Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Our Town

What I saw and heard last night at the County Commissioners Public Hearing for the proposed 2008 Budget

I went to the Hamilton County Commissioners Public Hearing last night regarding the proposed 2008 Budget. I hadn't planned to. I was watching the Nov 26th County Commissioners meeting on public access. They mentioned that a public hearing on the proposed 2008 Budget would be held the next day at 6:00. But I was watching the meeting on the day they were talking about and it was already 5 pm.

I had chicken in the oven and a bag of corn in the freezer. I nearly decided not to go. In the end, I set my daughter the task of finishing dinner and headed on down to Court Street.

The main question asked last night was, anyone got a spare $35 million dollars lying around? I suppose that's why only about 6 black people showed up, including Hamilton County Coroner, Odell Owens. Black unemployment is at about 11% in Hamilton County, mirroring the rest of nation at rates double white unemployment. And if you don't have a job, you're not likely to have an extra $35 million in spare change to help the county with it's projected deficit.

It's a shame more black folks weren't there though. However, no one really planned for them or too much of anyone else to be there en masse. There were probably about 100 chairs for the 120 plus people who did show up. I stood up for most of the meeting and finally snagged a chair so near the front of the room that I was literally stage right on the dais. There were many people who decided they would rather stand than be so conspicuous. It was only that I really wanted to get a pictures of more than the back of Odell Owens' head that lured me forward.
The county is facing a $35 million dollar budget deficit. They have several proposals (I think it was 8) on how to make up the difference. They never said the words "Issue 27" or "Jail Tax" but I was to learn in the course of the evening that the code word for those two phrases were "Public Safety".

The Commissioners have stated that the only way they know to increase revenue at this time is to increase fees for County services, reduce raises for employees and also eliminate over 100 positions. Thompson's recommendation to the commissioners is that all items that are considered discretionary rather than necessary be cut.

This struck me as a tad drastic and maybe even a little dramatized. My own perception after a while was that the Commissioners were not happy with the way the jail tax went, so they were going to make funding cuts where people would see them most, not where they would be most invisible, as retaliation against the voters, mainly black folks who thought that a new jail built expressly for them, was not the answer to the county's problems.

That was my own, admittedly limited, take on things. This is what other people had to say:

The County Coroner fighting for his budget and the necessary equipment to do his job. Excerpt from my hastily scribbled notes last night:
Coroner budget is discretionary? Why the hell does the Coroner have to fight for his budget? Hamilton County Coroner's office lot an employee to BCI due to budget issues? Owens is asking for a $150,00 piece of equipment that he says will generate $1 million in revenue. Why not give it to him?

People who are a part of Hamilton county 4H and key greenhouse operators in Hamilton County fighting for the funds to keep operating their link to the OSU Extension services. The cutest 4-H members you ever saw walked to the podium and begged the Commissioners not to cut off their opportunity to participate in 4-H. Seems 4-H has some obscure rule that when you start 4-H in one county, you can't switch to another county, so they can't just join up with another group in Butler or Clermont or something. This part of the budget cut means the end of their 4-H experience. When they sat down the crowd gave them a big round of applause and a heartfelt "Awwww."

I heard a lot about a "rebirth" in Over-the-Rhine. Several people spoke about how the climate in OTR has changed for the better now that the Sheriff's deputies and litter patrols are a fixture there and how horrible things will be if they leave.

I heard a man accuse the Commissioners of being irresponsible with the taxpayers money. He stated that the deficit should be made up by increasing property taxes dramatically, end tax breaks for whites and big business. He also stated that we should release Marcus Frisson from jail and all the homeless people from the Queensgate jail. He also stated that we should scrap the Banks project.

I heard a woman state that the problem with the Commission is lack of imagination and lack of and lack prevention. That we are quick to lock people up when they break the law, but we are slow to find the causes and address how they got there in the first place. She also recommended that the Banks is full of closed door deals and commented on the irony between a $35 million deficit and the more than $35 million we've spent on the Banks.

Another man revisited the stadium deals and how the $7 million deficit in stadium operations and $51 million in cost overruns may have something to do with the County's leaking money problem. He also mentioned that in two years we will start paying the Bengals for the stadium lease. He wanted to know if we what part of the "necessary" cuts would be made to the Bengals.

It's terribly impolite to interrupt people but I wanted to remind the man that unfortunately, Hamilton County has taken the Bengals to court twice over our contract with them and we've lost both times. The bottom line is, our representation agreed to and signed a very bad deal with the Bengals and we are stuck with the contract.

One woman stated that she was sick of people claiming indigent status to get out fines. If we just enforced the stay to pay system, we wouldn't have a budget deficit. She stated that we are "paying people to criminalize" (whatever the hell that means).

I wanted to tell her that most smaller courts are circumventing stay to pay and instead going with "plead guilty and pay now" or "plead innocent and go to jail now". I really wish I could have talked to her but she left.

In several side conversations, and one in particular, I learned that affordable housing is a taboo subject around these parts. If you can't pay "market rates" you really don't count much. The push is for "young professionals" or "empty nesters". The kind of people who can pay $200,000 for a condo plus condo fees and garage parking and afford to drive to Ridge or surrounding areas to get their groceries. Or who will take the new streetcar and go on a nice little tour or bar crawl around downtown.

As for what will happen to the families and the people who really need housing they can afford. There's always section 8 or they'll get by somehow. There's always the suburbs or Hyde Park. Why would they want to live in the city anyway?

And as for the families who are already there? No one knows and no one really cares as long as the sheriff's patrols keep them in line and protect the business investments that are being made downtown in condos. Sad but true.

I saw three Commissioners and an Administrator who really, truly almost care about what happens to this county. Part of it anyway. I think they really want to do a good job, but sadly, they only know one way to do it. And all those ways have failed us in the past. And I feel, like the lady said, they have no imagination and true will to buck the corporate powers that be and give people real leadership and solutions.

I saw David Pepper listen to people. I saw Todd Portune address the crowd with warmth and humor. I saw Pat DeWine listening intently but several times he put his hands over his face as if he just can't believe how hard this all is. I saw him make the same gesture on tv. It's a sad gesture of bewilderment, confusion, fatigue. As if he's either sick of all this or maybe he has an answer but the rest of us are long past listening.

I felt that three people was far too few to make the huge decisions concerning Cincinnati and all the Villages, Townships, small cities and neighborhoods that make up Hamilton County.

I feel that the people of all those villages, townships and small cities need to do a better job of sending their representation to these meetings and getting the information back to their neighbors. Because these decision affect us all. And the more we know about them, the better.

Friday, November 16, 2007

All or One

So today I'm driving along and it's around 5:00 and 75 South is already stacked. I'm not in a big hurry, so I decide to avoid the highway and drive the long way around.

I know where I'm going but it's not area I'm not familiar with the way I am my own neighborhood or areas I drive more frequently. I was making a right turn and traffic stops suddenly. It doesn't seem like a big deal except I'm stopped directly in front of what seems to be one of those long driveways, like you see in front of trucking companies.

A car comes up and since I had thought it was a driveway, I had stopped far enough back so that the car was able to get through. But I had given the car just enough to be polite driveway space not, all the way back far enough for an intersection space. It turns out that what I thought was a driveway was actually a street.

How do I know this? Because after the car squeaks through, a blonde haired, thin man walking two dogs points starts pointing at me. At first I don't understand why this guy is pointing and addressing me but he looks like it's urgent so I roll down my window. Then I realize he's yelling at me and pointing to a DO NOT BLOCK INTERSECTION sign. OK, I get it, but damn, the car had already gotten through and I'd just made a simple mistake, right?

No. That's not enough for blond guy with two dogs. I was going to explain that I hadn't noticed the sign or the street, "my bad" but he has to take it to the next level.
"The SIGN says DO NOT BLOCK INTERSECTION! You don't have the right to block the intersection just because you're black. Can't you read? The sign says..."
My expression: WTF?

I missed whatever he said next. I quickly rolled up my window and fortunately the traffic moved on. I made it to my destination and then I realized I had my digital camera and I wished I'd had the presence of mind to snap a picture of him. I went back and retraced my steps but he must have taken his dogs home.

I know this incident is not indicative of all white people just like my failure not to partially block an intersection is not indicative of all black people.

But incidents like this over and over and over, like getting called a nigger nearly every time I play yahoo hearts...

It leaves me baffled and confused and yes hurt. It also leaves me wondering...why are there still white people who act like this?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My Racially Divided Local Election Recap

Well folks, just in case you hadn't noticed, the Greater Cincinnati Area is deeply divided along racial lines. Oh, things seem all smooth on the surface. Black folks say there's a problem. Rich white folks continue to say, "There's no problem. We treat our darkies just fine and they love us too."

Nothing highlights this more clearly than the results of the jail tax issue (fondly known as Issue 27).
Issue 27: Hamilton Co. Public Safety Sales Tax
880 of 880 precincts reporting

Votes Percent
No 107,276 56.1%
Yes 84,115 43.9%

It passed in only five jurisdictions: Terrace Park, Wyoming, Indian Hill, North Bend and Green Township.
That means anywhere that is decently integrated voted it down. Black folks voted no and white folks who would have to look their black neighbors in the eye and know that they would have voted to lock up their neighbors, who just maybe aren't so bad after all, voted no.

Only the outer bastions of rich whiteness voted to lock up more black and poor people instead of finding other ways to "help" them.

Then there's the council split. Three very viable black candidates, missed the field of nine by inches.

Here's how the vote went (African American candidates are listed in bold)

1. 32,663 7.80% John Cranley
2. 32,648 7.80% Roxanne Qualls
3. 30,112 7.20% David C. Crowley
4. 26,206 6.30% Cecil Thomas
5. 25,677 6.20% Chris Bortz
6. 24,163 5.80% Leslie Ghiz
7. 23,853 5.70% Laketa Cole
8. 22,906 5.50% Jeff Berding
9. 22,712 5.50% Chris Monzel
10. 21,267 5.10% Charlie Winburn
11. 18,141 4.40% Minette Cooper
12. 16,767 4.00% Sam Malone

The difference between the top white vote getters and black vote getters was only 65,000 votes. Not to mention the field of runoff candidates - there are simply more white voters than black ones and the vote was obviously very divided among black people which makes sense. The name recognition and probably even personal relationships among the voters in the field of black candidates is probably very high. The black vote was split enough to make sure that, yet again, only two black people ended up on council.

And although white folks have many myriad reasons for not voting for the jail, they also voted to keep our children stupid and the schools broke by defeating the CPS levy. It's ok if rich schools have swimming pools as long as poor kids don't have text books. Only in Cincinnati does this make sense. Hell, most whites these parts send their kids to private or Catholic school anyhow. What is to them that public schools are failing?

One thing is for certain - no matter how divided we are on every other issue, we all agree on one thing - liquor. That it should be plentiful and on every street corner, and in every grocery store and Olive Garden. Skimming the list of liquor license issues, I only saw one liquor license denied. When voters in Colerain were asked if the Olive Garden on Colerain should be able to keep it's liquor license the result was an overwhelming 76% yes to a paltry 26% no. I suppose the other 8% decided that even if they couldn't, in good conscience, vote for the liquor, they would not deny others by voting against.

And it is my own personal satisfaction that Mitch Painter got nowhere near enough votes to be considered for council. It's only my regret that Bortz, Ghiz and Berding didn't do as poorly. Why do only divisive, destructive candidates make council. Michael Earl Patton and Justin Jeffre could do a lot for this city if given a chance, but that's just too much like right.

In the wider field of issues, it's nice to know that my vote on Ohio Senate Bill 16 didn't even count. Hell I wasn't even aware of Ohio Senate Bill 16 until I got my ballot. I was determined to read my ballot carefully but even so the words 'sexually oriented entertainment' and 'nude' (pdf) were bound to get my attention, especially on a piece of paper as official as a ballot.

According to this article it was all a false alarm. Strippers will still be allowed to touch people in nudie bars and the bars will still be able to operate from 12 midnight - 6 am, despite the fact that the vote didn't count - Yes, I voted NO on the restrictions which was a yes for the rights of people to go to titty bars if they so choose.

From the Article:
Jennifer Brunner, Ohio Secretary of State, notified the state’s local election boards Thursday that the group pushing to let voters decide on restrictions at sexually oriented businesses failed to get enough signatures to let the issue remain on the ballot.

Brunner’s letter instructs election workers to post notices at polling locations saying votes won’t be counted and to hand out notices with absent voter ballots.

The final blow [<- side comment from me: I suppose this is no pun intended] to referendum supporters came from the Ohio Supreme Court, which supported Brunner’s interpretation of election law, court documents said.

Since the referendum failed, Gallaway said the law restricting hours and activities at sexually oriented businesses is effective.

If you've actually read up to this point or just skipped ahead for the point of all this, the final count was:

Liquor and titty bars - 1
Jails and schools - 0

God bless America.