Sometimes, all the forces of the universe conspire to make every important thing possible happen on the same day, at the same time. That day is tomorrow, when City Council will meet for the first time since its summer recess, Hamilton County Commissioners will vote on the icon tax and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in four states. To make sure you're ready, let's review a couple big upcoming news events, shall we?
• Time is ticking down for a possible tax hike deal to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. County Commissioners have until tomorrow to decide whether or not a proposed .25 percent sales tax will end up on the November ballot, and there’s no indication that two of the three commissioners are leaning toward voting for the tax as-is. At issue is the city’s contribution and the age-old city vs. county dynamic. Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann, both Republican, say they want a bigger financial commitment from the city, a sign of long-term buy-in. Monzel has floated the idea of cutting Music Hall out of the deal, since he says that building is the city’s responsibility and Union Terminal has more history county-wide. He’s said an alternative sales tax proposal could be ready for tomorrow’s meeting if a deal for both buildings can’t be reached. Another alternate idea involves ticket fees for those attending events at the buildings.
The city has pledged to continue the $200,000 a year it pays toward upkeep for each building and has committed an additional $10 million for Music Hall. Commissioners have said that isn’t enough. They’ll vote at their weekly meeting tomorrow on whether to put the issue on the ballot for voters to weigh.
• Tomorrow is a big day for other reasons. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. It will be a decisive moment for the marriage equality movement, which has been on a winning streak in the courts lately. The Supreme Court last June struck down a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and since then many courts have ruled against gay marriage bans and other laws restricting recognition of same-sex marriages. But two of the three judges on the appellate board here are appointees from former President George W. Bush’s time in office and have a record of rulings supporting conservative values. Both opponents and supporters of the bans have rallies planned during the 1 p.m. hearings. Religious groups in the area, including the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, are urging followers to pray for the judges. The church has voiced strong support for Ohio’s gay marriage ban, passed in 2004.
• An effort to open a cooperative grocery store in Clifton is coming down to the wire, an Enquirer report says. The proposed market has met a quarter of its $1.65 million fundraising goal, officials with the group say. That money comes from shares anyone can buy to become a part owner of the store and would go toward buying the former Keller’s IGA building on Ludlow Avenue. The Clifton Cooperative Market group is under contract to buy the building, but that contract expires Oct. 11. The group envisions an “upmarket” grocery that provides both staple goods and specialty items. If the group can get half the money, officials say, it will become easier to secure financing for the rest through bank loans.
• Miami University is tops! The local university ranks high on a few just-released Princeton Review lists, though not necessarily all positive ones. Miami is the nation’s 11th best party school, the review finds. It’s rocketed up five spots from last year, passing rival Ohio University. As an alum, I can tell you the recognition is long overdue. However, the school is also ranked fifth on the “little race and class interaction” list. So if you like partying with 16,000 friends who look a whole lot like you (assuming you look like an extra from a Brooks Brothers casual wear catalogue shoot) I’ve got the school for you. The school also ranked high for Greek life (sixth) and its entrepreneurial program (12th).
• Finally, a story about grandmothers in Aurora, Indiana who have taken up a new hobby — firearms. Two senior women there started a gun education group in May after being robbed. Women Armed and Ready, or WAR, trains women on proper use of handguns for self-defense, firearm laws and target shooting.
“My gun is the answer to anybody who thinks I'm an old lady living alone,” says WAR member Barb Marness. Enough said.
Hey all. As we all collectively recover from sitting in Washington Park for hours camped out for LumenoCity, let’s talk about what’s going on in the wide world, shall we?
The Cincinnati Police Department has released a report (scroll down to page four in that agenda) about the effectiveness of the anti-prostitution barriers on McMicken, which the city put up in May and took down last week. According to the report, the barricades did reduce prostitution, though some activity simply shifted to nearby blocks in Over-the-Rhine.
• The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center celebrated its 10th anniversary Sunday. After contention about its creation and financial struggles early in its existence, the museum and conference center looks to be on a very positive trajectory. Despite debt and a $1 million-plus operating deficit as recently as 2011, the Freedom Center has proven resilient. A July 2012 merger with the Museum Center has helped, as well as contributions from donors and the Center’s continually nationally recognized exhibitions and events. Attendance revenue is up 35 percent at the Center, a Cincinnati Enquirer article says, and the Center’s endowment is growing. On a personal note, this is one of my favorite places in the city, and the news that it’s doing well is great to hear indeed.
• The big story this morning is in Toledo, which is now in its third day without water due to contamination from algae. Four-hundred-thousand residents woke up Saturday morning to a warning from the city instructing them not to use tap water for drinking, showering or cleaning. Making matters worse, boiling the water only increases the concentration of toxins, so the water is completely unusable. Toledo’s Mayor D. Michael Collins announced Monday that tests of the water supply showed it was getting safer after clean-up efforts, but wanted more time to ensure it is completely safe. Residents Sunday night were told it would probably be safe to shower quickly or do laundry. Meanwhile, Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency Saturday, the National Guard began shipping in vats of water and grocery stores were picked clean of bottled water.
Experts say the current situation has been building for a decade, as sewage, farm and industrial runoff builds in Lake Erie. That’s supported the explosive growth of algae, which produces toxins that can cause liver problems and general illness, including nausea and dizziness. The toxins can also kill pets.
• Hamilton County Commissioners at their staff meeting this morning will discuss whether to put the so-called icon tax on the November ballot. As of Friday, none of the three commissioners were completely on board with any of the scenarios for a proposed tax hike to pay for renovations to Union Terminal and Music Hall, though the commissioners have expressed interest in finding a proposal that works for everyone. Probably the hardest to sway will be Commissioner Todd Portune, who said he doesn’t feel “any pressure at all” to vote in favor of a tax plan. At issue: how much the city should chip in for the renovations and whether it would be more appropriate to pay for at least some of the renovations with fees added to tickets to events at the facilities. The commissioners must make a decision by Aug. 6.
• LumenoCity wrapped up last night, and by all accounts it was a big success. The three-day event, which combined a light show projected onto Music Hall with a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance, drew 37,500 people who reserved tickets online in order to enter the park. This year, festivities included LumenoCity village, where folks could shop and hang out whether they had a ticket or not. I went Sunday, and it was great to see so many people mingling. Plus the Charley Harper tribute was especially amazing. But a thought: Who was left out by the ticketing system, which was predominantly administered online? Also, it’s interesting to think about spending $1 million on an hour-and-a-half-long light show in a historically low-income neighborhood when that’s the same amount of money the city has budgeted for social service agencies for the whole year. Just a thought.
• Finally, this story is the stuff of nightmares. Some kind of mechanical failure caused an explosion in an eggnog vat at a food lab in New Jersey. The ‘nog is one of my least favorite things in the world, and the thought of a violent explosion of the stuff is stomach-turning, to say the least. No one was killed in the blast (what a way to go that would be) but two scientists were injured and an entire back wall of the lab was blown down. One final thought about this whole thing — the establishment cooking up the beverage is called Pharmachem. Sounds delicious.
Hey all. Did you miss me? I ditched the morning news yesterday to
see if anyone noticed I was gone go find out more about Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley’s pick to be city manager. You can read all about what he’ll do if he gets the job here, but I’ll offer a brief recap. Black wants to play the long game, working on the city’s long-term financial planning and setting up something similar to the ten-year plan he worked on as the city of Baltimore’s finance head. He said he would stay away from the politics of some of the city’s more contentious projects like the streetcar, instead offering analytical and technical contributions to those undertakings.
• The barriers erected in May along McMicken Ave. in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview came down yesterday as originally scheduled. (Actually, I passed through the area on the way home from a show Wednesday night and they were already down by that point). The three blockades on various parts of the street were designed to cut down the high levels of prostitution happening in the area. The jury is out on whether or not the approach worked; some in the neighborhood say it actually made the problem worse and have filed a lawsuit to keep the city from putting them back up in the future, though others are much more positive about the outcome. Some claim the problem simply moved to other neighborhoods like Price Hill. The city is now weighing more permanent efforts to cut down prostitution in Cincinnati, including publishing the names of convicted johns.
• Ugh. Normally, I don’t roll individual crime reporting into the morning news, but this instance is just so scummy I feel like it has to be mentioned. Three men were arrested yesterday for allegedly assaulting a man named Johnny Hensley as he left the Drop-Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine, where he’d been staying. The assault happened Sunday at about 3 a.m., police say, and lasted for about 15 minutes. The three allegedly approached Hensley from behind and began punching him. Advocates for the homeless are calling it a hate crime.
• Here’s some good news. Ohio students entering high school as freshmen will get the chance to take the ACT and SAT when they become juniors free of charge. The Ohio Department of Education will pick up the tab for the cost of those tests as part of an effort to boost higher education among Ohioans. The tests usually cost about $50 each, and sometimes you may have to take them a couple times each to get a decent score. Well, I did, at least.
• The concentration of poverty in America’s suburbs is accelerating, a new brief by the Brookings Institution says. The release is an update of a 2011 study that showed the poor are increasingly found in the suburbs, counter to the common perception of poverty as something that is solely an inner-city problem. The numbers, which have been updated with the latest data from the Census American Community Survey, are pretty shocking. From 2000 to 2012, populations of poor folks increased by 139 percent in the suburbs, compared to a 50 percent increase in urban areas. In the Cincinnati area, the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs jumped by 70 percent in that time, compared to a 13 percent jump in the number of people living in poverty in the city.
• As the debate of immigration continues its nauseating, repetitious drone, the GOP congressional delegation has had something of a meltdown over the past couple days. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives yesterday seemed poised to vote on and pass a border security bill that would have given at least some money, though not as much as Democrats would like, for addressing the humanitarian crisis along America’s southern border. The bill was packed with conservative-friendly provisions, including a measure that would mean immediate deportation for young, unaccompanied migrants fleeing drug-related turmoil in Central America. But even that wasn’t conservative enough, and the bill was pulled before a vote after it became clear the tea party element of Congress would not support it. Lawmakers are trying again today to get enough support for some effort to address the border crisis, though there is no indication whether they will be successful. Congress is scheduled to be in recess after today until September.
• Right now, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other areas in western Africa are experiencing a deadly flare-up of the Ebola virus. More than 700 people have died from the disease, and about a thousand more have taken ill. Now, a U.S. aid worker infected with the virus, which has a 60 to 90 percent mortality rate, is coming to an Atlanta hospital for treatment. She or he will be the first known person with Ebola in the United States, experts say, though doctors and disease specialists say there is little chance the virus will spread here. The disease is terrifying, beginning as cold-like symptoms before escalating into an all-out assault on the body that can literally melt your organs. Researchers are working on a vaccine, and may be ready to test it by September.
The Senate (America’s most powerful deliberative body, not the hotdog place on Vine Street) voted yesterday
to approve former P&G CEO Bob McDonald as head of the Department of
Veterans Affairs. The vote was 97-0, and while such approvals are
usually kind of a mundane procedural affair, they’ve been pretty
difficult with many Obama nominees due to a pretty rowdy, partisan
Senate. Some expected McDonald to have some trouble during the
process, but the near-unanimous vote signals a vote of confidence in
the former Army Ranger and Cincinnati native. McDonald has pledged to
make reforms to the troubled VA within 90 days of starting his new gig.
• Mayor John Cranley has indicated his pick for the city’s next City Manager — Harry Black, finance director for the city of Baltimore. Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black, 51, grew up in a rough neighborhood in Baltimore and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. He sees a “tremendous” potential in Cincinnati and would like to shore up long-term financial planning here as well as create new ways for innovation to happen in the city.
Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness. Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
• The city has unveiled the design for the streetcar’s power station. It appears the station, which will run power to the streetcar lines, will be a big rectangle on Court Street made out of bricks. It will also be adorned with artwork and some steel pieces, making it only slightly more visually interesting than the proposed GE building at The Banks.
What’s more interesting, to me, at least, is the logic behind the building’s location. It can’t go on Central Parkway, officials say, because of structural issues with the subway tunnels. And it can’t go in the subway tunnels because, according to the Business Courier, the long-term transit plan for Greater Cincinnati calls for the tunnels to be used for rail transit some day. I’m not holding my breath for the subway to start operating (that’s how many of my ancestors passed away), but it would be awesome to see rail travel going through those tunnels someday.
The city also revealed it will replace the 14 parking spaces the building would eliminate, answering concerns about parking loss due to the new structure.
• If you have plans this weekend that involve traversing
I-71, beware. The southbound side of the highway will be closed at the
Dana Avenue exit from Friday, Aug. 1 at 10 p.m. until Monday, Aug. 4 at 5
a.m. If you try to go that way, you’ll be routed along the Norwood
Lateral to I-75. Just a heads up.
• A recent piece on urban planning and development blog UrbanCincy.com asks some good questions about a large proposed 3CDC development at 15th and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine. The development, which is currently on hold, would look a lot like Mercer Commons just to the south, span most of a block, contain 300 parking spaces, 22,000 square feet of retail, and just 57 residential units. The piece questions whether the development as planned is really in the spirit of what residents want and what’s best for one of the city’s most promising pedestrian neighborhoods. It’s worth a read.
• Finally, a new Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, up 12 points over his challenger, Democrat Ed FitzGerald. That’s a huge gap, with FitzGerald trailing badly in terms of the number of Ohio voters who recognize his name. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they had no opinion of FitzGerald. That’s bad news, but it’s better than the 15-point deficit FitzGerald had in May, the last time the poll was done. Still, he has serious ground to cover in the three months before the November election. The challenger has been campaigning for more than a year and a half on promises to make higher education more affordable and reform the state’s charter school system, among a number of other talking points. FitzGerald’s campaign is heavily outgunned financially, with just under $2 million to Kasich’s $9 million. The challenger’s campaign recently launched its first TV ad, though Kasich has been running them for months.
As we reported yesterday, Mayor John Cranley rolled out his new immigration task force at Music Hall. The volunteer group, made up of 78 community leaders split into five committees, will look for ways to make Cincinnati a welcoming city for immigrants with an eye toward economic development and growth. The initiative is in its early stages, with committees scheduled to report their findings and suggestions in December. No word so far on hot-button issues like undocumented immigrants, but you can read more about the task force and the work it will be doing in the above blog post.
The mayor also mentioned another immigration-related effort underway, though one unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and the Catholic Archdiocese are working to find ways to house some child refugees who have come to the U.S. through Mexico from Central America, fleeing turmoil related to drug violence in their home countries. The groups have applied for federal grant money through the Department of Health and Human Services to give about 50 refugee children a temporary place to stay in the Cincinnati area.
The massive border crossings have been called a humanitarian crisis and have drawn response from President Obama, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and many liberal and conservative groups. Perry, a staunch conservative, has taken the step of calling in National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. Closer to home, Dayton’s Mayor Nan Whaley recently caused controversy with conservatives when she expressed willingness to house some of the child immigrants in Dayton. That led to a backlash from Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who represents Dayton in Congress. Turner called her comments “completely out of line.” Dayton has been engaged in efforts since 2009 to attract more immigrants to the city, though those efforts are focused on documented immigrants who can help the city grow economically.
The federal government works to move unaccompanied child immigrants out of federal facilities and into temporarily housing with “sponsors,” families or non-profit groups. So far this year, the government has placed about 30,000 children into such arrangements.
• Last month we reported on a lawsuit against the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. The state has settled that suit, and now, local companies overcharged by the OBWC will be getting at least some of their money back. The state settled a lawsuit yesterday over unfair payment structures that gave big discounts on insurance rates to some companies while charging much higher rates to others. Local companies like BAE and non-profits like the Cincinnati Ballet are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the payment scheme. The OBWC has changed how they calculate payments and will create a $420 million fund to repay companies overcharged by the scheme.
• Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke today at the ongoing National Urban League Conference here in Cincinnati. Paul is a staunch libertarian conservative and tea party favorite who in the past has expressed some skepticism about parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying private businesses should be free to discriminate if they see fit. Paul has since walked back a bit on that, but statements like that make him an unlikely choice to speak at the civil rights organization’s big national gathering. He didn’t draw the biggest crowd of the conference, for sure, but he did touch on at least a couple issues relevant to the black community, including his ideas for changing mandatory drug sentencing laws. Current drug laws in the United States have contributed to the highly disproportionate incarceration rates faced by young black males, Paul says, and he’d like to change that. One proposal he'll be pursuing in the Senate-- ending the much higher penalties for selling crack over powdered cocaine. Paul also made his argument for libertarian policies that he says will increase the availability of jobs for everyone, including minorities. Paul has been reaching out to minority groups with mixed success as he builds up to his 2016 presidential bid. Meanwhile, Democrats are rolling their eyes at Paul’s attempts.
• Cincinnati set a Guinness World Record last night for most salsa dancers when more than 2,000 people danced at Fountain Square. The previous record was 1,600 dancers. The effort was put together by a number of community organizations to celebrate Cincinnati’s Hispanic community.
• Finally, if you’re like me after finishing a long article on the subject last week, you’re in too deep on the hot topic of charter schools and need some tips for how to uh, unwind. Luckily, Ohio Department of Education Communications Director John Charlton has some advice for anyone in this position. In a personal tweet sent out July 18, Chartlon advised opponents of charter schools to “take a break from muckraking and enjoy the weekend. Maybe you can get laid. Lol.” Charlton was responding to a tweet asserting that he thought “charter schools are OK no matter what shenanigans take place.” Laugh out loud!
Charlton deleted the tweet yesterday, and explained it this way:
"It was an offhanded comment made as a back and forth with critics who engaged me on my personal account," he said.
Bee-tee-dubs, keep an eye out for our piece on charter schools next week. It’s a deep dive into what’s up with Ohio’s charters. Until then, relax, enjoy your weekend, and maybe you can get… some pizza or something.
Tons going on today in Cincinnati. Check it out.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke this morning at the National Urban League Conference, which is here in town this year. Biden’s speech touched on the challenges the black community has historically faced and the progress the country has made toward economic and social equality. But there are a lot of challenges ahead, the VP said.
“Both civil and economic rights are under siege in the aftermath of the great recession. We can’t be satisfied with where we are now in either civil rights or economic opportunities for African Americans,” he said. Biden called out new voting laws designed to “prevent fraud where no fraud exists” in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ohio has attempted to enact new voting laws as well, limiting early voting times during which many black voters go to the ballot.
“We need to call this what it is,” Biden said. “This is an attempt to suppress minority voting masquerading as an attempt to end fraud.”
Biden also outlined the deep economic disparities facing African Americans, including lack of access to high-quality education and good paying jobs. But there's hope, he said, highlighting new jobs in technology and the medical industry. "If I made this presentation to you seven years ago, I wouldn't be so optimistic. But I'm telling you, this is a new era, not just because of this administration. We're better positioned than anyone in the world." But the United States needs to invest in education and infrastructure to capitalize on that opportunity, Biden said.
True to form, he sprinkled some scatter-brained levity into his talk, opening with wall to wall jokes. Biden’s daughter Ashley is on the board of the Urban League, he noted. “I should have had at least one Republican kid who makes money,” he joked. “That way, when they put me in a home, I get a room with a view.”
• Hundreds of folks from all over the city crowded into the Sharonville Convention Center last night to talk about the plan to hike sales taxes to pay for renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall. Many supporters of the plan showed up, but there were some skeptics in the audience as well. One suggestion that popped up a couple times, and that Commissioners say they may consider, is splitting renovations of the two buildings. Some have suggested raising taxes by a smaller amount so that people across the county can help pay for the badly-needed renovations to Union Terminal, while saving less-urgent Music Hall for the city to fund. Other attendees at the meeting didn’t like the proposed tax plan at all, saying they felt it put too much burden on the county. Many of the plan’s supporters came sporting the yellow signs that are part of the Save Our Icons campaign, a local effort to raise awareness about the buildings and advocate for a renovation plan sponsored by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Music Hall Revitalization Company. The next and final public meeting on the plan before Commissioners decide whether it will go on the ballot will be at the Commissioners’ regular meeting at 11 a.m. on Monday, July 30.
• Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald is another step closer to becoming the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs after the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs voted unanimously yesterday to endorse his nomination. The VA has been plagued by mismanagement, with serious questions arising about patient wait times and record keeping at the agency. Sen. Sherrod Brown is on the committee, and voiced strong confidence in McDonald.
“The VA is faced with many hurdles that it must overcome,” Brown said. “These hurdles are not insurmountable, and I am confident Bob McDonald will meet these challenges head-on.”
McDonald is a veteran himself, graduating from West Point and serving in the Army Rangers before his time at P&G.
“…I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference,” McDonald told the committee yesterday.
• Cincinnati is the top city in the country for recreation, a new ranking says. A study done by finance website WalletHub.com puts our fair city on top of the nation’s 100 largest cities when it comes to having a good time. The study measured availability and affordability of various recreation—from parks to bowling to beer and wine—and then ranked cities accordingly. In all, 24 factors were considered. Most notably, the city is 2nd in the country when it comes to low prices for pizza and burgers. That’s the kind of metric I like to see. I may need to verify this during lunch hour today.
• A local non-profit called People’s Liberty has announced it will give out two $100,000 grants to Cincinnatians looking to make a difference in their community. Smaller grants will also be available for one-off projects and efforts. The group, which will be based in the Globe Building across from Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine, is looking for “civic rock stars” who will use the money to try new, adventurous ways of getting people civically engaged. The grants will come with access to work space, support from staff, and connections with Cincinnati’s business and non-profit communities.
The coolest thing about this idea, I think, is the promise to make it inclusive and diverse.
"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," CEO Eric Avner told the Enquirer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."
• Finally, from the "weird crimes" file—the press secretary for a Pennsylvania Republican congressman was arrested late last week for trying to bring a loaded 9mm pistol into the Cannon congressional office building. Ryan Shucard, the press secretary for Rep. Tom Marino, tried to walk right through a security checkpoint at the building, which is just a block from the Capitol. Security found the weapon and magazine, and how Shucard is charged with carrying a weapon without a license, which is a felony.
It’s a pretty good morning for news, so let’s get to it.
Cincinnati City Council's epic struggle this spring over the Central Parkway bike lane is barely a memory and the city is well on its way to a protected bike route from uptown to downtown. Crews are painting the new lanes right now, like, probably as I type, sectioning off a whole portion of the road meant only for cyclists. No more frantically looking over your shoulder every three seconds, bikers. No more getting caught behind a cyclist when you’re late to work, drivers. Everyone wins. After the lanes are painted and signage about new parking patterns is installed, crews will put up the plastic poles between the road and the bike lane, and we’ll all be ready to ride.
• A non-profit development group for the city’s uptown neighborhoods is looking for land to purchase in order to make a new federal research center a reality. The Uptown Consortium is trying to find the 14 acres in Avondale and Corryville near Reading Road and Martin Luther King Blvd. for the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety to build its multimillion dollar headquarters. NIOSH already runs two facilities in the region—one in the East End and another in Pleasant Ridge. This facility would consolidate the two and bring hundreds of jobs to the uptown area. Both the current facilities are 60 years old. The area is already home to a number of health facilities, including UC Health and Children’s Hospital. Representatives for the consortium said the land hunt is an ongoing project with no set timeline just yet. NIOSH researches issues around workplace safety.
• The Hamilton County Coroner yesterday released the autopsy report for Brogan Dulle, the 21-year-old UC student who went missing in the early hours of May 18 and was later found hanged in the building next to his apartment. The report confirms what authorities believed—that Dulle’s death was suicide. No signs of trauma or struggle were found on Dulle’s body other than the hanging-related injuries that caused his death.
There are still puzzling elements about Dulle’s death, mostly around why he would want to commit suicide.
“It's an investigation that's raised a lot of questions and we still have a lot of questions we may never know the answers to," said Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey.
• Food stamp usage is down in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, following a national trend, says a report from the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The report found that usage dropped more than 4 percent in Ohio from Feb. 2013 to Feb. 2014. Some of this news is good–a portion of those spending reductions came from a decrease in demand due to the economy’s slight but steady improvement. But some of the reductions come from last year’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government’s main nutrition aid effort. SNAP spending by the federal government increased following the great recession as more individuals and families navigated tough economic situations and found themselves needing aid. That increase became a talking point for Republicans looking to slash government spending. At its peak in 2010 spending from the SNAP program accounted for .5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, nearly double what it had been earlier in the decade. Conservatives in Congress used the fact spending had gone up to attempt deep cuts to the program, passing several new stipulations. As the economy gets better, and as these cuts have taken effect, spending on SNAP has dropped to .25 percent of the nation’s economy, according to research by the Congressional Budget Office.
• Do you like alcohol, but hate that it’s in that hard-to-transport liquid form? Science has you covered. Turns out there’s a product called Palcohol that is, you guessed it, powdered, freeze-dried alcohol. Kind of like astronaut ice cream, only it’ll get ya drunk. This definitely reminds me of a certain Parks and Recreation bit. While Ron Swanson says there’s no wrong way to consume alcohol, the Ohio General Assembly wouldn’t say that. Lawmakers are working on a bill to ban the product. Palcohol received approval from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, though the department quickly reversed its decision. It’s also been banned or will soon be banned in a number of other states including Alaska and New York. Turns out, things that aren’t that great for you anyway are even worse for you in powdered form. In May, an 18-year-old Ohio man died from consuming a heaping helping of powdered caffeine. The FDA now warns consumers to, you know, not do that kind of thing. Palcohol's inventor released a video addressing some concerns about the product, which you can check out right here.
Northside Community Council voted July 21 to allow a needle exchange program in the neighborhood. The effort, run by the Cincinnati Exchange Program, will start sometime in August and operate from a van one day a week for three hours at a time. Planned Parenthood will also participate, providing testing services for diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
Exchanges, which aim to cut down the transmission of those diseases among intravenous drug users, have been controversial in the city. A similar effort in Springdale earlier this year was shut down after just a few weeks due to outcry from some in the community. But the community council in Northside thinks the program is worth it.
“The community has been doing its due diligence as to how the program would work and what the repercussions are, and decided the health benefits definitely outweigh any consequences,” said Northside Community Council President Ollie Kroner. “Northside wants to be part of the solution to the heroin epidemic.”
A 2012 study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that needle exchange programs can greatly reduce the number used syringes found littering streets. And a 2004 study by the World Health Organization found that exchanges do not increase the rate of heroin use in areas where they are undertaken.
Heroin addiction has been rising steadily in Ohio in the past five years. 2012 Ohio Department of Health data shows that 159 people in Hamilton County died from heroin overdoses, a 6 percent increase over the year before. Experts trace the epidemic to an increase in the availability of prescription opiates in the last decade. As Ohio has cracked down on those drugs, addicts turn to other, similar drugs to experience the same high. The most popular by far is heroin.
Local organizations, including Northside-based Caracole work hard to fight heroin addiction and prevent overdoses. But as heroin use increases, needles infected with various blood-borne diseases including HIV and hepatitis are a serious concern. Hepatitis C in particular has been increasing among intravenous drug users in the area. Needle exchanges allow a person to exchange a used needle for a new, sterile one, so they at least won’t catch deadly diseases associated with intravenous drug use. The exchanges also cut down on the level of needle litter, meaning less risk of exposure for community members who aren’t using.
Opponents say exchanges encourage heroin use, but supporters of the programs say the availability of clean needles alone won’t sway a person to take or not take the incredibly addictive drug.
Kroner said the effort is a six-month pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of needle exchanges. Though some in the community have expressed concerns that the exchange will create a perception that Northside has a heroin issue, Kroner emphasized that the program isn’t a response to any specific drug problem in the community.
“What we’re really hoping is that Northside can show that this kind of program can work in other communities,” Kroner said.
It's morning! I have news! Morning news! Wow, sorry, that's a lot of exclamation points. I sprung for the large iced coffee this morning and probably need to settle down a little. Anyway, here we go:
Cincinnati is playing host to the annual National Urban League Conference this week. The event, held by one of America’s oldest and largest civil rights organizations, is expected to draw 8,000 people to the city for events Wednesday through Saturday.
The conference is a big deal for Cincinnati. Last time the city tried to host the event in 2003, it was recovering from the 2001 civil unrest that gave Cincinnati a national reputation for race problems. Notable black entertainers boycotted downtown and the Urban League took its conference elsewhere. Since then, some reconciliation and a lot of revitalization has happened, but many old problems remain. In a report called “The State of Black America,” the Urban League ranked the city 74th out of 77 peer cities in terms of economic equity between blacks and whites. Blacks in the Greater Cincinnati area make an average of $24,272 a year compared to $57,481 for whites, the greatest disparity of any city in the region.
Here’s a quote worth thinking about in a Cincinnati Enquirer piece on the event:
"The riots ... were also about economic frustration," said Donna Jones Baker, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio. "These economic gaps continue. And while we have a vibrancy in the city because of wonderful things happening, we have a group of people who can't access them. We can’t expect people to suffer in silence forever.”
Among those attending the event are Vice President Joe Biden and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Biden will make opening remarks Wednesday and Paul will deliver a town hall speech Friday. This seems like a good opportunity for both to keep their speaking short and their listening long, but yeah.
• The cost of renovating Union Terminal and Music Hall may be more than initially estimated, a group of consultants say. International real estate company Hines looked over engineers’ $331 million cost estimates and found places where more money may be needed for both projects. The possible overrun could amount to $10 million more added to the project.
The revelation comes during a continuing disagreement about where renovation money should come from. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann suggests the city chip in to help shore up the landmarks. Hartmann argues that the county can’t “go it alone” in efforts to fix the buildings. A further city contribution would be in addition to the $10 million the city has already pledged for the renovations. Mayor John Cranley shot back at Hartmann yesterday with an editorial detailing the city’s ongoing commitment to the buildings.
• A group of parachutists landed on a parking garage at Fourth and Elm yesterday, according to police. Annnd…. that’s about all anyone knows about it. The group may have been BASE jumpers parachuting from Carew Tower, or may have jumped from an airplane, though air traffic controllers at Lunken Airport didn’t report anything out of the ordinary. Maybe they were protesting something, but none were wearing tiger suits or waving banners shaming Procter & Gamble, so it's hard to tell.
• Horseshoe Casino, which has been open just over a year, is undertaking a half-million dollar, 8,700-square-foot expansion. The new addition sounds like it will be a patio for people to take smoke breaks when they need to cool off from all the fun they’re having fighting battles against the one-armed bandit (that’s a slot machine for those not hip to casino lingo). The patio will be enclosed, have a bar and will only be accessible from inside the casino, Horseshoe representatives say, though they’re tight-lipped so far about further details.
• Cincinnati and Mayor Cranley are featured prominently in a Governing magazine article about changes in the way cities view their outlying suburbs. The article discusses how some cities are shifting away from the view that suburbs are valuable prizes to be annexed or wrapped up in Indianapolis/Louisville-style city and county combined governments. A renewed interest in cities among the young and well-to-do and an increase in suburban poverty are cited as reasons for the shift in thinking from some city leaders.
Cranley’s view that Cincinnati is just fine without taking over surrounding suburbs challenges conventional accepted wisdom.
“You had a sentiment that urban cores need the wealth of the suburbs to have a better budget picture,” he says in the article. “People in the suburbs escaped the city to flee the problems. But that’s changing. You’re going to see cities in a better financial situation than a lot of the suburbs.”
• Finally, a story that could (hopefully) only happen in New York City, where a developer has won permission from the city to have two separate entrances in a new apartment building — one for well-to-do residents of its luxury units and another for the tenants of its required-by-law affordable units. So, basically, a poor door.
Last year, another developer explained just such a plan for another building thusly:
“No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a senior VP at Toll Brothers, a New York development company. “So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.”
Translation: Being rich is hard when you have to rub elbows with not-rich folks, who should just shut up and enjoy the crumbs we’re throwing them.
Heavy stuff in the news today, but there’s a bright spot at the end of this rundown, something so inspiring it will probably change your life. Well, maybe just your week. Err, I don’t want to oversell it. I promise you’ll be amused for at least a couple minutes if you make it to the end of this. Read on.
The next chapter in the saga of nine Greenpeace activists who hung banners from P&G buildings happens today. A pretrial hearing will determine whether lawyers for the activists will be able to access P&G e-mails about the event to use in their case. Lawyers are also requesting records about maintenance of the building, more than likely related to the alleged $18,000 in damage done to windows in the building. That damage is part of prosecutors’ case that the group should face felony charges. Meanwhile, the Greenpeace activists are considering a plea deal that would keep them out of jail but saddle them with probation and felonies on their records. A date for the trial is expected to be set today.
Update: One of the nine protesters will take the plea deal, WLWT reports. The other eight will go to trial to face burglary and vandalism charges.
• Hundreds rallied downtown Sunday to show support for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, where more than 400 civilians have been killed over the past few weeks in clashes between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas. Local protesters said their rally was about highlighting Palestinian civilians’ human rights.
“We have to be the voice for the voiceless," said Zeinab Schwen, a Symmes Township resident with family in Gaza. "For the children and parents, we have to speak up. It is not OK. It is not OK what Israel is doing.”
Israel launched a ground offensive Sunday in Gaza in response to rocket attacks from Hamas. Israeli leaders say they’re not trying to hurt civilians, and that Palestinian militants are putting them in harm’s way. But some witnesses claim that the Israeli army is targeting ambulances and other civilian vehicles as it carries out its offensive. In addition to the hundreds killed in Gaza, more than 3,000 Palestinians have been wounded by the fighting. 20 Israeli soldiers, including two with American citizenship, have also been killed.
• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store behemoth, is nearing a settlement in a civil rights suit brought by actor Rob Brown. Brown, the star of TV series “Treme,” says the chain’s New York City store profiled him and others due to his race. He is black. According to his suit, Brown was handcuffed and detained by security at the store for more than an hour when attempting to buy a watch for his mother. Other shoppers have filed similar complaints alleging they were held by security and accused of stealing because of their race. Details of the upcoming settlement have not been released.
• More questions are arising about ethics in the Ohio Attorney General’s office. The Dayton Daily News had an investigative piece Saturday about the AG’s office and the way it hands out contracts to outside firms. It’s a subject that has been reported on in the past–a number of media outlets have investigated law contracts the AG has awarded to legal firms who donate to the DeWine campaign and the Ohio GOP. Today’s piece finds similar connections with contracts awarded to firms to collect on debts owed to the state. The piece finds a high correlation between firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign and ones that get those collections contracts. Especially noteworthy are instances where firms run by those close to DeWine win contracts over more experienced vendors.
• Death and destruction. Racial Profiling. Allegations of cronyism. To give you a break from all the doom and gloom in this morning news, I found someone who has attained an amazing, completely laudable achievement, someone who can restore our faith in humanity and expand our understanding of what is possible in this world. It’s this guy, who just set the world record for number of tattoos of the same cartoon character on a person’s body. He has 41 Homer Simpson tats, all on his arm. He’s reached this pinnacle of human achievement despite having been forbidden from watching the show by his father, who he calls “a real life Ned Flanders” when he was growing up. Next time you think you can’t do something, that your goal is too hard, that the world is too harsh, remember this man.