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by Nick Swartsell 05.27.2015 139 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

New nonprofit will seek to boost streetcar; is Kasich getting soft on unions?; Rand Paul courts NYC hipsters

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

Streetcar advocates are forming a new nonprofit to help raise funds, encourage ridership and help sell advertising on the downtown and Over-the-Rhine transit project. The group will be called Cincinnati Street Railway, a nod to the city’s original streetcar transit authority. CSR will be a “non-political” and “fun” booster for rail in the basin, Haile U.S. Bank Foundation Vice President Eric Avner said yesterday at a Believe in Cincinnati townhall meeting at the Mercantile Library. The group will stay out of the fray on some of the car’s thornier issues, such as the push for an uptown extension, and will be focused on making Phase 1 of the project “as successful as possible.”

• Other key advocates for the transit project, including longtime streetcar booster John Schneider, who has led efforts to make the project a reality, Believe in Cincinnati Chairman Ryan Messer and Vice Mayor David Mann also spoke about the streetcar at the townhall meeting. Mann touched on the continued debate between the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which will operate the streetcar, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, which staffs SORTA’s Metro buses. ATU is bidding to staff the streetcar as well, and Democratic members of council have insisted that the operating contract be awarded to union workers. However, five highly specialized jobs involving streetcar maintenance might have to be given to non-union workers, SORTA says. That’s tripped up talks between the transit authority and the union, and SORTA says it might have to go with a non-union streetcar operator, as the Business Courier reported yesterday. The transit authority is set to release the bids it has received to operate the streetcar on June 5. Testing on the streetcar begins in October. Mann says it would be “foolish” for ATU to lose the opportunity to run the streetcar based on those jobs, which he says ATU doesn’t have employees trained to do at this point anyway. ATU has proposed to SORTA that union employees be trained to do the specialized jobs, but SORTA has said that the training isn’t available in the tight timeframe in question.

• Over-the-Rhine-based Rhinegeist is expanding, opening a so-called “nanobrewery” at its distribution site in Columbus. That small brewery will only do experimental batches of possible new beers, and there are no current plans for a location like the one in OTR. The Columbus location won’t be open to the public and won’t sell beer. But Rhinegeist’s Bryant Goulding told the Akron Beacon Journal that he’s not ruling out a more public presence in Columbus in the future and that the Columbus brewery could supply some Columbus-exclusive brews down the road.

• The city of Cincinnati today official opens its Office of Performance and Data Analytics, as well as its CityStat and Innovation Lab initiatives. The efforts, which are City Manager Harry Black's first big initiative since coming to Cincinnati last year, are designed to bring a data-driven approach to city government. The programs are patterned after similar initiatives in Baltimore, where Black served in a number of roles. Black hopes to use data collected by the office to set performance goals for departments and zero in on problems in city services. The office has been given $400,000 in the coming biannual budget.

• Let’s go back to the Mercantile Library for a minute. Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Faherty will become its new executive director, the Cincinnati institution said yesterday. The Mercantile is a membership library located downtown on Walnut Street. Founded in 1835 and headquartered in the historic Mercantile Building since 1909, the library boasts more than 200,000 volumes. The library hosts a number of high-profile literary events and public functions. Faherty has worked for the Enquirer for three years after relocating from fellow Gannett paper the Arizona Republic. He’ll leave the paper in June to take the reigns of the historic library.

• Is John Kasich getting soft on unions? The Ohio guv and GOP presidential hopeful was on the campaign trail yesterday when he said that Ohio doesn’t need a right to work law. A number of other conservative states have such laws, which forbid labor contracts between employers and workers which require all employees to be union members. Kasich has said outlawing that practice isn’t necessary in Ohio because the state doesn’t have a lot of contentious labor issues. That’s a strikingly moderate stance for the governor, who shortly after taking office in 2011 moved to eliminate public employees’ collective bargaining rights. That move was reversed by a statewide referendum in which voters overwhelmingly chose to preserve public employees’ union rights. Kasich’s statement on right to work comes a day after the governor eliminated collective bargaining rights for 15,000 home healthcare and childcare workers who contract with the state. So, you know, he’s still not that into unions.

• It’s official. Rand Paul is courting the hipster vote. The U.S. Senator from Kentucky and Republican presidential hopeful yesterday made a campaign stop at The Strand bookstore in Manhattan. It’s an amazing bookstore, but yeah. Also very hip. Anyway, Paul drew a big crowd to the store after he was invited to speak by co-owner Nancy Bass Wyden, who is married to Oregon Democrat U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. You can read more about the appearance, and Paul’s efforts to win over young voters, in this New York Times story. The Strand has become a customary stopover for Democratic politicians hawking their newest books. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently dropped by promoting her new tome, though the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has declined to appear there. Instead, she opted for a nearby Barnes & Noble to premier her latest book. Oof.

by Nick Swartsell 05.26.2015 140 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

OTR home prices head toward $1 million; Kasich cuts bargaining rights for home health and childcare workers; DOJ settlement with Cleveland police imminent

Good morning y’all. I’m back from vacation and ready to give you all the news and stuff you can handle. In case you’re wondering, my time off involved a jaunt to Chicago for a concert where audience members were encouraged to divide into two huge groups and run at each other high-fiving, trips to five Pilsen Mexican restaurants and a long night/early morning in a private karaoke room where they keep up the bootleg music videos, Red Bull, beer and Drake tracks until you die (I abstained from the beer and the Drake, but did drink way too much Red Bull). Then I came back to Cincinnati and promptly got sicker than I’ve been in a long time. Fun stuff.

Anyway, let’s do this news thing. Home prices in Over-the-Rhine are getting higher and higher, but you probably already knew that. What you maybe didn’t know is how close the neighborhood is getting to million-dollar homes. Recently, a condo on Central Parkway sold for $850,000, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. That’s roughly 4,250 nights in a private karaoke room in Chicago’s Chinatown, or, you know, 2,125 months (177 years) in an affordable apartment that costs $400 a month. While that huge figure is something of an outlier, the neighborhood is certainly heating up. The average sale price for single family homes in the neighborhood was hovering around $220,000 in 2010. These days, it’s nearly twice that at $427,000. Those developing high-selling properties in the neighborhood say that there’s more to the story than the big numbers and that they’ve put in tons of investment to bring the properties up to their current condition. Of course, the rise in values also raises questions about affordability in the historically low-income neighborhood. The amount of affordable housing in OTR has dwindled in recent years, though new additions could help that situation. Over the Rhine Community Housing, for example, just finished its Beasley Place building on Republic Street, which will provide 13 new units of subsidized housing in the neighborhood.

• Will a major federal lab end up in uptown Cincinnati? It’s a good possibility. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is looking to consolidate two labs it currently runs in the city and is at least considering the possibility of building its new $110 million facility near the University of Cincinnati. NIOSH Director John Howard told the Cincinnati Business Courier recently that proximity to UC is a big consideration. Should NIOSH decide to build uptown, the development could play into a bigger push by area leaders to create an “innovation corridor” near the site of the new I-71 interchange along Reading Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Avondale and Walnut Hills. Uptown or no, NIOSH would like to keep the proposed 350,000-square-foot building within the I-275 loop, it says, in part because of public transit considerations.

• Speaking of public transit, don’t look to Ohio to start spending more on it anytime soon. The state legislature has dismissed suggestions that the state spend more on public transportation as it crafts the next two-year budget. Legislators in the GOP-dominated state house have brushed aside a $1 million study by the Ohio Department of Transportation calling for more spending on buses, rail and other forms of public transit. That study highlighted the growing need for public transit among the state’s low income and elderly, as well as the increasing popularity of a less car-dependent lifestyle among young professionals Ohio would like to attract. Currently, Ohio ranks 37th in per-capita spending on transit, despite being the nation’s 7th most populous state. The study recommended a $2.5 million boost in transit spending in the next year alone, part of a much larger boost over time. Even Gov. John Kasich, a vocal opponent of most transit spending, put an extra $1 million in his suggested budget for transit next year. But no go, the legislature says.

• While we’re talking about Kasich, let’s touch on his recent move cutting collective bargaining rights for home health care workers and in-home childcare workers. These workers aren’t state employees but contract with the state for some work. In 2007, then-Gov. Ted Strickland handed down an executive order giving those workers collective bargaining rights, which allowed them to receive health insurance from state worker unions among other benefits. Kasich promised to rescind that executive order during his successful run for governor against Strickland, but has held off until now, he says, to preserve the workers’ access to insurance. Now, the governor says the Affordable Care Act means that the workers don’t need unions to get health care, and that as contractors they shouldn’t be given bargaining rights. Kasich has long been a foe of collective bargaining — after taking office in 2008, he worked to end collective bargaining rights for all state employees. Voters later struck down his efforts in a state-wide referendum. Democrats and union representatives have cried foul at Kasich’s latest move.

“It’s a sad day when those who care for our children, our seniors and Ohioans with disabilities — and who simply want to be able to make ends meet while providing that invaluable service — become the target of a cynical political attack," Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper said in a statement.

• Finally, the big story today is happening in Cleveland, where questions about police use of force are swirling. Just days after courts dismissed manslaughter charges against Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo, a settlement between the city and the federal government looks imminent. In 2010, Brelo, who is white, fired 15 rounds into the windshield of a car, killing unarmed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both black, after a police chase that started when a backfire from the car was mistaken for a gunshot. That incident, as well as many others, were highlighted in a nearly two-year investigation by the DOJ into the department’s use of force. That investigation found what the DOJ calls systemic problems with the department’s use of force and the way it reports and disciplines officers who may have used force improperly.

U.S. attorneys are holding meetings with various stakeholders in the city today and are expected to soon announce a settlement between the city’s police department and the U.S. Department of Justice. The expected consent decree would put CPD under federal oversight and bring about big reforms for the department, which continues to draw controversy. Last year, an officer with the department shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice while the child played with a toy pistol. Charges against that officer are pending.

by Nick Swartsell 05.14.2015
Posted In: News at 12:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
pg sittenfeld

Councilman Sittenfeld Backs Marijuana Legalization Amendment

ResponsibleOhio ballot initiative would legalize sale of weed, create 10 grow sites owned by investors

Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate Candidate P.G. Sittenfeld has come out in support of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana in Ohio.

The proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution by ResponsibleOhio would allow anyone in the state over 21 to buy marijuana but would restrict commercial growth to 10 sites around the state owned by the group's investors.

[See also: "Going for the Green," CityBeat Feb. 4 2015]

Sittenfeld told reporters in Columbus today that Ohio's marijuana laws are "broken" and that he favors legalization and regulation of the drug. Sittenfeld cited the disproportionate number of people of color jailed over marijuana violations in the U.S. and the dangerous black market for the drug as reasons he supports legalization. 

"We have a binary choice between do we want to take this opportunity to move forward from the broken laws of the past, and I would vote yes on this opportunity," Sittenfeld said.

Sittenfeld is the first city councilman to come out in support for the ballot initiative, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by July in order to make it onto the November ballot. The group says it is well on its way to that goal. But some controversy has erupted, both from conservative lawmakers and other legalization groups. Conservatives like Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine say that legalization will increase drug usage and crime. Other legalization advocates, on the other hand, decry ResponsibleOhio's proposal as a state-sanctioned monopoly on marijuana.

The group's initial proposal did not allow private growers to cultivate marijuana, but after an outcry from legalization supporters, the group amended its proposal to allow for small amounts of the crop to be grown for personal use.

The group's proposal has garnered an interesting mix of supporters and investors, from basketball Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who has pitched in money for the effort, to conservative-leaning business leaders and officials. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters recently said he supports at least looking into  legalization of marijuana, calling Ohio's drug laws "archaic." Deters stopped short of endorsing ResponsibleOhio's plan. He is heading up a task force studying the implications of legalizing the drug here.

Recreational marijuana use is legal in four states, and 19 others allow medicinal use.

Sittenfeld made the comments as he is campaigning for big promotion. The 30-year-old city councilman is currently locked in a tough Democratic primary race against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland for the chance to run against GOP incumbent Sen. Rob Portman in 2016.

by Nick Swartsell 05.14.2015
Posted In: News at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
sherrod brown

Noon News and Stuff

Head editor out at Enquirer; budget boosts and cuts; Sherrod Brown in tiff with White House

Hey all! I’m going to do a long news blog today. I won’t be doing the blog tomorrow or next week, as I need to burn up the vacation time I have before it expires and my boss says I’m not allowed to work while I’m not working. Tyranny, I say. Anyway, let's get all caught up before I jet.

The big news today is that the Cincinnati Enquirer is looking for a new top editor. Executive Editor Carolyn Washburn’s last day was yesterday, the Enquirer announced today. Washburn’s departure follows former publisher Margaret Buchanan, who left her post in March and was replaced by one-time Enquirer editor Rick Green. Washburn’s tenure saw the Enquirer shed a number of its long-time reporters and copy editors as part of parent company Gannett’s efforts to move toward the so-called “newsroom of the future.” That sounds like some cool, gee-wiz place where reporters fly around on hover boards and drive DeLoreans at 88 mph to break news two days before it happens, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually similar to a regular corporate newsroom, just with no copy editors and more typos. The Enquirer says Washburn will stay in town but has not revealed the circumstances behind her departure or what she’ll be doing next.

• Yesterday City Manager Harry Black unveiled his proposed $2.1 billion budget for 2016-2017. We’re still combing through that 769-page document, but we can give you the highlights. Disappointingly, there are very few pictures in the budget, though there are a lot of graphs. Facial hair growth for certain elected city officials, for example, is on the uptrend. Speaking of Mayor John Cranley, he's backed the budget, suggesting council pass it without amendment. Chances of that happening are on a sharp downtrend, however.

Human services will see $3.7 million in funding under the budget. Some of that will go toward Cranley’s Hand Up initiative and the city-county joint initiative Strategies to End Homelessness. Meanwhile, the $250,000 the city allocated in the last budget to Cradle Cincinnati to fight infant mortality disappears in this budget, and mega-charity funder United Way will get only about half of the $3 million council wanted.

Police and fire are prioritized in the spending plan, with increases that will bring 23 more officers and to Cincinnati’s streets. The budget also proposes big fixes for Cincinnati’s roads over the next five years and the city’s vehicle fleet over the next 12, spending $172 million on the paving alone over that time and another $35 million on vehicles. The plan is to get 85 percent of the city’s roads in good condition. Right now, about half are in poor shape. The city will take on nearly $91 million in debt in the process, though Black says the ratio of debt to cash used in this part of the capital budget is still prudent and that the investments will save the city millions over time. 

This is just the first step in the long, sometimes grinding, budget process. We'll keep you up to date as council wrangles with the spending plan and also go in-depth ourselves.

• What else? Things are happening on the state’s voting rights front. We’ll be going in depth on that soon, but here’s some stuff to know: Hot on the heals of a settlement between Ohio and the NAACP on early voting last month, another lawsuit has been filed against the state alleging that its rules disadvantage voters who mostly skew Democrat, low-income and minority. That suit has been filed by Hillary Clinton's top campaign attorney. Meanwhile, there’s a bill in the General Assembly that would require voters to have a voter identification card. Ohioans who make above the federal poverty level (about $12,000 for a single person) would have to pay $8.50 under the proposed law for the card. Critics say that amounts to a poll tax and is unconstitutional. The fight is a big deal, as Ohio is a vital swing state in the 2016 presidential election.

Other politics tidbits:

• Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel wanted to fire County Administrator Christian Sigman over Sigman’s recent comments about The Banks, even drafting a press release announcing the administrator’s departure. Sigman’s job was spared at the last minute, however; Republican Commissioner Greg Hartmann didn’t want to see Sigman dismissed, and Democrat Todd Portune began crafting a compromise. Sigman was taken off economic development duties instead of losing his job, according to the commissioners.

• Real quick, but noteworthy: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a GOP presidential hopeful, is polling neck and neck with Democratic prez frontrunner Hillary Clinton in Kentucky, at least according to one new poll.

• Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is down one endorsement for his presidential bid: Ohio Treasurer and fellow Republican Josh Mandel has announced he’s endorsing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Awkward.

• On the national stage, U.S. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is fighting with the White House over comments President Barack Obama made about U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren has been criticizing Obama on what she says is a NAFTA-esque foreign trade deal. She alleges that the Trans Pacific Partnership deal will cost Americans jobs and shouldn’t give so-called “fast track” status to trade deals with other countries. The White House slammed Warren on that assertion, and Brown says their comments about her were disrespectful. Brown has also been fighting the trade legislation package, lobbying other Democrats in the Senate to block it from passage without amendments he says are designed to protect American workers. That’s led to some tension between the White House and Brown. The White House has asked the senator to apologize for his remarks about Obama’s remarks about Warren. Uh, got that? It’s starting to get to GOP levels of in-fighting over there.

That's it for me. See you in a week or so. Tweet at me or email me while I'm gone. Fair warning: I won't check the email but I might see the tweet.

by Nick Swartsell 05.12.2015
Posted In: News at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
joe deters

Morning News and Stuff

Smitherman pushes executive mayor proposal; prepare for some Bill Murray sightings in Cincy; prosecutor Joe Deters slams weed laws

Hey hey. Let’s do this news thing real quick.


After the whole hubbub around Mayor John Cranley’s veto of the OTR parking permit plan last week, it seems like a strange question to ask, but here we go: Does the mayor need more power? According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Councilman Christopher Smitherman is working to get an initiative on the ballot that would do just that. Sort of. Smitherman’s months-long advocacy for moving Cincinnati to a so-called “executive mayor” system is about accountability, he says, not about giving away more power. Under Smitherman’s proposed changes, the city would eliminate the city manager position and the mayor would assume the responsibilities of that office — hiring and firing department heads, etc. The mayor would also retain veto power and still attend council meetings, but council would select its own president (currently the mayor’s job), who would select committee heads and make council’s agenda, effectively eliminating the mayor’s power to “pocket veto” legislation.  

Other members of council, including Councilman Kevin Flynn, who is helping oversee a review of the city’s charter, are opposed to the executive mayor idea. Flynn’s Charter Review Committee has been meeting for months, kicking around ideas for ways to reorganize Cincinnati’s unusual power structure. The city’s current system creates the strongest mayor of any major city in the country, the committee has said. The committee has its own recommendations for ways to change city government, including requiring the mayor to pass along all legislation to city council committees within 14 days, ending the so-called "pocket veto." The committee would also like to see council given the power to fire the city manager. The Charter Review Committee has been holding public input sessions around the city. The next two are at the Westwood Town Hall May 14 and the Oakley Senior Center May 18. Both sessions start at 6 pm.

• Is Joe Deters cool with legalizing weed? Another sign marijuana legalization in Ohio is moving toward the mainstream: The Hamilton County Prosecutor is leading a taskforce looking into the law enforcement ramifications of legalizing the drug. Marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio approached Deters about the study, though Deters says he’s not doing it to simply endorse the group’s legalization proposal. ResponsibleOhio wants to legalize the sale of marijuana to anyone age 21 or over, but the group's ballot initiative would limit growth of the crop to 10 sites around the state.

Deters has expressed frustration with the current legal setup for dealing with marijuana and ambivalence about the drug being illegal.


I've seen firsthand how ineffective and inefficient marijuana laws are,” Deters said in a statement about the task force. “I strongly believe we must have an honest and in-depth assessment of the positive and negative impacts that legalization can have, so that Ohioans can make an informed decision."


The taskforce includes elected officials, experts on drug policy and academics. The group will develop a white paper outlining policy recommendations on ways to improve laws governing marijuana in the state.


• Don’t do lame stuff with your garbage or you may get fined, according to changes in the city of Cincinnati's garbage pickup policy. In the days leading up to June 1, city sanitation workers will be hanging orange tags on garbage that is improperly prepared. Before May 17, they’ll still haul the trash away but leave the tag as a reminder. After that date, you’ll have to correct whatever problem you have with your trash and call 591-6000 to get it picked up, but you won’t have to pay a fine. After June starts, however, residents who don’t have their trash in order can be fined anywhere from $50 to $2,000. The low end of that range is for folks who just used the wrong can or other minor violations. The high end is for improperly disposed construction debris and other heavy stuff. You can read the criteria for improper trash here. The sanitation department says the fines are necessary to keep trash pick up efficient and effective.


• Cincinnati Public School District’s Walnut Hills High School is the number one school in Ohio, according to a new ranking from U.S. News and World Report. Overall, Walnut is the 65th best high school in the nation according to the ranking. Four other area schools also landed in the top 10 of the statewide rankings, including Indian Hill High School, which came in at number two.


• So Bill Murray might be spending a little less time partying in Austin and more time in Cincinnati. That’s because his son, Luke Murray, has landed a job as an assistant coach for Xavier University’s men’s basketball program. The younger Murray has held several coaching jobs in college basketball and was last at the University of Rhode Island as an assistant coach. Xavier head basketball coach Chris Mack has called Murray “one of the top young assistant coaches in the America.” Sounds good. Word is, his dad comes to a lot of the games the younger Murray coaches. Let’s hope the Coffee and Cigarettes and Groundhog Day star hangs out here on occasion, and maybe brings a Wu-Tang Clan member with him.

by Nick Swartsell 05.11.2015
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

OTR to finally get housing study; Banks hotel announced; thousands of arrestees in Baltimore were too injured to go to jail

Morning y’all! It’s bike to work week, so I hope you saddled up on your commute today. Here’s what’s up in the news.

It’s kind of unbelievable that solid statistics on housing on one of the city’s most actively developed neighborhood don’t exist. I’ve been working to find solid numbers on affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine forever, so this is great news: Xavier’s Community Building Institute and the Over-the-Rhine Community Council are teaming up to conduct a much-needed housing survey in OTR. As land values and housing costs in the neighborhood skyrocket (some condos there have reached the $600,000 mark, and proposed new single-family homes could go for as much), many worry about dwindling supplies of low-income housing there. Though a neighborhood comprehensive plan was completed in 2002, there have been no other comprehensive studies of housing in the neighborhood since. Much of the data on housing in OTR is scattered and incomplete. CBI’s efforts will change that — starting in June the organization will do a complete survey of the buildings in OTR to record how many units each has and how much it costs to live in them.

• A seven-story hotel by Marriott is coming to riverfront development The Banks, the lead development group for the project announced today. That’s a relief for city and county officials and area business leaders who have been waiting for that major piece of the Banks puzzle for a long time. Stakeholders had originally hoped to have the hotel open in time for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game in July, but it looks as though the hotel will now open in spring 2017.

• The city of Cincinnati will pay Cincinnati Public Schools $2.1 million in back property taxes from the downtown Duke Energy Center. The CPS Board of Education and the Ohio tax commissioner have been fighting the city since 2011 over taxes on the property, which is managed by a private company. The city has argued that it is exempt from such taxes since the building is owned by a public entity and obtained a tax exemption from state legislators in 2012. But CPS and the state tax assessor have fought that claim in court. The city has now settled with the district and will pay the $2.1 million to the schools. Had the city lost its case with CPS, it would have had to pay up to $25 million in back taxes and other costs.

• Here’s cool news: Former MVP and 2012 Hall of Famer Barry Larkin is working for the Reds again. No, you won’t see the shortstop running the bases, but he’ll be an infield instructor for the Reds’ minor league teams. Larkin played for the Reds for nearly two decades from 1986 to 2004.

• The city of Covington’s City Hall is currently located in a former J.C. Penny department store building, and before that it was located in another former department store. But that could change soon, and the seat of city government there could get a new, more permanent home in a proposed riverfront development called Duveneck Place, named after the famous Covington-born artist Frank Duveneck. That building would be the first major riverfront development in Covington since the 2008 Ascent luxury condos and could host both the city’s administrative offices and Kenton County offices. The city’s main administrative building has moved around several times since Covington’s ornate official City Hall building was demolished in 1970.

• As state lawmakers mull a bill that would eliminate a question about felonies from public organizations’ job applications, private companies wrangle with whether or not they should do the same. Some big, generally conservative companies like Koch Industries have announced they no longer ask about felony convictions on job applications, but many others, especially those in the area, still do. That puts a barrier between former convicts and employment, a key factor in reducing recidivism. Such barriers also disproportionately affect minorities, who are more often subject to arrest and conviction in the first place. Here’s an Enquirer story about the push to do away with a box on employment applications asking about felonies. I’ve been speaking with former convicts and academics who study this issue for a long story on the topic. Stay tuned for that.

• Finally, a report by the Baltimore Sun shows that thousands apprehended by Baltimore Police have been so severely injured they cannot be taken directly to jail. Between June 2012 and April 2015, the Baltimore City Detention Center refused to admit 2,600 arrestees because injuries they sustained from police were too severe and required immediate medical attention. These included broken bones, head injuries and other traumas. The report comes in the wake of civil unrest around the April death of Freddie Gray in police custody and a looming U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the city’s police force.

by Nick Swartsell 05.08.2015
Posted In: News at 09:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

More OTR parking permit drama; Winburn: withhold SORTA's money until streetcar documents released; new weed legalizatioin effort challenges ResponsibleOhio

Morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on today.

The battle over Over-the-Rhine’s parking plan continues. Yesterday, Mayor John Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to eliminating permit parking in the city — currently, one part of Clifton near Cincinnati state and the tiny Pendleton neighborhood both have permits available for residents. He said he’d also be interested in auctioning off spots in OTR to the highest bidder.

That doesn't sit well with permit advocates in the neighborhood, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach and OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer.

At the bottom of the debate is a philosophical difference: Cranley wants any parking plan to be first and foremost a revenue generator to pay for the streetcar and pay back taxpayers for investment in OTR. On Wednesday, he vetoed a parking plan for the neighborhood that would have created up to 450 permitted spots for residents at $108 a year. Previously, Cranley had proposed a plan that would have charged $300 a year and then later another that would have charged an unspecified market rate for the spaces.

Cranley says it’s unfair to taxpayers that certain spots can be bought by residents of a neighborhood that has seen millions in taxpayer money spent on redevelopment. Taxpayers pay for the roads, Cranley says, and should be able to park on them. What’s more, he says, creating a permit plan for OTR will only encourage other neighborhoods to seek them. Downtown has already made movement toward that end.

Permit supporters, meanwhile, see the measure mainly as a way to make life easier for residents who have to park in one of the most popular places in town. Supporters of the parking permits, including Democrats on council, say they will help keep low-income people who can’t afford garages or extended time at meters in the neighborhood.

There is nothing unusual about parking permits in neighborhoods. Cities like Columbus, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco (the nation’s most expensive at $110 a year) and many other major urban areas have them. Even smaller cities like Newport, Covington and Bloomington, Indiana have them. Hell, in Washington, D.C., you have to have D.C. plates to park on most streets and need to apply for a visitor’s permit if you don’t (I know this by experience and it is awful). But if it wasn’t for that permit system, residents in popular neighborhoods would spend an hour after work circling the block looking for a place to put their cars while tourists or folks from the other side of the city dropped by and took their time eating at that new $40-a-plate neo soul food place. (Err, sorry. Did I mention D.C. was awful?)

On the other hand, the affordability card is a funny one to play here. In terms of affordability, all the parking plans, including Cranley’s, presented a clause for lower-cost permits for low-income residents. But there are bigger issues as rents in OTR continue to increase and the neighborhood shifts ever-more toward the high-end in terms of the businesses and homes there. Perhaps a discussion about how much affordable housing is in the neighborhood, instead of spinning wheels on a parking plan, would better serve low-income folks?

• Here’s another transportation mess: Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Chair Charlie Winburn is threatening to withhold city funds from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority for its Metro bus program until it releases information about the bids it has received to operate the streetcar. Those bids were due March 30, but SORTA says it will not release them until it has made a selection, claiming that making the information public will compromise the competitive bid process. Winburn says the public has a right to know how much the streetcar will cost them. The Cincinnati Enquirer has sued SORTA for the records, which it says fall under open records laws. SORTA’s attorney disagrees. The question now is whether a judge will agree and if the ruling will come before SORTA makes its pick and releases the documents anyway.

• Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune might get an unexpected Republican challenger in the 2016 election. Hamilton County Appeals Court Judge Sylvia Hendon might run against Portune, she says. Hendon, 71, is about to hit the age limit for judges in Ohio but isn’t ready to give up public service. Democrats say they aren’t worried; though Hendon has served in a number of capacities in the county’s judicial system, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Cooke says she doesn’t have the name recognition to mount a serious challenge to the popular Portune. But Republicans say her time as a top judge gave her strong managerial skills and unique qualifications for the commissioner’s spot. They say she’ll be a strong contender should she choose to run. Commissioners oversee the county budget and the county’s various departments. Hendon is also looking at running for county recorder, a position held by Democrat Wayne Coates. Another Republican, former Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel, is also contemplating a run for that seat.

• Are online charter schools getting taxpayer money for students who are no longer enrolled in their courses? Some recent evidence seems to suggest that, and a state investigation might result. Data from one online school, Ohio Virtual Academy, shows that hundreds of students were on that school’s rolls but hadn’t logged in to classes in months. Only 14 had been withdrawn. OVA has 13,000 students. It’s not the first time charters have seen scrutiny for their attendance records. The schools get paid millions in state funds based on the number of students they have attending classes. In January, a state investigation found significant discrepancies between reported attendance and actual attendance at many of charters across the state.

• Finally, there’s another marijuana legalization scheme in Ohio, and it just cleared its first hurdle. Better for Ohio is challenging ResponsibleOhio’s plan for weed legalization by… doing almost exactly the same plan. The difference is that instead of ResponsibleOhio’s 10 grow sites, Better for Ohio would create 40, each tied (not kidding here) to a serial number on a specific $100 bill stipulated in the group’s plan. The holder of that bill would be allowed to grow marijuana at one of the grow sites. Private, non-commercial growth would also be allowed, and wouldn’t require registration with the state the way ResponsibleOhio’s plan does. The state just gave the OK for the group’s initial ballot language, and now it just has to get the necessary 300,000-plus signatures. Of course, there’s been some sniping between Better for Ohio and ResponsibleOhio, with both groups criticizing the other’s plan. Things are getting heated in the weed legalization game.

That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with news tips or just to say hey.

by Nick Swartsell 05.07.2015
Posted In: News at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

The veto heard 'round the city; Cranley tries again on Madisonville luxury development; Sen. Brown praises Kasich's cop standards

Heya! Here’s a quick rundown of the big stories today before I jet off for an interview.

As you may have heard, Mayor John Cranley yesterday vetoed an Over-the-Rhine parking plan that would have created up to 450 permitted parking spots for residents and left 150 spots for so-called “flex parking,” or unmetered spots available to all. The plan would have charged $108 per permit, the second-highest in the country behind San Francisco, which charges $110.  But that’s better than no parking at all, residents in OTR say. Many say that as the neighborhood becomes more and more busy, it has become much harder for those living there to find a place to park in the evening. That takes a big toll on the neighborhood’s low-income residents, neighborhood social service providers say. They’d like to see a parking plan passed.

The proposed plan would have offered permits to low-income residents at a discounted rate. Cranley says vetoing the plan was a matter of fairness, because it allows any resident of the city to continue parking on the city streets their tax dollars pay for. In past months, however, Cranley offered his own permit plan, albeit one that charged $300 per spot. The move yesterday was Cranley’s first veto since he took office in 2013. Before that, Mayor Mark Mallory vetoed a council action on red light cameras in 2011.

• Though the OTR parking plan has gone down in flames, another item Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee killed earlier this week will get a second look. Contradicting fellow Democrats twice in one council session, Mayor Cranley has referred a motion supporting development of a $25 million luxury apartment complex in Madisonville to council’s Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee after Democrats on the Neighborhoods Committee voted it down. The Economic Growth committee is full of Cranley allies, while Neighborhoods is dominated by the Democrats with which Cranley usually finds himself at odds. The Madisonville Community Council and its Urban Redevelopment Corporation oppose the project, saying it’s not an appropriate use of the land in the neighborhood. Cranley and other supporters say it will bring millions in other development to the area.

• Speaking of development, things are starting to pick up in Camp Washington, where 52 homes have been refurbished. Four more major development projects are also on the way. As I’ve told you about before in this blog, the historic Crosley Building in the neighborhood is also being redeveloped into 238 apartments. More on all the activity in this Soapbox story.

• Last week, Music Hall got some great news to the tune of $12 million, and now its next door neighbor gets a turn. Memorial Hall is closed to the public today as it undergoes a nearly $8 million restoration. Work on the building should be done by next fall. It's the first restoration of the building in nearly 25 years.

• Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman has been relieved of yet more duties, according to this Business Courier story. Sigman was taken out of his role in downtown development The Banks after questioning whether that project needs a new head developer. Now, he’s also been removed from his role in helping oversee the stadiums on the riverfront. He keeps the rest of his duties, which involve overseeing county departments who don’t have an elected official leading them. He’ll also keep his $180,000 a year salary. The whole thing seems pretty sketchy, but then again, I’d be down for reduced responsibilities if I got to make the same amount of money. Something tells me it’s not the same, though.

• Here’s something you don’t see very often: Liberal Democrat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is praising conservative Republican Governor John Kasich over his push to apply statewide standards for police use of force. Brown says Kasich’s moves are part of much-needed reforms to the justice system. Kasich recommended the standards after convening the Statewide Taskforce on Community-Police Relations late last year. That task force came after the police shooting deaths of John Crawford III in Beavercreek and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

by Nick Swartsell 05.06.2015
Posted In: News at 02:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cranley veto

In First Veto, Cranley Nixes OTR Parking Plan

Plan had neighborhood support; would have created up to 450 permitted spots for residents.

Mayor John Cranley today vetoed a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that would have converted 400-450 of the neighborhood's 1,200 spots into permitted parking for residents.

Democrats on council passed the plan 5-4 before Cranley killed the deal.It's Cranley's first veto since he took office in 2013 and the first mayoral veto of a council action in years. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Mayor Charlie Luken last vetoed a council-passed ordinance in 2005, though Mark Mallory also vetoed one in 2011.

"In the interests of basic fairness to all Cincinnatians, I am vetoing this Over-the-Rhine residential parking plan," Cranley said in a statement. "Cincinnati taxpayers from all neighborhoods paid for the public streets in OTR and, therefore, all Cincinnatians deserve an opportunity to park on the streets they paid to build and maintain."

Republican council members Amy Murray, Christopher Smitherman and Charlie Winburn opposed the permit plan, as did Charterite Councilman Kevin Flynn.

Flynn cited a clause in streetcar legislation that allows developers to forgo normal parking requirements for new development for buildings that are 600 feet from streetcar stops. That provision works at odds with creating permitted spots for residents, he said, because the assumption was that the streetcar would make cars less necessary in the neighborhood.

"Either you need more parking or you don't," he said in council.

For Cranley, the fight over parking is more about revenue. In past weeks, the mayor has touted an alternate plan that would have set the price for parking permits at a yet-undetermined market rate. That plan didn't make it out of committee.
Cranley initially suggested a $300 charge for each parking permit, but backed off that idea for a market-rate cost. He’d like to see the extra revenue used to shore up a $569,000 gap between projected streetcar revenues and recently-revised estimates. That gapt came about due to revised estimates on rider fares and advertising revenues.

After months of wrangling, an agreement on a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine seemed to be in sight Monday as Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhood Committee passed a version of a plan drawn up by Vice Mayor David Mann and Councilman Chris Seelbach that would charge residents $108 a year for a parking pass.
The proposed fee for a permit was the second-highest in the nation behind famously packed-in San Francisco, which charges $110 a year, though the cost would be subsidized for low-income residents.

Seelbach registered his displeasure on Facebook following the veto.

Seelbach, Mann and other supporters argue that as OTR gets more popular, parking has become much more scarce, making it difficult for those who live in the neighborhood to find parking. Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer spoke to Council advocating for the parking plan. He expressed disappointment at mayor's veto.

by Nick Swartsell 05.06.2015
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
camp washington chili contest

Morning News and Stuff

New education accelerator initiative raises questions; Camp Washington Chili hits 75; new polls show Kasich still struggling in pres. bid

Good morning y’all. Let’s do this news thing real quick.

$25 million to get low-income Cincinnati students into a better education sounds great, doesn’t it? Absolutely. But there are questions about just such a proposal, which is being touted by a group of area business leaders and educators. The group, which includes the Haile Foundation, the Cincinnati Business Committee and the Farmer Foundation, wants to boost the number of seats at high-performing area schools from what they’ve determined is 5,500 right now to 10,000 in five years and 20,000 in 10. Right now, a little less than half of Cincinnati’s 35,000 students in public or charter schools attend low-performing schools, and only about 5,500 attend high performing schools. So the plan sounds great, right? Well, there are critics. $15 million of the money will be spent creating new schools in the Cincinnati area, and those will most likely be charter schools, which have a very spotty record here in Ohio. Detractors like former City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham, now with the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition, say Cincinnati Public Schools have an approach that works, and that the city doesn’t need more charters. CPS, meanwhile, says it’s on board with the proposal. The district may even be a partner in the charter schools created by the venture. The nascent education group, which calls itself an “education accelerator” has yet to pick a name or a CEO, and still has about $10 million to raise to carry out the plan.

• More controversy surrounding Cincinnati’s long-time riverfront project The Banks. Yesterday here we talked about how Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman is being ousted from economic development matters. Sigman wrote a letter raising questions about whether the county should change developers on the project, saying that the lead developer, Atlanta-based Carter and Associates, has taken longer than expected to find a major hotel tenant at the site. Yesterday, an Enquirer reporter was barred from a meeting of the Joint Banks Steering Committee, which is appointed by city and county officials, according to the paper. Those meetings were declared public after a contentious fight back in 2008 about their private nature. The steering committee points out that government meetings can happen in private when no votes are being taken, and says there were no decisions made at the meeting. It’s important to know what’s happening with the steering committee, however, since it helps decide how millions in tax dollars are spent. Officials with the steering committee say Sigman’s ouster from development affairs was not discussed at the meeting.

New retail is coming to Over-the-Rhine, and … sorry, I lost interest. All the stores sound really boring and well out of my price range and the price ranges of many long-time residents in the neighborhood. But hey, that’s just me. One of the stores sells something called technical cashmere. The others are home décor and fashion-oriented. The upside is that the four new retail spots will add to the city’s tax base, and at least none of them are chain stores; Chipotle and Starbucks are reportedly interested in OTR spots, but it hasn’t happened yet. Anyway, if you’re a shopper, check that out. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for a decently-priced, well-stocked grocery store and a Laundromat.

• Here’s a place that is much more my speed: Mayor John Cranley yesterday dropped by Camp Washington Chili in, uh, Camp Washington to celebrate its 75th anniversary and announce that the corner of Hopple Street and Colerain Ave. where the nationally-renowned diner is located will be named after proprietor Johnny Johnson. Johnson came to the U.S. from Greece in 1951 and eventually bought the place, which was founded by his uncle. Since then, they’ve been serving up really, really good Cincinnati-style chili, double deckers and tons of other great diner food. I’ve spent many a late, late night after playing or watching live music hanging out at Camp Washington; here’s to another 75.

• Finally, the latest Quinnipiac University polls on the GOP presidential nomination race have come out of early primary state Iowa. Like the last couple polls, they’ don’t look so great for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Kasich is polling at just 2 percent against big GOP rivals. The bigger national story, however, is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s showing. Bush, who was a presumed frontrunner just a week or two ago, took a pounding, with 45 percent of GOP respondents saying they viewed him unfavorably. Only 39 percent said they viewed him favorably. Bush got just five percent of the overall vote in the polling. The big winner was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who polled at 21 percent, 8 points higher than his nearest competitors Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Walker, if you recall, led an effort to repeal bargaining rights for state employees in 2011. Sound familiar? Kasich did much the same that year. The difference is, Walker stuck to his guns through a recall election, while Kasich was chastened by the deafening roar of Ohio voters, who overwhelmingly passed a ballot provision repealing our state’s version of the law. So, is Scott Walker going to be the GOP nominee? Not quite. There’s still a long road to Cleveland, and plenty of opportunity for big gaffes from the Republican crowd.