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by Nick Swartsell 09.11.2015 26 days ago
Posted In: News, Police at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
screen shot 2015-07-30 at 10.12.49 am

Report: Dubose Shooting "Entirely Preventable"

Report says UC officer made tactical errors, recommends reassessment of UC police mission.

An internal review released today by the University of Cincinnati finds that the July 19 shooting death of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose by UC police officer Ray Tensing was "entirely preventable" and resulted from tactical mistakes made by Tensing. The report also says Tensing made misleading and untrue statements about that incident.

The report, prepared by an outside investigative company called Kroll, utilizes witness testimony, Tensing's body camera footage and other evidence to reconstruct the events that led up to DuBose's shooting death.

While the report finds that Tensing's initial stop of DuBose for a missing license plate was lawful, it also says that Tensing subsequently engaged DuBose in a way that created an escalating situation as DuBose refused to produce a driver's license or exit his vehicle.

Using a frame-by-frame breakdown of Tensing's body camera footage, the report demonstrates that Tensing reached into DuBose's car even when DuBose posed no threat to him. It also shows that Tensing's arm was not caught up in the car's steering wheel, as the officer claimed, and that DuBose's car did not start moving until after Tensing shot him in the head.

The report issues a number of recommendations to prevent future incidents, including testing officers involved in fatalities for drugs and alcohol. Many of the report's recommendations involve further training to prevent the mistakes Tensing made at the moment of the stop, but a few also address the wider problems with UC's policing in neighborhoods around the university. The first two recommendations concluding the report suggest UC and the city of Cincinnati consider limiting campus cops' ability to patrol off campus and also reassess the entire mission of the campus police force.

"Kroll’s preliminary assessment of the UCPD is that, while it does many things well, as a Department it lacks the experiential skill sets necessary to perform all of the operational requirements of urban policing," the report reads, "which requires the training and experience to not only conduct routine traffic stops, but also to investigate serious crimes, engage diverse multi-ethnic communities, and patrol areas of the city not affiliated with the university or its mission."

DuBose's death occurred in an isolated corner of Mount Auburn, about a mile from campus. Questions about off-campus policing come as the university has beefed up its police force and increased the number of tickets it gives. As it has done so, disparities in who gets those tickets have widened. UC police records show that 62 percent of the 932 tickets given by UC police through July this year went to black motorists. In 2012, blacks got 43 percent of UC police tickets. 

Ray Tensing has been indicted on murder and manslaughter charges in connection with DuBose s death. His trial was scheduled for next month, but has been postponed until an as-yet-unannounced later date.

CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.

by Nick Swartsell 09.11.2015 26 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Report on Dubose shooting to be released today; NKY theater to become brewery; 2016 is important because judges are old

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.

by Nick Swartsell 09.10.2015 27 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City Hall ruckus; UC campus featured in NYT Mag; Clinton comes to Columbus

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.

by Nick Swartsell 09.09.2015 28 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_smale riverfront park-courtesy cincinnati parks

Noon News and Stuff

CPD chief Blackwell fired; Cranley's park proposal loses big supporter; deputy Rowan County clerk will issue marriage licenses

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.

Quick hits:

• 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.

by Nick Swartsell 09.09.2015 28 days ago
Posted In: News, Police at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
jeffrey blackwell

UPDATED: City Manager Fires Police Chief Blackwell; Chief Promises Lawsuit

Harry Black cites communication, morale issues; chief's supporters call controversy political

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 judgement, 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.

You can read the climate assessment here and the memo here.

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.

by Natalie Krebs 09.08.2015 29 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Harry Black

Morning News and Stuff

Black celebrates one year as city manager; marijuana could bring in billions; Kentucky clerk Davis to be released from jail

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.  

• Looking for a good lunch option this week? Try Park Vine in Over-the-Rhine. Starting today, they're trying out two new ways to help feed those in need — specifically the homeless. Modeled after an Asheville, North Carolina restaurant, Park Vine will offer a beans-and-rice dish on a sliding scale from $2 to $7 and will price other dishes at $7 or more to allow the restaurant to provide meals for those on a limited budget. Customers can also purchase a dish off the menu to set aside for someone else.

That's all for now! Email me at nkrebs@citybeat.com with story tips!
by Nick Swartsell 09.04.2015 33 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Councilman Young pulls support for Chief Blackwell; records show officials colluded on Ohio charter data-rigging; Kim Davis in jail, Rowan County same-sex couples get licenses

Good morning all. Here’s the news today as we head into the long Labor Day weekend. I’ll be brief so we can all get there a little quicker, eh?

Cincinnati City Councilman and former Cincinnati Police officer Wendell Young says Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell has become a distraction and should move on. Young has until recently made statements of support for the chief but now says the negative attention and “sniping” has “achieved its desired result” and undermined Blackwell as the head of the department. Young says he still thinks Blackwell has done a good job in his two years as chief, but political turmoil at the city and within CPD as well as a tough summer that saw officer Sonny Kim shot and a rise in gun violence have taken their toll. Young says it’s in the city’s best interest and Blackwell’s that he move on.

Others on Council, as well as community members, however, continue to stick by the chief. Young’s fellow Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld have all made statements supporting Blackwell. He’s gotten a show of support outside City Hall, too — a Facebook group called “We’ve Got Blackwell’s Back” popped up yesterday and has garnered hundreds of followers. The support comes amid controversy, however, as rumors have swirled all summer about city leaders’ unhappiness with Blackwell and low morale at CPD. Cincinnati’s Fraternal Order of Police President Kathy Harrell has called a special Sept. 14 meeting to discuss those concerns, and some media outlets report that officers might take a vote of no confidence in Blackwell at that gathering.

• Some parents are fighting back against Cincinnati Public Schools' controversial decision to end first-come, first-served enrollment for the city’s sought-after magnet schools, forming a group called Cincinnatians for School Access to advocate for a return to that policy. CPS ended first-come, first-served last month, citing the nearly two-week camp outs district parents were undertaking in order to be first in line to enroll their children at schools like the Fairview-Clifton German Language School. The district says the first-come, first-served policy isn’t fair because some students don’t have parents who can afford to spend two weeks waiting in line to enroll. They’ve replaced the former system with a randomized lottery, at least for this year. But parents like those in CSA say that takes control out of parents’ hands. The new parent group is pushing to gain more members and convince CPS to reconsider the change.

• A couple quick business notes: First, I’m not much for fashion. Like, I think about it exactly never. If you’ve ever seen me walking to work, at City Hall covering Council, out on Saturday night or well, anywhere, really, you know this already. But I have to admit I have a weakness for cool sneakers, which makes me kinda excited about this news: Corporate, a mid-to-high-end sneaker boutique located in Hyde Park, is opening up a second store in Over-the-Rhine on Vine Street. The new location will focus less on athletic wear, owners say, and more on lifestyle-type gear. That’s great because I could use some new kicks and I really hate taking the bus to Hyde Park. But it’s also not-so-great because that’s on my walk home from work and I’m really worried about the toll all that temptation will take on my bank account.

• I think it’s pretty uncommon to celebrate your first birthday with a round of beers, but that’s the big plan for the one-year anniversary of Cincinnati Red Bike. The bike share company started Sept. 15 last year, and to celebrate they’ve partnered with the also recently opened Taft’s Ale House for a special brew commemorating the occasion. The two are just a block apart from each other in Over-the-Rhine, so the collaboration seemed like a natural way to have a party. Taft’s will create the Red Bike-themed brew, a low-alcohol lager (can’t be swerving on those rental bikes, after all) and host the big, bike-beer-birthday bash Sept. 15.

• An initial review of records detailing charter school accountability data flubs at the Ohio Department of Education is turning up some fairly disconcerting stuff. The state released 100,000 pages of records to media yesterday, some of which shows personnel at the ODE collaborating to goose charter school sponsor data by leaving out low-performing online charter schools. So far, the scandal around the data-fixing has revolved mostly around now-resigned ODE official David Hansen, husband of Gov. John Kasich's chief of staff Beth Hansen. But the emails and other documents released yesterday seem to show Hansen and other ODE officials discussed the data and how results might make charter school sponsors look better. Officials with the state say the records indicate that no one high up in the state's administration, including Kasich, was aware that the data-rigging was happening, though an analysis of the documents by journalists has yet to wrap up.

• This morning was another historic step for marriage equality as same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky were finally able to get marriage licenses there. The couples had been denied licenses despite the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this summer legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. County Clerk Kim Davis ceased issuing any marriage licenses at all, saying same-sex marriage violated her religious beliefs. Her refusal led to a court battle, which finally ended yesterday, when Davis was put in jail after being found in contempt of federal court. Couples in Rowan made their way through throngs of media, supporters and protesters to receive their licenses from deputy clerks early this morning.

• Finally, a little bit of national good news: Unemployment in the U.S. has fallen to a seven-and-a-half-year low at 5.1 percent. It’s not all great news, though. The country gained somewhat fewer jobs than expected, and wages didn’t rise much, either.

All right. I'm out. Have a great long weekend!

by Nick Swartsell 09.03.2015 34 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
jeffrey blackwell

Morning News and Stuff

FOP might cast no-confidence vote for Blackwell; voters will not get opportunity to approve most charter change proposals; Cincinnati, city of snobs?

Good morning all. Here’s what’s happening in the news today.

Cincinnati’s Fraternal Order of Police is set to cast a vote of no confidence regarding CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, according to union leadership. Union President Kathy Harrell is convening the Sept. 14 meeting to address what she says are issues around low morale, staffing and other concerns from officers. Though Harrell says she believes officers will cast the no confidence vote, that’s not set in stone, and the meeting will include an open forum during which officers can voice their opinions.

The meeting comes as Cincinnati experiences something of a spike in gun violence, which is up 30 percent from last year. Some other crimes are also up slightly — as a whole,  violent crime has risen 3 percent since this time last year — but that follows an abnormally quiet year last year, and overall crime rates line up with the past few years in the city. Other cities have also seen upticks in crime, some much more drastic than Cincinnati. But city leaders have said that’s no excuse and have pushed for new crime reduction measures. Blackwell introduced a 90-day crime reduction plan earlier this summer, which has gotten mixed reviews from the city manager, mayor and other leaders. Earlier in the summer, questions swirled around whether Blackwell was departing the force; city documents outlining his exit were detailed in media reports, though they were never signed and the chief stayed on. In June, black police union the Sentinels unanimously voted their support for the chief.

Blackwell called a news conference last night to address the pending FOP no-confidence vote, saying he felt sure he would remain chief and highlighting the efforts he has made to build community engagement and fight crime. He also stressed that staffing for the department is at a six-year high. The FOP hasn’t had a meeting like the one planned for next week in a decade, and officers in Cincinnati have never cast a no-confidence vote over a chief.

• If you were looking forward to voting on major changes to our city's governing system, well, sorry 'bout that. There were few surprises out of City Hall yesterday as Cincinnati City Council and Mayor John Cranley blocked the most substantive of suggested amendments to the city’s charter from appearing before voters in November. A measure allowing Council to fire the city manager and another that would have enabled it to engage in executive session both failed to gather enough votes to make it onto the November ballot. Some on Council, including council members Yvette Simpson and Kevin Flynn, supported bringing those changes to voters.

But the executive session amendment failed to reach the six-vote threshold needed to overturn last week’s mayoral veto. Cranley says he vetoed the amendment because it would bring more secrecy to government by allowing Council to meet in private. Simpson argued that executive session, which is permissible under state law and is used by most municipal councils in the state, would actually allow elected representatives to play a bigger role in decisions the city administration makes. Simpson pointed out that some information circulating within City Hall related to economic development deals, court cases, security and other issues must be kept confidential.

However, since Council must conduct all its business in public, it can’t be made privy to that information until it’s time to vote on it. That means elected representatives only get to engage in the final stages of decision making and aren’t involved in cutting economic development deals, for instance, until the final deal is reached. Simpson slammed that dynamic, saying that it means city administration and the mayor are allowed to hold private meetings and hash out private deals without Council’s knowledge. But City Manager Harry Black said Council is able to exercise oversight over any part of the deal-making process and can challenge the confidentiality of any information possessed by the city administration. Cranley said having access to such information as mayor is one of “the privileges of the position” and pointed out that executive and legislative roles must necessarily differ in City Hall.

The executive session amendment garnered five votes from Council. Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman voted against it. Councilman Chris Seelbach was absent from voting, but had previously indicated to media that he would not reprise his earlier “yes” vote on the amendment, making it unlikely the measure would overcome Cranley’s veto.

Cranley also railed against the provision allowing Council to fire the city manager, saying it would create an atmosphere where the city’s top executive would fear for his job “every week.” Cranley cited the dynamics of Council in the 1990s, before Council’s ability to fire the manager was revoked, to illustrate his point. However, some council members pushed back at his assertion. Sittenfeld, for example, said having nine council members overseeing the city manager seemed more democratic and more stable than having only the mayor do so.

Council did place two amendments on the November ballot. One would clean up archaic language in the city’s charter and also change the date of the city’s mayoral primary. The other would shift start dates for the mayor and council members from early December to early January.

OK. Look at me rambling on. Here are some quick hits for the rest of your news.

• The Cincinnati Zoo announced yesterday it will spend $12 million on an expansion of its gorilla exhibit, building an indoor greenhouse for the primates that will match the animals’ current outdoor area.

• Is Cincinnati one of the most unfriendly cities in the world?

Read More

by Nick Swartsell 09.02.2015 35 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar builder burns midnight oil to complete vehicles; legal challenge to mayor's park proposal; Kasich speaks the language of youth

Hey hey all. Here’s what’s happening in the city and beyond this morning.

The company making Cincinnati’s streetcars, CAF USA, will be adding extra shifts at its manufacturing facility in New York in order to avoid being any later on delivering the vehicles. CAF originally told the city that the cars would be delivered by the end of this month. But a few weeks ago, the company revealed that they might not be ready until December, stoking apprehension that the delay could cause the entire transit project’s start date to be pushed back. The streetcar is supposed to start operating, with passengers, this time next year. Between now and then, a good deal of testing will need to be done on the cars, both at the manufacturing facility and here in Cincinnati, where the cars will have to take log a number of test miles before they can take passengers. However, officials with the city and with CAF say the delay won’t cause any lag in the project’s launch. The company has given the city a progress update on the vehicles and has said the first of the five cars could be delivered as early as October.

• Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Ohio yesterday filed a lawsuit against the state over recently passed new laws governing abortion access. CityBeat has covered the ongoing battle extensively, and you can read the backstory here, here, and here. Shorter version: A provision tucked into Ohio’s budget and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in June would give the Ohio Department of Health 60 days to approve an abortion provider’s license renewal or variance request. After that period, the request would be automatically denied and a clinic would lose its ability to perform the procedure. In its federal suit, Planned Parenthood says that presents an unconstitutional barrier to abortion access. Cincinnati’s last remaining clinic, Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, could be in jeopardy of closing due to that new rule. That would make Cincinnati the largest metro area in the country without direct access to an abortion clinic. The Mount Auburn clinic waited for more than a year to have its last variance request granted by ODH. After Planned Parenthood filed a previous lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Ohio laws that require clinics have hospital admitting privileges, but forbidding public hospitals from entering into such agreements, the department finally issued the clinic an exception to those rules. Now, the facility could be in danger of closing again thanks to the new restrictions Planned Parenthood is challenging.

• Mayor John Cranley’s proposed ballot initiative for city park upgrades is getting a legal challenge from one staunch opponent. Cincinnati attorney Don Mooney filed an objection to the initiative earlier this week, saying the wording of the ballot proposal is misleading and incomplete. Supporters of the initiative have already gained the needed signatures to place the proposal on the November ballot. Cranley’s proposal would boost property taxes to pay for upkeep to the city’s park as well as fund major changes to several, including Clifton’s Burnet Woods. The proposal is designed to raise about $5 million a year in property tax revenues. But that 75 percent of that money could be used on debt service for bonds the city would issue to raise tens of millions of dollars for the parks project. Therein lies the rub, or at least one of them: Mooney charges that the ballot initiative as written doesn’t make clear that it would allow the city, through the mayor and park board, to take on millions in debt. Mooney also criticizes the power given the mayor to make decisions about what to do with that money. Under the initiative’s current language, parks projects funded by the money would be proposed by the mayor and approved by the parks board without the approval of Cincinnati City Council. Mooney calls that a mayoral power grab.

• If you’re wondering what the long-promised new Kroger location in Corryville will look like, the grocery chain finally has some renderings for you to gander at. Kroger released some images of how the store should look when completed next year. At nearly 70,000 square feet, the location will nearly double the size of the current Kroger at the south end of Corryville’s Short Vine strip. Current plans flip the store’s orientation, putting its entrance facing Jefferson Street and the University of Cincinnati’s campus.

• Finally, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is a hip, with it guy. He knows what the kids like. They like Snapchat. They like bacon. They like GOP presidential primary candidates who are down with Snapchat and bacon. That’s why Kasich’s campaign pioneered a new kind of political ad today on the photo and video sharing app. The ad uses a filter on the app to render Kasich’s campaign logo as strips of bacon, which the app is running in early primary state New Hampshire from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. today. In his next move to win millennial voters, Kasich will post anonymously on Yik Yak with a special, super-secret guest verse on an A$AP Rocky song rapped entirely in Doge speak about his foreign policy platform. Such hip! Much vote!

by Nick Swartsell 09.01.2015 36 days ago
Posted In: News at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
news1_protester_7-9 copy

Planned Parenthood Sues Ohio Over Abortion Access

Suit claims new state laws unjustly limit women's access to abortion

Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio filed a federal lawsuit today against the state of Ohio, charging that "hostile policies" passed by the state in the last few years greatly restrict women's access to abortions.

The suit comes after new restrictions were slipped into Ohio's budget earlier this year. Among those restrictions was a clause that automatically suspends a clinic's license to provide abortions if the Ohio Department of Health does not respond to a license renewal application or request for variance to other restrictions within 60 days. In the past, ODH has taken a year or more to respond to applications from clinics in Cincinnati and elsewhere in the state.

New rules on abortion providers have come about in the past few years as conservative state lawmakers have sought to clamp down on abortion providers. Some lawmakers say the laws are about patient safety, while others admit they are intended to decrease the number of abortions performed in Ohio. Since the laws have been passed, the number of clinics in Ohio has dwindled from 14 to just nine.

Restrictions passed in 2009 required clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and a subsequent law passed in 2013 forbade publicly funded hospitals from entering into those agreements. That rule cost Cincinnati's last clinic providing abortions, the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, its transfer agreement with UC Hospital.

The center, run by Planned Parenthood, has since had to apply for variances to those rules, which it qualifies for because it has individual physicians who can admit patients to hospitals. Delays from the ODH granting a variance to those restrictions have put the future of Cincinnati's last operating clinic providing abortions in jeopardy. The center waited more than a year for its variance request, which the ODH finally granted after Planned Parenthood filed an earlier lawsuit against Ohio.

If the center were to cease providing abortions, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services. If another, similarly endangered clinic in Dayton were also shuttered, Southwest Ohio would be entirely without a clinic.

Officials with Planned Parenthood say the state's new laws are about politics, not patient safety.

"Despite what these politicians claim, medical experts have made it clear that these restrictions don’t enhance patient safety — just the opposite," Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio CEO Jerry Lawson said in a statement about the lawsuit. "Politicians in Ohio should be helping more women access health care — not making it harder."




by Nick Swartsell 10.07.2015 5 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cranley's Anti-Poverty Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

Supporters cheer the mayor's focus on childhood poverty, but critics say Cranley's proposals don't go far enough

Mayor John Cranley’s State of the City speech earlier this week touched on a number of issues the mayor has deemed priorities in the coming year — among them, the city’s sky-high childhood poverty rate.

Last year, according the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 44.3 percent of the city’s children lived in poverty. That’s down from over 50 percent in 2012, when Cincinnati ranked second-highest in the country, but still double the national average of about 22 percent and nearly double Ohio’s average of 23 percent.

Cranley says he wants to find ways to lift 10,000 of Cincinnati’s 30,000 poor kids out of poverty in the next five years. To do that, he’s proposing convening a task force that will present recommendations for reaching that goal. The task force will present those recommendations June 30, 2016 — the day before the city’s new fiscal year.

Is that goal realistic? And does Cranley’s proposal to create a task force that will research ways to address childhood poverty in Cincinnati go far enough? Some say no, citing other Cranley proposals, including a parks charter amendment that would spend millions in property tax revenues to create new recreational attractions, that will spend much more money on things critics say are less pressing or effective.

Meanwhile, others applaud the fact the mayor is focusing on the problem and say they are willing to give his ideas time to play out.

City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is among the critics of Cranley’s approach.

In an Oct. 6 editorial for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Simpson said the mayor’s big speech left out some key considerations — from the University of Cincinnati police shooting death of Samuel DuBose and ongoing racial issues in the city to progress made on the city’s streetcar system.

One of the speech’s big shortfalls, Simpson says, is the lack of a serious plan to address poverty in the city.

“For those individuals living in poverty and organizations actively working on the root causes and effects of institutional, inter-generational poverty everyday, organizing a ‘summit’ and expecting it will lead to a one-third reduction in our childhood poverty rate in 5 years is, at best, out of touch and at worst, disrespectful,” Simpson wrote in the piece.

Simpson said Cranley’s statements are surprising considering the recent fight between the mayor’s office and City Council over human services funding in the city’s budget. Democrats on Council pushed for more money for programs traditionally funded through human services in the budget to get the city back on track toward devoting at least 1 percent of the budget toward such programs.

Council passed a resolution last fall asking the city to double funding for traditional human services programs. While making this year’s city budget, however, City Manager Harry Black ignored that resolution and put much of that money in new programs not usually associated with traditional human services. Meanwhile, federal money usually given to other programs was directed toward the mayor’s Hand Up Initiative, which looks to get more poor Cincinnatians into jobs making around $10 an hour through programs like Cincinnati Cooks! and Cincinnati Works. Those dynamics caused a big battle over the city budget.

Community activist Mike Moroski sits on the steering committee for Hand Up. He’s also the executive director of UpSpring, a nonprofit in Lower Price Hill dedicated to addressing the city’s childhood poverty problem. Moroski says he’s not always been a Cranley fan, but his time working on Hand Up has convinced him the mayor is responsive to input and new ideas. He says he’s willing to give Cranley’s anti-poverty ideas time to bear fruit.

“I voted for [Cranley’s 2013 mayoral opponent] Roxanne Qualls,” Moroski says. “I didn't think John Cranley would be a very good mayor.”

Moroski says he still disagrees with Cranley on some issues, including the streetcar, but says those issues aren’t as important as addressing the city’s big poverty problem. He says he believes the mayor — and City Council — are serious about working toward solving that problem and that he hopes city officials can work past politics together toward that end.
“Will Mayor Cranley's new Task Force do just that? I have no idea, but I am willing to be hopeful and wait and see,” Moroski said in an email yesterday. “I am not willing to dismiss it right out of the gate. Did he spend enough time on it last evening? I don't know — I am not going to pass judgment because it wasn't talked about enough — I am just happy it was talked about.”

The city has made some efforts to address its deep economic divisions, including a recent raft of ordinances that would help address the racial and gender disparities in its contracting practices. However, Cincinnati is still a place of stunning inequalities when it comes to the economic conditions of its neighborhoods, and ways to address those inequalities look to remain front and center in conversations about the city’s future.

"Mayor Cranley wants 2016 to be the year that we dig in and have real conversations about poverty and take action," Moroski says. "And I will support that. I will also support any initiative that any council member proposes that does the same. And, as I said, if any of these initiatives appear to be hollow, then I will pass judgment. But not until I see what plays out."

by Natalie Krebs 10.07.2015 5 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Morning News and Stuff

ResponsibleOhio under investigation for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms; Sittenfeld calls for opponents to renounce NRA support; Blue Lives Matter launches billboard campaign; U.S. under fire for Doctors Without Borders bombing

Hey Cincy! Here are your morning headlines.  

• There's potentially more trouble on the horizon for ResponsibleOhio less than a month before voters head to the polls to vote on its ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is looking into possible voter registration fraud after the board found that at least four of the registration forms filed by a company on behalf of the super PAC were signed by dead people and two were signed by people currently incarcerated and therefore illegible to vote. The registrations forms were submitted by the Strategic Network, a Columbus company specializing in political campaigns that is headed by Ian James, the man who also serves as executive director for ResponsibleOhio. The board made the decision yesterday to issue subpoenas to James and the other leaders of the Strategic Network. James denies any intentional illegal wrongdoing and claims that his company has a "zero tolerance policy" toward fraud. It’s unclear who filled out and submitted the voter registration forms, but submitting a fraudulent voter registration form is a felony offense. James claims that the group is required by law to turn over every voter registration form it collects, even those that are invalid. 

• Less than a week after the tragic shooting at a Roseburg, Ore. community college, city councilman and U.S. Senate candidate P.G. Sittenfeld issue a statement asking his opponents to renounce their support for the National Rifle Association. The NRA has previously endorsed Republican candidate Rob Portman and fellow Democratic opponent Ted Strickland in its famous rating program where it assigns a letter grade to politicians. In his video statement, Sittenfeld asks that his opponents "no longer chase A+ ratings from the same organization that blocked a universal background check bill following a horrific massacre of five and six-year old children in Newtown." Sittenfeld is trailing behind former Ohio governor and fellow Democrat Strickland, who is widely known across the state and has secured the endorsement from the state's Democratic party. 

• Cincinnati is sitting on some serious cash. At the end of the 2015 fiscal year, the city has $19 million left over, which turned out to be way more than the initial $3.9 million the city predicted to have at the end of June. In a memo to Mayor John Cranley, City Manager Harry Black has requested they should it safe and save most of it but also included a sizable wish list. Many of the items requested are related to law enforcement and crime reduction, which has been a hot topic since Cincinnati has experienced a spike in shootings and Black recently fired of former police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. Some of the items, which must be approved by the city council, included spending $2 million on a down payment for Cincinnati Police body cameras, $500,000 for police overtime in spots with heavy crime, $200,000 for a witness protection program and $175,000 for a partnership with Hamilton County to a program to support the re-entry of offenders. 

• Surely you've heard of Black Lives Matter by now, the group that has been active for the past few years in bringing attention to the issue of police brutality against African-Americans. Well, a new group has popped up in support of police called Blue Lives Matter and they've launched a national billboard campaign with 14 billboards across the country. The group is hoping to spread awareness and fight what it sees as anti-police rhetoric in the wake of high profile police shootings, including the July shooting in Mount Auburn of Sam Dubose by a University of Cincinnati police officer.

• International aid group Doctors Without Borders appealed yesterday for an independent agency to investigate the bombing of one of its clinics in Afghanistan last Saturday by U.S. special operation forces. The bombing killed 22 patients and medical staff members, including three children, and injured 37 people. The U.S. has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was trying to take out Taliban militants, and did not mean to hit the aid clinic, but U.S. military officials' stories keep changing, which has prompted suspicion from the international community of the U.S.'s mission.   

As always, email me with story idea, comments or general concerns.

by Nick Swartsell 10.06.2015 30 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley touts more money for cops, park plan in State of the City; Council poised to vote on King historic status; area districts push back against charter schools

Good morning folks. Let’s talk about news today, eh?

First off, let me tell you about Mayor John Cranley’s second State of the City speech, which he gave to a crowd of about 700 movers, shakers and awkward journalists (at least one awkward journalist) last night at Great American Ball Park.

The mayor is obligated by the city charter to give folks an update on what he’s up to once a year, and for Cranley that meant talking about economic development deals and balancing the budget, asking city council for $800,000 for new violence prevention measures and promoting his somewhat controversial parks levy, which would create an amendment to the city charter and raise property taxes slightly to give big makeovers to a number of Cincinnati parks.

Cranley also pledged to create a task force to explore ways to reduce childhood poverty and a healthcare initiative to reduce infant mortality in the city. He did all this while making a slightly convoluted metaphor about home runs and base hits and sharing a personal experience with the mythical double rainbow. We’ll be parsing the mayor’s proposals more precisely soon, but in the meantime, that’s the broad overview you need to know.

• As Cranley was making his speech last night, a group of around 50 gathered at City Hall to protest the looming closure of Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic that provides abortions. City Councilman Chris Seelbach spoke to the group, pledging support for Planned Parenthood and calling on fellow city officials to support the city’s last remaining clinic. A smaller group then marched to Great American Ball Park, chanting and holding signs asking Cranley to show support for the facility and for the pro-choice movement. The mayor, who has said he was unaware of the rally, did not make remarks to the group following his speech.

The Ohio Department of Health last month denied a license renewal for the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn. The clinic is run by Planned Parenthood and has stayed open by order of a federal judge as it awaits the results of an appeal to that decision. Planned Parenthood Southwestern Ohio and legal representatives for Women’s Med clinic in Dayton that faces a similar situation have also sued the state of Ohio over its increasingly strict restrictions on clinics that provide abortions. Should the clinics lose their appeal in federal court, both will shut down. Without a clinic, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services.

• After a somewhat contentious Neighborhoods Committee meeting yesterday, Cincinnati City Council is expected to vote tomorrow on historic landmark status for the former King Records site in Evanston, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports. That designation could make it much harder to tear down the buildings but could also spark a big legal battle reminiscent of the struggle over the Gamble House, the historic Westwood abode built by the son of one of P&G’s founders. That 170-year-old building was torn down in 2013. The site in Evanston is significant for a number of reasons, one of which is that it’s the place where James Brown made many of his early recordings. One of the two buildings on the site is currently owned by Dynamic Industries, which would like to tear it down. Want to know more about Evanston, King Records and the push and pull between the current owners of the could-be historic site and those looking to preserve the building? We have a story on that.

• A group composed of 43 school districts in Greater Cincinnati, including Cincinnati Public Schools, is pushing back against charter school expansion in the state. The Greater Cincinnati School Advocacy Network recently called for greater accountability for charter schools and changes to the way in which they are funded. GCSAN says charters unfairly drain public money from public school districts while not providing a better alternative for low-income students as they were intended to do. CPS loses thousands of students to local charters each year. The district says it’s not totally opposed to the concept — it sponsors two charter schools itself  — but warns that voters in the district are tired of seeing their money spent on private charter schools that don’t perform well.

The push back comes as charters in Ohio face deep scrutiny over an Ohio Department of Education data fixing scandal, performance issues and questions about oversight. In general, charters in the state have laxer oversight from the ODE and lower performance standards. You can read our story about charters in Cincinnati and throughout the state here.

• How much tax revenue will be created from legalizing marijuana if voters pass a ballot initiative doing so this November? Like most controversial political questions, it depends entirely on whom you ask. The Ohio Department of Taxation estimates revenues somewhere between $133 and almost $300 million could flow from the sale of marijuana. Not surprisingly, ResponsibleOhio, which created the petition drive to get the issue on the November ballot, has higher numbers, saying legalization would create $2 billion in marijuana sales, bringing municipalities and counties more than $554 million in revenue. The state’s estimates vary depending on assumptions about how much of the current illicit marijuana market switches to legal usage.

But ResponsibleOhio says the state erred in considering how many people use marijuana in Ohio and say its number is based on more reliable federal drug usage studies. What’s a few hundred million dollars, though, am I right? ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would legalize marijuana usage and purchase for anyone over the age of 21. The proposal would also create more than 1,000 licenses similar to liquor licenses for the sale of the drug. However, the controversial part of the plan is that only 10 grow sites, all owned by ResponsibleOhio investors, would be allowed across the state. Voters will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal on the November ballot.

by Nick Swartsell 10.05.2015 51 hours ago
Posted In: News, Cycling at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_bright ride_photo urban basin bicycle club facebook page

Cincinnati Among Top Cities for Growth in Bicycle Commuting

Commuting by bike increased by 350 percent last year, the third-biggest increase among major cities

You may have seen recent 2014 American Community Survey data released by the U.S. Census Bureau showing that bicycle commuting continues to rise.

Cincinnati has been one of the cities leading the way in that growth, it turns out.

The League of American Bicyclists recently analyzed those ACS numbers and came up with data showing where cycling and bike commuting are biggest and growing fastest. While Cincinnati ranked 31st among the 70 biggest U.S. cities in terms of share of cyclists commuting to work (we’re at just under 1 percent), the number of bike commuters here is growing faster than just about anywhere else in the country.

Bike commuting in Cincinnati increased by 350 percent last year, according to the ACS. That’s more than any other major city besides Detroit, which saw a 403 percent boost, and Pittsburgh, which saw bicycle commuting go up by 360 percent.

Cincinnati easily beat out other Ohio cities, including Columbus (ranked 36th with .8 percent of commutes happening by bike) and Cleveland (ranked 40th with .7 percent).

The city with the top percentage of bicycle commuters is, predictably, Portland, Ore., where more than 7 percent of commutes are taken by bicycle. The city has more than 23,000 cyclists. Oregon is tops in terms of states when it comes to bike commuters, as well. Ohio is well down that list, ranking 36th.

As a bike commuter, I'm excited that I have more company on the roads. You can read the whole League of American Bicyclists report here.

by Nick Swartsell 10.05.2015 54 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Enquirer story on historic conservation board appears, disappears; Cranley to deliver state of the city address this evening; Kasich zeroes in on New Hampshire, where he trails

Hello all. Hope you enjoyed your weekend. Yesterday was the ideal day weatherwise, so if you stayed inside all day, well, that sucks for you. I went to a pumpkin festival at Lobenstein farms in Indiana, where I got a strange white pumpkin that I believe is probably haunted. I also had the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten and some amazing fried chicken. So I’d say it all balances out. Anyway, none of that is news. This is news.

First — it’s the last day to go register to vote for the November election. Go do that now. Though there aren’t any major public officials to weigh in on this year, there are several very important ballot issues, including changes to the redistricting process for Ohio’s State House seats, whether to create a state-sanctioned,10-farm weed monopoly to legalize marijuana and whether to pass a levy that would provide millions to new park projects. So. Go register. I’ll wait.

Back? OK.

• Over the weekend, The Cincinnati Enquirer posted, then took down, a story about changes to the city’s urban conservator office and Historic Conservation Board, which help decide questions of historic preservation, demolition permits and the like. Basically, these bodies help mediate the push-pull between developers who want to build buildings at maximum profit and community members and historic preservation advocates who want to save old buildings that contribute to the character of Cincy’s neighborhoods.

Lately, there have been shake ups on both the board and with the urban conservator, who was unceremoniously removed from his post in late August. Meanwhile, four of the board’s six members are newcomers who have contributed to Mayor John Cranley’s campaign. Some, including some Over-the-Rhine community leaders, see this as a politicizing of these decision-making bodies and a possible weakening of the city’s historic preservation safeguards to the benefit of developers friendly with Cranley. But others defend the changes, saying rotation on the board is healthy to get fresh perspectives on historic conservation. The Enquirer says it took down the story because it accidentally posted an unedited version a couple days ahead of schedule. You can read the original version, which does contain some errors, in this Facebook post by transit activist and OTR resident Derek Bauman. It will be interesting to read the final version of that story when it finally comes out.

• A group of activists will take to City Hall today to protest the pending closing of Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic that provides abortions. More than 100 people are confirmed for the rally on a Facebook event posted by the group, which says it is protesting to get city officials to express support for abortion rights and opposition to the clinic’s closure. Several Democratic city officials have already expressed support for Planned Parenthood.

The Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, which is run by Planned Parenthood, was denied a license renewal by the Ohio Department of Health last week. It is staying open pending an appeal of that decision, but could close immediately if federal courts find in favor of the state. That would make Cincinnati the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortions. The Women’s Med Clinic in Dayton faces a similar situation with the ODH; if both shut down, the entirety of Southwestern Ohio would be without direct access to abortion services. Today’s rally begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

• Meanwhile, most city officials will be away from City Hall at Great American Ball Park this afternoon for Mayor John Cranley’s second state of the city speech, where he’ll unveil his priorities for the coming year. Among those priorities is a task force aimed at lifting 10,000 children and 5,000 adults out of poverty. The task force will be expected to deliver a set of action steps by June 30 for that goal. In 2012, more than half of the city’s children lived in poverty. That ratio has gone down to 44 percent since, but it’s unclear why that is. Whatever the reason, city officials say that’s still far too many kids without basic needs. Ohio’s childhood poverty rate is 23 percent and the nation’s is 22.

Cranley will likely talk about other priorities he has for the coming year, including an initiative to raise millions for Cincinnati parks by putting a permanent property tax levy into the city’s charter so the city can issue bonds for capital projects in the parks. Projects such as the Wasson Way bike trail, a redevelopment of Burnet Woods and other money-intensive efforts are on the slate should that levy pass in November.

Here are some quick notes about state and national politics/other news:

• The state of Ohio is getting tons of money for charter schools, despite recent scandals about data-fixing in the Ohio Department of Education and generally lagging performance from those schools. The U.S. Department of Education is awarding eight states money for their charter programs, and Ohio is among them. Despite being the lowest-performing of the eight, the state could receive more than $70 million for the privately run, publicly funded schools, the most of any of the eight states. The story linked above has more information and is definitely worth a read.

• U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has raised a big old mountain of cash from Republican donors in his re-election bid. Portman will face either former Ohio governor Ted Strickland or Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the general election next year, both of whom trail Portman’s $2 million quarterly fundraising haul significantly. That’s not the whole story, however. Democratic primary frontrunner Strickland is polling dead even with Portman and in some polls surpassing him, despite the fundraising deficit. Many political observers predict the race to be among the most costly in the country as Dems and the GOP battle it out for control of the Senate in a presidential election year. Outside groups are already pouring money into Ohio against Strickland.

• Ohio governor and GOP presidential primary contender John Kasich has called New Hampshire, an early primary state, essential to his bid for his party’s nomination and indicated this weekend that a bad showing there would be the end of his campaign. Unfortunately, he’s also lagging there, dropping from second behind Donald Trump in a poll last month to seventh in a poll taken this month. The guv just opened his campaign headquarters in the state, which has its primary in about four months.

• Probably not a surprise, but Republicans are still fighting over who will replace U.S. Rep. John Boehner of West Chester in his powerful speaker of the house role. Boehner resigned from Congress recently amid infighting over a possible government shutdown by hardline right wing Republicans. His second-in-command, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, seems to be the favorite for the position, but recent slip-ups by McCarthy and an announcement that Utah’s Rep. Jason Chaffetz is also running for the role have increased the uncertainty about who will take the reigns for Republicans, who control the House of Representatives with a large majority.

• Finally, stock up on those solid color neon hoodies now. American Apparel announced bankruptcy today. The company, which sells basic clothing items that are made in America, has lost money every year since 2010. It suffered a blow last year as founder Dov Charney was ousted amid widespread allegations that he engaged in sexual harassment against employees. The company says its retail locations, including the one in Cincinnati, will remain open amid the bankruptcy.

by Nick Swartsell 10.02.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Will the Freedom Center get a charter school?; Sheriff Jones won't run for Boehner's seat; Vatican clarifies on Kim Davis visit

Hey all! Here’s a brief news rundown for your Friday. Let’s get to the weekend already.

Is a charter school coming to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center? It could happen, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Carpe Diem is a charter sponsored by Cincinnati Public Schools that operates out of Aiken High School. The school has expressed interest in opening up another CPS-sponsored charter in the Freedom Center, though nothing official has been planned yet. The charter’s CEO has said he’d be interested in having the school open as soon as next fall, though CPS has yet to make a decision about whether it wants another charter, saying such a school would need to perform as well or better than traditional public schools in the city. CPS currently sponsors two charters. Charters in Cincinnati and Ohio in general have a mixed record over the past decade, with some performing as well or better than public schools while many others have lagged and been shut down for performance issues or ethics violations.

• What’s the most Instagramed spot in Ohio? It’s the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, according to a review of social media data by travel website busbud.com. The site looked at which attractions in every state generated the most hashtags on the popular, Facebook-owned image-posting social media app. The zoo joins the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the White House in D.C. and the Space Needle in Seattle as one of the most popular spots for ‘gramming in the country. I would have guessed Washington Park, but yeah. Pretty cool for the zoo.

• Apologies in advance for fans of Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, because I have some disappointing news for you. The staunchly anti-immigrant sheriff, who has gained a national profile due to his aggressive stance on conservative issues and appearances on talk shows discussing those views, won’t be running for U.S. Rep. John Boehner’s congressional seat. As we reported last week, Jones had indicated he was interested in campaigning for the spot, which Boehner vacated Friday after years of fighting with congressional conservatives as speaker of the house. But Jones has since announced that, while Congress could “use someone like him,” he’s better off staying in Butler County.

• A Chicago-based investor in ResponsibleOhio’s plan to legalize marijuana in the state has backed out, according to the group. Meanwhile, Youngstown-based Brian Kessler, whose father invented the Hula-Hoop, is in to take his place. Kessler is now one of the 22 investors who have gone public about their role funding ResponsibleOhio’s drive to pass an amendment to the Ohio constitution that would legalize marijuana and create 10 constitutionally mandated grow sites across the state. The identity of another 30 investors has not been made public by the group.

• So everyone got all riled up about the Pope’s visit with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last week. Now the Vatican is clarifying that meeting... kind of. Davis, you’ll remember, refused to issue marriage licenses even in the wake of this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Davis was eventually found in contempt of court and went to jail for her refusal on religious grounds to issue the licenses. Fast forward a bit. Davis recently revealed that when the pope was here in the U.S. a couple weeks back, she was granted a 15-minute visit with the religious leader. This was something of a shock to many progressives, who were still applauding Pope Francis' statements before Congress on climate change and income inequality. Many, of course, took the visit as a signal that the pope agreed with Davis on her stand. Now, however, the Vatican is saying that the visit was requested by Davis and doesn’t mean that the pope supported her point of view or her actions. Annnnnd… that’s about all the church said. So. Hm.

• Finally, you’ve certainly already heard about the horrific school shooting in Oregon yesterday, but it seems strange not to mention it in a news round up. So here’s a story with what we know so far. As your humble morning news blogger, can I suggest we simply pause to feel for those involved and not instantly begin fighting about this? No? OK.

That’s it for me. Twitter, email, etc. You know what’s up.

by Nick Swartsell 10.01.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City passes paternity leave plan; Denise Driehaus to run for county commish; state passes "ban the box" legislation

Hey hey! Good morning Cincy. How’s it going? Here’s what’s up in the news today.

Yesterday the city officially announced the results of a long-awaited study about disparities in the companies it hires to take on taxpayer-funded projects as well as several measures it plans to take to address those inequities. According to the Croson Study, only about 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts went to black-owned businesses and only about 6.2 percent went to businesses owned by women. This despite the fact that black and women owned businesses in the city have the capacity to do 20 percent of that work, the study says. You can read more about the study and the city’s proposed solutions, which include race and gender-based contracting requirements, in our online story yesterday. City contracts represent more than $1 billion in spending, and city officials say getting that pie split up more equitably could go a long way toward addressing the deep economic inequalities in the city.

• Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed legislation that gives all city employees six weeks of parental leave after they have or adopt a baby, including 28 days at 70 percent of their pay. Council members Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson proposed the new paternity leave policy, which the city administration estimates will cost about $225,000 a year. Council voted 7-2 to pass the proposal. Seelbach, Simpson and other backers say the slight cost to the city is worth it, saying it’s the right thing to do and that it will help the city recruit the best and brightest employees. Council members Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray voted against the measure, in part because they believe leave offered to employees should be decided through negotiations with the city employees union.

• One of Cincinnati’s iconic but currently empty churches will be born again as an event center, developers say. Towne Properties, which has its headquarters in a portion of the building, will redevelop the former Holy Cross Monastery, which overlooks the city from its lofty perch in Mount Adams, turning it into an upscale space for weddings and other events.  The church has been empty since 1977, and Towne has owned it since 1980. The developer has been puzzled over what to do with the property, considering a hotel or office space for the building. But none of that worked out on paper and so the historic 12,000-square-foot church, built in 1873, has remained empty except for some pretty amazing art exhibits that have popped up from time to time there. I remember seeing Shinji Turner-Yamamoto’s beautiful Global Tree Project at the monastery back in the day. It’s an incredible place.

• Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus has officially announced she’s running for Hamilton County commissioner against sitting Republican commish Greg Hartmann next year. Driehaus, a Clifton resident with a long history of service in local and state politics, is prohibited by term limits from running for another stint as state rep. Hartmann first got the commissioners job in 2008 when he ran unopposed for the post, replacing outgoing commish Pat DeWine. Before that, he mounted an unsuccessful bid for Ohio Secretary of State.

• The Ohio General Assembly yesterday passed so-called “ban the box” legislation that strikes questions about prospective employees’ criminal records from public job applications. The state struck a similar question from its job applications in June, but now an application for any public job in Ohio won’t have questions about an applicant’s criminal history. Proponents say that will help ex-offenders get a new start and decrease the chances they’ll end up in prison again. You can read about the ban the box effort in our in-depth feature story on the subject published in June.

• Finally, in national news, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is raising nearly as much money as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the two duel it out in the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential nomination. Sanders raised $26 million in the last fundraising quarter to presumed frontrunner Clinton’s $28 million. That’s kind of crazy because Sanders is an independent, not a Democrat, and he’s been running around for years telling people he’s a socialist. Not exactly the most obvious path to the White House. Clinton, meanwhile, is named Clinton and has the vast fundraising network of her former president husband Bill and plenty of backers from her time as a senator. But then, when the top GOP contender for the presidential nomination is Donald Trump, all the rules we all thought were well understood and set in stone go flying out the window.

That’s it for me! Email or tweet at me and let me know if Washington Park is open to us commoners (aka the public) today. You know what I'm talking about if you passed by yesterday.

by Nick Swartsell 09.30.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

City Unveils Efforts to Address Contracting Disparities

Croson Study reveals that minority and women owned businesses receive few contracts, have capacity to do much more

City of Cincinnati officials today unveiled the final draft of a long-awaited study of gender and racial disparities in the city’s contracting practices, as well as ordinances that might address some of those inequalities, including race and gender based requirements for contractors.

The so-called Croson Study shows that between 2009 and 2013, black-owned businesses were awarded only 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts, totaling about $5 million, despite blacks making up more than 45 percent of the city’s population. Businesses owned by women fared only slightly better during the study’s time frame, getting only 6.2 percent of the city’s contracts. Eighteen percent of busineses in Cincinnati are owned by blacks, and nearly 30 percent are owned by women.

Mayor John Cranley cast the report as a positive step toward more equitable contracting for the city.

“We’re finally here after a long amount of hard work,” Cranley said during a ceremony today at City Hall featuring a wide array of about two dozen city officials, faith leaders, members of the business community, activists and others. “We have a lot of great things happening in the city, but we’re not perfect, and, clearly, the city’s procurement process has not reflected the diversity of our city.” 

Councilman Wendell Young also praised the study, but sounded a much more somber note.

“Since we’ve confirmed what we already know, how hard are we willing to work to address the problems?” he asked. “It’s true that the city of Cincinnati is making great progress. It’s also true that a significant part of this community is not feeling that progress. Cincinnati has many distinctions that we’re not proud of."

Young citing the city’s sky-high infant mortality, childhood poverty and black unemployment rates.

“Today we’re at the point where we have the road map and the confirmation. From today on we find out if we have the political will, the ability, the skill and whether the work we do can make a difference. We won’t be the first, but we’re going to find a way to make this work. And if we can’t do that, heaven help us all.”

The report also revealed that 70 percent of the city's $1.2 billion in prime contracts went to a small group of businesses, a fact that many on city council found disturbing.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman said that fact should make not just minority and female-owned businesses angry, but anyone who has competed for a city contract.

"That's one hell of a country club," he said.

Cranley touted steps the city has already taken toward diversifying its contracting, including recently establishing the city’s new Department of Economic Inclusion and making changes to its Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program. But he also said the Croson Study and its suggestions are huge parts of the solution.

The study makes several suggestions for improvements in the city’s contracting process on four different monetary levels, from under $5,000 to more than $250,000, on both the prime contract and subcontract levels. Some recommended solutions are based on race and gender categories, while others are neutral.

On the subcontracting level, Cincinnati City Council will consider ordinances which create a Minority Business Enterprise program and a Women Business Enterprise program, allowing such businesses to compete with each other for certain set-aside contracts.

On the much larger prime contracting level, businesses will be given points on some bids if they are at least 51 percent owned by minorities or women.

Some council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, want the city to go farther in ensuring better equity in awarding contracts at the $1 billion prime contracting level. Both Simpson and Councilman Chris Seelbach offered pointed questions about what more could be done at the prime contracting level to ensure a greater piece of that large pie goes to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The city usually awards prime contracts to companies, which then hire subcontractors. City Manager Harry Black pointed out that the city will make requirements for businesses winning prime bids as to the level of minority subcontractors they should hire. Businesses winning contracts with the city of more than $50,000 will be required to subcontract 17 percent black-owned businesses for construction work and 14 percent black-owned businesses for other services, and 14 and 16 percent businesses owned by women for those categories respectively.

One recommendation made by the Croson Study that the city has not yet considered is ending so-called master agreements, or contracts with companies that can be used by multiple city departments on separate projects and which can be subject to multi-year renewals without re-bidding.

“The city should eliminate the use of master agreements and follow the competitive bidding standards for all contracts,” the study states in its conclusion.

One point that every city official agrees upon, however, is that minority- and female-owned businesses are up to the task of doing more projects on taxpayers' behalf.

The study shows that black-owned businesses in the city have the capacity to take on up to 20 percent of the city’s contracts. Businesses owned by women see a similar capacity gap: The report shows female-owned businesses have the ability to tackle another 20 percent of the city’s contracts.

“To all my colleagues here, please do not use the word ‘capacity,’ " Smitherman said.

Though the report is clear, the details involved in increasing minority contracts awarded by the city are complex. Part of the complication comes from the legal realities around what the city can and can’t do to increase minority contracting.

The Croson Study gets its name from a U.S. Supreme Court case, City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, in which the Virginia city was sued by a contractor over its contract diversity initiatives. The Supreme Court ruled Richmond’s setbacks of contracts for minority businesses unconstitutional and set a standard of strict scrutiny, the highest legal standard, for municipal contracting diversity programs.

That means that cities risk lawsuits if they don’t demonstrate a very clear need to enact gender- or race-specific contracting guidelines and cannot show that those guidelines are narrowly tailored to address disparities without discriminating against other businesses.

Cincinnati has already been through such a lawsuit in 2004, when Cleveland Construction Company unsuccessfully sued the city over its contracting diversity policies. The company claimed that the city’s Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program, which was used in part to score the bids from Cleveland and other companies, created unconstitutional racial and gender classifications and violated its rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. An initial decision from the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas agreed with that claim, and the city amended the race- and gender-related parts of its SBE program. The case went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in favor of the city.

The Croson Study offers some protection from future lawsuits, say city officials and representatives from Mason Tillman Associates, which conducted the 338-page report. The report quantifies the extent of Cincinnati’s contracting diversity problems and puts forward recommendations, many poised to be passed by council, that are tailored to address them.

“It gives us a legal basis to do what we need to do to be a city that will work for everybody and not just for a few,” Cranley said.

by Natalie Krebs 09.30.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Campbell County Schools superintendent retires after domestic violence charges; child poverty still a problem for Cincy; Kim Davis meets the Pope?

Good morning, Cincinnati! Here are your morning headlines. 

• Campbell County Schools Superintendent Glen Miller abruptly announced his retirement after he was charged with domestic violence. Miller has been on paid administrative leave since he was arrested last Wednesday night at his Erlanger home after his daughter called 911 to report that he has struck his wife in the head and neck. Miller told police his wife's injuries were a result of an accident, but his story didn't quite match his wife and daughter's versions. He was booked into Kenton County Detention Center and charged with domestic violence that same evening just after midnight and released the following afternoon. Miller has been superintendent of Campbell County Schools for four years. His retirement will go into effect November 1. In the meantime, Associate Superintendent Shelli Wilson will be placed in charge of the district. 

• Cincinnati State is considering a partnership with private testing and consulting firm Pearson to attempt to boost its enrollment and retention rates. The college seems to have hit a rough patch. Current enrollment is just below 10,000, 10 percent lower than a year ago, it faces a state-mandated tuition freeze and president O'dell Owens recently departed after tensions with the board of trustees. Cincinnati State is reportedly discussing a 10-year contract with Pearson that would give the company control of its $550,000 marketing and recruiting budget in exchange for 20 percent of students' tuition recruited above the college's quota of 4,000. If it goes through, this contract would be the first for the New York-based company, which earns much of its revenue through K-12 standardized test preparation. Given the college's not-so-great reputation for relying heavily on test scores, the college's faculty senate has urged the administration to wait on the contract until the results of spring recruitment are in. 

• Child poverty is down in Cincinnati, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, but the rate is way above state and national averages. According to the survey, child poverty is down to 44.1 percent from 51.3 percent in 2012, but it's double the national average of 21.7 percent and near double the state average of 22.9 percent. City Health Commissioner Noble Maseru has suggested targeting the poorest zip codes first to begin to further bringing that number down, but no concrete plan has been put in place. 

• Infamous Rowan County clerk Kim Davis apparently secretly met with Pope Francis. According to Davis's lawyer, officials sneaked Davis and her husband, Joe, into the Vatican Embassy in Washington D.C. last Thursday afternoon where the Pope gave her rosary beads and told her to "stay strong." During his first visit to the U.S., Pope Francis did not publicly support Davis by name but instead stated that "conscious objection is a right that is a part of every human right." Davis spent time in the Carter County Detention Center for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She and her husband were conveniently already in Washington D.C. to accept an award from conservative group, the Family Research Council. 

• Cincinnati is a travel hotspot, or at least, "on the verge of a hip explosion," according to Forbes Travel Guide. According to the magazine, Cincinnati has a hilly landscape much like San Francisco's without the San Francisco prices, and the newly gentrified, or "revitalized," Over-the-Rhine is like Brooklyn before the hipsters took it over. Other reasons the third-largest city in Ohio makes "the perfect weekend getaway" include Skyline cheese coneys, a ton of German beers and Kentucky whiskeys to choose from and a "surprisingly impressive array of luxury hotel options." 

That's it for today! Email is nkrebs@citybeat.com, and I'd love to hear from you!            

by Nick Swartsell 09.29.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sen. Mitch McConnell

Morning News and Stuff

Study finds gender, racial disparities in city contracting; Mount Auburn clinic will stay open pending appeal; Ziegler Park plan presented in OTR

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

A study covering the last five years of city of Cincinnati contracting found that the city hasn’t hired nearly as many minority and women-owned businesses as it should for taxpayer-funded jobs. The 338-page study on racial disparities, called the Croson Study, was conducted by outside researchers with public policy research firm Mason Tillman Associates. Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black said in a memo yesterday that the study reveals a “demonstrated pattern of disparity” in city contracting. He says ordinances are being drafted by the city administration to address those disparities. The study suggests both race and gender neutral fixes as well as those that rely on race and gender preferences. The latter are legally dicey: The city could face lawsuits over race and gender preferences in hiring, even if it has evidence that its current methods for ensuring equity in its contracting practices aren’t working.

• Cincinnati’s last remaining women’s health clinic that provides abortions will stay open as it appeals a decision by the Ohio Department of Health denying it a license. The Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn lost its license under a new state law slipped into this year’s budget that gives the ODH just 60 days after an application is received to renew a clinic’s license. In the past, it has taken the ODH more than a year to do so for the Cincinnati clinic. Planned Parenthood, which runs the facility, is suing the state over the law, which it says presents an undue burden on women seeking abortions. The Mount Auburn clinic would have to close Thursday if not for the appeal. If it shuts down, Cincinnati will become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to an abortion provider. Another clinic in Dayton faces a similar situation, and if it also closed down, only seven clinics would remain in the state, and none would remain in Southwestern Ohio. A rally supporting Planned Parenthood is planned for 11 a.m. today at the Mount Auburn location.

• Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank has agreed to pay more than $18 million to settle claims it engaged in discriminatory lending practices against minorities seeking auto loans. A federal investigation into Fifth Third’s lending practices through car dealerships found that the bank’s guidelines to dealers left a wide latitude of pricing discretion for loans. That discretion led directly to more expensive loans for qualified black and Hispanic buyers than were given to qualified white buyers, according to the feds. Minority car buyers paid an average of $200 more than white buyers due to those discrepancies, according to the investigation. The question is whether those dealers were more or less uniformly charging minorities slightly more than white buyers, or if some dealerships charged minorities a lot more and others played by the straight and narrow. Fifth Third points out that it didn’t make these loans itself, but merely purchased them from the dealers. The bank maintains it treats its customers equally. The bank will pay another $3.5 million in an unrelated settlement over deceptive credit card sales practices some telemarketers with the bank engaged in, according to federal investigators.

• Last night, representatives with 3CDC, the city and planning firm Human Nature held a presentation and listening session unveiling their plans for a revamped Ziegler Park. Their $30 million proposal includes revamped basketball courts, a new pool in the northern section of the park and a quiet, tree-lined green space above a new parking garage across the street. Ziegler sits along Sycamore Street across from the former School for Creative and Performing Arts on the border of Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton. An Indianapolis developer, Core Redevelopment, is currently renovating the SCPA building into luxury apartments. This change, along with others in the rapidly developing neighborhoods, has spurred increased concerns about gentrification in the area. Some who are wary of the park say the proposed renovation could play into a dynamic where long-term, often minority residents in the neighborhood are made to feel unwelcome or even priced out. 3CDC officials say they’ve taken steps to make sure neighborhood wishes for the park are honored. Last night’s meeting was the final of four input sessions the developer has undertaken.

• It’s not often you get two different Zieglers in the news, but today is one of those days. The Cincinnati Visitor’s Bureau has hired a new national sales manager who will focus on marketing to the LGBT community. David Ziegler will head up the group’s pitch to LGBT groups, which CVB has already made strides on. The visitor’s bureau has been working with area hotels to get them certified as LGBT-friendly and has worked to bring LGBT conventions and meetings to the city.

• Finally, after House Speaker John Boehner’s abrupt exit last week (which you can read more about in this week’s news feature out tomorrow), you might be concerned for his squinty-eyed Republican friend in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell represents Kentucky and also holds the most powerful role in the prestigious legislative body, ushering through waves of conservative legislation.

But that’s where it’s tough for McConnell: Republicans in the Senate have a very slim majority that isn’t adequate to pass things beyond a Democratic filibuster or presidential veto. McConnell has taken a beating over this in the past from tea party radicals like Sen. Ted Cruz in much the same way Boehner did in the House, leading many staunch conservatives to call for his head next. But it’s unlikely the 74-year-old McConnell will be toppled the way Boehner was anytime soon, this Associated Press story argues, due to the nature of the Senate and McConnell’s strong support from his more moderate GOP colleagues.