Hey all! Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on today in the news.
Cincinnati Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan will retire from her position, making way for former Enquirer reporter and editor Rick Green to take the helm of the paper. Green is currently the publisher of the Des Moines Register, where he was previously head editor. The move comes as Enquirer parent company Gannett undertakes a drastic restructuring of its newsroom, changing job descriptions and eliminating positions as it seeks to create what it calls “the newsroom of the future.” The changes haven’t been well-received: A dozen long-time newsroom staff left the paper rather than reapply for their jobs late last year.
• Will the railway company that owns tracks next to the proposed Oasis bike trail put a halt to the 17-mile long project between downtown and Milford? This Cincinnati Business Courier article takes a look at the ins and outs of the situation. Genesee & Wyoming Inc., the parent company of the Indiana and Ohio Railway Company, sent a letter to Mayor John Cranley last week outlining its business and safety concerns about the project. The company cites accidents that have occurred when people trespass too close to rail lines as among its worries, but it also claims it may want to use the tracks the bike lane would pave over. It doesn’t own that set of tracks — the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority controls them — but the company says it has the right to use them. That, however, is a matter of legal debate, one that looks likely to play out if the bike trail is to go forward.
Clarification: the stretch of track in question is four miles long. The entire project is 17.
• If you didn’t already know, the Cincinnati Bearcats lost to Xavier in last night’s Crosstown
Shootout err, “Classic.” It was the first time in three years the game was held on either team’s arena (the ‘Cats got home court advantage) as the result of a big brawl after the 2012 game. I’ve been watching the game since I was but a wee lad even though I’m not much of a sports fan. I pull for UC every year. And just about every year, no matter how good they are, they lose. That’s about all I’m going to say about the entire unfortunate situation. Next year.
• Here’s an interesting bit of data: According to personal finance site WalletHub.com, Ohio cities rank pretty low in terms of economic diversity. That is to say, the state’s major cities have big wealth gaps, or a large divide between highest and lowest earners with a high concentration of wealth in relatively few hands. In a ranking of 350 cities compiled by the site, Ohio doesn’t even make an appearance until we get to Columbus, which is the 208th most economic diverse city in the country. Cincinnati comes in at 262, followed by Cleveland at 341, Akron at 345, Dayton at 346 and Toledo at 349. Ouch. Carrolton, Texas had the most economic diversity, followed by Orange, Calif. Flint, Mich., was 350th on the list.
• Today is Ohio’s 212th birthday. We officially became a state Feb. 19, 1803 and were the 17th state to join the U.S., meaning we got in on this whole statehood bandwagon way before it was cool to do so. Happy birthday, you old geezer. You don’t look a day over 200.
• Ohio Gov. John Kasich visited South Carolina yesterday as he does the delicate dance that is running for president before you’ve formally acknowledged that you’re running for president. Such trips are usually two-fold: to court potential supporters and fundraisers and to try out campaigning to see if a run looks promising. Kasich spoke to a crowd of GOPers at the South Carolina House Caucus, trying to thread the needle that is appealing to the party’s ultra-conservative southern base, which he’ll probably need if he wants the party’s nomination, while preserving the compassionate conservative mantle he’s tried to don in a bid for general election viability. We’ll see how that goes.
Morning y’all. I won’t be making any comments about the snow and the cold today, other than to tell you the low tomorrow is expected to be -15 degrees. Let’s compare that with past places we’ve lived or could have lived (it will be 70 degrees tomorrow in Texas, for example) and take a moment to think about how our life choices got us into this situation. And… OK. Let’s learn from our mistakes without dwelling on them, shall we, and move on to the news. Everything is happening at once today and I’m gonna tell you about it.
A weed legalization effort is making room for home growers. ResponsibleOhio, which has mounted a petition drive to put legalized marijuana on the November ballot, is adjusting its pitch to Ohio voters. Previously, the group proposed a measure that would have created 10 legal growing sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio’s investors. Those sites would be the only places in the state allowed to grow marijuana. Now the group says it is amending the language of its ballot issue to allow home growth, so long as growers don’t exceed a certain amount and don’t sell their crops. The adjustment comes after many decried the original plan, which was patterned after Ohio’s casino amendment, as a state-run monopoly on weed.
• Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Committee voted yesterday not to declare Mahogany’s restaurant owner Liz Rogers in default on her $300,000 loan from the city. Mahogany’s opened at The Banks in 2012 after city officials recruited Rogers to try and boost diversity among business owners at the riverfront development. Rogers eventually fell behind on the loan, and the restaurant closed last October. Rogers said the business didn’t succeed because promised amenities that would have drawn more customers to The Banks, including a major hotel, did not materialize in time. But Rogers’ critics say she simply did not run a tight ship. Councilman Kevin Flynn proposed the default declaration, but other council members yesterday voted against it, citing other businesses who have yet to pay back city loans who have not been declared in default.
• The city of Beavercreek has responded to a lawsuit by the family of John Crawford III, who was shot Aug. 5 by police officers in a Walmart there. The city is asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, which charges that officers behaved recklessly when confronting Crawford over the toy gun he had grabbed off the Walmart shelves. The city says the officers responded correctly and that Crawford did not respond to repeated requests by officers to drop the weapon. Officials also claim Crawford turned toward the officers aggressively. A security video of the incident shows Crawford with the toy weapon slung over his shoulder while he faced store shelves talking on his cellphone. A grand jury last fall found the officers actions were justified, but the Crawford family says their son’s civil rights were violated.
• A railroad company that owns lines along the proposed Oasis Bike Trail says the project is a bad idea. The Indiana and Ohio Railway Company yesterday released a statement opposing the project, saying it could cause deadly accidents.
"Pedestrians and freight trains do not mix,” the release from the railroad said. “The proposed Oasis trail would have pedestrians less than eight feet from active railroad tracks. The railroad's own rulebook requires its employees – who are trained railroad professionals – to keep at least 30 feet from moving trains at all times. Safety is the railroad's first priority, which is why we strongly object to placing pedestrians in such potentially tragic proximity to freight trains."
The proposed bike trail would run from downtown all the way east to Milford. Boosters of the project would like to see another set of tracks run by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Administration converted into a bike lane. Those tracks run next to the lines owned by Indiana and Ohio Railway.
• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that municipalities don't have the power to block fracking with zoning or land use ordinances yesterday. The finding comes as the result of a four-year-old lawsuit between the city of Munroe Falls and Beck Energy Corp., which sought to drill for oil using the controversial technique in the city. Munroe Falls refused, citing its zoning laws, even though the company had already gotten a permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the city doesn't have the power to overrule state decisions on fracking. You can read more in our story here.
• Rand Paul is expected to announce he’s officially running to be the GOP nominee for president in early April, the New York Times reports. Paul has picked April 7, sources close to the Kentucky senator say, as the date to make his announcement. That will more than likely put Paul ahead of his potential opponents in the GOP primary time-wise, giving him more opportunity to fundraise. Paul has been actively working to raise his profile over the past couple years, traveling around the country and engaging issues that aren’t typically seen as GOP strong points like drug policy and justice system reform. Paul has a tricky road to travel, however — he must continue to tend to his tea party base, with which he has been very popular, while courting more mainstream, establishment Republicans as well. Also a double-edged sword is the legacy of his father Ron Paul, who ran for president in the 1988, 2008 and 2012 elections. The elder Paul had a committed following from self-described libertarians, something Rand Paul has sought to capitalize on. Rand Paul must find a way to juggle these three distinct groups as he makes his case he’s the best pick for the GOP nomination. It will be a tall order given the GOP’s schizophrenia of late.
• Finally, if you’re feeling heroic about your morning commute, here’s an epic story to humble you. It’s about a 600-mile dogsled trip across Alaska to deliver medicine to a dying city in the days before GPS, Gore-Tex gloves or unmanned drones. So, you know, things could always be worse.
Snowed in somewhere and bored? Tweet at me with your news tips, bad jokes or just to say hey. No pics of snow, though. I have enough of those on my feed already, thanks. You can also e-mail me at email@example.com if you're old-school.
The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday struck a hard blow against local municipalities’ abilities to control fracking, handing down a 4-3 ruling stating that local zoning and land-use ordnances cannot be used to prohibit the controversial drilling technique if state law allows it.
The decision comes in response to a lawsuit by the city of Munroe Falls, a suburb outside of Akron, which has been trying to prohibit drilling by Beck Energy Corp. Beck sought to begin drilling on private property in Munroe Falls in 2011. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued the company a permit, but the city sued to block drilling, citing a clause in the state constitution that provides for so-called “home rule.”
The court has ruled that clause does not apply to drilling activities, which a 2004 law made explicitly the domain of the state. That law was passed in an attempt to bring some consistency to the state’s oil and gas regulations, lawmakers said at the time. When state laws and local laws conflict, state laws win out, the court said.
"We have consistently held that a municipal-licensing ordinance conflicts with a state-licensing scheme if the 'local ordinance restricts an activity which a state license permits,’ " Justice Judith French wrote in the majority opinion.
Justice Terrance O’Donnell ruled with the majority, but issued his own more limited opinion on the case. The scope of lawmakers’ intentions when they passed the 2004 legislation isn’t immediately clear, he wrote in his opinion. O’Donnell says it’s uncertain whether the law is meant to usurp all local zoning and land-use ordinances when it comes to drilling.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, breaks up subterranean layers of rock to access hard-to-reach oil deposits. The practice has caused controversy over concerns that it can pollute groundwater and even cause small earthquakes.
Three justices dissented, citing concerns about local control over fracking. Justice William O’Neil called the decision a victory for big oil, which has lobbied for laxer regulations in the past decade.
“What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive,” O’Neil wrote in his dissent. “The oil and gas industry has gotten its way, and local control of drilling-location decisions has been unceremoniously taken away from the citizens of Ohio."
Justice Judith Lanzinger dissented on the grounds that state law and local home rule ordinances don’t necessarily have to be in conflict. Both Lanzinger and Justice Paul Pfifer, the third dissenter, argued that the 2004 law leaves more room for local control than the majority ruling grants.
Hey all. I made the treacherous arctic trek into the CityBeat office this morning just to bring you the morning news. It’s a bit of a slow day, probably because all the newsmakers and shakers in the world are hunkered down doing whatever it is powerful people do on their snow days. I picture them sitting in front of a several fireplaces smoking multiple cigars while watching a whole wall of big-screen TVs and double-fisting mimosas, mostly because that’s what I would do if I had money and power. Anyway, here are a few things happening around the city and beyond today.
Let’s start off with grilled cheese. Cincinnati-based Tom and Chee restaurants just signed a franchise deal for its first location in Nashville. The brand has also planned other expansions in Tennessee as well as Texas, Nebraska, Missouri and other states. The rapidly growing chain started just five years ago and got a boost from a 2013 appearance on the ABC investment show Sharktank. It has since expanded to 22 locations, with plans to have 50 open by the end of this year. The brand has received more than 25,000 franchise requests from around the world since its appearance on the show.
• A former Northern Kentucky University employee who is currently serving jail time for embezzling money from the school was also the subject of an earlier sexual harassment complaint and court settlement, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. The university settled with former associate athletic director Chrissy Soards for $200,000 in 2013 after Soards complained that her boss, Scott Eaton, had sexually harassed her. Eaton was soon after fired for other ethics violations, including inappropriate sexual relationships with coworkers and an adult NKU student. After his dismissal, NKU discovered he had embezzled some $300,000 from the school, a crime for which he is currently serving 10 years in prison.
• Here’s more evidence former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland could jump into the 2016 U.S. Senate race against Sen. Rob Portman. In an interview with the Enquirer yesterday, Strickland said he’s “evaluating whether or not I am the person who is best positioned to do this and to win. I think I am, but I’m taking this very seriously.” That sounds pretty affirmative to me. Should he chose to run, Strickland’s candidacy could spell a major challenge for Democrat Senate hopeful and current Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld announced his candidacy a few weeks ago and has already begun fundraising. But he’ll have a challenge on his hands if one of the state’s best-known Democrats jumps into the race.
• Hey, this is terrifying. A CSX train full of oil from North Dakota derailed in West Virginia yesterday evening, causing the evacuation of two nearby towns and setting cars and a house afire. The oil was en route to coastal Virginia. No one was injured in the accident, but it’s the second oil related accident in this year. The other took place just 200 miles away in Virginia, where another train derailed and caught fire. Another accident involving a train carrying oil also happened last week in Canada when a train derailed and caught fire in Northern Ontario. The accidents and others like them have focused new questions on oil rail shipping safety standards.
• Yesterday, I told you about the budget hubbub currently going on between Republicans in the House and Democrats. The GOP Is steamed about President Barack Obama’s executive order halting deportations for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. They’re so steamed that they’ve passed a bill that makes funding for the Department of Homeland Security contingent on eliminating Obama’s orders.
Anyway, that’s yesterday. Obama’s executive orders prohibiting deportations are currently under attack from another source as well. A federal judge in Texas has put a stay on the actions, saying halting deportations could cause irreparable harm to states on the border, including Texas. The decision is in response to complaints from a group of conservative, mostly Southern states who say the executive action constitutes an overreach of power by Obama. They say halting deportations will result in more law enforcement expenses and other burdens associated with processing applications for deferred deportation. How not deporting people is more expensive than the millions we spend rounding up, holding and shipping people back across the border I don’t’ know, but that’s the logic the states are arguing.
Good morning Cincy. Remember last weekend when the high was 59 degrees? No, no, I don’t either. Let’s just not talk about the fact that winter is apparently going to last forever and get on with the news, shall we?
A major Cincinnati fundraiser for the Democratic Party has put his backing behind current City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in his run for the U.S. Senate. Cincinnati businessman Allan Berliant raised as much as $500,000 for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 through his network of donors both here in Cincinnati and around the country. He expects many of those donors could chip in for Sittenfeld in his upcoming race.
"I have been very pleased almost to the point of being surprised at the breadth, width and depth and passion of support, both politically and financially, that I've seen here in the last three weeks,” Berliant told the Cincinnati Business Courier about Sittenfeld’s campaign. “I'm a fairly seasoned political fundraiser. I will tell you there is a lot of excitement surrounding this campaign and that is off to a great start."
The 30-year-old councilman has a big task ahead, as Democratic favorite and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has made noises about entering the race for the seat. And should Sittenfeld best Strickland and the other experienced Democrats eying the seat, he’ll have to take on sitting Sen. Rob Portman, who has already raised $6 million ahead of the election. Sources say Sittenfeld has raised about $500,000 since he announced his campaign a few weeks ago.
• Officials with Columbus-based Kokosing construction company apologized Friday for the fatal collapse of the Hopple Street off ramp last month. The collapse, which investigators believe was at least in part caused by last-minute changes to demolition plans, killed construction foreman Brandon Carl. Officials with the company have said a review shows key details missing from the plans, including stipulations about how to remove the road surface on the ramp.
"I am very sorry, and all of us are deeply troubled by these findings," CEO Brian Burgett said in a statement about the accident. The company will institute new safety policies as a result of the accident, having an independent engineering firm produce plans for bridge demolitions along with Kokosing’s in-house engineers. Demolition won’t proceed unless both plans match.
• So this is cool: A proposed tribute to Crosley Field, the Cincinnati Reds’ former home in Queensgate, is making headway. Designs have been drawn up for replica foul poles, a mural depicting the field near where it stood at Findlay Street and Western Avenue, a pocket park with information about the Crosley and other historical features. Crosley was the home of the Reds from 1912 to 1970, when the team moved to Riverfront Stadium. It was demolished in 1972. Boosters are aiming to have the tribute done in time for the 2015 MLB All Star game, which will take place in Cincinnati July 14.
• House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP members of the House are playing budget hardball again, this time over immigration. Republicans are risking shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security over several executive orders President Barack Obama has issued over the past two years. Boehner has signaled he won’t back down on a bill the House passed to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded for the next year. The department’s current funding ends Feb. 27. The GOP funding bill rolls back Obama’s 2012 and 2014 executive orders that have kept the federal government from deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. The GOP bill stands no chance with Democrats in the Senate and President Barack Obama has threatened to veto it, putting the Department of Homeland Security’s funding in a precarious position. Boehner says the House has done its job and passed a bill to fund the department and that it’s up to Senate Democrats and the president to follow through. Democrats, on the other hand, are saying that the bill is an obvious no-go and that far-right members of the House are once again playing political brinksmanship.
• Low-earning salaried positions could become eligible for overtime pay if a plan by the Obama administration comes to fruition. Under current rules, companies can declare some low-paid workers making as little as $23,600 “exempt" employees, meaning they’re not eligible for overtime. Labor advocates say that arrangement allows employers to take advantage of workers by forcing them to work long hours with no extra compensation, eroding the traditional 40 hour work week. The Department of Labor has discussed a plan would raise the floor for those who can be considered exempt to somewhere between $42,000 and $52,000 a year. Anyone under that salary range would have to be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. Liberal think tank Economic Policy Institute says the increase could affect between 3 and 6 million workers in the U.S. The Department of Labor is expected to roll out its proposal sometime in February or March.
Hey Cincy! It’s Friday, and Valentine's Eve, so I’ll be brief so we can all get to our weekends quickly.
The former School for Creative and Performing Arts on Sycamore Street in Pendleton is one step closer to becoming a 148-unit luxury apartment building. The Pendleton Community Council has approved a parking plan that will create almost 200 parking spaces for the development while still preserving green space next to the building. The units will range from $700 for an efficiency to $1,500 for a two-bed, two bath apartment. Work gutting the building has already begun, and Indianapolis-based developer Core Redevelopment says they expect to be finished with the building by spring of next year. The forward motion on the building comes as big changes take place across the small neighborhood bordering downtown and Over-the-Rhine. A number of other developments are planned for the historically low-income area, which sits near the Horseshoe Casino. There has been some controversy about the shift, though groups like Over-the-Rhine Community Housing have worked to preserve affordable housing in the neighborhood.
• Are the 100,000 Medicaid recipients who might have to pay premiums for the service under a new proposal by Gov. John Kasich cool with that? Yes, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Well, actually, two the three folks the Enquirer quotes say they’re kind of OK with it. Actually, it sounds a bit more like, “we’ll pay it if we have to,” which is sort of an obvious conclusion to reach when the alternative is paying hundreds of dollars a month for private insurance.
“I just barely get by. I wouldn't have to give up anything, but it would be tight," 53-year-old Dawn Smith of Westwood told the paper. Smith relies on Medicaid for diabetes medication. "If I have to pay $15 to $20, I have to pay it, because I have to have my medicine to live."
The rationale, according to Kasich, is that making people pay premiums while they’re on Medicaid now will prepare them for paying premiums when they start making enough to be ineligible for the program. Kasich’s office says that will help people be more financially secure in the long term. Kasich’s proposal would charge premiums to those making above the federal poverty level, which is currently just under $12,000 for a single person. Premiums would start at about $20 a month. That’s about a 2 percent hit to someone on the high end of the low-income qualification, which doesn’t sound like a lot but could be a stretch for folks trying to make every dollar count. I did Americorps for a couple years making that amount of money and it was brutal. I didn’t have $20 a month to spare, but that’s anecdotal and not really a good way to measure the impact of a policy that will effect more than 100,000 Ohioans, right?
• More crumbling concrete: A big chunk fell off the roof of Lytle Tunnel last night and was hit by a truck, causing the left southbound lane of I-71 to close for more than an hour. Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the concrete to fall. The incident comes as local and national conversations continue about the state of America's infrastructure, including the obsolete Brent Spence Bridge and Western Hills Viaduct here in town. No word if this incident is representative of more local infrastructure that needs better care, but file it away and we'll come back to it if so.
• The Ohio House has passed a bill that would keep students from being held back because of their results on Common Core tests this year. Some critics of the Common Core standards say they’re an intrusion by the federal government on states’ abilities to set their own educational agenda, while others decry the increased difficulty level of some of the standardized tests used to measure whether students have learned the new standards. Supporters of the standards say they are a way to ensure that all students get an education that will allow them to be competitive in the global workplace. House Bill 7, which was sponsored by Republican State Rep. Jim Buchy, keeps students this year from being held accountable for their test results as the standards are phased in. Supporters in the state House say it’s just the first in a series of efforts to change or reverse the standards. The bill will next to go the Ohio Senate. If it passes there, it would still need to be signed by Gov. John Kasich, who supports Common Core.
• Weird things are happening in Oregon. In what is one of the more fascinating political dramas to play out in the past few years, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is resigning. Or he isn’t. No one is really sure at the moment. Equally unclear are the governor’s whereabouts, at least publicly. Kitzhaber, a Democrat, is caught up in a blooming controversy and court case around some improper payments his fiancée may have received and attendant accusations of corruption. State Democratic Party leaders met with the governor earlier this week to encourage him to step down. He seemed to indicate he would, then said he wouldn’t, then receded from public view.
• Finally, was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (aka the Notorious RBG) a little tipsy at this year’s State of the Union Address? Yes, she says. Just a little. Those watching the address may remember a little hubbub about Ginsburg falling asleep during President Barack Obama’s big speech. She recently said she and the other justices had enjoyed a bottle of nice wine before the event.
“The audience for the most part is awake, because they’re bobbing up and down, and we sit there, stone-faced, sober judges. But we’re not, at least I wasn’t, 100 percent sober,” Ginsburg said last night while giving a talk at George Washington University in D.C. Cheers to you, Ms. Ginsburg.
Hey all, let’s do a quick news update today.
Normally, I like to lead with local stuff first, but the big news today is that the 2016 Democratic National Convention will not take place in Columbus, it seems. The city was one of three finalists for the event, at which Democrats will formally nominate their presidential candidate. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Dems chose Philadelphia instead. Womp womp. Ohio is still getting two other major conventions that year, however: the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the NAACP National Convention in Cincinnati.
• OK. On to local stuff. A new brewery has announced it will debut on Reds Opening Day. Taft Ale House is currently working on its three-level brewery and restaurant near Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine and aims to be open for business on April 6, just in time to welcome the Opening Day parade. The brewery, bar and restaurant had aimed to be open in late 2014 but ran into complications with the old church building it has been renovating on Race Street. The building was originally scheduled to be torn down before plans for the Ale House materialized. But now, after developer 3CDC spent tens of thousands of dollars shoring up floors and making other structural adjustments, it’s on track for the big day.
Bonus news in case you missed it yesterday: This year, none other than famous 1990 World Series-winning Reds relief pitching crew the Nasty Boys, aka Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Meyers, are marshaling the parade.
• More good news for the city’s iconic public buildings. A local foundation has kicked in another $1 million for efforts to renovate Memorial Hall, bringing the project much closer to being completely funded. The Annie W. and Elizabeth Anderson Foundation put up the contribution toward the $8 million project, which will improve the building’s acoustics, replace seating and air conditioning, build a catering kitchen and renovate the building’s bathrooms. Hamilton County has pledged another $1.5 million to the project.
• State officials for the first time yesterday acknowledged that the Hopple Street offramp collapse might have been caused by faulty demolition plans. The collapse killed construction foreman Brandon Carl, sparking possible lawsuits from his family. It occurred while Columbus-based Kokosing Construction worked on a $91 million contract to remove the offramp that passed over I-75. Some experts have said it appears last-minute changes to the demolition plans might have played a role in the collapse. Ohio Department of Transportation officials say they haven’t finished their analysis of the collapse but acknowledge the plans used failed. Kokosing has also said it is still investigating what went wrong with the demolition.
• Gov. John Kasich looks to be ramping up a possible presidential bid. He’s visiting early primary state South Carolina next week as part of a national tour touting his balanced budget plans. Kasich polls fairly strong among GOP voters in Ohio, but he’s a virtual unknown outside the state. The trip could help boost his stature among GOP presidential nominee hopefuls and draw big-money donors to his campaign.
• Speaking of Ohioans on the national stage, Cincinnatian and Department of Veterans Affairs head Bob McDonald had a pretty public dustup yesterday with Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman during a budget hearing in Washington, D.C. Coffman criticized McDonald for not doing enough during his first six months leading the V.A., pinning the blame for the agency’s continued dysfunction on its new leader.
But McDonald wasn’t having it. He got a couple zingers off, including pointing out he’s run one of the country’s largest companies, before pointedly asking Coffman what he’s done lately. And while pointing to your last job when you're being criticized about your current one is maybe not the strongest argument, the former P&G head seemed to be holding his own. McDonald, who is also a Republican, was probably drawing fire from the congressman because he was appointed by President Barack Obama, though the official complaint was that his actions thus far have amounted to nothing more than public relations and have not enacted substantive reforms on the V.A., which has been rocked by record-keeping and patient treatment scandals in the past year.
• Finally, if you’re like me, you do most of your news reading on a smartphone or, failing that, your laptop. But even if you’ve never touched a printed newspaper in your life, this piece about how the New York Times kicks it old-school and gets the paper out every day is pretty amazing. For something seemingly so low-tech, pumping out hundreds of thousands of newspapers each day is actually a mind-bending feat of engineering and coordination.
Good morning! This week is going crazy slow but it’s half over now, so that’s awesome. But the news isn’t going slow, and it’s never half-over. It’s always hurtling forward. Always changing. Growing. Watching. Ok. Maybe not watching. But those other things. Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night.
Let’s get to it. Gov. John Kasich yesterday came to Cincinnati to detail his plans for reforming the state’s welfare program to leaders from a number of county social service agencies. Kasich says his plan will simplify welfare services in Ohio, which can currently sometimes be a complicated array of various service providers clients must navigate to get help. Kasich would like to gather as many services as possible under a single roof, saving the state money. Those agencies that don’t go along with the plan could lose state funding. But some providers are wary of too much consolidation, as various agencies in different counties often serve very different populations. Kasich called those concerns “turf battles,” though some providers see the issue differently. Kasich has yet to release all the details of his proposed changes.
• The debate over what to do about Hamilton County’s morgue and crime lab is turning into something of a shouting match. Republican Hamilton County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann clearly hit a nerve last week when he called Hamilton County’s crime lab “a luxury item.” Now Democrats are firing back at the assertion. Yesterday, Hamilton County Democrat Chairman Tim Burke berated Hartmann in a letter suggesting the commissioner is playing politics with the crime lab and morgue, which have been at the center of a county budget debate. Both offices, which share a building on University of Cincinnati’s medical campus, are in need of extensive upgrades.
“I’m sorry, but the need for a modern morgue and crime lab is so clear that I can only conclude that your failure to fulfill the Commissioner’s duty to provide that must be due to the fact that our County Coroner is a Democrat who you don’t want to see succeed,” Burke said in the letter.
All parties agree the lab needs updating. Republican Commissioners Hartmann and Chris Monzel, however, say retrofitting a former hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county will be too expensive at $100 million. They’re suggesting the possibility of partnering with neighboring governments to create a regional lab. Conditions in the current building are so cramped that neither the crime lab nor the morgue has room for the extra employees it needs to process the increasing amount of work it must undertake. Other issues include an outdated electrical grid that won’t allow all the lab’s equipment to be plugged in at the same time and an insufficient plumbing system beneath the building that causes the build up of autopsy debris.
• Sticking with news about the county for another beat, 100 Hamilton County poll workers have been dismissed from their jobs for not voting in the last election. Officials with the Hamilton County Board of Elections have said they want to encourage voting, and if their employees aren’t doing it, it sends the wrong message. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s kind of like wearing American Apparel when you work there or tweeting your articles when you’re a reporter — probably a good idea, but mandatory? Seems a little harsh.
• A quick bit of gossip and speculation: is Miley Cyrus planning a benefit concert in memory of Leelah Alcorn? Could be. Recent social media posts by Cyrus show rehearsals for an upcoming project and a notebook that says “Leelah set list,” the Columbus Dispatch reports. Alcorn, a transgender teen, died Dec. 28 after throwing herself in front of a truck on I-71. She left a suicide note on social media explaining the isolation she felt when her family did not support her transgender status.
• Three people were killed this morning in Chapel Hill, North Carolina after a gunman entered their home and shot each in the head. The alleged gunman, forty six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in immediately following the shooting deaths of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all local university students. Though no official motive has been determined, the killings may have involved the fact the three were Muslim. Hicks, an outspoken atheist, had recently put photos of guns on social media as well as writing anti-religious posts.
• Finally, a high-level campaign operative for potential presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush resigned today after racially and sexually charged comments he allegedly made online recently came to light. Ethan Czahor was chief technology officer for Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee. In Twitter posts before he was hired in January, Czahor made disparaging remarks about gay men and called women “sluts.” One grade-A post from 2009 reads, “new study confirms old belief: college female art majors are sluts, science majors are also sluts but uglier." Wow. Bush’s campaign initially called the tweets inappropriate but let Czahor stay on. He resigned yesterday after other racially insensitive statements attributed to him were found on a website for a radio show he worked on in 2008.
All right. Let’s do this news thing.
If its ballot initiative passes, three of the 10 marijuana cultivation farms proposed by ResponsibleOhio would be in Greater Cincinnati, including one in Hamilton County near Anderson Township. One other location would be in Butler County on land owned by Trenton-based Magnode Corporation and a third would be in Clermont County. The weed legalization group is working to put a constitutional amendment ballot initiative before voters in November, and the push has some big local funders. The downside: The state would only be able to have the 10 grow sites, and those sites would more than likely be owned by the group’s investors. ResponsibleOhio’s plan would also create a seven-member oversight board which could increase the number of growing locations in the future, though who would make up the board and how they would decide who can grow weed is unclear.
• The partner of the man who died during the Hopple Street offramp collapse has hired a big-name Cincinnati attorney. Kendra Blair, who had four children with 35-year-old construction foreman Brandon Carl, is looking into a possible lawsuit over Carl’s death last month and has hired attorney Mark Hayden to begin the process. No suit has been filed just yet and it’s unclear if the suit will be filed in federal or state court. Carl was killed when the offramp collapsed during demolition. Investigations into the collapse suggest Kokosing Construction, the company carrying out the $91 million contract on the demolition, may have changed demolition plans at the last minute and should have gone about tearing the bridge down in a different manner. The company denies that its plans were flawed.
• U.S. Small Business Administration head Maria Contreras-Sweet yesterday dropped by Over-the-Rhine to check out Cincinnati’s startup scene, meeting with small business owners and nonprofit leaders from Taste of Belgium, Mortar, the Brandery and others, as well as officials from some of the city’s biggest companies. She also touted several programs the administration is looking to expand, including one offering microloans under $50,000 to small businesses. U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, who chairs the House Committee on Small Business, helped arrange the visit. Contreras-Sweet praised OTR’s business scene. “I’m enjoying the ecosystem you have here,” she said, which is business-speak for “this place is rad.”
• Real estate blog Movoto has ranked Cincinnati one of the nation’s top 10 most creative cities. Cincy ranks eighth on the list, just behind Seattle and just ahead of Pittsburgh. San Francisco took the top spot. Big reasons for Cincinnati’s spot on the list include high number of colleges, galleries, art supply stores and live performance opportunities per capita.
• Cincinnati Metro is teaming up with the city’s Red Bike program to show some love for riders leading up to Valentine's Day. On Feb. 13, Metro will be giving out free one-day bus passes and 24 hour Red Bike passes on Fountain Square at 1 p.m. Metro is also running a contest on its Facebook page and will choose one participant to receive a free 30-day Metro pass, a year-long membership to Red Bike and two tickets to a Valentine's Weekend performance at the Cincinnati Ballet. That’s pretty sweet.
• In national news, Twitter today released its biannual transparency report about how many government requests for user information it gets from government law enforcement agencies. The letter they released is cartoonishly redacted, including some parts that have been whited out and handwritten over. One part seems to have been erased and then scrawled over with a sentence saying that government surveillance of the public on the site is "quite limited." So yeah. That’s kind of hilarious but also kind of terrifying if you’re concerned about government snooping on social media.