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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bortz blasts 'hateful' blog comments

In a comment to Tarbell and Thomas ran most frugal campaigns, Councilman Chris Bortz took aim today at "venomous drivel" by anonymous blog commenters.

What sent Bortz over the edge was an anonymous middle-of-the-night comment which, among other things, remarked about his campaign commercial "showing off his trophy wife."

Bortz's response:
Shame on you.

As a public servant and public figure, I expect criticism, be it founded or not. I expect mindless, heartless and ill-informed attacks going hand-in hand with more carefully considered and constructive criticism.

However, we must all protect and defend our freedom of speech. That means we must be responsible with our words. The most destructive consequence of our most cherished freedom is that too many people mistake defamatory accusations with reasoned dissent. That makes us all weaker, dumber, and angrier while also distracting our focus from high-minded public discourse.

Add to that the internet and its shroud of anonymity and our responsible attitude towards speech becomes even more imperative.

You have displayed a reckless disregard for others with your hateful comments. My wife is most certainly a far better person than you. She would undoubtedly advise me to ignore your ignorance, rise above it, and move on to serious matters. Of course, she would be right. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to invite you to come out from under your rock and deliver your venomous drivel to me in person. I can be found at City Hall.

You, Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous, epitomize what is wrong with America.

Shame on you.

Chris Bortz
Member, Cincinnati City Council

Update: Bortz abstained on Towne Properties vote

Councilman Chris Bortz abstained on an ordinance last week to grant city financing for a Towne Properties condominium development in the East End, according to amended council minutes. Bortz is general counsel for the family-owned development company.

Bortz was originally recorded as a "yes" vote, though the agenda noted his need to abstain and Bortz said he was silent. At today's regular session of City Council, Mayor Mark Mallory moved to amend the minutes of last week's meeting to reflect Bortz's abstention.

'Furious' Ghiz seeks employee attendance inquiry

Republican Councilwoman Leslie Ghiz is calling for City Council to hold public hearings on attendance by city employees after disclosures that a city employee kept a $40,000-a-year job while not working for nine years.

In a press statement headlined "Furious Ghiz Calls for Inquiry into City Hall Staffing," Ghiz said she is "determined to get to the bottom of this issue."

"We have over 1,600 vacant positions that we fund city-wide," Ghiz said in the statement. "This is a position that was not reported as vacant. It is clear we need an overhaul of our personnel practices."

"It is shocking to think that through difficult financial years, we were paying a former employee not to work," Ghiz said. "This lack of management oversight will stop immediately."

Ghiz, who worked in the city's Human Resources Department and was the city's chief labor negotiator before quitting to run for council in 2003, said she would call for a Finance Committee hearing in January.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

'Let's not blow it,' Springer tells Dems

Jerry Springer's announcement today that he won't run for Ohio governor wasn't surprising to anyone who's been following the early Democratic field. But it was even more anticlimactic in the way it was delivered -- without a news conference, hoopla or other showbiz dazzle that seems to follow the former Cincinnati mayor turned talk show host.

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Timothy M. Burke -- a Springer booster since his 1970 race for Congress -- was supposed to have delivered the statement Monday night, at a meeting of party leaders to elect Chris Redfern as party chairman.

But the meeting adjourned before Burke could make the announcement, so spokesman Dale Butland instead e-mailed it to Ohio political reporters today:

DECEMBER 19, 2005

As you know, for the past two years, I have considered running for Governor. I had the privilege of traveling extensively throughout Ohio, raising money, giving money, supporting and recruiting candidates, and hopefully articulating a message which resonates among our citizens who so badly want a government that can lead us out of the mess we are in.

I've stepped back over the last six months to see if anyone could mount an effective candidacy, to see if our party could be unified for a victory next year that our state so desperately needs.

I wasn't going to run because I wanted a job or career. Thankfully, I don't need one. I would only run if I could be helpful.

With Michael Coleman's withdrawal, Ted (Strickland) is now the clear frontrunner, so what purpose does my running now serve?

We have a candidate and a wonderful opportunity for party unity. Let's not blow it.

Accordingly, I believe it would be irresponsible, divisive, and a betrayal of principle for me to jump into the race at this late stage. Therefore, I am announcing tonight that I will not be a candidate for governor or any other public office in 2006.

Burke said he wouldn’t rule out a future race for the 61-year-old downtown Cincinnati resident.

“With Jerry, I will never say never,” he said. “He’s an amazingly smart, amazingly articulate and amazingly resilient fellow.”

Previous coverage:

Mallory news conferences are now routine

Mayor Mark Mallory has now held enough mayoral news conferences that he's settled into a predictable rhythm: recite a list people he's met with, announce a schedule of people he plans to meet with, and give vague answers to reporters' questions about headlines in the morning paper.

Today's highlights from the weekly Tuesday news conference:
  • In the past week Mallory has met with Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority director Donald Troendle, city manager search consultant Norman Roberts, Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley, Convergys Corp. CEO James Orr, Department of Buildings & Inspections Director William V. Langevin, Department of Community Development and Planning Director Michael Cervay, Rev. James Strayhorn of the Bright Star Baptist Church in the West End, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College President Ron Wright, Chamber of Commerce Vice President Doug Moorman and President Michael Fisher and U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot.

  • Upcoming meetings include Margaret Hulbert, vice president of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Joseph W. Diebold, president of the Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union Local 48, William E. Moller, the city's finance director, and Kathy Harrell, elected Sunday as president of the Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge No. 69. "I am encouraged by her comments about being willing to cooperate with the new mayor and council," Mallory said. "I think it's critical that we put all the effort we can into improving that relationship."
  • On the budget: There will be minor amendments to the budget Wednesday, but the mayor would not elaborate on what they would be. Mallory said the process was different this time, with more decisions being made off the floor of City Council in one-on-one meetings with the city manager and members of City Council. "I will stress and emphasize that this is a continuation budget," he said, promising that his campaign pledges to create three new city offices for safety, environment and planning would come in the 2007-2008 biennial budget.
  • On a proposal by Hamilton County Sheriff Simon L. Leis to patrol Over-the-Rhine: "We haven't had that conversation. I still need to talk to the chief about that," he said. "I think it's good to look at all available options."

  • On shelters from the cold weather: "I think I'm relatively satisfied right now that there are enough places for people to go, but it's something we need to keep an eye on."

  • On City Hall security: Mallory confirmed that the metal detectors at the front door of City Hall would be eliminated in his budget proposal to pay for more staff. "Maybe I should make clear: the metal detectors are going away." But he promised that there would still be "a very strong security presence at City Hall."

  • His press conference last week to announce that site preparation will begin at the Banks won't be rescheduled, after the news was "scooped" by the newspaper anyway.

Mayor Mallory cautiously enters West End debate

On the last day of the mayoral campaign, West End resident Chris McCarty confronted then-candidate Mark Mallory at a West End gas station about the proposed City Link social services mall.

Mallory referred McCarty to the president of the West End Community Council -- brother Dale Mallory -- who, as it happened, was just pulling into the gas station himself. As Mark greeted voters and chatted up reporters, Dale had his hands full fending off a growing number of vocal West End residents bending his ear by the gas pump.

As Mayor, Mark Mallory has continued to demur on the debate, calling it "a neighborhood issue." In an interview last week, the mayor declined to take a position on the specific City Link proposal -- but called for tolerance and compassion in dealing with the city's most needy citizens.

"Are we going to have a cast-off society?" Mallory said.

"I talked in my inaugural address about the beginnings of the Society of the Cincinnati. That group's whole mission was to care for each other's families -- this brotherhood among comrades. We have to get back to that responsibility to create a brotherhood, where we look out and care for each other as a community. I want people to think of these concepts when we're dealing with issues like this one. ... We need to have a real open and honest discussion about people who need the services City Link is providing, and how we can provide them."

The stir over City Link is the latest chapter in a decades-old debate. The late social activists Buddy Gray and Maurice McCrackin long argued that Over-the-Rhine and the West End should be a haven of affordable housing, where the poor can have easy access to the services they need.

But others -- including Mallory's own vice mayor -- have argued that social services should be moved to a "non-neighborhood" like Queensgate. Chaterite Councilman Jim Tarbell, a long-time proponent of Over-the-Rhine redevelopment, said moving the over-concentration of social services out of neighborhoods where people live would help property values, encourage development, and ultimately lead to the jobs that can support those needy residents.

Mallory said he's not yet sure how to resolve those conflicts.

"That's a good question. I don't know that I have an answer to that," he said, suddenly becoming contemplative. "Wow. I don't know what kind of mayor I'm going to be. I really want us to be different in the way we approach those issues."

"There's something to be said for having City Link in an area where there's no one else," he said. "Does it make sense to put a City Link project in no-man's land, where people don't have the chance to make contact with people who can help them, who can mentor them, who can provide role models for young people?"

"The question is, finding that balance," he said.

An anti-City Link sign appears in the window of the Rev. Gerald Bates's home in the Dayton Street Historic District. (Photo by Meggan Booker/The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Mallory supports 'someone else's budget'

Even before he was sworn in, Mayor Mark Mallory made clear that the budget City Council will debate today is "someone else's budget." It's the first budget prepared under the administration of one "stronger mayor" and introduced by the next.

In a budget message to City Council Sunday, Mallory said he supports the city manager's proposed budget update as a "fiscally sound response" to the changing circumstances since City Council passed a two-year budget a year ago. He suggested no cuts or amendments.

But Mallory did signal what his priorities will be in the 2007-2008 biennial budget: a safety director, increased spending on social services, shoring up the pension fund, eliminating blighted buildings and ensuring a prudent cash reserve.

The text of his budget message:
To: City Council
From: Mayor Mark Mallory
Date: December 18, 2005
Subject:2006 City of Cincinnati Budget

The 2006 City of Cincinnati budget as presented by the City Manager is a fiscally sound response to the city's needs and challenges. As a continuation budget tied to the 2005 budget, it is meant to continue the progress made in areas of critical concern to the city. The budget as presented provides basic funding for essential services and includes a limited number of initiatives designed to address critical needs.

First among these needs is public safety. I strongly support the additional funding for neighborhood walking patrols and the dollars provided for a new fire recruit class beginning in January 2006. However, I continue to believe we must reestablish the Director of Public Safety position to coordinate our public safety and emergency management functions. I will work with Council to create this position in the year ahead.

Dollars spent to effectively market the city constitute a good investment. For this reason, I support the additional resources dedicated to fully funding the arts allocation, increasing the support of the film commission and promoting Tall Stacks. I also support the added efforts to expand home ownership through the implementation of a one-stop housing shop.

While this budget maintains the Human Services allocation at 2005 levels, I am concerned that this level may not be fully adequate. It is my goal to increase the Human Services allocation as resources become available.

This budget is not without its limitations and I intend to work with Council and the City Manager to address these issues in the year ahead. From a fiscal standpoint, the city must protect its strong bond rating and that means restoring our general fund reserve to as close to the 10 percent level as possible. The vast majority of the 2005 ending fund balance should be used to supplement the 8 percent reserve level included in this budget.

We must also ensure that our retirement system is actuarially sound. The 2006 budget as presented makes a major step in this direction, but we must provide the resources to complete the task.

We should also work in the coming year to find new ways to address the vacant and abandoned building problem facing this city. With 1,700 vacant buildings currently, and with several hundred being demolished each year, we are slowly draining the quality housing stock that makes some of our oldest neighborhoods viable. I intend to work with Council to find ways to stabilize our existing building stock and limit the number of buildings that are in danger of being demolished.

I pledge my support to working with the City Manager and City Council to pass a fiscally responsible budget that allows for strategic investments in critical areas.
This message is a departure from former Mayor Charlie Luken's tactic of amending the budget even before transmitting it to City Council. Luken, the first mayor given increased budgetary role under the 1999 "stronger mayor" amendment, would often ask for arts funding, more police spending, or neighborhood projects -- just to send a message about his priorities.

Similarly, many members of council tacked on additional spending, allowing them to take credit for particular programs or neighborhood projects at election time.

Mallory is sending a different message -- that he hopes to avoid the chaotic end-of-year lobbying that characterizes most budgets. He said he worked with the manager and council members to make sure everything was included before it was introduced.

"This is a much more collaborative process where we had conversations with individual council members about the direction we'd like to see," Mallory said in an interview Sunday. "I think we have a budget that invests resources in public safety, in economic development. This budget invests in young people, in neighborhoods. And we are obviously looking at ways to create efficiencies."

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