Saturday, May 9, 2009

NAMI Walks: A Great Event, an Important Cause

I was honored today to serve as an honorary co-chair, with Channel 9's Carol Williams, of the annual NAMI Walks event--a community walk to support the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Hamilton County, and to raise awareness, and help end the stigma, of mental illness.

NAMI and its members and families have been a great help to me in understanding the impact of mental illness on families across this community. Many have shared incredibly personal and difficult stories, but it is those stories that all citizens need to hear to understand. Carol highlighed one heroic mother in this story.

And NAMI and its members have been effective advocates to spur government, and the criminal justice system in particular, to better address and respond to citizens with mental illness.
Partly due to the relationship I have built with NAMI, we are working hard at the County to ensure that we improve our system. Amending the Medicaid rules so those who leave jail can immediately get the treatment they need for their mental illnesses, pushing for a mental health court at the felony level, expanding our pretrial and reentry services so there are upfront assessments of those with mental illnesses, and other steps, are all part of this important effort.

Thanks to NAMI for all you do in the community, and thanks to NAMI families for opening up, sharing your stories, and educating us all.

Friday, May 8, 2009

EMUs: Everyone Take a Deep Breath

It's disappointing to see this EMU issue become such a source of controversy online and on air.

And we definitely can't let it drive a wedge between the City and the County at a time where we must build on what has become a great partnership on so many issues.

Indeed, it was due to the Mayor's and my positive working relationship that the City and County worked out a 50-50 split of the joint stimulus public safety dollars (through something called the Byrne Grant). Under the federal formula, the funding allocation for the Byrne grant requires signed consent of both the City and the County (ie. no one "gives" money to the other; it's a mutual agreeement about how to divide up a joint allocation). We have always split it 50/50 for that reason, which also makes sense because we both bear the costs of criminal justice in the City.

And to be clear, when some had inexplicably proposed that the City horde far more than their usual 50% share of the 2009 grant (something the County would not have agreed to, meaning no grant would have been received by either), the Mayor was the key person who intervened to ensure, as common sense dictated, that we maintain the usual 50-50 split once again 2009.

That is what happens when you have a good working relationship.

With the 50-50 split in place, it is indeed up to the City to determine how it spends its half of the money.

Of course, I have made clear that Electronic Monitoring Units are incredibly helpful, especially at this time of jail overcrowding. That's why I originally proposed, and we at the County ultimately will add, 75 EMU units, along with the Sheriff's deputies to oversee them, with our portion of the stimulus dollars. While we are working on many long-term solutions to our jail problem, I can't think of a near-term expenditure that will more immediately help us than this investment in more, and more modern, EMUs. (The story today on the 90-year old arrested for DUI shows how helpful an EMU can be in dealing with some inmates in better ways than having them occupy valuable jailspace).

And knowing of Councilmembers Ghiz's and Harris's motion to spend some dollars from their allocation on EMUs, I even wrote to explain to Councilmembers on Monday why we at the County believe that EMUs make a big difference, and why such an investment would help if they made it. (At the time, I honestly did not anticipate how much this issue would boil over in a few days) (See below).

But in the end, it is up to City Hall to make this decision--weighing all the pros and cons of EMUs versus other investments they might make, and hearing from their constituents about their priorities. And it is clearly not for the County to tell the City how to spend dollars it receives, just as the County would not respond well if the City told us how to spend dollars we receive.

Most importantly, whatever decision is made by City Hall about how to spend their share of these funds, that decision should and will not become a source of friction between the County and the City.

We've come too far to return to the old days of City-County bickering.

My email on Monday:

Friends on Council:

I understand that Councilmembers Harris and Ghiz have put forward a motion to invest a small part of your overall stimulus allocation for the leasing a significant number of electronic monitoring units (EMUs) for several years.

It's obviously up to each member to determine whether this spending would be more impactful on public safety than the other ways these dollars could be spent.

But I wanted to relay that we at the County believe that within the current economic and budgetary difficulties, EMUs are the best immediate way to expand jail capacity. Which is why we are investing the majority of our stimulus (Byrne Grant) dollars to support adding EMUs--and the added sheriff's deputies needed to monitor them, and any the City might also invest in.
(While we are also pursuing many other reforms and changes to increase efficiency and jailspace, and reduce recidivism, those have a longer timeframe).

As you may hear from the judges tomorrow, the bottom line is that the number one result of our overcrowded jail system is that there is almost no space for those convicted of misdemeanors to serve time. (Felons go to the state prison system, and await for their trial in our jail, and this takes up most of the space we now have). So most of the work of (and your investment in) the police department and city prosecutors to enforce those misdemeanors goes for naught.

Needless to say, a sizeable investment in EMUs (earmarked for City arrestees) will help alleviate the problem.

Of course, we at the County will continue to do all we can within this tough climate to also solve the problem. But it's safe to say there will not be any big influx of local revenues anytime soon--so spending these one-time stimulus funds on top priorities such as EMUs has been doubly important to us.

Just wanted to share my perspective on this important issue.



Thursday, May 7, 2009

Updated Survey Results

262 Responses, from all over the County .

1. High speed rail (Cleveland-Cincinnati) idea: 84% support the idea (68.7% strongly); 7.3% neutral. 8% oppose.

2. Queensgate Terminal project on the river: 78.5% support the idea (39.6% strongly); 13.5% neutral. 8% oppose.

3. Banning texting while driving. 65% support the ban (41.5% strongly). 16.5% oppose the idea.

4. Casino. 54.4% support (32% strongly); 16.6% neutral; 29% opposed (14% strongly).

5. Consolidating fire districts. 55% support; 31.5% neutral; and 13% opposed.

6. Lengthening the school year: 50% support; 28.4% neutral; 22% oppose.

7. Charter referendum that stops all investments in passenger rail pending a separate referendum: 58.8% strongly oppose; 13.2% oppose; 13.6% neutral. 14% supported (10% strongly).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Survey Results: Strong Support for Rail, Port Projects

We've received numerous responses (140) in just one day on the survey, and the results so far have been pretty clear-cut. People answered from around the County.

1. People are very supportive of the high speed rail (Cleveland-Cincinnati) idea: 76% support the idea (54.7% strongly); 10.2% neutral. 14% oppose. This was the most popular idea.

2. Second most popular is the Queensgate Terminal project on the river: 75.6% support the idea (35.3% strongly); 12.2% neutral. Only 12% oppose.

3. There is strong support for banning texting while driving. 65% support the ban (44% strongly). 22.3% oppose the idea.

4. The casino idea receives general support, but with some strong opposition as well. 57% support (34% strongly); 13% were neutral; but 30% opposed (20% strongly).

5. There is general support for consolidating fire districts. 54% support; 30% neutral; and 16% opposed.

6. There was more lukewarm support for lengthening the school year: 46% support; 24% neutral; 30% oppose.

7. People are strongly opposed to a Charter referendum that stops all investments in passenger rail pending a separate referendum: 38% strongly oppose; 21.2% oppose; 20.4% neutral. 20% supported (12% of those strongly).

If you haven't yet done the survey, go to the blog posting below . . . .

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Survey: Weigh in on Some BIG Issues

There are a lot of big issues brewing in the County, region and state. From casinos, to education, to economic opportunities, to rail, leaders and citizens will be making some important decisions this year.

Weigh in with your views on these big issues through this month's Citizens' Survey, by clicking here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

NSP: Moving Forward to Invest in our Communities

As we work to push a local economic recovery in every way, one important aspect is our County's $7 million+ Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), which we planned last year and is in the early stages of implementation.

Fifteen Hamilton County communities have submitted plans to reclaim blighted and foreclosed property. With these funds, the County will support projects to remove blight and unsafe properties from our neighborhoods, to replace them with new commercial, residential and greenspace development, and to create job opportunities for our citizens.

Projects include four main options for communities: acquisition, rehabilitation, demolition and/or new construction of housing. North College Hill, for example, has already demolished a blighted structure to pave the way for a public parking lot in the business district. Mt. Healthy plans to demolish a vacant and abandoned structure so it can be developed into green space in conjunction with a park. Lockland plans to demolish six to seven condemned structures that have become eyesores.

So, one property at a time, we are using these dollars to improve our communities’ safety and quality of life. And the program also helps generate job-creating economic activity across the County.

NSP Investment Communities include: Cheviot, Cleves, Colerain Township, Elmwood Place, Forest Park, Golf Manor, Lincoln Heights, Lockland, Mt. Healthy, North College Hill, Norwood, Silverton, Springfield Township, St. Bernard and Woodlawn.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Informative Update on Port Opportunity

The Enquirer today provided a broader analysis and update on the Queensgate Terminals project I wrote about several weeks back. As I've said before, this is an opportunity all citizens of the City and region should know about, and weigh in on with their elected officials.

The Enquirer also wrote an editorial urging City Hall to solve the problem.

The choice is clear-cut: move forward to gain jobs and a long-term strategic advantage in this competitive global economy, or risk a multi-million dollar liability (paid for by taxpayers across Cincinnati) for an egregious government taking.

For more information and a video illustrating this important opportunity, go here.

And for another blog that's provided a lot of information, go here.
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