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by German Lopez 06.20.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Taxes, Police at 09:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_texting_jf3

Morning News and Stuff

Texting while driving eludes police, parking lease stalled, Ohio tax code still complex

Even though it’s now illegal under local and state law, texting while driving often eludes punishment in Greater Cincinnati. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department has issued no tickets so far to vehicular texters, while the Cincinnati Police Department has given out 28, with only four going to teenagers. Although almost everyone acknowledges the dangers of texting while driving, police say it’s very difficult to catch texters in the act, especially since most of them claim they were just making phone calls.

Otto Budig, board chairman of the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, apparently told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the Port Authority won’t sign the parking lease until it gets assurances about city funding. City Council considered pulling $100,000 from the Port Authority while putting together the budget for fiscal year 2014. Now, Budig says the Port Authority wants some sort of financial assurance, perhaps as part of the parking lease, that the city won’t threaten future funding. The city announced Tuesday it had signed the lease, but some opponents, including Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, are still looking for ways to repeal the plan.

A Policy Matters Ohio report found the state’s tax code remains complicated under the Ohio Senate budget plan and the budget actually added tax breaks, despite earlier promises of simplification from House and Senate leaders. Meanwhile, Mike Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, says the General Assembly will take up tax reform later in the year. The Ohio Department of Taxation says the tax breaks will cost Ohio nearly $8 billion in fiscal year 2015, and Policy Matters says many of the exemptions, deductions and credits are wasteful.

Commentary: “Republican Medicaid Opposition Ignores Ohio’s Best Interests.”

JobsOhio topped a ranking from Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) that looks at government agencies’ “unrelenting commitment to undermining the public's right to know.” IRE mocked JobsOhio and the state Republicans for making it increasingly difficult to find out how the agency uses its public funds. Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, have also criticized Republicans for blocking a public audit of JobsOhio, which was established by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to eventually replace the public Ohio Department of Development. JobsOhio’s supporters argue the agency’s privatized, secret nature allows it to move at the “speed of business” to better boost the economy.

The Cincinnati Museum Center is looking to ask Hamilton County residents to renew its operating levy in May 2014, even though the museum promised in 2009 that it wouldn’t do so. The museum argues circumstances have changed, with Union Terminal crumbling and in need of about $163 million in repairs. When the museum originally made its promise against more operating levies, it was expecting to make repairs through a capital levy, but Hamilton County commissioners dismissed that idea. Hamilton County commissioners will have to approve the operating levy before it goes on the ballot.

An Ohio bill would ban anyone under the age of 18 from tanning at a salon unless a doctor gives permission for medical reasons. This is the third time Ohio legislators have proposed measures against indoor tanning in recent years.

Personhood Ohio, the anti-abortion group trying to ban abortions in Ohio by defining life as beginning at conception, is fundraising by selling assault rifles.

Here is a map showing how green Earth is in the most literal terms.

We now have an explanation for why everyone is so nice and loving to CityBeat’s Hannah McCartney: A study found people are mostly mean to their unattractive coworkers.

Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Submit your questions here and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.

CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or know anyone willing to participate, email glopez@citybeat.com.

 
 
by German Lopez 05.14.2013
Posted In: Anna Louise Inn, Streetcar, News, Police at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jamescraig

Morning News and Stuff

Police chief leaving to Detroit, council scrutinizes streetcar, Anna Louise Inn sold

The city confirmed today that Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig will be leaving Cincinnati to take a job in Detroit. During Craig’s time, the city experienced a significant drop in crime. City officials praised Craig for his attempts to forge better ties between the Cincinnati Police Department and local communities, particularly by establishing the External Advisory Committee, a group of active local community members and business leaders that gives advice on the police department’s policies and procedures. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the city will begin a nationwide search for Craig’s replacement tomorrow.

Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) is selling the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern for $4 million, and CUB will be relocating the Inn’s services to Mount Auburn. Many Anna Louise Inn supporters are taking the sale as a sign Western & Southern won, while others are glad the extensive legal battles are finally over. The sale came after years of Western & Southern obstructing the planned renovations for the Anna Louise Inn through court battles and other legal challenges, which CityBeat covered here. In a Q&A with The Cincinnati Enquirer, Western & Southern CEO John Barrett reflected on the events, saying his company took the “high road” throughout the controversy — a claim many Anna Louise Inn supporters dispute.

City Council grilled Dohoney yesterday over fixing the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overruns to save the project is worth it. Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that touted the streetcar project’s return on investment, which was further supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati. Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much and the project, which now stands at $133 million, is too expensive. A final decision is expected by the end of May. The streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to fix the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits established in state law.

The city and county governments are clashing over the city’s hiring policies for companies bidding on the Metropolitan Sewer District’s (MSD) construction projects. The city’s laws require construction firms to have apprenticeship programs, which the city says promotes job training on top of employment. But the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners claims the requirements aren’t feasible and put too much of a strain on companies. Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune questioned why the city’s policy only applies to MSD and not other local government agencies.

The Duke Energy Garden is the latest addition to the Smale Riverfront Park.

A Catholic teacher union will not support Carla Hale, a gay Columbus-area teacher who was fired after she named her girlfriend in an obituary for her mother. Hale says she was fired over her sexuality, but the Catholic Church says she was fired for revealing a “quasi-spousal relationship” outside of marriage. The Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, which means all gay couples are in a non-marital relationship under the Church’s desired policies.

The Internal Revenue Service scandal, which involves IRS officials unfairly scrutinizing conservative groups, is now nationwide. Previous reports pinned the practice on a Cincinnati field office, but numerous IRS offices around the country, including one in Washington, D.C., were found to be guilty of the practice in documents acquired by The Washington Post.

Headline from The Columbus Dispatch: “Man who killed wife, then self: ‘I couldn’t take her mouth anymore.’”

The brain catches grammar errors even when a person doesn’t realize it.

 
 
by German Lopez 05.06.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Police, Republicans at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Morning News and Stuff

Parking hearing today, police chief may go, tea party planning against GOP

The First District County Court of Appeals heard arguments over the city’s parking plan and emergency clause powers today, with both sides making similar arguments as before — except this time the city acknowledged it will probably have to move forward with layoffs because the city only has a few weeks remaining before it has to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1. The city claims it can use emergency clauses to expedite legislation, such as the parking plan, by eliminating a 30-day waiting period and the possibility of a referendum, but opponents argue the wording in the City Charter doesn’t justify terminating referendum efforts. If courts side with opponents, the city’s plan to lease its parking assets to the Port Authority, which CityBeat covered here, will likely appear on the ballot in November, forcing the city to lay off cops, firefighters and other city employees instead of using the parking plan to help balance the budget.

It’s looking more and more likely that Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig will take the top police job in Detroit, despite Cincinnati officials asking Craig to reconsider. Previously, Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on City Council, pushed city officials to do more to encourage Craig to stay, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said Craig’s motivations may be personal because his family resides in Detroit, a city that is in desperate need of a turnaround.

Ohio’s tea party groups are preparing to either split from the Republican Party or punish Republican leaders for recent actions, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Tea party groups have been particularly upset with Gov. John Kasich’s endorsement of the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here and here, and Ohio Republicans’ election of Matt Borges, who once lobbied for a gay rights group, as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. Since the 2010 elections, tea party groups have kept political footholds in some areas, but they have consistently lost favor with voters.

In case you missed it, here was CityBeat’s news coverage for the current week’s issue, which went online late because of Internet issues:

A portion of the Ohio House budget bill would make it more difficult for out-of-state students to vote in Ohio by forcing public universities to decide between extra tuition money and providing documents that students need to vote. Republicans say the rule is meant to lower tuition and prevent out-of-state students from voting on local issues they may know little about, but Democrats, backed by university officials, say the rule suppresses college-going voters, who tend to support Democrats over Republicans.

Ohio Senate President Keith Faber said there is no substantial Republican support in the Ohio House, Ohio Senate or governor’s mansion for so-called “right to work” legislation. The lack of support for the anti-union laws, which prevent unions and employers from making collective bargaining agreements that require union membership, may be linked to 2011’s voter rejection of Senate Bill 5, which would have limited public unions’ collective bargaining and political powers. S.B. 5 was one reason unions, including the Republican-leaning Fraternal Order of Police, supported Democrats in 2012.

Despite security concerns in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon, Sunday’s Flying Pig Marathon had a record 34,000 participants.

Ohio gas prices are trending up this week.

Now on Kickstarter: Genetically modified plants that glow.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.23.2013
Posted In: News, Voting, Budget, Police at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_mcmicken

Morning News and Stuff

House budget bill may suppress student voters, tax plan favors wealthy, police chief may go

An amendment in the Ohio House budget bill last week would make it so universities have to decide between providing voting information to students or retaining millions of dollars in out-of-state tuition money. The amendment would make it so universities have to classify students as in-state — a classification that means lower tuition rates — when providing documents necessary for voting. Republicans claim the measure is “common sense” because anyone voting for Ohio’s elections should be an Ohio resident. But the amendment has provoked criticism from Democrats and universities alike, who say universities are being thrown into the middle of a voter suppression scheme.

An analysis from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio found the tax plan currently working through the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature favors the wealthy. The analysis also claimed there’s little evidence the across-the-board tax cuts suggested would significantly help Ohio’s economy. The plan still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich.

Council members are asking Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to remain in Cincinnati instead of taking a job in Detroit, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. didn’t seem convinced that much can be done. Dohoney said Craig’s hometown is Detroit, a city that has suffered in recent years as the local economy has rapidly declined.

Democratic Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is running for governor, and he will make Cincinnati one of his first stops for his campaign kick-off tour. FitzGerald is challenging Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014, who has held the governor’s office since 2010. A recent poll found Kasich in a comfortable position with a nine-point lead on FitzGerald, but many respondents said they don’t know enough about FitzGerald to have an opinion on him.

Greater Cincinnati home sales hit a six-year high in March, with 2,190 homes sold. The strong housing market, which is recovering from a near collapse in 2008, is widely considered by economists to be a good sign for the overall economy.

But Ohio’s venture capital investments dropped to a two-year low, according to data from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

The Ohio EPA and Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District are partnering up to provide a $250,000 grant to help purchase equipment to screen, clean and sort glass — an important part of the recycling industry.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Cincinnatians to forgo lunch on April 24 to take part in the Greater Cincinnati Day of Fasting. The event will let participants “experience a small measure of the hunger that is a part of many people’s daily lives,” according to a press release from Sittenfeld’s office. Participants are also being asked to donate money to the Freestore Foodbank. A ceremony for the event will be held on April 24 at noon in Fountain Square.

The U.S. Senate is moving toward approving bill that would allow states to better enforce and collect online sales taxes.

Mars One is calling all applicants for a mission to colonize Mars in 2023.

The sport of the future is here: combat juggling:

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 12.26.2012
Posted In: Courts, Governor, News, Police at 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
simon leis

Leis to Stay on Public Payroll

Retiring sheriff will take visiting judge job in 2013

Outgoing Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis is retiring after his current term and Jim Neil will replace him on Jan. 6, 2013, but that doesn’t mean Leis is done with public life.

The lawman best known for the raid of the Contemporary Arts Center over an allegedly obscene Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and his prosecution of pornographer Larry Flynt will begin serving as a visiting judge in 2013, according to letters first published by The Enquirer.

Before being appointed sheriff, Leis served as a Hamilton County Common Pleas judge from 1982 to 1987. Prior to that he was Hamilton County prosecutor for 12 years.

The letters dated May 1, 2012 and Oct. 22, 2012 indicate that Leis wrote Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to let her know he was retiring and was interested in being assigned as a visiting judge.

Visiting judges are in charge of all of the cases other judges are assigned but can’t get to due to full dockets. Leis will be paid the standard visiting judge rate of $60.68 per hour.

Since Leis last served as judge 25 years ago, O’Connor is requiring him to shadow another judge for a day or so to get back up to speed. Leis has kept his law license current since becoming sheriff.

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 12.14.2012
 
 
city hall

Council Passes Budget Reliant on Parking Lease

Council also approves 2014 property tax increase

Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.

Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.

“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.

Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.

The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.

Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.

“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”

Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities. 

Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.

If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts. 

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.

The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes. 

The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.

Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 12.03.2012
 
 
milton dohoney

Budget Hearing Raises Questions About Parking Privatization

City Manager says without lease, 344 city workers would lose jobs

Cincinnati City Council members today focused a lot of attention on a contentious plan to lease city parking assets during a Monday committee presentation on the 2013 budget.

It was the first opportunity council members had to publicly question the budget’s architects. The proposed budget would cover the first half of 2013. The city is switching over to a fiscal year starting in July.

Many council members expressed concern over the plan to use $21 million from a proposed 30-year lease of the city’s parking meters, garages and lots to help close a $34 million budget deficit.

“It seems like … the city budget wins, but the citizens are losing,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

City Manager Milton Dohoney said the parking facilities net Cincinnati about $7 million a year. That would equal out to about $210 million over 30 years.

Sittenfeld called into question the wisdom of leasing the facilities for an estimated $50 million and taking half of the profit, for an earnings of about $150 million over 30 years.

Other council members expressed concern that whoever leased the parking would hike rates, something Councilman Cecil Thomas dismissed.

“The market would dictate the rates that are charged,” he said.

Dohoney said a combination of cuts, savings, revenue, projected growth and one-time funding sources helped eliminate the $34 million deficit. He said a budget containing only cuts would result in the layoff of 344 city workers.

A slide show provided by the city showed that 802 positions had been cut since 2000.

Dohoney advocated eliminating the property tax rollback promised as part of the deal to build two new sports stadiums in 1996. He said it would bring in about $9 million a year. However council has had little appetite to allow any increase in taxes as the city recovers from the Great Recession. Property taxes make up about 6 percent of the budget fund used to pay most of the city's operating expenses.

The cuts proposed in the 2013 budget include eliminating support for public access company Media Bridges, the Downtown and Neighborhood Gateways Program, Juvenile Firesetter Program and Arts Grants.

It would also eliminate the Cincinnati Police Department’s Mounted Patrol, which covers downtown on horseback. Dohoney said that would allow Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to redeploy those nine officers elsewhere. Dohoney said Craig had asked for a new recruit class of 50, but Dohoney requested 30. He said the additional nine from the horse patrol would bring that closer to 40.

Dohoney said he was also allowing 10 additional recruits to cover patrols of University Hospital, which is no longer going to use University of Cincinnati police starting Jan. 1.

He said the police department would also look for ways to save money by increasing the involvement of civilian members who could do things like take reports of non-injury car accidents.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked if the budgeteers had considered restructuring the police force to save money. She has long been a proponent of “right-sizing” the police and fire forces, saying staffing levels remain at a high while the city’s population is shrinking.

The proposed budget also includes investments in business groups that promote economic development, like the Port Authority, Greater Cincinnati Partnership, Film Commission and African American Chamber of Commerce.

Councilman Chris Seelbach praised Dohoney and his budget team, saying he saw Cincinnati as being better off than it had been six years ago. But he also said he’d like to see the administration focus on people who are barely getting by instead of businesses and developers.

“There is a focus on helping people make more money that are already making a lot of money,” Seelbach said. “Helping people that aren’t paying a lot of taxes still pay very little.”

Cincinnatians can weigh in on the budget in a public hearing Thursday evening at 6 p.m.

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 11.15.2012
 
 
milton dohoney

Council Approves Raise, Bonus for City Manager

Opponents argue unwise with looming deficit; Dohoney's last raise in 2007

City Council took a contentious vote on Thursday to give the city manager a pay raise and a bonus.

Those in favor of the 10 percent raise and $35,000 bonus for Milton Dohoney say he is underpaid, has done a great job for the city and has gone five years without a merit raise. Those opposed say it’s bad timing and sends the wrong message when many city workers have also gone years without a pay increase.

Dohoney was hired in August 2006. He hasn’t received a merit raise since 2007, but has collected bonuses and cost of living adjustments over the years. He currently makes about $232,000 and the raise would bump that up to $255,000. Dohoney made $185,000 when he started the job.

Council approved the raise on a 6-2 vote, with councilmen Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach voting against it.

Before the vote, Mayor Mark Mallory lauded the manager, saying he set high expectations and didn’t expect Dohoney to meet them, but the manager exceeded all of them.

To do anything other than that (approve the raise) is a backhanded slap in the face and actually a statement that we want the manager gone,” Mallory said. “We are going to give him a raise. And from where I sit we’re not giving him a big enough raise.”

The raise came from a performance review conducted by Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and sole council Republican Charlie Winburn.

Winburn said the city manager’s financial management system is impeccable, Dohoney has pushed economic development, he has expanded the tax base and made sacrifices by not receiving a raise for the previous five years.

Other members of council pointed out that Dohoney isn’t the only city employee who has gone a while without a raise.

“For me, look, 4 years ago I turned down a job at Google where I’d be making a hell of a lot more money,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told 700WLW radio host Scott Sloan. “This is public service. This is already the city’s highest-paid employee.”

Sittenfeld missed the council meeting Thursday afternoon because he was out of town on a personal matter, according to an aide.

Sittenfeld and others have raised questions over whether it is wise to give Dohoney a raise and bonus when the city faces an estimated $34 million budget deficit. Councilman Wendell Young said the raise would not hurt the budget.

Opponents also argued that it would look bad to give the manager a raise when other city employees are dealing with wage freezes. Police, for instance, agreed during contact negotiations this year to a two-year wage freeze. Though they received a raise in 2009.

Smitherman said city employee unions may keep that in mind during upcoming negotiations.

"Unions are going to remember this council extended a $35,000 bonus to the city manager.”

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 11.05.2012
 
 
hartmann1

County Commission President Lays Out Budget Plan

"Austerity budget" rejects tax increases

The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some taxes.

Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30 percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said. 

He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.

Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000  or 0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3 percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5 percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.

Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic development is not possible without it.

Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.

Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.

Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.

Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own budget proposal as well.

“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.

The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by the following week.

He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.

“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different visions in terms of solutions.” 

Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major party challenger.

Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s waiting for the election results.

“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking that’s what you were going to go with.”

 
 
by German Lopez 10.18.2012
Posted In: LGBT Issues, News, Police at 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
jamescraig

City to Host LGBT Public Safety Forum

Event to explain CPD priorities, establish line with gay community

The city and gay rights organizations will host an LGBT public safety forum tonight. The partnership between the city of Cincinnati, Equality Cincinnati and the Human Rights Campaign of Greater Cincinnati (HRC) is meant to encourage and improve relations between the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) and the gay community.

Lisa Davis, spokesperson for CPD, says the idea for the public forum came about when Andrew Winters, a diversity co-chair at HRC, ran into Police Chief James Craig at the Coffee Emporium coffee shop in Over-the-Rhine. Winters introduced himself to Craig, and Craig told Winters he was interested in addressing the LGBT community to open some dialogue and gather feedback.

One of the forum's purposes will be to explain CPD priorities. As an example, Davis explained why police might take an hour and a half to respond to a call at a gay club. She said that kind of delay is likely related to CPD's priority system. In the example of the gay club, perhaps someone was assaulted, but the suspect already left. If that happens, CPD would prioritize a case in which a suspect is still on the scene.

Davis hopes the explanations will ease concerns of police discrimination in the LGBT community. On the other side, she says the forum could help CPD gather feedback and learn about any overlooked problems.

CPD will also name Angela Vance as an LGBT liaison. Davis says Vance will be open to calls from anyone in the LGBT community to look into special events, collect information on crimes and review possible cases of police mistreatment. For these cases, Vance will help victims file complaints and provide guidance.

The public forum will take place at 6 p.m. tonight at the Mayerson Room in the School for Creative and Performing Arts, 108 West Central Parkway.

 
 

 

 

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by German Lopez 02.04.2014
Posted In: News, Science, Police, State Legislature at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City to add more cops, evolution “debate” today, Winburn considers State Senate race

Mayor John Cranley, Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and other city officials yesterday announced a police plan to put more cops on the streets, focus on “hot spots” of crime, restart the gang unit and reach out to youth. Blackwell acknowledged more cops alone won’t solve or prevent the city’s heightened levels of violent crimes and homicides, but he said changing the level of enforcement through new tactics, such as hot spot policing, could help. A lot of research supports hot spot policing, although the practice can sometimes backfire, as “stop and frisk” did in New York City, if it targets minorities.

Bill Nye the Science Guy today will debate Creation Museum owner Ken Ham. The debate will focus on evolution, which is overwhelmingly supported by science, and biblical creationism, which has no scientific evidence to support it. The debate will be streamed live here.

Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn is considering a run for the Ohio Senate. Winburn would run in the heavily Democratic 9th Senate District. So far, there are two likely Democratic opponents: former Councilman Cecil Thomas and State Rep. Dale Mallory. The seat is open because State Sen. Eric Kearney, the Democratic incumbent, is term limited.

Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel might get two Democratic opponents in this year’s election: Sean Feeney, a North College Hill resident who already filed, and potentially Paul Komerak, a member of the Hamilton County Democratic Party’s executive committee. If both Komerak and Feeney run, they could face off in a Democratic primary.

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee unanimously approved tax credits for Tom + Chee to entice the grilled cheese and tomato soup chain to keep its headquarters downtown as it expands nationally. Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned whether tax breaks should be given so leniently, but other council members argued the tax deals keep jobs in the city.

City Council might structurally balance the budget and fix the underfunded pension system to stabilize Cincinnati’s bond rating.

The Ohio Senate is still mulling over ways to repeal Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. CityBeat covered the standards in greater detail here and here.

Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper wants to reform how the state picks outside law firms to avoid appearances of pay-to-play that have mired Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine. A previous Dayton Daily News investigation found firms lobbying for state assignments contributed $1.3 million to DeWine’s campaign.

Attorneys for the Ohio inmate next scheduled for execution asked for a stay to avoid a “lingering death” similar to the 26-minute, seemingly painful execution of Dennis McGuire. CityBeat covered McGuire’s execution and the concerns it raised in further detail here.

Enrollment in Ohio’s public colleges and universities dropped by 2 percent in the latest fall semester.

Ohio gas prices ticked up at the start of the week, but the lowest average was in Cincinnati.

Scientists claim space-grown vegetables are safe to eat.

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by German Lopez 02.03.2014
Posted In: News, Police, Mayor at 10:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
cpd more cops

City Unveils Plan to Add More Cops

Proposal shifts enforcement to overtime, hot spots and youth outreach

City officials on Monday announced a new public safety initiative that promises to put more cops on the streets, focus on “hot spots” of crime, restart the gang unit and do more to reach out to youth.

The comprehensive plan comes after a rough start to the year, with homicides and violent crime ticking up even as the weather remains cold.

Among other initiatives, the plan will add more cops on the ground through new hires, more overtime and a new recruit class — the first since 2008.

“The message to people is that help is on the way,” Mayor John Cranley said.

The plan will come at higher costs to an already-strained operating budget. Cranley said the Cincinnati Police Department set aside nearly $1 million for the proposal through June, while the remaining $5.6 million should be funded in the city’s $370-plus million operating budget.

When asked whether initiatives like the one announced Monday will hurt the budget, Cranley reiterated his long-standing position that public safety takes top priority in the city budget.

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said the refocus intends to prevent, not just solve, crimes. He acknowledged more cops alone won’t end the citys crime problem, but he argued increasing the level of evidence-based enforcement — through new tactics supported by more cops on the streets — could make a difference.

Cranley and Blackwell cautioned the results might not be immediate, but they said it’s an important step to stop levels of crime local residents are clearly unhappy with.

Hot spot policing carries a high level of empirical support. In two different studies from Rutgers and the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands, researchers argued the strategy doesn’t always displace crime; it can also prevent crime by deterring and discouraging future incidents in hot spots and surrounding areas — what researchers call a “diffusion” of benefits.

But the concept also needs to be executed carefully. In New York City, “stop and frisk” became a fairly unpopular type of hot spot policing after some reports found the strategy targeted racial makeups in neighborhoods more than levels of crime.

Of course, better policing isn’t the only way to combat crime. As two examples, lead abatement and ending the war on drugs could prevent violence by reducing aggression and eliminating a huge source of income for drug cartels.

This story was updated to include more information from the city managers memo.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.03.2014
Posted In: News, Police, Drugs, 2014 election at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jeffrey blackwell

Morning News and Stuff

City to add more cops, bill enables needle exchanges, Portune drops gubernatorial bid

Mayor John Cranley, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell and several other local leaders expect to announce a $1 million plan to add more cops, including a new recruit class, to help fight a local rise in homicides and violent crime. Besides the additional officers, the plan will also restart a unit focused on gangs and put more emphasis on "hot spots" of potential crime. The announcement follows a rough start to the year that's already experienced higher-than-normal levels of violence. CityBeat will cover the announcement in further detail as the news breaks.

A bill in the Ohio legislature could enable more clean needle exchanges. The bill wouldn't supply state or federal funding, but it would let any local health authority establish a syringe-exchange program without declaring a health emergency. Although some conservatives take issue with providing needles to drug users, officials say the program in Portsmouth, Ohio, cut countywide hepatitis C rates, nearly eliminated the number of needles found in parks and on sidewalks, and provided addicts a legally safe resource for help. CityBeat previously covered attempts to establish a local needle-exchange program in further detail here.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune on Friday officially dropped his long-shot bid for governor. Although Portune received a lot of attention from local media, he never mounted a credible campaign and drew harsh criticisms from fellow Democrats, who accused Portune of complicating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald's campaign against Republican Gov. John Kasich.

While some in the media focus on the horse race and fundraising goals, political scientists say partisan ties, national politics and the state of the economy play a much bigger role in deciding elections.

Southwestern Ohio should expect light snow today and a winter storm tomorrow.

Young women who take the HPV vaccine are not more likely to have sex or take part in unsafe sexual practices, a study from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found.

Denver Broncos fans yesterday got a taste of what it's like to support the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose.

January birthed a few cute zoo animals.

A study found 1,300 airborne microbes in Beijing's smog.

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by German Lopez 01.07.2014
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Morning News and Stuff

State cuts hit local budget, police explain homicides, Democratic primary heats up

If it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments, Cincinnati might not face an operating budget gap in 2015. The city has lost roughly $26 million in annual state aid since 2010, according to city officials, while the budget gap for 2015 is estimated at nearly $21 million. The reduction in state aid helps explain why Cincinnati continues dealing with budget gaps after years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes. Still, some council members argue Democratic council members should stop blaming Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature for the city's problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.

Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department yesterday explained the local increase in homicides to City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee. Police officials said gang-related activity, particularly activity related to the Mexican drug cartel that controls the heroin trade, is to blame for the spike in crime in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati. In particular, it appears disruptions in criminal organizations and their territories led to turf wars and other violent acts. Police also cautioned, "Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature."

The Democratic primary election for governor heated up yesterday after Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune called Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's commitment to blacks "appalling" in an email obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Prominent Democrats at the state and local level responded to the criticisms as more evidence Portune shouldn't continue to run and threaten Democrats' chances of a clean gubernatorial campaign. Portune announced his intention to run last week, despite calls from top Democrats to stay out of the race.

Cold weather led many area schools to close for another day. For developing weather information, follow #cincywx on Twitter.

The weather also slowed down streetcar construction.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld: "Five Lessons From Cincinnati's Little Engine That Could."

The Cincinnati Board of Education chose its veteran members to head the school board in 2014.

Cincinnati-based Citigroup, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Humana and U.S. Bank gained perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign's index for gay-friendly companies.

About 34 percent of Ohio third-graders could be held back if they do not improve their scores on the state's reading assessments. The chairs of the Ohio House and Senate's education committees argue the aggressive approach is necessary to improve the state's education outcomes. But the National Association of School Psychologists found grade retention has "deleterious long-term effects" both academically and socially.

Kentucky is spending $32 million for substance abuse treatment to tackle the heroin epidemic.

Ohio Democrats named a new executive director for the state party: Liz Walters. The Silver Lake, Ohio, native began her political career with the Girl Scouts when she worked for the organization as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

Typically allies on other issues, liberals and the scientific community disagree on genetically modified crops.

A pill normally taken as a mood stabilizer could help people acquire perfect pitch.

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by German Lopez 01.06.2014
Posted In: News, Police, Guns at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jeffrey blackwell

Police Explain Local Increase in Homicides

Gang-related activity driving increase in violence, according to police

Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department testified in front of City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee Monday to address the local increase in homicides.

The city’s homicide rate hit 25 per 100,000 residents in 2013, compared to the U.S. rate of 4.7 per 100,000 in 2012, following a spike in homicides in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati, according to police statistics.

“The concern has been the sheer number of homicides we experienced in 2013 and the number of juvenile victims we had this year,” said Assistant Chief Dave Bailey.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman also highlighted the high levels of black-on-black crime, which Chief Jeffrey Blackwell agreed are unacceptable across the country.

“My fear is that my son, who’s African-American … is going to be killed by another African-American,” Smitherman said. “That’s what those stats are saying.”

The key driver of the increases, according to police, is gang-related activity, particularly activity involving the Mexican drug cartel that controls the heroin trade.

“If our theory is correct, most of these homicides involve narcotic sales, respect and retaliation,” Bailey said.

Chief Blackwell explained the increase in homicides appears to be particularly related to disruptions in criminal organizations and their territories.

“Criminal territories have been disrupted, and we’ve seen an increase in turf wars and neighborhood situations between young people,” he said. “Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature.”

Councilman Kevin Flynn asked what council could do to help remedy the situation.

“We are significantly short of police officers, so we desperately need a recruit class,” Blackwell responded. “We need to improve our technology platform here in the police department.”

Blackwell cautioned that there’s not a direct correlation between more police officers and less homicides, but he said another recruit class could help the city meet basic needs.

Flynn claimed council is very willing to meet those needs, given the importance of public safety to the city’s prosperity.

“If we’re not safe and we don’t have the perception that we’re a safe city, none of the rest of the great things we do as a city are going to help,” he said.

How council meets those needs while dealing with fiscal concerns remains to be seen, considering Mayor John Cranley and a majority of council members ran on the promise of structurally balancing the city’s operating budget for the first time in more than a decade.

City officials have vowed to avoid raising taxes and cutting basic services, which makes the task of balancing the budget all the more difficult. Advancing promises of more spending for the police department further complicates the issue, even if it’s politically advantageous in a city seriously concerned about public safety.

Cincinnati Police will hold several town hall meetings in the next week to hear concerns from citizens. The meetings will span across all local districts:
• District 2: Jan. 7, Medpace, Inc., 5375 Medpace Way.

• District 3:
Jan. 8, Elder HS Schaeper Center, 3900 Vincent.
• District 1 and Central Business District:
Jan. 9, River of Life Church, 2000 Central Parkway.
• District 5:
Jan. 13, Little Flower Church, 5560 Kirby Ave..
• District 4:
Jan. 14, Church of the Resurrection, 1619 California Ave.

Correction: The local homicide rate for 2013 was 25 per 100,000 residents, contrary to the 15.5 per 100,000 rate cited by police officials to City Council.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.05.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar, Police at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Council pauses streetcar, issue could make it to ballot, groups call for police camera fixes

City Council yesterday voted to allocate $1.25 million to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project and study how much it will cost to continue or cancel the project. The final 5-4 votes to pause came despite offers from private contributors to pay for the $250,000 study and construction for the one or two weeks necessary to carry out the cost analysis. The city administration warned council earlier in the day that pausing the project for one month could cost $2.56-$3.56 million, while previous estimates put continuing construction for the month at $3 million. After the cost study is finished, council members expect to make a final decision on whether to continue or cancel the project.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson filed a motion to draw up a city charter amendment that would task the city with completing the current streetcar project. If the charter amendment gets council approval, Cincinnatians would vote on the issue approximately 60 to 120 days afterward. But it’s unclear whether the $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar project would survive through the months; the federal government previously warned a delay could be grounds for pulling the money.

Commentary: “Atmosphere at City Hall Changes for the Worse.”

Following various cases of malfunctioning or disabled police cruiser cameras, various groups, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, are asking to get to the bottom of the issue. Police officials say old, deteriorating technology is to blame, but critics claim some officers are purposely tampering with the technology to avoid filming themselves during controversial moments in the line of duty. For both sides, getting the cameras working could be mutually beneficial; functioning cameras would allow police to clear their names but also show when officers make mistakes.

The University of Cincinnati asked Hamilton County judges to crack down on criminals targeting students on or near campus.

State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati says he won’t give up his Democratic candidacy for lieutenant governor despite $825,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes.

Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati canceled a vote for a proposal that would greatly weaken Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. But he vowed to pursue a “three-pronged strategy to reform the current envirosocialist mandates,” including potential litigation. Environmental groups argued Seitz’s proposal would have effectively eliminated the state’s energy standards. According to a study from Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, repealing the standards would increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s proposal in greater detail here.

The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature yesterday approved a bill that establishes a state panel to oversee Medicaid and recommend changes for the costly program. Republicans insist the measure isn’t about reducing benefits or eligibility for Medicaid; instead, they argue it’s about finding ways to cut growing health care costs without making such cuts. Gov. John Kasich must sign the bill for it to become law.

Months after rejecting Kasich’s proposal to do so, Ohio House leaders introduced a scaled-down measure that would slightly raise the oil and gas severance tax and cut income taxes. Unlike the governor’s previous proposal, the House plan seems to have support from the oil and gas industry.

Another Ohio House bill seeks to reintroduce prayer in public schools.

Ohioans are borrowing more to pay for college, but the debt load remains less than the national average.

Headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “CVG board votes to hire investigator for butt-dialed call.”

It seems Metropolitan Sewer District rates will increase by 6 percent.

Cincinnati could get three to six inches of snow tomorrow.

Robert Carr, a 49-year-old Cincinnati man, has been going into the homes of strangers and trying to claim them as his own. He’s now being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center on six felony charges for breaking into homes.

Ohio gas prices fell below $3 a gallon.

According to a study from the Library of Congress, 70 percent of America’s silent films are lost and a good portion of the remaining films are in poor condition.

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by Hannah McCartney 11.12.2013
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism, News, Ethics, Courts, Police at 03:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
defamation

Gannett Weekly Loses Appeal in Defamation Suit

Court upholds decision that the paper's 2010 statement was made with actual malice

A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge has denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser's request to appeal a 2012 ruling that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages.

In an article published in the Advertiser on May 27, 2010 titled "Cop's suspension called best move for city," the paper implicated Miami Township police officer James Young, who years before had been mired in legal trouble for accusations of sexual assault that were eventually disproven, in its article discussing another sex scandal in the area.

According to court documents, in 1997, Young was initially fired from his job after a woman named Marcie Phillips accused Young of forcing her to perform oral sex on him while Young was on duty. An internal investigation revealed that the two had actually been engaged in a relationship prior and that Young had spent time at Phillips' house while on duty. The allegations, however, were entangled in questions about Phillips' character and concern that she could have been lying about the rape because the relationship between the two had recently ended on rocky terms.

When DNA testing on semen found on a rug in the woman's home proved that the DNA didn't match Young's, he was exonerated and reinstated to his position

The Advertiser article explained that Young had been terminated for sexual harassment, immoral behavior, gross misconduct and neglect in the line of duty and also stated that "Young had sex with a woman while on the job," which formed the basis for Young's defamation suit.

The 2010 article dealt with similar accusations lodged against Milford Police Officer Russell Kenney, who pleaded guilty to charges that he'd been having sex with Milford Mayor Amy Brewer while he was on duty on multiple occasions.

Kenney was suspended from his position for 15 days, but was later reinstated even though Milford's police chief planned to recommend his termination to avoid having to use an arbitrator to dissect the case.

Although the article is attributed to writer Kellie Giest, the lawsuit revealed that the paper's editor at the time, Theresa Herron, inserted the section of the article that went to trial. According to court documents, Herron added the paragraphs about Young to Giest's story because she felt the article needed more context about why the city wanted to avoid arbitration.

According to court documents from the suit Young filed against the Gannett Satellite Information Network, Gannett responded the to initial complaint by acknowledging that the statement was a defamation of character, but that the statement was made without actual malice on the part of Herron. There is a high legal threshold for plaintiffs to establish a defamation claim, which require the plaintiff to prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt; for public officials, the threshold is even higher because they most prove that the offender acted with actual malice — in this case, knowing the claim about Young was false and printing it anyway — to win a lawsuit.

In its appeal, Gannett argued that Young, as a police officer, did not meet the threshold of a public official required to successfully establish a defamation claim and that Herron's inclusions were based on rational interpretations of documents on the case — even though Young denied having sex with plaintiff Marcie Phillips, he admitted the two had kissed and the arbitrator's report documented one instance in which Young was at Phillips' house while on duty.

In the court's opinion denying Gannett's appeal, Judge John Rogers writes that Herron admitted she had read the arbitrator's report from Young's case, which provided no evidence that Young and Phillips ever actually had sex at all.

"There was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Herron was well aware that the statement she added to the article was probably false," it reads. "Herron was also reckless in failing to conduct any investigation beyond the records of the original case. She did not seek out Young for comment, nor did she talk to anyone involved in his case."

 
 
by German Lopez 11.12.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Education, Police at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jeffrey blackwell

Morning News and Stuff

Police investigate cruiser crash, council holds last finance meeting, achievement gap widens

The Cincinnati police officer who struck a pedestrian with his cruiser on Saturday was apparently driving 50 mph in a 25 mph zone, which violates the Cincinnati Police Department's guidelines that limit officers from driving more than 20 mph above the posted limit. Officer Orlando Smith was responding to a call to help an officer when he struck Natalie Cole of Dayton, Ky. She remains in critical condition at University Hospital Medical Center following the incident. CPD is conducting an investigation that is expected to be completed within two weeks. But Smith's cruiser camera mysteriously failed to record for three minutes as the events unfolded; the latest recording available prior to the incident shows Smith leaving a grocery store parking lot with his lights and sirens on, as required by department policy when responding to help an officer. Witnesses told WCPO that Smith was actually driving in excess of 60 mph without his siren on and the victim flung 40 feet after she was struck. Smith is on paid administrative leave as the investigation finishes, which is routine police procedure.

City Council's Budget and Finance Committee will hold its final scheduled meeting today, less than three weeks before the new mayor and council are sworn in on Dec. 1. The committee's agenda is fairly packed after council canceled so many meetings throughout September and October for election season, but most of the items are uncontroversial incentive packages that aim to bring jobs and develop more housing opportunities in the city.

The achievement gap between white and black students in Ohio grew in the past two years, according to the results from a series of tests known as "the Nation's Report Card" from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Chad Aldis, the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Fordham Institute, told StateImpact Ohio the results are disappointing because the achievement gap between black and white students in Ohio was already way too big and above the national average in math and English, the two categories in which the gap widened. Overall, Ohio's students ranked slightly above the national average in all areas but showed no significant improvement since 2011. Aldis says Ohio's adoption of Common Core standards, a set of stricter expectations for students embraced by 45 states, should help challenge students and lead to improvement.

Here is an interactive map of marijuana seizures in Ohio this year, which were down from a record high in 2010. Some experts say marijuana and other drugs should be legalized following the failure of the decades-long war on drugs to seriously curtail supply and demand, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. will answer questions from readers and the editorial board at The Cincinnati Enquirer.

The two chairmen of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and Republican Party will on Nov. 21 switch roles and argue the other side's position on alleged voter fraud as part of the "Beyond Civility" debate series. The initiative seeks to bring public officials together in a less partisan environment.

The Cincinnati area's most prominent white-collar crime case will start hearings in December after a jury is picked by the end of the month in the trial of Matt Daniels, the former Kenwood Towne Place developer who's accused of various charges of fraud. Daniels' attorney talked to the Business Courier here.

Ohio homeschoolers can now join public schools' sports teams.

President Barack Obama will stop in Ohio on Thursday to discuss U.S. manufacturing.

Boy choirs are having a more difficult time filling roles as boys hit puberty earlier.

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by German Lopez 10.27.2013
Posted In: News, Privacy, Police at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mikedewine

Panel Recommends Limiting Facial Recognition Access

New program requires better oversight and clear protocols, say criminal justice officials

A panel of nine criminal justice officials on Friday recommended limiting access to Ohio’s facial recognition program and establishing protocols that would seek to make the program less prone to abuse.

The panel’s recommendations follow a nearly two-month review of current procedures and public criticisms over the programs secrecy and alleged lack of oversight.

The panel broadly looked at the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), a state database of criminal justice histories and records, but largely focused on the controversial facial recognition program, which was live for more than two months and 2,677 searches before Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine formally announced its existence in August. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.

The panel recommends limiting access of the facial recognition program to law enforcement, meaning police departments, sheriffs offices, state highway patrol, county prosecuting attorneys and other local, state or federal bodies that enforce criminal laws or have employees who have the legal authority to carry out an arrest. Anyone else who wants to tap into the system would need to do so with written permission from the superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

For those who would retain access, the panel says written policies and protocols should be developed and implemented. The recommendations extend from written rules for out-of-state officials to a training program that better establishes clear penalties for misuse and guidelines for reporting and prosecuting infractions.

The report calls for improved monitoring of the system, which it states is “perhaps the most effective measure of whether the system is being properly implemented for its intended criminal justice purpose.” The oversight should include random audits of OHLEG, one person in charge of monitoring OHLEG’s use in each local agency and a model for ideal use, according to the report.

The panel says the attorney general should also establish a steering committee comprised of criminal justice officials, along with an advisory group. The committee would be in charge of OHLEG training, monitoring and policy review, among other oversight functions.

The panel also advises the attorney general’s office to launch an education campaign that tells the public of the potential benefits of OHLEG’s programs.

Separately, the Ohio Public Defender’s Office recommends allowing citizens to access their own criminal history records through a secure Internet portal with a social security number, similar to AnnualCreditReport.com.

The panel included former Ohio Supreme Court justices, judges and law enforcement officials, among other criminal justice leaders from around Ohio.

DeWine, a Republican, says the facial recognition program is a vital tool for law enforcement to more easily identify and catch potential criminals. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper, say the program was allowed to operate for far too long without public knowledge or proper checks in place.

When asked if DeWine will implement the recommendations, Lisa Hackley, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, wrote in an email, “The Attorney General has committed to implementing the recommendations. Some are already in progress. Others, such as those requiring new computer programming, may take longer.”

The full report:



Updated at 10:04 p.m. with comment from the attorney generals office.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.18.2013
Posted In: News, Police, Abortion, The Banks at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
county courthouse

Morning News and Stuff

Audit slams former sheriff, part of The Banks sold, local abortion clinic could close

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

An audit of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) found former Sheriff Simon Leis crippled technological developments, stacked leadership positions with political cronies and still kept his staff fiercely loyal during his 25 years in charge of HCSO. The Oct. 15 audit claims the agency was “largely frozen in time” and didn’t meet the most basic modern standards, including a failure to adopt computer spreadsheets and other modern technologies instead of keeping paper-based records that only one person can access at a time. The audit claims a few possible consequences for Hamilton County: outdated policing policies, exposure to possible litigation and an overworked, under-trained staff. To fix the mistakes, the audit recommends various investments and changes to policies that could prove costly to the county — perhaps too costly to a county government that has been forced to make budget cuts for the past six years. Read more about the audit here.

Developers sold the apartments and 96,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space in the first phase of The Banks for $79.5 million. In a memo, City Manager Milton Dohoney claimed the sale is a sign of the strong market that’s being built in Cincinnati. Dohoney noted that the sale will provide nearly $1.2 million for the city and county, which will likely go to other projects in The Banks, and allow Carter and The Dawson Company to repay the city and county’s nearly $4.7 million retail fit-up loan three years in advance. The sale should also increase the property’s assessed value, which Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes previously put at $52 million, or $27.5 million less than it actually sold for, and subsequently lead to higher property-based tax revenue, according to Dohoney.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) could force the Lebanon Road Surgery Center, a Cincinnati-area abortion clinic, to close after a health examiner upheld ODH’s decision to revoke the clinic’s license because it couldn’t establish a patient transfer agreement with a nearby hospital. Abortion rights advocates touted the closure as another example of how new regulations in the recently passed state budget will limit access to legal abortions across the state. But ODH handed down its original decision for the Cincinnati-area abortion clinic in November 2012, more than half a year before Gov. John Kasich in June signed the state budget and its anti-abortion restrictions into law. Meanwhile, Ohio Right to Life praised the state for closing down or threatening to close down five abortion clinics this year.

Reminder: Officials project the streetcar will have a much greater economic impact in downtown than Over-the-Rhine, despite what some detractors may claim.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office last night began threatening to arrest homeless people who refuse to leave the Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center and find another place to sleep, according to Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. The sheriff’s office says the steps are necessary to put an end to public urination and defecation on county property, but homeless advocates say the county should focus on creating jobs and affordable housing to solve the root of the problem. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.

Former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson questioned her fellow Republicans’ legal threats against Gov. John Kasich’s plan to bypass the legislature and get the federally funded Medicaid expansion approved through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel. Davidson says Kasich is on “firm ground” legally because the state budget contained a provision that allows the state’s Medicaid director to expand the program. The Kasich administration on Oct. 11 announced its intention to call on the Controlling Board to take up the expansion, which will use federal Obamacare funds for two years to extend Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Ohio Libertarians and Greens threatened to sue the state if the legislature passes a bill that would limit ballot access for minor political parties. The Ohio Senate already approved the legislation, and an Ohio House committee is expected to vote on it at a hearing on Oct. 29.

More charges have been filed against a local spine doctor accused of carrying out unnecessary surgeries in the Cincinnati area and Florence, Ky., and billing health care programs millions of dollars, according to court documents released Thursday.

A race car managed to swap fossil fuels for hydrogen power.

 
 
 
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