Your morning news today is gonna be a little grim and heavy. Sometimes that's how the news goes, folks.
A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Mike Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The incident has been highly racially charged from the start and caused months of unrest between protesters and police in Ferguson and surrounding communities. Brown was black and Wilson is white. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch delivered the grand jury’s decision in a highly unusual, and perhaps highly unwise, 9 p.m. press conference, despite the fact the grand jury reached its decision much earlier in the day. The rambling, 20-minute announcement lead with a strong condemnation of social media, the 24-four hour news cycle and other seemingly unrelated forces before getting to a strong defense of Wilson from the prosecutor. It’s exceedingly unusual for a grand jury to not hand down an indictment, unless that indictment is for a police officer who has killed someone in the line of duty.
The announcement was followed by waves of anger from already-gathered protesters, and civil unrest quickly spread through Ferguson. Police and National Guard troops on the scene began firing tear gas and smoke bombs shortly after the decision was read. Reports on the ground relayed some peaceful protesters as well as incidents of looting and vandalism. Several buildings and at least two police cruisers had gone up in flames by this morning, and St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar said he had heard at least 150 gunshots throughout the night. President Barack Obama sounded a skeptical note about the decision but called for peace in Ferguson. Brown’s family released a statement expressing their extreme disappointment with the verdict but also called for protesters to remain peaceful.
Calmer demonstrations have sprung up in many cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Seattle and New York. A peaceful demonstration organized by the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the National Action Network will be held in Cincinnati today at 5 p.m. at the U.S. District Courthouse downtown.
• Last week, Cleveland native Ricky Jackson was released from prison after spending 39 years there for a murder he didn’t commit. Today at noon, Jackson will be in Cincinnati appearing at UC’s School of Law to thank the school’s Ohio Innocence Project and others who helped free him. Jackson’s story was first unearthed by the Cleveland Scene and taken up by the Innocence Project shortly thereafter. He was convicted based on the sole testimony of a 12-year-old boy who later admitted he had made up his statements. Jackson is the 18th person freed by the program.
• Over-the-Rhine's newest brewery and tap house is almost ready for guests. Taft's Ale House, which is on 15th and Race, received its fermenters and brewhouse yesterday. They were lowered in with a crane, which is pretty epic. The owners say they'd like to be open by Reds Opening Day next year.
• If someone offered you a free building, would you take it? Hamilton County commissioners aren’t sure they will. Mercy Hospital has offered to donate their former facility in Mount Airy to the county. A number of the county’s offices, including the county’s cramped coroner and crime lab, could move there, but the new location won’t be cheap. It could cost up to $100 million to retrofit the building for its new tenants, money commissioners say they don’t have, especially after their vote yesterday to approve a relatively skinny $201 million budget. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have both indicated the county may not take the building after all. Democrat Commissioner Todd Portune is also skeptical about moving county services to Mount Airy, though for other reasons. He says the county’s board of elections, which was also proposed as a tenant at the site, should stay downtown.
• Finally, as if my faith in humanity needed more testing this week, there’s this story. Someone stole a Sasquatch statue out of a family’s yard in Delhi. The thing weighs 400 pounds, so it’s an impressive bit of thievery, though also pretty heartless.
“I want squashy back,” the statue’s owner told Channel 12 News. “We've got to dress him up for Christmas. We can't have Christmas without Squashy."
Morning all. Let’s get right to the news, shall we?
It’s hardly a secret that arrest rates in communities across the country are often much higher for minorities. That’s certainly true for suburbs in the Cincinnati area, where authorities often arrest a much higher proportion of blacks than whites. In Sharonville, for instance, blacks are 12 times more likely to be arrested, and in Norwood, they’re seven times more likely. Law enforcement authorities in those communities say that the data controls for the lower population of blacks in those communities but doesn’t take into account the fact that not everyone committing crimes in those places lives there, which they say skews the numbers. Civil rights activists, however, say the data shows a clear racial disparity caused by a number of factors that need to be addressed. Many studies have made it clear that drug use, for instance, is just as high among whites as it is blacks, but law enforcement in many communities makes many more arrests in the latter.
• Are City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley trying to pre-empt a rail project right out of existence? It seems a little premature to say, but that’s the concern expressed by the city’s planning commission chair Caleb Faux and some advocates for a rail component of the proposed Wasson Way trail. The project looks to extend bike paths and eventually, possible commuter rail lanes through Evanston, Hyde Park and Mount Lookout. But on Thursday, Black removed from the city’s planning commission agenda legislation seeking to preserve the possibility of rail in the area by creating a transportation overlay district. The move has sparked worries that Black was acting on orders from Cranley, no friend of rail, in a bid to pre-emptively block a future rail project through the Wasson Way corridor. Cranley said he only wanted to give time for more public input before a vote on the overlay district was taken.
• In other City Hall news, Black announced his pick for the city’s director of trade and development today in a news release. Oscar Bedolla will be the city’s head of economic development. He previously worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration on infrastructure projects in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and Denver.
• State Rep. Alicia Reece, who represents Cincinnati, is pushing for a law that would require greater aesthetic differences between fake guns and real ones in the wake of another police shooting Saturday night in Cleveland. A 12-year-old boy was shot and killed by police officers, who thought the toy gun he was carrying was a semi-automatic pistol. The incident has tragic echoes of the August shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart. Crawford was carrying a pellet gun sold in the store when police shot him.
• As lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly wrangle over how to fix the state’s unemployment compensation system, a new report on the fund reviews how slashes to taxes on employers put the state in debt to the federal government to the tune of $1.3 billion. It’s interesting reading, to say the least, and a primer in the problems that can arise from some lawmakers' "cut every possible tax to the bone” mentality.
• Finally, if you’re really serious about video games, I have a Kickstarter for you to check out. It’s for a company that wants to make a controller that extracts real blood from you every time you’re injured in a video game. “It’s stupidly simple,” the pitch starts. Well, that’s at least partially right. Yow. The device keeps track of how much blood it hass removed, however, so you don’t like, pass out or bleed to death because you’re terrible at "Call of Duty."
Before news, let’s talk chili. Yesterday, true to my word, I checked out Cretan’s Grill in Carthage as part of my quest to discover the city’s smaller independent chili parlors. Excellent start. I paid five bucks for two coneys and a ton of fries. The chili was great — a little sweeter and meatier than say, Skyline. Where should I go next week?
Anyway, a lot of stuff happened yesterday. News stuff. So let’s get to it.
Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have agreed to pay $281,000 to keep open the possibility the county could acquire a former hospital in Mount Airy. The commissioners made the move in anticipation of possibly renovating the building to house several county offices, though they have made it clear those renovations will not happen in the coming year. County Administrator Christian Sigman originally proposed a 2015 budget with a .25 percent sales tax increase to pay for renovations so that the county coroner, crime lab and board of elections along with other offices could occupy the building. Monzel and Hartmann have signaled they will not support a sales tax increase, however, and want a long-term plan for how the former Mercy hospital might be used.
• As we reported last night, the Ohio Department of Health has renewed the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center’s license, meaning Cincinnati’s last clinic providing abortions will stay open. Planned Parenthood had filed a lawsuit against the state after the clinic in Mount Auburn was cited for lacking a transfer agreement with an area hospital. The clinic had an agreement with UC Hospital, but lost it when a law forbidding state-funded hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion providers was passed last year. The clinic applied 14 months ago for an exception to that rule because it has doctors on staff with individual admitting privileges with nearby hospitals.
• Cincinnati Red Bike may be expanding soon. The nonprofit bike sharing company that Cincinnati City Council boosted last year with $1 million in startup funds has been a big success, beating ridership projections in its opening weeks this summer. Currently, Red Bike has 30 stations in downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and uptown near UC. The company has been talking with Northern Kentucky officials about possibly putting additional stations in places like Covington and Newport. Red Bike is also considering putting new stations in places like Longworth Hall downtown and Burnet Woods in Clifton.
• More bad local media news. Scripps Networks Interactive, a Nashville-based entertainment company that produces HGTV, the Food Network and the Travel Channel, is closing its Cincinnati office and shedding the 150 positions based here. The company spun off from Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps in 2008 and employs about 2,000 people total.
• A bill that would ban abortions in Ohio once a fetus has a detectable heartbeat passed committee yesterday and will now make its way to a vote in the full Ohio House. The legislation, which could outlaw abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, would be one of the most restrictive in the country if passed. Bill cosponsors Reps. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance and Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon have said they see the legislation as a means for challenging Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. If they want a legal battle over the bill, they’ll probably get it. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has threatened a lawsuit if the measure makes it into law, which has some conservatives, including Gov. John Kasich, wary of passing the bill. Federal courts have found similar bans in other states unconstitutional, and a lawsuit challenging the ban could also jeopardize other anti-abortion laws in the state, conservative lawmakers feel.
The measure barely made it through the House’s Health and Aging Committee. Several last-minute swaps of committee members were performed so that there would be enough committee members present and so that those supporting the bill would outnumber those opposed. The proposal passed 11-6 after three Republicans and one Democrat were swapped out of the committee. That’s… kinda sketchy.
• Finally, President Barack Obama announced yesterday evening he would take sweeping executive action to grant relief to millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Up to five million immigrants could be shielded from deportation by the action, which directs immigration officials and law enforcement to focus on criminals instead of families. It’s a huge move, and one that has drawn a lot of attention. Conservatives have gone nuts over the announcement. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn predicted instances of “anarchy” and “violence” as a result of the move, and many other GOP officials have called Obama’s power play an illegal use of presidential power. Obama has countered that every president has used executive actions and that Congress should focus on passing legislation to fix America’s broken immigration system.
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Before we get to news this morning, I have a query for readers. I want to venture away from the safe world of our ubiquitous chain Cincinnati chili restaurants for a day, lovely as they are, and try a smaller, more obscure chili parlor in town for lunch. Where should I go? I’m thinking about this place, but I’m open to suggestions. I’ll report back my findings tomorrow morning.
Ok, on to business. A bunch of stuff happened yesterday in City Council, but it was all stuff we sort of expected would happen, right? Council passed a streetcar operating agreement and funding mechanism, a bit of a landmark achievement for the project. After a couple years of fighting, hand-wringing and politicking, it seems like this thing is actually going to happen, funded by a roll back on property tax abatements in Over-the-Rhine, a parking meter increase there and of course rider fares.
“Three months ago, I didn’t know if we’d be here today with a revenue stream,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who chairs Council’s transportation committee, yesterday during the meeting. Murray was opposed to the project originally, but voted for the measure along with the rest of Council minus Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman. Smitherman said he still had serious concerns about the project’s financial prospects, saying no one is sure what ridership will be like.
• Who will be greeting those riders is still in question, though. A fight had been brewing over whether to employ SORTA’s unionized employees to run the streetcar or bid the work out to a private company. Consultants for the transit authority say a private company could save the city as much as $300,000 a year, though Democrats on council and representatives from SORTA’s union debate that number. Council sidestepped the argument for now by passing a resolution stating that SORTA should bid the job out to see what kind of offers it can get, but that the final decision on staffing will be voted on by council, which has so far leaned toward hiring SORTA employees. One possible arrangement: SORTA workers do the actual driving, so to speak, while a private company performs the managerial side of operating the streetcar.
• Council also voted to co-name Third Street downtown Carl H. Lindner, Jr. Way. The vote was unanimous, but not without its own bit of controversy. Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly-gay councilmember, said the vote required some deep soul-searching on his part. Lindner was a big funder of Citizens for Community Values, a group that pushed for Cincinnati’s harsh Article XII anti-gay charter amendment in the 1990s. Lindner also had some other dark moments during his career, though those didn’t enter into the street-naming conversation in Council.
“As a gay person, I don’t want to be judged solely on my sexual orientation,” Seelbach said. “There’s a lot to me besides my sexual orientation. And there’s a lot to Mr. Lindner besides his anti-gay history and positions. And a lot of that is really wonderful, from the jobs he created to the nonprofits he supported. Those things make me see him as a more whole person than just his anti-gay past.”
Despite Seelbach's yes vote, his comments drew an angry response from Councilman Charlie Winburn, who said Lindner was something of a mentor to him.
“I think it’s shameful of you to make a comment like that when a man has died and has given so much to Cincinnati.” Winburn said. Lindner passed away in 2011. “You should keep your vote. Your vote is not received."
• Well then. On a less awkward note, Council also approved a liquor license request for Nick and Drew Lachey’s Lachey’s Bar in Over-the-Rhine, which is hoping to open before Thanksgiving. So there’s that.
• A judge has turned down suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s first two requests for a new trial. Hunter filed three motions asking for a new trial after jury members recanted their guilty verdicts. The jurors said they were pressured into their decisions. Those motions would have been heard in court today.
"Once a jury has returned a verdict, and that jury has been polled, a juror may not rescind their verdict," Judge Norbert Nadel wrote in his decision. Hunter was tried on nine felony counts last month, and convicted on one — a charge stemming from her allegedly passing on documents about her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate. The jury hung on the other counts. A judge will hear Hunter’s final motion for retrial Dec. 2.
• Business opportunity alert: did you know Mayday is for sale? For $285,000 you get the bar and all of its inventory. Not a bad deal. Owners Vanessa Barber and Kim Mauer are moving on to other opportunities after five years of running the bar, which was known as the Gypsy Hut prior to their tenure there. I have a lot of fond memories playing music and billiards there, as well as climbing onto the roof of that building under both its names, so I hope someone snatches it up. I’d buy it, but I’m just a little short on cash. About, oh, $284,000 short. No worries, though, the bar will stay open until a new owner comes along.
• Speaking of opportunities… if you’re a fellow scribe, heads up. The Cincinnati Enquirer is hiring in tons of positions, many of them reporters to replace those it lost during a Gannett-wide restructuring process.
• Finally, our most esteemed Twitter friend John Mattress is at it again. Bacon is expensive indeed.
For chili tips, or heck, even if you want to throw some news my way, hit me up on Twitter or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hey all! Once again, I’m rushing toward a day of covering meetings and hearings, so let’s do this morning news thing in a “just the facts” fashion.
First, about those meetings:
Cincinnati City Council today is expected to pass the streetcar operating and funding plans after the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee gave it the thumbs up yesterday. That’s a big deal, considering the city had been working for months to figure out where the system’s $4 million yearly operating budget would come from. But the fighting isn’t over. Now there’s disagreement about whether Metro or a contractor should run the streetcar. It’s a classic private vs. public argument. Vice Mayor David Mann and a majority of council want the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority to do the work. Councilmembers Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray, on the other hand, would like to see SORTA take bids on operations from private companies to see what kind of savings contracting the work could yield. A consultant for the transit authority, TRA, has generated numbers saying that the city could save about $300,000 a year by going private. SORTA’s union has taken issue with those numbers, though, and say they could match a private company’s price. Council won’t consider Mann’s proposal until sometime after Thanksgiving, which means a couple more weeks for wrangling over the deal.
City Council will also vote on a motion to name Third Street after Carl H. Lindner Jr., one of Cincinnati’s most towering business figures. That’s prompted some questions about Lindner’s legacy, specifically around LGBT issues. He gave millions to various causes around the city, but also had a darker side. Some, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, would like to take some time to get more public input on the move before putting his name on a prominent downtown street.
• Hamilton County Commissioners are holding a public hearing over the county’s 2015 budget this morning. The budget has been controversial. The original proposal by County Administrator Christian Sigman called for a .25 cent tax increase to fund renovations of a former hospital in Mt. Airy, a boost Republican commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann batted down recently. The Mt. Airy site, donated to the county by Mercy Hospital, would hold a new, updated crime lab and coroner’s office, as well as the county board of elections and other offices. The coroner’s office and crime lab are in serious need of updates, officials say, and are running at less than full capacity. Without the tax boost, however, the budget will remain flat and many other offices, including the Sheriff’s Department, will face cuts. Monzel has said he’d like to have the budget passed before Thanksgiving, making this the last significant hearing on the issue.
• Procter & Gamble has officially stepped up to publicly support same-sex marriage, the company said yesterday. While the company has had domestic partner benefits since 2001, this is the first time it’s made a public statement about the divisive issue. Though the announcement comes in the wake of a recent federal court decision upholding Ohio’s same-sex marriage amendment, the company says the move isn’t political, but is about supporting its employees and attracting the best possible talent.
• Major Hollywood movies filming here in Cincinnati give the city an undeniable cool factor, but does that translate into an economic boon as well? A recent study by the UC Center for Economics Education & Research says yes. The state pitches big tax breaks to film production companies, but also get a big boost in the jobs and economic activity those films bring, the study says — 4,000 jobs and $46 million in economic activity in Cincinnati for $6.5 million in tax breaks. But the equation may be more complicated than that. According to this Business Courier blog post, when you take into account the state’s return on investment – how much of that $46 million is coming back in taxes — and alternative uses for the tax dollars spent. Interesting stuff and worth thinking about.
• Ohio is about to free a prisoner wrongly convicted of murder almost 40 years ago. Ricky Jackson and two others were convicted of murdering a man in 1975 based on the eyewitness accounts of a single 12-year-old boy. That boy later recanted his testimony, saying he was "just trying to be helpful" to police by testifying. Jackson will be freed from jail Friday after a years-long legal battle aided by the Ohio Innocence Project. The Cleveland Scene first reported the story and drew attention the Jackson's plight.
• Finally, are we headed for another government shutdown? There’s a showdown brewing over President Barack Obama’s use of executive action to ease deportations of undocumented immigrants. Hardline conservative Republicans want to tuck measures preventing the president from doing this into spending bills integral to the budget process, forcing Obama to either sign them or veto them and halt Congress’ approval of funds that keep the federal government operating. GOP congressional leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner and probable Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said last year’s shutdown was damaging for the party and that they will not abide by a repeat. But the GOP’s tea party-aligned right flank says they won’t rule out grinding the government to a halt again.
What do you do to remember a billionaire who created thousands of jobs in the city and spread millions of dollars around to various charities?
What if that same guy gave generously to a group that pushed the passage of one of the country’s harshest anti-gay ordinances, hung out with the folks responsible for the saving and loan crisis in the 1990s and once ran a company that hired brutal Colombian paramilitary groups to protect its crops?
Maybe name a street after him.
Mayor John Cranley has proposed naming Third Street in Cincinnati “Carl H. Lindner Way” and hopes to have it pass Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday. Some in the city, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, have asked for more time and public input before the decision is made. Seelbach praised Lindner, but also criticized his stances on LGBT issues.
“Carl Lindner absolutely has made our city a better place in many, many ways,” Seelbach said during a Nov. 18 transportation committee meeting, citing his economic and charitable impact. “The problem is that we were perhaps the most anti-gay city in the country because of Article XII. One of the people, if not the person, who orchestrated its passage was Carl Lindner. That’s unfortunate, and he’s not here to defend himself, and I understand that. But I have a problem elevating him to where we are now naming one of our most prominent streets after someone whose efforts caused us to be known as an intolerable place.”
Seelbach said he wasn’t sure how he would vote on the issue given more time, but felt that public input on renaming the downtown thoroughfare was needed. Other council members agreed, though the measure passed out of committee and will be voted on by the full City Council tomorrow.
Seelbach, along with Councilmembers Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young, abstained from voting on the measure in committee. Simpson said she wanted public input and more time to think about the vote. Young said he wasn’t aware of Lindner’s role in Article XII and wanted to find out more.
There’s no doubt Lindner’s legacy is intertwined with Cincinnati’s. His name is on buildings he financed all over the city. Lindner, who died in 2011 at the age of 92, rose from meager beginnings to become one of America’s richest men, creating thousands of jobs and giving millions to charities in the area. He grew up in Norwood and started United Dairy Farmers from his family’s dairy shop. From that, his empire blossomed to include American Financial Corp., international produce corporation Chiquita, The Cincinnati Enquirer for a stretch and even the Cincinnati Reds for a few years. In 2000, he traded to bring hometown hero Ken Griffey Jr. back to Cincinnati, picking him up at Lunken Airport in one of his signature Rolls Royces.
But his power had a dark side. Lindner gave big money to Citizens for Community Values, the conservative group that pushed for the city’s 1993 Article XII charter amendment. The amendment barred laws protecting LGBT residents and made Cincinnati one of the most anti-gay cities in the country until it was repealed in 2004. Lindner's son, Carl Lindner III, served on the group's advisory board . The law is now seen as a black mark on the city, an embarrassing chapter from which Cincinnati has only recently recovered.
Lindner was also far from above reproach when it came to business ethics. He was very close with fellow Cincinnati captain of industry Charles Keating, another CCVer and so-called “face of the U.S. savings and loan bust,” a financial crisis in the 1990s that cost tax payers more than $3 billion. Keating was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the crisis, though he won an appeal on a technicality and was released after four. Before all that, though, Keating helped Lindner at American Financial, Lindner’s core business. The two were charged together in 1979 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for self-dealing from the company till. Lindner paid back more than $1 million, though he never admitted wrongdoing.
Lindner also oversaw other deeply troubling corporate practices, though he himself escaped implication in them. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million by the federal government after it was discovered that unnamed upper-level executives there were making payments to Colombian paramilitary groups beginning in 1997, during Lindner’s tenure at the helm of the company. Those payments, to groups like AUC and FARC that terrorized Columbian citizens, were found to be in violation of U.S. anti-terrorism laws. AUC was especially violent, carrying out some of the country's largest massacres. The group was also engaged in the country's cocaine trade.
Many details about shady practices at Chiquita were revealed years earlier in 1997, when The Cincinnati Enquirer published a year-long investigation it had done on the company. Chiquita slapped the paper with an immediate lawsuit because a reporter there had illegally hacked into the company's phone messaging system. The Enquirer quickly retracted the story, ran front-page apologies and paid a $10 million-plus settlement to the company. Chiquita claimed the stories were fundamentally unbalanced, though reviews by The New York Times and other national news outlets found some of the story's revelations couldn't easily be explained away. But the charges of phone hacking got most of the attention and took the air out of the Enquirer stories, as the American Journalism Review noted in a 1998 piece that gives excellent background into the relations between Lindner and Cincinnati's daily paper of record.
"Chiquita has been quite successful at
blunting the impact of the Enquirer series by focusing attention on the
paper's reporting techniques," the publication said.
The recent Enquirer story about the renaming of Third Street doesn't mention any of the controversy around Lindner or Chiquita.
Cranley’s move to name a public street after Lindner isn’t unique. Last month, there was a half-serious suggestion by Norwood Mayor Tom Williams to rename the Norwood Lateral after the Cincinnati-born businessman. That suggestion was in response to State Sen. Eric Kerney’s proposal to name the lateral after Barack Obama, though Williams said ideally he’d leave the highway alone entirely and not rename it after anyone.
Correction: an earlier version of this post referred to Carl Lindner III as president of CCV. He served on the group's advisory board, not as president.
Hey all. The tide has turned. Nearly every morning, I stop into one of a few downtown spots to grab a donut and (lately decaf) iced coffee on my walk to work. In the summer, this was unremarkable, but as the weather has gotten colder, it’s become something cashiers laugh at me about. Thing is, I have very poor impulse control and can’t wait more than a couple minutes to start drinking and always burn the hell outta my mouth on hot drinks. Today, though, I actually got hot coffee. It’s that cold out. “Finally,” the cashier said.
So yeah, news. A federal judge has recused himself in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Health over Ohio’s restrictions on clinics that provide abortions. Judge Timothy Black has sent the suit back for reassignment because he served on Planned Parenthood’s board 25 years ago. While he says he would follow legal precedent in deciding the suit, he wants to avoid any appearance of bias and is passing the case off to another judge.
• Former Mason mayor and outgoing Republican State Rep. Pete Beck has for months been facing charges that he committed investment fraud by luring investors into putting money into an insolvent company called Christopher Technologies. Beck was chief financial officer of the company. His case has yet to get underway as prosecutors continue to try and get documents with details about his investors. Beck was indicted 18 months ago. His attorneys say the state is taking too long and should drop the case, but attorneys for the AG’s office have said no way. Beck’s co-defendant Janet Combs, who runs Ark by the River Fellowship Ministries, has pleaded no contest to charges in connection with the case and will be testifying against Beck when his case goes to trial next year. Combs’ church, which judges have called “a cult,” has been ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution to victims of the investment scheme.
• Another local government has signaled support for efforts to make high-speed rail between Chicago and Cincinnati a reality. The city of Wyoming passed an ordinance yesterday requesting a feasibility study for the project from the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments. Hamilton County Commissioners have also backed the idea of a study to see how much such a project would cost. The effort is being led by non-profit All Aboard Ohio. The group has its quarterly public meeting tonight in Over-the-Rhine at 6 p.m.
• A bill passed yesterday by the Ohio House’s Education Committee would eliminate minimum salary requirements for teachers in the state. Supporters say the bill will make it possible to institute better merit pay for teachers. Opponents say it will just pit educators against each other. The bill should go up for a vote in the full House of Representatives sometime this week.
• Proposals for changing Ohio’s redistricting process for both congressional and state legislative districts are floating through the Ohio General Assembly. The plans, proposed by Republicans, would remove input from courts and the governor from the redistricting process. Instead, state legislators of both parties would vote on redistricting maps, and if they can’t agree, the maps will go on a ballot initiative for voters to decide. Conservatives call this method fairer, but some experts say it will only make Ohio’s already terribly lopsided redistricting process worse. Oh, great.
“It is the dominant party that holds the whip in its hand and can beat the opposing party, the minority, into subjection with it,” said Ohio State University law professor Dan Tokaji. “As a practical matter, the minority party has no real leverage under this proposal.”
• So, this is super-creepy. An Uber exec, frustrated about negative press coverage his company has been receiving, said the company should hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who report negative stories about the company. Uber’s Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael made the comments during a swank dinner hosted by a political consultant for the company and attended by VIPs like Ed Norton and Huffington Post publisher Arianna Huffington. Michael suggested Uber should spend a million dollars to fight back against journalists by digging into their “personal lives,” and their “families,” even throwing out a name or two of specific journalists they could target. Uber later said that the conversation was supposed to be off the record, and Michael said his comments were merely hypotheticals and don’t “reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”
Oh, of course. Saying you want to dig up the personal lives of people who criticize you and then saying "just kidding!" isn't creepy at all. Carry on.
I’m sure the big old lumps of snow are a bummer for those of you who drive to work, but it was super cool walking from Mount Auburn to CityBeat HQ this morning. Seeing the hillsides shrouded in white and downtown poking out of the mist on my way down reminded me how much I love this city. It also netted me a bunch of likes on Instagram, which is the main thing I’m excited about, of course.
Anyway, on to the news. Because ordering things from the Internet takes so, so long and just doesn’t have the wow factor it used to, Amazon has been considering using drones to deliver items to your door for about a year now. What’s more, the Greater Cincinnati area could be one of the first places to get that service if changes to aviation laws expected next year make it a possibility. The company is currently hiring drone pilots, engineers and other folks with relevant experience to help build its drone delivery program. Who wouldn’t want flying robots speeding toward your house with all that stuff you bought during your last stoned 2 a.m. shopping spree?
• It’s getting harder and harder to live on what you earn at jobs requiring few specialized skills, both in the area and in the country as a whole. That’s lead to a push in Greater Cincinnati to create new routes for workers who want to get high-skill jobs in the manufacturing and tech industries. Many companies offering these jobs can’t find enough qualified applicants, leading them to establish or support training and apprenticeship programs for low-skill workers and recent high school graduates.
• I learned a lot about sex trafficking doing our cover story a couple weeks ago on sex workers. The problem is real and huge. Here’s a terrifying story about captivity, sex trafficking and abuse at a house in Avondale, where as many as a dozen women were held by a Colerain man for an indeterminate amount of time. Christopher Hisle, who has been in trouble for running unlicensed sex-oriented businesses in the past, is charged with sex trafficking and faces up to 15 years in prison.
• If you’re looking to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act but are somewhat befuddled by the process, you’re in luck. An enrollment assistance center contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services is open in the city to help folks with navigating the healthcare exchanges. The center is at 4600 Wesley Ave. Suite C, Cincinnati OH 45212. You can give them a call as well at 513-802-8092, or visit them on Facebook and Twitter.
• Some conservative lawmakers in Ohio’s General Assembly are pushing a new bill that would make secret the details about those who supply lethal injection drugs to the state. Ohio hasn’t been able to find a source for lethal injection drugs because no companies want to be associated with supplying it. Making suppliers secret would solve this problem, Republican lawmakers say. Ohio has had to suspend executions due to the prolonged death of Dennis McGuire last January. McGuire was killed using a new combination of two drugs. Ohio has had to resort to such mixtures because the company that manufactures the original drug the state used has refused to sell it for use in executions. As McGuire died, witnesses say he was gasping for breath. The state says he was asleep and did not experience discomfort, but his 25-minute-long execution prompted a federal judge to issue a temporary stay on executions. The next scheduled lethal injection will take place Feb. 11 unless federal courts order more delays. In response to the drug dilemma, some lawmakers are calling for alternative execution methods, including returning to the electric chair, to be considered.
• Also in the State House, the House Education Committee is considering legislation today that would reduce the amount of time public school students spend taking standardized tests. House Bill 228 proposes limiting testing to four hours a year and has been greeted with enthusiasm by lawmakers, some school officials and education groups.
• Finally, here's a pro tip: don't drive yourself to your driver's license test, then lead cops on a car chase when they ask why you're driving before you have your license. Or do, if you want a really epic story about why you walk to work every day. I just walk because I'm too lazy to find a parking space. This guy's excuse is way more interesting.
Hey all, here’s what’s happening this morning. I’ll be brief. It’s Friday, and we all have stuff to do if we want to get out of work early.
City Council committed to doubling human services funding in its meeting yesterday. The fund, which provides money to 54 organizations that fight poverty in the city, will go from $1.5 million to $3 million in the next city budget. That boost will bring the fund up to .84 percent of the city’s operating budget, with a goal of eventually raising it to 1.5 percent, a level the city hasn’t seen in ten years due to harsh cuts during that time.
• At their respective meetings this week, both City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners agreed unanimously to create a city-county cooperation task force. The task force would look for ways to share services between the two governmental bodies. Councilman Chris Seelbach said he’d like to see the group find ways to cooperate with the region’s other municipalities as well, including places like Norwood and Saint Bernard.
• Developers are looking to pour about $80 million into projects in Mount Auburn, one of the city’s more neglected neighborhoods. The area just north of Over-the-Rhine and just south of Clifton and Corryville could see new office space and apartment buildings, among other development projects.
• In a way, this is the flip-side of the shared services coin: the City of Sharonville is considering doing away with its health department in order to contract services through Hamilton County Public Health. That’s upset some members of the community there. Mayor Kevin Hardman has recommended the move, and Sharonville City Council will vote on it soon.
• Are you ready for a Rand Paul presidential run? The Kentucky Senator and tea party hero is about “95 percent” certain to be vying for the Republican nomination in 2016, according to this Politico story. Paul’s father, Ron Paul, is something of a libertarian folk hero who has pushed for auditing the Federal Reserve Bank, zeroing out entire departments in the federal government and other kinds of whacky ideas. The elder Paul made runs in the last two presidential elections as an independent, where he got a lot of attention but not much of the vote. Rand has combined many of his father’s libertarian ideals with a more palatable tone and connections to both establishment and tea party factions of the GOP. He’s also tried to make inroads on traditionally progressive issues, saying he wants to reform drug laws and pull back U.S. military involvement overseas. He’s gone to places where liberals are most likely to hang out— speaking at UC Berkeley and this summer’s Urban League conference in Cincinnati, for instance — in an attempt to make his case. Be prepared to see a lot more of that in the near future.
• Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, firebrand Senator Elizabeth Warren will join Democratic leadership in that chamber, a sign the party is seeking to bring the left-leaning part of its base in closer. Warren has crusaded against big banks and their role in the financial crisis and has big populist appeal among progressives. Some of her job in her new position will be reaching out to those groups and voters as well as advising the party as a whole on policy and messaging. Some progressives have pushed her name as an alternative to Hillary Clinton for the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2016, but so far, Warren has said she’s staying out of the race.