City Council yesterday unanimously passed a motion committing $1.5 million more to the city’s Human Services fund in its next budget, doubling the fund’s size.
The increase is part of an ongoing rethinking of the city’s human services funding. But with that change in focus comes the potential that some of the 54 organizations that receive support from the fund could see some cuts in the next budget.
A working group headed by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and Vice Mayor David Mann suggests focusing first and foremost on two major areas: increasing gainful employment and reducing homelessness, splitting the fund down the middle for those purposes. Along with those major focus areas, it also suggests the establishment of a collaborative between law enforcement and the community to curtail violence in Cincinnati when more funds are available.
The changes won’t take place for another six months, kicking in with the new fiscal year, giving organizations and the city time to adjust to the new budget priorities.
“Number one, we wanted to make sure to increase how much we put into human services each year,” said Mann, who helped draw up the proposal, “and secondly that we focus on a few significant areas and see if we can’t make progress there instead of trying to shotgun amongst many programs.”
The motion to adopt the suggestions by the human services working group is the next step in a months-long process to update the way the city funds anti-poverty programs. It’s also a step toward restoring funding for human services to 1.5 percent of the city’s operating budget, a long-term goal for the city and a level it hasn’t seen in a decade.
Currently, the city’s $1.5 million human services fund accounts for just .42 percent of the city’s $358 million budget. In the past, the city has made deep cuts to the fund. The boost would raise the fund’s proportion of the budget to .84 percent. Simpson and others, including Mann, say they hope to get back to 1.5 percent as more funding becomes available.
Simpson says the working group included advice from the United Way, which currently helps the city evaluate programs it is funding, as well as community members and various boards like the Human Services Advisory Committee and the Community Development Advisory Board, which oversees how federal Community Development Block Grants are spent.
The city hasn’t decided where the money for the increase will come from yet, a point of concern for some council members.
“Whenever we move to increase funding for something, I like to be able to identify the source of funds,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He noted there was still time to do that before the overall budget is passed.
Flynn also said he’d like to see human services funding go through the same process, something that has been a sore point among some council members lately.
“There’s a lot of money that we’ve approved in our general operating budget that hasn’t gone through the guidelines and process that we’ve established,” Flynn said.
Councilman Seelbach expressed similar concerns, specifically about the way decisions are made on funding anti-poverty programs.
“All of us have agencies that we’re somewhat close to, and it’s not fair to pick them over others,” Seelbach said, a reference to recent moves that have shifted money from some nonprofits to others. “So if we can put them all in a fair, non-political process like the United Way, I think the city’s better for it.”
Hey hey all. Hope your Thursday is going well. Tomorrow’s Friday! And that's our 20th anniversary party! You should come. You should also venture out into that bleak, unforgiving cold to pick up a copy of our 20th anniversary issue now. It’s got a lot of really fun looks back at the past two decades of CityBeat as well as a picture of a very young me holding a puppy. How can you resist?
After the absolute deluge of news yesterday, today is relatively quiet. Well, for the most part. The hearing in Hamilton County courts on former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s request to have her felony conviction thrown out is happening as you read. Hunter was convicted on one of nine counts she was facing last month on a variety of charges. The one that stuck: allegations she improperly intervened in disciplinary actions against her brother, a court employee accused of assaulting an inmate. There’s a big wrinkle in the case, however, as three jurors have recanted their guilty verdicts. It promises to be a very interesting day in court.
• U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell will be dropping by Cincinnati today to talk about health care coverage and enrollment in a health policy under the Affordable Care Act ahead of the Nov. 15 open enrollment period. She’ll be joined by Mayor John Cranley at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at 12:45 p.m. Burwell will also be swinging through Columbus earlier in the day.
• It’s been a rough week, so I’m into this next thing. Today is World Kindness Day, it turns out. I’d never heard of that before, but I guess any excuse to be nice to people is a good one. If you mosey down to Fountain Square between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., you can pick a flower from a large flower wall being installed by KIND Healthy Snacks. The idea is you pass the flower along to a stranger or anyone else you see who could use a little pick-me-up. There will also be surprises for people who are nice or could use a little kindness throughout the day.
• This year is a big anniversary for another group. The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, which started in 1984, is celebrating 30 years working to end homelessness. The coalition has also been very active in asking big questions about development in Over-the-Rhine and other places where low-income folks live. They’re having a celebration Dec. 11.
• Ironically, there’s yet another big anniversary this year. The term “gentrification” was coined in 1964 by British sociologist Ruth Glass. Here’s a really fascinating and provocative history of the term published last week that’s worth reading.
• The debate over net neutrality has been on the front burner lately, thanks in part to new statements from President Barack Obama. That debate hasn’t just been about words and ideas, of course, because nothing in politics ever is. Cash has played a big role in the fight. Anti-net neutrality telecommunications companies, who want the right to create so-called “fast lanes” and treat certain kinds of internet content differently, have given more than $62 million to political action committees in the past 14 years. Compare that to big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which support net neutrality. They’ve given just $22 million. Part of that is that these companies haven’t been around or as powerful for as long. No matter what the cause, though, it’s clear that telecomm is pouring vast sums of money into the pockets of politicians to try and keep the federal government from making rules about net neutrality.
• Today, you get a crazy news two for one. First, a guy got arrested (in Florida, you guessed it) trying to steal a chainsaw by sticking it down his pants. That’s wonderful. Second, Philae, that unmanned European space probe you’ve probably already heard about, landed on a comet yesterday. That’s never been done before. The probe has been beaming back pictures and drilling samples out of the comet’s surface. It’s also been live-tweeting its trip, though most of its commentary has just been about the fact it’s really cold and boring in space and about how the comet doesn’t have as good of a jukebox or beer selection as The Comet.
Morning y’all. Here’s a brief news rundown before I head off to a day full of meetings and news conferences. Hope you’re having as much fun on your Wednesday as I will be.
Cincinnati is set to receive a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, the group's highest possible rating. HRC will announce the score today at 10 a.m. at Memorial Hall. It’s a huge turnaround from just a decade ago, when the city finally overturned one of the most restrictive anti-LGBT rights ordinances in the country.
• Cincinnati’s last remaining facility providing abortions, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Mount Auburn, is suing the state in federal court over a law prohibiting state-funded hospitals from entering into emergency patient transfer agreements with clinics. The Planned Parenthood clinic had an agreement with nearby UC Hospital before the law went into effect, but the hospital was forced to end the agreement. Attorneys for the clinic say recent citations from the Ohio Department of Health for not having that agreement could shut it down, which would leave southwestern Ohio without access to an abortion provider. That, they say, violates a Supreme Court decision that ruled that states can’t put an undue burden on women seeking abortions. Cincinnati could become the largest metro area in the country without access to a clinic if the Planned Parenthood facility closes.
• Hamilton County’s prospective 2015 budget looks to have a lot of departments tightening their belts. County commissioners have indicated they're leaning toward something closer to a $200 million budget instead the more robust one put forth by county administrator Christian Sigman. Republicans Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann are both proposing plans closer to the alternate path mainly because it doesn’t rely on a recommended quarter-cent sales tax increase, which would have needed voter approval next year. Democrat Todd Portune supports a 5-year tax bump, but he looks to be outvoted. If the commissioners forgo offering the tax increase to voters, it could leave a number of services, including the county coroner office and crime lab, without badly needed upgrades for another year. The budget would cut three positions from the office and could risk its accreditation, according to a budget impact report authored by Hamilton County Budget Director John Bruggen. It might eliminate 41 positions at the sheriff’s office, cause cuts to the county’s juvenile justice court, public defender’s office and many other county services. Commissioners hope to have the budget finalized by Nov. 24. A public hearing on the various options will be held Nov. 19.
• A fight is brewing over a proposal being considered by the Ohio Board of Education that could eliminate art, music and phys-ed instructors at some schools. Currently, Ohio has requirements that every public school in the state have at least five of eight specialized positions for each 1,000 students. Opponents of the standards change say it would allow schools to get rid of instructors for art, music, physical education and other subjects as well as librarians and other employees. These cuts, they say, would come most often at schools in low-income areas. Supporters say the change would give more power to local districts, allowing them to make staffing choices themselves. The standards have been in place since 1983. The 19-member board met yesterday in a public meeting to consider the idea, which a board committee has recommended for adoption. The meeting got testy when a 75-minute presentation about the standards was set before public comment could be heard. Four board members walked out of the meeting in protest, though they returned later.
• Authorities are gearing up for another round of civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury's decision on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown is expected sometime this month, possibly very soon. Indications seem to suggest the grand jury will choose not to indict Wilson, leaving officials in the St. Louis area on edge.
• Finally, this is what we’ve come to as a society — meta drones. This small unmanned aircraft just took off from another drone. The bigger one, shaped like an aircraft carrier that is, err, also an aircraft, is called the Helidrone. It can lift another, smaller drone into the air, where the smaller drone also takes off. This is useful because… well, it’s cool at least. Thanks science!
Hello all. Hope you’re ready for some news, because I’ve got a bunch for ya.
First, happy Veterans Day! Here’s a timely bit of news: Cincinnati City Council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young announced an initiative yesterday to track the number of veterans employed by the city in an effort make Cincinnati the most welcoming city in the country for veterans. The initiative will require contractors working on city projects to report how many veterans are employed on those projects, as well as keeping track of how many the city itself employs.
“This data will show how your tax dollars help grow opportunities for our veterans and keep their families employed and growing in our region,” Seelbach said in a statement. After the data is collected, the city will work with contractors and veterans service agencies in the city to improve veteran employment opportunities. In the years after 9/11, unemployment for vets has remained stubbornly high, even as unemployment for the general population starts to fall.
• The Human Rights Campaign, one of the biggest LGBT rights advocacy groups in the country, has chosen Cincinnati as the place it will unveil its 2014 Municipal Equality Index, which measures how welcoming cities are to members of the LGBT community. They’ll release the results tomorrow at Memorial Hall. Check out our brief piece here for more details.
• Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune want to explore the possibility of the city and county sharing certain services in an effort to boost efficiency for both. You can read more in our blog post from yesterday, but here’s the short take: It’s not a new idea, and there are a lot of political hoops to jump through that have kept shared services from happening in the past. But there’s also a lot of interest in the idea, and Cranley and Portune say their proposal will work. They’ll be asking City Council and county commissioners tomorrow to approve the creation of a task force that will meet regularly to oversee city-county cooperation.
• Downtown’s Horseshoe Casino last month had its lowest-grossing month since opening in March 2013, taking in just under $14 million. A crowded field of gambling options in the region, including neighboring Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Indiana has contributed to the low earnings.
• While we’re talking about Indiana: Will the default of a major tollway in that state make financing the Brent Spence Bridge replacement more difficult? It’s a possibility, some investment experts say. A company contracted to manage the $3.85 billion Indiana Toll Road went bankrupt this fall, which could have ripple effects for a similar Brent Spence project, spooking investors who might otherwise be interested in it. Another interesting wrinkle in this story is that the Indiana project fell behind financially because of declining traffic on the Indiana toll road, a result of fewer folks using cars to get from point A to point B.
• Ohio’s charter schools are some of the lowest-performing in the country, a recent study found. The Stanford University research shows that after a year in an average Ohio charter school, students lag behind public school pupils in reading and math. Ohio’s schools were the fourth-lowest out of 26 states studied in terms of performance. An analysis by the Akron Beacon Journal suggests that for-profit charter schools are the reason for much of the performance disparity, with 14 of the state’s 16 lowest-performing charters run by for-profit companies. Eight of the top 12 charter schools, meanwhile, are run by non-profits. The analysis notes there are some exceptions to the rule, however, including three suburban Columbus charters run by New York-based company Mosaica Education. You can read the whole report here.
• Days after the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld the region’s same-sex marriage bans, the Supreme Court has put a temporary delay on removal of a similar ban in Kansas. After a district court there struck down the state’s ban, Kansas requested the Supreme Court put that decision on hold. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked for response from same-sex marriage advocates to the state’s request, and in the meantime has temporarily delayed the removal of the state’s ban on gay marriage. The district court’s ruling was set to go into effect at 6 p.m. today, allowing same-sex couples in the state to wed. The ruling is just a temporary delay, however, and doesn’t signal whether the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in favor of the state.
• President Obama has made some of the most definitive statements of his presidency lately in regard to his support for net neutrality, saying yesterday that measures to ensure that Internet service providers treat online content equally is "a big priority of mine." The statement seemed like a bit of surprise to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, a former telecom executive appointed by Obama. He's responded that the FCC is an independent agency and will do what it sees fit. The question, of course, is why Obama nominated a telecom exec to be FCC chair in the first place, but yeah. The battle over net neutrality was already raging well before Obama took office but has intensified in recent years as telecom companies seek to create what opponents describe as "fast lanes" that give faster service to some kinds of content over others. Obama is pushing to reclassify ISPs as utilities instead of communications companies, which would give the federal government more power to regulate them and enforce rules about equal treatment of data flowing through ISPs' networks.
• A Deer Park man claiming he was Jesus has been taken into custody for mental evaluation, police there say. The man apparently made threats to a locally based, national-level politician and authorities are assessing what kind of risk he poses to others. Mental health is a serious issue, of course, but I really have to point out the epic one-liner this guy got off during a 911 call about his condition.
"I'm messed up," the man said to a 911 operator. "Can you tell my father I'm OK?"
"OK, where is your father at?" the operator asked.
"Uh, everywhere," the man claiming to be Jesus responded. Zing.
Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune are proposing a task force that could help the city and county governments share services. The idea has been proposed in the past with little progress, however, due to politics and an unwillingness to cut departments. But Portune and Cranley point to city-county cooperation on The Banks riverfront development project as proof the two governments can coordinate.
Portune acknowledged that the idea has been floated many times in the past. The Democrat commissioner sent a proposal to former Mayor Mark Mallory about the idea in 2011. Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann also discussed shared services many times with city officials, but again nothing ever came of the talks.
Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel has also expressed interest in shared services, pointing out situations where the city relies on the state, such as hospital inspections, as possible places where the city and county could work together. He says the county could do those inspections.
Hartmann has said coordinating services between the two bodies is a matter of political will, not necessarily further study. He’s on the fence about supporting the effort.
Past failures don’t mean cooperation isn’t possible or necessary, Portune said. He said The Banks project, which is finally seeing fruition after more than a decade of work, is a great example of what the city and county can do together.
“Just go about 12 blocks south of here and you look at the magnificent things that are happening on the city and the county’s central riverfront,” Portune said. “All of the new development at The Banks, all of that was planned and envisioned and decided through a joint city and county effort.”
He said a similar arrangement could work on a more permanent basis, helping both the city and county save valuable resources.
“In this day and age of lower revenues and resources, of squeezed budgets, of the state and federal government giving greater unfunded mandates on local governments,” Portune said, “we have to do more and more with less and less annually.”
Cranley and Portune will introduce matching proposals at Cincinnati City Council and board of commissioners meetings Wednesdays asking both bodies to create a group that would study ways the city and county could share some services for greater efficiency. The group would meet at least quarterly with commissioners and council members.
“We have to try all things,” Cranley said. He said dwindling resources and looming changes in state business taxes could take a bite out of local government funds. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of such changes by the state but said he sees shared services as a good idea either way. “Just because we think it’s fair and right that the state government stop attacking local government doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue shared services.”
Under the shared services arrangement, some departments in both governments, such as the county’s permitting departments or the city’s Environmental Services Office, could eventually see reductions as two offices are folded into one.
Cranley said a few areas spring to mind as possible places for sharing services, including the city prosecutor’s office. But he said that doesn’t mean the office will close up shop.
“I think the city is going to maintain a prosecutorial function,” Cranley said, noting that he thinks the city is better suited to pursue some cases, such as negligent property owners. “I think our efforts will be ramped up in some cases, not reduced.”
But Cranley also said that some prosecutions are duplicated by the two courts and that some criminal cases could be better handled by the county.
Portune said the effort could lead to wider cooperation among local governments. There is great interest in pooling resources and sharing services among the area’s 48 municipalities and other jurisdictions, he said.
“This effort should not be limited to just the city and the county,” he said. “It’s going to start out this way. But ... there’s a tremendous appetite with the other 48 local jurisdictions. Some of that has happened, but there’s an awful lot more that could and should.”
National LGBT rights group Human Rights Campaign will make a trip to Cincinnati Wednesday to announce its Municipal Equality Index.
The index scores how welcoming cities are to members of the LGBT community. HRC researched every state capital, the country's 200 biggest cities by population, the four largest cities in every state, the city with every state's largest public university and 75 of the country's mid-sized cities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples.
The scores take into account municipal laws, whether cities offer employees domestic partner benefits and law enforcement and city officials' relationships with the LGBT community. A perfect score is 100, which indicates "an exemplary commitment to full equality for all its residents and workers," HRC said in a news release.
Cincinnati has been in the spotlight recently for LGBT rights issues. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in the city, heard cases over the summer seeking to strike down same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. Last week the court upheld those bans, likely setting off a Supreme Court challenge to the laws.
HRC will announce Cincinnati's equality index score, a perfect 100, as well as overall national scores at Memorial Hall Wednesday at 10 a.m. Mayor John Cranley, Councilman Chris Seelbach, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and noted LGBT advocates will also speak at the event.
Morning all. There is a busy weekend’s worth of news to recap, but before we get to that, I just gotta say this: I went to something called Mustard Club Saturday, and it changed my life. While I haven’t been quite as up on the German heritage tip as a lot of folks in the city are, this monthly event in Corryville may change that. Here’s a little hint: all you can eat pretzels, mashed potatoes, German desserts and, of course, various meat products. Oh, and lots of German beer if you’re into that.
Anyway, down to business.
• Tonight at Xavier, a woman whose father saved 669 Jewish children during the Holocaust will meet one of those survivors. Barbara Winton is the daughter of British stockbroker Nicholas Winton, who in 1938 took steps to find foster parents for Czechoslovakian Jewish children caught up in the horrors of Nazi genocidal programs. She’s written a book about his life, called If It’s Not Impossible, and tonight at the Cintas Center she’ll meet with Renata Laxova, who at 8 years old left Prague for the safety of Britain thanks to Winton’s efforts. Laxova, who became a geneticist, is 83 today and lives in Madison. Wis. She was among the last children Winton was able to rescue. Amazingly, Nicholas Winton is still alive today, but at 105, he’s not able to make the ceremony, which is part of Xavier’s “Touching History” series.
• Over-the-Rhine is already a brewing hub, but soon the neighborhood will be host to a distillery for gin, whiskey and bourbon for the first time in a long time. Owners of local pet store PetWants recently purchased a 17,000-square-foot warehouse on Central Parkway and hope to be distilling there by next year. They’re also looking to turn the spot into an event space, as well as running some operations for the pet store from the warehouse.
• Mayor John Cranley today announced that he and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune are requesting the city and county create a shared services task force that will find ways the two governments can work together for the region. Cranley and Portune will discuss their ideas further at a news conference later this morning.
• The city is considering turning two major one-way arteries in East Walnut Hills into two way streets. East McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road will probably be converted to boost traffic and business in the neighborhood. Other parts of the streets were converted into two-way corridors in 2012. A neighborhood hearing on the proposals is scheduled for Nov. 18.
• A riverbank park in Lower Price Hill and Riverside is a lot closer to reality. River West, the group planning the park, will receive a $16,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and a $30,000 grant from nonprofit Interact for Health for the project. The group has been pushing for the park for the last seven years, when it successfully fought plans to turn the area into a landing spot for barges. The group worked with the city, which rezoned the land. The 16-acre park, which will be called Price Landing, is still in the early stages, with community input and design phases expected to begin next year. One feature on the table is an extension of the Ohio River Trail.
• If you’re curious about what Hamilton County’s GOP and Democratic party chairmen thought of local and state elections this year, you’re in luck. They shared some candid thoughts Friday at a post-election luncheon for the city’s political bigwigs.
Dem chairman Tim Burke bemoaned the county’s 45 percent voter turnout rate, which he said was the lowest since 1978. He also said he saw Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald as a good candidate but a long shot to topple Kasich, at least until it was revealed that FitzGerald hadn’t had a driver’s license for 10 years. Burke says FitzGerald told him “I’m a procrastinator” as an explanation for the gaffe that tainted his campaign.
GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou had his own insights and revelations about the election. He acknowledged that the trend for the GOP in the county, like in many urban places, is anything but promising long term, but promised that the party would continue to field good candidates. Triantafilou also had some nuanced thoughts about Gov. Kasich’s reelection, saying the incumbent took a more centrist tack this time around after big backlash over the effort to repeal collective bargaining rights for state employees he undertook after voters elected him the first time. That hasn’t endeared him to the state’s tea party faction, Triantafilou said, but won him enough support to take the election by a large margin.
• In state news, Ohio earned a C grade on a new report for its legislative efforts to stop human trafficking. Fourteen other states also received the middling grade from nonprofit Shared Hope, which gave Ohio a score of 78 out of 100, a five point bump from last year. The report said Ohio has made some positive steps in terms of creating specific crimes for those who engage in the sex trafficking of children but has more work to do in terms of trying to limit demand for such services.
• Conservative groups are already pushing for likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass legislation defunding or repealing Obamacare. The rifts in the GOP that were very evident in the last budget fight have reappeared, with tea party-aligned groups like Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action signaling that they’ll push senators and representatives to pursue strategies for repealing the health care law. But it will be tough for McConnell to lead a repeal of the law. Republicans still don’t have 60 votes in the Senate to override a filibuster from Democrats and wouldn’t be able to get past a presidential veto even if they could get legislation out of the Senate.
Hey all. Here’s what’s going on around the city and beyond this morning.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled yesterday to uphold same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee. You can read more right here about that ruling, and whether it means a Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage.
• Freshly reelected Sen. Mitch McConnell has weighed in again on the Brent Spence Bridge dilemma. The bridge, which is 50 years old and functionally obsolete, though still structurally sound, will need replacing. That comes with a hefty $2 billion price tag, however, which neither Kentucky nor the federal government seems eager to pay for. One solution proposed has been a toll road over the bridge, but that idea has met with stiff opposition from a cadre of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati-area politicians, business leaders and others. McConnell said yesterday that opposition isn’t likely to fade anytime soon, but that there may be a possible solution… corporate tax breaks. He sees the potential for more highway funds that could be used for projects like the bridge through a corporate tax fix that he says could lure more companies back to the U.S.
• McConnell’s fellow Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul dreamed up that highway funds proposal, and McConnell says he’s “intrigued.” There’s another news item here entirely, and one perhaps more interesting on the national stage. McConnell and Paul, who have had some cold relations in the past, have been pretty warm to each other lately, and McConnell has signaled he’d be supportive of a Paul presidential bid in 2016.
• A bill to simplify Ohio’s tax system may also cost the state’s municipalities a ton of cash. The potential law would change the way businesses like construction companies are taxed, possibly cutting into municipal tax receipts. Mayor John Cranley, along with other regional political leaders, are fighting the bill, and may try to introduce a statewide ballot initiative should the bill pass in the Ohio Statehouse.
• Kentucky’s Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson is on his way out of the state, heading for the White House. He’ll be a deputy assistant to President Obama, helping the prez and the federal executive branch coordinate with other governmental bodies, including state, county, city and tribal governments. Given the huge ideological divide between supporters of local and federal power, that sounds like a really, really fun job.
• A small group of protesters have gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse today to draw attention to what they say is a serious problem: drug overdoses in area jails and prisons. Many attendees are members of anti-heroin groups who have had family members of friends die of overdoses. They’re questioning how the drug is able to make its way to people behind bars. The region is suffering from a severe heroin crisis, with overdose deaths increasing significantly in the past few years.
• So, now that Republicans control the Senate, will the new top Senator on science be Texas' Ted Cruz, a noted climate-change denier? Could happen. Cruz looks to be next in line for chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space. Republican Sen. James Inhofe, another doubter when it comes to climate change science, looks likely to chair the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, which is also going to be a big change-up.
• Finally in our truncated Friday edition of morning news, I have a confession: There are many things in this world I’m a huge dork about, but history, maps and public transit are all near the top. That said, I just want you to take a look at this amazing, 100-year-old 3-dimensional transit ridership map from Germany. Dang man.
The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals yesterday upheld laws banning same-sex marriage in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.
The 2-1 decision covers six cases in those four states brought by a total of 16 couples. Among them are Cincinnati residents Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers, who are fighting so both can be listed as parents on their son’s birth certificate. James Obergefell of Cincinnati is also involved, asking courts for the right to be listed on his husband Jim Arthur’s death certificate. Earlier, a lower district court found in their favor.
“We just want to be treated as a family, because we are a family,” Henry-Rogers said in an August interview after the 6th Circuit hearings.
Justices Deborah Cook and Jeffery Sutton ruled that the debate over same-sex marriage is best decided by voters, not by the court. Justice Martha Daughtrey dissented.
“When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers,” Sutton wrote in the majority opinion. “Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way."
The case is a somewhat surprising setback for same-sex marriage advocates, who had been on a winning streak in federal courts. The 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th Circuit Courts have previously struck down laws in a number of states banning same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is now legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia.
"This decision is an outlier that’s incompatible with the 50 other rulings that uphold fairness for all families, as well as with the Supreme Court’s decision to let marriage equality rulings stand in Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio in a statement yesterday. “It is shameful and wrong that John Arthur’s death certificate may have to be revised to list him as single and erase his husband’s name as his surviving spouse.”
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine represented the state in the case. His office said in a statement it was "pleased the court agreed with our arguments that important issues such
as these should be determined through the democratic process."
The decision leaves intact Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, at least for now. That’s created a split in federal court rulings among various circuit courts, something the Supreme Court will most likely have to sort out. Some legal experts think the Supreme Court will ultimately find same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The court has refused to hear appeals to lower court decisions striking down bans, leading many to think a majority of the court supports legalization.
Strangio said the ACLU will be filing for Supreme Court consideration. Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represents the Ohio couples, has said he will be working to bring the case to the nation's highest court as well. Other advocacy organizations have also vowed to continue the fight.
“Now, more than ever before, the Supreme Court of the United States must take up the issue and decide once and for all whether the Constitution allows for such blatant discrimination,” said Human Rights Coalition President Chad Griffin. “We believe that justice and equality will prevail.”
It's a new day in America. There's a Republican tide sweeping into office, led by our own House Speaker John Boehner and neighbor to the south Senate Minority Leader (soon to be majority leader) Mitch McConnell. These new, brave soldiers, elected by the slim sliver of the American population that actually turned out to vote, will lead us away from government tyranny to a shining future of... something something.
If you don't know exactly what the plan is, I don't blame ya (spoiler: it involves repealing Obamacare). Boehner and McConnell first announced their ideas for leading majorities in both houses and "honoring voters' trust" behind the paywall of The Wall Street Journal. So if you don't subscribe to the conservative-leaning daily newspaper (tweet at me if you're too young to be a reader of such antiquated technology and I'll explain what it is), well, I guess you'll just have to hear about it on the streets when word of mouth picks up among the unwashed masses.
Nah. To be fair, Boehner has also posted the op-ed on his website. For free! That's so generous. And there are sure to be numerous news conferences on Republican plans, so stay glued to your seat.
Republicans, and McConnell in particular, have been criticized by Dems and others for having big friends with big money on Wall Street, which makes this move a little tone-deaf. CityBeat offered them 500 words in our Voices section, but they never got back to us. (Not really, we're pretty booked up lately).
Funny enough, conservative publication The Daily Caller first called out the move earlier today.
Hey all. Let’s get this news thing going before the snow comes once again and grinds everything to a halt. Or just dusts the ground with a little inconvenient powder, depending on how much you trust weather forecasters.
Yesterday I told you a bit about 3CDC’s presentation to City Council’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee. During that meeting, 3CDC head Steven Leeper said the developer might cross the $1 billion threshold this year for investment made in the basin since it began in 2003. Let’s dig into my notes a bit and talk in more detail about a couple things regarding Over-the-Rhine the developers have planned.
One of the noteworthy projects on the group’s radar is a redevelopment of Ziegler Park on Sycamore Street. The park is across from the former SCPA building and just a block from Main Street’s active corridor of restaurants, bars and apartments. 3CDC head Steve Leeper said Ziegler’s revamp would increase the number of basketball courts and other active features currently found there. Removal of the courts at Washington Park during its 2010 revamp by 3CDC caused controversy among neighborhood residents, many of whom used the courts regularly. Leeper promised that while Washington Park’s character is more “passive” in nature, Ziegler would be a much more “active” park.
“There will be a lot more athletic activities going on there,” Leeper said, “and hopefully it will attract kids from the neighborhood who can spend their time in those athletic endeavors like we all did when we were kids."
• Leeper also outlined progress on three facilities for individuals without homes — two in Queensgate set to replace the Drop Inn Center and City Gospel Mission facilities currently in Over-the-Rhine and a third in Mount Auburn built to replace the Anna Louise Inn downtown. These projects have been controversial — advocates fought hard for years to keep the Drop Inn Center at its location in OTR and a protracted legal battle stretched on for many months between Cincinnati Union Bethel, which runs the Anna Louise Inn in Lytle Park, and Western & Southern Financial Group, which eventually purchased the property against CUB’s wishes. The new spaces are a bit further from the city’s center, though they do have a larger capacity.
• Speaking of the Drop Inn Center, its winter shelter will be open the rest of this week in response to dropping temperatures, according to a release sent out by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Usually, the winter shelter is closed by this time of year, but with winter taking its time going away, the shelter will stay open a bit longer.
• Here we go again: More streetcar drama could be coming our way. There is currently a potential fight brewing over who will operate the transit project. Council has set a limit of $4.3 million a year on bids for running the streetcar. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is taking bids on the contract, and there’s controversy over whether to use union employees for the job or not. Some council members favor that move, even if it costs a bit more, and they’ve asked SORTA to negotiate with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which also runs the city’s bus service. But ATU has accused SORTA of dragging its feet on contract negotiations and trying to undercut the union by demanding a separate collective bargaining agreement for running the streetcar. SORTA says a separate agreement is necessary because the scale of the streetcar — just 30 employees at most — is much smaller than 750 people who run the city’s bus service. Union officials, however, says that SORTA is trying to get the lowest bid possible out of the union in order to drive other bids down as well. My guess is we’ll be hearing a lot more on this one. A decision must be made on the operator of the project by July.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld today said he will stay in the race for U.S. Senate, ending speculation he might bow out after former governor Ted Strickland entered the race last week. Sittenfeld will face Strickland in the Democratic primary. The winner will face incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, unless he is felled by a primary challenger — an unlikely possibility.
“Since we launched our campaign, I have been more grateful than I can express for the enthusiasm, encouragement and support we've received,” Sittenfeld said today in a statement on social media and his website. “So I want you — my supporters and friends — to hear it from me directly: I'm all in. Ohio needs a forward-looking leader to replace Rob Portman and the broken culture in Washington that he's long been part of.”
• You might be able to walk around The Banks with a bit of the ole’ alcheyhol on Opening Day. For a while now, lawmakers in Ohio have been trying to pass legislation that would allow cities to designate open container districts where folks can have a beer out in public. It looks like the legislation is good to go, with enough support at the State House, and now local officials are telling the Ohio General Assembly to hurry the dang thing up so we can chug a couple Moerleins in public to celebrate the Reds beating the Pirates April 6. The bill looks likely to pass the House, hopefully with the two-thirds vote margin needed to put it into effect immediately. Local State Sens. Democrat Cecil Thomas and Republican Bill Seitz have introduced a bill in the Senate to speed the process up there as well. Now that’s what I call bipartisanship. If the bill passes, council will have to scramble to create and approve the districts, one of which looks likely to be the area around the stadium. Ladies and gentlemen, you have a month. Get to work.
• Hey! Do you want people fracking in state parks? It could happen soon whether you like it or not. Four years ago, Gov. John Kasich signed into law a provision allowing fracking on state land. He then pulled a fast one and declined to fund the commission that would give drillers approval for fracking permits on that land, basically circumventing the law he signed. Very clever. But the Ohio General Assembly, which is currently dominated by pro-fracking Republicans, is working to pass a bill called House Bill 8 that would bypass that commission. Proponents of the bill say it’s meant to help private landowners who want to sell drilling rights to wells that might end up under state land. But critics note that under the current version of the bill, so called “surface impacts,” or drilling directly on state land, are not outlawed and would be permissible if the law passes. The bill heads to committee next week and looks to pass there, after which it will be considered by the whole House.
• In national news, Supreme Court arguments begin in King vs. Burwell today, a lawsuit which could revoke health care subsidies for 7.5 million people currently signed up under the Affordable Care Act under the federal exchange. The core of the case is the contention that the language of the 2009 law does not allow the federal government to issue subsidies to people who went through the federal exchange, and that only those living in states that created their own exchanges are eligible for government help with their health care bills. It’s a nitpicky suit turning on a few words in a turn of phrase, but it could completely unravel Obamacare by making it unaffordable for those in the 34 states that did not or could not establish their own health care exchanges online. Many agree that’s the point of the suit, in fact — another attempt to repeal the healthcare system by throwing a legal wrench into its works. Just think! A pedantic semantics debate could leave millions without access to health care. And you thought clear writing wasn’t important.
That’s it for me. Hit me with those tweets and those e-mails: @nswartsell or firstname.lastname@example.org
Morning y’all. Here’s what’s up today. First, I have a couple previews of stories that will be in the print issue tomorrow. We’re taking a deeper look at these issues, but here’s the teaser:
I skipped doing the morning news yesterday so I could check out council’s Law and Public Safety Committee meeting. The committee passed a new dog law in the wake of several severe dog bite incidents in the past year. The law isn’t breed specific but would create three categories for dogs based on their behavior and levy fines on owners depending on the severity of a dog’s offenses. Simply letting a dog run free unattended would result in a $50 fine, while more violent behavior from the dog would increase civil penalties for the owner. The committee didn’t pass a competing ordinance proposed by Mayor John Cranley that would have required pit bulls to wear special collars among other stipulations.
“I’m hopeful that this will help the police and prosecutors crack down on bad owners, prevent dog bites and make this a safer city,” said Councilman Chris Seelbach of the legislation the committee passed. Seelbach was a vocal opponent of the breed-specific law proposed by Cranley.
While we’re talking about council, let’s get right into today’s 3CDC presentation to the economic growth and infrastructure committee. 3CDC head Steven Leeper gave a number of updates about the developer’s activities on the long-stalled 4th and Race project, 3CDC’s efforts to redevelop Over-the-Rhine, especially north of Liberty Street. Also included were updates on a huge project at 15th and Race streets and the developer’s proposal to create two community entertainment districts downtown. Leeper fired back at criticisms of the proposal from those concerned that the six new liquor licenses granted in one of the districts would be controlled by 3CDC. Some, including Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, have questioned whether a developer controlling the licenses violates the spirit of community entertainment districts, which were created to boost small businesses and revitalize neighborhoods.
“We’re not interested in controlling liquor licenses,” Leeper said. “This is a means to an end. We have several terrific restaurateurs, small businesspeople. Everyone we’re talking to who is going into this site is from Cincinnati.”
• A group of activists is holding a town hall meeting at Bellarmine Chapel on the campus of Xavier University tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss comments made by Norwood Mayor Tom Williams in a January letter to the city’s police force calling black leaders in the community “race baiters.” The group says it hopes to start “a conversation where we can talk together about how our community can be welcoming to all who live here, shop here, visit here and worship here.” A Facebook listing for the event says childcare and refreshments will be provided.
• The Cincinnati Police Department has released video of an officer-involved shooting that occurred Monday morning in Price Hill. Police say 24-year-old Christian Jackson had broken into his ex-girlfriend’s house when police confronted him. After Jackson pointed a shotgun at them, police fired 11 times, hitting Jackson twice, according to the officers. Jackson ran two blocks before collapsing. He was taken to the hospital and is currently in stable condition.
• This story is strange: this morning I woke up to Twitter posts about a person named Adam Hoover being abducted from work this morning and driven around I-275 in the trunk of his car. He posted a Facebook update about it, claiming he couldn’t call 911 because he was afraid his captors would hear him. Law enforcement soon found Hoover and began questioning him, and local news picked up the story, though there were few details available. Now, it all seems to have been a hoax. Hoover, a local activist who helped organize vigils for Leelah Alcorn after her death in December, apparently made up the entire ordeal, authorities say.
"This is a young man dealing with some issues in his life right now and for whatever reason he decided to stage this kidnapping and abduction," Green Township Police Lt. Jim Vetter told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
• Did Hillary Clinton circumvent federal email secrecy rules when she served as secretary of state? A New York Times story reveals that Clinton often used her personal email accounts to carry out official business as SOS. That’s against recent rules that require federal officials to use government email addresses for official business so their correspondence can be tracked and archived. Some Bush administration officials, including Karl Rove, were heavily criticized during W’s tenure for using secret, private email accounts to discuss official business. Sounds shady, but heck, is this really such a great strategy when apparently the federal government can read your private emails anyway?
Hey all! It’s Friday. I have work to do. Let’s keep this brief, shall we, while avoiding a stupid debate about the color of any pictures of women’s wear that might be floating around the Internet. (I see both blue and black and white and gold depending on when I look. Yes, I am special).
Paging Michel Foucault: Is it a good idea to put your county’s jail on a reality TV show? We’ll find out, I suppose. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil agreed several months ago to let MSNBC film an episode of its reality show Lockup in the Hamilton County Justice Center. It hasn’t aired yet, but a trailer for the episode shows inmates cussing at people, thousands of dollars in smuggled bootleg cigarettes and loose tobacco, some guy bragging about stabbing someone else with pencils and another dude describing his situation as “some ho-ass shit.” All of which sounds like a party I went to a couple Saturdays ago.
The bloody post-fight scenes look less like a party, however, and it’s pretty clear a big part of the show is the voyeuristic thrill of watching human suffering. Gross. But I digress. County officials told Sheriff Neil that having the reality show feature the county’s jail was probably not a good idea, but Neil went ahead with the program after producers approached him about it. I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it’s important to show people what really goes on in our justice system. On the other, this kind of reality TV-style sensationalism seems pretty exploitative of the folks behind bars, does it not?
Neil’s office says the show is a fair representation of life at the justice center, so there’s that. Lockup: Cincinnati airs Saturday at 10 p.m. in case you want to watch it or, you know, maybe do something more positive with your time than watch people in cages get blood dabbed off their faces.
• Oh, good. According a newly released report by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, the Ohio River received more than 23 million pounds of toxic material in 2013, the latest year for which data has been analyzed. That’s the most of any river in the country for the seventh year in a row, the commission says. The report cautions that despite the alarmingly large number, the river’s volume is also very large and the dilutive properties of all that water must be taken into account. But for comparison, the river receiving the next highest level of pollutants is the Mississippi, which saw more than 10 million pounds of toxins released into it last year. Much of the pollution in the Ohio River comes from nitrates, which are highly toxic to humans. Seventy-one percent of the pollution, according to the report, doesn’t enter the river until well downstream from Cincinnati at an AK Steel facility in Rockport, Indiana. So, uh, at least there’s that.
• A rally is planned tomorrow at 2 p.m. on Fountain Square for transgender murder victims killed in the last year. Among those victims was Tiffany Edwards, murdered last year in Walnut Hills. We first told you about Edwards during a long story we did on sex workers in Cincinnati and revisited her story last month in a piece on the challenges facing transgender individuals. Her alleged killer is currently on trial for her death. Tomorrow’s die-in will also memorialize seven other transgender individuals who have been murdered recently as a result of their transgender status.
• Ohio’s Senate race got a shout out in one of the nation’s premier news outlets. The Christian Science Monitor started off its preview of the 2016 Senate race with a long exploration of the brewing fight between former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Also featuring prominently in the coverage was Cincinnati’s own Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who has raised more than $500,000 for his own bid for the Democratic nomination. The Monitor posits that the high-profile Senate race will make Ohio even more important in the 2016 election, a presidential race in which the state already has a vital role. The Republican National Convention will be in Cleveland and the NAACP National Convention will take place in Cincinnati next year, guaranteeing Ohio a place in the center of national politics.
• As I noted yesterday in a morning news blog update (yes, I sometimes update the post throughout the day, so you know, keep your eyes on the blog), the Federal Communications Commission yesterday passed new rules keeping Internet companies from developing dedicated fast lanes for certain content providers while throttling others with slower speeds. The rules basically treat the Internet as a utility, which means service providers must treat all legal content equally. That way, Buzzfeed isn’t able to kick Internet providers a milli to put some insipid post about whether a dress is one color or another on a faster track than a long-form video doc about problems with the death penalty. The FCC also struck down some laws in certain states prohibiting municipalities from establishing their own Internet service providers to supplement the slim pickings found in many areas. That’s also good news.
That’s it for me. Tweet (@nswartsell) or e-mail me (email@example.com) with any news tips, observations about Hamilton County's own reality TV panopticon, or what kind of guitar amp I should buy. I’m daydreaming about new music gear.
Hey all! Here’s the news today.
A well-known former attorney has filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky Bar Association to get his license back after it was suspended. Eric Deters has served three suspensions over his career for making false statements in court, failing to return a fee to a client and other infractions. The latest suspension was handed down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in April. The court has an agreement with the high court in Ohio, keeping Deters from practicing here as well. Now Deters says he’s served his suspensions and wants to go back to practicing law, and says the Kentucky Supreme Court should reinstate him. Deters retired rather than seek reinstatement in Kentucky and Ohio, and indicated at the time he had no interest in practicing law again in either state. He’s acting as his own attorney, which has led to this pretty amazing complaint:
"Deters is no saint," he writes of himself in his complaint. "He is a sinner. But Deters is fit to practice law. Lawyers are not a choral of angels." Choir? Corral? Whatever. Deters is too tough for the haters. “What Deters incurred, lesser men would have have crumbled long ago," he says of the emotional and physical toll his suspension has caused. He blames an infection that nearly took his arm on the stress and strife his suspension has inflicted on him.
• You can never ban the devil’s weed too early or too often. At least, that’s the prevailing wisdom on Hamilton’s City Council, which banned sale of the drug in the city limits yesterday in a 5-1 vote. Though marijuana is already illegal in Ohio, council members wanted to have a municipal ordinance in place just in case a potential ballot initiative legalizing the measure passes in November and all hell breaks loose. ResponsibleOhio, the group filing the initiative, still needs to collect 300,000 signatures by July to even get the measure on the ballot, but better safe than sorry, Hamilton officials say.
“It's just being prepared for what happens if anything happens whether it be legislature or amendment, it's just being prepared for the next step," Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said.
• The Kentucky House passed a bill yesterday allowing the state to participate in public-private partnerships, clearing another hurdle for a toll-based Brent Spence Bridge replacement. However, several key changes were made to the bill to make it more friendly to Kentucky residents and lawmakers who may oppose tolls. These include requiring any tolls levied as part of a public-private partnership to expire once debt on the project is paid off, requiring analysis of any public-private partnership to make sure it’s the best way to do a project and requiring a majority of lawmakers on project oversight commissions be from the county where the project is happening. Next, the bill goes to the Kentucky Senate, where it will face opposition from GOP senators who are staunchly opposed to tolls on the Brent Spence project.
• Here’s another tidbit from Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address earlier this week. Kasich devoted part of his speech to education in Ohio, defending his public school funding scheme and also his support of the state’s embattled charter school system. Kasich defended putting more money into that system despite low performance by many charter schools and questions about some schools’ integrity. He agreed that the system should have more oversight in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing at some schools across the state, but also defended schools that have simply been low-performing. Here, he made a pretty stunning statement:
“Let’s not judge someone as not doing their job because they’ve inherited a group of students who are just struggling,” he said.
Here’s the thing: This is the same (I’d say very fair and correct) logic many have used to defend struggling public schools the charter system was meant to compete with and do better than. That is more or less the whole reason charter schools exist, according to their creators and supporters. Sooo… blame public schools for their inability to educate students who struggle under the weight of very real massive systemic problems that make it difficult for them to learn, but don’t blame charter schools that take money from those schools and make their jobs even more difficult for the same thing. Got it.
• Speaking of Kasich, he’s finally getting some national attention as he steps up his efforts to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Maybe it’s not always the attention he wants — this story calls him out on his efforts to create a Rondald Reagan-inspired balanced budget amendment to the U.S. constitution — but on the other hand, if you’re a Republican governor looking to run for president, perhaps a piece in liberal Mother Jones magazine about how lame your policy ideas are means you’ve finally arrived. So, uh, congrats on the milestone, governor!
• Let’s talk about a former governor for a minute, specifically Democrat Ted Strickland, who just jumped into the 2016 U.S. Senate race. As we’ve already discussed, Strickland’s announcement earlier this week caused a big stir, and now he’s already getting hit by GOPers and concerned editorial writers across the state. Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges mocked Strickland’s entrance into the race on Twitter today, saying, “same old @ohdems. Can’t get their act together” in response to an article about Strickland possibly having to face Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in a primary. There are worries that a very contentious primary could sabotage Democrat’s chances at picking up incumbent Sen. Rob Portman’s seat, which is dearly needed if Democrats want to take back control of the Senate in 2016. On the other hand, having two strong candidates could be seen as an encouraging sign for the party, and the early level of mockery from Republicans shows they’re taking the threat from Strickland seriously. It’s already clear this isn’t last year’s governor’s race, where Kasich straight-up didn’t acknowledge Dem opponent Ed Fitzgerald during a debate because he didn’t have to.
• Finally, the Federal Communications Commission is voting on net neutrality today. This is a huge day for the Internet. If you don't know what's up, uh, start reading.
Update: the FCC voted 3-2 to require internet providers to operate as neutral gateways through which internet service flows. That ruling prohibits providers from making so-called "fastlanes" that would provide higher-speed connections for some companies and content. Also today, the FCC struck down state laws prohibiting cities from establishing their own internet services, allowing municipalities to create their own internet services in places that may only have one (or no) reliable internet service provider.
That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet at me. Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Messenger pigeon me. Whatever you gotta do to get those news tips and whatever else you want to talk about.
Morning y’all. Let’s talk about the news real quick. I think winter is getting to me, because this update got pretty opinionated pretty quickly.
Can you think of anything useful, even vital, on which the county could spend $7.5 million? Maybe chipping in a bit more toward the Union Terminal renovation, or giving a bit to the effort to shape up Music Hall? Maybe addiction treatment or some other human services funding? More sheriff’s deputies on the streets? Or, you know, maybe they could put that cash toward a new crime lab and morgue, both of which are critically crowded and out of date. Or etc. I ask because $7.5 million is the recently-announced amount county taxpayers will pay for new Bengals scoreboards as part of some $12 million overall the county will cough up from its sales tax fund for stadium improvements. Is there any estimate on return on investment for the county on this? Will the new high-definition scoreboards create at least $7.5 million in sales taxes for the county somehow? In return for this outpouring of county largess tied to the 15-year-old albatross of a stadium deal, the Bengals made an exception for projects at The Banks to a provision in their lease that stipulates the height of buildings around the stadium. That’s nice of them. These are all things I will receive exactly zero benefit from in my lifetime.
• Anyway. Speaking of the county, it has settled with the families of three women whose corpses were abused by a former morgue employee from the 1970s to the 1990s. The county will pay $800,000 to the families to end a lawsuit centered around the behavior of Kenneth Douglass, who is believed to have abused more than 100 bodies in the years he worked for the morgue.
• This is pretty cool, I think. The University of Cincinnati will redevelop the old Sears building on Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue in Corryville into an innovation hub for UC-related startups. The university will spend about $16 million to turn the 130,000-square-foot structure, which has a distinct Art Deco vibe, into a business and tech incubator. The building was the first Sears store in the city when it was built in 1929. I’ve always really liked this building, and recently, with the fencing that has surrounded it, I’ve been afraid they would tear it down. UC bought the building in 1981 and it housed the university’s campus services until last year. When I was an Americorps member a few years ago, the UC-affiliated nonprofit I worked for had storage space in the building. I know its creepy, dimly-lit hallways well and I’m excited to see it restored.
• It’s official. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has entered the 2016 Senate race. Strickland, who will be 75 by that time, could face off against Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, creating a high-profile battle between two of the biggest names in state politics. Portman is popular, with millions in the bank for his next campaign, but Strickland is a formidable opponent and perhaps Democrats’ best shot. However, at the moment, Strickland’s got some competition for the Democratic nomination in the form of Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld, 30, announced his intentions to run last month and has raised $500,000 for his campaign thus far. He’s a dynamic young candidate who has done a great deal in a short time and looks to still be on the rise. Some within the party believe he’ll bow out to the higher-profile and more experienced Strickland, but some of Sittenfeld’s own funders have indicated they’re backing him no matter who else is in the game. Will P.G. keep running, or will the state party convince him to sit this one out?
• Speaking of state politics, Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State address last night. During the hour-and-a-quarter long speech, Kasich tacked rightward, mostly emphasizing his plan to cut income taxes as a way to encourage economic growth. The speech is an important moment for Kasich as he seeks a larger spotlight. Kasich’s been traveling and fundraising in connection with his bid for the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 presidential election. Kasich’s recent budget proposals, which he again touted in his speech, suggest he’s trying to balance the demands of the Republican party’s right wing — cut taxes to the bone, ease regulations on businesses — with a need to stay viable in a general election by appearing to be a compassionate conservative who cares about the plight of the poor, education funding and so forth. It makes sense that Kasich would emphasize the more conservative elements of his plan in his address last night — the yearly oratory is traditionally aimed at the state legislature, which is dominated by rightward-leaning Republicans. Those lawmakers don’t seem super-enthused by Kasich’s plans, however, balking at tax increases on cigarettes and oil drilling, for instance. One last note on Kasich’s big speech — he awarded the Governor’s Courage Award to Cincinnatian Lauren Hill, the Mt. Saint Joseph student and basketball player who is fighting an inoperable brain tumor.
• Finally, I generally like the New York Times. They often do fantastic work. But this piece today about downtown Cincinnati’s resurgence following the 2001 civil unrest is mystifying to me. First, there are about a million things that made Cincinnati sluggish and grim before and after the unrest, including many systemic issues that haunted and continue to haunt the city specifically and others endemic to a lot of other urban areas. There are about a million other things that have happened since the unrest that have made the city’s center, and many other downtowns, take off. Tying the two things together while saying that memories of the unrest are “fading” (probably not true) seems to miss a number of things. The article doesn’t mention the city’s pervasive poverty problem, the fact we’re at the bottom of the list in America for infant mortality, the fact that its police force (30 percent black) still doesn’t match the demographics of the city (which is 45 percent black). It barely glances at the issue of gentrification, a problem many say is accelerating in the urban core and a subject that has been hugely divisive over the past decade. Anyway. That’s my media criticism for the day.
Tweet at me (@nswartsell) or give me an e-mail (email@example.com) if I bummed you out hating on the Bengals, or if you feel the way I do about the team's blinging new big screens.
Hey all, here’s the news this morning.
Have you ever thought there should be more bars downtown? I hadn’t really thought about it before, but then I’m not a huge bar person. 3CDC, on the other hand, has and would like the city to take steps to increase the number of liquor licenses in two specific areas downtown. One, which would be called the Downtown West Community Entertainment District, would be near the convention center and Fountain Square, and another, called Downtown East, would encompass the rest of downtown. Designating an area a community entertainment district makes it eligible for more liquor licenses from the state.
Currently, Cincinnati is maxed out, but the proposed scheme would add up to 21 new licenses in the two districts. Ten other neighborhoods in the city have this designation, including Over-the-Rhine, Price Hill and CUF. 3CDC would control all liquor licenses granted to the western district under the plan, which has the support of a majority of council and Mayor John Cranley. Supporters of the plan say it will attract more residents to the districts as well as increase tax revenue. Council looks to vote on the measure soon.
• A local man has filed a lawsuit against LA Fitness after he claims he was prohibited from praying in the locker room of the chain’s Oakley location. Mohamed Fall, a Muslim, worked out at the gym on a regular basis for more than a year. After his workouts, he would stand with his eyes closed in an empty corner of the locker room and pray without speaking. Recently, three LA Fitness employees approached him while he was praying and told him he had to stop and that he should not pray in the locker room again. Fall says he was afraid he would be kicked out if he did not comply.
• Hamilton County Commissioners have officially signaled they will not be pursuing a plan to move the Hamilton County morgue and crime lab to a currently vacant hospital in Mount Airy that Mercy Health offered to donate to the county. While the building would be cost-free, the build out necessary to move the morgue, crime lab and other offices there is cost-prohibitive, commissioners have said. They’ve estimated it could cost as much as $100 million to retrofit the building. The decision comes as the county’s morgue and crime lab continue to sound alarms about their current cramped and outdated workspace.
• Legislation that would move the embattled Brent Spence Bridge replacement project another step toward reality is expected to pass in the Kentucky State House today. The bill would allow the state to use a public-private partnership to fund the project, specifically through tolling on the bridge. Officials in both states have struggled to find the necessary $2.6 billion to fund the bridge replacement project. Opponents of the current plan proposed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear say the project doesn’t need to cost that much, and that tolling will represent a huge burden on businesses and workers in both states. Northern Kentucky politicians and activists have been especially adamant about preventing tolling on the bridge.
• A petition drive to get legal weed on the November ballot in Ohio suffered a blow yesterday when Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected summary language for the petition. DeWine had several quibbles with the details, and lack thereof, in a summary of the proposed ballot language filed with his office by ResponsibleOhio. That group wants to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would create 10 marijuana grow sites in the state controlled by the group’s investors. The proposal would make marijuana legal to sell with a license, and anyone over the age of 21 could purchase it. Ohioans would also be allowed to grow a small amount of the drug at home, a change in position from the group’s original proposal. The group has until July to collect 300,000 signatures and file the petition with the secretary of state. DeWine and other statewide Republican officials have been vocal opponents of the idea, saying that it will increase drug use and that it constitutes a state-run monopoly. Ohio voters passed a similar constitutional amendment allowing four casinos in the state in 2009.
• On a somewhat related note, recreational weed became legal in Alaska today. I used to think I would never move to Alaska because IT GETS BELOW ZERO there, but, well... It’s also legal in Colorado and Washington state and will become legal in Oregon in July and in Washington D.C. later this week.
• Veterans Affairs head and former P&G president Bob McDonald is drawing some criticism after he made a claim that he once served in special forces. McDonald is a veteran who attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Army and attended Ranger training school. But he did not actually serve with the elite force. He told a homeless veteran in L.A. during a point-in-time count of that city's homeless population last month that he did serve in the special forces, however, a claim that has caused controversy. McDonald has apologized for the statement, saying it was a mistake.
That does it for your news wrap-up today. Tweet at your boy (@nswartsell) or send me a good old fashioned email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Things I'm keen to get your thoughts on this week: news tips (of course), interesting parts of the city for an urban photography buff (me) and recommendations on cool sneakers (I'm due for a new pair).
Good morning y’all. I’m fresh off my epic, hour-long alpine adventure, also known as my walk to work. Did you wonder what happened to all the snow that had been on the roadways as you were driving leisurely to work this morning? It's now piled in mountains on the sidewalk by city snowplows. Thanks guys. I do have to say a city worker in a Bobcat drove by yesterday while I was digging my lady friend’s car out of the snow. He looped back around and with three or four quick maneuvers did what would have taken me 20 minutes with a shovel. Driving one of those things is an art, and I have met its Picasso.
Enough grumbling. It’s news time. Mayor John Cranley is, as the kids say, stacking cash (note: kids these days don’t actually say that). Cranley collected more than $250,000 at a Feb. 17 fundraiser for his re-election campaign. That may be the biggest haul ever for a city candidate, according to Cranley’s campaign, which is all the more impressive because Cranley doesn’t face reelection for almost two years. A ton of big names were in attendance at the event, and it seems like the city’s movers and shakers are backing the mayor.
Reds owner Bob Castellini was a host. So were Western and Southern CEO John Barrett, two members of the Lindner family and PACs from Kroger and Procter & Gamble. Cranley’s already got his eye on the election, having hired his campaign manager and setting a fundraising goal of $2 million. That’s a huge sum of money, some of which could go to help out allies in their City Council campaigns, though Cranley has said he won’t be doing that, focusing the cash on his own bid. Another possibility: Is Cranley setting such ambitious goals as a demonstration of his fundraising abilities so he can set up a bid for a higher office down the road?
• The federal government has said it will give $110 million to build a new facility in Cincinnati for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has been instrumental in securing the funding for the building, which will replace two aging facilities in the city, the Robert A. Taft Laboratory in the East End and the Alice Hamilton Laboratory in Pleasant Ridge. The new facility will consolidate them, making work easier for the federal employees there.
The Center for Disease Control oversees NIOSH. The agency researches ways to prevent injury and illness caused by occupational hazards, making recommendations to other federal agencies. The Cincinnati labs employ about 550 people. It’s not clear where the new labs will be located, but the Uptown Consortium, which represents major businesses and institutions in the Clifton, CUF, Corryville and Avondale neighborhoods including UC and several hospitals, is making a big pull to get the 14-acre site in that area. Other neighborhoods looking to get the facility include Bond Hill.
• Cincinnati anti-abortion activist Dr. John Wilke has died. He was 89. Wilke founded Greater Cincinnati Right to Life and Ohio Right to Life in the 1970s with his wife Barbara as debate swirled about a woman’s right to choose. The two groups have been incredibly active in the decades since as the issue has continued to be one of the country’s most intense and divisive. Wilke also served as head of national and international pro-life groups. Among Wilke’s more controversial assertions: that the stress caused by rape made it very unlikely a woman being raped would become pregnant. Other doctors and experts have since challenged that assertion, calling it bunk science and a cruel perspective on a terrible experience. Last month, Wilke released an autobiography about his time as a pro-life activist.
• A lawsuit over decades-old corpse abuse at the Hamilton County Morgue is in court today. The case involves the behavior of former morgue employee Kenneth Douglass, who was convicted six years ago of sexually abusing three bodies while he worked at the morgue. The families of the women whose corpses were abused have sued the county, charging that it should have known Douglass was engaging in illegal behavior at the facility and fired him. County officials and the estates of the former county coroner and supervisor, who the family also named in the suit and who have both since died, say they couldn’t have known Douglass would engage in behavior so abnormal and unpredictable.
• Has Kentucky held the wrong man in prison for 27 years? Some evidence suggests that might be the case. The Kentucky Innocence Project has been working on the case of William Virgil, who was convicted for the 1987 killing of psychiatric nurse Retha Welch in Newport. Virgil was convicted based on witness testimony, though some of those witnesses have since been discredited. Meanwhile, DNA evidence tested since the trial suggests Virgil may not have committed the crime. His DNA wasn’t found at the crime scene, Virgil’s advocates point out, and hers was not found on his clothing. The state is waiting for more tests to be done, but the Kentucky Innocence Project holds that there isn’t enough evidence against Virgil to hold him in prison.
Hey all! Here’s a quick morning news rundown.
In the wake of last month’s infamous pickup truck incident (wherein a disgruntled man tried to ram his vehicle into our seat of city government), City Hall might be getting metal detectors. Council voted yesterday to find out how much the security measure will cost. The city has already stationed another guard in the City Hall lobby and instituted a requirement that visitors to the mayor or council members be escorted. The extra security measures also come as a response to death threats received by Mayor John Cranley and Councilwoman Amy Murray. Cranley has declined a body guard but has said that the recent events have left him a bit shaken.
• Oxford could be on the path to getting its first train service in half a century. Officials in Butler County are discussing an application for a federal TIGER grant that would fund a stop in the city for trains heading to Chicago. Miami University hosts many students from the Chicago area, officials with the school say, and there is great demand for easy and affordable transit to the Windy City. Last month, officials with the school, the city and the county asked Amtrak to do a feasibility study on picking up passengers there. Currently, Amtrak’s Cardinal Line runs from Cincinnati to Chicago, but only in the middle of the night and only a few times a week. There are efforts underway to expand that service led by transit advocacy group All Aboard Ohio.
• Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to make some Medicaid recipients pay premiums could block access to health care for low-income folks, a new study finds. The report by liberal-leaning Policy Matters Ohio says the proposed premiums, which would start at $15 to $20 a month, would prove a significant hardship for low-income people making just above the federal poverty line (about $12,000 for a single person). The study looks at past efforts in other states to require low-income people to pay premiums on government-subsidized health care. In examples from many states over the past decade, health care costs went up as a result of low-income people having less access to preventative health care, causing them to develop serious conditions for which they seek emergency treatment. Policy Matters’ study suggests the same could happen in Ohio should Kasich’s proposal be adopted.
• There’s actually a raft of news about Kasich, now that we’re talking about the gov, so I’ll just briefly run through the rest of it here. First, an analysis of his budget proposal finds that it would funnel more money into Ohio’s controversial charter school program, bringing the funding devoted to charter schools by the state to nearly $1 billion a year. Charters in the state have come under criticism over the past year due to sometimes-poor performance and lack of accountability. Ohio’s system takes money from public school districts and gives it to privately run schools that are held to a lower standard by the state. Some of these schools have excelled, delivering better student performance at a lower cost, but a number of others haven’t been nearly so successful. What’s more, several schools have been rocked by allegations of financial and other improprieties. There is movement at the state House to hold the schools to higher standards, but so far no legislation has been passed. You can read our in-depth story on the state’s charter schools here for more on that. Critics of Kasich’s plan to provide more funding for charters say it’s time to reform Ohio’s charter system entirely.
• Speaking of education, Kasich and his budget proposal, Ohio state legislators are going to change Kasich’s proposal for pubic school funding, Republican lawmakers have revealed. Though it’s unclear just what they’ll do when the get under the hood of Kasich’s funding changes, they’ve already chosen Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, to take the lead. Kasich’s public school funding proposal, which seeks to shift some state aid away from wealthy districts toward lower-income ones, left many scratching their heads earlier this month. Kasich’s complex proposed funding formula left some low-income districts with cuts while giving big percentage increases to wealthy districts like Indian Hill, which would get 21 percent more state aid under the model. There are reasons for that and other counter-intuitive increases, as we explored in our story on the proposal a couple weeks ago, but it still doesn’t sit right with many folks. Cupp has said there seem to be some “anomalies” in the formula, but that he won’t know exactly how everything is working until he and other lawmakers dive in and look at everything piece by piece.
Annnnnnd. I’m out. Happy Friday y’all. Tweet news tips, your favorite winter beer recommendations or Parks and Rec finale sadness/spoilers to me over the weekend: @nswartsell. Or you can e-mail me with all of that: email@example.com.
Hey all! Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on today in the news.
Cincinnati Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan will retire from her position, making way for former Enquirer reporter and editor Rick Green to take the helm of the paper. Green is currently the publisher of the Des Moines Register, where he was previously head editor. The move comes as Enquirer parent company Gannett undertakes a drastic restructuring of its newsroom, changing job descriptions and eliminating positions as it seeks to create what it calls “the newsroom of the future.” The changes haven’t been well-received: A dozen long-time newsroom staff left the paper rather than reapply for their jobs late last year.
• Will the railway company that owns tracks next to the proposed Oasis bike trail put a halt to the 17-mile long project between downtown and Milford? This Cincinnati Business Courier article takes a look at the ins and outs of the situation. Genesee & Wyoming Inc., the parent company of the Indiana and Ohio Railway Company, sent a letter to Mayor John Cranley last week outlining its business and safety concerns about the project. The company cites accidents that have occurred when people trespass too close to rail lines as among its worries, but it also claims it may want to use the tracks the bike lane would pave over. It doesn’t own that set of tracks — the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority controls them — but the company says it has the right to use them. That, however, is a matter of legal debate, one that looks likely to play out if the bike trail is to go forward.
Clarification: the stretch of track in question is four miles long. The entire project is 17.
• If you didn’t already know, the Cincinnati Bearcats lost to Xavier in last night’s Crosstown
Shootout err, “Classic.” It was the first time in three years the game was held on either team’s arena (the ‘Cats got home court advantage) as the result of a big brawl after the 2012 game. I’ve been watching the game since I was but a wee lad even though I’m not much of a sports fan. I pull for UC every year. And just about every year, no matter how good they are, they lose. That’s about all I’m going to say about the entire unfortunate situation. Next year.
• Here’s an interesting bit of data: According to personal finance site WalletHub.com, Ohio cities rank pretty low in terms of economic diversity. That is to say, the state’s major cities have big wealth gaps, or a large divide between highest and lowest earners with a high concentration of wealth in relatively few hands. In a ranking of 350 cities compiled by the site, Ohio doesn’t even make an appearance until we get to Columbus, which is the 208th most economic diverse city in the country. Cincinnati comes in at 262, followed by Cleveland at 341, Akron at 345, Dayton at 346 and Toledo at 349. Ouch. Carrolton, Texas had the most economic diversity, followed by Orange, Calif. Flint, Mich., was 350th on the list.
• Today is Ohio’s 212th birthday. We officially became a state Feb. 19, 1803 and were the 17th state to join the U.S., meaning we got in on this whole statehood bandwagon way before it was cool to do so. Happy birthday, you old geezer. You don’t look a day over 200.
• Ohio Gov. John Kasich visited South Carolina yesterday as he does the delicate dance that is running for president before you’ve formally acknowledged that you’re running for president. Such trips are usually two-fold: to court potential supporters and fundraisers and to try out campaigning to see if a run looks promising. Kasich spoke to a crowd of GOPers at the South Carolina House Caucus, trying to thread the needle that is appealing to the party’s ultra-conservative southern base, which he’ll probably need if he wants the party’s nomination, while preserving the compassionate conservative mantle he’s tried to don in a bid for general election viability. We’ll see how that goes.
Morning y’all. I won’t be making any comments about the snow and the cold today, other than to tell you the low tomorrow is expected to be -15 degrees. Let’s compare that with past places we’ve lived or could have lived (it will be 70 degrees tomorrow in Texas, for example) and take a moment to think about how our life choices got us into this situation. And… OK. Let’s learn from our mistakes without dwelling on them, shall we, and move on to the news. Everything is happening at once today and I’m gonna tell you about it.
A weed legalization effort is making room for home growers. ResponsibleOhio, which has mounted a petition drive to put legalized marijuana on the November ballot, is adjusting its pitch to Ohio voters. Previously, the group proposed a measure that would have created 10 legal growing sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio’s investors. Those sites would be the only places in the state allowed to grow marijuana. Now the group says it is amending the language of its ballot issue to allow home growth, so long as growers don’t exceed a certain amount and don’t sell their crops. The adjustment comes after many decried the original plan, which was patterned after Ohio’s casino amendment, as a state-run monopoly on weed.
• Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Committee voted yesterday not to declare Mahogany’s restaurant owner Liz Rogers in default on her $300,000 loan from the city. Mahogany’s opened at The Banks in 2012 after city officials recruited Rogers to try and boost diversity among business owners at the riverfront development. Rogers eventually fell behind on the loan, and the restaurant closed last October. Rogers said the business didn’t succeed because promised amenities that would have drawn more customers to The Banks, including a major hotel, did not materialize in time. But Rogers’ critics say she simply did not run a tight ship. Councilman Kevin Flynn proposed the default declaration, but other council members yesterday voted against it, citing other businesses who have yet to pay back city loans who have not been declared in default.
• The city of Beavercreek has responded to a lawsuit by the family of John Crawford III, who was shot Aug. 5 by police officers in a Walmart there. The city is asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, which charges that officers behaved recklessly when confronting Crawford over the toy gun he had grabbed off the Walmart shelves. The city says the officers responded correctly and that Crawford did not respond to repeated requests by officers to drop the weapon. Officials also claim Crawford turned toward the officers aggressively. A security video of the incident shows Crawford with the toy weapon slung over his shoulder while he faced store shelves talking on his cellphone. A grand jury last fall found the officers actions were justified, but the Crawford family says their son’s civil rights were violated.
• A railroad company that owns lines along the proposed Oasis Bike Trail says the project is a bad idea. The Indiana and Ohio Railway Company yesterday released a statement opposing the project, saying it could cause deadly accidents.
"Pedestrians and freight trains do not mix,” the release from the railroad said. “The proposed Oasis trail would have pedestrians less than eight feet from active railroad tracks. The railroad's own rulebook requires its employees – who are trained railroad professionals – to keep at least 30 feet from moving trains at all times. Safety is the railroad's first priority, which is why we strongly object to placing pedestrians in such potentially tragic proximity to freight trains."
The proposed bike trail would run from downtown all the way east to Milford. Boosters of the project would like to see another set of tracks run by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Administration converted into a bike lane. Those tracks run next to the lines owned by Indiana and Ohio Railway.
• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that municipalities don't have the power to block fracking with zoning or land use ordinances yesterday. The finding comes as the result of a four-year-old lawsuit between the city of Munroe Falls and Beck Energy Corp., which sought to drill for oil using the controversial technique in the city. Munroe Falls refused, citing its zoning laws, even though the company had already gotten a permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the city doesn't have the power to overrule state decisions on fracking. You can read more in our story here.
• Rand Paul is expected to announce he’s officially running to be the GOP nominee for president in early April, the New York Times reports. Paul has picked April 7, sources close to the Kentucky senator say, as the date to make his announcement. That will more than likely put Paul ahead of his potential opponents in the GOP primary time-wise, giving him more opportunity to fundraise. Paul has been actively working to raise his profile over the past couple years, traveling around the country and engaging issues that aren’t typically seen as GOP strong points like drug policy and justice system reform. Paul has a tricky road to travel, however — he must continue to tend to his tea party base, with which he has been very popular, while courting more mainstream, establishment Republicans as well. Also a double-edged sword is the legacy of his father Ron Paul, who ran for president in the 1988, 2008 and 2012 elections. The elder Paul had a committed following from self-described libertarians, something Rand Paul has sought to capitalize on. Rand Paul must find a way to juggle these three distinct groups as he makes his case he’s the best pick for the GOP nomination. It will be a tall order given the GOP’s schizophrenia of late.
• Finally, if you’re feeling heroic about your morning commute, here’s an epic story to humble you. It’s about a 600-mile dogsled trip across Alaska to deliver medicine to a dying city in the days before GPS, Gore-Tex gloves or unmanned drones. So, you know, things could always be worse.
Snowed in somewhere and bored? Tweet at me with your news tips, bad jokes or just to say hey. No pics of snow, though. I have enough of those on my feed already, thanks. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're old-school.