by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 11:16 AM | Permalink
Grand opening among several dates set after construction deal finalized
Following years of political controversy, the Cincinnati streetcar is scheduled to open for service on Sept. 15, 2016.
The news was unveiled in a city memo this morning, which
detailed the streetcar project’s future following a construction deal
with Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad.
The news comes after Messer revealed it will need nearly $500,000 more to do construction work, which will be covered by the project’s $10 million contingency funds.
The memo detailed other upcoming milestones for the streetcar project:• March 1, 2015: Substantial completion of a 3,000-foot test track and maintenance center.• June 29, 2015: Substantial completion of Over-the-Rhine loop.• March 15, 2016: Substantial completion of all work.
City Council recently approved $17.4 million in
additional capital funding for the streetcar project, along with various
accountability measures that will require the city manager to regularly update
council and the public on the project’s progress. The project’s estimated cost now stands at $133 million.Ever since its inception, the Cincinnati streetcar has been mired in political controversies and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
by German Lopez
Inclusion becomes mayoral issue, streetcar clears hurdle, state budget cuts local funding
Following Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s announcement Friday to increase city contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses once elected, fellow Democratic mayoral candidate and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls echoed support for the proposals, although she disputed Cranley’s record on the issue.
One issue in particular is the Croson study that would allow the city
to prepare for a broader inclusion plan for minorities and women. Qualls has repeatedly proposed a Croson study during her time in
City Council and previous time in the mayor’s office, but she says
Cranley failed to publicly raise the issue at all during his time on
council between 2000 and 2009.
Cincinnati’s streetcar project cleared another hurdle
Friday when Messer Construction announced it needed $500,000 to carry
out construction work, which is easily covered by the project’s $10
million contingency fund.
With a construction contract, new funding and accountability measures
now moving forward, the only potential issue is who has to pay to
move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. The city claims
Duke Energy does, while the energy company puts the onus on the city.
That issue is currently being worked out in court, although the city has
already set aside $15 million to carry out the work for now and just in
case Duke isn’t forced to carry the costs. Throughout the streetcar’s
history, the project has been mired in misrepresentations and
exaggerations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
The recently approved two-year state budget provides about $517 million less local government funding than the budget did in 2011,
even though it pays for $2.7 billion in new tax cuts. Democrats have been highly critical of the cuts, but the
governor’s office says local governments are effectively getting more
funding through other sources not particularly geared for city and
county governments. CityBeat covered local government funding in greater detail here and the state budget here.
Some state officials are pushing to establish an online, searchable database that would allow Ohio taxpayers to track state spending penny-by-penny. The state treasurer’s office already maintains a database for teacher and state employee salaries.
The Health Careers Collaborative, an organization working to increase health care employment in Greater Cincinnati, has a new leader.
Amish communities in Ohio are questioning whether they should take royalties for land that would be used for fracking,
an oil and gas extraction process that environmentalists claim is
dangerous for surrounding air and water. For the Amish, the issue is
spiritual, rooted in their religious restrictions against technology and
many facets of the modern world. CityBeat covered fracking and its ongoing effect on some Ohio communities in greater detail here.
Ohio gas prices are starting up this week.
Twinkies are returning to store shelves today.
HD 189773b, a blue exoplanet, may look hospitable, but the planet has a bad habit of raining glass sideways.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 11:18 AM | Permalink
Public access media organization to close by end of year
Local public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting its doors for good by the end of the year, ending nearly 25 years of public service.
The organization’s demise is a result of the city eliminating funding for Media Bridges in its latest budget, which was passed by City Council in May.
“It is with great sadness that I must announce that Media Bridges will close its doors by the end of 2013. The city has made it extremely clear that we will not be receiving any more funding from them. While we have tried many other avenues for revenue it has become clear that we will be unable to sustain operations beyond 2013,” Media
Bridges Executive Director Tom Bishop announced Tuesday in the organization’s newsletter.The shutdown will be a steady process, with Media Bridges completely closing once its channels are
transferred or Dec. 13 — whichever comes first.The city’s budget cuts were originally considered in December, but City
Council managed to restore some funding to keep the organization
afloat. Prior to the partial restoration, Bishop had called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget.
City officials previously defended the cuts to Media Bridges, citing city
surveys that ranked the program poorly in terms of budgetary importance.
For the surveys, the city used meetings and mailed questionnaires to gauge public
But Bishop claims the surveys’
demographics were lopsided against low-income Cincinnatians, the income
group that benefits the most from public access programs like Media
For both the meeting-based and mail-in surveys, Bishop’s
claim checks out. His concern is even directly acknowledged and backed in the documented survey results for the meetings:
“Twenty-two percent of meeting participants earned less than $23,050
per year, compared to 40.8 percent of the population at large who earn
less than $24,999 per year. While this is not representative of the
population at large, the data does indicate strong participation from
low income residents.”
Meanwhile, wealthier Cincinnatians were much better
represented, with 11 percent of meeting participants making
$150,000 or more per year despite only 6 percent of the city at large
belonging to that income group, according to the survey results.
The same issue can be found in the mail-in survey: Only 22 percent of respondents made less than $25,000, while 10 percent made $150,000 or more.“It’s ridiculous that they would call that representative of the city of Cincinnati,” Bishop says.
Instead of using its skewed survey results,
Bishop argues the city should have looked at the 2010 Spring Greater
Cincinnati Survey from the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for
Policy Research. In that survey, Cincinnati respondents were asked how
important it was to provide recording equipment to citizens and
neighborhoods so they can “produce educational and public access
programs for cable television.” About 54.3 percent called it “very
important,” 33.9 percent labeled it “somewhat important” and 11.7
percent said it was “not too important.”
City officials also defended the cuts by claiming that funding was only provided as a
“one-year reprieve” after Media Bridges lost state funding that came
through Time Warner Cable, which successfully lobbied to end its
required contributions in 2011.
Bishop disputes the city’s claim, saying Media Bridges and its staff weren’t informed that the city funding was meant to be temporary — at least until it was too late.
Media Bridges is a public access media organization founded in 1988 that
allows anyone in Cincinnati to record video and sound for publicly
broadcasted television and radio. It also provides educational programs for people new to the process.
Although Media Bridges is closing down, the city is still
funding CitiCable, which, among other programming, broadcasts City
Council and county commissioner meetings, through franchise fees from
Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:08 AM | Permalink
Messer Construction asks for less than $500,000 more; easily covered by contingency fund
Messer Construction says it needs nearly $500,000 more than the original $71 million it asked for to
do construction work for the streetcar project, but the extra money is
easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund that the
city established in case of further cost overruns.In June, City Council approved an extra $17.4 million and
accountability measures for the streetcar project, which require the city manager to publicly update council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an
operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports. During discussions for
the funding and accountability proposals, some council members, particularly Councilman P.G.
Sittenfeld, raised concerns that Messer would require more money than
the city could afford. Sittenfeld said he was especially concerned Messer would have all the leverage going forward, considering the city supposedly needed the lower construction bid to keep the project within its new budget.Messer was the lowest bidder for the project’s
construction work, but even that bid came $26 million higher than
the city’s original estimates, forcing the city to close a budget gap if
the project was to continue.
With the construction bids taken care of, the only known
funding concern for the streetcar is who has to pay $15 million for moving utility
lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. Duke Energy argues the cost burden is on
the city, while the city says the energy company has to pay up. The
issue is currently being decided in court.Ever since Cincinnati began pursuing the streetcar
project, it’s been mired in misrepresentations and political
controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail in this week’s cover story.
by German Lopez
Cranley's inclusion plan, effort targets abortion limits, more charter school waste found
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley is releasing a plan
today that promises to reward more of the city’s business contracts to
black people, Latinos and women if he’s elected. Cranley says he will
hire an inclusion officer that would help him achieve the goals of the plan,
which is modeled partly after the African American Chamber of Commerce’s
OPEN Cincinnati Plan that was passed by City Council in 2009. “In order
to make Cincinnati a world-class city, we have to have a thriving,
diverse middle class. We can’t do that if we leave half of our residents
behind economically,” Cranley said in a statement. Cranley’s main
opponent in the mayoral race is Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls,
who supported the OPEN Cincinnati Plan in 2009. So far, the main issues surrounding the campaign have been the streetcar and parking plan — both of which Cranley opposes and Qualls supports.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is asking Ohioans to take up a long, complicated petitioning process
that could lead to the repeal of some of the anti-abortion measures in
the state budget. The process could force the Ohio General Assembly to
consider repealing some of the measures unrelated to appropriating state
funds, or it could put the repeal effort on the ballot in November
2014. FitzGerald is jump-starting the repeal campaign through a new
website, Ohioans Fight Back. CityBeat
covered the state budget and its anti-abortion provisions, which
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed into law, in further detail here.
A state audit found more evidence of misused public funds
at Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy (CCPA), Greater Cincinnati’s
largest charter school, including one example of salary overpayment and a
range of inappropriate purchases of meals and entertainment. The
school’s former superintendent and treasurer are already facing trial on
charges of theft for previously discovered incidents. CCPA is set to
receive $6 million from the state in 2014, up 3 percent from the
previous year.The state’s prison watchdog released a new report that found force is more often used against blacks in Ohio prisons.
Nearly 65 percent of “use of force” incidents in 2012 involved blacks,
even though they only make up about 46 percent of the total prison
After analyzing reports from the first quarter, Hamilton County revised its estimates for casino revenue downward.
That means $500,000 less in 2014 for the stadium fund, which has long
presented problems for the county’s budget. Still, the county says the
revision isn’t a big problem and the focus should instead be on the bigger problem: a looming $30 million budget gap.
Following an approved transfer from the governor and his staff, Ohio’s “rainy day fund” hit an all-time record of $1.5 billion.
The fund is typically tapped into during emergency economic situations
in which the state must spend a lot of extra money or take extraordinary
measures to fix a sudden budget shortfall.
Cincinnati area exports reached a record high in 2012.
Ohio is No. 4 in the nation for foreclosures,
according to a report from real estate information company RealtyTrac.
The report adds more doubt to claims that Ohio is undergoing some
sort of unique economic recovery, following a string of reports that
found year-over-year job growth is lacking in the state. Still, Ohio added
more jobs than any other state in May. If the robust growth holds in the
June job report due next week, it could be a great economic sign for the state.
Early streetcar work is leading to a downtown street closure this weekend, presenting yet another sign that the project is moving forward. Earlier this week, CityBeat published the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project.
New evidence suggests a fraction of disposable wells used during the hydraulic fracturing process — also known as “fracking” — cause earthquakes,
but the risk can be averted with careful monitoring, according to the
researchers. Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water
underground to free up oil and gas reserves. CityBeat covered its effects in Ohio in further detail here.
A nanoparticle device can kill germs with sunlight.
by German Lopez
Posted In: Abortion
at 03:46 PM | Permalink
State budget limits access to legal abortions through various changes
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is urging
a coalition effort to begin a long, complicated petitioning process
that could repeal some of the anti-abortion measures in the recently approved two-year state budget.
If the petitioning process is successful, it would force
the Ohio General Assembly to consider repealing aspects of the budget that don’t involve appropriations of money. If the General Assembly changes, rejects or
ignores the repeal proposal, it could be put on the ballot in November 2014.FitzGerald is jump-starting the repeal effort through a new website, Ohioans Fight Back.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday, FitzGerald also
questioned the constitutionality of some of the anti-abortion measures, particularly
those that require doctors give certain medical information regarding
abortions and restrict publicly funded rape crisis centers from
discussing abortion as a viable option. He said such rules might violate
free speech rights.
The state budget effectively defunds contraceptive care
and other non-abortion services at various family planning clinics,
including Planned Parenthood. It also makes it more difficult for
abortion clinics to establish mandatory patient transfer agreements with
The budget provides separate federal funding to crisis
pregnancy centers, which act as the pro-abstinence, anti-abortion
alternatives to comprehensive clinics like Planned Parenthood.
The budget also gives money to rape crisis centers, but
centers that take public funding are barred from discussing abortion as a
viable option with rape victims.
Days before the budget’s passage, Republican legislators
also added an amendment that forces women to get an ultrasound prior to
getting an abortion. As part of the amendment, doctors are required
to inform the patient if a heartbeat is detected during the
ultrasound and provide an estimate of the fetus’s chances of making it to birth.
FitzGerald, who’s currently Cuyahoga County executive,
plans to run against Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014. Kasich signed the
controversial state budget with the anti-abortion measures on June 30,
despite calls for the governor to use his line-item veto powers — a
move that would have kept the rest of the budget in place but
repealed the anti-abortion provisions.
CityBeat analyzed the state budget in further detail here.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 02:20 PM | Permalink
School administrators already accused of misspending hundreds of thousands of dollars
A state audit found more evidence of misused public funds at
Greater Cincinnati’s largest charter school, including one example of salary overpayment and a range of inappropriate purchases of meals and entertainment. The school’s former
superintendent and treasurer are already facing trial on charges of theft for
previously discovered incidents.
reviewed Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy’s (CCPA) records for
fiscal year 2010, finding Stephanie Millard, the school’s former
treasurer, was overpaid by $8,307. At the same time, founder and
ex-superintendent Lisa Hamm used the school credit card for $8,495 in
payments to the Cincinnati Bengals, Benihana Japanese Steakhouse, Wahoo
Zip Lines, Omaha Steaks and Dixie Stampede.
“These two officials saw no boundaries in how they used
taxpayer dollars,” State Auditor Dave Yost said in a statement. “With
each audit, we find more of the same: total disregard for the trust
placed in them.”
CCPA responded to the audit by stating it has terminated
the credit card and replaced it with two debit cards, which supposedly
have controls in place to require approval and keep track of who’s using
the cards and for what.
The school is also reviewing contracts for the next school
year to ensure no further overpayments are made, on top of requiring
payments be board-approved.
In March, the school fired Hamm and Millard, and the two
former school officials were indicted on 26 counts of theft in office. Their attorney, Mike Allen, claims the school board approved the spending, which could mean the women didn’t break any laws.
In June, another special audit
found CCPA had inappropriately spent $520,000 for various unnecessary
expenditures, including bonuses, Christmas gifts, Nutrisystem weight
loss products and Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber concerts.
CCPA enrolls nearly 1,200 students for kindergarten
through 12th grade, with more than 95 percent coming from low-income
households, according to Ohio’s school report card data. The Ohio
Department of Education gave the school’s K-12 building in the West End a
“D” and its K-6 building in Madisonville a “B” for the 2011-2012 school
The school is set to receive roughly $6 million in state
dollars in 2014, up 3 percent from the year before. That follows the
funding trend for Ohio’s charter schools, which are generally receiving
more state money in the recently approved two-year state budget.
by German Lopez
Streetcar project misrepresented, gun control battle continues, Media Bridges closing down
Ever since the Cincinnati streetcar has been envisioned,
the mass transit project has been mired in misrepresentations driven
largely by opponents and politicians. CityBeat has a breakdown of the misrepresentations here, showing some of the silliest and biggest falsehoods claimed by opponents and supporters.
The national battle over gun control came to Cincinnati on July 4 when former Rep. Gabby Giffords stopped at the Northside parade to call for new restrictions on firearms.
Giffords is part of a slew of national leaders calling for stronger
regulations and enforcement for background checks — a policy more than nine in 10 Americans support. Still, the call seems to be politically unheard so far: Federal legislation is stalled in Congress, and Ohio legislators are working to loosen gun restrictions.
Facing city budget cuts, public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down by the end of the year.
The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the organization lost
state funding that had been provided through an agreement with Time
Warner Cable. But city officials claim the local funding was supposed to
act as a one-year reprieve and nothing more — a claim Media Bridges was
apparently never made aware of until it was too late. To justify the
cut, the city cites public
surveys that ranked budget programs in terms of importance, but a look
at the citizen surveys shows the demographics were skewed against
low-income people who make the most use out of programs like Media
Check out CityBeat’s editorial content for this week’s issue:• German Lopez: “Meet Daniela,” the hypothetical victim of Republican policies at the state and national level.• Ben Kaufman: “‘Enquirer’ Takes Questionable Approach to Covering Meyers Ordination,” which analyzes the questionable apathy to a supposedly “illegal” ordination of a woman Catholic priest.• Kathy Wilson: “Until It’s Time for You to Go,”
a look at the life story of South African leader Nelson Mandela and the
hurdles he faced as he helped end discriminatory apartheid policies.
If you’re headed to Fountain Square today, expect to see
some images of bloodied fetuses and fetal limbs. An anti-abortion group
is showing a video with the gruesome visuals
as part of a protest against what it sees as “the greatest human rights
injustice of our time.” The group defends its tactics by citing its
First Amendment rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has so far refused to
rule one way or the other on the issue, but, barring some restrictions
for airwave broadcasts, the court typically protects all kinds of
political speech as long as it’s not pornographic.
The Cincinnati Police Department is changing how it responds to calls
to focus on what it sees as the most important issues, such as impacting violent crime,
youth intervention efforts, long-term problem solving projects, traffic
safety and neighborhood quality-of-life issues. The biggest change will come with how the department reacts to minor traffic accidents: It will still
respond, but it may not file a report.
The so-far-unnamed Greater Cincinnati coalition working to reduce the local infant mortality rate set a goal
yesterday: zero. It’s a dramatic vision for a region that, at 13.6, has
an infant mortality rate more than twice the national average of six,
as CityBeat covered here.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced in a statement
yesterday that he will be gathering local leaders and health officials
to encourage the state to expand Medicaid. The expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here,
would save Ohio money and insure half a million Ohioans in the
next decade, according to an analysis by the Health Policy Institute of
Fish oils may increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to a new study.
A measure that would disallow employers from discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals made it through a U.S. Senate committee yesterday.
Cadillac’s Super Cruise could have the features to making self-driving cars viable.
A device trains blind people to see by listening.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:52 PM | Permalink
Created Equal cites First Amendment rights for protest
Fountain Square will bear witness on July 11 to an
explicit anti-abortion video as part of a Midwest tour by Created Equal,
a Columbus-based anti-abortion group that describes itself as “a social
action movement seeking to end the greatest human rights injustice of
The “graphic abortion video,” as the group calls it,
utilizes images familiar to anyone who regularly passes by protests outside of Planned
Parenthood clinics: bloodied fetuses, separated fetal limbs and other
images that are meant to link fetuses to defenseless, dismembered
Mark Harrington, executive director of Created Equal, says the display is necessary to grab people’s attention.
“Unfortunately, it’s required. This type of message has to
be strong because of the apathy in our culture to issues like abortion
and injustices like this,” he says.
Abortion-rights advocates have taken steps to stop Created Equal, with some signing a MoveOn.org petition to convince 3CDC, which manages events on Fountain Square, to pull its permit for the event.
“It is time to tell Created Equal that they are not
permitted to show graphic abortion footage on public space,” the
petition reads. “Fountain Square is a family friendly public space and
such footage is not appropriate in this venue. Their viewing date is
Thursday, July 11, 2013, stop this from going forward.”
Harrington says groups like MoveOn.org are attacking his
First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. He argues political
speech, such as his display, is completely protected by the U.S.
“If they wanted to come out and show bloody images of
women who had used coat hangers for abortions … it’s protected under
the First Amendment,” Harrington says. “We would defend their right to
do so. I would never circulate a petition to stop them.”
In general, the U.S. Supreme Court has been supportive of
free speech as long as it’s politically motivated, with the notable
exceptions of sexual content and airwave broadcasts.
Still, the Supreme Court on June 10 refused to consider
overturning an injunction from the Colorado Court of Appeals that’s
preventing an anti-abortion group from displaying graphic images outside
of a Denver church. The Colorado court argued that the images were too
“gruesome” and barred their display in areas where they might disturb
children. Keeping with tradition, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for
declining to hear the case.
For those who are genuinely offended by the graphic nature
of the images and not just obstructing the organization’s anti-abortion
message, Harrington says the message is worth the downsides: “I would urge them to
be equally if not more concerned for the children that are dying and
not simply for their own children, who might be disturbed by this.”
Created Equal is against abortion in most contexts, with
the sole exception of a situation in which the mother’s life is
undoubtedly in danger.
“You do the best you can to save both. When you can’t save both, you got to save one,” Harrington says.
Even then, Harrington says letting miscarriages naturally occur is typically his preferred option.
Thursday’s event will take place less than two weeks after
Gov. John Kasich signed a two-year state budget that limits access to
legal abortions, among other changes to school funding and taxes. CityBeat analyzed the state budget in further detail here.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Republican policies are driving Ohioans — particularly the poor, women and minorities — into a perpetual cycle of near-poverty, and the victims sometimes can't even vote against it.