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by Nick Swartsell 04.28.2015 126 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_weedunicorn700x615

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy State Pres supports weed legalization; SCOTUS hears same-sex marriage cases; unrest in Baltimore

Good morning y’all. Here’s the news today. There are a ton of things happening, so I’m just going to give you a brief rundown of them all.

A controversial Ohio marijuana legalization effort has a new booster. Cincinnati State Technical and Community College President Dr. O’dell Owens announced yesterday that he supports a ballot initiative by ResponsibleOhio that would create 10 state-sanctioned marijuana grow sites owned by the group’s investors and legalize the purchase of marijuana for people over the age of 21. Could future Cincinnati State students study marijuana agriculture? Could be.

“ResponsibleOhio’s marijuana legalization amendment will allow thousands of Ohioans to own and operate their own businesses and will create over 10,000 new jobs for Ohioans,” said Owens in a statement. “It will encourage new training programs at our state’s community colleges, which already play a vital role in developing talent for emerging industries.”

ResponsibleOhio says that Owens is not an investor in the $20 million effort, which will need to gain 300,000 signatures by this summer to get the proposed law on the November ballot.

• Does Cincinnati need more police on the streets? That’s what the city’s police union says. Police Union President Kathy Harrell told Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee yesterday that the group would like to see 134 more officers join the 1,001 currently serving. Harrell says the department frequently experiences “Code Zeroes,” or situations in which no officer is immediately available to respond to a call. Harrell said some of the problem lies with the fact that nearly 300 officers are currently assigned to special units. Those units do good work, she said, but pull police away from general duties like responding to calls. City Manager Harry Black has said he will be adding money for more new recruits in next year’s budget. One question that comes up from this: If crime is at historic lows and Mayor John Cranley touts the fact that he’s added police, how many officers specifically do we need? Cincinnati’s police force is currently proportional to other comparable cities. Before Cranley’s boost, the city already had 3.3 officers per 1,000 people, which is the same as cities like Pittsburgh and higher than cities like Columbus.

• Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate hopeful P.G. Sittenfeld hasn’t raised nearly as much money since former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland entered the race to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Their story asks if Strickland’s entrance into the race has slowed Sittenfeld’s campaign fundraising. Sittenfeld’s campaign says that’s not the case and that it has had some of its best fundraising days recently. The 30-year-old councilman was raising $10,000 a day starting in January, but after Strickland announced his candidacy that rate fell by half. Sittenfeld still bested Strickland in fundraising, netting more than $750,000 to Strickland’s $670,000 in the last fundraising reporting period. Despite that slim and perhaps receding  monetary edge, Sittenfeld is a big underdog in the race against Strickland, who has statewide name recognition and endorsements from Democratic bigwigs.

• One of the big arguments against shuttering poorly performing schools in Ohio, including controversial charter schools, is that doing so disrupts students’ education and cuts into their academic performance. But that’s not true, according to a study released today by think tank and charter school sponsors the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The institute, with the help of researchers from the Ohio State University and the University of Oklahoma, looked at 198 school closures across the state of Ohio from 2006 to 2012. What they found was that students at those schools actually performed far better when the moved on to other schools after their poorly performing charter and public schools shut down.

“The results of this study shatter popular myth that closing schools hurts kids academically,” said Fordham’s Ohio Research Director Aaron Churchill in a statement. “Students usually make a soft landing. After closure, children typically end up in higher-quality schools, and they make strong academic progress.”

• Today is the day. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in what is potentially the biggest same-sex marriage case in history. Their decision could decide whether states are allowed to ban same-sex marriages and whether they can refuse to recognize such marriage performed in other states. The case features several plaintiffs from Cincinnati, as well as others from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. Amazingly, folks who want to witness the arguments started lining up as early as last Friday outside the Supreme Court. A ruling in favor of marriage equality seems likely, given that the Supreme Court has already struck down a federal same-sex marriage ban. Even opponents of such marriages are expecting a ruling in favor of marriage equality, both here in Cincinnati and nationally.

• The other big national story is the unrest in Baltimore over the past couple days in response to the police-related death of Freddie Gray. Tens of thousands of protesters have swarmed the streets of the city decrying the unarmed 28-year-old’s death while in police custody. Gray, a black man, was arrested two weeks ago by Baltimore police and dragged to a police van. At some point before he arrived at the police station, Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury. He slipped into a coma and subsequently died. Unrest around his death has often been peaceful but at times has lapsed into violence — more than a dozen fires have been reported in the city, a number of police have been injured by rocks and other thrown items and some vandalism and looting have occurred. Fans at a Baltimore Orioles game Sunday night were kept in the stadium for a time as protests intensified around the stadium. Despite this, Orioles’ Chief Operating Officer John P. Angelos sided with the protesters who were peaceful, making some very cogent points during a Twitter argument with a sportscaster who criticized the protests. You can read his tweets here.

Angelos tied the unrest to the deep economic and racial divisions in Baltimore. The mostly black population where the riots broke out suffers from a 19-percent unemployment rate. The city’s black population suffers an infant mortality rate nine times that of its white population. These systemic conditions, folks like Angelos say, along with the unequal treatment of blacks in the justice system, are reasons why police killings of unarmed black men continue to elicit such anger in places like Baltimore, New York City, North Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere. As we explored in a feature last month on Cincinnati and police shootings, it will very likely take more than police reform to heal those wounds.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.27.2015 127 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ac2_7-30_shakespeare in washington park - photo provided by cincinnati shakespeare company copy

Morning News and Stuff

Are funding cuts at JFS putting kids in danger?; Washington Park to get huge porch; epic Gannett video fail

Hey all. Looks like a good number of folks out there have read our big feature on a group of refugees struggling and building community in the often-forgotten Millvale and North Fairmount area. If you haven’t gone and checked it out, you should. The folks we talked to for this story are brave, kind and all-around amazing. Their stories are at turns heartbreaking and inspiring — they’ve survived gunshot wounds, break-ins and many other hardships since arriving here looking for the American dream. That all sounds grim, but I promise there are some incredible bright spots as well. Please: Fead and pass along this story so more people are aware of their struggles and they can get help.

On to the news. A report from the Cincinnati Enquirer today asks if Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services is critically underfunded. Three recent fatal cases of child abuse occurred under the department’s watch. JFS has suffered a 1- percent decrease in its budget over the past 10 years. That means fewer caseworkers with fewer resources to help kids in poverty and dangerous parenting situations. The department says the blame rests with the parents of the children who died this year, but JFS’ shrinking staff (they’ve lost 39 percent of their workers in the last decade) isn’t helping the agency do its job keeping kids safe. Declining federal dollars to the department, as well as the fact Ohio spends the least of any state on child welfare, have contributed to the declining funding for JFS.

• 3CDC’s website was hacked over the weekend by a group expressing solidarity with Islamic militant group ISIS. A number of sites controlled by 3CDC were hacked Saturday night to read “I am Muslim and I love jihad. I love isis.” The sites were taken down within a couple hours of the attack and stayed down most of Sunday. It’s not the first time a local organization’s website has been hacked to bear a similar message. Last month, websites for Montgomery Inn and Moerlein Lager House were also hacked by someone claiming to represent ISIS.

• As a decisive Supreme Court case over same-sex marriage involving Cincinnatians looms, how do local religious groups stand when it comes to the issue? It’s an important question with a fairly predictable answer. Most of your more conservative religious organizations around the Cincinnati area, including a number of Catholic and Baptist churches, are against it. Some Jewish synagogues support it, some don’t. The most interesting part is that a  few churches seem to be breaking with tradition and coming out for marriage equality. Anyway, read more about the divide among faith groups here.

• Porch-less Cincinnatians can rejoice, because Washington Park is about to get a $400,000 deck for you sit on and tan yourself this summer. Well, at least when it’s not being rented for private events (hmm lame). The deck will have food and beverage vendors and chairs that are much comfier than the benches all around the park. The Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation, which led a multi-million renovation of the park in 2011, will build the deck.

• In other park news, University of Cincinnati Urban Planning students have come up with a number of prospective visions for the future of Burnet Woods, my favorite place in Cincinnati (well, it’s in the top five at least). The results are pretty interesting. My favorite project, and one that the Business Courier spends a good deal of time on, is a proposed land bridge between the Woods and UC. I used to walk from Clifton to UC through the park every day, and I would have paid a significant toll to use that land bridge. Most of these projects are probably too expensive or wild to see the light of day in their current form, but hopefully the ideas will spark conversation about how to make the park better.

• As mentioned above, tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in what may be the biggest case in the history of the struggle for marriage equality. Here’s a great New York Times story about how lawyers on both sides of the argument are preparing for the showdown and what’s at stake. Marriage equality advocates hope for a big win: that is, a ruling that overturns states’ bans on gay marriages entirely, effectively making same-sex marriage legal across the country. But there is a possibility that SCOTUS will hand activists a more incremental victory, ruling that states like Ohio have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states but don’t have to make the practice legal themselves. Attorneys representing Ohio and other states, on the other hand, hope that the court upholds the decision of the Federal Sixth Circuit Court and rules that voters, not judges, should decide who is allowed to marry whom. That result seems unlikely, since a number of other circuit courts have decided otherwise and since SCOTUS overturned a federal gay marriage ban. Either way, it seems like the arguments, and the court’s expected June decision, will be historic.

 

• Oh boy. The above ad(?)/celebration of all things Gannett, which owns USA Today, the Cincinnati Enquirer and about 80 other daily papers across the country, ran last week during a company-wide "town hall" to announce structural changes. The video features Gannett execs lip-synching a song that admonishes folks that "everything is awesome when you're part of the team." That's a bit ironic considering Gannett made many of its employees re-apply for their jobs over the last number of months. I'm just going to stop talking and let you watch it. It's incredible.

• Finally, today is the funeral for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man arrested by Baltimore police two weeks ago for running away from officers. Video shows Gray screaming as police dragged him to a van. Gray received a severe spinal cord injury while in the police van and subsequently died from that injury. His death has sparked large and ongoing protests in Baltimore, an echo of similar protests over police-related deaths in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and elsewhere around the country. Officials say they are investigating Gray’s death.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.23.2015 131 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach, Cranley debate OTR parking plan; CCV head Burress "not optimistic" about SCOTUS same-sex marriage case; GOP state lawmakers cut up Kasich budget

Hello Cincy. You know what time it is. Yep, news time.

It’s become a dependable, even comforting, routine. On Thursday mornings, I sit down and tell you all about the ways in which City Council bickered over the streetcar in its Wednesday meeting. The tradition continues.  A discussion yesterday about proposed Over-the-Rhine parking plans, which have been bandied back and forth for months, quickly devolved into a debate over the streetcar’s operating budget gap. Mayor John Cranley has been using that gap, which could be as high as $600,000 a year because of shortfalls in revenue and advertising receipts, as a reason council should pass his version of the OTR parking plan.

Cranley, who formerly proposed $300-a-year parking passes for residents in the neighborhood, now wants the passes to be valued at a market rate determined by the city manager. Meanwhile, Councilman Chris Seelbach has another idea: Cap the costs of the permits at $108. Seelbach’s plan calls for 450 permits, plus 50 non-metered, non-permitted flex spots for bartenders, waiters and the like who work in the neighborhood. Cranley’s plan calls for more flex spots. Either proposal would likely yield the highest-cost neighborhood parking permit in the country.

At issue is a philosophical debate: Cranley wants OTR residents to shoulder more of the cost of the streetcar. He also says the city has done enough to subsidize residents in OTR, citing tax abatements on many properties in the neighborhood and the fact that metered spots on the public streets around them would bring in more money than the permits do. Streetcar supporters like Seelbach and Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, however, say the streetcar is about economic development and that it will benefit the entire city, not just OTR residents. They say it isn’t fair to place its financial burden so much on those living in the neighborhood. Seelbach also points to residential parking permits in other neighborhoods, which are priced much more affordably than Cranley’s OTR plan.

• There was also a big hubbub about whether or not the streetcar will get in the way of major downtown events on Fifth Street like Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati. Mayor John Cranley yesterday railed against, as he said, “the idea that the city was secretly trying to discourage these events from maintaining their historic location,” and touted measures by city administration to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The backstory: In 2014, then-City Manager Scott Stiles released a memo stating that no special events could disrupt the streetcar’s operation. Depending on what you take “special events” to mean (i.e. is something that has been scheduled every year for at least a decade a special event?) that could mean the streetcar would take precedence over some beloved Cincinnati traditions. However, an agreement between streetcar operators SORTA and the city also signed later in 2014 allows streetcar operations to be disrupted for events up to four times a year. Sooo, yeah. Were those events ever actually in danger of being moved for the streetcar? Unclear.

• Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress thinks defeat may be at hand, at least in the short term, when it comes to the looming Supreme Court case around same-sex marriage. Springdale-based right-wing CCV has pushed a number of anti-gay rights measures over the years, and Burress was instrumental in engineering Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. That law is part of the current SCOTUS case. Burress told the Cincinnati Enquirer he’s “not very optimistic” about Ohio’s ban withstanding the court challenge, mostly because he says some of the justices are biased and don’t respect state sovereignty. But Burress also promised that the issue “won’t go away” anytime soon. You can read our story about case, and the local folks who are making history as the plaintiffs, here.

• The Ohio House of Representatives last night passed a record-breaking two-year budget for the state that looks much different than the one Gov. John Kasich suggested. The proposed budget spends more than the state ever has, while taxing top-tier earners less than it has in the past three decades. The proposal would put Ohio’s top income tax rate below 5 percent for the first time since 1982 but forgoes Kasich’s more regressive plan to lower income taxes by 23 percent and use a sales tax hike to pay for the cuts. The $131.6 billion spending package, the largest in state history, also zeroes out much of Kasich’s proposed reform to education spending. Kasich is not exactly stoked by the budget.

“After the fiscal crisis subsides people think it's OK to slip back to old habits,” Kasich’s office said in a statement to press. “The governor will do everything possible to prevent that from happening."

The budget isn’t a done deal. Next it heads to the state Senate, which is cooking up its own budget anyway. 

• After those long-winded updates, here's a quickie or two: Is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush really the cuddly moderate he's been made out to be, and, if not, does that open up a window of opportunity for Ohio Gov. Kasich in the GOP 2016 presidential sweepstakes? Despite being a proponent of Common Core and having some less-than-hardline views on immigration, ol' Jeb does have some harder right tendencies as well that make him more complicated to consider. This article gives some good examples.

• Finally, as a person who recently transitioned to Microsoft Office 365 for all my workaholic email needs, I really appreciate this hilarious Washington Post article about the company's new ad campaign. I really do love working while I'm also sleeping face down in my bed.

That is all. Tweet me. Email me. Or don’t. Actually, just go outside and enjoy the sun. But bring your smart phone just in case.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.22.2015 132 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cannabis

Morning News and Stuff

Marijuana legalization intrigue; the cost of gun violence in Ohio; search for the Loch Ness Monster on the internet

Good morning! News time.

Here’s a juicy story involving alleged sabotage, political intrigue and weed. A marijuana legalization group called Ohio Rights Group filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission last week alleging that ResponsibleOhio, another legalization effort, sabotaged its campaign to get a pro-marijuana law on Ohio’s ballot. The filing says that ResponsibleOhio’s Ian James and David Bruno infiltrated ORG last year in order to gain information about the group’s efforts, which they later used to dissuade potential ORG donors. James and Bruno are now involved in ResponsibleOhio’s effort to get a measure on the November ballot legalizing marijuana but restricting commercial growth to 10 sites around the state. They’ll need 300,000 signatures from Ohioans by this summer to do so. The group claims they’ve already collected more than 160,000. ResponsibleOhio called ORG’s complaint “bogus.”

• Good news on Earth Day here: The Cincinnati Zoo has saved a mind-boggling one billion gallons of water and millions of dollars with conservation practices it has been using over the last decade. That’s a year’s worth of water for 10,000 households. The zoo says it saved all that water through some rather mundane fixes: sealing up leaky pools, installing more water-efficient faucets and other fixtures, beefing up water filtration systems and other steps. The impact was huge, cutting water usage by more than three quarters. The zoo went from using 220 million gallons of water in 2005 to just over 50 million in 2014.  Very neat.

• Will the streetcar run later into the night? Some pro-streetcar activists hope so. A group of a few dozen that attended Monday’s Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority public hearing on the streetcar voiced concerns about the transit project’s hours of operation, saying they’d like to see it run later into the evening. Currently, it’s slated to start running at 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, it would stop running at 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday it would run until midnight. But SORTA has said it could push that operating window up, having it start later in the morning and end later in the evening.

• The game is up for a planned challenge to Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, which Gov. John Kasich controversially pushed through the conservative-dominated state house in 2013. Kasich was at odds with much of the state’s GOP on the expansion, which accepted federal funds to increase eligibility for the federal government’s health care program as part of the Affordable Care Act. Federal funds for the expansion will begin to taper off in 2017 and the state will have to foot some of the bill. A plan by State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, would have created a stipulation forbidding use of Ohio taxpayer funds to pay for the gap in the state budget state lawmakers are currently crafting. Butler, however, has since backed off of this idea and it looks as though the expansion, which gave 500,000 more Ohioans health coverage, is safe for now. That’s important for Kasich. The expansion is a key achievement in his time as governor and a talking point when it comes to the no-nonsense, get things done appeal he’s attempting to create as he mulls a presidential run.

• This investigative piece by left-leaning magazine Mother Jones is fascinating. According to 2012 gun crime data, gun violence in Ohio cost taxpayers more than $7.8 billion or $660 per capita per year. That’s chump change compared to some states like California, where it cost more than $25 billion a year. The state with the lowest per-capita cost was Hawaii at $234 a year; the state with the highest was Wyoming, which clocked in at $1,300 a year per capita. The per-capita data closely tracks with gun laws in states — places like Texas and Louisiana with permissive gun laws have much higher per-capita costs than tightly-regulated states. I can see some counter-arguments or questions about this, but it’s an interesting place to start a conversation about taxpayer costs and gun laws.

• Finally, the ultimate time-waster: Google has done its Google Maps thang in Scotland’s Loch Ness so you can search for the Loch Ness Monster.  I’ve been searching for the past two hours and I haven’t seen anything, but feel free to search the lake’s 263,162 million cubic feet of water yourself in search of the elusive prehistoric reptilian creature.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.21.2015 133 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_vlt2-nickswartsell

Morning News and Stuff

Panel debates charter schools; Kasich sets up presidential fundraising org; this train could get us to Chicago in 48 minutes

Hey all. News time.

Last night the League of Women Voters held a panel discussion in Clifton about Ohio’s charter schools, especially those in Cincinnati. The panel, titled “Charter Schools: Are They Accountable?," featured Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan, Aaron Churchill of charter school sponsoring organization the Thomas Fordham Institute, Steve Dyer of progressive think tank Innovation Ohio and Republican state Sen. Bill Seitz.

The answer to the titular question posed to the panel: No, charters aren’t being held accountable in Ohio, and that’s bad. Ronan said CPS loses about 8,000 students a year to charter schools in the city and that many of those schools aren’t prepared to educate them (see: the late VLT Academy, any number of other charters in the city). But some panelists argued that the oversight problems, which state lawmakers are working to fix with bills in the House and Senate, isn’t a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. They point to other charters that have succeeded and say that with reform and increased oversight, the privately run but publicly-funded schools will deliver on their promise. But there are probably going to have to be big changes: Charters in Ohio, most agree, are a big mess.

• At the same time a reasoned debate occurred on charter schools and the serious questions around educating Cincinnati’s next generation, elsewhere a highly paid grown man dropped numerous F-bombs about a game, reporters spilled much digital ink on the meaningless spectacle and we all clicked and clicked, spurring on the inane prattling of both. Well done, all of us.

• More changes to the Lytle Park area downtown are in the works, according to this Enquirer article. A few days ago, I linked you to a story in the Business Courier about the luxury hotel concept that will be moving into the Anna Louise Inn site, which has been occupied by a 104-year-old women’s shelter that is moving to Mount Auburn in June after a protracted legal battle. There’s way more happening in the neighborhood, including a $5 million-plus remake of Lytle Park, a $32 million ODOT rehab of the tunnel that carries I-71 underneath the park and other housing and commercial space in the area. Much of the change is being driven by Western & Southern, the insurance giant headquartered in the neighborhood, and its real estate arm Eagle Realty. I smell a new reality show called Extreme Corporate Makeover in the works here.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign registered a non-profit called A New Day for America with the IRS Monday, officially setting up a fundraising structure for the Republican’s nascent presidential bid. The group has some heavy hitters on its board, including former advertising executive and big-time GOP donor Philip Geier. A U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, a former state lawmaker and some Columbus businessmen round out the board of the group. It’s all a big sign that Kasich is more or less set on running for the Republican nomination, though he has yet to formally announce that intention. So far, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have all officially announced their campaigns. Others, including frontrunners former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are expected to announce their bids as well.

Right now, Kasich lags behind all of them, but a big primary win in one of the early states like New Hampshire could boost his profile. He’ll have to somehow convince GOP primary delegates that he’s moderate enough to win a general election but also conservative enough to uphold strong conservative values. He has competition on that front: Both Bush and Rubio exhibit some combination of staunch conservative policy positions and more moderate and practical beliefs, and both are already national players. But both also have vulnerabilities: Rubio is on the outs with much of the party after he attempted to launch an effort at comprehensive immigration reform. That’s sunk him with the party’s far-right faction. Bush, meanwhile, struggles with the general bad aftertaste the public remembers from Dubya’s presidency. Kasich’s chances may come down to the GOP’s estimation of how toxic the Bush name still is. We’ll see.

• I’m going to be brief with this because it’s maddening, but newsworthy: There could be an end in sight to the big fight going on in Washington over Loretta Lynch. No, not Appalachian songstress Loretta Lynn. I'm talking about the woman President Barack Obama has nominated to replace outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Lynch would be the first female African American A.G., and her nomination has been pending for five months as the Senate battles over voting on her. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has signaled he won’t put Lynch’s nomination vote through until another matter is settled: a Senate vote on a bill that would fight human trafficking. Sounds simple and like something everyone can get behind, right? Except that Republicans have tacked on an anti-abortion provision in that bill, and Democrats are refusing to pass it as it stands. But, according to this story, negotiations are underway to push the Lynch nomination to a vote after several high-profile Republicans have publicly criticized the hold up on her nomination. Phew. Everything is a mess. Everything sucks.

• Finally, let’s read this really quickly and dream: Japan’s maglev bullet train just set a new speed record of 375 miles an hour. At that speed, it would take you about 48 minutes to get to Chicago from Cincinnati. So if the United States was more forward-thinking in its transit policy, you could hop on the train after work, grab some deep-dish pizza and a can of Old Style (or if you like the taste of burning tires, a bottle of Malort), and be back before bedtime. (This is a slight exaggeration, of course, and it would be insanely complicated and expensive if not impossible to build such a train here, but still. We can dream, right?)

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.20.2015 134 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_6-25_pleasant-street-near-findlay

Morning News and Stuff

Developer eyes more condos for northern OTR; Mason Schools cancel Muslim event; Rand Paul's missed connections ad

Good morning all. Hope your weekend was rad. Let’s get down to business on this news thing.

The city of Cincinnati plans to ask the federal government for some cash for a network of bike trails branching off the proposed Wasson Way route between Avondale and Mount Lookout. The city is preparing to apply for Transit Investment Generating Economic Recover, or TIGER grants, that would help finance the network of commuter bike paths. The city applied with a narrower plan that only encompassed Wasson Way itself in 2014, but didn’t win one of the highly competitive grants. A lone bike trail doesn’t stand much of a chance in the application process, which favors transportation projects that provide a bigger impact over a wider area. The city hopes it can win some of the billions of dollars the federal government has awarded for such projects with its new plan, which will spread out through a number of Cincinnati neighborhoods. Mayor John Cranley has made bike trails a priority during his time as mayor, often over on-street bike lanes, which Cincinnati’s last city council preferred and which some bike advocates say are better for commuters.

• Let’s keep talking about transit projects for a second, shall we, because we never talk about transit and it’s an incredibly benign topic that no one could ever get upset over. (That is sarcasm, by the way.) Anyway, if you want to hear some, let us say, spirited civic debate, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is hosting the first of two public hearings about Cincinnati’s streetcar operating procedures and fare structure tonight from 6-8 p.m. at the main branch of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library. See you there! If you can’t make that one, there’s another one next Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Over-the-Rhine Community Recreation Center on Republic Street.

• Here’s the latest on the planned redevelopments around Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine. Developer Model Group has announced it will forgo 35 of the apartments it originally planned for the area and will instead build nine condos. Seven of those have already sold. Model’s plans still include 23 apartment units. The shift signals a new turn for the northern part of OTR, which hasn’t seen as much condo development as the neighborhood’s southern portion. The move seems likely to fuel fears about gentrification in OTR as the neighborhood’s property values continue to skyrocket.

• Speaking of gentrification, it’s a serious topic, right? We’ve covered it a bunch here at CityBeat, and think it’s always worth discussion. However, this story is a bit mystifying. It seems to suggest that the spike in poverty in Covington is at least in part caused by development in Cincinnati neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine. Sounds fascinating. The only problem is, there’s absolutely no evidence presented that supports that. 

Here’s one of the many puzzling questions that comes from assuming poor from OTR are heading to Covington en masse: Poverty has been rising across the region, including in Cincinnati, which saw a 5.1 percent increase in its poverty rate since 2009. Covington saw about the same boost. What’s more, the increases have been happening since at least 2000, well before much of the city’s current development boom. If both cities’ poverty rates are rising at the same rate and have been since before development started in earnest, doesn’t it seem like Cincinnati isn’t just pumping all its poor and displaced into Covington, and that a larger systemic issue is at play?

A much more likely scenario: Specific factors like the heroin crisis (which is mentioned in the article) and a general widening of income inequality nationally (which is not mentioned) are creating a greater divide between the middle class and the poor. Meanwhile, poor folks displaced by high prices in center-city places like OTR are heading off to an array of areas, some in the more obscure and distant parts of the city limits, some outside of it, creating small, incremental ticks in those neighborhoods’ and municipalities’ poverty rates.

• Briefly, in case you didn’t hear about it: A group of Muslim students in Mason wanted to have a (voluntary) day where other, non-Muslim students were encouraged to wear hijabs (head scarves) as a way to foster a broader cultural understanding and build bridges between students. Instead, that event, called “the Covered Girl Challenge” has been cancelled after an outside group called Jihad Watch raised a huge fuss about it. The group seems to be claiming that the student group has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a militant Islamic group. Jihad Watch says hijabs are oppressive to women and that Mason’s public schools shouldn’t be promoting them. The main trouble, according to the school, is that an invitation to the student-organized and led event was sent out in an official school email, something that comes across as promotion of a religion. That’s why the event was cancelled, school officials say. Jihad Watch has cheered the cancellation, because there’s clearly nothing scarier going on in America today than a young woman in a public school choosing of her own free will to wear a scarf on her head for a day in an attempt to understand the experiences of other young women at the same school.

• If a provision recently included by state lawmakers in Ohio’s budget passes, many of the state’s college professors will lose the ability to bargain collectively over salaries and benefits. The law would reclassify any professor who is involved in planning curriculum or other decisions as management, making them ineligible for band together and negotiate their terms of employment. As you might guess, a number of college faculty are up in arms over the sneak attack, which smacks very much of the state’s attempt several years ago to eliminate public employee collective bargaining rights with HB 5. That bill was defeated after statewide protests. 

• Gov. John Kasich was hanging out with powerful Republican groups in New Hampshire last week, where he made his strongest signals yet that he's running for president. He hasn't announced yet, but he's told big GOPers to "think of me" as they mull their choices.

• Finally, got a hot tip about Democratic presidential possibility Hillary Clinton? U.S. Sen. And Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul wants to know. You can send tips about fundraising activities at the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary’s charitable organization, from a form on Paul’s website. The outspoken libertarian-leaning Republican has been hinting for a while now that some big bombshell about the Clinton Foundation is about to fall and hobble Hillary’s campaign. Those bombshells are supposedly contained in a new book due out next month by author Peter Schweizer. The New York Times, Washington Post and Fox News all have exclusives ready based on information in the book, apparently, but Paul’s casting about for tips on the Internet does not inspire great confidence that he’s sitting on big info. A suggestion: Have you tried the Craigslist missed connections section? I can see the listing now:

“You were at a fundraiser for my presidential campaign. You whispered something vague but titillating in my ear about foreign donors and Hillary. Please contact me via my website, where you can also buy an awesome T-shirt.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.16.2015 138 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gay-marriage-rights

Morning News and Stuff

City declares April 28 John Arthur day; crazy day at the state house; national press continually fixated on Clinton's burrito habits

Good morning, y’all. Before we get to the news this morning, I want to plug a cover story we have coming up in a couple weeks. I've been working on it since February, and I really hope you all will take a look when it goes up April 29. It deals with one of the city's forgotten neighborhoods, a group of people fleeing incredibly difficult circumstances and a place where cultures from around the world mix in an incredible way. The folks in the story deserve your attention for their courage and patience. That's all I'm going to say for now. I hope you'll check it out.

There is a lot to talk about today, so I'll stop promoting and get to the news.

Let’s start with the positive stuff first. Cincinnati City Council yesterday declared April 28 John Arthur day in honor of the late Over-the-Rhine resident and gay rights activist who passed away in 2013 from ALS. Arthur’s husband Jim Obergefell has since fought the state of Ohio to get his name listed on Arthur’s death certificate, a battle that will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court April 28. The case will almost assuredly be a history-making event. Look out next week for our feature story on the battle that could determine the future of same sex marriage.

• Council also locked horns, once again, on the streetcar yesterday. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed a motion that would direct the city administration to prepare a report on possible funding for Phase 1B of the transit project. Sound like a small step? It is. But oh, what a fuss it raised. The next hour was dominated by arguments over the project, including recent revelations that revenue won’t be as high as anticipated, Mayor John Cranley again touting a residential parking permit plan as a way to make up some of the difference and calls from at least one council member to can the project entirely. After all the fireworks, the motion passed 5-4. You can read all about it in our coverage here.

• What else is new around town? Well, our own Nick Lachey, of 98 Degrees fame, wants to turn over a new leaf (heh see what I did there?) as a marijuana farmer. Lachey has invested in a ballot initiative by marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio. In return for putting up money for the effort, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by this summer to get its proposal on the November ballot, Lachey will become part owner of a marijuana farm in the city of Hudson, which is in northeastern Ohio. That farm will be one of 10 under ResponsibleOhio’s plan, which would restrict commercial cultivation to a select number of sites. The group also tweaked its proposal after some criticism, and the current plan would also allow home growers to grow a small amount for personal use. Critics, however, including other legalization efforts, still say the plan amounts to a monopoly.

• Representatives from some area school districts, including Princeton City Schools, are lobbying in Columbus today in protest over state budgetary moves that would cut millions from their budgets. Princeton serves Lincoln Heights, Glendale, Woodlawn and much of Springdale and Sharonville in addition to other areas. Some school employees have taken personal days off from work to protest the proposed elimination of a state offset for the so-called Tangible Personal Property Tax. TPP was a big part of funding for many schools like Princeton. It was eliminated by lawmakers in 2007, but the state continued to funnel funds to schools to make up for the loss. Now, with Ohio’s new proposed budget, that offset will gradually be eliminated. Princeton receives nearly a quarter of its budget from the payments. It’s one of a number of schools on the chopping block from the new budget, which is a milder form of Gov. Kasich’s proposed financial blueprint for the state’s next two years. Kasich’s plan would have cut half of the districts in Ohio while increasing funding for the other half, mostly low-income rural and urban districts. State lawmakers have eased some of those cuts, but the prospect of losing money has caused ire among schools like Princeton, Lakota and others.

• There are a lot of other things happening in the state house today. Lawmakers are mulling whether to eliminate funding for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests. The state’s GOP legislators would like to eliminate the $33 million used to administer the tests, effectively killing them off. Part of the reason lawmakers want to eliminate them is that they’re tied to so-called federal Common Core standards. State Republicans are generally opposed to the standards, though Gov. John Kasich supports them. The tests’ roll-out this year has also been rocky, marked by complaints about glitches and difficulty. But there could be a big price tag for the political statement being made by eliminating the tests:  the loss of more than $750 million in federal money for education in Ohio, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

• Elsewhere in the state house, the GOP is raising ire among its own with other measures in the state budget. Republican State Auditor David Yost has cried foul at an attempt to remove oversight of disputes about public records requests from his bailiwick. State lawmakers say that the auditor’s office is responsible for financial accountability of state offices, not their public records. They want to remove the auditor’s power to receive complaints about public records requests and issue information and citations about such requests. Yost says removing his office’s power to oversee public records request issues weakens his ability to hold other public offices accountable and is unconstitutional. The Ohio Newspaper Association has also come out against the move. Reporters file a lot of public records requests, after all, and I for one don't want to have to sue someone every time I want some information that YOU should be able to know.

• What’s going on in national news, you ask? Stories about Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s Chipotle trip continue, revealing little other than the utter intellectual bankruptcy of some of the national political press. The initial story about the stop in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle earlier this week was a bit of a campaign stunt in and of itself (Hillary’s campaign staff tipped off the New York Times about the stop, leading to this incredibly important breaking news) and now we’ve just spun down into the dregs of mindless chatter about a burrito bowl. Not even a real burrito! Burritos are for eating, not for think-piecing. Why do you folks get paid to do this, again?

Meanwhile, Kasich is getting some interesting press that could boost his chances in the Republican 2016 primary contest for the presidential nomination. National publications are calling him everything from the "GOP's Strongest Candidate" to the "GOP's Moderate Backstop." Ah, national media. Gotta love it.

I'm out. Tweet at me, email me, hit me up on Livejournal. Just kidding. I haven't logged into Livejournal in forever. Weeks, at least.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.15.2015 139 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Council Passes Motion Asking for Report on Streetcar Phase 1B

Relatively small step caused a big fight as streetcar drama swirls

Cincinnati City Council today passed a motion asking the city administration to draw up a report on possible funding sources for the planning and construction of phase 1B of the streetcar.

But the relatively small step caused a firestorm of controversy, illustrating how politically divisive the transit project remains. The motion, authored by City Councilman Chris Seelbach, launched a contentious hour of debate among council members about whether it was appropriate to look ahead to the next phase of the controversial transit project when the current phase, a 3.6 mile loop around downtown and Over-the-Rhine, has yet to be nailed down.

The motion passed on a narrow 5-4 vote, with council members Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann, and Wendell Young voting for the measure. Council members Charlie Winburn, Kevin Flynn, Amy Murray and Christopher Smitherman voted against having the city produce the study.

Seelbach said the idea was to gather information to make an informed decision about next steps.

“This motion doesn’t say we’re ready to study Phase 1B of the streetcar,” Seelbach said. “All it says is we want some facts on paper about opportunities we may even want to pass up. I think that’s a very fair conversation we want to have. But let’s at least get the facts on paper.”

Seelbach cited the availability of federal TIGER grants, $500 million of which have been made available for fiscal year 2015 to cities proposing transit projects that spur economic development. Supporters of extending the streetcar say the city should start planning now so it can apply for future federal money that would help pay for a route extension.

But streetcar opponents, including Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, said the focus now should be on the project’s beleaguered current phase. They pointed to a recent revelation that the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority projects revenues for the streetcar will be well under earlier expectations.

“I guess my question is, 'Why aren’t the supporters of the streetcar leading the $500,000 new deficit that we discovered yesterday,' ” said Cranley. “Where is the plan to solve the revenue gap we discovered yesterday? Let’s make Phase 1 a success. Instead people want to write more checks and spend more money on Phase 2.”

Early estimates placed revenue from ridership and advertising sold on the streetcar at $1.35 million in the first year. But adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, SORTA told council yesterday. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation. Opponents like Cranley and Smitherman say the project's first phase is a financial mess that will leave tax payers holding the bag. 

Cranley used the opportunity to again propose a residential parking pass for residents of Over-the-Rhine. In the past, he's floated proposals to charge as much as $300 a year to residents who want to park in the street in the neighborhood. Citing the number of new high-price condos springing up in OTR, Cranley said the owners of those high-price abodes should have to foot some of the bill for the amenity running past their doors. 

But supporters of the project fired back, saying the project is meant to spur economic development and must be looked at through that lens. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said investment spurred by the streetcar, including new development in Over-the-Rhine, would far outweigh the expenditures the city will make. She chalked up continued opposition to the streetcar, and the motion to produce a report, to politics.

“I think it really comes down to leadership,” said Simpson. “We made a commitment to a project, and there are times when there are challenges. The campaign is over. Our ability to put our best foot forward on this project will really determine the success of the project.”

Originally, the streetcar was intended to run from The Banks to a location uptown. However, after Gov. John Kasich eliminated millions in state funds from the project, it was scaled back. The route now ends near Findlay Market. Supporters, however, including many who pushed the streetcar through a contentious three-week pause in 2013, haven’t given up hope that the second leg can be completed into the area around the University of Cincinnati and the area’s major hospitals.

The debate over the motion once again opened up old arguments.

Councilman Charlie Winburn called once again for the streetcar to be halted entirely, saying it should be “scrapped altogether.” Winburn told City Manager Harry Black that he didn’t have to follow the motion, which doesn’t have the force of law, and asked the city administration to disregard it. The city solicitor confirmed that the motion was non-binding, and it is unclear whether the city manager will direct city administration to produce the report.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.15.2015 139 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pe_streetcar_jf1

Morning News and Stuff

2013 streetcar pause gets more costly; parent files civil rights complaint against Lebanon schools; Castro for VP?

Morning all! Let’s get started on this news thing right away. I’ll be brief today.

Good news for transit drama junkies: The next episode of the streetcar soap opera just dropped, and it’s a double feature. Turns out the 2013 pause in streetcar construction while Mayor John Cranley railed against the project and Cincinnati City Council mulled pulling the plug could end up costing the city $2 million. The city has already spent about $1 million on costs associated with the pause, and now the team responsible for the streetcar is negotiating with a consultant involved in the construction of the streetcars over how much it owes for other costs related to the work stoppage. The cars themselves will be delayed six months because of the three-week pause, the streetcar team says, since the company making the cars thought the project was dead at the time. That cash will have to come out of the streetcar’s contingency fund, which will have about $1 million left after payments related to the pause are made.

Meanwhile, estimates for how much money the streetcar will rake in every year are down, according to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, much less than the originally-estimated $1.35 million. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation.

• We’ve known for a while that the current site of the Anna Louise Inn, an historic women’s shelter downtown near Lytle Park, is slated to become a luxury hotel. Now we know which luxury hotel. Marriott announced yesterday it is bringing its Autograph Collection hotel concept to the site. Autograph Collection hotels are high-end, boutique accommodations. Others include European palaces and swanky hunting lodges. Plans have been in the works to relocate the century-old women’s shelter after a protracted and contentious legal battle between the city, Anna Louise Inn operators Cincinnati Union Bethel and insurance giant Western & Southern ended in 2013. A new CUB facility is being constructed in Mount Auburn.

• Here’s a quick one: Two Cincinnati lawyers have filed a lawsuit hoping to legalize prostitution in San Francisco. Lou Sirkin and Brian O’Connor of Cincinnati-based firm Santen and Hughes have filed in a California U.S. District Court on behalf of an organization called the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education and Research Project. Three sex workers and a prospective client of sex workers are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which Sirkin and O’Connor say is a constitutional issue. Sirkin has worked on a number of constitutional and individual rights cases across the country.

• Lebanon City School District is facing a civil rights complaint from the mother of one of its students. Heather Allen has filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that issues of racial discrimination and bullying haven’t been taken seriously by the district. Allen says her biracial children, as well as other black children in the district, have been subject to racist jokes, taunting, repeated use of racial slurs including the n-word and an alleged threat from another student who Allen says had a knife. Nine incidents total are listed in the complaint, which comes a few weeks after an Instagram photo surfaced from a district student bearing racial slurs and a threat toward a black Lebanon student. The district thus far has not responded to media inquiries about the complaints, though it did address the Instagram photo, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction over that issue since it happened off school property.

• Former death row exonerees took to the capitol yesterday to advocate for changes to Ohio’s death penalty. Six men who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and who spent time in prison for their wrongful convictions gathered to urge lawmakers to adopt 57 recommendations for changes to the way the state administers justice made by the Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on Capital Punishment. Among them was Ricky Jackson, who was finally freed last November after spending 39 years in prison for a murder in Cleveland he didn’t commit. Jackson was exonerated thanks to the work of UC’s Ohio Innocence Project, an initiative co-founded by Mayor John Cranley in 2003. The Innocence Project is the subject of this week’s CityBeat news feature — it just won a new trial for three other Cleveland men who may have been wrongfully convicted in another murder. Check it out.

• Finally, your 2016 update: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida entered the presidential fold Monday, declaring he’ll seek the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, there is noise about who former secretary of state and current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton will tap for vice president. Will it be former San Antonio mayor and current Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro? Some think-piece writers think so. It seems clear that Castro, along with his brother, U.S. Rep Juan Castro, are both being groomed by the Democratic Party for bigger things. The Castro brothers are promising stars in the party, to be sure, but there’s also a pretty calculated element to the speculation: Rubio is strong with Hispanics thanks to his own Hispanic background, and Castro as VP could be a way to counteract that, political pundits say. Ew. Politics is gross.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. You know the drill.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.14.2015 140 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
baseball

Morning News and Stuff

I-75 north ramp from uptown to take five more years; Ohio Board of Ed ends 5 of 8 rule; Hillary goes unnoticed in Ohio Chipotle

Hello all. What’s up? Let’s dive right into the news today.

If you live uptown and frequently need to hop on I-75 north, I have some bad news for you. It’s going to be another, oh, five years before the already years-old ODOT project to revamp I-75 makes it easier to access the highway from uptown. Let’s ruminate on that length of time for a minute. It’s an entire high school career plus a year of college. Or the amount of time it takes the average person to put 65,000 miles on a car. Or for some folks, multiple long-term relationships. The hang-up comes from a proposed connector bridge that will allow for easier access from I-74 to the area around Cincinnati State College. That construction is in the same area as the planned new northbound ramp, meaning the latter will have to be put off until 2020. That leaves uptown residents wanting to head north with the option of two complicated workarounds that probably add at least a few minutes to commute times. Happy driving y’all.

• In more positive news, it sounds like the city’s July 14 parade for the MLB All-Star Game is going to be something else. Usually, these kinds of things are limited to a few pickup trucks full of ball players on the way to field from their hotels, but Cincinnati Reds COO Phil Castellini says this year will be different. Floats, music and other festivities inspired by our annual opening day parade will fill the mile-long parade route, which goes from the Westin Hotel downtown past Fountain Square to Great American Ballpark. The All-Star Game is a big deal for any city to land — estimated economic impact for the city is somewhere in the $60 million range.

• Over-the-Rhine business course MORTAR will graduate its first class of entrepreneurs today. Locals William Thomas, Derrick Braziel and Allen Woods founded the group last year with a focus on increasing socio-economic diversity in the city’s startup culture. When you picture a startup entrepreneur, you might immediately think of a young white middle class male, which would be understandable since that demographic makes up a large percentage of entrepreneurs, especially in hot new markets like tech. MORTAR’s mission is to go beyond that, founders say, and to extend the opportunity to start a business to anyone in the city with a good idea. Tonight at Elementz, on the corner of Race and Central Parkway, the first class will take their ideas public during a series of presentations lasting from 6-9 pm. First year participants include Black Owned Outerwear founder Cam Means and soap maker Evie Cotton.

• I knew y'all were smart. Cincinnati is among the most literate cities in the country according to a study by Central Connecticut State University President Dr. Jack Miller. Miller measured literacy in America’s 77 biggest cities by studying bookstores, libraries, newspaper circulation, education level and Internet usage to come up with his ranking. Cincinnati ranked 12th, just above Raleigh, N.C. and just below Portland, Ore. We are far and away the best Ohio city on the list — runner up Columbus ranked just 21st. Minneapolis took the top spot this year after a four-year run in the top spot for Washington, D.C., which finished second this time around.

• The Ohio Board of Education voted yesterday to end the state’s stipulation that school districts have at least five of eight specialty positions in each of their schools. Those positions included librarians, music teachers and physical education teachers. The rule change has been hotly debated among educators and officials. Opponents say it will mean that students in many low-income schools will no longer be guaranteed arts, music and other important humanities education. Boosters of the rule change say it allows local school districts more autonomy with how they spend their budgets.

• Is Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal dead? Looks like its prospects are grim, especially when it comes to the tax boosts the governor suggested to make up for his proposed $5.7 billion in income tax cuts. The GOPers in the Ohio General Assembly love the cuts, but hate the offsets, which include a sales tax hike. State lawmakers are expected to tweak Kasich’s budget to cut about $1 billion in income taxes while forgoing the sales tax hikes and some other big measures in the budget. Kasich’s plan has taken fire from both the left and the right. Progressives point out that shifting the tax burden from income toward sales taxes puts a higher proportional burden on the state’s low-income workers and that cuts to taxes on businesses and the tax bills of the state’s top earners is a regressive move that favors the wealthy. Conservatives, on the other hand, say the sales tax hike would encumber businesses and slow the economy. Both the state House and Senate will have to vote to approve a final budget agreement.

• Big news here: While Hillary Clinton was driving around in her Scooby Doo campaign van yesterday, she passed through Ohio and stopped for some Chipotle. Surprisingly, this news story says, no one in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle recognized her, probably because they were too focused on their double barbacoa double cheese double sour cream burritos. Dude, when I’m eating a burrito, the wailing ghost of James Brown could come in spitting fire and singing "Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag" and I probably wouldn’t take much note, but then the wailing ghost of James Brown isn’t running for president in 2016 (unfortunately).

• Finally, new revelations have surfaced in the shooting death of Walter Scott,
North Charleston, South Carolina man, by police officer Michael Slager April 5. North Charleston police have released audio recordings taken immediately after the incident in which Slager tells his wife he shot Scott while the man was running from him and then later laughs about the adrenaline rush to a supervisor. Scott was black, Slager white. The incident is the latest racially charged police shooting to capture the nation’s attention in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., last summer.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 09.01.2015 14 hours ago
Posted In: News at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_protester_7-9 copy

Planned Parenthood Sues Ohio Over Abortion Access

Suit claims new state laws unjustly limit women's access to abortion

Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio filed a federal lawsuit today against the state of Ohio, charging that "hostile policies" passed by the state in the last few years greatly restrict women's access to abortions.

The suit comes after new restrictions were slipped into Ohio's budget earlier this year. Among those restrictions was a clause that automatically suspends a clinic's license to provide abortions if the Ohio Department of Health does not respond to a license renewal application or request for variance to other restrictions within 60 days. In the past, ODH has taken a year or more to respond to applications from clinics in Cincinnati and elsewhere in the state.

New rules on abortion providers have come about in the past few years as conservative state lawmakers have sought to clamp down on abortion providers. Some lawmakers say the laws are about patient safety, while others admit they are intended to decrease the number of abortions performed in Ohio. Since the laws have been passed, the number of clinics in Ohio has dwindled from 14 to just nine.

Restrictions passed in 2009 required clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and a subsequent law passed in 2013 forbade publicly funded hospitals from entering into those agreements. That rule cost Cincinnati's last clinic providing abortions, the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, its transfer agreement with UC Hospital.

The center, run by Planned Parenthood, has since had to apply for variances to those rules, which it qualifies for because it has individual physicians who can admit patients to hospitals. Delays from the ODH granting a variance to those restrictions have put the future of Cincinnati's last operating clinic providing abortions in jeopardy. The center waited more than a year for its variance request, which the ODH finally granted after Planned Parenthood filed an earlier lawsuit against Ohio.

If the center were to cease providing abortions, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services. If another, similarly endangered clinic in Dayton were also shuttered, Southwest Ohio would be entirely without a clinic.

Officials with Planned Parenthood say the state's new laws are about politics, not patient safety.

"Despite what these politicians claim, medical experts have made it clear that these restrictions don’t enhance patient safety — just the opposite," Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio CEO Jerry Lawson said in a statement about the lawsuit. "Politicians in Ohio should be helping more women access health care — not making it harder."

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.01.2015 19 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gay-marriage-rights

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach won't back executive session amendment; Pendleton affordable housing to get makeover; Rowan County Clerk still not doing her job because liberty

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

First, a man died last night after he was Tased by police in Over-the-Rhine. Cincinnati police responded to the Shell station on Liberty Street after reports the man was trying to rob a woman in a car there. When officers arrived, they say the man would not respond to verbal commands. He was Tased in the chest and detained. He later died from his injuries after going into cardiac arrest. Police rules prohibit Taser shots to the head, neck or chest areas unless officers or bystanders are in immediate danger. Police use of Tasers in Cincinnati has resulted in a number of deaths, including that of Everette Howard, who died after he was Tased by University of Cincinnati police in 2011. After Howard’s death, UC police banned use of Tasers.

UPDATE: In a news conferences about the incident, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said that the deceased, James Carney III, 48, was actively assaulting a woman in a car parked at an ATM. He did not comply and was Tased first in the back and then in the chest. He fell unconscious at that point and had to be removed from the car window. Blackwell has said there is no ATM camera, gas station security camera or body camera footage of the incident. We will update as more information becomes available.

• Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach will not vote again to support an amendment to the city of Cincinnati’s charter that would allow Council to meet in executive session. That’s big news because it leaves supporters of the amendment on Council one vote short of the six votes they need to override Mayor John Cranley’s veto of that amendment. The change to the charter, one of five suggested by the non-partisan Charter Review Task Force, looked like a slam dunk after Council passed it 6-3 last week. Cranley subsequently vetoed the change, but even he admitted it was mostly a symbolic move. The amendment looked to be headed for the November ballot for voters to approve or reject, but now its future is uncertain.

• A number of affordable housing units in Pendleton are getting a $5 million makeover. Five buildings that are part of the eight-building, 40-unit Cutter Apartments will be renovated by new owners Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and Wallick-Hendy Development, who bought the buildings last month. The 32 units are being renovated with help from a city of Cincinnati eight-year property tax exemption and will remain subsidized housing. Federal historic tax credits should also help fund the renovations. The buildings date back as far as the late 1800s.

• Mayor Cranley today announced he will unveil
at a 2 p.m. news conference a paid parental leave policy proposal (phew that’s a lot of alliteration) for city of Cincinnati employees. We'll update with details about that proposal as they're released. Currently, city employees can get up to six weeks of paid maternity leave depending on circumstances. Councilman Chris Seelbach has applauded the move while pointing out he and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson advanced a similar proposal this spring.

“While Councilwoman Simpson and I were excluded from the mayor's discussions and ultimate announcement,” Seelbach said in a post on social media, “I applaud him for coming around to support this important initiative for our workforce.”

• Let’s head south for a minute. The County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or really, any couples since the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land earlier this summer is… still refusing to do so because, well, Jesus. County Clerk Kim Davis is standing her ground even after the nation’s highest court yesterday slapped down her request for a stay on a lower court’s decision ordering her to issue the licenses.

Why? Because issuing licenses to two people who love each other and wish to be treated as a legal couple by the state would somehow infringe on Davis’ religious liberty. Yes. A county employee denying rights to someone is an exercise of liberty somehow, according to Davis. You know, if I got a job at Chick Fil-A and then refused to serve people because my religious beliefs said that people shouldn’t eat chicken, I would be fired. Davis should probably also be fired. But that could take a long time as doing so would likely set off a renewed round of legal wrangling.

• Finally, while we’re talking about the Supreme Court, here’s a pretty interesting New Yorker article about some upcoming decisions the court might hand down that could be very dismaying for liberals. Cases on abortion, affirmative action and unions could turn out disappointing for progressives, the article argues, despite big wins for lefties over the summer.

I’m out. Catch me in the twitterverse or put a letter in my ole email box whydontcha?

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.31.2015 43 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_cincinnatibeerweek

Morning News and Stuff

Urban League releases study on racial disparities; Kroger to install beer taps, hold tastings; Kasich moves up to third in GOP ranking

Good morning y’all. I’m still super-drowsy from the weekend, which means it was a good one, right? Hope yours was also great. Let’s talk about that news stuff, shall we?

A new report released today from the Greater Cincinnati Urban League highlights what a lot of folks already know, even if they didn’t have the specific numbers in front of them to prove it: The disparities between blacks in Cincinnati and the city as a whole are huge.
The report’s in-depth data further buttresses findings CityBeat published last week in an investigation into the city’s deep racial and economic divides, which you can read here.

The study, called “The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities” details some of the disturbing realities for residents of the Greater Cincinnati area. According to the report, 76 percent of the city’s 14,000 families in poverty are black. Black men here die an average of 10 years sooner than white men, and black women die an average of six years sooner. The infant mortality rate in Hamilton County for black infants, 18.4 per 1,000, is more than triple that of white infants in the county. Black-owned businesses in Cincinnati are far rarer here than in other cities. We have 6.9 per 1,000 residents. Raleigh, North Carolina, on the other hand, has 18.8 per 1,000. The study is the first of its kind the Greater Cincinnati Urban League has released since 1995, and while it shows that the city has made great strides in police-community relations, it has much work to do in terms of economic segregation.

• Was training on the way for University of Cincinnati police officers that could have prevented the Samuel DuBose shooting? At least some officials with the department think so, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. DuBose was shot in the head and killed July 19 by UC police officer Ray Tensing. Tensing has been indicted on murder charges for the incident after his body camera showed him shooting DuBose with little warning after a routine traffic stop.

The department was in the process of buying new firearms training equipment in the weeks prior to the shooting, officials say. That training equipment could have prevented DuBose’s tragic death, UC Police Chief Jason Goodrich has said. In addition, more changes to training protocols could prevent a similar situation in the future, Goodrich and other UC officials say. These include more thorough monitoring of body camera footage, “contact cards” that better track the demographics of those officers stop and a new data system that tracks officers’ use of force. Records reported by the Enquirer show that UC police have increased their activity around the university campus in recent years, that officers have stopped and ticketed black motorists disproportionately and that officers have drawn their guns more frequently than in the past. Goodrich, however, says that some of that data is more complex than it might first appear — university officers have been called to respond to more felony warrants, which more typically involve drawing a weapon. The university has also increased the number of officers it employs, which has led to an increase in stops overall, officials say.

• In some lighter news, Kroger will begin installing beer taps and holding tasting sessions in some of its regional locations in order to, uh, tap into (ugh sorry) increasing demand for craft and local brews. Among the first stores to get the amenity this fall will be the new, enormous Kroger location in Oakley. The chain’s replacement for its current Corryville location will also get the taps when it opens in 2017.

• If you’re anything like my friends, you’ve probably worn at least one pair of Tom’s shoes in your lifetime. The company promotes a “buy one, donate one” model: For every pair you cop, a pair gets sent to people in a less-fortunate country. Tomorrow, the company’s so-called chief giving officer, Sebastian Fries, will be in town giving a keynote speech on Tom’s social enterprise model at the Cincinnati Museum Center, kicking off the city’s Social Enterprise Week. The series of events, created by Flywheel Cincinnati, is designed to celebrate and promote companies that have a social service dimension to their business model. Several locals involved in social enterprise businesses will join Fries in a panel discussion, and a range of other activities will take place throughout the week. 

• The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber has announced its support Mayor John Cranley’s proposed Cincinnati parks revamp funded by a potential property tax hike. But, uh, they’d rather you don’t try to spark up a joint in a future revamped Burnet Woods. The Chamber has also announced they’re opposing state ballot initiative Issue 3, which is ResponsibleOhio’s proposal to legalize marijuana in Ohio. That proposed constitutional amendment would make it cool in the eyes of the law for anyone 21 and up to smoke weed, but would limit commercial growth of the plant to 10 grow sites across the state owned by the group’s investors. The chamber says it’s concerned about the proposed constitutional amendment’s effect on workplace safety, saying it will negatively impact business’ ability to maintain a drug-free work environment. Both the state marijuana proposal and the county property tax hike will be on the November ballot for voters to approve or reject.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich is moving on up in the GOP presidential primary. D.C. politics publication The Hill ranks Kasich number three on its August list of Republican primary contenders, a serious jump up from his previous spot at number 10 last month. Some polls put Kasich ahead of former Florida governor and presumed frontrunner Jeb Bush in key primary states. Kasich, however, still trails real estate dude and hair piece model Donald Trump, who is somehow lodged in the number one slot in the GOP primary circus sideshow, err, race. Kasich has some big challenges ahead, however, including some staunchly conservative primary states coming up he’ll have to do well in despite the fact many rabid conservatives perceive him as a moderate. Which is pretty weird and terrifying, given the guv’s pretty conservative record in the state.

• Finally, one time this guy from Ohio got a mountain in Alaska named after him right before he even became president. Turns out, that peak would later become the tallest in the country when Alaska became a state in 1959. But President William McKinley never visited Alaska, and the state officially changed the name of Mount McKinley back to its original indigenous moniker, Denali, in 1980. Now the federal government has also announced it will begin officially recognizing the mountain as Denali, not Mount McKinley, which really makes a ton of sense, given that naming it after McKinley was a decision made by some rando adventurer traveling with a couple prospectors who really seems to have done so on a whim. But the change has Ohio lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, all in a huff. Many Republican lawmakers and even Democrat or two in the state have called the renaming a “political stunt” and a “constitutional overreach” by President Barack Obama, because of course they would say that. Meanwhile, there are some who believe that the mountain was named after McKinley in a sublime act of trolling against silver prospectors. McKinley, after all, was running on a platform advocating the gold standard.

That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with news tips or Mount McKinley-inspired rage.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.28.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ac_bp_pete rose_

Morning News and Stuff

Study shows kids have more health issues in low-income Cincy neighborhoods; Hamilton County bailiff accused of stealing property during evictions; decision on Rose reinstatement coming by end of year

Good morning all! Hope your Friday is starting off well. It’s gorgeous outside, so maybe cut work a little early if you can, eh?

In the meantime, here’s the news. A new study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center suggests that living in high-poverty areas might lead to more sickness among young children. Hospitalization rates for maladies like bronchitis and pneumonia among young children are very different across Hamilton County, the study found, with children in high-poverty areas making many more hospital trips for such problems than kids in better-off neighborhoods and suburbs. The study tracked hospital visits by census tract and found so-called “hot spots” with high hospitalization rates in low-income inner-city areas. Those areas often correspond with areas that have lower life expectancies and higher infant mortality rates.

The Children’s study illustrates just one of the many consequences of Cincinnati’s deep economic segregation, a set of dynamics we explore in depth in this week’s cover story. If you haven’t already, give it a look.

• This is pretty messed up: A Hamilton County Sheriff’s bailiff has been accused of stealing tenant property during evictions, selling it and pocketing the money. Deputy Bailiff Michael Garvey was arrested yesterday and faces charges of theft in office after officials say he took money and jewelry from the site of an eviction. He later tried to sell the jewelry. He’s currently being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center. Garvey has been a bailiff with Hamilton County for at least eight years.

• The Cincinnati Police Department is adding more officers to street patrols in a number of city neighborhoods starting next month. Twenty-four additional officers will patrol Districts 2 and 4 starting Sept. 13. District 2 includes East Walnut Hills, Evanston, Hyde Park, Madisonville, Pleasant Ridge and other East Side neighborhoods. District 4 includes Mount Auburn, Corryville, Walnut Hills, Avondale and other central neighborhoods. Chief Jeffrey Blackwell called the reassignments “phase two” of a safety plan that began with a 90-day summer initiative designed to curb an increase in gun violence in some city neighborhoods.

• U.S. Senate hopeful and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is going on the offensive against his Democratic primary opponent Ted Strickland, slamming the former Ohio governor yesterday at a news conference on the steps of City Hall for his lack of opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. That project is a contentious oil and gas conduit that would stretch between oil-rich areas in Alberta, Canada and Texas oil refineries. Environmental activists have decried the pipeline’s potential effects on the local environments it will pass through as well as its overall potential to increase oil consumption. President Barack Obama might soon deny a permit to build the pipeline after years of controversy over the project. Strickland earlier this week commented that he wouldn’t weigh in on the “divisive” subject because it didn’t impact Ohio. Sittenfeld has taken issue with that.

“Leaders lead,” Sittenfeld said at the news conference. “They don’t bob and weave and evade and equivocate.”

Sittenfeld also used the 15-minute press event to challenge Strickland to a series of six debates leading up to the Democratic primary. Strickland thus far has not agreed to any public debates between the candidates, probably because he’s in a very strong position and doesn’t need to. Polls show him neck and neck, or even slightly ahead, of incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman, despite Portman having a heavy fundraising advantage. Sittenfeld trails a distant third, and polls show him with little name recognition outside the Cincinnati area. Sittenfeld, however, says the race is still young and that his poll numbers and fundraising are improving.

• Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday that the MLB will decide by the end of the year whether or not to reinstate Cincinnati Reds hit king Pete Rose into the league, opening up the doors for Rose to be included in the MLB Hall of Fame. Rose was ousted from the league indefinitely in 1989 after an investigation showed he had bet on baseball while he was a manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He denied those allegations for a decade and a half. More recent revelations show Rose may well have bet on the game as early as 1984, while he was still a player-manager. Rose and his supporters argue he’s paid his debt for the wrongdoing and that he deserves to be re-admitted.

• Finally, state lawmakers are continuing to weigh a measure that would bring more accountability, and possibly funding changes, to the state’s charter school system. That system has come under fire lately after criminal investigations into charter school operators and revelations of data manipulation by the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school accountability arm. House Bill 2, which is currently being hashed out by state lawmakers, would put new accountability measures in place. Meanwhile, educational advocates, including the state’s teacher’s union and many local school leaders, are pushing lawmakers to address funding disparities as well. The way charter schools are funded now unfairly siphons money from public schools toward private, sometimes for-profit schools that don’t produce better results, advocates argue. Funding changes aren’t on the table yet for reform legislation, however, and it seems unlikely that the Republican-led Ohio General Assembly will take up suggested changes to the state’s charter funding mechanism.

That’s it for me. Email or tweet at me with news tips or fun stuff to do this weekend. I’m out.

 
 
by Natalie Krebs 08.27.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cranley veto

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley vetoes secret council meetings; The city racks up late fees; Charter school suddenly closes; Pakistan extradites former Ohio state deputy treasurer

Happy Thursday, Cincy! Better yet, tomorrow's Friday. So here's today's headlines to make the week pass a little quicker. 

• Mayor John Cranley vetoed a Nov. 3 ballot-bound charter yesterday that would allow city council to meet in secret about certain topics, including property sales, the city manager's performance and some economic development deals. The charter amendment ballot initiative was passed by council on Monday with a vote of 6-3, with Councilmembers P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman voting against it. Despite Cranley's veto, the amendment isn't dead. The mayor admits it could very well end up back on the ballot as council appears to have the six votes needed to override his veto. The mayor said he vetoed the amendment allowing Council to use executive session for transparency reasons. The special executive sessions would have been restricted to items like assessing the city manager's performance, buying or selling property, disputes possibly ending up in court, security arrangements and items required to be kept secret by law.  

• Have trouble paying your bills on time? So does the city of Cincinnati! A city audit from January 2014 through July of this year found that taxpayers spent an additional $130,000 from late fees on the city's electrical bills. Taxpayers have been shelling out just under $7,000 on average per month for late fees for the first half of 2015. The city previously escaped Duke Energy's late fees as the company didn't charge them to the the government until a crackdown in 2014. City Manager Harry Black says a fix has reportedly come out of the City's Innovation Lab, but Councilman Kevin Flynn has expressed anger over the fees saying it shouldn't have taken a year to catch. 

Ian James, executive director of ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee trying to legalize marijuana, has accused Secretary of State Jon Husted of intentionally putting confusing language on its Nov. 3 ballot initiative. James accused Husted, who opposes the legalization, of using the word "monopoly," which he calls a "loaded term" on the ballot to confuse voters. The term has been floating around the group's initiative a lot, which would enact a constitutional amendment to legalize the plant, but restrict its growth to just 10 commercial farms in the state owned by the PAC's investors. State initiative 3 as of now will read, “Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes.” ResponsibleOhio says it's actually unfair to call it a monopoly when the amendment would allow for 1,150 retail stores that are not operated by investors.

In other weed news, gazing upon ResponsibleOhio's new mascot, Buddie, might make you feel like you've already smoked a couple Js. He has a marijuana bud for a head. Just gonna leave it right here for you to check out. The mascot has caused controversy because critics say he/she/it is too cartoonish and could be viewed as an attempt to entice kids to smoke weed.

• A Columbus charter school has abruptly closed its doors just after the start of the school year leaving 300 students stranded. FCI Academy was suspended by its Toledo sponsor, Education Service Center of Lake Erie West, for mismanagement, but apparently things had been going downhill for the charter school for awhile. The Columbus Dispatch reports that it found the school was keeping afloat for so long by deferring debt, borrowing money and not paying federal withholding and Medicare taxes. The school also received Fs from the state report card on things like graduation rates, gap closing and overall value-added. But despite these setbacks, the school is still determined to keep fighting, according to a note left on the school's locked door in front of its deserted parking lot on Wednesday. In the summer of 2014, FCI Academy laid off 17 employees, and a 2013 state audit showed a $700,000 operating deficit.  

• Former Ohio state deputy treasurer Amer Ahmed has been extradited by Pakistan to the U.S. to begin serving a 15 year sentence for bribery, wire fraud and money laundering. Amer was sentenced to prison by U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson of Columbus late last year. He and three co-conspirators were ordered to pay $3.2 million to the feds. He plead guilty to federal charges in 2013 then fled to Pakistan using fake travel documents. Ahmed served under Democratic state Treasurer Kevin L. Boyce until his defeat in 2010. During his tenure, he devised a plan to direct Ohio state brokerage business to a Canton securities broker. 

• One thing I noticed when I moved to Cincinnati is that people here love their chili.  Cincinnatians flock to the nearest Skyline after a long night of drinking the way the rest of the country flocks to IHOP. So with that, I am truly sorry to report the passing of the final surviving founder of Skyline, William Nicholas “Bill” Lambrinides on Tuesday at the age of 87. Lambrinides worked with his father, Nicolas, a Greek immigrant, and his two brothers, Lambert, Jim, Christie and John to open the first restaurant in 1949. The store has since grown to 110 locations to bring late-night happiness to folks in four states.

That's it for today! Email me with story tips!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.26.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Naming rights for streetcar up for grabs; activists demand more community involvement in UC reforms; Columbus Dispatch demands charter school public records

Hey all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning.

So, do you want to see your name written really big on something attention-grabbing and controversial that will zoom around downtown most of the day and night? Do you have hundreds of thousands of dollars you’re not quite sure what to do with? Here’s an idea: buy some naming rights to the streetcar. Officials with the newly-created Cincinnati Street Railway, a nonprofit promoting the streetcar, are reaching out to marketing firms to help design advertising packages for corporate sponsors for the project. Similar marketing pushes in other cities with streetcars have netted millions in advertising revenues to go toward operation of the transit systems. Locally, some officials say the naming rights could net as much as $250,000 a year, though others say the project’s controversial nature makes it uncertain if big local corporations will want to put their names on it. A suggestion: maybe reach out to deep-pocketed, eccentric megalomaniacs? Perhaps Donald Trump will want to raise his profile here in town next year? What could be better than seeing The Donald’s giant face careening toward you on the front of a streetcar as you spend time in OTR just before the election? Though, hm, come to think of it, streetcar supporters may not be his target demographic.

• I’m not sure this is much news to anyone, but I’m going to say it anyway. We have an amazing library system here in Hamilton County. From its Maker Space to its innovative programming and events to the sheer amount of material available to check out, we have a rare thing here. And the numbers show it. Last year, The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County was the fifth-busiest library in the country, checking out more than 18 million items, according to data from the Public Library Association. Now, granted, at least a couple hundred of these check-outs were me borrowing the library’s DVD copies of the Bill and Ted movies, but still. Pretty impressive. The library moved up a spot on the ranking from 2013, when it was the sixth-busiest in the country. More than 600,000 people have library cards with the system. Not bad for the country’s 28th-biggest metropolitan area.

• Local faith leaders and activists are demanding more community involvement in changes the University of Cincinnati is undertaking in the wake of the Samuel DuBose shooting. Dubose was killed last month by UC police officer Ray Tensing after a routine traffic stop. Since that time, the university has vowed reform of its police department, including adjustments to off-campus patrols and joining in on the city’s collaborative agreement, which Cincinnati Police Department already abides by. That agreement was drawn up after the police shooting death of Timothy Thomas in 2001 caused days of civil unrest in Cincinnati. Activists and faith leaders are asking that UC compensate the DuBose family for his death, as well as submit to an external investigation into the school’s policing practices. A group including community activist Iris Roley, University of Cincinnati activist Alexander Shelton, Bishop Bobby Hilton, Pastor KZ Smith and others met with UC officials yesterday in a private meeting later described by Shelton as “tense” at times. UC President Santa Ono and newly-hired Vice President of Safety and Reform Robin Engel were among representatives for the university.

• Damn. Here’s the Columbus Dispatch throwing down about charter school transparency. In an editorial published today, the paper slams state officials for not releasing documents about the Ohio Board of Education’s omission of some data on poor-performing online charter schools in the state. The failure to include that data in reports about charter school performance led to an inflated evaluation for at least one organization that sponsors charters in the state. ODE official David Hansen was responsible for that data collection. He resigned following revelations of the omissions. His wife, incidentally, heads Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign. He’s a big, big supporter of charters in the state. The Dispatch, along with a number of other publications, has filed numerous public records requests for documents about the decision to withhold the less-than-flattering charter data, according to the editorial. And now they’re getting tired of waiting, it seems.

“If state Superintendent of Education Richard Ross is not covering up something embarrassing or illegal at the Ohio Department of Education, his recent actions aren’t helping his credibility,” the piece begins.

• Let’s circle back around to Donald Trump, since he’s leading national GOP presidential primary polls, and it seems like the whole world is kinda revolving around his circus of a campaign at the moment. The Donald  may well have taken it upon himself to offend Spanish-speaking Americans as much as possible lately, which is a questionable campaign strategy at best. In the past, Trump hasn’t done himself any favors with this large portion of the American population, describing Mexicans immigrants as "rapists" and criminals. But in true Trump fashion, he’s taken it a step further. Yesterday, he had Spanish-language news station Univision's lead anchor Jorge Ramos physically removed from a news conference for asking a question out of turn. He eventually let Ramos back in, but the exchange was heated, awkward and really just a bad idea all around. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists fired off a statement last night condemning Trump for the confrontation. Spanish-language media has covered Trump more extensively than mainstream media because the leading GOP contender keeps talking about his immigrant plan, which includes building a wall along the southern border and ending birthright citizenship.

That’s it for me. See ya tomorrow.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.25.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council private meeting amendment to go on November ballot; no more camping out for magnet school enrollment; former CPD captain in pro-weed ad

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

Cincinnati City Council yesterday moved along at least one charter amendment proposal, putting it on the November ballot for voters to approve. That amendment would clarify when council can meet in executive session, away from the staring eyes of the public. Ohio state law allows some use of executive session for municipal governments, and the charter amendment proposed would specify limited times when council could get together for discussions behind closed doors. Those include discussions about certain sensitive property transactions, ongoing court cases, security measures for city facilities and personnel, certain information about development deals and some discussions about the city manager’s job.

The Charter Review Committee, a group charged with suggesting changes to the city’s governing document, had suggested four other amendments. At least one of those, a measure that would clarify how long the mayor has to refer legislation to council committees, seems to have died on the vine. While it sounds arcane, the issue has big, contentious implications. The mayor’s ability to hold on to legislation amounts to a so-called “pocket veto,” critics on council claim, or a way for the mayor to effectively kill council actions he doesn’t like. Mayor Mark Mallory used this power more than 200 times during his time as mayor. Cranley is opposed to the amendment, but he also claims that the pocket veto isn’t a real thing. Some council members agree, saying that the mayor clinging on to legislation could be challenged in court. One thing is clear, however: an amendment won’t clear up the issue. Advocates for the measure fell one short of the six council votes needed to put the amendment on the November ballot.  

Other amendments, including one that would give council the power to fire the city manager, are hanging in there and might be considered next week, just short of the deadline to get the proposals on the November ballot.

• In other council news, a new tax levy for parks improvement will also go on the upcoming ballot. The property tax boost of 1 mill would mean that owners of a $100,000 home would pay about $35 extra a year. Council’s vote is somewhat symbolic. Organizers of a petition drive collected enough signatures throughout the city to put the initiative up before voters. If voters approve the measure, it would raise about $5 million a year. About $1.25 million of that would go toward park maintenance. The rest would go to new projects decided by the mayor and the park board. Parks funding has been cut in half in the last decade and a half, Cranley has noted.

• A long-held tradition for Cincinnati parents is over, at least for now. Folks in the Cincinnati Public School district looking to get their kids into magnets like the Fairview German Language School will no longer be able to sign up on a first-come, first-served basis, but instead will be entered into a lottery system. That will eliminate the yearly camp-outs that parents undertake as they wait to sign their children up for those schools. CPS has cited fairness and safety concerns for ending the first-come, first-served practice. Last year’s camp out lasted 16 days. Enrollment for CPS’ high-demand magnet schools has several tiers. First are priority students who already have a sibling attending the school. Then a number of seats are set aside for students whose nearby schools are among the district’s lowest performers, an effort to offer those students a chance at a better education. The rest have been up for grabs. Until now, seat availability was through the first-come, first-served approach. Now, a computer will randomly choose who gets to enroll.

• City officials and business leaders yesterday launched Union Hall, a facility in Over-the-Rhine that is touted as a one stop shop for entrepreneurs looking for help in launching start-ups. The site on Vine Street houses startup incubator The Brandery, Cintrifuse and CincyTech, all of which are aimed at helping get startups off the ground. The historic building, which has been a brewery, night club and speakeasy, will house about 100 employees.

• A former Cincinnati Police captain is appearing in an ad advocating for legalized marijuana. Retired Capt. Howard Rahtz, a member of a marijuana policy task force led by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, is seen in the commercials supporting ResponsibleOhio’s legalization effort arguing that the state’s marijuana laws don’t work and that it’s time to reform them. Rahtz touts his time as a Cincinnati police officer, saying he learned a great deal about drug addiction during his service. Opponents of the ResponsibleOhio measure, which would legalize marijuana for anyone over the age of 21, but restrict commercial growth to 10 sites across the state, say they’ll be airing their own commercials. Groups like Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies say ResponsibleOhio’s plan amounts to an unfair monopoly that will only benefit the group’s rich investors.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.24.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pollution

Morning News and Stuff

Historic King Records site endangered; 'Nati air quality is nasty; Deez Nuts endorses Gov. Kasich

Good morning y’all. Hope your weekend was as fantastic as mine was. Yesterday I finally made it down to the Taft Museum to check out their exhibition of Edward Curtis photographs. Curtis spent 30 years in the early part of the 1900s photographing Native American tribes across the West. His work is technically stunning and in some ways, pretty problematic, contributing to some stereotypes and perceptions of Native peoples as a “vanishing race” living bygone lifestyles. The exhibit is interesting— the photographs are beautiful and the underlying questions they bring up are worth wrestling with.

Anyway, this isn’t morning art blabbering, it’s morning news. So let’s talk news, eh? The thing that caught my eye around town today is this story about the former King Records site in Evanston. I’ve been hearing buzz that part of it might be in danger, and turns out that may be true. The owner of one of the buildings at the historic site, which hosted early recording sessions by James Brown and a number of other significant musicians, has applied for a permit to demolish the structure. That’s led to an outcry from historic preservationists, music historians and general boosters for Cincinnati. The city’s planning commission Friday declared the site a local historic landmark, echoing a similar declaration by the city’s Historic Conservation Board. City Council has to give final approval to the designation, which it could do next month. In the meantime, the owner’s demolition permit application is on hold. Will the city be able to save this historic landmark, which could cost up to half a million dollars to stabilize? We’ll see.

• Stressed about pollution? Take a deep breath. Or maybe, uh, don’t. A new report says Cincinnati is among the worst cities in the country when it comes to air quality. Website 24/7 Wall St. analyzed air quality data from the American Lung Association and determined that the Greater Cincinnati metropolitan area is the eighth worst in the country for air pollution. The report compares the area to California’s central valley region, which landed seven cities in the bottom 10 of the air quality list. Like that region, Cincinnati is in a valley and has fairly high traffic volumes. But that’s not the only culprit here: coal plants play a big role in air pollution around Cincinnati, the ALA suggests. Take heart, though. We’re not the only Ohio city on the list. Cleveland came in at number 10 in the most polluted air ranking.

• So there’s a new interchange going in on I-71 into Walnut Hills and Avondale, and the State of Ohio has purchased millions in property near the future on and off ramps. Specifically, the state has spent nearly $4 million on 83 parcels of land around the project. When all is said and done, the state will have purchased 140 pieces of property, officials say. That’s part of a bigger land-buying frenzy in the historically low-income neighborhoods. The $106 million interchange looks likely to change the face of the area around Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Reading Road, with new development featuring a proposed tech corridor and other big developments. We first reported on the interchange last year. Stay tuned for more updates on how the development will affect Avondale, Corryville and Walnut Hills.

• Here’s your daily dose of Kasich news: does the Ohio governor and GOP presidential hopeful talk straight on the campaign trail when it comes to Ohio’s economy? Not quite, according to some fact checkers.  A recent Washington Post article dug into some of Kasich’s favorite claims about his role in Ohio’s economic recovery and issued one and two-pinocchio ratings (some shading of the facts and significant omissions/exaggerations, respectively) about his claims. Kasich’s claim that Ohio was “$8 billion in the hole” when he took office, for instance, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, according to the Post article. The state’s actual budget for the year Kasich took office saw significant revenue increases from an economic recovery that began before Kasich’s term, leading to significantly less shortfall than Kasich’s claim.

• Speaking of Kasich, we live in a world where I can say the following and it’s not just some vulgar joke I would text to my friends but actual (debatable) news: Deez Nuts has endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the GOP presidential primary. Deez Nuts is the name assumed by a 15-year-old Iowa farm boy who somehow raked in 9 percent of the vote in a recent poll of that primary state. Mr. Nuts has also endorsed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. He is of course endorsing himself for the general election.

• Finally, in other GOP primary news, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was in Ohio recently courting the tea party and the Koch Brothers at the billionaire industrialists' Americans for Prosperity Summit. Bush promised to uphold the staunch conservative values of slashing government spending and you know, making it easier for rich folks to get richer at the summit. The event in Columbus drew a big group of conservative activists as well as a large number of protesters.

That’s it for me today. E-mail me your news tips or tweet at me with, well, whatever you want.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.21.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover_burnetwoods

Morning News and Stuff

Has CPD's crime reduction plan worked?; opposition forms to Cranley's park plan; build your own donuts

Good morning all. Here’s the news today as we gear up for what I’m sure will be a rad weekend.

How's that crime plan going so far? At the beginning of the summer, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell was asked by City Manager Harry Black to draft a 90-day plan to reduce the number of shootings in the city, which has seen a major uptick in gun crime (though not murders or other violent crime) since this time last year. The plan to deploy more officers in busy places and spots where kids play and to create curfew centers for young people, was delayed at first by the June 19 shooting of officer Sonny Kim, but parts of it were implemented July 1. So… has it been working?

Blackwell touts CPD’s efforts at keeping crime rates from rising during a complicated summer full of major events like the MLB All-Star Game, outside incidents like the UC police shooting death of Samuel DuBose and the increasing challenges associated with the region’s heroin epidemic.

Shootings this summer have been up 30 percent over last year, and other violent crimes are roughly the same as past years. But that’s not necessarily the whole story. Taking a longer look at crime data, it’s apparent that the city’s recent uptick falls in line with past crime trends. The 291 shootings that have occurred so far this year are identical to the number for this time in 2013. Looking at data over a three-year period, violent crime is down nine percent.

What’s more, many cities across the country have experience much greater upticks in crime this year, including big surges in Baltimore, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. Mayor John Cranley has said that’s not good enough, however, and has vowed to continue reviewing data and strategies to bring crime down. Blackwell has also offered further steps, including keeping the city’s recreation centers open later so teens have places to go after they’re out of school. A $50,000 grant from private donors will help pay rec center staff during those extended hours.

Opposition is coalescing against Mayor Cranley’s recent proposal to raise property taxes to pay for a $100 million parks revamp. That measure, which will be on the November ballot, would include big changes to Mount Airy Forest on the city’s West Side and Burnet Woods in Clifton. Those changes don’t sit well with opponents, who say proposals they’ve seen so far remove far too many trees and change the character of the urban woods entirely. Mayor Cranley has said that early plans for the parks were preliminary and not final designs. One showed a restaurant in Burnet Woods, for instance, a detail that has been removed since.

Opponents of the plan, including local attorney Tim Mara, also object to the way in which the plan would go forward. Mara says he’s part of a “diverse” coalition opposed to the park plan, which will be launching a formal campaign in the coming weeks. Mara’s complaint: Should the ballot initiative pass, it would vest power over changes to the park with the mayor and the park board, giving Cincinnati City Council no say in what would be done to the parks. Cranley has vowed that any changes to the parks will go through a long public review and comment process. A number of major businesses have backed the plan, including United Dairy Farmers and Kroger.

The property tax boost would raise about $5 million a year, money that would then be used to issue bonds for the rest of the cost of the proposed projects. About a quarter of the money raised would also be banked for future park maintenance and upkeep.

• There is now a build-your-own donut bar in Cincinnati. Top This Donut Bar at University Station near Xavier allows you to just stroll in like you own the place and start dumping bacon and Andes bars and raspberry goo all over your donuts. That sounds amazing and I’m so glad it’s not on my walk to work.

• Let's head uptown, where the new Kroger they’re going to (finally, finally) build there. The Kroger on Short Vine in Coryville will be twice the size of the current store, which looks like a place your grandmother would have shopped in the 1970s when the fancy store across town wasn’t convenient. The new location will have more prepared food options, beer taps, and a number of other amenities. A replacement store at the location, near University of Cincinnati, has been in the works for a long time. Demolition on the current store will begin soon, after which the new store should be open in 12-14 months.

• We’ve all been there before, right? You’re in a shady corner of your local coffee shop or whatever and someone approaches you, looks around, and is all like, “Hey man, what do you think about some weed?” Well maybe that’s just me and I hang out in weird coffee shops. Anyway, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce will be holding listening sessions around the region so representatives of some of its 4,500-member businesses can give their two cents and help the organization determine how to come down on November’s marijuana legalization ballot initiative, a state constitutional amendment proposed by ResponsibleOhio. That proposal would make marijuana legal for anyone 21 and up, but would limit commercial growth to 10 sites owned by the group’s investors. The first listening session is taking place this morning at Coffee Emporium downtown. The next three will take place on Aug. 26 from 9-11 a.m. at Panera Bread locations in Newport, Union Township and Springdale.

That’s it for me. Hit me up with any news tips here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.20.2015 12 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
death penalty

Morning News and Stuff

Former Mason mayor going to prison; FDA says Ohio's plan to get execution drugs is illegal; Kasich suggests eliminating teachers' lounges, is only kind of joking

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s happening around the city and beyond today.

Former Mason mayor and state representative Peter Beck was sentenced today to four years in prison on 13 felony convictions related to his role in defrauding investors by luring them into giving money to a failing technology company. Earlier this year, Beck was convicted of fraud, theft and perjury charges, though he was also found not guilty on 25 other charges. He faced up to 50 years in prison for his role in Christopher Technologies, which was already insolvent when Beck and other company leaders convinced investors to put money into it. Beck and his partners then spent that money elsewhere, leaving investors with nothing.

• The big story today is a big scum fest. Basically, some scummy hackers hacked a scummy website for gross married people to hook up with other people they aren’t married to and released a bunch of information about the site’s clients. Some of those clients used city of Cincinnati or other public email addresses to register for the site. Now some scummy news organizations are rolling around in the scum shower and we’re all just super gross and implicated by all this.

Recently, hackers broke into dating site Ashley Madison, which helps folks have illicit affairs. The hackers released reams of information about who uses the site, and lo and behold, accounts were created with email addresses corresponding to a city police officer, fire fighter and sewer worker. Other accounts with local public ties include one with an email address from someone in the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Cincinnati Public Schools and one from Kenton County Schools.

This smells fishy to me, though. Who is dumb enough to use their work email for this kind of thing? Further, is it really in the public interest to know who is trying to sleep with whom? Just use your private email address so we don’t have to hear about it, right? This whole gross thing is why I don’t want to get married, use the Internet, or really deal with people in any other way whatsoever. Thanks guys.

• The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, which as its name suggests, is a giant business association here in the state, yesterday voted to oppose ResponsibleOhio’s marijuana legalization constitutional amendment. The OCC is citing workplace safety concerns as the reason for its opposition. The organization is another big opponent of the constitutional amendment, which voters are set to approve or deny in November. ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would legalize weed in Ohio and create 10 marijuana farms throughout the state owned by the group’s investors. No other commercial growers would be permitted, though a small amount of marijuana could be grown for personal use with a special license. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the Ohio Manufacturer’s Association and a number of other large organizations have come out in opposition of the effort. Meanwhile, many statewide unions and other organizations and public figures have come out in support of the proposal. It’s shaping up to be a big battle right up until the ballot. You can read our whole rundown here.

• If I told you that someone you know was trying to illegally buy drugs overseas in order to kill people, would you be alarmed? I guess that depends on who you roll with. If you roll with the State of Ohio, for instance, it might not be news to you at all. The federal Food and Drug Administration has said not so fast to the state’s plan to import drugs from other countries so it can resume executing people. The FDA says Ohio’s plan to obtain sodium thiopental, which it can’t get in the U.S., is illegal.

The state’s plan has been necessitated by U.S. companies’ refusal to supply the necessary drugs for executions and by a highly-problematic 2014 execution here that used a replacement two-drug cocktail. That combination caused convicted killer Dennis McGuire to snort and gasp during his execution. It took him more than 26 minutes to die using the replacement drug cocktail, and similar combinations have caused other, sometimes gruesome, irregularities in executions in other states. After McGuire’s execution, the state placed a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty until it can secure more humane ways to execute inmates. There are currently no executions planned this year, but the state has 21 slated starting next year and stretching into 2019.

• It’s a good thing Ohio Gov. John Kasich isn’t running for king of America. If he was, teachers could kiss their lounges goodbye. Kasich made that strangely aggressive statement yesterday during an education forum in New Hampshire, a vital early primary state as Kasich battles with the hordes of GOP presidential hopefuls for a national look at the nomination. Kasich told an audience on the panel that if he were in charge, teachers wouldn’t have lounges where “they sit together and worry about ‘woe is us.’ ” Kasich went on to praise the work teachers do, but said teacher’s unions create an environment of fear and scare educators into thinking their wages and benefits will be taken away. Huh. Maybe it’s the low wages, high work hours, constant testing and uncertainty about funding that is playing into that mindset, but yeah, you’re probably right. Having a lounge to sit in definitely plays into the fear factor somehow. Next up: All teachers must eat in their cars at lunch time and not talk to anyone else at all.

 
 
 
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