Home - Blogs - Users Blogs - Latest Blogs
by Nick Swartsell 06.11.2015 119 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

QuanDavier Hicks shooting: what we know; classes offer bicycle/streetcar safety tips; state Senate budget would cut child protective funds, shift affordable housing funding

Good morning, all. Here's the news today.

Cincinnati Police, including Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, yesterday held a press conference about the shooting death of 22-year-old QuanDavier Hicks by CPD officer Doris Scott. Hicks died on the scene of the shooting in Northside. Police officials say that Scott and fellow officer Justin Moore, who was on his third day with the Cincinnati Police Department, were on a second-floor landing of Hicks’ apartment building at Chase Avenue knocking on a door looking for him when Hicks opened up an adjacent door and immediately pointed a rifle at the officers. Moore then grabbed the rifle barrel and Scott shot Hicks in the chest.

The official police version of events says that a 911 call from an address on Colerain Avenue caused officers to be dispatched to Hicks’ address.

“Hicks is known to both the 911 caller and the caller’s boyfriend,” Blackwell said during the news conference. The caller said Hicks had a key to her house and had entered without her permission.

“He’s talking about coming to kill me and all this other stuff,” the woman said in the call, which police played for the press. A dispatcher asked if Hicks carried weapon, and the caller responded, “he probably do,” saying others have told her he had a weapon, though she admitted she had never seen him with one. Officers then went to Hicks’ address at 1751 Chase Avenue to try and find him, leading to the shooting.

Hicks has a few minor drug possession violations in Hamilton County, according to clerk of courts records. Police officials say he has a criminal charge in his former home of Atlanta, but did not provide details about that history, saying they were still waiting for more information.

Meanwhile, another side of Hicks’ life has come out from neighbors and family members, who describe him as a kind man who they have a hard time imagining brandishing a rifle, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Family members are demanding to know more details about the incident, as are community members and police accountability activists.

Dozens lingered at the scene of the shooting afterward, where rumors circulated that the police kicked down Hicks' door. Two men were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after police say they tore down caution tape around the scene. We'll update with their names when we have them. Some, including members of activist group Cincinnati Black Lives Matter, question that and other police assertions, however.

The group released a statement yesterday demanding a full, transparent investigation, the release of any audio or video evidence and the release of the two people arrested for disorderly conduct after the incident. The group is holding a rally at Hoffner Park in Northside at 6 p.m. today.

"Black Lives Matter Cincinnati (BLMC), offers condolences to the family and friends of 22 year old Quandavier Hicks," the group said in the statement. "Conflicting information has circulated regarding whether Hicks was armed, yet we stand with Quandavier Hicks’ family in this challenging moment and call for an immediate release of all details of police conduct in this shooting. This incident has fueled righteous suspicion of the police and heightened existing tensions resulting in the arrest of two individuals at the crime scene. Aaron Roco, BLMC organizer witnessed the two arrests at the crime scene stated, 'At no point did either of the arrestees cross the police lines, they were vocally criticizing the police killing of their neighbor and the cops just grabbed them out of the crowd.' "

About the officers: Moore previously served with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Police, and before that, was a long-time officer in Clermont County. Scott is an eight-year veteran of the Cincinnati Police Department. Her record with the Citizen’s Complaint Authority shows four minor complaints about discourtesy and lack of service. She was exonerated on two of those. Both officers are on a seven-day leave from the department. Meanwhile, investigations continue into the shooting. Blackwell says at this early point that officers seem to be justified in the incident, but cautioned that the investigation is far from over.

Here is audio of Blackwell’s press conference, including the 911 recording (I don't have my audio editing software here, so the chief's remarks begin at 1:58, the 911 call at 2:40) and the police incident report CityBeat has obtained through an open records request. 

• Are you a cyclist who could use some pointers on riding around the city's coming streetcar? Queen City Bike and Cincinnati Red Bike are offering free workshops on cycling safety around the streetcar every second Saturday of the month. Those workshops will offer tips on how to ride safely alongside the streetcar, how to cross tracks without taking a spill and other things you need to know. The classes will run until October.

• I gave you a lot of local news yesterday, so I'm going to finish this thing off today with a bunch of state news you should know about. The first is about the Republican-led state Senate's budget proposal, which could cut funding for county child protective services agencies by $17 million next year through the phasing out of tax reimbursements. The budget would give $600,000 less than even the House's bare-bones budget to child protective agencies at a time when Ohio already ranks last in spending on such services and Hamilton County's Job and Family Services faces large-scale changes after tragic deaths of children who needed protective services.

* Also in the Senate's budget: a measure that could cost affordable housing efforts and aid to the homeless millions. The measure would take half of the money currently received by the state's Housing Trust Fund, which is compiled from county recorder fees and used for affordable housing projects and homelessness prevention efforts, and distribute it back to Ohio's 88 individual counties to spend how they see fit. Given that county governments generally tack conservative in Ohio, it's not hard to see how that could lessen the pot of money available for affordable housing here and in many Ohio counties. Advocates are trying to convince lawmakers to strip that measure from the budget before the General Assembly passes it on to Gov. John Kasich for his signature. Also on the potential chopping block: state historic tax credits, which could seriously slow redevelopment efforts in neighborhoods like OTR.

• Have you been wondering what's new with Kasich's campaign for president? Let's spend a few minutes finding out what's up with John these days. The big news is that his super PAC has hired Fred Davis, creator of some of the most... um... creative political ads of the last few years. Davis' ads, like the so-called "Demon Sheep" ad (just click the link and watch) are, by my subjective aesthetic and narrative standards, totally awful. A few samples of dialogue from these videos: "He's not in it for the balloons." Also: "I'm not a witch." Can you picture Kasich saying either of those things? Hilarious. But they do stick out from the crowd of boring political TV spots, which I guess is kind of the point.

• Finally, I just wanna say I'm bummed that Ornette Coleman died. One of my all time favorite jazz musicians.

That's it for me. Email, tweet, you know the drill.

by Nick Swartsell 06.10.2015 120 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Police shoot 22-year-old in Northside; streetcar stalemate looms; CPD chief, city manager unveil anti-violence plan

Hello all, there are a couple big stories happening this morning so let’s get right to them.

• First, a Cincinnati Police officer shot a man last night in Northside. Police say the man, 22-year-old Quan Davier-Hicks, pulled a rifle on officers after they entered a home on the 1700 block of Chase Ave. around 11 p.m. last night. A struggle ensued and an officer, whose name has not been released, fired one shot and killed the man. Officers were looking for a suspect in a nearby report of aggravated menacing at the time, according to police officials. Some community members gathered near the scene after the shooting, and two men at the scene were arrested. They have been charged with disorderly conduct after police say they tore down police tape around the scene. This isn’t the first time an officer-involved shooting has happened in the area. In April 2011, police officer Andrew Mitchell shot David “Bones” Herbert on the same street. In 1999, another man, Michael Carpenter, was shot by police nearby. That shooting led to federal lawsuits against CPD. CityBeat has filed public records requests to find out more about the incident and subsequent arrests and will update as information becomes available.

• If you thought anything around the streetcar was going to get any easier or simpler any time soon, welcome to Cincinnati. You’ve obviously only lived here a few days. Sit down, because you’ve got a lot to learn. Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority officials yesterday presented to Cincinnati City Council’s transportation committee, and the proceedings very much resembled the streetcar itself: a slow-moving circular trip it seemed would run well into the evening. Some very interesting information did come out of the meeting, however, including details on the cost differences between the management bid, which would use SORTA’s union employees and cost about $4.7 million in the first year, and the turnkey option, which would allow a management company to hire its own workers. That option costs about $4 million, or about $200,000 under the city’s maximum budget for the transit project’s first year. If you do the math, you’ll see that the union bid is about $500,000 over that budget. But Council’s five Democrats say they’ll vote for the management scenario, saying they would like public employees to operate the streetcar and using SORTA employees will make it easier to them to hold operators accountable for performance.  

Mayor John Cranley also supports the management option, but here’s the snag, and it’s a big one: Cranley is opposed to using city money to shore up streetcar spending. He wants to respond to the union-related operating bid’s cost overruns by cutting the streetcar’s operation frequency. SORTA President Dwight Ferrell said the streetcar would have to reduce operations by 30 percent to meet the spending limit under the management scenario. That, he said, would lead to a “death spiral” for the project, since most rail operations costs are fixed, no matter how many or few riders use a system. Democrats on council say they won’t let that happen, but Cranley has vowed to veto any attempt to spend more city money on the project. That looks likely to produce a stalemate, which could lead SORTA to pick the turnkey option by default. They’ve given an end of June deadline for a decision on the bids, and will have to pick the less-expensive option if no directive is handed down. SORTA by law can’t choose a bid for which money is not allocated, its officials say. Phew.

• City Manager Harry Black, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and Mayor John Cranley announced the city’s 90-day anti-violence initiative at a news conference today. That plan includes tweaks to off-duty time to make more officers available, two crews of walking officers in every district, added protection in parks and areas where kids play, and a curfew program — two churches will be curfew drop off centers for juveniles caught out after 10:00 pm (or midnight for 16 and 17 year olds) curfew.

“We will not sit on our hands waiting to take action,” City Manager Harry Black said of the plan. “When the weather turns warm, there’s usually a spike in crime. Unfortunately for us, this year’s spike was bigger than usual.” Black said that spike seems to be stabilizing now, however.

In delivering the plan, Blackwell cited the five goals of the city’s post-2001 collaborative agreement: police community partnership, trust between community and police, oversight of police department, equitable treatment for all, and engagement and transparency with the community.

“This was a collaborative effort with our clergy and our communities. We’re not going to be overly aggressive in our policing this summer. We’re not going to diminish other units,” Blackwell said. He stressed especially that the curfew element was not meant to be punitive. “It’s not our intent to criminalize curfew aggressively, but rather to take children and take them to a safe spot.”

According to Blackwell, much of the violence of late has revolved around “beefs,” or turf wars between a small group of people. It also has to do with illegal guns streaming into the city, he said.

“Criminal street guns are out of control. Not just in this city, but in every city.” CPD is partnering with feds to investigate gun crimes, find out where guns are coming from and eliminate them, according to Blackwell.

Mayor John Cranley said he’s pleased with the plan, but noted that if it doesn’t work, the administration will “try something else.”

“We’re here to support the chief and the police department. Shootings are unacceptably high, and while it’s true that’s a national trend, that’s no comfort to the families of the victims. Something’s in the air and we have to do something about it. They key is to keep trying to do new things until we get a result.”

Reverend Ennis Tait of the Church of the Living God in Avondale touched on the police-involved shooting in Northside before expressing support for CPD.

 “It’s unfortunate we have to come on the heels of a tragedy last night, but it’s still good we’re here,” he said. “Today we stand with our city manager, our mayor and our police chief.”

Ok. So that’s a lot of big local news. I’ll leave my state and national updates for tomorrow. Tweet at me or e-mail me with news tips or anything else, really.

by Nick Swartsell 06.09.2015 121 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do 2-8 iconic market house photo, courtesy the corporation for findlay market

Morning News and Stuff

Council Democrats release budget proposal; imagine a pedestrian walkway between Findlay Market and Washington Park; Alms Apartments fails HUD inspection

Hey Cincy. Here’s your news this morning.

The battle over the city budget continues. Council’s five Democrats yesterday afternoon released their own suggestions for the city’s fiscal year 2016-2017 spending plan, and they’ve made some key changes. Their operating budget proposal would increase human services funding by $1.5 million, bringing it up to the level council unanimously requested back in November, according to a news release sent out yesterday.

The proposal also restores money to streetcar operating funds and programs that help start-up companies, provides a $275,000 boost to the Cincinnati Health Department, $250,000 to Cradle Cincinnati and money to a number of other programs in the operating budget. Democrats’ proposal for the capital improvement budget would provide a $400,000 grant to the Clifton Market, $200,000 each for the Shakespeare and Ensemble Theaters, $1 million for parks and $150,000 for bike projects. The proposal pays for these boosts by eliminating a pay raise for high-level city employees and instituting a one-month hiring freeze for some positions, cutting funding for financial literacy and Cincinnati Business Committee studies, pulling $100,000 from the city’s contingency fund and by moving around money for the city’s share of the 4th and Race garage project, among other changes. Mayor John Cranley is currently reviewing the budget. If no other council members vote for the changes, Cranley has the power to veto the proposals, which would put him on the opposite side of his fellow Democrats again. Council is expected to pass the budget by June 17 so it can go into effect July 1.

• So this is a interesting idea. Findlay Market is working with the University of Cincinnati on a concept that would link the market with Washington Park via a more walker-friendly pathway. The groups held a party in the neighborhood last week to gather input from Over-the-Rhine residents about what they’d like on the path, and feedback included improved lighting, places to sit and hang out, food trucks or more permanent places for vendors and other ideas. A big priority: Make it easier to cross Liberty Street, which runs between the park and market. The proposed pathway would most likely run down Pleasant Street, which currently sees little automotive traffic. The pedestrian walkway could mean that street would be closed to cars, at least during certain hours. UC’s Research Institute and Metro Lab are involved in the process, with the latter devoting a number of graduate students to design and execute some of the suggestions. Right now, the bigger path is just an idea, but another input-gathering party is planned for June 26.

• The Alms Hill apartment building in Walnut Hills, which we told you about in this story a few months back, failed an inspection by the Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this spring. The building scored 45 out of 100 points on the inspection, which requires 60 points for a passing score. The city is mulling what to do about the building, which houses 200 residents and has fallen into a state of disrepair many say is dangerous. Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who chairs council’s Law and Public Safety Committee, suggested the city sue HUD, which pays the Alms’ owners subsidized rents for its tenants. The building’s owners have made changes, including replacing most of the management staff there and undertaking some repairs, but city officials say the building is far still far from fit for occupancy. 

• If you see Vice Mayor David Mann or former City Council member Jim Tarbell dangling off the side of a building downtown Friday, don’t worry, they’re supposed to be there. The two and others will be rappelling down the YMCA building on Central Parkway to help raise money for the building’s new construction, which will provide 65 units of affordable housing for seniors. The event, called Over the Edge 4 Elders, is hosted by Episcopal Retirement Homes, which is undertaking the building’s $11.8 million renovation with Cincinnati’s Model Group. The public can register for a VIP party to watch folks rappel, or you can raise $1,000 to rappel down yourself Saturday.

• Because budgets are so, so fun and everyone loves them, let’s talk about the Ohio State Senate’s budget proposal, which it released yesterday. That Republican budget doesn’t include Gov. John Kasich’s proposed 23-percent income tax cut, but it does take a big bite of the state’s income taxes, especially for small businesses, which wouldn’t pay taxes on the first $250,000 in income they bring in. The budget also institutes an across-the-board 6.3 percent income tax cut for individuals. There are few sales tax hikes in the budget proposal, save a tobacco tax hike, which has many anxious to see the details of the plan: Social service advocates, for instance, are worried that proposed income tax cuts will be paid for with cuts to programs that help the poor.

Republican leaders in the Senate have acknowledged there are cuts to some programs, but have yet to release details about which ones will find themselves on the chopping block. The budget does provide more funding for K-12 and higher education than the one proposed by Kasich, however, giving them $935 million and $240 million, respectively. The Senate's proposal wouldn't result in cuts for any school district in the state, unlike Kasich's, which relied on a formula designed to even out funding disparities between high- and low-income schools. Next, the General Assembly will hear testimony on the budget and vote to pass it, potentially next week. Afterward, it will go to Kasich’s desk for a final signature.

That’s it for me. Find me on Twitter or drop me a line with news tips or just to say hey.

by Nick Swartsell 06.08.2015 122 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Could more CPS preschool funding find its way into budget?; CPD anti-violence plan expected today; Texas police officer suspended after pointing gun at teens during pool party

Morning y’all. Hope you had a good weekend taking in the tons of live music downtown. If you’re one of the 10,000 people who saw Ja Rule on Fountain Square, well, I kind of envy you and wish I could’ve taken that early 2000s nostalgia trip. Ah, the days when Ja’s gruff calls of "every thug needs a lady" could unite us. Those were simpler times.

• Today is the deadline for City Council members to file motions seeking to change City Manager Harry Black’s proposed $1 billion city budget. We’re sure to see efforts to change the way human services are funded in the budget — the city manager’s financial plan is a big departure from past budgets in what it considers part of that category, and that's caused a lot of controversy. Look for more on that in our weekly feature story Wednesday. Meanwhile, some other interesting changes might also come up today, including one that would boost the city’s spending on public preschool with some money currently earmarked for street repair. Currently, demand for preschool seats in Cincinnati Public Schools is nearly double the 1,129 spaces available. Council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld have floated the idea of taking money from a $110 million loan the city is taking out for pothole repair and fleet updates and spending it to create more preschool opportunities. With Cincinnati’s childhood poverty rate the second-highest in the nation, it’s an important step that could give more low-income kids a head start, Seelbach and Sittenfeld say. Getting enough classrooms, supplies and staff for the first year would cost about $8.5 million, CPS officials say. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee meets today at 1 pm. The committee will discuss proposed changes to the budget.

• Also expected today: Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell’s 90-day anti-violence plan. City Manager Black asked Blackwell to draw up the plan amid the city’s recent summer spike in shootings, the worst in a decade. Black initially suggested a flexible Friday deadline for the chief, but Blackwell asked for the weekend to finish up the plan. Some details have already been released: CPD will put between 50 and 70 more officers pulled from all over the department back on patrol. Those include aides for the chief and other top brass in the department, Blackwell has said. The chief has also recently undertaken a series of three community listening sessions to hear public input about the crime problem. One thing that won’t change, according to Blackwell: Police will not become “over the top” or engage in stop-and-frisk style policing, but will continue to practice a more community-oriented approach that has won Cincinnati national attention recently.

• By the end of the summer, the second-biggest Kroger in the country will be open in Oakley. The store, which will stretch 145,000 square feet, will be the largest in Greater Cincinnati and will feature home décor, a full-scale pharmacy, a natural foods department and other features going beyond the usual grocery store. The store continues the pitched pace of development in Oakley, which has seen a bunch of activity in the past few years. All of which is great, and I’m happy for the neighborhood. I just wanna know when we’re going to get our Kroger super center mega mart thing in Mount Auburn. I’ll probably have to settle for the upcoming update of the Corryville location for now, but hey, keep us in mind, will ya, grocers?

• Despite continually discouraging poll numbers and an ever-swelling list of competitors, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has continued to push his not-yet-official campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, making plenty of trips to New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere. As he does, his specific sales pitch on why Republicans should choose him has come into focus, as this Columbus Dispatch article outlines. Basically, Kasich says he’s uniquely qualified, having spent nearly two decades in Washington, run a large state and worked in the private sector. He’s also willing to stick to his guns, he says, even when a crowd might not like what he has to say. Then there’s the big one — he can give Republicans Ohio’s electoral votes, which history suggests they absolutely need to win the White House. Kasich’s campaign has said  speech attendees around the country have responded to his message, but of course his campaign would say that. Kasich’s poll numbers, however, are still in the 2 percent territory, far behind frontrunners like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and oh, about 10 other folks.

• You’ve probably already seen the national news item I have for you today because it’s gone viral in the past 24 hours. A police officer in McKinney, Texas, a wealthy suburb north of Dallas, has been suspended after he slammed a 15-year-old girl to the ground and pulled his gun on some teenagers at a pool party. The interaction Saturday was captured on video and uploaded to Youtube, where it has been viewed more than a million times. The incident is the latest in a long line of racially charged incidents between white police and black citizens that seem to show unnecessary use of force. Police were called to the scene of the pool party after a fight broke out between teens and adults at a high school graduation celebration. Reports say that fight might have been racially tinged: Many of the black attendees at the celebration were not residents of the neighborhood, sparking ire from the predominantly white members members of the private pool. When police arrived to address the fight, one officer, Eric Casebolt, began aggressively ordering teens, mostly black, to leave the area. When they did not immediately comply, Casebolt began handcuffing them, and, in the case of the 15-year-old girl, pinning her to the ground and sitting on her. When other teens rushed to her aid, Casebolt drew his weapon and chased them off. McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller promised a full investigation into Casebolt’s actions and said he was “concerned” and “disturbed” by the video of the incident.

by Nick Swartsell 06.05.2015 125 days ago
Posted In: Streetcar at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

SORTA Releases Streetcar Operating Costs

Lowest bids $7M apart; union employees would go over budget

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority today released the dollar amounts for the two lowest bids for the first ten years of streetcar operations. The names of the bidding companies were not released, per SORTA's assertion that it would compromise the competitive bidding process. You can read the bids here.

One bid, called the management scenario, would involve a management company using SORTA employees in the Amalgamated Transit Union to run the streetcar, while another, called the turnkey scenario, would let the management company hire its own employees.

The bids look to be politically tricky for Democratic streetcar supporters, who have pushed hard for a union-friendly contract. The turnkey scenario comes in just under the $47,088,828 the city has said it wants to spend over the first ten years of the streetcar at $46,972,813. The management scenario, however, comes in over that amount at $54,933,160. In the first year, the management contract exceeds the streetcar's $4.2 million budget by $500,000, while the turnkey proposal comes in about $160,000 under budget. The bids give numbers for a five-year contract plus an optional five-year extension.

Mayor John Cranley, who campaigned on opposition to the streetcar, has said he supports cutting frequency of service for the streetcar should it go over budget. However, he and other Democrats on Cincinnati City Council support the management bid because it would utilize unionized employees.

Some of the cost overruns in the management bid are attributable to benefits packages offered to union employees. However, employees under the management scenario wouldn't be eligible for state pensions. The ATU could unionize the turnkey bidder's selected employees after they are hired, however, though they still wouldn't get the state pensions.

Cincinnati City Council looks poised to vote on the two options next week.

by Nick Swartsell 06.05.2015 125 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Women's shelter opens in Mount Auburn; CPD second in command steps down; Dems push for payday loan reform

Good morning all. Here’s the news for Cincy today.

Today is the grand opening of the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women on Reading Road in Mount Auburn. The shelter will house up to 60 women seeking to escape homelessness, as well offer classrooms and other on-site facilities. The shelter is one of two replacing the current Drop Inn Shelter in Over-the-Rhine. The men's shelter will move to Queensgate this fall. Correction: an earlier version of this post said the new Anna Louise Inn opened today. That shelter, also on Reading Road in Mount Auburn, will open Tuesday.

• Cincinnati City Council held its final Budget town hall meeting last night in Price Hill. The fifth meeting unfolded much the same way the last four have: The city administration's change-up on human services funding was the main issue, though a proposed city loan to Clifton Market that didn't make it into the budget also came up often. Last November, council voted to double human services funding, but that decision isn't reflected in City Manager Harry Black's budget. You can read our deep-dive into the human services issue next week, when we tell you how that part of the budget has changed, what council is doing to try to get more money back to social service organizations and what the split between the city manager and council means.

• It’s official: The portion of the  Eastern Corridor project that would have relocated State Route 32 between State Route 50 and Newtown Road through Newtown and Mariemont is dead, according to Ohio Department of Transportation officials. The road relocation proposal was contentious: Both municipalities, as well as some residents, staunchly opposed it. The new route would have run through archeologically significant sites near Mariemont, some opponents said, and ODOT cited other environmental and logistical concerns as reasons it was nixing consideration of that part of the project. Other elements, including proposed light rail through the Oasis Corridor, a little-used rail shipping line, remain on the table, ODOT says.

• Hamilton County Job and Family Services will see big changes in the wake of the recent tragic deaths of local children in abusive situations, county officials announced today. The changes are designed to decrease clients’ wait for mental health treatment, provide more in-home services for families and give better guidance to young parents and other youth.  

• Cincinnati Assistant Police Chief Paul Humphries, CPD’s second-highest ranking official, stepped down yesterday to take a job as head of security for Coca Cola in Florida. Humphries, who has been with CPD for three decades, has twice been in the running for the department’s top job, though both times a chief from outside the department was chosen. Humphries says that if he’d been promoted to the top spot, he would be staying but says there’s “no bitterness” in his decision to move on. The assistant chief’s announcement comes as Cincinnati’s police department has received nationwide attention for reforms it has made since the city’s civil unrest in 2001. Humphries has played a role in those reforms.

The announcement also comes as questions swirl around the police department following the revelation that City Manager Harry Black recently drew up resignation papers for Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, though the chief did not sign them and insists he’s staying on as the top cop. Blackwell has since been the center of scrutiny, with some detractors criticizing the department’s low morale and poor upper-level communication. Others, however, including several city council members, have expressed support for Blackwell. The Sentinels, Cincinnati’s black police fraternity, held a rally in support of Blackwell earlier this week.

• City Manager Black says the city will use Humphries’ departure as an opportunity to expand diversity in the force’s upper ranks, part of a larger push by the Sentinels and the city to foster a more diverse department reflective of Cincinnati’s demographic makeup. None of the city’s three assistant chiefs are black, and only one of the city’s 12 police captains is. The city yesterday announced it would change the way it undertakes promotions — tasking those outside the department with grading and evaluating promotional tests, instead of doing it in-house.

• Meanwhile, Chief Blackwell and the CPD are undertaking community listening sessions to get residents’ input on ways to curb the recent uptick in violent crime in the city. Last night, the department held a listening session in Roselawn, where a large group of residents weighed in. Better economic opportunities, recreation facilities and tighter gun control were all ways suggested to curb the violence. Another listening session will take place tonight in Avondale at the Urban League on Reading Road.

• A local video claiming to detail the emotional and physical aftermath of a break-in in Evanston has gained traction on YouTube, garnering well more than half a million views in just two days. Ron Moon, who says he made the video after he was assaulted by burglars June 3 at the community center he is working to establish in the neighborhood, has parlayed that recognition into a fundraising campaign for the center. That crowdfunding drive for 1853 Kinney Street, the nascent community center, has raised more than $38,440 in the last 16 hours. The emotional video features Moon, bloody and bruised, talking about the ways economic and other disadvantages encourage crimes like the break-in he says he experienced. Moon says three men and two women forced entry into the building, which Moon’s father purchased decades ago, and when he confronted them, they beat him and left.

• Let’s jump straight to national news, where Democratic senators are pushing hard for stringent regulations on the payday loan industry. That’s a big issue for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who earlier this year proposed a law that would allow those targeted most often by payday loan companies to borrow from their federal income tax returns instead. Other Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, are working to get what they call “debt trap protection rules” passed, which would limit the industry’s ability to make high-interest-rate loans. Opponents of the payday loan business model say it sets incredibly high interest rates that trap low-income borrowers in a cycle of debt. Under the new rules, lenders would either have to verify income and ability to repay debt or limit the amount loaned to low-income customers.

by Nick Swartsell 06.04.2015 126 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

SORTA, union sign agreement on streetcar; townhouses coming to OTR; Tamir Rice investigation finished, evidence handed to prosecutor

Good morning y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s happening in Cincy today.

The Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority and the Amalgamated Transit Union finally signed an agreement yesterday over the potential for ATU employees to work jobs operating the streetcar. The union doesn’t have the gig yet, however; council will be deciding among yet-to-be-released bids for managing the streetcar that could include or exclude ATU employees. Meanwhile, SORTA will release details about the price tags on those bids by the end of this week, the transit authority says. The names of the companies making those bids will stay under wraps until July, however.

• Community activists, faith leaders and elected officials yesterday called for the creation of a new community development corporation that will push for economic advancement in the city’s low-income minority neighborhoods. The group, which includes State Rep. Alicia Reece, Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young, Rev. Damon Lynch III and others, also called for $50 million from city and state funds to support businesses, provide job training and foster economic development in neighborhoods like Avondale, Bond Hill and others. The group says the way to address some of the city’s big issues with crime and poverty is by getting to their root and providing more economic opportunity.

• Seven new single-family townhomes are coming to Over-the-Rhine. The homes will feature three bedrooms, about 2,800 square feet each, with basements and detached garages. They’re expected to start at about $650,000 each. Mount Adams-based Towne Properties is undertaking the development near the corner of 15th and Elm streets. Towne recently hired Chad Munitz, formerly of 3CDC, and he’s been key in putting together the OTR development, Towne’s first in the neighborhood. The homes will be modeled after another Towne development called Beacon Hill in Deerfield Township.

• Mustaches are so hip right now. Or rather, I guess, they were so hip about three years ago. But it takes that long for huge buildings to catch up to trends, you know, because they’re like, huge buildings and don’t really get around town much. Anyway, the Scripps Center downtown is currently getting a bit of a hipster makeover with vinyl panels that will make the building look like it’s wearing a retro Cincinnati Reds cap and a big ole handlebar mustache. It’s not that the building is feeling its age and is trying to keep up with current fashions — it’s for the MLB All Star Game next month. Cool man. Just don't try to ride a fixed gear, Scripps Center. That ship has sailed.

• Cincinnati has a way to go when it comes to startups, a new ranking by the entrepreneurship-focused Kaufman Foundation says. The city ranked 32nd among the nation’s 40 largest cities, coming in behind Columbus (12th) and Indianapolis (28th) when it comes to the number of startups created in the city per capita and the number of new entrepreneurs in the city. But there’s good news, too — the city gained two spots on the list since last year, when it was 34th.

• Finally, law enforcement officials investigating the police shooting death of Tamir Rice in Cleveland last year have finished their investigation and turned over their findings to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors office. Now, the prosecutor says, the case will go before a grand jury to decide whether to indict Cleveland Police officer Timothy Loehmann, who jumped from a police cruiser and shot Rice on playground while the 12-year-old played with a toy pistol. A separate civil suit by Rice’s parents against the city is also pending.

by Nick Swartsell 06.03.2015 127 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Fundraising kicks off for new homeless shelter; CPD under city review; Columbus Dispatch sold to GateHouse media

Good morning y’all. Some jerk ran me off the road this morning while I biked to work. I’m OK except for some scraped-up hands, but it hurts to type. Which means you’re getting a bare-bones, just the facts morning news today. OK? OK.

• One of the five new shelters representing a shift in how the city deals with homelessness will open this fall in Queensgate, but it currently needs $2.7 million for opening and operating costs and may have to start out in debt. A new campaign called “Bring it Home” looks to bridge that financial gap. The new Drop Inn Center, which will replace the current, long-standing location in Over-the-Rhine near Washington Park, is set to open in September at the former Butternut Bread factory. The shelter, which will be called Shelterhouse, joins the Lighthouse Sheakley Center for Youth and Talbert House Parkway Center, which opened in 2012, the new City Gospel Mission in the West End, which also replaced a former location in OTR in April, and the Mount Auburn replacement location for the Anna Louise Inn, called the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women, which will open Friday. Those locations are part of a Strategies to End Homelessness push to reduce the number of homeless in the city. The idea behind the new shelters, backers say, is to provide more than just a place to stay — each also includes social services like substance abuse treatment, mental and medical health care and other services. The goal is to transition those experiencing homelessness to housing. The Homeless to Homes Shelter Collaborative, which started in 2010 to raise money for the effort, has raised more than $39 million of the needed $42 million for the shelters.

• Details are trickling out about the Cincinnati Police Department’s plan to curb the recent rash of shootings in the city. According to police officials, at least one part of the plan will be reassigning 50 officers to problem spots where a number of the recent shootings have occurred. City Manager Harry Black has asked Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell for a complete 90-day plan for addressing the violence by Friday. Local leaders including community activist Iris Roley, State Rep. Alicia Reece, Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young, Rev. Damon Lynch and others are announcing their own plan to help fight the violence today at 11 a.m.

• Meanwhile, City Manager Harry Black yesterday released a memo to Cincinnati City Council and Mayor John Cranley revealing that the Cincinnati Police Department is undergoing a comprehensive “climate assessment.” That assessment will seek out problem areas, assess employee morale and communication and follow up on suggested solutions, the memo says. Currently, the city is also undertaking a similar assessment on the Department of Sewers and Greater Cincinnati Waterworks, and has recently completed assessments for the city’s Human Resources, Human Services and Recreation Departments.The memo comes after days of speculation about the meaning of a resignation letter drawn up by the city manager for Chief Blackwell.

• Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning is the third-best in the world for design, according to a recent survey of industry professionals by website Business Insider. Nearly 78 percent of respondents said an education from DAAP was valuable, putting the school above big-name art schools like Carnegie Mellon, Parsons the New School for Design, the Pratt Institute, Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cooper Union, among others. Only The Rhode Island School of Design (number one) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab ranked higher among the 633 industry insiders surveyed.

• The state of Ohio may soon pass a law granting protection from prosecution for people who call for help for heroin overdose victims. Sometimes companions of an overdose victim don’t call for medical attention because they fear they’ll be arrested on drug charges. The so-called Good Samaritan bill currently before the Ohio General Assembly would shelter callers from such legal action. Similar bills have gone before the Ohio General Assembly before, most recently in the last legislative session. But some lawmakers, Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus of Clifton Heights, believe that the legislature is ready to pass the bill this time around. Kentucky already has a similar law, which it passed earlier this year.

• Finally, this is a huge bummer. The Columbus Dispatch this morning announced that its print products, including its daily paper, 24 weekly papers for the city’s suburbs and seven magazines, are being sold to New York-based New Media Investment Group, Inc. That conglomerate is most widely known for owning GateHouse Media, a collection of 126 daily papers and more than 500 total publications in 32 states. The Columbus Dispatch has been owned by C-bus locals the
Wolfe family for 110 years, making the Dispatch one of the oldest — and one of the last —independently-owned papers in the state. The paper often does great, error-free, typo-free journalism. GateHouse utilizes a centralized approach to newspaper production: copy editing, page design and other functions for its papers are often performed at a single location outside the city where the papers are produced.

by Nick Swartsell 06.02.2015 128 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Council committee OKs Wasson Way purchase; Cincinnati a top city for baseball; is Columbus the next Brooklyn?

Morning Cincinnati. The sun has apparently caught whatever terrible cold I had last week and is off sick for a couple days. It feels like October outside, which would be cool if we got Halloween and colorful leaves. But actually we just get coldness which isn’t that great. Anyway, news time.

More city-police chief news is afoot. City Manager Harry Black has given Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell until Friday to present a 90-day plan for reducing violence in the city. Black says the chief can have an extension into next week if he needs it, but wants to be proactive and find causes and solutions for the city’s recent spike in shootings. Cincinnati has seen more than 50 shootings and 11 killings in the last month, and 30 murders so far this year. In Cincinnati and most other major cities, crime usually spikes as the weather gets warmer, but this year’s increase has been bigger than normal. The Friday deadline for Blackwell comes as questions swirl around resignation papers drawn up by the city manager’s office for Blackwell. Mayor John Cranley and the city manager both say they want Blackwell to stay and that he initiated conversations about his resignation last week. Blackwell says he’s not going anywhere and wants to remain chief. He’s been chief for two years, before which he served with the Columbus Police Department.

• Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee voted yesterday to purchase a four-mile stretch of rail right of way for the Wasson Way bike trail. The city will purchase the land sometime in the next two years for $11.75 million from Norfolk Southern Railways. The bike trail will stretch from Mariemont to Evanston, with a proposed extension into Avondale. The deal goes before a full council vote Wednesday.

• Great news: Whether the Reds win or, you know, do that other thing they’ve been doing a lot lately, Cincinnati is one of the best cities in the country for baseball fans. That’s according to a new study by WalletHub.com. The website looked at 11 factors in deciding its rankings of 272 cities, including how well each city’s professional or college team does, how expensive tickets are, stadium amenities and other criteria. Cincinnati did well — we’re the third best city in the country when it comes to baseball. But here’s the not so great part. Numbers one and two are St. Louis and Pittsburgh, respectively. You win some, you lose some…

• Former Mason mayor and Warren County State Rep. Pete Beck was found guilty today on 17 counts of fraud and corruption. Beck was accused of cheating a local company out of millions of dollars and originally faced more than 60 counts of fraud and corruption. Some of those charges were reduced, and he was found not guilty on another 21 counts today. Some of the guilty verdict covered serious felony charges. No sentencing date has been announced yet.

• When you think of hip up and coming cities, what places pop into your head? I’ll wait while you write out a list. Did that list include Columbus? Mine didn’t, but hey, what do I know? Here’s a funny article in national magazine Mother Jones about how Ohio’s capital is marketing itself to the young and hip. It's kind of unclear if the author visited the flat, gray city, but the piece asks some intriguing questions. Is it the next Brooklyn? Hm. Probably not. It is, as the article puts it, vanilla ice cream in a world of exotic gelato. But it’s like, cheap, and stuff, so there’s that. Oh, and OSU. It also has that going for it.

• Finally, more Rand Paul stuff. Turns out all those stands Paul is taking against the NSA and foreign intervention aren’t endearing the U.S. Senator from Kentucky to big Republican donors. In the toss-up race for the Republican presidential nomination, big GOP donors are spreading money around to any number of hopefuls: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and other potential front runners. Pretty much everyone but Paul. That will certainly hobble the libertarian’s chances of spreading his message with TV ads and the like as the primary race heats up. But it may also further endear him to his anti-establishment libertarian base and may entice some voters who don’t traditionally vote Republican into the fold.

by Nick Swartsell 06.01.2015 129 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
jeffrey blackwell

Morning News and Stuff

Wasson Way deal reached; Was CPD chief thinking of resigning?; Patriot Act phone spying provision expires

Hey y’all. Oh boy, did some news happen since last time we talked. 

First, as I told you about on Friday, the city has finalized a deal to purchase right of way along the Wasson Way rail line from Norfolk Southern. If council approves the deal, the city will pay $11. 75 million for the right of way need to build a 7.5 mile bike path from Mariemont to Evanston. The city is currently applying for millions in federal grants to help pay for the path.

• Did the city make moves to sack the police chief? Or was he thinking about quitting? The City of Cincinnati recently drew up resignation documents for Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports. Both Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, who has the power to dismiss the chief, have said that the documents were drawn up after Blackwell inquired about resigning. Blackwell didn’t sign those documents, and has since said he’s not planning on going anywhere. Some, including Councilman Wendell Young, a former police officer, have said they think the papers are a sign that Blackwell was about to be pushed out. Cranley and Black, however, both say they didn’t want Blackwell to leave. The resignation letter comes to light as the city receives accolades from across the country for its community-based policing practices, but also struggles with a recent wave of gun violence that has shootings at a ten-year high.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is still hustling to make the case that he, not former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, is best Democrat to challenge U.S. Sen Rob Portman in 2016. Yesterday, both were in Mason speaking at the Warren County Democratic Party’s annual dinner. There, Sittenfeld found he’s still got his work cut out for him, according to an Enquirer story today. The crowd seemed much warmer to Strickland, the story says, and many weren’t that familiar with Sittenfeld. The 30-year-old has gotten some support for his run, raising a respectable amount of money for his campaign this year, mostly from Cincinnati donors. But 71-year-old Strickland has statewide name recognition and the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton on his side. Top Dems have called for Sittenfeld to step aside, and some at the Warren County dinner last night agreed, but Sittenfeld has said he’s in the race to stay.

• If your bike was stolen from downtown or OTR recently, here’s a quick hit of potentially good news: The Cincinnati Police Department says it located several stolen bikes in the West End this weekend. If you’re missing your ride, you could get a call from the cops soon about that.

• The Ohio Department of Education has finished part of its investigation into Chicago-based Concept Schools in the state, specifically the organization’s Dayton-based location, where former teachers and administrators say employees allowed sex games between students, tampered with testing attendance data and committed other crimes. The 106 complaints lodged against the school could not be proven, ODE says, though the organization isn’t ruling out action in the future if more evidence comes to light. Other charges of test tampering, including at Horizon Academy in Bond Hill, another Concept school, are still under investigation. Concept says the department’s findings prove that the allegations against the schools were nothing more than a “witch hunt” against charters. Concept is also under a separate white collar crime investigation by the FBI for other business misconduct charges at some of its 18 Ohio schools.  

• If you’re really into buying stuff off the internet, here’s a small bit of bad news for you: Amazon will begin charging Ohio sales tax on items it sells online. The company estimates that the move, which comes as Congress works to expand taxes on internet commerce, will put between $150 million to $200 million into the state’s coffers.

• Ohio State University has created a committee to study whether the school’s top administrators make too much money. OSU’s former president Gordon Gee was the highest paid public university president in the country, a fact that has created some controversy as college becomes more and more unaffordable for students. Gee’s replacement, Michael Drake, has pledged to work toward a more affordable college experience for students. The school says it would like its executives — people like Drake as well as athletic coaches and high-profile physicians employed by OSU — to be paid the same as the average position at comparable universities.

National stuff:

• Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, died over the weekend of brain cancer. The younger Biden was the former attorney general of Delaware and a figure many Democrats had once looked to as a rising political star. Biden passed up a chance to run for his father’s Senate seat when the elder Biden became VP in 2008, instead staying in Delaware to continue serving as AG. He had been a favorite to run for governor there in 2016 before his health deteriorated.

• How big a deal is Sen. Bernie Sander’s presidential run? Many have written off the self-professed socialist as a long shot contender for the Democratic nomination against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that’s probably accurate. But Sanders has still been receiving a surprising amount of support and excitement from left-leaning Democrats. As the above New York Times story about the race makes clear, Sanders could at least make things interesting in the primary. 

• As we talked about a couple days ago, a key tenet of the U.S. Patriot Act expired yesterday after U.S. Senator Rand Paul led resistance to its renewal. The program allowed the federal government to collect massive amounts of cell phone call data from American citizens, something Paul calls a violation of constitutional rights. The lapse is almost certainly temporary — a compromise bill looks likely to pass the Senate in a few days — but the stand allowed Paul to make a political point and score a few among his libertarian base for his presidential bid.




by Natalie Krebs 10.08.2015 19 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Swartsell 10.07.2015 43 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cranley's Anti-Poverty Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Natalie Krebs 10.07.2015 43 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Morning News and Stuff

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

Hey Cincy! Here are your morning headlines.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Swartsell 10.06.2015 68 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Swartsell 10.05.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News, Cycling at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_bright ride_photo urban basin bicycle club facebook page

Cincinnati Among Top Cities for Growth in Bicycle Commuting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Swartsell 10.05.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

Back? OK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Swartsell 10.02.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Swartsell 10.01.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Swartsell 09.30.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

City Unveils Efforts to Address Contracting Disparities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Natalie Krebs 09.30.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Campbell County Schools superintendent retires after domestic violence charges; child poverty still a problem for Cincy; Kim Davis meets the Pope?

Good morning, Cincinnati! Here are your morning headlines. 

• Campbell County Schools Superintendent Glen Miller abruptly announced his retirement after he was charged with domestic violence. Miller has been on paid administrative leave since he was arrested last Wednesday night at his Erlanger home after his daughter called 911 to report that he has struck his wife in the head and neck. Miller told police his wife's injuries were a result of an accident, but his story didn't quite match his wife and daughter's versions. He was booked into Kenton County Detention Center and charged with domestic violence that same evening just after midnight and released the following afternoon. Miller has been superintendent of Campbell County Schools for four years. His retirement will go into effect November 1. In the meantime, Associate Superintendent Shelli Wilson will be placed in charge of the district. 

• Cincinnati State is considering a partnership with private testing and consulting firm Pearson to attempt to boost its enrollment and retention rates. The college seems to have hit a rough patch. Current enrollment is just below 10,000, 10 percent lower than a year ago, it faces a state-mandated tuition freeze and president O'dell Owens recently departed after tensions with the board of trustees. Cincinnati State is reportedly discussing a 10-year contract with Pearson that would give the company control of its $550,000 marketing and recruiting budget in exchange for 20 percent of students' tuition recruited above the college's quota of 4,000. If it goes through, this contract would be the first for the New York-based company, which earns much of its revenue through K-12 standardized test preparation. Given the college's not-so-great reputation for relying heavily on test scores, the college's faculty senate has urged the administration to wait on the contract until the results of spring recruitment are in. 

• Child poverty is down in Cincinnati, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, but the rate is way above state and national averages. According to the survey, child poverty is down to 44.1 percent from 51.3 percent in 2012, but it's double the national average of 21.7 percent and near double the state average of 22.9 percent. City Health Commissioner Noble Maseru has suggested targeting the poorest zip codes first to begin to further bringing that number down, but no concrete plan has been put in place. 

• Infamous Rowan County clerk Kim Davis apparently secretly met with Pope Francis. According to Davis's lawyer, officials sneaked Davis and her husband, Joe, into the Vatican Embassy in Washington D.C. last Thursday afternoon where the Pope gave her rosary beads and told her to "stay strong." During his first visit to the U.S., Pope Francis did not publicly support Davis by name but instead stated that "conscious objection is a right that is a part of every human right." Davis spent time in the Carter County Detention Center for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She and her husband were conveniently already in Washington D.C. to accept an award from conservative group, the Family Research Council. 

• Cincinnati is a travel hotspot, or at least, "on the verge of a hip explosion," according to Forbes Travel Guide. According to the magazine, Cincinnati has a hilly landscape much like San Francisco's without the San Francisco prices, and the newly gentrified, or "revitalized," Over-the-Rhine is like Brooklyn before the hipsters took it over. Other reasons the third-largest city in Ohio makes "the perfect weekend getaway" include Skyline cheese coneys, a ton of German beers and Kentucky whiskeys to choose from and a "surprisingly impressive array of luxury hotel options." 

That's it for today! Email is nkrebs@citybeat.com, and I'd love to hear from you!