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by Nick Swartsell 07.14.2015 138 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
rob portman

Morning News and Stuff

Lincoln Heights' struggles in national spotlight; Deters to address Fountain Square unrest; awkward times for Ohio GOPers

Good morning all. It’s news time, and the biggest news is something you probably already know: The Reds’ Todd Frazier won the MLB Home Run Derby last night in an amazing comeback, sending 14 over the fence in the final round of the tournament against Joc Pederson from the L.A. Dodgers. There were tons of fireworks, followed shortly afterward by a thunderstorm. It was that epic. This is only the second time someone has won the Derby on their home field — the Chicago Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg took the trophy at Wrigley Field in 1990. Frazier's victory is a great run-up to the big All-Star Game today.

Anyway, on to other news. The Atlantic yesterday published a big article on Lincoln Heights, the community just north of Cincinnati that was at one time one of the first primarily black self-governing cities in the country. And for a while, things were good there. Factory jobs assured good middle-class incomes and well-kept neighborhoods and schools. Famed poet Nikki Giovanni, musicians the Isley Brothers and other notable folks hailed from the burb. But systemic forces, including the way the city was incorporated by Hamilton County, conspired to hobble the community, and today it’s a struggling suburb with high poverty, no police force and crumbling schools. I’ve pitched this article to mags before and I’m a little bummed someone beat me to it, but I’m glad it’s being covered.

• Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters will hold a news conference at 11:30 a.m. today on the July 4 unrest at Fountain Square. Specifically, Deters is expected to address possible hate crime charges against three men accused of beating up Indiana native Christopher McKnight. Three men accused of the crime, who police arrested this week, are black. McKnight is white.

There has been some confusion about whether police believe the incident was racially motivated. An initial report by a responding officer called the altercation “anti-white” though police backpedaled on that assertion the next day. However, they reversed course again late last week when Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell asked the prosecutor’s office to pursue the hate crime charges. Video of part of the fight taken from a Metro bus doesn’t clear up the situation: It shows McKnight struggling with one individual, then shows a few others joining in the fight against him. McKnight is shown on both the defensive and pursuing and throwing punches during the altercation. Later, video shows him getting up and walking back and forth among the crowd with his hands up in an aggressive manner. He then wanders out of frame, where apparently a further fight took place that left him with a concussion and broken nose. It is unclear if police have more evidence that the altercation was racially motivated, or whether Deters will seek the hate crime charges in the case.  

• Major hotel company Winegardner and Hammons, Inc, and Eagle Realty, the real estate arm of Cincinnati-based insurance giant Western & Southern, yesterday received permission from the city’s Historic Conservation Board to go ahead with plans to turn the former Anna Louise Inn near Lytle Park downtown into a luxury hotel and restaurant. That approval comes after a number of aesthetic changes to the plans suggested at a conservation board meeting last month. Eagle purchased  the Anna Louise Inn after a protracted battle with Cincinnati Union Bethel, which had run a women’s shelter out of the building for more than a century. CUB had applied for state tax credits to help fund a renovation of the building. Western & Southern challenged the shelter’s receipt of those credits in court, arguing that the area wasn’t zoned for the building’s usage as a shelter. After lengthy court battles, CUB agreed to sell the building. The Anna Louise Inn recently relocated to Mount Auburn.

• Do you remember all those storms yesterday? Crazy stuff. All that wind and rain left more than 70,000 people in the region without power temporarily, according to Duke Energy. As of this morning, some 12,00 are still waiting for the lights to come back on. Some residents in North Avondale, Mount Healthy, North College Hill, Madisonville, Winton Woods, Fairfield and many other neighborhoods and suburbs in Ohio and Northern Kentucky remain without electricity. Some might have to wait days to have their power restored.

• GOP presidential politics in Ohio makes for some awkward situations, right? U.S. Sen. Rob Portman knows this all too well right now. Ohio’s Republican senator is currently polling behind his likely Democratic challenger, former governor Ted Strickland, in his battle for re-election in 2016. He needs a bit of help from his party, and, luckily, there’s a bright spot. Ohio will be a total political circus next year as both parties focus in on our state for the presidential election. That could play well for Portman, especially if Ohio Gov. John Kasich becomes the nominee.

Kasich’s presidential run would rally Republican voters around the state, an excitement that is almost sure to travel down-ballot and give Portman much-needed conservative votes. The only snag? Portman can’t really very wisely endorse Kasich. Portman has big ties to another GOP presidential hopeful, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has a much better chance of winning his party’s nomination at this point in the game. Portman needs Kasich, but he also doesn’t want to gamble on a long-shot candidate or burn his bridges with Bush. What’s a guy to do? Well, just stay quiet on the whole matter, it seems. Portman’s not endorsing anyone in the race. That’s tough luck for Kasich, who is having a bit of a hard time grabbing endorsements from some GOP bigwigs in Ohio, including Portman, Speaker of the House John Boehner and outspoken tea party U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan. U.S. Rep Steve Chabot, who represents Westwood, is also staying out of the primary endorsement game but puts Kasich’s chances among “the top five or six” GOP presidential nod hopefuls. Ouch.

That's it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. You know what's up.

by Nick Swartsell 07.13.2015 139 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Mother still searching for answers in police-involved shooting; three arrested for Fountain Square violence; can bike lanes ease economic and racial disparities?

Hey all! Was your All Star Game weekend rad? I spent the better part of mine far from the mass of ASG-related concerts and VIP invite-only parties, which are weird and a little like hosting a slightly unhip out-of-town guest who throws a party at your house for crusty old celebs on the other side of cultural relevancy (seriously, when was the last time you listened to a new Snoop Dogg track?) only you’re not invited. I’ll take Brighton or the Comet basement any day, though I hope if you hit up downtown you had a great time and got some autographs and free swag for your trouble.

Speaking of the ASG: If you’re trying to get into the actual game tomorrow and didn’t get your tickets a long time ago, it’ll cost ya now. Third-party tickets are running north of $800. That’s 100 $8 beers (is that the cost of a beer at the park? I'm sure it's something like that, right?) or a whole bunch of ballpark cheese coneys, just in case you’re keeping track.

• On to real news. About 30 protesters gathered with Erica Hicks-Woods and Rodriquis Woods, the parents of QuanDavier Hicks, outside Cincinnati Police Department District 1 headquarters in the West End Friday afternoon. Hicks’ parents drove from Atlanta for the rally and to ask questions of Cincinnati police about their son’s death. CPD officer Doris Scott shot the younger Hicks on a second-story stairwell near his Northside apartment after Hicks pointed a rifle at Scott and her partner, according to police. But Hicks-Woods says that version of events doesn’t add up to her, and she’s seeking more information. Hicks-Woods says police have barely spoken to her since the incident and that she’s been brushed off by the case’s lead investigator, who had promised her a meeting that day that was later cancelled. After rallying at the CPD station, Hicks-Woods spoke with Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, who promised a longer meeting over the weekend. She says she was also able to claim some of her son’s belongs which had previously been held, including a cellphone and a ring. An investigation into Hicks’ death is ongoing. CityBeat has requested all available public documents on the incident and will update the story as it unfolds.

• Authorities have arrested three men in connection with a beating that took place on Fountain Square July 4. Indiana resident Christopher McKnight was kicked and punched by a group of men during a period of unrest on the square. A video of the earlier portion of the incident shows McKnight wrestling against one man, then getting into a larger tussle with a few others before getting up, putting one of his shoes back on and walking back and forth in a crowd and raising his arms in an aggressive manner. Later, the altercation apparently continued, and McKnight sustained a concussion and other injuries requiring stitches. McKnight is white, and his assailants are black, which has led to suspicion that the attack was racially motivated. The responding officer on the scene initially described the attack as “anti-white” in police reports. CPD officials first disputed that assertion, but then said the incident may indeed have been a hate-crime. So far, police haven’t presented evidence or witness accounts supporting or disproving the hate crime accusation. Arrest documents for Raeshaun Hand, Antonio Tremble and Steven Montgomery, who were apprehended in connection with the attack, don’t show any indication they are charged with hate crimes at this point. The three face felonious assault charges. Police are looking for a fourth man suspected of participating in the incident as well.

• Here’s police item number three: Documents show the city administration offered CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell a year’s salary, or $136,000, a year extension of his health benefits, a $5,000 lump-sum payment and other concessions if he chose to leave the department. In return, Blackwell would have agreed not to sue the city, and both Blackwell and the city would have agreed not to make disparaging comments about each other to the media. Blackwell’s hypothetical departure made news earlier this summer when it was revealed the city had drawn up his walking papers. Blackwell said he wasn’t interested in leaving. City Manager Harry Black, who had the agreement drawn up, as well as Mayor John Cranley, both said they also wanted Blackwell to stay. The documents detailing the terms of the severance were released by the city at 5 p.m. last Friday, just before the city’s All-Star Game festivities kicked off in earnest. A Cincinnati Business Courier story questioned the timing of that release, saying it follows “a longstanding political and government strategy of pushing inconvenient news out at a time when few are paying attention.” Dang.

• The trial for the man accused of making threats to poison Speaker of the House John Boehner begins today. That charge carries a potential penalty of 10 years in prison. Michael Hoyt, 44, was a bartender at Boehner’s West Chester country club when he made threats to shoot Boehner or put something in his drink because he believed Boehner was the devil. Hoyt has a history of mental illness, and his attorneys have filed documents indicating they’ll be entering an insanity plea in the case.

• As Gov. John Kasich continues his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, questions are being raised about his administration’s transparency. Several groups concerned with government accountability have dinged Kasich’s record on the issue, saying Ohio’s government is much less transparent than it was when he took office. Among big red flags critics point to: the governor’s JobsOhio program, a private entity that runs on state liquor receipts in order to provide incentives to private companies looking to create jobs in Ohio. Fellow Republican Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost fought an unsuccessful battle with Kasich to be able to audit that organization last year. The administration, of course, has pushed back on charges that Kasich’s tenure has seen a more opaque state government. You can read more about Kasich’s record with government transparency in this Columbus Dispatch article.

• Two quick things nationally before I go: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, officially announced his candidacy for president today. Walker is among the frontrunners in the throng of guys running for the GOP nod. He’s a conservative darling who has won a bunch of props from far-righters for busting up bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public employees, among other staunchly conservative policy moves.

• Finally, real fast: Here’s a fascinating article about how bike lanes might be able to increase racial and economic equity in communities. True? A bunch of bike-boosting b.s.? Check out the article and decide for yourself. I think it’s a pretty interesting concept and a good way to expand the conversation about alternate means of transportation and the wider economic implications thereof.

I’m out! Tweet. Email. Etc.

by Nick Swartsell 07.10.2015
Posted In: News at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Want to rent a room in OTR for $500... a night?; county clerks in Kentucky buck same-sex marriage ruling; Ohio considers amending grand jury process

So let’s talk a little about news today.

In case you like, didn’t see the 500 MLB All-Star Game headlines on the Cincinnati Enquirer’s website today, well, that’s happening. Two-hundred-thousand people are headed downtown. Traffic will be bad. Parking will be worse. Prepare yourself.

All that headache is probably worth it if you own an apartment or house anywhere near downtown and are willing to let some strangers crash there. Average prices to stay in Over-the-Rhine or downtown are more than $500 on room rental site Airbnb. No, that’s not monthly. That’s for one night. It’s a 25-percent increase from prices two months ago. The spike is simple economics — there are few hotel rooms left in town after MLB reserved 95 percent of them during the days around the game. That’s left people searching around in the sharing economy, where costs range from the very affordable for a place out in the ‘burbs to a $4,999 a night three-bedroom house with sweeping views in Bellevue, Ky. That five grand is pretty much a down payment on a house in my neighborhood, but whatever you need to party, I guess.

• The city’s police force is out in full force for the festivities, patrolling downtown by the hundreds. With the nation’s eyes on Cincy, city leaders are stressing the need for calm, professional policing, especially after last weekend’s unrest downtown following a concert injured two officers and lead to several arrests. CPD will be getting some help as well from a mounted unit borrowed from the Columbus police. That unit, paid for by the private group the Cincinnati Police Foundation, will patrol downtown on horses.  

• Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown has joined 56 other county clerks in asking Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to call a special session of the state’s legislature in order to take up a law creating religious exemptions to the Supreme Court’s recent decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. Brown, and other clerks across the state, say their religious freedoms are being violated because they’re being forced to license a practice they say is against their beliefs. Brown refused to issue any marriage licenses the day the decision came down last month but has since resumed the practice. Other clerks, however, have been more defiant. Casey Davis, who is the county clerk in uh… Casey County (Really? Really.) has refused to grant same-sex marriage licenses. Gov. Beshear met with Davis yesterday and told him to begin granting the licenses or step down from his job. Davis has refused to do either, saying he will go to jail for his religious beliefs if necessary.

• A panel responsible for recommending changes to Ohio’s constitution is considering reforms to the state’s grand jury system following controversial officer-involved shootings here and across the country. The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission is currently mulling recommendations made by the Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations convened by Gov. John Kasich last year after the police shooting deaths of John Crawford III in Beavercreek and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, among others. Among those recommendations: requiring judicial oversight in grand jury proceedings, releasing some testimony from proceedings to improve the transparency of the process and requiring grand juries review all officer-involved incidents resulting in death or injury, unless other independent investigations are conducted. Currently, there is some question about whether those changes should be made at the constitutional or legislative level, with lawmakers debating what exactly determines how Ohio’s grand jury system should operate. But whether or not the issue is constitutional or a matter for lawmakers, advocates say, it’s a good time to reconsider the state’s grand jury methods. They haven’t been examined by lawmakers in about 60 years.

• Finally, in national news, after a contentious vote yesterday, South Carolina today officially took down the Confederate flag that had been flying over the grounds of the state capital for more than 50 years.The flag was removed from the dome of the building itself in 2000, and its final banishment from the grounds takes place after the horrific shooting of nine African American churchgoers in Charleston by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

That’s it for me. Enjoy this All Star weekend! Oh, and come join our wiffle ball home run derby at Rhinegeist on Sunday. It’s gonna be fun.

by Nick Swartsell 07.09.2015
Posted In: News at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Police say beating was hate crime; state investigating landscaper over diversity fraud; South Carolina removes Confederate flag

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s up in the news today.

Cincinnati police have asked Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters to pursue hate crime charges in connection with an attack on a man at Fountain Square Saturday night. That announcement marks a pronounced change of tone for the police, who earlier said the act did not appear to be racially motivated and that an officer on the scene who called the incident “anti-white” spoke in error. Twenty-seven-year-old Christopher McKnight, who is white, was attacked by several men, all black, following a period of unrest on Fountain Square in which two officers were injured and several arrests were made. Video of the incident taken from a Metro bus appears to show McKnight engaged in a one-on-one fight with another individual at first; soon, however, others also join in. One teen in a red shirt is shown trying to keep others from ganging up on McKnight, dragging another attacker off of him at one point. Soon, though, several teens attack McKnight, who is sometimes on the defensive, other times seen throwing punches. A couple minutes into the video, McKnight is seen getting up, putting one of his shoes back on and stalking back and forth along the sidewalk unaccosted by the crowd, eventually raising his arms in a challenging manner. He then walks out of frame of the camera. The video does not show what started the fight or an apparently later altercation that left McKnight bloodied on the sidewalk. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell has said he’s recommending Deters pursue the hate crime charge against McKnight’s unidentified attackers. No suspects have been arrested in the incident.

• The national office of the NAACP has filed a U.S. District Court lawsuit against former leadership of Cincinnati’s local chapter, advancing long-running controversy over the city’s branch of the civil rights organization. The drama started when Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman resigned as president last year. Ishton Morton stepped in to take his place, but the national NAACP suspended Morton, his wife and another member, Lettie Reid, from the organization, saying they weren’t focused on civil rights work. The NAACP lawsuit alleges that the three have continued to present themselves as local NAACP leaders despite the fact they are no longer members of the organization, conducting fundraising and spending the branch’s money without national authorization. The national group has asked a federal judge to yank incorporation from Cincinnati’s chapter and order its former leaders, including one-time president Ishton Morton, to pay $300,000 in damages. Morton and his allies say the national office is trying to dictate local affairs at the Cincinnati branch, and he’s vowed to fight the lawsuit. There’s a deep political element in the fight: Some within the local chapter have bristled at the rightward drift of the branch, which started under Smitherman and saw the civil right group allying with staunch conservative groups like the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes. Critics say the chapter’s activities in that time have drifted away from civil rights advocacy. Backers, however, say the branch is reflective of local wishes and that the national office is engaging in “voter suppression” by trying to dictate who leads the chapter.

• The state is investigating Newtown-based Evans Landscaping over allegations it has been abusing grants and other programs designed for minority-owned businesses. The company is also entangled in lawsuits around those allegations, which were filed by another company called Ergon Site Construction. An initial suit by Evans claims that Ergon owed the company $275,000 for work done on a contract. Ergon counter-sued, saying Evans was using the minority-owned Ergon to get minority contracts through the state and that the company kept state money meant for Ergon. In the midst of that fight, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Evans’ Newtown location Tuesday. Law enforcement officials would not comment on the reasons for the raid or whether it is related to fraud charges against Evans.

• So that was all super-heavy news. Here’s something less so. For $35 bucks, you can ride a zip line over The Banks. The zip line will go from an 80-foot platform in front  of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to a shorter platform near the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. It will be open starting Saturday at 11 a.m. and will go until 5 p.m. that day. The line will run Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon and then again from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Who’s going to do this with me? It sounds awesome.

• There is a lot of worry in Cincinnati surrounding the recent wave of shootings, which have spiked significantly over last year’s low numbers. But Cincinnati isn’t the only city experiencing increases in violence, and as its homicide numbers remain steady, other cities are seeing sharp increases. Among them is Milwaukee, which has seen 80 murders so far this year — double the 39 it had this time last year. In Baltimore, which has also seen a big spike in gun violence and deaths, the increase has led to the dismissal of the city’s police commissioner. Other cities, including St. Louis and New Orleans, are also experiencing big increases in murders. But social scientists are quick to point out that these spikes seem smaller in context to recent history. Even today’s increased numbers, which are only happening in certain cities, are still much lower than violent crime’s peak in the early 1990s. Experts have a variety of explanations for the mini-surge in violence in Cincinnati and elsewhere. Crime always picks up some in the summer, law enforcement officials note. Also, violent gun crime and murders have been so low in some cities like New York, which clocked its lowest murder rate in 50 years last year, that any increase looks big. Other experts point to the influence of drugs, weak gun laws or other explanations for the increasing violence.

• Finally, lawmakers in South Carolina voted last night to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state house there. The move comes in the wake of the shooting deaths of nine black church goes in Charleston at the hands of white supremacist Dylann Roof. Roof displayed the flag prominently on his vehicle and elsewhere.

That’s it for me. Tweet. Email. Etc.

by Nick Swartsell 07.07.2015
Posted In: News, Police at 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Officers Charged with Covering Up Accident for Controversial Cop

Sgt. Andrew Mitchell, involved in the 2011 shooting of David "Bones" Hebert, was allegedly removed from crash scene by other officers

Two Cincinnati Police Officers have been charged in the cover up of a car accident involving a third officer, Sgt. Andrew Mitchell. Mitchell was the same officer who shot and killed local musician David “Bones” Hebert in Northside in 2011, according to a source within the department.

According to court documents filed Saturday, Mitchell was off duty and driving his personal vehicle, a Honda Odyssey, on West McMicken Avenue in Fairview at 5 a.m. when he ran into a pole. Afterward, Officers Jason Cotterman and Sgt. Richard Sulfsted concealed Mitchell from witnesses, helped him get home and did not fully investigate the accident, according to charges pending against them in Hamilton County Municipal court.

Sulfsted was the supervisor on duty at the time. 

Both Cotterman and Sulfsted face multiple counts of obstructing justice and dereliction of duty. They’re expected in court July 16. Mitchell faces charges in relation to the accident, including reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

“Resulting from an internal Cincinnati Police Department investigation, three Cincinnati Police officers have been arrested and had their police powers suspended pending the outcome of court proceedings, which are now underway,” City Manager Harry Black said in a memo released today.

The memo reveals that the incident was reported to CPD’s internal investigation unit the next day, and that law enforcement officials and prosecutors have reviewed the case for months.

The accident and subsequent cover-up charges raise questions that have yet to be addressed as Cincinnati Police continue their investigation, including the nature of Mitchell’s activities that night along West McMicken Avenue, his fellow officers’ motivations for the alleged cover-up and why Mitchell has remained on the force following other questionable situations in his past service.

Police haven't responded to multiple requests for comment on the charges, and a voicemail box for CPD's public information office is full, according to an automated message. CityBeat has filed public records requests for more information on the incident.

Mitchell's shooting of Hebert in 2011 was controversial, causing a number of protests and investigations in Cincinnati. The shooting also led to a 2012 wrongful death lawsuit against the Cincinnati Police Department. That lawsuit claimed Hebert was complying with instructions given by an investigating officer when he was shot and killed by Mitchell in Northside. The suit also claimed excessive force was used and that Mitchell “acted intentionally, recklessly, wantonly, and with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Mr. Hebert.”

Mitchell shot Hebert after officers responded to a 911 call around 3 a.m. alleging that Hebert had robbed and assaulted an intoxicated man with a pirate sword. Hebert was located sitting on a sidewalk on Chase Avenue about 10 minutes later. During subsequent questioning, officers say Hebert drew a knife and moved toward an investigating officer, causing Mitchell to believe the officer’s life was in danger. Mitchell shot Hebert twice, killing him.

Independent and police investigation into the shooting found that responding officers, including Mitchell, got too close to Hebert and did not have a plan for engaging him, a violation of CPD procedure. Reports show that responding officers barely spoke with each other about the situation before engaging Hebert. Despite the fact he didn’t follow procedures, three internal investigations cleared Mitchell of wrongdoing. 

That wasn’t the only controversial incident involving Mitchell, however. In January of 2008, he was the subject of a civil rights suit after he allegedly used a taser improperly against a teenager. Mitchell allegedly tased Christopher Bauer from his police cruiser after he asked Bauer to stop. However, the teen was wearing headphones and a hoodie and didn’t hear the command. Bauer’s suit says he fell face forward and sustained substantial injuries during the incident. Mitchell was eventually placed on a 40-hour suspension after exhausting appeals within the department’s disciplinary system.

CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.
by Nick Swartsell 07.07.2015
Posted In: News at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

CPD officers charged with cover-up; Cincy number one for recreation; OH pot farms would be unionized, legalization effort says

Hey all, here’s the news today.

Two Cincinnati police officers face charges of covering up a car wreck involving fellow officer Sgt. Andrew Mitchell. Mitchell crashed his car March 22 on West McMicken Ave. According to dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice charges filed in Hamilton County Municipal Court, officers Jason Cotterman and Richard Sulfsted acted to remove Mitchell from the scene and hide his involvement from investigators after that accident. Mitchell now faces criminal charges, including reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

• It’s too early to tell if an attack that took place on Fountain Square July 4 was racially motivated, police said during a news conference yesterday. The incident took place during a period of unrest in which a crowd at a post-fireworks concert allegedly threw bottles and fireworks at officers, resulting in increased police presence including officers in riot gear. Just after that confrontation nearby, a man was beaten by a group of teens and young adults. Originally, responding officer Alicia Essert indicated the assault on Christopher McKnight, a white man from Albany, Indiana, was a hate crime. McKnight suffered a broken nose, facial lacerations and other minor injuries after an altercation with a group of teens and young adults. Essert reported the incident as “anti-white” because the teens were black, Cincinnati Police Capt. Mike Neville told reporters yesterday. He says that’s an incorrect assertion, and that officials are working to investigate what happened before calling the incident a hate crime.

• Let’s talk a little bit more about Transdev, the company tapped to run the Cincinnati streetcar. The private French transit operator has its U.S. offices in Chicago and employs about 18,000 people here. It runs four other rail projects around the country. Transdev only runs one other streetcar project, however — the nation’s largest in New Orleans. The company has overseen ridership increases on that transit project and even an expansion of its route, something streetcar boosters looking to take the trolley uptown will find encouraging. Here in Cincinnati, Transdev will be on the hook for any cost overruns the $4 million a year project incurs, since the contract currently being negotiated between the company and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is a fixed-cost deal.

* Cincinnati is the best city in the country for recreation, according to personal finance website Wallethub. Researchers there took into account climate, recreational costs, quality of parks and the number of recreational facilities in 100 cities to arrive at its rankings. Cincy ranked high in most categories, though it took a big hit in climate — we're 58. Big shocker there. But otherwise, we shine when it comes to our parks and other recreational opportunities. Cincy has the third-most music venues per capita, for instance, and ranked number one in overall number of entertainment and recreational opportunities. Pretty cool.

• The three potential marijuana farms in Southwestern Ohio proposed by weed-legalization effort RepsonsibleOhio would be staffed by union workers, owners of those farms said yesterday. Former Cincinnati Bengal and current Arizona Cardinal Frostee Rucker, one of those owners, promised that the farms would protect workers’ rights at a news conference yesterday. Rucker and other owners signed an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers union at that event. Owners of three potential marijuana farms in central Ohio have signed a similar agreement. The group, which is looking to put a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot, is proposing legalizing marijuana for anyone 21 and up, and making vending licenses available similar to liquor licenses. However, commercial growth of marijuana would be limited to 10 farms across the state owned by investors in the initiative. That’s caused cries of monopoly from a diverse array of critics spanning conservative state lawmakers and officials to other legalization groups.

• Attorneys for six Baltimore police officers charged in the police custody death of Freddy Gray are asking courts to move their trials, arguing that it’s impossible for the officers to get a fair trial in Baltimore. Gray died after sustaining severe spinal cord injuries in the back of a police van in April. After his death, large-scale civil unrest broke out in Baltimore and protests sprung up around the country. Because of the continued tension in the city, attorneys for the officers say it isn’t possible to assemble an unbiased jury pool in time for their October trials. Officers face various charges of murder, manslaughter and other lesser crimes.

by Nick Swartsell 07.06.2015
Posted In: News at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

SORTA votes on streetcar contract; unrest downtown; map of rental affordability crisis

Good morning y’all. I hope your holiday weekend was as crazy as mine in all the good ways a weekend can be crazy without being crazy in all the bad ways a weekend can be. One BAD way your July 4 extravaganza can be crazy is when you have to wrestle a strange naked man off your porch. Yes, that happened to me this weekend. Our country really needs better mental health care systems. But enough about that. Let’s get right to the news thing.

Just a bit ago, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority board voted to award the Cincinnati streetcar operating contract to Transdev, a Chicago-based company that submitted the winning turnkey bid to run and staff the project. That bid, which came in at $4 million for the first year of operations, proposed using non-union employees instead of SORTA personnel. Another bid utilizing unionized folks came in at $4.7 million, which was over the city’s $4.2 million budget for the project.

SORTA is making the decision because Cincinnati City Council could not come to agreement about who should operate the streetcar due to the price difference. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents SORTA’s employees, tried unsuccessfully to convince Hamilton County courts to make council decide which bid should be selected, but a judge rejected their suit. Council’s five Democrats are pro-union, as is Mayor John Cranley. Cranley offered an extra $2 million toward the project if the union contract was selected, but some Democrats on council said they were worried that amount wasn’t enough to keep the project running at full capacity. Councilman Wendell Young voted against the union bid, citing those concerns and depriving the Dems of the fifth vote they needed to approve that bid.

• Here’s some more bad July 4 crazy. There was a rash of unrest on Fountain Square Saturday night as revelry turned into some fights. Cincinnati Police were called in and a group of 50 or more in the crowd became even more agitated, police say, throwing bottles and fireworks at officers. That in turn led to more police presence, this time in riot gear. Two officers were injured during the confrontation. Seven people were arrested. One person was hospitalized after he was beaten badly by a group of young men. It is unclear what connection, if any, the man had to the fights occurring in the area. Police are investigating that incident. Meanwhile, the biggest question local media can muster about the violence appears only to be what this means for next week’s MLB All-Star Game. Awesome.

• Where the ladies at? In the Cincinnati startup world, I mean. Women aren’t nearly as well-represented in the tech and startup industries here, despite being, you know, half the population. Business incubator The Brandery, for instance, had no females in its 2014 class, a problem the organization is looking to remedy for upcoming years, according to this story. It’s not just a problem for Cincinnati, of course — the world of entrepreneurs is famously male-centric. But there are some local efforts happening to change that here.

• Things are going to get interesting in Hamilton County in 2016, and not just because of the presidential election. There’s a big showdown brewing for a couple county commissioner seats. Both Democrat Todd Portune and Republican Greg Hartmann are up for re-election, and both could have some serious challengers.

Let’s zoom in on what’s likely to be the more interesting of the two races: State Rep. Denise Driehaus has signaled she’s carefully considering a run against Hartmann, who angered some voters with last year’s icon tax decision cutting renovations for landmark Music Hall out of a sales tax increase on last year’s ballot. Driehaus looks like she’ll be a strong candidate, but Hartmann has plenty of support, especially from the Hamilton County GOP and right wingers like anti-tax group COAST. He also has some donors with deep pockets. Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou has been touting a recent fundraising event for Hartmann that raked in $250,000 in a single night. That’s big bucks. County Dems, though, say Driehaus won’t need that much cash to topple Hartmann, who will be fighting the tides of demographic change in the county. Republican electorate here has been eroded in recent years, with a younger, more diverse and generally Democratic-leaning population trickling into Hamilton County as Republican voters head out to the ‘burbs.

• More bad July 4 crazy. Someone vandalized Serpent Mound, the ancient Native American burial site in Adams County. It appears someone basically took a big ole truck and did some donuts on the mound. Officials with the historic site say it will take extensive work to restore the damage. The mound is internationally recognized for its historic and cultural importance.

• Finally, I feel like I link you, my dear readers, to a map at least once a week. I hope they’re as interesting to you as they are to me. This one is pretty insane, I think. It’s been put together by the Urban Institute and technically shows rental affordability in every county in the U.S. compared to the national average. The bigger picture? It shows the country’s steadily-intensifying affordable housing crisis, especially for very low-income renters. Even though we have relatively low rents here in Cincy (unless you’re trying to move to Over-the-Rhine, am I right?), that crisis has hit home. In Hamilton County last year, there were 34 affordable units for every 100 low-income families. That’s better than the national average of 28 units per 100 families, but it’s still striking. Even more striking is how much worse that would be without various types of government rental assistance: Hamilton County would only have 10 units of affordable housing for every 100 families that needs them in the market without those subsidies. Yowza.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. But for god's sake if you come to hang out on my porch keep your clothes on.

by Nick Swartsell 07.02.2015
Posted In: News at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Macy's dumps Trump; Ohio dumps PARCC test; will the state change the way it draws congressional districts?

What’s up Cincy? No morning news tomorrow so I can chase down sources for a longer piece I’m working on. I’ll also be pre-gaming patriotism in preparation for the Fourth. But let me give you a brief rundown of a few things happening around town and beyond before I go.

Locally-based Macy’s Department Stores dumped the Trump yesterday. Presumptive GOP presidential candidate and long-running punchline Donald Trump said some choice words about immigrants during his campaign announcement, which has inflamed a firestorm of controversy. Trump suggested that folks from Mexico are criminals and etc., etc., all the tired crap you hear from people who no one should be listening to. As a result, Macy’s has announced it will no longer carry Trump’s menswear line, breaking the hearts of I’m sure dozens of Cincinnati-area males who aspire to the Donald’s dizzying levels of douche-baggery. Trump released a statement on Instagram (of course) saying that the split was his idea and that Macy's is only a small portion of the brisk business he does selling ties that look like something a used car salesman would wear to a bachelor party.

• So is this kinda slimy? The vendors who usually sell you your pre-game Reds shirts, foam fingers, socks, underwear, and what-have-you won’t be allowed to do so during the MLB All-Star Game. As a condition of landing the big game, the city had to agree to limit the sale of merchandise between July 8 and July 15 in an area about a mile around the ballpark. Ticket sellers will also be prohibited from selling in the area during the All-Star Game period. Sellers will still be allowed to vend peanuts and water, however, a concession the city was able to wring from MLB. Some vendors aren’t happy about the arrangement, saying it will cut them out of one of the biggest potential money-making events in the city.

• Another state budget note: One of the provisions in the new financial plan has the state of Ohio dropping its relationship with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the company that was administering standardized tests for Ohio schools. The so-called PARCC test rollout, which has been associated with the new federal Common Core educational standards, has been marked by criticism and tech problems. Next year, the Ohio Department of Education will go with another company, the American Institutes for Research, which already develops some public school tests for Ohio. The change won’t affect the state’s implementation of Common Core, state officials say, though lawmakers have called for less overall testing time for students.

• Ever wonder why Ohio works the way it does politically? Here’s a pretty good breakdown of gerrymandering, or the process of redrawing electoral districts for political advantage. The data shows the way in which parties can arrange districts to win more seats than they get votes. Both parties are guilty of the practice, but in Ohio, it’s Republicans who generally benefit. And that benefit has grown over time. In the period between 1982 and 1990, Republican congressional candidates got 49 percent of the popular vote and subsequently occupied 49 percent of Ohio’s seats in Congress. Fast forward to the time between 2012 and now. Republican congressional candidates get about 55 percent of the popular vote in the state, but occupy 75 percent of the state’s available congressional seats. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing citizen panels instead of state lawmakers to draw those districts could mean changes for the way the district-drawing process is handled, putting it in the hands of regular citizens instead of politicians.

• So. You may be wondering what the difference is between a Gov. John Kasich presidential run and the campaign fortunes of say, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Both are kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel right now when it comes to polls and shots at winning the GOP nod. But this pretty excellent analysis of the race, and of the positions GOP guvs running for office find themselves in, brings in some good points, showing that Kasich isn’t as badly-positioned as one might imagine compared to a candidate like Christie or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. It’s an interesting look at the politics behind governors running for president, and also kind of a window into how big of a mess the Republican field for the presidential nomination is right now.

That’s it for me! I hope your holiday weekend is great. Tweet at me, e-mail, you know the drill.

by Nick Swartsell 07.01.2015
Posted In: News at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noon News and Stuff

Drug cops seize $11K from man at local airport; Kasich cuts ed funding, keeps strict abortion regulations in budget; Portman's problems

Hey hey all! Hope your week is going well as we speed toward what I’m sure is going to be an awesome July 4 weekend. Before we get to news, I wanted to welcome our new staff writer and news reporter Natalie Krebs, who starts today. Natalie comes to us after working in the Texas Senate. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Texas and also completed the prestigious News21 program at Arizona State University. She’s done work for great investigative magazine the Texas Observer and other publications, and we’re super-excited to have her here. You’ll be seeing her byline start popping up in the next couple weeks.

On to news. A new report in the Washington Post says that local law enforcement agencies seized more than $11,000 from a young black man at CVG airport last year under federal asset-forfeiture laws. Those laws allow agencies to seize money associated with drug trafficking or other major crimes. Drug Enforcement Agency task force members took the money from Charles Clarke despite the fact that they didn’t find any drugs, guns or other illegal substances on him. Clarke, who smokes marijuana occasionally, reportedly had the smell of the drug on his belongings at the time, which was enough along with his one-way ticket and inability to account for the money’s source for cops to stop him and seize his stuff.

The airport’s police force and the Covington Police Department were the two agencies involved in the seizure, but a total of 11 local agencies want a piece of the money, including the Cincinnati Police Department. That’s due to the way DEA task forces are set up and the way they disperse asset forfeiture money. The agency defends the practice, saying it helps fund vital local law enforcement efforts across the country. The Post’s story is a pretty incredible read and definitely something worth knowing about.

• In lighter-hearted news: Soon, the enormous, 20-story ghost of a 19th century man will visit downtown Cincinnati every night. Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to alarm you. The giant specter will be the image of a vintage Cincinnati Red Stockings player, which will be projected onto Carew Tower in the evenings to celebrate the upcoming Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Festivities around the game will take place July 10-14. The haunting… err, I mean… celebration starts tonight with a ceremony at 9:30 p.m. After that, the display will be up every night at that time until 5 a.m. through July 15.

• On to state stuff. Gov. John Kasich used his line-item veto power to cut up the state Senate’s budget yesterday, nixing 44 provisions from the financial plan as he signed it into law. Among those provisions, he cut $78 million from public education funding by eliminating a pay-back for schools that once received money from what was called the tangible personal property tax. That tax has since been eliminated, but lawmakers have carved out the reimbursement to assure that schools continue to get adequate levels of funding. Local schools like Princeton and Mason received millions from the TPP funds and have protested their elimination. Kasich and the Ohio Board of Education say they haven’t nailed down which schools will see decreases in funding from the move. Kasich has argued that the TPP money mostly went to schools in high-income areas that could afford to provide more local support and that the money from the program could be better used to support low-income districts. Kasich tried to adjust the state-funding formula in his version of the budget, but that attempt was punted by state legislators.

• Among the things Kasich didn’t veto yesterday: new abortion restrictions slipped into the budget last-minute. You can read all about that situation in this week’s feature news story. Here’s a little preview: Those regulations could threaten Cincinnati’s last clinic that provides abortions.

• One thing the legislature and governor didn’t tackle in the flurry of legislative activity: charter school reform. As we’ve discussed in past articles, there are calls for the reform of Ohio’s charter school system on both sides of the aisle. But it won’t happen just yet. Lawmakers have tabled efforts at reform of the system until September. Lawmakers cite major changes to a controversial bill that would have adjusted the charter system, saying they need more time than the rapidly approaching summer break allows them. Critics of charters say lack of accountability and big issues with use of funds, testing and attendance records show that the charter system in the state needs to be reworked.

• It’s a big day for statewide news. Ahead of today’s deadline, marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio yesterday delivered nearly 700,000 signatures to Secretary of State Jon Husted. If enough signatures are valid and the initiative makes it onto the ballot, voters will decide whether to green-light the group’s constitutional amendment creating 10 legalized marijuana grow sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio investors. Possession of marijuana would be legal for anyone over 21, and licenses would be issued for sale of the drug. No other commercial growers would be permitted, however, a detail that has created controversy. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced their own ballot proposal that would make it much tougher for such so-called constitutional monopolies to pass. That law would more than likely invalidate ResponsibleOhio’s amendment. Voters will have a strange and potentially confusing choice at the ballots come November.

• Here’s an interesting read on U.S. Sen. Rob Portman as he runs for re-election. Portman’s taking a shellacking in the polls right now against his presumed Democratic challenger, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Despite being the incumbent in a state with a Republican governor, Portman is down six points to Strickland in two recent polls. Strickland still has to make it through a Democratic primary, where he faces Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, but he’s opened up a comfortable lead against the young councilman. He’ll also have to contend with Portman’s formidable $8 million campaign war chest, the largest of any GOP Senate candidate seeking 2016 reelection. The above article explores the reasons why Portman is floundering right now in his race — reasons that may be beyond his campaign’s control.

I’m out! Tweet at me about all the fun stuff to do this July 4. Or, you know, email me your boring news tips. I love em.

by Nick Swartsell 06.30.2015
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Union to sue SORTA, city; Kasich poised to sign $71 billion Ohio budget; Texas city charges journalists $80,000 for public emails

Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on today in Cincinnati.

If you were wondering what all the traffic was about downtown this morning (I was) this probably had something to do with it. The Hamilton County Courthouse was evacuated around 8:20 a.m. due to a suspicious suitcase that was flagged by bomb sniffing dogs there. The perimeter around the courthouse was cleared and a bomb unit and federal anti-terrorism personnel were dispatched to the scene. No word yet on what the item in the suitcase turned out to be.

• Guess what I have for you… it’s… you guessed it. More streetcar drama. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents employees for the Southwest Regional Ohio Transit Authority, has announced it will file a lawsuit against SORTA and the city of Cincinnati to try and prevent them from accepting a bid that wouldn’t use union employees to operate the transit project.

According to the union, Cincinnati City Council must direct SORTA on which bid to select. Some members of Council supported a more expensive pro-union bid that cost $4.7 million to the non-union’s $4 million in the first year of operations, but couldn’t reach an agreement to recommend that bid during voting. The union-friendly contract comes in about $500,000 over budget for the city, which has caused conservatives on council to balk at the option. Democrat Wendell Young also voted against the pro-union deal, sinking it the last time it came before council, because he worried the $2 million from the city’s general fund Mayor John Cranley agreed to use toward the project wouldn’t be enough and that a shortfall would cause reduction in service for the streetcar.

Without an agreement, council punted the decision to SORTA, which says it has no choice but to choose the less-expensive option. The ATU is seeking an injunction in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to force council to make the decision, saying that is what is required under the language of a motion about streetcar operations council passed last year. A separate operations and maintenance agreement between SORTA and the city makes no mention of such a stipulation, however.

• Seven projects in Cincinnati representing more than $61 million in development will receive Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits, the state announced today. Among those projects is the revamp of the Baldwin building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills. The historic former piano factory will be converted from office space into market-rate apartments by Cincinnati-based Neyer Properties. Neyer will receive $4.8 million in tax credits on the $39 million project.

• New affordable housing for seniors is coming to Northside. Episcopal Retirement Homes is building the 56-unit, $10 million development at Knowlton and Mad Anthony streets, one of 10 the group is doing in Greater Cincinnati. The Northside development will be LEED certified and handicap accessible. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved tax exemptions on the development yesterday and full council is expected to approve them tomorrow.

• Gov. John Kasich today is expected to sign into law the state’s $71 billion biennial budget drawn up by state lawmakers. Kasich didn’t get a lot of what he wanted in the budget — sweeping tax cuts for businesses and high-earners, taxes on oil and gas fracking, his revamp of the state’s educational funding formula — but the state legislature’s budget is still plenty conservative, ushering in its own big income tax cuts. And Kasich will have a bit of revenge as he vetoes some items in the state house’s budget, though it’s unclear what he will slash with the veto pen.

Abortion advocates hope against hope he’ll cut out some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which conservative lawmakers slid into the budget at the last minute earlier this month. Those include a stipulation that clinics’ partner hospitals must be within 20 miles of the abortion provider and a tweak to the rules over how clinics without agreements with local hospitals are licensed. You can read in-depth about those rule changes and what they mean for Cincinnati and the state in tomorrow’s CityBeat print edition. Kasich is much more likely to veto items that limit his executive authority, including an attempt to close out a method Kasich used to expand Medicaid in the state over lawmakers’ objections. Kasich is ushering in the state’s budget even as he has his eye on bigger things: He’ll announce his run for president in Columbus July 21.

• Finally, this is a story that is probably most interesting to journalists, but here we go anyway. The city of McKinney, Texas, where police officer Eric Casebolt resigned earlier this month after he was shown on video pointing a gun at teenage pool party goers and slamming a teenaged girl to the ground, is charging journalists almost $80,000 for access to public records about Casebolt. Gawker Media has requested all official emails about Casebolt’s 10-year career as well as his personnel file. McKinney officials say that the city’s emails predating 2014 aren’t searchable and that they’ll have to hire a computer programmer to retrieve them, thus the huge expense.