City Council on Wednesday passed legislation to help fund a bike share program in Cincinnati, but not before arguments over the bike paths prioritized in Mayor John Cranley’s budget.
The bike share program, run by a non-profit company called Cincy Bike Share, would allow residents and visitors to purchase a year-long membershipor a daily pass to gain access to 300 bikes from 35 stations in the central business district, Over-the-Rhine and uptown. Over the last few years, successful bike shares have started in a number of large cities, including Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The motion passed by council gives the startup $1.1 million from the city’s capital improvements fund to help get its operation off the ground. The group estimates it will need at least another $1 million in investment to ramp up, but Cincy Bike Share Executive Director Jason Barron has expressed confidence it can attract that money.
But there was some controversy. Though all members of council supported the money to Cincy Bike Share, the motion originally came bundled with funding for a number of off-road bike trails the mayor prioritized in his budget.
Those trails have been controversial, as they represent a shift in course from the last council’s plans for on-street bike lanes.
Some council members said they didn’t know enough about the bike paths included in the motion to vote yes or no.
“The problem is, someone has paired these two issues together,” said council member Chris Seelbach. “And the bike paths may be perfectly legitimate, but the public deserves a presentation on what these paths are, why they deserve $200,000 set aside for them and what they will be used for.”
Seelbach pointed out that some of the paths need millions in funds to be completed and asked what a little money from the city would do to help their progress.
But Cranley said money for the Bike Share program is already overdue and needed to be approved immediately if that project is to go forward. A motion to consider both measures together failed a council vote.
“I’m just trying to get the Bike Share passed,” Cranley said. “I believe the Bike Share plan is going to be dead if we don’t get it through today.”
Cranley said the bike path spending will not happen in the near future and ordinances could be passed to revise that spending later.
Eventually, the measures were split after some argument between the mayor and council members Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young, all of whom wanted Cincy Bike Share and bike path funding considered separately.
Council will vote on the bike path funding issue later, after presentations from the groups building the trails in question.
Young called splitting the two issues to find out more about the paths “time well spent.”
Simpson told CityBeat she and other council members are pleased that Cincy Bike Share will be funded and that they’ll get a chance to learn more about proposed bike paths.
“I support biking and bike trails in general, it’s just one of those weird nuance things where if we’re going to defund one thing and start funding something else, you want to know what it is,” Simpson said.
She added that she was hopeful the city can find ways to fund both bike paths and urban lanes.
Update: an earlier version of this story stated that Cincy Bike Share is a for-profit company. The organization is a non-profit. The error has been corrected.
There was something magnetic about Manifest Gallery when I walked into it late last Thursday afternoon.
And it wasn’t the space, designed to be charming with its recently opened art shows, the echoes of my slow-moving footsteps and the lost keystrokes of someone at a nearby office desk.
It was the well-curated combination of two resident artists hiding away behind those things — tangled in freshly minted work, upcoming moves and new things to create.
Nicholas Mancini and Jeremy Plunkett were in their neighboring studios sifting through iTunes and working on their prospective projects when I found them in the building’s back half. They were thinking about their past year in Cincinnati, and the artwork that was a result of it.
“Immediately it’s like this last breath and now I’m almost lost as to where I’m going to go,” Mancini says. “Your work is going there up to this point and now it’s out there. You’re done with it, and now it’s up.”
The two resident artists (plural for the first time this year), who are both painters from life (though they both work in other mediums too), opened their end-of-the-residency exhibition MAR Showcase May 30.
Mancini’s portion of the show is made by a compelling collection of moments painted perceptual remnants in his show Vestige, and Plunkett’s by an intimate, meticulously detailed collection of photorealistic light paintings in his show Container.
“I always find myself very attracted to what’s called the sublime feeling, and I try to get there with my work and it’s always been a theme,” Plunkett says. “Can I represent light in the most pure, realistic way?”
Plunkett is the type of artist who will trick you (cause you to triple-take a work until you realize it isn’t a photograph, but a humanly rendered painting), and one whose extraordinary attention to detail made me wish I knew something as preciously as he does his 6-by-4-inch, light-through-plastic-bag paintings.
Also hewn with oil, Mancini’s work balances Plunkett’s beautifully. Emotional abstractions of figures, still life and portraits reminded me first of some sweet melody, without any close look at or step up to. Full of fleeting pleasure and the sunset’s best colors, his work is briefer, shattered, and is able to catch you just in time to fall as you do.
“There’s a painting in the show that I did of my microwave and it’s like this thing, this moment,” Mancini says. “There’s this moment in a day where you go to open it and you go to put your coffee in because it’s been sitting there all day and it’s cold now, and you stop yourself and this thing you look at everyday becomes something else. And actually, I kind of like that way of thinking about it. When something becomes something else.”
After studying in several different art programs, graduating in 2010 and traveling through Norway and Italy for a year and a half, Mancini came to Manifest from his hometown of Swampscott, Mass. Plunkett came from Milwaukee after having earned his MFA at Ohio University, teaching art classes for a couple of years and then breaking from art to focus on cycling, before he again began craving a space that would enable him creatively.
Which is exactly what each of them got.
“They showed a high degree of commitment to a vein of work which showed strong intellect, a relationship to the broader history of the practice without being derivative, and a consistency that promised a trajectory that could be boosted by immersion an intense one-year program like ours,” says Jason Franz, Manifest executive director. “Based on their solo exhibits at the gallery I can say this has proven to be so true, as I am delighted with the results of this first set of MAR showcase exhibitions.”
Just before I left their studios, Plunkett caught me to tell me something I’d forgotten to ask him: that he and Mancini would leave the city with something beyond their new collections and everything that came with delving deeply into themselves during such a precise stretch of time. They’d leave with the memories and results that come from a shared residency, city and companionship that pushed and pondered and grew together as they did.
Leaning in the doorway between their two workspaces, Mancini merely turned up the corners of his mouth, nodded in agreement and then walked back to his blank canvas.
MAR Showcase features an artists' gallery talk at 5 p.m. Saturday and closes June 27. Manifest Creative Research Gallery, 2727 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, manifestgallery.org.
Alright alright… here’s the deal today.
City Council voted unanimously last night to fund Cincy Bike Share, which means in the next few months you should be able to get on (someone else’s) bike and ride. No word on prices for rentals just yet. Here's more on that, plus council's tiff over bike paths.
Also of import, though probably not nearly as exciting — council voted to raise water rates four percent. The money will go to shore up the city's water works, which have been losing revenue.
• A federal court handed down a big victory for voting rights advocates yesterday when it ruled that Ohio must maintain three days of early voting. U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus ruled that the state must provide voting the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before election day. Democrats have been fighting state laws and orders from the secretary of state that they say unfairly affect urban minority voters.
In 2012, the Republican-controlled state legislature voted to eliminate weekend early voting, though a lawsuit by Democrats, including the Obama campaign, led to that law being overturned. Earlier this year, however, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, a Republican, adopted a voting schedule that eliminated Sunday early voting. The schedule was put together by the bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials. Democrats say the elimination of Sunday voting disadvantages inner-city black voters, many of whom are organized by urban churches that provide transportation to polling places on Sundays before elections.
• Cincinnati is getting bigger. But just a tiny bit. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the city, which had been losing population for decades, has gained about 1,000 new people since 2010. That’s just a blip in the city’s population of nearly 300,000, but the census data seems to show the city has gained for two years in a row, meaning at least it’s heading in the right direction. So that tiny gain is big news.
Of course, Cincy’s tiny .25 percent annual growth rate is dwarfed by some other cities, including Columbus, which has grown about 1.5 percent annually. Meanwhile, cities like Austin, Texas have been posting up to 6 percent growth rates in the past few years. Something like 25 people move to Austin in an average day. Imagine how hard it would be to get LumenoCity tickets if that were the case in Cincinnati.
• Speaking of the light show, The Cincinnati Museum Center and marketing firm Landor are working on a LumenoCity-like event at Union Terminal in September. Plans aren’t finalized yet, but organizers hope to nail things down soon.
• And speaking of Union Terminal (look at these segues today!), Hamilton County Commissioners have given the green light to a public hearing on proposals to raise sales taxes in order to come up with the funds to renovate the former train station and Music Hall. They’ll hold the hearing next month. It will include a presentation by the Cultural Facilities Task Force, a group of 22 area business leaders who are recommending putting the tax on the ballot. Both buildings are highly historic and iconic in the city. Union Terminal, the Western Hemisphere’s largest semi-dome building, is renowned for its unique Art Deco construction. It’s also rumored to be the model for The Hall of Justice, which appears in DC’s Batman, Superman, and other comics, so there’s that. And Music Hall… well, just look at that amazing piece of 1878 gothic architecture. Place is crazy awesome looking. The buildings need about $275 million in repairs, though county commissioners would probably try to get $150 million from the tax increase. Some $34 million has already been raised through private donors.
• In national news, the race is on for ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's job. Cantor got beat in his primary by tea partier David Brat and has subsequently resigned his post as majority leader. This matters because Cantor has been a big driver of the House's dysfunction, helping to push the war over Obamacare past the brink and into government shutdown last fall. Though Cantor has struggled with his party's far right wing (obviously, since they kicked him out of office), whoever takes his place will inherit similar power over the rowdy, rowdy Republican House. And there are some pretty hardline applicants for the job. Oh great.
• Finally, love is a destructive thing. You know that touristy thing couples do where they lock a padlock to a bridge in Europe to show they're everlastingly committed to each other and all that gross stuff? I guess no one ever really goes back and cuts their lock off when they break up, and thus, all that weight collapsed a bridge in Paris. There's a depressing metaphor somewhere in there, but I'll let you find it.
Youngstown's Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, Ohio's only privately run prison, has had a fraught history since it was opened by Corrections Corporation of America in 1997. In its first year, the prison saw 13 stabbings, two murders and six escapes, far more than comparable prisons.
Under a cloud of violence and mismanagement, the prison closed in 2001, only to reopen three years later on a federal contract to hold mostly undocumented immigrants who have committed federal crimes.
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is calling for the federal government to stop contracting CCA to hold immigrant prisoners at the NEOCC, citing mismanagement at private prisons across the country.
“Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Ohioans,” says ACLU of Ohio Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner. “For-profit prisons have been a failed experiment here for decades. Violence increases, drug use is common and medical care is neglected, leading to facilities deteriorating rapidly. Despite all these problems, we continue to give taxpayer money to these for-profit companies that are subject to little oversight.”
Critics like Brickner say private prisons create perverse incentives to maximize the number of incarcerated people and keep inmates in jail longer. Supporters say private prisons are cheaper because companies are compelled to run them more efficiently to turn a profit.
CityBeat has reported on issues at the prison extensively. Problems with violence among prisoners and between prisoners and staff, drug use, unsanitary conditions, medical neglect and poor ventilation are common in the facility, according to inmates and some officials.
In "Liberty for Sale," published in September of 2012, then-CityBeat reporter German Lopez explored some of the problems running rampant at NEOCC and other private prisons. Adding profit motive to incarceration has some serious implications, Lopez wrote:
The conflict between costs and adequate safety measures presents real-life, statistical consequences. A study at George Washington University found private prisons have a 50 percent higher rate of inmate-on-staff assault and a 66 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assault than publicly owned and managed prisons. Another study, in the Federal Probation Journal in 2004, had similar results — it found that, compared to public prisons, private prisons have a 50 percent higher rate of inmate-on-staff assault and inmate-on-inmate assault.
Lopez also found that private prisons may not even be cheaper and more efficient in the long run — the main point supporters of the private prison system use to explain why they're preferable to state or federally run facilities.
CCA’s contract with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is up in 2015, and the ACLU is asking the federal government not to extend it. The call comes after a report done by the advocacy group found a number of human rights violations at other privately run prisons contracted to detain immigrant prisoners in Texas. The report found similar abuses at these facilities, with prisoners experiencing neglect, violence and unsanitary conditions.
All right, folks. Morning news time again.
The iconic Hudepohl smokestack you see from I-75 could end up in Over-the-Rhine. The city is looking at ways to save the old Hudepohl brewery, which it bought last month. The former Hudepohl headquarters, built in 1946 and used until 1985, includes four buildings on Sixth Street in Queensgate. It's currently abandoned. The complex includes the Hudepohl tower, a 170-foot-tall brick smokestack with the company’s named spelled on it in white bricks that has become a Cincinnati landmark. One set of plans being considered is the relocation of 70 feet of the tower (from just under the L in “Hudepohl” to the top) to Over-the-Rhine, where the company was originally founded in 1885.
• Right across the river, Covington is the eighth most affordable city in the country,
according to a study by finance website NerdWallet.com. The study
looked at a number of cost of living considerations, including housing
costs and average prices for groceries. Columbus (15), Indianapolis
(22), Lexington (53) and Louisville (89) also made the top 100 list,
though Cincinnati is nowhere to be found.
• An article in the new issue of Inc. Magazine prominently features Cincinnati’s startup scene. It highlights the city’s business incubators, co-working spaces, marketers and investors who are boosting the city’s tech profile. The author applauds strides the city has made fostering startups, and concludes that the region is on the right course for expanding innovation and tech-related jobs.
• Procter and Gamble has committed $1 million to the Regional Economic Development Initiative, an organization focused on bringing jobs to the Greater Cincinnati area. REDI is lead by a 15-member board of Cincinnati political and business leaders including Mayor John Cranley, Western and Southern CEO John Barrett and Reds minority owner Tom Williams, the board’s chair.
• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that payday lenders aren’t subject to a law governing short-term loans and that they can continue making loans to low-income folks at, like, 12 billion percent interest. Great, because that’s totally good for society and our economy.
• The House this week is considering a Republican-drafted spending bill for The Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The appropriations bill contains more than $1.8 billion in cuts to housing programs, commuter rail initiatives and efforts to help the homeless. The White House has slammed the bill, and it will face a tough ride in the Senate.
• The big national story this morning, of course, is that Virginia Republican and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election to tea party challenger David Brat. Brat toppled Cantor even though the seven-term incumbent outspent him twenty five to one and is one of the most powerful Republicans in the country. A majority leader in the House has never lost a primary since the position was created 115 years ago. That's probably good news for House Speaker and everyone's favorite Southwestern Ohio spray tan aficionado John Boehner, who was feeling the heat from far-right Republicans looking to oust him from the speaker's seat. Cantor, who had an often antagonistic relationship with Boehner, was thought to be his strongest possible successor. Or, Cantor's loss may stress Boehner out even more, as the tea party torches get closer to the speaker's office...
• Finally, a newly discovered katydid has the highest-pitched vocalizations of any animal ever recorded. Scientists say the noises help attract the opposite sex, which is weird, because every time I’m in a bar and start hitting the high notes in my silky falsetto the opposite happens.
And that’s every thing that has happened in the past 24 hours, give or take. Follow me on Twitter at @nswartsell, where I retweet Parks and Rec quotes and news stories about appropriation bills. I’m a man of many moods.
The Cincinnati Elections Commission will hold a hearing June 23 on City Councilman Christopher Smitherman’s campaign finances after Nathaniel Livingston Jr., a well-known Cincinnati radio personality and former City Council candidate, filed a rather colorful complaint against him.
The complaint filed with the Commission says Smitherman exceeded campaign contribution limits during his 2013 campaign and unfairly gave city contracts to family members.
But it also says so much more.
Livingston goes after Smitherman with the gloves off. He starts off his complaint with some choice words about the councilman, calling him “an arrogant politician who is closely aligned to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.”
Livingston goes on to say that “Smitherman has publicly stated that his life goals are to become a decamillionaire and President of the United States. Chris will do anything to obtain money and power.”
Dang. That’s harsh. With the first name and everything. But Livingston’s just getting warmed up.
“He basically makes money by selling mediocre insurance products to gullible individuals,” the complaint continues, questioning Smitherman’s credentials as a financial advisor.
Call out someone for their alleged tea party affiliation, sure, but casting aspersions on the value of a man’s insurance products is another thing entirely.
Low blows aside, the complaint says that Smitherman broke campaign finance laws when his brother, Albert Smitherman, gave him a total of $2,200 and his sister-in-law, Liza Smitherman, chipped in $2,700 for his campaign.
The limit for individual donations between city council elections is $1,100. The complaint is made on a bit of a technicality; both Albert and Liza gave their first contributions just days after the 2011 elections, and didn’t donate any other money in that earlier election. Cincinnati Election Commission rules do allow for carryover of funds from previous elections under certain circumstances.
Another donation of $500 by Liza Smitherman under the name Brewster Pumping LLC is also flagged in the complaint. That donation was made in October 2013, and the address listed for the contribution is that of Liza and Albert’s business, Jostin Construction LLC.
Livingston says this is evidence of corruption, and that Councilman Smitherman has been actively working to get jobs for the company. Jostin was subcontracted for $22,000 worth of work on the city’s streetcar project in November 2013, but later declined the job.
Livingston himself has been in trouble for campaign finances. In 2009, the Ohio Elections Commission sued him for $43,000 for not filing campaign finance information for his 2001 City Council bid. That suit was later dismissed.
Here's what's up today in Cincy, Ohio, and beyond.
Vice Mayor David Mann isn’t super happy about the fact that LumenoCity tickets sold out in 12 minutes yesterday morning and then popped up just as quickly on Craigslist and eBay. He’s requesting an investigation into the ticket giveaway to find out about any illegal sale of the free passes.
In a statement yesterday, Mann said he wants to make sure “all members of the public — including all neighborhoods and income ranges — have an opportunity to avail themselves of any opportunities to get tickets to this extraordinary performance in the future.”
The event was so crowded last year, organizers decided to give out tickets this time around. The tickets were available online and also at several branches of the library. Organizers stress only a small percentage of the available passes were given out online, and that more will be available ahead of the event, which takes place Aug. 1-3.
• Here’s a heartwarming story about a city doing everything it can for its residents. Err, wait, no, this is actually a nightmarish scenario in which the city of Middletown has been working to eliminate a number of its Section 8 vouchers by investigating landlords and tenants and then kicking them out of the program for minor violations of law or policy, including late water bills. An Enquirer investigation found the city was actively working to eliminate many of its more than 1,600 HUD vouchers. HUD is now looking at shutting down the city’s public housing authority.
Nearly a quarter of Middletown residents live below the poverty level, according to 2008-2012 Census data. The city of 50,000 has more than half of the Section 8 vouchers in Butler County.
• Ohio is imposing new requirements on those receiving unemployment benefits, because not having a job is easy and awesome and if the state didn’t impose tons of busy work on those seeking benefits, everyone would crowd around the government teat.
Anyone receiving benefits in Ohio must update an automatic resume made for them on OhioMeansJobs.com, Ohio’s job search site, take three assessments on their skills within 14 weeks and fill out a survey within 20 weeks to figure out careers that might suit them. Recipients will still need to apply for two jobs a week as well. State officials say they hope this will help recipients transition to work more quickly, because clearly most job seekers have no idea what kind of skills they have and just plum forgot to put their resumes online somewhere. Ohio’s unemployment rate hovers around 6 percent. About 67,000 in the state were receiving unemployment benefits in May.
• The Justice Department is giving support to a proposal to shorten the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison. The move could save taxpayers more than $2 billion. Some measures to reduce sentences have already been approved, but the new proposal would make those reduced sentences retroactive, meaning those already imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes may see freedom sooner.
There is a surprising amount of bipartisan interest drug sentencing reform, with libertarian-minded conservatives, rank and file Republican budget hawks and those on the left all calling for a new approach to the drug issue.
The federal government spent more than $25 billion on the drug war in 2013. More than half the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes, according to studies by the federal government.
It turns out we did pretty well, though, winning first-place
in six non-daily categories, including the Best in
Ohio: Alternatives contest. Our staff photographer Jesse Fox earned second-place for Best in Ohio: Photographer, a high honor as she was up against all the big
papers and magazines in the state.
Here's a full list of winners and finalists in the statewide competition. CityBeat's work that earned recognition is listed below. Congrats to all, including our former colleagues who now work for the Cincinnati Business Courier and Vox Media. (Missu guys!)
FIRST PLACE: “Spill It” by Mike Breen
FIRST PLACE: “The Linguistics of Legislation: Reviewing the outdated, overly conservative and just plain funny laws still on the books” by Hannah
McCartney and Maija Zummo
FIRST PLACE: "From the Inside: Inmates told CityBeat about violence, staff ineptitude and unsanitary conditions inside Ohio's private prison. Then came the surprise inspections." by
Arts & Entertainment
FIRST PLACE: "Legally Banned: The secret complaints and controversial characters behind the firing of Loveland High School's drama instructor" by Danny Cross
Community / Local Coverage
FIRST PLACE: “Streetcar Coverage” by German Lopez
Best in Ohio: Alternatives
FIRST PLACE: Cincinnati CityBeat Staff
Best in Ohio: Photographer
SECOND PLACE: "Body of Work" by Jesse Fox (See images below.)