Friday, February 27, 2009

Serve on the Regional Transportation Board: Calling Clermont, Butler and Warren County Residents

Hamilton County Commissioners are looking for volunteers to serve on the restructured board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which operates the region’s public fixed route bus system.

Recently, the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County agreed to restructure the board to make it more regional in governance, and service. This means there are three new seats—for the first time representing each of the surrounding Ohio counties, Butler, Warren and Clermont.

Citizens who live in those counties are welcome to submit applications to join the board, as well as a cover letter expressing their interest, and any references they may wish to list.

These are critical positions that will help us create a more regional transportation system for the 21st century.

Interested residents can find the application here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Slumdog Outrage

I enjoyed "Slumdog Millionaire" more than any movie I've seen in a long-time. I told friends and family to see it. I've downloaded the best songs from the soundtrack onto my Ipod. And I sat at home last Sunday night and cheered, loudly, for it to win every Oscar for which is nominated. It was that good, that powerful.

But outside of an incredibly well-crafted story, the best part of the movie was the amazing kids. Until today, I had no idea they were literally from the "slums" of Mumbai, because they were such great actors. Honestly, better than any of the adults. (Maybe it's because they were actually representing their real lives.) And as someone who loved the movie, I'm here to tell you that the movie would not have been the hit it was without those kids playing the roles they did, as well as they did.

Which is why I'm as outraged as anyone by the story that days after the Oscars, the kids are now back in the slums. Surely, as the movie has taken off and likely generated so many dollars for many adults involved, the kids who played such an important part should also share in the fruits of their incredible work--and be fairly compensated. Compensated at least well enough to move out of the very slums that were so haunting in the movie.

I don't think it's too much to ask for life to imitate art this one time.

(Something tells me that the collective response to this story will lead to a better result).

Lunch with County Employees: Off and Running

The day I began as County Commission President, I decided to two things differently so I could be more in tune with key community stakeholders.

First, I decided to schedule a monthly meeting in a different community. The point was to make the County more accessible to citizens, as well as to hear directly from communities about their situation--let them tell us "their story", including challenges, opportunities, and ways we at the County might help. Our first meeting in Blue Ash was a great success.

Second, I committed to host a monthly lunch (at my expense, not taxpayers) with a different set of County employees. Today we had the first lunch, and it was great.

I met with our very hard working Pretrial Services employees. I wanted to meet with them because they are public servants who stand on the front lines of our criminal justice system every day, working to improve safety, reduce recidivism and jail overcrowding, and help troubled citizens of our community get back on their feet. Whether it's getting people into the treatment they need, or ensuring that when people who have served a sentence "reenter" the community with the lowest probability of reoffending, our pretrial service public servants are vital. And they are actually recognized nationally for their excellent work.

It was a great conversation. They very openly explained the very challenging environment they face every day, and gave a lot of good ideas on how we can make improvements to our system. They confirmed some of my hunches about needed changes, but also opened my mind on other solutions we should be pursuing. It was a great discussion, and I will take a number of these ideas up through the Criminal Justice Commission.

Most importantly, it underscored what great public servants we have in this County, working incredibly hard, in a tough environment, but dedicated to making a difference.

Thanks to those who attended for what you do, and for sharing so many good ideas.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Using Stimulus $$$ To Fund Our Priorities, Create Jobs

Today's Enquirer highlighted that there are a whole lot of requests, and indeed a whole lot of strange requests, for stimulus money in Ohio, which I guess is not surprising given how open the request process is.

But let's be clear--governments that do not invest these dollars strategically, responsibly, and in a way that not only furthers basic priorities but provides a near-term boost in the local economy and job creation, will be blowing a major opportunity.

So here at the County, we are being disciplined and focused in planning on how these dollars will be spent.

Today, we unanimously agreed to a Stimulus Master List that summarizes the county’s strategy and priorities for funding from the federal economic stimulus package (and later federal funding appropriations). The list reflects key strategic priorities and transformational projects that will spark job creation and permanently enhance the competitiveness and economic prospects of Hamilton County.

To read the full list and plan, go here.

The County plan includes key priorities, such as infrastructure, economic development
and public safety. And rather than supporting hundreds of small projects, we chose to be strategic—picking the handful of projects that carry the biggest bang for the buck.

Leading the list is the request to invest in priority infrastructure and transportation projects. The county will request funding for a number of elements of the Banks Riverfront Development Project—including the Riverfront Park, accelerating completion of the street infrastructure, and even adding “decks” over Ft. Washington Way that will literally add several blocks to our downtown. The point is to do everything we can to accelerate and enhance the project, beyond the current plan, schedule and financing would otherwise allow. And accelerating the project also means we save millions of dollars.

Other transportation priorities include critical shovel-ready road and bridge projects across the County, as well as exploring potential upgrades to our region’s freight rail and port capacity so our businesses can best compete in the global economy.

For Public safety, the County Commission’s top budgetary priority, the County is working with the Sheriff to see what funds are available to offset cuts and layoffs due to the bad economy, as well as explore other ways to improve safety, increase front-line public safety services, and help reduce the jail overcrowding problem.

Finally, the County will also look to use stimulus dollars to retake blighted properties left in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, invest in brownfield redevelopment and sewer upgrade projects, and increase energy efficiency in homes and businesses across the County.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sign of the Times: County Revenues Just Trickling In

Unfortunately, as the Enquirer reported today, revenues continue to be well off, even below our very conservative forecasts. Sales tax, property transfer tax, fees, and interest earnings--all off considerably. This memo explains in more detail.

These numbers help explain why we fought so hard to head off any plan that committed new spending from our reserves, whatever the purpose. As these numbers show, the reserves are already under major strain as it is. Thank goodness we did not tap into them for any new purposes.

Also, these numbers underscore how important it is that all officials find ways to creatively help with the overall situation we find ourselves in. For example, rather than immediately criticizing Clerk of Courts Clancy for exploring ways to provide court security at a lower cost (as has happened, unfortunately), I commend her for floating new solutions at this challenging time, and ask others to bring their best ideas forward as well.

Any dollars we can save through new and creative ideas will help us avoid more draconian cuts we would be forced to make down the road if these revenues don't turn around.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Common Sense Corrections: Fill Empty Beds, Especially When Someone Else is Paying

A continual source of frustration for me is that the state-funded River City Correctional Facility, located in Camp Washington, continues to have numerous empty beds, even as our (county-funded) Justice Center remains full, and the Sheriff is forced to process people through.

In January, the number of empty beds at River City was about 40 per day--in a jail with a 200-bed capacity. And that doesn't even include the fact that 45 or so beds are regularly filled with prisoners from outside the County.

I sent an email about halfway through January asking why in the world this continues to be a problem, and the good news is that we have had productive follow-up meetings, and will continue to do so, and the numbers are starting to improve again. (As of Thursday, there were 19 empty beds).

By the way, the state watches these numbers closely, and recently cut River City's funding by $250,000 because of the regular underutilization of its capacity. Needless to say, the idea that the County is losing state dollars because it's not fully utilizing jailspace is outrageous at a time that our own county-funded system is under such crowding stress.

Channel 5 recently looked into this whole thing, and did a nice summary of what's taking place.

And here's a story in today's Enquirer.
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