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by Nick Swartsell 06.15.2015
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cranley veto

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley vows budget vetos; highway means demolition for Newport housing project; Ohio Senate's budget bad for low-income, report says

Good morning all. Here’s what’s up today.

The back and forth about the city’s budget continues. In a news conference this morning, Mayor John Cranley said he would divide up council Democrats’ budget proposal and put individual spending items to an up or down vote. That’s significant because the five Democrats on council don’t have enough votes to override a mayoral veto on those items. Cranley has said Dems’ proposal, which came in response to City Manager Harry Black’s budget, isn’t structurally balanced and that he’ll veto any spending items he deems wasteful or unnecessary. That would include $400,000 for co-op grocery project Clifton Market, an increase in bike lane spending and other provisions. In saying he would veto the bike lane spending increase, Cranley called the Central Parkway bike lane a “disaster.” Cranley also got in a dig at his fellow Democrats, comparing them to Republicans in Congress and warning them not to “shut down the city” over disagreements about the budget. Cranley has also suggested he will cut suggested funds for human services by $500,000, continuing the wrangling between the administration and city council over the hot-button issue. There is a City Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting today at 11:30. I’ll update this as I find out more.

• In the meantime, let’s cross the river for a couple stories, shall we? The last large HUD housing project in Newport is slated for demolition next year as highway Ky. 9 is extended through the city. That means residents who live in the complex’s 171 units will be moved elsewhere around the region. That’s caused mixed feelings among those who live there and others in the city, this Cincinnati Enquirer story reports. Some residents are excited for the chance to move elsewhere with more room and new neighbors. Others are apprehensive about where they’ll be next year and say they’re not sure how they’ll make the change. The demolition fits in with HUD’s general movement away from large-scale public housing toward Section 8 vouchers and smaller sites scattered around the region.

• Whistle blowers have filed two lawsuits against a Northern Kentucky state agency alleging thousands of dollars a day in wrongful billings. The suits also allege that the whistleblowers were terminated by that agency when they tried to address those problems. One suit alleges that the Northern Kentucky Area Development District, which is supported by state and federal grants, billed for senior care services it did not actually provide. A former employee claims that when she tried to bring those billings to light, she was terminated from her job. Another alleges that an employee who tried to bring attention to possible card abuse within the agency was unjustly fired for doing so. The NKADD says the agency has investigated those claims and is clear of any wrongdoing, and that the two former employees were let go for reasons unrelated to their allegations. The suits, filed separately, are in Boone County Circuit Court.

• The Ohio Department of Transportation could lose more than $1 billion in federal funding if it doesn’t find a way to include more minority- and female-owned businesses in the contracts it awards. A federal review found that ODOT is not in compliance with federal laws around inclusion in contracting and must draw up a plan for how to improve. If it doesn’t, or if its plan doesn’t meet federal muster, the department could lose out on the federal money. ODOT has until July 20 to submit its plan, and officials there say they’re confident they can satisfy federal requirements.

• Finally, let’s circle back around to budgets for a minute, but on the state level this time. The Ohio Senate’s state budget proposal is worse for low-income Ohioans than even another conservative plan in the Ohio House, a new report by the progressive-leaning Policy Matters Ohio says. The state Senate’s plan would lower taxes for the top one percent of wealthy Ohio residents to the average tune of $10,000 a year. Meanwhile, the middle 20 percent of Ohioans would see only a $20 reduction in taxes and the bottom 20 percent of earners would actually see an increase of $26 in taxes a year. Much of that boost for the highest one percent comes from a decrease in taxes on businesses, according to the report. You can read the whole breakdown here.

And I’m off to city council. Tweet at me or e-mail me.

by Nick Swartsell 06.12.2015
Posted In: News at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Family, community speak out about Hicks shooting; state Senate plan wouldn't axe Music Hall credits; Deters: weed should be legalized

Good morning Cincy. Here’s what’s happening today.

Local activists and the family of QuanDavier Hicks held an emotional rally yesterday at Northside’s  Hoffner Park, just blocks from the apartment on Chase Ave. where police officer Doris Scott shot the 22-year-old Tuesday night. The rally was organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter and drew more than 200 people, culminating in a march down Hamilton Ave. and across the I-75 overpass. The event was peaceful, but anger and tension were obvious.

“We’re here because no matter what version of what went down Tuesday night you lean toward, there’s a lot that’s wrong,” said Cincinnati Black Lives Matter organizer Brian Taylor. “The media has very quick to demonize Hicks. Hicks may have had a criminal record. He may have done some things wrong in the past… But his record has nothing to do with whatever happened that lead to him being killed. He should not have been killed in contact with police.”

Hamilton County Clerk of Court records show Hicks had five minor drug charges, some of which had been dismissed.

Among those in attendance at the rally were Hicks’ mother, Erica Woods, who came from Atlanta with Hicks’ father and siblings for the rally. At one point during the march, Woods collapsed from exhaustion on the overpass and was aided by marchers and police. She was then taken away in an ambulance.

“I birthed the boy in 1993,” she said earlier in the evening. “I had to come 800 miles here because nobody told me my child was taken from me. The community of Northside and social media told me my son is dead. Two days later, he’s laying frozen in a box. I haven’t been able to look at his face. I still haven’t gotten an answer from any police. I just want an answer. Because what you’ve printed six different times just doesn’t make any sense.”

Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell was at the rally and march, along with a large contingent of officers. Police say they were in an apartment building at 1751 Chase Ave. Tuesday night searching for Hicks because a 911 caller on Colerain Ave. said he had earlier entered her house without her permission and threatened her life over the phone. While police were knocking, they say, Hicks opened a door adjacent to one officer Scott and partner Justin Moore were standing at and pointed a .22 caliber bolt-action rifle at them. Moore grabbed the rifle and Scott shot Hicks in the chest, officials say. Woods and others question that version of events, however, and have pressed police for more information. Police held a press conference Wednesday where they played the 911 call and showed pictures of the rifle and crime scene. CityBeat will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

• So yesterday I told you about the Ohio Senate’s plan in its budget proposal to roll back the state’s historic preservation tax credits, ending the program for the next two years. As written, that proposal would have nixed $25 million in tax credits awarded to Music Hall, a key piece of that landmark’s restoration. Now, however, lawmakers have said they don’t mean to take credits from projects like Music Hall that have already been promised the money. Republicans in the Senate say they want to create a grant program to replace the tax credits, and that the ceasation of the program is the only way to move toward that change. Critics point out that state grants must be renewed every two years, while the credits do not. They say it is hard to complete long-term preservation and economic development work without the assurance of funding over the long haul.

• The Wasson Way bike trail could be up and running in two years, Mayor John Cranley said yesterday in a news conference along the path of the proposed bike project. That timeline could extend, however, if the city doesn’t get $17 million in TIGER grants it applied for last month. The city recently agreed to purchase 4.1 miles of railroad right of way from Norfolk Southern Railway at $11.8 million to make the project a reality. The total cost of the project is estimated at $30 million. Nonprofit the Wasson Way Project also announced yesterday it was beginning a fundraising drive to collect $600,000 for design and engineering work around the project.

• A task force headed by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and funded by legalization group ResponsibleOhio has released its study on marijuana legalization, and guess what: the report paints a generally positive picture of the impacts of legalizing weed. The report predicts the creation of 35,000 jobs from legalization and more than $7 billion in economic activity. It also says increased crime would be unlikely. The study, completed by Deters and a host of other task force participants including Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman, uses a number of previously existing data sets to ascertain legalization’s impact on the economy and law enforcement in Ohio. The report’s rather rosy tint might seem surprising at first, given Deters’ relatively conservative record as prosecutor, but when you zoom out just a little it all becomes more clear. First, there’s the fact that the report was underwritten by ResponsibleOhio. Deters says he and the rest of the task force are objective in their findings. But critics, including Ohio State Auditor David Yost, point out that the task force seems to be stacked with supporters. Deters has close business ties with head ResponsibleOhio organizer Chris Stock. Both work at the same Cincinnati law firm, critics point out. The legalization effort, which looks to land an initiative for voters to consider on the November ballot, has been controversial. The plan would legalize marijuana for anyone over the age of 21, but would restrict commercial growth to 10 ResponsibleOhio investor-owned facilities around the state.

• Finally, a Cleveland Municipal Judge yesterday found that there was enough evidence to charge two officers in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last November. Rice was shot by officer Timothy Loehmann while the child was playing with a toy pistol on a playground in Cleveland. Judge Ronald Adrine ruled there is probable cause to charge Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, dereliction of duty or reckless homicide. The ruling is mostly a symbolic gesture, however, as the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office is charged with convening a grand jury to hand down those charges.

by Nick Swartsell 06.11.2015
Posted In: News at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

QuanDavier Hicks shooting: what we know; classes offer bicycle/streetcar safety tips; state Senate budget would cut child protective funds, shift affordable housing funding

Good morning, all. Here's the news today.

Cincinnati Police, including Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, yesterday held a press conference about the shooting death of 22-year-old QuanDavier Hicks by CPD officer Doris Scott. Hicks died on the scene of the shooting in Northside. Police officials say that Scott and fellow officer Justin Moore, who was on his third day with the Cincinnati Police Department, were on a second-floor landing of Hicks’ apartment building at Chase Avenue knocking on a door looking for him when Hicks opened up an adjacent door and immediately pointed a rifle at the officers. Moore then grabbed the rifle barrel and Scott shot Hicks in the chest.

The official police version of events says that a 911 call from an address on Colerain Avenue caused officers to be dispatched to Hicks’ address.

“Hicks is known to both the 911 caller and the caller’s boyfriend,” Blackwell said during the news conference. The caller said Hicks had a key to her house and had entered without her permission.

“He’s talking about coming to kill me and all this other stuff,” the woman said in the call, which police played for the press. A dispatcher asked if Hicks carried weapon, and the caller responded, “he probably do,” saying others have told her he had a weapon, though she admitted she had never seen him with one. Officers then went to Hicks’ address at 1751 Chase Avenue to try and find him, leading to the shooting.

Hicks has a few minor drug possession violations in Hamilton County, according to clerk of courts records. Police officials say he has a criminal charge in his former home of Atlanta, but did not provide details about that history, saying they were still waiting for more information.

Meanwhile, another side of Hicks’ life has come out from neighbors and family members, who describe him as a kind man who they have a hard time imagining brandishing a rifle, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Family members are demanding to know more details about the incident, as are community members and police accountability activists.

Dozens lingered at the scene of the shooting afterward, where rumors circulated that the police kicked down Hicks' door. Two men were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after police say they tore down caution tape around the scene. We'll update with their names when we have them. Some, including members of activist group Cincinnati Black Lives Matter, question that and other police assertions, however.

The group released a statement yesterday demanding a full, transparent investigation, the release of any audio or video evidence and the release of the two people arrested for disorderly conduct after the incident. The group is holding a rally at Hoffner Park in Northside at 6 p.m. today.

"Black Lives Matter Cincinnati (BLMC), offers condolences to the family and friends of 22 year old Quandavier Hicks," the group said in the statement. "Conflicting information has circulated regarding whether Hicks was armed, yet we stand with Quandavier Hicks’ family in this challenging moment and call for an immediate release of all details of police conduct in this shooting. This incident has fueled righteous suspicion of the police and heightened existing tensions resulting in the arrest of two individuals at the crime scene. Aaron Roco, BLMC organizer witnessed the two arrests at the crime scene stated, 'At no point did either of the arrestees cross the police lines, they were vocally criticizing the police killing of their neighbor and the cops just grabbed them out of the crowd.' "

About the officers: Moore previously served with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Police, and before that, was a long-time officer in Clermont County. Scott is an eight-year veteran of the Cincinnati Police Department. Her record with the Citizen’s Complaint Authority shows four minor complaints about discourtesy and lack of service. She was exonerated on two of those. Both officers are on a seven-day leave from the department. Meanwhile, investigations continue into the shooting. Blackwell says at this early point that officers seem to be justified in the incident, but cautioned that the investigation is far from over.

Here is audio of Blackwell’s press conference, including the 911 recording (I don't have my audio editing software here, so the chief's remarks begin at 1:58, the 911 call at 2:40) and the police incident report CityBeat has obtained through an open records request. 

• Are you a cyclist who could use some pointers on riding around the city's coming streetcar? Queen City Bike and Cincinnati Red Bike are offering free workshops on cycling safety around the streetcar every second Saturday of the month. Those workshops will offer tips on how to ride safely alongside the streetcar, how to cross tracks without taking a spill and other things you need to know. The classes will run until October.

• I gave you a lot of local news yesterday, so I'm going to finish this thing off today with a bunch of state news you should know about. The first is about the Republican-led state Senate's budget proposal, which could cut funding for county child protective services agencies by $17 million next year through the phasing out of tax reimbursements. The budget would give $600,000 less than even the House's bare-bones budget to child protective agencies at a time when Ohio already ranks last in spending on such services and Hamilton County's Job and Family Services faces large-scale changes after tragic deaths of children who needed protective services.

* Also in the Senate's budget: a measure that could cost affordable housing efforts and aid to the homeless millions. The measure would take half of the money currently received by the state's Housing Trust Fund, which is compiled from county recorder fees and used for affordable housing projects and homelessness prevention efforts, and distribute it back to Ohio's 88 individual counties to spend how they see fit. Given that county governments generally tack conservative in Ohio, it's not hard to see how that could lessen the pot of money available for affordable housing here and in many Ohio counties. Advocates are trying to convince lawmakers to strip that measure from the budget before the General Assembly passes it on to Gov. John Kasich for his signature. Also on the potential chopping block: state historic tax credits, which could seriously slow redevelopment efforts in neighborhoods like OTR.

• Have you been wondering what's new with Kasich's campaign for president? Let's spend a few minutes finding out what's up with John these days. The big news is that his super PAC has hired Fred Davis, creator of some of the most... um... creative political ads of the last few years. Davis' ads, like the so-called "Demon Sheep" ad (just click the link and watch) are, by my subjective aesthetic and narrative standards, totally awful. A few samples of dialogue from these videos: "He's not in it for the balloons." Also: "I'm not a witch." Can you picture Kasich saying either of those things? Hilarious. But they do stick out from the crowd of boring political TV spots, which I guess is kind of the point.

• Finally, I just wanna say I'm bummed that Ornette Coleman died. One of my all time favorite jazz musicians.

That's it for me. Email, tweet, you know the drill.

by Nick Swartsell 06.10.2015
Posted In: News at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Police shoot 22-year-old in Northside; streetcar stalemate looms; CPD chief, city manager unveil anti-violence plan

Hello all, there are a couple big stories happening this morning so let’s get right to them.

• First, a Cincinnati Police officer shot a man last night in Northside. Police say the man, 22-year-old Quan Davier-Hicks, pulled a rifle on officers after they entered a home on the 1700 block of Chase Ave. around 11 p.m. last night. A struggle ensued and an officer, whose name has not been released, fired one shot and killed the man. Officers were looking for a suspect in a nearby report of aggravated menacing at the time, according to police officials. Some community members gathered near the scene after the shooting, and two men at the scene were arrested. They have been charged with disorderly conduct after police say they tore down police tape around the scene. This isn’t the first time an officer-involved shooting has happened in the area. In April 2011, police officer Andrew Mitchell shot David “Bones” Herbert on the same street. In 1999, another man, Michael Carpenter, was shot by police nearby. That shooting led to federal lawsuits against CPD. CityBeat has filed public records requests to find out more about the incident and subsequent arrests and will update as information becomes available.

• If you thought anything around the streetcar was going to get any easier or simpler any time soon, welcome to Cincinnati. You’ve obviously only lived here a few days. Sit down, because you’ve got a lot to learn. Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority officials yesterday presented to Cincinnati City Council’s transportation committee, and the proceedings very much resembled the streetcar itself: a slow-moving circular trip it seemed would run well into the evening. Some very interesting information did come out of the meeting, however, including details on the cost differences between the management bid, which would use SORTA’s union employees and cost about $4.7 million in the first year, and the turnkey option, which would allow a management company to hire its own workers. That option costs about $4 million, or about $200,000 under the city’s maximum budget for the transit project’s first year. If you do the math, you’ll see that the union bid is about $500,000 over that budget. But Council’s five Democrats say they’ll vote for the management scenario, saying they would like public employees to operate the streetcar and using SORTA employees will make it easier to them to hold operators accountable for performance.  

Mayor John Cranley also supports the management option, but here’s the snag, and it’s a big one: Cranley is opposed to using city money to shore up streetcar spending. He wants to respond to the union-related operating bid’s cost overruns by cutting the streetcar’s operation frequency. SORTA President Dwight Ferrell said the streetcar would have to reduce operations by 30 percent to meet the spending limit under the management scenario. That, he said, would lead to a “death spiral” for the project, since most rail operations costs are fixed, no matter how many or few riders use a system. Democrats on council say they won’t let that happen, but Cranley has vowed to veto any attempt to spend more city money on the project. That looks likely to produce a stalemate, which could lead SORTA to pick the turnkey option by default. They’ve given an end of June deadline for a decision on the bids, and will have to pick the less-expensive option if no directive is handed down. SORTA by law can’t choose a bid for which money is not allocated, its officials say. Phew.

• City Manager Harry Black, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and Mayor John Cranley announced the city’s 90-day anti-violence initiative at a news conference today. That plan includes tweaks to off-duty time to make more officers available, two crews of walking officers in every district, added protection in parks and areas where kids play, and a curfew program — two churches will be curfew drop off centers for juveniles caught out after 10:00 pm (or midnight for 16 and 17 year olds) curfew.

“We will not sit on our hands waiting to take action,” City Manager Harry Black said of the plan. “When the weather turns warm, there’s usually a spike in crime. Unfortunately for us, this year’s spike was bigger than usual.” Black said that spike seems to be stabilizing now, however.

In delivering the plan, Blackwell cited the five goals of the city’s post-2001 collaborative agreement: police community partnership, trust between community and police, oversight of police department, equitable treatment for all, and engagement and transparency with the community.

“This was a collaborative effort with our clergy and our communities. We’re not going to be overly aggressive in our policing this summer. We’re not going to diminish other units,” Blackwell said. He stressed especially that the curfew element was not meant to be punitive. “It’s not our intent to criminalize curfew aggressively, but rather to take children and take them to a safe spot.”

According to Blackwell, much of the violence of late has revolved around “beefs,” or turf wars between a small group of people. It also has to do with illegal guns streaming into the city, he said.

“Criminal street guns are out of control. Not just in this city, but in every city.” CPD is partnering with feds to investigate gun crimes, find out where guns are coming from and eliminate them, according to Blackwell.

Mayor John Cranley said he’s pleased with the plan, but noted that if it doesn’t work, the administration will “try something else.”

“We’re here to support the chief and the police department. Shootings are unacceptably high, and while it’s true that’s a national trend, that’s no comfort to the families of the victims. Something’s in the air and we have to do something about it. They key is to keep trying to do new things until we get a result.”

Reverend Ennis Tait of the Church of the Living God in Avondale touched on the police-involved shooting in Northside before expressing support for CPD.

 “It’s unfortunate we have to come on the heels of a tragedy last night, but it’s still good we’re here,” he said. “Today we stand with our city manager, our mayor and our police chief.”

Ok. So that’s a lot of big local news. I’ll leave my state and national updates for tomorrow. Tweet at me or e-mail me with news tips or anything else, really.

by Nick Swartsell 06.09.2015
Posted In: News at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do 2-8 iconic market house photo, courtesy the corporation for findlay market

Morning News and Stuff

Council Democrats release budget proposal; imagine a pedestrian walkway between Findlay Market and Washington Park; Alms Apartments fails HUD inspection

Hey Cincy. Here’s your news this morning.

The battle over the city budget continues. Council’s five Democrats yesterday afternoon released their own suggestions for the city’s fiscal year 2016-2017 spending plan, and they’ve made some key changes. Their operating budget proposal would increase human services funding by $1.5 million, bringing it up to the level council unanimously requested back in November, according to a news release sent out yesterday.

The proposal also restores money to streetcar operating funds and programs that help start-up companies, provides a $275,000 boost to the Cincinnati Health Department, $250,000 to Cradle Cincinnati and money to a number of other programs in the operating budget. Democrats’ proposal for the capital improvement budget would provide a $400,000 grant to the Clifton Market, $200,000 each for the Shakespeare and Ensemble Theaters, $1 million for parks and $150,000 for bike projects. The proposal pays for these boosts by eliminating a pay raise for high-level city employees and instituting a one-month hiring freeze for some positions, cutting funding for financial literacy and Cincinnati Business Committee studies, pulling $100,000 from the city’s contingency fund and by moving around money for the city’s share of the 4th and Race garage project, among other changes. Mayor John Cranley is currently reviewing the budget. If no other council members vote for the changes, Cranley has the power to veto the proposals, which would put him on the opposite side of his fellow Democrats again. Council is expected to pass the budget by June 17 so it can go into effect July 1.

• So this is a interesting idea. Findlay Market is working with the University of Cincinnati on a concept that would link the market with Washington Park via a more walker-friendly pathway. The groups held a party in the neighborhood last week to gather input from Over-the-Rhine residents about what they’d like on the path, and feedback included improved lighting, places to sit and hang out, food trucks or more permanent places for vendors and other ideas. A big priority: Make it easier to cross Liberty Street, which runs between the park and market. The proposed pathway would most likely run down Pleasant Street, which currently sees little automotive traffic. The pedestrian walkway could mean that street would be closed to cars, at least during certain hours. UC’s Research Institute and Metro Lab are involved in the process, with the latter devoting a number of graduate students to design and execute some of the suggestions. Right now, the bigger path is just an idea, but another input-gathering party is planned for June 26.

• The Alms Hill apartment building in Walnut Hills, which we told you about in this story a few months back, failed an inspection by the Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this spring. The building scored 45 out of 100 points on the inspection, which requires 60 points for a passing score. The city is mulling what to do about the building, which houses 200 residents and has fallen into a state of disrepair many say is dangerous. Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who chairs council’s Law and Public Safety Committee, suggested the city sue HUD, which pays the Alms’ owners subsidized rents for its tenants. The building’s owners have made changes, including replacing most of the management staff there and undertaking some repairs, but city officials say the building is far still far from fit for occupancy. 

• If you see Vice Mayor David Mann or former City Council member Jim Tarbell dangling off the side of a building downtown Friday, don’t worry, they’re supposed to be there. The two and others will be rappelling down the YMCA building on Central Parkway to help raise money for the building’s new construction, which will provide 65 units of affordable housing for seniors. The event, called Over the Edge 4 Elders, is hosted by Episcopal Retirement Homes, which is undertaking the building’s $11.8 million renovation with Cincinnati’s Model Group. The public can register for a VIP party to watch folks rappel, or you can raise $1,000 to rappel down yourself Saturday.

• Because budgets are so, so fun and everyone loves them, let’s talk about the Ohio State Senate’s budget proposal, which it released yesterday. That Republican budget doesn’t include Gov. John Kasich’s proposed 23-percent income tax cut, but it does take a big bite of the state’s income taxes, especially for small businesses, which wouldn’t pay taxes on the first $250,000 in income they bring in. The budget also institutes an across-the-board 6.3 percent income tax cut for individuals. There are few sales tax hikes in the budget proposal, save a tobacco tax hike, which has many anxious to see the details of the plan: Social service advocates, for instance, are worried that proposed income tax cuts will be paid for with cuts to programs that help the poor.

Republican leaders in the Senate have acknowledged there are cuts to some programs, but have yet to release details about which ones will find themselves on the chopping block. The budget does provide more funding for K-12 and higher education than the one proposed by Kasich, however, giving them $935 million and $240 million, respectively. The Senate's proposal wouldn't result in cuts for any school district in the state, unlike Kasich's, which relied on a formula designed to even out funding disparities between high- and low-income schools. Next, the General Assembly will hear testimony on the budget and vote to pass it, potentially next week. Afterward, it will go to Kasich’s desk for a final signature.

That’s it for me. Find me on Twitter or drop me a line with news tips or just to say hey.

by Nick Swartsell 06.08.2015
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Could more CPS preschool funding find its way into budget?; CPD anti-violence plan expected today; Texas police officer suspended after pointing gun at teens during pool party

Morning y’all. Hope you had a good weekend taking in the tons of live music downtown. If you’re one of the 10,000 people who saw Ja Rule on Fountain Square, well, I kind of envy you and wish I could’ve taken that early 2000s nostalgia trip. Ah, the days when Ja’s gruff calls of "every thug needs a lady" could unite us. Those were simpler times.

• Today is the deadline for City Council members to file motions seeking to change City Manager Harry Black’s proposed $1 billion city budget. We’re sure to see efforts to change the way human services are funded in the budget — the city manager’s financial plan is a big departure from past budgets in what it considers part of that category, and that's caused a lot of controversy. Look for more on that in our weekly feature story Wednesday. Meanwhile, some other interesting changes might also come up today, including one that would boost the city’s spending on public preschool with some money currently earmarked for street repair. Currently, demand for preschool seats in Cincinnati Public Schools is nearly double the 1,129 spaces available. Council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld have floated the idea of taking money from a $110 million loan the city is taking out for pothole repair and fleet updates and spending it to create more preschool opportunities. With Cincinnati’s childhood poverty rate the second-highest in the nation, it’s an important step that could give more low-income kids a head start, Seelbach and Sittenfeld say. Getting enough classrooms, supplies and staff for the first year would cost about $8.5 million, CPS officials say. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee meets today at 1 pm. The committee will discuss proposed changes to the budget.

• Also expected today: Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell’s 90-day anti-violence plan. City Manager Black asked Blackwell to draw up the plan amid the city’s recent summer spike in shootings, the worst in a decade. Black initially suggested a flexible Friday deadline for the chief, but Blackwell asked for the weekend to finish up the plan. Some details have already been released: CPD will put between 50 and 70 more officers pulled from all over the department back on patrol. Those include aides for the chief and other top brass in the department, Blackwell has said. The chief has also recently undertaken a series of three community listening sessions to hear public input about the crime problem. One thing that won’t change, according to Blackwell: Police will not become “over the top” or engage in stop-and-frisk style policing, but will continue to practice a more community-oriented approach that has won Cincinnati national attention recently.

• By the end of the summer, the second-biggest Kroger in the country will be open in Oakley. The store, which will stretch 145,000 square feet, will be the largest in Greater Cincinnati and will feature home décor, a full-scale pharmacy, a natural foods department and other features going beyond the usual grocery store. The store continues the pitched pace of development in Oakley, which has seen a bunch of activity in the past few years. All of which is great, and I’m happy for the neighborhood. I just wanna know when we’re going to get our Kroger super center mega mart thing in Mount Auburn. I’ll probably have to settle for the upcoming update of the Corryville location for now, but hey, keep us in mind, will ya, grocers?

• Despite continually discouraging poll numbers and an ever-swelling list of competitors, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has continued to push his not-yet-official campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, making plenty of trips to New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere. As he does, his specific sales pitch on why Republicans should choose him has come into focus, as this Columbus Dispatch article outlines. Basically, Kasich says he’s uniquely qualified, having spent nearly two decades in Washington, run a large state and worked in the private sector. He’s also willing to stick to his guns, he says, even when a crowd might not like what he has to say. Then there’s the big one — he can give Republicans Ohio’s electoral votes, which history suggests they absolutely need to win the White House. Kasich’s campaign has said  speech attendees around the country have responded to his message, but of course his campaign would say that. Kasich’s poll numbers, however, are still in the 2 percent territory, far behind frontrunners like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and oh, about 10 other folks.

• You’ve probably already seen the national news item I have for you today because it’s gone viral in the past 24 hours. A police officer in McKinney, Texas, a wealthy suburb north of Dallas, has been suspended after he slammed a 15-year-old girl to the ground and pulled his gun on some teenagers at a pool party. The interaction Saturday was captured on video and uploaded to Youtube, where it has been viewed more than a million times. The incident is the latest in a long line of racially charged incidents between white police and black citizens that seem to show unnecessary use of force. Police were called to the scene of the pool party after a fight broke out between teens and adults at a high school graduation celebration. Reports say that fight might have been racially tinged: Many of the black attendees at the celebration were not residents of the neighborhood, sparking ire from the predominantly white members members of the private pool. When police arrived to address the fight, one officer, Eric Casebolt, began aggressively ordering teens, mostly black, to leave the area. When they did not immediately comply, Casebolt began handcuffing them, and, in the case of the 15-year-old girl, pinning her to the ground and sitting on her. When other teens rushed to her aid, Casebolt drew his weapon and chased them off. McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller promised a full investigation into Casebolt’s actions and said he was “concerned” and “disturbed” by the video of the incident.

by Nick Swartsell 06.05.2015
Posted In: News at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Women's shelter opens in Mount Auburn; CPD second in command steps down; Dems push for payday loan reform

Good morning all. Here’s the news for Cincy today.

Today is the grand opening of the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women on Reading Road in Mount Auburn. The shelter will house up to 60 women seeking to escape homelessness, as well offer classrooms and other on-site facilities. The shelter is one of two replacing the current Drop Inn Shelter in Over-the-Rhine. The men's shelter will move to Queensgate this fall. Correction: an earlier version of this post said the new Anna Louise Inn opened today. That shelter, also on Reading Road in Mount Auburn, will open Tuesday.

• Cincinnati City Council held its final Budget town hall meeting last night in Price Hill. The fifth meeting unfolded much the same way the last four have: The city administration's change-up on human services funding was the main issue, though a proposed city loan to Clifton Market that didn't make it into the budget also came up often. Last November, council voted to double human services funding, but that decision isn't reflected in City Manager Harry Black's budget. You can read our deep-dive into the human services issue next week, when we tell you how that part of the budget has changed, what council is doing to try to get more money back to social service organizations and what the split between the city manager and council means.

• It’s official: The portion of the  Eastern Corridor project that would have relocated State Route 32 between State Route 50 and Newtown Road through Newtown and Mariemont is dead, according to Ohio Department of Transportation officials. The road relocation proposal was contentious: Both municipalities, as well as some residents, staunchly opposed it. The new route would have run through archeologically significant sites near Mariemont, some opponents said, and ODOT cited other environmental and logistical concerns as reasons it was nixing consideration of that part of the project. Other elements, including proposed light rail through the Oasis Corridor, a little-used rail shipping line, remain on the table, ODOT says.

• Hamilton County Job and Family Services will see big changes in the wake of the recent tragic deaths of local children in abusive situations, county officials announced today. The changes are designed to decrease clients’ wait for mental health treatment, provide more in-home services for families and give better guidance to young parents and other youth.  

• Cincinnati Assistant Police Chief Paul Humphries, CPD’s second-highest ranking official, stepped down yesterday to take a job as head of security for Coca Cola in Florida. Humphries, who has been with CPD for three decades, has twice been in the running for the department’s top job, though both times a chief from outside the department was chosen. Humphries says that if he’d been promoted to the top spot, he would be staying but says there’s “no bitterness” in his decision to move on. The assistant chief’s announcement comes as Cincinnati’s police department has received nationwide attention for reforms it has made since the city’s civil unrest in 2001. Humphries has played a role in those reforms.

The announcement also comes as questions swirl around the police department following the revelation that City Manager Harry Black recently drew up resignation papers for Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, though the chief did not sign them and insists he’s staying on as the top cop. Blackwell has since been the center of scrutiny, with some detractors criticizing the department’s low morale and poor upper-level communication. Others, however, including several city council members, have expressed support for Blackwell. The Sentinels, Cincinnati’s black police fraternity, held a rally in support of Blackwell earlier this week.

• City Manager Black says the city will use Humphries’ departure as an opportunity to expand diversity in the force’s upper ranks, part of a larger push by the Sentinels and the city to foster a more diverse department reflective of Cincinnati’s demographic makeup. None of the city’s three assistant chiefs are black, and only one of the city’s 12 police captains is. The city yesterday announced it would change the way it undertakes promotions — tasking those outside the department with grading and evaluating promotional tests, instead of doing it in-house.

• Meanwhile, Chief Blackwell and the CPD are undertaking community listening sessions to get residents’ input on ways to curb the recent uptick in violent crime in the city. Last night, the department held a listening session in Roselawn, where a large group of residents weighed in. Better economic opportunities, recreation facilities and tighter gun control were all ways suggested to curb the violence. Another listening session will take place tonight in Avondale at the Urban League on Reading Road.

• A local video claiming to detail the emotional and physical aftermath of a break-in in Evanston has gained traction on YouTube, garnering well more than half a million views in just two days. Ron Moon, who says he made the video after he was assaulted by burglars June 3 at the community center he is working to establish in the neighborhood, has parlayed that recognition into a fundraising campaign for the center. That crowdfunding drive for 1853 Kinney Street, the nascent community center, has raised more than $38,440 in the last 16 hours. The emotional video features Moon, bloody and bruised, talking about the ways economic and other disadvantages encourage crimes like the break-in he says he experienced. Moon says three men and two women forced entry into the building, which Moon’s father purchased decades ago, and when he confronted them, they beat him and left.

• Let’s jump straight to national news, where Democratic senators are pushing hard for stringent regulations on the payday loan industry. That’s a big issue for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who earlier this year proposed a law that would allow those targeted most often by payday loan companies to borrow from their federal income tax returns instead. Other Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, are working to get what they call “debt trap protection rules” passed, which would limit the industry’s ability to make high-interest-rate loans. Opponents of the payday loan business model say it sets incredibly high interest rates that trap low-income borrowers in a cycle of debt. Under the new rules, lenders would either have to verify income and ability to repay debt or limit the amount loaned to low-income customers.

by Nick Swartsell 06.04.2015
Posted In: News at 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

SORTA, union sign agreement on streetcar; townhouses coming to OTR; Tamir Rice investigation finished, evidence handed to prosecutor

Good morning y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s happening in Cincy today.

The Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority and the Amalgamated Transit Union finally signed an agreement yesterday over the potential for ATU employees to work jobs operating the streetcar. The union doesn’t have the gig yet, however; council will be deciding among yet-to-be-released bids for managing the streetcar that could include or exclude ATU employees. Meanwhile, SORTA will release details about the price tags on those bids by the end of this week, the transit authority says. The names of the companies making those bids will stay under wraps until July, however.

• Community activists, faith leaders and elected officials yesterday called for the creation of a new community development corporation that will push for economic advancement in the city’s low-income minority neighborhoods. The group, which includes State Rep. Alicia Reece, Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young, Rev. Damon Lynch III and others, also called for $50 million from city and state funds to support businesses, provide job training and foster economic development in neighborhoods like Avondale, Bond Hill and others. The group says the way to address some of the city’s big issues with crime and poverty is by getting to their root and providing more economic opportunity.

• Seven new single-family townhomes are coming to Over-the-Rhine. The homes will feature three bedrooms, about 2,800 square feet each, with basements and detached garages. They’re expected to start at about $650,000 each. Mount Adams-based Towne Properties is undertaking the development near the corner of 15th and Elm streets. Towne recently hired Chad Munitz, formerly of 3CDC, and he’s been key in putting together the OTR development, Towne’s first in the neighborhood. The homes will be modeled after another Towne development called Beacon Hill in Deerfield Township.

• Mustaches are so hip right now. Or rather, I guess, they were so hip about three years ago. But it takes that long for huge buildings to catch up to trends, you know, because they’re like, huge buildings and don’t really get around town much. Anyway, the Scripps Center downtown is currently getting a bit of a hipster makeover with vinyl panels that will make the building look like it’s wearing a retro Cincinnati Reds cap and a big ole handlebar mustache. It’s not that the building is feeling its age and is trying to keep up with current fashions — it’s for the MLB All Star Game next month. Cool man. Just don't try to ride a fixed gear, Scripps Center. That ship has sailed.

• Cincinnati has a way to go when it comes to startups, a new ranking by the entrepreneurship-focused Kaufman Foundation says. The city ranked 32nd among the nation’s 40 largest cities, coming in behind Columbus (12th) and Indianapolis (28th) when it comes to the number of startups created in the city per capita and the number of new entrepreneurs in the city. But there’s good news, too — the city gained two spots on the list since last year, when it was 34th.

• Finally, law enforcement officials investigating the police shooting death of Tamir Rice in Cleveland last year have finished their investigation and turned over their findings to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors office. Now, the prosecutor says, the case will go before a grand jury to decide whether to indict Cleveland Police officer Timothy Loehmann, who jumped from a police cruiser and shot Rice on playground while the 12-year-old played with a toy pistol. A separate civil suit by Rice’s parents against the city is also pending.

by Nick Swartsell 06.03.2015
Posted In: News at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Fundraising kicks off for new homeless shelter; CPD under city review; Columbus Dispatch sold to GateHouse media

Good morning y’all. Some jerk ran me off the road this morning while I biked to work. I’m OK except for some scraped-up hands, but it hurts to type. Which means you’re getting a bare-bones, just the facts morning news today. OK? OK.

• One of the five new shelters representing a shift in how the city deals with homelessness will open this fall in Queensgate, but it currently needs $2.7 million for opening and operating costs and may have to start out in debt. A new campaign called “Bring it Home” looks to bridge that financial gap. The new Drop Inn Center, which will replace the current, long-standing location in Over-the-Rhine near Washington Park, is set to open in September at the former Butternut Bread factory. The shelter, which will be called Shelterhouse, joins the Lighthouse Sheakley Center for Youth and Talbert House Parkway Center, which opened in 2012, the new City Gospel Mission in the West End, which also replaced a former location in OTR in April, and the Mount Auburn replacement location for the Anna Louise Inn, called the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women, which will open Friday. Those locations are part of a Strategies to End Homelessness push to reduce the number of homeless in the city. The idea behind the new shelters, backers say, is to provide more than just a place to stay — each also includes social services like substance abuse treatment, mental and medical health care and other services. The goal is to transition those experiencing homelessness to housing. The Homeless to Homes Shelter Collaborative, which started in 2010 to raise money for the effort, has raised more than $39 million of the needed $42 million for the shelters.

• Details are trickling out about the Cincinnati Police Department’s plan to curb the recent rash of shootings in the city. According to police officials, at least one part of the plan will be reassigning 50 officers to problem spots where a number of the recent shootings have occurred. City Manager Harry Black has asked Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell for a complete 90-day plan for addressing the violence by Friday. Local leaders including community activist Iris Roley, State Rep. Alicia Reece, Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young, Rev. Damon Lynch and others are announcing their own plan to help fight the violence today at 11 a.m.

• Meanwhile, City Manager Harry Black yesterday released a memo to Cincinnati City Council and Mayor John Cranley revealing that the Cincinnati Police Department is undergoing a comprehensive “climate assessment.” That assessment will seek out problem areas, assess employee morale and communication and follow up on suggested solutions, the memo says. Currently, the city is also undertaking a similar assessment on the Department of Sewers and Greater Cincinnati Waterworks, and has recently completed assessments for the city’s Human Resources, Human Services and Recreation Departments.The memo comes after days of speculation about the meaning of a resignation letter drawn up by the city manager for Chief Blackwell.

• Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning is the third-best in the world for design, according to a recent survey of industry professionals by website Business Insider. Nearly 78 percent of respondents said an education from DAAP was valuable, putting the school above big-name art schools like Carnegie Mellon, Parsons the New School for Design, the Pratt Institute, Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cooper Union, among others. Only The Rhode Island School of Design (number one) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab ranked higher among the 633 industry insiders surveyed.

• The state of Ohio may soon pass a law granting protection from prosecution for people who call for help for heroin overdose victims. Sometimes companions of an overdose victim don’t call for medical attention because they fear they’ll be arrested on drug charges. The so-called Good Samaritan bill currently before the Ohio General Assembly would shelter callers from such legal action. Similar bills have gone before the Ohio General Assembly before, most recently in the last legislative session. But some lawmakers, Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus of Clifton Heights, believe that the legislature is ready to pass the bill this time around. Kentucky already has a similar law, which it passed earlier this year.

• Finally, this is a huge bummer. The Columbus Dispatch this morning announced that its print products, including its daily paper, 24 weekly papers for the city’s suburbs and seven magazines, are being sold to New York-based New Media Investment Group, Inc. That conglomerate is most widely known for owning GateHouse Media, a collection of 126 daily papers and more than 500 total publications in 32 states. The Columbus Dispatch has been owned by C-bus locals the
Wolfe family for 110 years, making the Dispatch one of the oldest — and one of the last —independently-owned papers in the state. The paper often does great, error-free, typo-free journalism. GateHouse utilizes a centralized approach to newspaper production: copy editing, page design and other functions for its papers are often performed at a single location outside the city where the papers are produced.

by Nick Swartsell 06.02.2015
Posted In: News at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Council committee OKs Wasson Way purchase; Cincinnati a top city for baseball; is Columbus the next Brooklyn?

Morning Cincinnati. The sun has apparently caught whatever terrible cold I had last week and is off sick for a couple days. It feels like October outside, which would be cool if we got Halloween and colorful leaves. But actually we just get coldness which isn’t that great. Anyway, news time.

More city-police chief news is afoot. City Manager Harry Black has given Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell until Friday to present a 90-day plan for reducing violence in the city. Black says the chief can have an extension into next week if he needs it, but wants to be proactive and find causes and solutions for the city’s recent spike in shootings. Cincinnati has seen more than 50 shootings and 11 killings in the last month, and 30 murders so far this year. In Cincinnati and most other major cities, crime usually spikes as the weather gets warmer, but this year’s increase has been bigger than normal. The Friday deadline for Blackwell comes as questions swirl around resignation papers drawn up by the city manager’s office for Blackwell. Mayor John Cranley and the city manager both say they want Blackwell to stay and that he initiated conversations about his resignation last week. Blackwell says he’s not going anywhere and wants to remain chief. He’s been chief for two years, before which he served with the Columbus Police Department.

• Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee voted yesterday to purchase a four-mile stretch of rail right of way for the Wasson Way bike trail. The city will purchase the land sometime in the next two years for $11.75 million from Norfolk Southern Railways. The bike trail will stretch from Mariemont to Evanston, with a proposed extension into Avondale. The deal goes before a full council vote Wednesday.

• Great news: Whether the Reds win or, you know, do that other thing they’ve been doing a lot lately, Cincinnati is one of the best cities in the country for baseball fans. That’s according to a new study by WalletHub.com. The website looked at 11 factors in deciding its rankings of 272 cities, including how well each city’s professional or college team does, how expensive tickets are, stadium amenities and other criteria. Cincinnati did well — we’re the third best city in the country when it comes to baseball. But here’s the not so great part. Numbers one and two are St. Louis and Pittsburgh, respectively. You win some, you lose some…

• Former Mason mayor and Warren County State Rep. Pete Beck was found guilty today on 17 counts of fraud and corruption. Beck was accused of cheating a local company out of millions of dollars and originally faced more than 60 counts of fraud and corruption. Some of those charges were reduced, and he was found not guilty on another 21 counts today. Some of the guilty verdict covered serious felony charges. No sentencing date has been announced yet.

• When you think of hip up and coming cities, what places pop into your head? I’ll wait while you write out a list. Did that list include Columbus? Mine didn’t, but hey, what do I know? Here’s a funny article in national magazine Mother Jones about how Ohio’s capital is marketing itself to the young and hip. It's kind of unclear if the author visited the flat, gray city, but the piece asks some intriguing questions. Is it the next Brooklyn? Hm. Probably not. It is, as the article puts it, vanilla ice cream in a world of exotic gelato. But it’s like, cheap, and stuff, so there’s that. Oh, and OSU. It also has that going for it.

• Finally, more Rand Paul stuff. Turns out all those stands Paul is taking against the NSA and foreign intervention aren’t endearing the U.S. Senator from Kentucky to big Republican donors. In the toss-up race for the Republican presidential nomination, big GOP donors are spreading money around to any number of hopefuls: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and other potential front runners. Pretty much everyone but Paul. That will certainly hobble the libertarian’s chances of spreading his message with TV ads and the like as the primary race heats up. But it may also further endear him to his anti-establishment libertarian base and may entice some voters who don’t traditionally vote Republican into the fold.