It’s time to put an end to the campaign falsehoods

New data released by the Ohio Department of Health says that state’s four-year-old, voter-enacted, smoking ban is not in fact negatively impacting Ohio businesses. The analysis goes completely against the claims made by those originally opposed to the idea of a public smoking ban, and highlights how campaign rhetoric is often left unquestioned.

In 2005, Cincinnatians heard over and over how the $48.9 million ($4M public funds, $44.9M private funds) renovation of Fountain Square and its underground parking garage would end up as a waste of scarce public resources. Since its renovation, public activity, private investments and the number of businesses in the area have gone up, and crime has gone down. Furthermore, you could argue that the renovation of Fountain Square was the initial force that sparked the urban renaissance currently taking place in Cincinnati.

A crowd gathers for a fashion show and concert on Fountain Square in August 2011. Photograph by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

The trend continues in 2011 as transit opponents wage yet another battle against the Cincinnati Streetcar and the future of rail transit in the Queen City. It was less than two years ago that this same group of opponents asked voters if they would like to hold a public vote on all rail transit expenditures in Cincinnati. The voters rejected that proposal and yet in 2011 Cincinnatians are being asked to vote on the first rail transit expenditure to come about since November 2009.

Rigorous public debate should take place in America, that is, in part, what makes the nation so unique. The problem is that voters seem to have a short memory, and the media often has no interest in reminding them of the false rhetoric put forth by the same parties in the past.

Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is not a new group, and does not include new political players. The small group of well-connected men running COAST have been around Cincinnati politics for some time.

These are the same people who, under the auspice of Citizens for Community Values (CCV), amended the City’s charter to legalize discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, which was terrible for the city and later repealed. These are the same people that called the renovation of Fountain Square a guaranteed boondoggle. And these are the same people that continue to beat the boondoggle drum in regards to the Cincinnati Streetcar project.

This group has perpetuated falsehoods for too long. Cincinnatians, and reality, continue to reject their special interest ideologies focused on holding the city back, but yet, it is time once more to entertain their tired antics. This November I look forward to Cincinnatians voting against this group’s proposed anti-rail transit Charter amendment, and sending them a bit further into the depths of irrelevancy.

City Council meeting displays public’s distaste for budget cuts

Cincinnati City Council members met for a public hearing of the Budget and Finance Committee in Lower Price Hill Wednesday night to discuss several council members’ counter-proposal to City Manager Milton Dohoney’s 2011 Mid-Year Reduction Plan.

The proposed motion, signed by council members Chris Bortz, Leslie Ghiz, Wayne Lippert, Amy Murray, and Charlie Winburn, would pass budget cuts—which largely include expected savings from job position vacancies, department reorganization, and service funding reduction—totaling savings of $5.1 million for 2011 and $8.5 million for 2012. The most notable exception in the motion would be retaining the 44 police officers that Dohoney proposed letting go (memo with complete list of numbers).

Wednesday night’s meeting was scheduled to obtain feedback from the public, as well as to vote on the 5 council members’ proposal.

In total, 34 citizens signed up to speak to the Council. Most of the citizens spoke against civil service cuts, especially regarding health care-related cuts. Children, parents, and nurses all came to speak about how important nurse services are in schools, pointing out the high rates of ADHD, asthma, and other disorders that could go untreated if school nurses were let go. One parent came to tears, saying, “My child almost died.” Another noted that if nurses disappeared from schools it would be a “lawsuit waiting to happen.”

City Council image by Zachary Schunn for UrbanCincy.

Others spoke passionately about health services, from the Cincinnati Health Department, which was scheduled for cuts, to the city’s dental access program, to health clinics. One nurse noted that the Health Department would be self-sustaining due to federal revenue by 2014, and that cutting funding would be a short-sighted move that would not only hurt citizens, but would make it difficult to build-up the department when new funding arrived.

Most citizens’ arguments were straight to the point, with one woman saying that “without Northside Health Center, I would probably be dead today…. I’m just asking that you give people a chance to live.”

A few others spoke for the homeless or in support of Cincinnati’s recreation centers and pools. Several spoke in favor of the Office of Environmental Quality, which was slated to be closed, with its services shifting to other departments. Said one citizen, “Shutting OEQ is like killing a goose that lays golden eggs.” Another pointed out the revenue that the OEQ has brought in from reduced landfill costs and federal grant money, and argued that the office’s success should lead to its expansion, not its elimination.

Notably, only one person spoke against police layoffs (which were not part of the proposed motion). No one spoke of the burdens of high tax rates, with several speaking in favor of higher fees (such as trash collection fees) and increased property and income taxes. One neighborhood representative suggested the income tax rate should be raised from 2.1% to 3.1% to help close the deficit, and another noted that the rich needed to give back to the city.

A few commended the council’s hard work in performing a “difficult task,” and others asked that they ignore their differences and work together. One citizen brought the book, “The Three Little Pigs,” and recounted its lesson of cooperation to the Council.

Overall, the attending citizens appeared largely opposed to the budget cuts. A few citizens heckled Chris Bortz, who dominated the council members’ discussion following the speakers, as well as Charlie Winburn. Bortz asked numerous questions of Milton Dohoney, which at one point prompted Dohoney’s reply: “I’m not trying to play politics or make headlines. I’m trying to run the city government.”

Councilwomen Leslie Ghiz and Amy Murray were noticeably absent from the meeting. Councilman Bortz later noted that they were “with their children,” to which Wendell Young replied: “I left my wife in the hospital… [and] I’d like to do what I came here to do.”

A vote proceeded over the objections of some council members, most notably Chris Bortz, who claimed that they “had two weeks” to vote on the resolution and the meeting had purposefully been scheduled for a day when Ghiz and Murray could not attend. (The motion was dated August 15. However, it was later found that the motion had been filed with the clerk only Tuesday, just ahead of the scheduled Budget and Finance Committee meeting.)

With Ghiz and Murray absent, the motion failed with three supporting and four against.

The meeting ended with bickering over “politics,” with Councilmen Thomas and Bortz arguing over which side was “gaming” the other. Frustrated, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls abruptly ended the meeting.

Citizens, obviously frustrated by the length of the nearly three-hour-long meeting, left the building largely rejoicing that the cuts to social services had failed, but knowing that a similar motion may be re-filed and that they would have to return—again—to argue against the cuts.