Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley’s pick for the next city manager, spoke today about his ideas for keeping Cincinnati’s momentum moving forward.
At a news conference outside City Hall this morning, Black pledged that should he be selected to be city manager, his office would be transparent and accountable as it seeks to boost economic development, improve financial planning and preserve safety in the city. The city manager is arguably the second most powerful position in city government behind the mayor, hiring department heads and making day-to-day choices on the way the city runs.
Black currently serves as the finance director for the city of
Baltimore, a role he says has prepared him to be Cincinnati’s city manager.
“They’re both rustbelt cities,” Black said of Baltimore and Cincinnati. “They’re both challenged in similar ways. What may vary is scale. But the issues here are issues that I’ve seen.”
Black has been involved in political dustups in some of his past jobs, but has more than 25 years of public service experience and reams of positive recommendations. In his remarks today, he pledged to guide the city to a more long-term outlook on finances while forging an analytic rather than political approach to big issues.
He also said he would “think outside the box” in working to lift up Cincinnati’s low-income neighborhoods.
“We’ll have a segment of the community that may need help it terms of being employable,” he said. “As a local government, we have to be certain that we make that a priority as well. We may have to create economic opportunity and connect that segment of the community to those opportunities.”
Black, 51, grew up in Park Heights, a rough neighborhood in Baltimore, and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Mayor Cranley highlighted Black’s story when introducing his pick today. “Having grown up in the urban core, he pulled himself up, got himself educated and has had a very successful career in public service,” Cranley said.
Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black says his experience with long-term financial planning is what makes him the right choice.
“We can’t sustain and prosper by just balancing budgets,” he said. “We have to find ways to go beyond just balancing budgets, which is what we did in Baltimore in respects to the 10-year plan that we put in place. Black said “a longer-term approach” is important “not just in terms of filling budget shortfalls but also finding ways to reinvest back into the city.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. In addition to shoring up long-term financial planning here, he said he would create new ways for innovation to happen in the city. Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness.
Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
“I’m not a pitbull,” he said at the conference, “and only time will allow you to see that.”
Black said he would stay out of the politics of city government in favor of focusing on practical and technical aspects of the job, especially when it comes to controversial issues like the streetcar. Black said his job would be to provide technical and analytical input for council’s decisions.
“In terms of the streetcar project … the legislators have legislated this initiative and this project. It’s incumbent on me and my team to make sure that it’s executed, but to make sure that it’s executed in a cost-effective and responsible way,” he said. “As a city manager, I would rely on the idea that the legislative process is going to yield what the people want.”
Janet Reid, a Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and 3CDC Board Member, was part of the screening process that selected Black. She praised his abilities.
“I could recognize very early on that he has an unusual mixture of talents that would be just right mix for our city,” she said. “That includes the ability to look deeply into details as well as see the big picture.” Reid highlighted Black’s long public service career, praising what she called his proven track record.
Whether council chooses Black for city manager or not, the gig may be short-lived. Councilman Christopher Smitherman has proposed amending Cincinnati’s charter to create a so-called executive mayor. That would eliminate the city manager position and give the mayor’s office power over many elements of the current city manager’s role. Cranley has voiced support for the idea, though Smitherman has said he doesn’t think he has the votes on council to pass the measure and may need to collect voter signatures to get it on the ballot.
Smitherman, along with Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and Vice Mayor David Mann, attended today’s news conference introducing prospective City Manager Black.
The Senate (America’s most powerful deliberative body, not the hotdog place on Vine Street) voted yesterday
to approve former P&G CEO Bob McDonald as head of the Department of
Veterans Affairs. The vote was 97-0, and while such approvals are
usually kind of a mundane procedural affair, they’ve been pretty
difficult with many Obama nominees due to a pretty rowdy, partisan
Senate. Some expected McDonald to have some trouble during the
process, but the near-unanimous vote signals a vote of confidence in
the former Army Ranger and Cincinnati native. McDonald has pledged to
make reforms to the troubled VA within 90 days of starting his new gig.
• Mayor John Cranley has indicated his pick for the city’s next City Manager — Harry Black, finance director for the city of Baltimore. Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black, 51, grew up in a rough neighborhood in Baltimore and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. He sees a “tremendous” potential in Cincinnati and would like to shore up long-term financial planning here as well as create new ways for innovation to happen in the city.
Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness. Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
• The city has unveiled the design for the streetcar’s power station. It appears the station, which will run power to the streetcar lines, will be a big rectangle on Court Street made out of bricks. It will also be adorned with artwork and some steel pieces, making it only slightly more visually interesting than the proposed GE building at The Banks.
What’s more interesting, to me, at least, is the logic behind the building’s location. It can’t go on Central Parkway, officials say, because of structural issues with the subway tunnels. And it can’t go in the subway tunnels because, according to the Business Courier, the long-term transit plan for Greater Cincinnati calls for the tunnels to be used for rail transit some day. I’m not holding my breath for the subway to start operating (that’s how many of my ancestors passed away), but it would be awesome to see rail travel going through those tunnels someday.
The city also revealed it will replace the 14 parking spaces the building would eliminate, answering concerns about parking loss due to the new structure.
• If you have plans this weekend that involve traversing
I-71, beware. The southbound side of the highway will be closed at the
Dana Avenue exit from Friday, Aug. 1 at 10 p.m. until Monday, Aug. 4 at 5
a.m. If you try to go that way, you’ll be routed along the Norwood
Lateral to I-75. Just a heads up.
• A recent piece on urban planning and development blog UrbanCincy.com asks some good questions about a large proposed 3CDC development at 15th and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine. The development, which is currently on hold, would look a lot like Mercer Commons just to the south, span most of a block, contain 300 parking spaces, 22,000 square feet of retail, and just 57 residential units. The piece questions whether the development as planned is really in the spirit of what residents want and what’s best for one of the city’s most promising pedestrian neighborhoods. It’s worth a read.
• Finally, a new Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, up 12 points over his challenger, Democrat Ed FitzGerald. That’s a huge gap, with FitzGerald trailing badly in terms of the number of Ohio voters who recognize his name. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they had no opinion of FitzGerald. That’s bad news, but it’s better than the 15-point deficit FitzGerald had in May, the last time the poll was done. Still, he has serious ground to cover in the three months before the November election. The challenger has been campaigning for more than a year and a half on promises to make higher education more affordable and reform the state’s charter school system, among a number of other talking points. FitzGerald’s campaign is heavily outgunned financially, with just under $2 million to Kasich’s $9 million. The challenger’s campaign recently launched its first TV ad, though Kasich has been running them for months.
Good morning all! Here's what's happening today.
A Hamilton County judge yesterday ordered the city to pay back the $4 million it borrowed from neighborhood funds in 2012. We reported on that money and other budget-related cuts to neighborhood funds in June. Common Pleas Judge Robert Gorman wasn’t amused, called the arrangement, which borrowed a total of $5 million from 12 neighborhoods, “creative financing.” He ordered the city to avoid such arrangements in the future. The city has paid off $1 million of the loan and had originally intended to pay the rest back in 2015. But that repayment was pushed until 2017 in Mayor Cranley’s recent budget. Now, the remaining money will be paid back on a court-ordered timeline that has not yet been set. The city hasn’t budgeted for that quicker repayment, though it says giving the money back won’t affect city services. The city originally borrowed the money to cover a debt to Cincinnati Public Schools.
• Mayor Cranley announced yesterday that the city is willing to commit $200,000 a year for 25 years toward upkeep of Union Terminal, a show of support that seems aimed at convincing Hamilton County Commissioners to put the so-called icon tax on the November ballot. The Cultural Facilities Task Force, a group of business leaders tasked with finding ways to renovate the crumbling train station as well as the city’s historic Music Hall, suggested the .25 percent tax hike earlier this summer as the best way to raise some of the estimated $330 million or more needed to fix up the buildings. The city already pays the $200,000 a year to help with Union Terminal’s maintenance requirements, but it isn’t required to do so. Cranley’s proposal would simply lock that amount in long-term.
• Dog owners in Cincinnati could soon be held more responsible for vicious pets. When it gets together again next week after its summer recess, City Council will consider an ordinance proposed by Councilman Chris Seelbach that would impose up to six months in jail for owners of dogs who seriously injury people. The proposed law doesn’t stipulate certain breeds and kicks in the first time a dog injures someone. Currently, no such penalties exist. A violent attack on a 6-year-old girl by two pit bulls in June resulted in only a $150 fine for the dogs’ owner.
“For decades the city of Cincinnati has given a free pass to owners of dangerous and vicious dogs who attack children, adults and other pets in our community," Seelbach told The Enquirer. "The vast majority of these attacks are due to negligent and irresponsible owners. It's time to eliminate the free pass."
• More trouble for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and this time it’s local. According to a federal report released Monday, accusations have surfaced that the Cincinnati VA hospital engaged in manipulation of patient wait-time data. Officials at the 277-bed hospital in Corryville altered records to hide the amount of time patients had to wait for care, according to an anonymous whistleblower cited in the report. Charges of record manipulation covering up long wait times for patients have brought intense scrutiny to the entire VA, sparking further investigation of 112 VA clinics nationally. Wait time data is tied to employee performance reviews and bonuses.
• After years of preparation, school districts in Ohio are gearing up for final implementation of national Common Core educational standards. As they do so, Republican lawmakers in the statehouse are working to repeal those guidelines. State Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta has introduced a bill to replace Common Core with state-specific benchmarks based in part on those used in Massachusetts. Thompson calls Common Core “the wrong road.” The standards were developed by education experts and politicians over a number of years and focus more on critical thinking skills in math and reading. The new benchmarks have caused criticism from both conservatives and liberals, however. Those to the right say the standards represent a federal takeover of education, while some on the left see massive benefits to large education companies like Pearson and see a corporate takeover of the school system.
• Hey, y’all seen that Snow Piercer movie? So this next thing is just like that, but also kind of the opposite. Basically, both are icy and really dystopian. If you’re the kind of person who is really into apocalyptic stuff, you’ve got $20,000-$40,000 lying around and you’re also into irony, have I got a deal for you. You can now take a climate change-themed cruise ship through parts of the arctic that, until recently, were impassible by boat due to, you know, being covered in ice like they're supposed to be. However, thanks to global warming, it's now possible to take a luxury liner from Alaska, swing north of the Arctic Circle, pop out near Greenland and be in New York City a month later. And for only the average yearly salary of a school teacher, you can do it.
The high end of the price range will get you a penthouse suite on the ship, all the better for watching sea waters rise and arctic seals and polar bears
cling desperately to ice floes bask in the newly balmy temperatures. The 68,000-ton,13-deck, 1,000-passenger ship, which has three times the per-passenger carbon footprint of a 747, is called the Crystal Serenity, of course, because nothing is more serene than watching the planet come apart at the seams before your very eyes. Pure magic.
It's Monday and stuff is already getting crazy. Here's the good, the bad and the befuddling in the news today.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones shared his thoughts Friday on… something… ostensibly related to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s recently announced immigration initiative. The initiative looks to attract documented immigrants who will contribute to economic growth in the region. Jones, who is well known for his vocal and strident opposition to immigration, went somewhere else entirely with it. Of note: Jones doesn’t seem to know the mayor’s name, calling him “Mayor Cranby” on 700 WLW. Anyway, Jones applauds Mayor
Cranberry’s Cranley's plan, or the imaginary version of it he's conjured, for some fairly nontraditional reasons. I’ll just let him tell ya what’s on his mind:
“I want [Cincinnati] to be a haven for illegal aliens also,” he said. “Really I do. If Cincinnati, with all the violence, the killings they have every night in downtown Cincinnati … anybody that’s illegal in the country, let alone in Butler County, I encourage them to go there. If you’re listening today, if you’re illegal, you’ve committed crime, the mayor, Cranley or Cranby or whatever his name is, wants you to come to Cincinnati. I encourage it.”
Jones, you see, is freaked out about all the undocumented folks streaming into Butler County and would rather they come to a place like Cincinnati where someone gets shot downtown every night (note: this is not even remotely reality, but let’s keep moving). Jones was making the rounds Friday, also appearing on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze (where, puzzlingly, he posed in front of a picture of Cincinnati's skyline, probably because Hamilton's isn't nearly as epic or dangerous-looking). He went on the show to raise alarms about the incredibly dangerous influx of undocumented immigrants caused by Obama’s lax immigration policies and the upswing in horrific crimes that has happened since. Oh, and they’re going to spread disease because they haven’t been immunized. Jones is worried about that, too.
Except a few things. State data shows crimes in Butler County have been steady or falling since 2007, including the drug-related crimes and violent offenses Jones cites. And while the sheriff vaguely highlighted a couple tragic and genuinely reprehensible individual examples, the flood of immigrant-related crime seems hard to find statistically. Also, epidemiologists say that refugees and immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America often have similar or even greater vaccination rates than U.S. citizens and pose little threat of spreading diseases. Finally, pinning a surge in illegal immigration on the Obama boogeyman is tough, since his administration has been pretty active in deporting undocumented immigrants. But, y'know, immigrants are scary and all.
• LumenoCity organizers have something new in store this year: an interactive website, app and social media presence that will stream the event live as well as aggregate social media posts about the event, which takes place in Washington Park and combines a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance with a dramatic light show projected onto Music Hall. The interactive portion will be introduced during the July 31 dress rehearsal, which has been opened up to an audience due to overwhelming demand for tickets to the event, which takes place Aug. 1 through Aug. 3.
• While you’re at LumenoCity this weekend — or, if you didn’t get tickets, hanging out around the park craning your neck to see what’s going on — you can pick up a new card designed to promote the arts in Over-the-Rhine. The Explore OTR card will be distributed by the small arts organizations in the city like Know Theatre and the Art Academy. After you’ve used the card at five of these smaller venues, you can redeem it for deals at larger arts organizations like the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Pretty cool.
• After some stinging criticism of General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks, some hand-wringing has commenced as to whether the gargantuan, decade-in-the-making development along the Ohio River is too boring (spoiler: probably).
A quote from Jim Fitzgerald, who sits on the city’s Urban Design Review Board:
"We have been disappointed with the quality of architecture on The Banks to date other than the stadiums. The stadiums are of reasonably good architecture, but the other buildings are very vanilla, very uninteresting, very disappointing."
The review board looks at all plans for buildings before construction begins, though their role is strictly advisory and their advice to the city is non-binding. Others, including city and county leaders, have pointed out that all the buildings currently constructed or planned for the site meet the standards the city has set out and say that the project is a work in progress.
• I’m always trying to get my out of town friends hooked on Cincinnati chili, with varying degrees of success. Skyline, it seems, is doing the same, making plans to open a fifth location in Louisville. Why Louisville? My guess: It’s just close enough that on a clear day, with the wind blowing just right, the fragrance of that sweet but spicy meat sauce wafts across the rolling landscape between the cities and entices Kentuckians the same way it does Cincy natives. Or there are just a lot of people originally from Cincinnati who now live there. Probably the latter. Currently, the chain operates stores in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and five locations in Florida, of all places. Go forth, Skyline, and spread the gospel of mountainous cheese and tiny hotdogs.
As we reported yesterday, Mayor John Cranley rolled out his new immigration task force at Music Hall. The volunteer group, made up of 78 community leaders split into five committees, will look for ways to make Cincinnati a welcoming city for immigrants with an eye toward economic development and growth. The initiative is in its early stages, with committees scheduled to report their findings and suggestions in December. No word so far on hot-button issues like undocumented immigrants, but you can read more about the task force and the work it will be doing in the above blog post.
The mayor also mentioned another immigration-related effort underway, though one unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and the Catholic Archdiocese are working to find ways to house some child refugees who have come to the U.S. through Mexico from Central America, fleeing turmoil related to drug violence in their home countries. The groups have applied for federal grant money through the Department of Health and Human Services to give about 50 refugee children a temporary place to stay in the Cincinnati area.
The massive border crossings have been called a humanitarian crisis and have drawn response from President Obama, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and many liberal and conservative groups. Perry, a staunch conservative, has taken the step of calling in National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. Closer to home, Dayton’s Mayor Nan Whaley recently caused controversy with conservatives when she expressed willingness to house some of the child immigrants in Dayton. That led to a backlash from Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who represents Dayton in Congress. Turner called her comments “completely out of line.” Dayton has been engaged in efforts since 2009 to attract more immigrants to the city, though those efforts are focused on documented immigrants who can help the city grow economically.
The federal government works to move unaccompanied child immigrants out of federal facilities and into temporarily housing with “sponsors,” families or non-profit groups. So far this year, the government has placed about 30,000 children into such arrangements.
• Last month we reported on a lawsuit against the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. The state has settled that suit, and now, local companies overcharged by the OBWC will be getting at least some of their money back. The state settled a lawsuit yesterday over unfair payment structures that gave big discounts on insurance rates to some companies while charging much higher rates to others. Local companies like BAE and non-profits like the Cincinnati Ballet are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the payment scheme. The OBWC has changed how they calculate payments and will create a $420 million fund to repay companies overcharged by the scheme.
• Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke today at the ongoing National Urban League Conference here in Cincinnati. Paul is a staunch libertarian conservative and tea party favorite who in the past has expressed some skepticism about parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying private businesses should be free to discriminate if they see fit. Paul has since walked back a bit on that, but statements like that make him an unlikely choice to speak at the civil rights organization’s big national gathering. He didn’t draw the biggest crowd of the conference, for sure, but he did touch on at least a couple issues relevant to the black community, including his ideas for changing mandatory drug sentencing laws. Current drug laws in the United States have contributed to the highly disproportionate incarceration rates faced by young black males, Paul says, and he’d like to change that. One proposal he'll be pursuing in the Senate-- ending the much higher penalties for selling crack over powdered cocaine. Paul also made his argument for libertarian policies that he says will increase the availability of jobs for everyone, including minorities. Paul has been reaching out to minority groups with mixed success as he builds up to his 2016 presidential bid. Meanwhile, Democrats are rolling their eyes at Paul’s attempts.
• Cincinnati set a Guinness World Record last night for most salsa dancers when more than 2,000 people danced at Fountain Square. The previous record was 1,600 dancers. The effort was put together by a number of community organizations to celebrate Cincinnati’s Hispanic community.
• Finally, if you’re like me after finishing a long article on the subject last week, you’re in too deep on the hot topic of charter schools and need some tips for how to uh, unwind. Luckily, Ohio Department of Education Communications Director John Charlton has some advice for anyone in this position. In a personal tweet sent out July 18, Chartlon advised opponents of charter schools to “take a break from muckraking and enjoy the weekend. Maybe you can get laid. Lol.” Charlton was responding to a tweet asserting that he thought “charter schools are OK no matter what shenanigans take place.” Laugh out loud!
Charlton deleted the tweet yesterday, and explained it this way:
"It was an offhanded comment made as a back and forth with critics who engaged me on my personal account," he said.
Bee-tee-dubs, keep an eye out for our piece on charter schools next week. It’s a deep dive into what’s up with Ohio’s charters. Until then, relax, enjoy your weekend, and maybe you can get… some pizza or something.
Mayor John Cranley today announced the creation of a 78-person task force that will work toward making Cincinnati "the most immigrant-friendly city in the country."
The effort will work to bring more investment from highly-educated and well-to-do immigrants to the area. Few specifics were offered about how the initiative would address the hot topic of undocumented immigration.
“This is a country of immigrants, and this is a place where immigration is rewarded and thanked,” Cranley said during a news conference at Music Hall. “We’re all going to be richer and better by being a friendly city for immigrants.”
The task force, which is all-volunteer and uses no city money at this point, will research ways to attract and retain immigrants in the city. The group will be split into five committees focused on economic development, community resources, education/talent retention, international attractions and rights and safety. The task force will be led by co-chairs Raj Chundur and Tom Fernandez.
Cranley cited economic studies suggesting that immigration is good for economic growth. Economic experts and politicians are split on the wider point of whether welcoming more immigrants overall aids the economy, though some researchers believe even undocumented immigrants are a net positive. Either way, there is much evidence to suggest well-thought-out programs to attract documented immigrants can help cities. Dayton began working to attract immigrants in 2009, and has received national attention for its program. Since the start of the program, more than 3,000 immigrants, mostly from Turkey, have moved to Dayton, helping to revitalize the city's blighted North Dayton neighborhood.
He specifically discussed the EB5 visa program, which rewards immigrants who invest between $500,000 to $1 million in their communities with a special long-term visa and the opportunity for citizenship. He said that program has helped spur development in the city, especially along the Short Vine area in Corryville.
“I can tell you this means a lot to me personally, because I and my family are immigrants to this country,” said University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, who will lead the task force’s education committee. Ono said his time at UC has shown him just how important attracting and retaining immigrants is for the city.
Cranley hedged some on revealing how undocumented immigrants would fit into the plan, saying that was work the task force will need to do as it prepares its recommendations.
“The whole point of the task force is to look at these issues in depth and come back with specific recommendations,” he said.
The mayor did share one effort to help children refugees in the country’s ongoing border crisis, though it is unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities Southwest Ohio CEO Ted Bergh is a co-chair on the task force’s community resources committee. That nonprofit group and the Catholic Archdiocese in Cincinnati are working to help house in dormitories and hopefully find temporary foster homes (called "sponsors") for about 50 kids who have crossed the border into the United States due to turmoil in Mexico and Central America.The groups have applied for federal grants through the Department of Health and Human Services to fund the effort.
Tons going on today in Cincinnati. Check it out.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke this morning at the National Urban League Conference, which is here in town this year. Biden’s speech touched on the challenges the black community has historically faced and the progress the country has made toward economic and social equality. But there are a lot of challenges ahead, the VP said.
“Both civil and economic rights are under siege in the aftermath of the great recession. We can’t be satisfied with where we are now in either civil rights or economic opportunities for African Americans,” he said. Biden called out new voting laws designed to “prevent fraud where no fraud exists” in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ohio has attempted to enact new voting laws as well, limiting early voting times during which many black voters go to the ballot.
“We need to call this what it is,” Biden said. “This is an attempt to suppress minority voting masquerading as an attempt to end fraud.”
Biden also outlined the deep economic disparities facing African Americans, including lack of access to high-quality education and good paying jobs. But there's hope, he said, highlighting new jobs in technology and the medical industry. "If I made this presentation to you seven years ago, I wouldn't be so optimistic. But I'm telling you, this is a new era, not just because of this administration. We're better positioned than anyone in the world." But the United States needs to invest in education and infrastructure to capitalize on that opportunity, Biden said.
True to form, he sprinkled some scatter-brained levity into his talk, opening with wall to wall jokes. Biden’s daughter Ashley is on the board of the Urban League, he noted. “I should have had at least one Republican kid who makes money,” he joked. “That way, when they put me in a home, I get a room with a view.”
• Hundreds of folks from all over the city crowded into the Sharonville Convention Center last night to talk about the plan to hike sales taxes to pay for renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall. Many supporters of the plan showed up, but there were some skeptics in the audience as well. One suggestion that popped up a couple times, and that Commissioners say they may consider, is splitting renovations of the two buildings. Some have suggested raising taxes by a smaller amount so that people across the county can help pay for the badly-needed renovations to Union Terminal, while saving less-urgent Music Hall for the city to fund. Other attendees at the meeting didn’t like the proposed tax plan at all, saying they felt it put too much burden on the county. Many of the plan’s supporters came sporting the yellow signs that are part of the Save Our Icons campaign, a local effort to raise awareness about the buildings and advocate for a renovation plan sponsored by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Music Hall Revitalization Company. The next and final public meeting on the plan before Commissioners decide whether it will go on the ballot will be at the Commissioners’ regular meeting at 11 a.m. on Monday, July 30.
• Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald is another step closer to becoming the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs after the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs voted unanimously yesterday to endorse his nomination. The VA has been plagued by mismanagement, with serious questions arising about patient wait times and record keeping at the agency. Sen. Sherrod Brown is on the committee, and voiced strong confidence in McDonald.
“The VA is faced with many hurdles that it must overcome,” Brown said. “These hurdles are not insurmountable, and I am confident Bob McDonald will meet these challenges head-on.”
McDonald is a veteran himself, graduating from West Point and serving in the Army Rangers before his time at P&G.
“…I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference,” McDonald told the committee yesterday.
• Cincinnati is the top city in the country for recreation, a new ranking says. A study done by finance website WalletHub.com puts our fair city on top of the nation’s 100 largest cities when it comes to having a good time. The study measured availability and affordability of various recreation—from parks to bowling to beer and wine—and then ranked cities accordingly. In all, 24 factors were considered. Most notably, the city is 2nd in the country when it comes to low prices for pizza and burgers. That’s the kind of metric I like to see. I may need to verify this during lunch hour today.
• A local non-profit called People’s Liberty has announced it will give out two $100,000 grants to Cincinnatians looking to make a difference in their community. Smaller grants will also be available for one-off projects and efforts. The group, which will be based in the Globe Building across from Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine, is looking for “civic rock stars” who will use the money to try new, adventurous ways of getting people civically engaged. The grants will come with access to work space, support from staff, and connections with Cincinnati’s business and non-profit communities.
The coolest thing about this idea, I think, is the promise to make it inclusive and diverse.
"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," CEO Eric Avner told the Enquirer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."
• Finally, from the "weird crimes" file—the press secretary for a Pennsylvania Republican congressman was arrested late last week for trying to bring a loaded 9mm pistol into the Cannon congressional office building. Ryan Shucard, the press secretary for Rep. Tom Marino, tried to walk right through a security checkpoint at the building, which is just a block from the Capitol. Security found the weapon and magazine, and how Shucard is charged with carrying a weapon without a license, which is a felony.
It’s a pretty good morning for news, so let’s get to it.
Cincinnati City Council's epic struggle this spring over the Central Parkway bike lane is barely a memory and the city is well on its way to a protected bike route from uptown to downtown. Crews are painting the new lanes right now, like, probably as I type, sectioning off a whole portion of the road meant only for cyclists. No more frantically looking over your shoulder every three seconds, bikers. No more getting caught behind a cyclist when you’re late to work, drivers. Everyone wins. After the lanes are painted and signage about new parking patterns is installed, crews will put up the plastic poles between the road and the bike lane, and we’ll all be ready to ride.
• A non-profit development group for the city’s uptown neighborhoods is looking for land to purchase in order to make a new federal research center a reality. The Uptown Consortium is trying to find the 14 acres in Avondale and Corryville near Reading Road and Martin Luther King Blvd. for the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety to build its multimillion dollar headquarters. NIOSH already runs two facilities in the region—one in the East End and another in Pleasant Ridge. This facility would consolidate the two and bring hundreds of jobs to the uptown area. Both the current facilities are 60 years old. The area is already home to a number of health facilities, including UC Health and Children’s Hospital. Representatives for the consortium said the land hunt is an ongoing project with no set timeline just yet. NIOSH researches issues around workplace safety.
• The Hamilton County Coroner yesterday released the autopsy report for Brogan Dulle, the 21-year-old UC student who went missing in the early hours of May 18 and was later found hanged in the building next to his apartment. The report confirms what authorities believed—that Dulle’s death was suicide. No signs of trauma or struggle were found on Dulle’s body other than the hanging-related injuries that caused his death.
There are still puzzling elements about Dulle’s death, mostly around why he would want to commit suicide.
“It's an investigation that's raised a lot of questions and we still have a lot of questions we may never know the answers to," said Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey.
• Food stamp usage is down in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, following a national trend, says a report from the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The report found that usage dropped more than 4 percent in Ohio from Feb. 2013 to Feb. 2014. Some of this news is good–a portion of those spending reductions came from a decrease in demand due to the economy’s slight but steady improvement. But some of the reductions come from last year’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government’s main nutrition aid effort. SNAP spending by the federal government increased following the great recession as more individuals and families navigated tough economic situations and found themselves needing aid. That increase became a talking point for Republicans looking to slash government spending. At its peak in 2010 spending from the SNAP program accounted for .5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, nearly double what it had been earlier in the decade. Conservatives in Congress used the fact spending had gone up to attempt deep cuts to the program, passing several new stipulations. As the economy gets better, and as these cuts have taken effect, spending on SNAP has dropped to .25 percent of the nation’s economy, according to research by the Congressional Budget Office.
• Do you like alcohol, but hate that it’s in that hard-to-transport liquid form? Science has you covered. Turns out there’s a product called Palcohol that is, you guessed it, powdered, freeze-dried alcohol. Kind of like astronaut ice cream, only it’ll get ya drunk. This definitely reminds me of a certain Parks and Recreation bit. While Ron Swanson says there’s no wrong way to consume alcohol, the Ohio General Assembly wouldn’t say that. Lawmakers are working on a bill to ban the product. Palcohol received approval from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, though the department quickly reversed its decision. It’s also been banned or will soon be banned in a number of other states including Alaska and New York. Turns out, things that aren’t that great for you anyway are even worse for you in powdered form. In May, an 18-year-old Ohio man died from consuming a heaping helping of powdered caffeine. The FDA now warns consumers to, you know, not do that kind of thing. Palcohol's inventor released a video addressing some concerns about the product, which you can check out right here.
Northside Community Council voted July 21 to allow a needle exchange program in the neighborhood. The effort, run by the Cincinnati Exchange Program, will start sometime in August and operate from a van one day a week for three hours at a time. Planned Parenthood will also participate, providing testing services for diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
Exchanges, which aim to cut down the transmission of those diseases among intravenous drug users, have been controversial in the city. A similar effort in Springdale earlier this year was shut down after just a few weeks due to outcry from some in the community. But the community council in Northside thinks the program is worth it.
“The community has been doing its due diligence as to how the program would work and what the repercussions are, and decided the health benefits definitely outweigh any consequences,” said Northside Community Council President Ollie Kroner. “Northside wants to be part of the solution to the heroin epidemic.”
A 2012 study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that needle exchange programs can greatly reduce the number used syringes found littering streets. And a 2004 study by the World Health Organization found that exchanges do not increase the rate of heroin use in areas where they are undertaken.
Heroin addiction has been rising steadily in Ohio in the past five years. 2012 Ohio Department of Health data shows that 159 people in Hamilton County died from heroin overdoses, a 6 percent increase over the year before. Experts trace the epidemic to an increase in the availability of prescription opiates in the last decade. As Ohio has cracked down on those drugs, addicts turn to other, similar drugs to experience the same high. The most popular by far is heroin.
Local organizations, including Northside-based Caracole work hard to fight heroin addiction and prevent overdoses. But as heroin use increases, needles infected with various blood-borne diseases including HIV and hepatitis are a serious concern. Hepatitis C in particular has been increasing among intravenous drug users in the area. Needle exchanges allow a person to exchange a used needle for a new, sterile one, so they at least won’t catch deadly diseases associated with intravenous drug use. The exchanges also cut down on the level of needle litter, meaning less risk of exposure for community members who aren’t using.
Opponents say exchanges encourage heroin use, but supporters of the programs say the availability of clean needles alone won’t sway a person to take or not take the incredibly addictive drug.
Kroner said the effort is a six-month pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of needle exchanges. Though some in the community have expressed concerns that the exchange will create a perception that Northside has a heroin issue, Kroner emphasized that the program isn’t a response to any specific drug problem in the community.
“What we’re really hoping is that Northside can show that this kind of program can work in other communities,” Kroner said.
It's morning! I have news! Morning news! Wow, sorry, that's a lot of exclamation points. I sprung for the large iced coffee this morning and probably need to settle down a little. Anyway, here we go:
Cincinnati is playing host to the annual National Urban League Conference this week. The event, held by one of America’s oldest and largest civil rights organizations, is expected to draw 8,000 people to the city for events Wednesday through Saturday.
The conference is a big deal for Cincinnati. Last time the city tried to host the event in 2003, it was recovering from the 2001 civil unrest that gave Cincinnati a national reputation for race problems. Notable black entertainers boycotted downtown and the Urban League took its conference elsewhere. Since then, some reconciliation and a lot of revitalization has happened, but many old problems remain. In a report called “The State of Black America,” the Urban League ranked the city 74th out of 77 peer cities in terms of economic equity between blacks and whites. Blacks in the Greater Cincinnati area make an average of $24,272 a year compared to $57,481 for whites, the greatest disparity of any city in the region.
Here’s a quote worth thinking about in a Cincinnati Enquirer piece on the event:
"The riots ... were also about economic frustration," said Donna Jones Baker, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio. "These economic gaps continue. And while we have a vibrancy in the city because of wonderful things happening, we have a group of people who can't access them. We can’t expect people to suffer in silence forever.”
Among those attending the event are Vice President Joe Biden and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Biden will make opening remarks Wednesday and Paul will deliver a town hall speech Friday. This seems like a good opportunity for both to keep their speaking short and their listening long, but yeah.
• The cost of renovating Union Terminal and Music Hall may be more than initially estimated, a group of consultants say. International real estate company Hines looked over engineers’ $331 million cost estimates and found places where more money may be needed for both projects. The possible overrun could amount to $10 million more added to the project.
The revelation comes during a continuing disagreement about where renovation money should come from. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann suggests the city chip in to help shore up the landmarks. Hartmann argues that the county can’t “go it alone” in efforts to fix the buildings. A further city contribution would be in addition to the $10 million the city has already pledged for the renovations. Mayor John Cranley shot back at Hartmann yesterday with an editorial detailing the city’s ongoing commitment to the buildings.
• A group of parachutists landed on a parking garage at Fourth and Elm yesterday, according to police. Annnd…. that’s about all anyone knows about it. The group may have been BASE jumpers parachuting from Carew Tower, or may have jumped from an airplane, though air traffic controllers at Lunken Airport didn’t report anything out of the ordinary. Maybe they were protesting something, but none were wearing tiger suits or waving banners shaming Procter & Gamble, so it's hard to tell.
• Horseshoe Casino, which has been open just over a year, is undertaking a half-million dollar, 8,700-square-foot expansion. The new addition sounds like it will be a patio for people to take smoke breaks when they need to cool off from all the fun they’re having fighting battles against the one-armed bandit (that’s a slot machine for those not hip to casino lingo). The patio will be enclosed, have a bar and will only be accessible from inside the casino, Horseshoe representatives say, though they’re tight-lipped so far about further details.
• Cincinnati and Mayor Cranley are featured prominently in a Governing magazine article about changes in the way cities view their outlying suburbs. The article discusses how some cities are shifting away from the view that suburbs are valuable prizes to be annexed or wrapped up in Indianapolis/Louisville-style city and county combined governments. A renewed interest in cities among the young and well-to-do and an increase in suburban poverty are cited as reasons for the shift in thinking from some city leaders.
Cranley’s view that Cincinnati is just fine without taking over surrounding suburbs challenges conventional accepted wisdom.
“You had a sentiment that urban cores need the wealth of the suburbs to have a better budget picture,” he says in the article. “People in the suburbs escaped the city to flee the problems. But that’s changing. You’re going to see cities in a better financial situation than a lot of the suburbs.”
• Finally, a story that could (hopefully) only happen in New York City, where a developer has won permission from the city to have two separate entrances in a new apartment building — one for well-to-do residents of its luxury units and another for the tenants of its required-by-law affordable units. So, basically, a poor door.
Last year, another developer explained just such a plan for another building thusly:
“No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a senior VP at Toll Brothers, a New York development company. “So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.”
Translation: Being rich is hard when you have to rub elbows with not-rich folks, who should just shut up and enjoy the crumbs we’re throwing them.