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by Nick Swartsell 06.18.2015 18 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

City passes budget; last-minute state budget change could shut down clinics; mourning in Charleston, S.C.

Hey all. Here’s what’s up this morning.

 

Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed its $1 billion fiscal year 2016-2017 budget despite worries that wrangling between council and the mayor could spiral into a partial city government shutdown. The budget council passed looks similar to the one proposed by City Manager Harry Black, though it includes the full $3 million for United Way-vetted human services agencies council requested last November. Black’s original budget funded traditional human services at a much lower level.


The budget process this time around was full of last-minute deals and switcheroos by various council members. Vice Mayor David Mann, for instance, stepped across the line between his fellow Democrats on council and Mayor John Cranley to help engineer the final deal. Mann’s negotiations sometimes caused chagrin among his fellow Democrats — his vote against giving infant mortality agency Cradle Cincinnati $275,000 made that priority vulnerable to a veto, which Cranley took advantage of. All told, Cranley vetoed six ordinances containing Democratic council priorities, including a $400,000 grant for Clifton Market and $150,000 for bike lanes. Council had a majority of five votes on those spending measures but couldn’t muster the sixth to override the mayor. You can read all about the fiscal fun times in our coverage here.

 

• One thing council didn’t pass yesterday was an agreement about who will operate the streetcar. That means the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority will step in to decide which bid to take — most likely the cheaper turnkey option, in which an outside management company chooses its own workers instead of unionized SORTA employees. That option came in at about $4 million, just under the city’s $4.2 million budget for operating the streetcar. Another management bid approved by council’s budget and finance committee Monday involved a company overseeing SORTA employees and came in at $4.7 million. SORTA officials have said in the past that they can’t take up a bid for which they don’t have the money, so it looks like the cheaper option will happen by default, despite pro-union Cranley and five Democrats on council backing the more expensive option.

 

• But hold up, wait, there’s controversy around those bids. The head of the Amalgamated Transit Union says SORTA is “playing games” with the bidding process and that a cheaper option involving unionized workers might be available. ATU head Troy Miller has been emailing council members saying that one of the bidders, a company called First Transit, didn’t make it as a final bid despite having a cheaper plan that used union workers. That plan would have cost about $4.1 million, just under budget. The company has called that option a turnkey proposal, but says it would use union members. Here’s more on that story in this article by WCPO.

 

• Speaking of SORTA, and in less divisive news, the agency has released real-time streaming bus-arrival data, which has enabled for the creation of a new app that allows users to track the progress of Metro buses. That app was developed by local tech company Gaslight and will be available starting today. That is amazing. Like, an app that actually does something useful in my life on a daily basis instead of just having me take pictures of the food I’m eating or posting about dogs or something.

 

• 3CDC will use at least some of the $45 million in federal new market tax credits it just received to change up Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine, officials with the development group announced today. The project, which will expand and renovate the park, according to 3CDC, is expected to cost $27 million. Programming in the park, including fitness classes and basketball leagues, will be part of the project. The development group has said it will not be eliminating basketball courts or the pool at the park, a major sticking point with community members during the developer’s changes to Washington Park on the other side of OTR in 2012.

 

• More last-minute changes to the state budget mean that some women’s health clinics that provide abortions might be in danger of closing, at least temporarily. Ohio law requires clinics to have admitting privileges with local hospitals, or to obtain a variance from the Ohio Department of Health. A new tweak to those laws in the state budget would require those clinics to obtain their variance from the state within 60 days or shut down. Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn and the Women’s Med clinic in Dayton both operate on variances. The Planned Parenthood site in Cincinnati waited a full year to receive its variance last year and is currently awaiting another one. Women’s Med has waited two years for its exception. The state Senate expects to pass the budget today, after which it will negotiate its version with the Ohio House of Representatives ahead of a June 30 budget deadline.

 

• Finally, I don’t even know what to say about this other than to express some kind of unutterable sadness and anger. As you’ve probably already heard, nine people were shot to death while they prayed in a church in Charleston, South Carolina last night. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is an iconic, historically black church that has been serving black congregations since 1816. Charleston's Emanuel AME church, where the shooting took place, has been there since 1891 and has been a symbol of both refuge and resistance for the black community there. The suspected shooter, who was caught on video, is 21-year-old Dylann Roof, whose social media presence shows affiliation with or sympathy for white supremacist groups. Authorities are calling the shooting a hate crime. Among the dead, according to relatives, is South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, a civil rights leader and also the church’s pastor.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.17.2015 19 days ago
Posted In: News, Budget at 04:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Council Finally Passes FY 2016-2017 Budget

Spending plan restores human services funding, but Cranley vetoes other Democratic priorities

Cincinnati City Council today passed its FY 2016-2017 budget, a $1 billion spending plan that hews closely to the one drawn up by Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, but with boosted human services funding originally left out of the plan. 

The budget boosts police officers and will spend $110 million on road repair and fleet maintenance, big priorities for Cranley. Cranley called the budget "great" today as it passed, saying it is structurally balanced and forward-looking.

But not everyone got what they wanted from the process, and heightened tensions between the mayor and council may have left some hard feelings. Cranley and council have been fighting back and forth during the budget process. This morning, Cranley compared Democratic council members to children on a WLW talk show. Democrats have fired back with their own harsh words.

Despite the political wrangling, the final budget resulted from a deal cut this morning between the mayor and members of council, including council conservatives and Democrat Vice Mayor David Mann. The compromise provided an extra $500,000 in funding for traditional human services vetted by the United Way, an amount above the $2.5 million in the city administration's previous budget proposal.

That brings human services up to the $3 million for United Way-chosen human services organizations council unanimously requested last November, an amount initially left out of Black's budget. The city aims to fund human services at 1.5 of its capital budget, a goal it hasn't hit in a decade. Today's deal brings the city to .8 percent of the capital budget.

But the deal also left the council's five Democrats facing a mayoral veto on other spending priorities: individual ordinances calling for a $400,000 grant to co-op Clifton Market, $150,000 for bike lanes, $24,000 for new bus stops in Bond Hill and more money for community organizations. 

"If the trade-off is we don't get bus shelters in Bond Hill or work on bike trails or public support for Clifton Market I think it is worth the trade-off," Mann, the Democrat who helped broker the deal, said during today's council meeting.

Those individual ordinances were the result of a move by Cranley to split up Democrats' original omnibus budget counter-proposal. That put the individual pieces at the mercy of Cranley's veto. Each measure received only five votes on council. Six are needed to override a mayoral veto. True to his word, Cranley vetoed all four of the ordinances he took issue with. Cranley says the move increases transparency and keeps extra pork out of the budget. Democrats, however, have accused the mayor of playing politics, noting that the city administration's $375 million operating budget still came in omnibus form. Several, including Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, have said that amounts to ignoring the majority of council.

A standoff over Cranley's capital budget and Democrats' unfunded priorities led to speculation that Cincinnati might undergo a partial government shutdown, but today's deal and subsequent vote effectively funds the city's government when the current budget expires June 30.

City Hall was less successful in making a decision about streetcar operations today, however. City Council couldn't agree on either of the two operating bids presented by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority, meaning that SORTA itself will now make the call. That means the agency will probably select the cheaper turnkey solution, in which a management company will be able to hire outside employees instead of using SORTA's union workers. That bid came in at $4 million for the first year of operations, under the city's maximum of $4.2 million. A union-friendly management bid came to $4.7 million. SORTA says it legally cannot enter into a contract for which it does not have funding.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.17.2015 19 days ago
at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Big day at City Hall; questions about Fairfield pool arrests intensify; state GOP nixes proposed fracking taxes

Hello Cincy. Let’s talk about the news today. It's going to be a crazy one with lots of action, or inaction, at City Hall.

Speaking of that: Mayor John Cranley had some choice words about Democrats on council as he took to WLW this morning to discuss the budget. Cranley explained his reasoning behind splitting up council's suggestions for the capital budget into separate ordinances, a move council Democrats have called “overtly political.”

“This is a real breakthrough — to be able to say we’re going to bring more transparency to these votes so we can isolate spending,” Cranley said. He then took some shots at council’s five Democrats. “Someone’s gotta play the heavy. Someone’s gotta say, ‘We can’t just pay for everything.’ Someone has to put them on adult supervision.”

Cranley’s comments come as council and City Hall are poised for a knock-down, drag-out battle over the city’s budget. Today’s council meeting should be very interesting — originally, council was expected to pass the city's financial plan today, but the political wrangling between Cranley and council could mean that key parts of the budget plan won’t pass at council's meeting. That has set off worries from some that the city could face a partial government shutdown. The city has until June 30 to pass its budget, but Democrats have expressed confidence a deal can be reached in that time.

Questions continue about a series of arrests June 9 at a Fairfield pool that some say amount to racially charged excessive use of force by police. Fairfield police pepper sprayed and arrested Krystal Dixon, 33, and members of her family after Fairfield Aquatic Center staff said the family refused to leave the facility. Staff members have said the family was asked to leave because one of the children didn’t have swim trunks. Dixon said she had trunks for the child, but that staff insisted they leave anyway. Police arrived and the incident quickly devolved into a tussle between officers and several pool-goers. Two adults, including Dixon, were arrested on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. A 12-year-old girl was charged with assault and a 15-year-old was charged with resisting arrest as well. Both were charged with disorderly conduct. Video of the arrests shows the police pressing Dixon's 12-year-old niece against a patrol car. Dixon and her supporters say the incident happened because she and her family are black. Forest Park faith leader Bishop Bobby Hilton has called the incident police brutality and said that the girl suffered broken ribs and a broken jaw at the hands of the officers. Police dispute this and say the officers acted appropriately. Dixon was in court today and will have a pretrial hearing on her charges July 8.

• The building that currently houses the Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine could soon be a new theater for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. The building is one of a number of locations that have been considered for the CSC, which has outgrown its current rented location on Race Street. The city’s 2016 budget has set aside $200,000 toward renovations of the location on 12th and Elm streets. The Drop Inn Center, which has been renamed Shelterhouse, will now be two locations — a women’s shelter in Mount Auburn that opened last week and a men’s shelter that will open in the fall in Queensgate. Cincinnati City Council approved the move last year.

• Speaking of shelters moving out of downtown: Plans and graphics have been released for the luxury hotel that will occupy the former Anna Louise Inn building in Lytle Park. Eagle Realty, the real estate arm of Western & Southern Financial Group, purchased the property from Cincinnati Union Bethel after protracted legal battles. CUB had operated a shelter there for more than 100 years. The Anna Louise Inn is now located in Mount Auburn.

• Cincinnati’s Metro bus ridership is falling. The question is why. Ridership on the city’s public bus system fell 5.7 percent between January and April 2015, SORTA data shows. That’s troublesome to the transit authority. Most of the drop has come from lagging numbers on suburban express routes, including those going between downtown and Madeira, West Chester and Anderson Township. The falling numbers are tough because SORTA has considered asking taxpayers for more money next year in the form of a sales tax increase so it can expand service. Could this year's relatively low gas prices have played a role? I don't know, but it seems like a fair question to ask, considering many of the routes with falling ridership serve areas where tons of people also own cars they can drive if they chose. Meanwhile, it’s not all doom and gloom. The transit agency’s Metro Plus initiative between downtown and Kenwood has increased in ridership by more than 10 percent. Metro Plus mimics light rail by running more often and more quickly by virtue of fewer stops.

• Did controversial former attorney Eric Deters take a bunch of swag from a local restaurant? That’s what a recently filed lawsuit says, but Deters denies it. Deters was leasing out a building in Independence, Kentucky to Angelo’s Family Restaurant. The restaurant told Deters that it couldn’t pay the rent anymore and was closing. Its owners allege that Deters then locked up the doors to the building and sat on $10,000 worth of the restaurant’s stuff. Deters says the restaurant owes him $400,000 on the lease and that he’s just locked the building up until he and the restaurant settle up. The Angelo family, however, charge that Deters has sold, given away, or consumed their property — restaurant stock and equipment — and that they didn’t violate the terms of their lease.

• In state news, GOP state lawmakers have eliminated a tax on oil and natural gas drilling proposed by Gov. John Kasich from the state’s budget. The taxes on fracking-derived oil and natural gas have been a big priority for Kasich, as it was designed to help plug holes in the budget left by his proposed income tax cut. Twenty percent of the taxes collected would have also gone to counties in Ohio in which fracking takes place. Lawmakers cut that proposal, saying there wasn’t enough time to reach an agreement about it. They’ve instead pledged to create a task force to look into the idea later. The Ohio General Assembly is expected to vote on the budget this week. It must be passed by June 30, when the current fiscal year budget expires.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.16.2015 20 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Cincy budget battle gets real, folks freak out; Fairfield police accused of improper use of force; half of Ohio charter school's students found to be fictitious

Good morning y’all. Did you hear that the city government is grinding to a halt? Only not really, not yet at least.

You see, the city must have a financial plan in place by July 1 and there’s a battle afoot over the city’s capital budget. That funds a lot of things like road repairs, fleet updates and the like. But it’s different than the operating budget, which, you know, keeps the city government operating. You can find out more about the battle in our coverage yesterday, but it basically boils down to a struggle between city council, which is trying to get some of its priorities included in the capital budget, and the mayor, who has broken what is usually a single, omnibus budget ordinance down into individual pieces so he can veto parts he doesn’t like. Make no mistake: not passing a capital budget would be bad, bad, bad. It would mean that the city was out of compliance with state law, opening city government up to lawsuits and even temporary state oversight.  But the folks at City Hall have two weeks to hammer something out. In the meantime, at least we have the Cincinnati Enquirer to explain this situation to us. Yesterday’s headline blared, “Cincy faces government shutdown,” while an editorial today councils folks to “take a deep breath” because “the process is working as it should.” Great to see our intrepid daily has started reporting from multiple alternate dimensions instead of the single alternate dimension it normally covers.

• Last year, the federal tax credit geyser ran dry in Ohio for a minute, leaving groups like 3CDC and Cincinnati Development Fund without federal tax credits. It was the first time ever no projects in the state received credits. But that dry spell was short-lived. This year, 3CDC and CDF will get $45 million and $42 million respectively in new market tax credits for development projects. 3CDC has been Cincinnati’s major developer in downtown and Over-the-Rhine in the past decade, spending almost $1 billion in OTR in that time. CDF, meanwhile, has provided a quarter-billion dollars in loans in Greater Cincinnati, most of which have gone to affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods.

• Forest Park faith leader Bishop Bobby Hilton today made accusations that police in the city of Fairfield broke a 12-year-old’s jaw and fractured three of her ribs during an incident at a pool last week. Police were called to the Fairfield Aquatic Center last week to remove a group of teenagers who refused to leave after they were asked to vacate the area. Fairfield Police Chief Michael Dickey says the officers were defending themselves during the incident, a claim he says is backed up by video footage he’s witnessed. Dickey said he had not heard about the girl’s injuries until he was informed about Hilton’s news conference.

• A battle over tax credits isn’t stopping a Noah’s Ark themed attraction in Northern Kentucky. Religious group Answers in Genesis is going ahead with construction on the $84 million Ark Encounter park in Grant County despite a court battle around $18 million in state tax credits for the park. The application for those credits was eventually rejected by the state because of the group’s religious work and hiring stipulations that make potential employees profess their faith. Answers says it won’t use those hiring practices at the Ark Encounter park, but the state still says the attraction is part of its religious ministry, not just a tourist attraction. The project is about 20 percent complete, Answers says.

• Lawmakers in the Ohio Senate have walked back on a plan to eliminate the state’s historic preservation tax credit program for two years. Republican lawmakers tucked a provision that would have frozen the program as the state transitioned from a tax credit-based system to a grant system. That caused widespread criticism from across the state, convincing lawmakers to back off the proposal. Initially, it looked like $25 million in tax credits awarded to Cincinnati’s Music Hall  would be in jeopardy if the proposal was adopted, though lawmakers said that project and others already promised credits would receive them. Now, thanks to the uproar, Republicans in the Senate say they’ll remove the provision from the budget and form a commission to study shifting from credits to grants in the future.

• A really quick hit: a state audit at a now-defunct charter school found that half of the school’s students didn’t exist. State Auditor David Yost revealed yesterday that half of the 459 students listed by General Chappie James Leadership Academy in Montgomery County were fictitious. Yost says that the discrepancy seems to be a result of fraud and not simple record-keeping errors.

• Finally, on to national news. You’ve probably already heard about the strange case of former Washington State NAACP head Rachel Dolezal, who has for many years presented herself as a black woman even though both of her parents are white. Dolezal was thoroughly and embarrassingly outed by her parents recently, a move that rocketed Dolezal to all the wrong kinds of viral fame over the weekend. And it’s only gotten weirder from there: in an interview today, Dolezal says she's identified as black since the age of five and still considers herself black, in part because she has biracial children. But the story gets more befuddling still. Reports show that Dolezal sued Howard University, where she attended an MFA program, over what she claimed was discrimination… because she was white. This entire situation is so confusing and problematic I don’t even know what to say, so, there you go.

Hit me up on Twitter or send an old-fashioned e-mail, why don’t ya?

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.15.2015 21 days ago
Posted In: News, Budget at 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Council's Big Bad Budget Adventure

Council, mayor wrangle over spending priorities as deadline ticks closer

Cincinnati City Council's Budget and Finance Committee today wrangled over the city's upcoming, $1 billion budget, passing the operating portion of that financial plan but leaving a fight over capital spending for another day.

Basic services like police and fire aren't under threat in the budget battle — those are paid for from the city's $375 million operating budget, which council looks poised to pass. But other services could be temporarily shelved and the city could face legal action or state oversight if it doesn't pass a complete budget before its June 30 deadline.

A complex dance for power between council Democrats and Mayor John Cranley has left the capital part of the budget, which funds everything from road improvement to economic development to bike lanes, at an impasse.

The majority coalition of council members say Cranley is trying to block their will, but Cranley says the group is trying to force a shutdown.


“A majority of City Council seems poised to vote down the City’s Capital Budget and threaten a government shutdown because members couldn’t get their pet projects funded,” Cranley said in a harshly-worded statement June 15.  “Because some councilmembers were upset that their pet projects weren’t included, the City will not be able to repave our roads or replace our aging police cruisers, fire trucks and ambulances.”

The five Democratic council members — Yvette Simpson, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young and David Mann — have prioritized six expenditures in the budget that Cranley opposes. Those priorities were by and large left out of City Manager Harry Black's initial budget, so Democrats drew up their own omnibus budget proposal, which Cranley looked likely to veto wholesale, since he can't line-item veto things. At least, not officially.

Cranley says the budget Democrats on council have presented is structurally unbalanced because it uses one-time sources of money to pay for some of council members' spending priorities.

Cranley takes issue with six spending priorities Democrats on council have promoted, calling them wasteful. Those priorities include $400,000 for Clifton Market, a co-op looking to fill the vacant former Keller's IGA in Clifton, $24,000 for high-tech bus shelters in Bond Hill, $150,000 for repairing and building new bike lanes, an extra $500,000 for the city's human services fund, bringing it up to a level council unanimously voted to fund last year, and extra funds for the health department. Those extra expenditures would be paid for in part by pausing some of the city manager's proposed extensive $100 million in road repairs.

"I cannot support these items and hope that City Council won't either, but I am referring these items as stand-alone ordinances to the Budget Committee so that council will have the opportunity to have an up-or-down vote on all of the City Council requests," Cranley said in a statement this morning. "The people of Cincinnati created a Charter in which six votes are required to overcome a mayoral veto.  We should not try to subvert the Charter we took an oath to uphold."

Council Democrats met with Budget and Finance Chairman Charlie Winburn late last week to hammer out a compromise, and it looked as though things would be O.K. In the meantime, however, Cranley moved to have council's budget priorities broken down into 19 individual ordinances, giving him the ability to veto them on what amounts to a line-item basis.

"We worked with his budget chair. We sat down with Charlie Winburn and worked out a budget that his budget chair supported," Young says. "And then we get, 'you're trying to bankrupt the city.' If we're working with Charlie and something Charlie says he supports, and suddenly Cranley's having a hissy fit, we don't even know what it's all about. That's where we are."

Winburn said Cranley didn’t take up the compromise budget because he wasn’t “in the loop” about it.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called presenting the operational budget as an omnibus document and council's captial budget as a series of ordinances "weird" and "overtly political." Sittenfeld said he felt like a majority of council's wishes were being disregarded by the move.

“Treating different items so differently raises suspicion I think for any member of the public,” Sittenfeld said. “I don’t see why funding for the health department or human services or Clifton Market would be separate. Some things are protected behind the veil of an omnibus, and some things aren’t. I’d say put it all together, and if the city administration or the mayor doesn’t want to do that, it’s kind of on them whether or not they want to shut down the city government.”

The maneuvering has caused the current impasse as the four Democrats in today's budget and finance committee meeting balked at voting for the administration's capital budget. That raised alarms from council conservatives, including Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman, who both cautioned against going down the road toward "a government shutdown."

That language echoes statements Cranley made in a news conference this morning when he accused council Democrats of attempting to shut down city government over their priorities and compared them to Republicans in Congress. Councilmembers Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young shot back.

"I defy anybody to look at the budget we've proposed and see how that shuts the city down," Young said. "That's just not what we're trying to do. I'm really offended that he'd even say that about us."

"The concern that we as members of council have is that a budget was prepared by the city manager, and then the mayor had the opportunity to weigh in on it, and then it got to us," Simpson said. "It's our turn as policy makers to say, 'here's where we would make adjustments.' "

Council was scheduled to vote on the budget June 17, but it's unclear whether it will pass at that meeting. The city has until June 30 to pass a budget. If it does not, Cincinnati's city government could be subject to legal action, or even state oversight, as it is required by state law to have a full budget passed. The city's current budget expires July 1.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.15.2015 21 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Cranley vows budget vetos; highway means demolition for Newport housing project; Ohio Senate's budget bad for low-income, report says

Good morning all. Here’s what’s up today.

The back and forth about the city’s budget continues. In a news conference this morning, Mayor John Cranley said he would divide up council Democrats’ budget proposal and put individual spending items to an up or down vote. That’s significant because the five Democrats on council don’t have enough votes to override a mayoral veto on those items. Cranley has said Dems’ proposal, which came in response to City Manager Harry Black’s budget, isn’t structurally balanced and that he’ll veto any spending items he deems wasteful or unnecessary. That would include $400,000 for co-op grocery project Clifton Market, an increase in bike lane spending and other provisions. In saying he would veto the bike lane spending increase, Cranley called the Central Parkway bike lane a “disaster.” Cranley also got in a dig at his fellow Democrats, comparing them to Republicans in Congress and warning them not to “shut down the city” over disagreements about the budget. Cranley has also suggested he will cut suggested funds for human services by $500,000, continuing the wrangling between the administration and city council over the hot-button issue. There is a City Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting today at 11:30. I’ll update this as I find out more.

• In the meantime, let’s cross the river for a couple stories, shall we? The last large HUD housing project in Newport is slated for demolition next year as highway Ky. 9 is extended through the city. That means residents who live in the complex’s 171 units will be moved elsewhere around the region. That’s caused mixed feelings among those who live there and others in the city, this Cincinnati Enquirer story reports. Some residents are excited for the chance to move elsewhere with more room and new neighbors. Others are apprehensive about where they’ll be next year and say they’re not sure how they’ll make the change. The demolition fits in with HUD’s general movement away from large-scale public housing toward Section 8 vouchers and smaller sites scattered around the region.

• Whistle blowers have filed two lawsuits against a Northern Kentucky state agency alleging thousands of dollars a day in wrongful billings. The suits also allege that the whistleblowers were terminated by that agency when they tried to address those problems. One suit alleges that the Northern Kentucky Area Development District, which is supported by state and federal grants, billed for senior care services it did not actually provide. A former employee claims that when she tried to bring those billings to light, she was terminated from her job. Another alleges that an employee who tried to bring attention to possible card abuse within the agency was unjustly fired for doing so. The NKADD says the agency has investigated those claims and is clear of any wrongdoing, and that the two former employees were let go for reasons unrelated to their allegations. The suits, filed separately, are in Boone County Circuit Court.

• The Ohio Department of Transportation could lose more than $1 billion in federal funding if it doesn’t find a way to include more minority- and female-owned businesses in the contracts it awards. A federal review found that ODOT is not in compliance with federal laws around inclusion in contracting and must draw up a plan for how to improve. If it doesn’t, or if its plan doesn’t meet federal muster, the department could lose out on the federal money. ODOT has until July 20 to submit its plan, and officials there say they’re confident they can satisfy federal requirements.

• Finally, let’s circle back around to budgets for a minute, but on the state level this time. The Ohio Senate’s state budget proposal is worse for low-income Ohioans than even another conservative plan in the Ohio House, a new report by the progressive-leaning Policy Matters Ohio says. The state Senate’s plan would lower taxes for the top one percent of wealthy Ohio residents to the average tune of $10,000 a year. Meanwhile, the middle 20 percent of Ohioans would see only a $20 reduction in taxes and the bottom 20 percent of earners would actually see an increase of $26 in taxes a year. Much of that boost for the highest one percent comes from a decrease in taxes on businesses, according to the report. You can read the whole breakdown here.

And I’m off to city council. Tweet at me or e-mail me.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.12.2015 24 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Family, community speak out about Hicks shooting; state Senate plan wouldn't axe Music Hall credits; Deters: weed should be legalized

Good morning Cincy. Here’s what’s happening today.

Local activists and the family of QuanDavier Hicks held an emotional rally yesterday at Northside’s  Hoffner Park, just blocks from the apartment on Chase Ave. where police officer Doris Scott shot the 22-year-old Tuesday night. The rally was organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter and drew more than 200 people, culminating in a march down Hamilton Ave. and across the I-75 overpass. The event was peaceful, but anger and tension were obvious.

“We’re here because no matter what version of what went down Tuesday night you lean toward, there’s a lot that’s wrong,” said Cincinnati Black Lives Matter organizer Brian Taylor. “The media has very quick to demonize Hicks. Hicks may have had a criminal record. He may have done some things wrong in the past… But his record has nothing to do with whatever happened that lead to him being killed. He should not have been killed in contact with police.”

Hamilton County Clerk of Court records show Hicks had five minor drug charges, some of which had been dismissed.

Among those in attendance at the rally were Hicks’ mother, Erica Woods, who came from Atlanta with Hicks’ father and siblings for the rally. At one point during the march, Woods collapsed from exhaustion on the overpass and was aided by marchers and police. She was then taken away in an ambulance.

“I birthed the boy in 1993,” she said earlier in the evening. “I had to come 800 miles here because nobody told me my child was taken from me. The community of Northside and social media told me my son is dead. Two days later, he’s laying frozen in a box. I haven’t been able to look at his face. I still haven’t gotten an answer from any police. I just want an answer. Because what you’ve printed six different times just doesn’t make any sense.”

Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell was at the rally and march, along with a large contingent of officers. Police say they were in an apartment building at 1751 Chase Ave. Tuesday night searching for Hicks because a 911 caller on Colerain Ave. said he had earlier entered her house without her permission and threatened her life over the phone. While police were knocking, they say, Hicks opened a door adjacent to one officer Scott and partner Justin Moore were standing at and pointed a .22 caliber bolt-action rifle at them. Moore grabbed the rifle and Scott shot Hicks in the chest, officials say. Woods and others question that version of events, however, and have pressed police for more information. Police held a press conference Wednesday where they played the 911 call and showed pictures of the rifle and crime scene. CityBeat will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

• So yesterday I told you about the Ohio Senate’s plan in its budget proposal to roll back the state’s historic preservation tax credits, ending the program for the next two years. As written, that proposal would have nixed $25 million in tax credits awarded to Music Hall, a key piece of that landmark’s restoration. Now, however, lawmakers have said they don’t mean to take credits from projects like Music Hall that have already been promised the money. Republicans in the Senate say they want to create a grant program to replace the tax credits, and that the ceasation of the program is the only way to move toward that change. Critics point out that state grants must be renewed every two years, while the credits do not. They say it is hard to complete long-term preservation and economic development work without the assurance of funding over the long haul.

• The Wasson Way bike trail could be up and running in two years, Mayor John Cranley said yesterday in a news conference along the path of the proposed bike project. That timeline could extend, however, if the city doesn’t get $17 million in TIGER grants it applied for last month. The city recently agreed to purchase 4.1 miles of railroad right of way from Norfolk Southern Railway at $11.8 million to make the project a reality. The total cost of the project is estimated at $30 million. Nonprofit the Wasson Way Project also announced yesterday it was beginning a fundraising drive to collect $600,000 for design and engineering work around the project.

• A task force headed by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and funded by legalization group ResponsibleOhio has released its study on marijuana legalization, and guess what: the report paints a generally positive picture of the impacts of legalizing weed. The report predicts the creation of 35,000 jobs from legalization and more than $7 billion in economic activity. It also says increased crime would be unlikely. The study, completed by Deters and a host of other task force participants including Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman, uses a number of previously existing data sets to ascertain legalization’s impact on the economy and law enforcement in Ohio. The report’s rather rosy tint might seem surprising at first, given Deters’ relatively conservative record as prosecutor, but when you zoom out just a little it all becomes more clear. First, there’s the fact that the report was underwritten by ResponsibleOhio. Deters says he and the rest of the task force are objective in their findings. But critics, including Ohio State Auditor David Yost, point out that the task force seems to be stacked with supporters. Deters has close business ties with head ResponsibleOhio organizer Chris Stock. Both work at the same Cincinnati law firm, critics point out. The legalization effort, which looks to land an initiative for voters to consider on the November ballot, has been controversial. The plan would legalize marijuana for anyone over the age of 21, but would restrict commercial growth to 10 ResponsibleOhio investor-owned facilities around the state.

• Finally, a Cleveland Municipal Judge yesterday found that there was enough evidence to charge two officers in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last November. Rice was shot by officer Timothy Loehmann while the child was playing with a toy pistol on a playground in Cleveland. Judge Ronald Adrine ruled there is probable cause to charge Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, dereliction of duty or reckless homicide. The ruling is mostly a symbolic gesture, however, as the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office is charged with convening a grand jury to hand down those charges.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.11.2015 25 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_cincypolice

Morning News and Stuff

QuanDavier Hicks shooting: what we know; classes offer bicycle/streetcar safety tips; state Senate budget would cut child protective funds, shift affordable housing funding

Good morning, all. Here's the news today.

Cincinnati Police, including Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, yesterday held a press conference about the shooting death of 22-year-old QuanDavier Hicks by CPD officer Doris Scott. Hicks died on the scene of the shooting in Northside. Police officials say that Scott and fellow officer Justin Moore, who was on his third day with the Cincinnati Police Department, were on a second-floor landing of Hicks’ apartment building at Chase Avenue knocking on a door looking for him when Hicks opened up an adjacent door and immediately pointed a rifle at the officers. Moore then grabbed the rifle barrel and Scott shot Hicks in the chest.

The official police version of events says that a 911 call from an address on Colerain Avenue caused officers to be dispatched to Hicks’ address.

“Hicks is known to both the 911 caller and the caller’s boyfriend,” Blackwell said during the news conference. The caller said Hicks had a key to her house and had entered without her permission.

“He’s talking about coming to kill me and all this other stuff,” the woman said in the call, which police played for the press. A dispatcher asked if Hicks carried weapon, and the caller responded, “he probably do,” saying others have told her he had a weapon, though she admitted she had never seen him with one. Officers then went to Hicks’ address at 1751 Chase Avenue to try and find him, leading to the shooting.

Hicks has a few minor drug possession violations in Hamilton County, according to clerk of courts records. Police officials say he has a criminal charge in his former home of Atlanta, but did not provide details about that history, saying they were still waiting for more information.

Meanwhile, another side of Hicks’ life has come out from neighbors and family members, who describe him as a kind man who they have a hard time imagining brandishing a rifle, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Family members are demanding to know more details about the incident, as are community members and police accountability activists.

Dozens lingered at the scene of the shooting afterward, where rumors circulated that the police kicked down Hicks' door. Two men were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after police say they tore down caution tape around the scene. We'll update with their names when we have them. Some, including members of activist group Cincinnati Black Lives Matter, question that and other police assertions, however.

The group released a statement yesterday demanding a full, transparent investigation, the release of any audio or video evidence and the release of the two people arrested for disorderly conduct after the incident. The group is holding a rally at Hoffner Park in Northside at 6 p.m. today.

"Black Lives Matter Cincinnati (BLMC), offers condolences to the family and friends of 22 year old Quandavier Hicks," the group said in the statement. "Conflicting information has circulated regarding whether Hicks was armed, yet we stand with Quandavier Hicks’ family in this challenging moment and call for an immediate release of all details of police conduct in this shooting. This incident has fueled righteous suspicion of the police and heightened existing tensions resulting in the arrest of two individuals at the crime scene. Aaron Roco, BLMC organizer witnessed the two arrests at the crime scene stated, 'At no point did either of the arrestees cross the police lines, they were vocally criticizing the police killing of their neighbor and the cops just grabbed them out of the crowd.' "

About the officers: Moore previously served with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Police, and before that, was a long-time officer in Clermont County. Scott is an eight-year veteran of the Cincinnati Police Department. Her record with the Citizen’s Complaint Authority shows four minor complaints about discourtesy and lack of service. She was exonerated on two of those. Both officers are on a seven-day leave from the department. Meanwhile, investigations continue into the shooting. Blackwell says at this early point that officers seem to be justified in the incident, but cautioned that the investigation is far from over.

Here is audio of Blackwell’s press conference, including the 911 recording (I don't have my audio editing software here, so the chief's remarks begin at 1:58, the 911 call at 2:40) and the police incident report CityBeat has obtained through an open records request. 

• Are you a cyclist who could use some pointers on riding around the city's coming streetcar? Queen City Bike and Cincinnati Red Bike are offering free workshops on cycling safety around the streetcar every second Saturday of the month. Those workshops will offer tips on how to ride safely alongside the streetcar, how to cross tracks without taking a spill and other things you need to know. The classes will run until October.

• I gave you a lot of local news yesterday, so I'm going to finish this thing off today with a bunch of state news you should know about. The first is about the Republican-led state Senate's budget proposal, which could cut funding for county child protective services agencies by $17 million next year through the phasing out of tax reimbursements. The budget would give $600,000 less than even the House's bare-bones budget to child protective agencies at a time when Ohio already ranks last in spending on such services and Hamilton County's Job and Family Services faces large-scale changes after tragic deaths of children who needed protective services.

* Also in the Senate's budget: a measure that could cost affordable housing efforts and aid to the homeless millions. The measure would take half of the money currently received by the state's Housing Trust Fund, which is compiled from county recorder fees and used for affordable housing projects and homelessness prevention efforts, and distribute it back to Ohio's 88 individual counties to spend how they see fit. Given that county governments generally tack conservative in Ohio, it's not hard to see how that could lessen the pot of money available for affordable housing here and in many Ohio counties. Advocates are trying to convince lawmakers to strip that measure from the budget before the General Assembly passes it on to Gov. John Kasich for his signature. Also on the potential chopping block: state historic tax credits, which could seriously slow redevelopment efforts in neighborhoods like OTR.

• Have you been wondering what's new with Kasich's campaign for president? Let's spend a few minutes finding out what's up with John these days. The big news is that his super PAC has hired Fred Davis, creator of some of the most... um... creative political ads of the last few years. Davis' ads, like the so-called "Demon Sheep" ad (just click the link and watch) are, by my subjective aesthetic and narrative standards, totally awful. A few samples of dialogue from these videos: "He's not in it for the balloons." Also: "I'm not a witch." Can you picture Kasich saying either of those things? Hilarious. But they do stick out from the crowd of boring political TV spots, which I guess is kind of the point.

• Finally, I just wanna say I'm bummed that Ornette Coleman died. One of my all time favorite jazz musicians.

That's it for me. Email, tweet, you know the drill.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.10.2015 26 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Police shoot 22-year-old in Northside; streetcar stalemate looms; CPD chief, city manager unveil anti-violence plan

Hello all, there are a couple big stories happening this morning so let’s get right to them.

• First, a Cincinnati Police officer shot a man last night in Northside. Police say the man, 22-year-old Quan Davier-Hicks, pulled a rifle on officers after they entered a home on the 1700 block of Chase Ave. around 11 p.m. last night. A struggle ensued and an officer, whose name has not been released, fired one shot and killed the man. Officers were looking for a suspect in a nearby report of aggravated menacing at the time, according to police officials. Some community members gathered near the scene after the shooting, and two men at the scene were arrested. They have been charged with disorderly conduct after police say they tore down police tape around the scene. This isn’t the first time an officer-involved shooting has happened in the area. In April 2011, police officer Andrew Mitchell shot David “Bones” Herbert on the same street. In 1999, another man, Michael Carpenter, was shot by police nearby. That shooting led to federal lawsuits against CPD. CityBeat has filed public records requests to find out more about the incident and subsequent arrests and will update as information becomes available.

• If you thought anything around the streetcar was going to get any easier or simpler any time soon, welcome to Cincinnati. You’ve obviously only lived here a few days. Sit down, because you’ve got a lot to learn. Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority officials yesterday presented to Cincinnati City Council’s transportation committee, and the proceedings very much resembled the streetcar itself: a slow-moving circular trip it seemed would run well into the evening. Some very interesting information did come out of the meeting, however, including details on the cost differences between the management bid, which would use SORTA’s union employees and cost about $4.7 million in the first year, and the turnkey option, which would allow a management company to hire its own workers. That option costs about $4 million, or about $200,000 under the city’s maximum budget for the transit project’s first year. If you do the math, you’ll see that the union bid is about $500,000 over that budget. But Council’s five Democrats say they’ll vote for the management scenario, saying they would like public employees to operate the streetcar and using SORTA employees will make it easier to them to hold operators accountable for performance.  

Mayor John Cranley also supports the management option, but here’s the snag, and it’s a big one: Cranley is opposed to using city money to shore up streetcar spending. He wants to respond to the union-related operating bid’s cost overruns by cutting the streetcar’s operation frequency. SORTA President Dwight Ferrell said the streetcar would have to reduce operations by 30 percent to meet the spending limit under the management scenario. That, he said, would lead to a “death spiral” for the project, since most rail operations costs are fixed, no matter how many or few riders use a system. Democrats on council say they won’t let that happen, but Cranley has vowed to veto any attempt to spend more city money on the project. That looks likely to produce a stalemate, which could lead SORTA to pick the turnkey option by default. They’ve given an end of June deadline for a decision on the bids, and will have to pick the less-expensive option if no directive is handed down. SORTA by law can’t choose a bid for which money is not allocated, its officials say. Phew.

• City Manager Harry Black, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and Mayor John Cranley announced the city’s 90-day anti-violence initiative at a news conference today. That plan includes tweaks to off-duty time to make more officers available, two crews of walking officers in every district, added protection in parks and areas where kids play, and a curfew program — two churches will be curfew drop off centers for juveniles caught out after 10:00 pm (or midnight for 16 and 17 year olds) curfew.

“We will not sit on our hands waiting to take action,” City Manager Harry Black said of the plan. “When the weather turns warm, there’s usually a spike in crime. Unfortunately for us, this year’s spike was bigger than usual.” Black said that spike seems to be stabilizing now, however.

In delivering the plan, Blackwell cited the five goals of the city’s post-2001 collaborative agreement: police community partnership, trust between community and police, oversight of police department, equitable treatment for all, and engagement and transparency with the community.

“This was a collaborative effort with our clergy and our communities. We’re not going to be overly aggressive in our policing this summer. We’re not going to diminish other units,” Blackwell said. He stressed especially that the curfew element was not meant to be punitive. “It’s not our intent to criminalize curfew aggressively, but rather to take children and take them to a safe spot.”

According to Blackwell, much of the violence of late has revolved around “beefs,” or turf wars between a small group of people. It also has to do with illegal guns streaming into the city, he said.

“Criminal street guns are out of control. Not just in this city, but in every city.” CPD is partnering with feds to investigate gun crimes, find out where guns are coming from and eliminate them, according to Blackwell.

Mayor John Cranley said he’s pleased with the plan, but noted that if it doesn’t work, the administration will “try something else.”

“We’re here to support the chief and the police department. Shootings are unacceptably high, and while it’s true that’s a national trend, that’s no comfort to the families of the victims. Something’s in the air and we have to do something about it. They key is to keep trying to do new things until we get a result.”

Reverend Ennis Tait of the Church of the Living God in Avondale touched on the police-involved shooting in Northside before expressing support for CPD.

 “It’s unfortunate we have to come on the heels of a tragedy last night, but it’s still good we’re here,” he said. “Today we stand with our city manager, our mayor and our police chief.”

Ok. So that’s a lot of big local news. I’ll leave my state and national updates for tomorrow. Tweet at me or e-mail me with news tips or anything else, really.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.09.2015 27 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do 2-8 iconic market house photo, courtesy the corporation for findlay market

Morning News and Stuff

Council Democrats release budget proposal; imagine a pedestrian walkway between Findlay Market and Washington Park; Alms Apartments fails HUD inspection

Hey Cincy. Here’s your news this morning.

The battle over the city budget continues. Council’s five Democrats yesterday afternoon released their own suggestions for the city’s fiscal year 2016-2017 spending plan, and they’ve made some key changes. Their operating budget proposal would increase human services funding by $1.5 million, bringing it up to the level council unanimously requested back in November, according to a news release sent out yesterday.

The proposal also restores money to streetcar operating funds and programs that help start-up companies, provides a $275,000 boost to the Cincinnati Health Department, $250,000 to Cradle Cincinnati and money to a number of other programs in the operating budget. Democrats’ proposal for the capital improvement budget would provide a $400,000 grant to the Clifton Market, $200,000 each for the Shakespeare and Ensemble Theaters, $1 million for parks and $150,000 for bike projects. The proposal pays for these boosts by eliminating a pay raise for high-level city employees and instituting a one-month hiring freeze for some positions, cutting funding for financial literacy and Cincinnati Business Committee studies, pulling $100,000 from the city’s contingency fund and by moving around money for the city’s share of the 4th and Race garage project, among other changes. Mayor John Cranley is currently reviewing the budget. If no other council members vote for the changes, Cranley has the power to veto the proposals, which would put him on the opposite side of his fellow Democrats again. Council is expected to pass the budget by June 17 so it can go into effect July 1.

• So this is a interesting idea. Findlay Market is working with the University of Cincinnati on a concept that would link the market with Washington Park via a more walker-friendly pathway. The groups held a party in the neighborhood last week to gather input from Over-the-Rhine residents about what they’d like on the path, and feedback included improved lighting, places to sit and hang out, food trucks or more permanent places for vendors and other ideas. A big priority: Make it easier to cross Liberty Street, which runs between the park and market. The proposed pathway would most likely run down Pleasant Street, which currently sees little automotive traffic. The pedestrian walkway could mean that street would be closed to cars, at least during certain hours. UC’s Research Institute and Metro Lab are involved in the process, with the latter devoting a number of graduate students to design and execute some of the suggestions. Right now, the bigger path is just an idea, but another input-gathering party is planned for June 26.

• The Alms Hill apartment building in Walnut Hills, which we told you about in this story a few months back, failed an inspection by the Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this spring. The building scored 45 out of 100 points on the inspection, which requires 60 points for a passing score. The city is mulling what to do about the building, which houses 200 residents and has fallen into a state of disrepair many say is dangerous. Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who chairs council’s Law and Public Safety Committee, suggested the city sue HUD, which pays the Alms’ owners subsidized rents for its tenants. The building’s owners have made changes, including replacing most of the management staff there and undertaking some repairs, but city officials say the building is far still far from fit for occupancy. 


• If you see Vice Mayor David Mann or former City Council member Jim Tarbell dangling off the side of a building downtown Friday, don’t worry, they’re supposed to be there. The two and others will be rappelling down the YMCA building on Central Parkway to help raise money for the building’s new construction, which will provide 65 units of affordable housing for seniors. The event, called Over the Edge 4 Elders, is hosted by Episcopal Retirement Homes, which is undertaking the building’s $11.8 million renovation with Cincinnati’s Model Group. The public can register for a VIP party to watch folks rappel, or you can raise $1,000 to rappel down yourself Saturday.

• Because budgets are so, so fun and everyone loves them, let’s talk about the Ohio State Senate’s budget proposal, which it released yesterday. That Republican budget doesn’t include Gov. John Kasich’s proposed 23-percent income tax cut, but it does take a big bite of the state’s income taxes, especially for small businesses, which wouldn’t pay taxes on the first $250,000 in income they bring in. The budget also institutes an across-the-board 6.3 percent income tax cut for individuals. There are few sales tax hikes in the budget proposal, save a tobacco tax hike, which has many anxious to see the details of the plan: Social service advocates, for instance, are worried that proposed income tax cuts will be paid for with cuts to programs that help the poor.

Republican leaders in the Senate have acknowledged there are cuts to some programs, but have yet to release details about which ones will find themselves on the chopping block. The budget does provide more funding for K-12 and higher education than the one proposed by Kasich, however, giving them $935 million and $240 million, respectively. The Senate's proposal wouldn't result in cuts for any school district in the state, unlike Kasich's, which relied on a formula designed to even out funding disparities between high- and low-income schools. Next, the General Assembly will hear testimony on the budget and vote to pass it, potentially next week. Afterward, it will go to Kasich’s desk for a final signature.

That’s it for me. Find me on Twitter or drop me a line with news tips or just to say hey.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 07.06.2015 16 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

SORTA votes on streetcar contract; unrest downtown; map of rental affordability crisis

Good morning y’all. I hope your holiday weekend was as crazy as mine in all the good ways a weekend can be crazy without being crazy in all the bad ways a weekend can be. One BAD way your July 4 extravaganza can be crazy is when you have to wrestle a strange naked man off your porch. Yes, that happened to me this weekend. Our country really needs better mental health care systems. But enough about that. Let’s get right to the news thing.

Just a bit ago, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority board voted to award the Cincinnati streetcar operating contract to Transdev, a Chicago-based company that submitted the winning turnkey bid to run and staff the project. That bid, which came in at $4 million for the first year of operations, proposed using non-union employees instead of SORTA personnel. Another bid utilizing unionized folks came in at $4.7 million, which was over the city’s $4.2 million budget for the project.

SORTA is making the decision because Cincinnati City Council could not come to agreement about who should operate the streetcar due to the price difference. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents SORTA’s employees, tried unsuccessfully to convince Hamilton County courts to make council decide which bid should be selected, but a judge rejected their suit. Council’s five Democrats are pro-union, as is Mayor John Cranley. Cranley offered an extra $2 million toward the project if the union contract was selected, but some Democrats on council said they were worried that amount wasn’t enough to keep the project running at full capacity. Councilman Wendell Young voted against the union bid, citing those concerns and depriving the Dems of the fifth vote they needed to approve that bid.

• Here’s some more bad July 4 crazy. There was a rash of unrest on Fountain Square Saturday night as revelry turned into some fights. Cincinnati Police were called in and a group of 50 or more in the crowd became even more agitated, police say, throwing bottles and fireworks at officers. That in turn led to more police presence, this time in riot gear. Two officers were injured during the confrontation. Seven people were arrested. One person was hospitalized after he was beaten badly by a group of young men. It is unclear what connection, if any, the man had to the fights occurring in the area. Police are investigating that incident. Meanwhile, the biggest question local media can muster about the violence appears only to be what this means for next week’s MLB All-Star Game. Awesome.

• Where the ladies at? In the Cincinnati startup world, I mean. Women aren’t nearly as well-represented in the tech and startup industries here, despite being, you know, half the population. Business incubator The Brandery, for instance, had no females in its 2014 class, a problem the organization is looking to remedy for upcoming years, according to this story. It’s not just a problem for Cincinnati, of course — the world of entrepreneurs is famously male-centric. But there are some local efforts happening to change that here.

• Things are going to get interesting in Hamilton County in 2016, and not just because of the presidential election. There’s a big showdown brewing for a couple county commissioner seats. Both Democrat Todd Portune and Republican Greg Hartmann are up for re-election, and both could have some serious challengers.

Let’s zoom in on what’s likely to be the more interesting of the two races: State Rep. Denise Driehaus has signaled she’s carefully considering a run against Hartmann, who angered some voters with last year’s icon tax decision cutting renovations for landmark Music Hall out of a sales tax increase on last year’s ballot. Driehaus looks like she’ll be a strong candidate, but Hartmann has plenty of support, especially from the Hamilton County GOP and right wingers like anti-tax group COAST. He also has some donors with deep pockets. Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou has been touting a recent fundraising event for Hartmann that raked in $250,000 in a single night. That’s big bucks. County Dems, though, say Driehaus won’t need that much cash to topple Hartmann, who will be fighting the tides of demographic change in the county. Republican electorate here has been eroded in recent years, with a younger, more diverse and generally Democratic-leaning population trickling into Hamilton County as Republican voters head out to the ‘burbs.

• More bad July 4 crazy. Someone vandalized Serpent Mound, the ancient Native American burial site in Adams County. It appears someone basically took a big ole truck and did some donuts on the mound. Officials with the historic site say it will take extensive work to restore the damage. The mound is internationally recognized for its historic and cultural importance.

• Finally, I feel like I link you, my dear readers, to a map at least once a week. I hope they’re as interesting to you as they are to me. This one is pretty insane, I think. It’s been put together by the Urban Institute and technically shows rental affordability in every county in the U.S. compared to the national average. The bigger picture? It shows the country’s steadily-intensifying affordable housing crisis, especially for very low-income renters. Even though we have relatively low rents here in Cincy (unless you’re trying to move to Over-the-Rhine, am I right?), that crisis has hit home. In Hamilton County last year, there were 34 affordable units for every 100 low-income families. That’s better than the national average of 28 units per 100 families, but it’s still striking. Even more striking is how much worse that would be without various types of government rental assistance: Hamilton County would only have 10 units of affordable housing for every 100 families that needs them in the market without those subsidies. Yowza.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. But for god's sake if you come to hang out on my porch keep your clothes on.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.02.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_education

Morning News and Stuff

Macy's dumps Trump; Ohio dumps PARCC test; will the state change the way it draws congressional districts?

What’s up Cincy? No morning news tomorrow so I can chase down sources for a longer piece I’m working on. I’ll also be pre-gaming patriotism in preparation for the Fourth. But let me give you a brief rundown of a few things happening around town and beyond before I go.

Locally-based Macy’s Department Stores dumped the Trump yesterday. Presumptive GOP presidential candidate and long-running punchline Donald Trump said some choice words about immigrants during his campaign announcement, which has inflamed a firestorm of controversy. Trump suggested that folks from Mexico are criminals and etc., etc., all the tired crap you hear from people who no one should be listening to. As a result, Macy’s has announced it will no longer carry Trump’s menswear line, breaking the hearts of I’m sure dozens of Cincinnati-area males who aspire to the Donald’s dizzying levels of douche-baggery. Trump released a statement on Instagram (of course) saying that the split was his idea and that Macy's is only a small portion of the brisk business he does selling ties that look like something a used car salesman would wear to a bachelor party.

• So is this kinda slimy? The vendors who usually sell you your pre-game Reds shirts, foam fingers, socks, underwear, and what-have-you won’t be allowed to do so during the MLB All-Star Game. As a condition of landing the big game, the city had to agree to limit the sale of merchandise between July 8 and July 15 in an area about a mile around the ballpark. Ticket sellers will also be prohibited from selling in the area during the All-Star Game period. Sellers will still be allowed to vend peanuts and water, however, a concession the city was able to wring from MLB. Some vendors aren’t happy about the arrangement, saying it will cut them out of one of the biggest potential money-making events in the city.

• Another state budget note: One of the provisions in the new financial plan has the state of Ohio dropping its relationship with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the company that was administering standardized tests for Ohio schools. The so-called PARCC test rollout, which has been associated with the new federal Common Core educational standards, has been marked by criticism and tech problems. Next year, the Ohio Department of Education will go with another company, the American Institutes for Research, which already develops some public school tests for Ohio. The change won’t affect the state’s implementation of Common Core, state officials say, though lawmakers have called for less overall testing time for students.

• Ever wonder why Ohio works the way it does politically? Here’s a pretty good breakdown of gerrymandering, or the process of redrawing electoral districts for political advantage. The data shows the way in which parties can arrange districts to win more seats than they get votes. Both parties are guilty of the practice, but in Ohio, it’s Republicans who generally benefit. And that benefit has grown over time. In the period between 1982 and 1990, Republican congressional candidates got 49 percent of the popular vote and subsequently occupied 49 percent of Ohio’s seats in Congress. Fast forward to the time between 2012 and now. Republican congressional candidates get about 55 percent of the popular vote in the state, but occupy 75 percent of the state’s available congressional seats. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing citizen panels instead of state lawmakers to draw those districts could mean changes for the way the district-drawing process is handled, putting it in the hands of regular citizens instead of politicians.

• So. You may be wondering what the difference is between a Gov. John Kasich presidential run and the campaign fortunes of say, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Both are kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel right now when it comes to polls and shots at winning the GOP nod. But this pretty excellent analysis of the race, and of the positions GOP guvs running for office find themselves in, brings in some good points, showing that Kasich isn’t as badly-positioned as one might imagine compared to a candidate like Christie or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. It’s an interesting look at the politics behind governors running for president, and also kind of a window into how big of a mess the Republican field for the presidential nomination is right now.

That’s it for me! I hope your holiday weekend is great. Tweet at me, e-mail, you know the drill.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.01.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
weed

Noon News and Stuff

Drug cops seize $11K from man at local airport; Kasich cuts ed funding, keeps strict abortion regulations in budget; Portman's problems

Hey hey all! Hope your week is going well as we speed toward what I’m sure is going to be an awesome July 4 weekend. Before we get to news, I wanted to welcome our new staff writer and news reporter Natalie Krebs, who starts today. Natalie comes to us after working in the Texas Senate. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Texas and also completed the prestigious News21 program at Arizona State University. She’s done work for great investigative magazine the Texas Observer and other publications, and we’re super-excited to have her here. You’ll be seeing her byline start popping up in the next couple weeks.

On to news. A new report in the Washington Post says that local law enforcement agencies seized more than $11,000 from a young black man at CVG airport last year under federal asset-forfeiture laws. Those laws allow agencies to seize money associated with drug trafficking or other major crimes. Drug Enforcement Agency task force members took the money from Charles Clarke despite the fact that they didn’t find any drugs, guns or other illegal substances on him. Clarke, who smokes marijuana occasionally, reportedly had the smell of the drug on his belongings at the time, which was enough along with his one-way ticket and inability to account for the money’s source for cops to stop him and seize his stuff.

The airport’s police force and the Covington Police Department were the two agencies involved in the seizure, but a total of 11 local agencies want a piece of the money, including the Cincinnati Police Department. That’s due to the way DEA task forces are set up and the way they disperse asset forfeiture money. The agency defends the practice, saying it helps fund vital local law enforcement efforts across the country. The Post’s story is a pretty incredible read and definitely something worth knowing about.

• In lighter-hearted news: Soon, the enormous, 20-story ghost of a 19th century man will visit downtown Cincinnati every night. Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to alarm you. The giant specter will be the image of a vintage Cincinnati Red Stockings player, which will be projected onto Carew Tower in the evenings to celebrate the upcoming Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Festivities around the game will take place July 10-14. The haunting… err, I mean… celebration starts tonight with a ceremony at 9:30 p.m. After that, the display will be up every night at that time until 5 a.m. through July 15.

• On to state stuff. Gov. John Kasich used his line-item veto power to cut up the state Senate’s budget yesterday, nixing 44 provisions from the financial plan as he signed it into law. Among those provisions, he cut $78 million from public education funding by eliminating a pay-back for schools that once received money from what was called the tangible personal property tax. That tax has since been eliminated, but lawmakers have carved out the reimbursement to assure that schools continue to get adequate levels of funding. Local schools like Princeton and Mason received millions from the TPP funds and have protested their elimination. Kasich and the Ohio Board of Education say they haven’t nailed down which schools will see decreases in funding from the move. Kasich has argued that the TPP money mostly went to schools in high-income areas that could afford to provide more local support and that the money from the program could be better used to support low-income districts. Kasich tried to adjust the state-funding formula in his version of the budget, but that attempt was punted by state legislators.

• Among the things Kasich didn’t veto yesterday: new abortion restrictions slipped into the budget last-minute. You can read all about that situation in this week’s feature news story. Here’s a little preview: Those regulations could threaten Cincinnati’s last clinic that provides abortions.

• One thing the legislature and governor didn’t tackle in the flurry of legislative activity: charter school reform. As we’ve discussed in past articles, there are calls for the reform of Ohio’s charter school system on both sides of the aisle. But it won’t happen just yet. Lawmakers have tabled efforts at reform of the system until September. Lawmakers cite major changes to a controversial bill that would have adjusted the charter system, saying they need more time than the rapidly approaching summer break allows them. Critics of charters say lack of accountability and big issues with use of funds, testing and attendance records show that the charter system in the state needs to be reworked.

• It’s a big day for statewide news. Ahead of today’s deadline, marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio yesterday delivered nearly 700,000 signatures to Secretary of State Jon Husted. If enough signatures are valid and the initiative makes it onto the ballot, voters will decide whether to green-light the group’s constitutional amendment creating 10 legalized marijuana grow sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio investors. Possession of marijuana would be legal for anyone over 21, and licenses would be issued for sale of the drug. No other commercial growers would be permitted, however, a detail that has created controversy. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced their own ballot proposal that would make it much tougher for such so-called constitutional monopolies to pass. That law would more than likely invalidate ResponsibleOhio’s amendment. Voters will have a strange and potentially confusing choice at the ballots come November.

• Here’s an interesting read on U.S. Sen. Rob Portman as he runs for re-election. Portman’s taking a shellacking in the polls right now against his presumed Democratic challenger, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Despite being the incumbent in a state with a Republican governor, Portman is down six points to Strickland in two recent polls. Strickland still has to make it through a Democratic primary, where he faces Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, but he’s opened up a comfortable lead against the young councilman. He’ll also have to contend with Portman’s formidable $8 million campaign war chest, the largest of any GOP Senate candidate seeking 2016 reelection. The above article explores the reasons why Portman is floundering right now in his race — reasons that may be beyond his campaign’s control.

I’m out! Tweet at me about all the fun stuff to do this July 4. Or, you know, email me your boring news tips. I love em.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.30.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Union to sue SORTA, city; Kasich poised to sign $71 billion Ohio budget; Texas city charges journalists $80,000 for public emails

Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on today in Cincinnati.

If you were wondering what all the traffic was about downtown this morning (I was) this probably had something to do with it. The Hamilton County Courthouse was evacuated around 8:20 a.m. due to a suspicious suitcase that was flagged by bomb sniffing dogs there. The perimeter around the courthouse was cleared and a bomb unit and federal anti-terrorism personnel were dispatched to the scene. No word yet on what the item in the suitcase turned out to be.

• Guess what I have for you… it’s… you guessed it. More streetcar drama. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents employees for the Southwest Regional Ohio Transit Authority, has announced it will file a lawsuit against SORTA and the city of Cincinnati to try and prevent them from accepting a bid that wouldn’t use union employees to operate the transit project.

According to the union, Cincinnati City Council must direct SORTA on which bid to select. Some members of Council supported a more expensive pro-union bid that cost $4.7 million to the non-union’s $4 million in the first year of operations, but couldn’t reach an agreement to recommend that bid during voting. The union-friendly contract comes in about $500,000 over budget for the city, which has caused conservatives on council to balk at the option. Democrat Wendell Young also voted against the pro-union deal, sinking it the last time it came before council, because he worried the $2 million from the city’s general fund Mayor John Cranley agreed to use toward the project wouldn’t be enough and that a shortfall would cause reduction in service for the streetcar.

Without an agreement, council punted the decision to SORTA, which says it has no choice but to choose the less-expensive option. The ATU is seeking an injunction in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to force council to make the decision, saying that is what is required under the language of a motion about streetcar operations council passed last year. A separate operations and maintenance agreement between SORTA and the city makes no mention of such a stipulation, however.

• Seven projects in Cincinnati representing more than $61 million in development will receive Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits, the state announced today. Among those projects is the revamp of the Baldwin building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills. The historic former piano factory will be converted from office space into market-rate apartments by Cincinnati-based Neyer Properties. Neyer will receive $4.8 million in tax credits on the $39 million project.

• New affordable housing for seniors is coming to Northside. Episcopal Retirement Homes is building the 56-unit, $10 million development at Knowlton and Mad Anthony streets, one of 10 the group is doing in Greater Cincinnati. The Northside development will be LEED certified and handicap accessible. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved tax exemptions on the development yesterday and full council is expected to approve them tomorrow.

• Gov. John Kasich today is expected to sign into law the state’s $71 billion biennial budget drawn up by state lawmakers. Kasich didn’t get a lot of what he wanted in the budget — sweeping tax cuts for businesses and high-earners, taxes on oil and gas fracking, his revamp of the state’s educational funding formula — but the state legislature’s budget is still plenty conservative, ushering in its own big income tax cuts. And Kasich will have a bit of revenge as he vetoes some items in the state house’s budget, though it’s unclear what he will slash with the veto pen.

Abortion advocates hope against hope he’ll cut out some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which conservative lawmakers slid into the budget at the last minute earlier this month. Those include a stipulation that clinics’ partner hospitals must be within 20 miles of the abortion provider and a tweak to the rules over how clinics without agreements with local hospitals are licensed. You can read in-depth about those rule changes and what they mean for Cincinnati and the state in tomorrow’s CityBeat print edition. Kasich is much more likely to veto items that limit his executive authority, including an attempt to close out a method Kasich used to expand Medicaid in the state over lawmakers’ objections. Kasich is ushering in the state’s budget even as he has his eye on bigger things: He’ll announce his run for president in Columbus July 21.

• Finally, this is a story that is probably most interesting to journalists, but here we go anyway. The city of McKinney, Texas, where police officer Eric Casebolt resigned earlier this month after he was shown on video pointing a gun at teenage pool party goers and slamming a teenaged girl to the ground, is charging journalists almost $80,000 for access to public records about Casebolt. Gawker Media has requested all official emails about Casebolt’s 10-year career as well as his personnel file. McKinney officials say that the city’s emails predating 2014 aren’t searchable and that they’ll have to hire a computer programmer to retrieve them, thus the huge expense. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.29.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
voices_wwe_johnkasich

Morning News and Stuff

Woman who removed confederate flag at S.C. capitol has local ties; same-sex marriage could boost Ohio's economy; Kasich, presidential campaign now officially "talking," may start seeing each other soon

Hello all. I hope your weekend was great and you got to spend some time soaking up the victorious vibes at the pride parade Saturday following Friday’s historic Supreme Court decision. It was indeed epic.

But now it’s Monday, so let’s talk about news for a minute. You may have seen the news about Bree Newsome, the woman who climbed up a flagpole in front of the South Carolina State House and took down a confederate flag flying there. It turns out she has a pretty strong local connection. Newsome’s father, Clarence Newsome, is the president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center here in Cincinnati. The elder Newsome hasn’t commented publicly on his daughter’s actions. Bree Newsome and another activist were arrested immediately after removing the flag. She is currently out on bond and is charged with defacing a state monument. That misdemeanor has a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Newsome’s actions come as debate rages about whether the banner should come down from state buildings there after the horrific shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston. The gunman, Dylann Roof, prominently displayed confederate flags on his car and other belongings and was a supporter of white supremacist causes. Roof’s act of violence has been followed by a spate of arsons against black churches in the South.

• Here’s a lighter story. You can now get a lil tipsy while pedaling around the city. No, I’m not talking about the old whiskey in the water bottle trick some local cyclists swear by, though that one is especially useful in dulling the pain of Cincinnati's hills. Recently-passed legislation allows passengers on so-called Pedal Wagons, which have been carrying people around downtown Cincinnati since 2012, to sip on some adult bevs while they ride. It used to be you had to pedal those 15-passenger wagons sober. But don’t worry. Those partaking only provide the pedal power, not the steering and navigation. A sober nerd… err, driver… does all that.

• Back to that historic same-sex marriage decision for a couple beats. Boone County will continue issuing marriage licenses today following a halt after the SCOTUS decision Friday. County officials said they had questions about the law for the Kentucky attorney general and would cease issuing the licenses until they were answered. But since those answers could take a while, and since it looks pretty bad to clam up and stop issuing licenses to everyone just because gay folks suddenly have the same rights as straight ones, the county clerk’s office has resumed granting the licenses as it waits for clarification. 

• More overt in their opposition to the SCOTUS decision: a dozen or so marchers in the pride parade, who carried signs about eternal damnation and the like, along with conservative groups like Greater Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values and the Ohio Christian Alliance. The latter group released a statement Friday warning that the country is "heading into a moral unknown" and that states' rights are being trampled by the ruling.

• Meanwhile, some economists expect that newly-legal same-sex marriage will pump millions of dollars in economic activity into Ohio. Nearly 10,000 same-sex couples are expected to marry over the next three years — half of the state’s total number of same-sex couples — according to a study by economic researchers Regionomics LLC. That could bring an extra $127 million to the state’s economy, creating 930 new jobs in the first year. And that’s just the money spent on the weddings. Other factors weren’t accounted for, including the benefit of keeping young people in the state who won’t have to leave to marry their partners. The study isn’t the end-all, be-all on the matter, of course, and it should be noted pro-marriage equality group Freedom to Marry commissioned the report. The study estimates that about 1,000 same-sex couples in Hamilton County will marry over the next three years, bringing in about $8 million in economic activity.

• Well, it’s kind of official. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has taken the next step in a dance rivaled in complexity and ambiguity by only the dating rituals of Millennials. Kasich's campaign staff has announced that he will announce July 21 that he’s going to run for the GOP’s nomination to run for president in 2016. Got all that? Basically, the pre-announcement shows that Kasich is serious and settled about his bid and will be mobilizing support for what is certain to be an uphill battle winning over GOP primary voters. It's basically Kasich 2 a.m. texting all those voters he's been flirting with to say, "Wut's up?" He’s got a lot of work ahead of him in wooing those voters though: polls show him catching about 1 percent of the primary vote right now, well behind front runners like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, also from Florida.

That's it for me today. Tweet or e-mail me with any news tips or rainy-day bike commuting tips that don't involve rye whiskey in my water bottle. I need 'em.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2015 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gaymarriage

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley unveils big parks plan; abortion restrictions advance through Ohio Senate; same-sex marriage legal across country after historic SCOTUS ruling

Goood morning y’all. I’m a bit bleary today, having spent yesterday on a bus to Columbus and back to watch the State Senate do its thang. More on that later, though.

In somber news, today is the funeral for Sonny Kim, the 27-year Cincinnati Police Department veteran who was shot to death last week while responding to a 911 call. The funeral service is being held at Xavier University’s Cintas Center, and Kim will be laid to rest at Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Tributes to Kim have poured in from around the city and across the country, and officers from places near and far have made the trip here to pay their respects. Thousands came to the visitation yesterday and are attending the funeral today.

• Mayor John Cranley made a big announcement yesterday, rolling out his plan for a huge revamp of Cincinnati’s parks. Cranley is proposing a property tax levy on the November ballot to raise about $5 million a year toward big parks and recreation revamps and new projects. In addition, the mayor has proposed issuing up to $100 million in bonds to fund those projects. Recipients of the money would include proposed bike trails like the Wasson Way Trail, a mountain bike trail through Mount Airy Forest, additions to one along the Mill Creek that could eventually extend from Queensgate to Carthage and beyond and the Oasis River Trail on the city’s south east side. The big bucks would also be used to revamp Inwood Park in Mount Auburn, Smale Riverfront Park downtown and Burnet Woods in Clifton. That last one has me a little worried. I’ve seen different descriptions of proposed changes to my favorite Cincy urban forest, and they sound harmless enough: updated parking lots, removing a road, installing a concession stand and restaurant at the park’s opening. But I also remember Cranley once remarking that the park was “creepy” because the trees are too dense there. Please don’t touch the trees. Other proposals include working to restore former King Records studios in Evanston and an urban campsite in Roselawn.

• Do you wanna know the top-paid CEOs for public companies in Cincinnati? Of course you do. Everyone wants to know about money and power brokers, right? The Cincinnati Business Courier just published its list of the highest earners, and it’s worth perusing so you know who’s got the cash and who’s got the clout. No surprises here, really. Procter & Gamble’s CEO A.G Lafley comes in at number one. He raked in $19.5 million in 2014. American Financial Group’s Carl and Craig Lindner came in at number two with a $15 million haul last year. Execs from Macy’s, Kroger and Ashland, Inc. rounded out the top five.

• The Ohio Senate has passed its version of the state’s budget, and today the Ohio House will vote on it as well. The big news about that, which I’ll be telling you about in detail next week, is that two anti-abortion provision that were squeezed into the budget last-minute look likely to make it through the process unscathed. One bans nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The other would require all clinics to get a variance within 60 days on requirements that they have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Cincinnati’s last remaining clinic providing abortions, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn, has been waiting on a variance to that rule for more than a year. Under the proposed rule change, the Ohio Department of Health would have to issue the variance within two months or it would be automatically denied. If the Mount Auburn facility shuts down, Cincinnati would be the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to a clinic. The state House and Senate have already reconciled their differences and the votes are mainly ceremonial, meaning the last hope for preventing those rules is a line-item veto from Gov. John Kasich.

• Other points from the state budget: the state’s historic preservation tax credit program will live to see another day, despite threats to zero it out for two years. Journalists lose big because a provision in the budget will seal concealed handgun license records, meaning we won’t be able to file public records requests for that information. Oil and gas companies will dodge a new fracking tax proposed by Gov. John Kasich, which wasn’t included in the budget. The legislature said no thanks to Kasich’s proposed huge tax cut for high-income earners and businesses, but did implement a more moderate cut for businesses and income taxes across the board. Kasich got a compromise on cigarette taxes: the Senate budget raises them by 35 cents, less than the dollar Kasich wanted but at least some boost to offset the budget’s big tax cuts.

• Here's some news that isn't really new: even after yesterday's big Supreme Court decision upholding a key tenet of Obamacare, Ohio Republicans are still promising to kill the president's signature healthcare law. Yawn.

• South Carolina State Senator, civil rights leader and Charleston church shooting victim Clementa Pinckney is being laid to rest today. President Obama is delivering the eulogy. Other victims of the massacre are also being remember today and over the weekend.

• Finally, you’ve probably already heard about the fact that history happened today in a major way. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this morning, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. You can read our coverage here. Click through all those links, get to know the Cincinnati plaintiffs in the case and what they’ve been fighting for, and hear Ohio’s reasoning for why it didn’t want to give up its ban.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me or e-mail me with info on where the celebrations will be this weekend.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2015 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pride_ns

Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide

In a 5-4 decision, court rules that 14th amendment requires all states to allow marriage between same sex couples

Just moments ago, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, a set of cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. The court ruled in a 5-4 opinion that the equal protection clause of the constitution requires all states to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples. 

"The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state," the decision, penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy reads. ""It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality," the decision later states.

The Supreme Court showdown arose from an earlier decision released by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati. That court upheld the same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. That decision put the Sixth Circuit at odds with other federal circuit courts, which had struck down marriage bans in other states. Lawyers for the plaintiffs appealed, bringing the case to the nation's highest court.

The Supreme Court case Obergefell vs. Hodges gets its name from Jim Obergefell, one of the plaintiffs, who hails from Cincinnati. Richard Hodges, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, is the named defendant. Cincinnatians

Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers are also among the plaintiffs. They're fighting to both be listed on their son Jayseon's birth certificate. You can read more about the Rogers and Obergefell and their involvement in this historic case in CityBeat's coverage here.

Marriage licenses will be available in Ohio counties immediately. In Hamilton County,. couples can obtain them from the Hamilton County Probate Court downtown among other locations.

The First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati has announced that Rev. Sharron Dittmar will be performing same-sex marriages to couples with marriage licenses free of charge June 30-July 2 at the Hamilton County Courthouse or at the First Unitarian Church in Avondale. You can reach the church at 513 351 6530.
Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers display son Jayseon’s birth certificate. The Rogers are part of the U.S. Supreme Court case over Ohio’s gay marriage ban.
Nick Swartsell

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar operating plan once again back to SORTA; parking garage mania; huge Supreme Court decisions

Hello all. Here’s what’s up this morning in Cincinnati. Before I begin, I want to repurpose a joke I made on Twitter as a (not really) serious proposition. Someone should be allowed to sell beer at City Hall. Heck, they could brew it in the basement. Two words: REVENUE STREAM. Am I right?

I say all this because yesterday was another crazy day at City Hall as Cincinnati City Council rushed through a number of last-minute deals before it goes on recess for the rest of the summer. It also got in more streetcar wrangling and a surprise twist fitting of any season finale. Council, which couldn’t come to an agreement previously on whether to choose a union or non-union streetcar operations contract, punted that decision to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which look poised to choose the cheaper, non-union option. That bid, called the turnkey scenario, would cost $4 million in the first year of operation, well less than the $4.7 million union-friendly bid called the management scenario. 

But City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley re-introduced that decision this week after Cranley pledged to allow $2 million from the city’s general fund to be used toward streetcar operations in an effort to pass the union-friendly operating agreement. That’s a big switch-up for Cranley, who previously pledged that he wouldn’t allow any extra city money to be used for the transit project. All seemed primed for the five Democrats on council to pass the union version of the contract. But Councilman Wendell Young, one of the Democratic coalition, voted against the measure. Young expressed serious concerns that the $2 million pledged by Cranley wouldn’t be enough, citing a letter by SORTA stating such. 

With the more expensive contract and less than enough money to operate the streetcar, Young expressed concern that operating hours for the streetcar would be cut. That could have put Cincinnati in a showdown with the Federal Transportation Administration since it stipulated the frequency of streetcar operations in its successful applications for millions in federal dollars for the project. So now, the ball is back in SORTA’s court, and the transit agency will almost certainly opt for the cheaper, non-union contract. Young and other Democrats decried what they called a false choice as yet another “game” turning the streetcar into a political football. Phew. Got all that? All right moving on.


• Cincinnatians in the 1880s had Music Hall. Local folks in the 1930s had Union Terminal. One-hundred years from now, architecture buffs and historians will look back fondly on this era as the golden age of magnificent edifices in which to leave your aging 1997 Toyota Corolla. What I mean to say is congrats, taxpayers! Soon, you’ll own more parking garages downtown and elsewhere. That’s great for me since I don’t own a car at all. Maybe I can park my bike in there. Council passed a number of big development deals yesterday, shoveling a ton of public cash to developers. These deals included more than $5 million in taxpayer money for a $34-million,130-unit apartment complex with commercial space and a parking garage at Eighth and Sycamore streets. That public money includes a $3.5 million city grant, which is awesome because I’m totally going to use one of those taxpayer funded apartments (I’m not) and a $2 million loan to 3CDC, which will build the city-owned parking garage. The development, undertaken by North Pointe Developers and North American Properties, will also receive a 15-year property tax abatement. On the other side of downtown, at Fourth and Race streets, the city will spend another $3 million to build another parking garage for another big development. An eight-story, 200-unit apartment building will sit atop that city-owned garage. Council also gave away some land, amending a deal with Model Group to give the developer property at Elder and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine for $1 upon the timely completion of a planned $21 million project that will bring 23 new apartments and 10 condos to that location. Should Model Group not finish the project in time, it will pay $106,000 for the land.

• Services for fallen Cincinnati Police officer Sonny Kim begin today at Xavier’s Cintas Center. A visitation for Kim will be held there starting at 1 p.m. Kim’s funeral is tomorrow at 11 a.m. Both are open to the public, which is asked to arrive and be seated by 10 a.m. tomorrow for the funeral. Officials say they expect crowds of thousands to attend, including officers from across the country. Kim died Friday after he and other officers were lured to Madisonville by a gunman who called 911 on himself.

• Wrong place. Wrong time. Incredibly unfortunate name. Mason City Councilman Richard Cox (can’t make this stuff up folks) is answering some tough questions today after he was spotted during a police sting at a motel room with a suspected sex worker. Authorities were led to the room by online ads and insider tips. Officers saw Cox leave a room occupied by the alleged sex worker, but Cox says he was simply there because an older man at a nearby store had asked him to deliver a note to the woman there, and Cox complied because he thought she was the man’s daughter. No charges have been filed in the incident.

• U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is cosponsoring two new bills designed to provide more help to opioid addicts. The Recovery Enhancement and Addiction Treatment act would expand treatment options for addicts, including lifting a limit on how many patients addiction treatment doctors can see in a year. That limit has left many in the state seeking treatment on long waiting lists. Another bill, the Jason Simcakoski bill, would provide more pain treatment options for military veterans. That bill is named after a Marine vet who fatally overdosed last summer. Ohio continues to struggle in the grips of a large-scale heroin and opioid crisis, with overdoses and overdose deaths on a steady incline. Overdose deaths in Ohio tripled between 2003 to 2013, when 2,100 died of drug overdoses.

• A huge U.S. Supreme Court decisions were announced today. SCOTUS upheld Affordable Care Act subsidies to states, including Ohio, meaning the ACA remains structurally sound. A challenge to the ability of the federal government to facilitate those subsidies called King v. Burwell could have shook Obama's signature healthcare law to its core; without the subsidies, many low-income residents in states with health care exchanges would not have been able to afford health care plans. Another important SCOTUS decision in a case around affordable housing in Texas delivered a huge victory for those looking to desegregate low-income, subsidized housing. Read more about that decision here. 

That’s it for me. I’m heading to Columbus to cover the final days of voting on the state’s budget, specifically some last minute provisions that Republican lawmakers have slipped into the financial plan that would make life very hard for Cincinnati’s last remaining abortion clinic and other clinics around the state. More soon. In the meantime, tweet at me or email with your suggestion for best lunch around the capitol.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.23.2015 13 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Council poised to approve big development bucks; shooting interrupts anti-violence march; Ohio mulls eliminating "pink tax"

Good morning all. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s going on today.

City Council’s budget and finance committee yesterday approved pushing more than $6 million in TIF funds into building a parking garage in Oakley. The 383-space garage would serve Oakley Station, which just landed its first big office tenant. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will be bringing 400 office jobs to the development. Developers Al Neyer and USS Realty will put up the land for the garage. The city will pay the developer for the construction of the garage and lease the facility to them for 35 years. Neyer and USS will have the option to buy the building during that time, or purchase it from the city for $1 after the lease expires. TIF money takes property taxes from nearby new developments and reinvests those funds in other projects there instead of flowing them into the city’s general funds. The city must own a property to use TIF funds on it; thus the lease structure. A final council vote on the deal is expected today.

• Speaking of city money for development, the city will give more than $7 million in financial assistance to a downtown project at Eighth and Sycamore streets. That deal involves the development of a $35 million, 130-unit apartment building by North American Properties. The city will kick in a $3.5 million grant for the developer as well as $1.8 million in tax abatements for the project. In addition, the city will loan the Cincinnati Central City Development Corporation $2 million to build a parking garage and retail space as part of the deal. 3CDC will pay back that loan over the course of its 35-year lease. So how much money is all that, you ask? To give some perspective, the $7 million involved in the deal is about twice the amount of money the city has committed to human services funding for next fiscal year. But the development will create four full time and 24 part-time jobs worth about $2.2 million in income taxes, so there’s that.

• Mayor John Cranley has said he'll OK $2 million from the city's general fund for streetcar operations in an effort to ensure that SORTA approves a streetcar operations bid that uses union employees. But some city council members worry that the money won't be enough for the long-term operation of the streetcar, and are calling for more funds. Officials believe the project will cost about $4 million in its first year.

• The city’s dramatic struggle with gun violence continues. Last night during a march through Over-the-Rhine led by Bishop Bobby Hilton to protest gun violence, two men were shot in the neighborhood. One collapsed just half a block away from where the march took place. One, 18-year-old Justin Crutchfield, later died. Among those tending to Crutchfield was State Sen. Cecil Thomas, who was attending the rally. Thomas, a former police officer, has been active in OTR for years. Thomas said the majority of OTR residents don’t want any part in the violence and that it’s a small minority responsible for the crime. Many of the shootings have taken place during a pronounced spike in violence in the city, including last week’s shooting death of officer Sonny Kim, the first Cincinnati Police officer killed in the line of duty since 2000. CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell has drawn up a 90-day violence reduction plan at the request of City Manager Harry Black, but has delayed implementing that plan in the wake of Kim’s death.

• Very quick hit here: Cincinnati Red Bike is launching its first stations across the river in Northern Kentucky today, opening six new stations in Covington. Red Bike opened last fall and has since gained nearly 1,000 members, who have taken more than 46,000 rides.

• Are Pete Rose’s chances at reinstatement into Major League Baseball shot? Some say so. New evidence emerged Monday that Rose bet on baseball not just as a manager — the revelation that led to his suspension from the game in the first place — but also as a player. A notebook held by the federal government as it was investigating Rose has finally been released, and it details Rose’s wagers on the game as a player. Rose bet on the Reds, according to the evidence, though he never bet against his own team. The new revelations have many, including top sports commentators, predicting that Rose has lost any chance to gain reinstatement into the MLB, and thus a shot at the Hall of Fame.

• Finally, efforts are afoot at the state capital to abolish the so-called “pink tax” on feminine hygiene products. State Rep. Greta Johnson, D-Akron, is pushing the bill. She says women in Ohio spend $6-$10 a month on state taxes for hygiene products and that it’s time for Ohio to end the practice of putting state sales taxes on the items. Five other states have nixed their taxes on feminine hygiene products, including Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.22.2015 14 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tedstrickland

Morning News and Stuff

Community supports fallen officer; Uptown Rental Properties buys entire Corryvillle block; Strickland leads in Senate race

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on in Cincy as we all try to wake up and do work.

It’s been a somber few days in Cincinnati since Friday, when Cincinnati police officer Sonny Kim was shot and killed by a gunman in Madisonville. Though I can’t imagine how devastating that loss must be for his family, the community has come together to try and help them in their time of need. A GoFundMe account started by Mason Police Association President Derek Bauman has raised about $95,000 for the Kim family. University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono has announced his three sons will receive free undergraduate tuition at UC should they choose to go there.

Kim was responding to a 911 call about a man with a gun when he encountered 21-year-old Trepierre Hummons. Police say Hummons texted friends about his plan to commit “suicide by cop” and placed the 911 call himself to lure police to him. Hummons shot Kim before Hummons himself was killed by police. Kim was the first officer killed in the line of duty in Cincinnati in 15 years. Hummons was the 29th person killed by police in that time. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell called Kim “one of our best,” citing the numerous commendations he’s received. In his off time, Kim, a resident of Evendale, ran a karate dojo in Symmes Township. Mayor John Cranley has asked Cincinnatians to wear blue Friday, June 26 in memory of Kim. In the wake of Kim’s shooting, Blackwell has announced a two-week delay in implementation of CPD’s recently announced 90-day violence reduction plan.

• Uptown Rental Properties, a major developer in Corryville and the surrounding areas, now owns an entire city block of properties in the neighborhood. The developer has purchased 11 properties from the New Nazarene Baptist Church as well as another single family home on the block, which it has been interested in for two decades. Uptown has yet to announce plans for the spaces, and the church itself is leasing the building it formerly owned from Uptown until it finds a new location. But the purchase could well be a sign that more major development is afoot in Corryville. Uptown Rental Properties has been very active in the area, currently building more than 250 apartments in two nearby developments collectively worth $55 million. The developer also has big plans for neighboring Mount Auburn, where it has planned another $55 million in apartments and office space.

• Speaking of development, the Cincinnati Planning Commission has given the green light to a Towne Properties development that would feature seven newly constructed 2,800-square-foot townhomes on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine. However, the city’s Historic Conservation Board wants changes before the project goes forward, saying the buildings are “too short and squat” and should have more individuality overall, among other criticisms. As someone who has been criticized for these same shortcomings, I feel for these prospective buildings just a little. No one has ever told me that I “need more detailing around the corners” or that I need to be three stories tall to emphasize the verticality of my district, though, so that’s where my empathy ends. Towne will have to tweak the designs to meet the board’s suggestions and come back before it for final approval. The townhomes will be the Mount Adams-based developer’s first foray into Over-the-Rhine, and the development effort will led by former 3CDC VP Chad Munitz. Each townhome will have a garage and a private backyard. Expected starting price for each is $650,000.

• Marijuana legalization effort ResponsibleOhio faces a potential legislative roadblock even if its state constitutional amendment gets on the ballot and is approved by voters. State lawmakers are working to pass a ban on monopolies in the state constitution, a law that looks tailor-made to short circuit ResponsibleOhio’s efforts. If passed, that law would make the weed legalization effort’s proposal, which limits marijuana growth to 10 sites owned by the group’s investors, illegal before it even goes into effect. The anti-monopoly law must be passed by the state House and Senate and signed by Gov. Kasich before going into effect. ResponsibleOhio needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures this summer to get its initiative on the ballot. Its plan would legalize weed for anyone over 21, create the 10 grow sites and also allow for small amounts of non-commercial home growth.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said he would support removing the confederate flag from South Carolina state buildings if he lived there. In the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, S.C. last week where a white gunman killed nine black parishoners at a historically black church, a debate has raged about that state’s display of the flag above the state capitol building. Shooter Dylann Roof has expressed white supremacist ideals and sympathies and prominently displayed the flag on his car. The shooting has led to calls for removal of the flag from the capitol, and a number of liberal and conservative politicians have backed the idea.

• Democratic challenger and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland is leading over incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman in the 2016 race for Portman's Senate seat, a new poll shows. Strickland leads Portman by six points, according to a recently released Quinnipiac University poll. Meanwhile, Strickland’s Democratic primary challenger, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, continues to search for state-wide recognition. Eighty-five percent of voters across the state said they didn’t know enough about Sittenfeld to make a decision about him.

• Finally, as you might already know if you’ve been glued to SCOTUSblog like I have, the U.S. Supreme Court today did not release its decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, the landmark case that could decide the national fate of same-sex marriage. The court has just a few more days on which it will release decisions before its term is up at the end of the month. Meanwhile, OTR resident Jim Obergefell, for whom the case is named, continues to wait.

Story tips? Ideas on where I could get a used touring bike? Tweet at your boy or do the email thing.

 
 
 
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