Cincinnati City Council today unanimously passed two ordinances to address Cincinnati’s growing sex trafficking problem.
The ordinances were sponsored by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. One increases civil fines for using motor vehicles in solicitation or prostitution from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,500 for each subsequent offense. The other ordinance funnels fines for those offenses into a prostitution fund that will cover anti-prostitution efforts, including investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking crimes and programs that reduce prostitution.
That pool of money is actually the revival of a fund that was established by Councilman David Crowley in the early 2000s, Simpson said. “We’re really looking forward to reinstituting that; there’s a lot of work that needs to happen and those fines will go a small ways toward helping in those efforts.”
Simpson has been active on sex trafficking issues. Early this summer, she supported a controversial project that blocked off large sections of McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview. While many residents in the area applauded the blockade, saying it reduced activity from pimps and sex workers in the immediate area, other residents said it caused transportation problems, created a stigma around the area and had little effect on the overall occurrence of prostitution there. Residents of other neighborhoods, including Price Hill and Camp Washington, reported an increase in prostitution after the barricades went up and said sex workers were simply moving from McMicken to their communities.
Cincinnati Police Department, which put up the barricades, said there was no proof they caused an uptick of prostitution in other areas. They said the barriers seemed to reduce the occurrence of sex work in the area, at least temporarily. The barricades came down in July.
Some residents along McMicken have called for the barriers to become a full-time feature of the neighborhood. But many in the area, along with social service workers and city officials, agree that more needs to be done in terms of legal action against sex traffickers and extending treatment options for those caught up in sex work. Harsher penalties for pimps and johns, publicizing names of sex trafficking offenders and other measures have been floated as possible responses. One that has gained traction recently is a special “prostitution docket” in Hamilton County focused on reducing sex trafficking by reverting sex workers who also face addiction issues to treatment programs. Many across the political spectrum, including Simpson, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann and others, support the idea, but with treatment programs like the Center for Chemical Addictions Treatment House in the West End stretched to the limit, more programs will likely be needed.
In the meantime, Simpson says, the newest ordinances are a way to chip away at the problem.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to do what we’d like criminally because of the overcrowding of jails and other things,” she said. “This is a great way to ensure that we’re continually sending the message that this kind of activity is not permitted in our city and beginning the work of ending demand for these services.”
All right, let’s do this news thing.
Ohio has added a charter school from Cincinnati, as well as another from Columbus, to its investigation into Chicago-based Concept Schools, which runs 17 charter schools in the state. Concept has come under state and federal scrutiny after former teachers at the company’s Horizon Academy in Dayton made accusations about sexual misconduct, records forgery and other alleged crimes. The state has since received similar complaints about the Horizon Science Academies in Cincinnati and Columbus, officials say. This isn’t the first time charter schools in Cincinnati have come under fire. This summer, the Ohio Department of Education shut down VLT Academy in Pendleton due to low performance and lack of a sponsor organization.
• Cincinnati Assistant City Manager Bill Moller yesterday told city council’s finance and budget committee that the city shouldn’t have to commit public financial help to any hotel project at The Banks. The proposed location for a hotel is in a top-notch spot next to the ballpark, Moller pointed out, and the new General Electric offices moving in nearby will only make the area more attractive. The city and county are in talks with at least three hotel developers at this point. Financing plans for the project have yet to be proposed, though the hope is that a hotel at The Banks will be finished midway through 2015. Moller’s statements have come after some on council have begun questioning the city’s generosity when it comes to tax incentives and loans to lure businesses to downtown and other parts of the city.
• It’s fall, a time when educators’ thoughts turn to school books, lesson plans, shaping young minds and, of course, what to do if a psychotic gunman barges into your school and starts shooting. These are the depressing times we live in. One new defensive solution comes from a northern Ohio company and is called the Bearacade (it’s unclear why it’s called that, just go with it). The device is a metal wedge that can be crammed under a door and pinned to the floor in an emergency situation to keep shooters out of classrooms. Locally, Kings Schools in Warren County has begun installing the Bearacade. Practice for using the device, as described in The Cincinnati Enquirer, sounds slightly crazy:
“Unannounced, Goldie will suddenly shout a security emergency to the class, dash to the front of the room and slide baseball-style into the door. Hanging next to the entrance is the new door block, which he hastily installs, making it virtually impossible for any shooter to enter.”
However, surprise shouting and a home plate-style slide toward a door to install a metal wedge is probably less disruptive to the educational process than Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones’ suggestion that teachers carry heat in the classroom.
• Cincinnati Police say crime is down so far this year in the areas around University of Cincinnati. Though some high-profile cases, including violent burglaries, have brought attention to the area, robberies have decreased by half since a peak in 2009. Other crimes have also decreased. CPD has continued to add patrols in the areas around UC, despite the drop in criminal activity.
• Some scummy creeps claiming to be associated with the KKK distributed flyers around Green Township last week, including some with anti-immigration messages. Police there say activities from such groups crop up every few years and then abruptly dissipate. They say they’re keeping an eye on the situation but don’t expect much else from the group, which appears to be from southeastern Indiana.
• The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments about one of the state’s most contentious death penalty cases. For 26 years, Gregory Wilson has been on death row, convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder of Deborah Pooley in Covington. But now, after a number of appeals on his behalf, the high court will consider whether or not his defense team did an adequate job and if new DNA evidence should be sought. Wilson’s advocates say the lawyers assigned to argue his case did little on his behalf and that DNA evidence could exonerate him. One of Wilson’s attorneys had never tried a felony, and the other was semi-retired and did not have an office or staff. But those looking to uphold his death sentence, including the Kentucky attorney general, say Wilson was convicted by overwhelming evidence, including the eye-witness testimony of his girlfriend, who is serving a life sentence for her role in the crime, and items he purchased with Pooley’s credit card after she was murdered. The case could set precedent for the way capital murder cases are tried in Kentucky, legal experts say.
• Poverty rates inched down slightly in 2013, the Census Bureau reported yesterday. Though that reduction hasn’t matched the reduction in the unemployment rate, the increase in jobs did make a dent in poverty stats. Median household income is still down 8 percent from pre-recession levels, Census data says. The number of children in poverty declined more significantly, from nearly 22 percent in 2012 to not quite 20 percent in 2013. That’s good news.
• Also good news — apparently, teen drug and alcohol use is down, according to a new study. Drug abuse in general in the United States has leveled off, according to the report by the Department of Health and Human Services. The study found that teens were turning away from illicit substances in favor of spending hours taking selfies that make them look bored, but in a cool way, and posting them on Tumblr.
• Finally, because nothing is more important to tea party types than fair representation in all realms of our modern democratic society, newly chosen Miss America Kira Kazantsev is getting flack for a three-month stint she did as an intern at Planned Parenthood. That revelation has set off a tidal wave of hate from some anti-abortion corners of the Internet, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t solely provide abortions and Kazantsev’s role involved supporting sex education, which, you know, actually reduces the need for abortion services. Bravely undeterred by this reality, Twitter users have taken to calling her “Ms. Abortion America,” “baby killer supporter” and suggesting that “this chick sure doesn’t represent me.” Because yes, Miss America is a publicly elected office whose life choices should represent every single American, no matter what their (completely unrelated) political ideologies may be.
Afternoon, y’all. I hope you’re enjoying the amazing fall weather as much as I am. My morning bike ride down Sycamore to the office was
brutally, eye-wateringly cold refreshingly brisk and left me 100-percent awake. Which is good, because this morning has been all hustle preparing for all the great stuff in the coming week's print issue. Anyway, here’s the news a bit later than usual.
City Manager Harry Black has little to say about Sunday’s proposal from Mahogany’s on The Banks owner Liz Rogers other than, “no, thanks.” The proposal, which read a little bit like a threat, promised no protests and no lawsuits if the city forgave a $300,000 loan Mahogany’s owes and sold Rogers the furniture and equipment from the restaurant (which the city owns as collateral) for $12,000. Vice Mayor David Mann and a few other council members, including P.G. Sittenfeld, Kevin Flynn and Christopher Smitherman have said they are very much not inclined to go along with that proposal, while Councilman Wendell Young has been the only member so far expressing openness to a possible deal. The rest deferred to the city administration. Black declined to comment further on the matter, citing the possibility of future litigation regarding the restaurant.
• Here’s something to put in the “surprise, I’m not surprised” file: Councilman Charlie Winburn said yesterday that the GOP pressured him to not support the Anna Louise Inn, a women’s shelter formerly located downtown and currently moving to Mount Auburn. Winburn is running for State Senate, and has been working his way to the left to try and scoop up some more votes against his Democratic opponent Cecil Thomas. Winburn, a Republican, voted Monday at a budget and finance committee meeting to sell city land for $1 to the shelter's new location, despite pressure from his party not to.
“I bucked the Republican Party and supported the Anna Louise Inn when I got pressure from my party to not to support this initiative for women,” he said at the meeting.
The Inn lost a protracted battle to stay at its location near Lytle Park downtown. Western and Southern had been working to buy the property, which Anna Louise operators Cincinnati Union Bethel were hoping to renovate and expand. The company won out after continued lawsuits around the Inn’s status as a shelter. Western and Southern has plans to convert the century-old shelter into a luxury hotel.
• Was it a losing gamble? Casinos in Ohio have delivered only about two thirds of the permanent jobs promised to the state during a 2009 campaign urging voters to approve them. Though the industry has come through, for the most part, on the 9,700 temporary construction jobs that built casinos across the state, including Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, those locations have yet to create a promised 7,500 permanent positions five years later, instead employing just 4,800 employees statewide. Casino officials say that’s because Ohio also legalized electronic slots at horse racing tracks, creating so-called “racinos” and cutting into casinos’ bottom lines. They also say that they’re still “reasonably close” to the promises they made to entice Ohio voters to approve casinos. Locally, Horseshoe Casino has lost nearly 400 jobs since opening a year and a half ago, though regionally the gambling industry in Greater Cincinnati still employs about 5,600 people.
• Cincinnati-based Macy’s Department Stores will be among the first companies to use the just-announced Apple Pay system, which lets iPhone 6 owners use their phones like credit cards. Apple Pay will use thumbprint recognition for security and allow users to simply wave their phone in front of a sensor to pay for purchases. I can’t decide if this is horrible or convenient, or, if like many things in the modern economy, it’s actually both at once. Regardless, I’ve already started practicing a smooth, continuous motion where I have my phone in front of my face for texting, then do the swipe thing to pay for donuts or what have you, and then immediately move the device back to my face to resume texting.
• County elections boards across the state are gearing up to begin early voting on Sept. 30 even as Secretary of State Jon Husted fights with federal courts to roll back the number of early voting days in Ohio. Husted and the state GOP have passed laws eliminating a number of early voting days in the name of making voting uniform across the state. Federal courts have struck down those laws as unconstitutional, though Husted has appealed those decisions. Early voting begins in two weeks, and instead of just letting the matter rest for the year and keeping the voting situation stable, Husted is hoping to get a decision soon allowing the GOP to roll back voting again. The reasoning? Federal rulings allowing counties leeway to set additional early voting hours could create “confusion among the electorate,” Husted says. Because, you know, constantly fighting to reduce the number of days people have to vote two weeks before voting is to start isn’t confusing at all.
• Urban Outfitters has once again set eyes rolling across the country with a shirt that seems to play off the 1970 Kent State University shootings. The one-off sweatshirt featured holes and what looked like bloodstains and was retailing for $129 before being yanked from the company’s website after controversy. The store has said it didn’t intend to evoke one of the most famous protest tragedies in history, during which four people died at the hands of National Guard troops. It’s yet another tone-deaf move for the hipster megastore, which is ironically led by conservative mega-donor and gay marriage opponent Richard Hayne. “But their novelty whiskey flasks are so totes adorbs,” you say. I know, I know. I feel betrayed as well.
Hey Cincinnati! Here’s your news for the day.
Mahogany’s at The Banks is closed, but the controversy continues. The restaurant closed Friday after its landlord asked it to vacate The Banks due to state sales tax violations and back rent the restaurant owed. Yesterday, owner Liz Rogers and her attorney presented the city with a proposal via a multi-page letter to City Manager Harry Black. The letter said that Mahogany’s had indeed closed its location at The Banks, but suggested a seven-point compromise between the city and the restaurant. That compromise includes forgiveness of a $300,000 debt Rogers owes the city and a $12,000 payment from Rogers to the city for furniture and equipment purchased with the city loan.
The letter charges that the city, while accommodating in some ways, set the restaurant up to fail by not providing conditions necessary to keep the business going and by leaking information about its financial struggles to the press. Rogers’ attorney states that she was told there would be a hotel and other amenities that would draw people to the riverfront development and suggested she could sue the city and her landlord for fraud, defamation of character, discrimination, breach of contract and other charges for not meeting its end of the bargain. It’s a fairly brazen move, considering Mahogany’s has fallen behind on loan and rent payments and that the city of late has been less than interested in making further deals with the restaurant. No word on a response from the city yet, but we’ll be updating as that happens.
• When folks say the Brent Spence Bridge is falling apart, they mean it literally. A group of Bengals fans Sunday got a rude surprise when big concrete chunks of an offramp from the bridge plunged from a support beam into the windshield of their car, parked just East of Longworth Hall. They were at the game at the time and no one was injured, but the incident underscores the precarious condition of the vital bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River. An annual inspection of the roadways around the bridge is scheduled to begin today.
• Officials in Butler County are mulling converting part of a struggling county-run nursing home into a detox center for heroin addicts.
Support for government-run nursing homes has been waning for years, and
Butler County’s is one of the last in the state. Officials with the
nursing home argue there is a need for the facility and that by
extending care to those needing addiction treatment, they can serve
another need while staying solvent. But some county officials, including
outspoken Sherriff Richard Jones, aren’t convinced the nursing home
should continue to exist at all, and they see addiction treatment there
as more risk than it's worth.
• Kentucky is moving closer to restoring voting for people with certain felonies. Currently, Kentuckians who have served time for a felony need a pardon from the governor to regain their voting rights. Only three other states have this requirement. Three bills proposing an amendment to the state’s constitution are currently being considered in the Kentucky legislature. An amendment, which requires passage by 60 percent of legislators and a statewide vote, would allow felons to cast ballots again after they’ve served prison time and probation. Those convicted of homicide, treason, bribery or sex crimes would not be eligible. One supporter of the proposal is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has been using justice system reform as a way to reach out to voters outside the traditional Republican base as he positions himself to run for president in 2016.
• In national news, the Census Bureau tomorrow will release its 2013 poverty statistics for America, giving us data on how much slow-moving economic recovery from the Great Recession has aided the country’s lowest earners. The news is not expected to be overwhelmingly good: While the unemployment rate has been falling, the poverty rate has barely budged, revealing that simply employing folks in any old (increasingly low-wage) job can’t get us back to where we were before the recession. Jared Bernstein, an economist with progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, sums up his projection of the data thusly: “…if I’m in the ballpark, Tuesday’s release will be another reminder of why many Americans still feel pretty gloomy about the recovery: It hasn’t much reached them.”
• Finally, I just have to throw this in here: a new study says that journalists consume more coffee than those in any other profession, drinking an average of four cups a day. I’d say I’m still just a fledgling journalist, and so I stick with one cup, though like my dark, cynical journalist heart, it is always completely black, ice cold and nearly bottomless. No, seriously, I get the biggest one Dunkin Donuts has, which is roughly the size of a small wastebasket.
Things happen. News things. Even on Fridays. That’s why I’m here. Let’s do this.
The city will not step in to help Mahogany’s, the embattled restaurant at The Banks. The establishment’s landlord, NIC Riverbanks One LLC, served Mahogany’s an eviction notice last week after the restaurant fell behind on rent and state sales taxes. The city, which recruited Mahogany’s to come to The Banks from Hamilton in 2012 in part to increase diversity at the new development, had until today to step in and broker some kind of agreement between the restaurant and the leasing agent. Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has said the restaurant is looking to relocate.
New City Manager Harry Black, who started work this week, said the administration won’t be coming to Mahogany’s aid and that it’s high time the city get out of the restaurant business. The restaurant owes about $250,000 on a loan the city gave in 2012. That loan was accompanied by a nearly $700,000 grant.
• A federal judge ruled yesterday that a 19-year-old Ohio law banning lies in campaign ads is unconstitutional and must be repealed. That’s a win for Cincinnati-area conservative group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, as well as anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List, both of whom sued Ohio over the law in 2010. That case stemmed from a complaint then-U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus filed with the Ohio Elections Commission. Driehaus complained that a billboard ad SBA planned to buy accusing him of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions was a lie. The billboard’s owner declined to run the ad due to the possibility of legal action under the Ohio law. SBA and COAST claim that’s a violation of their free speech rights, and a federal judge agreed, saying it was up to voters to decide the truth of political statements, not the government.
• Just a quick hit: Yesterday I wrote about Cincinnati’s Red Bike
program, and how it will launch Monday. Well, here’s a useful list of all 30 of the bike share’s locations around the city.
• Another quick one: Mayor John Cranley yesterday convened a meeting for folks interested in becoming involved in the Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet, an advisory board made up of, you guessed it, young professionals. Cranley gave remarks about his vision for the city as it relates to the youngins, pledged to consider and advocate for proposals the group comes up with and also briefly mourned the ephemerality of his youth. YPKC leadership talked about the role the group can play by keeping issues important to young people on the city’s radar. The group is taking applications until Oct. 31 and will meet monthly.
• I missed this one a few days ago but feel like it’s noteworthy, so let’s circle back and take a brief look. Brewery X, the project that looks to renovate Mount Adams’ historic pump building, is on again after some back and forth over the terms of a $1.5 million loan the city was considering for the project. The deal has been restructured in such a way that the city will retain ownership of the building, instead of the developer having the option to eventually buy it for $1.
• OK, so this is kind of terrifying. Nineteen-year-old T.J. Lane, who killed three people in a 2012 school shooting, briefly escaped from a prison 80 miles south of Toledo yesterday with two other inmates. Ohio Highway Patrol officers recaptured him about six hours later just 100 yards away from the facility. The other two escapees were also quickly recaptured. Prison officials say they’re investigating how Lane escaped and why he wasn’t in a more secure prison.
• President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton will participate in a volunteer swearing-in ceremony today honoring the 20th anniversary of national service program AmeriCorps, which was created on this day in 1994. Since that time, more than 900,000 people have served more than 1 billion hours of community service, officials with the program say. Full disclosure: I did AmeriCorps for two years here in Cincinnati and it was pretty much a life-changing experience.
• Favorable weather for abundant harvests in major food producing regions around the globe means food has gotten relatively cheaper, the United Nations says. The UN’s global food price index is at its lowest level in four years, with most essentials from grains to dairy products becoming more affordable. Some foods like beef and pork are still expensive, however. And though it’s been going down recently, food is still more expensive than it was in the past. Most prices are still significantly higher than they were in the 1990s.
Good morning Cincy! Here’s what’s going on around the city and other, less cool places in the world.
There’s a new proposal to help fund operating costs for Cincinnati’s streetcar. The Haile Foundation, which has pledged donations to help cover some of the project’s funding gap, has suggested that a special improvement tax district covering downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton could help cover the streetcar’s $3 million operating shortfall. Downtown already has a similar district, which raises about $2.5 million. That district would expire if property owners in all three districts approve the new plan, which is expected to raise about $5 million a year. About half that money would be used for the streetcar. It’s unclear at this point how much that would raise the cost of owning property in the districts, but Haile VP Eric Avner says the increase wouldn’t be large or burdensome. Some nonprofits in the neighborhoods have questions about how the plan would affect their operating costs but have not said they oppose the measure.
• Starting Monday, you’ll be able to borrow a bike from one of 30 bike racks around the city, ride around uptown, downtown, and Over-the-Rhine, and then drop the bike off at any other rack and be on your way. Red Bike, the nonprofit running the bike share, has announced that the cost for borrowing a bike will be $8 a day or $80 for a yearly membership. Each ride is limited to 60 minutes, but riders can check their bike in and start over with another as many times as they like. The bike share is intended to provide commuters and visitors with a quick, easy and environmentally friendly alternative to driving around the city’s core and uptown neighborhoods. Earlier this summer, Cincinnati City Council approved a proposal by Mayor John Cranley providing $1 million in start up funds for the project.
• The University of Cincinnati has more students enrolled for the fall semester than it has ever had before, the school says. Total enrollment at all UC campuses is 43,691 students. That includes a record 6,651 freshmen. The university says it has also increased the diversity of its student body. U.S. News and World Report ranks UC 129th among U.S. universities, a six-spot increase from last year.
• Testimony began today in the case against Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter. As we’ve talked about before here at the morning news, this is a complicated and highly contentious court battle. Hunter faces nine felony charges, including forging records and improper use of a court credit card. She claims the charges are false and that she’s the victim of politics. But there are a number of subplots beyond that basic argument — the trial looks to be one for the ages and is worth following.
• Ohio’s beer industry is providing more state residents with jobs, according to a report released by the industry group the Beer Institute. The institute, which sounds like a fabulous place to work, ranks Ohio sixth in the nation for brewing jobs. Breweries employ about 83,000 people across the state, the study says, and puts about $10 billion into the state’s economy. Christian Moerlein here in Cincinnati has been a part of that great news. The company employs about 325 people in the city and says it’s looking to hire more.
“We were the original brewing city outside of Germany," said Mike Wayne, general manager of Moerlein’s brewery in OTR. "We were the best once, we can be the best again."
I’ll toast to that.
• Here’s a pretty interesting article about the always-controversial intersection of fashion and politics. It seems a number of places around the country have taken to instituting laws against wearing your pants too low on your hips, which inspired NPR to take a long historical odyssey into the roots of that trend and the ramifications of legislating fashion. Warning: This article contains the phrase “the murky genesis of saggy pants,” which is maybe the best/worst subhead I’ve ever seen in a news article.
• Thirteen years ago today, the U.S. experienced one of the most terrifying events in its history when hijackers flew airliners into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. A number of memorial services, moments of silence and other events have been taking place across the country. Meanwhile, the U.S. is still wrestling with how to navigate the post-9-11 world, as evidenced by the recent struggle to respond to newly powerful terrorist groups like ISIS.
• Finally, I would be remiss in my job of telling you what you need to know for the day if I didn’t link you to this epic high school yearbook photo a Schenectady, New York student is fighting to use as his senior picture. It’s incredible.
Morning all! Here’s all the news you need today.
The trial of Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter begins today after two days of jury selection. It promises to be a wild ride. Hunter has been indicted on nine felony counts, including misuse of a court credit card, records forgery and other offenses involving the firing of her brother, a juvenile court employee who allegedly punched a juvenile inmate. But supporters say she’s the victim of politics. Some, including Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, suggest that statements made by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters are unethical and could taint a jury pool. Deters last week placed blame on Hunter for crimes defendants in her court committed later. Opening statements from both sides of the case will be heard today.
• The city is moving forward on an updated land use plan, which has been underway since 2011 and is part of the city’s overall comprehensive plan. But the plan’s first draft has left some folks in Mount Adams livid. Some community members there are upset because the new plan would allow buildings up to eight stories tall to be built there. The hilltop neighborhood has a number of historic homes with great views of the river and downtown, and residents worry that buildings that tall could destroy those views, and even worse, the character of the neighborhood. Officials say their concerns will be addressed in the plan’s upcoming second draft, but some in Mount Adams want a revision sooner.
• Here’s some good news. Last week, the Bengals scored some major nice-guy points when they hired Devon Still on for their practice squad after he was cut from the regular roster. Why’s that so nice? Still’s daughter is battling cancer, and the team hired him on in a practice role so he could keep his insurance coverage. The news got better for Still today when the Bengals announced they’ve hired him back onto the active roster. A practice squad player makes about $100,000 a year–not too shabby, but a paltry sum compared to the $400,000 minimum salary an active roster player gets. The team is also donating proceeds from sales of Still’s jersey to his daughter’s cancer fight. His jersey has quickly become the top seller for the team.
• Someday soon there may be a lot of droning going on in Hamilton County, and for once, it won't be coming from county commissioners. County officials have said they’d love to get some of those flying robot drone things to do cool stuff. Some of that stuff sounds innocuous enough–inspecting roofs on county-owned buildings, etc., but some of it, like searching for criminals, sounds a bit more dystopian. No worries just yet, as federal regulations prohibit drone usage in highly-populated areas. But new, clearer rules on drone usage may be adopted by the end of this year, and that could open up all kinds of possibilities for the county and even private companies to utilize the tiny unmanned aircraft. Personally, I’d really like a drone that could airdrop a Bearcat pizza onto CityBeat’s roof once a day. Where do I file for that permit?
• Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, responding to protests and online petitions, again refused to release security footage of the Aug. 5 police shooting that killed John Crawford III in a Walmart in the Dayton suburb. DeWine said releasing the footage to the public would be “playing with dynamite” and could compromise the investigation into the shooting. Meanwhile, the city of Beavercreek is totally working to address the issue. Or wait, actually, the city is just mulling hiring a public relations firm to manage the attention it’s getting as a result of controversy around Crawford’s death. Crawford, a 22-year-old black male, was carrying a pellet gun he found in the store when police shot him. Officers were responding to a 911 call saying a man with an assault rifle was in the store. Crawford’s family and their lawyer have viewed the security footage and said it appears Crawford was not given adequate time to drop the weapon and was “shot on sight."
• Meanwhile, outrage continues in Ferguson, Mo., where 18-year-old Mike Brown was killed in a similar police shooting last month. More than 600 residents took to the city's first council meeting since the shooting to express their frustrations with the slow-moving investigation into Brown's death.
* DiGiorno, a bake-at-home pizza brand, has taught us all a very unfortunate lesson. There are actually times when pizza is not appropriate. The brand used the domestic violence awareness hashtag #WhyIStayed to promote its delicious, I-can't-believe-it's-not-delivery pizza, tweeting "#WhyIStayed You had pizza". The uproar was of course immediate. The brand's social media team apologized, saying they hadn't read what the hashtag was about before posting. Always read about the hashtag. Always.
• Finally, on the national/international stage, the group of fundamentalists calling themselves the Islamic State, or ISIS, has continued to run rampant across large swaths of Iraq. They’re exceptionally brutal, torturing and killing Iraqi men, women and children and others who have resisted them or who they feel are not sufficiently committed to their ideology. They’ve also beheaded two American journalists. President Obama has ordered airstrikes against the group, and has indicated more action may be forthcoming. But do Americans really want another conflict in Iraq? This Washington Post story explores that question in depth.
Hey all, I have to run to a press conference momentarily on the state of Cincinnati restaurant Mahogany’s (I hope there’s food) but here’s a truncated morning news for ya. All the info, none of my usual cheesy jokes, except for that one I just made about food.
UPDATE: Mahogany's owner Liz Rogers announced at the news conference that the restaurant is looking to relocate from The Banks.
“We find that we are in the midst of a climate that is not conducive to successfully executing our business model here at The Banks,” Rogers said. “We have determined that our restaurant model is not a fit for The Banks development and are interested in relocating.”
Rogers said that the media has blown challenges Mahogany’s has faced out of proportion, scaring away customers and investors. The restaurant has faced a number of hurdles, including tens of thousands of dollars in back rent and loan payments and, most recently, a four-day closure due to unpaid Ohio sales taxes. Rogers also said running the restaurant has been difficult because she was told there would be more activity at The Banks to boost business, including a hotel that has not yet been built.
She was mum on where Mahogany's may move, but one possible spot is Over-the-Rhine. Representatives from 3CDC have said they met with Rogers Friday about the restaurant possibly moving there, though the developer said the meeting was just the first step in a long process and that the spaces they have may not fit the restaurant's needs.
• Guess what? Cincinnati's urban core is gentrifying. That itself may not be news, but this UrbanCincy exploration of the city’s gentrification dynamics is pretty informative.
Let me hit you with a quote from the story: “We do know, however, that some housing prices, particularly in the city center where demand is highest, are starting to get out of hand.”
• A local company, General Cable, has been awarded a contract of unspecified value to provide wiring for Cincinnati’s first five streetcars. The company’s products include aluminum, copper and fiber optic wire and are used in many transit systems across the country. The cars themselves aren’t made in Cincinnati, but it’s cool that at least some components will be.
• What’s next for Music Hall after the big icon tax dustup? That’s what the Cultural Facilities Task Force is working on now. They’re exploring a number of options to accomplish the $123 million task of fixing up the 136-year-old landmark, including soliciting increased private donations, asking for more help from the city and even seeking money from outside Cincinnati.
• A Delhi couple who allegedly dealt heroin to a man who subsequently overdosed are being charged with manslaughter. It’s the first time Hamilton County prosecutors have charged a dealer in connection with an overdose death, according to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters. The region is suffering especially badly from the ongoing heroin crisis, which is playing out in communities across the nation.
• Cincinnati Children's Hospital admitted the most new patients in its history Friday, officials for the hospital say. Those new patients came to the hospital with respiratory symptoms similar to those caused by the enterovirus currently sweeping parts of Missouri, Illinois, Columbus and other parts of the Midwest. Officials with the hospital say the children being admitted aren't any sicker than usual, just that there are many more than usual.
• If you’re looking forward to a debate between Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine and his challenger Democrat David Pepper, well… maybe don’t hold your breath. It’s shaping up like the two may not debate at all before the November election, this Columbus Dispatch story says.
• Finally, admit it. You have friends who are really into Apple products. The company is expected to announce some new goodies today during its big annual media event, for which it has constructed a three-story tower of sorts, because hey, what else are you gonna do with all the money you’ve made from a million iPods? There are breathless guesses about a new and bigger iPhone. There are whispers about wearable devices. The term “phablet” has been uttered in reverent tones. If you’re at a loss because there isn’t currently a device that fills that awkward gap between your iPhone and your iPad, well, today may be your lucky day.
Lots of court action happening in this Monday edition of morning news. Let's see what's on the docket, eh?
One of the nine Greenpeace protesters who broke in to Procter and Gamble’s headquarters this spring will plead guilty today to lesser felony charges, the Associated Press reports. Charles Long of Chicago will take a plea deal to avoid serving jail time and will instead do community service and pay restitution. Long and the eight other protesters entered P&G’s Cincinnati headquarters March 4. The group hung large banners from the side of the building protesting the company’s use of palm oil, which Greenpeace says leads to rainforest destruction. The protesters argue they were within the bounds of the First Amendment when they committed the act. All but Long are fighting the felony burglary and vandalism charges, which carry a possible sentence of nine years in jail.
• One of Cincinnati’s biggest developers is seeking to transform a whole block of Race Street near Findlay Market, as we reported Friday. Check out the details of Model Group’s plan here.
• Though Cincinnati missed out (if that’s what you want to call it) on the 2016 GOP National Convention, the city may still have a shot at another major national gathering. Cincy is still in the running for the 2016 NAACP Convention and is competing with St. Louis, Baltimore and Austin, Texas for the gathering. Cincinnati last hosted the annual convention in 2008. Both Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain spoke at that event, and the coming election year convention will surely be just as politically important. Representatives from the city traveled to Las Vegas in July to make the pitch for Cincinnati, and a site visit here is expected sometime in the fall. The NAACP will make the final decision sometime before the end of the year.
If Cincinnati lands the convention, 2016 could be a big year for Ohio politically. Cleveland ended up with the Republican National Convention and Columbus is competing for the Democrats’ national gathering. There’s some grousing, by the way, that Cleveland ended up with the convention because of the pull and political ambitions of powerful Ohio Republicans Sen. Rob Portman and Gov. John Kasich, both of whom have hinted at possible bids for the party’s presidential nomination.
* New City Manager Harry Black starts today. Black, Cranley's pick for the job, was previously the City of Baltimore's finance head. He replaces interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who will go back to his role as assistant city manager.
• Jury selection for Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s trial on nine felony counts begins today. Hunter is facing charges of forgery, tampering with evidence and abuse of court credit cards and faces up to 13 years in prison. The case is politically contentious, with Hunter foe Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters saying that Hunter is partly responsible for two shooting deaths in Avondale due to rulings she made that kept the juveniles involved out of prison. Both sides have long witness lists and attorneys who express confidence they’ll win the day. Hunter’s attorneys and supporters say she’s being railroaded and that she’s faced political resistance since she won a highly contested election for the position in 2010.
• Scientists and doctors are expressing concern over an uptick in hospitalizations for a respiratory illness called Enterovirus EV-D68. The virus causes symptoms very much like a severe cold. Enteroviruses aren’t new, or even all that rare, but recent outbreaks among children in Kansas City, Mo. Ohio, Illinois and other Midwestern cities have raised eyebrows. In Kansas City, up to 30 children a day have been hospitalized with the virus. A hospital in Columbus reported a 20 percent increase in patients with severe respiratory symptoms, and the facility is currently testing the patients to see if they are suffering from the enterovirus. So far, none of the outbreaks have caused any deaths.
• Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson said over the weekend that he will sell his share of the team after it was revealed he had sent racist emails to other team officials two years ago. One email complained about the number of black cheerleaders and fans the team had and said black fans scared away more wealthy whites. Levenson has apologized for the email, saying it was “inappropriate” and “offensive.” Officials for the Hawks have distanced themselves from Levenson.
"Bruce was confronted with this email from 2012, and he decided that instead of fighting it ... he thought it was best for the city, for the team, for his family, to walk away," Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told CNN Sunday.
• Finally, you may have seen some news stories circulating about how someone finally solved Britain’s century-and-a-quarter-old Jack the Ripper mystery using an old shawl and some modern genetics work. Not so fast, Smithsonian magazine says. The magazine and other skeptics say there are still a number of questions about the evidence used to arrive at the conclusion that a 23-year-old Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski was the killer.
So as you may (or may not) have noticed, there was no morning news update yesterday. Did you know that the internet is a thing that can go out, that it doesn't just emanate from some corner of the universe like gravity or light? We went without the unifying force in the world for hours yesterday, huddled around each others' desks in fear while gazing into our smartphones, praying for 4G coverage.
But now we're back online and serving up a double dose of morning news.
Local charter school VLT Academy is gone, but some say the lingering spirit of unregulated schooling and questionable legality remains in the building. The Ohio Department of Education is investigating Hope4Change Academy, a charter that began operating in August at VLT's former site on Sycamore in Pendleton. That school, or whatever it is, no longer has a sponsoring organization, meaning it legally can't operate as a school. The ODE ordered it to shut down, but says its classrooms are still full of students. An employee of Hope4Change told a reporter that the building is a tutoring center, and officials with the school claim they're just making computers available to students who need to take online classes. The ODE is continuing to investigate.
• Let's go back to that parking permit idea Mayor Cranley floated the other day, which could charge OTR residents $300-$400 a year to park in the neighborhood to help fund streetcar operating costs. Turns out it would be the most expensive of such programs in the country, tripling car-choked San Francisco's $110-a-year permit scheme. Critics say that would be a huge burden on the neighborhood's low-income population. Mayor Cranley has said that low-income residents of the neighborhood would be exempted from the fee.
• There is another new wrinkle in the Mahogany’s saga, the controversial restaurant and only African-American-owned business at The Banks. The establishment was told Wednesday it was in violation of its lease and would have to vacate the riverfront development.
The restaurant’s lease says Mahogany’s must be open daily, a clause it violated when it closed for four days in late August due to unpaid state sales taxes, its landlord NIC Riverbanks One said. However, Mahogany’s attorney today said that the order to vacate is in error, and that the restaurant’s lease only applies to voluntary closures, not the tax struggles it has faced. The restaurant paid the back taxes it owed and reopened Saturday. It’s just the latest chapter of troubles for the restaurant, which has struggled with rent payments and other difficulties for two years at The Banks.
• A Cincinnati resident and former University of Toledo student says a man who raped her was fined $25 and given probation by the school. She filed a complaint with the Department of Education against the university Wednesday, joining a number of other students at schools across the country challenging the way the institutions punish sexual assault. She’s outraged, she says, by the punishment a former acquaintance received for allegedly sexually assaulting her while both were at UT. She reported the incident six months later after battling anxiety and depression. The university has confirmed that it fined her attacker $25, required him to attend 10 hours of sexual assault training and put him on a year-long probation. He was allowed to remain at the school and keep his campus job. The woman left University of Toledo to finish her studies elsewhere.
"The way they handled it was extremely upsetting," the woman told USA Today.
• With tension still in the air from recent police shootings in Ferguson, Mo. and closer to home in Beavercreek, local groups held a forum in Evanston last night to discuss issues surrounding law enforcement treatment of minorities. Among those in attendance were Cincinnati Chief of Police Jeffery Blackwell, community leaders and activists Rev. Damon Lynch, III and Iris Roley, Councilman Chris Seelbach and others. Blackwell commented that some Cincinnati Police officers are trying out body cameras. He also commented on the investigation into the shooting death of John Crawford III, who was killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart Aug. 5. Attorney General Mike DeWine has declined to release to the public security camera footage of the shooting. Blackwell said the footage should be made public.
• Cincinnati is one of Bicycling magazine’s top 50 bike-friendly cities, rolling in at number 35. That’s just under Chattanooga and just above Milwaukee. New York City, Chicago, and Minneapolis rounded out the top three, respectively. The rankings consider bike infrastructure such as bike lanes and trails, as well as environmental factors such as hills and hot summers. Working in Cincinnati’s favor: The Central Park bike lanes and RedBike, the city’s new bike share program.
• Going after the elusive gambling hipster demographic, Horseshoe Casino has announced it will be hosting a farmer's market next week on Sept. 10. The event will feature 24 vendors, cooking demonstrations, and more. If rain happens, the market will move to the casino's parking garage. There is a Portlandia reference in this somewhere and I just can't find it right now so I'll leave it up to you.
• Fast food workers across the country began strikes and protests yesterday, hoping to push some of the nation’s biggest food chains toward a $15 an hour minimum wage. Labor organizers with the Service Employees International Union say actions are planned in more than 100 cities. The SEIU is also encouraging workers outside the fast food industry to get involved, including home health care and janitorial workers.
• Finally, this new Google Glass app detects other peoples' emotions. You know, the kind of thing you do naturally when you’re having a face-to-face conversation with someone that is unmediated by some crazy internet-connected device you have attached to your face.