Pit bull ban, legalization
When 2012 started, pit bulls were banned within Cincinnati city limits. The dogs had been banned for nine years as part of the city’s vicious dog ordinance. In February, a change in state law removed the automatic labeling of “vicious” for pit bulls and pit bull mixes, ending 25 years of Ohio’s designation as the only state to automatically declare a dog vicious based on breed.
The change did little for Cincinnati pit bull owners, as the city’s ordinance took precedence over state legislation. And it offered little criteria for identifying the breed and gave a wide range of individuals the power to report the dogs to the police. This was on top of the fact that pits actually rank well on temperament tests that rate breeds based on unprovoked aggression, avoidance and panic tendencies.
Soon after the story ran, dog lovers and animal welfare advocates were successful in changing the local law. City Council on May 16 voted 8-1 to repeal the breed-specific language in Cincinnati’s vicious dog ordinance. City Council also established the Task Force for the Humane Treatment of Animals, which will recommend future amendments and strategies to further promote responsible animal care and humane animal treatment in city limits. (“Losing Fight,” by Hannah McCartney, issue of April 4)
What the frack?
It was a big year for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The drilling technique, which pumps millions of gallons of water underground to unlock natural gas and oil reserves, vastly expanded around the nation and in Ohio. Most do not question the boon fracking is for Ohio’s economy, considering the last numbers for 2012 showed 39,000 jobs tied to oil and gas.
Instead, people have raised concerns over the potential environmental and health risks of fracking. As CityBeat revealed, no one knows for sure what’s in the chemicals oil-and-gas companies are pumping underground. There are still concerns about methane pollution from natural gas obtained through fracking. There is still no hard evidence on whether the process contaminates underground water resources, particularly when waste from fracking is disposed underground. To make it worse, a state law passed earlier in the year that sought to regulate fracking did little to address raised concerns.
In some cases, politicians were a bit overzealous when it came to tapping into the fracking boom. At one point, Ohio Gov. John Kasich defended his plan to impose a higher severance tax on oil-and-gas companies by claiming there is $1 trillion in oil and gas waiting to be drilled in Ohio. CityBeat satirically covered the claim, showing some things that are really worth $1 trillion. (Fun fact: Australia is actually worth about $1 trillion. So are 2 billion iPads.) (“Boom, Bust or Both?” by German Lopez, issue of June 6 and “What’s Worth $1,000,000,000?” by German Lopez, issue of Aug. 8)
Western & Southern vs. Anna Louise Inn
It’s hard to imagine anyone going after a social service agency trying to help women in need, but that’s exactly what CityBeat found when looking into an ongoing dispute between the Anna Louise Inn and longtime neighbor Western & Southern.
It all started in 2007, when Cincinnati Union Bethel considered selling the Anna Louise Inn, which provides housing and other services for low-income women, because the building needed expensive renovations. Western & Southern, which owns dozens of other properties in the Lytle Park district, wants to renovate the Inn into an upscale hotel, but it missed its opportunity to do so by refusing to pay $3 million for the building in 2009, according to documents obtained by CityBeat.
Cincinnati Union Bethel in 2010 found a way to finance a $13 million renovation of the historic building through government-distributed loans. Western & Southern then sued the organization over zoning technicalities related to the Inn’s prostitution recovery program, which Western & Southern executives had previously praised, while publicly touting a new $3 million offer to buy the property.
A ruling by Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel reclassified the building, blocking the loans. Since then, the Anna Louise Inn has secured a conditional use permit to proceed with the renovation under the new classification, but that was blocked by a Western & Southern appeal. Cincinnati Union Bethel also appealed the original ruling. To this day, the Anna Louise Inn and its residents are in limbo as the organization deals with two branches of court proceedings, hoping to put down Western & Southern’s spiteful legal challenges once and for all. (“Surrounded by Skyscrapers,” by Danny Cross, issue of Aug. 15)
Liberty for sale
Gov. Kasich’s administration has pursued a lot of privatization since taking power, but privatized prisons in particular have presented their own set of challenges, as a CityBeat investigation revealed. Originally, the governor and state legislature wanted to sell five of the state’s prisons. Only one — the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Ashtabula County — was actually sold. The buyer was the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a company with a troubled past in the state of Ohio.
The sell-off was not received well by critics. Some pointed to conflicts of interest: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) Director Gary Mohr previously worked for CCA and former Kasich chief of staff Donald Thibaut is now a lobbyist for the prison company. Others pointed to the inconsistent math behind the deal, which prisons expert Gerry Gaes called “bogus.” Then others, particularly the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), touted the perils of prison privatization by offering statistics that showed private prisons have more inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff violence due to underpaid, under-trained staff.
Less than a week after the story ran, Mohr announced that Ohio would not privatize more prisons, althought little explanation was given. One possible reason for the policy change was a report later released by ODRC that showed CCA’s shiny new prison had serious problems. The report found the Lake Erie facility had a total of 47 violations and only met two-thirds of the state’s standards. (“Liberty for Sale,” by German Lopez, issue of Sept. 19)
Miracle or mirage at Taft?
Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School is renowned around the nation for its impressive academic achievements, but a CityBeat investigation raised some doubts about the school’s testing numbers. In 2005, the school was placed in the “academic emergency” category by the state. That year, only 40 percent passed the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) for math and only 64 percent passed reading. A year later, the school had improved passing rates for math to 95 percent and reading to 97 percent.
But was it true improvement? A look at the amount of erasures on the OGTs revealed an unusual amount; more than 84 percent resulted in a switch from a wrong to a right answer. Experts told CityBeat the erasures were “not logical” and “odd” and that most erasures on tests are from a wrong answer to another wrong answer. Then there were Taft’s ACT results, which gauge how ready students are for college and careers. While Walnut Hills High School — the only other Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) institution to get an “excellent rating” — got a 26 out of 36, Taft got a 15.
However, the doubts never led to a substantial investigation. CPS closed its own investigation into the erasures, and the Ohio Department of Education and CPS have failed to follow up, even though CPS board member Eileen Cooper vowed to bring the issue up at a March 12 board meeting.
In the interim 2011-2012 school report card from the Ohio Department of Education, Taft was dropped from “excellent” to “effective” due to falling graduation and attendance rates. (“Altered Outcome?” by James McNair, issue of Feb. 22)
Aroldis Chapman’s life in the fast lane
Aroldis Chapman, the Cincinnati Reds pitcher best known for his 105 mph fastball, is also known for speeding tickets, sketchy women and lawsuits. CityBeat looked into problems Chapman has endured since fleeing Cuba, and some of the details were not pretty. The Reds pitcher collected six speeding tickets in four states over the course of two years, clocking in at speeds as high as 95 miles per hour, and his Kentucky driver’s license was suspended multiple times. He’s also faced a series of lawsuits from Cuban men who claim Chapman owes some of his fame to them.
Then there’s the story of Claudia Manrique, Chapman’s “hotel guest” during a Reds road trip to Pittsburgh on May 29. While Chapman was with his team, hotel guests found Manrique tied with cloth napkins and crying in his room. A bag with $200,000 worth of jewelry was missing, and at first Manrique told police a man impersonating a hotel worker had stolen the bag.
After her story changed and she failed a lie detector test, police accused her of making a false report. The charge was eventually brought down to disorderly conduct, and Manrique pleaded guilty. The status of the jewelry bag and robbery is still unknown. (“Life in the Fast Lane,” by James McNair and C. Trent Rosecrans, issue of July 11)