Politics Extra
Enquirer reporters give the scoop on what your politicians are doing

Jessica Brown,
Hamilton County reporter

Jon Craig,
Enquirer statehouse bureau

Jane Prendergast,
Cincinnati City Hall reporter

Malia Rulon,
Enquirer Washington bureau

Carl Weiser,
Blog editor

Howard Wilkinson,
politics reporter

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Smitherman: chair of NAACP elections not a member

Chris Smitherman, a former Cincinnati city council member who is challenging Edith Thrower for the presidency of the NAACP’s local chapter, said the man responsible for running the disputed election last month isn’t even a member of the NAACP.

Smitherman said his team was notified Thursday that the Rev. A. Victor Brown, current chairman of the election supervisory committee, is not a member of the human right’s group. It was Brown who oversaw the election in November, and took home 24 disputed ballots that had been challenged.

Brown said he took the ballots home for “safe keeping.”

Thrower has refused to produce a list of NAACP members, Smitherman said.

When asked by a reporter Friday if she has been notified that Brown is not a member of the NAACP, Thrower said: “I have not, and that’s all I have to say. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Smitherman defeated Thrower 134-120 at the Nov. 28 election. But there were 24 ballots that were challenged and therefore not counted.

On Dec. 7, Brown declared Thrower the winner, saying the current president won 16 of the disputed ballots, Smitherman one, and another candidate two. Five the ballots were thrown out.

That resulted in Thrower winning the election by one vote, 136-135.

Officials from the national office could not be reached Friday afternoon. Smitherman said Brown’s status with the organization will play a major role in his court challenge to the election result.

“That’s a major piece of it,” Smitherman said. “Mr. Brown’s status is not a reflection on anybody but the current administration. There’s been no explanation of his status by the current president.”

Changing of the guard

David Pepper (pictured) becomes Hamilton County's newest commissioner when he is sworn in Tuesday.

Commissioners have called a special 10:30 a.m. meeting so Pepper can be sworn in and his two new employees, Bridget Doherty and Jen Winkleman.

Pepper, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican Phil Heimlich in the Nov. 7 election.

With Pepper's win, it will give the Democrats a majority on the commission for the first time since 1962.

DeWine: Taxes are lower

Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine, (pictured) elected two years ago on a pledge to lower taxes, said Friday the average 2007 property tax bill is 17 percent lower than it was in 2005.

But it’s also two cents higher than this year’s bill.

That is less than it would have been, DeWine said, had Hamilton County not had its property reappraised as required by state law.

DeWine also noted the tax bills would have been higher were it not for actions taken this year by commissioners – including reducing the special-purpose property tax to pay for health care for the poor.

Commissioners voted to put the indigent health care levy on the Nov. 7 ballot at almost $10 million per year less than the amount it already raises. The five-year levy that expires at the end of this year raised $55 million per year. The levy approved by voters in November will raise $45.6 million per year for five years.

The tax bills, to be mailed out in the next few weeks, covers only the county portion of property taxes.

While the owner of a $100,000 Hamilton County house paid $413.43 in county property taxes in 2005, that number fell to $353.86 last year. It increases to $353.88 in the bills to be mailed.

The amount of special-use property taxes now is the lowest it’s been since 1994, DeWine said.

Here is a DeWine-provided spreadsheet comparing taxes.

Here's something for their resumes

From Gov. Bob Taft

COLUMBUS (December 29, 2006) – Governor Bob Taft today announced the appointment of Laura Powell as acting director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Gary Joseph as acting director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Both terms are effective December 30, 2006 and expire at the end of the term January 7, 2007.

Powell replaces Joe Koncelik who resigned. Joseph replaces Ken Morckel who is pursuing opportunities in the private sector.

“Both Laura and Gary have served each of their respective departments with the highest level of professionalism and I appreciate their willingness to assume leadership of the agencies through the end of my administration,” Taft said.

“I also appreciate the outstanding leadership and commitment to public service demonstrated by Joe Koncelik and Ken Morkel. With Joe’s service to protect Ohio’s environment and Ken’s dedication to keeping Ohioans safe, our state is a better place to live.” Laura Powell has served Ohio’s EPA as assistant director since 2005 working on key program activities including the agency’s legislative efforts and policy/rule development. In 1991, Powell joined the EPA as a legislative liaison and was named chief of its Office of Legislative Affairs in 1999. Gary Joseph has served as the Assistant Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety since 1999 and manages the day-to-day operations of the agency. With nearly 30 years of experience in state, city and county government, Joseph served as a deputy director at the Ohio Department of Transportation specializing in finance, economic development and human resources.

Holston steps down

The person in charge of overseeing Cincinnati’s community development plans for the past four years has announced her retirement from the city to become director of policy and management for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Deborah Holston, who assumed the role of Assistant City Manager in February 2003, said she will step down in Feburary 2007. She will administer all of HUD’s programs, including multi-family, single family and public housing for the Washington, D.C. area.

As assistant city manager, Holston structured the deal for the Villages of Daybreak, a market-rate mixed-income housing development in Bond Hill. She also was instrumental in the development of “Blue Print for Success,” a youth job training program administered by the Hamilton County Community Action Agency.

City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr., said Holston has served the city well.

“Her leadership has centered on bringing people together around a table to talk through issues facing the city and she has used her extensive knowledge of the housing industry to create new opportunities in this city,” Dohoney said.

Fairfield man new Buckeye Institute head

From the Buckeye Institute

(COLUMBUS, OH) --- December 29, 2006 The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions announced today that Ohio entrepreneur Rick Segal of Fairfield has been elected to serve as the new Chairman of the Institute’s Board of Directors.

Founded in 1994, the Buckeye Institute provides independent, nonpartisan research and analysis to policymakers, particularly in the areas of taxation and government spending, regulation and education.

“This is a time of exciting opportunity for the Buckeye Institute. When Ohioans changed the guard in the last election, they also cleared the way for the issues of runaway spending and job-killing taxation come to the fore in the debate about Ohio’s future,” said Segal.

“The Buckeye Institute will engage in this debate as an even more visible and influential force in the formation of public policy. Our vision that policies rooted in economic freedom are the best way to grow prosperity in Ohio is more relevant and needed than ever,” Segal added.

Rick Segal, is chief executive of HSR Business to Business Inc., a national marketing communications consultancy headquartered in Cincinnati.

Prior to founding HSR in 1981, Segal served on the campaign staffs of United States Senator Robert Taft Jr., Cleveland Mayor Ralph J. Perk, and as chief aide to former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Earl T. Barnes. Segal was a member of the Hamilton City Council from 1982-84. He was a Senior Advisor to Republican Presidential candidate Steve Forbes in 2000, and is credited as the architect of that campaign’s groundbreaking Internet effort. Segal is an elder of the Grace Evangelical Free Church, Cincinnati.

He is married with three sons.

The work of the Buckeye Institute challenges government intervention as the default solution to Ohio’s needs. Our research and commentary offers a compelling vision of how policies that maximize the freedom and independence of our citizens also bring more growth and opportunity to our state.The Buckeye Institute neither seeks nor accepts government funding. It enjoys the support of foundations, individuals and businesses sharing a concern for Ohio’s future.For more information about the Buckeye Institute, please contact President David Hansen at dhansen@buckeyeinstitute.org at (614) 224-4422, or visit our website at www.BuckeyeInstitute.org.

Strickland-Fisher announce inaugural events

The Ted Strickland-Lee Fisher Inaugural Committee today announced festivities that will surround the oath-of-office ceremony next Saturday, Jan. 13.

Among the weekend performers are the Baby Grands from the School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati.

Strickland, the Democratic governor-elect, will be officially sworn in during a private Statehouse ceremony at 12:01 a.m. Monday Jan. 8. Gov. Bob Taft's second term ends at midnight on Sunday Jan. 7.

"Ted’s optimism and hope in Ohio’s future will be reflected throughout the inaugural celebrations," said former U.S. Sen. John Glenn, inaugural committee co-chair. "The festivities will be a display of the unity among all Ohioans and the beginning of our shared efforts to turn around Ohio."

The morning begins with an ecumenical prayer service, where clergy of different faiths from throughout Ohio will share scripture readings and spiritual reflections. The St. Joseph Cathedral Schola from Columbus will provide the musical accompaniment.

The morning continues with an inaugural tribute to the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The program will highlight Dr. King’s achievements through music and photos, and children from across Ohio will present readings about his life and excerpts from his work.

Following the oath-of-office ceremony, a "Beautiful Ohio" program will showcase a snapshot of talented Ohioans, from student groups to national performers.

The Ohio Inaugural Ball will take place Saturday evening at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Tickets are required for the inaugural ball. All other events are free and open to the public.

As part of the celebration, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Franklin Park Conservatory and the Riffe Gallery in Columbus will be open to the public at no cost.

A Turnaround Ohio web site, is here, for up-to-date inaugural information. In addition to event and accommodation details, the site has information on how to support the efforts of the inaugural charity, the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.

Following is the schedule of events for Saturday, Jan 13:

Ecumenical Prayer Service
Location: Trinity Episcopal Church, 125 E Broad St.
When: 7 a.m.
Performers: St. Joseph’s Cathedral Schola

Inaugural Tribute to the Life of Martin Luther King
Location: The Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad St.
When: 9:30 a.m.
Performers: Cleveland School of the Arts Chorale
The Baby Grands (The School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Cincinnati)
Faith Esham
Cornelius Bethea

Swearing-in of Ted Strickland and Lee Fisher as governor and lieutenant governor
Location: West Lawn of the Ohio Statehouse
When: 11:30 a.m.
Performers: The All-Ohio State Fair Band
The Red Chorale (from the All-Ohio Youth Choir)
Faith Esham
Trevor Henderson
Sergeant First Class Robert A. Scott

Beautiful Ohio! A Public Reception
Location: The Palace Theatre
When: 2 p.m.
Performers: Dublin Taiko Drummers
Cleveland School of the Arts
The Baby Grands (The School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Cincinnati)
The Bucket Boyz
The Zanesville High School Devilettes dance team
Indira Satyapriva and the Nalanda School of Asian Indian Dance
Steve Free
Jessica Grové
Dwight Lenox and the Lenox Avenue Express
Ladies of Longford
Red {an Orchestra}
Pianist Spencer Myer

The Ohio Inaugural Ball
Tickets $75 each. Black-tie Optional
Location: The Lausche and Rhodes Buildings (Ohio State Fairgrounds)
When: 8 p.m.
Performers: Sammy DeLeon y su Orquesta

Leis gets public money for private attorneys

The public has to pay for private attorneys Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. (pictured) hires so he can sue the commissioners to pay for a new jail.

Commissioners Phil Heimlich, Todd Portune and Pat DeWine earlier this month unanimously rejected Leis’ request to hire the private attorneys with public money. Leis took the rejection to court.

In a Thursday hearing, presiding Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman granted Leis’ request.

Ruehlman made the decision without elaborating on his reasons, assistant prosecuting attorney James Harper said today. The judge read written arguments on the issue and transcripts of the Dec. 20 meeting where commissioners rejected Leis’ request.

Leis now plans to hire attorneys John Hust and Larry Barbiere to sue commissioners.

Commissioners may also have to hire lawyers instead of using the prosecutor’s office, which normally serves the board. Because the prosecutor’s attorneys represent the commissioners on many other issues, it could be deemed a conflict of interest for them to serve in that capacity on this issue, Harper said.

County Administrator Patrick Thompson said in a Thursday e-mail to commissioners that he is “trying to get the Sheriff to back off on this nonsense.’’

For years, Leis has complained about overcrowding at the Hamilton County Justice Center and the three other jails – with a capacity of about 2,200 inmates -- under his jurisdiction.

Already, Hamilton County is spending $7 million per year to house 300 of its inmates at the Butler County jail.

A Leis suit would keep pressure on commissioners to do something to solve the issue.

One way to ease the pressure is to place the issue before voters again.

Voters rejected Issue 12 in the Nov. 7 elections that would have increased Hamilton County’s sales tax by a quarter-cent to pay for a $230 million jail and a $30 million property tax rollback.

To get another tax increase on the May ballot, commissioners would have to begin holding public hearings on the issue by Jan. 28 and pass a resolution by Feb. 22.

Portune wants to reconstitute a jail task force to study the issue as early as Jan. 3 – the new board’s first meeting.

The dynamics of the board of commissioners changes next week as Democrat David Pepper replaces incumbent Republican Commissioner Phil Heimlich.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jean Schmidt: top target in '08

From the Washington Post's "The Fix" blog

The Friday Line: Endangered House Freshmen

Welcome to the last Line of 2006!

Today The Fix takes a look at the 10 House seats most likely to change party control come November 2008.

* Ohio's 2nd District (R): Rep. Jean Schmidt's (R) demonstrated weaknesses as a candidate should counteract the Republican nature of this Cincinnati-area seat and make it a top target for Democrats in 2008. Dare we raise the possibility of a return run by Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett? Hackett ran surprisingly strongly against Schmidt in an August 2005 special election and was courted to run for the seat this past cycle after national party heavies talked him out of challenging Sen.-elect Sherrod Brown in the Democratic primary. Hackett rejected a 2006 House run but left the door open for a bid for political office down the line. Could 2008 be that next race? Vic Wulsin, who nearly beat Schmidt last month, is also mentioned as a potential challenger.

Read the full post here

City budget posted next week

Cincinnati city council members spent more than 30 hours last week arguing, negotiating and hammering each other to come up with a balanced budget for 2007-08.

It will take about another week before the document appears on the city's web site.

City spokeswoman Meg Olberding said Thursday that the budget is still being reconciled to make sure it is balanced and legal. Once that is done -- sometime after the first of the year -- it will be posted for the public to read on the city's web page.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Remember Washingtonienne?

Matt Apuzzo of The Associated Press reports:

WASHINGTON – When Robert Steinbuch discovered his girlfriend had discussed intimate details about their sex life in her online diary, the Capitol Hill staffer didn’t just get mad. He got a lawyer.

Soon, though, the racy tidbits about the sex lives of the two Senate aides faded from the front pages and the gossip pages. Steinbuch accepted a teaching job in Arkansas, leaving Washington and Jessica Cutler’s “Washingtonienne” Web log behind.

While sex scandals turn over quickly in this city, lawsuits do not. Steinbuch’s case over the embarrassing, sexually charged blog appears headed for an embarrassing, sexually charged trial.

Lurid testimony about spanking, handcuffs and prostitution aside, the Washingtonienne case could help establish whether people who keep online diaries are obligated to protect the privacy of the people they interact with offline.

Cutler, a former aide to Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, says she created the blog in 2004 to keep a few friends up to date on her social life. Like a digital version of the sex-themed banter from a “Sex and the City” episode, Cutler described the thrill and tribulations of juggling sexual relationships with six men.

One of those men was Steinbuch, a counsel to DeWine on the Judiciary Committee. Cutler called him the “current favorite” and said he resembled George Clooney, liked spanking and disliked condoms.

“He’s very upfront about sex,” she wrote. “He likes talking dirty and stuff, and he told me that he likes submissive women.”

When Ana Marie Cox, then the editor of the popular gossip Web site Wonkette.com, discovered and linked to Cutler’s blog, the story spun out of control. Cutler was fired and Steinbuch says he was publicly humiliated. He went to court seeking more than $20 million in damages.

The case is embroiled in thorny pretrial issues, with each side demanding personal information from the other. Steinbuch wants to know how much money Cutler received from the man she called her “sugar daddy.” Cutler demanded Steinbuch’s student evaluations from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law School, where he teaches.

Steinbuch also recently added Cox as a defendant in the case, though he has not served her with court papers. A trial date has not been set, but Matthew Billips, Cutler’s attorney, said there are no settlement talks that might head off a trial.

“I have no idea what he wants,” Billips said. “He’s never said, ‘This is what I think should be done.’”

Neither Steinbuch nor his attorney returned phone calls seeking comment. In court, attorney Jonathan Rosen said Steinbuch wants to restore his good name. Students in his legal ethics class all search the Internet and learn about the blog, Rosen said.

“It’s not funny and it’s damaging,” Rosen told a judge. “It’s horrible, absolutely horrible.”

To win, Steinbuch will have to prove that the details of their sexual relationship were private and publishing them was highly offensive. Billips argues that Cutler never intended to make the blog public but, in the information age, data is easily copied and distributed beyond its intended audience.

If the case goes to trial, its outcome will be important both to bloggers and to people who chronicle their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he may teach the Washingtonienne case this spring during his class at Georgetown Law School.

“Anybody who wants to reveal their own private life has a right to do that. It’s a different question when you reveal someone else’s private life,” he said, adding that simply calling something a diary doesn’t make it one. “It’s not sitting in a nice, leather-bound book under a pillow. It’s online where a million people can find it.”

Rotenberg asked, what if Cutler had secretly videotaped the encounters and sold the videos without Steinbuch’s consent? There has to be a line somewhere, he said.

Since being fired, Cutler moved back to New York, wrote a novel based on the scandal, posed nude for Playboy and started a new Web site, where she solicits donations “for slutty clothes and drugs.”

She wouldn’t discuss the case but said she’s amazed by what has happened.

“The fact that anyone was interested in the first place was a surprise,” she said. “The fact that there was a lawsuit in the first place was a surprise. That it’s still going on is a surprise.”
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman was surprised, too.

“I don’t know why we’re here in federal court to begin with,” Friedman told attorneys for both sides in April. “I don’t know why this guy thought it was smart to file a lawsuit and lay out all of his private, intimate details.”

In that sense, the Washingtonienne lawsuit has become a study into when to make a federal case out of something and when to just let it go away. It’s a question lawyers wrestle with all the time.

Lanny Davis, the former special counsel to President Clinton who now advises companies during times of crisis, tells clients to decide whether they want justice or simply to set the record straight and get a message across.

“If you’re looking for justice, the court system is the only thing you have,” Davis said. “If you’re looking to get the full story, good and bad, into one coherent narrative, the court system is perhaps the worst possible forum.”

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