Morning News: City budget shortfall could mean cuts for departments; Park Board fight continues; Mandel spends tax payer money on ads featuring... Mandel

State law allows the Treasurer’s office to create marketing efforts for programs, but doesn’t say that Mandel has to have a prominent role in big-money TV ads or that Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer should co-star in them.

Feb 23, 2017 at 11:16 am

City Manager Harry Black (left) and Mayor John Cranley - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
City Manager Harry Black (left) and Mayor John Cranley

Hello Cincy. Let’s do this news thing real quick.

City of Cincinnati officials are facing a $25 million budget deficit, and city departments are being asked to make cuts. City Manager Harry Black outlined the extent of the city’s shortfall — due, according to a University of Cincinnati Economics Center report, to lower-than-expected income tax revenues — in a memo released yesterday. Black is calling for a hiring freeze and asking most city departments to cut 10 percent from their budgets, though police and fire departments will only be asked to make 3 percent cuts. The city had expected revenue from income tax to grow about 5.6 percent in 2018, but the report suggests that revenues will only grow by 2.3 percent on average over the next six years. Black is suggesting spending adjustments that will account for that lower rate. The revelation comes just months after Mayor John Cranley pushed through raises for many city employees, citing the fact a number of municipal workers hadn’t seen cost of living increases since the Great Recession. Those raises are expected to cost $9 million next year.

• Keeping it in City Hall for a minute, let’s talk about a growing fight between the city and the Cincinnati Park Board. The Board has apparently hired an attorney, James Helmer, to represent it against the city in the ongoing fight over who controls the Board’s financial dealings. That’s awkward, the city’s solicitor says, because technically, the city’s legal office serves as the Park Board’s lawyer. After an audit of Park Board spending related to private endowments controlled by the Board’s nonprofit foundation found questionable oversight situations, the city requested access to the foundation’s bank accounts. The Park Board pushed back against that and in January told the city it would be hiring its own attorney. The city says the Park Board is part of municipal government and can’t separate itself from the larger city government, and that it’s illegal for it to hire an outside attorney. The Park Board argues that it’s been independent in its financial dealings with foundation money for years, and that state and local law are on its side. Stay tuned for more. This fight is getting weird.

• The Hamilton County board that determines which tax levies voters will see on their ballots got a big change up yesterday. Six Democrats appointed by Hamilton County Commissioners replaced Republicans on the nine-member Tax Levy Review Committee after Democrat Commissioners Todd Portune and Denise Driehaus voted to approve the appointees. Lone Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel voted against the appointments. Those leaving include Mike Wilson, a founder of the Cincinnati Tea Party. Liberal Democrats like Bobby Hilton, a civil rights activist, replaced the outgoing conservatives. Monzel blasted the changes, calling them “a completely closed process” and saying he wasn’t included in the decision making. Portune says the changes are the result of an election in which voters decided to hand over control of the county commission to Democrats. “Elections have consequences,” he said.

• U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot just doesn’t know how to feel about President Donald Trump, it seems. Trump recently called news media “the enemy of the American people” in public comments and tweets, an assertion that Chabot disagreed with in a blog post published earlier this week. Which is an interesting thing, because on Feb. 1, Chabot  published another blog post in which he inadvertently used a meme from an anti-Semitic website (oops). That meme contains a quote from White House advisor Steve Bannon calling the media “the opposition party.” Chabot drove the point home in that post, saying, “the bottom line is, the mainstream press hates Trump. Virtually every bit of coverage he’s gotten to date, and is likely to get in the future, is negative."

But now, Chabot feels a little differently. "I’m a supporter, but I believe it is my responsibility to voice my disagreement with you, when what you’ve said or done, crosses a line,” Chabot wrote, addressing Trump in his most recent post. “And I believe you did cross that line recently when you said that the news media is the enemy of the American people." The media is wrong. Trump is wrong. Only Chabot knows the truth. And the truth is that when you’re a congressman, you should probably check where memes come from before you publish them in your blog.

• In other Chabot news, our esteemed congressional representative made an appearance in Harrison this morning, where a couple dozen protesters greeted him. Chabot’s speech at the Greater Harrison Chamber of Commerce was mostly quiet, with about 45 people attending, according to Twitter posts from multiple local reporters. Recently, liberal activists have pushed Chabot to hold in-person town hall meetings with constituents. Chabot usually engages voters via phone town halls and doesn’t have any in-person town halls scheduled. But his stint at the Harrison Chamber at least shows he gets out in the real world sometimes and talks to folks. The protests outside Chabot’s appearance were smaller than demonstrations greeting Republican lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell recently. Those protests resemble swarms of angry voters who have been showing up at GOP congressional members’ town hall meetings across the country over the past couple months to protest the agenda of President Donald Trump and Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

• Finally, check this out: Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel has spent more than $1.7 million of taxpayer money to create ads featuring… himself. Now, before you get too riled up, you should know those ads are to raise awareness about services offered by Mandel’s office, specifically about STABLE, a state investment program that allows people with disabilities to spend money on housing and other necessities without incurring taxes or hurting their eligibility for federal benefits. State law allows the Treasurer’s office to create marketing and awareness efforts for that program, but doesn’t say that Mandel has to have a prominent role in big-money TV ads or that Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer should co-star in them. Mandel announced his second bid for U.S. Senate six months after the ads began running. Mandel spent $50,000 at each station across the state in which he purchased the ads — low enough that the purchases didn’t trigger external review by the state’s Controlling Board, part of the State House’s budget office. What’s more, a fact sheet initially released to reporters said the ad buys would total only about $777,000, not the $1.7 million eventually spent. Big deal? Mandel says the ads are appropriate, but some critics are skeptical. In other states like Kentucky and Illinois, similar programs are marketed by working with groups that advocate on behalf of disabled people instead of running expensive and untargeted television ads.