50 states for women’s issues in a Sept. 25 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP). The report analyzed 36 indicators for women in the categories of economic security, leadership and health; it then graded the states and ranked them based on the grades. CAP, a left-leaning organization, is touting the report to support progressive policies that could help lift women out of such disparities, including the federally funded Medicaid expansion and an increase to minimum wages.Commentary: “Ohio legislator worried a same-sex marriage case will turn the country socialist, make him cry.” Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who’s running against fellow Democrat and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, says he doesn’t know if he can stop the parking plan if he’s elected. Cranley explained it will only be possible if the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority doesn’t set up contracts and sell bonds for the deal before the election. Under the parking plan, the city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire various private operators to manage the assets. Qualls supports the plan because it will raise money and resources to fund development projects and modernize the city’s parking services, but Cranley argues it cedes too much control over the city’s parking assets. It turns out Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye won’t be removed from Ohio’s education guidelines. State Board of Education President Debe Terhar, a Cincinnati Republican, initially called the book “pornographic” and demanded its removal from the state guidelines, which led the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio to criticize Terhar and ask her to reconsider her comments. With the latest delay, small businesses won’t be able to enroll online for Obamacare’s marketplaces until November. Until then, small businesses will only be able to sign up by mail, fax or phone. The delay is the latest of a few setbacks for Obamacare, but the rest of the federally run online marketplaces will still launch on Oct. 1 as planned. CityBeat covered statewide efforts to promote and obstruct the marketplaces in further detail here.Gov. Kasich is donating to charity more than $22,000 that he received in campaign contributions from an indicted man. The city has begun work on a retail corridor that will start on Fourth Street and run north through Race Street. The corridor will take years to complete, but city officials say it will be different than previous failed plans. The number of passengers whose trips originate at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has increased for six straight months, according to airport officials. Data-analysis company Dunnhumby is looking to invest in Cincinnati startups. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center landed federal money to test vaccines. The contract could prove the largest the hospital has ever obtained, according to The Business Courier. Police in the Netherlands use trained rats to catch criminals.
by German Lopez 09.25.2013
Posted In: News, Business, City Council, Budget at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach helps gunshot victim, Pure Romance to stay in Ohio, Council denies car allowances

Councilman Chris Seelbach last night helped a gunshot victim before the man was taken to the hospital. Seelbach posted on Facebook that he was watching The Voice with his partner, Craig Schultz, when they heard gun shots. They went to their window and saw a man walking across Melindy Alley. When Seelbach asked what happened, the man replied, “I was shot.” Seelbach then ran down and held his hand on the wound for 10 to 15 minutes before emergency services showed up. “We have a lot of work to do Cincinnati,” Seelbach wrote on Facebook. Police told The Cincinnati Enquirer the victim seemed to be chosen at random.Pure Romance yesterday announced it will remain in Ohio and move to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John Kasich’s administration not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus company, which hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products. The reason for Pure Romance’s decision: The city, which was pushing for Pure Romance despite the state’s refusal, upped its tax break offer from $353,204 over six years to $698,884 over 10 years. Kasich previously justified his administration’s refusal with claims that Pure Romance just didn’t fall into an industry that Ohio normally supports, such as logistics and energy. But Democrats argue the tax credits were only denied because of a prudish, conservative perspective toward Pure Romance’s product lineup. City Council yesterday unanimously rejected restoring car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and council members. Councilman Seelbach said he hopes the refusal sends “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.” The restorations were part of $6.7 million in budget restorations proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city administration previously argued the car allowances were necessary to maintain promises to hired city directors and keep the city competitive in terms of recruitment, but council members called the restorations out of touch. The Cincinnati area’s jobless rate dropped from 6.9 percent in August 2012 to 6.7 percent in August this year as the economy added 11,500 jobs, more than the 3,000 required to keep up with annual population growth. The former chief financial officer for local bus service Metro is receiving a $50,000 settlement from the agency after accusing her ex-employer of retaliating against her for raising concerns about issues including unethical behavior and theft. Metro says it’s not admitting to breaking the law and settled to avoid litigation. Ohio House Democrats say state Republicans denied access to an empty hearing room for an announcement of legislation that would undo recently passed anti-abortion restrictions. But a spokesperson for the House Republican caucus said the speaker of the House did try to accommodate the announcement and called accusations of malicious intent “absurd.” The accusations come just one week after the state’s public broadcasting group pulled cameras from an internal meeting about abortion, supposedly because the hearing violated the rules. The legislation announced by Democrats yesterday undoes regulations and funding changes passed in the state budget that restrict abortion and defund family planning clinics, but the Democratic bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled legislature. Ohioans will be able to pick from an average of 46 plans when new health insurance marketplaces launch on Oct. 1 under Obamacare, and the competition will push prices down, according to a new report. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here. Ohio lawmakers intend to pursue another ban on Internet cafes that would be insusceptible to referendum, even as petitioners gather signatures to get the original ban on the November 2014 ballot. State officials argue the ban is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafe owners say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money. Ohio tea party groups can’t find candidates to challenge Republican incumbents. The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed the first openly gay U.S. appeals court judge. The Cincinnati area is among the top 20 places for surgeons, according to consumer finance website ValuePenguin. A graphic that’s gone viral calls Ohio the “nerdiest state.” Insects apparently have personalities, and some love to explore.
by German Lopez 09.24.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Business, Development at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar on track, initiative to redevelop homes, Pure Romance touted in tax credit debate

The streetcar project is on track for its Sept. 15, 2016 opening date, according to a monthly progress report released by the city yesterday. Through Aug. 31, the city spent $22.1 million on the project, including nearly $2 million in federal funding. In total, the project is estimated to cost $133 million, and about $45 million will come from the federal government. CityBeat covered the project and political misrepresentations surrounding it in further detail here. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners yesterday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment. The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees, which would pay for the home loans if a borrower defaulted. Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects. If City Council passes the motion supporting the initiative, the city administration will have 60 days to come up with a budgeted plan, which Council will also have to approve.A Democratic state legislator used Pure Romance’s troubles to criticize Ohio’s process for granting tax credits. State Rep. Chris Redfern, who sits on the legislature’s Controlling Board, repeatedly brought up Pure Romance when discussing tax credits for three companies supported by Gov. John Kasich’s administration. Redfern ultimately didn’t vote against the tax credits, but he only backed down after getting state officials to say the three companies were meeting all of the state’s priorities. Pure Romance originally planned to move its headquarters and 60 jobs from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati and create 60 jobs in the process. But since the company was denied state tax credits, it’s openly discussed moving to Kentucky to take up a better tax offer. The Kasich administration says it denied the tax credits because Pure Romance isn’t part of a targeted industry, but Democrats argue the administration is killing jobs in Ohio just because of prudish feelings toward Pure Romance’s product lineup, which includes sex toys. Cincinnati will be honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later today for connecting residents to renewable energy sources, according to a press release from the city. Some environmental groups have already praised Cincinnati for championing solar energy in particular, as CityBeat covered here. At a City Council forum last night, residents demanded walkable, livable neighborhoods that include grocery stores.Internet cafes need more than 71,000 signatures to get on the November 2014 ballot. The cafes are attempting to overturn a state law that effectively forces them out of business. State officials argue the law is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafes say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money. The Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) marketplaces will go live in one week, regardless of whether the federal government shuts down. The marketplaces will allow users to enroll in insurance plans with tax subsidies from the federal government. CityBeat covered the marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here. A Democratic state legislator is pushing new requirements that would force lobbyists to disclose their annual salaries. I-75 lanes are temporarily closing for improvements. Step one to stopping malicious hackers: Learn their ways.