“Our Mayor has said from Day 1: ‘Equity must underlie everything we do,’” said Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, “but our underserved communities and many members of our Black communities know from history that equity often is not part of the game plan.” A few weeks ago, City Manager Sheryl Long showed the proposed infrastructure priorities that span across the City. Given that Cincinnati’s Black and low-income communities have historically been underserved and even ignored in the past, City Manager Long’s number one criterion in prioritizing the projects is equity.
Councilmember Scotty Johnson said, “I voted ‘no’ on the railroad sale because I wanted to see plans in place in writing to ensure equity for our Black communities – not just talk, but real commitment.” Johnson also said, “And I’m not just talking about equity from the proceeds of the railway sale because state law limits those funds to modifying, repairing or replacing existing infrastructure.” Johnson insisted that City Council find funds from other sources for underserved neighborhoods to have opportunities for “economic development – new projects in our underserved communities.”
President Pro Tem Victoria Parks added, “And we want to see good union jobs and economic opportunity for our struggling citizens who are one paycheck away from experiencing homelessness, or maybe already homeless.” The councilmembers agree that the time is now to make a difference and move the needle on poverty.
“We aren’t working in a vacuum,” Vice Mayor Kearney added. “We had several meetings with Rev. Damon Lynch III, Rev. KZ Smith, NAACP President Joe Mallory, and others, as well as listening sessions with members of several communities. She said whether the conversation was about reparations for those whose ancestors were enslaved, or the ravages of systemic racism – historical and ongoing today – at the heart of the conversations was the need to close the ever-widening racial wealth gap, and the historical absence of equity across the City.
Motion 1 – Office of Equity: Mayor Aftab Pureval, Vice Mayor Kearney, and Councilmembers Johnson and Parks are proposing repurposing the Office of Human Relations to an Office of Equity. Its mission will be to build upon the Mayor’s Financial Freedom Blueprint that addresses the racial wealth gap in Cincinnati. Pursuant to several discussions that Kearney and Johnson had with Rev. Damon Lynch III, Rev. KZ Smith, NAACP President Joe Mallory, and Iris Roley, the motion incorporates part of a proposed ordinance that Attorney Al Gerhardstein created to establish a community advisory committee to research what other entities across the country are doing to address the vestiges of slavery and monitor progress in closing the widening racial wealth gap.
Motion 2 – Ensuring Equity in Distribution of Proceeds from Sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway: Johnson, Parks, and Kearney said that the sale of the CSR means more funds to address the City’s infrastructure needs – roads that need repairs and pedestrian safety upgrades, potholes, unhealthy HVAC systems in recreation centers, old playground equipment, municipal buildings that are not up to code, firehouses that are in poor shape, crumbling city stairways, streetlight upgrades, and much more. The railway sale is the City’s chance to make needed repairs across the city and to invest in the underserved communities that are suffering from decades of neglect and abuse due to systemic racism.
Johnson, Parks, and Kearney are proposing two funds for the 15 neighborhoods with the lowest income levels: “The Rising 15.” The first fund is directly from the railway sale proceeds and is reserved for infrastructure in the Rising 15 neighborhoods. This investment is in addition to the City Manager’s proposed plan to use the railway sale proceeds to modify, restore, or rebuild existing city-owned infrastructure across the city in all neighborhoods.
Johnson said that a second fund is needed for economic development – that is, new infrastructure projects for which the railway sale proceeds cannot be used. The source of these funds for new projects is money in the capital budget that the city saves by using the railway sale proceeds for existing infrastructure projects. Since the second fund is from the general capital budget, it is not restricted to existing infrastructure and can be used by the underserved neighborhoods for new developments.
Kearney, Parks and Johnson also included in the motion the equitable development policy that Council passed in February to create opportunities for minority and women owned developers, contractors, and businesses. Kearney added, “We need to open up the clubhouse and provide economic opportunity for everyone.”