It's a gross rainy Friday, so grab some coffee and let's settle in with some news.
Two local organizations that help veterans experiencing homelessness will be getting a $1.5 million boost, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and former P&G head Bob McDonald announced yesterday. A program run by Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries in Woodlawn will get nearly $1 million in grant funding from the VA. The Rehabilitation Center Inc. serves seven counties in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. The Talbert House in Walnut Hills, which serves veterans in Hamilton County, will get the other $500,000. The funding is part of more than $300 million in grants given out nationwide, nearly $9 million of which went to organizations in Ohio fighting homelessness among veterans.
• Is there anything more comforting than the knowledge your local police department is slowly becoming a paramilitary force? Recent revelations about the federal government’s program decommissioning military equipment into the hands of local law enforcement are mind-boggling and also darkly hilarious.
Even among my friends and family who are still afraid of living in urban areas, I would think fear of landmines in Cincinnati is pretty low, maybe non-existent. But that hasn’t stopped the Hamilton County law enforcement officials from receiving two land-mine detection kits from the program. Kenton County got a mine-resistant truck along with 44 pairs of night-vision goggles, 34 pieces of body armor and 22 assault rifles. Newport got a pretty awesome Humvee, though it’s not armor plated. Really important question here, guys — is that thing land-mine proof?
• Caesar’s Entertainment Corp., parent company to Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, will pay the largest fine ever doled out by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Caesars will pay a $200,000 fine for lack of financial transparency involving the company’s ongoing $23 billion debt restructuring efforts.
• Attorney General candidate David Pepper has received criticism recently for his legal record. Do records show he embezzled money? Took bribes? Sold drugs? No, no, I’m afraid it’s much darker. Pepper, it seems, is a serial illegal parker. Over the past 14 years, Pepper has paid more than $9,000 in parking fines, averaging 13 tickets a year, though the bulk occurred when he was County Commissioner from 2007 to 2009, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. That’s a lot of tickets, sure, but most of them are for parking at expired meters. Some are a bit more serious offenses — displaying expired plates. When you break it down, he’s been fined about $700 a year for all those offenses. Pepper’s campaign chalks the fines up to a busy schedule and a lot of late meetings. But his opponent Mike DeWine’s campaign says the number of offenses isn’t an accident and makes him unfit to be attorney general.
“Nearly everyone has made a mistake by forgetting to go back and feed a parking meter,” DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch said. “But that Mr. Pepper racked up nearly $10,000 in fines shows a stunning disregard for basic traffic laws — particularly for someone running to be Ohio’s top law officer.”
Pepper’s campaign said it would rather have that smudge than allegations facing DeWine, which include accusations that the attorney general’s office has been engaged in pay-to-play practices, allegedly awarding lucrative legal contracts with the AG’s office to private firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign.
“[Pepper is] happy to debate old parking tickets versus Mike DeWine’s current practices as attorney general,” Pepper spokesman Peter Koltak said.
• Finally, things in Ferguson, Mo., seem to be calming down for the time being. Protests, some violent, have rocked the St. Louis suburb since the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Lately, however, the protests have become somewhat more peaceful. Yesterday the state’s National Guard units withdrew from the city and the number of arrests police have made has been dropping. Investigations into the shooting are ongoing, as the Justice Department works with state and local law enforcement to try and determine what happened between Brown and officer Darren Wilson. Wilson says that Brown attacked him in his patrol car, though others say Wilson was the aggressor and that Brown was retreating when he was shot. An autopsy showed that Wilson shot Brown at least six times.
If you’re like me, you passed work crews installing the first stretch of streetcar tracks in the Central Business District today. If you’re REALLY like me (clumsy), you almost fell off your bike trying to get a better look at the work. This is not recommended. The track work is happening right around between Central Parkway and Court Street along Walnut Street, where the city held a press conference this morning to talk about the progress. Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had been a swing vote during the battle over whether the streetcar would even happen last winter, called the latest progress “a milestone” and said he’s not giving up on some federal money to help operate the streetcar. A $5 million application for a federal grant completed by the city looks unlikely to be successful in its current form. That money would have funded operating costs for the streetcar for the next few years, according to city officials. Other private funds have shored up the transit project’s operating budget to some degree, but more funding is needed.
• While we’re talking about that little corner of the world, check this out. Some day, you may see a new Kroger near the spot where streetcar tracks are going in. A $50 million residential development is being planned for the corner of Central Parkway and Walnut Street. It will feature 200 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Rookwood Properties, based in Blue Ash, has approached the grocery chain about possibly filling some of that retail space. It’s all speculative for now, though. Kroger is looking to open a new location downtown but will not comment on specific locations, including the development on Walnut. I hope they hurry up, because I need a place close by to purchase all my Triscuits, Arizona Green Tea tall cans and ready-made boneless buffalo wings, which is pretty much my daily lunch these days.
• As we reported yesterday, the Women’s Med Center in Sharonville will cease providing abortions. The facility announced yesterday it will not appeal an Aug. 18 court ruling upholding earlier orders that the clinic close down its abortion services. The clinic will remain open to provide other services, specifically helping prepare women seeking abortions before they receive the procedures at the company’s Dayton clinic location.
• Lots of rumblings about shady dealing at Cincinnati's major airport after an the Kentucky State Auditor released a report Tuesday calling for a restructuring of CVG's board. The audit details high levels of inefficiency, nepotism and back-room dealing in the way the airport is run. CVG is among the most expensive airports in the country for passengers, and its board has been under fire for some time. The audit comes after a nine-month special investigation into its operation. Proposals for restructuring the board focus on making it more regional, folding in a representative chosen by Hamilton County Commissioners, the Ohio governor's office and the Cincinnati mayor's office.
• OK, so there are a lot of complaints about the suddenly ubiquitous ice bucket challenge, but the Cincinnati Archdiocese has a unique one. The trend has attempted to harness social media to raise money for the ALS Association. That part is great. The organization funds research to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that eventually causes muscle paralysis and death. But a viral trend where people film themselves dumping super-cold water on themselves instead of giving money to charity and then challenge others to do the same as a kind of activism… seems a bit counterproductive. (Though, to be fair, the organization has said it’s gotten some $16 million in donations since the fad started).
Anyway, the Archdiocese has a different sort of problem with the challenge. They don’t mind the inane and narcissistic part. They’re upset about people giving money to the ALS Association, because the group funds research involving embryonic stem cells, the harvesting of which the church equates with abortion. Dump ice on yourself and post it on Vine all you want, the Archdiocese says, but god forbid you give any money to the group that’s trying to heal people.
"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in this," Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."
The Archdiocese has directed Catholics to send money to a catholic group that doesn’t use embryonic stem cells in its research instead.
• Remember Joe the Plumber? Of course you do! Ohio’s favorite native son first came to prominence during the 2008 presidential election when his shaky math about his small business (which he hadn’t even started yet) was picked up by the McCain campaign. Since that time, he's become a kind of pundit for the far right, writing books, appearing on talk shows and even running for Congress. He recently made national news by taking to Facebook and proposing HIS solution to the Ferguson unrest. His idea achieves a pretty impressive trifecta of being racist, classist and making absolutely no sense whatsoever. His post says “The best way to end the rioting and looting in Ferguson… Job Fair. They’ll scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on!” Great.
• Finally, speaking of working, this New Yorker piece on the trials of hourly workers in the age of employers’ push for maximum efficiency is a good read and very likely familiar for anyone who has ever had to work an ever-shifting schedule in retail, food or other service industries. Lots of interesting data and insights into the way the economy continues to shift in ways that are tough for working people.
Hey all! Was so busy chasing stories yesterday that I didn’t get a chance to do the morning news. Let’s catch up, shall we?
Welp, that’s not good. A spill at a Duke Energy facility about 20 miles upstream from Cincinnati dumped 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Ohio River late Monday night, officials say. The Coast Guard closed off the area around the spill, and crews are working on clean up, which could take several days. Greater Cincinnati Water Works closed off intake valves on the river to avoid taking in contaminated water, though it has since announced that the spill has passed Cincinnati and that operations have returned to normal. The plant in New Richmond has had a number of environmental issues in the past.
• The race for Republican Chris Monzel’s Hamilton County Commissioners seat just got a little more competitive. Former City Councilman Jim Tarbell has entered the fray as a write-in candidate for the Democrats. Tarbell and a couple other experienced Democrats came up as possibilities for the official Democratic candidate after Monzel’s icon tax plan caused an uproar earlier this month. But Sean Patrick Feeney, who won the Democratic primary, signaled he wouldn’t step down as the party’s candidate. Tarbell ran for the same seat in 2010, when he lost to Monzel.
• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store giant, has agreed to pay $650,000 to settle racial profiling charges brought about after an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office. That investigation started after customers, including actor Rob Brown, complained they were racially profiled at the chain’s New York stores. Brown was detained by security at the store on suspicion he stole merchandise, which turned out to be false. The investigation looked into profiling practices at the chain’s Herald Square store in New York City. In addition to the money, Macy’s has agreed to institute new employee training policies, post a “customer bill of rights” at its New York stores and its website, and other measures.
• The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, and is having a number of events to celebrate. One of these is the Dreamer’s Summit, happening tonight from 6-8 p.m. The free event features young immigrants who have settled in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky telling their stories — the struggles and triumphs they’ve experienced making their way from places around the world to live here. Seems very worth a trip to the riverfront, and if you get there an hour early at 5 p.m., you can get a free tour of the Freedom Center, certainly one of the coolest buildings in the city.
• A while back we reported on the fight over new Common Core educational standards. Now, that fight is getting real here in Ohio as conservative lawmakers in the state legislature attempt to pass a bill repealing Common Core in the state. But the stakes are higher than just a new set of standards. The legislation in question, House Bill 597, could mean that intelligent design and creationism, for instance, would be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
• The situation in Ferguson, Missouri continues to be tense as a grand jury gears up to consider the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a city police officer. Last night started off quiet, with slightly smaller groups gathering for peaceful protests in the city. But later in the evening, violence flared, causing police to use pepper spray and arrest 47 demonstrators. Despite the unrest, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol called last night a turning point, saying the crowd dynamics have changed and that calm is slowly returning to the city.
“We had to respond to fewer incidents than the night before,” he said. “There were no Molotov cocktails tonight. There were no shootings.”
• Finally, this is amazing — three teenage sisters from Georgia have made an app that tracks police misconduct, with the aim of creating a database of police abuse and holding law enforcement accountable. The app, appropriately called Five-0, is a kind of “Yelp for police officers,” the teens say. Kids these days.
Hey. It's news time. Check it.
One of two abortion clinics in the Greater Cincinnati area must close by the end of the week, a Hamilton County judge ruled, unless its lawyers file an appeal.
Women's Med in Sharonville has been fighting for months to stay open after the state of Ohio refused to grant a variance to recent rules that require the clinic to have hospital-admitting privileges. The Ohio Department of Health has granted these exceptions to the clinic in the past, since the clinic’s doctors have individual admitting privileges at hospitals. The clinic appealed the state’s decision, but last month a ruling by a Hamilton County magistrate ordered the clinic to close. That ruling had to be approved by Judge Jerome Metz, who issued an earlier ruling allowing the clinic to stay open while it appealed the state’s decision. On Friday, Metz ruled that he could not overturn the magistrate’s decision and that the clinic had five days to appeal or close.
Val Haskell, the clinic’s owner, said that Gov. John Kasich is “methodically targeting each Ohio abortion provider for closure, one by one, hoping no one will notice. It is our medical center today, one in Cleveland or Columbus tomorrow."
Cincinnati has one other clinic, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn. It has been waiting for word from the state about its license renewal for more than a year.
Over the weekend, two Cincinnati activists traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, where unrest continues after the police shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown. Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church and Iris Roley, a Bond Hill businesswoman, made the trip to share ideas and best practices for recovering as a community from the trauma of such an incident. They’ll be sharing their thoughts on Cincinnati’s 2002 Collaborative Agreement, which helped define strategies for a more community-oriented approach to policing in the Cincinnati Police Department. Cincinnati knows the pain Ferguson is experiencing well, having seen days of protests and civil unrest following the 2001 death of Timothy Thomas at the hands of a Cincinnati police officer.
• Ferguson continues to roil after a brief respite last week. Over the weekend, crowds refused to disperse, despite a midnight curfew set by the governor, and police again used smoke bombs and tear gas on protestors. Meanwhile, an autopsy performed on Brown determined he had been shot six times. The governor has declared a state of emergency in the St. Louis suburb.
• 3CDC will be pitching in to get a long-running project downtown moving toward completion. The apartment tower at Fourth and Race has been in the works since February 2013, and 3CDC has already had a consulting role. But now they’ll build and own the site’s garage and ground-floor commercial space. Flaherty and Collins, an Indianapolis developer, will still develop the tower’s apartments. In the past, the project has included plans for a 12,000-square-foot grocery store, though those plans have been revised several times. It’s unclear how many units the building will include, though initial plans called for 300 apartments.
• Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald has waded into the sports mascot debate, saying that the Cleveland Indians’ mascot Chief Wahoo should be banned. The clearly racist caricature image of a smiling Native American has been the Indians’ logo for a long time, but continued controversy over professional sports teams’ usage of demeaning names and images based on stereotypes of Native Americans has called the image’s appropriateness into question. See: the whole huge debacle over the Washington Redskins. Gov. Kasich, asked the same question about the Chief, said “of course” the mascot shouldn’t be banished.
• Finally, this amazing story in The New York Times about the Mason Applebees at the center of the world this weekend. When tennis stars come to town for the Western & Southern Open, they flock to the 'Bees for some mozz sticks and appletinis. I’ll leave you with the best quote:
“We didn’t have to talk. Let’s just watch TV and eat.”
It's Friday. News was intense this week. Enough said. Let's get to this so we can all get to our weekends, shall we?
About 100 people gathered yesterday at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn to observe a moment of silence for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. People from all over Cincinnati came to remember Brown and others who had recently died in incidents with police, including John Crawford III. Crawford was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying what turned out to be a pellet gun. Both Brown and Crawford were black, stoking long-simmering anger about police treatment of people of color across the country.
“The call right now is to remember those who have died at the hands of police brutality. … It’s a call to demilitarize our police force,” said New Prospect's Rev. Damon Lynch III, who helped organize the local observance of a national moment of silence. “Tonight is a night just to try and deal with the pain we all feel.”
Groups in Dayton, Beavercreek, Cleveland and other Ohio cities also observed a moment of silence, along with many major cities across the country.
Ferguson police today identified the officer who shot Brown as Darren Wilson. Officials said he was responding to the armed robbery of a convenient store nearby when the Brown shooting occurred. Tensions in the city have eased remarkably, many news outlets are reporting, after the Missouri State Highway Patrol took over management of the protests Thursday. The Highway Patrol have taken a much more tolerant approach to the demonstrations over Brown’s death, and protesters have responded in kind with peaceful gatherings.
• Cincinnati’s Red Bike, the city’s new bike sharing program, is nearly ready to launch. Crews have been installing bike share stations around downtown and six are now finished at City Hall, Fountain Square, Great American Ball Park, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Sawyer Point. Bikes haven’t been installed yet, however. Eventually, the system will have 35 stations. It should be up and running sometime in September.
• Cincinnati is one of two Ohio cities that rank high for students in private schools. Both Cleveland and Cincy made the top 10 of a list put together by real estate website Trulia looking at the percentage of students in private schools in America’s major cities. Cleveland was seventh with 17.5 percent of its students opting out of public schools, and Cincinnati ninth, with 16.9 percent. New Orleans had the highest percentage, with one quarter of its students opting for private schools. Trulia says a number of factors came into play in the list, including the concentrations of Catholics and other religious groups who most often send their children to religious schools, as well as the quality of public schools in the area.
• Ohio’s unemployment rate rose for the first time this year, according to data from the state. The rate had been at 5.5 percent in May and June, the lowest it’s been in seven years, but jumped to 5.7 percent in July as employers cut the number of jobs in the state.
• So here’s a pretty creepy report about Ohio’s use of facial recognition software and how it’s been available to a huge number of people over the past year. Basically, the programs can grab a photo of someone’s face and match it up with information about that person in a database. The state has limited access to the program somewhat recently, but measures are still not in place to audit the system and detect inappropriate usage by state employees. About 8,900 searches have been conducted so far on the system.
• Finally, I have this for you. Basically, it’s what would happen if Jesus had done the whole loaves and fishes thing during shark week. A concerned San Antonio man donated a bunch of shark meat to a homeless shelter after spending seven hours fighting it out in the Gulf of Mexico, going all Old Man and the Sea on an 809-pound tiger shark. He donated about 75 pounds of the meat to Timon’s Ministries in Corpus Christi. The church remarked that it was the biggest fish they've ever had donated. I guess that blue whale I dropped off last year doesn't technically count as a fish. The shark meat fed about 90 homeless folks, most of whom liked it a lot, the church said.
Here at the morning news, we usually lead with things local and work our way out to the national stuff. But dear lord, it’s impossible not to talk about what’s going on right now in Ferguson, Missouri right off the top. I touched on the unrest in the St. Louis suburb a couple days ago, which started when an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer last week, apparently while he had his hands up. The police say Brown was trying to wrestle the officer’s gun away from him while the officer sat in his car. Eyewitnesses say something else entirely.
Things have only gotten more intense, with paramilitary-style law enforcement efforts, including snipers and police in body armor with assault rifles. Law enforcement has begun arresting journalists as well, including The Washington Post’s Wes Lowry. You can read the veteran reporter's account of his encounter with Ferguson police here. Police have released very little information about their activities or the events that unfolded to start the unrest.
Meanwhile, many are drawing parallels between Brown's death in Ferguson and a police shooting that happened Aug. 5 in Beavercreek, outside of Dayton, when 22-year-old John Crawford was shot to death in a Walmart by officers while holding a pellet gun sold in the store. Police officials haven't released details about the incident yet, other than to say that it appears the officers "acted appropriately." Ohio is an open carry state, and it is lawful to carry rifles or handguns in public.
• Closer to home, some very important questions face county voters this fall. Do you believe in aliens? How about ghosts? Sean Feeney, the Democratic candidate for Hamilton County Commissioner, has stated he’s in the race for good, even after Hamilton County Democrats asked him to step down in favor of someone with more name recognition. Feeney, 27, is an information technology consultant who has held a couple local political posts. He was also heavily into paranormal research for a number of years. He said he’s not necessarily a believer himself but has been interested in hunting for UFOs and ghosts because he wanted to bring “some order to a chaotic field,” though he hasn’t had time for such investigations recently.
As the fallout continues from the icon tax debacle, Hamilton County Democrats have been taking a much keener look at tea party-backed Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel’s seat. Monzel is up for reelection in November, and with all the ire from both Republicans and Democrats over his move to cleave Music Hall from a tax levy that will now only repair Union Terminal, the time seems ripe to challenge him. Officials with the Cincinnati Museum Center, which runs out of Union Terminal, have yet to signal whether they'll go along with the new deal.
Democrats missed their chance to switch out Feeney for someone more experienced like former Mayor Charlie Luken or former city council candidate Greg Landsman when the deadline to change candidates passed Monday. But I like this guy. I’d vote for someone who goes hunting for outer space aliens over someone whose party insists on irrationally harping and fear-mongering about the undocumented sort.
• Hey, though, here’s something really cool — a little-known Charley Harper mural will soon be reintroduced to the world. The Duke Energy Convention Center has a Harper mosaic, though it’s currently hidden behind drywall because it didn’t really go with the Center’s aesthetic or something, and because back in 1987 when it was covered up fewer people knew who Harper was. That’s dumb. Now, as the center undergoes a $5 million renovation, workers will free the mosaic from its “Cask of Amontillado”-like prison. The mosaic, called “Space Walk” and finished in 1970, is supposedly somewhat more abstract than much of Harper’s work. Councilman Chris Seelbach has pushed for the mosaic’s reintroduction to the world.
• Democratic candidates at the state level are having a tough time of late. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald ‘s campaign is stuck in a fight over revelations that police once found him in a car in a parking lot at 3 a.m. with a woman who wasn’t his wife and that he hasn’t had a full driver’s license in 10 years. Combined with low fundraising numbers and polls suggesting his recognition among voters hasn’t gained traction, the struggles have put some serious drag on his challenge to Republican Gov. John Kasich. That’s also affected down-ticket candidates, including attorney general hopeful David Pepper and secretary of state candidate, current State Senator Nina Turner, who said it's been "a tough week" on the campaign trail.
The thing about mornings and news is that they both keep happening over and over again, and you've gotta work to keep up with them. So here we are.
The furor over the icon tax change-up is not going away just yet. Mayor John Cranley had some choice words for Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann yesterday on the subject, calling for the two to take the Union Terminal-only tax initiative off the November ballot. He also questioned the commissioners’ disregard for former P&G head Bob McDonald’s input. McDonald is the head of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which researched, vetted and recommended the initial tax plan.
“I fear for the future of our county when the project can be hijacked – I’m not even sure by who,” Cranley said, lambasting the commissioners and their plan. “Nobody was pushing the plan they put forward.”
Hartmann shot back that Cranley was making statements out of emotion and that county voters would not have approved the original plan. He said the county has a relationship with Union Terminal it doesn’t have with Music Hall. Cranley has said the city won’t be putting any money forward toward Union Terminal without Music Hall in the plan.
• The Ohio Department of Transportation is commissioning an $8 million study to determine the impact tolls would have on traffic and low-income drivers if part a replacement to the outdated Brent Spence Bridge. The move comes after officials in both Ohio and Kentucky have said that tolls are the only way to pay for rebuilding the bridge, which will cost $2.6 billion. That’s a crazy amount of money. Isn’t anyone out there selling a gently used bridge on Craigslist or something? Or maybe just a big, Evel Knievel-style ramp system that shoots drivers over the river? I don’t know, just trying to think outside the box here. I’m imagining those angles won’t be covered by the study, which will be used to set the specifics of tolls, including possible variable rates for local drivers and various traffic levels at different times. There may also need to be adjustments for low-income drivers, though it is unclear what those would be.
• While we’re crossing the river, let’s talk about Covington. The city is opening up its Section 8 waiting list today, and before Covington City Hall even opened its doors, people were already lined up around the block. The Housing Authority of Covington serves all of Kenton County, which, like most other areas around the region, has experienced shortages of affordable housing since the Great Recession. The HAC office is at 2300 Madison Ave.
• A local radio host who lives in Maderia was arrested last night for allegedly shooting his wife after an argument. Blake Seylhouwer, who hosts Small Business Sunday on 55KRC and runs a cleaning business, says a gun he had with him accidentally went off as the two argued in their driveway, though authorities say Seylhouwer purposely fired at Misty Seylhouwer when she turned her back. She sustained wounds from bullet fragments in her chest, leg, neck and head. She was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover fully. Seylhouwer called 911 to report his wife’s injuries and was arrested shortly after paramedics arrived at the house. He’s been ordered to stay away from her and the couple’s two children and is being held on $250,000 bond.
• There’s really nothing like the wild rush of freedom that comes when you shrug off the bonds of state regulations to play the slots while enjoying a nice calming smoke. Customers of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino downtown will soon be able to experience that most basic and noble of liberties should a proposed expansion at the casino be approved by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. The expansion will create a 10,000 square foot smoking deck where gamblers can puff while they play. Casino owners in Ohio say other gaming sites in Indiana have an advantage in the market because they aren’t burdened by anti-smoking regulations.
• Finally, did Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul ditch ultra-conservatives in Iowa to hang out with none other than Alec Baldwin, an icon of the liberal media celebrity complex? That’s the word on the street. Paul skipped the Family Leadership Summit on Saturday, citing family commitments, but was later spotted with Baldwin and others at a fundraiser for a library in the Hamptons. The Summit has been a regular stop for GOP presidential hopefuls in the past, and it was expected Paul would attend as he builds steam for a presidential run in 2016. But he said family affairs called him to New York and that the Hamptons fundraiser was just a side stop. To be fair, I'd ditch a bunch of cranky tea party folks to hang out with the guy who played Liz Lemon's boss, too, and other conservatives, including Bill O’Reilly, were also in attendance at the fundraiser. Which is just a stirring reminder that nothing brings people together like libraries. Or maybe just parties thrown by people in the Hamptons with lots and lots of money. The ultra-posh region is a destination for cash farming, with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Sen. Ted Cruz heading that way to shake the area's various money trees.
News time. I haven't even had coffee yet and I did all this. Be impressed.
Troubled charter school VLT Academy in Over-the-Rhine is closing its doors, Superintendent Valerie Lee says. VLT, which we reported about last month in a story on charters, has faced some serious questions about its academic performance and financial structure. In Ohio, charter schools must have a sponsoring organization in order to operate. The school lost its sponsor in May and shortly thereafter sued the Ohio Department of Education over charges the ODE chased other sponsors away. A judge ordered ODE to sponsor the school and pay teachers’ salaries, though that order was stayed on appeal. Now VLT says it is out of money and must close. The school’s landlords say it owes them more than $1 million in back rent. VLT served about 600 students in the Pendleton area, nearly all of them low-income.
• Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s committed to making t
he best of a terrible idea the new icon tax plan work. The plan to fund the renovation of Union Terminal, which county commissioners substituted for a larger plan that also included Music Hall, has been controversial to say the least. Sigman has the unenviable job of taking an unpopular plan that doesn’t have all the details worked out, negotiating political, engineering and fiscal realities and making it all function. Unresolved questions include the availability of private donations and historic tax credits factored into the original plan. It’s also unclear whether the Cincinnati Museum Center, which runs out of Union Terminal, will go along with the deal. If it doesn’t, county commissioners could pull their support as well.
“We just have to get the details down,” Siman old the Business Courier, noting that his job is to carry out the county’s work without political bias. “I will have to make it work.”
Meanwhile, folks are getting all worked up about the political implications behind Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel's decision to cut the proverbial baby in half. Check out this opinion piece written by a former Hamilton County judge, who calls the move a "mix of chutzpah and ignorance." Oh, it gets harsher, too.
• Mayor Cranley participated in the installation of the first station for the city's bike share program, now called RedBike, on Fountain Square today at 11 a.m. He also became the program's first annual member. The bike share, run by a non-profit, will allow residents to use bikes for short trips and then drop them off at stations. The station at Fountain Square will be one of 35 throughout the city.
• Questions are being raised about an incident in which a man was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart. Police came to the Walmart last week after another customer in the store called to report a man brandishing and loading an assault rifle. Officers fired upon John Crawford III after they asked him to drop the weapon and he did not. The exact progression of events is unclear and police investigating the incident have asked Walmart for security footage from store cameras. What is clear, however, is that the item Crawford was carrying was actually a pellet gun from the store, albeit realistic-looking. Crawford’s family has called the shooting unjustified, though police say that officers appear to have acted appropriately under the circumstances. An investigation is ongoing.
The death of Crawford, who is black, calls to mind the current (and unfortunately, perennial) national conversation around the shootings of young black men done in "self defense" or by law enforcement personnel. The latest incident in this issue's long, sad history is playing out right now in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed 18-year-old was shot by police while his hands were in the air last week.
Meanwhile, another law-enforcement use of force incident from last year is heading to court. The family of a man who died while in the custody of the Hamilton County Sherriff’s Office in 2013 is suing the county and the officers involved in the incident. Deputies tazed 59-year-old Gary Roell six times last August after responding to calls about Roell breaking windows and throwing flower pots at his condominium complex in Sycamore Township. When the deputies finally subdued him after a struggle, they realized he wasn’t breathing. Roell was pronounced dead a short time later. Roell was a long-term sufferer of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, his family says, and was off his medication at the time of the incident. The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family alleges that deputies used excessive force when attempting to subdue Roell.
• In happier news, everyone's favorite ice cream is planning to expand outside the
Graeter Greater Cincinnati area to Chicago and perhaps Nashville. Graeter's is looking to open 10 to 15 new locations in new markets, which could also include St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The $40 million a year company also sells to grocery stores, which has kept me alive in the past as I wandered away from Cincinnati.
• Here’s a cool thing: A professor at the University of Texas in Dallas devised a way to visually plot the most influential cities over the past 2,600 years. The data visualization shows the progression of cultural hubs through time by tracking the birth and death locations of more than 120,000 highly influential people. While it seems to only document the history of western civilization, unfortunately, it’s still a cool look at which cities have gained and lost cultural clout over time.
New week, new... err, news. Let's get to it.
Sean Patrick Feeney isn’t leaving just yet. The Democratic candidate, an IT consultant from North College Hill, is running for Republican Chris Monzel’s Hamilton County commissioner seat. Democratic challengers have expressed a lot more interest in that seat after Monzel's recent icon tax moves. But Feeney said he won’t be stepping aside for any of the party’s heavy hitters who may want jump into the race, at least until Democrats give him a solid answer on who will be taking his place and what that candidate’s game plan is.
“I’m looking to get the groundswell of support,” Feeney told the Business Courier. Feeney has raised a few hundred dollars for his campaign and is little known around the region but hopes to rally and take advantage of displeasure over Commissioner Monzel’s move to cleave Music Hall from the icon tax plan. Meanwhile, former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken, former city council candidate Greg Landsman and former council member Jim Tarbell have all signaled some interest in running. For now, though, Feeney’s sticking to his guns, despite acknowledging that the Hamilton County Democratic Party has approached him about standing down. Feeney has received some criticism for not stepping down, including a tweet from Councilman Chris Seelbach comparing Feeney’s fundraising results to the $250,000 Landsman raised during his council bid.
• We’ve reported on the rising number of homeless shelters in Cincinnati have been seeing. A new report released today says the number of people spending the night on the street, sleeping in cars, under bridges and other places not designed for human habitation is also on the rise. Strategies to End Homelessness counted more than 1,500 people living on the streets in 2013, a 38-percent increase from 2012 and the highest number since 2006. Half of those surveyed by the organization identified as struggling with a mental illness. Fifty-two percent said they were struggling with addiction, and 68 percent said they had a disability of some kind. People living on the streets, as opposed to in a shelter, are more likely to be chronically homeless, the report says.
• A review of Cincinnati’s charter by a city task force has uncovered something surprising: Due to a long-overlooked provision, the city might get a vote on whether or not it should continue to fluoridate its water. The task force is working to rewrite the charter, stripping out antiquated language and unnecessary provisions. The group has been looking into Chapter XI, which stipulates that the city must vote in favor of fluoridation or halt putting the chemical in the water supply, something Greater Cincinnati Water Works says voters have never approved.
Fluoride was a hot-button topic when the chemical was first added to water supplies in the 1950s. Conspiracy theorists alleged fluoridation was a communist plot; more recent crackpots have called it a government mind-control technique. Health organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention disagree, saying fluoridation is one of the nation’s greatest public health efforts because it can prevent tooth decay. Despite this, many developed countries in Europe don’t fluoridate. Ohio state law requires water be fluoridated, but that law can be overridden by a city if its residents vote to remove the chemical. Twenty-two cities in Ohio don’t fluoridate. A move to vote on the issue would first have to be approved by Cincinnati City Council.
•The Washington Post ranked Great American Ballpark's beer selection best of any ballpark in the country in terms of quality. The Reds' beer offerings were ranked second overall as well, based on a number of factors. 'Nuff said, but if you want more details, here's a story about the rankings.
• A federal judge today extended until January a temporary ban on executions in Ohio following controversy over lethal injection drugs. That means the three executions the state had scheduled for this year will be delayed until next year. The original moratorium was ordered after the Jan. 16 execution of Dennis McGuire. That execution took an unusual amount of time, and witnesses reported McGuire gasped and struggled, though prison officials concluded he felt no pain. Other executions around the country using similar drugs have taken longer and resulted in prolonged suffering of the prisoners being executed. The state has said it will use the same drugs used in the McGuire execution, just in higher doses. The judge has ordered a delay so the state's execution methods can be investigated more thoroughly.
• A big donor to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s campaign owes more than $100,000 in overdue sales taxes. But Sudhir Dubey, a Columbus businessman, had enough cash to put $12,000 in the AG’s campaign coffers July 26, the Columbus Dispatch reports. Just a few months prior, DeWine’s office brought a lawsuit against Dubey for the unpaid taxes. DeWine’s campaign denies knowing Dubey and says proceedings against the donor have gone forward despite the contribution. But his opponent, Democrat David Pepper, has seized on the connection.
“Here, someone with little to no history of political giving gives a $12,000 check to DeWine’s campaign only months after DeWine opened a case against him,” said Peter Koltak, Pepper’s campaign spokesman. “It’s clear that donors believe they influence DeWine’s decision-making by dumping big money into his campaign.”
• As Ebola continues to rage through western Africa, a debate has flamed up about who is receiving experimental treatments designed to shore up victims’ immune systems against the virus. Two American missionaries received the experimental treatment, called ZMapp, upon returning to the United States two weeks ago. Critics have questioned why Americans are getting these new treatments, but not Africans. Supporters of the move point out the unfortunate history of drug tests on impoverished, vulnerable populations, including the infamous Tuskegee experiment. The latest outbreak of the virus is the largest yet known. Nearly 1,000 people have died from the fever, which starts out with cold-like symptoms before destroying organs and causing uncontrollable hemorrhaging.
• I leave you with this hall-of-fame moment in the annals of social media bloopers. On Saturday, Local 12 News tweeted a link to a story about the LEGO toy company, which is releasing a line of scientist figures. But the novel part, Local 12 says, is that the figures are FEMALE. As scientists! Mind blowing. The tweet was especially unfortunately worded, asking fellow Twitterers whether the figures were “a good idea, or ridiculous?” Hm. The social media missive immediately received a number of mocking replies, including “FEMALES are allowed to vote. Good idea or ridiculous?”
After such a jam-packed week, today's morning news feels kind of light. There's only a major highway project that some say could cause neighborhood displacement, big questions on a deal to save two Cincinnati landmarks and a few other things going on. You know, a pretty slow news day.
• More questions are arising about the Hamilton County Commissioners’ plan to put a sales tax initiative for Union Terminal on the November ballot. The original plan designed by the Cultural Facilities Task Force folded Music Hall into the tax increase and was based on a long-term, nine-month study of both buildings’ needs, financing possibilities and charitable commitments from donors.
The commissioners’ new plan, proposed by Chris Monzel and supported by anti-tax groups like COAST and the Cincinnati Tea Party cuts Music Hall from the deal. These groups had asked a number of questions about the original plan, but as the Business Courier reports, their own plan raises even more questions about private donations, cuts to spending on architectural elements of the renovation — and much more. The rundown of the new plan is worth a read and includes a pretty interesting question — was this plan, thrown together by anti-tax groups at the last minute, designed to fail at the ballot in November?
The Courier also has an opinion piece on Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s apparent change of heart about the deal. Hartmann looked to be the swing vote between fellow Republican Monzel’s opposition and Democrat Todd Portune’s acceptance of the Task Force’s original plan. He initially signaled that he thought he county and the city would reach a deal on both landmarks, then changed his tune. The commentary piece today explores the politics behind that change up.
• All the ire over the icon tax has inspired Democrats to take another look at Monzel’s commissioner seat. He’s up for reelection in November, and people suddenly are interested in running against him, including former Mayor Charlier Luken and former City Councilman and Cincinnati personality Jim Tarbell. But the Democrats already have a candidate, albeit a relatively inactive one. Sean Patrick Feeney of North College Hill is the party’s official candidate for the spot. He’s raised about $100 for his campaign. Hamilton County Democrats hope to have an official decision about their candidate by 4 p.m. today.
• Work started on the new I-71 interchange at Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive yesterday. The city hopes the new crossroads will bring new jobs and renewal to Avondale and Corryville, two of the city’s more neglected low-income neighborhoods. The update to the area has been on the drawing board for years, and yesterday’s groundbreaking represents a culmination of efforts and support from state, city and local groups. The city has pledged $20 million toward the project, and the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments has thrown in $25 million. More than 700 acres of land are expected to be redeveloped as the city works to attract new businesses and other tenants, including medical and research facilities.
All that development has many in the surrounding communities nervous, however, especially given the neighborhoods’ history with highway construction. Many black residents in Avondale and Corryville first came to the neighborhood when parts of the West End were bulldozed to make way for I-75 in the 1960s. Those folks saw a highway disrupt their lives again a decade later when I-71 bisected the neighborhood. City officials say every effort is being taken to involve residents in the ongoing planning efforts.
• A project to restore and move an historic fountain on Clifton Avenue in the gaslight district will start today. Efforts are underway to restore and shift the Probasco Fountain, which currently sits right along the street in Clifton in front of the Clifton Community Arts Center. The project will move the fountain, constructed in 1887, seven feet away from the street. Work is expected to take about 14 weeks.
• A report from the Ohio Department of Education says that Cincinnati Public Schools’ data improved for the 2013-2014 school year, but that its prior year data shows signs of misleading practices. In the past, ODE has found instances of so-called data scrubbing in attendance reports and other documentation from CPS. In 2012 -2013 data, ODE found 24 students were improperly reported truant, a revelation that affects attendance records and will spark a review and possible revision of the district’s report card. ODE reviewed 1,088 student records. Other big urban school districts had similar discrepancies in 2012-2013. Columbus had 141 students improperly reported out of more than 6,000 records reviewed, and Toledo had 86 out of more than 1,400. A former principal at a school in the Columbus Public School district has admitted to data manipulation related to these discrepancies and is currently under investigation to determine if she will keep her job.
• The White House went on lockdown yesterday — well, more of a lockdown than it’s always on, I guess — when a toddler crawled through the bars of the fence in front of the facility. Secret Service agents scrambled to get the child, who was eventually returned to his parents. The Secret Service had fun with the scare after the fact.
“We were going to wait until he learned to talk to question him,” said Secret Service Spokesman Edwin Donovan. Donovan said instead of a heavy-duty four-hour interrogation, the toddler got a time out.