It’s probably safe to call 80,000 tons of rotting meat and vegetables a big mess. In fact, I don’t want to live in a world where such a thing doesn’t qualify for “big mess” status. The deeper issue is what can be learned from such a mess and who will be held responsible.
Council voted Oct. 15 to spend $300,000 to clean up Compost Cincy, a former composting company created in Winton Hills in 2012 with the help of the city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability (OES).
Neighbors of the site have complained for the past year of unbearable odors. The company closed its doors in October 2013, but the smell remained. Now, the city is left with the bill for cleaning it up.
Composting takes food waste, and by rotating it and controlling its decomposition, converts it into soil. San Francisco was the first city to institute a municipal program when it started collecting compostable waste in 1996. Today, the city collects more than 600 tons of waste a day for composting. A number of other cities, including Portland, Ore., Seattle, Boulder, Colo., and other generally progressive places also have programs. If composting isn’t done correctly, though, allowing for the correct mixture of air to reach the refuse, you just end up with a progressively worse smell.
That seems to be what happened with Compost Cincy. Since 2012, the company accumulated 45 code violations from the city and two EPA citations. The city refused to renew its lease last year due to complaints about odor. One factor at play may have been the fact the company was doing outdoor composting. Many compost facilities are located indoors as a way to mitigate odor creation.
The OES will cover $220,000 of the cost of clean up with its budget, with another $80,000 coming from city contingency account. Mayor John Cranley pinned a good deal of the blame for the project’s failure on the city office.
“The origin of this entire organization is to combat odor,” Cranley said during an Oct. 15 City Council meeting. “So it’s pretty embarrassing that it was this office that came up with this compost mess in the first place. It’s a nightmare for the people who have had to go through this for a year."
Council voted 9-0 to fund the clean up effort. But Cranley’s remarks created a good deal of controversy around the role of the organization and the city’s efforts to establish sustainability programs.
The official mission of the office goes beyond odor control. The OES is charged with leading sustainability efforts in the city. That includes redeveloping brownfield sites around the city, helping run Cincinnati’s recycling program and protecting the city’s air quality. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach all chimed in to support the office.
“I want to stick up for the Office of Environment because I don’t think it’s their fault, or that they were in any way trying to emit odors on purpose in our city,” Seelbach said at the meeting. “Composting is something that there is a large demand for. The business, Compost Cincy, was actually doing really well because lots of people wanted to bring their compost there and buy the soil that it produces.”
Seelbach said zoning was the big issue, something the OES doesn’t control. Simpson said that the Office of Trade and Development, not the OES, selected the site. She said the office needs more support.
“We need more resources to the offices of sustainability to so we can get at least 10 years behind,” Simpson said, noting that Cincinnati is falling short of sustainability efforts made in other, comparable cities. She acknowledged that Compost Cincy was "poorly executed" but said that wasn't the fault of OES.
She praised the city’s recycling program and said the city should support more sustainability efforts, not mock failures. She pointed out that council and the mayor have been willing to support other endeavors that don’t guarantee success.
“We’re going to continue to have conversations about whether the city should support small businesses, and we just invested $5 million in Cintrifuse, which runs start ups,” she said. “Some may work, some may not, some stay in the city and some may leave, but there’s no question we should spend money on that.”
Cranley also faulted other OES initiatives, including the city’s infamously unpopular one garbage can policy.
“This came out of the same organization that said we should have meatless Monday and all kinds of bad ideas,” he said. “It seems like we should not be funding organizations who then end up creating multi-hundred-thousand-dollar cleanups.”
Councilman Kevin Flynn also had pointed questions about the project, but from a different angle.
“If this was a good business, then why is the city having to pay $300,000 to clean up this mess?” he asked. “We need to be able to go after the money that resulted from these people paying for dropping off their waste and the money from the people who were buying the dirt created by that waste. Under our current policy, we don’t have that ability to do it.”
Flynn said the structure of the business and the city’s agreement with it mean that owner Grant Gibson may not be liable for cleanup costs. Gibson told The Cincinnati Enquirer he had sunk about $500,000 into the business.
Meanwhile, Compost Cincy’s website is still live, though it states that the company is shuttered. In a somewhat passive aggressive farewell message, the owners also put some blame on the zoning process for the company's problems, though they say, in the end, location doesn’t matter as much as the attitudes of a composting project's neighbors. The site’s farewell missive seems to claim it was sunk by unfounded fears about composting.
“If our society doesn't move faster towards actually being green and not talking about it, our planet will be 100 percent wrecked of natural resources in the very near future,” the site says. “With that said, make the changes necessary to your life.”
Good morning Cincy! I’m a little groggy today after last night’s Iron Fork event, which was awesome. If you were at the Moerlein Taproom for the chef showdown and restaurant sampling festivities, you probably saw me with the group that pretty much monopolized the giant Jenga set all night. Sorry ‘bout that. Anyway, on with the news.
One of the Greenpeace activists on trial for hanging an anti-palm oil banner from P&G headquarters has died, the Associated Press reports. Tyler David Wilkerson, 27, died Oct. 6, according to an obituary in the Fresno Bee newspaper. No cause of death or other details have been released. Wilkerson was one of eight activists facing felony burglary and vandalism charges in connection with the March protest. A ninth activist took a plea bargain.
• Yesterday’s City Council meeting was action packed. Well, maybe not action packed, but interesting and eventful. OK, OK, just eventful, and with more bickering than usual for some reason. Members of council got their feathers all ruffled by the fact that the media knew about Cincinnati’s $18 million budget surplus before they did, perhaps marking the end of new City Manager Harry Black’s honeymoon with the city’s most illustrious deliberative body. Council members found it a bit off-putting that plans were already being made for that money before they even knew it existed. Black promised to make sure every council member is tipped off the next time the city finds unexpected change in the couch cushions.
But look at me over here gossiping. Substantive stuff happened as well.
• The city will pay $300,000 to help clean up a failed compost facility in Winton Hills affectionately nick-named “Big Stanky.” OK, no one but me calls it that. But it does smell very bad, and that’s caused a great deal of controversy. The company, Cincy Compost, went bust earlier this year, but left something like 80,000 tons of rotting meat and other food scraps behind. The city is chipping in on the cleanup because it has to be done, but Mayor Cranley and a few council members weren’t happy about it. Cranley used the issue as an opportunity to jab at the city’s Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability, which he blamed for the mess. Other council members, including Chris Seelbach, jumped to defend the office, to which Cranley replied that the office’s “Meatfree Monday” initiative was dumb. Seemed like a bit of a low blow, since Seelbach is a vegetarian, but that’s neither here nor there.
• Council also voted to apply for nine HUD grants worth more than $6 million for the city’s Continuum of Care program. The money would be used to provide rental assistance for homeless, low-income people with disabilities. Council also approved a $500,000 loan to Walnut Court Limited Partnership, a Walnut Hills developer. The developer will be rehabbing 30 units in the neighborhood to provide housing for very low income individuals. This deal was a bit more controversial, as Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned how the property, which was overseen by HUD, came to need such extensive renovations and why the city should have to pay for them.
• Moving on to market rate developments, there are some new plans for the former site of the historic house that held Christy’s/Lenhardt’s restaurant and bar in Clifton Heights. The house was demolished last year to make way for an apartment building in the university neighborhood. Gilbane Development Co., which was part of initial plans to put a larger development at the site, has come back with some revised, scaled-down ideas. The building was originally going to be eight stories tall with 245 units of housing. It will now be only six stories with 190 units, as well as some commercial space. The project will be part of a larger development effort for the block that should happen sometime in 2015.
• A little old, but worth noting: The Hamilton County Public Defenders Office has written a letter to Mayor John Cranley
about Cincinnati Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein, saying he took
inappropriate actions last month by getting a judge to sign a warrant
that would have allowed him to search the entire public defender’s
office over a single robbery case. That just doesn’t happen to private
law firms, the defender’s office says, and shouldn’t be allowed. The
mayor and the city manager have said they want to work with the public
defender’s office to make sure evidence is gathered in the least
invasive way possible in the future.
• LeBron James was in Cincinnati yesterday for a Cavs preseason game at
Xavier University against the Indiana Pacers, and he said he liked the
city, calling it “a great sports town.” Despite being arguably the
state’s biggest name in sports, James had never played in Cincinnati
before. He scored 26 points in the game.
• Let’s take a quick jog south and revisit the Kentucky Senate race, shall we? Recent articles have prognosticated that time is almost up for Democrat Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the party’s national arm in the race, stopped spending money on ads in the state this week, leading reporters to say the party is pulling out of the race and that Grimes is ready for the fork, cause she’s done. That appears to have been a premature judgment, however. Potential Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned for Grimes yesterday in Louisville, urging voters in the Bluegrass State to “put another crack in the glass ceiling” by putting Grimes into office. It also turns out that the DSCC is still running polls in Kentucky and may jump back into the race with more ads before all is said and done. Grimes' campaign also has about $4 million in that cash money in the bank, so don't count her out just yet.
Much has been made of Grimes’ refusal to say who she voted for in the last two presidential elections, and some pundits, including conservative commentator Rich Lowry, have said it has sunk Grimes’ chances in the race. Lowry wrote a deeply dumb rant ostensibly about that subject (though it quickly jumps the rails and becomes yet another boring anti-Obama diatribe about four paragraphs in). Clearly Democrats are still hoping Grimes has a chance, though.
So much stuff has happened in the last 24 hours. I’m just going to hit you with all of it without my usual witty introduction.
A jury found Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter guilty on one felony count yesterday. The jury says Hunter broke the law by gaining access to confidential files relating to the firing of her brother, an employee of the juvenile court, and passing them on to him. The jury could not reach a decision on eight other felony charges against Hunter, for which she may or may not be retried. The conviction carries a penalty of up to a year and a half in prison. Hunter will be sentenced in December. It’s also very likely the state Supreme Court will take disciplinary action, which may include disbarring her. Hunter has been on suspension with pay as the trial took place and will now be suspended without pay until she is removed from the bench officially.
• Sometimes you put on that pair of jeans you haven’t worn in a long time and find some cash you forgot about wadded up in one of the pockets. I love those days. Cincinnati just found $18 million in its pants somewhere, and now the city is debating how to spend it. The cash is a budget surplus from better-than-expected tax revenues and cost-cutting. City Manager Harry Black has some ideas on how to use that money, including kicking more than $4 million to a fund for winter weather response, using another $4 million to pay back neighborhood development funds the city borrowed, holding $3 million in reserve for possible future police and fire expenses, $275,000 to make sure the city hires more businesses owned by women and minorities, $400,000 for a new city government performance analysis office and other ideas. I always just spend extra money I find on pizza, but that’s probably among the reasons why I don’t run the city. But seriously, $18 million is enough to buy each resident of the city $60.50 worth of pizza, maybe combined into one enormous Adriatico’s MegaBearcat the size of Mt. Airy Forest. Think about it, Mr. Black.
• You’ll note that using any of the surplus to fund streetcar operating costs is not on that list, presumably because Mayor John Cranley has drawn a hard line in the sand about using city money for its projected $4 million annual shortfall. But others are more open to using money from the city’s coffers to plug that gap, including Vice Mayor David Mann, who suggested at yesterday’s City Council Transportation Committee meeting that while not ideal, he hasn’t written off the idea. That’s significant because Cranley's suggestion to draw down operating hours to close the funding gap would have to be approved by City Council. Other options include raising funds through a parking plan, special improvement or other means. Council seems split on whether it would vote for a reduction in service hours
• Mayor Cranley thinks there are "too many" transitional living houses for those recovering from addiction in the city, but Price Hill-based New Foundations Transitional Living can stay in the neighborhood, according to a settlement it reached with the city recently. The six homes for men and women recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol have been the focus of controversy in recent months. Neighbors complained earlier this year about the houses, saying the neighborhood wasn’t zoned for them. Price Hill is zoned for single occupancy, not the so-called “congregant occupancy” needed to normally run group homes. The city investigated removing the homes from the neighborhood. But under the Fair Housing Act, transitional homes such as New Foundations are allowed in single occupancy neighborhoods. Under a compromise, the for-profit group will reduce the occupancy of the houses and promise not to expand in the neighborhood.
• Another building along Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine is being rehabbed, and this one’s really cool news. The Central Parkway YMCA is getting a $27 million renovation that will include the creation of affordable housing. The update will modernize and augment the building’s fitness equipment, adding new weight rooms and group fitness areas, a cycling studio and put affordable housing for seniors on the top floors. I love the building and have recently pondered getting a membership because they’re one of the few fitness places in town with an actual track for running. I should probably wait a little bit on that, though, because the building will be closing in December for renovations. It’s expected to open back up in early 2016.
• If you’re not tired of the tea party vs. conservative establishment narrative that has dominated the political news cycle the past, oh, seems like forever now, here’s another one for you. Some prominent local tea party activists are bummed because they weren’t allowed into a Monday rally for Gov. John Kasich in Butler County. The group, including Cincinnati Tea Party President Ann Becker, was outside the rally protesting Common Core, the educational initiative that looks to standardize performance measures for U.S. students. They say they were denied admission because they were wearing anti-Common Core T-shirts. Officials with the Kasich campaign say it had nothing to do with their shirts and everything to do with the fact they were being disruptive to the event. I honestly don’t know who to root for here so I’m just going to move along on this.
• While we’re on the “suburbs are cray” tip, let’s talk about this story for just a sec. State Rep. Ron Maag is throwing a fundraiser he’s calling a “Machine Gun Social” in Lebanon Oct. 25. By throwing Maag a little cash for his re-election campaign, you get to fire machine guns in a nature preserve. Just like when you were in high school and your cool gun rights friend would invite you out to the rock quarry to shoot at bottles and cans! But don’t worry — you have to be at least a teenager to fire the guns, they’ll be permanently pointed downrange and there will be instructors present to, like, instruct you on the best way to neutralize a threatening soda can with a hail of semi-automatic rifle fire. Maag’s Democratic opponent is of course pitching a fit, but has chosen, oddly, only to take issue with his use of the word “social.”
• Whoa, this is already too long, but I need to get at least one national story in here. Another medical worker in Texas has tested positive for Ebola. That worker apparently flew from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she started having symptoms. I usually try to end this stuff on a positive, non-terrifying note, but today I failed.
So, I skipped writing the morning news yesterday to hang out at City Council half the day. I know, you’re jealous. Let’s catch up.
The city should declare Mahogany’s, the former restaurant at The Banks, in default on its $300,000 loan, Councilman Kevin Flynn said during the Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday. After coming to The Banks two years ago, restaurant owner Liz Rogers fell behind on rent, loan payments and state sales taxes, eventually shuttering Mahogany’s last month. Rogers has tried to convince the city to reduce the amount she owes, and even threatened to sue, but the terms of her loan mean she may be on the hook for more than just the $300,000. The city could initiate foreclosure proceedings on her other restaurant in Butler County, which she offered up as collateral. Rogers may also be asked to pay back a nearly $700,000 grant the city gave her. Rogers still owes more than $265,000 on the loan and is $40,000 behind on her payments. Flynn is asking for all relevant financial records from the restaurant so the city can determine what assets still remain that the city could claim to recoup part of its investment.
• Meanwhile, in the Law and Public Safety Committee meeting earlier yesterday, councilmembers wrestled with Councilman Charlie Winburn’s marijuana expungement ordinance. Winburn’s proposal looks to give those convicted under a 2006 city law that criminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana a chance to expunge those convictions from their criminal records. In Ohio, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor that does not show up on a person’s criminal record, though the ordinance changed that to a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which does. The ordinance itself was repealed by council in 2011, but many who were convicted still have trouble getting jobs or educational loans due to the blemish on their records. The committee wrestled with some detailed legal questions about the ordinance, including the tricky nature of issuing an ordinance that seeks to work retroactively. Though the ordinance has yet to pass out of committee, Winburn said he hoped it would be ready for a full council vote in two weeks.
• A new budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman looks to fundamentally shift the way the county pays for the services it provides. It will do so in a way that could very well shift more of the burden onto the backs of low and middle-income people, however, as sales taxes increase and property taxes go down. You can read more about that here.
• Dr. Deana Marchbein, the president of Doctors Without Borders USA and expert on Ebola, spoke last night at the downtown library. Marchbein talked about the risk the virus represents, as well as other world health issues worth concern. Marchbein has said she isn’t super worried about Ebola in the United States since it is less contagious than many other diseases and because the U.S. has better access to modern medical isolation of patients than West Africa, where the disease has run rampant. Marchbein did express serious concern about that, noting that the spread of the disease there has grown out of control. Her talk is well timed; last week in Dallas, a man from Liberia died from the disease, the first fatality in the U.S., and a second case, the first time Ebola has been transmitted here, was discovered. That person, a nurse who treated the deceased man in Dallas, is now isolated and receiving treatment for the virus.
• Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes faced off in their first and only debate last night. McConnell is the Senate minority leader and has held the Kentucky Senate seat for 30 years. Grimes is the Kentucky Secretary of State. The two went at each other last night, trading barbs on a number of issues while not really revealing anything new about their policy proposals. McConnell battered Grimes by tying her to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and basically any other Democrat he could think of, including the Clintons. Grimes bashed McConnell over his cozy relationships with big money donors, including the infamous Koch Brothers, who have poured millions into a large number of races for candidates supporting their vision of a libertarian utopia where companies have little oversight from the government.
The race has been a titanic battle so far. Grimes has been running very close behind McConnell, who usually coasts to victory. At least one recent major poll has put Grimes ahead by a couple points, though other polls have her trailing by the same margin.
• Finally, if you’re like me, you’re still trying to figure out what to wear to Halloween parties. Yes, I’m kind of a grownup, sort of, but my friends still have costume parties so I’m still required to figure out what to be every year. My fallback—a cowboy—is getting pretty old, so I’ve been perusing costume ideas. But I don't think any of these are going to work. I can’t decide if the zombie hotdog costume is the worst thing ever, or the hashtag costume. No, wait, definitely the hashtag. Warning: a few of these are mildly NSFW.
A budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman unveiled Oct. 13 called for a .25 percent increase in sales taxes and a decrease in property taxes for the county. The decrease would amount to $38 for every $100,000 worth of property, meaning homeowners would generally see a wash or net savings on the deal while low-income and middle class residents pay more in taxes.
Sigman says the budget represents a big
change in the way the county funds itself. The benefit of relying more
on sales tax, he says, is that it raises much more money from those who
live outside the county but buy things here. The budget proposal would
provide $210 million in 2015. That’s short of the $222 million needed by
county departments, but a big jump from the $200 million available
under the current budget.
Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune said the proposal was “bound to be controversial,” since sales taxes place a higher burden on the poor.
Unlike income or property taxes, everyone pays the same sales tax rates regardless of income or assets. But lower income residents generally spend more of their money on necessities, including those subject to sales tax, meaning they end up paying a larger portion of their income in sales taxes. The bottom fifth of workers in Ohio, those making less than $17,000 a year, pay 7 percent of their income in sales taxes under the state’s current tax structure. Meanwhile, top earners, those making more than $138,000, pay as little as 1 percent in sales tax. And Ohio’s tax structure has gotten more regressive over the years due to cuts in the state’s income tax.
At 6.75 percent, Hamilton County’s sales tax is about average for the state. Even if the .25 percent increase were to pass on the ballot in November, it would still be lower than other major cities in Ohio. Franklin County, where Columbus is located, has a 7.5 percent sales tax, and in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is, it’s 8 percent.
The sales tax increase was first proposed last summer as part of a plan to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. Republican County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voted to strip Music Hall out of that plan, but the tax hike will be on the November ballot for Union Terminal. That hike could also be used to provide for a number of other county needs, including a proposed move for the county Board of Elections office from downtown to Mount Airy.
Commissioners have not said whether they support the budget proposal.
Oh wow it’s Friday, I saw pretty much the best show I’ve seen in months last night when Mirah played MOTR Pub and I just had a pretty great donut and tons of iced coffee. But this isn’t a baked goods or early 2000s music blog (I wish), so let’s get to the news.
Attorneys for the Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging a banner from P&G’s headquarters in March lost a legal tussle yesterday as a judge ruled jurors wouldn’t be able to take a tour of the crime scene. The defense alleges the activists didn’t damage windows when hanging the banner, and that other windows on other floors have similar damage that pre-existed the protest. The felony charges against the activists hinge on that damage. P&G says the company has made so many changes since the incident, including new security measures, that a tour of the building would only confuse jurors. The judge in the case sided with the company, because nothing is more confusing to jurors comparing windows than some extra security guards milling about. Eight of the nine protesters face felony burglary charges that could land them in prison for more than nine years. A ninth protester made a plea bargain over the summer.
• Imagine this: guidelines from a federal agency are vague and clouded, and local factions on both sides of an argument are using that ambiguity to make political points. Shocker, right? The streetcar funding imbroglio is a white elephant gift that just keeps getting passed back and forth between the mayor, transit advocates and news organizations. First, the mayor said the city may cut streetcar service if the project’s $4 million annual operational funding gap isn’t filled. Advocates for the project objected, saying that the federal grants used to build the streetcar prohibit the city from doing so. Then a Cincinnati Enquirer story last month said the hours would be up to the city, with the Federal Transportation Administration staying out of the mix. But it also suggested that the city couldn’t run it only for special events, as Mayor Cranley suggested on 700 WLW in what he later called an “extreme hypothetical.”
Hm. So, uh, can we just get some numbers up in this? Like, just how many hours a week does the city have to run the streetcar? In its various grant applications to the FTA, the city has promised to run the streetcar 16-18 hours a day, 365 days a year. Is the city tied to that number? The FTA’s response to the controversy doesn't totally clear this up.
“We expect Cincinnati to provide the nature and quality of service that
it proposed in both the TIGER and Urban Circulator grant applications,
which were a consideration in the selection of the applications for the
award of grant funding,” the agency said in a statement responding to recent questions from the Cincinnati Business Courier. Well, huh.
• The clock is still ticking on an effort to establish a co-op grocery store at the site of the former Keller’s IGA in Clifton, but the game is now in overtime. Officials with the group Clifton Cooperative Market announced they’ve signed an extension on a contract to purchase the building on Ludlow Avenue near Clifton Avenue, and now have 90 more days to do so. The group is trying to raise $1.65 million to buy the building by selling shares to community members. So far, they’ve got more than 800 co-op members and $600,000 banked for the project. The market will be an “uptrend” grocery, which I think means $3 bottled sodas, a lot of quinoa and kale as far as the eye can see. I’m not hating. I like all those things.
• Here's an interesting story about the way the city of Cincinnati collects property taxes, and how small-government conservatives passed laws back in the late 90s limiting the amount the city can collect to a specific dollar figure. The results have been a mixed bag at best.
• Cincinnati is one of the worst places in the country for irrelevant political ads, a new study has found. I mean, given the level of non-representation we’re getting out of our federal, state and local politicians and the appalling lack of options we have for most races, I’d say pretty much anything these jokers slap on a billboard is more or less irrelevant. But alas, the study says our ranking is because our market is split between Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and because candidates in one state often have to buy ads for the whole region.
• The accepted wisdom on millennials is that we’re all entitled Bard College grads working on our Tumblr poetry blogs and being snotty to baby boomers from our perch as lowly Starbucks baristas while we work to save up money to move to Bushwick. We really haven't helped ourselves in this regard, as we're pretty much a generation obsessed with branding ourselves as such. But hey! Did you know that two-thirds of millennials don’t have a bachelor’s degree? Did you know that many grew up facing deep poverty and lack of educational opportunity? This NPR piece gives a little more attention to young folks who you probably won’t see on an episode of Girls anytime soon. It’s a good read.
• Finally, I can't decide if this fake John Matarese Twitter account is trolling us or not. Or if it's even really fake. John, is that you?
Theoretically, there is no better real estate for a political candidate than the inside of a polling place, where a candidate’s name can be freshly stamped onto voters’ minds as they enter the voting booth. Currently, though, only one politician in Ohio gets access to this potential last-minute plug: Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.
He says recent voter information signs prominently featuring his name are standard issue for secretary of state. But Democrats say he’s taking unfair advantage of his position.
There are laws against campaigning in polling places, and bumper stickers, buttons or other campaign swag are frowned upon in our temples of democracy the way movie theaters hate it when you try to sneak in some Twizzlers or a bunch of McChicken sandwiches in your pants. (I tried this once and the theater wasn’t too happy. I think you can sneak snacks into the polling places, though.)
So big signs with your name on them are a no-go, unless you’re the current secretary of state, charged with overseeing elections. Then you’re required to draw up informational posters with instructions on how voters can update their voter registration and make sure they’re at the right polling place. These posters can be posted at voting locations. You can also put your name on those things. Real big, if you want to.
Husted definitely wanted to, and did, emblazoning his name and signature on 2-foot by 3-foot posters that his office is now requiring all polling places to post. That has Democrats, including Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Tim Burke, crying foul.
Burke has taken exception to the inclusion of Husted’s name “the size of an oversized bumper sticker” on those posters. Burke is also chair of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, and he fired off an email earlier this week to Husted’s office demanding clarification about the requirement polling places post the posters. The letter contained some not-so-subtle digs as well.
“I am struggling to understand how it is legitimate or fair to create a situation where you will be the only candidate on the ballot in next month’s election to have your name prominently displayed along with the office to which you seek reelection in each polling place,” Burke wrote in the message dated Oct. 7.
Burke also questioned the inclusion of a second, 11-by-17-inch poster that likewise prominently features Husted’s name. That poster, designed by a 5th grade contest winner, has little factual information about voting, Burke says.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Damschroder replied later that evening, saying the posters are a routine task for the secretary of state’s office and that Husted’s name and signature are present to assure voters that the poster is official. Damschroder also pointed out that county board of elections members, such as Burke, have their signatures displayed at the bottom of ballots.
Those signatures are small, however, and are unaccompanied by text spelling out the commissioners’ names. Perhaps they should work on the size and legibility of their autographs.
Let’s not forget the fifth-grade contest winner in all this. Damschroder said polling places aren’t required to post that poster.
“We have simply suggested that boards of elections post the winning design to advance the two-fold goal of encouraging participation in the democratic process, generally, and building civic-mindedness among the next generation of voters,” he said.
If that kid is following along with what’s happening to that poster, she or he is surely getting a lesson about politics as well.
Good morning! Apparently two tuba players are dueling with chainsaws outside our window, or at least it sounds like it. I’m going to try and fight through the distraction to give you the morning news. Today’s update is mostly a politics sandwich, but stay with me here, because things are getting interesting as we speed toward Nov. 4.
Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn will do anything for your vote as he runs for state Senate in a heavily Democratic district encompassing much of Cincinnati — but he won’t do that. I told you yesterday about Winburn’s recent evolutions on issues near and dear to most liberal hearts and minds. He’s pulling for expungements for folks who have marijuana convictions under a now-rescinded Cincinnati law, and though he says he’s pro-life, he recently lost endorsements from right to life groups after he signaled some reconsideration on women’s choice issues.
Last night during a debate with state Senate opponent Democrat Cecil Thomas, Winburn made the case that he’s “an independent thinker,” willing to listen to his potential Democratic constituency but also able to use clout gained with the GOP as a long-time member of the party and reformed hard-core right winger. But one place he’s not bending: same-sex marriage rights. While Thomas, who was once opposed to gay marriage, has changed his tune on the issue, Winburn’s staying put on that one. “Let me be clear about what I believe,” he said during the debate. “I do not support gay marriages. Period.” Tell us how you really feel, Charlie.
• Former Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has a new deal she wants the city to think about. Rogers, who recently threatened the city with a lawsuit if it didn’t forgive a $300,000 debt she owes on her former restaurant at The Banks, now wants the city to cut that debt almost in half and suspend payments until July 2016. Rogers has proposed paying $800 a month for 12 years, interest free, to pay back the loan. City Manager Harry Black has passed the proposal along to City Council for a final decision.
• There’s another big development project happening in Walnut Hills. Developers Model Group are working with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation on a $9 million project to renovate 3 buildings along East McMillan Street in the neighborhood. The buildings will house about 7,200 square feet of retail space and 30 market-rate apartments. The aim is to attract residents interested in urban living who can’t afford or don’t want to pay downtown or Over-the-Rhine prices.
• Who’s trolling over tolling? Was the head of the OKI, the region’s planning office, being overly provocative when he said yesterday that drivers who avoid the crumbling Brent Spence Bridge are “realists?” Those opposed to tolls on the bridge, who call themselves by the equally provocative name "No BS Tolls," say OKI head Mark Policinski should publicly rescind his statement about the safety of the bridge, calling it “unacceptable” and calling him out for fear-mongering. Policinski says he’d didn’t say the bridge was going to collapse tomorrow, just that reports show it is degrading. The battle rages on.
• It’s one of the most-watched 2014 races in the country, and yesterday the clash came to Northern Kentucky. A big throng of supporters, along with a healthy group of national press and local press, came out to hear Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic candidate for Senate, make her pitch to the area. Grimes came to Newport yesterday to talk about two of the region’s biggest concerns: the aforementioned Brent Spence Bridge conundrum and the burgeoning heroin crisis. Grimes slammed her opponent, Senate Minority Leader and 20-year incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell, saying he didn’t have a plan for either issue. She promised she could secure funding for a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge by closing some of the state’s corporate tax loopholes. She also pledged to use some of that money to hire more law enforcement officers and fund drug treatment programs.
McConnell’s campaign shot back against Grimes’ speech. McConnell said he has floated the idea of rolling back state rules that require companies working government contracts to pay the prevailing wage in an area. The campaign says the savings from that move could be used for the bridge. He’s also laid out plans for increasing the number of counties under scrutiny as drug trafficking areas, though he hasn’t mentioned Northern Kentucky specifically.
A recent poll commissioned by the Louisville Courier Journal put Grimes ahead by two points in the race, though other polls have her trailing McConnell.
• Finally, the Greater Cincinnati area ranks lowest in the region, and very low nationally, in terms of public transit and job accessibility. It’s very hard for people to use public transit to get to their jobs in Cincinnati, according to a new University of Minnesota study. The area came in 41st out of 46 cities, well below Columbus (27), Cleveland (26), Indianapolis (38), Pittsburgh, (22), Louisville (36) and Detroit (34). Bummer.
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Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn is having a lot of changes of heart lately, all of which surely have nothing to do at all with him running for state Senate in a largely Democratic district. Winburn recently softened his stance on abortion (he once was a hardliner, now he says he wouldn’t interfere with women’s rights, which has caused pro-life groups to pull support for him) and the streetcar (he voted against it last year, but now says “a streetcar is not a bad situation” if it’s part of a larger regional transit plan). He’s also floated a proposal that would allow Cincinnatians with convictions under the city’s harsh anti-marijuana law, passed by Winburn’s state Senate opponent Cecil Thomas in 2006, to seek expungements for those convictions. Winburn seems to be expunging some of his own previously held right wing convictions and drifting more to the center. But, as the Business Courier reports, he’ll need to pull out some even more adept political maneuvers should he make it to the statehouse, where the GOP rules.
• Closing statements in the trial of Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter should wrap up today, leaving the case to the jury. It’s been a dramatic 21 days in court for Hunter and the state’s prosecutors, who allege she committed nine felonies, including forging documents, improperly using a court credit card and intervening on behalf of her brother, a court employee fired after allegedly punching a juvenile inmate. Hunter’s attorney says the case is designed to drive Hunter from the bench because she has tried to change the juvenile court system. Though the charges against her carry a maximum penalty of 13 years in prison, prosecutors have indicated they will not ask for jail time for Hunter.
• It’s still unclear whether a Noah’s Ark theme park run by Northern Kentucky religious group Answers in Genesis slated for Williamstown, Kentucky will get state tax credits. Job listings for the park currently stipulate potential employees sign a statement of faith, provide a statement affirming they’ve been saved and affirm that they believe in creationism. That’s a direct conflict with state policies that stipulate employers who receive state money can’t engage in discriminatory hiring practices. Attorneys for the park say the job listing is for parent organization Answers in Genesis, which does not receive state money, not the theme park, which is a separate entity and which they say will abide by all state and federal policies around the tax credits. Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet sent a letter to the group warning that their tax credits are in jeopardy due to the listing. Officials for the religious group say they’re still discussing the matter with the state.
• If you’re nervous about driving across the Brent Spence Bridge, you’re a “realist,” according to the leader of the region’s planning authority. Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments head Mark Policinski says recent maintenance reports detailing the bridge’s deteriorating condition are a wake up call. There has been a lot of controversy about what to do with the 51-year-old bridge, which Kentucky officials say is obsolete but still structurally sound. It will take $2.5 billion to replace the span.
• As the sagas in Ferguson, Mo. and Beavercreek continue to unfold, issues around law enforcement, violence and race have gotten increasing attention. The latest case to come to light involves two people in Hammond, Indiana, near Chicago, who are suing police for alleged use of excessive force. The two say an officer shattered a car window and tazed passenger Jamal Jones during a routine traffic stop Sept. 26. Jones and the driver, Lisa Mahone, who are black, allege the officers violated their civil rights. The officers say they saw Jones reach into the back of the car multiple times and were afraid he had a weapon. Two children were in the back seat of the car, one of whom filmed the episode with a cellphone, capturing the officer smashing the window.
• Finally, we all get a little weird sometimes about our favorite entertainers. But this is next level: Someone paid $37,000 for a pair of Willie Nelson’s braids the singer clipped from his head in 1983. No word who the bidder was. All I can think about is that it’s going to take a lot of Willie Nelson impersonator gigs to make a profit on those 30-year-old locks.
Hey all! Morning news time. The first bit of news I want to hit you with — today is the first day of early voting in Ohio. From here on out until the Nov. 4 election, you can vote on any weekday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will also be weekend hours starting Oct. 25. So. Go vote. Early voting was slated to start last week, but the U.S. Supreme Court put a stay on a ruling by a lower court that would have expanded voting hours across the state. Instead, Ohio gets the more restricted hours drawn up by the GOP-led Ohio General Assembly and administered by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
• A group of activists protesting the police shooting of John Crawford III in Beavercreek has been camped out in the lobby of the city’s police department for 24 hours now. About 15 members of the Ohio Student Association, a progressive activist group, spent the night in the station. They’ve indicated they won’t leave until they are granted a meeting with Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers. The group is asking for a meeting by Wednesday.
• Hey! Do you want to get married in a former women’s shelter? How about staying the night in a luxurious room that once provided comfort and stability for someone fleeing an abusive relationship or life on the streets? Western & Southern has just the ticket. The company has long been planning on turning the former Anna Louise Inn next to Lytle Park into a luxury hotel, and now those plans are coming into focus. W&S CEO John Barrett last Tuesday discussed the ongoing planning, saying the company envisions the building as a 106-room ultra luxury hotel that can serve as a destination place where well-to-do folks can have weddings and other special events. Awesome.
• Over-the-Rhine’s Chatfield College, a private Catholic institution specializing in two-year degrees for first generation college students, is undertaking a $3.4 million renovation project on two buildings in the neighborhood. The move comes as the college prepares to grow, making goals to go from 300 to 900 students over the next five to seven years. The buildings along Central Parkway will be renovated in a way that preserves their historic character, school officials say, as well as allowing the school to accommodate more students.
• Kentucky’s got 99 problems, but a bridge ain’t one, apparently. A decade’s worth of maintenance reports for the crusty ole Brent Spence Bridge, which carries I-75/71 across the Ohio River, show that its condition has been declining for years. The last report scored the bridge a 59 out of 100, the equivalent of a C- on the system’s rating scale. Yet the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which has official responsibility for the span, has spent just $1 million in repairs on the bridge in the past three years, as concrete crumbles and rust gathers. The official reason: The state is waiting for the 51-year-old obsolete bridge to be replaced or majorly overhauled. A replacement will cost $2.4 billion. Meanwhile, a group of powerful business and political leaders in the state calling themselves “No BS Tolls” (get it? Brent Spence? BS? Haha) have banded together to oppose one of the most likely funding options to raise all that money — toll roads. Both federal and state governments have repeatedly signaled that government funding is not available to replace the bridge.
• Now that we’re in Kentucky, let’s revisit the state’s nail-bitter of a Senate race. A new poll says Republican incumbent and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is now trailing challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, by two points, 44-46. Those results from the Bluegrass Poll seem like a big deal, but keep in mind other recent polls show McConnell with a slight to significant advantage. Translation: This race looks to be going to a photo finish. Grimes’ isn't exactly popular in the state. Nearly half of respondents to a recent poll think she's just an Obama crony. But even more than that said they want someone other than McConnell. Grimes' poll bump comes after her campaign dumped tons of money into new TV ads across the state, including some rather goofy ones where she lectures McConnell on how to hold a gun. The race looks to be one of the most expensive Senate contests in history.