Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top Cincinnati Stories for 2008?

What say you blog readers? What were the top local stories of the year? Some of mine are:
  1. Driehaus defeating Chabot in the 1st Congressional District
  2. Hamilton County going Blue!
  3. Hamilton County Budget Crisis
  4. The Growth of Cincinnati Music Scene (Midpoint, Expansion/Remodeling at Northside Tavern and Southgate House, CEA's, King Records Tribute)
  5. Bloodletting at the Enquirer

Groppe: Sore Loser

It is being reported by the Enquirer that outgoing Hamilton County Recorder Rebecca Prem Groppe isn't being helpful to her successor Wayne Coates, who beat her in November for the office.

With the publication of this story can we hope that Groppe is at least shammed into acting more maturely? Is that too much to hope for?

Enquirer.com Redo 2.0

Recently, the Cincinnati Enquirer updated its website again after a total relaunch earlier this year. This update is not a new look, but new organization. The biggest complaints with the relaunch were the slowness of the site and the simple fact that you couldn't find anything. So, I've not noticed an increased loading speed, but is the reorg better? Can you read the paper online better? Or is it still a mess with no cohesiveness? I like the idea of a daily newspaper where you can determine a front page story. With the relaunch that concept was almost abandoned. The power of front page story is the one natural editorial choice a news outlet makes about straight up news.

The revised site now to me as more of front page editorial choice present. It is not tied to the daily, more akin to CNN.com style with the instant front page story lasting as long as the editors see fit. This is an improvement to the organization.

The problem is still the ever shrinking local content. The staff blogs are acting as the supplement to lack of local news, and I think the reporters are ham-strung with that. I don't know how blogging fulfills their job requirement, so it appears as if they are doing it largely on their own time.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's Ba-ack: Uncle Woody's

I'm a little late on this, but Uncle Woody's, the combination neighborhood/campus bar on Calhoun near Clifton (across the street from the UC College of Law) has reopened. Apparently, it did so in late November, under new ownership and management. I'd noted the bar's passing (which is joyfully short-lived) back in June.

Uncle Woody's will host a New Year's Eve Party. You can opt for one of two different cover charges: $25 gets you unlimited domestic beer, and $35 gets you unlimited well drinks, domestic beer, and food. But those prices require an RSVP; showing up without a reservation will cost you an extra ten bucks. Either way, the midnight champagne toast is included in your price.

And if you're the Facebook-type, you can join the Uncle Woody's group.

The return of Uncle Woody's is welcome news, at least for this UC law alum.

Kona Bistro Closing December 31st

The Enquirer's Campbell's Scoop Blog is reporting that Kona Bistro in Oakley is closing its doors. It appears that their lease is up and they would have to commit to a new 5 year lease in order to keep the space. Business isn't good enough. I've enjoyed going there, but haven't been for a while. I generally had good meals and management was very supportive of the community. I will be sorry to see them close.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Kennedy Case Is Illustrative Of Dual Justice System

By now, of course, we all know that former Bearcat coach Andy Kennedy was arrested for assault Wednesday night/Thursday morning. The case is next set for a pretrial conference on January 16 before Judge Dwane Mallory. Let me be clear: I have no earthly idea whether Kennedy is guilty or innocent. And it doesn't seem worthwhile to have that debate in the comments. But the way Kennedy's case has been handled thus far illustrates that people in Hamilton County--and in America--get precisely the amount of justice they can afford.

How is Kennedy's case different? Well, first, the AP reported that his attorney entered a written plea of not guilty on his behalf on Thursday. That means that, procedurally speaking, Kennedy was a "sheriff's release." In other words, when CPD took him to the Justice Center, sheriff's deputies processed him and immediately released him without holding him to first appear before a judge.

While this is not unheard-of, it's at least a bit unusual. Kennedy is charged with a violent, first-degree misdemeanor. If news reports are accurate, the complaint is based not just on the alleged victim's statements, but also on a bystander's statements. Moreover, to my knowledge, Kennedy has no local address. He almost certainly, as of Thursday morning, intended to return to Mississippi. So being able to go home without posting bond (or at least signing an own-recognizance bond sheet) is outside the ordinary, given that the sheriff's office knew (or should have known) that Kennedy would relatively promptly leave the jurisdiction upon being released.

Next, the very fact that Kennedy already has counsel is unusual. If he were indigent, he likely would have sat in the holding cell in the first floor of the Justice Center until the 12:30 docket (when "City misdemeanors" are arraigned), and then would have been assigned counsel. Had an indigent, non-famous Kennedy been lucky enough to be released by the sheriff, he would have returned to the HCJC that afternoon, when he would have been told to go to the HamCo Public Defender's Office to "qualify" (financially) for counsel.

Finally, Kennedy has not just one attorney, but two. It's been reported that Kennedy has filed suit against two of the witnesses who have allegedly alleged he committed an assault. As an attorney, I'm fairly disgusted by the civil lawsuit that's been filed, as I suspect its chief purpose is to intimidate the witnesses into changing their stories or not coming to court. (Although in Kennedy's defense, the witnesses ought to quit talking to the media until the criminal case is concluded.) After all, when I decide whether to file a lawsuit on a client's behalf, one of the factors I must consider is collectibility: in other words, even if I win, can my client and I collect the judgment from the defendant? In the Kennedy case, what is the likelihood that a taxi cab driver and a valet have assets sufficient to satisfy a judgment?

For an indigent defendant, there's almost no chance a lawyer would file a defamation suit on his behalf prior to trial. There's almost no chance his attorney could get the Enquirer or the local TV stations to publish his stance on the case, thus permitting him to align a potential jury pool one way or the other. Typically, when the media reports on a case that comes through arraignment, the reporters don't even ask defense counsel for a comment; they report only what is in publicly available documents and what's said at the bond hearing.

Kennedy is free, he's well-represented, and he's got the media telling his tale for him. None of these things would be happening if he weren't a fairly wealthy semi-celebrity. I don't begrudge Kennedy the advantages he has (every defense attorney in private practice has clients who benefit from financial resouces that wealthier people have); I just question why we can't devise a system where more people get the same treatment.

City Government by Referendum: A Good Idea?

Last week, the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP announced that it will seek to place on the 2009 ballot an initiative to bar the creation of a streetcar in Cincinnati. (Those of you who regularly follow this blog know that I'm only lukewarm to the idea. While originally opposed, I've come around to support streetcars, though I've still not drunk the Koolaid offered by those who claim that light rail is our only, best hope for revitalization.)

This post is most assuredly not about streetcars. Instead, it's about whether this is an appropriate way for City government to be run. Earlier this year, the NAACP successfully opposed the use of "red light cameras," adding an amendment to the City Charter that prohibits them. I voted against the measure--not because I think the cameras are a good idea (they're a terrible idea), but because I didn't (and don't) believe it's an appropriate issue for a city charter.

I'm still not sold 100 percent on streetcars, but I'm not even sure how the proposed Charter amendment will read: "Cincinnati shall never have light rail"? That doesn't make sense. It's particularly troubling that the streetcar plan (at least in its current iteration) doesn't involve a tax increase. So we're talking about amending the charter to prevent a specific expenditure by Council, not to head off a tax increase or alter the structure of our government.

So here's my question: is this the right way to run City government? How many decisions should be decided by referendum? And if we really like referenda, should we consider amending our charter (and perhaps the Revised Code--I'm not sure) so that we could enact an ordinance by referendum, rather than constantly changing the Charter with day-to-day issues like expenditures or red-light cameras, thus permitting the Charter to do what it should: deal almost explicitly with the structure of government?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mea Culpa: Charter vs. Democrat vs. Republican

In a recent post on the City budget, I ended with a suggestion that Charterites are really just Democrats going by another name. After some thought and discussion with others, I've concluded I made two mistakes.

The first was making the remark at all: it turned the ensuing discussion from one on the merits of the City budget (which should have been useful and much more civil than some commenters permitted it to be) into one on the nature of the Charter Committee and its members. It was tangential, and I should have just left it out.

The second, though, was my sweeping characterization of Charterites. I stand by the assertion that as a whole, the Charter Committee is on the left or center-left of the political spectrum. But some individuals (including, perhaps, a current Council member) may lean more to the right. My error did not stem from a misunderstanding of what the individuals I mentioned advocate. (It should be noted, regardless of his pre-Council tendencies, that Charterite Chris Bortz ran on a platform that included streetcars (economic development in inner-city is traditionally a Dem issue) and environmentalism.)

Instead, I erred because I tend to employ a perhaps overly-broad definition of Democratic thought and an overly-narrow definition of Republican thought. I've generally rejected the GOP because of its stance on social issues (which tends, in turn, to influence its fiscal policies). So when I see leaders who are relatively close to the center who don't take Phil Burress-like positions on social issues, I tend to identify them as Democratic. That's probably wrong. It's also not a mistake I'd have made ten years ago, but living in Cincinnati for nearly a decade has conditioned me to move my own mindset to the right, changing my expectations for what is "liberal" or "conservative," "Democratic" or "Republican." So suggesting that all Charterites are Dems-in-hiding was not just wrong, it was silly and unneccessary.

Hey...when we here in the blogosphere make a mistake, we fix it, usually with a fresh post. And until I or Brian, Julie, or Jack post something new, this correction will sit at the top of the blog for all to see--not buried at the bottom of page 6 as it would be in the more traditional media.

Rethinking Tasers, the Expanded Version

Last week, I noted Amnesty International's report on taser use and its consequences. My suggestion (which was merely that we think deeply about this issue) had me branded a bleeding heart liberal. (Of course, my recent post on the budget has me branded a closet Republican, so I suppose I'm just a hopelessly confused moron.)

AI's report (available here) has garnered attention elsewhere in the local blogosphere; at the Beacon, Justin Jeffre discusses it. So let's discuss how tasers are used in Cincinnati. But before we do, let's establish a baseline: I'm not some crazy guy who hates the police. If anything, my work as a criminal defense attorney has instilled within me far more respect for the police--and the work they do--than prior to being involved in the criminal justice system. But it is certainly fair--and necessary--to discuss appropriate police tactics.

So first, let's talk about the taser itself. CPD supplies its officers with the X26 Taser. There are two ways this taser can be used. First, an officer use it to shoot two darts at a suspect, which remain connected to the taser via wires and which deliver an electric charge. Second, the taser can be used in "drive stun mode," which means that an officer pushes the taser itself against a suspect's body, pulling the trigger and directly delivering a shock (like a personal protection "stun gun"). Here's how CPD describes drive stun mode:

While operating the X26 Taser in the drive stun mode, the carotid/brachial, groin, and common peronial nerve are the preferred target areas of the body. A drive stun is described as pushing the X26 Taser aggressively against the subject’s body while pulling the trigger. This will deliver a shock to that area of the body. A drive stun is intended to gain compliance from actively resisting subjects, aggressive non-compliant subjects, violent or potentially violent subjects, and persons attempting to swallow evidence or contraband.
(For those interested, CPD's Procedure Manual is maintained online here. The use of force portion of the manual is here.)

My concern is whether CPD policy with regards to taser use is correct or preferable. CPD--like all police departments--mandates a "continuum of force." In other words, officers must consider which level of force is appropriate to a given situation. The CPD continuum, from the lowest level of force to the most, is as follows:
  • Officer presence
  • Verbal skills
  • X26 Taser/Chemical irritant
  • Escort techniques
  • Balance displacement
  • Hard hands (pressure points/strikes)
  • Monadnock Autolock batons
  • Pepperballs/beanbags/40mm foam (all "less-than-lethal")
  • Deadly force
So here's the question: is the taser really the equivalent of chemical irritant? Should it be this low on the continuum of force?

There are truly two sides to the issue. AI's report is one of a growing number of sources that suggest that tasers may be more likely to cause harm than police departments realize. Moreover, officers sometimes escalate too quickly to tasers: that is, they sometimes move from verbal commands quicker than they would if the taser or chemical irritant weren't available. Anecdotally, at least, there are many, many instances of officers using tasers in situations where the situation wouldn't yet mandate the officer use "hard hands" or other, more physical techniques. The recent, truly egregious (and fatal) use of a taser by an officer in New York on a mentally ill, non-compliant man on a ledge is an example (albeit not a typical one) of officers using a taser in a circumstance in which they wouldn't use other forms of physical force. And the studies produced by the taser manufacturers regarding risk of serious harm to a tased subject assume that the subject being tased is healthy. Criminal suspects are often far from healthy, having abused their bodies with drugs or simply due to living in poverty for a lengthy time.

On the other hand, from the perspective of law enforcement, the taser is an excellent intermediary between verbal commands and more direct physical interaction. Moreover, once an officer begins to lay hands on a suspect, the taser may no longer be an option, as the officer will have to disengage and create enough space to reach across his/her body to pull out the taser and deploy it. (You've probably noticed that the taser appears to be "backwards" in an officer's utility belt, on the side of the officer's non-dominant hand. This is intentional. CPD does not want officers to simultaneously pull their taser and their firearm. Instead, officers are expected to make a conscious decision; they thus use their dominant (gun) hand to use the taser; that's why it's backwards-facing in the belt.) So placing the taser higher on the continuum of force may make it not usable at all.

Finally, I am concerned that CPD policy permits an officer to tase a suspect who is attempting to swallow evidence (most often, crack!). I've not seen this method of obtaining evidence challenged in court, but there's a colorable argument that evidence obtained this way should be excluded as violating a defendant's due process rights.

I don't have the answers to these qustions. But in the wake of AI's comprehensive report, this is an issue that should be debated, both within the CPD and by our City Council.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More On the City's Budget: Part II

2. The Budget Is Substantively Flawed.
So what's the big deal with an extra million dollars in spending? That's certainly a fair question, given that our governments routinely piss away millions at a time without the least bit of consternation. The problems are both real and symbolic.

The first budget (the one suported by seven members of Council) was balanced. It didn't require any money to be pulled from the City's "carryover surplus" (this is what the County calls a "rainy day" fund). It also didn't require the doubling of parking ticket fines.

The City is facing major economic hurdles over the next couple years. The first is the status of the City's retirement fund. It's underfunded. Chris Smitherman has been sounding the alarm bells on this for some time; while he may be a little over-alarmist on this issue, no one has seriously suggested that there's not a problem with the retirement fund.

The second problem is that Cincinnati will see a major revenue shortfall next year. For some reason, this hasn't garnered much attention, but the earnings tax--the tax on corporate profits inside the City--is necessarily going to be down, given the tough economic times. Because end-of-year numbers and collections aren't in, that hasn't caught up with the City yet. But it will. So a million-dollar spending spree is inherently irresponsible.

What's more, the choices the five-member budget majority made lack common sense. Their offices really need an extra five grand to operate? During budget negotiations, Councilmembers had agreed to go to represented (i.e. union) city employees to try to negotiate COLA increases out of contracts over the next year. But the budget passed gives a COLA raise to non-represented employees, so there's no chance that AFSCME would concede this.

Moreover, the final budget is based partially on an increase in parking ticket fines. That increase will not, in all likelihood, generate as much as Council has projected. The new fines are so prohibitively high that a number of factors will conspire to reduce the number of tickets written and fines collected. The tickets will have a greater deterrent effect (leading to fewer infractions). More people will contest their tickets. And fewer people will pay their tickets. Maybe there are sound policy reasons for high parking ticket fines, but those weren't the motive for the change; revenue was.

I was also critical of the forty thousand dollars budgeted to municipal gardens. Are the gardens a good thing? Yes, they are. But there are at least a half-dozen foundations who would find funds for this if a grant application were submitted. While this is a good government program in prosperous times, this isn't the sort of expenditure that should come from the City's rainy day fund--which we're certainly going to need at the end of next year.

Perhaps the worst part of this is that the leader of the Budget Coup d'Etat was John Cranley, who is essentially a lame duck, in that he's term-limited and cannot run in 2009. So Cranley just doesn't care about the budget problems that Council will face at the beginning of 2010. That's why all four dissenters are members likely to run for re-election. If the City had an extra million dollars to spend, perhaps it should have been spent shoring up the pension fund.

So when the City is laying off workers next Christmas, keep in mind that at least Councilmembers' personal staff got raises and neighborhoods got tulips. I'm sure that will make it worth it for those who lose their jobs.

More On The City's Budget: Part I

Earlier this week, I posted briefly on the disastrous City Council budget and was criticized as "anti-intellectual." So let's see if some expanded remarks can make my problems clearer (and less dumb).

The Cincinnati budget is a magnificent error for two classes of reasons: procedural and substantive. Let's deal with each in turn.

1. The Budget Process Was Flawed.
On Wednesday, City Council passed a budget by a 7-2 margin. Following that vote, suddenly an "amended" budget was offered, and passed by a 5-4 vote. The new budget contained an extra million dollars in spending.

If you're interested in how the budget was passed, it's worth your time to pull up the podcast of the 6:00 hour of Brian Thomas's Thursday radio show. Go to about 21:30, where Councilmember Leslie Ghiz calls in and discusses the shenanigans pulled by John Cranley and Laketa Cole. Apparently, Cole's personal Christmas plans conflict with the City's budget process, so (of course) City residents take a back seat while Cole goes on vacation. Nonetheless, she signed the motion to pass the original budget when she returned. But behind closed doors, a group of Councilmembers, led by Cole (who had objections she failed to previously disclose) and Cranley got together and made plans to introduce the final budget.

What all this meant was that seemingly endless budget discussions--that took place publicly, in Finance Committee meetings--meant nothing. Everything was actually decided behind closed doors. In an era when the public is clamoring for transparency in government, a majority of our Council shut out the public. Worst of all? The five-member majority that passed the final budget refused to allow debate about it. After some initial criticisms by Jeff Berding, Laketa Cole made a cloture motion. So the City budget for the next two years was passed without being vetted in the Finance Committee and without public debate.

It's a tough day for me when Alex Triantafilou lights up Democrats on his blog and I have nothing to say in response. (In fact, on Thursday, he and I wrote largely the same thing.) I suppose I could point out that the budget wasn't passed by "five Democrats" but by four Democrats and a Charterite, as Qualls, whatever her affiliation in the past, is on Council as a Charterite, not a Democrat. It's hollow criticism, since we all know Charterites are just Democrats who think it's easier to win in Hamilton County if they don't call themselves Democrats. And we should keep in mind that Jeff Berding and Chris Bortz (a Dem d/b/a a Charterite) opposed the budget boondoggle.

Next post: the substantive problems with the budget.

County Layoffs Handled Badly

There is no good way to lose your job. It's a devastating experience, no matter how it happens. Our jobs are inextricably linked to our identities--to say nothing of faith in our own financial stability in the future.

Having said that, though, it's astonishing how badly Hamilton County has been handling the layoffs. People arrived at work yesterday to be told that it would be their last day. Vacate the building by noon, they were told.

For many weeks, the HamCo Commissioners have made it clear to department heads that layoffs would be necessary. Why was the decision made to keep specific employees in the dark about whether they were on the chopping block? Certainly, these employees--some of whom have served the county for decades--deserved to be treated with more dignity than this.

Perhaps Commissioner Pepper (whose presence on the blogosphere makes him the most accessible of the commissioners) can help us with the answer to this. Was this a policy handed down from the Administration? Or did individual department heads make their own decision? And either way, again: why do it this way?

Friday, December 19, 2008

HYPEing Cincinnati

Thoughts on this video?

CityBeat Starts "MusicTown"

With the death of Cincymusic.com there has been a void for local musicians to lock horns with promoters and fans. CityBeat has stepped up to the plate with MusicTown: The New Cincinnati Music Message Board.

The direct link to the cite is: www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/forum/.

I'm on there as Cincyblog, and keep your flame wars to minimum!

concert:nova Tonight!

One of the reasons Cincinnati has such a tremendous art scene is the simple fact that we have first rate musicians at the CSO and CCO who break new ground with collaborative projects like concert:nova. Tonight if you want to have a conversation that involves live music, video, and theatre into a single performance, then make your way to Christ Church Cathedral (318 E. Fourth St. Downtown)at 8PM and experience new interpretations on classic artistic pieces you will not see preformed in this combination anywhere else. For more details check out CityBeat's preview.

The show starts at 8PM at Christ Church Cathedral with a 9:30 reception to follow. Tickets are $20 or $10 for students and ETA members.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rethinking Tasers

I hope to have more to say about this (perhaps over the weekend), but wanted to post a quick note now. We need to seriously reconsider the use of tasers by the Cincinnati Police Department and their proper placement in the continuum of force.

Today, Amnesty International released perhaps the most comprehensive report to date on Taser use in the United States. Among AI's final recommendations is that Taser use should be "limited to those situations where . . . officers are faced with an imminent threat of death or serious (potentially life-threatening) injury which cannot be contained by less extreme options."

The new report should be required reading for every member of City Council and all CPD policy-makers.

Thank God We Saved The Gardens....

The final budget passed by Cincinnati City Council makes me wonder why I'm a registered Democrat. John Cranley played backroom games with the budget and ultimately proved he's neither a trustworthy leader nor a good steward of the public fisc.

You can read the Enquirer's report on the budget passed here. I've had a fairly well-lathered froth worked up since I heard about today's shenanigans. The budget--which is balanced through a combination of raising parking ticket fines (which will likely generate far less revenue than Council thinks) and raiding the City's version of its "rainy day" fund--includes:
  • almost a half million dollars in non-negotiated cost-of-living increases;
  • an additional $5,300 for each Council office;
  • over $150,000 that permits the City to claim that it's "green"; and
  • $40,000 for neighborhood gardens.
Ten or fifteen years ago, this would have been a legitimate budget. But not today. Governments at all levels are getting leaner. And City Council decided on a last-minute spending spree. And they did in such a way as to completely eliminate transparency in the budget process. But that's the Cranley Method of Government.

Supporting the budget were Cranley, Crowley, Cole, Thomas, and Qualls. I won't vote for any of them (yes, I realize some are term-limited anyhow) in 2009. And as far as I'm concerned, Qualls's mayoral aspirations just jumped the shark.

A prediction: Council's short-sightedness today will place the City in a budget nightmare next year, with the newly-elected Council forced to make significant revisions to the second year of this two-year budget.

Downtown: Quick Bites

Three tidbits of downtown news:

First, the Fountain Square Chipotle is now open during the same hours as are most of the Chipotle restaurants: 11 am until 10 pm, seven days per week. (When the restaurant opened, its closing time was 8:00, with plans to be open only on "special event" weekends.)

Second, the building that previously housed the troubled Phoenix Cafe (Walnut between Sixth and Seventh) has new life: it will host the Righteous Room, an upscale bar to be opened by the spring. The new bar will be owned by the same folks who own the Pavilion and aliveOne in Mt. Adams. (The building is owned by 3CDC.) Also planned are three condos in the space above the bar, priced at around $220,000.

Finally, Wah Mee (on Elm between Fourth and Fifth) will close by the end of the year. The owners cite the high rent as the reason for the closure. It's a tough location (in a basement, on a block without a lot of foot traffic). No word on a successor in that space (or in the space previously occupied by a florist at Elm and Fifth).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kaldi's is Closing

An Over-the-Rhine institution is closing its doors. Kaldi's has unfortunately run its course. I hope for something new to opening up in its place, eventually. I really hope Jeremy Thompson, Kaldi's owner, is able to open up a new place somewhere in the OTR/Downtown area.

Get your last coffee/beer at Kaldi's by the end of December.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Get Lost In Mt. Adams, And They Want To Build A What?

There's a group in town whose mission is "to help facilitate the sale of the Cincinnati Bengals and the creation of a massive stone labyrinth in Paul Brown Stadium." Called the "Cincinnati Labyrinth Project," it even has its own blog.

In the short-term, I suppose the construction of the labyrinth could be a public works project that would fit in nicely with President-elect Obama's proposed economy recovery package. In the long-run, though, how much are people willing to pay to wander around in circles? And what's wrong with Ohio's abundant corn mazes? The CLP is trying to take money out of Ohio's farmers' pockets!

I like having an NFL team in town, even if the Bengals have a winning record only once every quarter-century or so. So I'm against the proposal. I'm willing to change my mind, though, if the Project can promise to have a minotaur roaming the labyrinth. That would be cool.

And actually, with a labyrinth and a minotaur, we could get rid of City Council elections. Just send everyone in, and the first nine to the center and back are on Council. Everyone else is minotaur-food.

Hat tip: The Dean of Crazy Cincinnati.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Deal, Schmeal: Half Million Dollars Spent in County Commission Races

The Enquirer's Politics Extra Blog lists the amounts spent in the 2008 HamCo races. Perhaps most surprising is the amounts raised and spent by Todd Portune and Greg Hartmann, who each ran without an "endorsed" opponent.

Greg Hartmann spent over $322,000 (on contributions of over $221,000) in his campaign against independent* candidate Chris Dole, who spent a little over $10,000 (on $2,500 in contributions). Todd Portune spent almost $243,000 (receiving contributions of over $146,000) to defeat unendorsed Republican Ed Rothenberg, who loaned his campaign $20,000 and received no contributions.

In the County Recorder race, Democrat Wayne Coates spent over $12,000 (on contributions of over $10,000) to defeat incumbent Republican Rebecca Groppe, who spent $over $133,000 (contributions of $108,000).

In the Clerk of Courts race, Republican Patricia Clancy spent $252,000 (contributions of over $190,000) to defeat Democrat Martha Good, who spent just under $33,000 (contributions of over $24,000).

In the County Treasurer's race, Republican incumbent Rob Goering spent over $42,000 (contributions of $27,000) to fend off Democratic challenger Steve Brinker, who spent a little over $12,000 after receiving just a little less than that in contributions.

Even the unopposed candidates got into the action. Republican Prosecutor Joe Deters raised no money, but spent over $47,000. Republican Sheriff Simon Leis raised $5,000 and spent $12,000. And Democratic Coroner O'Dell Owens raised over $25,000, but spent just over $1,000.

What do we learn? First, the HamCo GOP continues to enjoy a significant fundraising advantage over the HCDP. Second, it doesn't always matter. And third, people clearly think they get something from campaign contributions, as they're willing to give to candidates (of both parties) who face no opposition. One wonders whether the county GOP leadership will be wringing its hands over county offices being "for sale."

Fundraising plays too large a role in the American political process. I was disturbed by Obama's fundraising machine (he has singlehandedly destroyed the public financing system), and pay-to-play is all too common (see United States v. Blagojevich, as well as, on a much smaller, less criminal scale, this recent episode locally). I'm not sure what the solution is, or whether in a capitalist democracy, there is one.

*Dole is a Democrat, but ran without the party's endorsement or nomination. He did not appear on the ballot as a Democratic candidate. Rothenberg, though unendorsed, appeared on the ballot as a Republican.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More County Revenue

With a majority of the HamCo County commissioners apparently ready to sell advertising space on HamCo websites, maybe we should consider other places where ads could be sold:
  • Video screens in the County courthouse (particularly the first and second floors). How many attorneys would pay big bucks for ad space there?
  • County vehicles: ads could be sold until they looked like NASCAR cars.
  • The Justice Center holding cells. Ads for bail bondsmen and--again--lawyers would sell quickly. And maybe the manufacturers of the products in the commissary would want to get in on the action.
  • Corporate sponsorships for various departments. How about the MetLife Coroner's Office? Or the H&R Block Treasurer's Office?
  • The Commissioners themselves. They could be like boxers, and get henna tattoos before each Commission meeting. (Of course, they'd then need to attend the meeting topless.)
Any other suggestions?

County Budget, Part Deux

Each of the three HamCo Commissioners has offered his own adjustments to Administrator Pat Thompson's budget proposal. View them online: Pat DeWine, David Pepper, and Todd Portune. Of course, we here at the Cincinnati Blog have read the revised budgets so you don't have to. Here's a summary.

As you'll recall, the most controversial feature of Thompson's proposal is a $12.4 million reduction to the Sheriff's budget, which could require closing Queensgate and ending county-subsidized patrols in Green, Anderson, and Colerain townships. Commissioners are looking for ways to restore that money. The chart below indicates how each commissioner either reduces expenditures (shown by a minus) in other departments or increases revenues (shown by a plus):


The big difference on furloughs is because DeWine and Pepper propose furloughing only Commissioners' staff, while Portune wants to do it county-wide (the difference between DeWine and Pepper is that the former proposes a five-day furlough, the latter ten days). The two Dems think money can be raised by selling advertising space on County websites (see the Cook County Assessor's website for an example).

Apparently, the HamCo Treasurer has recently revised its revenue forecast for 2009 upwards by about a half-million dollars. The Dems want to use this estimate, while DeWine is apparently unconvinced.

DeWine offers a fairly commonsense approach to how the HCSO budget cuts should be admininstered: let Si Leis handle it. He is not just the "expert" in this field, he's an elected department chief. DeWine also proposes charging ALL of the townships for patrols, not just the three largest.

Portune proposes a bunch of revenue additions (not in the chart) that would require changes to state law. Frankly, they seem like more of a wish list than a budget proposal. I'm not sure what the "Medical Expense Reduction Plan" is, but it's probably Portunese for "screw county employees on health benefits for the third consecutive year." I'd love to see a more detailed explanation of how he gets to over a million and a half dollars in savings in utilities and supplies.

None of them get to 12 million dollars between additional cuts and new revenue. (All of the plans are probably more akin to rearranging the deck chairs than steering the Titanic to a new course.) But each would minimize the impact of cuts on public safety. DeWine's proposal would keep Queensgate open through March. Pepper and Portune want to make sure the regional HazMat unit gets $100,000 stripped away by Thompson, but both neither are able to save Queensgate. Portune "an acceptable level" of patrols in the townships.

I suspect some combination of Pepper's and DeWine's budget will be what we see enacted. Many of DeWine's cuts seem wise in the current atmosphere, but both DeWine and Pepper propose some fairly speculative revenue enhancers (for DeWine, it's the "pay-to-stay" inmate program; for Pepper, it's the advertising plan). DeWine is "lame duck" with little to lose (his upcoming term on the Common Pleas court is six years), so he may be able to lead the BOCC through some politically unpopular budget cuts that the Dems themselves could not initiate (sort of an "only Nixon could go to China" thing).

No News is Bad News

CityBeat's Kevin Osborne touches on the overall problem with the staffing cuts at the Enquire. Like it or not, we have only one major news gathering company in this town, the Enquirer. Local TV News stations do not gather much news, other than headlines and video. You don't get much fact and there is a void of in-depth reporting in television. What makes a real news outlet is its ability to get first run original copy on a huge variety of subjects. How is that done? You must have feet on the streets going places and asking questions. More and more we only have people working in their offices getting emails and making phone calls. Photographers will be eye witness to events, but that is about it. Sending people out for interviews? How often does that happen with a print reporter anymore? They are not given the choice. Editors don't even have the choice to let go look for news. News gathering for the Enquirer has become a passive activity. That is not just because of finances, it by design.

Fewer people doing more work is not going to produce wider or better coverage. We are seeing this first hand with the death of the Enquirer's arts coverage. You can't decimate your staff and expect comprehensive coverage. CityBeat right now, for a weekly publication, has more theatre and visual arts coverage, than the Enquirer. The Enquirer only wins in classical music, which is not a big area for CityBeat. For CityBeat, this is great news, they become the better source. I have to say for the arts and the for reading public it is really bad news. It is so valuable to have two (or more) full opinions on current local productions. With the cuts in staff at the Enquirer and the limiting of space in the paper for arts overall, there is a huge drop that hurts our society. Local News is going the way of the Independent Hardware Store. The Media Wal-marts are destroying all that is local, all in the name of profit. The media believe, with much evidence, that their target audience, suburban and exurban parents, don't leave their homes, so the only arts they care (or need to know about) are national stores, which is Entertainment most of the time, not art. It is movie and DVD releases. It is Oprah's bookclub picks. It is reaction to NY fashion. It is Seven Mary Three coming to town masquerading as music coverage.

Blogging and social networking websites are taking up some of the slack. Blogs are a but a mere firewall. Blogs are not able to provide a large enough news gathering source to make up for the shortfall. There is a market for local news, but the profit margin isn't something that is going to find any investors. Social Networks are not organized and lack focus. They are become a great way to get the word out about an event. They are still limited, but for some organizations they can reach 90% of their known audience. They don't allow a good means of expansion, however.

How as a society are we going to weather this? How do we adapt? How do we get credible news out to the public, the type news they need, not just the puff crap they are being fed?

How do we keep real journalism alive? I honestly don't know. Trust is a key element of journalism. Blogs and social networks are not great ways to build trust. Institutions are how your build credible trust that last beyond one person running a blog. We can't rely on individuals to be there all the time. We need organizations that can have credibility beyond one person's reputation. I don't know where this trust will come from. As a blogger, I will keep on looking for ways for my blog to at least be more than just me. That is not easy, so lets all keep on looking for more ways to keep news alive.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Democratic Money Burning

I have to admit: I miss the old Alex Triantafilou--the thoughtful judge who really wanted to get things right. (You may recall that I lamented his decision to leave the bench.) Judge Triantafilou has been replaced by Chairman Alex, a party leader often offering nothing but soundbites, particularly since his side lost the presidential election. He's begun what he's promised will be "occasional" feature on his blog called "Democrat Money Burn." (Alex, of course, needs a grammar lesson. "Democrat" is a noun. "Democratic" is the adjectival form of that noun. The party of the president-elect is the Democratic Party. Alex cannot change the English language just because its suits him.)

To his credit, Alex is batting .500 on his first two "Money Burn" installments. In the first, he questions whether Mayor Mallory needs another staffmember. Griff (who just won't admit he's a Democrat at heart) has also raised that concern, and I joined him in the comments. In fact, I'd go a step farther: not only should Mallory not be given additional personnel funds, but the cost of his personal security (a CPD specialist on special detail) should be moved from the CPD budget to the Mayor's Office budget--and the Mayor's Office overall budget should not be increased. Alex will find widespread support for his relatively non-controversial observations with respect to Mayor Mallory's budget proprosal.

But he misses the mark in his second "Money Burn" post, in which he criticizes the HamCo Commissioners (really, though, just Administrator Patrick Thompson, since the only budget proposal thus far released is his) for failing to decrease the budget for "County personnel," a decision Thompson justifies by pointing to the need for increased "HR" (human resources) oversight during the massive layoffs to be undertaken in the coming months. Alex writes:
Really? We need to spend more on HR staff so that the county can more
effectively fire police officers? Are these our priorities?

As Alex knows, police officers aren't the only ones losing their jobs. And the reality is, laying people off is difficult. Employers have responsibilities towards former employers (most notably under COBRA). Moreover, HR-savvy people should be involved with layoff decisions to ensure that they are undertaken in such a way as to minimize the potential for litigation. If the county is to go through the next few months without the service of people knowledgable in human resources (which over the past two decades has become a highly specialized field), the taxpayers may as well write a check for a half million dollars or more to the Cincinnati Employment Lawyers Association (the plaintiffs' employment bar). A Republican policy-maker's decision to expose the county to massive lawsuits is one of the things that brought us this budget nightmare.

So while we need to make sure we're pinching every penny (at both the City and County levels), we need to make sure that we don't make short-term cuts that will cost us dearly in the long-run.

To Hire Or Not To Hire: Cincinnati And Laid-Off HCSO Deputies

City Council is currently considering hiring some of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies that are being laid off due to HamCo budget cuts. (The Enquirer notes this development towards the end of this article.) It's an excellent idea. Those deputies, in many instances, would be ready to hit the streets pretty rapidly. But Council should take heed of the following:
  • Cincinnati PD currently has a "recruit class" nearly finished with its Academy training. (The bright, shiny almost-officers were touring the courthouse today.) HCSO deputies should not be hired in lieu of these people, for two reasons. First, the City has already spent considerable funds in training this recruit class; discarding them is throwing that money away. Second, when the City takes on a recruit class, it makes an implicit commitment that jobs await those who successfully complete their training. Yes, sudden budgetary concerns could justify failing to hire a recruit class, but it would be less-than-honorable for the City to abandon its own recruits in favor of HCSO deputies.
  • Many of the laid-off deputies will be corrections officers, not patrol officers. The City needs to make sure that these officers receive whatever additional training is needed (likely something well short of Academy graduation) to make these officers street-ready. There's a big difference between guarding Queensgate and patrolling a neighborhood (and residents generally don't like being treated as inmates.)
  • The City should make sure that hiring laid-off deputies is at least cost-neutral with regards to, if not less expensive than, bringing in a new recruit class (again, after the current class has been hired). The City should save money due to the decreased amount of training these new officers would need, compared with a fresh recruit. But (and I don't know the answer to this) because some of these soon-to-be-former deputies would come in with considerable experience, the CBA with the FOP might call for them to receive higher pay. If the City is to hire these deputies, individual exceptions to the CBA should be negotiated to make sure the City isn't breaking its own budget.
Assuming these (relatively minor) concerns can be addressed, hiring HCSO deputies to be City police officers is a commonsense solution that benefits everyone. And it should be noted: as a group, HCSO deputies tend to be among the most professional (and physically fit) law enforcement officers in our community.

Monday, December 08, 2008

County Budget: More Revenue?

In doing some research on the appropriate geographical reach of jury pools in municipal court cases, I came across Ohio Revised Code 1901.25, which requires that when a misdemeanor case arises under a municipal ordinance and proceeds to jury trial, the juror fees are to be paid by the relevant municipality. (Most criminal cases--particularly those tried to a jury--allege a violation of Ohio Revised Code rather than municipal ordinance.)

The obvious example is jury trials involving Cincinnati's marijuana law. But any case transferred from a mayor's court to municipal court would fit this description (unless the municipal prosecutor amends the charge to allege violation of the Revised Code). I tried one such case (successfully!), involving an alleged assault that took place in Norwood, last year. The police charged the offense under Norwood's municipal code. We filed a jury demand, which has the effect of automatically transferring the case from Mayor's Court to Municipal Court. For those wondering, the HamCo Prosecutor does not proceed on these cases: instead, the local municipality will have a law director that comes to Muni Court and tries the case. (Cincinnati, of course, has several full-time prosecutors that prosecute all misdemeanor offenses that are alleged to have taken place within City limits, regardless of whether the complaint alleges a violation of municipal or state law. And in some instances, a HamCo Assistant Prosecutor is the elected Law Director of a particular municipality.)

Obviously, this doesn't involve a ton of money, but we're at the point where every little bit counts. Does anyone know whether our court is recovering these fees from municipalities (including the City of Cincinnati) in appropriate cases? I couldn't find the answer online anywhere.

More Staff for the Mayor?

Does Mayor Mallory need a bigger staff? He seems to think so, with his budget proposal including a $50,000 increase. City Council may not agree. Is there enough staff to support the Mayor or not?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fun Holiday Show from the Falcon Theatre

Check out my review at TheConveyor of the Falcon Theatre's production of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Drama". I was privileged to attend the show last Thursday thanks to the kind invite from Julie, part of the Cincinnati Blog team. Thank You Julie! Check out her other blog too!

For More info on the show, check out www.falcontheatre.net.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

It's Snowing!!!

I awoke this morning to a wondrous sight: snow!

I walked home from Grammer's last night well after 1 AM and it was cold, but not snowing. To awake to a surprise of snow is an uplift. It allows for a little bit of youth to return when the flakes fall on your face. It puts you in the mood for the holiday. I've not been ice skating on the square yet, but it may be a good time. The faint hearted can't take the weather, so the rink shouldn't be too crowded.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

KZF Design Renovating Building Downtown

KZF Design Inc., an architecture, engineering, interior design and planning firm, announced in a press release that they will be renovating a 36,000-square-foot space in two connected structures located at 700 Broadway, at the junction of Seventh and Eighth streets. According to KZF this will be a 6 million dollar project that will comply with LEED-Silver certification. A target date for completion of the project is the Summer of 2009.

Currently KZF is located in the Baldwin Building in Walnut Hills.

There is no news for increasing jobs at KZF, but this demonstrates their stability and their investment in the future of Downtown Cincinnati. Their press release does indicate that they will have 30% more space than their current space in the Baldwin Building, so expansion would not be hampered by a lack of space.

For more info on KZF, check out their website.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Another Idea for Revenue

One more way Hamilton County could generate money to fix its budget:

Have a raffle.