1 Comment · Wednesday, June 12, 2013
As county and state officials move to
investigate and potentially prosecute voter fraud cases, local groups
are pushing back, warning that the investigations could cause a chilling
effect among voters.
by German Lopez
9 days ago
Posted In: Voting
at 10:27 AM | Permalink
Critics warn of potential chilling effect
As county and state officials move to investigate and
potentially prosecute voter fraud cases, local groups are pushing back,
warning that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls became the latest to speak out
in a letter to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and Ohio Secretary
of State Jon Husted.
“The current legal investigations perpetuate the idea that
voter fraud is widespread, when it’s not true,” she wrote. “We need to
work together to give citizens the confidence that the election process
is fair and accessible to those who have followed the law and
pre-determined process. When citizens are confused about the process of
voting they are intimidated from exercising their full rights to vote,
which erodes confidence in and the integrity of our democracy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) and
League of Women Voters of Ohio sent similar letters to Husted in the
past few weeks, echoing fears that the investigations will intimidate
voters into staying out of future elections.
The controversy surrounds 39 “double voter” cases recently sent to the county prosecutor by the Hamilton County Board of
Elections. In most of the cases, the voters in question sent in an
absentee ballot prior to Election Day then voted on Election Day through a provisional
ballot, which are given to voters when there’s questions about
eligibility. Even though the voters technically voted
twice, their votes were only counted once.
The letters from Qualls and the League of Women Voters claim
the cases were sent to the county prosecutor based on a narrow
interpretation of state law and other sections of election law back the voters’ actions.
The letters reference Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2),
which says, “If a registered elector appears to vote in that precinct
and that elector has requested an absent voter's ballot for that
election and the director has received a sealed identification envelope
purporting to contain that elector's voted absent voter's ballots for
that election, the elector shall be permitted to cast a provisional
ballot under section 3505.181 of the Revised Code in that precinct on the day of that election.” The law goes on to clarify only one of the votes should be counted.
Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of
Elections on May 31, siding with the Republicans on the board who wanted
to send the case to the county prosecutor.
Alex Triantafilou, an elections board member and chairman
of the Hamilton County Republican Party, says Republicans just want an investigation.
“I think anytime a person casts two ballots we ought to
ask why,” Triantafilou says. “This is not to prejudge any of these cases
as criminal charges. That’s not been our intention. What we want is a
qualified investigator to ask the question and then answer it.”
Tim Burke, chairman of the local elections board and the
Hamilton County Democratic Party, disagrees: “This is a damn shame.
What’s happening to those voters is absolutely wrong.”
Burke claims the law was followed and no further investigation is necessary. He alleges
Republicans are trying to suppress voters.
“I fear that what’s going on is that elements of the
Republican Party want to create the impression that there is massive
voter fraud going on, and they want to scare the hell out of people to
intimidate them and discourage them from voting in the future,” Burke
says. “I think part of what’s going on here is an effort to identify
voter fraud in order to justify more restrictions on voting rights.”
Triantafilou argues Democrats, including Burke, are
playing politics: “It’s a continuation of the kind of fear that
Democrats try to instill in the electorate, and it’s a political weapon.
We’re not trying to do that. They alleged voter suppression in the last
election cycle. That was nonsensical. The problem really is fraud.”
by German Lopez
14 days ago
Posted In: News
at 12:29 PM | Permalink
Campaign event could violate state law
Update (June 5, 11:20 p.m.): Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns didn't hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday, instead admitting to multiple media outlets that he was misleading the public to raise awareness of his campaign and marijuana legalization platform. Berns handed out tomato plants instead, which look similar to marijuana plants.In perhaps an act of civil disobedience, Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is planning to hand out marijuana plants at a campaign event Wednesday.But the event could run foul of state law for both Berns and attendees. Ohio law prohibits obtaining, possessing or using a controlled substance — a category that includes marijuana.The event will take place at the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Clifton Avenue on Wednesday at 5 p.m."If you want one of the plants I suggest you get there early," Berns said in a statement.In this year's mayoral race, Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally considered the top contenders, although neither candidate has received an official endorsement from the local Democratic Party.Berns has differentiated himself from the frontrunners by pushing marijuana legalization in his platform. Drug prohibition laws are generally dictated at state and federal levels, but city governments can legalize or decriminalize certain drugs and force police departments to give the issue lower priority.Marijuana is already decriminalized in Ohio. Cincinnati re-criminalized the drug in 2006, but the drug was decriminalized through a city budget passed in 2010.Some groups are attempting to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio. CityBeat covered those efforts in further detail here.
by German Lopez
16 days ago
Kasich to block full JobsOhio audit, Senate to vote on budget, Democrats endorse no mayor
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald called on
Republican Gov. John Kasich, who’s running for re-election in 2014, to veto a bill that will prevent a full audit on JobsOhio, but Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols says the governor will sign the bill.
The bill will define JobsOhio’s liquor profits, which the agency gets
from a lease deal with the state government, as private funds, closing
the profits to an audit. The bill will also prevent State Auditor Dave
Yost, a Republican who’s been pursuing an audit of JobsOhio, from
looking into private funds in publicly funded agencies. The new limits
on state audits could have repercussions beyond JobsOhio, making it more
difficult to hold publicly funded agencies accountable. JobsOhio is a
private nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican
legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development.
The Ohio Senate will vote on a budget bill
Thursday that continues to push conservative stances on social
issues and aims to cut taxes for small businesses. The bill will
potentially allow Ohio’s health director to shut down abortion clinics,
effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis
pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion. The bill does not
cut taxes for most Ohioans, unlike the Ohio House budget bill that cut
income taxes for all Ohioans by 7 percent.
Local Democrats are unlikely to endorse a candidate
in this year’s mayoral race, which will likely be against Democrats
Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley. Even though both candidates are
Democrats, they have two major policy differences: Qualls supports the streetcar project, while Cranley opposes it. Qualls also supports the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, which Cranley opposes. CityBeat previously did Q&As with Cranley and Qualls.
The parties’ slates of City Council candidates are mostly set.
This year, Democrats are running 10 candidates — more than the nine
seats available in City Council. Meanwhile, Republicans are running four
candidates and the Charter Committee is looking at three potential
Cincinnati already has some of the cleanest water in the nation, but Water Works is making improvements to its treatments. One new treatment will use an ultraviolet process to kill 99.9 percent of germs.
It’s National Internet Safety Month, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is asking Ohioans to be safe out there.
A 131-year-old historic building in the West End collapsed after a car crashed into it. The driver’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
Ohio State’s president, who’s a Mormon, is in trouble for making fun of Catholics.
Mason and Sophia are Ohio’s most popular baby names.
Dogs are currently the best bomb detectors, but scientists are aiming to do better.
by German Lopez
22 days ago
Ohio Senate budget plan today, group enrolls children into Medicaid, council backs budget
The Ohio Senate is poised to introduce its own budget plan
today, and it could forgo the Medicaid expansion and include measures
to defund Planned Parenthood and fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy
centers. But how the Senate budget plan differs from the Ohio
House version remains uncertain. CityBeat covered the House’s budget plan, which inspired controversy by taking a conservative turn on social issues, here.
The Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, with the help of WCPO, is hosting a “phone-a-thon”
that will help enroll uninsured children into the Medicaid program. The
event, which could reach up to 15,000 children in southwest Ohio, helps
tackle awareness, one of the main issues governments have faced while
trying to expand health care programs around the nation. Since the Legal
Aid Society’s program began getting federal funding in 2009, Medicaid
enrollment for children in southwest Ohio has increased by 12 percent, while the rest of
the state has increased by 4 percent.
A majority of City Council is now backing the budget plan that would pull back some cuts to city parks and outside agencies
and avoid a majority of layoffs initially proposed by City Manager
Milton Dohoney, leading to only 25 police layoffs and no fire layoffs.
“The plans put forward by a council majority prioritize public safety
and essential services that keep all of our neighborhoods safe and
attack the blight that breeds crime,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said in a
statement. “Our plan also continues the city’s investment in projects
that will transform our neighborhoods through the Focus 52 fund. Despite
the budget challenges we face, we must do all we can to keep the city’s
momentum moving forward.”
CityBeat commentary on the developing city budget story: “Good News Reveals Budget Deception.”
The lawsuit over a pregnant teacher’s firing from her job at a Catholic school begins today with opening statements.
The lawsuit claims the Catholic school violated
anti-discrimination laws by firing the teacher after she became pregnant through
artificial insemination. CityBeat covered another case of the Church firing a pregnant teacher here and a Catholic woman priest who is pushing to make the Vatican more inclusive here.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says five have been charged with cheating at the Horseshoe Casino, which carries a potential sentence of two years in prison.
Gas prices are back down in Ohio this week.
The Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s FBI career here.
A man died after a skydiving accident in southwest Ohio Sunday.
The Vatican let everyone know over the weekend that atheists are still going to Hell.
Popular Science has a list of the 10 coolest species discovered in 2012 here.
1 Comment · Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Two council members are proposing a budget plan that would eliminate fire layoffs and reduce police layoffs to 25 by making cuts elsewhere.
by German Lopez
33 days ago
Public safety layoffs reduced, state unemployment drops, county agency wins award
Council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach proposed a motion
yesterday that would reduce the amount of police layoffs to 25 and
eliminate all firefighter layoffs previously proposed in budget plans
for fiscal year 2014. The huge layoff reduction comes despite months of
warning from the city administration that the city would have to carry
out big public safety layoffs without the parking plan, which is currently stalled in court.
But it’s come with large cuts and shifted priorities in other areas of
the budget, such as reduced funding to parks, health, human services, parades
and outside agencies. (For example, the Health Department warned that cuts to its
services could lead to more rats and bedbugs.) The motion from Qualls and Seelbach came just in time for last night’s public hearing, which mostly focused on the cuts to parks and public safety.
Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7.0 percent
in April, down from 7.1 percent the month before, thanks to increases
in the amount of people employed and decreases in the amount of people
unemployed. The gains coincided with decent job growth throughout the rest of
the nation in April, which dropped nationwide unemployment from 7.6 percent
to 7.5 percent. But the state gains were fairly
mixed, and the amount of construction, professional and business services and federal
and local government jobs actually dropped. The mixed, slow growth helps
explain why conservative and liberal think tanks seemingly disagree with Gov. John Kasich that Ohio is undergoing an “economic miracle.”
The Hamilton County Public Health’s (HCPH) food protection program is apparently the best in the United States and Canada.
The Conference for Food Protection awarded the program the 2013 Samuel
J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award, which “recognizes unsurpassed
achievement in providing outstanding food protection services to
communities,” according to a statement from HCPH.
Homophobic Boy Scouts supporters are rallying nationwide today to support the continuation of the Boy Scouts’ homophobic rules.The Taste of Cincinnati and the the Cubs-Reds series may have helped downtown Cincinnati earn the No. 42 spot in Priceline.com’s top 50 Memorial Day destinations.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirmed
Ohio has been undergoing a boom in oil and gas production in the past
two years thanks to developments in a drilling process known as
fracking, which CityBeat previously covered in further detail here.Duke Energy hired a new contractor — Southern Cross Co. — to carry out gas and line inspections.
Cincinnati-based Kroger developed a new system that will convert food that can’t be sold or donated into clean energy to power one of its distribution centers.
Convergys is selling is downtown Cincinnati headquarters as the company goes through big changes. So far the buyer is unknown.
Jim Kingsbury, CEO of UC Health since 2010, is retiring.
Using an optical illusion to make white people look darker can diminish racial biases, according to a new study.
Earth’s super-dense core is weak.
by German Lopez
33 days ago
Posted In: Budget
at 12:33 PM | Permalink
Qualls, Seelbach propose budget plan that would avert layoffs despite months of warnings
A budget plan proposed by two council members today would eliminate layoffs at the fire department and reduce the amount of police layoffs to 25, down from 49, by making cuts elsewhere, particularly by forcing city employees to take 10 furlough days in fiscal year 2014.Council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach are co-sponsoring the motion. If it's approved by City Council, the amount of city employee layoffs in the fiscal year 2014 budget would drop to 84, down from the original "Plan B" estimate of 344, by amending Mayor Mark Mallory's budget proposal, which was announced yesterday.The news is being well received by public safety advocates, but it's also vindication for some of the city's harshest critics. Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley previously said the city was acting like "the boy who cried wolf" by suggesting it had to lay off 344 city employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions."In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and firefighters, and it never happened," Cranley previously told CityBeat.But avoiding the layoffs comes with large cuts and shifted priorities elsewhere: Furlough days for supervisory and leadership personnel would be bumped up from five to 10 ($250,000 in savings), all council members would be asked to take 10 furlough days ($22,700), City Council's office budgets would be reduced ($18,000), the clerk of council's office budget would also be reduced ($46,000), the departments of community development and economic development would be merged ($171,000) and the account for firefighter's protective gear would be reduced ($100,000). In total, the cuts in the motion add up to $607,000.The cuts would be in addition to larger cuts proposed by the city manager and mayor, which include reduced funding to parks, human services, parades and outside agencies.The motion will be formally introduced at tonight's Budget and Finance Committee meeting, which will also act as a public hearing for budget issues. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Duke Energy Convention Center.The layoff reductions come after the city manager and mayor spent a bulk of the past six months repeatedly warning that the city would have to carry out significant public safety layoffs if the city didn't lease its parking assets to the Port Authority. That plan would have opened up funds to help balance the budget for two years and pay for economic development projects, including a downtown grocery store ("Parking Stimulus," issue of Feb. 27).But the parking plan is now held up in court, and the city is apparently able to avoid most of the layoffs despite the repeated warnings.The city must enact a budget by May 31, which will give the city the required 30 days to implement the plan by fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.
1 Comment · Thursday, May 2, 2013
Politicians here are like helicopter
parents, mishandling the city in the same blatantly narcissistic manner
as parents who bear children for the sole purposes of shaping those
children in their images.
by German Lopez
50 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:18 PM | Permalink
Council meeting covers streetcar's costs, benefits
Convening in packed City
Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but
a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem
convinced.To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.“I'm disappointed in
this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman.
“We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has
already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2
million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have
to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney added that terminating the project would also
reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development
projects.The budget gap was
originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3
million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the
scope” of the
project and push it into a “danger zone.”The budget gap is a
result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget,
has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is
still willing to work on the streetcar project.The city could rework
the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney
said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would
effectively lower costs.Throughout the meeting,
streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the
budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found
streetcars can help grow local economies. He
said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,”
but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s
necessary to compete with other cities.Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which
the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits
to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including
travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic
development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely
supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of
Cincinnati.Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant
buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.The project has faced
continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley,
Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the
economic growth being promised by city officials.Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.The streetcar project
was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state
government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.Duke’s reluctance led to
a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict
Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out,
the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility
lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side
with the city.The city originally expected
$31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those
expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project
is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business
district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and
hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.The streetcar budget
debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s
operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues,
but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to
balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.