Heya! I’m gearing up to spend a couple days in Chicago, so no morning news tomorrow. However, I’m leaving ya with a bunch of crazy stuff today, so check it out.
First, something’s in the air here in Cincinnati lately. Yesterday I told you about Michael Hoyt, the West Chester bartender who threatened to kill House Speaker John Boehner, possibly during a bout of mental illness. Today, we learn about Chris Cornell. No, not the long haired, goateed grunge singer. Different guy. Christopher Lee Cornell was arrested yesterday morning after buying two semi-automatic weapons from a gun shop in Colerain Township. Cornell had been on the Internet for months talking about a violent Jihad, it seems, and had even met up with a person who turned out to be a government informant a couple times here in Cincinnati. The plan Cornell reportedly hatched involved pipe bombs and a shooting spree at the U.S. Capitol building. When he and the informant made concrete travel plans for D.C., the FBI swooped in. Here’s the criminal complaint filed against Cornell in federal district court.
• The tangled, confusing fight over renovations to Over-the-Rhine’s Emery Theater continues as nonprofit group the Requiem Project sues the University of Cincinnati over the historic venue. Let’s recap, in the simplest way possible. Since 1969, the University of Cincinnati has owned a historic, 1911 building on Central Parkway that was once home to the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute but now houses downtown’s Coffee Emporium location as well as some luxury apartments. Know the building? Of course you do. I see everyone and their mom at Coffee Emporium. Anyway, in 1999, UC signed a 40-year, $40 lease with a for-profit group called the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership that allowed ECALP to renovate the building for use as 59 market-rate apartments. Still with me? Good. That group then spun the theater portion of the building over to the Emery Center Corporation, a non-profit charged specifically with renovating the theater. THAT group, ECC, in Sept. 2010 entered into a partnership with the Requiem Project, which was started by Tara Lindsey Gordon and Tina Manchise, who moved from New York to undertake the project. Flash forward a few years, and after some 35 fundraisers and some renovation, the Requiem Project was locked out of the building in August 2013. They were told UC would have to sign off on their contract with ECC, something that was not originally revealed to the nonprofit. A move by UC to sell the building to ECALP never materialized, and now Requiem is suing all parties involved for the rights to continue renovating, as well as $25,000 in damages. Phew.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will be in court again over the eight felony counts an earlier jury couldn’t agree upon last year. Hunter was convicted on a ninth count, having an unlawful interest in a public contract, but she has appealed that conviction and her six-month sentence has been suspended until that appeal goes through. The other eight counts that prosecutors will again try Hunter on involve misusing a court-issued credit card, tampering with court documents and other alleged misdeeds. Hunter and her attorney say she is a victim of politics and did not do anything wrong in her courtroom. The case has been incredibly controversial in Cincinnati. Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black and first female judge, and she came into office promising to reform the county’s juvenile justice system, which she says is racially biased. As Hunter's trial goes on, others have made similar accusations about the county. Recently, the Northern Kentucky-based Children’s Law Center sued the county over its treatment of juveniles. The Center alleges racial bias in the county’s juvenile justice system, including incidents where young people of color have been held without charge for weeks at a time.
• Good news for cigar aficionados, and an interesting moment in history for everyone: The United States has formally announced it is easing travel restrictions for folks wanting to go to Cuba. Many U.S. visitors will no longer need to apply for a special license from the Treasury to visit the island nation, will be allowed to use credit and debit cards, will not have restrictions on how much money they spend on the island, and will be allowed to bring back up to $400 in stuff, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products. There are a number of other rules that have been loosened or done away with as well. The move is the government’s first practical step since President Barack Obama announced he was seeking to repair relations with the communist country, which the U.S. has embargoed since the 1950s. The important question is, will those cigars taste as good now that they’re not forbidden?
• Finally, say you’ve just been elected president. You’re about to be sworn in and start serving your four years at the most stressful but also most prestigious job in the world, and you just want to take some time, kick back and savor the moment. What’s an appropriate victory meal? If it’s this day in 1909 and you’re then President-elect William Howard Taft (the notorious WHT) visiting Atlanta, you sit down to a huge possum feast. Taft’s a giant in this town and his historic home is right down the road from my historic home (one of the two is a museum; you can probably guess which). I had no idea about this. Possum: for the good times.
Cincinnati City Council today changed a rule that stipulates which public employees must live within city limits. The move effectively exempts embattled Director of Water and Sewers Tony Parrott from having to move to the city after he was punished in June for misleading officials about his residency.
Under the new rules, only the city manager, assistant city manager, city solicitor and police chief will need to live in the city. The 6-2 decision came with some argument, however. Councilmen Kevin Flynn and Wendell Young voted against the rule change. Flynn said he felt it wasn’t fair to make concessions for someone who deliberately misled the city. Young had broader qualms with the change, saying he thinks all high-level city administration employees should have to live in the city from which they get their taxpayer-funded salaries.
“I have great difficulty with people who are in the higher part of the administration who help to create the rules and in many cases enforce the rules, and then are not subject to them,” Young said. “I don’t understand how the city of Cincinnati is good enough to work in, good enough to provide your income, but isn’t good enough to live in.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn, however, said the situation was actually the city’s fault. In 2012, the city-run sewer district merged with the water works department, which serves both the city as well as most of Hamilton County and parts of Butler and Warren Counties. Winburn says the residency requirements for Parrott’s job should have been updated at that time, since it is now effectively an agency that serves the greater region.
“Are we going to split Mr. Parrott in two now?” Winburn asked. “Do we have to get Solomon in on this thing?”
Other council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, voted for the change on legal grounds. Ohio law forbids residency requirements for some city employees, and there are questions about whether the city’s former rules complied with those laws. City solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said she believes council’s change today falls within the state’s laws.
Parrot, who has served as head of the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works, had listed his residence as a property on Westwood Avenue that turned out to be an empty lot he owned. Meanwhile, he was actually living in Butler County. City officials found out about the discrepancy in June and disciplined Parrott by docking him 40 hours of pay and requiring him to move into the city within 180 days. That time had elapsed and Parrott still hadn’t moved back. Parrott was granted a 45-day extension at the end of the six-month period as the city decided whether to fire him or change its rules.
Wound up in the questions about Parrott’s residency is the city’s court-ordered, $3.2 billion sewer project, a huge undertaking that will stretch into the next decade. The city was ordered to update its sewer system after a lawsuit by homeowners and environmental groups. Some council members say Parrott is integral to that ongoing process. Others, however, say that doesn’t excuse his actions.
“I understand the desire to keep this person in place,” Flynn said, acknowledging Parrott’s big role. “But I cannot support keeping someone who has been dishonest with the city and has continued to be dishonest with the city. I think that does a disservice to the rest of our city employees and to our citizens.”
Parrott has told City Manager Harry Black that he doesn’t want to live in the city for personal reasons but does want to remain at his job.
Morning Cincy. Let’s talk about the news.
• The big story today is that House Speaker John Boehner’s country club bartender has been indicted for threatening to kill the powerful West Chester Republican. Michael Robert Hoyt was fired from his job at the Wetherington Country Club in West Chester last year, after which he sent a rambling email to Boehner’s wife saying that if he had wanted to kill Boehner, he could have slipped something into his wine many times. Hoyt, who has a history of mental illness, later told authorities investigating his email that he was Jesus Christ and that he needed to kill Boehner. Hoyt indicated he had a pistol, which was later seized by authorities. Killing a dude doesn’t sound very Jesus-y, but I digress. Hoyt is currently being held in a federal mental health facility for evaluation.
• An audit commissioned by Hamilton County slams former Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr.’s handling of the department. The audit compared the sheriff’s office to something from the 1950s, and one of its authors, attorney Scott Greenwood, said the department was “held together with smoke, mirrors and absolute secrecy.”
Among the problems the audit found were unguarded evidence rooms, single deputies overseeing up to 100 inmates and a lack of computerized recording keeping at the county’s traffic and other departments. Former sheriff Leis has said the audit is politically motivated and that he stands by his record. Republican County Commissioner Greg Hartmann has also come to Leis’ defense, saying the sheriff did the best he could with the resources available to him. Hartmann says the report seems to be a push for funding increases for the sheriff’s office, something he and fellow Republican commissioner Chris Monzel say isn’t possible.
The audit was highly critical of several resource shortcomings within the department, an issue that is still at play in the political fight between current Sheriff Jim Neil and county commissioners.
• Cincinnati is one of 15 destinations across the world highlighted in Jetsetter Magazine’s list of places to go in 2015. Jetsetter highlighted downtown’s arts district, including the Aronoff Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Arts Center and 21C as well as the city’s upscale dining scene and forthcoming bike path expansions. If they think that stuff is neat, wait till they get a look at our really rad warehouse punk shows and our awesome chili. Or maybe they’re not as into that kind of stuff. Cuba, Taipei in Taiwan, Kauai in Hawaii and Bordeaux, France, also made the list.
• Speaking of lists, Cincinnati is the tenth-best city in the country for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. A study by personal finance site Wallethub.com found Cincinnati among the top cities in the country for STEM jobs. The site measured job openings in STEM industries, wages for STEM workers, expected growth of related industries in coming years and other factors. Houston and Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina rounded out the top three. Columbus bested us by one spot, landing at number nine on the list.
• The Ohio Board of Education voted on a new president Monday, selecting Gov. John Kasich ally Tom Gunlock. Gunlock is one of eight at-large members on the 19-member board. While the other 11 members are elected to represent a district, Kasich appoints at-large members. The board looks to be the site of some serious fights this year over charter schools, common core, the 5 of 8 rule and other contentious issues. Though Democrats got battered in nearly every other state election, they came out with three more seats on the board in November. They’re still in the minority, however. Nearly all the Dems on the board backed Cincinnati’s Pat Bruns, a newly-elected board member, to head the board. Bruns and her fellow Democrats have promised push-back on charters, calling for more accountability for the private, state-funded schools. They’ve also signaled opposition to elimination of a rule that requires all schools to hire at least five out of eight kinds of specialists, including librarians and art teachers.
• The Obama administration is beginning to outline ambitious plans for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Last week Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx previewed a thirty-year plan for his agency ahead of a comprehensive report on the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs due later this year. Foxx said the report will focus on the inter-reliance of America’s many interwoven transit systems. He highlighted big population growth in the South and West as drivers of a need to update the nation’s systems, as well as the increasing number of people moving back to urban centers. Foxx said seemingly small factors such as increased reliance on bikes and walking shouldn’t be overlooked in the planning process, suggesting the department may pay close attention to urban areas where those changes are slowly coming about.
“What people are viewing as this cute, cuddly bike and pedestrian movement could be a real game-changer,” Foxx said in a Friday talk in Washington, D.C. about the upcoming report.
Hit me up with news tips, marriage or business (or marriage business) proposals, or inquiries for booking my one-man singing hackey sack musical at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the twitters: @nswartsell.
Morning y’all. I know, I know. I skipped our news rundown yesterday, but I had a good excuse: I spent some time at City Hall finding out about poverty-related challenges facing Cincinnati in the new year and efforts to address those issues, which I’ll be reporting on in-depth soon. In the meantime, let’s play catch up.
There’s a new parking plan for Over-the-Rhine floating around, and while it will cost less than Mayor John Cranley’s initial proposal to enact the highest residential parking fees in the country, some folks still aren’t happy about the impact it could have on low-income residents in the neighborhood.
The earlier plan, which floated a yearly $300 fee to park in OTR, was aimed at funding streetcar operating costs. Now those costs have been accounted for, but parking in the neighborhood is still kind of a mess. So the city’s transportation department has a new plan: a $108 yearly permit for residents, who will be limited to one car per person and two permits per household. Residents living in low-cost subsidized housing would pay $16 a year for their permits. Four-hundred-two spaces would be made available to permit holders in the neighborhood. Another 646 would have parking meters and the remaining 199 would be up for grabs by anyone at any time, completely unregulated. Those spots are aimed at OTR workers who commute in every morning. Vice Mayor David Mann questioned whether those spaces would really go to workers in the neighborhood. Others, including OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, raised concerns about low-income residents in the neighborhood. Messer pointed out that not all of the neighborhood’s residents who are low-income live in subsidized housing. The city is hoping to get the permitting program running by spring.
• Staying in Over-the-Rhine for a moment, let's talk about an international game design competition coming to the neighborhood later this month. Local startup ChoreMonster will host the Global Game Jam Jan. 23-25 at The Brandery headquarters in OTR. Past events have attracted game designers from 485 cities and 73 countries. Competitors are given 48 hours to design a game around a prompt given the opening day of the event. That game can run on any platform — mobile app, Mac, PC, or even the oldest-fashioned game platform of all — a kitchen table or dorm room floor. Yes, board and card games are allowed.
• Well, it happened, you already know about it, it was huge, etc., but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Ohio State University’s college football national title win last night. They upset Oregon, everyone in the state is wearing red and gray and so forth. And oh yeah, predictably, a bunch of people in Columbus set fire to a bunch of couches and stuff, knocked down goal posts at the OSU stadium, got arrested, etc. Here’s a handy AP style/word-usage note I’ve picked up from journalists covering the unrest: Apparently these kinds of things aren’t riots if they’re over football games. Instead, they’re “revelry.” Noted. Meanwhile, a furniture store that ran a promotion promising free furniture for customers if OSU won by more than seven points will pay more than $1.5 million in rebates after yesterday’s win, which maybe explains why people were burning all those old couches.
• So, will Ohio’s conservative Gov. John Kasich back a plan put forward by President Barack Obama to provide two years of free community college education for Americans? It’s too soon to say for sure, but the governor’s office released some cautiously almost-supportive language in response to the idea and said the gov is interested in the details. States will be footing a quarter of the bill for the plan and must opt-in for residents to be eligible for the proposed program. If conservative governors like Kasich were to support the plan, it would be a major bipartisan moment, since anything Obama does usually causes howls of socialism from the Republican party.
• Speaking of Kasich, he was sworn in yesterday for his second term as governor of Ohio. His 45-minute speech had few surprises, though he did kind of tear up a couple times (Ohio Republicans are an emotional lot, if Kasich and Rep. John Boehner are any indications) and took what seemed to be a passive-aggressive jab at the state’s legislature. He thanked the body, which is dominated by his fellow Republicans, for helping him expand Medicaid back in 2013. The joke is that the state legislature fought Kasich all the way to the end on the expansion. Perhaps it’s a sharp elbow from the governor as Ohio considers this year whether it will renew its acceptance of federal funds for the expansion.
• Finally, I’ve noted on this blog before that 90s throwback steez (my use of the word “steez” is proof of my late 90s slang savvy) is at an all-time high. We’re even going to have a repeat of that whole Y2K panic. It seems we’re all too fast for the planet and we’ve gotten ahead of the earth’s inconsistent rotation by about a second. That means we’ll need a so-called “leap second” this year. OK, no big deal, just count down to zero on New Year’s Eve 2015, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated. Turns out computer software hates it when you just go tacking extra seconds onto reality. The last leap second in 2012 crashed Yelp, Reddit, Gawker and other big websites. That actually sounds like a wonderful way to start a new year. Software engineers have worked out a fix to the problem, but the question is whether that fix will be implemented across all the various programs that like, run the Internet. I just hope Tumblr is OK and Buzzfeed is not.
Hit me up with news tips, frostbite prevention tips or just tips (paypal accepted): email@example.com or via Twitter before it crashes: @nswartsell.
Hey all. It’s Friday! But you already knew that. Here are some things you may not already be aware of.
Today is full of statewide and national news, but there’s at least one interesting local story happening right now. A Cincinnati company is following in the er, tire tracks of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, offering rides via an online reservation system. The difference is, Drivr Green Transportation Company is using all-electric Tesla luxury cars to squire you about town. Founders and Cincinnati natives Brandon Beard and Nick Seitz figured out they could run the service with lower overhead if they didn’t have to pay for gasoline. They tested the concept with three Tesla Model S cars on Uber’s network in August. Now, they’re running those three cars 20 to 22 hours a day while looking to lease 10 more cars and find 30 more drivers. The two say they’re not trying to compete with Uber and Lyft, but rather to fill an as-yet unmet demand for green luxury transportation.
• A bill giving more than $7 million to substance abuse programs and jails in Kentucky to help deal with the region’s heroin crisis passed the Kentucky Senate yesterday, the Associated Press reports. The bill also exempts heroin users from minor drug charges when calling 911 for a heroin overdose in an attempt to encourage people to reach out to emergency personnel during overdose situations. A sharp spike in heroin use and overdoses that has swept the region has hit Northern Kentucky especially hard.
• The state of Ohio has temporarily halted executions while it figures out its lethal injection method, as we reported yesterday. The state is abandoning the two-drug method it has used since 2011 after an execution last year took 26 minutes, resulting in audible struggles for breath from inmate Dennis McGuire while he was being executed. That incident sparked a lawsuit from McGuire’s family. The state has been using the sedative and painkiller mixture since 2011, when production of a third drug called thiopental sodium ceased in the United States. Ohio has announced it will go back to using that drug in its lethal injection procedure, though it has not announced how it intends to source it. The execution of Ronald Phillips, which was scheduled for Feb. 11, has been suspended until the state can source the third drug. Officials say other pending executions may also be pushed back.
• Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown is proposing an alternative for low-income folks who might otherwise avail themselves of high-interest payday loans. Brown’s plan would let Americans get short-term cash advances on their future tax returns based on tax credits for which they are eligible. Brown has been vocal in his opposition to payday lending companies, which charge huge sums to borrow small amounts of money and which often throw low-income people into a long-running cycle of debt.
"Ohioans shouldn't be trapped with a lifetime of debt from predatory loans – particularly if they have tax refunds waiting for them," Brown said in an emailed press release yesterday. "Three-quarters of Americans who turn to costly, high-interest payday loans may have money that they can claim each tax season in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit.”
• Gas prices are crazy low. Like, lower than they have been in years. If my car worked, I’d be hyped. But when the prices are lower and sales don’t spike to make up for that, the government’s receipts from the tax on gasoline also go way down. That’s not bad by itself, necessarily, but that money pays for some pretty important things infrastructure-wise. The tax hasn’t been raised in 20 years, and Americans are still paying 18 cents per gallon toward maintaining the nation’s roads, highways and bridges. Meanwhile, a staggering number of those roads and bridges are in need of repair or replacement. See: the Brent Spence Bridge, the Western Hills Viaduct, and thousands of other structures across the country. So, with Americans paying less for gas, it does sort of seem like an opportune time to think about raising the gas tax, no? So, you know, we still have roads to drive on and so we don’t have to wait for the river to freeze to get to Kentucky, right? Nah, Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, says. Not going to happen. Boehner proudly pointed out yesterday that he’s never voted to increase the tax and wouldn’t vote for an increase this time around if it were to come up in Congress. It’s not all the House Speaker’s fault, of course. As the orange one points out, there probably aren’t enough people in Congress (read: Republicans) willing to vote for this seemingly sane, rational decision about the nation’s infrastructure. Awesome.
• President Barack Obama will propose offering two-year college educations to American workers funded by the federal and state governments in a speech later today in Tennessee.
"Put simply, what I'd like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who's willing to work for it," Obama said in a video preview of his speech filmed ahead of his Jan. 20 State of the Union Address. "It's something we can accomplish, and it's something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anyone in the world."
The plan is going to have to make it through Congress, of course, and it’s unclear how willing the Republican-led bodies will be to help the plan off the ground. Republicans including Speaker Boehner have sounded a skeptical note about the idea. A spokesman for Boehner’s office said the proposal sounded "more like a talking point than a plan” without specifics on cost. The president has promised more details and a cost estimate will be delivered during the State of the Union and in his budget proposal, which is due in early February.
In the sudden realization that like, hey, maybe we shouldn’t put people to death if we don’t really know what we’re doing, Ohio has dropped its two-drug execution method and will delay an imminent execution.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction today announced that it will stop using the method utilizing a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, which came under fire last year when it took 26 minutes to put convicted killer Dennis McGuire to death. Witnesses said McGuire was gasping for breath during his execution. His family is suing the state, claiming the execution caused needless pain and suffering.
Another execution in Arizona last year using the same method took more than two hours.
The state has said it will again use thiopental sodium, a sedative used until 2011, for executions. Ohio stopped using that drug because it is no longer produced in the United States. It is unclear how Ohio plans to obtain the drug, though compounding pharmacies, or labs that produce such drugs, could supply the state.
The announcement delays the execution of Ronald Phillips, who was convicted in the 1993 rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl. Officials say other executions may be delayed as well as the state sources the third drug or an alternative.
Morning y’all. I’m not going to comment on how cold it is this morning, because you probably already know. Instead, I’m just going to say I cannot feel my feet.
Anyway, what’s up today? Glad you asked.
One of the protesters arrested at a Nov. 25 rally in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct yesterday. Rhonda Shaw was one of the seven activists arrested on I-75 after protesters briefly made their way onto the highway. Shaw was the only one not eventually released on bond in the aftermath of the arrests. A judge removed a requirement that six other protesters who had already paid bail wear electronic monitoring devices, after which they were freed. All six still face disorderly conduct and inducing panic charges and will be in court this month. Shaw did not pay bail and was not released. Hamilton County Judge William Mallory dismissed another more serious charge of inducing panic in Shaw’s case. The disorderly conduct charge is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine.
The protest mirrored similar actions around the country over the lack of indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown. The event drew more than 300 people and led to a long, winding march through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach took a moment to remember Kings Mills transgender teen Leelah Alcorn during yesterday’s City Council meeting, reading an emotional statement addressed to LGBT individuals who are struggling with feelings of isolation. Alcorn committed suicide Dec. 28.
“You can survive the pain,” Seelbach said after reading from Alcorn’s suicide note, which she posted on Tumblr. “You can survive the isolation. You can because you're exactly who you're supposed to be. You're the person God made you to be, and you have the strength to persevere. It will not be easy. It may not get better with every day, but you can do it — I know you can.”
• A couple days ago, I told you Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld appears to have started raising money for a shot at Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s seat in 2016. If that’s true, he’d better start his hustle. Portman already has almost $6 million in the bank for the race, according to a campaign email. He’s also touting endorsements from a number of high-up Republicans including Gov. John Kasich. It’s unclear if the early saber-rattling is meant to scare away possible far-right primary challengers or send a message to an eventual Democratic contender for his seat, but it’s clear Portman has a big advantage at this early juncture.
• Officials yesterday released the full-length security video showing the Cleveland police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, including the troubling aftermath of that shooting. The beginning of the video, which was released shortly after the incident, shows a Cleveland police cruiser rushing into the park where Rice was playing, which was across the street from his house. Officer Timothy Leohman jumps out of the passenger side of the cruiser and immediately shoots Rice, who a 911 caller said was brandishing a pistol that was “probably fake.” That much we already knew. But the extended video also shows two officers tackling and wrestling Tamir’s 14-year-old sister Tajai Rice, eventually forcefully hustling her to the police car. Meanwhile, no officers attempt to assist Rice, who is lying in the park bleeding to death. It takes nearly 15 minutes for officers to remove Rice from the scene on a stretcher. He later died at the hospital.
Loehman was fired from the Independence, Ohio police department in 2012 because he exhibited signs of being emotionally unstable and was subsequently passed over for jobs at a number of other departments before getting a job in Cleveland. Last month, the Department of Justice released an unrelated, year-long report slamming the Cleveland Police Department for its use of force and an apparent racial bias in its policing.
• Finally, a Columbus suburb is getting what can only be described as a monumental honor. The city of Westerville will soon be home to the tacocropolis, aka the capitol of crunch; in other words, the country’s most expensive Taco Bell location. Westerville officials call it a great redevelopment project, and the development company says they see the upscale Taco Bell as an investment.
“Westerville is a very discriminating city about what they want done and how they want it to look," Hadler Company President Stephen Breech said. "Sometimes you get subpar looks from a fast-food building — but this isn't that kind of a facility. It has a lot of brick on it and things like that."
The developer won’t divulge how much the project will cost, and Taco Bell will only confirm that it is the chain’s most expensive location, building-wise, in the country.
A lot of brick on it, indeed. I really hope the “things like that” he’s referring to are giant, gold plated monuments to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
A few words on this week’s cover story about Ohio’s changes to the General Educational Development (GED) test. The piece first appeared in the Cleveland Scene, and it's a great, well-researched read. We did some significant reporting to localize it for Cincinnati, not all of which made it into the final article.
The GED is something a lot of folks don’t really think much about, and I admit I didn’t know a whole lot about it before digging in for our reporting. But the test is a vital lifeline toward a better life for folks who for one reason or another never got a high school diploma.
Seven-hundred-forty-seven people took the test in Hamilton County in 2014. That's down from 2,388 in 2013.
As you’ll read in the cover story, new changes that took affect in 2014 have made it more difficult and expensive to take and pass the test and move on to a trade school, a community college or a better job. New standards require higher levels of interpretive abilities and background knowledge to pass the GED. What's more, students must practice for and take the test on a computer — a big challenge for some students struggling with poverty — and the base fee the state charges for taking the test has tripled.
I went to the East End Adult Education Center to find out more about how the test is getting harder and who is taking it. While I was there, I also learned a lot about what is at stake for folks trying to pass it. I’d like to introduce you to a few of them here. Even though all of their stories didn’t fit in the cover piece, I think they’re important to talk about.
DaniJo Doud, 32, was sitting with head tutor Marty Walsh and practicing for the test when I walked through the door of the center on Eastern Avenue.
Doud got pregnant when she was 16 and ended up repeating the 9th grade three times before dropping out of school. She later struggled with heroin addiction, though she can tell you the exact day she stopped using: May 28, 2012. Now, she’d like to go to a nearby community college to eventually become a drug counselor.
“I always thought I was dumb,” she told me, “but I’m not. I came here and started out on a fourth or fifth grade level. I’m now on a 12th grade level on everything. I’ll graduate this year, I’m sure of it. I want to do the work. I love coming here. I don’t miss a day.”
The center is one of just a few in Cincinnati that offer GED study and testing services. Others, including Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, also provide these services, though often to large classes instead of one on one.
The East End Adult Education Center runs on grants and doesn’t charge students. It even offers scholarships to some students who can’t afford some or all of Ohio’s GED test fee. Adele Craft, the center’s executive director, says nearly all of the people who come here to study are facing economic challenges, or have had life hurdles that kept them from completing high school. Some are refugees.
You’ll read more about Sy Ohur in the cover story. Ohur came to the United States from Sudan in 2004, when the country was gripped by a bloody civil war that killed several hundred thousand people. Ohur fled here knowing almost zero English; Craft said he and other refugees who came around that time didn’t even know the alphabet. Ohur is now an American citizen with strong English skills. He has passed two parts of the GED previously, but then the test was redesigned and he’s had to go back to square one.
In the next room, 17-year-old Chris was studying math with his tutor Mike, going over some equations that — full disclosure — I didn’t really understand. Chris has been coming for a year. At first, he was compelled to come by court order due to problems he was having with truancy. Attending Riverside High School just wasn’t working out for him, he said, though he admits part of the problem was he had a hard time getting up early enough.
“But then I started coming here and started wanting to learn,” he says. “The teachers at school, they tried to help me out, but it wasn’t getting through to me like here. They’ve showed me different angles, different ways to look at things. It’s helped me out a lot.”
Chris, who lives just down the road, shows up every day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. He hopes to take the test soon. His immediate goal is to go to Cincinnati State and eventually transfer to a four-year college to become an architect.
The East End Adult Education Center, one of just a few in Cincinnati that provides test prep and allows students to take the actual GED onsite, sees about 100 students a year. About 20 pass the test each year. As Craft shows me the phone book-sized study guide students must contend with, she tells me passing the test is sometimes a multi-year effort.
That effort has been getting more difficult in Cincinnati and across the state. Craft said holding students to a higher standard and getting them prepared for college is a great goal and that the new test does that well. But she doesn’t like that people looking to better themselves have a harder road ahead of them.
“It’s just a lot, lot harder,” she said of the new test. “It’s going to take us a lot longer.”
Hey all! My colleague, CityBeat arts editor Jac Kern, just got engaged over the holiday and there’s champagne everywhere in the office right now. Congrats! Now I’m going to try to power through the distraction to bring you the news because I’m a soldier like that.
So the streetcar contingency budget, which is set aside for unforeseen complications and cost overruns, is healthier than previously thought, officials announced yesterday. Last month, streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced that the worst-case scenarios his office ran had the fund down to about $80,000 after everything was paid out. But after some political blowback, especially from streetcar foe Mayor John Cranley, Deatrick and company went back to the drawing board, reassessed costs and adjusted that figure. The new estimate is that the contingency fund has about $1.3 million left. What changed? Not much. Deatrick says the streetcar team renegotiated some contracts and scaled back a fence around the streetcar substation. That fence was set to be solid brick, but will now be partially steel. Some council members, including Chris Seelbach, expressed concerns that the project was being scaled back due to political pressure, but officials with the project say it will run the same distance with the same number of cars for the same amount of time and that it hasn’t been scaled back in any meaningful way.
• As the weather gets colder, demands on area homeless shelters are increasing, straining space available for those with nowhere else to go. While a funding increase council passed last month has given area shelters more money to work with, demand may outpace the increase.
"The demand for winter shelter has been greater than expected this winter," Strategies to End Homelessness President and CEO Kevin Finn said in a statement. "... Such increased and early demand could exhaust resources that we hope will last us through February."
• Local grilled cheese dynamo Tom + Chee is expanding, its founders report, with plans to open five new restaurants in Southern Texas, mostly in suburbs of Houston. The company has partnered with the Tunica-Biloxi tribe to bring the restaurants to the region. The new restaurants will join 13 others in Georgia, Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee.
• Northern Kentucky residents who have been touched by the region’s heroin epidemic took their concerns to the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfurt yesterday. One-hundred-thirty Northern Kentuckians came to the rally asking for changes to state laws that could cut down the number of heroin overdose deaths. Among the policy changes advocates are asking for: repeal of a law that keeps Kentucky police from carrying anti-overdose drugs like Narcan. Police in Cincinnati and many other cities carry the drugs, which can mean the difference between life and death for overdose victims.
A new program in Kentucky will give state funds to three hospitals to provide Narcan kits to emergency overdose patients, including St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Fort Thomas. The hospital was chosen due to the high number of overdose victims it treats.
• It’s official. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, has lived to fight another day as speaker of the house. Boehner held the most powerful perch in the House despite challenges from the far-right wing of the Republican party, who hold that he didn’t do enough to repeal Obamacare and cut the federal budget. Tea party-affiliated reps had a similar mutiny attempt last session, in 2013, when 12 voted against Boehner for speaker. This time, opposition doubled, as 24 conservative House members voted against him. Boehner still coasted to a win, but the drama highlights the continued fissures in the party. Even as it grows more powerful— the 246 seats Republicans hold in the House are the most they’ve had since the 1940s — it’s clear there’s little agreement about what should be done with that power. Perhaps in reflection of this mixed-up mindset, Boehner offered this lumpy, ill-formed bag of metaphors on the House floor after his win.
“So let’s stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong,” Boehner said. “May the fruits of our labors be ladders our children can use to climb to the stars.”
Fruit ladders to the stars, y’all.
Boehner was quick to deal out discipline to members who voted against him, having two Republicans who voted against him kicked off the House’s powerful rules committee, which sets the agenda for the House.
• One of the grand jurors in the Darren Wilson case is suing the St. Louis County prosecutor over what he says were misleading statements about the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson. Prosecutor Robert McCullough presented evidence to the grand jury after the August shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown by Ferguson Police officer Wilson. The grand jury member accuses McCullough of misleading the public about the grand jury’s deliberations and is asking to be able to speak publicly about the case in his suit. The juror, who so far has remained anonymous, is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Brown’s shooting along with other police shootings of unarmed black citizens have triggered civil unrest and activism around the country.
• Finally, this isn’t really news related but I have to share it anyway. Here are the ladies of Downton Abby, which just started a new season, playing Cards Against Humanity. Warning: it gets a lil raunchy. Also, you’re welcome.
Hey all. Hope your morning commute was safe and warm amidst the cold, nasty dusting of snow we got last night. I’m still glued to my space heater here at home, so I’ve yet to venture out into the grossness.
Here’s what’s up today:
It looks as if Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is seriously checking out a run for U.S. Senate. Sources close to Sittenfeld told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the 30-year-old Democrat has begun raising money for a bid at Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s seat. It’s a big jump from councilman to senator, and Sittenfeld may have some more experienced competition for the nod as the Democratic candidate. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has shown signs that he may be interested in running, as have former Ohio Congressional delegates Betty Sutton and Tim Ryan. However, Sittenfeld has laid some groundwork for a run, visiting all corners of the state in the past year on issues of taxes and the economy. He also has a number of Senate-themed website names on lockdown, including pgforsenate.com, sittenfeldforsenate.com, and surelysittenfeldsoundssenatorialsam.com (I made that last one up). He hasn’t made it official yet, and there’s no telling if he would stay in the race should someone more experienced like Strickland officially throw his hat in the ring. But party leaders like Hamilton County Democratic Party chair Tim Burke and Ohio Democratic Party head David Pepper say he could be a serious contender depending upon how things shake out ahead of 2016.
• Mount Auburn-based Christ Hospital is fighting a lawsuit claiming the health organization submitted $28 million in claims to Medicare that cannot be proven. The hospital claims the money was used to train doctors rotating into the hospital from other health organizations between 2007 and 2012, but former employee Glenda Overton says in her lawsuit that the claims the hospital filed were not documented in accordance with federal law. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2013, but federal judge Timothy Black just struck down the hospital’s request to dismiss the case Dec. 31. The hospital could be on the hook for more than $90 million in damages if a jury finds it is guilty of misrepresenting claims.
• One of Mayor John Cranley’s staff members made a pretty prestigious list this week. Daniel Rajaiah, Cranley’s director of external affairs and the head of the mayor’s immigration task force, appeared on Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list in policy and politics. Rajaiah has been at City Hall just over a year, but then, he hasn’t been out of college much longer than that. Rajaiah graduated from the University of Dayton in 2013. While at UD, he led the College Democrats of Ohio for a year. The magazine highlights his work on the immigration task force as well as his time at his college post, where he helped get 43,000 people registered to vote.
• Meet the new bosses, who look very much the same as the old bosses. As Congress prepares to start a new session today, let’s look at how representative our representatives are. Four out of five members of Congress are male, and four out of five are white. Women make up just 19 percent of the House of Representatives and 20 percent of the Senate, despite, you know, being half of the general population. Meanwhile, blacks make up just 10 percent of the House and a whole 2 percent of the Senate, despite representing 14 percent of the U.S. population. People of Hispanic origin make up just 8 percent of the House and 3 percent of the Senate. They account for 18 percent of the general population. Only three of Ohio’s 16 reps are women. Only two are black. The saddest part? What I just described to you is the most diverse Congress in history. America!
• Finally, remember how much of a fight it was to get a few miles of those streetcar tracks in the ground? I put forward this next bit of news only to demonstrate conclusively that we live in an entirely different dimension than some other parts of the country. Officials broke ground today on a high-speed rail project that could eventually shuttle people between Los Angeles and San Francisco at 220 mph. That means you could escape the hellish traffic hole that is the city of angels for the bay area, which is rapidly becoming one big Google campus, in just over two hours. Amazing. Sorry, LA and SF. I'm just kidding. I love you and your lack of below-freezing temperatures.
Via The Enquirer:
"This is a place that has been through difficult times," Lynch said, referring to the city's riots 14 years ago, which led to a lawsuit and accusations of racial profiling by police. "Cincinnati exemplifies the fact that a city is a living thing — and it is comprised of all residents of a community."
• Cincinnati has long underfunded human services, at least according to its own goal of using 1.5 percent of the city budget for things like programs to end homelessness, provide job training and offer support for victims of crime. It doesn’t look like the city will get back to that rate any time soon, and City Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday questioned why City Manager Harry Black’s budget doesn’t include $3 million council unanimously agreed in November to use to reduce homelessness and help boost gainful employment.
Here’s some context via the Business Courier:
It has been longstanding city council practice to direct the city manager what to put in the budget by a motion backed by a majority of council members, so Black's statement appears to permanently alter a standing way of doing business at City Hall. It also increases the tension between Black, Cranley and City Council, particularly majority Democrats, over their governing relationship.
With funding allocated for a mayoral priority but not one supported by all council members, Seelbach said it raised concerns over Black’s independence and whether he reports to Cranley or Cranley and all nine council members.
“It strikes me as very strange,” Seelbach said. “It seems like a symptom of that.”
“So noted,” Black said.
• City pools are set to open this week, but six out of the city’s 25 might not open on time because they’re facing a shortage of 65 lifeguards. The Enquirer today noted why the pools are important to low-income children, many of whom receive free lunch and take advantage of having something to do other than the bad stuff kids get into when they’re bored (my words).
• Social justice activists planned to call on Major League Baseball this morning to speak out on racial injustice, specifically police brutality and what the group calls “blatant disrespect of African Americans in Ohio’s justice system.” The press conference scheduled for 11 a.m. today will include Bishop Bobby Hilton of Word of Deliverance, Pastor Damon Lynch III of New Prospect Baptist Church, Pastor Chris Beard of Peoples Church and Rev. Alan Dicken of Carthage Christian Church.
• WCPO Digital’s series on marijuana continued today looks at what Ohio can expect business-wise if and when the state legalizes pot. WCPO sent two reporters who probably can’t pass a drug test anymore to Colorado to report on the industry and a family who moved there from the Cincinnati area so their daughter who suffers from seizures would have access to medical marijuana.
• The Reds say the stadium smoke stack that caught on fire
last weekend will be fully operable by the time the team returns from its
current road trip. Firefighters climbed two ladders to put out the fire in one
of the “PNC Power Stacks” during a game against the San Francisco Giants last
weekend. A few sections of fans were evacuated but the game was never delayed. The Reds got whooped all weekend so the fire was actually a pleasant distraction and ended up on Sportscenter and stuff.
• Apparently there are lines out the door at a new chicken finger restaurant in West Chester called Raising Cane’s and its owners are going to open more stores, potentially one downtown.
• The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit yesterday against a collection of cancer charities it says misused millions of dollars in donations. Sounds like someone’s going to be in serious trouble for it. Worth a read from the Los Angeles Times to hear about the various members of the James Reynolds Sr. allegedly involved.
In reality, officials say, millions of dollars raised by four “sham charities” lined the pockets of the groups’ founders and their family members, paying for cars, luxury cruises, and all-expense paid trips to Disney World for charity board members.
The 148-page fraud lawsuit accuses the charities of ripping off donors nationwide to the tune of $187 million from 2008 to 2012 in a scheme one federal official called “egregious” and “appalling.”
• Twenty-one-thousand gallons of oil is now sitting in the ocean instead of being burned into the air by automobiles. The U.S. Coast Guard says it has formed a four-mile slick along the central California coastline.
• In good California news, Los Angeles City Council approved raising the city’s minimum wage to a nation-high $15 an hour by 2020.
• Documents recovered during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden? Sure.
• Five global banks to pay $5 billion fine and plead guilty to criminal charges after an investigation into whether traders at the banks “colluded to move foreign currency rates in directions to benefit their own positions.” OK.
• Scientists say a snake ancestor had little toes even though it slithered.
Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate Candidate P.G. Sittenfeld has come out in support of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana in Ohio.
The proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution by ResponsibleOhio would allow anyone in the state over 21 to buy marijuana but would restrict commercial growth to 10 sites around the state owned by the group's investors.
[See also: "Going for the Green," CityBeat Feb. 4 2015]
Sittenfeld told reporters in Columbus today that Ohio's marijuana laws are "broken" and that he favors legalization and regulation of the drug. Sittenfeld cited the disproportionate number of people of color jailed over marijuana violations in the U.S. and the dangerous black market for the drug as reasons he supports legalization.
"We have a binary choice between do we want to take this opportunity to move forward from the broken laws of the past, and I would vote yes on this opportunity," Sittenfeld said.
Sittenfeld is the first city councilman to come out in support for the ballot initiative, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by July in order to make it onto the November ballot. The group says it is well on its way to that goal. But some controversy has erupted, both from conservative lawmakers and other legalization groups. Conservatives like Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine say that legalization will increase drug usage and crime. Other legalization advocates, on the other hand, decry ResponsibleOhio's proposal as a state-sanctioned monopoly on marijuana.
The group's initial proposal did not allow private growers to cultivate marijuana, but after an outcry from legalization supporters, the group amended its proposal to allow for small amounts of the crop to be grown for personal use.
The group's proposal has garnered an interesting mix of supporters and investors, from basketball Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who has pitched in money for the effort, to conservative-leaning business leaders and officials. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters recently said he supports at least looking into legalization of marijuana, calling Ohio's drug laws "archaic." Deters stopped short of endorsing ResponsibleOhio's plan. He is heading up a task force studying the implications of legalizing the drug here.
Recreational marijuana use is legal in four states, and 19 others allow medicinal use.
Sittenfeld made the comments as he is campaigning for big promotion. The 30-year-old city councilman is currently locked in a tough Democratic primary race against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland for the chance to run against GOP incumbent Sen. Rob Portman in 2016.
Hey all! I’m going to do a long news blog today. I won’t be doing the blog tomorrow or next week, as I need to burn up the vacation time I have before it expires and my boss says I’m not allowed to work while I’m not working. Tyranny, I say. Anyway, let's get all caught up before I jet.
The big news today is that the Cincinnati Enquirer is looking for a new top editor. Executive Editor Carolyn Washburn’s last day was yesterday, the Enquirer announced today. Washburn’s departure follows former publisher Margaret Buchanan, who left her post in March and was replaced by one-time Enquirer editor Rick Green. Washburn’s tenure saw the Enquirer shed a number of its long-time reporters and copy editors as part of parent company Gannett’s efforts to move toward the so-called “newsroom of the future.” That sounds like some cool, gee-wiz place where reporters fly around on hover boards and drive DeLoreans at 88 mph to break news two days before it happens, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually similar to a regular corporate newsroom, just with no copy editors and more typos. The Enquirer says Washburn will stay in town but has not revealed the circumstances behind her departure or what she’ll be doing next.
• Yesterday City Manager Harry Black unveiled his proposed $2.1 billion budget for 2016-2017. We’re still combing through that 769-page document, but we can give you the highlights. Disappointingly, there are very few pictures in the budget, though there are a lot of graphs. Facial hair growth for certain elected city officials, for example, is on the uptrend. Speaking of Mayor John Cranley, he's backed the budget, suggesting council pass it without amendment. Chances of that happening are on a sharp downtrend, however.
Human services will see $3.7 million in funding under the budget. Some of that will go toward Cranley’s Hand Up initiative and the city-county joint initiative Strategies to End Homelessness. Meanwhile, the $250,000 the city allocated in the last budget to Cradle Cincinnati to fight infant mortality disappears in this budget, and mega-charity funder United Way will get only about half of the $3 million council wanted.
Police and fire are prioritized in the spending plan, with increases that will bring 23 more officers and to Cincinnati’s streets. The budget also proposes big fixes for Cincinnati’s roads over the next five years and the city’s vehicle fleet over the next 12, spending $172 million on the paving alone over that time and another $35 million on vehicles. The plan is to get 85 percent of the city’s roads in good condition. Right now, about half are in poor shape. The city will take on nearly $91 million in debt in the process, though Black says the ratio of debt to cash used in this part of the capital budget is still prudent and that the investments will save the city millions over time.
This is just the first step in the long, sometimes grinding, budget process. We'll keep you up to date as council wrangles with the spending plan and also go in-depth ourselves.
• What else? Things are happening on the state’s voting rights front. We’ll be going in depth on that soon, but here’s some stuff to know: Hot on the heals of a settlement between Ohio and the NAACP on early voting last month, another lawsuit has been filed against the state alleging that its rules disadvantage voters who mostly skew Democrat, low-income and minority. That suit has been filed by Hillary Clinton's top campaign attorney. Meanwhile, there’s a bill in the General Assembly that would require voters to have a voter identification card. Ohioans who make above the federal poverty level (about $12,000 for a single person) would have to pay $8.50 under the proposed law for the card. Critics say that amounts to a poll tax and is unconstitutional. The fight is a big deal, as Ohio is a vital swing state in the 2016 presidential election.
Other politics tidbits:
• Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel wanted to fire County Administrator Christian Sigman over Sigman’s recent comments about The Banks, even drafting a press release announcing the administrator’s departure. Sigman’s job was spared at the last minute, however; Republican Commissioner Greg Hartmann didn’t want to see Sigman dismissed, and Democrat Todd Portune began crafting a compromise. Sigman was taken off economic development duties instead of losing his job, according to the commissioners.
• Real quick, but noteworthy: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a GOP presidential hopeful, is polling neck and neck with Democratic prez frontrunner Hillary Clinton in Kentucky, at least according to one new poll.
• Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is down one endorsement for his presidential bid: Ohio Treasurer and fellow Republican Josh Mandel has announced he’s endorsing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Awkward.
• On the national stage, U.S. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is fighting with the White House over comments President Barack Obama made about U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren has been criticizing Obama on what she says is a NAFTA-esque foreign trade deal. She alleges that the Trans Pacific Partnership deal will cost Americans jobs and shouldn’t give so-called “fast track” status to trade deals with other countries. The White House slammed Warren on that assertion, and Brown says their comments about her were disrespectful. Brown has also been fighting the trade legislation package, lobbying other Democrats in the Senate to block it from passage without amendments he says are designed to protect American workers. That’s led to some tension between the White House and Brown. The White House has asked the senator to apologize for his remarks about Obama’s remarks about Warren. Uh, got that? It’s starting to get to GOP levels of in-fighting over there.
That's it for me. See you in a week or so. Tweet at me or email me while I'm gone. Fair warning: I won't check the email but I might see the tweet.
Hey hey. Let’s do this news thing real quick.
After the whole
hubbub around Mayor John Cranley’s veto of the OTR parking permit plan last
week, it seems like a strange question to ask, but here we go: Does the mayor
need more power? According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Councilman Christopher
Smitherman is working to get an initiative on the ballot that would do just
that. Sort of. Smitherman’s months-long advocacy for moving Cincinnati to a
so-called “executive mayor” system is about accountability, he says, not about
giving away more power. Under
Smitherman’s proposed changes, the city would eliminate the city manager
position and the mayor would assume the responsibilities of that office —
hiring and firing department heads, etc. The mayor would also retain veto power
and still attend council meetings, but council would select its own president
(currently the mayor’s job), who would select committee heads and make
council’s agenda, effectively eliminating the mayor’s power to “pocket veto”
Other members of council,
including Councilman Kevin Flynn, who is helping oversee a review of the city’s
charter, are opposed to the executive mayor idea. Flynn’s Charter Review
Committee has been meeting for months, kicking around ideas for ways to reorganize
Cincinnati’s unusual power structure. The city’s current system creates the
strongest mayor of any major city in the country, the committee has said. The committee has its own recommendations for ways to change city government, including requiring the mayor to pass along all legislation to city council committees within 14 days, ending the so-called "pocket veto." The committee would also like to see council given the power to fire the city manager. The Charter Review Committee has been holding public input sessions around the city. The next two are at the Westwood Town Hall May 14 and the Oakley Senior Center May 18. Both sessions start at 6 pm.
• Is Joe Deters
cool with legalizing weed? Another sign marijuana legalization in Ohio is moving
toward the mainstream: The Hamilton County Prosecutor is leading a taskforce
looking into the law enforcement ramifications of legalizing the drug. Marijuana
legalization group ResponsibleOhio
approached Deters about the study, though
Deters says he’s not doing it to simply endorse the group’s legalization
proposal. ResponsibleOhio wants to legalize the sale of marijuana to
anyone age 21 or over, but the group's ballot initiative would limit
growth of the crop to 10 sites around the state.
Deters has expressed frustration with the current legal setup for dealing with marijuana and ambivalence about the drug being illegal.
“I've seen firsthand how ineffective and inefficient marijuana laws are,” Deters said in a statement about the task force. “I strongly believe we must have an honest and in-depth assessment of the positive and negative impacts that legalization can have, so that Ohioans can make an informed decision."
The taskforce includes elected officials, experts on drug policy and academics. The group will develop a white paper outlining policy recommendations on ways to improve laws governing marijuana in the state.
• Don’t do lame stuff with your garbage or you may get fined, according to changes in the city of Cincinnati's garbage pickup policy. In the days leading up to June 1, city sanitation workers will be hanging orange tags on garbage that is improperly prepared. Before May 17, they’ll still haul the trash away but leave the tag as a reminder. After that date, you’ll have to correct whatever problem you have with your trash and call 591-6000 to get it picked up, but you won’t have to pay a fine. After June starts, however, residents who don’t have their trash in order can be fined anywhere from $50 to $2,000. The low end of that range is for folks who just used the wrong can or other minor violations. The high end is for improperly disposed construction debris and other heavy stuff. You can read the criteria for improper trash here. The sanitation department says the fines are necessary to keep trash pick up efficient and effective.
• Cincinnati Public School District’s Walnut Hills High School is the number one school in Ohio, according to a new ranking from U.S. News and World Report. Overall, Walnut is the 65th best high school in the nation according to the ranking. Four other area schools also landed in the top 10 of the statewide rankings, including Indian Hill High School, which came in at number two.
• So Bill Murray
might be spending a little less time partying in Austin and more time in
Cincinnati. That’s because his son, Luke Murray, has landed a job as an
assistant coach for Xavier University’s men’s basketball program. The younger
Murray has held several coaching jobs in college basketball and was last at the
University of Rhode Island as an assistant coach. Xavier head basketball coach
Chris Mack has called Murray “one of the top young assistant coaches in the
America.” Sounds good. Word is, his dad comes to a lot of the games the younger
Murray coaches. Let’s hope the Coffee and Cigarettes and Groundhog Day star
hangs out here on occasion, and maybe brings a Wu-Tang Clan member with him.
Morning y’all! It’s bike to work week, so I hope you saddled up on your commute today. Here’s what’s up in the news.
It’s kind of unbelievable that solid statistics on housing on one of the city’s most actively developed neighborhood don’t exist. I’ve been working to find solid numbers on affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine forever, so this is great news: Xavier’s Community Building Institute and the Over-the-Rhine Community Council are teaming up to conduct a much-needed housing survey in OTR. As land values and housing costs in the neighborhood skyrocket (some condos there have reached the $600,000 mark, and proposed new single-family homes could go for as much), many worry about dwindling supplies of low-income housing there. Though a neighborhood comprehensive plan was completed in 2002, there have been no other comprehensive studies of housing in the neighborhood since. Much of the data on housing in OTR is scattered and incomplete. CBI’s efforts will change that — starting in June the organization will do a complete survey of the buildings in OTR to record how many units each has and how much it costs to live in them.
• A seven-story hotel by Marriott is coming to riverfront development The Banks, the lead development group for the project announced today. That’s a relief for city and county officials and area business leaders who have been waiting for that major piece of the Banks puzzle for a long time. Stakeholders had originally hoped to have the hotel open in time for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game in July, but it looks as though the hotel will now open in spring 2017.
• The city of Cincinnati will pay Cincinnati Public Schools $2.1 million in back property taxes from the downtown Duke Energy Center. The CPS Board of Education and the Ohio tax commissioner have been fighting the city since 2011 over taxes on the property, which is managed by a private company. The city has argued that it is exempt from such taxes since the building is owned by a public entity and obtained a tax exemption from state legislators in 2012. But CPS and the state tax assessor have fought that claim in court. The city has now settled with the district and will pay the $2.1 million to the schools. Had the city lost its case with CPS, it would have had to pay up to $25 million in back taxes and other costs.
• Here’s cool news: Former MVP and 2012 Hall of Famer Barry Larkin is working for the Reds again. No, you won’t see the shortstop running the bases, but he’ll be an infield instructor for the Reds’ minor league teams. Larkin played for the Reds for nearly two decades from 1986 to 2004.
• The city of Covington’s City Hall is currently located in a former J.C. Penny department store building, and before that it was located in another former department store. But that could change soon, and the seat of city government there could get a new, more permanent home in a proposed riverfront development called Duveneck Place, named after the famous Covington-born artist Frank Duveneck. That building would be the first major riverfront development in Covington since the 2008 Ascent luxury condos and could host both the city’s administrative offices and Kenton County offices. The city’s main administrative building has moved around several times since Covington’s ornate official City Hall building was demolished in 1970.
• As state lawmakers mull a bill that would eliminate a question about felonies from public organizations’ job applications, private companies wrangle with whether or not they should do the same. Some big, generally conservative companies like Koch Industries have announced they no longer ask about felony convictions on job applications, but many others, especially those in the area, still do. That puts a barrier between former convicts and employment, a key factor in reducing recidivism. Such barriers also disproportionately affect minorities, who are more often subject to arrest and conviction in the first place. Here’s an Enquirer story about the push to do away with a box on employment applications asking about felonies. I’ve been speaking with former convicts and academics who study this issue for a long story on the topic. Stay tuned for that.
• Finally, a report by the Baltimore Sun shows that thousands apprehended by Baltimore Police have been so severely injured they cannot be taken directly to jail. Between June 2012 and April 2015, the Baltimore City Detention Center refused to admit 2,600 arrestees because injuries they sustained from police were too severe and required immediate medical attention. These included broken bones, head injuries and other traumas. The report comes in the wake of civil unrest around the April death of Freddie Gray in police custody and a looming U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the city’s police force.
Morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on today.
The battle over Over-the-Rhine’s parking plan continues. Yesterday, Mayor John Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to eliminating permit parking in the city — currently, one part of Clifton near Cincinnati state and the tiny Pendleton neighborhood both have permits available for residents. He said he’d also be interested in auctioning off spots in OTR to the highest bidder.
That doesn't sit well with permit advocates in the neighborhood, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach and OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer.
At the bottom of the debate is a philosophical difference: Cranley wants any parking plan to be first and foremost a revenue generator to pay for the streetcar and pay back taxpayers for investment in OTR. On Wednesday, he vetoed a parking plan for the neighborhood that would have created up to 450 permitted spots for residents at $108 a year. Previously, Cranley had proposed a plan that would have charged $300 a year and then later another that would have charged an unspecified market rate for the spaces.
Cranley says it’s unfair to taxpayers that certain spots can be bought by residents of a neighborhood that has seen millions in taxpayer money spent on redevelopment. Taxpayers pay for the roads, Cranley says, and should be able to park on them. What’s more, he says, creating a permit plan for OTR will only encourage other neighborhoods to seek them. Downtown has already made movement toward that end.
Permit supporters, meanwhile, see the measure mainly as a way to make
life easier for residents who have to park in one of the most popular
places in town. Supporters of the parking permits, including Democrats on council, say they will help keep low-income people who can’t afford garages or extended time at meters in the neighborhood.
There is nothing unusual about parking permits in neighborhoods. Cities like Columbus, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco (the nation’s most expensive at $110 a year) and many other major urban areas have them. Even smaller cities like Newport, Covington and Bloomington, Indiana have them. Hell, in Washington, D.C., you have to have D.C. plates to park on most streets and need to apply for a visitor’s permit if you don’t (I know this by experience and it is awful). But if it wasn’t for that permit system, residents in popular neighborhoods would spend an hour after work circling the block looking for a place to put their cars while tourists or folks from the other side of the city dropped by and took their time eating at that new $40-a-plate neo soul food place. (Err, sorry. Did I mention D.C. was awful?)
On the other hand, the affordability card is a funny one to play here. In terms of affordability, all the parking plans, including Cranley’s, presented a clause for lower-cost permits for low-income residents. But there are bigger issues as rents in OTR continue to increase and the neighborhood shifts ever-more toward the high-end in terms of the businesses and homes there. Perhaps a discussion about how much affordable housing is in the neighborhood, instead of spinning wheels on a parking plan, would better serve low-income folks?
• Here’s another transportation mess: Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Chair Charlie Winburn is threatening to withhold city funds from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority for its Metro bus program until it releases information about the bids it has received to operate the streetcar. Those bids were due March 30, but SORTA says it will not release them until it has made a selection, claiming that making the information public will compromise the competitive bid process. Winburn says the public has a right to know how much the streetcar will cost them. The Cincinnati Enquirer has sued SORTA for the records, which it says fall under open records laws. SORTA’s attorney disagrees. The question now is whether a judge will agree and if the ruling will come before SORTA makes its pick and releases the documents anyway.
• Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune might get an unexpected Republican challenger in the 2016 election. Hamilton County Appeals Court Judge Sylvia Hendon might run against Portune, she says. Hendon, 71, is about to hit the age limit for judges in Ohio but isn’t ready to give up public service. Democrats say they aren’t worried; though Hendon has served in a number of capacities in the county’s judicial system, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Cooke says she doesn’t have the name recognition to mount a serious challenge to the popular Portune. But Republicans say her time as a top judge gave her strong managerial skills and unique qualifications for the commissioner’s spot. They say she’ll be a strong contender should she choose to run. Commissioners oversee the county budget and the county’s various departments. Hendon is also looking at running for county recorder, a position held by Democrat Wayne Coates. Another Republican, former Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel, is also contemplating a run for that seat.
• Are online charter schools getting taxpayer money for students who are no longer enrolled in their courses? Some recent evidence seems to suggest that, and a state investigation might result. Data from one online school, Ohio Virtual Academy, shows that hundreds of students were on that school’s rolls but hadn’t logged in to classes in months. Only 14 had been withdrawn. OVA has 13,000 students. It’s not the first time charters have seen scrutiny for their attendance records. The schools get paid millions in state funds based on the number of students they have attending classes. In January, a state investigation found significant discrepancies between reported attendance and actual attendance at many of charters across the state.
• Finally, there’s another marijuana legalization scheme in Ohio, and it just cleared its first hurdle. Better for Ohio is challenging ResponsibleOhio’s plan for weed legalization by… doing almost exactly the same plan. The difference is that instead of ResponsibleOhio’s 10 grow sites, Better for Ohio would create 40, each tied (not kidding here) to a serial number on a specific $100 bill stipulated in the group’s plan. The holder of that bill would be allowed to grow marijuana at one of the grow sites. Private, non-commercial growth would also be allowed, and wouldn’t require registration with the state the way ResponsibleOhio’s plan does. The state just gave the OK for the group’s initial ballot language, and now it just has to get the necessary 300,000-plus signatures. Of course, there’s been some sniping between Better for Ohio and ResponsibleOhio, with both groups criticizing the other’s plan. Things are getting heated in the weed legalization game.
That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with news tips or just to say hey.
Heya! Here’s a quick rundown of the big stories today before I jet off for an interview.
As you may have heard, Mayor John Cranley yesterday vetoed an Over-the-Rhine parking plan that would have created up to 450 permitted parking spots for residents and left 150 spots for so-called “flex parking,” or unmetered spots available to all. The plan would have charged $108 per permit, the second-highest in the country behind San Francisco, which charges $110. But that’s better than no parking at all, residents in OTR say. Many say that as the neighborhood becomes more and more busy, it has become much harder for those living there to find a place to park in the evening. That takes a big toll on the neighborhood’s low-income residents, neighborhood social service providers say. They’d like to see a parking plan passed.
The proposed plan would have offered permits to low-income residents at a discounted rate. Cranley says vetoing the plan was a matter of fairness, because it allows any resident of the city to continue parking on the city streets their tax dollars pay for. In past months, however, Cranley offered his own permit plan, albeit one that charged $300 per spot. The move yesterday was Cranley’s first veto since he took office in 2013. Before that, Mayor Mark Mallory vetoed a council action on red light cameras in 2011.
• Though the OTR parking plan has gone down in flames, another item Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee killed earlier this week will get a second look. Contradicting fellow Democrats twice in one council session, Mayor Cranley has referred a motion supporting development of a $25 million luxury apartment complex in Madisonville to council’s Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee after Democrats on the Neighborhoods Committee voted it down. The Economic Growth committee is full of Cranley allies, while Neighborhoods is dominated by the Democrats with which Cranley usually finds himself at odds. The Madisonville Community Council and its Urban Redevelopment Corporation oppose the project, saying it’s not an appropriate use of the land in the neighborhood. Cranley and other supporters say it will bring millions in other development to the area.
• Speaking of development, things are starting to pick up in Camp Washington, where 52 homes have been refurbished. Four more major development projects are also on the way. As I’ve told you about before in this blog, the historic Crosley Building in the neighborhood is also being redeveloped into 238 apartments. More on all the activity in this Soapbox story.
• Last week, Music Hall got some great news to the tune of $12 million, and now its next door neighbor gets a turn. Memorial Hall is closed to the public today as it undergoes a nearly $8 million restoration. Work on the building should be done by next fall. It's the first restoration of the building in nearly 25 years.
• Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman has been relieved of yet more duties, according to this Business Courier story. Sigman was taken out of his role in downtown development The Banks after questioning whether that project needs a new head developer. Now, he’s also been removed from his role in helping oversee the stadiums on the riverfront. He keeps the rest of his duties, which involve overseeing county departments who don’t have an elected official leading them. He’ll also keep his $180,000 a year salary. The whole thing seems pretty sketchy, but then again, I’d be down for reduced responsibilities if I got to make the same amount of money. Something tells me it’s not the same, though.
• Here’s something you don’t see very often: Liberal Democrat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is praising conservative Republican Governor John Kasich over his push to apply statewide standards for police use of force. Brown says Kasich’s moves are part of much-needed reforms to the justice system. Kasich recommended the standards after convening the Statewide Taskforce on Community-Police Relations late last year. That task force came after the police shooting deaths of John Crawford III in Beavercreek and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
For Cranley, the fight over parking is more about revenue. In past weeks, the mayor has touted an alternate plan that would have set the price for parking permits at a yet-undetermined market rate. That plan didn't make it out of committee.
Good morning y’all. Let’s do this news thing real quick.
$25 million to get low-income Cincinnati students into a better education sounds great, doesn’t it? Absolutely. But there are questions about just such a proposal, which is being touted by a group of area business leaders and educators. The group, which includes the Haile Foundation, the Cincinnati Business Committee and the Farmer Foundation, wants to boost the number of seats at high-performing area schools from what they’ve determined is 5,500 right now to 10,000 in five years and 20,000 in 10. Right now, a little less than half of Cincinnati’s 35,000 students in public or charter schools attend low-performing schools, and only about 5,500 attend high performing schools. So the plan sounds great, right? Well, there are critics. $15 million of the money will be spent creating new schools in the Cincinnati area, and those will most likely be charter schools, which have a very spotty record here in Ohio. Detractors like former City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham, now with the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition, say Cincinnati Public Schools have an approach that works, and that the city doesn’t need more charters. CPS, meanwhile, says it’s on board with the proposal. The district may even be a partner in the charter schools created by the venture. The nascent education group, which calls itself an “education accelerator” has yet to pick a name or a CEO, and still has about $10 million to raise to carry out the plan.
• More controversy surrounding Cincinnati’s long-time riverfront project The Banks. Yesterday here we talked about how Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman is being ousted from economic development matters. Sigman wrote a letter raising questions about whether the county should change developers on the project, saying that the lead developer, Atlanta-based Carter and Associates, has taken longer than expected to find a major hotel tenant at the site. Yesterday, an Enquirer reporter was barred from a meeting of the Joint Banks Steering Committee, which is appointed by city and county officials, according to the paper. Those meetings were declared public after a contentious fight back in 2008 about their private nature. The steering committee points out that government meetings can happen in private when no votes are being taken, and says there were no decisions made at the meeting. It’s important to know what’s happening with the steering committee, however, since it helps decide how millions in tax dollars are spent. Officials with the steering committee say Sigman’s ouster from development affairs was not discussed at the meeting.
• New retail is coming to Over-the-Rhine, and … sorry, I lost interest. All the stores sound really boring and well out of my price range and the price ranges of many long-time residents in the neighborhood. But hey, that’s just me. One of the stores sells something called technical cashmere. The others are home décor and fashion-oriented. The upside is that the four new retail spots will add to the city’s tax base, and at least none of them are chain stores; Chipotle and Starbucks are reportedly interested in OTR spots, but it hasn’t happened yet. Anyway, if you’re a shopper, check that out. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for a decently-priced, well-stocked grocery store and a Laundromat.
• Here’s a place that is much more my speed: Mayor John Cranley yesterday dropped by Camp Washington Chili in, uh, Camp Washington to celebrate its 75th anniversary and announce that the corner of Hopple Street and Colerain Ave. where the nationally-renowned diner is located will be named after proprietor Johnny Johnson. Johnson came to the U.S. from Greece in 1951 and eventually bought the place, which was founded by his uncle. Since then, they’ve been serving up really, really good Cincinnati-style chili, double deckers and tons of other great diner food. I’ve spent many a late, late night after playing or watching live music hanging out at Camp Washington; here’s to another 75.
• Finally, the latest Quinnipiac University polls on the GOP presidential nomination race have come out of early primary state Iowa. Like the last couple polls, they’ don’t look so great for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Kasich is polling at just 2 percent against big GOP rivals. The bigger national story, however, is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s showing. Bush, who was a presumed frontrunner just a week or two ago, took a pounding, with 45 percent of GOP respondents saying they viewed him unfavorably. Only 39 percent said they viewed him favorably. Bush got just five percent of the overall vote in the polling. The big winner was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who polled at 21 percent, 8 points higher than his nearest competitors Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Walker, if you recall, led an effort to repeal bargaining rights for state employees in 2011. Sound familiar? Kasich did much the same that year. The difference is, Walker stuck to his guns through a recall election, while Kasich was chastened by the deafening roar of Ohio voters, who overwhelmingly passed a ballot provision repealing our state’s version of the law. So, is Scott Walker going to be the GOP nominee? Not quite. There’s still a long road to Cleveland, and plenty of opportunity for big gaffes from the Republican crowd.
Hey all! Here’s what’s up today.
There’s a showdown coming. Some will win, some will lose and some will, well, probably be completely uninvolved but that’s beside the point. I’m talking about Cincinnati City Council’s continued fight over the Over-the-Rhine parking plan. Yesterday, a council committee passed a version of a plan that would charge residents $108 a year for a parking pass. That’s the second-highest cost in the nation behind famously packed-in San Francisco, though it’s important to note that the cost would be subsidized for low-income residents. Mayor John Cranley, however, wants a different plan that would price the spots higher, at a yet-to-be-determined market rate for non-low-income residents. He’d like to see the extra revenue used to shore up a $600,000 streetcar operating deficit.
That’s all important because the plan passed in committee yesterday has only five apparent votes in favor. Conservatives on council — Amy Murray, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and swing vote Kevin Flynn look to be opposed to the plan. Five votes is enough to pass the measure but not enough to override a mayoral veto. Cranley’s never played that card before, but he very well could tomorrow when council votes on the proposal. Stay tuned. Things are going to get interesting. Well, as interesting as parking gets, at least.
• In other politics news, County Administrator Christian Sigman might be pulled away from development decisions on the county level after he sent a letter to City Manager Harry Black asking whether the city needs to find a new developer for The Banks riverfront project. County Commissioners will vote tomorrow whether to strip Sigman of development duties. Commissioners say Sigman misrepresented the county in the letter to Black by suggesting the county might replace Banks developers Carter and Dawson due to delays in securing a major hotel at the development. That’s not the case, Commissioner Todd Portune says. Sigman looks to remain administrator and still oversee other departments even if the board votes to remove him from development issues.
• I was just thinking that Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld doesn’t seem busy enough. He’s only running as an underdog in a tough primary race for U.S. Senate against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland in addition to his council job. But he also had a decidedly non-policy proposal for 2016, and now, he also has a wedding to plan. Sittenfeld proposed to his now-fiancee Sarah Coyne yesterday evening in Washington Park. All jokes aside, that’s really sweet. Congrats!
• This is cool. If you want to try to support minority-owned businesses in the city, well, now there’s an app for that. Jooku, created by University of Cincinnati grads, will help you find local businesses, including those that are minority owned. Your searches can be customized and you can favorite businesses you like. There’s also a forum to give feedback and leave comments.
• As you know, it’s May 5, which isn’t just the day Americans celebrate Mexican culture (often in embarrassing and inappropriate ways). It’s also an election day, so if you live in one of the municipalities where operating or school levies are up for a vote, go weigh in on that. Lockland, Winton Woods, Northwest Local, Edgewood City Schools and Kings Local all have school levies up. In addition, Arlington Heights, Elmwood Place, Cheviot, Forest Park and Harrison have levies for general operating expenses or fire service. Go vote. Then have your margaritas or however you celebrate. Don’t do it in the opposite order. That leads to poor choices. Or heck, actually, do have a couple margaritas first if it will make you more likely to give more money to schools.
• Speaking of schools: The head of an area school district has resigned after controversy about his use of power. Last week there was some hubbub around Forest Hills Superintendent Dallas Jackson, who axed a test his son didn’t do very well on. Jackson said that a lot of other students also failed the test and that the high failure rate made them invalid. But more than 20 teachers at Turpin High School, where Jackson’s son attends, disagreed. They fired off a letter to the school board accusing Jackson of wrongdoing. The school board hired an investigator to look into the matter, and yesterday Jackson announced his resignation.
• One more school quick-hit: Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan has responded to protests and criticism from students and parents over the removal of School for Creative and Performing Arts Artistic Director Isadore Rudnick. Ronan says the move is the best thing for SCPA and that the decision wasn’t made lightly. The district announced Friday that Rudnick and Principal Steve Brokamp will both be reassigned from their current positions. Read more about that in this Cincinnati Business Courier story.
• Finally, there are even more official GOP contenders for the 2016 presidential race! Great! Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee officially threw his hat into the ring today. Former Hewlett Packard exec Carly Fiorina did as well. That makes six official contenders in the Republican primary — U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and neurosurgeon Ben Carson round out the list. Well, there’s also Rick Santorum, but does anyone seriously think he has a shot? Probably not. Plus, some of the heavy hitters, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are still waiting in the wings. Phew. It’s getting crowded in hur. What does that mean for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has also been making moves like he's gonna run? It means if he doesn’t get his poll numbers up, he could be shut out of the first primary debate, hosted, ironically enough, in his own state. Sad trombone sound.
And I'm out. Tweet or email your news tips or hints on where to find a really rad used cyclocross bike. It's bike month after all and I feel like upgrading my whip.