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by Nick Swartsell 03.10.2015
Posted In: News at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio police task force meets in Cincy; Senate Dems back Strickland; the great $85,000 cheese heist

Morning y’all! Here’s a brief morning news rundown before I jet off to some interviews.

The Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations met last night at UC for a sometimes intense five-and-a-half-hour listening session. A large group showed up to listen to expert testimony and to speak to the panel themselves. Perhaps the most charged moment came when John Crawford, Jr., the father of John Crawford III, a Fairfield man shot by police in a Beavercreek Walmart, gave emotional testimony about the need for police reforms.

Among experts presenting were Garry McCarthy, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, who talked about data-driven policing, Lt. Colonel David Bailey from the Cincinnati Police Department and Al Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati attorney who played a key role in the city’s collaborative agreement following the civil unrest here in 2001. State Sen. Cecil Thomas also testified about his role in the agreement. About 45 community members signed up to speak, including young activists with the Ohio Student Association, who argued there should be youth representation on the 18-person panel. Most attendees were from Cincinnati, but some drove from as far away as Columbus and Toledo. The panel concludes a tour of four listening sessions across the state. Now the task force, which was convened by Gov. John Kasich in December, will work on a report about its findings due at the end of April.

• A potential Over-the-Rhine neighborhood parking plan continues to take shape. Council discussed the prospective plan yesterday at its Transportation Committee meeting but did not pass anything just yet. Right now, the plan council is mulling would charge about $100 to park in one of 400 reserved spots around the neighborhood. That’s about a third of all the spots in OTR. Those who receive housing assistance would get a deal on the parking plan, however, only paying $18. Only two passes would be permitted per household.

• A bill necessary to move forward with tolling on a potential Brent Spence Bridge replacement is a likely wash in the Kentucky state Senate, meaning it’s back to the drawing board for the $2.6 billion project. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear recently proposed a public-private partnership to fund the 51-year-old structurally obsolete bridge’s replacement, but that requires Kentucky, which owns the bridge, to pass a law allowing public-private partnerships. Some Kentucky politicians, including many Northern Kentucky officials, oppose tolls on the bridge, saying they’ll hurt commuters and businesses in the region.

• Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has garnered another big endorsement in his run against Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld for the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 2016 race for Republican Rob Portman’s Senate seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of the party’s senators, has backed Strickland over Sittenfeld. There was some speculation that Sittenfeld, who is regarded as a promising rising star within the party, would bow out to the more experienced and well-known Strickland when the latter announced his campaign last month. But the younger Democrat has vowed to stay in the race, even as the going gets tougher. Yesterday, we told you that current Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown also endorsed Strickland. Sittenfeld has backers of his own, to be sure, and has raised a respectable $500,000 for his campaign.

• Finally, let’s go national. When something like the following happens, I automatically assume it happened in Florida, and I’m right a distressing amount of the time. On Sunday, thieves there stole a tractor-trailer with $85,000 worth of… mozzarella cheese. That’s a felony level of cheese there, friends. If I had that much cheese, I’d probably swim in it the way Scrooge McDuck used to swim in all those crazy gold coins he had. Police haven’t found the culprits yet, but I have a hot tip for them: Look for the guys making an insanely large pizza.

That’s it. See ya. Tweet at me @nswartsell or hit me on email (nswartsell@citybeat.com).

by Nick Swartsell 03.09.2015
Posted In: News at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mornings News and Stuff

New home for crime lab?; Seelbach pushes for streetcar plans uptown; is it time to abolish Ohio's death penalty?

Hey all! Hope your weekend was great. I spent my Saturday at the Neighborhood Summit, so mine was super fun because I’m a huge dork. If you’re like me and you’re into community building, urban planning, transit, or anything else at all city related, though, it’s kind of like our Midpoint. Highlights included a three-part panel discussion among Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell, activists Damon Lynch III and Iris Roley and other experts talking about how far the Cincinnati Police Department has come since 2001, as well as another set of presentations about immigration in Cincinnati.

Anyway, on to the news. Could labs on Cincinnati’s East Side currently occupied by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health be a new home for the Hamilton County crime lab? County Commissioner Todd Portune says he’s looking into that possibility. Last month, the federal government announced it was providing $100 million to build a new facility for NIOSH to combine the organization’s two labs in Cincinnati into one complex over the next few years. That could free up plenty of lab space for the county’s cramped and outdated morgue and crime labs, currently in a building built in the early 1970s. What’s more, some of that $100 million could go toward renovating the current NIOSH lab so the county crime lab could move in. The idea comes after county commissioners killed a plan to move the morgue, crime lab and other county offices to a former Mercy Hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county for a dollar. Commissioners have said it would cost too much money to retrofit that building for the new offices.

• A statewide task force on police-community relations put together by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the wake of controversy over police shootings is coming to Cincinnati tonight. A public listening session will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Kingsgate Marriott, 151 Goodman Drive, near the University of Cincinnati. City Locals Councilwoman Amy Murray, Pastor Damon Lynch III and others make up the panel, which will produce a report in April on ways to improve relationships between police and community members. Kasich ordered the task force in December in response to nationwide consternation over police shootings of unarmed citizens of color across the country. In Ohio, the August shooting death of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart and the October killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on a playground in Cleveland have gotten national attention. Both held toy guns at the time of their deaths, and police say they seemed to pose a threat. But the families of both Rice and Crawford say police were reckless and did not act appropriately. They say the shootings are indicative of a larger cultural problem between police and communities of color.

• As political bickering continues to swirl around the streetcar’s first phase, Councilman Chris Seelbach is pushing the city to work on planning the rail project’s next leg. Seelbach has created a motion in council seeking to spur the city to begin work on plans that would take the streetcar uptown toward the University of Cincinnati and many of the city’s hospitals. The motion directs the city administration to give detailed accounting of how much the next phase of the project would cost and how it might be paid for with state and federal grants. Seelbach has also requested the city refine its process for engaging community members along the route to get better input on the project. Originally, plans for the streetcar treated the downtown loop currently being  built and an uptown jaunt as one phase. But then Gov. John Kasich pulled $55 million in state funding for the project, resulting in the current scaled-down scope. Mayor John Cranley, who has been a vocal opponent of the streetcar, has said it’s much too soon to begin focusing on the next phase before the first is even finished. But Seelbach and other supporters say the only way to tap into federal funds and other sources of funding is to have a plan in place and ready to go.

• Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of Ohio’s highest-profile Democrats, has endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his run for the state’s other senate seat, currently held by Republican Rob Portman. That’s not a surprise — Strickland is one of Ohio’s other super high profile Democrats — but it does signal the challenge City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has ahead as he challenges Strickland in the Democratic primary for the seat. Sittenfeld, who announced his candidacy last month, has recently said he won’t back down from the race despite his big name competitor. He’s raised at least $500,000 for his run and told supporters last week that he’s all in for the fight. Though Brown endorsed Strickland, he was careful to praise Sittenfeld in his announcement, saying the 30-year-old has a bright future in politics.

• In the face of issues around execution drugs, a steady number of exonerations of those on Ohio’s death row and other factors, is it time to consider reforming or abolishing Ohio’s death penalty? Many feel strongly that it is, including unlikely conservative opponents to the punishment. Recent delays to executions caused by Ohio’s struggle to find a source for drugs that will end an inmate’s life humanely have renewed calls for the state to reconsider its death penalty entirely. This Columbus Dispatch story takes a deep look into the issue and is worth a read.

• Finally, March 7 marked the 50th anniversary of the violent clash between police and protesters in Selma, Alabama, an event that helped fuel new national civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act. Thousands visited Selma over the weekend to commemorate the anniversary, which was marked by passionate speeches by both President Barack Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder used his speech to question the future of the VRA, parts of which have been dismantled by recent Supreme Court decisions. Here’s a pretty in-depth New York Times piece about events in Selma over the past few days.

That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet (@nswartsell), e-mail (nswartsell@citybeat.com), comment, send me a telegram or a fax (do people still fax? Is that still a thing?) Here we go. Tweet me about whether you still use a fax machine or even know what a fax machine is. I kind of do.

by Nick Swartsell 03.05.2015
Posted In: News at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Ohio Same-Sex Marriage Cases April 28

Ruling will decide the fate of same-sex marriage in Ohio and three other states

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing that will decide the fate of same-sex marriage bans in Ohio and three other states. On April 28, the court will hear arguments over whether same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Ohio’s ban passed as an amendment to the state’s constitution in 2004. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and other ban supporters say upholding the ban is about protecting voters’ rights to enact laws via the democratic process. But opponents equate same-sex marriage to now-protected civil rights such as provisions upholding voting rights and school integration that had to be upheld by decisions from the courts. They also cite more recent polls that show attitudes toward same-sex marriage are shifting.

Last year, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court in Cincinnati upheld the bans in the four states in a 2-1 decision, agreeing with DeWine’s argument. But there are signs the Supreme Court may not agree.

Other circuit courts across the country have thrown out similar bans. And in June 2014, the nation’s highest court struck down a 1996 federal law that effectively banned same-sex marriage in a narrow 5-4 decision. The five justices opposed to the federal bans included reliably liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer as well as moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who many legal experts believe represents the crucial vote for matters pitting liberals against conservatives on the court. All five justices who voted to strike down the federal ban remain on the court, though some have joined its more conservative wing in upholding other bans, most notably California’s 2008 ban.

Among the four cases to be presented in arguments over Ohio’s ban is a lawsuit against the state by James Obergefell of Cincinnati. Obergefell sought to be listed as the spouse of his terminally-ill longtime partner John Arthur on Arthur’s death certificate. The state refused to allow that, even though the two were legally married in another state. Arthur died in October 2013. 

After oral arguments, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the cases sometime in June.

by Nick Swartsell 03.05.2015
Posted In: News at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Rhinegeist crowlers

Morning News and Stuff

Bummer news for Rhinegeist in KY; UC Law chooses first female dean; DOJ's report on Ferguson is frightening

Hello Cincy! Here’s a brief rundown of what’s going on in the news today.

As I told you about earlier this week, Cincinnati City Council passed a new dog law that levies steep civil penalties (up to $15,000) for dog owners who don’t control their pets. The law was changed just slightly before passage, cutting out criminal penalties that duplicated already existing state laws. Council also wrangled over the streetcar again (surprise) and passed a measure that would increase the highest possible salary for assistant city manager to more than $160,000, a big bump. That move came with some argument from council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach, who felt raising prospective salaries at the top sent the wrong message when frontline workers are receiving just a 1.5 percent increase in pay. Council did also approve a small cost of living allowance increase for non-union city workers as well at their meeting yesterday, however.

• Local craft brewers Rhinegeist got some bummer news yesterday from the state of Kentucky, though other craft brewers may feel differently about a bill that passed the state Senate. That bill, HB 168, prohibits brewers in Kentucky from also owning distribution companies. That’s bad news for Rhinegeist because the company is just three months into its River Ghost venture, which was to distribute their beer as well as other spirits in the Bluegrass State. Other craft brewers are elated by the prospective law, however, because it also prohibits brewing giant Anheuser-Busch from owning distribution in the state. Smaller brewers say giant brewing companies put their own beers front and center in their distribution, muscling the little guy out. Anheuser-Busch will have to sell or close its two distributing businesses in the state.

• The University of Cincinnati College of Law now has a female dean for the first time in its 182-year history. UC announced yesterday that it has chosen Jennifer Bard for the top position at the law school. Bard is currently a law professor and assistant provost at Texas Tech University. She’s highly regarded: She was also a candidate for the top job at three other law schools. Bard, who has a background in bioethics and public health, will do double duty at UC, also serving on faculty at the university’s College of Medicine.

• We here at CityBeat’s news desk (“we” being pretty much just me and editor Danny Cross sometimes) talk a lot about affordable housing here in the morning news and in our more in-depth reporting. And while it’s true that the rental market is seeing an affordability crisis, with rents going up and affordable units going down, the home ownership market is a different story. Cincinnati is one of the most affordable cities in the country in terms of owning a home, according to a recent ranking by website Next City. Cincinnati ranks fourth in the country, behind just Pittsburgh, Cleveland and St. Louis in the estimated yearly salary needed to afford the average house in the city. Of course, that’s still a firmly middle-class salary: about $33,500, which aligns pretty neatly with the city’s median household income of $33,700.

• Think back about four months or so, if you can, to a flap about Ohio Gov. John Kasich allegedly saying that he didn’t think Obamacare could be repealed. The Associated Press insisted Kasich made the assertion during an interview, while the governor said he only meant that Medicaid expansions in the states that had accepted money from the federal government couldn’t be repealed. Kasich asked for a correction. AP stood its ground. Sound nitpicky? Kind of, but it was a really big deal because repealing Obamacare is a GOP obsession and any Republican, especially one of Kasich’s stature, saying it wasn’t possible risked all sorts of slings and arrows from the party. Now, as Kasich seeks to gain the GOP nomination for president, and as Obamacare hangs on a Supreme Court decision, Kasich has finally wrung a correction out of AP. The news group now says it misunderstood him and that he meant to say that Medicaid couldn’t be repealed, not Obamacare in total. Right.

• The Department of Justice will not seek civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson or the Ferguson Police Department in connection with the August shooting death of unarmed black citizen Michael Brown. But they are not happy with the department. At all. The DOJ issued a scathing and, quite frankly, terrifying report about the Ferguson PD, citing numerous instances of racial bias, inappropriate use of force and seeming violations of citizens’ rights. Eighty-eight percent of the department’s uses of force were against black residents of the city, according to the DOJ. The report claims that the department has been functioning as little more than a revenue-collecting arm of the city’s government and that ticket quotas were established solely for the purpose of raising funds for the city. The revelations come as the country continues to grapple with questions around race and police use of force.

That’s it for me. I’m off to put together next week’s feature and an upcoming cover story and will be out tomorrow doing so, so this is goodbye for the week. I'll miss y'all! What do you want to see CityBeat dive into next? Hit me with it on Twitter: @nwarstell or e-mail me at nswartsell@citybeat.com.

by Nick Swartsell 03.04.2015
Posted In: News at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC eyes Ziegler Park; streetcar contract drama; an unclear sentence could cost millions their healthcare

Hey all. Let’s get this news thing going before the snow comes once again and grinds everything to a halt. Or just dusts the ground with a little inconvenient powder, depending on how much you trust weather forecasters.

Yesterday I told you a bit about 3CDC’s presentation to City Council’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee. During that meeting, 3CDC head Steven Leeper said the developer might cross the $1 billion threshold this year for investment made in the basin since it began in 2003. Let’s dig into my notes a bit and talk in more detail about a couple things regarding Over-the-Rhine the developers have planned.

One of the noteworthy projects on the group’s radar is a redevelopment of Ziegler Park on Sycamore Street. The park is across from the former SCPA building and just a block from Main Street’s active corridor of restaurants, bars and apartments. 3CDC head Steve Leeper said Ziegler’s revamp would increase the number of basketball courts and other active features currently found there. Removal of the courts at Washington Park during its 2010 revamp by 3CDC caused controversy among neighborhood residents, many of whom used the courts regularly. Leeper promised that while Washington Park’s character is more “passive” in nature, Ziegler would be a much more “active” park.

“There will be a lot more athletic activities going on there,” Leeper said, “and hopefully it will attract kids from the neighborhood who can spend their time in those athletic endeavors like we all did when we were kids."

• Leeper also outlined progress on three facilities for individuals without homes — two in Queensgate set to replace the Drop Inn Center and City Gospel Mission facilities currently in Over-the-Rhine and a third in Mount Auburn built to replace the Anna Louise Inn downtown. These projects have been controversial — advocates fought hard for years to keep the Drop Inn Center at its location in OTR and a protracted legal battle stretched on for many months between Cincinnati Union Bethel, which runs the Anna Louise Inn in Lytle Park, and Western & Southern Financial Group, which eventually purchased the property against CUB’s wishes. The new spaces are a bit further from the city’s center, though they do have a larger capacity.

• Speaking of the Drop Inn Center, its winter shelter will be open the rest of this week in response to dropping temperatures, according to a release sent out by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Usually, the winter shelter is closed by this time of year, but with winter taking its time going away, the shelter will stay open a bit longer.

• Here we go again: More streetcar drama could be coming our way. There is currently a potential fight brewing over who will operate the transit project. Council has set a limit of $4.3 million a year on bids for running the streetcar. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is taking bids on the contract, and there’s controversy over whether to use union employees for the job or not. Some council members favor that move, even if it costs a bit more, and they’ve asked  SORTA to negotiate with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which also runs the city’s bus service. But ATU has accused SORTA of dragging its feet on contract negotiations and trying to undercut the union by demanding a separate collective bargaining agreement for running the streetcar. SORTA says a separate agreement is necessary because the scale of the streetcar — just 30 employees at most — is much smaller than 750 people who run the city’s bus service. Union officials, however, says that SORTA is trying to get the lowest bid possible out of the union in order to drive other bids down as well. My guess is we’ll be hearing a lot more on this one. A decision must be made on the operator of the project by July.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld today said he will stay in the race for U.S. Senate, ending speculation he might bow out after former governor Ted Strickland entered the race last week. Sittenfeld will face Strickland in the Democratic primary. The winner will face incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, unless he is felled by a primary challenger — an unlikely possibility.

“Since we launched our campaign, I have been more grateful than I can express for the enthusiasm, encouragement and support we've received,” Sittenfeld said today in a statement on social media and his website. “So I want you — my supporters and friends — to hear it from me directly: I'm all in. Ohio needs a forward-looking leader to replace Rob Portman and the broken culture in Washington that he's long been part of.”

• You might be able to walk around The Banks with a bit of the ole’ alcheyhol on Opening Day. For a while now, lawmakers in Ohio have been trying to pass legislation that would allow cities to designate open container districts where folks can have a beer out in public. It looks like the legislation is good to go, with enough support at the State House, and now local officials are telling the Ohio General Assembly to hurry the dang thing up so we can chug a couple Moerleins in public to celebrate the Reds beating the Pirates April 6. The bill looks likely to pass the House, hopefully with the two-thirds vote margin needed to put it into effect immediately. Local State Sens. Democrat Cecil Thomas and Republican Bill Seitz have introduced a bill in the Senate to speed the process up there as well. Now that’s what I call bipartisanship. If the bill passes, council will have to scramble to create and approve the districts, one of which looks likely to be the area around the stadium. Ladies and gentlemen, you have a month. Get to work.

• Hey! Do you want people fracking in state parks? It could happen soon whether you like it or not. Four years ago, Gov. John Kasich signed into law a provision allowing fracking on state land. He then pulled a fast one and declined to fund the commission that would give drillers approval for fracking permits on that land, basically circumventing the law he signed. Very clever. But the Ohio General Assembly, which is currently dominated by pro-fracking Republicans, is working to pass a bill called House Bill 8 that would bypass that commission. Proponents of the bill say it’s meant to help private landowners who want to sell drilling rights to wells that might end up under state land. But critics note that under the current version of the bill, so called “surface impacts,” or drilling directly on state land, are not outlawed and would be permissible if the law passes. The bill heads to committee next week and looks to pass there, after which it will be considered by the whole House.

• In national news, Supreme Court arguments begin in King vs. Burwell today, a lawsuit which could revoke health care subsidies for 7.5 million people currently signed up under the Affordable Care Act under the federal exchange. The core of the case is the contention that the language of the 2009 law does not allow the federal government to issue subsidies to people who went through the federal exchange, and that only those living in states that created their own exchanges are eligible for government help with their health care bills. It’s a nitpicky suit turning on a few words in a turn of phrase, but it could completely unravel Obamacare by making it unaffordable for those in the 34 states that did not or could not establish their own health care exchanges online. Many agree that’s the point of the suit, in fact — another attempt to repeal the healthcare system by throwing a legal wrench into its works. Just think! A pedantic semantics debate could leave millions without access to health care. And you thought clear writing wasn’t important.

That’s it for me. Hit me with those tweets and those e-mails: @nswartsell or nswartsell@citybeat.com

by Nick Swartsell 03.03.2015
Posted In: News at 11:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC: we're doing stuff; dog law to go before council; car trunk abduction a hoax

Morning y’all. Here’s what’s up today. First, I have a couple previews of stories that will be in the print issue tomorrow. We’re taking a deeper look at these issues, but here’s the teaser:

I skipped doing the morning news yesterday so I could check out council’s Law and Public Safety Committee meeting. The committee passed a new dog law in the wake of several severe dog bite incidents in the past year. The law isn’t breed specific but would create three categories for dogs based on their behavior and levy fines on owners depending on the severity of a dog’s offenses. Simply letting a dog run free unattended would result in a $50 fine, while more violent behavior from the dog would increase civil penalties for the owner. The committee didn’t pass a competing ordinance proposed by Mayor John Cranley that would have required pit bulls to wear special collars among other stipulations.

“I’m hopeful that this will help the police and prosecutors crack down on bad owners, prevent dog bites and make this a safer city,” said Councilman Chris Seelbach of the legislation the committee passed. Seelbach was a vocal opponent of the breed-specific law proposed by Cranley.

While we’re talking about council, let’s get right into today’s 3CDC presentation to the economic growth and infrastructure committee. 3CDC head Steven Leeper gave a number of updates about the developer’s activities on the long-stalled 4th and Race project, 3CDC’s efforts to redevelop Over-the-Rhine, especially north of Liberty Street. Also included were updates on a huge project at 15th and Race streets and the developer’s proposal to create two community entertainment districts downtown. Leeper fired back at criticisms of the proposal from those concerned that the six new liquor licenses granted in one of the districts would be controlled by 3CDC. Some, including Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, have questioned whether a developer controlling the licenses violates the spirit of community entertainment districts, which were created to boost small businesses and revitalize neighborhoods.

“We’re not interested in controlling liquor licenses,” Leeper said. “This is a means to an end. We have several terrific restaurateurs, small businesspeople. Everyone we’re talking to who is going into this site is from Cincinnati.”

• A group of activists is holding a town hall meeting at Bellarmine Chapel on the campus of Xavier University tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss comments made by Norwood Mayor Tom Williams in a January letter to the city’s police force calling black leaders in the community “race baiters.” The group says it hopes to start “a conversation where we can talk together about how our community can be welcoming to all who live here, shop here, visit here and worship here.” A Facebook listing for the event says childcare and refreshments will be provided.

• The Cincinnati Police Department has released video of an officer-involved shooting that occurred Monday morning in Price Hill. Police say 24-year-old Christian Jackson had broken into his ex-girlfriend’s house when police confronted him. After Jackson pointed a shotgun at them, police fired 11 times, hitting Jackson twice, according to the officers. Jackson ran two blocks before collapsing. He was taken to the hospital and is currently in stable condition.

This story is strange: this morning I woke up to Twitter posts about a person named Adam Hoover being abducted from work this morning and driven around I-275 in the trunk of his car. He posted a Facebook update about it, claiming he couldn’t call 911 because he was afraid his captors would hear him. Law enforcement soon found Hoover and began questioning him, and local news picked up the story, though there were few details available. Now, it all seems to have been a hoax. Hoover, a local activist who helped organize vigils for Leelah Alcorn after her death in December, apparently made up the entire ordeal, authorities say.

"This is a young man dealing with some issues in his life right now and for whatever reason he decided to stage this kidnapping and abduction," Green Township Police Lt. Jim Vetter told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

• Did Hillary Clinton circumvent federal email secrecy rules when she served as secretary of state? A New York Times story reveals that Clinton often used her personal email accounts to carry out official business as SOS. That’s against recent rules that require federal officials to use government email addresses for official business so their correspondence can be tracked and archived. Some Bush administration officials, including Karl Rove, were heavily criticized during W’s tenure for using secret, private email accounts to discuss official business. Sounds shady, but heck, is this really such a great strategy when apparently the federal government can read your private emails anyway?

by Nick Swartsell 02.27.2015
Posted In: News at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Hamilton County Justice Center featured on reality TV; rally on Fountain Square tomorrow will memorialize trans murder victims; FCC says yes to net neutrality

Hey all! It’s Friday. I have work to do. Let’s keep this brief, shall we, while avoiding a stupid debate about the color of any pictures of women’s wear that might be floating around the Internet. (I see both blue and black and white and gold depending on when I look. Yes, I am special).

Paging Michel Foucault: Is it a good idea to put your county’s jail on a reality TV show? We’ll find out, I suppose. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil agreed several months ago to let MSNBC film an episode of its reality show Lockup in the Hamilton County Justice Center. It hasn’t aired yet, but a trailer for the episode shows inmates cussing at people, thousands of dollars in smuggled bootleg cigarettes and loose tobacco, some guy bragging about stabbing someone else with pencils and another dude describing his situation as “some ho-ass shit.” All of which sounds like a party I went to a couple Saturdays ago.

The bloody post-fight scenes look less like a party, however, and it’s pretty clear a big part of the show is the voyeuristic thrill of watching human suffering. Gross. But I digress. County officials told Sheriff Neil that having the reality show feature the county’s jail was probably not a good idea, but Neil went ahead with the program after producers approached him about it. I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it’s important to show people what really goes on in our justice system. On the other, this kind of reality TV-style sensationalism seems pretty exploitative of the folks behind bars, does it not?

Neil’s office says the show is a fair representation of life at the justice center, so there’s that. Lockup: Cincinnati airs Saturday at 10 p.m. in case you want to watch it or, you know, maybe do something more positive with your time than watch people in cages get blood dabbed off their faces.

• Oh, good. According a newly released report by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, the Ohio River received more than 23 million pounds of toxic material in 2013, the latest year for which data has been analyzed. That’s the most of any river in the country for the seventh year in a row, the commission says. The report cautions that despite the alarmingly large number, the river’s volume is also very large and the dilutive properties of all that water must be taken into account. But for comparison, the river receiving the next highest level of pollutants is the Mississippi, which saw more than 10 million pounds of toxins released into it last year. Much of the pollution in the Ohio River comes from nitrates, which are highly toxic to humans. Seventy-one percent of the pollution, according to the report, doesn’t enter the river until well downstream from Cincinnati at an AK Steel facility in Rockport, Indiana. So, uh, at least there’s that.

• A rally is planned tomorrow at 2 p.m. on Fountain Square for transgender murder victims killed in the last year. Among those victims was Tiffany Edwards, murdered last year in Walnut Hills. We first told you about Edwards during a long story we did on sex workers in Cincinnati and revisited her story last month in a piece on the challenges facing transgender individuals. Her alleged killer is currently on trial for her death. Tomorrow’s die-in will also memorialize seven other transgender individuals who have been murdered recently as a result of their transgender status.

• Ohio’s Senate race got a shout out in one of the nation’s premier news outlets. The Christian Science Monitor started off its preview of the 2016 Senate race with a long exploration of the brewing fight between former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Also featuring prominently in the coverage was Cincinnati’s own Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who has raised more than $500,000 for his own bid for the Democratic nomination. The Monitor posits that the high-profile Senate race will make Ohio even more important in the 2016 election, a presidential race in which the state already has a vital role. The Republican National Convention will be in Cleveland and the NAACP National Convention will take place in Cincinnati next year, guaranteeing Ohio a place in the center of national politics.

• As I noted yesterday in a morning news blog update (yes, I sometimes update the post throughout the day, so you know, keep your eyes on the blog), the Federal Communications Commission yesterday passed new rules keeping Internet companies from developing dedicated fast lanes for certain content providers while throttling others with slower speeds. The rules basically treat the Internet as a utility, which means service providers must treat all legal content equally. That way, Buzzfeed isn’t able to kick Internet providers a milli to put some insipid post about whether a dress is one color or another on a faster track than a long-form video doc about problems with the death penalty. The FCC also struck down some laws in certain states prohibiting municipalities from establishing their own Internet service providers to supplement the slim pickings found in many areas. That’s also good news.

That’s it for me. Tweet (@nswartsell) or e-mail me (nswartsell@citybeat.com) with any news tips, observations about Hamilton County's own reality TV panopticon, or what kind of guitar amp I should buy. I’m daydreaming about new music gear.

by Nick Swartsell 02.26.2015
Posted In: News at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Former attorney Deters: "lawyers are not a choral of angels;" Hamilton bans weed sales; GOP mocks Strickland Senate announcement

Hey all! Here’s the news today.

A well-known former attorney has filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky Bar Association to get his license back after it was suspended. Eric Deters has served three suspensions over his career for making false statements in court, failing to return a fee to a client and other infractions. The latest suspension was handed down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in April. The court has an agreement with the high court in Ohio, keeping Deters from practicing here as well. Now Deters says he’s served his suspensions and wants to go back to practicing law, and says the Kentucky Supreme Court should reinstate him. Deters retired rather than seek reinstatement in Kentucky and Ohio, and indicated at the time he had no interest in practicing law again in either state. He’s acting as his own attorney, which has led to this pretty amazing complaint:

"Deters is no saint," he writes of himself in his complaint. "He is a sinner. But Deters is fit to practice law. Lawyers are not a choral of angels." Choir? Corral? Whatever. Deters is too tough for the haters. “What Deters incurred, lesser men would have have crumbled long ago," he says of the emotional and physical toll his suspension has caused. He blames an infection that nearly took his arm on the stress and strife his suspension has inflicted on him.

• You can never ban the devil’s weed too early or too often. At least, that’s the prevailing wisdom on Hamilton’s City Council, which banned sale of the drug in the city limits yesterday in a 5-1 vote. Though marijuana is already illegal in Ohio, council members wanted to have a municipal ordinance in place just in case a potential ballot initiative legalizing the measure passes in November and all hell breaks loose. ResponsibleOhio, the group filing the initiative, still needs to collect 300,000 signatures by July to even get the measure on the ballot, but better safe than sorry, Hamilton officials say.

“It's just being prepared for what happens if anything happens whether it be legislature or amendment, it's just being prepared for the next step," Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said.

• The Kentucky House passed a bill yesterday allowing the state to participate in public-private partnerships, clearing another hurdle for a toll-based Brent Spence Bridge replacement. However, several key changes were made to the bill to make it more friendly to Kentucky residents and lawmakers who may oppose tolls. These include requiring any tolls levied as part of a public-private partnership to expire once debt on the project is paid off, requiring analysis of any public-private partnership to make sure it’s the best way to do a project and requiring a majority of lawmakers on project oversight commissions be from the county where the project is happening. Next, the bill goes to the Kentucky Senate, where it will face opposition from GOP senators who are staunchly opposed to tolls on the Brent Spence project.

• Here’s another tidbit from Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address earlier this week. Kasich devoted part of his speech to education in Ohio, defending his public school funding scheme and also his support of the state’s embattled charter school system. Kasich defended putting more money into that system despite low performance by many charter schools and questions about some schools’ integrity. He agreed that the system should have more oversight in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing at some schools across the state, but also defended schools that have simply been low-performing. Here, he made a pretty stunning statement:

“Let’s not judge someone as not doing their job because they’ve inherited a group of students who are just struggling,” he said.

Here’s the thing: This is the same (I’d say very fair and correct) logic many have used to defend struggling public schools the charter system was meant to compete with and do better than. That is more or less the whole reason charter schools exist, according to their creators and supporters. Sooo… blame public schools for their inability to educate students who struggle under the weight of very real massive systemic problems that make it difficult for them to learn, but don’t blame charter schools that take money from those schools and make their jobs even more difficult for the same thing. Got it.

• Speaking of Kasich, he’s finally getting some national attention as he steps up his efforts to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Maybe it’s not always the attention he wants — this story calls him out on his efforts to create a Rondald Reagan-inspired balanced budget amendment to the U.S. constitution — but on the other hand, if you’re a Republican governor looking to run for president, perhaps a piece in liberal Mother Jones magazine about how lame your policy ideas are means you’ve finally arrived. So, uh, congrats on the milestone, governor!

• Let’s talk about a former governor for a minute, specifically Democrat Ted Strickland, who just jumped into the 2016 U.S. Senate race. As we’ve already discussed, Strickland’s announcement earlier this week caused a big stir, and now he’s already getting hit by GOPers and concerned editorial writers across the state. Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges mocked Strickland’s entrance into the race on Twitter today, saying, “same old @ohdems. Can’t get their act together” in response to an article about Strickland possibly having to face Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in a primary. There are worries that a very contentious primary could sabotage Democrat’s chances at picking up incumbent Sen. Rob Portman’s seat, which is dearly needed if Democrats want to take back control of the Senate in 2016. On the other hand, having two strong candidates could be seen as an encouraging sign for the party, and the early level of mockery from Republicans shows they’re taking the threat from Strickland seriously. It’s already clear this isn’t last year’s governor’s race, where Kasich straight-up didn’t acknowledge Dem opponent Ed Fitzgerald during a debate because he didn’t have to.

• Finally, the Federal Communications Commission is voting on net neutrality today. This is a huge day for the Internet. If you don't know what's up, uh, start reading.

Update: the FCC voted 3-2 to require internet providers to operate as neutral gateways through which internet service flows. That ruling prohibits providers from making so-called "fastlanes" that would provide higher-speed connections for some companies and content. Also today, the FCC struck down state laws prohibiting cities from establishing their own internet services, allowing municipalities to create their own internet services in places that may only have one (or no) reliable internet service provider.

That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet at me. Email me (nswartsell@citybeat.com). Messenger pigeon me. Whatever you gotta do to get those news tips and whatever else you want to talk about. 

by Nick Swartsell 02.25.2015
Posted In: News at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

County taxpayers will cough up $7.5 mill for Bengals scoreboards; Strickland enters Senate race; Kasich tilts rightward for State of the State address

Morning y’all. Let’s talk about the news real quick. I think winter is getting to me, because this update got pretty opinionated pretty quickly.

Can you think of anything useful, even vital, on which the county could spend $7.5 million? Maybe chipping in a bit more toward the Union Terminal renovation, or giving a bit to the effort to shape up Music Hall? Maybe addiction treatment or some other human services funding? More sheriff’s deputies on the streets? Or, you know, maybe they could put that cash toward a new crime lab and morgue, both of which are critically crowded and out of date. Or etc. I ask because $7.5 million is the recently-announced amount county taxpayers will pay for new Bengals scoreboards as part of some $12 million overall the county will cough up from its sales tax fund for stadium improvements. Is there any estimate on return on investment for the county on this? Will the new high-definition scoreboards create at least $7.5 million in sales taxes for the county somehow? In return for this outpouring of county largess tied to the 15-year-old albatross of a stadium deal, the Bengals made an exception for projects at The Banks to a provision in their lease that stipulates the height of buildings around the stadium. That’s nice of them. These are all things I will receive exactly zero benefit from in my lifetime.

• Anyway. Speaking of the county, it has settled with the families of three women whose corpses were abused by a former morgue employee from the 1970s to the 1990s. The county will pay $800,000 to the families to end a lawsuit centered around the behavior of Kenneth Douglass, who is believed to have abused more than 100 bodies in the years he worked for the morgue.

• This is pretty cool, I think. The University of Cincinnati will redevelop the old Sears building on Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue in Corryville into an innovation hub for UC-related startups. The university will spend about $16 million to turn the 130,000-square-foot structure, which has a distinct Art Deco vibe, into a business and tech incubator. The building was the first Sears store in the city when it was built in 1929. I’ve always really liked this building, and recently, with the fencing that has surrounded it, I’ve been afraid they would tear it down. UC bought the building in 1981 and it housed the university’s campus services until last year. When I was an Americorps member a few years ago, the UC-affiliated nonprofit I worked for had storage space in the building. I know its creepy, dimly-lit hallways well and I’m excited to see it restored.

• It’s official. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has entered the 2016 Senate race. Strickland, who will be 75 by that time, could face off against Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, creating a high-profile battle between two of the biggest names in state politics. Portman is popular, with millions in the bank for his next campaign, but Strickland is a formidable opponent and perhaps Democrats’ best shot. However, at the moment, Strickland’s got some competition for the Democratic nomination in the form of Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld, 30, announced his intentions to run last month and has raised $500,000 for his campaign thus far. He’s a dynamic young candidate who has done a great deal in a short time and looks to still be on the rise. Some within the party believe he’ll bow out to the higher-profile and more experienced Strickland, but some of Sittenfeld’s own funders have indicated they’re backing him no matter who else is in the game. Will P.G. keep running, or will the state party convince him to sit this one out?

• Speaking of state politics, Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State address last night. During the hour-and-a-quarter long speech, Kasich tacked rightward, mostly emphasizing his plan to cut income taxes as a way to encourage economic growth. The speech is an important moment for Kasich as he seeks a larger spotlight. Kasich’s been traveling and fundraising in connection with his bid for the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 presidential election. Kasich’s recent budget proposals, which he again touted in his speech, suggest he’s trying to balance the demands of the Republican party’s right wing — cut taxes to the bone, ease regulations on businesses — with a need to stay viable in a general election by appearing to be a compassionate conservative who cares about the plight of the poor, education funding and so forth. It makes sense that Kasich would emphasize the more conservative elements of his plan in his address last night — the yearly oratory is traditionally aimed at the state legislature, which is dominated by rightward-leaning Republicans. Those lawmakers don’t seem super-enthused by Kasich’s plans, however, balking at tax increases on cigarettes and oil drilling, for instance.  One last note on Kasich’s big speech — he awarded the Governor’s Courage Award to Cincinnatian Lauren Hill, the Mt. Saint Joseph student and basketball player who is fighting an inoperable brain tumor.

• Finally, I generally like the New York Times. They often do fantastic work. But this piece today about downtown Cincinnati’s resurgence following the 2001 civil unrest is mystifying to me. First, there are about a million things that made Cincinnati sluggish and grim before and after the unrest, including many systemic issues that haunted and continue to haunt the city specifically and others endemic to a lot of other urban areas. There are about a million other things that have happened since the unrest that have made the city’s center, and many other downtowns, take off. Tying the two things together while saying that memories of the unrest are “fading” (probably not true) seems to miss a number of things. The article doesn’t mention the city’s pervasive poverty problem, the fact we’re at the bottom of the list in America for infant mortality, the fact that its police force (30 percent black) still doesn’t match the demographics of the city (which is 45 percent black). It barely glances at the issue of gentrification, a problem many say is accelerating in the urban core and a subject that has been hugely divisive over the past decade. Anyway. That’s my media criticism for the day.

Tweet at me (@nswartsell) or give me an e-mail (nswartsell@citybeat.com) if I bummed you out hating on the Bengals, or if you feel the way I do about the team's blinging new big screens.

by Nick Swartsell 02.24.2015
Posted In: News at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC proposal could increase number of bars downtown; Mount Airy morgue/crimelab deal dead; DeWine rejects initial weed legalization ballot initiative

Hey all, here’s the news this morning.

Have you ever thought there should be more bars downtown? I hadn’t really thought about it before, but then I’m not a huge bar person. 3CDC, on the other hand, has and would like the city to take steps to increase the number of liquor licenses in two specific areas downtown. One, which would be called the Downtown West Community Entertainment District, would be near the convention center and Fountain Square, and another, called Downtown East, would  encompass the rest of downtown. Designating an area a community entertainment district makes it eligible for more liquor licenses from the state.

Currently, Cincinnati is maxed out, but the proposed scheme would add up to 21 new licenses in the two districts. Ten other neighborhoods in the city have this designation, including Over-the-Rhine, Price Hill and CUF. 3CDC would control all liquor licenses granted to the western district under the plan, which has the support of a majority of council and Mayor John Cranley. Supporters of the plan say it will attract more residents to the districts as well as increase tax revenue. Council looks to vote on the measure soon.

• A local man has filed a lawsuit against LA Fitness after he claims he was prohibited from praying in the locker room of the chain’s Oakley location. Mohamed Fall, a Muslim, worked out at the gym on a regular basis for more than a year. After his workouts, he would stand with his eyes closed in an empty corner of the locker room and pray without speaking.  Recently, three LA Fitness employees approached him while he was praying and told him he had to stop and that he should not pray in the locker room again. Fall says he was afraid he would be kicked out if he did not comply.

• Hamilton County Commissioners have officially signaled they will not be pursuing a plan to move the Hamilton County morgue and crime lab to a currently vacant hospital in Mount Airy that Mercy Health offered to donate to the county. While the building would be cost-free, the build out necessary to move the morgue, crime lab and other offices there is cost-prohibitive, commissioners have said. They’ve estimated it could cost as much as $100 million to retrofit the building. The decision comes as the county’s morgue and crime lab continue to sound alarms about their current cramped and outdated workspace.

• Legislation that would move the embattled Brent Spence Bridge replacement project another step toward reality is expected to pass in the Kentucky State House today. The bill would allow the state to use a public-private partnership to fund the project, specifically through tolling on the bridge. Officials in both states have struggled to find the necessary $2.6 billion to fund the bridge replacement project. Opponents of the current plan proposed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear say the project doesn’t need to cost that much, and that tolling will represent a huge burden on businesses and workers in both states. Northern Kentucky politicians and activists have been especially adamant about preventing tolling on the bridge.

• A petition drive to get legal weed on the November ballot in Ohio suffered a blow yesterday when Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected summary language for the petition. DeWine had several quibbles with the details, and lack thereof, in a summary of the proposed ballot language filed with his office by ResponsibleOhio. That group wants to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would create 10 marijuana grow sites in the state controlled by the group’s investors. The proposal would make marijuana legal to sell with a license, and anyone over the age of 21 could purchase it. Ohioans would also be allowed to grow a small amount of the drug at home, a change in position from the group’s original proposal. The group has until July to collect 300,000 signatures and file the petition with the secretary of state. DeWine and other statewide Republican officials have been vocal opponents of the idea, saying that it will increase drug use and that it constitutes a state-run monopoly. Ohio voters passed a similar constitutional amendment allowing four casinos in the state in 2009.

• On a somewhat related note, recreational weed became legal in Alaska today. I used to think I would never move to Alaska because IT GETS BELOW ZERO there, but, well... It’s also legal in Colorado and Washington state and will become legal in Oregon in July and in Washington D.C. later this week. 

• Veterans Affairs head and former P&G president Bob McDonald is drawing some criticism after he made a claim that he  once served in special forces. McDonald is a veteran who attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Army and attended Ranger training school. But he did not actually serve with the elite force. He told a homeless veteran in L.A. during a point-in-time count of that city's homeless population last month that he did serve in the special forces, however, a claim that has caused controversy. McDonald has apologized for the statement, saying it was a mistake.

That does it for your news wrap-up today. Tweet at your boy (@nswartsell) or send me a good old fashioned email at nswartsell@citybeat.com. Things I'm keen to get your thoughts on this week: news tips (of course), interesting parts of the city for an urban photography buff (me) and recommendations on cool sneakers (I'm due for a new pair).