Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati first in state to pass wage-theft law; Hamilton County BOE to move HQ to Norwood; thousands of Uber drivers to protest at Super Bowl

Good morning all. Here’s a quick rundown of the news today.

Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed an ordinance that would punish employers who don’t pay their workers, making Cincinnati the first city in the state to do so. We told you about that ordinance earlier this week. The law would allow the city to better enforce federal and state prohibitions against wage theft, revoke tax incentives and other deals and also allow it, in certain cases, to bar a company caught stealing wages from future city contracts. The ordinance has received praise from progressive groups, and city officials say they’ve received requests for copies of the ordinance from other cities like Columbus.

Victims of wage theft, faith leaders, advocates with Cincinnati’s Interfaith Workers Center and even representatives from contracting groups spoke before the vote, encouraging Council to pass the legislation. The decision wasn’t without some controversy, however, as Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn moved to amend the language of the ordinance to stipulate that it apply only to those who are working legally in the U.S.

"Wage theft is wrong," Winburn said, but claimed the proposed legislation would "discourage undocumented workers from going through proper channels."

That brought about a flurry of resistance from other Council members.

"It's not even a question of immigration," Councilman Kevin Flynn, a Charterite, said. Flynn said the ordinance is simply about the city not doing business with companies that steal from employees.

Vice Mayor David Mann, who authored the ordinance, refused to accept the amendment. The law passed 7-2.

• Now that the cat’s out of the bag about a potential $680 million in under-scrutinized spending by Cincinnati’s Metropolitan Sewer District over a nearly 10-year period, officials with both the city and the county are scrambling to place blame. Both Hamilton County Commissioners and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley have called for extensive auditing of the MSD. The sewer district is run by the city but owned by the county, and both say the other is to blame after revelations that a big chunk of a federal court-ordered $3 billion sewer upgrade has been done without competitive bidding for contracts and with little oversight outside the department. Cranley has said that the misspending has taken place “right under the noses” of county commissioners, while commissioners claim they’ve been trying to get better control of the sewer district’s spending for years. Cranley also pointed to former City Manager Milton Dohoney, who gave former MSD Director Tony Parrot a huge degree of latitude in purchasing decisions in 2007.

• The Hamilton County Board of Elections voted yesterday to move its headquarters from downtown Cincinnati to a location in Norwood. The county’s lease on its current headquarters on Broadway is set to expire this year, and BOE officials say the new location is more central to the entire county. However, many have decried the move, including Mayor Cranley. Having the BOE headquarters, where early voting takes place, close to the county’s transit hub is vital for low-income voters, Cranley says. If the headquarters moves to Norwood, another early voting location should be setup near Government Square, Metro’s downtown hub, the mayor says. Two bus routes serve the proposed location in Norwood, though BOE board members point out the location has a lot of free parking. Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou, who sits on the BOE’s board, pointed to the unanimous decision by the four-member, bipartisan BOE board and said Cranley should “mind his own business” in response to the mayor’s criticism. This isn’t the first time a proposed move by the BOE has caused controversy. In 2014, it looked to move its headquarters to Mount Airy, though that plan was later scrapped.

• Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has coordinated closely with conservative right-to-life activists as he targets Planned Parenthood, a new investigation shows. DeWine exchanged congratulatory text messages and emails with the president of Ohio Right to Life. The group has also offered to share talking points and press materials with the AG and advisors to Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Officials with the organization say it’s not unusual for high-level state officials to be in touch with lobbyists and activists. “I’m not going to apologize for who my friends are,” pro-life lobbyist Mike Gonidakis told the Associated Press. But progressive groups and some government watchdogs have cried foul, saying the relationship between the AG and pro-life group is far too cozy.

• Here’s an interesting look by the Associated Press at the business costs of an anti-gay-rights backlash currently going on in Indiana’s state government. Generally conservative chamber of commerce members and state lawmakers there have become increasingly nervous about the state’s business prospects as the state fails to pass legislation banning discrimination against the LGBT community. The perception that Indiana is a place hostile to gays could hurt the resurgence of cities like Indianapolis, business leaders fear.

• Finally, thousands of Uber drivers plan to protest fare cuts by the company by disrupting Sunday’s Super Bowl in San Francisco. As many as 9,000 drivers are expected to congest the streets around Levi’s Stadium there as they decry changes to Uber’s policy that drivers say have left many of them making less than minimum wage. Smaller protests have already popped up in San Francisco and New York City, where on Feb. 1 coordinated demonstrations drew about 1,000 drivers each.

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