by German Lopez
Eighteen of 21 candidates participated in Oct. 5 forum
Just one month before voters pick nine council members at the ballot box on Nov. 5, 18 of 21 City Council candidates on Oct. 5 participated at a candidate forum that covered issues ranging from better supporting low-income Cincinnatians to expanding downtown's growth to all 52 neighborhoods.During the event, the candidates agreed Cincinnati is moving forward, but they generally agreed that the city needs to carry its current economic growth from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to all 52 neighborhoods. Participating candidates particularly emphasized public safety and government transparency, while a majority also focused on education partnerships and human services for the poor and homeless, which have been funded below council's goals since 2004.The three City Council candidates not in attendance were Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman and Independent challenger Tim Dornbusch. The absences prompted forum moderator Kathy Wilson, who's also a columnist at CityBeat, to remind the audience that "a vote is a precious thing" and candidates should work to earn support by engaging the public.Councilman Chris Seelbach and challenger David Mann, both Democrats, had surrogates stand in for them. Seelbach was attending a wedding, and Mann was celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his family.The forum was hosted by The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and sponsored by CityBeat and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area.Here are the highlights from the 18 participating candidates, in order of their appearance:Wendell Young (Democrat, incumbent): Young said Cincinnati should put basic services and public safety first, but he added that the city should also help address "quality of life issues" such as providing "world-class parks." He also said Cincinnati needs to structurally balance its budget, which has relied on one-time funding sources since at least 2001, and make further adjustments to the underfunded pension system. Young also explained that the city needs to strengthen its partnerships with local organizations to help combat homelessness, affordable housing, child poverty and infant mortality.Laure Quinlivan (Democrat, incumbent): Quinlivan proudly pointed out she's the "only elected mom" on City Council. She said her goal is to make Cincinnati "cleaner, greener and smarter" by focusing on population and job growth and thriving neighborhoods. To spur such growth, Quinlivan claimed the city needs the streetcar project and more bike and hike trails, both of which she argued will attract more young adults to Cincinnati. Unlike other candidates, Quinlivan publicly supported potentially "rightsizing" — or cutting — Cincinnati's police and fire departments to structurally balance the budget. She also said the city should provide more options for health insurance to city employees so they don't all get a so-called "Cadillac plan" that's expensive for the city.P.G. Sittenfeld (Democrat, incumbent): Sittenfeld touted downtown and Over-the-Rhine's turnaround as a model for economic growth that Cincinnati should expand to all neighborhoods. He argued the model is what attracts companies like Pure Romance to Cincinnati, as the company mentioned the city's recent urban growth as one reason it decided to stay here. (Of course, the nearly $699,000 in tax incentives over 10 years probably help as well.) When asked about his opposition to the current streetcar project, Sittenfeld said the current project is fiscally irresponsible because of its previous budget problems, which City Council fixed in June, and reduction in funding from the state government, which forced the city to pick up more of the funding share. Sittenfeld said his past two years on council were a success, but he added, "I'm not done yet."Amy Murray (Republican and Charterite, challenger): Murray said her campaign is focused on creating a fiscally sound city by structurally balancing the budget and fixing the underfunded pension system. But she said she would do both without increasing taxes, which could force the city to cut services and retirement benefits. When asked about her opposition in 2011 to extending city employee benefits to LGBT spouses, Murray said she never had a problem with extending the benefits to LGBT individuals — which City Council did in 2012 — but was simply acknowledging that providing the extra benefits requires making cuts elsewhere to balance the budget. (Opponents previously said the issue should be about equality and fairness, not costs.)Vanessa White (Charterite, challenger): White said her main goals are reducing poverty in Cincinnati, providing more education opportunities to residents and expanding citizen access to city officials. When specifying her goals for education, White said Cincinnati needs to do a better job incentivizing internships for youth at local businesses and touted the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, which seeks to expand preschool education opportunities in Cincinnati. To increase transparency and outreach, White said she would assign City Hall staffers to answer citizens' questions after council meetings.Michelle Dillingham (Democrat, challenger): Dillingham said the role of local government is to spur growth in abandoned areas that have been failed by the private sector. But to successfully do this, she said the city needs to engage and reach out to its citizens more often. As an example, she cited the development of an affordable housing complex in Avondale, which has been snared by sudden public outcry from a neighborhood group. Dillingham said supporting affordable housing is also more than just providing expanded services; she explained that she supports creating more jobs that would provide a living wage, which would then let more locals own or rent a home without exceeding 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs. At the end, Dillingham touted her 10-point plan to give more Cincinnatians "a seat at the table" and make the city government more inclusive.Mike Moroski (Independent, challenger): Moroski said he intends to focus on growing Cincinnati's population, reducing re-entry into the criminal justice system and lowering child poverty. He also touted support for development projects and infrastructure, including the streetcar project. At the same time, Moroski argued some development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown is pricing low-income people out of the city's booming areas — an issue he would like to address. Moroski also said he backs efforts to increase Cincinnati's human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years. When asked about his lack of government experience, Moroski said he sees it as a "gift" and "blessing" that's given him a fresh, outside perspective. "I will be the voice for the voiceless," he said.Melissa Wegman (Republican, challenger): Wegman opened by showing off her business credentials and neighborhood advocacy. When asked what she means when she says she'll bring a "business perspective" to council, she said she would like to see the city put more support toward small businesses. In particular, Wegman said underserved neighborhoods need more city help and funding. She also told panelists that she opposes Issue 4, which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot and would semi-privatize Cincinnati's pension system.Kevin Flynn (Charterite, challenger): Flynn said Cincinnati's budget problems are by far the most important issues facing the city, but he also trumpeted the local government's lack of transparency and engagement as major issues. He explained he's particularly opposed to the mayor's pocket veto, which allows the mayor to entirely dictate what legislation is voted on by council and potentially block any legislation he or she disagrees with. Flynn said he would like to see more citizen engagement on budget issues and more open debate between council members during public meetings.Greg Landsman (Democrat and Charterite, challenger): Landsman stated his focus is on population, job and revenue growth, which could help him achieve his goal of a structurally balanced budget. He said the city needs to do more to attract and retain young people. Although Landsman acknowledges the city's progress, he said Cincinnati is undergoing a "tale of two cities" in which some neighborhoods prosper and others flounder. Landsman also suggested increasing human services to 1 percent of the operating budget over the next few years and improving city management in other areas, including the budget, pension system and roads.Kevin Johnson (Independent, challenger): Johnson said the role of government should be to balance out the private sector and provide a safety net for those who fall through the system. He said the city needs to do more to tackle income inequality by "investing in people." Johnson said he supports recent efforts to create a land bank system for struggling neighborhoods, which aim to increase homeownership by making it more affordable and accessible. Johnson also claimed that people are tired of party politics and would like to see more transparency in government.David Mann (Democrat and Charterite, challenger), represented by campaign manager John Juech: Speaking for Mann, Juech said his candidate got into the campaign to address Cincinnati's budget problems. Juech explained Mann will leave "all options on the table," whether it's revenue increases or service cuts, to structurally balance the budget. When asked whether Mann, who previously served 18 years on council, really deserves more time in the local government, Juech explained that Mann's experience makes him a "walking Cincinnati historian." He also argued that Mann has great relationships with county officials, particularly Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, that could make it easier to jointly manage some city services in a way that would drive down costs.Yvette Simpson (Democrat and Charterite, incumbent): Simpson said she measures progress in Cincinnati by "how well the least of us do," which drove her to start the Cincinnati Youth Commission and other partnerships that help connect the city's youth to jobs. Although Simpson said she supports boosting funding to human services and building better relationships with human services agencies, she said providing more funding is hindered by a "simple math problem" and the city needs to balance its budget before it can provide more and better services. Simpson also said the city could and should do a better job engaging the public with big ideas.Chris Seelbach (Democrat, incumbent), represented by legislative director Jon Harmon: Reading a statement from Seelbach, Harmon said Cincinnati is on the rise but still needs to improve in various areas. In particular, he said the city needs to do a better job funding all 52 neighborhoods, providing more opportunities for low-income Cincinnatians and eventually increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget. Harmon also touted City Council's progress with infrastructure issues, including increased road paving and bridge funding. By addressing these issues and occasionally making "tough choices," Harmon said Seelbach hopes to continue growing the city.Pam Thomas (Democrat, incumbent): Thomas claimed she wants local government to be open, honest and transparent. She said the city's progress should be gauged through education metrics, particularly local graduation rates and, starting next year, the city's success in meeting state-mandated third-grade reading proficiency standards. Thomas replaced her husband on council after she was appointed by him and other council members earlier in 2013, but Thomas said that, unlike him, she opposes the current streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to fund development projects and help balance the budget.Shawn Butler (Democrat, challenger): To Butler, progress means reducing income inequality, creating jobs and growing the city's population. Although Butler, who is Mayor Mark Mallory's director of community affairs, said he's generally supportive of the mayor's policies, he said the city could do a better job selling itself and reaching out to the business community. Butler also touted his experience, particularly how he's gone through eight budget cycles during his time with the mayor. To structurally balance the budget, Butler said he wouldn't increase the earnings tax and would instead pursue other options, such as tapping into money from the parking plan and cutting services.Angela Beamon (Independent, challenger): Beamon said she would ensure city services are spread out to all citizens and neighborhoods. She suggested struggling neighborhoods are underserved — not "underperforming," a term she doesn't adhere to — and the city should do more to reach out to them. Beamon also stood firm on her opposition to the streetcar project. Instead of funding the streetcar, she said city resources should go toward promoting business ownership and services that help the underprivileged.Sam Malone (Republican, challenger): Malone said his goal is to make all of Cincinnati's neighborhoods thrive with more businesses. He said since he lost his re-election to City Council in 2005, he's managed a small business and learned how it feels to be on the other side of the government-business relationship. Malone said his campaign slogan ("I love everybody, I come in peace") best exemplifies how he's led his life. When asked about a 2005 incident in which he disciplined his son with a belt, Malone claimed he's "running on issues" and his parenting tactics were deemed lawful by a court.
by German Lopez
Federal government shuts down, Obamacare opens for enrollment, Qualls picks vice mayor
Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and we may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.
The federal government shut down
today for the first time in 17 years after House Republicans, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, refused to
pass a budget bill that didn’t repeal, delay or otherwise weaken
Obamacare, the controversial health care law that Senate Democrats and
President Barack Obama strongly support. Federal law requires government
agencies to largely shut down and furlough non-essential employees if
lawmakers fail to pass a budget that funds government services. The
showdown is the latest in Republican efforts to repeal or weaken the
president’s signature health care law. Republicans claim Obamacare is an
example of government overreach that burdens the economy, while
Democrats say the law will help millions of Americans receive health
insurance and clamp down on rising health care costs.
Mayor Mark Mallory and other community leaders yesterday jumpstarted a six-month effort to get as many people signed up for Obamacare’s online marketplaces, which opened for enrollment today at www.healthcare.gov.
At the marketplaces, an Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,”
or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax
credits, while a family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a
month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers.
Participants with an annual income between 100 percent and 400 percent
of the federal poverty level, or individuals making between $11,490 and
$45,960, will be eligible for tax subsidies, with the highest incomes
getting the smallest subsidies and the lowest incomes getting the
largest. Various local groups, including the Public Library of
Cincinnati and Hamilton County and Freestore Foodbank, will participate
in the outreach campaigns, which will attempt to enroll as many Ohioans
as possible despite Republican legislators’ attempts to obstruct the efforts.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says she would pick Councilman Wendell Young as her vice mayor
if she’s elected mayor this November and Young wins re-election. Qualls
is running for mayor against fellow Democrat and ex-Councilman John
Cranley. Although Qualls and Cranley agree on a host of issues, they are
completely divided on the streetcar project and parking plan, both of
which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. The issues took much of the spotlight during the first post-primary mayoral debate.
Ohio and Ky. officials say they expect to break ground on the Brent Spence Bridge project in 2015,
but no funding plan is yet in place. Officials agree tolling will be
part of funding the $2.5-billion project, but motor fuel taxes,
subsidies and a loan from the federal government could also play a role.
The project is nationally recognized as necessary because of the
current bridge’s deteriorating condition.
The Cincinnati Reds set an attendance record this season.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is still extremely sure humans are causing global warming.
by German Lopez
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.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 25, 2013
City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee on Sept. 24 unanimously stripped budget restorations that
would have reinstated car allowances, paid work days and office budgets
for the city government’s top earners.
by German Lopez
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
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
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
Human services and parks funding to be restored; more than $70,000 stripped from motion
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday
unanimously stripped budget restorations that would have reinstated car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners,
including the mayor, city manager and council members.
“It seems disingenuous that we would restore funding to
the top earners in our city for car allowances and cost-saving days and
also show, as we did last June, that we are willing to make sacrifices
along with our employees,” Councilman Chris Seelbach said at the
committee meeting. “When we ask people not to take a raise for five
years or to not take a car allowance, it’s important for us to also make
Seelbach added that he hopes City Council’s decision will
send “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 city previously eliminated some paid work days and car allowances as part of broader cuts to balance the city’s operating budget without laying off cops or firefighters. But City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 asked council members to use higher-than-projected revenues to undo $6.7 million in cuts, including $26,640 in car allowances for city directors, $18,000 in council members’ office budgets and $26,200 in paid work days for council members and the mayor.City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat
on Friday that restoring the car allowances is a matter of basic
fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness. She said
the car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered
in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The
allowances, she added, were also promised to city directors as part of
their pay packages when they were first hired for the job.
But some council members, particularly Seelbach, called the restorations out of touch.
“I’m more concerned with the garbage worker who’s making
barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour
raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance,” Seelbach told CityBeat
on Friday. “If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making
$100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car
allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not
more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no
The City Council motions passed on Tuesday remove the
provisions for car allowances, paid work days and City Council office budgets but keep earlier
proposals from council members, including restorations to human services funding and city parks.
by German Lopez
Food stamp rules to hit locals, city defends allowances, charterites oppose pension initiative
Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for
federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients
in Hamilton County to meet work requirements
if they want the benefits to continue. That means "able-bodied"
childless adults will have to work or attend work training sessions for 20 hours a week starting in October to continue getting food assistance. The renewed rules are coming just one month before federal stimulus funds for the food stamp program are set to expire, which will push down the $200-a-month food benefits
to $189 a month, or slightly more than $2 a meal, in November. In light of the new requirements, the Hamilton County
Department of Job and
Family Services will help link people with jobs through local partnerships and
Hamilton County's SuperJobs Center,
but that might be difficult for food stamp recipients who have past
convictions, mental health problems and other barriers to employment.The city administration defended its proposal to restore $26,640 in car allowances
for the mayor, city manager and other director-level positions in the
city government, just a few months after the city narrowly avoided
laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees by making cuts in
various areas, including city parks. City spokesperson Meg Olberding
says car allowances are part of traditional compensation packages in
other cities Cincinnati competes with for recruitment, and she says that
the compensation was promised to city directors when they were first
hired for the jobs. But Councilman Chris Seelbach says the proposal is
out of touch and that he's more concerned about lower-paid city employees,
such as garbage collectors, who haven't gotten a raise in years, much
less a $5,000 car allowance. The Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, came out against the tea party-backed pension ballot initiative. The committee recognizes Cincinnati needs pension reform soon, but it says the tea party proposal isn't the right solution. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati's pension system so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who are under a different system — would have to contribute to and manage 401k-style retirement accounts. Under the current system, the city pools and manages pension funds through an independent board. Supporters argue the amendment is necessary to deal with the city's growing pension liability, but opponents, including all council members, argue it would actually cost the city more and decrease employees' benefits. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups behind it in further detail here.State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County wants U.S. Judge Timothy Black impeached because the judge ruled Ohio must recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple's marriage in a death certificate. The judge gave the special order for locals James Obergefell and John Arthur, who is close to death because of a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says if the city were to synchronize its mayoral primary elections with other state and county elections, it could save money by spreading the share of the costs. The Sept. 10 primary cost Cincinnati $437,000. The change would require altering the city charter, which needs voter approval.The Ohio Department of Education will soon release revised report card grades for Cincinnati Public Schools and other school districts following an investigation that found the school districts were scrubbing data in a way that could have benefited their state evaluations.An Ohio bill would ban drivers younger than 21 from driving with non-family members in the car and bump the driving curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., with some exceptions for work and school.A University of Cincinnati football player is dead and three others are injured following a single-car crash.Ohio gas prices rose as the national average dipped.Here is a map of air pollution deaths around the world.
by German Lopez
Restorations would subsidize car use for mayor, city manager, other directors
Just a few months after the city avoided laying off cops,
firefighters and other city employees, City Manager Milton Dohoney on
Sept. 15 proposed restoring $26,640 in vehicle allowances that would
subsidize car use for the city manager, the mayor and other
director-level positions in the city administration.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat that restoring the allowances is a matter of basic fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness.
Olberding says car allowances are typically part of
compensation packages offered in other cities that compete with
Cincinnati for recruitment. The allowances, she explains, were also
promised to city directors as part of their pay packages when they were
first hired for the job.
“Cutting it reneges on their original offer and part of
the pretense under which they took the job,” Olberding says, adding that
failing to restore the compensation promises could make future potential hires
reluctant to work in Cincinnati.
But given Cincinnati’s ongoing budget problems, some council members say the proposal is out of touch.
“Are you kidding me?” asked Councilman Chris Seelbach at
the Sept. 16 Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “I just question the
judgment of an administration that would make that kind of
recommendation given our current financial situation. I’m offended that
it would be even recommended.”
Even though City Council managed to avoid layoffs in this
year’s budget, Cincinnati’s operating budget remains structurally
unbalanced, which means the city will have to come up with new revenue
or cuts to balance the budget in upcoming years.Seelbach told CityBeat he doesn’t agree with the competitiveness arguments. “I’m more concerned with the garbage worker who’s making barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance,” he says. “If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making $100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no car allowance.”
Still, Olberding points out that city directors often need
to drive more than the typical worker, whether it’s to get to public
meetings, in case of an emergency or as a natural consequence of being on call 24/7. She says that justifies what she sees as a
The restoration was tucked into a proposal
from the city manager that restores more than $6.7 million in previous cuts by
using revenue left over from the previous budget cycle. The car
allowance portion is about 0.3 percent of the total proposal and less
than one-hundredth of a percent of the city’s overall operating budget.
For some city officials, the issue gets to what they perceive
as a disconnect between private individuals and the government: Although thousands of
dollars might seem like a lot of money to the typical person, the
sum is usually worth much less than a penny on the dollar in city budget
terms.But Seelbach says garbage collectors and other city workers who haven’t received a raise in years would be thrilled to split $22,000, even if the sum doesn’t mean much in total budget terms.“It shows a lack of respect for the people who make this city work,” Seelbach says.
The proposal also comes shortly after a tense budget showdown and in the middle of an election year for City Council and the mayor’s office. Dohoney repeatedly said throughout the past year that the
city would have to lay off 344 employees, including 189 cops and 80
firefighters, if it didn’t lease its parking meters to the Greater
Cincinnati Port Authority. The city ultimately avoided the layoffs
without the parking lease by making cuts in various areas, including the
city’s parks, and tapping into higher-than-expected revenues, but the city is still pursuing the lease to pay for economic development projects.
City Council will take up the restoration measures at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 24.Updated at 4:09 p.m. with comments from Councilman Chris Seelbach.
by German Lopez
First progress report outlines strategy, initial outcomes
Strategies to End Homelessness on Wednesday released its first annual progress report
detailing how the organization intends to reduce homelessness
in Hamilton County by half from 2012 to 2017. That means reducing the
county’s homeless population of more than 7,000 to roughly 3,500 in five
The plan doesn’t focus on providing shelter services to the
needy; instead, Strategies to End Homelessness is advocating tactics
that prevent homelessness entirely and attempt to permanently address
The main strategies, according to the report: prevention,
rapid rehousing that lasts six to 12 months, transitional housing for up
to 24 months and permanent supportive housing that targets the
chronically homeless and disabled.
For the organization, the goal is to reduce
homelessness by using supportive services to get to the root of the issue, whether it’s joblessness, mental health problems or other causes, and ensure shelter services
aren’t necessary in the first place.
“Of the various types of programs within our homeless
services system, households served in prevention were least likely to
become homeless within the next 24 months,” the report reads. “Among
supportive housing programs, Rapid Rehousing programs cost less, serve
households for significantly shorter periods of time, and have increased
long-term success compared to other supportive housing program types.”
The cost savings get to the major argument repeatedly
raised by homeless advocates: If society helps transition its homeless
population to jobs and permanent housing, governments will see savings and new
revenue as less money is put toward social services and the homeless
become productive economic actors who pay taxes.
Prevention in particular had particularly strong financial
results, according to the Strategies to End Homelessness report: “In
2012, the estimated average cost per person served in homelessness
prevention was $787, which is 60 (percent) less than the estimated cost
of $1,322 per person served in an emergency shelter.”
Meanwhile, permanent supportive housing topped the list of costs, coming in at an average of $6,049 per person.
Despite the ambitious goals and promising results, the
group’s prevention program has run into some problems. The federal
government never renewed temporary federal stimulus funding that was
financing a bulk of the prevention program, which cut off a major source
of money starting in July 2012. Strategies to End Homelessness managed
to pick up funding later in the year through the federal Emergency
Solutions Grant, but the financial support is much more modest,
according to the report.
Still, Strategies to End Homelessness appears undeterred.
The report claims 78 percent of shelter residents transitioned to
housing in 2012. The organization intends to continue prioritizing its
resources to achieve similar sustainable outcomes in the next few years.
Strategies to End Homelessness is a collaborative that
pools local homeless agencies, including the Drop Inn Center, Lighthouse
Youth Services and the Talbert House, to tackle homelessness with a
less redundant, more unified strategy.
In 2009, City Council and Hamilton County commissioners
approved the organization’s Homeless to Homes Plan to “ensure that
homeless people receive high-quality emergency shelter with
comprehensive services to assist them out of homelessness.”
But the plan has run into some recent problems. The
permanent supportive housing facility proposed for Alaska Avenue in
Avondale has been met with community resistance, which convinced City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday to place a two-week hold on the project while an independent mediator helps the two sides reach a compromise.
In Cincinnati, homelessness-reduction efforts have also obtained less local support in the past decade as City Council consistently fails to uphold its human services funding goal.
by German Lopez
Medicaid expansion vote stalls, Lunken Airport mismanaged, streetcar spurs campaigns
Republican lawmakers say they won’t hold any votes on the Medicaid expansion until October or later,
even though state officials say the expansion must be approved by
October to have it in place by 2014. Implementing the expansion at the start of 2014 would coincide with the implementation
of other major programs in Obamacare. Gov. John Kasich supports the
expansion, but he’s had trouble convincing his fellow Republicans to
join him. The expansion would be mostly funded by the federal
government, which would pay for the entire policy for the first three
years then phase down to indefinitely paying for 90 percent of the cost.
Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an
analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a
million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next
decade. Michigan, which is also dominated by Republicans, on Tuesday approved its own Medicaid expansion.
An internal audit found the city of Cincinnati has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have gone toward improving the city-owned Lunken Airport through poor management and technology problems. In response, Councilman Chris Seelbach wrote on Twitter, “Lunken oversights
completely unacceptable. Meeting w/ City & Lunken Mngr to work on
detailed correction plan later this week.” The city is planning on
making changes that should avoid losing revenue in the future.
Streetcar supporters plan to hold a fundraiser
today for mayoral candidate Roxanne Qualls and City Council candidate
Wendell Young. The fundraiser shows the extra steps now being taken by
streetcar supporters, who have been proudly flaunting their support
every month through “streetcar socials,” the latest of which Mayor Mark Mallory attended. Ever since its inception, the streetcar has been mired in controversy and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
A central Ohio lawmaker is renewing a legislative push
for attaching drug tests to welfare benefits. The measure is meant to
lower costs and ensure welfare money isn’t going to drug dealers. As CityBeat previously covered,
the testing requirement can actually increase the cost of welfare
programs: In Florida, the state government’s program had a net loss of
$45,780 after it reimbursed all falsely accused welfare recipients of
their drug tests. Only 108 people out of the 4,086 accused, or 2.9
percent, tested positive, and most tested positive for marijuana,
according to The Miami Herald.
Heavy construction and improvements that will modernize and widen Interstate 75 are expected to continue for the next decade.
Much of the work is being funded by Kasich’s Ohio Turnpike plan, which
sells bonds that will be repaid with excess Turnpike polls.
Jeff Ruby yesterday responded to a lawsuit
filed on Monday against his restaurant chain. Ruby says his servers “are
highly compensated — averaging $65,000 a year, with shifts that average
seven hours a day.” The lawsuit alleges that management at Ruby’s
restaurants took tips from three employees, which supposedly left them
earning less than minimum wage.
United Way of Greater Cincinnati plans to raise $62.8 million with its campaign this year. The organization supports Cincinnati’s human services, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Google Glass could be used to improve surgeries in the future.