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by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2015
Posted In: News at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar operating plan once again back to SORTA; parking garage mania; huge Supreme Court decisions

Hello all. Here’s what’s up this morning in Cincinnati. Before I begin, I want to repurpose a joke I made on Twitter as a (not really) serious proposition. Someone should be allowed to sell beer at City Hall. Heck, they could brew it in the basement. Two words: REVENUE STREAM. Am I right?

I say all this because yesterday was another crazy day at City Hall as Cincinnati City Council rushed through a number of last-minute deals before it goes on recess for the rest of the summer. It also got in more streetcar wrangling and a surprise twist fitting of any season finale. Council, which couldn’t come to an agreement previously on whether to choose a union or non-union streetcar operations contract, punted that decision to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which look poised to choose the cheaper, non-union option. That bid, called the turnkey scenario, would cost $4 million in the first year of operation, well less than the $4.7 million union-friendly bid called the management scenario. 

But City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley re-introduced that decision this week after Cranley pledged to allow $2 million from the city’s general fund to be used toward streetcar operations in an effort to pass the union-friendly operating agreement. That’s a big switch-up for Cranley, who previously pledged that he wouldn’t allow any extra city money to be used for the transit project. All seemed primed for the five Democrats on council to pass the union version of the contract. But Councilman Wendell Young, one of the Democratic coalition, voted against the measure. Young expressed serious concerns that the $2 million pledged by Cranley wouldn’t be enough, citing a letter by SORTA stating such. 

With the more expensive contract and less than enough money to operate the streetcar, Young expressed concern that operating hours for the streetcar would be cut. That could have put Cincinnati in a showdown with the Federal Transportation Administration since it stipulated the frequency of streetcar operations in its successful applications for millions in federal dollars for the project. So now, the ball is back in SORTA’s court, and the transit agency will almost certainly opt for the cheaper, non-union contract. Young and other Democrats decried what they called a false choice as yet another “game” turning the streetcar into a political football. Phew. Got all that? All right moving on.

• Cincinnatians in the 1880s had Music Hall. Local folks in the 1930s had Union Terminal. One-hundred years from now, architecture buffs and historians will look back fondly on this era as the golden age of magnificent edifices in which to leave your aging 1997 Toyota Corolla. What I mean to say is congrats, taxpayers! Soon, you’ll own more parking garages downtown and elsewhere. That’s great for me since I don’t own a car at all. Maybe I can park my bike in there. Council passed a number of big development deals yesterday, shoveling a ton of public cash to developers. These deals included more than $5 million in taxpayer money for a $34-million,130-unit apartment complex with commercial space and a parking garage at Eighth and Sycamore streets. That public money includes a $3.5 million city grant, which is awesome because I’m totally going to use one of those taxpayer funded apartments (I’m not) and a $2 million loan to 3CDC, which will build the city-owned parking garage. The development, undertaken by North Pointe Developers and North American Properties, will also receive a 15-year property tax abatement. On the other side of downtown, at Fourth and Race streets, the city will spend another $3 million to build another parking garage for another big development. An eight-story, 200-unit apartment building will sit atop that city-owned garage. Council also gave away some land, amending a deal with Model Group to give the developer property at Elder and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine for $1 upon the timely completion of a planned $21 million project that will bring 23 new apartments and 10 condos to that location. Should Model Group not finish the project in time, it will pay $106,000 for the land.

• Services for fallen Cincinnati Police officer Sonny Kim begin today at Xavier’s Cintas Center. A visitation for Kim will be held there starting at 1 p.m. Kim’s funeral is tomorrow at 11 a.m. Both are open to the public, which is asked to arrive and be seated by 10 a.m. tomorrow for the funeral. Officials say they expect crowds of thousands to attend, including officers from across the country. Kim died Friday after he and other officers were lured to Madisonville by a gunman who called 911 on himself.

• Wrong place. Wrong time. Incredibly unfortunate name. Mason City Councilman Richard Cox (can’t make this stuff up folks) is answering some tough questions today after he was spotted during a police sting at a motel room with a suspected sex worker. Authorities were led to the room by online ads and insider tips. Officers saw Cox leave a room occupied by the alleged sex worker, but Cox says he was simply there because an older man at a nearby store had asked him to deliver a note to the woman there, and Cox complied because he thought she was the man’s daughter. No charges have been filed in the incident.

• U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is cosponsoring two new bills designed to provide more help to opioid addicts. The Recovery Enhancement and Addiction Treatment act would expand treatment options for addicts, including lifting a limit on how many patients addiction treatment doctors can see in a year. That limit has left many in the state seeking treatment on long waiting lists. Another bill, the Jason Simcakoski bill, would provide more pain treatment options for military veterans. That bill is named after a Marine vet who fatally overdosed last summer. Ohio continues to struggle in the grips of a large-scale heroin and opioid crisis, with overdoses and overdose deaths on a steady incline. Overdose deaths in Ohio tripled between 2003 to 2013, when 2,100 died of drug overdoses.

• A huge U.S. Supreme Court decisions were announced today. SCOTUS upheld Affordable Care Act subsidies to states, including Ohio, meaning the ACA remains structurally sound. A challenge to the ability of the federal government to facilitate those subsidies called King v. Burwell could have shook Obama's signature healthcare law to its core; without the subsidies, many low-income residents in states with health care exchanges would not have been able to afford health care plans. Another important SCOTUS decision in a case around affordable housing in Texas delivered a huge victory for those looking to desegregate low-income, subsidized housing. Read more about that decision here. 

That’s it for me. I’m heading to Columbus to cover the final days of voting on the state’s budget, specifically some last minute provisions that Republican lawmakers have slipped into the financial plan that would make life very hard for Cincinnati’s last remaining abortion clinic and other clinics around the state. More soon. In the meantime, tweet at me or email with your suggestion for best lunch around the capitol.

by Nick Swartsell 06.23.2015
Posted In: News at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Council poised to approve big development bucks; shooting interrupts anti-violence march; Ohio mulls eliminating "pink tax"

Good morning all. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s going on today.

City Council’s budget and finance committee yesterday approved pushing more than $6 million in TIF funds into building a parking garage in Oakley. The 383-space garage would serve Oakley Station, which just landed its first big office tenant. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will be bringing 400 office jobs to the development. Developers Al Neyer and USS Realty will put up the land for the garage. The city will pay the developer for the construction of the garage and lease the facility to them for 35 years. Neyer and USS will have the option to buy the building during that time, or purchase it from the city for $1 after the lease expires. TIF money takes property taxes from nearby new developments and reinvests those funds in other projects there instead of flowing them into the city’s general funds. The city must own a property to use TIF funds on it; thus the lease structure. A final council vote on the deal is expected today.

• Speaking of city money for development, the city will give more than $7 million in financial assistance to a downtown project at Eighth and Sycamore streets. That deal involves the development of a $35 million, 130-unit apartment building by North American Properties. The city will kick in a $3.5 million grant for the developer as well as $1.8 million in tax abatements for the project. In addition, the city will loan the Cincinnati Central City Development Corporation $2 million to build a parking garage and retail space as part of the deal. 3CDC will pay back that loan over the course of its 35-year lease. So how much money is all that, you ask? To give some perspective, the $7 million involved in the deal is about twice the amount of money the city has committed to human services funding for next fiscal year. But the development will create four full time and 24 part-time jobs worth about $2.2 million in income taxes, so there’s that.

• Mayor John Cranley has said he'll OK $2 million from the city's general fund for streetcar operations in an effort to ensure that SORTA approves a streetcar operations bid that uses union employees. But some city council members worry that the money won't be enough for the long-term operation of the streetcar, and are calling for more funds. Officials believe the project will cost about $4 million in its first year.

• The city’s dramatic struggle with gun violence continues. Last night during a march through Over-the-Rhine led by Bishop Bobby Hilton to protest gun violence, two men were shot in the neighborhood. One collapsed just half a block away from where the march took place. One, 18-year-old Justin Crutchfield, later died. Among those tending to Crutchfield was State Sen. Cecil Thomas, who was attending the rally. Thomas, a former police officer, has been active in OTR for years. Thomas said the majority of OTR residents don’t want any part in the violence and that it’s a small minority responsible for the crime. Many of the shootings have taken place during a pronounced spike in violence in the city, including last week’s shooting death of officer Sonny Kim, the first Cincinnati Police officer killed in the line of duty since 2000. CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell has drawn up a 90-day violence reduction plan at the request of City Manager Harry Black, but has delayed implementing that plan in the wake of Kim’s death.

• Very quick hit here: Cincinnati Red Bike is launching its first stations across the river in Northern Kentucky today, opening six new stations in Covington. Red Bike opened last fall and has since gained nearly 1,000 members, who have taken more than 46,000 rides.

• Are Pete Rose’s chances at reinstatement into Major League Baseball shot? Some say so. New evidence emerged Monday that Rose bet on baseball not just as a manager — the revelation that led to his suspension from the game in the first place — but also as a player. A notebook held by the federal government as it was investigating Rose has finally been released, and it details Rose’s wagers on the game as a player. Rose bet on the Reds, according to the evidence, though he never bet against his own team. The new revelations have many, including top sports commentators, predicting that Rose has lost any chance to gain reinstatement into the MLB, and thus a shot at the Hall of Fame.

• Finally, efforts are afoot at the state capital to abolish the so-called “pink tax” on feminine hygiene products. State Rep. Greta Johnson, D-Akron, is pushing the bill. She says women in Ohio spend $6-$10 a month on state taxes for hygiene products and that it’s time for Ohio to end the practice of putting state sales taxes on the items. Five other states have nixed their taxes on feminine hygiene products, including Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

by Nick Swartsell 06.22.2015
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Community supports fallen officer; Uptown Rental Properties buys entire Corryvillle block; Strickland leads in Senate race

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on in Cincy as we all try to wake up and do work.

It’s been a somber few days in Cincinnati since Friday, when Cincinnati police officer Sonny Kim was shot and killed by a gunman in Madisonville. Though I can’t imagine how devastating that loss must be for his family, the community has come together to try and help them in their time of need. A GoFundMe account started by Mason Police Association President Derek Bauman has raised about $95,000 for the Kim family. University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono has announced his three sons will receive free undergraduate tuition at UC should they choose to go there.

Kim was responding to a 911 call about a man with a gun when he encountered 21-year-old Trepierre Hummons. Police say Hummons texted friends about his plan to commit “suicide by cop” and placed the 911 call himself to lure police to him. Hummons shot Kim before Hummons himself was killed by police. Kim was the first officer killed in the line of duty in Cincinnati in 15 years. Hummons was the 29th person killed by police in that time. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell called Kim “one of our best,” citing the numerous commendations he’s received. In his off time, Kim, a resident of Evendale, ran a karate dojo in Symmes Township. Mayor John Cranley has asked Cincinnatians to wear blue Friday, June 26 in memory of Kim. In the wake of Kim’s shooting, Blackwell has announced a two-week delay in implementation of CPD’s recently announced 90-day violence reduction plan.

• Uptown Rental Properties, a major developer in Corryville and the surrounding areas, now owns an entire city block of properties in the neighborhood. The developer has purchased 11 properties from the New Nazarene Baptist Church as well as another single family home on the block, which it has been interested in for two decades. Uptown has yet to announce plans for the spaces, and the church itself is leasing the building it formerly owned from Uptown until it finds a new location. But the purchase could well be a sign that more major development is afoot in Corryville. Uptown Rental Properties has been very active in the area, currently building more than 250 apartments in two nearby developments collectively worth $55 million. The developer also has big plans for neighboring Mount Auburn, where it has planned another $55 million in apartments and office space.

• Speaking of development, the Cincinnati Planning Commission has given the green light to a Towne Properties development that would feature seven newly constructed 2,800-square-foot townhomes on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine. However, the city’s Historic Conservation Board wants changes before the project goes forward, saying the buildings are “too short and squat” and should have more individuality overall, among other criticisms. As someone who has been criticized for these same shortcomings, I feel for these prospective buildings just a little. No one has ever told me that I “need more detailing around the corners” or that I need to be three stories tall to emphasize the verticality of my district, though, so that’s where my empathy ends. Towne will have to tweak the designs to meet the board’s suggestions and come back before it for final approval. The townhomes will be the Mount Adams-based developer’s first foray into Over-the-Rhine, and the development effort will led by former 3CDC VP Chad Munitz. Each townhome will have a garage and a private backyard. Expected starting price for each is $650,000.

• Marijuana legalization effort ResponsibleOhio faces a potential legislative roadblock even if its state constitutional amendment gets on the ballot and is approved by voters. State lawmakers are working to pass a ban on monopolies in the state constitution, a law that looks tailor-made to short circuit ResponsibleOhio’s efforts. If passed, that law would make the weed legalization effort’s proposal, which limits marijuana growth to 10 sites owned by the group’s investors, illegal before it even goes into effect. The anti-monopoly law must be passed by the state House and Senate and signed by Gov. Kasich before going into effect. ResponsibleOhio needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures this summer to get its initiative on the ballot. Its plan would legalize weed for anyone over 21, create the 10 grow sites and also allow for small amounts of non-commercial home growth.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said he would support removing the confederate flag from South Carolina state buildings if he lived there. In the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, S.C. last week where a white gunman killed nine black parishoners at a historically black church, a debate has raged about that state’s display of the flag above the state capitol building. Shooter Dylann Roof has expressed white supremacist ideals and sympathies and prominently displayed the flag on his car. The shooting has led to calls for removal of the flag from the capitol, and a number of liberal and conservative politicians have backed the idea.

• Democratic challenger and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland is leading over incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman in the 2016 race for Portman's Senate seat, a new poll shows. Strickland leads Portman by six points, according to a recently released Quinnipiac University poll. Meanwhile, Strickland’s Democratic primary challenger, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, continues to search for state-wide recognition. Eighty-five percent of voters across the state said they didn’t know enough about Sittenfeld to make a decision about him.

• Finally, as you might already know if you’ve been glued to SCOTUSblog like I have, the U.S. Supreme Court today did not release its decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, the landmark case that could decide the national fate of same-sex marriage. The court has just a few more days on which it will release decisions before its term is up at the end of the month. Meanwhile, OTR resident Jim Obergefell, for whom the case is named, continues to wait.

Story tips? Ideas on where I could get a used touring bike? Tweet at your boy or do the email thing.

by Nick Swartsell 06.18.2015
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City passes budget; last-minute state budget change could shut down clinics; mourning in Charleston, S.C.

Hey all. Here’s what’s up this morning.


Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed its $1 billion fiscal year 2016-2017 budget despite worries that wrangling between council and the mayor could spiral into a partial city government shutdown. The budget council passed looks similar to the one proposed by City Manager Harry Black, though it includes the full $3 million for United Way-vetted human services agencies council requested last November. Black’s original budget funded traditional human services at a much lower level.

The budget process this time around was full of last-minute deals and switcheroos by various council members. Vice Mayor David Mann, for instance, stepped across the line between his fellow Democrats on council and Mayor John Cranley to help engineer the final deal. Mann’s negotiations sometimes caused chagrin among his fellow Democrats — his vote against giving infant mortality agency Cradle Cincinnati $275,000 made that priority vulnerable to a veto, which Cranley took advantage of. All told, Cranley vetoed six ordinances containing Democratic council priorities, including a $400,000 grant for Clifton Market and $150,000 for bike lanes. Council had a majority of five votes on those spending measures but couldn’t muster the sixth to override the mayor. You can read all about the fiscal fun times in our coverage here.


• One thing council didn’t pass yesterday was an agreement about who will operate the streetcar. That means the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority will step in to decide which bid to take — most likely the cheaper turnkey option, in which an outside management company chooses its own workers instead of unionized SORTA employees. That option came in at about $4 million, just under the city’s $4.2 million budget for operating the streetcar. Another management bid approved by council’s budget and finance committee Monday involved a company overseeing SORTA employees and came in at $4.7 million. SORTA officials have said in the past that they can’t take up a bid for which they don’t have the money, so it looks like the cheaper option will happen by default, despite pro-union Cranley and five Democrats on council backing the more expensive option.


• But hold up, wait, there’s controversy around those bids. The head of the Amalgamated Transit Union says SORTA is “playing games” with the bidding process and that a cheaper option involving unionized workers might be available. ATU head Troy Miller has been emailing council members saying that one of the bidders, a company called First Transit, didn’t make it as a final bid despite having a cheaper plan that used union workers. That plan would have cost about $4.1 million, just under budget. The company has called that option a turnkey proposal, but says it would use union members. Here’s more on that story in this article by WCPO.


• Speaking of SORTA, and in less divisive news, the agency has released real-time streaming bus-arrival data, which has enabled for the creation of a new app that allows users to track the progress of Metro buses. That app was developed by local tech company Gaslight and will be available starting today. That is amazing. Like, an app that actually does something useful in my life on a daily basis instead of just having me take pictures of the food I’m eating or posting about dogs or something.


• 3CDC will use at least some of the $45 million in federal new market tax credits it just received to change up Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine, officials with the development group announced today. The project, which will expand and renovate the park, according to 3CDC, is expected to cost $27 million. Programming in the park, including fitness classes and basketball leagues, will be part of the project. The development group has said it will not be eliminating basketball courts or the pool at the park, a major sticking point with community members during the developer’s changes to Washington Park on the other side of OTR in 2012.


• More last-minute changes to the state budget mean that some women’s health clinics that provide abortions might be in danger of closing, at least temporarily. Ohio law requires clinics to have admitting privileges with local hospitals, or to obtain a variance from the Ohio Department of Health. A new tweak to those laws in the state budget would require those clinics to obtain their variance from the state within 60 days or shut down. Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn and the Women’s Med clinic in Dayton both operate on variances. The Planned Parenthood site in Cincinnati waited a full year to receive its variance last year and is currently awaiting another one. Women’s Med has waited two years for its exception. The state Senate expects to pass the budget today, after which it will negotiate its version with the Ohio House of Representatives ahead of a June 30 budget deadline.


• Finally, I don’t even know what to say about this other than to express some kind of unutterable sadness and anger. As you’ve probably already heard, nine people were shot to death while they prayed in a church in Charleston, South Carolina last night. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is an iconic, historically black church that has been serving black congregations since 1816. Charleston's Emanuel AME church, where the shooting took place, has been there since 1891 and has been a symbol of both refuge and resistance for the black community there. The suspected shooter, who was caught on video, is 21-year-old Dylann Roof, whose social media presence shows affiliation with or sympathy for white supremacist groups. Authorities are calling the shooting a hate crime. Among the dead, according to relatives, is South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, a civil rights leader and also the church’s pastor.

by Nick Swartsell 06.17.2015
Posted In: News, Budget at 04:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Council Finally Passes FY 2016-2017 Budget

Spending plan restores human services funding, but Cranley vetoes other Democratic priorities

Cincinnati City Council today passed its FY 2016-2017 budget, a $1 billion spending plan that hews closely to the one drawn up by Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, but with boosted human services funding originally left out of the plan. 

The budget boosts police officers and will spend $110 million on road repair and fleet maintenance, big priorities for Cranley. Cranley called the budget "great" today as it passed, saying it is structurally balanced and forward-looking.

But not everyone got what they wanted from the process, and heightened tensions between the mayor and council may have left some hard feelings. Cranley and council have been fighting back and forth during the budget process. This morning, Cranley compared Democratic council members to children on a WLW talk show. Democrats have fired back with their own harsh words.

Despite the political wrangling, the final budget resulted from a deal cut this morning between the mayor and members of council, including council conservatives and Democrat Vice Mayor David Mann. The compromise provided an extra $500,000 in funding for traditional human services vetted by the United Way, an amount above the $2.5 million in the city administration's previous budget proposal.

That brings human services up to the $3 million for United Way-chosen human services organizations council unanimously requested last November, an amount initially left out of Black's budget. The city aims to fund human services at 1.5 of its capital budget, a goal it hasn't hit in a decade. Today's deal brings the city to .8 percent of the capital budget.

But the deal also left the council's five Democrats facing a mayoral veto on other spending priorities: individual ordinances calling for a $400,000 grant to co-op Clifton Market, $150,000 for bike lanes, $24,000 for new bus stops in Bond Hill and more money for community organizations. 

"If the trade-off is we don't get bus shelters in Bond Hill or work on bike trails or public support for Clifton Market I think it is worth the trade-off," Mann, the Democrat who helped broker the deal, said during today's council meeting.

Those individual ordinances were the result of a move by Cranley to split up Democrats' original omnibus budget counter-proposal. That put the individual pieces at the mercy of Cranley's veto. Each measure received only five votes on council. Six are needed to override a mayoral veto. True to his word, Cranley vetoed all four of the ordinances he took issue with. Cranley says the move increases transparency and keeps extra pork out of the budget. Democrats, however, have accused the mayor of playing politics, noting that the city administration's $375 million operating budget still came in omnibus form. Several, including Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, have said that amounts to ignoring the majority of council.

A standoff over Cranley's capital budget and Democrats' unfunded priorities led to speculation that Cincinnati might undergo a partial government shutdown, but today's deal and subsequent vote effectively funds the city's government when the current budget expires June 30.

City Hall was less successful in making a decision about streetcar operations today, however. City Council couldn't agree on either of the two operating bids presented by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority, meaning that SORTA itself will now make the call. That means the agency will probably select the cheaper turnkey solution, in which a management company will be able to hire outside employees instead of using SORTA's union workers. That bid came in at $4 million for the first year of operations, under the city's maximum of $4.2 million. A union-friendly management bid came to $4.7 million. SORTA says it legally cannot enter into a contract for which it does not have funding.

by Nick Swartsell 06.17.2015
at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Big day at City Hall; questions about Fairfield pool arrests intensify; state GOP nixes proposed fracking taxes

Hello Cincy. Let’s talk about the news today. It's going to be a crazy one with lots of action, or inaction, at City Hall.

Speaking of that: Mayor John Cranley had some choice words about Democrats on council as he took to WLW this morning to discuss the budget. Cranley explained his reasoning behind splitting up council's suggestions for the capital budget into separate ordinances, a move council Democrats have called “overtly political.”

“This is a real breakthrough — to be able to say we’re going to bring more transparency to these votes so we can isolate spending,” Cranley said. He then took some shots at council’s five Democrats. “Someone’s gotta play the heavy. Someone’s gotta say, ‘We can’t just pay for everything.’ Someone has to put them on adult supervision.”

Cranley’s comments come as council and City Hall are poised for a knock-down, drag-out battle over the city’s budget. Today’s council meeting should be very interesting — originally, council was expected to pass the city's financial plan today, but the political wrangling between Cranley and council could mean that key parts of the budget plan won’t pass at council's meeting. That has set off worries from some that the city could face a partial government shutdown. The city has until June 30 to pass its budget, but Democrats have expressed confidence a deal can be reached in that time.

Questions continue about a series of arrests June 9 at a Fairfield pool that some say amount to racially charged excessive use of force by police. Fairfield police pepper sprayed and arrested Krystal Dixon, 33, and members of her family after Fairfield Aquatic Center staff said the family refused to leave the facility. Staff members have said the family was asked to leave because one of the children didn’t have swim trunks. Dixon said she had trunks for the child, but that staff insisted they leave anyway. Police arrived and the incident quickly devolved into a tussle between officers and several pool-goers. Two adults, including Dixon, were arrested on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. A 12-year-old girl was charged with assault and a 15-year-old was charged with resisting arrest as well. Both were charged with disorderly conduct. Video of the arrests shows the police pressing Dixon's 12-year-old niece against a patrol car. Dixon and her supporters say the incident happened because she and her family are black. Forest Park faith leader Bishop Bobby Hilton has called the incident police brutality and said that the girl suffered broken ribs and a broken jaw at the hands of the officers. Police dispute this and say the officers acted appropriately. Dixon was in court today and will have a pretrial hearing on her charges July 8.

• The building that currently houses the Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine could soon be a new theater for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The building is one of a number of locations that have been considered for the CSC, which has outgrown its current rented location on Race Street. The city’s 2016 budget has set aside $200,000 toward renovations of the location on 12th and Elm streets. The Drop Inn Center, which has been renamed Shelterhouse, will now be two locations — a women’s shelter in Mount Auburn that opened last week and a men’s shelter that will open in the fall in Queensgate. Cincinnati City Council approved the move last year.

• Speaking of shelters moving out of downtown: Plans and graphics have been released for the luxury hotel that will occupy the former Anna Louise Inn building in Lytle Park. Eagle Realty, the real estate arm of Western & Southern Financial Group, purchased the property from Cincinnati Union Bethel after protracted legal battles. CUB had operated a shelter there for more than 100 years. The Anna Louise Inn is now located in Mount Auburn.

• Cincinnati’s Metro bus ridership is falling. The question is why. Ridership on the city’s public bus system fell 5.7 percent between January and April 2015, SORTA data shows. That’s troublesome to the transit authority. Most of the drop has come from lagging numbers on suburban express routes, including those going between downtown and Madeira, West Chester and Anderson Township. The falling numbers are tough because SORTA has considered asking taxpayers for more money next year in the form of a sales tax increase so it can expand service. Could this year's relatively low gas prices have played a role? I don't know, but it seems like a fair question to ask, considering many of the routes with falling ridership serve areas where tons of people also own cars they can drive if they chose. Meanwhile, it’s not all doom and gloom. The transit agency’s Metro Plus initiative between downtown and Kenwood has increased in ridership by more than 10 percent. Metro Plus mimics light rail by running more often and more quickly by virtue of fewer stops.

• Did controversial former attorney Eric Deters take a bunch of swag from a local restaurant? That’s what a recently filed lawsuit says, but Deters denies it. Deters was leasing out a building in Independence, Kentucky to Angelo’s Family Restaurant. The restaurant told Deters that it couldn’t pay the rent anymore and was closing. Its owners allege that Deters then locked up the doors to the building and sat on $10,000 worth of the restaurant’s stuff. Deters says the restaurant owes him $400,000 on the lease and that he’s just locked the building up until he and the restaurant settle up. The Angelo family, however, charge that Deters has sold, given away, or consumed their property — restaurant stock and equipment — and that they didn’t violate the terms of their lease.

• In state news, GOP state lawmakers have eliminated a tax on oil and natural gas drilling proposed by Gov. John Kasich from the state’s budget. The taxes on fracking-derived oil and natural gas have been a big priority for Kasich, as it was designed to help plug holes in the budget left by his proposed income tax cut. Twenty percent of the taxes collected would have also gone to counties in Ohio in which fracking takes place. Lawmakers cut that proposal, saying there wasn’t enough time to reach an agreement about it. They’ve instead pledged to create a task force to look into the idea later. The Ohio General Assembly is expected to vote on the budget this week. It must be passed by June 30, when the current fiscal year budget expires.

by Nick Swartsell 06.16.2015
Posted In: News at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy budget battle gets real, folks freak out; Fairfield police accused of improper use of force; half of Ohio charter school's students found to be fictitious

Good morning y’all. Did you hear that the city government is grinding to a halt? Only not really, not yet at least.

You see, the city must have a financial plan in place by July 1 and there’s a battle afoot over the city’s capital budget. That funds a lot of things like road repairs, fleet updates and the like. But it’s different than the operating budget, which, you know, keeps the city government operating. You can find out more about the battle in our coverage yesterday, but it basically boils down to a struggle between city council, which is trying to get some of its priorities included in the capital budget, and the mayor, who has broken what is usually a single, omnibus budget ordinance down into individual pieces so he can veto parts he doesn’t like. Make no mistake: not passing a capital budget would be bad, bad, bad. It would mean that the city was out of compliance with state law, opening city government up to lawsuits and even temporary state oversight.  But the folks at City Hall have two weeks to hammer something out. In the meantime, at least we have the Cincinnati Enquirer to explain this situation to us. Yesterday’s headline blared, “Cincy faces government shutdown,” while an editorial today councils folks to “take a deep breath” because “the process is working as it should.” Great to see our intrepid daily has started reporting from multiple alternate dimensions instead of the single alternate dimension it normally covers.

• Last year, the federal tax credit geyser ran dry in Ohio for a minute, leaving groups like 3CDC and Cincinnati Development Fund without federal tax credits. It was the first time ever no projects in the state received credits. But that dry spell was short-lived. This year, 3CDC and CDF will get $45 million and $42 million respectively in new market tax credits for development projects. 3CDC has been Cincinnati’s major developer in downtown and Over-the-Rhine in the past decade, spending almost $1 billion in OTR in that time. CDF, meanwhile, has provided a quarter-billion dollars in loans in Greater Cincinnati, most of which have gone to affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods.

• Forest Park faith leader Bishop Bobby Hilton today made accusations that police in the city of Fairfield broke a 12-year-old’s jaw and fractured three of her ribs during an incident at a pool last week. Police were called to the Fairfield Aquatic Center last week to remove a group of teenagers who refused to leave after they were asked to vacate the area. Fairfield Police Chief Michael Dickey says the officers were defending themselves during the incident, a claim he says is backed up by video footage he’s witnessed. Dickey said he had not heard about the girl’s injuries until he was informed about Hilton’s news conference.

• A battle over tax credits isn’t stopping a Noah’s Ark themed attraction in Northern Kentucky. Religious group Answers in Genesis is going ahead with construction on the $84 million Ark Encounter park in Grant County despite a court battle around $18 million in state tax credits for the park. The application for those credits was eventually rejected by the state because of the group’s religious work and hiring stipulations that make potential employees profess their faith. Answers says it won’t use those hiring practices at the Ark Encounter park, but the state still says the attraction is part of its religious ministry, not just a tourist attraction. The project is about 20 percent complete, Answers says.

• Lawmakers in the Ohio Senate have walked back on a plan to eliminate the state’s historic preservation tax credit program for two years. Republican lawmakers tucked a provision that would have frozen the program as the state transitioned from a tax credit-based system to a grant system. That caused widespread criticism from across the state, convincing lawmakers to back off the proposal. Initially, it looked like $25 million in tax credits awarded to Cincinnati’s Music Hall  would be in jeopardy if the proposal was adopted, though lawmakers said that project and others already promised credits would receive them. Now, thanks to the uproar, Republicans in the Senate say they’ll remove the provision from the budget and form a commission to study shifting from credits to grants in the future.

• A really quick hit: a state audit at a now-defunct charter school found that half of the school’s students didn’t exist. State Auditor David Yost revealed yesterday that half of the 459 students listed by General Chappie James Leadership Academy in Montgomery County were fictitious. Yost says that the discrepancy seems to be a result of fraud and not simple record-keeping errors.

• Finally, on to national news. You’ve probably already heard about the strange case of former Washington State NAACP head Rachel Dolezal, who has for many years presented herself as a black woman even though both of her parents are white. Dolezal was thoroughly and embarrassingly outed by her parents recently, a move that rocketed Dolezal to all the wrong kinds of viral fame over the weekend. And it’s only gotten weirder from there: in an interview today, Dolezal says she's identified as black since the age of five and still considers herself black, in part because she has biracial children. But the story gets more befuddling still. Reports show that Dolezal sued Howard University, where she attended an MFA program, over what she claimed was discrimination… because she was white. This entire situation is so confusing and problematic I don’t even know what to say, so, there you go.

Hit me up on Twitter or send an old-fashioned e-mail, why don’t ya?

by Nick Swartsell 06.15.2015
Posted In: News, Budget at 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Council's Big Bad Budget Adventure

Council, mayor wrangle over spending priorities as deadline ticks closer

Cincinnati City Council's Budget and Finance Committee today wrangled over the city's upcoming, $1 billion budget, passing the operating portion of that financial plan but leaving a fight over capital spending for another day.

Basic services like police and fire aren't under threat in the budget battle — those are paid for from the city's $375 million operating budget, which council looks poised to pass. But other services could be temporarily shelved and the city could face legal action or state oversight if it doesn't pass a complete budget before its June 30 deadline.

A complex dance for power between council Democrats and Mayor John Cranley has left the capital part of the budget, which funds everything from road improvement to economic development to bike lanes, at an impasse.

The majority coalition of council members say Cranley is trying to block their will, but Cranley says the group is trying to force a shutdown.

“A majority of City Council seems poised to vote down the City’s Capital Budget and threaten a government shutdown because members couldn’t get their pet projects funded,” Cranley said in a harshly-worded statement June 15.  “Because some councilmembers were upset that their pet projects weren’t included, the City will not be able to repave our roads or replace our aging police cruisers, fire trucks and ambulances.”

The five Democratic council members — Yvette Simpson, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young and David Mann — have prioritized six expenditures in the budget that Cranley opposes. Those priorities were by and large left out of City Manager Harry Black's initial budget, so Democrats drew up their own omnibus budget proposal, which Cranley looked likely to veto wholesale, since he can't line-item veto things. At least, not officially.

Cranley says the budget Democrats on council have presented is structurally unbalanced because it uses one-time sources of money to pay for some of council members' spending priorities.

Cranley takes issue with six spending priorities Democrats on council have promoted, calling them wasteful. Those priorities include $400,000 for Clifton Market, a co-op looking to fill the vacant former Keller's IGA in Clifton, $24,000 for high-tech bus shelters in Bond Hill, $150,000 for repairing and building new bike lanes, an extra $500,000 for the city's human services fund, bringing it up to a level council unanimously voted to fund last year, and extra funds for the health department. Those extra expenditures would be paid for in part by pausing some of the city manager's proposed extensive $100 million in road repairs.

"I cannot support these items and hope that City Council won't either, but I am referring these items as stand-alone ordinances to the Budget Committee so that council will have the opportunity to have an up-or-down vote on all of the City Council requests," Cranley said in a statement this morning. "The people of Cincinnati created a Charter in which six votes are required to overcome a mayoral veto.  We should not try to subvert the Charter we took an oath to uphold."

Council Democrats met with Budget and Finance Chairman Charlie Winburn late last week to hammer out a compromise, and it looked as though things would be O.K. In the meantime, however, Cranley moved to have council's budget priorities broken down into 19 individual ordinances, giving him the ability to veto them on what amounts to a line-item basis.

"We worked with his budget chair. We sat down with Charlie Winburn and worked out a budget that his budget chair supported," Young says. "And then we get, 'you're trying to bankrupt the city.' If we're working with Charlie and something Charlie says he supports, and suddenly Cranley's having a hissy fit, we don't even know what it's all about. That's where we are."

Winburn said Cranley didn’t take up the compromise budget because he wasn’t “in the loop” about it.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called presenting the operational budget as an omnibus document and council's captial budget as a series of ordinances "weird" and "overtly political." Sittenfeld said he felt like a majority of council's wishes were being disregarded by the move.

“Treating different items so differently raises suspicion I think for any member of the public,” Sittenfeld said. “I don’t see why funding for the health department or human services or Clifton Market would be separate. Some things are protected behind the veil of an omnibus, and some things aren’t. I’d say put it all together, and if the city administration or the mayor doesn’t want to do that, it’s kind of on them whether or not they want to shut down the city government.”

The maneuvering has caused the current impasse as the four Democrats in today's budget and finance committee meeting balked at voting for the administration's capital budget. That raised alarms from council conservatives, including Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman, who both cautioned against going down the road toward "a government shutdown."

That language echoes statements Cranley made in a news conference this morning when he accused council Democrats of attempting to shut down city government over their priorities and compared them to Republicans in Congress. Councilmembers Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young shot back.

"I defy anybody to look at the budget we've proposed and see how that shuts the city down," Young said. "That's just not what we're trying to do. I'm really offended that he'd even say that about us."

"The concern that we as members of council have is that a budget was prepared by the city manager, and then the mayor had the opportunity to weigh in on it, and then it got to us," Simpson said. "It's our turn as policy makers to say, 'here's where we would make adjustments.' "

Council was scheduled to vote on the budget June 17, but it's unclear whether it will pass at that meeting. The city has until June 30 to pass a budget. If it does not, Cincinnati's city government could be subject to legal action, or even state oversight, as it is required by state law to have a full budget passed. The city's current budget expires July 1.

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.