0 Comments · Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Tea party activists and fiscal conservatives are securing
seats on local school boards across the Tristate and taking their anger
over big government and Obama out on tax levies and Common Core
standards. CINCINNATI -1
0 Comments · Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Mayor says incoming assistant city manager is only eligible to
receive a salary and pension benefits because of policy set by City
by German Lopez
Board debates moving early voting, Winburn shelves rail sale, abortion clinic could close
The Hamilton County Board of Elections remains split on
whether to move its offices and early voting from downtown to Mount
Airy. The two Democrats on the board oppose the move because it could
make voting more difficult for Over-the-Rhine and downtown residents.
The two Republicans on the board support the plan because
it will consolidate operations with the county, which plans to move the county crime lab to the Mount Airy site, and add free parking. If the board
remains split, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted will break the
tie.Councilman Charlie Winburn shelved his idea to sell the city-owned
Southern Railway to help shore up Cincinnati’s underfunded pension
system. It’s unlikely the idea would have made it through City Council
or Mayor John Cranley. The proposal seemed a bit hypocritical coming
from Winburn, who criticized the previous city administration for
attempting to sell off or lease long-term revenue sources, such as the
city’s parking system, for lump sums. Still, the pension issue remains a major concern for local officials; Winburn asked council members to help find a solution to the problem this year.The Ohio Department of Health ordered a Cincinnati-area
abortion clinic to close after it failed to reach a patient transfer
agreement with a local hospital, as required by law. The clinic, located
in Sharonville, plans to appeal the ruling. The facility has failed to
establish a patient transfer agreement since 2010, but previous
Democratic administrations exempted the clinic from the regulations. At
the current rate of closures, Ohio could soon fall below 10 available
abortion clinics for the first time in decades. For several clinics,
part of the issue stems from anti-abortion restrictions in the 2014-2015 state
budget approved by Gov. John Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the
Ohio legislature.Council last week approved form-based code for a third
neighborhood, Walnut Hills. The regulation allows neighborhoods to bring
in new development while hopefully keeping the historic charm and
character of the city.The Cincinnati Bengals asked Hamilton County to hand over
sole ownership of naming rights for Paul Brown Stadium, but county
commissioners don’t seem keen on the idea.Over-the-Rhine residents have mobilized to save two old
buildings that the Freestore Foodbank originally planned to tear down.
Ryan Messer, who is leading the charge to save the buildings, said on
Facebook today that the Freestore Foodbank agreed to hold off on the
demolitions while both parties meet with residents willing to buy and
renovate the buildings.Federal authorities questioned an Ohio man wearing Google
Glass at a movie theater over fears he was attempting to record the
film. No action was taken after the man confirmed the Google Glass is
also a pair of prescription glasses and the recording function was
turned off.Robots could replace one-fourth of U.S. combat soldiers by 2030, according to a general.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Incoming assistant city manager eligible to receive pay and pension benefits
Mayor John Cranley told CityBeat Friday that he's still troubled by the practice of "double dipping," but he said the incoming assistant city manager is only eligible to receive a salary and pension benefits because of policy set by City Council.Bill Moller will be rehired by the city in February to fill in as assistant city manager. Because Moller is a city retiree, he'll be eligible to draw a city salary ($147,000 a year) and pension benefits.The concern: Allowing city workers to double dip, or tap into both a
salary and pension benefits, could encourage the kinds of abuse
already seen in other municipalities, where public workers can reach eligibility for
maximum pension benefits, retire one day and get rehired the next day to effectively receive both a salary and pension. The extra cost — effectively a double payout for city retirees who are rehired — could further strain Cincinnati's structurally imbalanced operating budget.On the campaign trail, Cranley called double dipping "abusive" after City Council repealed a ban on the practice so the administration could hire John Deatrick, a city retiree, to lead the $132.8 million streetcar project.Cranley said he will sign any legislation reinstating the ban on double dipping. As a council member, Cranley
supported the ban when it was originally instated in 2008.Under the previous ban, city retirees rejoining the administration would need to temporarily forfeit pension benefits or face substantial limits on salaries and health benefits.Despite his opposition to double dipping, Cranley cautioned that he still supports Moller's hire."Obviously I like Bill Moller," he said. "But the city manager is working within current policy."The city administration on Tuesday justified Moller's hire by pointing to his previous budget and finance experience in Cincinnati, Hamilton and Covington."At this point in time, Cincinnati needs not only someone
who is proficient in all aspects of municipal finance, but in the
aspects of the city of Cincinnati’s finances in particular. Mr. Moller
has that experience," wrote Interim City Manager Scott Stiles in a memo.It remains unclear whether a ban on double dipping would influence Moller's decision to return to the city administration.
City appears ready to pause streetcar project
3 Comments · Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City
Council appear ready to halt Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar
project on Dec. 4.
by German Lopez
New puppy mill laws, Democrats guide council, county proposes sewer compromise
Ohio now bans abusive dog breeding practices that previously earned the state a reputation as one of the laxest for dog breeding rules in the nation. With the
new rules, dog breeders must maintain improved living conditions for the
dogs, including standards for cage size, regular
grooming, veterinary examinations and socialization. The rules earned praise from many animal activists as a step forward, but some say the bill should act as a start that leads to even stronger
regulations.City Council advanced a largely progressive agenda that
moves forward with initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and
inclusion. Specifically, the Democratic majority on council acted as the
foundation in keeping controversial contracting rules for sewer
contracts, continuing support for a permanent supportive housing
facility in Avondale and approving a new study that will look into
potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards
business contracts. With the Democratic coalition seemingly established
on most issues facing the city, it’s now much clearer what direction
council will take the city over the next four years.Hamilton County commissioners yesterday proposed a
compromise with the city over controversial contracting rules for
Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works
projects. Although both sides agree the issue must be resolved soon to
avoid a costly legal battle and allow MSD to carry on with work on a
federally mandated overhaul of the local sewer system, the
Democratic-controlled city and Republican-controlled county have failed
to reach a resolution. Since the county put MSD projects on hold in
protest of the city’s rules, $152 million worth of sewer projects and
649 potential jobs have been put on hold, according to data from
Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the rules.Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach questioned
whether recent personnel changes at City Hall violated the city charter.
The concern is whether Mayor John Cranley pushed Interim City Manager
Scott Stiles to move John Curp from his previous role as city solicitor
to chief counsel of the city’s utilities. Sittenfeld and Seelbach noted
the charter prevents the mayor and council members from interfering with
personnel decisions. But Stiles declined to answer and sidestepped Seelbach and Sittenfeld’s questions.Commentary: “Republicans Continue Hindering Access to the Ballot.”Cincy Bike Share still needs more funds to launch.Cincinnati has the most unhappy employees in the country, according to an analysis by CareerBliss.Ohio Democrats and Republicans have begun a push for a May
6 ballot initiative that would expand state spending on road, bridge,
water, sewer and other local public works projects.Micah Kamrass yesterday filed petition signatures with the
Hamilton County Board of Elections, making him the likely Democratic
candidate to replace State Rep. Connie Pillich, a Democrat, as she runs for state
treasurer. Kamrass will likely face off against Republican Rick Bryan.A condemned Ohio killer will be executed with a new,
never-tried lethal injection method adopted after the state’s previous
drug supplies dried up.Ohio high-school students could receive some school credit
for off-campus religious education attended during regular school
hours, thanks to a new bill passed by the Republican-controlled Ohio
House of Representatives.If damage related to potholes is $10,000 or less, drivers
can file a complaint at the little-known Ohio Court of Claims and get
their money back. In the past five years, reimbursements for more than
1,300 Ohioans cost the state nearly half a million dollars.The secretary of state’s office announced early voting
hours for the upcoming primary election here. If Hamilton County
Commissioner Todd Portune decides to stay in the gubernatorial race and
challenge Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the primary election would decide which Democrat will face off against Republican Gov. Kasich
in November.Most Americans avoided vaccinations during the previous flu
season — a trend experts attribute to increased complacency toward the
virus.University of Cincinnati researchers say they wants to
dispel the belief that drones are only used
to kill.For example, a collapsible, camera-toting drone currently in development could be used just to spy on people.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Democratic majority pushes initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and inclusion
City Council on Wednesday advanced a largely progressive
agenda that moves forward with initiatives aimed at job training,
homelessness and inclusion.
The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new
year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on
Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could
indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on
City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for
Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works
(GCWW) projects.The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements
on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship
programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which
also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden
contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted
MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth
of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman
Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on
Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job
training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the
city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at
the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it
until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have
conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed
they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
continues.Supportive housing project in AvondaleA supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus
Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits
for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility
in Avondale.Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.Supporters point to a study conducted for similar
facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing
facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically
comparable areas.Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that
are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted
Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received
state tax credits for the facility back in June.Disparity study
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look
into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the
city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and
women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should
begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the
disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property
tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost
$500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million
grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income
clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
by German Lopez
City, county disagree on contracting rules for federally mandated sewer revamp
Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution that seeks a compromise over Cincinnati's controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.Both sides agree the issue must be resolved soon to avoid a costly legal battle and allow MSD to fully continue work on a federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system. But so far the Democrat-controlled city and Republican-controlled county have failed to reach an agreement."We really are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city," said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, who proposed the resolution commissioners approved Wednesday.The county's proposal creates aspirational inclusion goals and funding for local job training programs for MSD and Greater Cincinnati Water Works. The county estimates the resolution will cost $550,000-$700,000 a year.But it remains unclear if the county's measures will satisfy a majority of City Council, which as of December supported its own set of contracting rules.The city rules require contractors to follow stricter standards for apprenticeship programs, which unionized and nonunion businesses use to train workers in crafts, such as electrical work or plumbing. The rules also ask contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help train newcomers in different crafts.With the county proposal approved, commissioners say it's up to the city to make the next move in the dispute.The county's proposal:
by German Lopez
City personnel changes spur backlash, county seeks MSD compromise, judge indicted again
The latest administrative shakeups at City Hall spurred
controversy after the city administration confirmed City Solicitor John
Curp will leave his current position and one of the new hires — Bill
Moller, a city retiree who will become assistant city manager — will be
able to “double dip” on his pension and salary ($147,000 a year). Councilman
P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at today’s council meeting. The hiring decisions are up to Interim City Manager
Scott Stiles, but some council members say they should be more closely
informed and involved. (This paragraph was updated after council members called off the special session.)Hamilton County commissioners plan to vote on a resolution
today that attempts to compromise with City Council on controversial
contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects. Both
the Democrat-controlled city and Republican-controlled county agree the
issue needs to be resolved soon so MSD can get on with a $3.2 billion
sewer revamp mandated by the federal government. But it remains unclear
whether the county’s compromise, which adds some inclusion goals and
funding for training programs, will be enough for City Council. In
December, Democratic council members refused to do away with the city’s
contracting rules, which require MSD contractors to meet stricter job
training standards and programs.Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was
indicted on a ninth felony charge yesterday. The charge — for misusing
her county credit card — comes on top of eight other felony counts for
allegedly backdating court documents and stealing from office. In
response to the first eight charges, the Ohio Supreme Court disqualified
Hunter as she fights the accusations and replaced her with a formerly retired judge, who will be
aided by the juvenile court’s permanent and visiting judges in
addressing Hunter’s expansive backlog of cases.A bipartisan proposal would allow Ohioans to recall any elected official in the state.Duke Energy cut a $400,000 check to the Greater Cincinnati
Port Authority for redevelopment projects at Bond Hill, Roselawn and
Queensgate.Sixty-two people will be dropped from Hamilton County
voter rolls because they didn’t respond to a letter from the board of
elections challenging their voting addresses.It’s official: Democrat Charlie Luken and Republican Ralph
Winkler will face off for the Hamilton County Probate Court judgeship.Facing state cuts to local funding, a Clermont County
village annexed its way to higher revenues. But the village has drawn
controversy for its tactics because it explicitly absorbed only public
property, which isn’t protected from annexation under state law like
private property is.More Ohio inmates earned high school diplomas over the
past three years, putting the state ahead of the national average in
this area, according to a report from the Correctional Institution
Inspection Committee.Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear says he supports legislative
efforts to increase Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 over the next
three years.One Malaysian language describes odors as precisely as English describes colors.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Turnout much higher than mayoral primary
Early reports from the Hamilton County Board of Elections indicate Election Day is proceeding with
minimal problems and voter turnout is considerably better than it was for the Sept.
10 mayoral primary.
“There’s always bumps in every election … but nothing
highly unusual,” says Sally Krisel, deputy director of the board of
Countywide voter turnout was estimated at 20 percent
around noon, with turnout in Cincinnati stronger than the rest of the
county, according to Krisel. But she cautions that the numbers are still
unclear and could completely change, particularly after work hours.
Turnout is particularly strong in wards one, four and five,
according to Krisel. That could be good news for mayoral candidate John
Cranley, who handily won all three wards in the primary against opponents Roxanne Qualls, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble.
But since citywide voter turnout was an abysmal 5.74 percent in the
primary election, it remains uncertain how much primary results will
ultimately reflect on Tuesday’s election. Historically, Cincinnati’s mayoral primaries failed to predict the winner of the general election.
Cranley obtained nearly 56 percent of the vote on Sept.
10, while Qualls got slightly more than 37 percent. Both candidates received enough support to advance to Tuesday’s ballot, but the
Qualls campaign acknowledged the lopsided results were disappointing.
To obtain the Election Day numbers, the county is for the
first time tracking ballot usage. Krisel says the measure allows the
county to gauge countywide voter turnout and whether more
ballots are needed in different voting locations.
Tuesday’s votes come in addition to 20,500 absentee and early voters
across the county, about 90 percent of who already submitted ballots to the board of elections. Krisel claims that’s about half the amount of early
voters from two years ago, but she says she doesn’t know whether that
will reflect on the final turnout numbers.
The election is the first time Cincinnati voters will
elect City Council members for four-year terms, which means Tuesday’s
results will effectively set the city’s agenda for the next four years.
Voters are also deciding on a new mayor, the Cincinnati Public Schools board, two property tax levies for the local library and zoo, and a proposal that would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system for city employees.
Polls will remain open until 7:30 p.m. To find out where to vote, visit the board of elections website.
For more election coverage and CityBeat’s endorsements, go to the official election page here.