Saturday, August 9, 2008

Job #1: Keeping Our Young People Here

Both today and yesterday, I spoke to groups of talented, ambitious high schoolers and college kids about what may, in the end, be the most important topic of all the ones that come up -- how do we keep them here?

Amid all the issues that come up day to day in our meetings, on our television sets, in our newspapers, none will make a bigger difference to our community's future than answering that question correctly, and proactively.

We know that today's economy is all about educated and talented people. Don't get me wrong: having a stable of large companies here is an enormous asset and competitive advantage. But the days where that is enough for a community to succeed are over.

Today's rapidly evolving economy is all about talented, educated, cutting edge workers. Companies will start in, and companies will move to, the places where that talent wants to be. If you are a place that produces, attracts and keeps that talent, you will grow economically. If you are not, you will not.

It's no secret, we are not doing nearly as well as we should on this score in recent decades. Too many are moving East and West--not short term, but forever. This is an Ohio problem, and it is a Greater Cincinnati problem. If it continues, we will not succeed on any measure.

What do we do to fix it? Too much to amplify in one entry, but to me, here are five basics:


1) Education, education, education!! Without an education system generating legions of home-grown talent (from all parts of the community), you will fail. Enough said.


2) Create a physical space in which young people can live, work and play: the reason why revitalizing our entire downtown basin between the river (Kentucky side and "The Banks") to Clifton, including OTR, is so important, is that if we do our job right, the entire basin is our best "neighborhood" to compete with the Bostons, New Yorks and Chicagos of the world. It is urban cores that look and feel like these that are cleaning our clock when it comes to creating the dynamism and excitement that draws young people to the heart of cities. A safe Over the Rhine, and a completed Banks, will give us the very types of urban neighborhoods teeming with young, diverse residents that we have not had before. Together, these communities can create the type of organic, dynamic, 24/7 environment where people easily socialize beyond their narrow office social circle, or their old friends from growing up. Or where they walk to work . . . or to go out, or just hang out. This is the exact environment that people are flocking to in these other cities. The good news is we're moving forward to create the same type of space here.

3) "Sell" the area while the audience is here.

a) For all those who are raised and being educated in Cininnati, we have 18 years to make the pitch. Stay here. Or if you leave to college, or go see the world a little in your 20s (which is what I did), come back here when you're done and are looking for a permanent home. We want you, the education and passion we gave you while you were here, and all your talents, to be right here in Cincinnati, applied to make our community better. Making this sales pitch means we have to get far more organized in speaking to our young people, educating them about our entire community and its opportunities, helping them build networks amongst themselves and across our many boundaries so they know one another as they get older, and making this a fun enough place to have grown up so they have a reason to stay or come back later. A lot of work to do here.

b) For those who come here to college, or to work at P&G or other companies that drew them here from somewhere else, we have an even shorter time frame to get them to stay. So we have to get to work right away. Trivia question--what do Scott Case (founder of AOL), Meg Whitman (former CEO of Ebay), Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft) all have in common? They all lived in Cincinnati in their 20s (unfortunately, they all left to find long-term success elsewhere). We need to do all we can to reach out and make these folks feel like this is their home, and that we want them here. That if they get antsy and want to start their own business, they should do so here. We are lucky that talented people are passing through our community, but we need to work harder to tap into that stream of talent while it's flowing through. And we need the cooperation of employers if we are to succeed at this (ie. not suggesting they rent a place in Mason, when most young people would prefer an urban setting). The Chamber and other organizations are doing good work in this area.

4) We need a diversified, enterpreneurial economy. This is somewhat of a chicken and an egg issue. But we need to provide a breadth and depth of job opportunities so that we have a place for young people who want to pursue all sorts of economic opportunities, including creatively going out on their own. If they feel they have to leave Cincinnati to pursue the job opportunities they want, we will lose.

5) Finally, we need a social/political environment that is and feels open. That celebrates diversity. That is tolerant of others. That allows people to thrive whatever their age or background. For many younger people, such an environment is a basic requrement as to where they choose to live. A stifling environment will drive them away. The good news is we are making progress in this area on many fronts.

This is a lot to do, and clearly something that is less about government policy than the broader direction of the community and all of its players. But in terms of long-term competitiveness and viability, nothing is more important than achieving this overall goal.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this . . . .

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Asking the Right Questions About the "Getaway"

I shouldn't say much without having all the answers, but the least we can do is ask good questions.

An on-line Enquirer story states that an illegal immigrant (Rogelio Santana) who was under armed guard in a nursing home (following a failed armed robbery where he was shot) did not show up for court today, and suggests that budget cuts and miscommunication are the reasons why he has temporarily gotten away.

No doubt, I hope he is found promptly, and we should study exactly what happened.

But to me, the story before the getaway is stunning in and of itself. Rather than merely concluding that budget problems are the reason he didn't show up in court and moving on, I would reverse the statement: it's cases like this that are exacerbating our budget problems in the first place!

Something isn't right if you're spending $200,000 to guard one prisoner (that's right out of our general fund). Something isn't right if you're paying that much, or more, (I've asked for the exact cost), on medical costs for that one prisoner (that's out of our indigent care levy). Something is definitely not right if, with the high bill running up every day on these and other associated costs, eight months and seven continuances later* we still have not tried this felony case (which would ship this defendant to the state prison and out of our hands). Finally, something is clearly not right that this is all happening with someone who is in this country illegally in the first place.

Even as judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement work hard and effectively every day to secure public safety, it only takes a case like this to make many citizens lose faith in our criminal justice system, and particularly frustrated by its cost to taxpayers. And it is no wonder that the near universal response I have gotten from citizens about our budget crisis has been--"make the cuts, we know there's a lot of waste there."

I have asked for all the costs associated with this case. And I will look into why it has been delayed for eight months as the taxpayer bill has been running up. Were there/are there any deportation options available that could also ensure that justice is served for the crimes in question?

On a related note, I have also begun pursuing ways to reduce the cost of the most seriously injured inmates, who ultimately require enormous and disproportionate medical costs (right out of our indigent care levy dollars). We are required by law to pay for these costs, but other counties are pursuing innovative insurance strategies that greatly reduce the taxpayer expense for these high-cost cases.

More to come on this case, and on these issues. In the meantime, let's find him ASAP, and let's learn from this over-the-top example how to better manage costs in our criminal justice system.

* There were seven continuances in this case between February and August.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Survey: How Would You Close a $20M Budget Hole?

Every month, I ask citizens to give me their feedback on an important issue. The input is inevitably interesting and informative, and usually gives good new ideas. For instance, when I sought feedback from citizens on what they wanted to see on the Banks, I forwarded the results to the Banks' developer, who was very interested in seeing what people had to say.

This month, I'm asking people to make the same type of choices we're going to have to make to get through our budget problems. Basically, what decisions are you willing to make to close a projected $20M budget deficit (for 2009)?

To take the survey, go to:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Filling River City, Easing Jail Overcrowding

Last November, the voters spoke pretty clearly: as opposed to adding jailspace or new dollars, they expect the County to do a better job managing the jail space we already have, and the money they already send our way.

Hopefully, some of the blog posts below show that we are working hard to respond to their clear mandate.

Another sign that we are moving in the right direction involves the River City Correctional Facility. This is a state-funded detention facility located at the old "workhouse" in Camp Washington, run locally by a County-appointed board, that is designed to house non-violent felony inmates and provide rehabilitation and reentry services. It is formally an alternative to sending inmates to state prison--but in practical terms, also plays a role in alleviating spaces and costs at our Justice Center.

Early this year, at one of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee meetings that I chair, I was informed that there were numerous unused beds at River City. Dozens of male and female beds were sitting idle. This was happening at the same time that the Justice Center was at or near capacity, and particularly squeezed with too few female beds, such that some female inmates were being let go early. And of course, recent studies had shown that the biggest increase in jail intakes in the last four years was for drug crimes--so the empty beds could not be explained by a lack of demand for the River City "service".

It got so bad that River City informed other counties in Ohio of its excess capacity, to try to fill the beds (and avoid a cut in state funding for lack of use)!

On hearing this news, I reacted the same way that any citizen would have--that this made no sense!

Thankfully, Sheriff Leis and his staff, along with presiding Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel, all agreed. We met, and they agreed to jointly encourage that River City be fully utilized as an option by the Courthouse--particularly for drug court cases. The drug court judge, Judge Kim Burke, also agreed that something had to be done. And hard-working employees in our probation and pretrial services offices have been doing the logistical legwork to assure systematic collaboration among our courts, jail and River City, so that we together maximize the use of River City for appropriate inmates.

The results:

March average population in River City: 150.65
April average: 167.61 (I believe this was around the time we had our meeting)
May average: 189.10
June average: 193.63
July average: 200.71
Last Friday (August 1) -- population was at 204.

Basically, River City is now at or near capacity. This lessens demand on space at the Justice Center, gets many inmates into a rehabilitation/treatment path, and ultimately shifts what would have been a county cost (for time served at the Justice Center) to the state. And all this was done without new spending.

Thanks to all involved for getting this done.
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