This is big news for Cincinnati tourism — a sign that the city's ongoing revival is attracting national interest.
Road Scholar, the big tour company that plans excursions around the world — from Cuba to Cambodia — has just added Cincinnati to its Signature (American) Cities offerings. The first trip will be March 29-April 3, 2015, and is being advertised as a visit to "the first truly American major city — founded after the Revolutionary War by American-born settlers."
Here's the description from the brand-new (just released today) North American Preview catalog:
"Historians admire it as the first truly American major city — established after the Revolution by American-born founders. Art and culture lovers revere it for its galleries and performing-arts venues. Now it’s your turn to fall in love with Cincinnati, where laid-back Midwest charm meets artsy big-city sophistication on the banks of the Ohio River. Join local experts at museums and landmarks that interpret the many hats Cincinnati has worn, from America’s original boomtown to waypoint on the Underground Railroad. Admire Art Deco architecture and horticultural artistry unrivaled in the nation. Learn about the city from a unique perspective aboard a riverboat on the Ohio River. Go backstage at the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, enjoy the vitality of downtown right outside your hotel and much more."
A big part of the trip will be an exploration of Over-the-Rhine.
Prices start at $1,075 and include five nights of accommodation, 13 meals, three expert-led lectures and 10 field trips.
Cleveland already has been a Signature City. Road Scholar also is expanding the program to Indianapolis. Additionally, it will have an American Queen riverboat excursion from St. Louis to Louisville along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. This year, Road Scholar had an American Queen excursion that stopped in Cincinnati.
Road Scholar will also have a new "Silver Screen Cinematic Voyage" excursion on the American Queen from Cincinnati to St. Louis starting on July 11. It will visit sites associated with the filming of movies, such as In the Heat of the Night, which was filmed in Sparta, Ill.
For more information, visit roadscholar.org.
Hey. It's news time. Check it.
One of two abortion clinics in the Greater Cincinnati area must close by the end of the week, a Hamilton County judge ruled, unless its lawyers file an appeal.
Women's Med in Sharonville has been fighting for months to stay open after the state of Ohio refused to grant a variance to recent rules that require the clinic to have hospital-admitting privileges. The Ohio Department of Health has granted these exceptions to the clinic in the past, since the clinic’s doctors have individual admitting privileges at hospitals. The clinic appealed the state’s decision, but last month a ruling by a Hamilton County magistrate ordered the clinic to close. That ruling had to be approved by Judge Jerome Metz, who issued an earlier ruling allowing the clinic to stay open while it appealed the state’s decision. On Friday, Metz ruled that he could not overturn the magistrate’s decision and that the clinic had five days to appeal or close.
Val Haskell, the clinic’s owner, said that Gov. John Kasich is “methodically targeting each Ohio abortion provider for closure, one by one, hoping no one will notice. It is our medical center today, one in Cleveland or Columbus tomorrow."
Cincinnati has one other clinic, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn. It has been waiting for word from the state about its license renewal for more than a year.
Over the weekend, two Cincinnati activists traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, where unrest continues after the police shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown. Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church and Iris Roley, a Bond Hill businesswoman, made the trip to share ideas and best practices for recovering as a community from the trauma of such an incident. They’ll be sharing their thoughts on Cincinnati’s 2002 Collaborative Agreement, which helped define strategies for a more community-oriented approach to policing in the Cincinnati Police Department. Cincinnati knows the pain Ferguson is experiencing well, having seen days of protests and civil unrest following the 2001 death of Timothy Thomas at the hands of a Cincinnati police officer.
• Ferguson continues to roil after a brief respite last week. Over the weekend, crowds refused to disperse, despite a midnight curfew set by the governor, and police again used smoke bombs and tear gas on protestors. Meanwhile, an autopsy performed on Brown determined he had been shot six times. The governor has declared a state of emergency in the St. Louis suburb.
• 3CDC will be pitching in to get a long-running project downtown moving toward completion. The apartment tower at Fourth and Race has been in the works since February 2013, and 3CDC has already had a consulting role. But now they’ll build and own the site’s garage and ground-floor commercial space. Flaherty and Collins, an Indianapolis developer, will still develop the tower’s apartments. In the past, the project has included plans for a 12,000-square-foot grocery store, though those plans have been revised several times. It’s unclear how many units the building will include, though initial plans called for 300 apartments.
• Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald has waded into the sports mascot debate, saying that the Cleveland Indians’ mascot Chief Wahoo should be banned. The clearly racist caricature image of a smiling Native American has been the Indians’ logo for a long time, but continued controversy over professional sports teams’ usage of demeaning names and images based on stereotypes of Native Americans has called the image’s appropriateness into question. See: the whole huge debacle over the Washington Redskins. Gov. Kasich, asked the same question about the Chief, said “of course” the mascot shouldn’t be banished.
• Finally, this amazing story in The New York Times about the Mason Applebees at the center of the world this weekend. When tennis stars come to town for the Western & Southern Open, they flock to the 'Bees for some mozz sticks and appletinis. I’ll leave you with the best quote:
“We didn’t have to talk. Let’s just watch TV and eat.”
It's Friday. News was intense this week. Enough said. Let's get to this so we can all get to our weekends, shall we?
About 100 people gathered yesterday at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn to observe a moment of silence for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. People from all over Cincinnati came to remember Brown and others who had recently died in incidents with police, including John Crawford III. Crawford was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying what turned out to be a pellet gun. Both Brown and Crawford were black, stoking long-simmering anger about police treatment of people of color across the country.
“The call right now is to remember those who have died at the hands of police brutality. … It’s a call to demilitarize our police force,” said New Prospect's Rev. Damon Lynch III, who helped organize the local observance of a national moment of silence. “Tonight is a night just to try and deal with the pain we all feel.”
Groups in Dayton, Beavercreek, Cleveland and other Ohio cities also observed a moment of silence, along with many major cities across the country.
Ferguson police today identified the officer who shot Brown as Darren Wilson. Officials said he was responding to the armed robbery of a convenient store nearby when the Brown shooting occurred. Tensions in the city have eased remarkably, many news outlets are reporting, after the Missouri State Highway Patrol took over management of the protests Thursday. The Highway Patrol have taken a much more tolerant approach to the demonstrations over Brown’s death, and protesters have responded in kind with peaceful gatherings.
• Cincinnati’s Red Bike, the city’s new bike sharing program, is nearly ready to launch. Crews have been installing bike share stations around downtown and six are now finished at City Hall, Fountain Square, Great American Ball Park, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Sawyer Point. Bikes haven’t been installed yet, however. Eventually, the system will have 35 stations. It should be up and running sometime in September.
• Cincinnati is one of two Ohio cities that rank high for students in private schools. Both Cleveland and Cincy made the top 10 of a list put together by real estate website Trulia looking at the percentage of students in private schools in America’s major cities. Cleveland was seventh with 17.5 percent of its students opting out of public schools, and Cincinnati ninth, with 16.9 percent. New Orleans had the highest percentage, with one quarter of its students opting for private schools. Trulia says a number of factors came into play in the list, including the concentrations of Catholics and other religious groups who most often send their children to religious schools, as well as the quality of public schools in the area.
• Ohio’s unemployment rate rose for the first time this year, according to data from the state. The rate had been at 5.5 percent in May and June, the lowest it’s been in seven years, but jumped to 5.7 percent in July as employers cut the number of jobs in the state.
• So here’s a pretty creepy report about Ohio’s use of facial recognition software and how it’s been available to a huge number of people over the past year. Basically, the programs can grab a photo of someone’s face and match it up with information about that person in a database. The state has limited access to the program somewhat recently, but measures are still not in place to audit the system and detect inappropriate usage by state employees. About 8,900 searches have been conducted so far on the system.
• Finally, I have this for you. Basically, it’s what would happen if Jesus had done the whole loaves and fishes thing during shark week. A concerned San Antonio man donated a bunch of shark meat to a homeless shelter after spending seven hours fighting it out in the Gulf of Mexico, going all Old Man and the Sea on an 809-pound tiger shark. He donated about 75 pounds of the meat to Timon’s Ministries in Corpus Christi. The church remarked that it was the biggest fish they've ever had donated. I guess that blue whale I dropped off last year doesn't technically count as a fish. The shark meat fed about 90 homeless folks, most of whom liked it a lot, the church said.
Here at the morning news, we usually lead with things local and work our way out to the national stuff. But dear lord, it’s impossible not to talk about what’s going on right now in Ferguson, Missouri right off the top. I touched on the unrest in the St. Louis suburb a couple days ago, which started when an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer last week, apparently while he had his hands up. The police say Brown was trying to wrestle the officer’s gun away from him while the officer sat in his car. Eyewitnesses say something else entirely.
Things have only gotten more intense, with paramilitary-style law enforcement efforts, including snipers and police in body armor with assault rifles. Law enforcement has begun arresting journalists as well, including The Washington Post’s Wes Lowry. You can read the veteran reporter's account of his encounter with Ferguson police here. Police have released very little information about their activities or the events that unfolded to start the unrest.
Meanwhile, many are drawing parallels between Brown's death in Ferguson and a police shooting that happened Aug. 5 in Beavercreek, outside of Dayton, when 22-year-old John Crawford was shot to death in a Walmart by officers while holding a pellet gun sold in the store. Police officials haven't released details about the incident yet, other than to say that it appears the officers "acted appropriately." Ohio is an open carry state, and it is lawful to carry rifles or handguns in public.
• Closer to home, some very important questions face county voters this fall. Do you believe in aliens? How about ghosts? Sean Feeney, the Democratic candidate for Hamilton County Commissioner, has stated he’s in the race for good, even after Hamilton County Democrats asked him to step down in favor of someone with more name recognition. Feeney, 27, is an information technology consultant who has held a couple local political posts. He was also heavily into paranormal research for a number of years. He said he’s not necessarily a believer himself but has been interested in hunting for UFOs and ghosts because he wanted to bring “some order to a chaotic field,” though he hasn’t had time for such investigations recently.
As the fallout continues from the icon tax debacle, Hamilton County Democrats have been taking a much keener look at tea party-backed Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel’s seat. Monzel is up for reelection in November, and with all the ire from both Republicans and Democrats over his move to cleave Music Hall from a tax levy that will now only repair Union Terminal, the time seems ripe to challenge him. Officials with the Cincinnati Museum Center, which runs out of Union Terminal, have yet to signal whether they'll go along with the new deal.
Democrats missed their chance to switch out Feeney for someone more experienced like former Mayor Charlie Luken or former city council candidate Greg Landsman when the deadline to change candidates passed Monday. But I like this guy. I’d vote for someone who goes hunting for outer space aliens over someone whose party insists on irrationally harping and fear-mongering about the undocumented sort.
• Hey, though, here’s something really cool — a little-known Charley Harper mural will soon be reintroduced to the world. The Duke Energy Convention Center has a Harper mosaic, though it’s currently hidden behind drywall because it didn’t really go with the Center’s aesthetic or something, and because back in 1987 when it was covered up fewer people knew who Harper was. That’s dumb. Now, as the center undergoes a $5 million renovation, workers will free the mosaic from its “Cask of Amontillado”-like prison. The mosaic, called “Space Walk” and finished in 1970, is supposedly somewhat more abstract than much of Harper’s work. Councilman Chris Seelbach has pushed for the mosaic’s reintroduction to the world.
• Democratic candidates at the state level are having a tough time of late. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald ‘s campaign is stuck in a fight over revelations that police once found him in a car in a parking lot at 3 a.m. with a woman who wasn’t his wife and that he hasn’t had a full driver’s license in 10 years. Combined with low fundraising numbers and polls suggesting his recognition among voters hasn’t gained traction, the struggles have put some serious drag on his challenge to Republican Gov. John Kasich. That’s also affected down-ticket candidates, including attorney general hopeful David Pepper and secretary of state candidate, current State Senator Nina Turner, who said it's been "a tough week" on the campaign trail.
The thing about mornings and news is that they both keep happening over and over again, and you've gotta work to keep up with them. So here we are.
The furor over the icon tax change-up is not going away just yet. Mayor John Cranley had some choice words for Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann yesterday on the subject, calling for the two to take the Union Terminal-only tax initiative off the November ballot. He also questioned the commissioners’ disregard for former P&G head Bob McDonald’s input. McDonald is the head of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which researched, vetted and recommended the initial tax plan.
“I fear for the future of our county when the project can be hijacked – I’m not even sure by who,” Cranley said, lambasting the commissioners and their plan. “Nobody was pushing the plan they put forward.”
Hartmann shot back that Cranley was making statements out of emotion and that county voters would not have approved the original plan. He said the county has a relationship with Union Terminal it doesn’t have with Music Hall. Cranley has said the city won’t be putting any money forward toward Union Terminal without Music Hall in the plan.
• The Ohio Department of Transportation is commissioning an $8 million study to determine the impact tolls would have on traffic and low-income drivers if part a replacement to the outdated Brent Spence Bridge. The move comes after officials in both Ohio and Kentucky have said that tolls are the only way to pay for rebuilding the bridge, which will cost $2.6 billion. That’s a crazy amount of money. Isn’t anyone out there selling a gently used bridge on Craigslist or something? Or maybe just a big, Evel Knievel-style ramp system that shoots drivers over the river? I don’t know, just trying to think outside the box here. I’m imagining those angles won’t be covered by the study, which will be used to set the specifics of tolls, including possible variable rates for local drivers and various traffic levels at different times. There may also need to be adjustments for low-income drivers, though it is unclear what those would be.
• While we’re crossing the river, let’s talk about Covington. The city is opening up its Section 8 waiting list today, and before Covington City Hall even opened its doors, people were already lined up around the block. The Housing Authority of Covington serves all of Kenton County, which, like most other areas around the region, has experienced shortages of affordable housing since the Great Recession. The HAC office is at 2300 Madison Ave.
• A local radio host who lives in Maderia was arrested last night for allegedly shooting his wife after an argument. Blake Seylhouwer, who hosts Small Business Sunday on 55KRC and runs a cleaning business, says a gun he had with him accidentally went off as the two argued in their driveway, though authorities say Seylhouwer purposely fired at Misty Seylhouwer when she turned her back. She sustained wounds from bullet fragments in her chest, leg, neck and head. She was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover fully. Seylhouwer called 911 to report his wife’s injuries and was arrested shortly after paramedics arrived at the house. He’s been ordered to stay away from her and the couple’s two children and is being held on $250,000 bond.
• There’s really nothing like the wild rush of freedom that comes when you shrug off the bonds of state regulations to play the slots while enjoying a nice calming smoke. Customers of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino downtown will soon be able to experience that most basic and noble of liberties should a proposed expansion at the casino be approved by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. The expansion will create a 10,000 square foot smoking deck where gamblers can puff while they play. Casino owners in Ohio say other gaming sites in Indiana have an advantage in the market because they aren’t burdened by anti-smoking regulations.
• Finally, did Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul ditch ultra-conservatives in Iowa to hang out with none other than Alec Baldwin, an icon of the liberal media celebrity complex? That’s the word on the street. Paul skipped the Family Leadership Summit on Saturday, citing family commitments, but was later spotted with Baldwin and others at a fundraiser for a library in the Hamptons. The Summit has been a regular stop for GOP presidential hopefuls in the past, and it was expected Paul would attend as he builds steam for a presidential run in 2016. But he said family affairs called him to New York and that the Hamptons fundraiser was just a side stop. To be fair, I'd ditch a bunch of cranky tea party folks to hang out with the guy who played Liz Lemon's boss, too, and other conservatives, including Bill O’Reilly, were also in attendance at the fundraiser. Which is just a stirring reminder that nothing brings people together like libraries. Or maybe just parties thrown by people in the Hamptons with lots and lots of money. The ultra-posh region is a destination for cash farming, with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Sen. Ted Cruz heading that way to shake the area's various money trees.
News time. I haven't even had coffee yet and I did all this. Be impressed.
Troubled charter school VLT Academy in Over-the-Rhine is closing its doors, Superintendent Valerie Lee says. VLT, which we reported about last month in a story on charters, has faced some serious questions about its academic performance and financial structure. In Ohio, charter schools must have a sponsoring organization in order to operate. The school lost its sponsor in May and shortly thereafter sued the Ohio Department of Education over charges the ODE chased other sponsors away. A judge ordered ODE to sponsor the school and pay teachers’ salaries, though that order was stayed on appeal. Now VLT says it is out of money and must close. The school’s landlords say it owes them more than $1 million in back rent. VLT served about 600 students in the Pendleton area, nearly all of them low-income.
• Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s committed to making t
he best of a terrible idea the new icon tax plan work. The plan to fund the renovation of Union Terminal, which county commissioners substituted for a larger plan that also included Music Hall, has been controversial to say the least. Sigman has the unenviable job of taking an unpopular plan that doesn’t have all the details worked out, negotiating political, engineering and fiscal realities and making it all function. Unresolved questions include the availability of private donations and historic tax credits factored into the original plan. It’s also unclear whether the Cincinnati Museum Center, which runs out of Union Terminal, will go along with the deal. If it doesn’t, county commissioners could pull their support as well.
“We just have to get the details down,” Siman old the Business Courier, noting that his job is to carry out the county’s work without political bias. “I will have to make it work.”
Meanwhile, folks are getting all worked up about the political implications behind Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel's decision to cut the proverbial baby in half. Check out this opinion piece written by a former Hamilton County judge, who calls the move a "mix of chutzpah and ignorance." Oh, it gets harsher, too.
• Mayor Cranley participated in the installation of the first station for the city's bike share program, now called RedBike, on Fountain Square today at 11 a.m. He also became the program's first annual member. The bike share, run by a non-profit, will allow residents to use bikes for short trips and then drop them off at stations. The station at Fountain Square will be one of 35 throughout the city.
• Questions are being raised about an incident in which a man was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart. Police came to the Walmart last week after another customer in the store called to report a man brandishing and loading an assault rifle. Officers fired upon John Crawford III after they asked him to drop the weapon and he did not. The exact progression of events is unclear and police investigating the incident have asked Walmart for security footage from store cameras. What is clear, however, is that the item Crawford was carrying was actually a pellet gun from the store, albeit realistic-looking. Crawford’s family has called the shooting unjustified, though police say that officers appear to have acted appropriately under the circumstances. An investigation is ongoing.
The death of Crawford, who is black, calls to mind the current (and unfortunately, perennial) national conversation around the shootings of young black men done in "self defense" or by law enforcement personnel. The latest incident in this issue's long, sad history is playing out right now in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed 18-year-old was shot by police while his hands were in the air last week.
Meanwhile, another law-enforcement use of force incident from last year is heading to court. The family of a man who died while in the custody of the Hamilton County Sherriff’s Office in 2013 is suing the county and the officers involved in the incident. Deputies tazed 59-year-old Gary Roell six times last August after responding to calls about Roell breaking windows and throwing flower pots at his condominium complex in Sycamore Township. When the deputies finally subdued him after a struggle, they realized he wasn’t breathing. Roell was pronounced dead a short time later. Roell was a long-term sufferer of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, his family says, and was off his medication at the time of the incident. The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family alleges that deputies used excessive force when attempting to subdue Roell.
• In happier news, everyone's favorite ice cream is planning to expand outside the
Graeter Greater Cincinnati area to Chicago and perhaps Nashville. Graeter's is looking to open 10 to 15 new locations in new markets, which could also include St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The $40 million a year company also sells to grocery stores, which has kept me alive in the past as I wandered away from Cincinnati.
• Here’s a cool thing: A professor at the University of Texas in Dallas devised a way to visually plot the most influential cities over the past 2,600 years. The data visualization shows the progression of cultural hubs through time by tracking the birth and death locations of more than 120,000 highly influential people. While it seems to only document the history of western civilization, unfortunately, it’s still a cool look at which cities have gained and lost cultural clout over time.
New week, new... err, news. Let's get to it.
Sean Patrick Feeney isn’t leaving just yet. The Democratic candidate, an IT consultant from North College Hill, is running for Republican Chris Monzel’s Hamilton County commissioner seat. Democratic challengers have expressed a lot more interest in that seat after Monzel's recent icon tax moves. But Feeney said he won’t be stepping aside for any of the party’s heavy hitters who may want jump into the race, at least until Democrats give him a solid answer on who will be taking his place and what that candidate’s game plan is.
“I’m looking to get the groundswell of support,” Feeney told the Business Courier. Feeney has raised a few hundred dollars for his campaign and is little known around the region but hopes to rally and take advantage of displeasure over Commissioner Monzel’s move to cleave Music Hall from the icon tax plan. Meanwhile, former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken, former city council candidate Greg Landsman and former council member Jim Tarbell have all signaled some interest in running. For now, though, Feeney’s sticking to his guns, despite acknowledging that the Hamilton County Democratic Party has approached him about standing down. Feeney has received some criticism for not stepping down, including a tweet from Councilman Chris Seelbach comparing Feeney’s fundraising results to the $250,000 Landsman raised during his council bid.
• We’ve reported on the rising number of homeless shelters in Cincinnati have been seeing. A new report released today says the number of people spending the night on the street, sleeping in cars, under bridges and other places not designed for human habitation is also on the rise. Strategies to End Homelessness counted more than 1,500 people living on the streets in 2013, a 38-percent increase from 2012 and the highest number since 2006. Half of those surveyed by the organization identified as struggling with a mental illness. Fifty-two percent said they were struggling with addiction, and 68 percent said they had a disability of some kind. People living on the streets, as opposed to in a shelter, are more likely to be chronically homeless, the report says.
• A review of Cincinnati’s charter by a city task force has uncovered something surprising: Due to a long-overlooked provision, the city might get a vote on whether or not it should continue to fluoridate its water. The task force is working to rewrite the charter, stripping out antiquated language and unnecessary provisions. The group has been looking into Chapter XI, which stipulates that the city must vote in favor of fluoridation or halt putting the chemical in the water supply, something Greater Cincinnati Water Works says voters have never approved.
Fluoride was a hot-button topic when the chemical was first added to water supplies in the 1950s. Conspiracy theorists alleged fluoridation was a communist plot; more recent crackpots have called it a government mind-control technique. Health organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention disagree, saying fluoridation is one of the nation’s greatest public health efforts because it can prevent tooth decay. Despite this, many developed countries in Europe don’t fluoridate. Ohio state law requires water be fluoridated, but that law can be overridden by a city if its residents vote to remove the chemical. Twenty-two cities in Ohio don’t fluoridate. A move to vote on the issue would first have to be approved by Cincinnati City Council.
•The Washington Post ranked Great American Ballpark's beer selection best of any ballpark in the country in terms of quality. The Reds' beer offerings were ranked second overall as well, based on a number of factors. 'Nuff said, but if you want more details, here's a story about the rankings.
• A federal judge today extended until January a temporary ban on executions in Ohio following controversy over lethal injection drugs. That means the three executions the state had scheduled for this year will be delayed until next year. The original moratorium was ordered after the Jan. 16 execution of Dennis McGuire. That execution took an unusual amount of time, and witnesses reported McGuire gasped and struggled, though prison officials concluded he felt no pain. Other executions around the country using similar drugs have taken longer and resulted in prolonged suffering of the prisoners being executed. The state has said it will use the same drugs used in the McGuire execution, just in higher doses. The judge has ordered a delay so the state's execution methods can be investigated more thoroughly.
• A big donor to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s campaign owes more than $100,000 in overdue sales taxes. But Sudhir Dubey, a Columbus businessman, had enough cash to put $12,000 in the AG’s campaign coffers July 26, the Columbus Dispatch reports. Just a few months prior, DeWine’s office brought a lawsuit against Dubey for the unpaid taxes. DeWine’s campaign denies knowing Dubey and says proceedings against the donor have gone forward despite the contribution. But his opponent, Democrat David Pepper, has seized on the connection.
“Here, someone with little to no history of political giving gives a $12,000 check to DeWine’s campaign only months after DeWine opened a case against him,” said Peter Koltak, Pepper’s campaign spokesman. “It’s clear that donors believe they influence DeWine’s decision-making by dumping big money into his campaign.”
• As Ebola continues to rage through western Africa, a debate has flamed up about who is receiving experimental treatments designed to shore up victims’ immune systems against the virus. Two American missionaries received the experimental treatment, called ZMapp, upon returning to the United States two weeks ago. Critics have questioned why Americans are getting these new treatments, but not Africans. Supporters of the move point out the unfortunate history of drug tests on impoverished, vulnerable populations, including the infamous Tuskegee experiment. The latest outbreak of the virus is the largest yet known. Nearly 1,000 people have died from the fever, which starts out with cold-like symptoms before destroying organs and causing uncontrollable hemorrhaging.
• I leave you with this hall-of-fame moment in the annals of social media bloopers. On Saturday, Local 12 News tweeted a link to a story about the LEGO toy company, which is releasing a line of scientist figures. But the novel part, Local 12 says, is that the figures are FEMALE. As scientists! Mind blowing. The tweet was especially unfortunately worded, asking fellow Twitterers whether the figures were “a good idea, or ridiculous?” Hm. The social media missive immediately received a number of mocking replies, including “FEMALES are allowed to vote. Good idea or ridiculous?”
After such a jam-packed week, today's morning news feels kind of light. There's only a major highway project that some say could cause neighborhood displacement, big questions on a deal to save two Cincinnati landmarks and a few other things going on. You know, a pretty slow news day.
• More questions are arising about the Hamilton County Commissioners’ plan to put a sales tax initiative for Union Terminal on the November ballot. The original plan designed by the Cultural Facilities Task Force folded Music Hall into the tax increase and was based on a long-term, nine-month study of both buildings’ needs, financing possibilities and charitable commitments from donors.
The commissioners’ new plan, proposed by Chris Monzel and supported by anti-tax groups like COAST and the Cincinnati Tea Party cuts Music Hall from the deal. These groups had asked a number of questions about the original plan, but as the Business Courier reports, their own plan raises even more questions about private donations, cuts to spending on architectural elements of the renovation — and much more. The rundown of the new plan is worth a read and includes a pretty interesting question — was this plan, thrown together by anti-tax groups at the last minute, designed to fail at the ballot in November?
The Courier also has an opinion piece on Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s apparent change of heart about the deal. Hartmann looked to be the swing vote between fellow Republican Monzel’s opposition and Democrat Todd Portune’s acceptance of the Task Force’s original plan. He initially signaled that he thought he county and the city would reach a deal on both landmarks, then changed his tune. The commentary piece today explores the politics behind that change up.
• All the ire over the icon tax has inspired Democrats to take another look at Monzel’s commissioner seat. He’s up for reelection in November, and people suddenly are interested in running against him, including former Mayor Charlier Luken and former City Councilman and Cincinnati personality Jim Tarbell. But the Democrats already have a candidate, albeit a relatively inactive one. Sean Patrick Feeney of North College Hill is the party’s official candidate for the spot. He’s raised about $100 for his campaign. Hamilton County Democrats hope to have an official decision about their candidate by 4 p.m. today.
• Work started on the new I-71 interchange at Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive yesterday. The city hopes the new crossroads will bring new jobs and renewal to Avondale and Corryville, two of the city’s more neglected low-income neighborhoods. The update to the area has been on the drawing board for years, and yesterday’s groundbreaking represents a culmination of efforts and support from state, city and local groups. The city has pledged $20 million toward the project, and the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments has thrown in $25 million. More than 700 acres of land are expected to be redeveloped as the city works to attract new businesses and other tenants, including medical and research facilities.
All that development has many in the surrounding communities nervous, however, especially given the neighborhoods’ history with highway construction. Many black residents in Avondale and Corryville first came to the neighborhood when parts of the West End were bulldozed to make way for I-75 in the 1960s. Those folks saw a highway disrupt their lives again a decade later when I-71 bisected the neighborhood. City officials say every effort is being taken to involve residents in the ongoing planning efforts.
• A project to restore and move an historic fountain on Clifton Avenue in the gaslight district will start today. Efforts are underway to restore and shift the Probasco Fountain, which currently sits right along the street in Clifton in front of the Clifton Community Arts Center. The project will move the fountain, constructed in 1887, seven feet away from the street. Work is expected to take about 14 weeks.
• A report from the Ohio Department of Education says that Cincinnati Public Schools’ data improved for the 2013-2014 school year, but that its prior year data shows signs of misleading practices. In the past, ODE has found instances of so-called data scrubbing in attendance reports and other documentation from CPS. In 2012 -2013 data, ODE found 24 students were improperly reported truant, a revelation that affects attendance records and will spark a review and possible revision of the district’s report card. ODE reviewed 1,088 student records. Other big urban school districts had similar discrepancies in 2012-2013. Columbus had 141 students improperly reported out of more than 6,000 records reviewed, and Toledo had 86 out of more than 1,400. A former principal at a school in the Columbus Public School district has admitted to data manipulation related to these discrepancies and is currently under investigation to determine if she will keep her job.
• The White House went on lockdown yesterday — well, more of a lockdown than it’s always on, I guess — when a toddler crawled through the bars of the fence in front of the facility. Secret Service agents scrambled to get the child, who was eventually returned to his parents. The Secret Service had fun with the scare after the fact.
“We were going to wait until he learned to talk to question him,” said Secret Service Spokesman Edwin Donovan. Donovan said instead of a heavy-duty four-hour interrogation, the toddler got a time out.
Civil rights leader and former presidential hopeful Rev. Jesse Jackson wants to drum up support for a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing all Americans the right to vote, and he came to Cincinnati yesterday on his quest to get it.
Jackson appeared at yesterday's Cincinnati City Council meeting to make his case, highlighting the fact that voting rules are often left up to state and local authorities, creating a “separate and unequal” system. The constitution guarantees free speech and the right to bear arms, he said, but neglects to explicitly extend voting as a right to all citizens.
“For too long, too few Americans could vote to call this country, legitimately, a democracy.” Jackson said, noting that before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which sought to abolish Jim Crow laws suppressing the black vote, “America survived apart.” He called the act of voting “perhaps the most fundamental landmark in this democracy.” Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
Despite the progress made by the Voting Rights Act, a constitutional amendment is still needed, Jackson said. He highlighted recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down some sections of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the byzantine system of state, county and local rules that govern voting. There are more than 13,000 local municipalities and voting jurisdictions in the United States.
Despite the high hurdles in front of his idea, Jackson had little trouble getting some symbolic help from city council yesterday, which voted 7-0 to pass a motion expressing support for his efforts. Councilman Christopher Smitherman was not at the meeting and Councilwoman Amy Murray abstained from the vote.
Council members had high praise for Jackson.
“We appreciate your presence, we appreciate your leadership on so many issues of so much importance,” said Vice Mayor David Mann.
“These kinds of movements always start in the grassroots and move toward the top,” said Councilman Wendell Young. “I’m glad that a good start is being made here in Cincinnati.”
The Bill of Rights does not mention voting among the rights it enumerates.
Recent battles over early voting in Ohio illustrate the lack of a national standard and the patchwork of rules from state to state when it comes to voting accessibility. Ohio Republicans have moved to restrict early voting times in the state, including evenings and Sundays leading up to elections, when many black voters go to the polls.
Ohio’s General Assembly passed laws in February eliminating six early voting days and same-day voter registration. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, subsequently eliminated early voting the last two Sundays before elections and on weekday evenings during the days before elections.
The move has caused ire among voting rights activists and has led to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Justice Department last month signaled it would join the ACLU in that suit.
Husted’s cuts to early voting the Sunday before elections were undone when a federal district court judge ruled that the state must reinstitute early voting during the final three days before an election. Despite that victory, the other cuts have yet to be restored and are the grounds for the ACLU suit.
“We want to end the confusion around the right to vote as a fundamental right,” Jackson said of his proposal. He came to Cincinnati to make his case, he said, because the city has played an important role in social justice issues.
“This place has a certain history, beyond just a museum, a certain living history in this quest for social justice,” Jackson said, referencing the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and highlighting important visits by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The city has seen more than its share of race-related turmoil as well, of course, including the police shooting of unarmed black men and the resulting civil unrest in 2001, the city's stubborn income inequality, which weighs most heavily on minority residents, and other issues.
Still, the city has made progress, Young said.
"It hasn't always been that way here, but one of the things that makes me so very proud to be a Cincinnatian is that at the end of the day, we get it right."
Jackson’s proposed amendment faces a long road. Only 17 amendments have been passed since the initial 10 found in the Bill of Rights were ratified in 1791, the last of which, dealing with congressional pay raises, was passed in 1992.
Two-thirds of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate must vote to pass an amendment; given the current state of Congress, that’s an exceedingly tall order. Then three-quarters of the nation’s state legislatures must approve the amendment. A constitutional convention convened by two-thirds of the state legislatures can also make amendments, though none of the 27 we have now have been passed this way.
The Cincinnati Enquirer news department has seen some hard times this week, taking down stories about rich people getting arrested and now admitting that it was a bad idea to publish a trashy collection of mug shots and arrest reports about people who are likely mentally unstable or addicted to drugs.
CityBeat reported yesterday that The Enquirer took down a story about police arresting Robert S. Castellini, son of Reds owner Bob Castellini, and his wife Sunday night for allegedly fighting in front of their children. Enquirer Editor Carolyn Washburn explained in an email to CityBeat that the story wasn’t pulled because any super-powerful local business leaders whose team is hosting the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game complained. She says neither the Castellinis nor anyone else contacted The Enquirer about the story. Someone in the news department apparently used flawed news judgment and then someone else posted the story online before it had been properly vetted by editors. Nothing sinister — just general, run-of-the-mill incompetence.
"An editor determined — and I agreed — that it did not meet our news standards for publication," Washburn wrote to CityBeat in an email Wednesday evening. "The Mr. Castellini in question is not a public figure, has nothing to do with the Reds, etc. We don't report every domestic charge in the community. But while that was being discussed, someone posted it. We quickly took it down but not before it began to get traction."
CityBeat asked Washburn how the alleged crimes The Enquirer published in Monday's "arrest roundup" meet the paper’s news standards for publication based on these general guidelines. The story, titled “Arrest roundup: Woman pees on Findlay Market,” was published just an hour after “Reds' owners' son, daughter-in-law arrested.” The pee story detailed arrests involving a guy spitting on people at a bus stop, a dude masturbating on the steps of a church, a woman caught with drug paraphernalia after stealing Fig Newtons from a UDF and another lady allegedly urinating on Findlay Market while “acting bizarre.”The story on Castellini was deleted, but the arrest roundup lives on.
Washburn says the arrest roundup was just another news-gathering fuckup.
“That was an aberration and not something we'll be doing more of,” she wrote in an email to CityBeat this morning. “That's not the kind of coverage we want to do.”
If true that The Enquirer’s news department plans to back off dramatic stories about poor people going to jail, perhaps focusing more on the causes of poverty than the effects, it would be a good day for the tens of thousands of impoverished, mentally ill and drug-addicted Cincinnatians continually underserved by city budgets that underfund human services.
In the meantime, someone is still covering the Enquirer pee beat with gusto, although this one seems fairly deserved — Art Modell definitely screwed Cleveland over back in the day.
UPDATED Nov. 28, 12:45 PM: Judge Ted Berry waived
the tracking device requirement for the protesters today, and those who posted bail (all but one) should be released in the next few hours.
Original Post: At least some of the 15 protesters arrested during Tuesday’s march through downtown Cincinnati in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo. paid bail the next day. But while most folks were at home enjoying Thanksgiving Thursday, they were still in the Hamilton County Justice Center because some county offices are closed.
The march drew as many as 300 people during its nearly three-hour duration. During that time, at least 100 protesters streamed onto I-75, bringing traffic to a halt for a few minutes. Police, who had blocked traffic in the northbound lane of the highway, ordered protesters off under threat of arrest.
Those who didn’t leave fast enough ended up in jail.
The protesters were held without bond overnight and arraigned at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Bond for the eight charged with shutting down I-75 was set at $3,000. According to Hamilton County Criminal Court documents, two of those arrested, Liz Cambron and Aalap Bommaraju, paid bail early that afternoon. But they’ll be in jail over Thanksgiving, and maybe until Monday, their attorney Joe Russell says.
Judge Melissa Powers, the presiding judge, deemed the arrested protesters flight risks and ordered they be fitted with electronic monitoring devices. But the office that provides the devices closed at noon today and won’t reopen until next week.
“I don’t undersand how my clients are flight risks,” Russell said of Cambron and Bommaraju. “They aren’t the kind of people who want to get anyone run over.” Cambron is a graduate student at University of Illinois Chicago, and Bommaraju is a health worker pursuing his PhD at UC.
He says the two weren’t acting recklessly and were merely exercising their first amendment rights.
The rest of the group arrested on I-75 look to be in a similar situation. Brandon Geary, Robert Fairbanks, Hilliard Herring, Zachary Lucas, Cerissa Newbill and Rhonda Shaw were also arrested on the highway and have been ordered to wear the tracking devices after release on bond.
Representatives with the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts said they
could not provide any information on the cases during phone calls
“The reason they’re still in jail is because the county doesn’t have the electronic monitoring devices available,” Russel said. He was in court Friday morning working to get the two released.
A vigil asking the court to release the protesters on bond drew a crowd of about 35 people Thanksgiving day, including family members of some of the protesters. "He didn't even know he wasn't going home," said Evan Geary, brother of Brandon Geary, who also posted bond. "My parents had to tell him he wasn't going home," said I'm surprised my parents didn't come," "They were very happy this was happening," he said of the vigil.
Both Bommaraju and Cambron, along with others who were arrested after entering I-75, are charged with disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, and inducing panic. That charge is usually a first- degree misdemeanor, but could be a fifth or fourth degree felony if a prosecutor finds that significant “economic damage” was done in the commission of the offense.
Hey y’all. Yesterday was a long one, but today’s my birthday and tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So yeah, that’s awesome.
The big news this morning is something you’ve probably already heard about, maybe from our coverage last night. Roughly 300 people yesterday gathered at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street for a rally organized by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network. City and state politicians, including State Rep. Alicia Reece and Mayor John Cranley spoke at the event. At some point, most of those gathered embarked on what would become a nearly three-hour march that shut down I-75 and led to 15 arrests. Organizers of the rally say the march wasn’t part of their plans, and not all those who marched went out onto the highway. Protesters started dispersing about 8:30 p.m. after the march ended at the Hamilton County Justice Center. Those arrested on the highway are being charged with violations like disorderly conduct and inducing panic, while those arrested elsewhere are charged with disobeying traffic signals, according to court records. UPDATE: at least some of those arrested have been bonded out.
• Tell us how you really feel. A speech by Mayor John Cranley given Nov. 20 at the Cincinnati Masonic Center had many moments of surprising candor, according to the Business Courier, even for a mayor known to be upfront with his thoughts. During the speech, which wasn’t announced to the press but was recorded by the group, Cranley compared the state of the region’s bus system to the Titanic, called on-street bike lanes “special treatment” and a “disruption,” and called rail projects like the streetcar “19th century technology.” While those comments are provocative, they align pretty well with past positions the mayor has taken. Cranley said the bus system’s finances are in bad shape and argued the city shouldn’t be subsidizing county bus riders. The fare for SORTA buses outside the city is higher, but that higher rate doesn’t pay for the extra cost of running the buses. Cranley also offered a fascinating idea at the meeting: that the Census’ estimate for the city’s population is too low. Cranley thinks the city may have 310,000 residents, more than the roughly 298,000 the Census estimates.
• A new Over-the-Rhine business incubator is opening up Friday for people with great ideas but fewer resources. Mortar, a so-called “urban idea laboratory” on Vine Street, will offer a 10-week business class and support for entrepreneurs, especially underprivileged potential business owners, looking to start a business in Cincinnati’s urban core.
• As we reported yesterday, Ricky Jackson came to Cincinnati yesterday to thank the Ohio Innocence Project. The University of Cincinnati program helped him prove his innocence after he was convicted of a murder he didn't commit in 1975, and, as he said during a triumphant event yesterday at UC, “saved my life.” Jackson, who was just released last Friday, spent 39 years in prison for the crime before being exonerated.
• A bill being considered in Ohio’s General Assembly would end the state’s 20-year statute of limitations on rape cases. But that bill is stalled due to controversy over potential far-reaching consequences. Some lawmakers are pushing for an amendment to the law that would only eliminate the expiration date for cases in which DNA evidence is present proving the identity of the offender. The state of Ohio currently has a backlog of rape kits, evidence collected from a victim after a sexual assault is reported. That’s made finding and prosecuting rapists in a timely manner difficult.
• Finally, this is interesting. Do you remember the Presidential Fitness Test? If you went to public school, you probably took the test, which measured your running ability and your capacity for push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises. When I had to take this test as a youngin, I always pictured a very angry Ronald Regan (I don’t know why I pictured him. Bill Clinton was president at the time) yelling at me to do more sit-ups so the communists wouldn’t win. Turns out, I wasn’t far off the mark, though I should have imagined an earlier president. President Kennedy pushed for youth fitness measures in 1960, decrying the nation’s “growing softness.” The actual test wasn’t instituted until 1966. It included a softball throw that was meant to simulate chucking grenades. Probably would have been more excited for the whole thing as a child if they’d kept that part in.
A rally in protest of recent police shootings of unarmed black men drew as many as 300 downtown Tuesday evening. The rally was followed by a nearly three-hour march that made its way through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the
West End before briefly shutting down I-75 as protesters streamed onto
The rally and march were in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., where black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot Aug. 9 by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Yesterday a grand jury in St. Louis County declined to indict Wilson, spurring civil unrest in the area and demonstrations in cities across the country. In Cincinnati, the march through downtown neighborhoods had echoes of the city’s past — civil unrest lasting days tore through the same communities in 2001 after unarmed black teenager Timothy Thomas was shot by white Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach in OTR.
“Honestly, after the decision yesterday I was a bit numb,” said Curtis Webb, as he marched through downtown. “I even questioned whether I would come out tonight. I’m tired of hearing the talk. I’m more interested in seeing the walk about these situations. As a black man, I’m… I don’t know. I’m scared to be black. I don’t know how to say it. I’m always questioning, 'Am I doing the right thing? Do I look too dangerous? Are the police going to pull me over?' ”
Cincinnati’s demonstrations started with a rally at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street attended by State Senator-elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece, community organizer Rev. Damon Lynch III and Mayor John Cranley, among others.
At the initial gathering on the steps of the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, Cranley highlighted the progress Cincinnati has made since 2001.
"Like all of you, I am deeply concerned about the loss of life and the events that are unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri," he said. "I can sympathize with all aspects of what the community is experiencing because Cincinnati has had similar tensions in the past. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of trial and errors, but we made progress."
“I spent 27-seven years in law enforcement, and not once did I fire my weapon to harm someone,” Cecil Thomas said. “And all of a sudden, we see so many officers so quick to pull their guns. How do you pull your gun on a 12-year-old when someone tells you it looks like he has a toy gun? We have to change the way we do our policing.”
Thomas was a peacemaker during the 2001 unrest, working with police, community groups and the city's Human Relations Commission to broker calm.
Many attendees at the initial rally joined in a meandering march that stopped traffic in many of the city’s major streets and passed just feet from the spot where Timothy Thomas was shot in 2001. However, the rally was much more peaceful than the days of unrest 13 years ago. About 20 police followed the march, blocking off streets and working to corral protesters. Organizers with the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network say the march was not part of their plans for the rally.
Tensions rose when protesters, after making their way down Ezzard Charles Drive in the West End, split off onto a highway onramp, spilling over a berm and onto the north-bound lane of I-75. Police had initially blocked the onramp, but moved to the highway to block off traffic temporarily. After roughly five minutes, officers drove protesters off the highway with the threat of arrest. Eight protesters were arrested when they didn’t leave quickly enough. They are being held without bond at the Hamilton County Justice Center.
After leaving the highway, the march continued through the city for another hour, eventually dissipating at the Justice Center on Court and Main streets.
Joshua Davis, who helped lead the march, said the problems go beyond any specific case.
“I’m out here because I have nieces who are four, five, six years old and I want them to come up in a world where they don’t have to be afraid of the cops," he said. "There are many things cops can carry that don’t kill people. I’m out here not because I agree Mike Brown was innocent or guilty, or because the cop was guilty or innocent, but because black men are being killed daily.”
The march ended at the
Hamilton County Justice Center at about 8:30 p.m. Fifteen were arrested during the march, according to police.
UPDATE: A hearing for those arrested was held Wednesday at 12:30, according to the county clerk. Court records show some of the protesters have posted bond.
Ricky Jackson was just 20 and fresh out of the Marines when he went to jail for murder in 1975. Authorities pinned the killing of Harold Franks, a fifty nine-year-old money order clerk in Cleveland, on Jackson and two of his friends, brothers Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman. The conviction came on the testimony of a single twelve-year-old boy with bad eyesight and a confused story.
He spent the next 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Jackson was released last Friday, the last of the trio to be freed after that witness, Eddie Vernon, admitted he made up his testimony under police pressure. Today, Jackson was in Cincinnati to thank those who worked tirelessly to help free him.
“I would have walked if it would have come to that,” Jackson said to a packed house on University of Cincinnati's campus. “I wanted to come meet the people instrumental in saving my life.”
The Ohio Innocence Project, which runs out of University of Cincinnati’s College of Law, has been working on Jackson's case since 2010, digging for years to get public records about the case. A Cleveland Scene article in 2011 focused more attention on the story as well. Since those beginnings, OIP has played a huge role in getting Jackson exonerated.
OIP was founded in 2003 to investigate and litigate cases where prisoners have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. The group is made up of UC Law professors and students who use DNA evidence, new witnesses, evidence of police misconduct, and other information to exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates. In just over a decade, they’ve helped free 18 inmates who were wrongfully convicted of murder and other charges. Jackson is the longest-serving inmate in Ohio to be exonerated.
Jackson’s codefendant Ronnie Bridgeman was paroled in 2010, but Jackson’s parole board continued to keep him in prison. Jackson says parole boards wanted him to admit guilt and express regret for the crime before they released him. The only problem was, he was innocent.
“I was on the cusp a lot of times,” he said of confessing. “It seemed like, to me, the only way I was going to get out was to admit guilt. But there was a lot more at stake than just me saying I committed the crime when I know I didn’t. That man’s family gets no justice, I get no justice… at the end of the day I just couldn’t lay down with that in my heart.”
He passed the time by staying fit and helping run the prison’s horticultural project. He ran a greenhouse, something he enjoyed immensely. Still, the time was wearing on him.
“After my last parole board hearing, I was really at an all time low,” he said. “I’m running out of time. I’m 57. How much time to do I really have left? I hate to use this cliché, but they came through like a knight in shining armor. When I was at my eleventh hour, didn’t know what direction I was going to take… these guys came.”
Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project, says Jackson was steadfast in his innocence. He recalls first meeting Jackson at a recent hearing on his request for a new trial in light of witness Vernon recanting his testimony. Prosecutors were offering Jackson a deal — once again, if he would say he was guilty, he could walk free.
“He just looked at us and said, ‘I don’t need anymore time to think about it. I will not take that deal,' ” Godsey recalls. Prosecutors soon conceded that without their only witness, they had no case. Jackson was free.
There are challenges ahead, to be sure. He spent many of his formative years — when most people go to college, start careers, and build families — behind bars.
The OIP is stepping in again with assistance. The group has raised nearly $43,000 to help Jackson get a new start. They’re also fighting the state of Ohio to get a settlement for him based on his wrongful conviction. That could be huge — $40,000 for every year he was imprisoned, plus lost wages and other damages. But it’s not guaranteed. Sometimes, prosecutors fight against these settlements. So far, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office has not officially acknowledged that Jackson is innocent or that they were wrongly imprisoned.
In the meantime, Jackson says he’s not sure just yet what he’ll do. But he says he’s up for the challenge of building a life.
“It’s not difficult at all," he said. "Compared to what I just came from, this is beautiful.”
Your morning news today is gonna be a little grim and heavy. Sometimes that's how the news goes, folks.
A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Mike Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The incident has been highly racially charged from the start and caused months of unrest between protesters and police in Ferguson and surrounding communities. Brown was black and Wilson is white. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch delivered the grand jury’s decision in a highly unusual, and perhaps highly unwise, 9 p.m. press conference, despite the fact the grand jury reached its decision much earlier in the day. The rambling, 20-minute announcement lead with a strong condemnation of social media, the 24-four hour news cycle and other seemingly unrelated forces before getting to a strong defense of Wilson from the prosecutor. It’s exceedingly unusual for a grand jury to not hand down an indictment, unless that indictment is for a police officer who has killed someone in the line of duty.
The announcement was followed by waves of anger from already-gathered protesters, and civil unrest quickly spread through Ferguson. Police and National Guard troops on the scene began firing tear gas and smoke bombs shortly after the decision was read. Reports on the ground relayed some peaceful protesters as well as incidents of looting and vandalism. Several buildings and at least two police cruisers had gone up in flames by this morning, and St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar said he had heard at least 150 gunshots throughout the night. President Barack Obama sounded a skeptical note about the decision but called for peace in Ferguson. Brown’s family released a statement expressing their extreme disappointment with the verdict but also called for protesters to remain peaceful.
Calmer demonstrations have sprung up in many cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Seattle and New York. A peaceful demonstration organized by the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the National Action Network will be held in Cincinnati today at 5 p.m. at the U.S. District Courthouse downtown.
• Last week, Cleveland native Ricky Jackson was released from prison after spending 39 years there for a murder he didn’t commit. Today at noon, Jackson will be in Cincinnati appearing at UC’s School of Law to thank the school’s Ohio Innocence Project and others who helped free him. Jackson’s story was first unearthed by the Cleveland Scene and taken up by the Innocence Project shortly thereafter. He was convicted based on the sole testimony of a 12-year-old boy who later admitted he had made up his statements. Jackson is the 18th person freed by the program.
• Over-the-Rhine's newest brewery and tap house is almost ready for guests. Taft's Ale House, which is on 15th and Race, received its fermenters and brewhouse yesterday. They were lowered in with a crane, which is pretty epic. The owners say they'd like to be open by Reds Opening Day next year.
• If someone offered you a free building, would you take it? Hamilton County commissioners aren’t sure they will. Mercy Hospital has offered to donate their former facility in Mount Airy to the county. A number of the county’s offices, including the county’s cramped coroner and crime lab, could move there, but the new location won’t be cheap. It could cost up to $100 million to retrofit the building for its new tenants, money commissioners say they don’t have, especially after their vote yesterday to approve a relatively skinny $201 million budget. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have both indicated the county may not take the building after all. Democrat Commissioner Todd Portune is also skeptical about moving county services to Mount Airy, though for other reasons. He says the county’s board of elections, which was also proposed as a tenant at the site, should stay downtown.
• Finally, as if my faith in humanity needed more testing this week, there’s this story. Someone stole a Sasquatch statue out of a family’s yard in Delhi. The thing weighs 400 pounds, so it’s an impressive bit of thievery, though also pretty heartless.
“I want squashy back,” the statue’s owner told Channel 12 News. “We've got to dress him up for Christmas. We can't have Christmas without Squashy."
Morning all. Let’s get right to the news, shall we?
It’s hardly a secret that arrest rates in communities across the country are often much higher for minorities. That’s certainly true for suburbs in the Cincinnati area, where authorities often arrest a much higher proportion of blacks than whites. In Sharonville, for instance, blacks are 12 times more likely to be arrested, and in Norwood, they’re seven times more likely. Law enforcement authorities in those communities say that the data controls for the lower population of blacks in those communities but doesn’t take into account the fact that not everyone committing crimes in those places lives there, which they say skews the numbers. Civil rights activists, however, say the data shows a clear racial disparity caused by a number of factors that need to be addressed. Many studies have made it clear that drug use, for instance, is just as high among whites as it is blacks, but law enforcement in many communities makes many more arrests in the latter.
• Are City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley trying to pre-empt a rail project right out of existence? It seems a little premature to say, but that’s the concern expressed by the city’s planning commission chair Caleb Faux and some advocates for a rail component of the proposed Wasson Way trail. The project looks to extend bike paths and eventually, possible commuter rail lanes through Evanston, Hyde Park and Mount Lookout. But on Thursday, Black removed from the city’s planning commission agenda legislation seeking to preserve the possibility of rail in the area by creating a transportation overlay district. The move has sparked worries that Black was acting on orders from Cranley, no friend of rail, in a bid to pre-emptively block a future rail project through the Wasson Way corridor. Cranley said he only wanted to give time for more public input before a vote on the overlay district was taken.
• In other City Hall news, Black announced his pick for the city’s director of trade and development today in a news release. Oscar Bedolla will be the city’s head of economic development. He previously worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration on infrastructure projects in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and Denver.
• State Rep. Alicia Reece, who represents Cincinnati, is pushing for a law that would require greater aesthetic differences between fake guns and real ones in the wake of another police shooting Saturday night in Cleveland. A 12-year-old boy was shot and killed by police officers, who thought the toy gun he was carrying was a semi-automatic pistol. The incident has tragic echoes of the August shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart. Crawford was carrying a pellet gun sold in the store when police shot him.
• As lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly wrangle over how to fix the state’s unemployment compensation system, a new report on the fund reviews how slashes to taxes on employers put the state in debt to the federal government to the tune of $1.3 billion. It’s interesting reading, to say the least, and a primer in the problems that can arise from some lawmakers' "cut every possible tax to the bone” mentality.
• Finally, if you’re really serious about video games, I have a Kickstarter for you to check out. It’s for a company that wants to make a controller that extracts real blood from you every time you’re injured in a video game. “It’s stupidly simple,” the pitch starts. Well, that’s at least partially right. Yow. The device keeps track of how much blood it hass removed, however, so you don’t like, pass out or bleed to death because you’re terrible at "Call of Duty."
Before news, let’s talk chili. Yesterday, true to my word, I checked out Cretan’s Grill in Carthage as part of my quest to discover the city’s smaller independent chili parlors. Excellent start. I paid five bucks for two coneys and a ton of fries. The chili was great — a little sweeter and meatier than say, Skyline. Where should I go next week?
Anyway, a lot of stuff happened yesterday. News stuff. So let’s get to it.
Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have agreed to pay $281,000 to keep open the possibility the county could acquire a former hospital in Mount Airy. The commissioners made the move in anticipation of possibly renovating the building to house several county offices, though they have made it clear those renovations will not happen in the coming year. County Administrator Christian Sigman originally proposed a 2015 budget with a .25 percent sales tax increase to pay for renovations so that the county coroner, crime lab and board of elections along with other offices could occupy the building. Monzel and Hartmann have signaled they will not support a sales tax increase, however, and want a long-term plan for how the former Mercy hospital might be used.
• As we reported last night, the Ohio Department of Health has renewed the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center’s license, meaning Cincinnati’s last clinic providing abortions will stay open. Planned Parenthood had filed a lawsuit against the state after the clinic in Mount Auburn was cited for lacking a transfer agreement with an area hospital. The clinic had an agreement with UC Hospital, but lost it when a law forbidding state-funded hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion providers was passed last year. The clinic applied 14 months ago for an exception to that rule because it has doctors on staff with individual admitting privileges with nearby hospitals.
• Cincinnati Red Bike may be expanding soon. The nonprofit bike sharing company that Cincinnati City Council boosted last year with $1 million in startup funds has been a big success, beating ridership projections in its opening weeks this summer. Currently, Red Bike has 30 stations in downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and uptown near UC. The company has been talking with Northern Kentucky officials about possibly putting additional stations in places like Covington and Newport. Red Bike is also considering putting new stations in places like Longworth Hall downtown and Burnet Woods in Clifton.
• More bad local media news. Scripps Networks Interactive, a Nashville-based entertainment company that produces HGTV, the Food Network and the Travel Channel, is closing its Cincinnati office and shedding the 150 positions based here. The company spun off from Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps in 2008 and employs about 2,000 people total.
• A bill that would ban abortions in Ohio once a fetus has a detectable heartbeat passed committee yesterday and will now make its way to a vote in the full Ohio House. The legislation, which could outlaw abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, would be one of the most restrictive in the country if passed. Bill cosponsors Reps. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance and Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon have said they see the legislation as a means for challenging Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. If they want a legal battle over the bill, they’ll probably get it. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has threatened a lawsuit if the measure makes it into law, which has some conservatives, including Gov. John Kasich, wary of passing the bill. Federal courts have found similar bans in other states unconstitutional, and a lawsuit challenging the ban could also jeopardize other anti-abortion laws in the state, conservative lawmakers feel.
The measure barely made it through the House’s Health and Aging Committee. Several last-minute swaps of committee members were performed so that there would be enough committee members present and so that those supporting the bill would outnumber those opposed. The proposal passed 11-6 after three Republicans and one Democrat were swapped out of the committee. That’s… kinda sketchy.
• Finally, President Barack Obama announced yesterday evening he would take sweeping executive action to grant relief to millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Up to five million immigrants could be shielded from deportation by the action, which directs immigration officials and law enforcement to focus on criminals instead of families. It’s a huge move, and one that has drawn a lot of attention. Conservatives have gone nuts over the announcement. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn predicted instances of “anarchy” and “violence” as a result of the move, and many other GOP officials have called Obama’s power play an illegal use of presidential power. Obama has countered that every president has used executive actions and that Congress should focus on passing legislation to fix America’s broken immigration system.
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Before we get to news this morning, I have a query for readers. I want to venture away from the safe world of our ubiquitous chain Cincinnati chili restaurants for a day, lovely as they are, and try a smaller, more obscure chili parlor in town for lunch. Where should I go? I’m thinking about this place, but I’m open to suggestions. I’ll report back my findings tomorrow morning.
Ok, on to business. A bunch of stuff happened yesterday in City Council, but it was all stuff we sort of expected would happen, right? Council passed a streetcar operating agreement and funding mechanism, a bit of a landmark achievement for the project. After a couple years of fighting, hand-wringing and politicking, it seems like this thing is actually going to happen, funded by a roll back on property tax abatements in Over-the-Rhine, a parking meter increase there and of course rider fares.
“Three months ago, I didn’t know if we’d be here today with a revenue stream,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who chairs Council’s transportation committee, yesterday during the meeting. Murray was opposed to the project originally, but voted for the measure along with the rest of Council minus Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman. Smitherman said he still had serious concerns about the project’s financial prospects, saying no one is sure what ridership will be like.
• Who will be greeting those riders is still in question, though. A fight had been brewing over whether to employ SORTA’s unionized employees to run the streetcar or bid the work out to a private company. Consultants for the transit authority say a private company could save the city as much as $300,000 a year, though Democrats on council and representatives from SORTA’s union debate that number. Council sidestepped the argument for now by passing a resolution stating that SORTA should bid the job out to see what kind of offers it can get, but that the final decision on staffing will be voted on by council, which has so far leaned toward hiring SORTA employees. One possible arrangement: SORTA workers do the actual driving, so to speak, while a private company performs the managerial side of operating the streetcar.
• Council also voted to co-name Third Street downtown Carl H. Lindner, Jr. Way. The vote was unanimous, but not without its own bit of controversy. Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly-gay councilmember, said the vote required some deep soul-searching on his part. Lindner was a big funder of Citizens for Community Values, a group that pushed for Cincinnati’s harsh Article XII anti-gay charter amendment in the 1990s. Lindner also had some other dark moments during his career, though those didn’t enter into the street-naming conversation in Council.
“As a gay person, I don’t want to be judged solely on my sexual orientation,” Seelbach said. “There’s a lot to me besides my sexual orientation. And there’s a lot to Mr. Lindner besides his anti-gay history and positions. And a lot of that is really wonderful, from the jobs he created to the nonprofits he supported. Those things make me see him as a more whole person than just his anti-gay past.”
Despite Seelbach's yes vote, his comments drew an angry response from Councilman Charlie Winburn, who said Lindner was something of a mentor to him.
“I think it’s shameful of you to make a comment like that when a man has died and has given so much to Cincinnati.” Winburn said. Lindner passed away in 2011. “You should keep your vote. Your vote is not received."
• Well then. On a less awkward note, Council also approved a liquor license request for Nick and Drew Lachey’s Lachey’s Bar in Over-the-Rhine, which is hoping to open before Thanksgiving. So there’s that.
• A judge has turned down suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s first two requests for a new trial. Hunter filed three motions asking for a new trial after jury members recanted their guilty verdicts. The jurors said they were pressured into their decisions. Those motions would have been heard in court today.
"Once a jury has returned a verdict, and that jury has been polled, a juror may not rescind their verdict," Judge Norbert Nadel wrote in his decision. Hunter was tried on nine felony counts last month, and convicted on one — a charge stemming from her allegedly passing on documents about her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate. The jury hung on the other counts. A judge will hear Hunter’s final motion for retrial Dec. 2.
• Business opportunity alert: did you know Mayday is for sale? For $285,000 you get the bar and all of its inventory. Not a bad deal. Owners Vanessa Barber and Kim Mauer are moving on to other opportunities after five years of running the bar, which was known as the Gypsy Hut prior to their tenure there. I have a lot of fond memories playing music and billiards there, as well as climbing onto the roof of that building under both its names, so I hope someone snatches it up. I’d buy it, but I’m just a little short on cash. About, oh, $284,000 short. No worries, though, the bar will stay open until a new owner comes along.
• Speaking of opportunities… if you’re a fellow scribe, heads up. The Cincinnati Enquirer is hiring in tons of positions, many of them reporters to replace those it lost during a Gannett-wide restructuring process.
• Finally, our most esteemed Twitter friend John Mattress is at it again. Bacon is expensive indeed.
For chili tips, or heck, even if you want to throw some news my way, hit me up on Twitter or at email@example.com
Hey all! Once again, I’m rushing toward a day of covering meetings and hearings, so let’s do this morning news thing in a “just the facts” fashion.
First, about those meetings:
Cincinnati City Council today is expected to pass the streetcar operating and funding plans after the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee gave it the thumbs up yesterday. That’s a big deal, considering the city had been working for months to figure out where the system’s $4 million yearly operating budget would come from. But the fighting isn’t over. Now there’s disagreement about whether Metro or a contractor should run the streetcar. It’s a classic private vs. public argument. Vice Mayor David Mann and a majority of council want the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority to do the work. Councilmembers Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray, on the other hand, would like to see SORTA take bids on operations from private companies to see what kind of savings contracting the work could yield. A consultant for the transit authority, TRA, has generated numbers saying that the city could save about $300,000 a year by going private. SORTA’s union has taken issue with those numbers, though, and say they could match a private company’s price. Council won’t consider Mann’s proposal until sometime after Thanksgiving, which means a couple more weeks for wrangling over the deal.
City Council will also vote on a motion to name Third Street after Carl H. Lindner Jr., one of Cincinnati’s most towering business figures. That’s prompted some questions about Lindner’s legacy, specifically around LGBT issues. He gave millions to various causes around the city, but also had a darker side. Some, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, would like to take some time to get more public input on the move before putting his name on a prominent downtown street.
• Hamilton County Commissioners are holding a public hearing over the county’s 2015 budget this morning. The budget has been controversial. The original proposal by County Administrator Christian Sigman called for a .25 cent tax increase to fund renovations of a former hospital in Mt. Airy, a boost Republican commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann batted down recently. The Mt. Airy site, donated to the county by Mercy Hospital, would hold a new, updated crime lab and coroner’s office, as well as the county board of elections and other offices. The coroner’s office and crime lab are in serious need of updates, officials say, and are running at less than full capacity. Without the tax boost, however, the budget will remain flat and many other offices, including the Sheriff’s Department, will face cuts. Monzel has said he’d like to have the budget passed before Thanksgiving, making this the last significant hearing on the issue.
• Procter & Gamble has officially stepped up to publicly support same-sex marriage, the company said yesterday. While the company has had domestic partner benefits since 2001, this is the first time it’s made a public statement about the divisive issue. Though the announcement comes in the wake of a recent federal court decision upholding Ohio’s same-sex marriage amendment, the company says the move isn’t political, but is about supporting its employees and attracting the best possible talent.
• Major Hollywood movies filming here in Cincinnati give the city an undeniable cool factor, but does that translate into an economic boon as well? A recent study by the UC Center for Economics Education & Research says yes. The state pitches big tax breaks to film production companies, but also get a big boost in the jobs and economic activity those films bring, the study says — 4,000 jobs and $46 million in economic activity in Cincinnati for $6.5 million in tax breaks. But the equation may be more complicated than that. According to this Business Courier blog post, when you take into account the state’s return on investment – how much of that $46 million is coming back in taxes — and alternative uses for the tax dollars spent. Interesting stuff and worth thinking about.
• Ohio is about to free a prisoner wrongly convicted of murder almost 40 years ago. Ricky Jackson and two others were convicted of murdering a man in 1975 based on the eyewitness accounts of a single 12-year-old boy. That boy later recanted his testimony, saying he was "just trying to be helpful" to police by testifying. Jackson will be freed from jail Friday after a years-long legal battle aided by the Ohio Innocence Project. The Cleveland Scene first reported the story and drew attention the Jackson's plight.
• Finally, are we headed for another government shutdown? There’s a showdown brewing over President Barack Obama’s use of executive action to ease deportations of undocumented immigrants. Hardline conservative Republicans want to tuck measures preventing the president from doing this into spending bills integral to the budget process, forcing Obama to either sign them or veto them and halt Congress’ approval of funds that keep the federal government operating. GOP congressional leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner and probable Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said last year’s shutdown was damaging for the party and that they will not abide by a repeat. But the GOP’s tea party-aligned right flank says they won’t rule out grinding the government to a halt again.