Two relatively new Ohio parks, Cincinnati’s Washington Park and Columbus’ Columbus Commons and Scioto Mile, were among the four finalists for the non-profit Urban Land Institute’s 2014 Urban Open Space Award.
According to the Institute, the award “celebrates and promotes vibrant, successful urban open spaces by annually recognizing and rewarding an outstanding example of a public destination that has enriched and revitalized its surrounding community.”
The 2014 winner was Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, described by the Institute as a “5.2-acre deck park built over a recessed freeway in Texas” (similar to what Cincinnati planners want to do with downtown’s Fort Washington Way). It bridges “the downtown Dallas cultural district with burgeoning mixed-use neighborhoods, reshaping the city and catalyzing economic development.”
The award was made at the Institute’s October meeting.
The two other finalists were Tulsa’s Guthrie Green and Santa Fe’s Railyard Park and Plaza.
To be eligible, parks had to meet these criteria:
▪ Be located in an urbanized area in North America;
▪ Have been open to the public at least one year and no more than 15 years;
▪ Be predominantly outdoors and inviting to the public;
▪ Be a lively gathering space, providing abundant and varied seating, sun and shade, and trees and plantings, with attractions and features that offer many different ways for visitors to enjoy the space;
▪ Be used intensively on a daily basis, and act as a destination for a broad spectrum of users throughout the year;
▪ Have a positive economic impact on its surroundings;
▪ Promote physical, social, and economic health of the larger community; and provide lessons, strategies, and techniques that can be used or adapted in other communities.
Restaurateur Jon Zippersteain — the man behind Japanese gastropub Kaze in OTR and sushi/steakhouse Embers in Kenwood — is slated to open the new Mercer OTR on Nov. 4.
The Mercer, at corner of Vine and Mercer streets (on the ground floor of the Mercer Commons apartment complex), will be a casual, European-influenced bistro with seating for up to 60.
"This restaurant was inspired by the sophistication and Mod sensibilities of '60s cinema, which idealized and often parodied 'The Sweet Life' a la 'La Dolce Vita'," says Zipperstein in a recent press release. "There is a vibrant lifestyle here in OTR that we want to echo. I want people to think of The Mercer as a living room for the neighborhood."
Chef Dan Stoltz will interpret rustic Italian-European dishes — like duck-leg cassoulet, porterhouse for two, short ribs, risotto and chicken saltimbocca — in a modern, contemporary way. All pasta, including garganelli, will be made in-house.
On the bar end, the full-service bar — overseen by head mixologist Greg Wefer — will seat 40 and include Prohibition-era favorites like the Americano (Campari, Aperol, sweet vermouth and lime) and a Blood Orange Sazerac (rye, Solerno and blood orange bitters), plus a diverse wine list and local and craft beers.
The restaurant is slated to open on Nov. 4 and will be — get this! — accepting reservations. Make them at opentable.com or call 513-381-0791.
The Mercer OTR, 1324 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-0791, facebook.com/TheMercerOTR.
On Monday, Cincinnati's Foxy Shazam, one of the Queen City's more successful musical exports in recent years (and one of the city's best ever live bands), announced on its Facebook page that it would be disbanding, effective immediately. The extremely hard-touring band has canceled all forthcoming shows, including a hometown New Year's Eve appearance at Oakley's 20th Century Theater.
The band says the split will be for "an unknown amount of time" as the members spend some time with their families and other artistic endeavors. "We truly believe there is a future for Foxy Shazam, that our best art is yet to come," the message continues. "We don't know how long this will take but we plan on someday returning more powerful than ever."
CityBeat has written many articles about Foxy over the years, including a 2010 cover story (read here). The band first caught our attention in 2005 after the self-released The Flamingo Trigger, which we reviewed and talked about with the group.
Hopefully they'll be back sooner than later. I don't like that one of my favorite Foxy tunes is now "ironic." (This still deserves to be co-opted by a local sports team … or better yet, the city's tourism board.)
(Foxy in 2005 and in 2014:)
Phew! Our election issue is done and out in the world, I just wrapped up a draft of next week’s cover story, and I have literally hours before the next City Council meeting. Let’s hang out for a minute and talk about what’s going on.
Mayor John Cranley has endorsed former City Councilman and Human Rights Commission head Cecil Thomas in his run for state Senate, but it’s understandable if you were thinking otherwise. Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, running against Thomas, has pulled a Cranley quote from a Cincinnati Enquirer article published back in April praising Winburn and put it in campaign material. That kinda, you know, makes it look like Cranley is endorsing him.
Cranley’s standing behind his fellow Democrat, which would be kind of awkward for Winburn if he wasn’t just plowing right on through it.
“His endorsement won't matter at this point," Winburn says. "He has to let everyone know he's a Democrat."
• Iconic Cincinnatian Leslie Isaiah Gaines passed away on Monday. Gaines was a Renaissance man the likes of which we rarely see these days— a larger-than-life lawyer, preacher, songwriter and Hamilton County municipal court judge. Gaines broke down barriers as a black lawyer and judge, as well as standing up for the legal rights of people of all colors.
• The Vatican has removed three Cincinnati catholic priests for sexual abuse offenses involving children. The decision to permanently remove Thomas Kuhn, Thomas Feldhaus and Ronald Cooper from the priesthood was announced yesterday, and while advocacy groups say they’re glad some justice is being done, they also heavily criticize the long, slow nature of the process. The three had been suspended for years and were still collecting paychecks from the church. Feldhaus’ offense dates back to 1979, and Cooper’s to the 1980s. The three are among more than a dozen Cincinnati-area priests investigated following a national scandal involving child abuse in the Catholic church that surfaced more than a decade ago.
• I’m only surprised that it took so long for this to happen. Ghost Hunters, the popular SyFy channel TV series, recently filmed an episode, airing tonight at 9 p.m., in Music Hall. The building is supposedly one of the country’s most haunted locations. Music Hall was constructed starting in 1876 on a former orphanage and burial ground for indigent citizens, and thousands of bones were found during the process. More remains have also been found in subsequent updates of the building, as well as in neighboring Washington Park. So if anywhere has ghosts, it’s Music Hall. The only question is whether any of those ghosts have tons and tons of money and want to like, chip in on some home repairs.
• Cincinnati may end up losing a $4.3 million federal grant for a bike trail on the city’s east side if it follows through with a plan to build on a route along an old train line instead of along the river. Part of the Ohio River Trail has already been built, but continuing to build along the river could be complex and expensive, requiring purchasing property from private owners and building a flood wall. Instead, council is considering shifting to the Oasis Line, a stretch of seldom-used train tracks. Supporters say that plan would be much cheaper and faster to build. But that plan has its own complications, including approval from the Federal Transportation Authority and Genesse and Wyoming Railroad, which holds some rights to the tracks. There’s also the fact that the federal grant money at stake can’t be moved from the Ohio River Trail to the Oasis Line.
• As a candidate, this is not the kind of news you want to hear a week from election day. Cuyahoga County Inspector General Nailah Byrd released a report on County Executive and Democratic candidate for Ohio governor Ed FitzGerald yesterday slamming the fact he drove without a driver’s license for 10 months after taking office. Byrd, who was appointed by FitzGerald, said the Democrat committed “a breach of public trust” for driving his own vehicle and county vehicles without a valid license. The inspector general doesn’t have any disciplinary powers over FitzGerald, but it’s the last thing his sagging, ill-run campaign needs at this point. Incumbent Gov. John Kasich has a towering, double-digit lead over his challenger, and has run circles around him in terms of fundraising, which basically means we’re doomed to four more years of having a governor who defends Ohio’s gay marriage ban, pushes abortion restrictions, refuses federal funds for food aid, and so forth. Great.
Over the Rhine is releasing its third Christmas album, Blood Oranges in the Snow, on Nov. 4, but The New York Times’ website is offering an early listen through its “Press Play” website. Click here to listen.
The album, which follows previous “reality Christmas” efforts Snow Angels and The Darkest Night of the Year, is available now for pre-order here. Pre-orders of the CD will instantly receive a digital version of the album.
OTR’s Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist will do some acoustic dates after Blood Oranges’ release, beginning next week in Washington state. The duo’s “Acoustic Christmas” tour officially begins Dec. 5 in Virginia and culminates with OTR’s annual hometown holiday show at the Taft Theatre on Dec. 20.
The Greater Cincinnati Film Commission continues to bring film shoots to the Queen City — next up is Andy Goddard's The Blunderer, starring Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson. The film, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, begins filming on Nov. 17 and will be shot entirely in Cincinnati.
Director Andy Goddard, who's worked on various TV shows and directed the upcoming Elijah Wood drama Set Fire to the Stars, will take on the 1954 psychological thriller by Highsmith. Another adaptation from the author, Carol, was filmed locally this past spring — it starred Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler and was directed by Todd Haynes. It will debut sometime in 2015.
Producers from Carol are returning for the second time this year, giving major kudos to the city.
"We had a great experience in Cincinnati on our film Carol," said Christine Vachon of Killer Films in a press release. “The Film Commission, the rebate, locations, infrastructure and welcoming people of Cincinnati brought us back a second time within one year."
It also sounds like this will be another production that takes advantage of Cincinnati's historic architecture and temporarily puts the city in a retro time warp — filmmakers are looking for period cars from 1960 or earlier. To get involved with that, email email@example.com.
Additionally, they're looking for extras (send a headshot and email to firstname.lastname@example.org) and qualified crew (send resume to email@example.com). The Blunderer is set to film here Nov. 17-Dec. 21.
This summer, on-the-rise Northern Kentucky-based Hip Hop artist Trademark Aaron released his excellent EP Act Accordingly, which included a bonus track titled "The Best," a collaboration with Cincinnati MC Easy Lantana, the RCA/Polo Grounds Music recording artist who made waves nationally last year with his single, "All Hustle, No Luck."
The track about hard work and perseverance now has an accompanying music video. The clip, directed by Franco Mudey and Mark Merkhofer, had its premiere yesterday on the front page of popular video site Vevo.
Trademark Aaron's next performance is part of what could very well be the best local Hip Hop show of the year, this Thursday at Over-the-Rhine’s Rhinegeist. Reflection Eternal, renowned Cincinnati-based producer/artist Hi-Tek’s collaboration with legendary MC Talib Kweli, headlines the 8 p.m. concert, marking a rare appearance by the duo. Thursday’s lineup also features Cincinnati heroes Mood, who took Cincy Hip Hop nationwide in the ’90s, Buggs Tha Rocka (who’s prepping a new album release for early December), ClockworkDJ (Mac Miller’s official DJ), Valley High, Aida Chakra and many others.
Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert are $20 in advance (through cincyticket.com) or $30 at the door (if there are any tickets remaining). There are also $60 advance VIP tickets available, which include a meet-and-greet with the artists.
Morning y’all. Before we begin, I have to share something only tangentially related to the news. Last night I went and checked out a concert at Union Terminal, which has a 100-year-old organ in house and more than 4,000 pipes for that organ built into the walls. I don’t know a whole lot about baroque and classical music, but I do know a lot about loud music, and it was insanely loud. And awesome. Very recommended. To tie this into newsy stuff, I’ll just say go weigh in one way or the other on Issue 8 (the icon tax) at your local polling place.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday more or less tied up what the city will do with its $18 million budget surplus. The committee, which is composed of all nine council members basically adopted City Manager Harry Black’s recommendations outright. The decision came with controversy, however, as some on Council again questioned the process by which the recommendations were proposed. Council members Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and P.G. Sittenfeld pushed back on the process, accusing Budget Committee Chair Charlie Winburn of trying to push the proposals through quickly and asking why public input wasn’t sought on the proposals before they were brought before Council for a vote. The three abstained from voting for Black’s recommendations.
• Council also wrangled again over funding for Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative at the committee meeting. Several council members had questions about why some established programs are being cut to fund the $2.3 million jobs initiative, especially when the city is running a large budget surplus. Councilman Chris Seelbach pushed for an amendment to the ordinance funding the program to try and restore some cuts to housing advocacy group Housing Opportunities Made Equal and People Working Cooperatively, which helps the elderly and low-income with home weatherization, maintenance and energy efficiency. Those programs lost federal dollars from Community Development Block Grants that have been diverted to the mayor’s new jobs program. The amendment was voted down, 5-4.
“These programs employ people,” said Councilman Wendell Young, who, along with council members Seelbach, Sittenfeld and Simpson voted for the amendment. “When these programs take a hit, that impacts their employees. There’s a real paradox there. These programs leverage dollars. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s help everybody.”
Others turned out to either support the mayor’s program or oppose the cuts. Many spoke on behalf of Cincinnati Cooks, which is a Hand Up partner. But some questioned the mayor’s program. Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless Director Josh Spring praised the organization's partnering with Hand Up, but said cutting other programs was counterproductive and unnecessary.
“Are we really going to lower poverty by five percent in five years by serving just 4,000 people? What the mayor has accomplished is that he has forced groups that get along to come down here and fight each other,” Spring said. “We do have a surplus. There are other ways to do this. Things like lead abatement, things like home repair, things like upward mobility so that folks experiencing low incomes can move up economically — those aren’t handouts.”
• One other skirmish broke out at the marathon meeting, which was still going when I stopped watching it on Citicable at about 6 p.m. (yes, I lead an exciting and enviable life). The tussle broke out over money that was once set aside for permanent supportive housing in the city. That money had been earmarked for a prospective 99-unit affordable housing development in Avondale for those recovering from addiction and other issues called Commons at Alaska. However, pushback from some community members there hamstrung that development. Now it will be used for other things.
“Last June, we had money set aside in the budget for permanent supportive housing,” Seelbach said. “I know some people say Alaska Commons doesn’t have enough community buy-in. But permanent supportive housing is an essential part of the equation. We were told we were not going to be eliminating it. And now guess what? We’re eliminating permanent supportive housing. Well, I’m not going to do that.” Seelbach voted against moving the money, along with Simpson, Young and Sittenfeld.
• That’s enough City Council action, at least until Wednesday. Let’s move on. Normally, the words “best” and “suburbs” in the same sentence cause heavy cognitive dissonance in my brain. But this is cool, I guess. Three Cincinnati suburbs have been ranked among the best in America by a new study. Madeira (3), Montgomery (21) and Wyoming (24) were tops in the region and among the best in the country, according to Business Insider. The rankings looked at nearly 300 ‘burbs across the country and took into account housing affordability, commute times, poverty, public school ratings and the number of stifling gated communities, GAP outlets and SUVs with stick figure family stickers on the back window per capita. Just kidding on those last ones, guys. Suburbs can be cool, too.
• The end of a long, watery saga: Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant, a boat that has been basically sinking since August, is being demolished.
• The Ohio Department of Transportation commissioned a study to determine future transit needs, and it found that the state will need to double its funding of transit over the next decade to more than $1 billion due to increasing demand. In 2000, the state spent $44 million for public transit. In 2013, it spent just $7.3 million. ODOT also gets money for transit from the federal government, however. Gov. John Kasich's administration has been especially cold to public transit, calling passenger rail supporters a "train cult" and turning down $400 million in federal funds for a commuter line between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. He also, you know, withheld state funds for the streetcar. This is why we can't have nice things.
• In Ohio and beyond, it’s looking more and more likely that Democrats are going to take a beating this midterm election. That’s especially true in Congress, where once-safely Democratic House seats suddenly seem to be up for grabs. If Dems lose enough of those seats, they may not have any chance of taking back a majority in the House until redistricting rolls around again. Many analysts and some in the party have blamed the potential slide in House seats on the unpopularity of the president.
• Finally, if all this news is just too overwhelming for you (I know how you feel) check out this porcupine. He’s eating a pumpkin. It's adorable. You’re welcome.
Our night in Milan did not have one of those types of promoters. Hell, to even call him a promoter is an insult to the concept of promotion. Let’s dive in a little bit and discuss just what potential promoters should and shouldn’t do when bands come a’callin.
First thing’s first — it’s always helpful to be at the venue by the scheduled get-in time. When bands like us arrive, we’ll generally have some questions for you about our lodging for the night, dinner, load-in and load-out logistics, etc. This is especially pertinent on tours like this due to the fact that we aren’t even from this continent; a little extra handholding is appreciated.
What you shouldn’t do is show up at the venue at 9 p.m. when load-in started at 6 p.m. and not even introduce yourself to anyone.
Second, please follow the agreed upon terms of the contract and make sure that the obligations you have are completed satisfactorily. On this tour, Valley of the Sun has two major requests in their contract: a hot meal every night (or a 15 Euro buyout) and accommodations after the show. These accommodations have varied from a promoter’s floor to nice hotels.
If you got caught with a joint that one time in college here in Cincinnati and now you're applying for jobs, that youthful indiscretion can make it much tougher for you.
But that could change. Some of the 10,000 Cincinnatians convicted under an unpopular and now-repealed marijuana law may soon be able to put the past behind them.
City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee today passed an ordinance that, if backed by a full Council vote Wednesday, would allow some city residents convicted of having less than 200 grams of marijuana to have the charges removed from their criminal record.
In 2006, the city passed an ordinance making it a criminal offense to have even small amounts of the drug. A first offense was a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. A second offense could net someone a first degree misdemeanor charge punishable by 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Under Ohio law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor charge akin to a parking ticket. Those charges are much easier to get expunged. But municipalities can pass tougher laws against the drug, leading to a patchwork of penalties from one place to another.
Cincinnati’s law was repealed by City Council in 2011, but the after effects remain for many in the city. The drug charges stay on a person’s criminal record, are difficult to get expunged and could inhibit them from getting jobs or school loans.
“Our goal to seal these records so citizens can get on with their life and get jobs," said Councilman Charlie Winburn at the Monday meeting. Winburn, a Republican, has been pushing the ordinance as he runs for state Senate in Cincinnati’s largely Democratic 9th District.
The nominations for the 2015 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, honoring Greater Cincinnati’s fantastic music scene, were announced Wednesday and now it’s your turn to weigh in.
The 18th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards ceremony/party, where the winners for each category will be announced and several acts will perform, returns to Covington’s Madison Theater on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. So far, Young Heirlooms, Injecting Strangers, Mad Anthony, The Cliftones and Buggs tha Rocka are confirmed to play the CEAs this year. Stay tuned for further info; tickets are available here.
An educated voter is the best kind of voter, so why not actually check out some or all of the artists for whom you are voting? Below you will find links to the artists’ pages on the excellent local music site cincymusic.com (thanks, CIncyMusic!) featuring links, music, bios and more. (The final three “Critical Achievement” categories are not voted on by the public but rather the CEA nominating committee, but you should still totally check all of those acts out, too.)
Best Live Act:
Best Music Video:
Wussy – “North Sea Girls”
Rob Fetters – “Desire”
Mad Anthony – “Sank for Days”
Injecting Strangers – “Detroit”
Sleep – “I Shot Lincoln”
Tweens - “Forever”
The Tillers – “Willy Dear”
Trademark Aaron – “Gold”
Critical Achievement Awards Album of the Year:
Tweens – Tweens
Pop Goes the Evil – Love Stained Heart
500 Miles to Memphis – Stand There and Bleed
Wussy – Attica!
Rob Fetters – Saint Ain’t
Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound – Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound
The Almighty Get Down – People, This Is …
Buffalo Killers – Heavy Reverie
New Artist of the Year:
Artist of the Year:
Since Christmas is next week (Thursday), there's a ton of holiday stuff to do this weekend — everything from plays and other onstage events to train displays and elves doing things.Onstage:
Good late morning readers! It's time to take another look at the Words Nobody Uses or Knows in this week's issue and the general absurdities of the English language.
I once spent a lot of time in Columbus teaching largely illiterate adults how to read and write English. (Most were recent immigrants from India.) And let me tell you, trying to explain a sentence like: "Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present" to a person with little or no English skills is tough. Or how about "The bandage was wound around the wound" or "She was close to the door so she closed it."
It's a complicated language, riddled with nuances and mysterious rules. The adults I taught, many of whom had never taken a formal English course in their lives, astounded me with their sheer enthusiasm to take it on.
It's hard, ya'll. Even I mess it up on a daily basis, and reading and writing is, like, my job. Reading CityBeat has expanded my arsenal of adult words, though, and it will expand yours, too. Pick up this week's issue! Read it! Learn!
OK, onto the best word in this week's issue: bifurcated, in Kathy Y. Wilson's fatigued editorial regarding the criminal justice system.
bifurcated: having two branches or peaks; forked (adj.)
In this issue: "In those hands, blackness morphs into rage, disappointment, property damage, protests, shame, splintered loyalties and proof, once and for all, that we are indeed living in Two Americas, a bifurcated landscape where, after all these generations together, we steadfastly still refuse to accept and/or respect the complexities of race."
Next best word is nadir, found in our cover story, a really interesting and well written piece on the litany of issues facing the county morgue and crime lab.
nadir: that point of the celestial sphere directly opposite to the zenith and directly below the observer; the lowest point (adj.)
In this issue: "Sales tax receipts in the county have grown $9 million since their recession nadir in 2009."
Next word is idyll. I can't figure out where this word actually appeared in the issue, but I know it's in there somewhere. I'll give you the definition anyway, because two words just isn't enough:
idyll (can always be spelled idyl): a short poem or prose work describing a simple, peaceful scene of rural or pastoral life; a scene or incident suitable for such a work (n.)
And here's a random sentence with it, via the Almighty Google: "But the appearance of a pastoral idyll conceals a poverty trap."
Happy holidays, readers.
Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things.
• City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.
• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.
• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.
The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market.
"Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.
• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron.
The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.
UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.
• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further.
“The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”
• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.
“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”
• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.
All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.
• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.
• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.
Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.”
Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize.
"He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."
A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.
Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.
“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said.
• It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.
• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature.
• 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!
Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.
Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest.
Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual.
Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.
The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts.
• The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.
• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.
• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.
• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked.
• Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.
• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!
• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on.
The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have
208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will
lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space.
Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati
Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s
overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins.
Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of
housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the
city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods
Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could
go for a full council vote on Wednesday.
• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!
• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the
state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of
those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year,
while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate.
That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six
years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are
addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the
alarming increase in abuse of the drug.
• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.
• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.