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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 German Lopez 08.14.2012
Posted In: News, 2012 Election, Democrats, Republicans at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Early Voting Controversy Reaches Hamilton County

Democratic council members call for extended early voting

In a letter to the Hamilton County Board of Elections, City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld today asked the Board to extend in-person early voting hours in the county. Council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Cecil Thomas, Laure Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young also signed the letter. Council members Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, and Charlie Winburn, a Republican, were notified of the letter Thursday, but they did not agree to sign.

In-person early voting will begin on Oct. 2 and run until Nov. 2. If hours are not extended, polls in Hamilton County will only be open on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. If the Board agrees to Sittenfeld's recommendations, early voting will be extended to 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday mornings.

The letter brings home a political controversy that has recently gained national attention. In recent weeks, Democrats have accused state Republicans of extending in-person early voting in predominantly Republican counties and keeping shorter in-person early voting hours in predominantly Democratic counties.

Democrats typically point to Warren County and Butler County — two predominantly Republican counties with extended in-person early voting — and the recent actions of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. In the predominantly Democratic counties of Lucas, Cuyahoga, Summit and Franklin, Husted had to break ties in Boards of Election on the issue of in-person early voting hours. In every case, Husted voted against extending in-person early voting hours.

Jerid Kurtz, spokesperson for Ohio Democratic Party, says the move follows a clear Republican trend: "Every opportunity that presents itself, Republicans take away the right to vote."

Kurtz is referring to Republicans' initial push to end in-person early voting in Ohio. In 2011, Republicans passed two laws — H.B. 194 and H.B. 224 — that ended in-person early voting in the state. After Democrats managed to get enough petition signatures to put the early voting issue on the November ballot, Republicans repealed H.B. 194. However, by not repealing H.B. 224, Republicans have made it so all non-military voters are still disallowed to vote the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. Democrats and President Barack Obama have filed a lawsuit to restore those early voting days for all voters, including military personnel and families.

Democrats like Kurtz argue that in-person early voting is necessary to maintain reliable, efficient elections. In 2004, Ohio did not have in-person early voting in place, and the state drew national attention when its long voting lines forced some people to wait as long as 10 hours to vote. After the debacle, a Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Bob Taft, also a Republican, passed laws allowing in-person early voting.

But now Republicans seem skeptical of their own laws. Republicans say the measures are meant to cut costs and stop voter fraud, but Democrats say the measures are all about suppressing the vote. In a moment of honesty, former Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer told MSNBC that the measures are about disenfranchising demographics that typically side with Democrats. Even Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin has stepped in to criticize Republicans for what he sees as disenfranchisement.

Husted told reporters at Cleveland's The Plain Dealer that he is considering establishing uniform rules. With such rules, every county would have the same in-person early voting hours.

But Kurtz says the talk about a uniform rule is "pure silliness." He says counties have differences, so they need different voting times. Instead of worrying about uniformity or what counties can afford, Kurtz says Husted should worry managing elections and "empowering people to vote."

The calls for extended early voting come a time when Hamilton County is facing budget issues. With a $20 million budget shortfall projected for next year, affording more early voting hours might be difficult. No official estimate has been released on how much the extended hours would cost.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. to discuss extending in-person early voting hours.

by 12.19.2008
Posted In: Business, News, Social Justice at 05:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Congressman: Cintas Settlement 'Despicable'

Two prominent Democratic congress members say a $3 million settlement between Cintas Corp. and federal workplace safety regulators is insufficient because it downgrades the severity of the company’s violations and gives it two years to install new safety equipment.

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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 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 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 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 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 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 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.