Metro celebrates 40 years, looks ahead to new possibilities
1 Comment · Wednesday, August 21, 2013
As it commemorates its 40th anniversary,
Greater Cincinnati’s bus service is making changes it hopes will improve
a system that has dealt with funding shortfalls and service cuts in the
past few years.
by German Lopez
Jim Berns blames local media for his campaign’s failure
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns today pronounced his campaign dead and claimed local media, including CityBeat, is to blame.
“From day one, the Cincinnati Print Media (especially the
Enquirer) have thrown Libertarian candidate for mayor, Jim Berns, under
the bus,” Berns wrote in an email, listing Carl Weiser, Jane
Prendergast, Ryan Hoffman and Ben Goldschmidt of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Howard Wilkinson of WVXU, German Lopez of CityBeat and Chris Wetterich of The Business Courier as the main culprits.
In the email, Berns complains that the two frontrunners in the
mayoral race — Democrats Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley — have nearly
identical records. Those candidates’ biggest points of disagreement are
the streetcar and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes.
The email claims the media should call Berns “courageous, innovative, a real choice” instead of a “perennial
Berns then attached this picture:The latest stunt is just one of many that have been part of Berns’ campaign.
On July 31, Berns declared he was quitting the mayoral race
in protest of the city’s primary system, which Berns says favors Qualls
and Cranley. A day later, he changed his mind and said he’s back in.
On June 4, Berns, who supports marijuana legalization, said he was going to hand out free marijuana plants at a campaign event. The gifts turned out to be tomato plants, not marijuana.
In general, the Libertarian’s campaign has focused a lot
on giving stuff away. His campaign card proudly touts his intent to give
out free ice cream, which he has repeatedly done at events.As a Libertarian, Berns supports lower taxes and smaller government and opposes drug prohibition. He was endorsed by the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST).
Cincinnati is generally considered a Democratic stronghold, which has kept Berns’ chances of winning the mayoral race very low. The city hasn’t had a non-Democratic mayor since Charterite Arnold
Bortz left office in 1984. Back then, the local Democratic Party and the Charter
Committee were working together through a coalition.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls on Aug. 19
unveiled a motion that calls for the first expansion of local disclosure
and reporting requirements since 1997.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Cincinnati mayoral candidate and ex-Councilman John Cranley
on Aug. 15 announced his two-part innovation plan.
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.
by German Lopez
Disclosure and reporting requirements haven’t been updated since 1997
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls today unveiled a motion that
calls for the first expansion of local disclosure and reporting requirements since 1997 that would impose new rules on
city officials, lobbyists and contractors and task the city
administration with posting the disclosed information on the city’s website.
Qualls said the proposal is particularly timely as the
Metropolitan Sewer District begins working on a federally mandated $3.2
billion, 15-year revamp of the city’s sewer system. That project will
presumably involve a bevy of lobbyists as businesses rush to grab
lucrative contracts granted by city officials.
“For citizens to have confidence that their government is
working on their behalf, it must be transparent,” Qualls said in a
statement. “Sadly, it often takes a scandal to make these kinds of
reforms happen. The good news is that we can take these responsible
steps now to instill safeguards and promote integrity and accountability
through a healthy dose of sunshine.”
Qualls claims the updates would be particularly prudent given the rise of the Internet in the past 16 years.
“Technology has brought us into the age of the Internet,” she said in a statement. “The public has heightened expectations
for ready, convenient access to information about the decisions of their
The motion asks for various new rules, including
clarifications for current requirements, greater protections for
whistleblowers, a two-year restriction on becoming a local lobbyist
after leaving public office and a requirement that city officials make
known through writing their potential conflicts of interest when they
recuse themselves from votes.
If the motion is approved by City Council, the city
administration would be required to present the formal ordinance that
would take up the proposed measures.
The proposal comes in light of scandals in Chicago, San
Antonio, Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida and Cuyahoga County,
Ohio, that led to changes in those local governments.
In July, Cincinnati’s government was mired in its own controversy after the city administration withheld a memo that criticized the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.
Qualls, a Democrat who’s running for mayor, sent out the
motion just a few days after John Cranley, another Democrat running for
mayor, announced his innovation plan, which calls for greater government efficiency and transparency.
by German Lopez
Mayoral candidate hopes to continue Cincinnati’s tech startup momentum
Cincinnati mayoral candidate and ex-Councilman John Cranley today
announced his two-part innovation plan, which he said would boost government transparency and help continue the
nationally recognized momentum Cincinnati has recently gained as a tech
The plan would take $5 million over four years from the
capital budget and ask local startup incubators Cintrifuse, The Brandery
and CincyTech where they would like to see the money going. As one
example, Cranley said the money could help host an annual “hackathon” in
which savvy innovators compete to create apps that could better connect
residents and city services.
When asked specifically where the money would come from,
Cranley said it would be part of the $30 million the city allocates each year to capital projects. Cranley also remarked that the city will
have more capital funds if he dismantles the streetcar project, which he has long opposed.
Cranley’s innovation plan also calls 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.”
“This is about improving customer service for city services,” Cranley said.
The CIO and CincyData would also help find new ways to
carry out city services in the hopes of running the local government
Cranley said he’s in preliminary talks with Cincinnati
Bell to see what it would take and how much it would cost to establish
As for the CIO, paying for the position’s salary would cost the city about
$50,000 to $60,000 a year, according to Cranley. That’s about 0.01 to
0.02 percent of the city’s operating budget.
Cranley said he currently has no one in mind for the CIO position.
Cranley is running for mayor against fellow Democrat Vice
Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who has publicly supported Cincinnati’s startup
incubators during her time in City Council; Libertarian Jim Berns; and
Independent Sandra “Queen” Noble.
Cincinnati recently gained national recognition for its tech boom in Entrepreneur and CNBC, with Entrepreneur calling the city “an unexpected hub for tech startups.”
City Council on Aug. 7 approved using $4.5 million to help
move Cintrifuse, The Brandery and CincyTech to new Over-the-Rhine
headquarters. Cintrifuse claims the new home will make it easier to
attract and keep businesses in Cincinnati, especially since
Over-the-Rhine is currently undergoing its own economic revitalization.
An Aug. 14 study
from Engine and the Kauffman Foundation found high-tech startups add
jobs more quickly than new businesses in other sectors, but the startups are also
just as likely to fail as other businesses in the long term. The study also found that tech
startups are more likely to cluster, so establishing a city or other
location as a hub can help bring in more similar businesses.
Out-of-town tea party groups take aim at Cincinnati’s struggling pension system
3 Comments · Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Local and national tea party groups are
backing a city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s
ailing pension system.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:47 PM | Permalink
Campaign paid nearly $70,000 to gather petitions in city
The tea party-backed amendment that would semi-privatize
Cincinnati’s ailing pension system gathered enough signatures earn a place on the November ballot.
Of 14,215 signatures scrutinized so far, 8,653 were valid, according to Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. That clears the requirement of 7,443 signatures, but the numbers will grow as the board continues counting petitions.
The success follows a well-funded effort from Cincinnati
for Pension Reform, which paid California-based Arno Petition Consultants
nearly $70,000 to collect enough signatures, according to petition
documents obtained through the city.
The amendment would privatize pension plans so city
employees hired after January 2014 contribute to and manage their own
retirement accounts — a shift from the current set-up in which the city
pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent
But unlike private-sector employees, city workers might
not qualify for Social Security benefits, which means they would lack
the safety net and benefits that shield them from bad investments.
Alternatively, the city could be required to pay into
Social Security. An Aug. 5 report from the city administration claims
that would make the tea party-backed system more expensive than the
current pension system, which would defeat the reform’s main intention.
Supporters of the tea party amendment say it’s necessary
because Cincinnati is dragging its feet in addressing an $862 million
pension liability, which earned the city a downgraded bond rating
from Moody’s in a July 15 report. Although the city passed reforms in
2011 addressing future pension costs, the unfunded liability actually
grew by $134 million between 2012 and 2013.
The Cincinnati Retirement System board is working on
changes that would address the unfunded liability, but so far no
agreement has been reached as board members argue over whether taxpayers
or retirees should be hit hardest by more cost-cutting measures.
City officials acknowledge the issues with the current
pension system, but they claim the tea party-backed amendment would
exacerbate cost problems and reduce payments to future city retirees.
“Under the guise of ‘reform,’ a well-financed out-of-state
group is pushing an amendment that spells economic disaster for the
future city retirees and the city’s budget,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls
said in a statement. “Current and future retirees need an income they
can live on. This amendment is a budget-buster for retirees and the
City Council condemned the amendment in a resolution unanimously passed on Aug. 7.
CityBeat’s Aug. 14 news story will give an in-depth look at the amendment and the campaign behind it.This story was updated at 5:07 p.m. with the most up-to-date numbers.
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.