Gary Mohr, director of ODRC, made the announcement while talking to legislative reporting service Gongwer in Columbus Tuesday.
“We're going to stay the course on those (sentencing reforms) and I think privatizing
additional prisons would take away from that reform effort that we have,
so I'm not anticipating privatizing any more prisons in the short term
here,” he told Gongwer.
Ohio became the first state to sell one of its own prisons to a private prison company in 2011. The ACLU criticized the move for its potential conflict of interest. The organization argued that the profit goal of private prison companies, which make money by holding as many prisoners as possible, fundamentally contradicts the public policy goal of keeping inmate reentry into prisons and prison populations as low as possible.
In his comments to Gongwer, Mohr said the state will now focus on lowering recidivism, not increasing privatization: “I don't think you can go through upheaval of a system and continue to put prioritization on reform at the same time. I think if we were to re-engage again on privatization of prisons, then we're going to take the eye off the ball a little bit, and I think we're making great progress. It's a matter of focus.”
In the past, the ACLU and other groups criticized Mohr's previous ties to private prison companies — particularly his private work for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) before he became the director for ODRC. CCA in 2011 became the first private company in Ohio's history to purchase a state prison. The connection presents another possible conflict of interest, and it is only one of the many connections between CCA and Gov. John Kasich's administration.
Mike Brickner, ACLU researcher and director of communications and public policy, praised ODRC's decision in a statement: “Despite millions spent by private companies trying to convince policy makers and local governments otherwise, numerous studies have shown private prisons put their own profit ahead of good public policy. ODRC is wise to see that the privatization model distracts from their important efforts to shrink inmate population and reduce recidivism.”
But Brickner also made further demands from the state: “ODRC should go a step further by making a commitment not to privatize additional prison services such as food and medical care. Arguments for privatizing these services use the same faulty logic as the arguments for privatizing entire prisons.”
CityBeat was not able to immediately reach ODRC for comment on Mohr’s announcement. This story will be updated if comments become available.
During the course of researching and reporting last week's story on prison privatization in Ohio, CityBeat found the ODRC to be dismissive of our interest in speaking with Mohr or a spokesperson about private prisons. During two weeks of correspondence, CityBeat received numerous excuses as to why the ODRC couldn't grant an interview and eventually received two emails with the exact same statement — one from ODRC, a state
department, and one from Management and Training Corporation, a private
company that manages prisons in Ohio. The statement added a strange twist to the already-suspicious fact that the ODRC didn't want to talk about its prison privatization plan with the media. A full explanation of the issues ODRC posed to the reporting process can be found in the editor's note at the end of the cover story.
The three measures set up $15 million to front to Duke Energy to move utility lines out of the proposed path; changes the source of funding to repay some $25 million in bonds used to pay for the streetcar; sells $14 million in bonds for streetcar improvements; and changes the municipal code to clarify that it is the responsibility of a utility to relocate its structures.
The $15 million comes from the $37 million sale of city-owned land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
Council voted 6-3 to approve the front money, improvement bonds and bond repayment, a vote that largely mirrored a Monday Budget and Finance Committee vote. Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole “no” vote on the ordinance to change the municipal code.
Councilmembers Cecil Thomas, Wendell Young, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson voted to pass funding, while Councilmembers Smitherman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Charles Winburn voted against.
“My concern with all of these votes … in particular the Blue Ash Airport dollars, these were promises that you made to the neighborhoods and I don’t have the confidence that the legal battle against Duke Energy is going to yield a 100 percent win for the city of Cincinnati, so there’s no assurance that these dollars are going to come back,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman, one of the most vocal opponents of the streetcar.
“I want to be clear that it’s something that I don’t support.”
The $15 million would be fronted to Duke to move its lines while the city and utility work out who is responsible for funding the move.
Duke estimates the full cost at $18 million and argues
that the lines would not have to be moved if the streetcar wasn’t being
built. The city maintains that it has always been the responsibility of
utilities to move or upgrade their structures — which the third measure
clarified in the municipal code. If the city loses a legal battle against Duke, it will not
recoup the $15 million.
The second proposal switches the source of funding for
streetcar bonds from money coming into city coffers from southern
downtown and the riverfront area to a 1995 fund set up to collect
service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks. The measure wouldn't use any additional new money for the streetcar.
That downtown area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as
expected but the city hopes to repay the other fund once the downtown
district — which includes the Banks and the casino — rebounds.
Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Cincinnati, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday asking him to send federal elections monitors to watch over polling in Ohio this November.
Reece’s letter points to what she calls potential voter confusion resulting from two federal court decisions over provisional ballots and in-person early voting — decisions that have been appealed by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
“We need to ensure that Ohio has a smooth and fair election this November,” Reece wrote in an emailed statement.
“These two federal court decisions are a step in the right direction for voters in Ohio, but the appeals processes are confusing for voters. The presence of federal elections monitors will help restore the integrity of the voting process. The entire country is looking at Ohio.”
The first court decision ruled that county boards of elections must count certain defective ballots if the mistakes were caused by poll worker error. U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley ordered Husted to issue provisional ballot envelopes with a checklist for poll workers to follow.
Husted has argued that allowing those ballots to be counted conflicts with existing Ohio law that does not allow defective provisional ballots to be counted.
The second court decision required Husted to allow in-person early voting for the three days leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
Husted had issued a directive to all 88 Ohio counties to not allow voting on those days, and then ordered county boards to suspend in-person early voting while he appealed the court’s ruling. He rescinded that order after the judge ordered him to appear in court in regards to the directive.
Reece was joined by area clergy and community leaders to announce the letter in a Wednesday morning news conference.
Meanwhile unemployment in Cincinnati dropped to 7.5 percent in August, down from 8.2 percent in July. Unemployment in Hamilton County dropped to 6.8 percent in August, down from 7.3 percent. The Greater Cincinnati’s jobless rate for the month was 6.7 percent, putting it below that of the state (7.2 percent) and the nation (8.1 percent).
Speaking of numbers, a new poll released today shows Obama leading Romney in Ohio – the third such poll in the last four days. The Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times Swing State Poll shows Obama leading Romney 53 to 43 percent in Ohio, and by similar large margins in the battlegrounds of Florida and Pennsylvania.
The typically media-shy Republican Ohio Treasurer and Senate candidate Josh Mandel proposed three new rules for members of the U.S. Congress in a rare Tuesday news conference. He said he wants members of Congress to lose their pensions if they became lobbyists, be limited to 12 years in the House and Senate and not be paid if they failed to pass a budget. Mandel says his opponent, sitting Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, broke his promise to voters that he would only serve 12 years in Congress. Mandel himself promised to fill his entire term as state treasurer, but would leave halfway through if he wins the Senate race.
The governors of Ohio and Kentucky continue to move toward jointly supporting a financing study for a replacement of the functionally-obsolete Brent Spence Bridge, and both governors favor a bridge toll to fund construction. The Kentucky Legislature would have to approve a measure to allow tolling on the bridge.
Forty percent of Hamilton County’s septic systems are failing, and homeowners and utilities are arguing over who should foot the $242 million bill. The Enquirer has an analysis of the ongoing battle.
The Associated Press reports that Andy Williams, Emmy-winning TV host and “Moon River” crooner, has died.
The Enquirer is still doing all it can to keep the Lacheys relevant instead of letting them die off like all bad 90s trends like Furby and Hammer pants. The paper blogged that Lachey finished in the bottom three in the first week of the new Dancing with the Stars: All Stars.
Speaking of those replacement NFL refs, apparently some of them were fired by the Lingerie Football League for incompetence. Yes, there are totally unrelated pictures of women playing football.
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan weighed in on the controversy over replacement National Football League referees in a Tuesday town hall-style meeting in Cincinnati, comparing the Obama administration to the substitute officials who cost his home-state Green Bay Packers a victory with their botched call Monday night.
“Give me a break. It is time to get the real refs,” Ryan said.
“And you know what, it reminds me of President Obama and the economy — if you can’t get it right, it’s time to get out. I half think that these refs work part time for the Obama administration in the budget office.”
Ryan was referencing a play that should have been called an interception for the Packers but instead allowed the Seattle Seahawks to score a game-winning touchdown on Monday Night Foodball. Replacement referees — some of whom may have been fired by the Lingerie Football League for incompetence — are filling in for unionized officials who are locked out.
The vice presidential candidate spoke inside a Byer Steel warehouse surrounded by piles of I-beams and rebar. A self-proclaimed Southern gospel rock band played before the event, occasionally pausing to talk up GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials.
Much of Ryan’s prepared speech, as well as questions from participants in the town hall, focused on the economy, the deficit and the need for changes to entitlement programs.
Asked by an audience member how he would limit government and eliminate programs, Ryan said he and Romney would spur economic growth by lessening the tax burdens on small businesses, cut discretionary spending on government agencies and overhaul entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Outside before the rally, protesters called for Ryan — whose House-passed budget made deeps cuts to many welfare and safety-net programs — to have more compassion for the poor.
Meanwhile an airplane sponsored by MoveOn.org carried a banner reading, “Romney: Believe in 55% of America?” referencing comments revealed in a recent video where Romney claimed 47 percent of Americans didn’t pay any income tax and viewed themselves as victims reliant on government so it wasn’t his job to worry about their votes.
“We’re here with several messages, including the immorality of the Ryan budget and how it will impact the vast majority of Americans negatively," said David Little with the liberal advocacy group ProgressOhio. “When a budget protects those with the most and negatively impacts those with the least, I would suggest that is immoral.”
Bentley Davis with the Alliance for Retired Americans said she was concerned about what Romney and Ryan’s plans for Medicare and Social Security would do to retirement security.
Ryan had proposed to keep Medicare the same for anybody already 55 and over, but give younger Americans the choice to get money to spend toward private insurance or stay in a Medicare-like program.
Inside the warehouse was a digital sign that ticked up the national debt, which was at $16 trillion and rising.
“Here is what our government, our Congressional Budget Office, is telling us our debt is in the future if we stay on the path that President Obama has kept us on, has put us on … the debt goes as high as two and a half times the size of our economy by the time my three kids are my age,” Ryan said.
The Obama campaign fired back in an email response, saying Ryan used misleading rhetoric to hide his own record and Republican plans to raise taxes on the middle class to fund tax cuts for wealthier Americans.
“The Romney-Ryan ticket has plenty of questions to answer about a failed record on manufacturing and job creation and their support for policies that will devastate middle class families by raising their taxes and shipping jobs overseas,” Obama for America – Ohio Press Secretary Jessica Kershaw wrote.
“These policies would take the growing manufacturing industry backward, not forward.”
For some in the audience, the economy was also on the forefront.
Steve Teal, 56, of West Chester, said he doesn't like the direction the country is going in.
"Just get the country back to work," Teal said. "I don't trust him (Obama). He doesn't stand up for America. He doesn't stand up for Americans."
CityBeat writer Stefane Kremer contributed to this report.
Ryan went from Cincinnati to an event with Romney in Dayton later on Tuesday.
Cincinnati plans to avoid a streetcar delay. Despite what the city told CityBeat Monday, it seems the delay was due to the ongoing conflict with Duke Energy, and the city wants to put an end to it. City officials are seeking to set aside $15 million from the recent sale of the Blue Ash Airport to ensure the streetcar stays on track by initially paying for moving utility lines and pipes to accommodate for the streetcar. The money is expected to be recovered once issues with Duke Energy are settled. Expect more details on this story from CityBeat this afternoon. CityBeat previously covered the connections between the Blue Ash Airport sale and streetcar here.
Cincinnati’s economic recovery is coming along. In August, Greater Cincinnati home sales hit a five-year high. The 2,438 homes sold were a nearly 16 percent increase from August 2011.
Voters First is suing the Ohio Republican Party for what the organization says are false claims over Issue 2. The complaint, filed to the Ohio Elections Commission Tuesday, points out three allegedly false accusations about the redistricting amendment. A hearing on the complaint is today. Also, it seems Ronald Reagan, who modern Republicans claim to greatly admire, would have supported Issue 2:
Natalie Portman was in Cincinnati yesterday. She talked
about her support for President Barack Obama’s reelection and women’s
issues. She did not mention the awful Star Wars prequels that ruined childhoods. Other speakers attended as well, and they all echoed the message
of Obama being better for women voters.
Kroger recalled bags of fresh spinach in 15 states, including Ohio, yesterday. The spinach, which was supplied by NewStar Fresh Foods LLC, may hold listeria monocytogenes, which could make a pregnant woman or anyone with a weakened immune system very sick. The specific product was a Kroger Fresh Selections Tender Spinach 10-ounce bag that had a “best if used by” date of Sept. 16 and the UPC code 0001111091649.
More than 450 apartments are being planned for downtown West Chester.The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) is looking for advice. Every four years, the department hosts the Child Support Guidelines Advisory Council, which revises the state child support program, and gets citizen feedback on how the program can improve. The public meeting will be at 10 a.m. on Oct. 19 at the former Lazarus Building at 50 W. Town Street in Columbus. The council will report its findings and conclusions to the Ohio General Assembly in March 2013.
An underused plane at the could save the Ohio Department of Transportation $3 million, a new state audit found.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is reaching out to victims of fracking. With a new program, it will provide legal and other protections for individuals, communities and governments affected by fracking.
Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin are planning an Ohio bus tour next week. The state is considered a must-win for Romney, but recent aggregate polling puts him in a fairly grim position with less than two months to Election Day.
How do nuclear explosions affect beer? The U.S. government apparently found out.
Actress and acclaimed rapper Natalie Portman played up her Cincinnati ties in a Wednesday appearance at the Obama campaign-sponsored Women’s Summit at Union Terminal.
The Academy Award-winner said her mother graduated from Walnut Hills High School and her grandfather — Art Stevens — grew Champion Windows in Cincinnati after starting as a door-to-door salesman.
“Because of that, I see President Obama’s support of small businesses as so crucial to our economy,” Portman said, adding that Obama has cut taxes for small businesses 82 times since taking office.
Portman said the Republican Party and their presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan did not have the best interests of women at heart. She pointed to attacks on the Affordable Care Act’s mandates that insurers provide birth control to women and ensure preventative care such as mammogram screenings for breast cancer is covered, as well a bill sponsored by Ryan and embattled congressional candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) that would eliminate all abortion funding except for cases of “forcible rape.”
“We need to stand up for ourselves,” Portman told the packed auditorium that was crowded with an audience of mostly women. “Our mothers and our grandmothers made giant steps for us. We can’t go backwards. We need to go forwards.”
Portman was joined by Obama Campaign National Women’s Vote Director Kate Chapek, former Ohio first lady Frances Strickland, Ohio Rep. Alicia Reece and Obama campaign volunteer Mary Shelton.
An Ohio Romney rep said the campaign did not have a comment on the Women’s Summit, but is hosting a “Women for Mitt” call night featuring former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao in Kenwood on Thursday.
“Ohio women believe in the Romney-Ryan path for America that will result in lower taxes, less spending, less government and more economic growth,” said a release from Romney’s campaign.
The Obama event on Wednesday catered to women, with Chapek telling the audience she knew how difficult it was for women to get there with jobs and the challenge of getting their kids to school. She framed women’s role in the election as a conversation.
“The conversation starts like this: women, turns out, we’re not a constituency,” Chapek said. “Who knew? Apparently Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, because they don’t realize that women are actually a majority in this country.”
She told the women gathered to have conversations with their neighbors and friends and encourage them to volunteer at phone banks or knocking on doors.
Strickland talked about the need to reconcile qualities traditionally seen as masculine — like power — with those seen as feminine — like love.
She also took the opportunity to riff on a statement made by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who said political wives were heroes because while they’re husbands were on stage in the limelight, they were at home doing things like laundry.
“I even did the laundry last night so I could come here today,” Strickland said. “Even (former Gov.) Ted does the laundry.”
Summit attendee Ray Boston, a 67-year-old retired writer for AT&T, said Natalie Portman’s presence caught his eye.
“I’m a celebrity photo enthusiast,” he said. “Nothing’s official until I’ve taken a picture of it.”
Boston said he didn’t vote in 2008, but felt the upcoming November election was too important to sit out. He said he was leaning toward voting for Obama and liked his health care overhaul, but was opposed to the president’s views on gay marriage for religious reasons.
Gwen McFarlin, who works in health care administration, said she was there to support President Obama. She supports his health care overhaul, but thinks it’s a first step to further changes.
She said she was encouraged by the diversity of the women in attendance.
“For me, I’m sure the women who are here represent all the world, not one issue,” she said. “We’re here as a group of women working to empower all the U.S. and the world.”
Voters First Ohio is not letting Republicans get away with any dishonesty on Issue 2. In a complaint filed to the Ohio Elections Commission yesterday, the pro-redistricting reform group claimed a recent mailer from Republicans contained three incorrect statements.
“In an effort to affect the outcome of the election and defeat State Issue 2, Republicans have knowingly, or with reckless disregard of the truth, made false statements in printed campaign material disseminated to registered voters,” the complaint said.
If approved by voters in November, Issue 2 will place the responsibility of redistricting in the hands of an independent citizens commission. Currently, politicians handle the process, which they use to redraw district boundaries in politically advantageous ways in a process known as “gerrymandering.” Ohio’s First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn by the Republican-controlled process to include Warren County, which contains more rural voters that tend to vote Republican, and less of Cincinnati, which contains more urban voters that tend to vote Democrat.
The Voters First complaint outlines three allegedly false statements made by the Republican mailer. The first claim is “Some of the members will be chosen in secret.” As the complaint points out, this is false. The redistricting amendment on the November ballot will require nine of twelve members to be chosen in public, and then those nine members will pick the three final members. All of this has to be done in the public eye, according to the amendment: “All meetings of the Commission shall be open to the public.”
The second disputed claim is that the amendment will provide a “blank check to spend our money” for the commission. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against that claim on Sept. 12 when it ruled against Secretary of State Jon Husted’s proposed ballot language for Issue 2: “The actual text of the proposed amendment does not state that the redistricting amendment would have — as the ballot board’s language indicates — a blank check for all funds as determined by the commission.”
The mailer also claims that, in the redistricting amendment, “There’s no process for removing these bureaucrats, even if they commit a felony.” But the amendment says commissioners must be electors, and when an elector is convicted of a felony, that status is lost. The complaint says commissioners can also be removed “by a judge under a petition process that applies to public officials generally for exercising power not authorized by law, refusing or neglecting to perform a duty imposed by law, gross neglect of duty, gross immorality, drunkenness, misfeasance, nonfeasance, or malfeasance.”
The Ohio Elections Commission will take up the complaint Thursday morning. The full complaint can be read here.
Matthew Henderson, spokesperson for the Ohio Republican Party, called the complaint a "distraction”: “It’s a cheap shot. It’s up to the Ohio Elections Commission, and they’ll likely throw it out. It’s essentially a distraction from the real issues. The bottom line is that Issue 2 is going to create a panel of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats, and they’ll have influence over our elections.”
He added, “Ohio voters will be able to decide for themselves this fall whether they want to pay for these commissioners or not.”
When pressed about whether or not the Ohio Republican Party is sticking to the claims found in the mailer, he said that’s up to the Ohio Elections Commission to decide.
It is true the independent citizens commission created by Voters First is unelected, but that’s the entire point. The current problem with the system, as argued by Voters First, is elected officials are too vested in reelection to place the district boundary needs of the public above electoral needs. That’s why districts like Ohio’s First Congressional District are redrawn in a way that includes Cincinnati and Warren County — two regions that are vastly different.
While current Republicans oppose redistricting reform in Ohio, some Republicans of the past advocated for it. Ronald Reagan was one such advocate:
It seems Ohio may soon get a controversial voter ID law. While speaking at a Tea Party event in Cincinnati on Monday, Secretary of State Jon Husted said the General Assembly is likely to take up a voter ID law after the November election.
“I was listening to a show one night where they talked about these onerous rules, these onerous photo ID rules and the onerous rules in Ohio on photo ID,” he said. “Well, the photo ID law in Ohio is not onerous. As a matter of fact, I suspect the General Assembly will take up a more strict version of what we have after what we’ve been through with this election process.”
Later on, an audience member commented on the issue by pointing out Ohioans can currently identify themselves with 12 different types of ID. In response, Husted clarified his position: “We need to streamline that because it’s really hard for a poll worker to know exactly what they’re supposed to be checking. And I’m quite confident the legislature is going to take that issue up.”
Under current Ohio law, voters can go to the polls with state ID cards, driver’s licenses, military IDs, utility bills, paychecks, bank statements and other forms of ID. Republicans have sometimes criticized the many options, particularly for not being state-issued and not requiring a photo.
Other states have taken up voter ID laws. Pennsylvania’s controversial law requires voters to have state-issued photo ID. A Pennsylvania court recently upheld the law, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the decision today and asked the lower court to reconsider. The ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court gives lower courts room to strike down the law.
Democrats criticize ID laws for suppressing voters. A study from researchers at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis found nearly 700,000 young, minority voters will be unable to cast a ballot due to voter ID laws. Both young and minority voters tend to side with Democrats.
Republicans say the laws are necessary to protect elections from voter fraud. However, studies suggest in-person voter fraud is not a serious, widespread issue. A News21 report, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project that looked at national public records, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter fraud since 2000. That’s less than one case a year nationwide.
Husted’s office could not be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.
UPDATE (4:25 P.M.): Matt McClellan, spokesperson for Husted, called CityBeat after this story was published.
"The Tea Party has generally been critical of the secretary's position on voter ID," he said, referring to Husted's past opposition of strict voter ID laws. "The comments he made at the event last night were environmental in general about what the secretary thought had been happening at the statehouse. His position, in general, is unchanged."
When pressed about what Husted meant when he advocated for "streamlining" laws, McClellan said Husted supported "simplification" of the current system. McClellan could not offer more details on what that means, and he said specifics would be up to the legislature to decide.
Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman, responded to Husted’s suggestions in a statement: “As if Secretary of State Husted has not done enough to undermine access to Ohio’s polls, now he’s planning a secret post-Election Day assault on what forms of identification voters can present to cast a ballot. It’s no surprise that after slashing voting access across the state, using his office for partisan advantage, and lying about Issue 2, now Husted is making plans to create obstacles for African Americans and seniors to vote.”
“I am writing to express my disappointment in the lack of progress of the City-County Shared Services Committee that we originally announced in October 2011,” Hartmann wrote. “Despite numerous attempts by my office and County Administration to make progress with the Committee, it appears you have abandoned your commitment to this important initiative.”
The committee was meant to increase collaboration between the city and county to bring together important county and city leaders and make government services more streamlined and competitive. According the letter, the county expected to “eliminate any duplicative services, overlapping departmental functions and competing initiatives with the City.”
With the county and city both facing budget shortfalls in the face of the Great Recession, Hartmann says the increased collaboration would help ease tight budgets. The Hamilton County commissioners are currently going through meetings with department heads to see what can and needs to be cut from county services to make up for what is projected to be a $20 million budget shortfall.
But the committee never came to be. Hartmann claims his office tried to contact Mallory again and again, but he never received a response. The county even set aside $100,000 for a promised joint review of city and county operations, and the Cincinnati Business Committee did as well. Mallory pledged to devote $100,000 to the effort in a letter to the Ohio Department of Development, but “the follow-up legislation by the City Council never occurred,” Hartmann wrote.
The commissioner even specified some ideas to the City Manager’s Office in February. The three areas covered: improved collaboration on purchasing, countywide fire hydrant maintenance and improved collaboration on economic development. The ideas never made it past discussion.
Jason Barron, spokesperson for Mallory, could not immediately comment on the letter. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.
The full letter, along with the attached letter from Mallory:
State Rep. Connie Pillich announced today that she will run for state treasurer, putting the Greater Cincinnati Democrat on a collision course with current Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican who ran for U.S. Senate last year. Before becoming state representative, Pillich was in the Air Force, a lawyer and a small business owner. “Whether as a captain in the Air Force, a lawyer and owner of a small business, or a representative in the legislature, I’ve dedicated my career to listening to concerns, creating a plan of action, and working hard to deliver real results,” she said in a statement.
Attorney General Mike DeWine certified the ballot language for an amendment that would legalize medical marijuana in Ohio, opening the possibility that the issue will be on the ballot in 2013 or 2014. CityBeat wrote more about the amendment and the group behind it here.
Supporters of the Medicaid expansion are hosting a public meeting and presentation today at 10 a.m. at the Red Cross headquarters at 2111 Dana Ave. CityBeat previously covered the Medicaid expansion, which supporters claim will save the state money and insure half a million Ohioans in the next decade, here.
Ohio is one of many states preparing to adopt Common Core standards and other reforms in schools, but a recent survey by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute of the state’s superintendents declared that the state is not ready for all the changes being proposed. Terry Ryan of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute says Ohio should consider slowing down to give legislators and educators more time to work through the new requirements.
A new Ohio bill would require only one license plate per vehicle, potentially saving the state $1 million a year. But critics say the bill would limit the amount of tools available to law enforcement to fight and prevent crime.
Nearly two-thirds more suburban residents live below the poverty line in comparison to 2000, according to “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America,” a book by two Brookings Institution fellows. The book uses U.S. Census Bureau data to form a clearer picture on U.S. poverty trends. Previous analyses have correlated the U.S. rise in poverty with welfare reform, which former President Bill Clinton signed in 1996.
Ohio and U.S. gas prices are spiking this week.
It’s going to be hot today.
A study found a correlation between fiscal conservatives and big biceps.
The first American mission to sample an asteroid is moving forward.
The city manager unveiled his budget plan to solve the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit yesterday. The plan includes less layoffs than expected — particularly to cops and firefighters — but it proposes an increase to property taxes. The plan also includes a series of other cuts, including to all arts funding and subsidies that go to parades, and new fees. The release for the budget plan says many of the cuts could have been avoided if the city obtained revenue from the proposed parking plan, which is currently being held up by a referendum effort and court challenges. The operating budget is separate from the streetcar budget, which uses capital funds that can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.
The budget plan still has to be approved by Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council to become law, and City Council will hear the public’s opinion before a vote at three public hearings: May 16 at the Duke Convention Center, May 20 at College Hill Recreation Center and May 22 at Madisonville Recreation Center. All the hearings will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder says he hopes the Constitutional Modernization Commission will produce a ballot initiative for redistricting reform in 2014. Politicized redistricting — also known as “gerrymandering” — has been traditionally used by politicians in power to redraw congressional district borders in a way that favors the political party in charge, but reform could change that. Gerrymandering was used by national and state Republicans to blunt losses in the 2012 election, as CityBeat detailed here.
As Ohio struggles to expand Medicaid, our more conservative neighbor to the south is moving forward. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in Ohio, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would insure nearly half a million people and save millions of dollars by 2022, here.
While some Democrats want to attach party labels to Ohio Supreme Court elections, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wants to do away with party primaries for judicial elections.
Former University of Cincinnati President Joseph Steger, the second longest-serving president at UC, died at 76 yesterday.
New York City could soon become the first major city to let non-citizens vote in local elections. The legislation would allow non-citizens to vote if they are lawfully present in the United States, have lived in New York City for six months or more on the date of a given election and meet other requirements necessary to vote in New York state.
When one simple question makes a huge difference: “When Did You Choose to Be Straight?”
Blood may be the key to seeing how long brain tumor patients have to live and whether their treatment is working.
A new study found oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill sickened fish for at least a year.
Here is a compilation of adorable animals trying to stay awake.
• HuffingtonPost.com quickly repeated this potential calumny: “Investigators have a suspect — a Saudi Arabian national — in the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, The (New York) Post has learned. Law enforcement sources said the 20-year-old suspect was under guard at an undisclosed Boston hospital.”
About the same time, Massachusetts and Boston officials were telling journalists they had no suspects.
I recall how authorities initially sought someone who looked like an Arab after the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in 1995. How do I know? It was all over the news media. As the current FBI website puts it, “Coming on the heels of the (first) World Trade Center bombing in New York two years earlier, the media and many Americans immediately assumed that the attack was the handiwork of Middle Eastern terrorists.”
Two white non-Arab Americans were convicted of the bombing. The only “Arab” link was murderer Timothy McVeigh’s military service in the first Iraq invasion, Desert Storm, where he won a Bronze Star. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists continued to weave elaborate links between the Oklahoma City bombers and Arabs.
• Everyone with a microphone seems to be telling us the investigation of the Boston bombings will be complex and unhurried. Many recall how long it took to abandon suspicion of security guard Richard Jewell as the Atlanta Olympics bomber. It took two years to identify Eric Rudolph as the bomber and another five to arrest him. False leads will abound and forensic evidence will be sought, collected and analyzed. Some will be helpful, some will be misleading. With so many journalists present, initial coverage largely was self-correcting. The rumor of seven more bombs or a bomb at the JFK library was quickly spiked. The story that local officials blew up a third bomb lasted a little longer. That was half-correct: They blew up a package/backpack but it was not a bomb. There were only two bombs as of this writing.
Everyone with a microphone seems to be saying the Boston bombing investigation will be complex and unhurried. Many recall how long it took to abandon suspicion of security guard Richard Jewell as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber. False leads will abound and forensic evidence will be sought, collected and analyzed. Some will be helpful, some will be misleading.
• If bombers hoped to create terror, the Boston Marathon was a smart choice: there would be lots of images from cell phones and the news media. It fits my theory of 9/11: the initial 2001 attack on the World Trade Center tower was timed to assure the news media would get full coverage of the jetliner flying into the second tower.
• Moving on from bloodshed, Rachel Richardson’s Enquirer story about dogs in the workplace was a smart story, especially part about socialization being vital to a dog fitting in.
And she pushed my nostalgia button. My first job out of college was night editing a daily paper in Italy. I bought a Belgian Shepherd (Groenendael) pup and named him Loki for the Norse trickster. His mother was a part-wolf/mountain shepherd's companion and father was an Italian ex-Army K9. With long, silky black coat, a plume of a tail, alert eyes and ears, Loki was an unbeatable chick magnet.
His socialization comprised strolling Rome, riding and waiting in my car, joining me in bars and restaurants, and lying under my desk at the Rome Daily American at night when I was the only journalist. I didn't know the breed is famous/infamous for one-person loyalty and instinct to protect: person, possessions, etc.
Loki didn’t approve of anyone approaching my desk when I was in the back shop where type was set, pages were composed and the press run. Anyone else would bring him to his feet, ears back, shoulder blades up, teeth bared . . . but silent. Even as a pup, he could be menacing. “Lupo siberiano,” or Siberian wolf, was the Roman nickname for the breed.
Night messengers who brought engraved zinc plates — photos for every edition in that ancient era of hot type and flatbed press — quickly learned to avoid the newsroom and come directly into the back shop. Loki was a force to be accommodated.
Away from the office, he’d curl up on my Sunbeam Alpine’s passenger seat and bite anyone who was silly enough to reach into the car in hopes of a quick theft.
He rarely let go before I returned and that could create Roman opera buffa. Loki’s victim typically threatened to call police about my vicious dog and — without telling Loki to let go — I offered to help by shouting for police. We never did call for police. When released, the would-be thief unfailingly walked away, cursing me for enticing him with an open sports car into what he hoped was a crime of opportunity.
When I worked days, Loki stayed home nearby. His socialization didn’t accommodate the chaos of a small, crowded newsroom with strangers coming and going.
Again, thanks for the reminder: fun, smart and god help us, mindful of Enquirer watchdog obligations.
• As anticipated here, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is following other Newhouse dailies by reducing home deliveries to three days a week: Sunday and two days to be named later. The PD says it will print seven days a week for street sales. It also plans to fire about a third of its newsroom staff. It’s a sad demise of what long was Ohio’s best daily.
• The Enquirer business section headline was “Survey: Downtown seen as more positive.” That’s also what the story said, based on what Downtown Cincinnati Inc. told the paper. The accompanying photo showed people playing in Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. People feeling positive downtown just weren’t photogenic.
• Read Gina Kolata’s April 7 New York Times story on a new understanding of the role of red meat in heart trouble. It’s among the best story telling in a long time. It’s a complicated subject but she draws us in with researchers sitting down to sizzling sirloin breakfast “for the sake of science.” It gets even better as she explains that the science involves “a little-studied chemical that is burped out by bacteria . . . “ Talk about imagery. Send photos.
• NPR is killing its Monday-Thursday afternoon call-in show, Talk of the Nation, and we’ll all be poorer for it. Talk of the Nation involves civil, lengthy discussion of timely topics. NPR is working with Boston’s WBUR to create a program for Talk’s 2-4 p.m. time slot. NPR says member stations wanted a program more like Morning Edition and All Things Considered in the afternoon and evening. Too bad. Expect lots of canned (and cheaply produced) interviews that seem to be the promise of the new show.
• Journalists should refuse to name sources to whom they’ve promised confidentiality. The corollary, of course, is to ask first whether we’re willing to serve time for contempt of court if we reject a judge's demands that we break our word and name our source(s). In that sense, we probably don’t think it will happen to us and almost mindlessly promise confidentiality to encourage sources to talk to us.
So when there is a court confrontation, the refusenik journalist typically is cast as the hero and the judge as a mindless apparatchik and/or tool of the prosecutor. That’s too simple. Reporters are free to ask their sources to release them from their promise of confidentiality. Judges should compel testimony only when prosecutors have used every other way to identify reporters’ sources and silence could pervert justice. Judges are on the hot seat as much as reporters.
The latest unresolved contest involves Jana Winter who quoted unnamed law enforcement personnel when she reported that Aurora, Colo., gunman James Holmes sent an incriminating notebook to his psychiatrist before massacring moviegoers. FoxNews.com’s Winter said the notebook was filled with violent notes and drawings. Now that the apparently accurate information is out, I don’t see how the sources’ identities matter to a fair trial if there ever is one.
Rather, I like what Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, told the New York Times: “If you required reporters to disclose their sources every time there was a minor leak in a high profile criminal case, the jails would be filled in America with journalists.”
• London’s Daily Mail reports the auction of a log book kept by the RAF navigator whose “bouncing bomb” breached a vital German dam during World War II. The raid was portrayed in the film, The Dambusters. The Daily Mail’s story was spoiled only by a photo of the unique bomb being dropped by a twin-engine plane; Dambusters flew four-engine Lancaster heavy bombers.
• Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is loathed to degrees that W and Obama cannot imagine. Her death last week sparked national demonstrations of joy even as the government and palace hoped that her almost-state funeral in London could be protected from demonstrators. Haters danced in the street, daubed “Rust in Hell” about the Iron Lady, and sang “Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead.” That forced BBC to decide whether to play that song from the Wizard of Oz movie on BBC radio shows dedicated to hit songs or on news programs about Thatcher’s life and death. The song reportedly became No. 1 on iTunes before the funeral and it was headed for the top of the pop charts, pushed by Thatcher haters. At last report, BBC’s director general said only a 5-second snippet would be allowed on the main radio channel. New to his job, he pissed off everyone.
• Patrice Lumumba was the Congo’s first prime minister after Belgium granted independence to the huge, potentially wealthy and criminally unprepared colony. He was murdered not long before I began working on the Congo border in Northern Rhodesia. He already was a martyr-hero of the Left when I studied African anthropology in London.
Lumumba’s abduction, torture and murder were popularly assumed to be a CIA operation, working with Belgians, rebels in copper-rich Katanga province, and others who coveted the Congo’s mineral wealth and mines.
Now, a curious news story in London’s Telegraph says Britain’s worldwide Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) engineered Lumumba’s death. More curious is the weight it gives to a second-hand source. It quotes Lord Lea of Crondall quoting Baroness (Daphne) Park of Monmouth, who was the senior MI6 officer in the Congo then, as saying she "organised it.”
Lord Lea told the Telegraph, "It so happens that I was having a cup of tea with Daphne Park – we were colleagues from opposite sides of the Lords – a few months before she died in March 2010. She had been consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, from 1959 to 1961, which in practice (this was subsequently acknowledged) meant head of MI6 there. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba's abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. 'We did,' she replied, 'I organised it.'"
The Telegraph said Lord Lea claimed Baroness Park reasonably was concerned that Lumumba might be a communist siding with Soviet Russia. After all, African and Asian independence leaders like Lumumba, South Africa’s Mandela and others often found their most active Cold War support mainly in Moscow and the wider Communist movement.
Initially blaming the CIA wasn’t irrational. By Lumumba’s death in 1961, the CIA had engineered the overthrow of elected governments in Iran and Guatemala and botched the Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
Belgium apologized in 2002 for failing to prevent
Lumumba’s death. In 2006, the Telegraph said, “documents showed the CIA
had plotted to assassinate him but the plot was abandoned.”
Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas’ last City Council meeting will be Wednesday, after which he will be replaced by his wife of 32 years, Pam Thomas.
“Her qualifications are impeccable,” Thomas told reporters Tuesday. “She will give this city a good representation.”
Thomas’ wife ran for Hamilton County clerk of courts last year, ultimately losing to Tracy Winkler. But Thomas said she won 70 percent of the vote in Cincinnati, making her an obviously strong contender as a local candidate.
Thomas’ recommendation has raised questions among critics about how council members are replaced upon resignation. Incumbents can only make recommendations to successor designees, who make the final decision, but as Councilman Wendell Young, one of Thomas’ designees, noted at the meeting, the designees typically give great weight to the incumbent’s recommendation.
When asked whether council members should have so much power in recommending appointees, Thomas said, “I just follow the rules.” He said if City Council wants to change the rules, it can.Thomas said he will now run for the State Senate seat being left vacant by State Sen. Eric Kearney, who is term limited. He acknowledged the State Senate may be a more difficult place for Democrats, which are in the minority at the state level, but he said he hopes to “bridge divides” if he serves.
Until then, Thomas said he is looking forward to his time off, although he will miss having a role in local politics: “It's going to be tough to not be able to have that direct hands-on.”
Thomas said he wanted to step down earlier in the year, but he decided to stay in office to see if the city could avoid laying off cops and firefighters by balancing the fiscal year 2014 budget through the parking plan (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), which Thomas strongly supports. With the parking plan now in legal limbo and the layoffs going through, Thomas is stepping down.
Cincinnati’s Youth Jobs Fair will be held today at the Duke Energy Convention Center between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The fair provides an opportunity for young people, typically aged between 16 and 24, to look for work from a variety of participating employers. Mayor Mark Mallory says attendees should “dress for success,” as if they were going to their first day on the job.
State environmental groups and an Akron-based energy company are at odds over a 2008 law that tasks the state and utility companies with meeting stringent requirements for renewable energy and energy efficiency. State Sen. Bill Seitz, the Cincinnati Republican who heads the Senate Public Utilities Committee, has agreed to review Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, while FirstEnergy, an Akron-based energy company, protests the requirements as too expensive for the company and consumers around the state. But Seitz’s decision has alarmed environmental groups who largely see the law as effective three years later.
Republicans in the General Assembly are considering an incremental approach to elections reform after their comprehensive efforts in 2011 and 2012 were received with widespread accusations of voter suppression. The details aren’t worked out yet, but Seitz is planning on introducing bills that he says will cut down on provisional ballot voting and provide clearer rules for poll workers collecting provisional ballots, and other Republicans are looking to set uniform statewide early voting hours. Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner says she wants to see a more comprehensive approach to elections reform, including a more relaxed approach to provisional ballots.
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners are considering raises for county employees, but they first have to find a way to pay for the increases. Board President Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he would like to wait to see how Gov. John Kasich’s budget turns out to institute a merit-based raise system. Commissioner Todd Portune, a Democrat, says he wants to guarantee all employees a 1-percent increase.
City Council held a special meeting last night to discuss the city’s pension system, which many are worried is costing the city too much in the long term. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. says the city needs to take more steps to stabilize the system: “More money in, figuring out where that more money will come from, looking at the current picture of the benefits themselves, and some way of financing it short of putting lump sums of cash in.”
The U.S. Supreme Court showed doubts over the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which effectively banned same-sex marriage at a federal level, at hearings yesterday.
President Barack Obama’s administration released a proposal that will help deal with the effects of global warming on wildlife, including arctic foxes.
Watch a nine-year-old discuss the meaning of life and the universe:
Financial giant and Lytle Park bully Western & Southern has accused city officials and other Anna Louise Inn advocates of repeatedly deceiving the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to obtain federal funds for the long-awaited, $13 million renovations to the Inn.
Those renovations are the same ones that have been blocked over and over by a series of legal entanglements initiated by Western & Southern, which tried to purchase the Inn back in 2009 for $1.8 million, refusing to buffer the Inn's $3 million price tag. In 2011, the Hamilton County Auditor valued the plot at $4 million.
Now, the corporate giant, which owns a number of other plots of land in Lytle Park, wants to buy the Inn and convert it into an upscale hotel.
Western & Southern’s lawyer, Glenn Whitaker, sent a letter obtained by CityBeat dated March 19 to City Solicitor John Curp accusing city officials of knowingly violating the federal Fair Housing Act by allowing the owner of the Inn, Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB), to pursue federal funding for renovations while providing services to exclusively women in need, which the letter alleges would “discriminate on the basis of gender” and “expose the City to liability under both the federal False Claims Act and the FHA.”
“We share this with you because — no matter where one stands on whether ALI’s renovations comply with Cincinnati Zoning Code — it is in the public interest for the City to avoid a lawsuit that could lead to a significant payout in today’s budget environment,” reads the letter.
Of course, that lawsuit is one that would be entirely fabricated and launched by Western & Southern, on top of years worth of zoning violation allegations that, so far, have failed to gather much merit.
Some women-only shelters are deemed permissible due to safety issues, but in the letter, Whitaker alleges that the renovation plans expose ALI to discrimination liability by, in theory, making the safety issue moot by providing clear, separated spaces for men and women. The renovation plans include converting what are now dormitory-style units with shared bathrooms into private residences with private bathrooms and kitchens, according to the letter.
Curp, who received the letter, says the city’s relationship with HUD is one that hinges on constant communication, and though Western & Southern's allegations were unexpected, they'll be taken seriously.
“We work with them closely, we have a great relationship with HUD. They were the first organization we contacted when we got this letter, ... so they understood the nature of the allegations and because they’re one of our development partners. We have lots of development partners in the city, frankly, including Western & Southern. ... We're disappointed that the city has been pulled into what is otherwise a third-party dispute."
The letter also accuses a number of community members, including 3CDC, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Model Group, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and the YMCA of conspiring to move low-income residents from the Metropole to the Anna Louise Inn in order to ease litigation with the Homeless Coalition and make way for the new, upscale 21c Museum Hotel.
John Barrett, Western & Southern’s CEO, is also on the board of 3CDC, which adds an extra element of mystery to the lodged accusations; at best, it seems extreme they'd be willing to accuse ally 3CDC of wrongdoing or conspiracy for the sake of a discrimination lawsuit against a nonprofit social services agency whose stated goal for more than 100 years has been to provide a haven for women in need.
Ideally, explains Curp, HUD will respond equipped with some sort of past precedent that would absolve the city and the Inn of alleged discrimination and make the lawsuit irrelevant.
"I think a lawsuit would be very much premature. ... Like I said, our first step is to talk to HUD and to make sure that between the both of us, we don’t see any discrimination or compliance issues. If there’s any chance of that ... after our review and a review by HUD, we will fix it to bring it into compliance," he says.
"As I sit here today, I can't imagine this situation hasn't been dealt with in the past. I'd be shocked if HUD hasn't dealt with this in another community and come up with a set of guidelines for us to follow."
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles has been reviewing its driver’s license policy for the children of illegal immigrants for nearly two months now, but if it was up to Attorney General Mike DeWine, those people would already be eligible for driver’s licenses.
In a letter to the Latino Affairs Commission dated to March 19, DeWine wrote, “It appears that the BMV would have to accept driver’s license applications from individuals that fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative because they can provide all of the information necessary.”
DACA is an executive order signed by President Barack Obama that allows the children of illegal immigrants to qualify for a social security number and work permit. According to DeWine, that should be enough to qualify for an Ohio driver’s license: “With these documents and any other documents normally required by the BMV, an individual can provide the BMV with the information necessary to receive a driver’s license.”
The BMV has been reviewing its driver’s license policy for DACA recipients for nearly two months. A previous CityBeat report found the BMV is granting driver’s licenses to some of the children of illegal immigrants, but what qualifies a few and disqualifies others is unclear.
DeWine’s letter is not legally binding, but since it’s coming from the state’s top legal adviser, it could put pressure on the BMV’s legal team as it continues reviewing the Ohio’s driver’s license policy.
“I encourage any citizen who is concerned about a law or policy to contact their legislators and voice that concern,” DeWine wrote. “As Attorney General, I do not have the authority to introduce or vote on legislation.”
CityBeat originally broke the story regarding the BMV policy through the story of Ever Portillo, who was not able to receive a driver’s license despite being a DACA recipient (“Not Legal Enough,” issue of Feb. 6).
CityBeat later heard stories and received documents showing what seemed to be internal confusion and conflict about the policy at the BMV. Between January and February, there was a
noticeable shift in the BMV’s messaging from flat-out barring DACA
recipients from obtaining driver’s licenses to reviewing the entire
process — a change that might be attributable to the barrage of statewide media coverage on the issue after CityBeat's coverage.
Ohio’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) is granting driver’s licenses to some of the children of illegal immigrants, but what qualifies a few and disqualifies others is so far unknown.
When CityBeat last covered the BMV policy (“Not Legal Enough,” issue of Feb. 6), Ever Portillo, a 22-year-old from El Salvador, was unable to get his license even when he was accompanied by his attorney at the West Broad Street BMV office in Columbus. Since then, Portillo returned to the same BMV office with his attorney, a community leader from DreamActivist Ohio and a reporter from The Columbus Dispatch and successfully obtained his license.
At the same time, CityBeat received a tip from an anonymous illegal immigrant after she could not get a driver’s license for her son because, according to what she heard from the BMV, state policy is still being reviewed.
The differences between Portillo and the woman’s experiences are reflected by what seems to be an internal conflict at the BMV, which CityBeat found in a series of internal documents sent by Brian Hoffman, Portillo’s attorney. In emails dating back to January, state officials wrote that “foreign nationals” with C33 Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) and I-797 documents with case types I-765D and I-821D cannot qualify for driver’s licenses. The documents are part of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States without fear of prosecution.
But a Feb. 13 memo from the BMV says Ohio has not issued a statewide policy on DACA for driver’s licenses and is currently reviewing the process. A Feb. 19 email echoes the memo, stating “neither the Department (of Public Safety) nor the BMV has yet issued a statewide broadcast to provide direction regarding the DACA issue.” In a Feb. 21 email, Lindsey Borher, spokesperson at the BMV, told CityBeat, “Our legal department is in the process of reviewing guidance from the federal government as it applies to Ohio law.”
The discrepancy between January and February may be attributable to CityBeat originally breaking the story on the state policy, which was followed by a barrage of statewide media coverage on the issue.
In a presentation to City Council Feb. 19, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled an unexpected parking proposal that will solve a $25.8 million budget deficit for the 2014 fiscal year and avoid full privatization. The 30-year plan will also put more than $100 million toward economic development in the city.
The plan involves teaming up with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and some private operators to manage and modernize Cincinnati’s parking assets. Dohoney called it a “public-public partnership” that will allow Cincinnati to keep control over rates, operation hours and the placement of meters.
The money raised by the plan will be used for multiple development projects around the city, including the I-71/MLK Interchange, Tower Place Mall and a high-rise that will house a downtown grocery store.
The new parking plan will cap rate increases at 3 percent or the cost of living, with any increases coming in 25-cent increments. Private operators will not be allowed to change operation hours, but hours will be initially expanded to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. downtown and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in neighborhoods.
The proposal will not immediately increase downtown’s $2-an-hour rates, but it will increase all neighborhood parking meters to 75 cents an hour. Afterward, the rate cap will make it so downtown rates can only be increased every four years and neighborhood rates can only be increased every 10 to 11 years.
But the rate hikes will only come after technological improvements are made to parking meters. The new meters will allow users to pay with a smartphone, which will enable remote payment without walking back to the meter. After the plan’s 30 years are up, parking assets will be returned to the city with all the new technological upgrades, according to Dohoney.
Some critics were originally concerned that private operators will aggressively enforce parking rules to run bigger profits, but Dohoney said enforcement standards will remain the same.
Enforcement will be done through booting instead of towing, according to the plan. Booting will only be used after the accumulation of three unpaid parking tickets, which is similar to how towing works today. The boots will be automatically removed once the tickets are paid, which will be possible to do remotely through a smartphone.
The plan, which is a tax-exempt bond deal, will provide the city with $92 million upfront cash and $3 million in annual installments after that, although the city manager said the yearly payments will increase over time. The city originally promised $7 million a year from the deal, but Dohoney said estimates had to be brought down as more standards and limitations were attached to address expressed concerns.
The money will first be used to pay for a $25.8 million deficit in the 2014 fiscal year. Another $6.3 million will be set aside for the working cap reserve and $20.9 million will be put in a reserve to pay for a projected deficit in the 2015 fiscal year.
The rest of the funds will be used for economic development. About $20 million will go to the I-71/MLK Interchange, which would match $40 million from the state. The project is estimated to create $750 million in economic impact, with $460 million of that impact in Hamilton County. Dohoney says the economic impact will create 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs, and ultimately bring in $33 million in earnings taxes, which means the plan will eventually pay for itself. He also says the funding from the parking deal will allow the city and state to complete the project within two to three years, instead of the seven to 10 years it would take if the city waited for support from the federal government.
If the state does not agree to take up the I-71/MLK Interchange project, Dohoney promised a “mega job deal” that will create 2,500 jobs.
With $12 million for development and $82 million in leveraged funds, the city will also take on massive development projects downtown. Tower Place Mall will undergo a massive conversion. The city will also tear down Pogue’s Garage at Fourth and Race streets and replace it with a 30-floor high-rise that will include 300 luxury apartments, 1,000 parking spaces and a grocery store.
The plan will also use $3 million for the Wasson Line right-of-way and $4 million for the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park, which should be completed in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
AEW, Xerox, Denison and Guggenheim will partner with the city and Port Authority for the plan. AEW will manage assets, Xerox will handle parking operations and on-street spaces, Denison will operate off-street spaces and manage facilities and equipment and Guggenheim will act as underwriter and capital provider.
After the City Council hearing, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld released a statement that raised concerns about expanded meter operation hours, which Sittenfeld fears could burden certain neighborhoods. He also pointed out the plan will not fix Cincinnati’s long-term structural deficit problems. Still, he said the local Port Authority’s management could make the plan “worthy of support.”
Sittenfeld has been skeptical of the parking plan since it was first announced in October. In the past, he warned privatization could cause parking rates to skyrocket. ©