Saturday, August 16, 2008

Listening to Foster Kids

Yesterday, I attended an incredibly eye-opening forum.

Its aim was to help shape future legislative efforts to improve opportunities for kids who "age out" of the foster care system. As I explained in an earlier blog, these are the young people who reach majority age (18) as foster kids, because the system was unable to find them a permanent adoptive home. Like all other kids, they face many challenges as they enter adulthood, but they must do so without the benefit of having grown up in a stable, supportive, loving family. And they don't have that family to lean on after 18, either.

Sadly, facing these hurdles, many fall through the cracks. Nationally, 56 percent become unemployed; 27 percent of males end up in jail; and 25 percent end up homeless.

I went to the forum because I want to be sure we are doing all we can to help these kids succeed as they enter adulthood. And at the forum, good ideas to assist them--including college assistance, job training, transportation, and housing--all were discussed.

But these good ideas weren't why the forum was eye-opening. What really made an impact were the handful of foster kids who helped lead the discussion. As the discussion took place, we went beyond just discussing these ideas, to really hearing how they felt. They really laid it out there. And it was sobering:

- they have been bounced around from foster home to foster home, and from case worker to case worker, and as they are, they trust adults less and less, and work less and less hard to build that trust

- one child had not seen a guardian ad litem in years; another had repeatedly not received the bus tokens she needs to get to her job and school

- one child explained that while she works hard to find jobs, her next move to a new foster home can come so suddenly, she will then have to quit that job almost right away

- some said they have experienced foster parents who seemed more concerned in collecting checks than caring for them, and perceived that too few of the dollars are spent on their needs (clothes, food, etc.); one young woman said she did not have shoes for the start of school in a few weeks

- and they expressed one basic desire: to be treated, to be perceived, and to live, as "normal" kids do. To see their siblings, as other kids do. To learn how to drive, as other kids do. To return from college on a holiday and have loved ones to spend time with, as other kids do. And to have real opportunity, in the short and long run, that others kids do.

I am confident that the young people who were in this room will not be the ones who fall through the cracks. They were bright. They were confident. They were direct, but civil.

But if we listen to and act on their input, as we must, perhaps we can create a better system that will help all their peers succeed as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Our SuperJobs Center: Great Results!

In this tough economic time, nothing matters more than helping people find and be trained for good jobs. We call it workforce development, but what it really is is jobs, jobs, jobs. And in the end, a good workforce development system is not just good for employees, but it's critical to be competitive in attracting good employers as well--because more than anything, those employers' greatest need is good, well-trained and reliable employees.

One of my assigments as a County Commissioner is that I represent the County on the Workforce Investment Board, which guides and oversees our workforce development efforts (which primarily occur at our Super Jobs Center on Central Parkway). And today we received the year-end results of the work done under the WIB Board. Bottom line: we've made huge progress!

From July 2007 to June 2008, the Super Jobs Center met every performance goal we had set, sometimes in dramatic fashion. A few examples:

- Job Center Registrants totaled 25,671—366% of goal
- Total Full-Time Employments totaled 3,539—153% of goal
(Ex-offender Employments, one of our focus areas, totaled 303—three times the goal)
- Employment in High Demand industries (like health care, construction, customer
service) totaled 1,247—328% of goal
- Retention rate for employment was 87.8%--103% of goal
- Total employers served was 1,102—153% of goal

And in case anyone wonders if we set our standards too low, when we look around the state, no other county comes close to our success. Using the state's measuring stick, we had 3,809 job placements in 2007. Summit County was the next leading county, at 1812. Next was Cuyahoga County at 1435, and then Franklin County at 919. We more than doubled the next best performer!

Needless to say, outstanding work led to these results--even in a tough environment. Thanks to the leadership (including Mayor Mallory) and all the staff at the WIB, County, SuperJobs and associated agencies for achieving these results.

Also needless to say, in this tough economy, we can't rest on our laurels. We need to build on our results to help even more citizens find and be prepared for good jobs, and to help even more employers find the best-prepared employees anywhere in the state.

Finally, this is another good example of what happens when the City and County work together.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Changes To Spark Economic Growth

Today, myself and Todd Portune were excited to join the City in a collective effort that will have positive repercussions for years to come. We are greatly empowering our Port Authority so that it can truly quarterback exciting economic development and job creation efforts throughout Hamilton County--which is the best long run strategy to "grow" out of our current economic and budget doldrums.

Other city/county port authorities throughout the state have been able to forge far more economic and job growth because they have broader authority, and today’s changes take Cincinnati/Hamilton County’s port to the same high level. Under the changes, the Port will now be poised to do $50-100 Million of new development each year. This could include everything from brownfield development to taking back abandoned properties that are blighting our communities.

From my perspective, this is long overdue change that will jump-start economic progress.

There was a good deal of rhetoric from one commissioner (some misleading) as we passed this agreement about eminent domain. Fortunately, the facts differ from the rhetoric: today, we also unanimously passed the most restrictive, transparent eminent domain policy the County has ever had.

Before today, the Port was not required to inform or obtain approval from the Board of County Commissioners for most actions of eminent domain (although it did not proceed in that way, thankfully). Now, the new County policy requires, for any location in the County, a formal request by the Port, public notice, a public hearing, and an affirmative vote by the County Commissioners to approve or disapprove of any such request by the Port Authority. Absent an affirmative vote, a request is deemed denied and the Port can not move forward.

The new policy therefore assures real accountability and transparency, and that the approval ultimately rests with elected officials, as it should.

Overall, this is a big step forward, and once again represents positive City-County collaboration. Thanks to Commissioner Portune and members of City Council for their hard work in this arena.

Here's a story summarizing what we did:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Criminal Justice Commission Succeeding In Relieving Overcrowding

A story in the Enquirer today highlighted something we have known for quite some time: work being done to deal with our jail overcrowding crisis and reduce recidivism is making a real difference, and "early releases" are way down.

As I have often said, the voters gave us a mandate the last two Novembers: they clearly don't support paying for any more jailspace or dollars into the criminal justice system. They want us to more effectively use the resources and space we already have to deal with the issue.

And that's exactly what we're doing. Thanks to the leadership of the Criminal Justice Commission and countless individuals and agencies, it's starting to show results. No early releases of men this year, even with fewer jailspaces available. Just as the voters asked, we are doing more with less--which is in stark contrast to the prior majority.

While, as often happens, the media likes to focus on the surface/politics of a story, the real story regarding this turn-around is in the details--and the very hard and diligent work being done by a lot of people, both within and beyond County government, to get the job done.

The Enquirer listed a number of these efforts:

• The county is billing local jurisdictions for jail beds if the inmate is there solely on a city charge such as Cincinnati's marijuana ordinance.

• Judges are using all available electronic monitoring units (house arrest) as alternatives to jail.

• In cases where an inmate also has charges from another jurisdiction, the court now holds an extradition hearing 10 days before the inmate's release so the inmate can be transferred immediately.

• The county is sending more inmates to River City, a drug and alcohol treatment center.

• If an inmate is charged with both misdemeanors and felonies stemming from one case, the charges are dealt with together to eliminate duplication and save time.

• A re-entry program evaluates inmate needs and directs them to individualized alternative sentencing and treatment programs.Other ideas in the works include:

• Certifying another building as a minimum security jail for DUI offenders.

• Developing a program to measure how well recidivism programs are working.

• Studying ways to reduce the time inmates are in jail for things such as DNA tests.

• Expanding the electronic monitoring program.

• Expanding day reporting and job placement efforts for inmates.

• A mental health summit looked at ways to help the mentally ill who are in jail.

• Creating a certificate of rehabilitation that would help inmates get jobs after release.

These are all efforts stemming from the Criminal Justice Commission's work. And there are many more steps to come.

Someday down the road, my hope is that Hamilton County will become a model County of how you deal with high recidivism and overcrowding the right way--and how to put an end to expensive "band-aids" (like renting jailspace at exorbitant costs) that don't get the job done.

Thanks to all those folks--judges, County court employees, outside agencies, volunteers, law enforcement--who are helping make the difference.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Second Chance for Dropouts

Today, Todd Portune, I, the President of Cincinnati State, and a team of outstanding agencies announced the kickoff of an initiative we have been working on for some time.

It's called Connect2Success, and it's a comprehensive effort to identify high school dropouts from across the County, and reconnect them to a path of opportunity--either education, or job training, or both. For more details, see:

We're not reinventing the wheel through new programs--instead, we're undertaking a systematic effort that, working with Cincinnati State, CPS and other partners, will identify as many high school dropouts as we can, and through one-on-one interaction and the best agencies our community has to offer, get them back on the right track. The initial goal is to identify and get on track 700 dropouts.

This is not an isolated approach, but is part of our broader strategy to use County programs and resources to support and complement our schools' critical efforts to educate our children. Along those lines, we have supported more after school programs, early childhood education, and now this effort.

I am confident that the investment we're making in Connect2Succes (not from our general fund, by the way), will be paid back many times over in the positive difference it will make in the lives of the young people affected, and their ultimate contribution to our community. Needless to say, for every child we get back on track, we also avoid the far higher costs our community pays for the problems too often associated with high school dropouts.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Initial Budget-Cutting Survey Results

Last week (, I asked readers to make choices about how they would balance our budget. So far, 78 people filled out the survey, and the results are interesting, although not altogether suprising.

I'm sure more will trickle in, but of those indicating what neighborhood they were from, more than half were from outside the City of Cincinnati, so there is some geographical balance to the results.

I can't go through every datapoint, but thought I'd share some general trends:

1. Top Cuts: Bureacuracy

The top answers selected for how to save money were generally in the nature of cutting bureaucracy and encouraging efficiency:

- Eliminate all perks and unnecessary spending such as subscriptions, travel and take home cars (72.7%*)
- Managed competition for County vehicle maintenance and repair, and other services (70.1%)
- Eliminate duplicative County/City criminal prosecution efforts (68.8%)
- Eliminate all non-emergency cellphones for County employees (67.5%)

The other item that rose to the top was that 70% chose to ask townships to either pay all, or a greater share of, the Sheriff's patrols they receive. (This one's been in the press lately).

2. More than 50%

After these items, a number of cuts received a majority support:

- Require all elected official and senior managers to pay for parking (53.2%)
- Charge full rate to City for indigent defense costs (53.2%)
- Continue hiring freeze (51.9%)

The next highest was selling County properties at 44.2%

3. Lukewarm response

Respondents seemed more hesitant to select items that appeared to negatively impact employees, but generally did choose these items over direct cuts in services:

- Institute furloughs/unpaid voluntary leaves (40.3%)
- Salary freeze for all County employees (36.4%)
- Eliminate positions across all County departments (36.4%)
- Salary cuts for all top management (32.5%)
- Require elected officials to give back pay raises (33.8%)

- Considerable lower was reducing County employee health care benefits (20.8%)

4. Most protected: safety, direct services, economic development

With a few exceptions, Respondents were most hesitant to cut into direct services, whether they be safety, economic development, or prevention.

- Close county offices/service on Fridays (31.2%)
- Eliminate hundreds of jail beds/replace with EMU (28.6%)
- Close several floors of Queensgate (22.1%)
- Suspend the Home Improvement Program (16.9%)
- Reduce economic development work by 1/2 (15.6%)
- Reduce capacity of juvenile detention facility (10.4%)
- Eliminate all economic development work (9.1%)
- Eliminate courthouse security (9.1%)
- Reduce buildings and inspections/zoning capacity (9.1%)
- Suspend road repair and maintenance (5.2%)
- Reduce juvenile crime prevention/intervention programs (3.9%)
- Reduce snowplowing and pothole maintenance (2.6%)
- Eliminate Project Disarm (prosecution of gun crimes) (2.6%)

On the other hand, 36.4% said they'd be willing to increase fees for certain services.

5. Taxes

Finally, 41.6% said they'd be willing to raise the sales tax 1/4 cent--which alone achieved the $20M savings (but many respondents wanted to make additional budget cuts anyway).

61% said they'd be willing to add a cigarette tax to offset building costs

44.2% said they'd be willing to increase the property transfer tax

It's not too late to send in a survey--and I'll provide an update if anything significant changes.

* The top numbers may seem lower than you'd expect, but that's because for those respondents who chose to increase the sales tax, a number made few or no cuts (pushing down the percentage for all of them).
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