The fall theater season is fully under way. I’ve seen several productions that I can recommend, starting with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s staging of Luna Gale. The story focuses on a weary social worker caught on the horns of a horrible dilemma — a custody battle between teen parents with drug issues and a zealously religious grandmother — with veteran actress Annie Fitzpatrick turning in another outstanding acting performance. The production is also an impressive reminder of the fine work ETC has been doing for 30 years since three actors in Luna Gale were ETC apprentices a year ago. The award-winning Luna Gale is being produced at many theaters across America this season, but I can’t imagine that any of those productions will be better than the one we have right here in Cincinnati. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-421-3555
Last night I was at the Playhouse for The Secret Garden opening its 56th season. While this is a story about a 10-year-old girl, it’s quite serious and thoughtful. Orphaned and seemingly headed for unhappiness, she finds redemption in nature and friendship, bringing others along on her path to a better place through abandoned garden that comes back to life. In my review, I suggest that this production might be a bit too complex and impressionistic for kids, but the show is physically beautiful and gorgeous musically. Caitlin Cohn’s performance as Mary Lennox is impressive; she’s a student at New York University, but quite convincing as a young girl. The cast features two CCM musical theater grads, Adam Monley and Carlyn Connolly, and a raft of polished New York veterans. Through Oct. 3. Tickets: 513-241-3888
If you’re a fan of the music of the ’60s and ’70s, you’re likely to love the touring production of Motown: The Musical currently rattling the rafters at the Aronoff Center (through Sept. 20). The hardworking cast does a great job of recreating the sounds of Motown — The Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, and many more. The play in which this is presented, however, is not so stimulating — Motown founder Barry Gordy’s story was written by (you guessed it) Barry Gordy, and it all feels pretty self-serving. But the music is great, and it comes at you hot and heavy — nearly 60 songs, although many are in medleys or shortened versions. Nevertheless, it’s a great reminder of the Pop tunes that kept American singing and dancing several decades ago. Tickets: 513-621-2787
The Covedale Center is offering an ambitious staging of a great musical, A Chorus Line, with some fine dancing in its own right. This is a very moving show about people who put themselves “on the line” to do something they love. It’s still powerful after 40 years, and Cincinnati Landmark Productions has done a fine job with this one. (Through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550
There’s a lot of laughter at Know Theatre this weekend where the Cincinnati Improv Festival is underway. I understand that there aren’t many tickets left, but if you’re a fan of this branch of comedy, you should call to see if you can get in. Shows tonight and Saturday. Tickets: 513-300-5669
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
Good morning y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news today before you head off for your weekend.
At a news conference this morning, the Cincinnati Fire Department released a report on the March 26 death of FAO Daryl Gordon, the 54-year-old who was killed after falling down an elevator shaft while responding to a fire in Madisonville. That report reveals that other firefighters wrote a warning on the door to that elevator shaft just minutes before Gordon fell. “Do not enter, open shaft,” the black scrawl on the white door reads. Officials with CFD believe thick smoke and dim lighting conditions may have prevented Gordon from seeing the warning. He was in the building about 10 minutes, working to rescue some of the 29 residents who were eventually removed from the structure. Gordon’s death was the first for CFD in seven years. The department plans to use the report released today to review its operating procedures and avoid a similar accident in the future.
• Another important report is coming down the pike today. The University of Cincinnati Police Department will release its initial findings in the investigation into the police shooting death of Samuel DuBose by UC officer Ray Tensing. The shooting happened after Tensing pulled DuBose over for a routine traffic stop. When DuBose refused to exit his car and turned the key in the ignition, Tensing shot him in the head. DuBose’s car then rolled for more than a block. Many, including Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, have called the shooting inexcusable, but Tensing and his attorneys argue he acted in self defense and felt he would be dragged by the vehicle. Tensing is charged with murder in the incident and will stand trial later this year.
• An historic theater in Northern Kentucky could soon become another area brewery. Bellevue City Council yesterday approved a proposal by Cincinnati-based developer Kent Hardman to convert the 73-year-old Marianne Theater in Bellevue into a unique entertainment venue that just happens to brew beer as well. Hardman wants to retain the theater’s stage and screen to show movies and stage live shows. This kind of setup has seen big success in other parts of the country, including my former home of Austin, which has the Alamo Drafthouse, a theater where you can drink. They also serve great food. If developers find a way to bring chicken wings into the NKY plan, I’ll be there every week.
• The latest GOP polls from the early presidential primary state of Iowa are about what you’d expect on first glance, with some surprising details once you dig in. According to the Quinnipiac University poll released today, Ohio’s guy, Gov. John Kasich, aka K-Dawg, aka Big Queso, (OK I’ll stop now) is in fifth place with 5 percent of the vote. That’s surprising considering Kasich hasn’t really been focusing much on Iowa and because other polls in past months have had him down around 2 percent of the vote. That ascendancy is the good news for him, however. The bad news is he’s in a three-way tie for fifth and he and the rest of the GOP field are being dominated by a real estate Svengali with a bad hairpiece. Yes, Donald Trump is still on top, followed by former doctor Ben Carson. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush round out the top four. A surprise at the bottom of the list is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who leads Iowa’s next door neighbors and was at one point the front runner in the GOP’s Random House sweepstakes-style contest for president. What a mess.
• Hey, so check this out. Did the above 2016 rundown give you a headache? Are you daunted by the fact we have well over a year of this garbage we have to pay attention to before the election? Are you ready to throw in the towel?
Well, here’s a brief illustration of why all this stuff matters. As Democrats and Republicans tussle over which of their problematic candidates will fight the other party’s problematic candidate in a gross-out battle of yawn-inducing personal attacks, political back-flipping and the like, multiple perches on the U.S. Supreme Court might be at stake. That’s right. Our judges are aging, with three in their 80s, and the next president may well get to appoint a significant number of replacements as they retire. Given the huge role the nation’s highest court has played in recent issues (see: same-sex marriage, abortion, affordable housing, affirmative action, etc.) and the fact that presidents usually choose a judge who roughly agrees with them ideologically, that’s super-terrifying.
So, you know. Pay attention. Vote. All that good stuff.
Autumn 2015 looks unusually strong. Perhaps I’m optimistic, but there seems to be several upcoming titles on the release schedule in the months leading up to the holidays that I find myself looking forward to as much as any fall I can remember. It just comes down to whether you trust the cast and crew around the individual film release or if you trust that the movie studios will stick to the script and deliver the best quality films when they intend to. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.
Hollywood justifies its existence with its accomplishments. We get bombarded annually with loads of nonsensical big-budget franchise flops — we also get our minds blown when the picture is right, when it all comes together. Here’s to hoping that, this fall, we experience enough excellence to forgive and forget the never-shrinking studio batch of goofy big-budget embarrassment we are sometimes forced to sift through as moviegoers.
September has a lot of movies on the schedule that I wouldn’t raise my hopes for, but a few strike me as intriguing. I would say that M. Night Shyamalan won’t be making another good movie any time soon — The Happening is a great ironic viewing — but sometimes a director has to take a turn for the worse to make an eventual turn for the better. The perhaps too-often-mocked director behind The Sixth Sense and Signs returns to horror with The Visit, set for wide release from Universal on Sept. 11. The premise is as frightening as it is vintage Shyamalan. In the PG-13 “original thriller” (so says the trailer), two kids visit a pair of grandparents who strictly enforce bedtime. Over the course of The Visit, the kids notice strange noises after bedtime, and their grandparents begin to behave strangely the next day. I would say that the idea of a total Shyamalan comeback is outlandish, but Universal seems to be releasing nothing but insanely popular movies this year. I’m not getting excited for The Visit, which seems to feature a heavy found-footage-style dosage of screen time, but I’d be lying if I denied that I typically root for any horror film to scare the living snot out of me.
On Sept.18, Warner Brothers will distribute Black Mass for wide release. The true-crime drama will feature Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Depp in what looks like a good old-fashioned gangster film. Depp is already being hailed for a sort of comeback in TV spots and reviews. It’s good to know that he at least decided to play a character that isn’t some sort of mystical being or peculiar sad man. The hype for Depp portraying Boston crime legend James “Whitey” Bulger is astronomically high, and I can only hope that he reaches the performance level that most critics seem to believe he has delivered.
October is when things will get pretty exciting. The first weekend of the month will see the wide release of Ridely Scott’s The Martian, a limited release of Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk in IMAX, and a double helping of Tom Hardy in Brian Helgeland’s Legend. The Martian has a bold ensemble cast led by Matt Damon, but its merit will be accomplished or missed behind the camera. I like to liken Ridley Scott to a power hitter in Major League Baseball — sure, he strikes out more than most, but when he gets ahold of something good, he really makes it count. There is a good level of hype for The Martian — some seem to hope that this could be Scott’s finest film since American Gangster, but it could be as disappointing as Scott’s similarly hyped (albeit very different subject matter in) The Counselor, which turned out to be an uncomfortable sitting for movie fans hoping for the best out of a Cormac McCarthy script. The Walk is based on the true story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s 1974 attempt to walk a wire connecting the two towers of the World Trade Center. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and is directed by Robert Zemeckis, the guy behind Back to the Future, Forrest Gump and Flight. The movie should at least be worth seeing in IMAX, and Zemeckis’ films always have an outside shot to be awards-season surprises. Zemeckis’ constant attempt to walk the fine line between broad appeal and powerful visual skills won him an Oscar and massive box office success, but The Walk’s story seems as risky as its protagonist’s goal.
In limited release, Legend seems sure to satisfy the best of the Tom Hardy fan in everyone. We all know that the only thing better than Tom Hardy starring in a movie is Tom Hardy starring with Tom Hardy in the same movie. He’ll be portraying real-life London crook icons, the twin Kray brothers. One is the brain. One is the brawn. The colorful biopic has already garnered mostly mixed but positive-leaning reviews. We are about to discover if Hardy may be ready to prove that he can carry a film at the box office for any studio. The film will not have an initial wide release, but it will be interesting to see if Hardy — practically the entire selling point of the movie based on its trailer — can pull Americans to smaller movie houses for a mobster flick about British criminals. Legend will be another Universal release. If Universal’s box office mojo continues into the fall, Legend will probably surpass expectations.
And that’s only the first weekend of October. On Oct. 9, we get to watch one of the best actors around — Michael Fassbender — portray one of the most monumental, impossible-to-ignore public figures of our time in Steve Jobs. Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) will be directing, and Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, The Social Network) has penned the script. It’s worth noting that Sorkin has now written two big-time portrayals of tech industry tycoons; but if it works, why not do it again? If the picture shows as well as its producers seem to expect, we could very well see Fassbender at the Globes and Oscars in early 2016. Much of Steve Jobs’ weight will rest on his shoulders. Keep an eye on this one.
The week after we watch Fassbender take on Jobs, we get two auteurs’ latest releases on the same wide release date. Bridge of Spies will be the newest movie from Steven Spielberg. The legendary filmmaker is teaming up with Tom Hanks to take on a story loosely based on Cold War espionage. It seems a little bland from the trailers, but this is Steven Spielberg, so I’m definitely more optimistic than not for Bridge of Spies. The other half of the awesome Oct. 16 weekend is Guillermo Del Toro’s gothic horror extravaganza Crimson Peak. The trailer footage is stunning, and Del Toro should be capable of scaring us in more ways than we might imagine. The Mexican master of the supernatural has brought us the Hellboy movies, the chilling Pan’s Labyrinth and the outrageous Pacific Rim. His ability to visually stun us with his creations is only matched by his ability to compel us with his mysterious plots and scheming villains.
With the summer music-festival season winding down and Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival just two weeks away (did you pick up this week’s CityBeat for official guide, right? If not, you can find info here), you might think there’d be a music-fest lull this week. But two (very different) festivals northeast of Cincinnati are keeping the vibe alive this weekend — the Foxfire Freedom Festival in Morrow, Ohio, and the Longstone Street Festival in Milford, Ohio.
The Foxfire fest, dubbed a “music and sustainability festival,” takes place Friday and Saturday at Morgan’s Riverside Campground & Cabins in Morrow, along the Little Miami River (you can even go canoeing if you’re up for it!). The $45 two-day ticket, available at the gate, covers camping Friday and Saturday night (one-day, non-camping tickets are $15). Foxfire will feature vendors and information related to being an environmentally-friendly citizen (the “sustainability” mention), with live music from several area Roots/Americana/Bluegrass performers, as well as acts that play other genres (or a fusion of several).
Friday’s Foxfire lineup kicks off at 6 p.m. and features Dead Man String Band, Easy Tom Eby, Jared Schaedle, Joe Wolf, Heather Hamlet and Richard Cisneros. On Saturday, music begins at noo. The Saturday lineup features Common Center, Baoku Moses And The Image Afro-Beat Band, Lawson Family Reunion, Simply Dan String Band, Aaron Hendrick Trio, Black Mountain Throwdown, Adam Singer, Little Miami String Band, Allen Talbott, Blue Caboose and a songwriters-in-the-round session with Greg Mahan, Wolfcryer and Achilles Tenderloin.
Click here for links to more info on all of the artists.
The Longstone Street Festival takes place Saturday along Main Street in Milford’s historic downtown district. The annual free event celebrates Milford with various food and arts and crafts vendors, plus a stage featuring a variety of musical acts all day long. This year, the music starts at noon with My Brother’s Keeper (featuring Andrew Hibbard). Other Longstone performers include Seabird, Harbour, Along the Shore, Taylor Shannon, Shiny and the Spoon, Daniel in Stereo, Static Wonder and a band featuring students from the School of Rock Mason.
For full details (including info on vendors, kids’ activities and more), visit longstonestreetfestival.com. The times the various performers are playing the Longstone Street Festival can be found at the event’s Facebook page, which also includes music and video samples of several of the artists.
The Foxfire Freedom Festival and the Longstone Street Festival are both open to all ages and are family friendly.
Heya, Cincinnati. Let’s talk about news, because, oh dang, we’ve got a lot to discuss.
As we noted yesterday morning, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black has fired police chief Jeffrey Blackwell, replacing him with CPD Assistant Chief Eliot Isaac, a 26-year veteran of the department. The firing took place quickly and was announced at the same time a 35-page report on Blackwell’s shortcomings was released. The reports, which you can read here and here, are alarming.
But Blackwell’s abrupt firing sparked something that can only be described as a deeply embarrassing shitstorm at City Hall.
You can read more about that here, but here are the cliff notes: Blackwell’s supporters crammed into Council chambers to speak during the public input session of Council’s regular meeting, only to find they had no place to sit due to a large number of chairs reserved for CPD officers. City Council members complained they did not have time to read the study on the climate within CPD, which was conducted by the city manager, before learning of Blackwell’s termination. The input session was disorganized and chaotic, sometimes degenerating into complete disorder as Mayor John Cranley and individual council members verbally sniped at each other. Cranley had at least a few members of the public removed from the chambers for talking over him and drew boos from the crowd when he was perceived as talking down to opposing council members like Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach.
Some on Council, including Charterite Kevin Flynn and Democrat Vice Mayor David Mann, expressed sadness that the situation had come to firing the chief, but said the report — which found 82 percent of the nearly 500 officers surveyed had very low morale and contained testimony from three officers about favoritism, retaliation and vanity by the chief — left no other option. Others, however, including former CPD officer Wendell Young and Simpson had deep misgivings about the process by which the firing took place, decrying what they say is a lack of transparency and professionalism.
Black and Cranley pushed back against those assertions, saying the climate assessment was a careful, methodical effort undertaken over the course of months.
Blackwell himself showed up to the meeting, but did not speak before Council. He left shortly after arriving, a group of supporters and media trailing him. He suggested he would file a lawsuit against the city, called out members of the media he felt had been unfair to him and stressed that he loved the people of Cincinnati.
The dismissal, the subsequent tumult and City Hall and the fact that Cincinnati is once again searching for a new police chief — its third in four years — all made national headlines.
An interesting side note: While considering the until-yesterday unseen evidence against Blackwell, it’s informative to remember past struggles CPD has had with leadership. Here are some articles about former chief Thomas Streicher from back in 2009, published in your favorite Cincinnati weekly. Streicher, who it seems ruled CPD with a harsh, sometimes arbitrary fist, was never removed from his post but instead retired in 2011.
• Phew. So that happened. What else is going on? Well, the New York Times Magazine apparently thinks the University of Cincinnati’s campus is pretty enough to feature it in a big photo essay, highlighting a number of the uptown campus’ buildings designed by famous architects. The photo feature’s title — Cincinnati Starchitecture — is cringe-worthy, but the photos are pretty nice. EDIT: In my morning haziness and rush to give you all the news stuff, I missed this much more substantive article about UC's efforts to build top-notch architecture in a bid to compete for students that, uh, ran with the above photo essay. Oops. My bad. That's much better, New York Times.
• Here we go again: Is House Speaker and West Chesterite John Boehner on his way out as the top dog in the House of Representatives? Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, has once again fired warning shots over Boehner’s bow, saying that the speaker’s position on a number of issues could trigger a revolt from conservatives in the House. Earlier this summer, Meadows introduced a measure in the House that hammered Boehner on his leadership and, if voted through, would strip him of his position. That measure hasn’t been taken up for a vote, but there are methods by which conservative members of the House could take it up, Meadows recently said, noting that he and other far-right conservatives are watching the speaker closely.
• Cincinnati activists and legal experts are in Ferguson, Mo. offering advice and warnings as a commission wraps up a report on last year’s civil unrest over the police killing of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown there. Community activists Iris Roley and Pastor Damon Lynch III, as well as attorney Al Gerhardstein, were all instrumental in pushing for Cincinnati’s collaborative agreement, which arose from similar unrest here following the 2001 police shooting of an unarmed black man named Timothy Thomas. The three addressed the Ferguson Commission, which is set to release a report with recommendations for ways to improve law enforcement oversight and police-community relations. The group admonished the commission to actively and tirelessly work on the issue, instead of just publishing their report and moving on. You can read more about their advice to Ferguson here.
• Finally, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is in Columbus today making a campaign appearance at a “Women for Hillary” organizing event. She’ll focus on issues facing women at that event, including the pay gap, reproductive rights, parental leave and other issues. Clinton is seen as the frontrunner in the Democratic primary, though self-professed socialist Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has been gaining in the polls, drawing big crowds to rallies around the country. Clinton thus far has been hobbled by questions around her use of a private email address during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State. She recently addressed that controversy, apologizing for her use of a separate email address to conduct official government business but maintaining that she did not break any laws while doing so.
That’s it for me. Find me on Twitter or shoot me an email with news tips, bad jokes or suggestions for cool fall road trips.
Good morning all. Let’s get right to the news.
It’s a big day at City Hall, and so the morning news today is all about what's going on with city government.
First, a breaking story. Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black announced today that he has fired Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. He’s named current CPD Assistant Chief Eliot Isaac to the role of interim chief. We’ll update shortly.
Meanwhile, there will be a show of support for former chief Blackwell today at 12:30 p.m. outside City Hall. The group We’ve Got Blackwell’s Back organized that event in response to a looming Sept. 14 Fraternal Order of Police meeting where union leadership says there will be a vote of no confidence by officers. Blackwell’s critics say the Cincinnati Police Department has critical staffing, communication and morale issues that have festered this summer as gun crimes rose, the department dealt with the shooting death of officer Sonny Kim and other difficult circumstances challenged the department. But the chief’s supporters say he’s done a fantastic job during a difficult time in the city and that his potential ouster is political in nature. They point to the fact that when he was campaigning for mayor, Cranley asked then-City Manager Milton Dohoney not to hire a chief until the election was finished so the newly elected mayor could have a say in the hiring. Dohoney hired Blackwell despite this request. Blackwell’s supporters say Cranley would like to oust Blackwell and install his own choice for police chief.
Blackwell’s firing might have some consequences for the city. Yesterday, the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice told the city it would relocate its 2016 and 2017 conventions if Blackwell were removed from his post unjustly. That could cost the city $1 million, a letter from the organization cautioned. Blackwell is a member of NABCJ.
• Council might refer to committee a parental leave plan suggested by council members Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson. That plan would allow up to six weeks of parental leave for city employees. The first two weeks would come out of the employee’s accrued leave. The next four are covered by the city at 70 percent of the employee’s salary. The plan would cost the city an estimated $140,000 a year. It’s in line with state practices and similar leave plans passed by cities like Dayton.
The proposal, which Seelbach and Simpson have been developing since this spring, looked like it might have competition from another parental leave plan put forward by Mayor John Cranley recently. Seelbach and Simpson expressed consternation over that proposal, saying they weren’t invited to participate in drafting the competing plan or even notified of the press conference at which it was announced. That plan would have let employees take the same six weeks off, but would have had city workers borrowing time off from future leave time instead of having it covered by the city. It seemed like a showdown was brewing over the two plans, but Cranley has signaled his support for Simpson and Seelbach’s proposal, saying its costs are reasonable and admitting their plan mirrors best practices elsewhere in the state.
• Mayor Cranley’s tax levy proposal for making capital improvements to the city’s parks got a victory and a loss yesterday. The Hamilton County Board of Elections unanimously certified the ballot language for the initiative, despite legal challenges alleging that the language was misleading. Meanwhile, long-time parks advocate and former Cincinnati vice mayor Marian Spencer pulled her endorsement of the project. Spencer cited the fact that the measure would become part of the city’s charter, a permanent change, instead of subject to democratic review. She called that “bad policy.” She also said the language of the charter amendment doesn’t guarantee that attractions built with the money raised by the levy will be free and open to the public. She cited the Smale Riverfront Park carousel as an example. Users must pay to ride that attraction. Finally, Spencer echoed other charter amendment opponents in pointing out that under the proposal, the mayor and the parks board will have full control over what is built with the estimated $5 million a year the levy will draw in. City Council will have no say in the projects. Spencer was a co-chair of the campaign before she jumped ship; she appeared with Cranley at the news conference announcing the proposal.
• Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus might run for Hamilton County Commissioner against Republican Greg Hartmann in 2016. If she wins, that could shift the balance of power on the currently Republican-led body.
• A deputy clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky has said he will issue same-sex marriage licenses even if the head county clerk, Kim Davis, orders him not to. Davis went to jail over a federal contempt of court finding last week because she refused to administer marriage licenses despite a court order.
• Kentucky state tax credits for a low-income housing development in Covington will stay despite protests from some city officials and business owners there.
Phew! That’s a lot of big stuff. That’s all for me today, but stay tuned for more info on City Council and other news going on throughout the city. Follow me on Twitter for updates.
UPDATE: Supporters of fired Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell took to the steps of City Hall Cincinnati City Council chambers to voice their opposition to the chief's dismissal by City Manager Harry Black. Former chief Blackwell himself appeared at Council's public input session, though he was not invited to speak before Council. Afterward, he told reporters outside the chamber that he would file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city, saying he didn't learn why he was being fired from the city and that he still hasn't seen the reports released today about his performance.
Dozens crowded into Council chambers and signed up to speak in favor of the chief. At times, the public hearing got contentious, with Council members and Mayor John Cranley verbally sparring with each other.
Simpson said Blackwell was escorted from CPD HQ after firing. "If this is justified, give this man, Council, the public, the chance to read [the report against Blackwell]," Simpson said. That report had been released just hours earlier.
Councilmembers Simpson, Wendell Young, P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach, while acknowledging the seriousness of the charges against Blackwell, said they took deep issue with the way in which he was dismissed. They pointed to the fact they didnt' find out the firing was happening until this morning and that the swearing-in for the interim chief, Eliot Isaac, was taking place immediately after the public hearing.
The tense atmosphere was perhaps exacerbated by rows of chairs reserved for police officers and their families, leaving community members standing toward the back of the room. At times, the mayor took a strong, almost antagonistic approach to public commenters and his critics on Council. At one point, Cranley scolded Councilwoman
Yvette Simpson for raising her voice and cut her off, saying her
allotted six minutes were up. Later in the meeting, after several warnings, Cranley had a few members of the public removed by officers for interrupting while he was speaking.
Some Councilmembers, including former Cincinnati Police officer Young, questioned the appearance the large group of CPD officers in the room presented, saying it heightened tensions. City Manager Harry Black then dismissed many of the officers until the public hearing concluded.
Cranley and Black admonished Councilmembers and the public not to rush to judgment, and to read the report detailing the allegations against Blackwell. Cranley called the evidence against Blackwell "overwhelming" and said that anyone reading the report would conclude that Black "made the right choice."
City Manager Harry Black announced this morning that he has fired Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell due to "lack of sufficient and proper communication, particularly within the
command staff, coupled with a consistent and pervasive disregard for the
chain of command," according to a 35-page memo the city released today. That memo contained testimony from CPD officials alleging poor leadership from the chief.
The city also released a department climate assessment that says a lack of communication, leadership and technology has contributed to low morale and has put the department at risk of high rates of officer attrition.
Black announced that Assistant Police Chief Eliot Isaac, a 26-year veteran of CPD, will be the interim police chief.
Among the allegations against Blackwell in the report, which includes statements from CPD Specialist Scotty Johnson and Public Information Officer Tiffany Hardey, are charges that Blackwell has been verbally abusive and retaliatory toward officers, that he has been unavailable during critical moments in recent months, that he played favorites in assigning overtime, that he spent too much time self-promoting, including taking selfies at the funeral of murdered CPD officer Sonny Kim and that he used his perch as chief to get free tickets to sporting events.
Blackwell has been embattled for months. Early this summer, severance documents between Blackwell and the city came to light, though these were never signed by the chief and he asserted he was staying on the force. More recently, Cincinnati's Fraternal Order of Police announced a Sept. 14 meeting, and union leadership said officers would take a vote of no confidence in Blackwell.
Blackwell’s critics say the Cincinnati Police Department's critical staffing, communication and morale issues have festered this
summer as gun crimes rose, the department dealt with the shooting death of
officer Sonny Kim and other difficult circumstances challenged the department.
But the chief’s supporters, including some council members and other public figures, say he’s done a fantastic job during a difficult time in the city and that his potential ouster is political in nature. They point to the fact that when he was campaigning for mayor, Cranley asked then-City Manager Milton Dohoney not to hire a chief until the election was finished so the newly elected mayor could have a say in the hiring. Dohoney hired Blackwell despite this request. Blackwell’s supporters say Cranley would like to oust Blackwell and install his own choice for police chief.
Hey, Cincy! I can only hope you're recovering a long weekend of sun and hot dogs. As you recover from your hangover and sunburns, you can catch up on today's headlines.
• City Manager Harry Black hits the one year mark working for the city today. To celebrate, Mayor John Cranley would like to give him a raise, but some council members are questioning if he should get one before he undergoes a review. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson has called for a formal review of Black's performance before pay increase is approved. Black currently makes $245,000 per year, and his contract states that an annual review should set up through the mayor and city council, though the only review done so far has been a in-person, verbal review by Mayor Cranley with no documentation for the press to review. Black has been criticized by some for being too aligned with Cranley. In the last year, Black has had to deal with the deaths of a police officer, firefighter and construction worker, a spike in shootings and a rocky relationship with Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and a significant restructuring of the city workforce.
• So how much money would legalizing marijuana bring to Ohio? Numbers vary, according to the Enquirer, but they're in the billions. A task force headed by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters released a report in July estimating that if the ResponsibleOhio ballot initiative passes, retail sales could bring in $2.26 billion. But an estimate by New Frontier, an analytics firm in Washington D.C., put that number at $1.8 billion. So, we're not really sure. What we do know is that the super PAC is spending million on advertising campaigns to push through a constitutional amendment to legalize growth of the plant that would limit that growth to 10 commercial farms in the state. Individuals could purchase a license for $50 that would allow the growth of four plants, but without the ability to sell them.
• Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis spent Labor Day weekend
in jail for refusing to issue marriage license to same-sex couples,
claiming it violates her religious beliefs. Her attorneys filed an appeal for her release yesterday, but in the meantime, Ohio governor and Republican presidential nominee John Kasich, who opposes same-sex marriage, says Davis should follow the law and issue the licenses. Davis has found supporters in other GOP candidates, though. Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee will join protesters today outside the jail where Davis is being held to demand her release. UPDATE: Davis was ordered released from jail by a federal judge this afternoon.
• The FBI is investigating a former Ohio State professor who mysteriously resigned and disappeared last March. Engineering Professor Rongxing Li had been the director of the OSU mapping and geographic information system laboratory and was known for his work with NASA on 2003 and 2009 exploration missions. The FBI has filed federal search warrants in Columbus to determine if Li was sharing defense secrets with the Chinese. In early 2014, Li submitted a $36.9 million proposal to do imaging work for a 2020 NASA mission to Mars where he was exposed to U.S. defense information he was prohibited from sharing with the Chinese. It has since come to light that Li has significant ties to a Chinese university.
There’s a lot more coming next week, once we get past Labor Day, but right now there’s just one theater locally with a production onstage. That’s the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Artistic Director Tim Perrino has been reminding everyone that just because Cincinnati Landmark Productions has opened the Incline Theatre, don’t think that the Covedale has shut down. In fact, it has an ambitious line-up of shows, and the opening production is already under way, A Chorus Line. I haven’t seen this production of it yet, but I will tell you that it’s a show that really lit my interest in musical theater. It was a Broadway hit back in 1975, and I saw a touring production of it in Cleveland in 1978. I had next to no income at the time — and tickets for subsequent performances were pretty well sold out anyway — but I told several friends that in a perfect world, I would have gone back to see it again. I had to wait a few years for that to happen, but this story of aspiring performers grabs me every time I see it. It’s the story of eager young dancers trying to get into the chorus of an upcoming Broadway production. The group is narrowed to 17, but the ultimate goal is four men and four women. The songs are rooted in each dancer’s personal story: Some are amusing, some are heart wrenching — all are painfully true. At the end, they all coalesce into “One (Singular Sensation),” a stunning finale that has all the individuals we’ve met together, dancing as one. It’s a wonderful metaphor about the passion to perform and to be part of a larger whole. A Chorus Line at the Covedale has performances this weekend and continues through Sept. 27. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Last evening I drove to Louisville where Actors Theatre is opening its 2015-2016 season with a superb production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, one of his “Century Cycle” plays chronicling African-American life in Pittsburgh across the decades of the 20th century. This one, set in the late 1940s, swirls around a promising young Blues singer, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who has been offered a recording contract just after his release from a 90-day stint in jail. The play opens with his funeral then circles back through scenes reminiscing about his life and six vividly different people who were close to him — three women and three men. The cast is powerful, and the minutely detailed setting, a desolate backyard in Pittsburgh’s Hill District (inspired by the art of African-American painter and collagist Romare Bearden) is a sight to behold. Seven Guitars blends humor, lyricism and tragedy. Although several of Wilson’s remarkable plays have been stage in Cincinnati, Seven Guitars — winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play in 1996 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award — has not been produced locally. So you might want to make a run down I-71 to Louisville between now and Sept. 20 to see this. This production is definitely worth the trip. Tickets: 502-584-1205.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.