Hello all. Here’s what’s going on around Cincy and beyond today.
The sewer drama continues. Hamilton County yesterday asked a federal court to intervene in recent disputes between the county and the city of Cincinnati over the Metropolitan Sewer District. County commissioners cite a 2014 court order which they say requires the city to follow the county’s directives when it comes to MSD. The county is also asking that the U.S. District Court weigh in on the upcoming expiration of a 1968 agreement casting the county as the owner of MSD and the city as its chief operator. Republican County Commissioner Chris Monzel said the city has shown “flagrant” disregard for its duties in running MSD.
“We respectfully ask the court to enforce its previous order and allow Hamilton County to bring accountability and transparency which are so badly needed in MSD operations,” he said in a statement.
The suit is the latest bit of drama for the sewer district following revelations that millions in city contracts paid out through the agency were awarded without a competitive bidding process under former MSD director Tony Parrott. Under a since-changed city policy, Parrott had near total control over the district’s spending.
Most of the problematic expenditures involved a $3.2 billion, federal court-ordered renovation of MSD infrastructure. Parrott left MSD last summer. City officials say policy has changed since that time and are calling for a complete audit of MSD. Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost is also launching a large-scale investigation into the sewer district.
• Meanwhile, another set of allegations regarding corruption and mismanagement is unfolding here in Cincinnati, this one around the city’s Veterans Administration hospital. Last week we told you about those allegations made by a number of whistleblowers in the hospital against its leadership, which was first reported by WCPO. Now, the big national bosses at the VA say an intensive investigation is underway into issues around understaffing, poor service to veterans as well as issues around Cincinnati VA leadership salaries and allegations that the hospital’s head unlawfully prescribed pain medication to a superior’s wife. As I type, VA head Bob McDonald, a former Procter & Gamble exec, is testifying before the Senate VA oversight committee, where senators like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown have indicated they’ll ask tough questions about what’s going on in Cincinnati.
• It’s been a rough year for Ohio’s $1 billion charter school system. You can read all about why in this week’s feature story, which comes out tomorrow. In the meantime, there’s this: Ohio lawmakers are considering delaying yet again a rating system for the state’s charter school sponsoring organizations. The legislature first voted in 2012 to give those organizations, which oversee the publicly funded but privately operated schools, grades based on schools’ performance. But those ratings have been delayed after data rigging was discovered, skewing the ratings. Now, it could be another two years before those ratings go live. Those ratings are part of a three-year process that could shut down low-performing charter schools whose sponsoring organizations don’t measure up. The rating scale was a big part of the Kasich administration’s pitch to the U.S. Department of Education, which awarded Ohio $71 million last year before catching wind of the data rigging scandal. That grant is now delayed and could be in jeopardy of being revoked if Ohio pushes back its oversight system again.
• Speaking of Kasich, he’s having one hell of a terrible week. Part of that is fellow Republican presidential primary contender Donald Trump’s fault. The real estate mogul is now polling ahead of Kasich in Ohio, even though Kasich is like, the governor here. But Kasich isn’t helping himself. A recent clip of him saying that women “left the kitchen” in the 1970s to help put him in office has been racing around the internet, causing much-deserved scorn. Really, man?
• And speaking of Kasich and women… well, it’s just getting worse and worse so let’s stop being cute and just come out with it. Kasich Sunday signed a bill that strips Ohio Planned Parenthood of all state and some federal funding totaling more than $1 million a year. That bill arose after controversy over a now-debunked video purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue was released by an anti-abortion group. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine investigated Ohio Planned Parenthood following that video. He discovered no fetal tissue sales, though he did allege that Planned Parenthood was contracting tissue disposal to a company that was dumping babies in landfills in Kentucky. Then Kentucky officials contested that claim and it was revealed that Ohio contracts with the same company. Meanwhile, none of the funds lawmakers have voted to strip from Planned Parenthood Ohio go toward abortions. Instead they’re used for things like cancer screenings and sexual health education. What a world, what a world.