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by Kevin Osborne 01.19.2012
Posted In: News, 2011 Election, City Council, NAACP, Ethics at 01:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
smitherman

Resident Files Complaint Against Smitherman

A resident has filed a complaint with the city's Law Department, alleging that Christopher Smitherman’s dual role as a Cincinnati city councilman and president of the NAACP’s local chapter constitutes an abuse of corporate powers.

In his complaint, resident Casey Coston states that the NAACP’s status as a 501(c)(4) organization under the federal tax code allows it to lobby City Hall and participate in political campaigns and elections without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status. Such activities are a conflict of interest with Smitherman’s council duties, Coston alleges.

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by Hannah McCartney 04.18.2013
Posted In: Ethics at 11:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
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David "Bones" Hebert Wrongful Death Lawsuit Expanded

Two-year anniversary prompts inclusion of city of Cincinnati, three more CPD officers


Today marks the two-year anniversary of the death of David “Bones” Hebert, the gangly, inked vagabond, crafty burrito-maker, Punk rocker and rascal whose life ended abruptly one night in Northside, when Cincinnati Police Sergeant Andrew Mitchell fired two rounds into Bones’ thin frame.

Bones, who was described by his army of acquaintances as peaceful and thoughtful, left behind a legacy that sparked his friends to form Friends of Bones, a collective formed in response to his fatal police shooting, whose goal is “to support those directly involved in the case, to raise awareness about police violence in our community, and to bring about policy change in police procedures, training, and equipment, while encouraging responsible city leadership.”

That spurred the estate of David Paul Hebert to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Sergeant Mitchell on April 18, 2012, a year after the shooting. According to a press release from Paul Carmack, executor of the Hebert estate, the lawsuit today has been expanded to include the city of Cincinnati alleging Monell Claims (referring to municipal officials unconstitutionally or incorrectly dealing with a police misconduct claim) as well as Cincinnati Police officers Lawrence Johnson, Brian Kneller and Nicolino Stavale, for contributing to an atmosphere of danger. (See the expanded lawsuit in its entirety here.)

Bones was walking his dog, Shady, with a female friend around 3 a.m. the night of his death. Minutes before, a new acquaintance of Bones, Jason Weller, called 911 to report a man described as Bones to have recently stolen a pirate sword from his apartment, leaving Weller bloodied and alone. Although several of his friends admit he was inclined toward rowdy and wreckless behavior when he was intoxicated, but not violent.

Shortly after police stopped Bones and took his official statement, the police report alleges, “Mr. Hebert pulled a 13-inch switchblade knife with a six-inch blade from his pocket, raised his arm, and made a swiping motion with the knife at one of the officers. Sergeant Andrew Mitchell, who was serving as cover officer, drew his firearm as Mr. Hebert turned and stepped toward another officer. Sergeant Mitchell discharged two rounds from his Department-issued firearm, striking Mr. Hebert in left shoulder and left upper chest with both rounds.”

Bones was pronounced dead at the scene, and a toxicology report showed he had a blood alcohol level of .33 and traces of psychedelic mushrooms and marijuana. The investigations following his death — all of which exonerated Mitchell and the Police Department from any fault — brought to light a slew of inconsistencies, including conflicting statements from the officers involved, details about where Bones' knife was ultimately found and discrepancies in Weller's story, all of which form a basis for the current lawsuit. Videos retrieved from a Officer Dawson's cruiser cam also show that officers stood by idly, failing to offer any sort of assistance of resuscitation to Bones, seen here (at the 0:04 second mark, it appears Officer Mitchell kicks Bones' arm to check for consciousness).



Officer Mitchell in 2008 was involved in another police misconduct allegation after the "Bauer Tasing," when he tased an oblivious teenager from his moving police car without any warning or communication. Christopher Bauer, the teen walking home with his hands in his pockets and listening to his iPod, fell forward onto his face, suffering substantial injury.

In the past, Friends of Bones have held fundraisers and community events (often music-oriented, for Bones) to raise awareness about the case and garner support.

A city spokesperson directed CityBeat's inquiry about the expanded lawsuit to the city's law department, which as of Thursday afternoon had not returned a voicemail. This story will be updated if the city provides a response.According to court documents, the case will go before a jury Nov. 11.
 
 
by 01.06.2011
Posted In: Media, Ethics, Business, Community at 02:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)
 
 

A Bad Omen for News

It's well-known that The Enquirer has been timid about calling out local corporations on possible misconduct or shady dealings ever since the newspaper paid $14 million to Chiquita in the late 1990s when the produce giant threatened to sue following the publication of a damning special section on its alleged practices in Central and South America.

In the years since, The Enquirer's business coverage has been tepid, and some reporters have alleged they were told to not pursue certain stories after advertisers complained to the publisher.

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by Danny Cross 02.16.2012
 
 
monsanto lede

Monsanto Is Pissing a Lot of People Off

You poison one little French farmer and all hell breaks loose. Giant chemical-maker Monsanto yesterday announced it plans to appeal a Monday ruling that one of its herbicides in 2004 poisoned French farmer Paul Francois, who says inhaling a Monsanto weedkiller led to “memory loss, headaches and stammering”(coincidentally, these are the same symptoms of the accidental hangover™).

In addition to the French farmer being pissed enough at the company for giving him a hangover when he was trying to work his farmland, there are about a million other people officially declaring themselves as against Monsanto via “Millions Against Monsanto,” an organic consumers association that campaigns for “health, justice, sustainability, peace and democracy.” If you accept the possibility of Monsanto obstructing even a majority of these five concepts, it’s easy to believe the company has enemies from a lot of different backgrounds.

That’s why Monday’s ruling by a French court finding Monsanto legally responsible for poisoning Francois and ordering it to compensate him has enlivened a bunch of angry activists.

Millions Against Monsanto offers a wealth of content documenting the agricultural biotechnology corporation’s government ties, tendencies to take small dairies to court, refusal to compensate veterans for Agent Orange and getting their nasty chemicals in normal people’s water supplies. (Wikipedia is hilariously filled with references to things like dumping toxic waste in the UK, Indonesian bribing convictions and fines for false advertising.) Even 'ol boy Obama has gotten caught up in the mix with charts like this one circulating on Facebook:

The latest news out of Millions Against Monsanto is the moving forward of a California ballot initiative to require mandatory GMO labeling that polls show has 80 percent support. According to the site:

"A win for the California Initiative would be a huge blow to biotech and a huge victory for food activists. Monsanto and their minions have billions invested in GMOs and they are willing to spend millions to defeat this initiative. California is the 8th largest economy in the world. Labeling laws in CA will affect packaging and ingredient decisions nation-wide. The bill has been carefully written to ensure that it will not increase costs to consumers or producers."

Back in France, our friendly farmer will have to wait a while for whatever compensation poisoning amounts to, as Monsanto says it will appeal the ruling. According to The Washington Post: Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher says the company does not think there is “sufficient data” to demonstrate a link between the use of Lasso herbicide and the symptoms Francois reported.

"We do not agree any injury was accidentally caused nor did the company intentionally permit injury," Helscher said. "Lasso herbicide was ... successfully used by farmers on millions of hectares around the world."
 
 
by 05.02.2010
Posted In: Technology, Ethics, Internet, Media at 11:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Lessons from Bold Fusion

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber embraced the YP concept several years ago in the wake of Richard Florida’s “creative class” discussion, which really hit home here because it crystallized the problem Cincinnati and other “uncool” cities face in stemming the brain drain of talented young people leaving to advance their careers elsewhere.

The Chamber created an array of programs to support local young professionals, an effort that certainly came at the behest of Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Macy’s and other corporate giants here that must recruit and retain the best and the brightest talent available. Bold Fusion has emerged as one of the Chamber’s highest profile efforts.

The sixth annual Bold Fusion conference was held Thursday afternoon at the Westin Hotel downtown, packing the ballroom to its 400-person capacity. It was one of the most interesting and inspiring afternoons I’d spent in a while.

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by Hannah McCartney 03.05.2012
Posted In: Governor, Government, Ethics at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
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ACLU of Ohio Protests Privatizing State Prisons

Says it will add to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to unnecessary incarcerations

There are certain institutions in the U.S. that we don't like to think of as strictly profit-seeking endeavors. It can be difficult to swallow that (supposedly) do-good establishments like retirement homes, textbook companies and hospitals exist to bring in revenue rather than serve the needs of a community without waiver. In Ohio, one state prison is already that a business and others could soon follow suit. 

In September of 2011, Ohio became the first state in the nation to sell a state prison facility to a private prison company when the Lake Erie Correctional Institute in Ashtabula County was sold to the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest prison operator, for $72.7 million.

The idea to privatize Ohio prisons was concocted by Gov. John Kasich in an attempt to fill an $8 billion hole in Ohio's budget. The sale brought in an extra $50 million to use in balancing Ohio's prison budget.

Kasich's budget strategy included an overhaul of Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which means that private prison facility owners would actually benefit from more incarcerations. Now, CCA has made an offerto  48 U.S. states to buy and privatize state prisons. The offer, the Corrections Investment Initiative, outlines CCA's plan to spend up to $250 million on state, local and federal entities and then manage the facilities. According to the CCA's statement from Harley Lappin, Chief Corrections Officer at CCA, they're only interested in buying facilities that are willing to sign over rights of ownership to the CCA for a minimum of 20 years, and states must agree to keep the facilities at least 90 percent full.


With six million Americans in the corrections system, the U.S. already has the highest rates of incarceration in the world — including per capita and in absolute terms surpassing countries like Iran, China and Russia. CCA'S website glorifies its mission as noble; a video on the home page shows a patriotic, proudly waving flag. Text touts its strategies as forward-thinking and altruistic, noting that they are "protecting public safety, employing the best people in solid careers, rehabilitating inmates, giving back to communities, and bringing innovative security to government corrections."

The ACLU of Ohio has issued a statement strongly opposing the change; it argues that privatizing state prisons will add debt to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to more unnecessary incarcerations. According to "Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization," a report published by ACLU-Ohio, privately-run prisons only offer a short-term infusion of cash, not long-term savings. "Cost savings in privately run facilities [like those run by CCA] are achieved by cutting the pay of workers," says Mike Bricker, ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy. Corrections officers in private facilities make significantly less and receive far less benefits than those in public facilities. This difference, he says, results in an astronomically higher turnover rate in private facilities. "When something bad happens, they leave," he says.

The high turnover rate makes for a consistently less experienced staff, which means officers aren't as well-prepared when a bad situation does arise. He cites an example when cutting corners came at a high price: A CCA-run Youngstown facility that opened in 1997 brought in 1,700 violent inmates from Washington, D.C. at what was supposed to be a medium-security prison. Over the course of a year, there were 16 stabbings, two murders and six escapes; the situation became such a concern to the community that Youngstown sued CCA in 1998 and the facility was shut down.

According to Brickner, the smallest incident is enough to negate the short-term revenue from privatizing prisons; when the main objective is profit, privatized prisons want to book non-violent offenders who won't be in facilities for a long period of time. That means cells become overcrowded when minor offenders could be in rehabilitation, and extremely violent detainees tend to be managed improperly.

"It is inherently wrong to allow private businesses to make a profit off the incarceration of others," said Brickner in an ACLU press release. “Our state’s prison system is bloated, and private corporations have a vested financial interest to ensure our prisons remain full. If state officials have any hope of shrinking our prison population, we must implement transformative criminal justice reform policies and reject interests that grow our prison system.”

Brickner suggests that concerned citizens contact their elected representatives to express their opposition to privatizing prisons. Read the ACLU's full report on privatizing prisons here.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 08.08.2013
Posted In: Energy, Environment, Ethics, News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
first energy

FirstEnergy Penalized $43.3 Million for Overcharging Customers

Company overpriced renewable energy credits purchased from affiliate company

On Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio unanimously ruled that Akron, Ohio-based energy supplier FirstEnergy Corp. must credit its Ohio customers $43.3 million for overcharging for renewable energy credits (RECs) from 2009-2011 that it purchased from its affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.

RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy credits that represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sourced from an eligible renewable energy resource. First Energy Solutions is an energy generator and supplier, while First Energy Corp. is an electricity distributor, which means that it sources its electricity from elsewhere, which requires them to issue bids seeking the most competitively priced energy from a supplier such as First Energy Solutions.

According to the First Energy Corp. website, First Energy Solutions is the competitive subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. Both suppliers are based in Akron. An audit conducted by Exeter Associates Inc. revealed that FirstEnergy Corp. paid 15 times more than any other company in the country to purchase the RECs from FirstEnergy Solutions, and FirstEnergy Corp. passed that overcharge onto consumers. 

In a copy of the order issued yesterday by the PUC obtained by CityBeat, it states that, "The Companies contend that, given the nascent market, lack of market information available to the Companies, and uncertainty regarding future supply and prices, the Companies' decisions to purchase in-state RECs were reasonable and prudent."

In summary, FirstEnergy contends that because it was scrambling to find a way to meet the state's Clean Energy Law requirements, it had to buy these RECs no matter the cost, and that there are no legal specifications within the Clean Energy Law that requires RECs be purchased or sold at market price; and that the costs issued to them, and subsequently, customers, weren't unreasonable.

The Ohio Consumers Counsel, however, says that there were cheaper alternatives available and that FirstEnergy should have checked with the PUC prior to paying 15 times more for RECs than any other country had in the past. If they'd rejected the exorbitant bids, says OCC, and instead consulted with PUC and OCC, they could have come up with a solution to prevent from charging customers excessively high rates.

In June 2012, FirstEnergy Solutions was the winning bidder in Cincinnati's energy aggregation program, which is supposed to allow us to receive lower "aggregate" rates for buying in bulk. At the time, FirstEnergy touted the merits of its "100 percent green" energy supply, sourced from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable resources. The bid was expected to save homeowners around $133 annually.

What enabled FirstEnergy to provide the "clean" energy was its use of a system with non-tangible renewable energy credit (RECs) that each represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sources from a renewable energy resource.

Purchasing the credits from its subsidiary allows FirstEnergy Corp. to meet the state's renewable energy standard, which requires that by 2025 all Ohio utility companies provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources.

Because the lawsuit issued by the PUC examines only the amount paid for RECs during compliance periods between 2009 and 2011, Cincinnati customers who switched to FirstEnergy Solutions last June should not be affected, although the FirstEnergy arms' ambiguous behavior, says Dan Sawmiller, a Sierra Club member who manages Ohio's Beyond Coal campaign, is a likely indicator that the company may be engaging in other unethical practices related to consumer transparency. 

The company has not been devoid of controversy in the past. In March, CityBeat reported on state environmental groups' concerns with the movement to lower requirements for defining renewable energy and energy efficiency; FirstEnergy was part of the bloc working to weaken Ohio's Clean Energy Law in hopes of keeping corporation costs low. FirstEnergy was also chastised by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2009 for distributing and charging customers for energy-efficient light bulbs without receiving customers' authorization.

Sawmiller commended the PUC for fining First Energy, although he suggests the fine is likely modest for the actual damages. He still expresses concern about the need for corporate separation between the two FirstEnergy arms. "
The commission left much to be desired in terms of transparency, leaving customers in the dark about what types of renewables are being provided, where are they coming from and at what cost," says Sawmiller in Sierra Club's press release.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 12.20.2011
 
 
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Cramerding Runs for Treasurer

A longtime campaign consultant has decided to jump into politics himself. Jeff Cramerding announced today that he will seek the Democratic nomination to run for Hamilton County treasurer next year.

Cramerding, 38, of Price Hill, is a local attorney who has served as a consultant to numerous area politicians, mostly Democrats and Charterites. They include Denise Driehaus, David Pepper, Jody Luebbers and Chris Bortz.

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by Hannah McCartney 02.16.2012
Posted In: Environment, Ethics, News at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
schweine-lsz61

McDonald's Does Something Kind of Good?

Fast food conglomerate McDonald's isn't exactly known for its do-goodery for asses or animals. Despite the chain's greatest efforts, they just can't seem to catch a stroke of good PR. Just look at what happened when they launched their Twitter campaign, #McDstories, which ended up backfiring so severely that it's become the laughing stock of the professional PR world.

It's hard to feel too bad about their misfortune; they've done a pretty good job of creating controversy for themselves without any help, including their kind of hilarious, brazen ad released in France featuring a gay teenager (video below), the leak to the public that their "vegetarian" fries were actually fried in beef fat and, perhaps most notably, their bad rap for using suppliers with disregard for animal welfare. The list goes on. Remember the McRib story released last November? News broke that McDonald's pork supplier, Smithfield Foods, was subjecting pigs to excruciating pain and mistreatment. The news didn't exactly come as a surprise, but consumers took it seriously when the Humane Society filed a lawsuit against Smithfield.

Regardless, it seems McDonald's realizes its bad press is its greatest weakness, and they've made some solid efforts to  improve. Most recently, the chain announced it would be requiring pork suppliers such as Smithfield to phase out gestation stalls — pig-sized cages where pigs are confined, unable to move around or sometimes stand up. Their plan has some strong supporters, including the Humane Society. However, the plan hasn't set a deadline requirement; that means it could several years of red tape and stalling before any real progress is made.

Interestingly, frequent McRib eaters probably aren't generally the type to be concerned about whether or not the pig they're eating got to stand up during its last days. Perhaps McDonald's is interested in expanding its already massive consumer pool to include more meat-eaters concerned about the sources of their food. Or perhaps they've realized that it's feasible to treat animals even a little more humanely and still make a stupendous profits. Is it possible?

 
 
by 08.05.2011
Posted In: Ethics, Congress, Republicans, Courts at 02:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Jean Schmidt: Shady or Just Stupid?

So, just who did Jean Schmidt think was paying her mounting legal bills, anyhow?

That's the lingering question after the House Ethics Committee ruled today that Schmidt, a Republican congresswoman from Miami Township, did receive an “impermissible gift” by accepting about $500,000 in free legal help since spring 2009, but somehow didn't “knowingly” violate the law.

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