Morning News: Is city pay raise proposal illegal?; streetcar on time, under budget, city report says; Trump's tough day

This week, City Hall news has been dominated by Mayor John Cranley’s plan to boost pay for thousands of city employees represented by major unions outside the city administration’s normal collective bargaining process.

click to enlarge Donald Trump at a March campaign appearance in West Chester - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Donald Trump at a March campaign appearance in West Chester

Hello all. We’re half way through the week, which is wonderful. To celebrate, let’s talk about some serious news.

Is a proposed pay raise for city workers against Ohio law? This week, City Hall news has been dominated by Mayor John Cranley’s plan to boost pay for thousands of city employees represented by major unions outside the city administration’s normal collective bargaining process. However, there are questions about whether that move goes against a 2004 decision by the Ohio Employment Relations Board slapping down a union in North Olmstead for reaching out directly to its City Council instead of going through the standard bargaining process. But Cranley, as well as at least one union involved, say that decision doesn’t apply in this case and that Cranley’s proposal is well within both the city charter and state law. Cranley’s proposal would give union-represented city employees a five percent bump in December, followed by another five percent bump next year and a four percent bump in 2018. Councilmembers have raised concerns that Cranley’s move undermines the city’s collective bargaining power and that the raises could cause budget shortfalls in future years. Council has delayed a vote on the plan until later this month.

• City administration yesterday released a report on the Cincinnati streetcar, revealing that the project is on time to take passengers in six weeks and looks to run about $2.5 million under its latest projected budget. That extra money, mostly the result of lower-than-expected construction costs, will go into the streetcar's contingency fund. 

• It’s official: Cincinnati Public Schools will put a levy ask on the November ballot. It’s the first time in five years CPS has come to voters asking for more funding, and the district is asking for a levy that would raise about $48 million a year for the school system. That property tax boost would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $277 extra a year. About a third of the money raised would go toward an effort to extend preschool to more Cincinnati kids, a hot topic in a city with one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the country.

• Cincinnati made a new list of the 150 best-run cities in the country, but just barely. Personal finance website Wallethub.com ranked the best-run cities across the country for 2016, and six Ohio cities made the list. Cincinnati was fifth out of those six, coming in at 121st out of the 150. Only Cleveland, which ranked 138, was lower. Coming in ahead of us: Toledo (90), Columbus (78), Dayton (75) and Akron (68). Ouch. I share these “studies” from time to time because they’re sort of interesting, but you know, dig into the methodology yourself and decide how accurate they are. This one measured six indicators to arrive at its findings: financial stability, education, health, safety, economy and infrastructure and pollution.

• This is either grassroots enthusiasm or something akin to political bootlegging. I’ll let you be the judge. A volunteer hub of sorts for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is opening Thursday in West Chester. But it’s not organized or recognized by the campaign, per se, and doesn’t have any Trump campaign staff working there. What’s more, the logo used by the Butler County hub is somewhat different from the official Trump-Pence campaign logo. Kind of like when you buy a pair of Adidas from a flea market and later realize they have four stripes on them. Oops. Trump's big in Butler County, though, and the pop-up DIY office may just reflect that enthusiasm. He made a campaign stop in West Chester in March, drawing thousands of supporters, many of whom waited in the rain for hours.

• More problems for Ohio’s e-schools: A new study by conservative-leaning, pro-charter think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation found that Ohio’s online charter schools aren’t educating students as well as brick-and-mortar schools. The study analyzed state education data that suggests that across subjects and grade levels, e-school students perform worse than students attending their physical counterparts. Ohio has 24 such schools serving more than 35,000 students across the state. Maria Hanna, who is superintendent of e-school Ohio Connections Academy, blasted the study, saying it doesn’t take into account the fact that each online school is “unique,” serving “unique students” and getting “unique results.”

• Meanwhile, we may soon have more answers about attendance data at the state’s largest e-school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. That data, which shows how long students log onto the school’s learning website, was supposed to be delivered to the Ohio Department of Education yesterday. But that deadline has been extended to the end of this week. ECOT sued ODE over the agency’s audit of its attendance data, which the school initially refused to release. Now, after a judge ordered the school to hand over the data to the state, ODE will seek to have ECOT’s lawsuit dismissed. The struggling online charter school says that, under the state’s current guidelines, ECOT could lose millions in state funding that is based on attendance requirements. The school argues that students do work offline and that log-in times aren’t representative of the full learning opportunities offered by the school. ECOT representatives say loss of funding coming from the state’s audit could shutter the school.

• Perhaps you remember Ohio’s legal adventures trying to protect its same-sex marriage ban, which was eventually ruled unconstitutional. Or the state’s efforts to pursue a failed lawsuit against Planned Parenthood over fetal remains. You should, because you and your fellow taxpayers paid millions for both. Now, there’s another hit to add to the list of Ohio’s taxpayer-funded misses: $2.7 million in legal fees for failed defenses of the state’s restrictions on voting access. The legal bills owed to lawyers for the decade-long push to defend legislation like early voting rollbacks look likely to grow, as more fees are assessed for a flurry of court cases against the state regarding voting access and as battles over Ohio’s voting laws continue. Meanwhile, similar laws in other states have been slapped down by federal courts. Battles look likely to continue in Ohio. Recently, the federal government joined a lawsuit brought against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted over a purge of inactive voters on Ohio's voting rolls. Read about that here.

• Really quick on the national presidential campaign front: Democrat vice presidential nominee and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine has accepted more than $160,000 in gifts from political allies and constituents, according to new media reports. Kaine reported all those gifts within the letter of Virginia law, where he serves as senator, but that hasn’t stopped questions about the propriety of some of those gifts, which include trips and sports tickets, some from major companies lobbying for better treatment. Kaine says there’s been no pay for play in those situations, and that he didn’t keep the vast majority of the gifts he reported.

• Finally, let’s go back to Trump for a minute. It’s been a surreal 24 hours for the GOP presidential nominee. He refused to back party leaders, including U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Kelly Ayotte in their primary campaigns, a nearly unheard-of move from a party’s presidential nominee. Republican Party head Reince Priebus is reportedly having an aneurysm over that. Meanwhile, Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson made a major gaffe when she blamed President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the death of Humayun Khan. Khan, the son of Muslim immigrants who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, died while serving in the U.S. Marines in Iraq. In 2004. Four years before Obama’s first term began. Pierson has since apologized. MEANWHILE meanwhile, Trump has drawn flack for appearing to kick out a crying baby at a campaign appearance. Trump did make remarks about removing the baby, though those remarks appear to have been a joke. As all this happens, news reports are surfacing that many Trump campaign staff are despondent, and that campaign head Paul Manafort is “mailing it in.” That’s not even all of the mess Trump’s campaign has seen since 8 a.m. yesterday, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll let you find the rest on Twitter.

That’s it for me. E-mail news tips or tweet at me.

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