Saturday, July 12, 2008

Defending the Poor

A major story in tomorrow's Enquirer will feature an independent study just completed of Hamilton County's Public Defender's Office. The results? Not pretty, to say the least.

Among a number of problems and issues at numerous levels, the overarching theme is that the State of Ohio has one of the worst systems of providing criminal defense of the indigent in the country, and is still heading in the wrong direction. Even though the state has a constitutional obligation to provide counsel to the poor, the funding provided by the State is paltry (most states provide full or almost full funding), and counties simply don't have the funds through local taxes to make up the difference, and never will. According to the report, the consequences of this funding failure are severe.

We will hold a hearing on this issue and the response of our Public Defender Commission at an upcoming staff meeting (July 28).

Two points to keep in mind on this subject:

1. Pre-trial delays. One issue that came up in the Issue 27 debate was the number of people who take up jailspace awaiting trial, something we all should be concerned about as we deal with overcrowding and overall jailing costs. There is a clear connection between an under-funded public defender system and the costly delays of getting to trial.

2. Lowering recividism. Ideally, a good public defender should be paying attention to the deeper needs of his or her clients. As opposed to simply putting up a legal defense for the short term, an engaged public defender may often be the best person to help a client make the responsible long-term decisions to deal with substance abuse, mental illness, or other causes of criminal behavior. Again, to the extent the system is overburdened and underfunded, public defenders will struggle to play this critical role -- and we lose a great opportunity to reduce the recividism rates of non-violent offenders.

More to come on this issue.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cross-Party Cooperation

Our budget crisis looks like it may bring about the kind of cooperation and working together that citizens expect from their elected leaders, especially when times get tough. As we look to deal with this difficult economic and budget environment, a number of officials have stepped up to say we will work together to solve this problem--even if it involves tough decisions, and even if it's across party lines.

I applaud Greg Hartman, Judge Nadel (presiding Judge of the Common Pleas Court), and former judge and current Republican Party chair Alex Triantifilou for setting a tone of working together to get through this. Other officials and department heads, from Sheriff Leis, to Rebecca Groppe (Recorder), to our Facilities Director (Ralph Linne) have all begun rolling up their sleeves and exploring how to best respond to the bad economy and slumping revenues.

See comments by Judge Nadel and Clerk of Courts Hartman here:

And see Chairman Triantifilou's comments here:

This is not easy, or fun, for anyone. But it's our collective responsibility to deal with the reality of today's economy. Just as every household and business is having to do.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mayoral Power

While I now sit on the County Commission, I still like to keep up with happenings at Cincinnati City Hall.

I read today that the Mayor says he does not think it makes a lot of sense to have a referendum on creating a stronger Mayor position. At the risk of sticking my nose in City Hall business, I completely agree with him.

The new structure provides a nice balance. It gives the mayor more control and power than in the 1990s (which really was a bad system), and enough authority to set the agenda of Council while leading the administration. But it still keeps the best elements of the Charter form of government. (ie. an appointed, professional manager who is less political, and runs the day-to-day operations of the City). The manager in this case, Milton Dohoney, is doing a good job, and seems to have won the confidence of the community and Council.

While there are many challenges we must solve in the community, I think the current structure is more than adequate to solve them. Better to use our time and energy on directly addressing those issues than have the mayor power/structure debate all over again.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Sheriff's View

For those interested, the Sheriff did a lengthy interview about the budget crisis on 700 WLW today:

Budget Woes

Today's headlines couldn't be worse economically. Price increases are hitting everyone, to the point that even P&G is raising prices. Comair is laying off 500+ employees. Even the casinos are struggling!

And people wonder why our County budget problems are so tough. (

Quick summary of the problem. Outside of fees for certain transactions, we rely on four major sources of revenue to pay for the services we provide (through what is called our general fund):

- the sales tax (.5% goes to our general fund); (note: things like gas and food are exempted, so in a tight economy, where people are more limited to such basics, we get even less--which is exactly what we're seeing right now)

- the property tax (most goes to specific levies and schools, but we get some)

- a tax from the sale of property (property sales have tanked due to the housing market, so revenues are way off here)

- interest (interest rates are low, so we are also off by millions here)

Bottom line: the nature of this economic slump (lower consumer spending and higher prices, slumping housing market, low interest rates) is almost a perfect storm with respect to the revenue streams we rely on.

So despite a conservative 2008 budget where we made a lot of cuts and consolidations and forecast revenue increases conservatively, the revenues are still well below anticipated (more than $10 million).

The answer? We have to do what every other company and household is doing right now -- make the tough decisions to cut back on spending. Like everyone else, we simply can't spend money we don't have, and there's no way around this basic reality.

We're asking each department to live the rest of the year on a 6% smaller budget, and although it's fun for no one, I'm confident they will make the best decisions about how to provide the services they need to provide at a cost that our general fund is able to bear.

And long-term, the real answer is that we have to redouble our economic development efforts so we grow, grow, grow--creating jobs and increasing spending in our region and county.

If you have other ideas on where and how to save money, please comment below . . . .

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

OTR Patrols Redux

A story today in the Enquirer discussed whether the Sheriff's patrols in Over the Rhine, cancelled in January due to financial shortfalls and the failure of Issue 27, are missed. (see Interviews from residents and business owners left a mixed message about whether or not they made a difference, and the impact of their absence since January.

My perspective? . . . In the time they were there, the 19 deputies made an enormous impact for the good. This was proven not only by the statistics (crime down in nearly every category), but also by the rave reviews I heard time and again from citizens in the neighborhood about their presence and professionalism. (And while there was a complaint in the newspaper from one gentleman, I must say I never heard a single complaint about their work in all the hearings we held about the issue, or any other occasion).

My hope is that even with them no longer there, the time they spent there, along with other positive efforts (Cincinnati police efforts, our probation department's substation, sizeable investments and rehabilitation) kick-started the creation of a new, safer Over the Rhine going forward. That we've reached a tipping point of progress there, never to look back (although we must remain vigilant to keep that progress going).

The work of those deputies provided enormous momentum to the progress we're seeing today. I thank them for their service at a critical moment.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Coastal Confusion

Like I do every month, today I received my monthly update from the COAST (Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes) organization. Among other things, they enjoy providing updates of my hard work here at the County. Generally, I like the publicity.

But this month, I was mystified to read their lead article that we on the County Commission are considering raising the sales tax to deal with the current budget crisis, which is due in large part to our poor economy and some spending decisions made back in 2006 and before. Given that I have been crystal clear, in every way that I know how, and both publicly and privately, that we WILL NOT raise the sales tax (or property tax) to get through this crisis, I was surprised that these usually savvy politicos had so badly misread the tea leaves. And now, sadly, they have unnecessarily upset their loyal supporters about this issue.

They even claimed that I and Todd Portune had "float[ed] a trial balloon" about raising the sales tax, but pointed to no evidence of this. Unless they consider the consistent and unanimous statement from all three commissioners that we will NOT raise the sales tax to be a "trial balloon" for actually raising the sales tax, I have no idea what they are referring to.

Oh well. If citizens want to know what we actually are planning to do about the tough situation we are in, go to (Maybe the sentence, "Commissioners refuse to raise taxes to close the gap," is the cryptic trial balloon COAST is referring to.)

You can also listen to my interview on 700 WLW on the same issue. Go to

A Celebration Indeed!

Several weeks ago, I spoke to a very special group of young people. The event, The Celebration of Dreams, marked the graduation of 35 Hamilton County foster kids from either high school, or a GED program.

Surrounded by friends, foster parents, and other family members and supporters, these young people celebrated this great accomplishment together. And I was thrilled to celebrate with them.

As I explained to them, they have already shown that they have what it takes to succeed. Sadly, they were in foster care because of past family difficulties not of their own making. They have seen ups and downs, and faced more obstacles than most people might face in a lifetime. Yet despite these challenges, these young people still made it to a place that too many others will not--high school graduation. They beat the odds, and they defiantly said no to the prospect of letting tough circumstances hold them back. I assured them that if they show the same individual persistence, drive and strong character going forward that got them to this exciting moment of graduation, they will succeed.

Their next step? Colleges and trade schools that will allow them to seize the opportunities that exist in our community and beyond. And I hope and trust that as they follow these paths forward, we will all continue to help and support them. I can tell you that we at the County are working to find ways to assist and sustain these young people as they make this transition into their adult lives.

Most important, amid news of trouble and tough times we all read about every day, the Celebration of Dreams is a great reminder. A reminder that the investments we make in our young people, the compassion our community shows to those in need, and the hard work of our public servants to help revive crumbling lives, can make such a difference, one dream at a time.

It's about time

For about a year, I've been promising myself (and a few others) I'd start a blog. There's just so much going on in and around Cincinnati and Hamilton county, and too much need for continual input from citizens across the spectrum--and a blog is the best way I can think of to keep up.

Expect this blog to highlight important news in this community and beyond, give my perspective on that news, ask for your input on items and issues of the day, and respond to events and happenings going on around us. Who knows, maybe it'll offer a chance to set the record straight on critical or controversial issues being discussed in the community (including the occasional dissemination of misinformation), or answer questions citizens have about the way government works, or doesn't work.

I call it PepTalk because amid all our challenges and hurdles, not to mention the ups and downs of politics, I am an optimist about our great community. With our wonderful assets, citizens and traditions, our best days are ahead of us--and I hope the discussions on this blog will help lead us in that positive direction.

Most importantly, I look forward to hearing from you as much as possible about your views on how to head in that direction.
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