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by Nick Swartsell 10.09.2015 14 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Former Drop Inn Center reopens in Queensgate; free health screenings offered throughout city on Sunday; U.S. House slips further into chaos

Good morning all. It’s news time friends.

Today marks the opening of David and Rebecca Baron Center for Men, the homeless shelter in Queensgate replacing the Drop Inn Center that was located in Over-the-Rhine for decades. The shelter, located in a renovated Butternut Bread factory on Gest Street, has 150 beds and more than 79,000 square feet of space. The shelter, operated by nonprofit Shelterhouse, is one of five operating as part of the city’s Homelessness to Homes plan overseen by Strategies to End Homelessness. The move marks the end of years of fighting by advocates for the homeless to keep the shelter, the region’s largest, in Over-the-Rhine.

• Cincinnati’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists yesterday hosted a panel discussion on media coverage of the July shooting death of Samuel DuBose by University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing. The panel, staged at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, included Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black, attorneys for both the DuBose family and Ray Tensing, a representative from Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters’ office and news directors from The Cincinnati Enquirer and Channels 9, 19, 12 and 5. Topics ranged from the portrayal of both Tensing and DuBose in the initial reporting of the incident — many outlets showed a mugshot of DuBose and referred to him as a “suspect” in their early reports, while showing Tensing in uniform — to the media’s responsibility to report accurately without further inflaming community tensions. I live tweeted a lot of the discussion, as did many other attendees, under the hashtag #wordsandimages. Check out the discussion.

• First Lady Dena Cranley and a number of faith leaders will announce the first step in a major health initiative today at City Hall at 1 pm. Cranley, national executive director of the First Ladies Health Initiative Tracey Alston and the wives of a number of church leaders will unveil the first-annual health day, which will take place Sunday Oct. 11. The event, which will offer free health screenings for a number of conditions from diabetes to HIV, will take place at 18 locations throughout the city. You can find these locations and hours they'll be open here.

• A landmark historic building in Walnut Hills is on its way to renovation. Last week, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation purchased the iconic Paramount Building on Peebles Corner for $750,000 and plans a full-scale redevelopment of the property. The foundation estimates that work will cost at least $3 million and is currently raising funds to complete the effort. The 80-year-old Paramount long served as a theater in the neighborhood and is one of Walnut Hills’ distinctive landmarks with its turret-like front façade.

• How much does health care cost in Cincinnati? Well, it depends, and it’s kinda arbitrary. That’s especially true when it comes to care for women, a new study released by castlighthealth.com finds. Costs for procedures like mammograms diverge wildly in the Cincinnati area, running anywhere from $123 to nearly $300 depending on where you go. HPV tests are similarly wide-ranging in their costs. Healthcare outlets charge anywhere from $24 to $208 for the routine test. Some other, non-gender specific health services, such as a preventive primary care visit, also vary wildly in price, but the ranges are especially wide for services for women. The price differences reflect the varying deals insurers are able to strike with hospitals and other healthcare providers, as well as a number of other factors that Castlight researchers say show how dysfunctional America’s healthcare system is. You can see the full study and how Cincinnati compares to other cities here.

• So this is just really cool. Officials and community advocates in Akron shut down a highway to hold a 500-person dinner and community conversation. On Oct. 4, Akron police shut down a section of the city's Inner Belt Freeway while volunteers set up 63 tables for guests. Attendees, led by facilitators, then had a meal and discussed the city's future, delving into a number of contentious issues while taking notes and sketching out ideas. Among the topics of discussion: what to do with the freeway they were sitting on, which cut through low-income neighborhoods and separated them from downtown when it was built in the 1970s. That freeway will soon be shut down  — it serves only 18,000 cars a day, a far cry from the 120,000 for which it was designed.

• Could John Boehner’s resignation from the House of Representatives and the ensuing chaos it has caused (more on that in a minute) have repercussions in the Kentucky governor’s race? It’s looking like it. Republican gubernatorial candidate and tea party dude Matt Bevin has been waging a tough-fought campaign against Democrat candidate Jack Conway. But now, at least some prominent Republicans in Kentucky are turning their backs on Bevin in favor of Conway as a result of distaste for the tea party movement that has caused deep fissures within the GOP. Part of the lingering bitterness is from Bevin’s 2012 primary challenge of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Bevin ran a nasty campaign against McConnell, marshaling tea party anger and attempting to use it against the veteran lawmaker. Bevin failed in that race, but has been seen as a viable candidate for governor. But with the divide between establishment Republicans and radical tea party conservatives growing wider, it may be hard for him to pull together the support he needs to defeat Conway.

• Finally, speaking of all that, I just want to talk really quick about how fascinating things are getting in the House of Representatives. A couple weeks back we told you about how the resignation of House Speaker and Greater Cincinnatian John Boehner could bring more power to hardline rightwingers in the GOP. At the time, this was an arguable point, considering House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was all lined up to take Boehner’s place. Now, it’s not that McCarthy isn’t conservative, but like Boehner, he has no interested in shutting down the government or engaging in some of the more radical tactics tea party conservatives in the House have championed. Welp, hate to say I told you so, but yesterday McCarthy dropped out of the running for speaker, and now Republicans are scrambling to find a willing replacement who isn’t part of the three dozen or so tea party radicals in the GOP. Party leaders, including Boehner, who just wants to get the hell out of there at this point, are reportedly begging U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, former Vice Presidential candidate in Mitt Romney’s last run, to step up and take the job, but Ryan’s all like, nah, that’s cool I’m good.

That’s it for me. Hit me up on Twitter or email me with news tips or your favorite Halloween haunted houses. I’m trying to hit up several before they close for the season.

by Natalie Krebs 10.08.2015 38 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City Council votes to preserve Kings Records building; Study finds Cranley's park tax levy will bring $117 million; Half of Ohioans on board with legalizing weed

It's almost Friday, Cincy! Hang in there with me. I've got plenty of studies and polls to keep you going this morning. 

• City Council voted unanimously yesterday to designate the old Kings Records building a historic landmark. The future of the building has been controversial as city leaders and activists have fought to save the building. They hope that it renovation along with a nearby educational facility could revitalize Evanston. However, the building's owner, Dynamite Industries, has other ideas. They would like to demolish the building and may sue the city over its decision. Kings Records saw its heyday 1940s to the 1970s when it was the sixth largest record label in the world. Famous musicians like Otis Redding and James Brown spent time at the Evanston studio, and Brown recorded some of his greatest hits with the label.                

• A report commissioned by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Cincinnati Business Committee found Mayor Cranley's proposed tax levy for city parks would have an economic impact of $117 million in the first ten years. Cranley has proposed a permanent property tax levy to revamp and maintain the city's parks with 16 different projects, like increasing hiking and biking trails to attract commuters. Some worry about the lack of oversight in Cranley's proposal and that his plan, which he has referred to as "park-o-nomics" could lead to the commercialization of public parks. 

• A just over half of Ohioians--53 percent to be exact--are on board with legalizing marijuana for recreational use compared to 44 percent who said they are not. The Quinnipiac poll found that 65 percent claim they would definitely not use marijuana it if it were legalized, however. The poll didn't specifically ask about Issue 3, but posed general questions about legalizing the drug. The survey found men were overall more supportive of it then women as were younger people more so than older folk.  

The same poll found that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland at 46 percent support is slightly ahead of GOP candidate Rob Portman, who had 43 percent support. 

• While it might not yet have the tech reputation of San Francisco or Austin, website ValuePenguin.com ranked Cincinnati ninth on its list of mid-sized cities for web developers. According to its data, Cincinnati has about 910 web development jobs with an average salary of $65,390 and the cost of living here definitely beats that of San Francisco and Austin. The cities are placed into three categories based on population: large, mid-sized and small. You can check out the full list here. 

• Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn will be answering some tough questions from Congress this morning. The executive is scheduled to go before a U.S. House subcommittee investigating the discovery that VW has been cheating on their U.S. emissions tests. U.S. inspectors found nearly 500,000 cars starting with the 2009 models were equipped with software to distort the emissions produced during government tests. Horn is planning on telling Congress that he had only learned of the software a few week ago. VW and U.S. official have not yet announced how they will fix the recalled vehicles. 

• I went to my first Cincinnati Reds game against the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday. The Reds lost their last home game pretty badly, but the game redeemed itself slightly in the eighth inning when they managed to strike out the 11th Cubs batter. For this, I won a small LaRosa's pizza as did everyone else with a ticket to that game. So how many free pizzas has LaRosa's given out in the four years that they've offered this promotion? According to the Cincinnati Business Courier, 640,000. But this year they gave away one-third less pizzas as compared to last year. Attendance was down as Reds didn't quite do so well. Better luck next year, Reds! 

As usual, my email me at nkrebs@citybeat.com. Any story ideas or happenings are welcome.

by Nick Swartsell 10.07.2015 61 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cranley's Anti-Poverty Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

Supporters cheer the mayor's focus on childhood poverty, but critics say Cranley's proposals don't go far enough

Mayor John Cranley’s State of the City speech earlier this week touched on a number of issues the mayor has deemed priorities in the coming year — among them, the city’s sky-high childhood poverty rate.

Last year, according the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 44.3 percent of the city’s children lived in poverty. That’s down from over 50 percent in 2012, when Cincinnati ranked second-highest in the country, but still double the national average of about 22 percent and nearly double Ohio’s average of 23 percent.

Cranley says he wants to find ways to lift 10,000 of Cincinnati’s 30,000 poor kids out of poverty in the next five years. To do that, he’s proposing convening a task force that will present recommendations for reaching that goal. The task force will present those recommendations June 30, 2016 — the day before the city’s new fiscal year.

Is that goal realistic? And does Cranley’s proposal to create a task force that will research ways to address childhood poverty in Cincinnati go far enough? Some say no, citing other Cranley proposals, including a parks charter amendment that would spend millions in property tax revenues to create new recreational attractions, that will spend much more money on things critics say are less pressing or effective.

Meanwhile, others applaud the fact the mayor is focusing on the problem and say they are willing to give his ideas time to play out.

City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is among the critics of Cranley’s approach.

In an Oct. 6 editorial for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Simpson said the mayor’s big speech left out some key considerations — from the University of Cincinnati police shooting death of Samuel DuBose and ongoing racial issues in the city to progress made on the city’s streetcar system.

One of the speech’s big shortfalls, Simpson says, is the lack of a serious plan to address poverty in the city.

“For those individuals living in poverty and organizations actively working on the root causes and effects of institutional, inter-generational poverty everyday, organizing a ‘summit’ and expecting it will lead to a one-third reduction in our childhood poverty rate in 5 years is, at best, out of touch and at worst, disrespectful,” Simpson wrote in the piece.

Simpson said Cranley’s statements are surprising considering the recent fight between the mayor’s office and City Council over human services funding in the city’s budget. Democrats on Council pushed for more money for programs traditionally funded through human services in the budget to get the city back on track toward devoting at least 1 percent of the budget toward such programs.

Council passed a resolution last fall asking the city to double funding for traditional human services programs. While making this year’s city budget, however, City Manager Harry Black ignored that resolution and put much of that money in new programs not usually associated with traditional human services. Meanwhile, federal money usually given to other programs was directed toward the mayor’s Hand Up Initiative, which looks to get more poor Cincinnatians into jobs making around $10 an hour through programs like Cincinnati Cooks! and Cincinnati Works. Those dynamics caused a big battle over the city budget.

Community activist Mike Moroski sits on the steering committee for Hand Up. He’s also the executive director of UpSpring, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the city’s childhood poverty problem. Moroski says he’s not always been a Cranley fan, but his time working on Hand Up has convinced him the mayor is responsive to input and new ideas. He says he’s willing to give Cranley’s anti-poverty ideas time to bear fruit.

“I voted for [Cranley’s 2013 mayoral opponent] Roxanne Qualls,” Moroski says. “I didn't think John Cranley would be a very good mayor.”

Moroski says he still disagrees with Cranley on some issues, including the streetcar, but says those issues aren’t as important as addressing the city’s big poverty problem. He says he believes the mayor — and City Council — are serious about working toward solving that problem and that he hopes city officials can work past politics together toward that end.
“Will Mayor Cranley's new Task Force do just that? I have no idea, but I am willing to be hopeful and wait and see,” Moroski said in an email yesterday. “I am not willing to dismiss it right out of the gate. Did he spend enough time on it last evening? I don't know — I am not going to pass judgment because it wasn't talked about enough — I am just happy it was talked about.”

The city has made some efforts to address its deep economic divisions, including a recent raft of ordinances that would help address the racial and gender disparities in its contracting practices. However, Cincinnati is still a place of stunning inequalities when it comes to the economic conditions of its neighborhoods, and ways to address those inequalities look to remain front and center in conversations about the city’s future.

"Mayor Cranley wants 2016 to be the year that we dig in and have real conversations about poverty and take action," Moroski says. "And I will support that. I will also support any initiative that any council member proposes that does the same. And, as I said, if any of these initiatives appear to be hollow, then I will pass judgment. But not until I see what plays out."

by Natalie Krebs 10.07.2015 62 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Morning News and Stuff

ResponsibleOhio under investigation for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms; Sittenfeld calls for opponents to renounce NRA support; Blue Lives Matter launches billboard campaign; U.S. under fire for Doctors Without Borders bombing

Hey Cincy! Here are your morning headlines.  

• There's potentially more trouble on the horizon for ResponsibleOhio less than a month before voters head to the polls to vote on its ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is looking into possible voter registration fraud after the board found that at least four of the registration forms filed by a company on behalf of the super PAC were signed by dead people and two were signed by people currently incarcerated and therefore illegible to vote. The registrations forms were submitted by the Strategic Network, a Columbus company specializing in political campaigns that is headed by Ian James, the man who also serves as executive director for ResponsibleOhio. The board made the decision yesterday to issue subpoenas to James and the other leaders of the Strategic Network. James denies any intentional illegal wrongdoing and claims that his company has a "zero tolerance policy" toward fraud. It’s unclear who filled out and submitted the voter registration forms, but submitting a fraudulent voter registration form is a felony offense. James claims that the group is required by law to turn over every voter registration form it collects, even those that are invalid. 

• Less than a week after the tragic shooting at a Roseburg, Ore. community college, city councilman and U.S. Senate candidate P.G. Sittenfeld issue a statement asking his opponents to renounce their support for the National Rifle Association. The NRA has previously endorsed Republican candidate Rob Portman and fellow Democratic opponent Ted Strickland in its famous rating program where it assigns a letter grade to politicians. In his video statement, Sittenfeld asks that his opponents "no longer chase A+ ratings from the same organization that blocked a universal background check bill following a horrific massacre of five and six-year old children in Newtown." Sittenfeld is trailing behind former Ohio governor and fellow Democrat Strickland, who is widely known across the state and has secured the endorsement from the state's Democratic party. 

• Cincinnati is sitting on some serious cash. At the end of the 2015 fiscal year, the city has $19 million left over, which turned out to be way more than the initial $3.9 million the city predicted to have at the end of June. In a memo to Mayor John Cranley, City Manager Harry Black has requested they should it safe and save most of it but also included a sizable wish list. Many of the items requested are related to law enforcement and crime reduction, which has been a hot topic since Cincinnati has experienced a spike in shootings and Black recently fired of former police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. Some of the items, which must be approved by the city council, included spending $2 million on a down payment for Cincinnati Police body cameras, $500,000 for police overtime in spots with heavy crime, $200,000 for a witness protection program and $175,000 for a partnership with Hamilton County to a program to support the re-entry of offenders. 

• Surely you've heard of Black Lives Matter by now, the group that has been active for the past few years in bringing attention to the issue of police brutality against African-Americans. Well, a new group has popped up in support of police called Blue Lives Matter and they've launched a national billboard campaign with 14 billboards across the country. The group is hoping to spread awareness and fight what it sees as anti-police rhetoric in the wake of high profile police shootings, including the July shooting in Mount Auburn of Sam Dubose by a University of Cincinnati police officer.

• International aid group Doctors Without Borders appealed yesterday for an independent agency to investigate the bombing of one of its clinics in Afghanistan last Saturday by U.S. special operation forces. The bombing killed 22 patients and medical staff members, including three children, and injured 37 people. The U.S. has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was trying to take out Taliban militants, and did not mean to hit the aid clinic, but U.S. military officials' stories keep changing, which has prompted suspicion from the international community of the U.S.'s mission.   

As always, email me with story idea, comments or general concerns.

by Nick Swartsell 10.06.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley touts more money for cops, park plan in State of the City; Council poised to vote on King historic status; area districts push back against charter schools

Good morning folks. Let’s talk about news today, eh?

First off, let me tell you about Mayor John Cranley’s second State of the City speech, which he gave to a crowd of about 700 movers, shakers and awkward journalists (at least one awkward journalist) last night at Great American Ball Park.

The mayor is obligated by the city charter to give folks an update on what he’s up to once a year, and for Cranley that meant talking about economic development deals and balancing the budget, asking city council for $800,000 for new violence prevention measures and promoting his somewhat controversial parks levy, which would create an amendment to the city charter and raise property taxes slightly to give big makeovers to a number of Cincinnati parks.

Cranley also pledged to create a task force to explore ways to reduce childhood poverty and a healthcare initiative to reduce infant mortality in the city. He did all this while making a slightly convoluted metaphor about home runs and base hits and sharing a personal experience with the mythical double rainbow. We’ll be parsing the mayor’s proposals more precisely soon, but in the meantime, that’s the broad overview you need to know.

• As Cranley was making his speech last night, a group of around 50 gathered at City Hall to protest the looming closure of Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic that provides abortions. City Councilman Chris Seelbach spoke to the group, pledging support for Planned Parenthood and calling on fellow city officials to support the city’s last remaining clinic. A smaller group then marched to Great American Ball Park, chanting and holding signs asking Cranley to show support for the facility and for the pro-choice movement. The mayor, who has said he was unaware of the rally, did not make remarks to the group following his speech.

The Ohio Department of Health last month denied a license renewal for the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn. The clinic is run by Planned Parenthood and has stayed open by order of a federal judge as it awaits the results of an appeal to that decision. Planned Parenthood Southwestern Ohio and legal representatives for Women’s Med clinic in Dayton that faces a similar situation have also sued the state of Ohio over its increasingly strict restrictions on clinics that provide abortions. Should the clinics lose their appeal in federal court, both will shut down. Without a clinic, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services.

• After a somewhat contentious Neighborhoods Committee meeting yesterday, Cincinnati City Council is expected to vote tomorrow on historic landmark status for the former King Records site in Evanston, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports. That designation could make it much harder to tear down the buildings but could also spark a big legal battle reminiscent of the struggle over the Gamble House, the historic Westwood abode built by the son of one of P&G’s founders. That 170-year-old building was torn down in 2013. The site in Evanston is significant for a number of reasons, one of which is that it’s the place where James Brown made many of his early recordings. One of the two buildings on the site is currently owned by Dynamic Industries, which would like to tear it down. Want to know more about Evanston, King Records and the push and pull between the current owners of the could-be historic site and those looking to preserve the building? We have a story on that.

• A group composed of 43 school districts in Greater Cincinnati, including Cincinnati Public Schools, is pushing back against charter school expansion in the state. The Greater Cincinnati School Advocacy Network recently called for greater accountability for charter schools and changes to the way in which they are funded. GCSAN says charters unfairly drain public money from public school districts while not providing a better alternative for low-income students as they were intended to do. CPS loses thousands of students to local charters each year. The district says it’s not totally opposed to the concept — it sponsors two charter schools itself  — but warns that voters in the district are tired of seeing their money spent on private charter schools that don’t perform well.

The push back comes as charters in Ohio face deep scrutiny over an Ohio Department of Education data fixing scandal, performance issues and questions about oversight. In general, charters in the state have laxer oversight from the ODE and lower performance standards. You can read our story about charters in Cincinnati and throughout the state here.

• How much tax revenue will be created from legalizing marijuana if voters pass a ballot initiative doing so this November? Like most controversial political questions, it depends entirely on whom you ask. The Ohio Department of Taxation estimates revenues somewhere between $133 and almost $300 million could flow from the sale of marijuana. Not surprisingly, ResponsibleOhio, which created the petition drive to get the issue on the November ballot, has higher numbers, saying legalization would create $2 billion in marijuana sales, bringing municipalities and counties more than $554 million in revenue. The state’s estimates vary depending on assumptions about how much of the current illicit marijuana market switches to legal usage.

But ResponsibleOhio says the state erred in considering how many people use marijuana in Ohio and say its number is based on more reliable federal drug usage studies. What’s a few hundred million dollars, though, am I right? ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would legalize marijuana usage and purchase for anyone over the age of 21. The proposal would also create more than 1,000 licenses similar to liquor licenses for the sale of the drug. However, the controversial part of the plan is that only 10 grow sites, all owned by ResponsibleOhio investors, would be allowed across the state. Voters will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal on the November ballot.

by Nick Swartsell 10.05.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News, Cycling at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_bright ride_photo urban basin bicycle club facebook page

Cincinnati Among Top Cities for Growth in Bicycle Commuting

Commuting by bike increased by 350 percent last year, the third-biggest increase among major cities

You may have seen recent 2014 American Community Survey data released by the U.S. Census Bureau showing that bicycle commuting continues to rise.

Cincinnati has been one of the cities leading the way in that growth, it turns out.

The League of American Bicyclists recently analyzed those ACS numbers and came up with data showing where cycling and bike commuting are biggest and growing fastest. While Cincinnati ranked 31st among the 70 biggest U.S. cities in terms of share of cyclists commuting to work (we’re at just under 1 percent), the number of bike commuters here is growing faster than just about anywhere else in the country.

Bike commuting in Cincinnati increased by 350 percent last year, according to the ACS. That’s more than any other major city besides Detroit, which saw a 403 percent boost, and Pittsburgh, which saw bicycle commuting go up by 360 percent.

Cincinnati easily beat out other Ohio cities, including Columbus (ranked 36th with .8 percent of commutes happening by bike) and Cleveland (ranked 40th with .7 percent).

The city with the top percentage of bicycle commuters is, predictably, Portland, Ore., where more than 7 percent of commutes are taken by bicycle. The city has more than 23,000 cyclists. Oregon is tops in terms of states when it comes to bike commuters, as well. Ohio is well down that list, ranking 36th.

As a bike commuter, I'm excited that I have more company on the roads. You can read the whole League of American Bicyclists report here.

by Nick Swartsell 10.05.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Enquirer story on historic conservation board appears, disappears; Cranley to deliver state of the city address this evening; Kasich zeroes in on New Hampshire, where he trails

Hello all. Hope you enjoyed your weekend. Yesterday was the ideal day weatherwise, so if you stayed inside all day, well, that sucks for you. I went to a pumpkin festival at Lobenstein farms in Indiana, where I got a strange white pumpkin that I believe is probably haunted. I also had the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten and some amazing fried chicken. So I’d say it all balances out. Anyway, none of that is news. This is news.

First — it’s the last day to go register to vote for the November election. Go do that now. Though there aren’t any major public officials to weigh in on this year, there are several very important ballot issues, including changes to the redistricting process for Ohio’s State House seats, whether to create a state-sanctioned,10-farm weed monopoly to legalize marijuana and whether to pass a levy that would provide millions to new park projects. So. Go register. I’ll wait.

Back? OK.

• Over the weekend, The Cincinnati Enquirer posted, then took down, a story about changes to the city’s urban conservator office and Historic Conservation Board, which help decide questions of historic preservation, demolition permits and the like. Basically, these bodies help mediate the push-pull between developers who want to build buildings at maximum profit and community members and historic preservation advocates who want to save old buildings that contribute to the character of Cincy’s neighborhoods.

Lately, there have been shake ups on both the board and with the urban conservator, who was unceremoniously removed from his post in late August. Meanwhile, four of the board’s six members are newcomers who have contributed to Mayor John Cranley’s campaign. Some, including some Over-the-Rhine community leaders, see this as a politicizing of these decision-making bodies and a possible weakening of the city’s historic preservation safeguards to the benefit of developers friendly with Cranley. But others defend the changes, saying rotation on the board is healthy to get fresh perspectives on historic conservation. The Enquirer says it took down the story because it accidentally posted an unedited version a couple days ahead of schedule. You can read the original version, which does contain some errors, in this Facebook post by transit activist and OTR resident Derek Bauman. It will be interesting to read the final version of that story when it finally comes out.

• A group of activists will take to City Hall today to protest the pending closing of Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic that provides abortions. More than 100 people are confirmed for the rally on a Facebook event posted by the group, which says it is protesting to get city officials to express support for abortion rights and opposition to the clinic’s closure. Several Democratic city officials have already expressed support for Planned Parenthood.

The Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, which is run by Planned Parenthood, was denied a license renewal by the Ohio Department of Health last week. It is staying open pending an appeal of that decision, but could close immediately if federal courts find in favor of the state. That would make Cincinnati the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortions. The Women’s Med Clinic in Dayton faces a similar situation with the ODH; if both shut down, the entirety of Southwestern Ohio would be without direct access to abortion services. Today’s rally begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

• Meanwhile, most city officials will be away from City Hall at Great American Ball Park this afternoon for Mayor John Cranley’s second state of the city speech, where he’ll unveil his priorities for the coming year. Among those priorities is a task force aimed at lifting 10,000 children and 5,000 adults out of poverty. The task force will be expected to deliver a set of action steps by June 30 for that goal. In 2012, more than half of the city’s children lived in poverty. That ratio has gone down to 44 percent since, but it’s unclear why that is. Whatever the reason, city officials say that’s still far too many kids without basic needs. Ohio’s childhood poverty rate is 23 percent and the nation’s is 22.

Cranley will likely talk about other priorities he has for the coming year, including an initiative to raise millions for Cincinnati parks by putting a permanent property tax levy into the city’s charter so the city can issue bonds for capital projects in the parks. Projects such as the Wasson Way bike trail, a redevelopment of Burnet Woods and other money-intensive efforts are on the slate should that levy pass in November.

Here are some quick notes about state and national politics/other news:

• The state of Ohio is getting tons of money for charter schools, despite recent scandals about data-fixing in the Ohio Department of Education and generally lagging performance from those schools. The U.S. Department of Education is awarding eight states money for their charter programs, and Ohio is among them. Despite being the lowest-performing of the eight, the state could receive more than $70 million for the privately run, publicly funded schools, the most of any of the eight states. The story linked above has more information and is definitely worth a read.

• U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has raised a big old mountain of cash from Republican donors in his re-election bid. Portman will face either former Ohio governor Ted Strickland or Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the general election next year, both of whom trail Portman’s $2 million quarterly fundraising haul significantly. That’s not the whole story, however. Democratic primary frontrunner Strickland is polling dead even with Portman and in some polls surpassing him, despite the fundraising deficit. Many political observers predict the race to be among the most costly in the country as Dems and the GOP battle it out for control of the Senate in a presidential election year. Outside groups are already pouring money into Ohio against Strickland.

• Ohio governor and GOP presidential primary contender John Kasich has called New Hampshire, an early primary state, essential to his bid for his party’s nomination and indicated this weekend that a bad showing there would be the end of his campaign. Unfortunately, he’s also lagging there, dropping from second behind Donald Trump in a poll last month to seventh in a poll taken this month. The guv just opened his campaign headquarters in the state, which has its primary in about four months.

• Probably not a surprise, but Republicans are still fighting over who will replace U.S. Rep. John Boehner of West Chester in his powerful speaker of the house role. Boehner resigned from Congress recently amid infighting over a possible government shutdown by hardline right wing Republicans. His second-in-command, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, seems to be the favorite for the position, but recent slip-ups by McCarthy and an announcement that Utah’s Rep. Jason Chaffetz is also running for the role have increased the uncertainty about who will take the reigns for Republicans, who control the House of Representatives with a large majority.

• Finally, stock up on those solid color neon hoodies now. American Apparel announced bankruptcy today. The company, which sells basic clothing items that are made in America, has lost money every year since 2010. It suffered a blow last year as founder Dov Charney was ousted amid widespread allegations that he engaged in sexual harassment against employees. The company says its retail locations, including the one in Cincinnati, will remain open amid the bankruptcy.

by Nick Swartsell 10.02.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Will the Freedom Center get a charter school?; Sheriff Jones won't run for Boehner's seat; Vatican clarifies on Kim Davis visit

Hey all! Here’s a brief news rundown for your Friday. Let’s get to the weekend already.

Is a charter school coming to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center? It could happen, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Carpe Diem is a charter sponsored by Cincinnati Public Schools that operates out of Aiken High School. The school has expressed interest in opening up another CPS-sponsored charter in the Freedom Center, though nothing official has been planned yet. The charter’s CEO has said he’d be interested in having the school open as soon as next fall, though CPS has yet to make a decision about whether it wants another charter, saying such a school would need to perform as well or better than traditional public schools in the city. CPS currently sponsors two charters. Charters in Cincinnati and Ohio in general have a mixed record over the past decade, with some performing as well or better than public schools while many others have lagged and been shut down for performance issues or ethics violations.

• What’s the most Instagramed spot in Ohio? It’s the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, according to a review of social media data by travel website busbud.com. The site looked at which attractions in every state generated the most hashtags on the popular, Facebook-owned image-posting social media app. The zoo joins the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the White House in D.C. and the Space Needle in Seattle as one of the most popular spots for ‘gramming in the country. I would have guessed Washington Park, but yeah. Pretty cool for the zoo.

• Apologies in advance for fans of Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, because I have some disappointing news for you. The staunchly anti-immigrant sheriff, who has gained a national profile due to his aggressive stance on conservative issues and appearances on talk shows discussing those views, won’t be running for U.S. Rep. John Boehner’s congressional seat. As we reported last week, Jones had indicated he was interested in campaigning for the spot, which Boehner vacated Friday after years of fighting with congressional conservatives as speaker of the house. But Jones has since announced that, while Congress could “use someone like him,” he’s better off staying in Butler County.

• A Chicago-based investor in ResponsibleOhio’s plan to legalize marijuana in the state has backed out, according to the group. Meanwhile, Youngstown-based Brian Kessler, whose father invented the Hula-Hoop, is in to take his place. Kessler is now one of the 22 investors who have gone public about their role funding ResponsibleOhio’s drive to pass an amendment to the Ohio constitution that would legalize marijuana and create 10 constitutionally mandated grow sites across the state. The identity of another 30 investors has not been made public by the group.

• So everyone got all riled up about the Pope’s visit with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last week. Now the Vatican is clarifying that meeting... kind of. Davis, you’ll remember, refused to issue marriage licenses even in the wake of this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Davis was eventually found in contempt of court and went to jail for her refusal on religious grounds to issue the licenses. Fast forward a bit. Davis recently revealed that when the pope was here in the U.S. a couple weeks back, she was granted a 15-minute visit with the religious leader. This was something of a shock to many progressives, who were still applauding Pope Francis' statements before Congress on climate change and income inequality. Many, of course, took the visit as a signal that the pope agreed with Davis on her stand. Now, however, the Vatican is saying that the visit was requested by Davis and doesn’t mean that the pope supported her point of view or her actions. Annnnnd… that’s about all the church said. So. Hm.

• Finally, you’ve certainly already heard about the horrific school shooting in Oregon yesterday, but it seems strange not to mention it in a news round up. So here’s a story with what we know so far. As your humble morning news blogger, can I suggest we simply pause to feel for those involved and not instantly begin fighting about this? No? OK.

That’s it for me. Twitter, email, etc. You know what’s up.

by Nick Swartsell 10.01.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City passes paternity leave plan; Denise Driehaus to run for county commish; state passes "ban the box" legislation

Hey hey! Good morning Cincy. How’s it going? Here’s what’s up in the news today.

Yesterday the city officially announced the results of a long-awaited study about disparities in the companies it hires to take on taxpayer-funded projects as well as several measures it plans to take to address those inequities. According to the Croson Study, only about 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts went to black-owned businesses and only about 6.2 percent went to businesses owned by women. This despite the fact that black and women owned businesses in the city have the capacity to do 20 percent of that work, the study says. You can read more about the study and the city’s proposed solutions, which include race and gender-based contracting requirements, in our online story yesterday. City contracts represent more than $1 billion in spending, and city officials say getting that pie split up more equitably could go a long way toward addressing the deep economic inequalities in the city.

• Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed legislation that gives all city employees six weeks of parental leave after they have or adopt a baby, including 28 days at 70 percent of their pay. Council members Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson proposed the new paternity leave policy, which the city administration estimates will cost about $225,000 a year. Council voted 7-2 to pass the proposal. Seelbach, Simpson and other backers say the slight cost to the city is worth it, saying it’s the right thing to do and that it will help the city recruit the best and brightest employees. Council members Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray voted against the measure, in part because they believe leave offered to employees should be decided through negotiations with the city employees union.

• One of Cincinnati’s iconic but currently empty churches will be born again as an event center, developers say. Towne Properties, which has its headquarters in a portion of the building, will redevelop the former Holy Cross Monastery, which overlooks the city from its lofty perch in Mount Adams, turning it into an upscale space for weddings and other events.  The church has been empty since 1977, and Towne has owned it since 1980. The developer has been puzzled over what to do with the property, considering a hotel or office space for the building. But none of that worked out on paper and so the historic 12,000-square-foot church, built in 1873, has remained empty except for some pretty amazing art exhibits that have popped up from time to time there. I remember seeing Shinji Turner-Yamamoto’s beautiful Global Tree Project at the monastery back in the day. It’s an incredible place.

• Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus has officially announced she’s running for Hamilton County commissioner against sitting Republican commish Greg Hartmann next year. Driehaus, a Clifton resident with a long history of service in local and state politics, is prohibited by term limits from running for another stint as state rep. Hartmann first got the commissioners job in 2008 when he ran unopposed for the post, replacing outgoing commish Pat DeWine. Before that, he mounted an unsuccessful bid for Ohio Secretary of State.

• The Ohio General Assembly yesterday passed so-called “ban the box” legislation that strikes questions about prospective employees’ criminal records from public job applications. The state struck a similar question from its job applications in June, but now an application for any public job in Ohio won’t have questions about an applicant’s criminal history. Proponents say that will help ex-offenders get a new start and decrease the chances they’ll end up in prison again. You can read about the ban the box effort in our in-depth feature story on the subject published in June.

• Finally, in national news, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is raising nearly as much money as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the two duel it out in the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential nomination. Sanders raised $26 million in the last fundraising quarter to presumed frontrunner Clinton’s $28 million. That’s kind of crazy because Sanders is an independent, not a Democrat, and he’s been running around for years telling people he’s a socialist. Not exactly the most obvious path to the White House. Clinton, meanwhile, is named Clinton and has the vast fundraising network of her former president husband Bill and plenty of backers from her time as a senator. But then, when the top GOP contender for the presidential nomination is Donald Trump, all the rules we all thought were well understood and set in stone go flying out the window.

That’s it for me! Email or tweet at me and let me know if Washington Park is open to us commoners (aka the public) today. You know what I'm talking about if you passed by yesterday.

by Nick Swartsell 09.30.2015 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

City Unveils Efforts to Address Contracting Disparities

Croson Study reveals that minority and women owned businesses receive few contracts, have capacity to do much more

City of Cincinnati officials today unveiled the final draft of a long-awaited study of gender and racial disparities in the city’s contracting practices, as well as ordinances that might address some of those inequalities, including race and gender based requirements for contractors.

The so-called Croson Study shows that between 2009 and 2013, black-owned businesses were awarded only 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts, totaling about $5 million, despite blacks making up more than 45 percent of the city’s population. Businesses owned by women fared only slightly better during the study’s time frame, getting only 6.2 percent of the city’s contracts. Eighteen percent of busineses in Cincinnati are owned by blacks, and nearly 30 percent are owned by women.

Mayor John Cranley cast the report as a positive step toward more equitable contracting for the city.

“We’re finally here after a long amount of hard work,” Cranley said during a ceremony today at City Hall featuring a wide array of about two dozen city officials, faith leaders, members of the business community, activists and others. “We have a lot of great things happening in the city, but we’re not perfect, and, clearly, the city’s procurement process has not reflected the diversity of our city.” 

Councilman Wendell Young also praised the study, but sounded a much more somber note.

“Since we’ve confirmed what we already know, how hard are we willing to work to address the problems?” he asked. “It’s true that the city of Cincinnati is making great progress. It’s also true that a significant part of this community is not feeling that progress. Cincinnati has many distinctions that we’re not proud of."

Young citing the city’s sky-high infant mortality, childhood poverty and black unemployment rates.

“Today we’re at the point where we have the road map and the confirmation. From today on we find out if we have the political will, the ability, the skill and whether the work we do can make a difference. We won’t be the first, but we’re going to find a way to make this work. And if we can’t do that, heaven help us all.”

The report also revealed that 70 percent of the city's $1.2 billion in prime contracts went to a small group of businesses, a fact that many on city council found disturbing.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman said that fact should make not just minority and female-owned businesses angry, but anyone who has competed for a city contract.

"That's one hell of a country club," he said.

Cranley touted steps the city has already taken toward diversifying its contracting, including recently establishing the city’s new Department of Economic Inclusion and making changes to its Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program. But he also said the Croson Study and its suggestions are huge parts of the solution.

The study makes several suggestions for improvements in the city’s contracting process on four different monetary levels, from under $5,000 to more than $250,000, on both the prime contract and subcontract levels. Some recommended solutions are based on race and gender categories, while others are neutral.

On the subcontracting level, Cincinnati City Council will consider ordinances which create a Minority Business Enterprise program and a Women Business Enterprise program, allowing such businesses to compete with each other for certain set-aside contracts.

On the much larger prime contracting level, businesses will be given points on some bids if they are at least 51 percent owned by minorities or women.

Some council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, want the city to go farther in ensuring better equity in awarding contracts at the $1 billion prime contracting level. Both Simpson and Councilman Chris Seelbach offered pointed questions about what more could be done at the prime contracting level to ensure a greater piece of that large pie goes to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The city usually awards prime contracts to companies, which then hire subcontractors. City Manager Harry Black pointed out that the city will make requirements for businesses winning prime bids as to the level of minority subcontractors they should hire. Businesses winning contracts with the city of more than $50,000 will be required to subcontract 17 percent black-owned businesses for construction work and 14 percent black-owned businesses for other services, and 14 and 16 percent businesses owned by women for those categories respectively.

One recommendation made by the Croson Study that the city has not yet considered is ending so-called master agreements, or contracts with companies that can be used by multiple city departments on separate projects and which can be subject to multi-year renewals without re-bidding.

“The city should eliminate the use of master agreements and follow the competitive bidding standards for all contracts,” the study states in its conclusion.

One point that every city official agrees upon, however, is that minority- and female-owned businesses are up to the task of doing more projects on taxpayers' behalf.

The study shows that black-owned businesses in the city have the capacity to take on up to 20 percent of the city’s contracts. Businesses owned by women see a similar capacity gap: The report shows female-owned businesses have the ability to tackle another 20 percent of the city’s contracts.

“To all my colleagues here, please do not use the word ‘capacity,’ " Smitherman said.

Though the report is clear, the details involved in increasing minority contracts awarded by the city are complex. Part of the complication comes from the legal realities around what the city can and can’t do to increase minority contracting.

The Croson Study gets its name from a U.S. Supreme Court case, City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, in which the Virginia city was sued by a contractor over its contract diversity initiatives. The Supreme Court ruled Richmond’s setbacks of contracts for minority businesses unconstitutional and set a standard of strict scrutiny, the highest legal standard, for municipal contracting diversity programs.

That means that cities risk lawsuits if they don’t demonstrate a very clear need to enact gender- or race-specific contracting guidelines and cannot show that those guidelines are narrowly tailored to address disparities without discriminating against other businesses.

Cincinnati has already been through such a lawsuit in 2004, when Cleveland Construction Company unsuccessfully sued the city over its contracting diversity policies. The company claimed that the city’s Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program, which was used in part to score the bids from Cleveland and other companies, created unconstitutional racial and gender classifications and violated its rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. An initial decision from the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas agreed with that claim, and the city amended the race- and gender-related parts of its SBE program. The case went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in favor of the city.

The Croson Study offers some protection from future lawsuits, say city officials and representatives from Mason Tillman Associates, which conducted the 338-page report. The report quantifies the extent of Cincinnati’s contracting diversity problems and puts forward recommendations, many poised to be passed by council, that are tailored to address them.

“It gives us a legal basis to do what we need to do to be a city that will work for everybody and not just for a few,” Cranley said.