Seelbach proposes LLC campaign donation limits; Ohio could extend protective orders to domestic partners; more news

Ohio is one of only two states that doesn't give domestic partners trying to escape abuse the same legal protections it gives spouses, but that could change

click to enlarge Cincinnati City Hall - Jesse Fox
Jesse Fox
Cincinnati City Hall

Good morning, Cincy! Did you know today is Ohio’s 215th birthday? Old hoss doesn’t look a day over 200 if you ask me. On this day in 1803, the Ohio General Assembly met for the very first, magical time. They’ve been bickering ever since. Anyway, on to more contemporary news.

Cincinnati City Council yesterday also bickered some over — you guessed it — board appointments. Council ended up approving all of Mayor John Cranley’s appointments, but not before a verbal tug of war over several issues about the process by which appointees are approved.

Those arguments came as council considered and eventually approved Cranley’s second attempt at an appointment to the board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Council shot down his last appointee, Rayshon Mack, saying his no-holds-barred presence on social media disqualified him for the job. This time, Cranley chose Rodney Hinton for the post. Hinton, Cranley said, once relied on the Route 78 bus when he was growing up in Lincoln Heights. He no longer rides the bus regularly, however. That’s a point of contention for transit activists, and also gave some members of council pause. 

Legislation mulled by council in 2008 as part of moves to create a new body called the Greater Cincinnati Regional Transit Authority would have required that at least three board appointees on that body ride Metro on a regular basis. The motion -- not enforceable as law --- containing that stipulation passed, but the GCRTA idea never took off.

Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard, who campaigned on improving Metro, said she wasn’t happy that council doesn’t have enough regular riders on the board.

"If you wanted a perspective of a regular bus rider, you would have gotten that from Mr. Mack," Cranley said to Dennard.

"Being a bus rider isn't the only requirement,” Dennard shot back. “There were other things that disqualified him. I don't want Mr. Mack."

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld argued that council needs to be flexible about what it means to be a regular bus rider, saying Hinton’s life experience certainly helps him understand the importance of Metro.

Council ended up approving Hinton’s appointment 8 to 1, with Councilman Wendell Young voting against him. Young has repeatedly argued for a tighter vetting process for appointments, perhaps via a new council committee. Cranley, however, points out that council has a week between when the appointment is made and when council must vote. He says that’s enough time for due diligence. 

• Also in council yesterday, Councilman Chris Seelbach announced he will introduce legislation seeking to limit campaign contributions from LLCs. Individuals are legally allowed to donate up to $1,100 to campaigns for mayor and city council. But under current interpretation of campaign finance rules, some donors have also been able to give many times that by donating through LLCs. Seelbach’s legislation will seek to end that practice. Mayor John Cranley’s reelection campaign received $300,000 from LLCs, and his opponent Yvette Simpson received $30,000 that way.

• Cincinnati is vaunted for its 2002 court-ordered efforts at police reform, and last year city officials and activists announced a refresh of the famous Collaborative Agreement. But is the city still even following the core tenets of that agreement? A panel of experts convened by the city says not so much. You can read more about that, and what those experts say can be done to get the city back on track, in our news feature here.

• As she was leaving her job last year, a former Cincinnati 911 manager said that top-level oversight of the emergency call center was so poor that it posed real risks to public safety. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that former 911 employee Elizabeth Christenson wrote in an exit memo that City Manager Harry Black yelled at her, threatened her job and pointed his finger in her face during a December 2016 meeting in which Christenson was reporting problems with the call center. Later, Christenson was called into Black’s office and told he wanted to apologize. Christenson says in her memo that Black then gave her a “horribly uncomfortable” hug. Mayor John Cranley requested Black give a written response to the allegations after the memo came to light. Black said in that response that he was merely pushing for changes at the call center and that some employees were resistant to the needed adjustments.

“'I believed that Ms. Christenson understood that my apology at the time entailed emphasizing her value as an employee," Black wrote in the response. "As you can imagine, what I find most troubling is the insinuation by Ms. Christenson that I hugged her at the end of the meeting and made her feel uncomfortable.

“If I made her feel disrespected, I sincerely apologize as this was in no way the intent.”

• St. Vincent de Paul will expand its services in the West End with a new, 40,000-square-foot facility, the nonprofit announced yesterday in a news release. That facility on Bank Street and Winchell Avenue, near SVDP’s existing facility in the neighborhood, will break ground this fall and be finished by the end of next year. The new building will allow SVDP to provide multiple services six days a week instead of rotating different services on different days. The group has been mulling an expansion in the West End since 2016, when CityBeat first reported on neighborhood debate around plans to build a facility at Bank and Winchell.

• An extension on Hamilton County’s commitment to build a roughly $15 million parking garage for a potential FC Cincinnati soccer stadium in Oakley officially expired yesterday, and members of the Hamilton County Commission haven’t said whether they’ll draw up a new agreement. The original commitment from the county expired Dec. 31, but the commission extended it to the end of February. But FCC still hasn’t heard whether it will get an expansion franchise from Major League Soccer. Without that franchise, FCC won’t build the stadium. Commission President Todd Portune says the county doesn’t need to draw up a new commitment just yet. It’s unclear whether the stadium would be built in Oakley even if FCC does get its MLS bid. Parking needs and community input may be different in the West End, another potential location for the facility, county commissioner Denise Driehaus says.

• If you’re abused by a domestic partner you're not married to in Ohio, you’re not entitled to the same level of legal protection you would be against a spouse. But that could change if Gov. John Kasich signs a bipartisan bill headed his way. Ohio is one of only two states that doesn’t allow the same level of protective order for non-married romantic partners facing abuse as it does for wives and husbands, but a bill sponsored by State Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes of Akron would erase that distinction. Kasich is expected to sign the bill into law.

• Speaking of Kasich, he's set to unveil proposals for what he calls "commonsense gun laws" today. A bipartisan group Kasich brought together will announce its recommendations this afternoon. Those could include stiff penalties for courts that don't keep up-to-date lists of people prohibited from buying guns, bans on armor-piercing ammunition, allowing guns to be taken away from those who have been found to make violent threats and increasing penalties for those who get caught buying weapons for others as straw buyers. The panel's announcement comes after a mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17. Since that shooting, some staunch conservatives, including Kasich, have softened their language about gun control laws.

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