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by Nick Swartsell 12.10.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar fund may dwindle; Ohio Board of Education nixes "5 of 8" rule; will Congress meet its budget deadline?

Hey all. I’m about to run out and cover a bunch of stuff, but here’s a quick hit list of what’s up today.

The streetcar’s contingency construction budget may only have about $80,000 unaccounted for, project executive John Dietrick announced yesterday. It started with nearly $8 million. That low number is a worst-case projection, but with 21 months left until construction is finished, it's a very slim cushion. Part of the problem: The city spent $1 million from that fund covering the costs of delaying the streetcar while fighting over whether to continue the project last winter.

• UC students have been staging so-called “die in” demonstrations over the past few days in protest against police shootings of unarmed black citizens. Another one will take place today at noon in the university’s Medical Sciences Building.

• Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will have to wait for an appeal on her felony convictions from jail, Judge Norbert Nadel ruled yesterday. Hunter was convicted on one felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract over allegedly interceding in the firing of her brother, a court employee. A jury hung on eight other felony counts in her trial. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics as the county’s first black juvenile court judge. She faces six months in jail.

• State lawmakers have squashed, for now, a highly restrictive “heartbeat bill” that would have made abortions illegal in Ohio after a fetus has a detectable heartbeat. A vote on the bill was killed by conservative lawmakers who feel the law may be unconstitutional. They say they fear court challenges to the bill could endanger Ohio’s other abortion restrictions.

• The Ohio Board of Education agreed yesterday to strike down the state’s so-called “5 of 8” rule that required schools to hire specialized positions like art teachers and librarians. Boosters say the move gives local districts more control over their budgets, but opponents say it will make it easier for cash-strapped schools to eliminate necessary staff. The bill will next go to the state legislature for approval before coming back to the board for a final vote in March.

• We all have deadlines. Congress’ deadline is Thursday, when our current, hard-won federal budget expires. And while it looks like there won’t be a big, destructive fight over the budget this year resulting in a weeks-long shutdown like last year, it also looks equally likely that Congress won’t get the job done in time. While key congressional leaders agreed last night on a trillion-dollar deal, there are still a lot of bumps in the road before the legislation makes it to the president’s desk.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.09.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News, Courts at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Democrats to Judge: Defer Hunter's Sentence

Former juvenile court judge faces six months in prison

The court case is over, but issues of race and politics that made it so contentious continue swirling.

 

Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter to six months in jail and a year of probation Dec. 5 after she was convicted on one of nine felony counts last month. Hunter asked Nadel to defer her prison sentence until an appeal of her conviction had gone through. Nadel denied that request today and Hunter will most likely be behind bars soon.


Some say justice has been served, but others say the penalty is too harsh and premature. A letter signed by 56 people including many area Democrat leaders to Nadel Dec. 8 asked the judge to defer Hunter’s sentence until after her appeal is heard. The letter says Hunter’s appeal is made on “substantial grounds” and points out that if she goes to jail now and is latter vindicated, it will be a “pyrrhic victory” because she will have already served her sentence by that time. The letter cites the fact Hunter has no previous record and did not stand to gain financially from the crime.

 

It also points out the racial tension over the case and connects it to larger issues of race relations in the region and around the country, as anger continues over recent police killings of unarmed black men and a refusal by grand juries to indict officers in those cases.

 

“All across the country, serious questions of trust are being raised about the fairness of our justice system in dealing with matters involving race,” said the letter sent by the Hamilton County Democratic Party and signed by Chairman Tim Burke, State Senator elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece and other notable party members. “To sentence to jail the only African American to ever be elected to our juvenile court, and one of the very few African Americans to ever be elected in a contested county-wide election in Hamilton County … will only deepen that mistrust. That is particularly true in light of the fact that other first-time offenders under similar circumstances would receive no jail time at all.”

 

Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black judge. After the election for the seat in 2010 went to her opponent by a very narrow margin, she fought a year-and-a-half-long court battle in order to get uncounted votes counted to prove she had won. She came into the position intent on changing a system where black juveniles are 10 times more likely to be arrested than whites.


Almost 80 percent of children arrested in Hamilton County are black, according to a November federal lawsuit by Covington-based Children’s Law Center against the county.

 

That resolve ruffled feathers. Among others, The Cincinnati Enquirer sued her for refusing to let reporters into her courtroom. Hunter’s methods as a judge were unorthodox and her opponents say often illegal.

 

After a long, dramatic trial, Hunter was convicted last month for interceding on behalf of her brother, a juvenile court employee who was fired for allegedly punching an underage inmate. Hunter obtained medical records on that inmate for her brother, prosecutors charged. A jury deadlocked on eight other felony charges involving fraud, misuse of a court credit card, interfering with investigations and forgery. She motioned for a retrial three times, citing three black jurors who recanted their guilty verdicts and procedural irregularities in the courtroom. Judge Nadel denied all three motions.

 

Critics like Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou say Hunter was quite simply a bad judge and that her indictment and conviction have nothing to do with race. Her stature as a judge only makes her transgressions worse, and she should be disciplined accordingly, her critics say. That means jail time for a low-level felony that usually only gets probation.

 

Judge Hunter is a judge and a public official," Nadel said after Hunter was sentenced. "Unfortunately, it may be a felony 4, but that is a double whammy."

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.09.2014 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati police to get body cameras; early streetcar pass available; Ark Park wants to correct "myths"

All right y’all. After a brief delay while I listened to a presentation about health insurance (as captivating as it sounds) I’m here with the news this morning.

Cincinnati’s 600-strong uniformed police force will eventually be equipped with body cameras after a seven-month pilot program involving West Side officers wrapped up this week. The move comes as activists around the country call for more police accountability in the wake of recent police shootings of unarmed citizens. Cincinnati’s body camera program will cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million depending on which vendor the city chooses. Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety committee has pledged to help find funds, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell will be making a trip to Washington to ask the federal government for some of the money as well. Officers involved in the pilot program said the cameras they tested aren’t perfect and expressed concerns about privacy for victims of crime and whether what is filmed will end up as public record.  

Some activists around the country have called for federal rules requiring police wear body cameras, and President Barack Obama announced last week an plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help equip police departments with the technology. Others, however, question the efficacy of the method, pointing to the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a choke hold by police in July. The officer who placed Garner in a headlock was not indicted by a grand jury despite video footage of the incident.

• Though the streetcar is months away from being operational, you can still give the transit fanatic (or skeptic) in your life a rail-themed Christmas gift. Starting today, SORTA is offering a commemorative early pass for the Cincinnati streetcar allowing unlimited rides for periods of time after the streetcar opens. You can get the $25 card for those members of your family who are afraid of downtown and with whom you argued about the streetcar this Thanksgiving. Maybe some free rides will change their minds. Or they’ll hate it and give it to you to use. Win-win. They, or you, will be able to ride cost-free for the first 15 days the streetcar is operating. You can step it up for the serious streetcar supporter and get the $50 or $100 cards, which give the recipient 30 and 60 days of fare-free riding, respectively. These are the first physical items issued to the public for the transit project, which I’m sure will be interesting to some folks.

• Answers in Genesis, the religious group behind a controversial Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County, Ky., has launched a billboard campaign it says seeks to correct “myths” about the project. The park has raised eyebrows because it could receive state tax credits even though its parent company makes its employees sign statements affirming their Christian religious beliefs. If the park did the same with prospective employees, it would not be eligible for help from the state. The state’s Tourism Development Finance Authority has preliminarily approved a 10-year tax incentive package for the park that could be worth up to $18 million on the $73 million project. National advocates for the separation of church and state have cried foul at the deal, saying it violates state and federal non-discrimination laws. The Ark group, however, says they’ll comply with those laws for the park. They’re fighting back with 16 billboards in Frankfort, Louisville and Lexington directing people to their website. They’ve also sprung for an electronic billboard ad running in New York City’s Times Square for some reason.

"With this new billboard campaign, the attention-grabbing wording will get people to visit our website, where they will discover the truth about our full-size Ark and learn how some intolerant people are trying to keep it from succeeding," the group said in an email news release.

• The Ohio Board of Education will meet today and discuss eliminating rules that require public schools in Ohio to hire art and music teachers, librarians and other specialized staff. The so-called “5 of 8” rule could be on the chopping block because some local control advocates say it amounts to an unfunded mandate on local schools from the state. However, those who support the rule say it ensures that all schools have faculty who can teach vital subjects and perform other necessary duties. They say eliminating the rule will hurt low-income students, whose cash-strapped schools will be most likely to drop the positions.

• State Rep. Alicia Reece formally introduced the so-called “John Crawford’s Law” yesterday, which would require toy guns to be brightly colored to distinguish them from real weapons. The bill aims to prevent police shootings like the one that happened in August at a Beavercreek Walmart, where Crawford was shot while holding a BB gun. More recently, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot and killed for holding a toy pistol on a playground in Cleveland. In a puzzling addition, the law would also limit where a person can carry a BB gun, even though Ohio remains an open carry state where you can tote around your real gun almost anywhere you please.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.08.2014 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Hamilton County Sheriff's office gets a drone; protests against racial injustice arrive at UC, Xavier; are hopes for change from third parties irrelevant?

Hey hey! It’s Monday. Stuff has been happening. Let’s get our news on.

The idea of law enforcement piloting tiny unmanned craft with cameras is pretty unnerving to some folks, which is understandable. No one wants a little flying robocop filming you through your window as you eat Doritos and watch your seventh episode of Adventure Time in your bathrobe. But the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office, which recently purchased a small drone, is seeking to allay such fears. They say the department will only use its tiny, $800 drone for taking overhead shots of traffic accidents and the like. Some call the idea creepy, but others say it’s legit as long as boundaries are followed.

“I don’t think we should be afraid of technology so long as it applies to and is used for a proper purpose,” Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “This seems like it’s a legitimate use of the technology.”

• A rally protesting racial injustice and recent police killings of unarmed black citizens drew more than 100 people outside Xavier’s Cintas Center Saturday night, during a game between the Musketeers and the University of Alabama. The several student groups who organized the rally said attendance was well above what they expected. The rallies protested grand jury decisions not to indict officers who have killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., Beavercreek, Ohio, and New York City.

“While some evidence is unclear, we cannot ignore the reality that yet more White police officers have shot and killed unarmed Black males,” the groups said in a joint statement emailed Saturday. “This is an unfortunate epidemic that is occurring across this nation.”

Another protest at the University of Cincinnati organized by student groups there will take place today at 1 p.m. at University Mainstreet.

• After this summer’s big showdown over the icon tax, efforts to raise the money to renovate historic Music Hall continue. Key fundraiser and philanthropic leader Otto Budig, who is helping lead the Cultural Facilities Taskforce charged with administering the repairs, says right now boosters still need to raise $40 million of the project’s estimated $123 million cost. So far, the taskforce has locked in $45 million in private donations as well as $25 million in tax credits. The City of Cincinnati has also committed another $10 million, as well as $400,000 annually. Budig says raising the rest will be difficult, but he’s vowed to make it happen.

• Over-the-Rhine’s super-popular Rhinegeist Brewery is expanding into Northern Kentucky with a new distribution company called River Ghost.  Rhinegeist already runs its own distribution in Southwestern Ohio, and Erlanger-based River Ghost will help the company do the same south of the river.

• So here’s an update about efforts to get quick, daily rail service running from Cincinnati to Chicago. We left off in that story telling you about transit group All Aboard Ohio's push to get local universities on board with the idea, and it looks like that’s starting to happen a bit. The City of Oxford and Miami University recently announced they will send a joint letter next month asking for a train stop in the city. Currently, Amtrak’s Cardinal Line runs through Oxford but doesn’t stop there. It’s a baby step for the idea of daily service in the region. Miami U and Oxford aren’t pushing for that, at least not yet — they’re just asking to be cut in on the already existing route. But the addition could demonstrate pent-up demand for rail travel in the area, especially from Millennials who are less likely to own a car.

• Finally, Congress is stuck in gear. Plenty of folks feel like our elected officials don’t represent the interests of the average American. So let’s get more power to a viable third party to get things moving again and provide a little more competition and representation, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not. This Vox article highlights the complexities of that issue. The emergence of a powerful third party could grind the gears of government even further into dysfunction. Depressingly, it’s by virtue of the fact that most all our political structures are designed for, and maintained by, the two major parties that a hypothetical populist third party couldn’t work, according to the piece.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.05.2014 14 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Prosecutors offer Greenpeace activists plea deal; Garner protest draws more than 100; U.S. added more than 300,000 jobs last month

Morning y’all. Rather than brave the gross, cold weather, I’m working from home in the tiny circular turret next to my bedroom with a space heater blasting. One of the things I love about Cincinnati is not only that weird old houses like the one I live in still exist, but that I can afford to live in one on a journalist’s salary. That’s crazy.

But enough about me. What’s happened in the past 24 hours? A lot.

First, prosecutors have offered seven of the Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging anti-palm oil banners from Procter & Gamble headquarters last spring a plea deal. That deal would cut their charges from felony vandalism and burglary, which carry a penalty of more than nine years in jail, to a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing, which is punishable by no more than 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Nine activists in total gained access to P&G headquarters in March, hanging protest banners decrying the company’s role in deforestation related to their use of palm oil. Some protesters repelled down the side of the building. Prosecutors say the group did tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to windows in the building, though lawyers for the group deny this. They say the activists were simply exercising their First Amendment rights. One activist has since died in California and another took an earlier plea deal. A Dec. 12 hearing on the deal has been scheduled for the remaining seven.

• More than 100 people turned out last night for a rally downtown in honor of Eric Garner, who died in July after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold. A grand jury Wednesday announced it would not indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, who administered the hold. That has led to protests in New York City and around the country, including here. You can find our full coverage of the rally here.

• It seems we’re all about courts today. Special prosecutors in the case of former Juvenile Court Judge Traci Hunter want to send her to jail for up to 18 months. Hunter is in Hamilton County court right now for sentencing, and prosecutors are going after her aggressively. Hunter was convicted of one felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract in October. Her attorney has made three motions for a retrial since, citing procedural mistakes by the court and jurors who have recanted their guilty verdicts. Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel has declined those motions, however. Hunter says she will appeal her conviction.

UPDATE: Hunter has been sentenced to six months in Hamilton County jail.

• As anger over police use of force continues around the country, the Justice Department yesterday released the results of a year-and-a-half long investigation into the Cleveland Police Department. What they found was not good, and you can read our coverage of it here. The short version: The DOJ says the force has had numerous incidents of excessive force brought on by “systemic failures” within the department. CPD will be monitored by an independent panel as it makes court-enforceable reforms to its policing practices. The report comes as the department is under scrutiny for yet another controversial use of force incident: the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice at the hands of Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehman.

• The national economy added more than 320,000 jobs last month, government data released yesterday says, putting the nation on track for its best job growth in 15 years. Unemployment stayed at 5.8 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2008. Many analysts take the boost as a sign the economy is continuing to recover from the deepest and most far-reaching recession in decades. That growth came in a number of different sectors, lending credence to the assertion that the economy is growing more robust. Housing prices are rising, fuel prices are falling and local and state governments are hiring again. However, despite the good news, wages did not rise at all when adjusted for inflation. That’s been a stubborn problem for workers since the recession and one that feeds into a continued debate about the country’s income inequality.

• Finally, you remember former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, right? Whether or not you agree with the Bush-era leader’s politics, it seems fair to say he seemed like a low-key bloke, harmless and even approachable. At least I thought so until I saw his Christmas card this year. Dude looks like you just snatched some bacon out of his mouth while calling his mum a strumpet. I want to see the outtakes. Also, thank god I don’t send Christmas cards because they would all be at least this terrifying.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.05.2014 14 days ago
Posted In: News at 01:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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DOJ Hammers Cleveland Police Department on Use of Force

Eighteen-month investigation found numerous incidents of excessive force

The Department of Justice yesterday released a report detailing its year-and-a-half-long investigation of the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force. Its findings, and its timing, are devastating, detailing incidents where unarmed civilians were shot 20 times during a car chase, a unarmed man kicked in the head by officers while in handcuffs and many other examples of unnecessary force.

The report comes as the nation grapples with anger over a number of police shootings of unarmed people, especially people of color. Among them is 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot in Cleveland by police last month.

“We have concluded that we have reasonable cause to believe that CPD engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the report states. “We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies and practices — including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies and inadequate engagement with the community — contribute to the unreasonable use of force.”

The DOJ launched the investigation in March 2013 after receiving complaints about multiple incidents of use of excessive force by CPD. Those incidents included a November 2012 chase in which two unarmed civilians were shot and killed in their stationary car by 13 officers who fired a total of 137 rounds.

The report says the problems go beyond officers on the beat and extend all the way up to those charged with investigating police misconduct.

"Deeply troubling to us was that some of the specially trained investigators who are charged with conducting unbiased reviews of officers' use of deadly force admitted to us that they conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible," the DOJ report says.

As a result of the study, CPD has signed an agreement with the Justice Department that will require the department to undergo independent monitoring while it undertakes serious reforms to its community engagement, officer training and accountability efforts.

"Together, we can build confidence in the division that will ensure compliance with the Constitution, improve public safety and make the job of delivering police services safer and more effective," said Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta in a statement on Thursday.

The report comes just two weeks after Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehman shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice two seconds after exiting a squad car onto a playground were Rice was playing with a toy gun. The 911 caller reporting the boy states twice that the gun he is carrying is “probably fake,” though a dispatcher does not relay that information to officers.

Loehman said he feared for his life when he shot Rice. Police officials have said the toy Rice was carrying looked just like a real weapon and therefore the officer had no choice but to shoot.

"This is an obvious tragic event where a young member of our community lost their life," said Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba during a news conference after the shooting. "We’ve got two officers who were out there protecting the public who had to do something no one wants to do.”

Yesterday, CNN reported newly uncovered details about Loehman’s past service as a police officer. Before being hired by CPD in March, Loehman was asked to leave suburban Independence, Ohio’s police force in 2012, documents show. A supervisor described Loehman as “emotionally immature.”

"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies," Independence Deputy Police Chief Jim Polak wrote in November 2012.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.05.2014 14 days ago
Posted In: News at 12:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
nojustice

Local Rally Held for Man Killed by NYC Police Officer

Protests across the country decry a grand jury's decision not to indict officer

A group of more than 100 staged a peaceful rally in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday evening remembering Eric Garner, the 42-year-old man who died after New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo administered a choke hold on him last July.

A New York grand jury announced yesterday it would not hand down an indictment for Pantaleo, despite video footage showing Garner offering little resistance and posing no threat to officers during the incident. The announcement has triggered protests across the country, including massive unrest in New York City, where thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in anger. The decision is yet another chapter in the nation's recent struggle with racially charged police killings.

The officers involved say they only used the force necessary to subdue Garner and that previous health conditions including asthma contributed to his death.

Demonstrators in Cincinnati faced freezing rain and icy temperatures during the hour-and-a-half long event, which started at Piatt Park on Vine Street before briefly shutting down the street as protesters marched to Fountain Square. There, the group, which had been chanting "black lives matter" and
Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," observed a few moments of silence for Garner and others who have died at the hands of police. Amid the swishing sound of a few ice skaters on the square's rink and Jingle Bells blasting over its PA system, many quietly laid on the ground with their hands up.

Rally attendee Christina Brown at Piatt Park for a Dec. 4 rally.
Jesse Fox

“I can’t just sit on a couch and watch TV and just watch it happen," said attendee Anna Alexander later. "I have to do something. It’s good to see that people actually care, that people are actually awake.”

Among attendees was State Senator Cecil Thomas, who spoke out against recent racially charged killings by police, including the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford III in Beavercreek. Both were shot by police while holding toy guns.

"Folks, the fact of the matter is, this stuff has to stop,” Thomas said. “We’re not against good police officers. But when an officer does something like what I saw in the video from Cleveland, from New York, in Ferguson, none of that fits into the training I was trained on. It made no sense.”

Thomas served 27 years in the Cincinnati Police Department. He was a key mediator between the police and community during Cincinnati’s civil unrest of 2001, after black teenager Timothy Thomas was killed by white Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach in Over-the-Rhine.

Thursday’s demonstrations come less than a week after a similar wave of protests happened in cities across the country, including Cincinnati, over a grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., who shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown Aug 9. That shooting ignited civil unrest in the St. Louis suburb, as well as protests across the country.

More than 300 people came to a Nov. 24 rally and solidarity march in Cincinnati that lasted three hours and resulted in 15 arrests, some of which came after protesters briefly marched onto I-75 after it was blocked off by police. The last of those protesters was released on bond Thursday.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.04.2014 14 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
boehner copy

Morning News and Stuff

Shocker: Boehner says redistricting reform not necessary; Gannett reaches out, gets spurned; Cleveland cop who shot 12-year-old was deemed "unfit" at last police job

Hello all, hope you’re doing well this morning. I’m having a bit of trouble getting started today, maybe due to CityBeat’s Bourbon and Bacon event last night. The party at Newport’s New Riff Distillery (which is amazing, by the way) featured nearly unlimited amounts of bacon-infused items. Bacon is one of my favorite things. I’m also a big fan of whiskey, which was also available in seemingly endless quantities. I’m still recovering.

Anyway, news time.

Usually, we think of the staunch conservatives in our state House of Representatives, bless their souls, as lovers of the smallest government possible. So it’s surprising that GOP state lawmakers have been working on a bill to pick cities’ pockets by reverting tax receipts usually going to municipalities to the state government. That bill got a little less pernicious yesterday, when a revised version passed the Ohio Senate. Mayor John Cranley touts the bill as a better deal for Cincinnati than it could have been. The proposal, which amends and allegedly simplifies Ohio’s tax rules for cities and other local governments, would cut the amount of money municipalities receive from businesses doing work in their jurisdictions. Many agree the current system is incredibly complex and makes it difficult for businesses to operate in multiple municipalities. But opponents of the original bill proposed by GOP lawmakers say the cuts to municipal tax receipts were too deep and, taken with other recent cuts to tax receipts, could hamper cities’ abilities to provide services. Cincinnati could have lost as much as $3 million a year from those cuts. The compromised bill minimizes some of those losses by keeping the municipal tax on items a company ships to places where it doesn’t have a storefront.

• A slightly fictionalized Hamilton County Christmas play in one act:

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil:
Hey guys, can I get a Harley? Maybe two Harleys? I want them for Christmas. They get better gas mileage than cars and the city taught us how to ride them.
Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel: I don’t know. Ask Greg Hartmann.
Sheriff Neil: He wrote me a letter. He said I have to wait.
Hartmann: Jim, I can’t believe you’re asking for this right now. You know money is tight and we can’t afford two Harleys. We’ve gotta tighten our belts, you know. Have you thought about a nice used Suzuki? Or maybe some bicycles? Red Bike is big right now.
Sheriff Neil: But everyone else is asking for cool wheels, too.
Monzel: We’ll just have to wait and see what Santa brings. We already gave you those cars you asked for.

• Surprise, surprise: House Speaker John Boehner, who is camped out in his safely Republican district just north of Cincinnati, doesn’t want any changes to the way Ohio draws its congressional districts. He says that having one party dominate the process isn’t a problem because both parties have done so over the years and that everyone working on rule changes for redistricting should see what shakes out in Arizona. The Supreme Court is currently hearing challenges to that state’s constitutional amendment cutting the state legislature out of redistricting in favor of an independent panel, a similar arrangement to some proposals for reforming Ohio’s redistricting process. But let’s not be hasty about working to change the process that has created Ohio’s ridiculously gerrymandered districts, Boehner says.

"For 40 years the Democrat Party had the pencil in their hands, and for the last 20 years we've had the pencil," Boehner told The Enquirer yesterday. "When you've got the pencil in your hand, you're going to use it to the best of your advantage."

CityBeat contributor Ben Kaufman, who writes our "On Second Thought" column and "Curmudgeon Notes," tipped me off to this great exchange. Apparently, Enquirer parent company Gannett is reaching out to veteran journalists seeking help recruiting “leaders for the newsroom of tomorrow,” whatever that means. Gannett has been sugar-coating layoffs with this newsroom of tomorrow thing for a while and has even gone so far as to make reporters reapply for their jobs in a Hunger Games-esque battle for employment. A recruiter got a less than favorable response from three-decade veteran journalist Rick Arthur, who has been an editor at major newspapers and magazines. Arthur responds to the missive, which is, after all, not recruiting him but simply asking for help in recruiting others, with the following:

“I would never refer anyone to Gannett, an organization that has such disdain for copy editors and that treats its employees so shabbily, and whose executives, publishers and editors willfully deny that there are problems while creating — for the second time in a decade — the laughably Orwellian 'Newsroom of the Future.'

All the best, Rick”

Ouch.

• Finally, there’s continued anger around the nation over unarmed people, especially people of color, dying at the hands of police. Two brief developments: 

A grand jury in New York yesterday declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in the death of Eric Garner, who Pantaleo put in a chokehold. Pantaleo died moments after the confrontation in an ambulance and can be heard on a video of the incident telling officers repeatedly he couldn’t breathe. The grand jury decision has sparked protests in New York City.

In Cleveland, there are new revelations in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who police shot on a playground. The officer involved in that shooting, Timothy Loehman, was asked to leave another police force in the small town of Independence, Ohio, in 2012 after being deemed unfit to serve there. Loehman reportedly had an emotional breakdown on a shooting range and was “uncommunicative and weepy” during the incident, reports on his dismissal say. The report also calls his performance with a weapon “dismal.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.03.2014 15 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
reds

Morning News and Stuff

Hunter won't get new trial; Reds bling for sale; Republicans sink tax cuts for low-income

Hey all. Here’s the news this morning.

Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter won’t get a new trial, a judge has ruled. Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel has denied all three of Hunter’s motions for retrial after she was convicted last month of one of eight felony counts in relation to her time as judge. Since her conviction, three jurors have recanted their guilty verdicts, however, and Hunter’s attorney has alleged procedural mistakes mean she should get a new trial. With those motions denied, Hunter will be sentenced this Friday. She plans to file an appeal on her conviction.

• Cincinnati must pay Duke Energy $15 million for moving utilities that stood in the way of the streetcar, a Hamilton County judge ruled Monday. The city already had that money in escrow as it awaited the ruling but plans to appeal Judge Carl Stich’s decision. That’s a good move, according to former city solicitor John Curp. Curp says the way Stich decided the case — by declaring the streetcar an “economic development project” — could set a hard precedent for other Ohio cities in the future. In order for Cincinnati to avoid paying Duke to move the utilities, the project would have to be something that benefits the city’s general welfare. Stich cited cases from the 1930s and the 1950s to justify his decision. Back then, public transit was run by private companies, a much different situation than today. Curp thinks the Ohio Supreme Court might have a different opinion of the streetcar and should hear the case to set a more modern precedent on transit projects.

• Do you have about $6,000 just sitting around taking up valuable space that could be used to, say, store an enormous ring? Do you need a sports-themed piece of jewelry so ostentatious no one will ever question your love for America’s favorite pastime? If so, I have a solution to both of your weird, unlikely problems. A Cincinnati Reds 1990 World Series ring has gone up for sale at a local auction house, and for a few grand you can make it yours. But be advised: It’s not Chris Sabo or Eric Davis’ ring. Heck, it’s not even Glenn Sutko’s, who saw action in one game that season. It belonged to one of the team’s part-time accountants, who I’m sure did great work counting the Reds' money. Every position is important on a winning team. Anyway, it’s big, it’s red, it has the logo on it and you should buy the ring. Or, I dunno, you could buy me a nice used car instead. Up to you.

• So it’s no secret the state’s Democratic party is hurting after last month’s disastrous statewide election. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern stepped down after losing his own state representative seat to a guy accused of burglary. Now there’s a scramble to take his spot, and former Cincinnati city councilman and recent attorney general candidate David Pepper is a frontrunner. But he’s got a challenge ahead of him  in becoming the top Dem in the state: Ohio’s powerful Sen. Sherrod Brown has backed one of his opponents, former candidate for lieutenant governor Sharen Neuhardt, for the job. Pepper still sees himself as a front-runner in the contest to lead Democrats in one of the country’s most important swing states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The new state chair will be decided by a vote within the party Dec. 16.

• Chicago City Council voted yesterday to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour over the next five years. The move was a proposal by Mayor Rahm Emanuel ahead of proposed Illinois laws that could hamstring city governments when it comes to raising minimum wages and February’s Chicago mayoral election. The boost is expected to benefit about 400,000 workers in the city. Other cities like Seattle have passed similar increases recently.

• Finally, Republicans have scuttled an extension on tax cuts for low-income and middle class workers while pushing bigger corporate tax breaks. The cuts were part of a $400 billion bipartisan tax deal lawmakers in Washington were working to put together. But President Barack Obama’s announcement last month of an executive action allowing some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country has killed the deal as Republicans pull back from the low-income tax cuts like the Earned Income Tax Credit and double down on the corporate breaks. They say undocumented immigrants will take advantage of the EITC and other credits in large numbers and therefore can’t support the cuts. Translation: Obama made us mad so we’re taking the ball that keeps millions out of poverty and going home.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.02.2014 16 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
barack obama 2

Morning News and Stuff

NAACP officially chooses Cincy for 2016 convention; People's Liberty announces grantees; Obama pushes wearable cameras for cops

So my morning donut routine took a dramatic turn today when a box truck plowed into Servatii downtown right before I got there. The whole building was filled with smoke. It looked crazy, and I hope everyone is OK. I’m going to try not to take this as a sign from the universe that I should cut back on Servatii's double chocolate cake donuts.

Anyway, here’s your news.

The NAACP made it official this morning: The civil rights group is coming to Cincinnati for its 2016 national convention. The convention will put the city in the political spotlight and bring millions of dollars from visitors. Cincinnati last hosted the gathering in 2008 when both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama came to town as part of their campaigns for president. This time around should be equally auspicious. Two-thousand-sixteen promises a heated presidential race, Cleveland is getting the GOP National Convention and Columbus is in the running for the Democrats’ big get together that year. The NAACP indicated in October it was leaning toward Cincinnati pending a site visit, an announcement that surprised Baltimore, which had presumed it had the convention.

• 3CDC Executive Vice President Chad Munitz is leaving the organization to get back into real estate development. He currently works on asset and capital management for the group. Munitz, who previously served as economic development director with the city of Cincinnati, joined 3CDC in 2006. The development company has not indicated plans for replacing him.

• Local grant-making organization Peoples Liberty, funded by the Haile Foundation, launched over the summer with a pledge to fund plans from everyday citizens in a diverse, inclusive manner.

"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," the group’s CEO Eric Avner said over the summer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."

The group just announced its first two big winners: two guys named Brad. Both will receive $100,000 and a year to work on their projects. One Brad, last name Cooper, will use his money to pay himself a small salary and make two tiny houses in Over-the-Rhine, which he's hoping to sell for $85,000 each. The 200-square-foot homes will be affordable, provided someone can secure financing and the thousands of dollars needed for a down payment. Affordable is a relative term here and seems not to be the main goal of the project. Cooper stressed in an Enquirer article that the idea is about promoting the small-living movement, which has been getting increasing attention over the past few years.

"This is not for poor people," Cooper said. "This is for a wide variety of people who choose this as a lifestyle."

Just don’t call them playhouses for the hip.

The other winner is Brad Schnittger, who will be using his $100,000 to create a music licensing library for area musicians so they can sell their songs to movies, TV and advertising groups. Musicians will pay a small initial fee and then keep all the money they make selling music. Schnittger plays with local vets the Sundresses, so he knows a thing or two about the music industry. He says he thinks this will help Cincinnati’s music scene take things up a notch.

• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will be in court again today as a county judge hears the last of her motions for a new trial. Hunter was convicted last month on one felony count after she allegedly intervened in the firing of her brother, a juvenile court guard who allegedly hit an inmate. Hunter has filed three motions for retrial, saying there were procedural errors and juror misconduct during the trial. Three jurors have said they’ve changed their minds about their guilty verdicts, though it appears too late for those to be overturned. If Hunter’s last motion for a new trial is denied today, she has said she will appeal her conviction.

• Let’s jump right to national news for the finale. President Obama yesterday proposed a $263 million, three-year package that would increase training for police officers, work on needed reforms in law enforcement and spend $75 million on small cameras worn by police on their lapels. Obama made the announcement in the wake of ongoing protests over a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 12.18.2014 24 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council passes tax deals; big announcement on Music Hall; this coffee has a little something extra

Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things.

• City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.

• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.

• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.

The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market.

"Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.

• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron. 

The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.

UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.

• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further.

“The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”

• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.

“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”

• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.17.2014 47 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gun

Morning News and Stuff

$3 billion for friendlier flushing; Cleveland Browns wide receiver on Rice/Crawford shirt; state gun laws changing

All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.

• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.

• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.

Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.”

Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize.

"He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."

A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.

Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.

“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said.

• It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.

• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature.

• 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.16.2014 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gilbanecliftondevelopment-600x887

Morning News and Stuff

City tax deals for developers draw scrutiny; streetcar passes selling briskly; Bush vs. Clinton: the rematch?

Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.

Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest.

Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual.

Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.

The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts.

• The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.

• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.

• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.

• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked.

• Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.

• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.15.2014 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
walmart-john-crawford-mug

Crawford Family to File Lawsuit Over Police Shooting

Suit names officers, Beavercreek police chief and Walmart

The family of John Crawford III, the 22-year-old Fairfield man a Beavercreek police officer shot Aug. 5 in a Walmart, is filing a lawsuit against Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers, officers Sean Williams and David Darkow and the Walmart corporation, the family’s lawyers announced today via a news release.

Officer Williams shot Crawford, a Fairfield resident who grew up in Cincinnati, in the Walmart after another customer, Ronald Ritchie, called 911 to report a man loading a gun and pointing it at customers in the store. Ritchie later contradicted that statement in interviews with the media, stating Crawford wasn’t actually pointing the gun at anyone. The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun sold by Walmart. Video footage of the event released by Attorney General Mike DeWine weeks later does not conclusively show Crawford threatening anyone with the weapon.

A grand jury on Sept. 24 declined to indict Williams for the shooting.

Many have drawn parallels between Crawford’s death and the Aug. 9 police shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was unarmed when officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. The incident has sparked months of protests and civil unrest in Ferguson and across the country. Those protests intensified when a St. Louis County grand jury announced Nov. 24 that it would not indict Wilson.

The Crawford family’s lawyers, as well as Crawford’s father John Crawford, Jr., will hold a press conference in Dayton tomorrow at 11 a.m. to discuss the details of the lawsuit.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.15.2014 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
protesters washington park

Morning News and Stuff

Greenpeace activists sentenced; 4th and Race development back on, maybe; video shows harsh police interrogation after Crawford shooting

Morning all. Here’s the news today.

Eight Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging huge banners from P&G headquarters in March were found guilty and sentenced Friday after accepting a deal allowing them to plea down to misdemeanor charges. The group will have to perform 80 hours of community service and will be placed on probation for one year. The group was protesting P&G’s use of palm oil and the company’s role in deforestation. Originally, the group faced felony charges that could have meant more than nine years in prison. Prosecutors offered the plea deal earlier this month after P&G officials said they had begun working with Greenpeace on the issue and signaled they’d like to see a lighter sentence for the activists. A ninth protester died in California last month.

• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on. The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have 208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins. Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could go for a full council vote on Wednesday.

• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!

• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year, while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate. That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the alarming increase in abuse of the drug.

• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.

• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.14.2014 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
screen shot 2014-12-14 at 8.19.51 pm

Tape Shows Police Harshly Interrogating John Crawford's Girlfriend

Detective accuses Tasha Thomas of using drugs, waits an hour and a half to tell her Crawford has died

A video released by Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine in response to a public records requests by British site The Guardianshows a Beavercreek Police detective berating John Crawford III’s girlfriend about where Crawford got a gun. You can read The Guardian's story and watch the video here

Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.

Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.

“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”

Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."

“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”

“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.

Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.

Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.

“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”

After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.12.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Faux out as planning commission head; Silicon Cincy; Congressional budget has big deals for big banks, big donors

Morning all. It’s Friday, I’m almost finished with a couple big stories for next week and I’m warm and cozy next to my portable fireplace (read: space heater). Things are looking up.

Let’s talk about news. Mayor John Cranley recently announced he is replacing Planning Commission Chair Caleb Faux with former Pleasant Ridge Community Council President Dan Driehaus. Last month, Faux and Cranley got into a tiff after City Manager Harry Black removed a provision from the planning commission’s agenda that would have preserved the possibility of commuter rail in the city’s plans for Wasson Way on the East Side. Faux accused Cranley, who is no fan of rail projects, of trying to block future light rail along Wasson Way. Cranley said he simply wanted to give more time for consideration of the measure.

Cranley said the move wasn't a reflection on Faux and that Driehaus is simply a better fit for the board. Council voted unanimously to approve Driehaus’ appointment.

Faux fired back yesterday after Cranley announced his replacement. While Faux said Driehaus is capable and will do a good job, he painted the mayor as a foe of city planning attempts to create pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods and a friend of big developers. Faux and Cranley have been at odds for years on the subject of form-based versus use-based codes, going back to Oakley’s Center of Cincinnati development last decade. That development put a Target, Meijers and other big box stores in the neighborhood. Faux opposed the project.

"What the mayor seems to want is a planning commission that will accept his direction and won't be independent,” Faux told the Business Courier yesterday. “I think he has a philosophy that we need to be friendly to developers and that using land-use regulations as a way to shape the city is not a good idea."

Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne brushed off that criticism. He pointed to Cranley’s involvement in the creation of tax-increment financing districts for Over-the-Rhine and downtown while he was on City Council as evidence the mayor is invested in creating urban spaces.

Pointing to redevelopment in OTR as a sign you’re not cozy with big developers is an interesting way to go. But I digress.

• Also in City Hall news, Cranley announced yesterday he will appoint former congressman and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to the city’s port authority board. Luken, who was instrumental in creating the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, has strong ties in the Cincinnati business community. He’s also close with Cranley, and the move may be a way to improve strained relations between the port and City Hall.

• Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday announced a proposal to add people who are homeless to a list of those protected by the city’s hate crime laws. He also announced a second proposal adding $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter in OTR. You can read more about both here.

• Is Cincinnati the next Silicon Valley? The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible. The blog cited Cincinnati as one of eight unexpected cities where investors are flocking. OTR-based business incubator The Brandery got a specific shout out, as did the city’s major Fortune 500 companies and its “All American Midwest” feel. Trigger warning: The term “flyover city” is used in reference to Cincy in this article.

• Last night, the Ohio State Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would amend the state’s constitution and change the redistricting process for elections to the Ohio General Assembly. It took until 4 a.m. to reach the agreement, because the Senate parties hard. The amendment would create a seven-member board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two legislators from each party. That is two more members than the current board, which is made up of two statewide office holders and three legislators. The 10-year district maps drawn by the board would need two votes from the minority party or they would come up for review after four years. The bill next goes to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.

• Finally: Congress has agreed upon a budget, it seems, and the government won’t come to a grinding, weeks-long shutdown like it did last year. If you just leave it there and don’t think about it more than that, that’s good news. But looking into some of the budgetary sausage being made is a bit terrifying. Rolled up in the massive “CRomnibus” spending proposal (meaning continuing resolution plus omnibus spending bill) is a measure that would increase rich donors’ ability to give money to political parties. Currently, donors are limited to $97,200 as individuals. The new limit would be a seven-fold boost: $776,000. A married couple would be able to donate a jaw-dropping $3.1 million under the rule changes tucked into the shutdown-averting measure.

Another worrisome measure would dismantle certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which holds big banks accountable for reckless, risky financial dealings. In the simplest terms, the rules change would allow banks to keep certain risky assets in accounts insured by the federal government, leaving taxpayers on the hook for huge potential losses. As if we didn’t learn our lesson in 2008.

The measures were last-minute concessions needed to win the votes of a number of conservative congressmen. It’s depressing to think that our options are either a complete lapse into governmental dysfunction or these gimmes to the nation’s most powerful financial interests, but there you have it.

Have a fun Friday!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.11.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: Homelessness, News at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Seelbach Proposes Protecting Homeless Under Hate Crime Laws

Additional proposal would add $45,000 to winter shelter

A proposed city ordinance could add homeless people to groups protected by hate crime laws, making Cincinnati one of just three cities to do so. The proposal by Councilman Chris Seelbach could add up to 180 days in extra jail time for those convicted of crimes against people because they don't have homes.

“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”

Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.

Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans.  The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.

Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.

“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”

Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.

In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.

“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”

While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.

“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”

Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.

“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.

Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.

More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.

Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.

“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.11.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Big CUF development gets go-ahead despite controversy; no tax incentives for Ark Park; parking ticket amnesty was on, then off, is now on again

Morning y’all. Let’s get this news thing going.

Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved zoning changes for a major, and controversial, development in the CUF neighborhood just south of UC. The project, done by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co., will bring 180 apartments mostly for student housing, townhomes, a 380-space underground parking garage and up to 9,000 square feet of retail space to the spot where the historic Lenhardt’s restaurant was located on McMillan Avenue. The plans are a revision of an earlier proposal that called for called for eight stories on the buildings instead of six and an entrance for cars on Lyon Street which was later removed. Some community members say those revisions still don’t help the project fit in with the residential neighborhood.

A group of about 10 residents came to the meeting. They’d like to see something more oriented toward homeowners and long-term renters, they say, instead of students. They’re also highly concerned about parking and traffic in the busy McMillan-Calhoun corridor. Citing these concerns, both council members Yvette Simpson and Christopher Smitherman voted against the zoning changes, though they praised Gilbane for being flexible and taking community opinion into account in revising its plans. The townhomes, for instance, were added by Gilbane as a way to market the development to groups other than students. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at development in CUF next week.

• While we’re talking development: Change in Over-the-Rhine looks to be entering a new stage as more developers start talking about single-family housing instead of apartments or condos. The most recent development in this vein — five townhomes are coming to Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. Three will be newly built, two will be renovations and one is already sold. The 2,400-square-foot units built by John Huber Homes will cost between $400,000 to $600,000 a piece and will feature posh amenities such as rooftop decks and gated parking.

• City Council yesterday also passed a compromise on a seemingly innocuous parking ticket food drive initiative that had become the subject of some controversy. Originally, the plan, proposed by Councilmembers Chris Seelbach and Amy Murray, would have offered a one-time amnesty for the $90 cost of a single delinquent parking ticket in exchange for 10 canned food items. But that met with resistance from Councilman Kevin Flynn, who balked at the idea that those who don’t pay parking tickets would be able to get off so lightly. Mayor John Cranley also wasn’t into it, calling the idea “reckless.” A compromise was reached in Council’s Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday. The city will still collect the original $45 parking ticket fee but will waive late charges for anyone who brings in the canned goods. The offer is good from Dec. 15-19 and only applies to tickets from 2014.

"This is a one-time chance to clear an old debt and do good for your community at the same time,” Seelbach said.  “In the New Year, the city will begin aggressive collection of delinquent parking tickets under a new contract with Xerox, but this holiday season you can come clean, make a donation and make a difference.”

• University of Cincinnati medical students yesterday staged a “die-in” to protest racial inequality in the nation’s justice system. More than 70 participated. You can read our story on that here.

• The state of Kentucky will no longer throw in tax dollars on religious group Answers in Genesis’ Noah’s Ark theme park project in Grant County. Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart sent the group a letter yesterday rescinding the state’s offer of up to $18 million in tax rebates because he says the project has gone from a tourist attraction to a ministry. Answers is known for making employees sign statements of faith pledging adherence to the group’s Christian beliefs. Answers also runs the well-known Creation Museum in Kentucky.

• Overcrowding at the Hamilton County Jail could determine how long former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter stays in jail. Hunter was sentenced to six months for a felony conviction recently and is supposed to report to jail immediately after Christmas. However, the jail is at capacity and first-time offenders who are non-violent are usually the first to be released under such overcrowded conditions.

“I want to make the public aware and everyone aware that this jail is full," Hamilton County Jail Administrator Maj. Charmaine McGuffey told Channel 5 yesterday. "We’ve been full for a number of years. And we’ve been making these hard difficult decisions all along. Tracie Hunter is going to be no different in the decision-making process.”

Fifty-six Hamilton County Democrats asked Judge Norbert Nadel, who sentenced Hunter, to defer her jail time until an appeal she has filed can be heard. Nadel refused that request. Hunter’s felony would usually only result in probation, but Nadel cited her stature as a public figure and judge in his decision to apply the harsher punishment.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.10.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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UC Med Students Stage "Die In" to Protest Racial Inequalities

More than 70 students participated in a demonstration mirroring similar events at schools across the country

More than 70 University of Cincinnati medical students today staged a “die in,” lying on the floor of the busy UC Medical Sciences Building to protest what they say are serious racial disparities in the nation’s justice system.

That protest mirrored similar events across the country reacting to police killings of unarmed black citizens and subsequent lack of indictments in some of those cases. Organizers of the event say that students at more than 70 medical schools participated in the noon demonstrations.

In Cincinnati, the medical and pharmacy students spent 20 minutes sprawled out beneath the building's soaring, modern atrium in white lab coats with signs reading “Am I Next?” and “Black Lives Matter." The group was mostly silent, save a  reading of a passage from the Hippocratic Oath about understanding the needs of communities doctors serve.

A protester reads a passage from the Hippocratic Oath at a demonstration in UC\'s Medical Sciences Building Dec. 10.

 

Among them was Zuri Hemphill, a medical student who helped organize the protest.

“This is to stand in solidarity across the nation and to use our platform as medical students, because that’s something we’ve earned and a voice that we have, to call attention to the fact that this is not just a lower socio-economic problem but a problem across the black community and the entire American community,” she said.

The demonstration is the latest in a series that have taken place in Cincinnati and across the country over the issue of police use of force against people of color. That’s a subject especially sensitive to Cincinnati, which experienced days of civil unrest in 2001 after white police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed 18-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine.

The latest round of the conversation on race and the justice system was sparked by the Aug. 9 shooting death of 19-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That shooting sparked waves of protests in the city and around the country and focused attention on similar incidents, including the death of John Crawford of Fairfield, who was killed by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart.

A grand jury’s decision last month not to indict Wilson led to a fresh wave of protests, including one in Cincinnati that drew more than 300 people and briefly shut down I-75.

Beyond solidarity, Hemphill said today’s event was aimed at raising awareness among future healthcare professionals and the general population about the connections between racial disparities and healthcare.

“The reality is, there are 10 black students in my class. We’re not going to be treating all the black patients in Cincinnati. We as physicians need to understand the plights of our communities. We have to be advocates for all our patients of all races.”

 
 
 
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