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by German Lopez 10.02.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, Courts, News at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
William O'Neill

Candidate to Justices: “Recuse or Refuse”

Former judge demands Ohio Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from FirstEnergy case

In a letter sent today to Ohio Supreme Court justices Robert Cupp and Terrence O’Donnell, former Judge William O’Neill asked the Republican justices to recuse themselves from a case presenting conflicts of interest or refuse the campaign money that caused the conflicts of interest to begin with.

“The First Energy Family has contributed more than $44,000.00 into re-election campaigns for Justices Cupp and O’Donnell this year alone,” O’Neill, a Democrat who is running for the Ohio Supreme Court, wrote. “It is simply wrong for them to continue sitting on First Energy cases.”

The Ohio Supreme Court, which has seven justices decide the state’s top judicial cases, is currently handling a case involving FirstEnergy, an energy company based in Akron. More than 300,000 customers are suing the company over alleged fraud. The 11th District Court of Appeals previously ruled against FirstEnergy, and the case was appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The lawsuit is the fifth Ohio Supreme Court case involving FirstEnergy this year.

O’Neill pointed out the lawsuit “could easily be a billion dollar case” before writing, “And the public has a right to know that the ruling was not purchased by one side or another.”

Ohio Sen. Mike Skindell, a Democrat who is also running for the Ohio Supreme Court, endorsed O’Neill’s letter. In the past, he also criticized Cupp and O’Donnell for potential conflicts of interest.

The offices of Cupp and O'Donnell did not immediately respond to CityBeat's requests for comment on the letter. This story will be updated if responses become available.

UPDATE OCT. 4, 4:12 P.M.: Mark Weaver, spokesperson for Cupp, responded: Mr. O'Neill previously raised this argument with disciplinary authorities by filing a complaint. It was reviewed by disciplinary authorities, and they unanimously dismissed it as having no merit.

by 12.03.2008
Posted In: News, Community, Media, Financial Crisis at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bloodletting at The Enquirer

As expected, the ax fell quickly at The Cincinnati Enquirer this week as its parent company demands mass layoffs before year’s end.

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by Bill Sloat 01.04.2013
Posted In: News, Congress, Gun Violence at 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
tom massie

Northern Kentucky Congressman Wants Guns In School Zones

Massie's first bill would repeal federal safety buffer enacted in 1990

U.S. Rep. Tom Massie, the congressman who represents the Kentucky side of the Cincinnati metropolitan area, used his first day in Congress to file a bill that would erase a 23-year-old federal ban that makes it a crime to carry guns near schools.

At the moment, Massie does not have any co-sponsors signed up. Details are sparse because the government printing office says it does not yet have the full text of the measure to put online.

The existing Gun-Free School Act of 1990, which was adopted when former president George H.W. Bush, a Republican, was in the White House is viewable here. The bill was amended in 1995. As late as 1999, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was testifying in support of the measure, a position it seems to have dropped after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Under the existing law, so-called “school zones” include but are not limited to parks, sidewalks, roads and highways within 1,000 feet of the property line of a public or private elementary, middle or high school. The law makes it practically impossible to travel in populated areas without entering a "gun-free school zone." People with state-issued licenses or permits to carry guns are exempted by the federal law, but the exemption is only good in the state that issued the permit.

The law doesn’t exempt out-of-state travelers who have permits, nor does it allow off-duty police officers to pack a weapon in a school. And it is a violation for anyone other than an on-duty police officer or a school security guard to discharge a firearm in a school zone for any reason. A state permit does not exempt a person from the discharge prohibition. 

Here is a copy of the bill that retired U.S. Rep. Ron Paul introduced while the Texan was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. He called his repeal measure the Citizen Protection Act, and he got no support from co-sponsors. Paul’s bill died when the new Congress was sworn in yesterday, but Massie is now resurrecting it.

Massie is a tea party adherent — elected last fall to replace Geoff Davis — who largely shares the political philosophies of Paul and his son, Sen. Rand Paul, who is also from Kentucky. Massie voted against John Boehner for speaker on the opening day of the 113th Congress, an act of open defiance against the Republican House leadership.

by German Lopez 10.22.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor at 04:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
roxanne qualls

Cranley’s Latest Attack on Qualls Deemed Invalid

City solicitor, ethics director: Realty work not a conflict of interest

City Solicitor John Curp and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said in an Oct. 22 email exchange that it was OK for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to retain her job as a realtor and vote in support of the streetcar project, even though the project could indirectly benefit Qualls by increasing property values — and therefore her compensation as a realtor — along the route.

The email exchange was provided to CityBeat and other media outlets after mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized Qualls, who is also running for mayor, for the alleged conflict of interest at an Oct. 22 press conference.

Curp stated in an email to Nick that Qualls’ potential gains from the streetcar project are too speculative and indirect to present a conflict of interest or ethical violation because the real estate sales are “arms-length transactions between private parties” with a flat 1 to 2 percent fee.

Nick’s emailed response cited two previous Ohio Ethics Commission opinions to support Curp’s analysis.

“It would be unreasonable to hold that lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, and other professionals have an interest in the contracts of their business clients. In general, such professionals are not deemed to be interested in the business dealings of a client, merely because they receive fees for professional services,” according to a February 1986 opinion.

The opinion then clarifies that ethics violations must be directly tied to a project. For example, an insurance agent on City Council would violate ethics law if he or she voted on a construction contract in which his or her insurance agency is charged with handling bond sales for the contract in some way.

Curp also noted that Qualls had asked about the potential conflict of interest on “a minimum of two prior occasions.”

Nick told CityBeat in a phone interview that it’s normal for city officials to go through city solicitors before going to the Ohio Ethics Commission with an ethical question. If the city solicitor and commission agree a formal analysis isn’t necessary, the situation is resolved with brief guidance.

For Cranley, the concerns suggest a contradiction to his previously touted beliefs about the streetcar.

Supporters of the streetcar project, including Qualls, often tout potential property value increases and the economic gains they would bring to Cincinnati as a reason to back the project. The economic gains were supported by studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati, which found the streetcar would produce a three-to-one return on investment in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.

Critics, including Cranley, say such property value increases are overblown to falsely justify what they call a “pet project.”

But if the property values never materialize, Qualls isn’t financially benefiting in the way Cranley’s campaign described.

by 05.08.2009
Posted In: News, City Council, County Commission at 04:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Police Once Scoffed at Gun Range Hazard

The Cincinnati Police Department is seeking $400,000 to make improvements to its target range in Evendale after a ricocheting bullet flew over a concrete wall and broke the windshield on a citizen’s car.

But when city officials considered moving the target range in 1999, the police union opposed the move and called any safety concerns overblown.

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by German Lopez 11.22.2013
Posted In: News, Stand your ground, Guns at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
ohio statehouse

Research: Stand-Your-Ground Laws Increase Homicides

As Ohio legislators advance law, studies cast doubt on claims of improved public safety

Supporters of a stand-your-ground law claim the measure would make the public safer by making it easier for people to defend themselves from criminals, but the research so far shows the law might weaken public safety in a few key areas and actually increase the amount of homicides.

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Ohio House passed sweeping gun legislation that would impose a stand-your-ground law in the state. The bill now requires approval from the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich to become law.

Stand-your-ground laws remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense in places in which a person is lawfully allowed. Current Ohio law only maintains a traditional “castle doctrine,” which removes the duty to retreat only at a person’s home or vehicle.

The laws have grown particularly controversial following the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida, where a stand-your-ground law exists but supposedly played a minor role in the trial that allowed Zimmerman to go free.

Regardless of what drove Zimmerman to his actions or allowed him to go free, three major studies found stand-your-ground laws might increase violence and widen racial disparities in the U.S. justice system.

A June 2012 paper from National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and Texas A&M University researchers concluded, “Results indicate (castle doctrine and stand-your-ground) laws do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters.” The study looked at FBI Uniform Crime Reports from 2000 to 2010 for 21 states, including 17 states with stand-your-ground laws and four states, including Ohio, with castle doctrine laws that only apply to a person’s home and vehicle.

Another June 2012 paper from NBER stated, “Our results indicate that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males. According to our estimates, between 28 and 33 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws. We find no consistent evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks.” The study looked at monthly data from U.S. Vital Statistics to gauge the effect of stand-your-ground laws on homicides and firearm injuries, with supplemental analysis of data from FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports and the Health Care Utilization Project.

A July 2013 study from the left-leaning Urban Institute found “homicides with a white perpetrator and a black victim are ten times more likely to be ruled justified than cases with a black perpetrator and a white victim, and the gap is larger in states with Stand Your Ground laws.” According to the findings, stand-your-ground states are more likely to legally justify white-on-white, white-on-black and black-on-black homicides but not black-on-white homicides. For the study, the Urban Institute used FBI Supplementary Homicide Report data for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., dated between 2005 and 2010.

When confronted with such statistics, supporters of stand-your-ground laws typically note that violent crime rates dropped in the states that adopted the laws. But, as PolitiFact Florida pointed out in response to Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, violent crime began dropping before stand-your-ground laws were passed.

The nationwide violent crime rate dropped from 757.7 to 386.3 between 1992 and 2011, with more than half of the drop occurring between 1992 and 1999, according to FBI crime data. The June 2012 paper from NBER found more than 20 states passed traditional castle doctrine or stand-your-ground laws between 2000 and 2010, after the violent crime rate began to drop.

The research could show correlation instead of causation. Perhaps some unnamed factor in states that adopted stand-your-ground laws makes it more likely that they’ll see increases in homicides or racial disparities, even as violent crime declines. But, at the very least, it doesn’t seem supporters of stand-your-ground laws have the empirical evidence on their side.

by Danny Cross 11.12.2012
Posted In: LGBT Issues, News, Media at 04:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
macke copy

Fox 19 Apologizes for Macke’s Ignorant Remark

Macke in a statement apologizes for calling MSNBC's Rachel Maddow a boy

Fox 19 on Nov. 9 apologized for an ignorant comment made by news anchor Tricia Macke on her personal Facebook page last month. Macke’s comment, “Rachel Maddow is such an angry young man,” sparked outrage among gay-rights organizations for its depiction of MSNBC’s openly gay broadcaster as a man.

According to screen shots published by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Macke appeared to have missed the point when called out by a commenter for targeting Maddow’s sexual identity. Macke wrote, “you are right… I should have said antagonistic” but then told another commenter, “I knew what I was saying.”

GLAAD wrote: “Tricia Macke undoubtedly tried to insult Maddow because of their political differences, rather than simply because Maddow is gay — but her comments went much further than insulting Maddow's political leanings, and took issue with Maddow's gender, revealing an anti-gay (or at least anti-gender-nonconforming?) bias underlying her political beliefs.”

Fox 19 posted its apology along with a statement from Macke describing her comment as insensitive and inappropriate. Macke wrote: “I apologize to Ms. Maddow and any others who may have been offended by my comments, as they do not reflect my firm beliefs in individual and equal rights, and they certainly do not represent the opinions or position of my employer WXIX-TV."

Maddow, an openly gay MSNBC political analyst, is one of America’s highest-profile news personalities. She’s also a Stanford graduate with a doctorate in political science from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

by Hannah McCartney 08.24.2012
Posted In: Environment, Urban Planning, News, Neighborhoods at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tucker's Restaurant Could Claim Cincinnati's First Parklet

"Tiny park" could provide green space to drab Over-the-Rhine area

There's not much green in the area of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street, where Vine Street still finds itself home to a slew vacant buildings, vandalism and littered sidewalks. You won't find trees; just the occasional wayward clumps of grass that manage to triumph through cracks in the concrete.

That's an odd dichotomy to correspond with a neighborhood claiming the largest area of historic Italianate architecture in the country.

As efforts to preserve historic landmarks across the neighborhood continue to flourish, others are taking notice of another key element in revitalization that's been neglected: the presence of a safe, green public space that could spark a type of interest in urban renewal more conscious of natural greenery and it. That's been achieved in the area of Over-the-Rhine south of Liberty Street with the expansive Washington Park, leaving its northern counterpart noticeably more drab.

That sentiment is what propelled a trio of designers and architects to mold a proposal for a parklet in front of Tucker's Restaurant, an iconic Over-the-Rhine greasy spoon that attracts both locals and tourists in a somewhat deserted portion of the neighborhood, bereft of the nearby Gateway Quarter's bubbly atmosphere.

Mike Uhlenhake, a local architect, was first introduced to the parklet concept in San Francisco, where the parklet was founded and now flourishes. A parklet is exactly what it sounds like: a small, urban "park" that typically only occupies enough space to displace two parking spots. They're praised as a way to offer a public, green gathering point in urban areas where parks or wildlife are especially lacking; they might include trees, fountains, sculptures or small cafe tables.  Uhlenhake sensed the need for something similar in the northern area Over-the-Rhine, which remains largely untouched by the mass renovation efforts taking place just blocks away.

"That stretch [of Over-the-Rhine] really seems to lack life. It feels empty, like no people are ever on the street ... it needs a more homegrown feel," says Uhlenhake. "A place like Tucker's really deserves something like this if they want it."

When the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio and the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati held the D.I.Y. Urbanism Competition this spring, Uhlenhake teamed up with two members of Flourish Cincinnati, Michelle Andersen and Becky Schneider, to create a formal entry for the contest, which can be found here or nestled in the back of Tucker's Restaurant on the rear wall.

Their proposal earned the People's Choice Award, which granted them $250 toward implementing the parklet. They've since partnered with local artist Alan Sauer, who assisted in the creation of Tucker's plot in Cincinnati PARK(ing) Day 2009, which staged a tiny patio in front of Tucker's featuring live music and chalk art.

Today, they're all working on putting together a PowerPoint presentation to present to City Council, which would provide an overview of the parklet, design sketches and an outline of its benefits. Once presented, City Council would just have to agree to give up the two parking spots directly in front of Tucker's; although Uhlenhake isn't exactly sure how much the parklet will cost, he's confident fundraising efforts will be all that's needed to foot the bill. Tucker's customers have been the main point of support, he says — dozens have offered to pledge some kind of help to make the vision come true after seeing the plan on Tucker's back wall.

This really needs to be a community project. The more people we can get to help, the better."
by German Lopez 02.23.2013
Posted In: Privatization, Prisons, News at 05:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Liberty for Sale

Inspection Finds Dangerous Conditions at Private Prison

Report echoes concerns raised by privatization critics

A surprise inspection of the private prison owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) on Feb. 22 revealed higher levels of violence, inadequate staff, high presence of gang activity, illegal substance use, frequent extortion and theft, according to the report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), Ohio’s nonpartisan prison watchdog.

The CIIC report found the Lake Erie Correctional Institution had a 187.5-percent increase in inmate-on-inmate violence between 2010 and 2012, leading to a rate of inmate-on-inmate violence much higher than comparative prisons and slightly below the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) average for all state prisons. Rates of inmate-on-staff violence increased by 305.9-percent between 2010 and 2012 and were much higher than comparative prisons and the ODRC average, according to the report.

Safety and security were major areas of concern, with the report noting “personal safety is at risk.” Fight convictions were up 40 percent, but they weren’t any higher than comparative prisons or the ODRC average, the report found. Disturbances, use of force, access to illegal substances, shakedowns and bunk searches were all in need of improvement, but rounds were acceptable.

How staff handle the use of force and sanctions were particularly problematic, the report said: “Incident reports indicate that staff hesitate to use force even when appropriate and at times fail to deploy chemical agents prior to physical force, risking greater injury to both inmates and staff. Staff also do not appropriately sanction inmates for serious misconduct. At the time of the inspection, the facility had no options for sanctions other than the segregation unit, which was full.”

Fair treatment, fiscal accountability and rehabilitation and reentry were all found by the report to be in need of improvement, with many of the problems focusing on inadequate staff — a common concern critics repeatedly voiced after Gov. John Kasich announced his plan to sell the state prison to CCA in 2011. “The above issues are compounded by high staff turnover and low morale,” the report said. “New staff generally do not have the experience or training to be able to make quick judgments regarding the appropriate application of force or how to handle inmate confrontations. Staff also reported that they are often required to work an extra 12 hours per week, which may impact their response.”

The troubling findings left CIIC with dozens of recommendations for the private prison, including a thorough review of staff policy and guidelines, stronger cooperation between staff, holding staff and inmates more accountable and the completion of required state audits and evaluations.

The only positive findings were in health and well-being. The report said unit conditions, mental health services and food services were all good, while medical services and recreation were acceptable.

The report echoes many of the concerns raised by private prison critics, which CityBeat previously covered (“Liberty for Sale,” issue of Sept. 19). A September audit from ODRC also found the prison was only meeting two-thirds of the state’s standards, and reports from locals near the prison in January warned about a rise in smuggling.

by Hannah McCartney 05.08.2013
Posted In: Energy, Environment, News at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Duke Energy Tops List of Worst Utility Company Polluters

Four Ohio energy providers earn spot on Pear Energy's "Dirty Dozen"

Cincinnati's main gas and electricity provider, Duke Energy, has scored a No. 1 ranking, but it's not exactly one you'll be wanting to clap your hands about.

Remember when we blogged a couple of weeks ago about how Greater Cincinnati has some of the worst air pollution in the nation? Yep, the American Lung Association's report, "State of the Air," gave us an "F" for ozone pollution, a "D" for 24-hour particle pollution and a "fail" for year-round particle pollution. That put us at the 10th worst spot in the country for year-round particle pollution and 14th worst for ozone pollution.

Solar and wind energy provider Pear Energy, which currently operates in all 50 states, released yesterday its "Dirty Dozen" compilation, a list of the 12 utility providers emitting the greatest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a type of greenhouse gas. CO2 emissions, of course, are the gunk released into our atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels like gas, coal or oil. Excess CO2 in our atmosphere is directly linked to global warming.

Coming from a company that wants to sell you energy itself, it's good to approach the list with a little skepticism, but the methodology seems transparent; according to the website, all rankings were determined by total CO2 emissions in 2010 of power producers with retail operations that have carbon intensities above the national average emissions rate (stats were sourced from Environmental Protection Agency data).

While Duke Energy was pinpointed as the nation's worst offender, several other Ohio energy providers also earned accolades, including American Electric Power (No. 2), NRG (No. 8) and First Energy (No. 11).

First Energy is the utility provider that in 2012 partnered with Duke Energy locally to bring Cincinnati an electric aggregation program, allegedly useful for both lowering electricity rates and increasing use of renewable energy sources with group buying power. Last month, CityBeat covered allegations that First Energy was focused on weakening energy efficiency standards under Ohio's Clean Energy Law, supposedly to protect prices from shooting up for its customers.