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by Nick Swartsell 02.02.2015 26 days ago
Posted In: News, Taxes at 05:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_kasichtaxcuts

Kasich Floats Income Tax Cuts in New Budget

Plan involves raising sales tax and bringing in $500 million less

Gov. John Kasich is touting half a million dollars in tax cuts in his new budget proposal, released Feb. 2. But Ohio’s tax scheme could get more regressive if state lawmakers take it up as is.

The budget proposal would lower income taxes by 23 percent over the next two years and pay for it by raising sales taxes by .5 percent. All told, the proposal means $500 million less in taxes for Ohio residents.

Critics say lower-income residents will benefit least from the proposal. Kasich’s budget allows for a tax exemption increase for as many as 3 million low-income Ohio workers. But that exemption would mean only an extra few dollars per paycheck for most low-income families, according to most analyses. Another part of Kasich's budget proposal would require those making just over the poverty level (a bit more than $11,500 for a single person) to pay premiums on Medicaid. Those premiums would start at about $10 to $20.

Among the biggest moves in Kasich's proposal: a plan that would effectively eliminate the state’s income tax for more than 900,000 people who own small businesses grossing less than $2 million a year.

Studies suggest that the bottom fifth of Ohio earners pay nearly 7 percent of their income in sales taxes, while the top fifth of Ohio earners pay less than 1 percent of their income. A study conducted by liberal-leaning think tank Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found Ohio to have the 18th most regressive tax structure in the country.

"The Ohio income tax is critical to a fair tax system and one that pays for education, health and other key services," said Wendy Patton, a director at Policy Matters Ohio, in a January statement about the state’s tax structure. "Attempts to weaken it will either redistribute income from the poor and the middle class to the rich, or cut needed public services."

When Kasich took office, the income tax rate was nearly 6 percent and Ohio’s sales tax was 5.5 percent, though state lawmakers boosted it to 5.75 percent in 2013. Under Kasich’s new budget proposal, income tax will be just over 4 percent and sales tax will be 6.25 percent.

Conservatives have also criticized the budget. Critics on the right, including tea party-aligned state lawmakers, say most of the changes aren’t cuts, they’re “tax shifting” that doesn’t result in the state spending less money.

Kasich’s plan does call for some measures that could help lower-income residents, including raising the income level at which parents can qualify for subsidies on child care. Other parts of the budget progressives might find more amenable include an increase on taxes associated with fracking.


Correction: due to a typo, an earlier version of this post said Ohio's sales tax rate will be 6.5 percent. This has been corrected to 6.25 percent.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.02.2015 26 days ago
Posted In: Transportation, News at 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
rand_paul,_official_portrait,_112th_congress_alternate

Sens. Paul and Boxer Team Up on Transportation

Bipartisan proposal would use tax cut to lure corporate bucks back home for highway fund

It sounds a little like an episode of a zany sitcom: a tea partying conservative from Kentucky and a classic California liberal team up to clean up some roads.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced Jan. 29 that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would introduce a bill seeking to shore up the nation’s federal Highway Trust Fund. The announcement comes as fights over what to do about the nation’s looming infrastructure needs hit close to home.

The federal fund that helps pay for highway, bridge and transit projects could face insolvency this year if Congress doesn’t find new sources of money for infrastructure. In Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, local and state officials are currently wrangling over the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project. The bridge is more than 50 years old and carries 160,000 cars a day — four times more than it was designed to hold. Cincinnati’s 83-year-old Western Hills Viaduct will also need to be replaced in the next decade at a cost of $240 million. Studies by engineers have found that both bridges are structurally obsolete, though not immediately unsafe. Federal funds could go a long way toward making those projects reality.

"I am pleased to be working with Senator Boxer on a bipartisan solution to a tax and highway spending problem,” Paul said in a statement. “The interstate highway system is of vital importance to our economy. All across the country, bridges and roads are deficient and in need of replacement.”

Paul and Boxer’s bill proposes what is, in effect, a corporate tax cut: lowering the U.S. repatriation rate, or tax rate for foreign earnings, in order to incentivize U.S. companies to bring money back into the U.S. economy from foreign tax shelters. The proposed law would allow companies to voluntarily repatriate some of the estimated $2 trillion in off-shore corporate profits at a discounted tax rate of 6.5 percent. The program would require companies use that repatriated money to help build the economy. The money must be used for hiring or research and development, for instance, instead of executive raises. Taxes from the repatriated funds would go into the federal Highway Trust Fund for roads, bridges and other transit projects.

Paul did not mention regional projects like the Brent Spence Bridge specifically in statements about the proposal, though he has been active in the past in working to secure funding for replacing the bridge. It’s unclear if and when such projects would see a benefit from the bill, or exactly how much money it would raise should it pass into law.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study conducted on a similar proposal in 2013 found that the move could boost America’s economy by more than $400 billion, according to a white paper released by the senators. President Barack Obama put a similar plan in his budget proposal, which he unveiled Feb. 2.

There are other proposals for shoring up infrastructure funds, both on the national level and here in the Tristate. Some in Congress have called for raising the gas tax, which currently helps pay for federal road and bridge maintenance. The rate hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s. But congressional Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, have signaled they won’t support an increase.

On the state level, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear have drafted their own plans for replacing the Brent Spence Bridge here. The two say the project can’t wait much longer — they cite an estimate by engineers saying that the project gets $7 million more expensive every month — and that the federal government won’t come to the rescue any time soon. Their proposal involves a public-private partnership that would necessitate tolls, however, something that has caused bipartisan consternation in Northern Kentucky. Many officials there are dead set against tolls, which they say will hurt workers and businesses. That’s tipped Northern Kentucky United, an anti-toll group, toward Paul’s idea.

“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the President has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund.”

Kasich, on the other hand, likened counting on funds from the federal government to waiting on the tooth fairy in a news conference last week on his proposal.

Paul and Boxer are a surprising team. Paul, a tea party favorite and potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, usually takes highly conservative, libertarian stances on policy and spending matters. Boxer, on the other hand, is one of the chamber’s most liberal members. In her 32-year career in Congress, first as a representative and then as a senator, she fought for tighter gun control, more environmental protection measures and pro-choice causes. Boxer, who is 74, announced last month that she will not seek re-election.

“I hope this proposal will jumpstart negotiations on addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is already creating uncertainty that is bad for businesses, bad for workers and bad for the economy,” Boxer said in a statement about the bill. “I will also be working … on other proposals to pay for rebuilding our nation's aging transportation infrastructure."

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.02.2015 26 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
death penalty

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati rents on the way up; anti-toll group tells Kasich, "stay out of Kentucky;" Ohio delays six executions until 2016

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

City Manager Harry Black today announced that Thomas B. Corey will be the head of the city’s recently created Department of Economic Inclusion. The department is charged with increasing the availability of city contracts for women and minority owned businesses in the city. Corey is another former Baltimore official tapped by Black to lead a city department here. He was most recently The City of Baltimore Law Department’s Chief Solicitor. He will start Feb. 9.

• Average rents are going up in Greater Cincinnati, according to a survey commissioned by real estate company CBRE Cincinnati. Some of that is due to pricey new apartments in hot parts of town — the average rent on a newly-constructed apartment is over $1,000 a month in Cincinnati. But part of it is also swelling demand across all income brackets for apartments, according to the survey. You could blame pesky Millennials and our aversion to homeownership, but it seems like demand for rental units is going up across the board.

While we’re talking about rent, as we’ve reported more than a few times, Cincinnati’s affordable housing supply is stretched to the limit. There’s currently a 5,000-person waiting list to get a Section 8 voucher for one of the 11,000 units that accept them in the region. This Cincinnati Enquirer story questions whether that’s in part because Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority’s inspection standards have gotten too strict. The number of units that have failed such inspections has risen over the past couple years as CMHA started enforcing more stringent requirements on landlords. Some of the violations seem trivial — mismatched paint, hinges that need replaced — but others detailed in the story are serious, including windows that don’t open and mold problems. The story quotes one woman who actually had to move out of her home, and it was due to mold in the house. The Enquirer teased this story over the weekend with the provocative headline “Which County Agency is Leaving Residents Homeless?” But affordable housing advocates and neighborhood boosters have actually cheered the new standards. The story doesn’t mention a big piece of context: the abysmal conditions at some Section 8 rental units over the past few years. While reporting for this story published over the summer, CityBeat ran across truly shocking municipal code violations at Section 8 properties in Price Hill, for instance. These included sewage in rental unit basements, tenants without heat and water, doors that didn’t open and other major violations.

• Anti-toll groups in Northern Kentucky are fired up about statements Gov. John Kasich made last week regarding the Brent Spence Bridge. Kasich suggested that opponents of a plan to build a new bridge along one of America’s busiest shipping routes have their “heads in the sand.” That didn’t sit too well with the bipartisan group of lawmakers, businessmen and others who have come together to oppose the possibility of tolls for a new bridge. The group started a strongly-worded online petition that more than 2,000 supporters have signed so far. Kasich's plan, offered with Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, would create tolls to help fund the $2.8 billion project, but would also give a 50 percent discount to daily commuters and work to keep the price as low as possible. Opponents say tolls are unacceptable and that the states should reach out to the federal government for money to fund a more modest bridge update.

"On Wednesday, Gov. Kasich stood at a press conference – in a building that once housed companies he personally recruited away from Kentucky – and insulted Northern Kentucky and our elected leaders," it says. "If he cannot control himself, he should stay out of Kentucky."

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich has proposed funding in his recent budget that would create a new community health program aimed at reducing the state’s infant mortality rate, which is among the worst in the nation. The plan would fund community organizations to connect women in low-income areas with prenatal medical care available through Medicaid. Cincinnati's infant mortality rate is especially bad; the city has the second-highest rate of infant death in the nation.

• Ohio has announced it will delay all six executions it had scheduled in 2015 as it searches for new sources for execution drugs. The announcement comes after the state halted its two-drug execution method last month due to questions about its efficacy. Last year, an execution carried out with the two-drug method took almost half an hour, and the inmate involved was heard gasping for breath.

• The United Steelworkers Union yesterday launched one of the largest national labor strikes in recent memory. USW, which is seeking higher wages and better safety measures, called for nearly 4,000 employees who work in several oil refineries across the country to abstain from work until new labor contracts are signed with several major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. Experts say it could drive up gas prices as refinery capacity is limited. It’s the largest walkout since 1980, when USW held a three-month strike. News reports indicate that workers in other refineries may also join in the walkout.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 01.30.2015 29 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_kasichtaxcuts

Morning News and Stuff

EMS asks for more money to fight heroin crisis; Kasich proposes eliminating business income tax; Gates says we should fear AI

Good morning! I’ll be brief in my news update this morning, since I’m also keeping an eye on today’s White House task force on 21st century policing taking place at the University of Cincinnati today and tomorrow. You can live stream the event here. Anyway, here are a few bits of news floating around today:

The director of Cincinnati’s emergency medical service is asking for more money to respond to the region’s ongoing heroin crisis, saying that the crisis is getting worse every month in the city. One of the big costs the city’s emergency responders are encountering is Narcan, a drug used to treat heroin overdoses. The drug is costly, and the number of overdoses keeps climbing. EMS District Chief Cedric Robinson says seven overdoses a day happen in Cincinnati and that the number is climbing. The city’s expenditures on Narcan have nearly tripled in the past year. In 2013, the city spent about $21,000 on the drug. In 2014, that jumped to $60,000.

• Will some parts of the Greater Cincinnati area fail new, more stringent federal air quality standards? It seems like a possibility. The region barely passed current air quality tests last year, and several counties, including Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont and Campbell Counties, failed in 2013. Standards from the Environmental Protection Agency could get tougher by next fall, meaning that the region could be subject to new oversight from the agency. Hamilton County exceeded guidelines for ozone, one of the pollutants measured by the EPA, on only four days last year under the old standards. Under proposed new standards, it would have gone over the limit by more than 20. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club are cheering the new rules — they’ll be better for residents’ health, saving millions in healthcare costs. But businesses say the costs of compliance will be high. They’re lobbying against the new standards, of course.

• Now that he’s officially announced he’s running for U.S. Senate, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has started staffing up, tapping former Battleground Texas Democratic strategist Ramsey Reid as his campaign manager. Before his stint working to try and turn deeply Republican Texas purple, Reid was also a big part of President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. He’s also working with two political strategy firms: a firm led by Obama campaign veterans called 270 Strategies; and Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, which helped him win his council seat. 

While Sittenfeld gears up for what may be a tough Democratic primary, his potential Republican opponent incumbent Sen. Rob Portman is also powering up his campaign. Portman has chosen high-profile Republican strategist Corry Bliss to manage his campaign. Bliss was last called in to turn around Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ last Senate campaign after he came under a strong primary challenge that threatened to unseat him.

• Gov. John Kasich has called for eliminating Ohio’s income tax for small businesses, a move that looks likely to bum out conservatives and progressives alike. The staunch conservatives in Ohio’s state House love the idea of cutting taxes, of course, but aren’t down with Kasich’s plan to, you know, actually pay for those tax cuts by increasing taxes on cigarettes and oil. They say that’s not a tax cut and that they want the state spending less money in general, even after the state’s budget has been slashed to the bone over the last few years. Progressives, on the other hand, say past income tax cuts have been deeply regressive. A 2013 cut paid for by boosting the state’s sales tax a quarter percent shifted the tax burden toward Ohio’s lowest earners, progressives say, and Kasich’s new proposal would further shift that burden. Under Kasich’s plan, almost all businesses run as sole proprietorships, or businesses owned by a single person who reports business profits as personal income, would not need to file state income tax. A business would be exempt from the income tax so long as its sales are under $2 million.

• Finally, if Bill Gates told you to be afraid of computers, would you listen? Gates revealed that he’s very worried about the potential threat artificial intelligence, or AI, could pose to humanity in coming decades. Gates revealed his concerns in response to a question he received during a Reddit "Ask me Anything" session. During his AMA, Gates also expressed optimism about the near future when it comes to computing. He envisions robots able to pick produce and do other mundane tasks flawlessly. It’s when the robots get smarter, he says, that we have to worry. His concern echoes that of other technology magnates like Tesla founder Elon Musk, who called AI “summoning the demon” at a symposium in October. I feel like I’m summoning the demon every time I open Microsoft Word, which is a nightmarishly vexing program, but that’s a whole other subject Gates should be addressing.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 01.29.2015 30 days ago
Posted In: News at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sherrod brown

Why Not Sherrod Brown for Prez?

Staunch progressive seems a logical choice for Dem nominee but says he's not interested

If you’re a spectator of Democratic Party politics right about now, you’ve probably watched the 2016 presidential election sweepstakes unfolding with interest. Dems probably won’t get close to the huge stable of potential nominees the Republican Party is currently wrangling with, and Hillary Clinton seems to have the nomination locked up, so much so that she's not even started her campaign yet. But there are other viable candidates. Vice President Joe Biden is also, uh, bidin’ his time (sorry). And then there’s progressive firebrand Elizabeth Warren. She says she’s not running, but she’s got a vocal fan base who have continued to push her name into the conversation in a big way.

One question you may have asked yourself at this point: If Warren, why not Sen. Sherrod Brown? Or maybe, if you’re like some of the prominent progressive political operatives in this Washington Post story, that possibility hasn’t entered your mind. But as that story asks, why not?

Ohio’s senior senator has the deep progressive bonafides of Warren plus a heap more experience, an easy-going way about him and a high profile in the nation’s highest deliberative body. Plus, if we haven’t already said this (we have), Ohio’s so hot right now. Our other senator, Rob Portman, had been considered a potential candidate for the Republican nomination before he dropped out in December. Fellow GOPer Gov. John Kasich’s name has been floated a lot as well, though he’s been coy about his intentions. And there’s a good possibility all three political conventions will be converging on our vital swing state in 2016. A presidential candidate from Ohio could wrap the state up for either party.

So why not Brown? Is it the perception that Democrats are ready to elect the first female president after Barack Obama's history-making election? Is it Brown’s own reluctance, or outright refusal, actually, to play along? Is it the fact that he sounds like the Dark Knight when he talks? (The Post says Tom Waits. I consider either an asset.) Brown says he's focused on doing the job he has now, but they all say that, right?

“I don’t think you can do your job well in the Senate if you’re looking over your shoulder wanting to be president,” Brown tells the Post. Earlier in the article, he says, “I know you don’t believe this, but I don’t really think about it all that much.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 01.29.2015 30 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
weed

Morning News and Stuff

Developer's plans for northern OTR expand; Ohio congressman flips, now supports women's right to choose; why we love cars so dang much

Morning all. Here’s what’s happening around town today.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear would like to see the looming effort to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, currently estimated to cost $2.6 billion, trimmed by $300 million, they said yesterday in a news conference. That will be a tall order, Kentucky transportation officials say, but something they’ll work on. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock says it’s hard to find immediate and obvious reductions to the project.

Part of the problem with cost-trimming is that the current bridge accommodates 160,000 cars a day, much more traffic than it was originally intended to carry. The solution engineers have in mind would mean building a bigger, wider bridge next to the Brent Spence. It would also mean highway-widening and interchange updates along an eight-mile stretch on both the Ohio and Kentucky sides of the bridge. Those highway changes account for 60 percent of the project’s costs. Officials say they will look at tightening the scope of the project and also finding ways to do what needs to be done for less money.

One lynchpin of the governors’ plan is that it will be partially funded by tolling, a controversial solution. Vocal opponents of tolls in Northern Kentucky, including many elected officials, have vowed to fight against tolling on the bridge, saying it will put a burden on businesses and workers. They say the project is unnecessarily large and that both states should approach the federal government in an attempt to get funding for a smaller, more modest project to replace the bridge.

• A local developer's vision for the area around Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine has expanded. Model Group, which has already bought up a number of buildings in the area with plans to renovate them into office and commercial space, is making moves to purchase several more neighboring buildings on Race and West Elder streets. Model recently bought 101 W. Elder, 1812 Race St. and is in the final stages of purchasing 1818 Race St., all apartment buildings with first-floor retail space. It is also looking to purchase 1808 and 1810 Race St. soon. It is unclear if these buildings are currently occupied or represent affordable housing in the neighborhood. The expansion brings the developer’s first phase of development from $14 million to $19 million. The expansion creates a big increase in residential space — 35 units instead of 14 in the original first phase of the project, as well as 50,000 square feet of retail space instead of 40,000.

• An Ohio congressman and former pro-life advocate says he has changed his mind about abortion. Rep. Tim Ryan was one of just a few Democrats in the House who had opposed abortion, in part due to his Catholic faith. Over his 14-year career, Ryan has been an outspoken opponent of abortion but says his views have changed over time, writing in
an op-ed in the Akron Beacon Journal: “I have come to believe that we must trust women and families — not politicians — to make the best decision for their lives." Another factor in his change of heart may be that he’s eyeing Republican Rob Portman’s Senate seat in 2016.

• As we talked about a few days ago, it seems increasingly likely that Ohio voters will get to weigh in on a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana in November. But if you ask Attorney General Mike DeWine, that’s just dumb. DeWine called legalization “a stupid idea.” DeWine said something esoteric about the law being a teacher before basically telling folks at a Rotary Club meeting in Newark Tuesday that legalizing weed will have everyone and their mom smoking the stuff all the time because the law says they should, creating chaos in the streets, stunning increases in demand for Bonnaroo tickets and long lines for snack products (OK, he didn’t go that far, but you could tell he was thinking it).

Beyond that, DeWine did have some pretty fair points to make about a leading proposal by ResponsibleOhio, which has presented one of the ballot initiatives. That initiative would allow anyone over 21 who passes a background check to buy weed, but would limit the number of growers in Ohio to 10 and create a seven-member Marijuana Control Commission to oversee production and sale of the crop. Who chooses growers and the commission is unclear. Sound like a monopoly? Yeah. DeWine thinks so too, and actually made a pretty cogent point about that.

"Even if you think selling marijuana is a great idea, I don't know why anyone would think just giving a few people who are going to put the money up to pass it on the ballot is a good idea to let them have that monopoly," DeWine said.

So can we just legalize weed and have it all operate like every other large monopolistic business in the country instead of a state-anointed monopolistic business, like, say, our casinos? Stay tuned…

• As a bike commuter and die-hard pedestrian, this UrbanCincy opinion piece on how car-centric and bike/pedestrian/eyeball/everything-else unfriendly many Cincinnati-area Kroger stores are really resonates. With either updates, new stores needed or on the slate in Walnut Hills, Over-the-Rhine, Avondale and Corryville, it’s a good time to think about how our grocery stores should operate and who they’re designed to serve. This is an especially salient point in light of the problems many Cincinnatians have living in food deserts. UrbanCincy editor Randy Simes makes a great point in the piece about how other cities, namely Lexington, have gotten more urban-friendly, modern designs that serve motorists, cyclists and pedestrians equally well. Why not here?

• Finally, as we think about billion-dollar bridges and oceans of grocery store parking lots, I leave you with this: the Washington Post’s WonkBlog a couple days ago had a really interesting piece on the roots of America’s "love affair" with the automobile. Spoiler alert: It’s all been a big marketing campaign, the author says. Worth a read for the history of America’s car culture, highway system and shout out to Cincinnati’s pre-I-75 West End.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 01.28.2015 31 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Greater Cincinnati employment rates up; group confronts Mayor Williams at Norwood Council meeting; Kochs plan big political spending spree

Hello Cincy. There’s a lot happening today, so let’s get it going.

Later today, Mayor John Cranley and the Economic Inclusion Advisory Council he appointed last year will present the results of a study on ways to make the city more inclusive for businesses owned by minorities and women. The EIAC has been tasked with finding ways to get more minority-owned businesses included in city contracts, and the board came up with 37 suggestions, including ordinances that make diversity a priority in the city when it comes to contracts it awards. Cincinnati, which awards a very small number of contracts to minority and women-owned businesses, has already tried twice to find ways to boost that number, but Cranley is confident the EIAC’s recommendations will make the city a “mecca” for minority-owned businesses.

• Here’s some (qualified) good news for Greater Cincinnati: Unemployment in the region has fallen to 4.1 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2001. Though the region lost 2,000 jobs in December, numbers are up overall from this time last year, as we’ve added more than 21,000 jobs in the last 12 months. The Greater Cincinnati area’s unemployment rate at that time was 6.1 percent. Cincinnati’s fairing better than Ohio and the nation on the jobs front. Ohio’s unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, and the country’s as a whole is 5.4 percent. All those numbers have been trending downward. But there’s a caveat to all that good news: Wages have remained stagnant. More folks may have jobs, but folks aren’t necessarily making more or enough money at those jobs.

• Are we getting closer to a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge? Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear are expected to announce a plan for the bridge at a news conference in Covington later today. Here’s what they’re expected to put on the table: a 50/50 split on costs between the two states, tolls that cost as close to $1 as possible with a discount for frequent commuters and ideas to make the $2.6 billion project more affordable. Kentucky owns the bridge and gets final say in the plans. A bill seeking a public-private partnership for the replacement project will more than likely be introduced in the Kentucky state legislature this session, though what happens after that is unclear. Kasich and Beshear have been working together on rehabbing the bridge, a vital link in one of the nation’s busiest shipping routes, since 2011. But Beshear will leave office after this year due to term limits. Meanwhile, Northern Kentucky officials and lobbying groups are pushing against tolls on the bridge, fighting it out with other, pro-toll business groups.

• The proposed Wasson Way bike trail through the city’s east side could stretch all the way into Avondale, supporters of the project say. The trail, which has been one of Mayor Cranley’s top priorities, is slated to go from Bass Island Park near Mariemont into Cincinnati along an unused rail line mostly owned by Norfolk Southern. Original plans had the trail stopping at Xavier, but a new 1-mile extension would carry cyclists all the way into uptown, near big employers like the city’s hospitals and University of Cincinnati. There is still a long road ahead for the trail, including securing right of way on land the trail passes through and an argument about whether to leave room for a future light rail line. Costs for the project range from $7 million to $32 million depending on that and other considerations.

• A group angry over Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams’ letter decrying “race-baiting black leaders” spoke at a Norwood City Council meeting yesterday evening asking for an apology. At least 14 people spoke out against the mayor’s letter, which he posted on social media last month in solidarity with the city’s police department. Among those who packed council chambers were Norwood residents, members of Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, a group we talk about more in this story, and activist and Greater Cincinnati National Action Network President Bishop Bobby Hilton.

"It was stabbed right in the heart ,” Hilton said at the meeting, referring to the letter. “I humbly ask if you would please retract that statement and we'll stand with you in supporting your law enforcement."

• A coalition of teachers, parents and progressive organizations in Ohio has banded together to ask the state board of education not to renew the charters of 11 charter schools in the state run by Concept Schools, Inc., including the troubled Horizon Academy in Dayton. That school is being investigated after former teachers there reported attendance inflation, sexual harassment, racism and other issues last year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also investigating several schools in Ohio run by the Chicago-based Concept after reports of misuse of federal money and other violations. Concept denies any wrong doing.

• Hey, this is a fun tidbit. The Koch brothers, those modern American captains of industry who make billions of dollars a year, mostly in the energy sector, are planning on spending big cash in the 2016 election. That in and of itself isn’t news — the Kochs have been dumping obscene amounts of cash into local, state and federal elections for years, aided recently by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. But just how obscene the amount of cash could be in 2016 is noteworthy. The brothers’ political organization has set a goal of spending more than $889 million in the next presidential election cycle. That’s a lot. A whole lot. To illustrate how much, that amount is more than the $657 million the Republican National Committee and congressional campaign committees spent in 2012. Democrats spent even more, but not as much as the Kochs are planning to spend in 2016. Dumping that much cash into the election would more or less match the sky-high projected expenditures by Democrats and Republicans for the next presidential election. So basically, at least when it comes to political spending, we have a third party we didn’t vote for made up entirely of the Koch brothers and their rich donor cronies.  Awesome.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 01.27.2015 32 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
wwe-cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Someone has been shooting at Great American Tower; Cranley goes to Washington; a weird way to remember your ex on Valentine's Day

Hey all, let’s talk news.

This is a weird one. Someone or multiple someones fired shots at the Great American Tower downtown four times in the last week. The shooters have taken their potshots after business hours, when few people are in the building. There have been no injuries, though windows have been shattered. Police are a bit mystified by the shooting and are looking for a perpetrator. For now, employees will still be allowed in the building, though new security measures might be put in place by the building’s managers. While I’m not a huge fan of the tiara-ed building myself, there have to be better ways to register your distaste for a piece of architecture.

• Madisonville will receive $100 million in residential and commercial development in the coming year, which city officials say will provide a big economic boost to the East Side neighborhood. Mayor John Cranley touted the development yesterday at a Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District meeting. That board gave the go-ahead for an extension of Duck Creek Road past where it currently ends at Red Bank Road as part of the development. And there’s the rub: That part of the deal doesn’t sit well with members of the Madisonville Community Council, who are worried about possible traffic congestion caused by extending Duck Creek Road. The extension will cut close to John P. Parker Elementary School, and the council worries that it could limit the school’s enrollment. The council is looking for an explanation of why the road needs to be extended and some kind of compensation, perhaps in the form of scholarships that will help entice students to come to the school. RBM, a development group owned by nearby company Medpace, is planning the project. The company is working on details of the proposed development now.

• This weekend, the University of Cincinnati will host an 11-member task force appointed by President Barack Obama to investigate and hold conversations on policing in the 21st century. UC will host two of the task force's seven listening sessions Jan. 30 and 31. Other sessions have been held in Washington D.C., and two others will happen next month in Phoenix. The task force was created by a December executive order signed by Obama in the wake of controversy surrounding police use of force around the country.

• Mayor Cranley headed to Washington, D.C. last week to chat with federal officials about a number of issues, including Cincinnati’s bike trails, his Hand Up anti-poverty initiative and money to fix the crumbling Western Hills Viaduct. Cranley met with Department of Housing and Urban Development head Julian Castro, a fellow Democrat and the former mayor of San Antonio. He also met with officials at the Federal Highway Administration and joined up with other mayors from around the country to prod Congress to, well, do its job and actually pass some legislation this time around, specifically legislation that will help cities with development and infrastructure projects.

• Controversy over Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams’ letter decrying “racebaiting black leaders” continues. Activist group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, which published a letter addressed to the mayor asking for an apology, has said it will be attending tonight’s Norwood City Council meeting, which is at 7:30 p.m., to ask for a response in person. Mayor Thomas has indicated to media that he is sticking by his letter, which was written to express support for the Norwood Police Department as questions around police use of force continue to be a big topic across the country.

• Promoters working to bring the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Columbus are feeling pretty good these days. Recently, Democrats announced they intend to hold the convention the week of July 25, which Columbus has indicated is its ideal time frame. Convention-goers will need to be housed in Ohio State University dorms, which fill up with students again in August. Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was in the city Sunday and yesterday on a tour to consider the city’s logistical ability to handle the huge event. Should Dems tap Columbus over contenders Philadelphia and Brooklyn, N.Y., Ohio will host three major political conventions in the next presidential election year, with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the NAACP convention here in Cincinnati in 2016.

• Finally, this national story is gross. And creepy. And kind of brilliant. The San Francisco Zoo is offering the chance to sponsor a Madagascar hissing cockroach or a big ole’ hairy scorpion in honor of your ex this Valentine’s Day.

"These invertebrates are aggressive, active and alarmingly nocturnal. Much like your low-life ex, they are usually found in and around low-elevation valleys where they dig elaborate burrows or 'caves,' " reads promotional material for the scorpion adoption. "Also just like you-know-who, when a suitable victim wanders by, the scorpion grabs the doomed creature with its pinchers and stings the prey ... Charming."

Whoa. Bitter much? For $50, you can adopt the scorpion for your ex, to whom the zoo will send a stuffed scorpion stinger and a certificate. A similar deal for the cockroach costs $25. Nothing says “I’m over you” like dropping $50 to say, “I’m over you.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 01.26.2015 33 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
anniversary_cartoon_ccv

Morning News and Stuff

CCV in a tizzy about sex again; Cincinnati Public Library opens Maker Space; will Ohio legalize weed?

Let’s just get right to it this morning.

It’s clear we as a society have lost our way. We’re so focused on the little things — pervasive poverty, military conflicts around the globe, our government’s inability to accomplish much of anything, etc. — that we’ve let a major atrocity slip right past us. But at least one local group has their priorities straight, and they’re not going to let someone get away with putting on a billboard three phonetic symbols representing the natural act of human procreation. That’s right, Citizens for Community Values is at it again as founder Phil Burress rails against a billboard on I-71 that reads “end boring sex” erected (oops, sorry) to advertise Jimmy Flynt Sexy Gifts, a new store in Sharonville owned by the brother of notorious porn mogul Larry Flynt. The store is only a couple miles from CCV’s headquarters, which is a pretty funny move. Jimmy Flynt says that’s because there’s big bucks in selling sexy stuff to suburban folks with some extra cash. Burress is outraged, however, that children riding with their parents on the interstate might see the word “sex.” Though really, you’d think CCV would be on board with a sentence that starts with the word “end” and ends with the word “sex.”

• Activists in Norwood have started a Change.org petition asking Mayor Thomas Williams to engage in a community forum around his racially charged comments on a Norwood Police Facebook page. The letter, signed simply “Norwood Citizens,” starts out by praising the department’s police officers and their work in the community, but condemns Williams’ statement made via social media in December. Those statements addressed to Norwood police pledged support for the department while decrying “race baiting black leaders and cowardly elected officials” over the ongoing protests around police shootings of unarmed black citizens. The online petition is the latest wrinkle in the drama around Williams’ statements, which led to calls for boycotts against Norwood and a response from black activists in the Greater Cincinnati area asking for an apology. Williams has subsequently told media that he stands by his statement.

• This is really cool: Today is the grand opening of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library’s Maker Space, which will be open to patrons of the library. The space includes technology like vinyl printers and cutting machines to make vinyl signs, laser cutting machines, 3D printers, sewing machines, audiovisual equipment including DSLR cameras, a soundproof recording booth with microphones and monitors, so-called “digital creation stations” with suites of creative software and a ton of other great things to help fledgling creatives with their projects, including something called an “ostrich egg bot.” Sounds very cool. All equipment will be free for patrons to use, but there will be a charge for materials like vinyl or resins for the 3D printers.

• Cincinnati’s Port Authority is looking to kick-start a local neighborhood by purchasing and renovating 40 single family homes in Evanston. The neighborhood borders Xavier University, contains Walnut Hills High School and is the home of King Records’ historic studio. But like many urban neighborhoods near the city’s core, it has fallen on hard times in the past few decades and has been ravaged by disinvestment, high rates of poverty and dwindling prospects for jobs. The port authority hopes it can work similar changes to those that have transformed Over-the-Rhine, which has seen a marked increase in development over the last five years.

"This is the 3CDC model on a miniature scale," Kroger Vice President Lynn Marmer, who chairs the port's board of directors, told the Business Courier. 3CDC is responsible for much of the change happening in OTR. The port hopes to sell the homes at market rate to entice families to move to Evanston.

• So, is legal pot coming to Ohio? Voters may be able to decide in November. The group ResponsibleOhio, one of two looking to put an initiative on the ballot this year, released some details of its plan this week, though the exact legal language of the proposed bill is fuzzy. The group suggests that growers around the state would cultivate the sticky-icky and send it to one of five labs in Ohio for potency and safety testing. Those labs would then distribute it to medicinal marijuana clinics and retailers. Should voters approve the plan, Ohio would be the first state to go from an outright ban on marijuana to full legality.

• Many conservative lawmakers in Ohio love the idea of the state paying for students to attend private schools, but it seems Ohio residents are more lukewarm to the idea. Ohio offers more than 60,000 vouchers to students so they can use funds set aside for public school to attend the private school of their choice. However, only one third of those vouchers were used last year, according to data from the State Board of Education reported by the Enquirer Saturday. Despite this, there seems to be little movement to reconsider the state’s school choice system, which is a darling of conservatives like Gov. John Kasich.

• Finally, on the national level, there’s this story, which is crazy. A junior at Yale University says he was leaving a library on campus when a police officer pulled a gun on him unprovoked because he allegedly matched the description of a burglary suspect. The twist in the story is that the student’s father is Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist who has written extensively about the deaths of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin and more generally about racial inequities in America’s justice system. Talk about getting the wrong person. Yale officials say they’re investigating the incident. The younger Blow says he remains shaken by the encounter, while his columnist father has penned a furious piece about the confrontation. 

 
 
by Steven Rosen 01.23.2015 36 days ago
at 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
julian morgenstern, huc president

Clifton's Hebrew Union College Celebrates 140 Years

The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion presents lectures Sunday and Monday

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is using a two-day event this weekend to kick off the 140th anniversary celebration of the founding of HUC in Clifton. On Sunday at 4 p.m., it will observe the role of one of the school's past presidents, Julian Morgenstern, in rescuing 11 college professors and five rabbinical students from Nazi-occupied Europe and the Holocaust. Many of the professors were dismissed from their European faculty jobs by the Nazis because they taught Jewish studies. Despite financial struggles, HUC-JIR hired them, nearly doubling its faculty.

One of the speakers Sunday will be Susannah Heschel, a professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the rescued scholars. The event is being held on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland as well as to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The program, which will be free and open to the public, begins in Scheuer Chapel on the campus at 3101 Clifton Ave. People who want to attend can RSVP by calling 513-487-3098 or going to http://huc.edu/rsvp/IHRD.

On Monday at 4 p.m., there will be a panel discussion on Respectful Discourse on College Campuses to focus on the increasing amount of hate speech on college campuses. Three college presidents will discuss how to promote safe and respectful spaces for political discourse — Santa Ono of the University of Cincinnati, Eli Capilouto of the University of Kentucky and Rabbi Aaron Panken of HUC-JIR. Professor Heschel will moderate the panel.

A second part of the program, which will start at 5:30 p.m., will feature three members of the clergy also talking about the subject — Rabbi Irwin Wise of Adath Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Amberley Village; Rev. Bruce Shipman; and Rev. Eugene Contadino, S.M., of St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic parish in Cincinnati.

The Monday program will be held in Mayerson Hall on the HUC-JIR Clifton campus. People who want to attend can RSVP by calling 513-487-3098 or going to http://huc.edu/rsvp/IHRD.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 02.27.2015 39 hours ago
Posted In: News at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sheriff

Morning News and Stuff

Hamilton County Justice Center featured on reality TV; rally on Fountain Square tomorrow will memorialize trans murder victims; FCC says yes to net neutrality

Hey all! It’s Friday. I have work to do. Let’s keep this brief, shall we, while avoiding a stupid debate about the color of any pictures of women’s wear that might be floating around the Internet. (I see both blue and black and white and gold depending on when I look. Yes, I am special).

Paging Michel Foucault: Is it a good idea to put your county’s jail on a reality TV show? We’ll find out, I suppose. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil agreed several months ago to let MSNBC film an episode of its reality show Lockup in the Hamilton County Justice Center. It hasn’t aired yet, but a trailer for the episode shows inmates cussing at people, thousands of dollars in smuggled bootleg cigarettes and loose tobacco, some guy bragging about stabbing someone else with pencils and another dude describing his situation as “some ho-ass shit.” All of which sounds like a party I went to a couple Saturdays ago.

The bloody post-fight scenes look less like a party, however, and it’s pretty clear a big part of the show is the voyeuristic thrill of watching human suffering. Gross. But I digress. County officials told Sheriff Neil that having the reality show feature the county’s jail was probably not a good idea, but Neil went ahead with the program after producers approached him about it. I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it’s important to show people what really goes on in our justice system. On the other, this kind of reality TV-style sensationalism seems pretty exploitative of the folks behind bars, does it not?

Neil’s office says the show is a fair representation of life at the justice center, so there’s that. Lockup: Cincinnati airs Saturday at 10 p.m. in case you want to watch it or, you know, maybe do something more positive with your time than watch people in cages get blood dabbed off their faces.

• Oh, good. According a newly released report by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, the Ohio River received more than 23 million pounds of toxic material in 2013, the latest year for which data has been analyzed. That’s the most of any river in the country for the seventh year in a row, the commission says. The report cautions that despite the alarmingly large number, the river’s volume is also very large and the dilutive properties of all that water must be taken into account. But for comparison, the river receiving the next highest level of pollutants is the Mississippi, which saw more than 10 million pounds of toxins released into it last year. Much of the pollution in the Ohio River comes from nitrates, which are highly toxic to humans. Seventy-one percent of the pollution, according to the report, doesn’t enter the river until well downstream from Cincinnati at an AK Steel facility in Rockport, Indiana. So, uh, at least there’s that.

• A rally is planned tomorrow at 2 p.m. on Fountain Square for transgender murder victims killed in the last year. Among those victims was Tiffany Edwards, murdered last year in Walnut Hills. We first told you about Edwards during a long story we did on sex workers in Cincinnati and revisited her story last month in a piece on the challenges facing transgender individuals. Her alleged killer is currently on trial for her death. Tomorrow’s die-in will also memorialize seven other transgender individuals who have been murdered recently as a result of their transgender status.

• Ohio’s Senate race got a shout out in one of the nation’s premier news outlets. The Christian Science Monitor started off its preview of the 2016 Senate race with a long exploration of the brewing fight between former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Also featuring prominently in the coverage was Cincinnati’s own Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who has raised more than $500,000 for his own bid for the Democratic nomination. The Monitor posits that the high-profile Senate race will make Ohio even more important in the 2016 election, a presidential race in which the state already has a vital role. The Republican National Convention will be in Cleveland and the NAACP National Convention will take place in Cincinnati next year, guaranteeing Ohio a place in the center of national politics.

• As I noted yesterday in a morning news blog update (yes, I sometimes update the post throughout the day, so you know, keep your eyes on the blog), the Federal Communications Commission yesterday passed new rules keeping Internet companies from developing dedicated fast lanes for certain content providers while throttling others with slower speeds. The rules basically treat the Internet as a utility, which means service providers must treat all legal content equally. That way, Buzzfeed isn’t able to kick Internet providers a milli to put some insipid post about whether a dress is one color or another on a faster track than a long-form video doc about problems with the death penalty. The FCC also struck down some laws in certain states prohibiting municipalities from establishing their own Internet service providers to supplement the slim pickings found in many areas. That’s also good news.

That’s it for me. Tweet (@nswartsell) or e-mail me (nswartsell@citybeat.com) with any news tips, observations about Hamilton County's own reality TV panopticon, or what kind of guitar amp I should buy. I’m daydreaming about new music gear.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.26.2015 62 hours ago
Posted In: News at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_weedunicorn700x615

Morning News and Stuff

Former attorney Deters: "lawyers are not a choral of angels;" Hamilton bans weed sales; GOP mocks Strickland Senate announcement

Hey all! Here’s the news today.

A well-known former attorney has filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky Bar Association to get his license back after it was suspended. Eric Deters has served three suspensions over his career for making false statements in court, failing to return a fee to a client and other infractions. The latest suspension was handed down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in April. The court has an agreement with the high court in Ohio, keeping Deters from practicing here as well. Now Deters says he’s served his suspensions and wants to go back to practicing law, and says the Kentucky Supreme Court should reinstate him. Deters retired rather than seek reinstatement in Kentucky and Ohio, and indicated at the time he had no interest in practicing law again in either state. He’s acting as his own attorney, which has led to this pretty amazing complaint:

"Deters is no saint," he writes of himself in his complaint. "He is a sinner. But Deters is fit to practice law. Lawyers are not a choral of angels." Choir? Corral? Whatever. Deters is too tough for the haters. “What Deters incurred, lesser men would have have crumbled long ago," he says of the emotional and physical toll his suspension has caused. He blames an infection that nearly took his arm on the stress and strife his suspension has inflicted on him.

• You can never ban the devil’s weed too early or too often. At least, that’s the prevailing wisdom on Hamilton’s City Council, which banned sale of the drug in the city limits yesterday in a 5-1 vote. Though marijuana is already illegal in Ohio, council members wanted to have a municipal ordinance in place just in case a potential ballot initiative legalizing the measure passes in November and all hell breaks loose. ResponsibleOhio, the group filing the initiative, still needs to collect 300,000 signatures by July to even get the measure on the ballot, but better safe than sorry, Hamilton officials say.

“It's just being prepared for what happens if anything happens whether it be legislature or amendment, it's just being prepared for the next step," Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said.

• The Kentucky House passed a bill yesterday allowing the state to participate in public-private partnerships, clearing another hurdle for a toll-based Brent Spence Bridge replacement. However, several key changes were made to the bill to make it more friendly to Kentucky residents and lawmakers who may oppose tolls. These include requiring any tolls levied as part of a public-private partnership to expire once debt on the project is paid off, requiring analysis of any public-private partnership to make sure it’s the best way to do a project and requiring a majority of lawmakers on project oversight commissions be from the county where the project is happening. Next, the bill goes to the Kentucky Senate, where it will face opposition from GOP senators who are staunchly opposed to tolls on the Brent Spence project.

• Here’s another tidbit from Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address earlier this week. Kasich devoted part of his speech to education in Ohio, defending his public school funding scheme and also his support of the state’s embattled charter school system. Kasich defended putting more money into that system despite low performance by many charter schools and questions about some schools’ integrity. He agreed that the system should have more oversight in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing at some schools across the state, but also defended schools that have simply been low-performing. Here, he made a pretty stunning statement:

“Let’s not judge someone as not doing their job because they’ve inherited a group of students who are just struggling,” he said.

Here’s the thing: This is the same (I’d say very fair and correct) logic many have used to defend struggling public schools the charter system was meant to compete with and do better than. That is more or less the whole reason charter schools exist, according to their creators and supporters. Sooo… blame public schools for their inability to educate students who struggle under the weight of very real massive systemic problems that make it difficult for them to learn, but don’t blame charter schools that take money from those schools and make their jobs even more difficult for the same thing. Got it.

• Speaking of Kasich, he’s finally getting some national attention as he steps up his efforts to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Maybe it’s not always the attention he wants — this story calls him out on his efforts to create a Rondald Reagan-inspired balanced budget amendment to the U.S. constitution — but on the other hand, if you’re a Republican governor looking to run for president, perhaps a piece in liberal Mother Jones magazine about how lame your policy ideas are means you’ve finally arrived. So, uh, congrats on the milestone, governor!

• Let’s talk about a former governor for a minute, specifically Democrat Ted Strickland, who just jumped into the 2016 U.S. Senate race. As we’ve already discussed, Strickland’s announcement earlier this week caused a big stir, and now he’s already getting hit by GOPers and concerned editorial writers across the state. Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges mocked Strickland’s entrance into the race on Twitter today, saying, “same old @ohdems. Can’t get their act together” in response to an article about Strickland possibly having to face Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in a primary. There are worries that a very contentious primary could sabotage Democrat’s chances at picking up incumbent Sen. Rob Portman’s seat, which is dearly needed if Democrats want to take back control of the Senate in 2016. On the other hand, having two strong candidates could be seen as an encouraging sign for the party, and the early level of mockery from Republicans shows they’re taking the threat from Strickland seriously. It’s already clear this isn’t last year’s governor’s race, where Kasich straight-up didn’t acknowledge Dem opponent Ed Fitzgerald during a debate because he didn’t have to.

• Finally, the Federal Communications Commission is voting on net neutrality today. This is a huge day for the Internet. If you don't know what's up, uh, start reading.

Update: the FCC voted 3-2 to require internet providers to operate as neutral gateways through which internet service flows. That ruling prohibits providers from making so-called "fastlanes" that would provide higher-speed connections for some companies and content. Also today, the FCC struck down state laws prohibiting cities from establishing their own internet services, allowing municipalities to create their own internet services in places that may only have one (or no) reliable internet service provider.

That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet at me. Email me (nswartsell@citybeat.com). Messenger pigeon me. Whatever you gotta do to get those news tips and whatever else you want to talk about. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.25.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cincinnati-paul-brown-stadium

Morning News and Stuff

County taxpayers will cough up $7.5 mill for Bengals scoreboards; Strickland enters Senate race; Kasich tilts rightward for State of the State address

Morning y’all. Let’s talk about the news real quick. I think winter is getting to me, because this update got pretty opinionated pretty quickly.

Can you think of anything useful, even vital, on which the county could spend $7.5 million? Maybe chipping in a bit more toward the Union Terminal renovation, or giving a bit to the effort to shape up Music Hall? Maybe addiction treatment or some other human services funding? More sheriff’s deputies on the streets? Or, you know, maybe they could put that cash toward a new crime lab and morgue, both of which are critically crowded and out of date. Or etc. I ask because $7.5 million is the recently-announced amount county taxpayers will pay for new Bengals scoreboards as part of some $12 million overall the county will cough up from its sales tax fund for stadium improvements. Is there any estimate on return on investment for the county on this? Will the new high-definition scoreboards create at least $7.5 million in sales taxes for the county somehow? In return for this outpouring of county largess tied to the 15-year-old albatross of a stadium deal, the Bengals made an exception for projects at The Banks to a provision in their lease that stipulates the height of buildings around the stadium. That’s nice of them. These are all things I will receive exactly zero benefit from in my lifetime.

• Anyway. Speaking of the county, it has settled with the families of three women whose corpses were abused by a former morgue employee from the 1970s to the 1990s. The county will pay $800,000 to the families to end a lawsuit centered around the behavior of Kenneth Douglass, who is believed to have abused more than 100 bodies in the years he worked for the morgue.

• This is pretty cool, I think. The University of Cincinnati will redevelop the old Sears building on Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue in Corryville into an innovation hub for UC-related startups. The university will spend about $16 million to turn the 130,000-square-foot structure, which has a distinct Art Deco vibe, into a business and tech incubator. The building was the first Sears store in the city when it was built in 1929. I’ve always really liked this building, and recently, with the fencing that has surrounded it, I’ve been afraid they would tear it down. UC bought the building in 1981 and it housed the university’s campus services until last year. When I was an Americorps member a few years ago, the UC-affiliated nonprofit I worked for had storage space in the building. I know its creepy, dimly-lit hallways well and I’m excited to see it restored.

• It’s official. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has entered the 2016 Senate race. Strickland, who will be 75 by that time, could face off against Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, creating a high-profile battle between two of the biggest names in state politics. Portman is popular, with millions in the bank for his next campaign, but Strickland is a formidable opponent and perhaps Democrats’ best shot. However, at the moment, Strickland’s got some competition for the Democratic nomination in the form of Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld, 30, announced his intentions to run last month and has raised $500,000 for his campaign thus far. He’s a dynamic young candidate who has done a great deal in a short time and looks to still be on the rise. Some within the party believe he’ll bow out to the higher-profile and more experienced Strickland, but some of Sittenfeld’s own funders have indicated they’re backing him no matter who else is in the game. Will P.G. keep running, or will the state party convince him to sit this one out?

• Speaking of state politics, Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State address last night. During the hour-and-a-quarter long speech, Kasich tacked rightward, mostly emphasizing his plan to cut income taxes as a way to encourage economic growth. The speech is an important moment for Kasich as he seeks a larger spotlight. Kasich’s been traveling and fundraising in connection with his bid for the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 presidential election. Kasich’s recent budget proposals, which he again touted in his speech, suggest he’s trying to balance the demands of the Republican party’s right wing — cut taxes to the bone, ease regulations on businesses — with a need to stay viable in a general election by appearing to be a compassionate conservative who cares about the plight of the poor, education funding and so forth. It makes sense that Kasich would emphasize the more conservative elements of his plan in his address last night — the yearly oratory is traditionally aimed at the state legislature, which is dominated by rightward-leaning Republicans. Those lawmakers don’t seem super-enthused by Kasich’s plans, however, balking at tax increases on cigarettes and oil drilling, for instance.  One last note on Kasich’s big speech — he awarded the Governor’s Courage Award to Cincinnatian Lauren Hill, the Mt. Saint Joseph student and basketball player who is fighting an inoperable brain tumor.

• Finally, I generally like the New York Times. They often do fantastic work. But this piece today about downtown Cincinnati’s resurgence following the 2001 civil unrest is mystifying to me. First, there are about a million things that made Cincinnati sluggish and grim before and after the unrest, including many systemic issues that haunted and continue to haunt the city specifically and others endemic to a lot of other urban areas. There are about a million other things that have happened since the unrest that have made the city’s center, and many other downtowns, take off. Tying the two things together while saying that memories of the unrest are “fading” (probably not true) seems to miss a number of things. The article doesn’t mention the city’s pervasive poverty problem, the fact we’re at the bottom of the list in America for infant mortality, the fact that its police force (30 percent black) still doesn’t match the demographics of the city (which is 45 percent black). It barely glances at the issue of gentrification, a problem many say is accelerating in the urban core and a subject that has been hugely divisive over the past decade. Anyway. That’s my media criticism for the day.

Tweet at me (@nswartsell) or give me an e-mail (nswartsell@citybeat.com) if I bummed you out hating on the Bengals, or if you feel the way I do about the team's blinging new big screens.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.24.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover_crimelab_jf02700x615

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC proposal could increase number of bars downtown; Mount Airy morgue/crimelab deal dead; DeWine rejects initial weed legalization ballot initiative

Hey all, here’s the news this morning.

Have you ever thought there should be more bars downtown? I hadn’t really thought about it before, but then I’m not a huge bar person. 3CDC, on the other hand, has and would like the city to take steps to increase the number of liquor licenses in two specific areas downtown. One, which would be called the Downtown West Community Entertainment District, would be near the convention center and Fountain Square, and another, called Downtown East, would  encompass the rest of downtown. Designating an area a community entertainment district makes it eligible for more liquor licenses from the state.

Currently, Cincinnati is maxed out, but the proposed scheme would add up to 21 new licenses in the two districts. Ten other neighborhoods in the city have this designation, including Over-the-Rhine, Price Hill and CUF. 3CDC would control all liquor licenses granted to the western district under the plan, which has the support of a majority of council and Mayor John Cranley. Supporters of the plan say it will attract more residents to the districts as well as increase tax revenue. Council looks to vote on the measure soon.

• A local man has filed a lawsuit against LA Fitness after he claims he was prohibited from praying in the locker room of the chain’s Oakley location. Mohamed Fall, a Muslim, worked out at the gym on a regular basis for more than a year. After his workouts, he would stand with his eyes closed in an empty corner of the locker room and pray without speaking.  Recently, three LA Fitness employees approached him while he was praying and told him he had to stop and that he should not pray in the locker room again. Fall says he was afraid he would be kicked out if he did not comply.

• Hamilton County Commissioners have officially signaled they will not be pursuing a plan to move the Hamilton County morgue and crime lab to a currently vacant hospital in Mount Airy that Mercy Health offered to donate to the county. While the building would be cost-free, the build out necessary to move the morgue, crime lab and other offices there is cost-prohibitive, commissioners have said. They’ve estimated it could cost as much as $100 million to retrofit the building. The decision comes as the county’s morgue and crime lab continue to sound alarms about their current cramped and outdated workspace.

• Legislation that would move the embattled Brent Spence Bridge replacement project another step toward reality is expected to pass in the Kentucky State House today. The bill would allow the state to use a public-private partnership to fund the project, specifically through tolling on the bridge. Officials in both states have struggled to find the necessary $2.6 billion to fund the bridge replacement project. Opponents of the current plan proposed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear say the project doesn’t need to cost that much, and that tolling will represent a huge burden on businesses and workers in both states. Northern Kentucky politicians and activists have been especially adamant about preventing tolling on the bridge.

• A petition drive to get legal weed on the November ballot in Ohio suffered a blow yesterday when Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected summary language for the petition. DeWine had several quibbles with the details, and lack thereof, in a summary of the proposed ballot language filed with his office by ResponsibleOhio. That group wants to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would create 10 marijuana grow sites in the state controlled by the group’s investors. The proposal would make marijuana legal to sell with a license, and anyone over the age of 21 could purchase it. Ohioans would also be allowed to grow a small amount of the drug at home, a change in position from the group’s original proposal. The group has until July to collect 300,000 signatures and file the petition with the secretary of state. DeWine and other statewide Republican officials have been vocal opponents of the idea, saying that it will increase drug use and that it constitutes a state-run monopoly. Ohio voters passed a similar constitutional amendment allowing four casinos in the state in 2009.

• On a somewhat related note, recreational weed became legal in Alaska today. I used to think I would never move to Alaska because IT GETS BELOW ZERO there, but, well... It’s also legal in Colorado and Washington state and will become legal in Oregon in July and in Washington D.C. later this week. 

• Veterans Affairs head and former P&G president Bob McDonald is drawing some criticism after he made a claim that he  once served in special forces. McDonald is a veteran who attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Army and attended Ranger training school. But he did not actually serve with the elite force. He told a homeless veteran in L.A. during a point-in-time count of that city's homeless population last month that he did serve in the special forces, however, a claim that has caused controversy. McDonald has apologized for the statement, saying it was a mistake.

That does it for your news wrap-up today. Tweet at your boy (@nswartsell) or send me a good old fashioned email at nswartsell@citybeat.com. Things I'm keen to get your thoughts on this week: news tips (of course), interesting parts of the city for an urban photography buff (me) and recommendations on cool sneakers (I'm due for a new pair).

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.23.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
wwe-cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Donors make it rain for Cranley; feds pledge cash for new Cincinnati labs; this man has been in jail for a quarter-century. Is he innocent?

Good morning y’all. I’m fresh off my epic, hour-long alpine adventure, also known as my walk to work. Did you wonder what happened to all the snow that had been on the roadways as you were driving leisurely to work this morning? It's now piled in mountains on the sidewalk by city snowplows. Thanks guys. I do have to say a city worker in a Bobcat drove by yesterday while I was digging my lady friend’s car out of the snow. He looped back around and with three or four quick maneuvers did what would have taken me 20 minutes with a shovel. Driving one of those things is an art, and I have met its Picasso.

Enough grumbling. It’s news time. Mayor John Cranley is, as the kids say, stacking cash (note: kids these days don’t actually say that). Cranley collected more than $250,000 at a Feb. 17 fundraiser for his re-election campaign. That may be the biggest haul ever for a city candidate, according to Cranley’s campaign, which is all the more impressive because Cranley doesn’t face reelection for almost two years. A ton of big names were in attendance at the event, and it seems like the city’s movers and shakers are backing the mayor.

Reds owner Bob Castellini was a host. So were Western and Southern CEO John Barrett, two members of the Lindner family and PACs from Kroger and Procter & Gamble. Cranley’s already got his eye on the election, having hired his campaign manager and setting a fundraising goal of $2 million. That’s a huge sum of money, some of which could go to help out allies in their City Council campaigns, though Cranley has said he won’t be doing that, focusing the cash on his own bid. Another possibility: Is Cranley setting such ambitious goals as a demonstration of his fundraising abilities so he can set up a bid for a higher office down the road?

• The federal government has said it will give $110 million to build a new facility in Cincinnati for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has been instrumental in securing the funding for the building, which will replace two aging facilities in the city, the Robert A. Taft Laboratory in the East End and the Alice Hamilton Laboratory in Pleasant Ridge. The new facility will consolidate them, making work easier for the federal employees there.

The Center for Disease Control oversees NIOSH. The agency researches ways to prevent injury and illness caused by occupational hazards, making recommendations to other federal agencies. The Cincinnati labs employ about 550 people. It’s not clear where the new labs will be located, but the Uptown Consortium, which represents major businesses and institutions in the Clifton, CUF, Corryville and Avondale neighborhoods including UC and several hospitals, is making a big pull to get the 14-acre site in that area. Other neighborhoods looking to get the facility include Bond Hill.

• Cincinnati anti-abortion activist Dr. John Wilke has died. He was 89. Wilke founded Greater Cincinnati Right to Life and Ohio Right to Life in the 1970s with his wife Barbara as debate swirled about a woman’s right to choose. The two groups have been incredibly active in the decades since as the issue has continued to be one of the country’s most intense and divisive. Wilke also served as head of national and international pro-life groups. Among Wilke’s more controversial assertions: that the stress caused by rape made it very unlikely a woman being raped would become pregnant. Other doctors and experts have since challenged that assertion, calling it bunk science and a cruel perspective on a terrible experience. Last month, Wilke released an autobiography about his time as a pro-life activist.

• A lawsuit over decades-old corpse abuse at the Hamilton County Morgue is in court today. The case involves the behavior of former morgue employee Kenneth Douglass, who was convicted six years ago of sexually abusing three bodies while he worked at the morgue. The families of the women whose corpses were abused have sued the county, charging that it should have known Douglass was engaging in illegal behavior at the facility and fired him. County officials and the estates of the former county coroner and supervisor, who the family also named in the suit and who have both since died, say they couldn’t have known Douglass would engage in behavior so abnormal and unpredictable.

• Has Kentucky held the wrong man in prison for 27 years? Some evidence suggests that might be the case. The Kentucky Innocence Project has been working on the case of William Virgil, who was convicted for the 1987 killing of psychiatric nurse Retha Welch in Newport. Virgil was convicted based on witness testimony, though some of those witnesses have since been discredited. Meanwhile, DNA evidence tested since the trial suggests Virgil may not have committed the crime. His DNA wasn’t found at the crime scene, Virgil’s advocates point out, and hers was not found on his clothing. The state is waiting for more tests to be done, but the Kentucky Innocence Project holds that there isn’t enough evidence against Virgil to hold him in prison.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.20.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_kasichtaxcuts

Morning News and Stuff

City Hall might get metal detectors; will Oxford get Amtrak service to Chicago?; Kasich proposal would funnel nearly $1 billion a year to charter schools

Hey all! Here’s a quick morning news rundown.

In the wake of last month’s infamous pickup truck incident (wherein a disgruntled man tried to ram his vehicle into our seat of city government), City Hall might be getting metal detectors. Council voted yesterday to find out how much the security measure will cost. The city has already stationed another guard in the City Hall lobby and instituted a requirement that visitors to the mayor or council members be escorted. The extra security measures also come as a response to death threats received by Mayor John Cranley and Councilwoman Amy Murray. Cranley has declined a body guard but has said that the recent events have left him a bit shaken.

• Oxford could be on the path to getting its first train service in half a century. Officials in Butler County are discussing an application for a federal TIGER grant that would fund a stop in the city for trains heading to Chicago. Miami University hosts many students from the Chicago area, officials with the school say, and there is great demand for easy and affordable transit to the Windy City. Last month, officials with the school, the city and the county asked Amtrak to do a feasibility study on picking up passengers there. Currently, Amtrak’s Cardinal Line runs from Cincinnati to Chicago, but only in the middle of the night and only a few times a week. There are efforts underway to expand that service led by transit advocacy group All Aboard Ohio.

• Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to make some Medicaid recipients pay premiums could block access to health care for low-income folks, a new study finds. The report by liberal-leaning Policy Matters Ohio says the proposed premiums, which would start at $15 to $20 a month, would prove a significant hardship for low-income people making just above the federal poverty line (about $12,000 for a single person). The study looks at past efforts in other states to require low-income people to pay premiums on government-subsidized health care. In examples from many states over the past decade, health care costs went up as a result of low-income people having less access to preventative health care, causing them to develop serious conditions for which they seek emergency treatment.
Policy Matters’ study suggests the same could happen in Ohio should Kasich’s proposal be adopted.

• There’s actually a raft of news about Kasich, now that we’re talking about the gov, so I’ll just briefly run through the rest of it here. First, an analysis of his budget proposal finds that it would funnel more money into Ohio’s controversial charter school program, bringing the funding devoted to charter schools by the state to nearly $1 billion a year. Charters in the state have come under criticism over the past year due to sometimes-poor performance and lack of accountability. Ohio’s system takes money from public school districts and gives it to privately run schools that are held to a lower standard by the state. Some of these schools have excelled, delivering better student performance at a lower cost, but a number of others haven’t been nearly so successful. What’s more, several schools have been rocked by allegations of financial and other improprieties. There is movement at the state House to hold the schools to higher standards, but so far no legislation has been passed. You can read our in-depth story on the state’s charter schools here for more on that. Critics of Kasich’s plan to provide more funding for charters say it’s time to reform Ohio’s charter system entirely.

• Speaking of education, Kasich and his budget proposal, Ohio state legislators are going to change Kasich’s proposal for pubic school funding, Republican lawmakers have revealed. Though it’s unclear just what they’ll do when the get under the hood of Kasich’s funding changes, they’ve already chosen Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, to take the lead. Kasich’s public school funding proposal, which seeks to shift some state aid away from wealthy districts toward lower-income ones, left many scratching their heads earlier this month. Kasich’s complex proposed funding formula left some low-income districts with cuts while giving big percentage increases to wealthy districts like Indian Hill, which would get 21 percent more state aid under the model. There are reasons for that and other counter-intuitive increases, as we explored in our story on the proposal a couple weeks ago, but it still doesn’t sit right with many folks. Cupp has said there seem to be some “anomalies” in the formula, but that he won’t know exactly how everything is working until he and other lawmakers dive in and look at everything piece by piece.

Annnnnnd. I’m out. Happy Friday y’all. Tweet news tips, your favorite winter beer recommendations or Parks and Rec finale sadness/spoilers to me over the weekend: @nswartsell. Or you can e-mail me with all of that: nswartsell@citybeat.com.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.19.2015 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
buchanan

Morning News and Stuff

Enquirer publisher Buchanan leaving; Oasis bike path complications; Ohio cities near bottom for economic diversity

Hey all! Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on today in the news.

Cincinnati Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan will retire from her position, making way for former Enquirer reporter and editor Rick Green to take the helm of the paper. Green is currently the publisher of the Des Moines Register, where he was previously head editor. The move comes as Enquirer parent company Gannett undertakes a drastic restructuring of its newsroom, changing job descriptions and eliminating positions as it seeks to create what it calls “the newsroom of the future.” The changes haven’t been well-received: A dozen long-time newsroom staff left the paper rather than reapply for their jobs late last year.

• Will the railway company that owns tracks next to the proposed Oasis bike trail put a halt to the 17-mile long project between downtown and Milford? This Cincinnati Business Courier article takes a look at the ins and outs of the situation. Genesee & Wyoming Inc., the parent company of the Indiana and Ohio Railway Company, sent a letter to Mayor John Cranley last week outlining its business and safety concerns about the project. The company cites accidents that have occurred when people trespass too close to rail lines as among its worries, but it also claims it may want to use the tracks the bike lane would pave over. It doesn’t own that set of tracks — the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority controls them — but the company says it has the right to use them. That, however, is a matter of legal debate, one that looks likely to play out if the bike trail is to go forward.

Clarification: the stretch of track in question is four miles long. The entire project is 17.


• If you didn’t already know, the Cincinnati Bearcats lost to Xavier in last night’s Crosstown Shootout err, “Classic.” It was the first time in three years the game was held on either team’s arena (the ‘Cats got home court advantage) as the result of a big brawl after the 2012 game. I’ve been watching the game since I was but a wee lad even though I’m not much of a sports fan. I pull for UC every year. And just about every year, no matter how good they are, they lose. That’s about all I’m going to say about the entire unfortunate situation. Next year.

• Here’s an interesting bit of data: According to personal finance site WalletHub.com, Ohio cities rank pretty low in terms of economic diversity. That is to say, the state’s major cities have big wealth gaps, or a large divide between highest and lowest earners with a high concentration of wealth in relatively few hands. In a ranking of 350 cities compiled by the site, Ohio doesn’t even make an appearance until we get to Columbus, which is the 208th most economic diverse city in the country. Cincinnati comes in at 262, followed by Cleveland at 341, Akron at 345, Dayton at 346 and Toledo at 349. Ouch.  Carrolton, Texas had the most economic diversity, followed by Orange, Calif. Flint, Mich., was 350th on the list.

• Today is Ohio’s 212th birthday. We officially became a state Feb. 19, 1803 and were the 17th state to join the U.S., meaning we got in on this whole statehood bandwagon way before it was cool to do so. Happy birthday, you old geezer. You don’t look a day over 200.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich visited South Carolina yesterday as he does the delicate dance that is running for president before you’ve formally acknowledged that you’re running for president. Such trips are usually two-fold: to court potential supporters and fundraisers and to try out campaigning to see if a run looks promising. Kasich spoke to a crowd of GOPers at the South Carolina House Caucus, trying to thread the needle that is appealing to the party’s ultra-conservative southern base, which he’ll probably need if he wants the party’s nomination, while preserving the compassionate conservative mantle he’s tried to don in a bid for general election viability. We’ll see how that goes.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.18.2015 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_lizrogers_ns

Morning News and Stuff

ResponsibleOhio amends proposal to allow growing weed at home; Beavercreek asks judge to dismiss Crawford lawsuit; you think your morning commute was epic? Check this out.

Morning y’all. I won’t be making any comments about the snow and the cold today, other than to tell you the low tomorrow is expected to be -15 degrees. Let’s compare that with past places we’ve lived or could have lived (it will be 70 degrees tomorrow in Texas, for example) and take a moment to think about how our life choices got us into this situation. And… OK. Let’s learn from our mistakes without dwelling on them, shall we, and move on to the news. Everything is happening at once today and I’m gonna tell you about it.

A weed legalization effort is making room for home growers. ResponsibleOhio, which has mounted a petition drive to put legalized marijuana on the November ballot, is adjusting its pitch to Ohio voters. Previously, the group proposed a measure that would have created 10 legal growing sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio’s investors. Those sites would be the only places in the state allowed to grow marijuana. Now the group says it is amending the language of its ballot issue to allow home growth, so long as growers don’t exceed a certain amount and don’t sell their crops. The adjustment comes after many decried the original plan, which was patterned after Ohio’s casino amendment, as a state-run monopoly on weed.

• Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Committee voted yesterday not to declare Mahogany’s restaurant owner Liz Rogers in default on her $300,000 loan from the city. Mahogany’s opened at The Banks in 2012 after city officials recruited Rogers to try and boost diversity among business owners at the riverfront development. Rogers eventually fell behind on the loan, and the restaurant closed last October. Rogers said the business didn’t succeed because promised amenities that would have drawn more customers to The Banks, including a major hotel, did not materialize in time. But Rogers’ critics say she simply did not run a tight ship. Councilman Kevin Flynn proposed the default declaration, but other council members yesterday voted against it, citing other businesses who have yet to pay back city loans who have not been declared in default.

• The city of Beavercreek has responded to a lawsuit by the family of John Crawford III, who was shot Aug. 5 by police officers in a Walmart there. The city is asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, which charges that officers behaved recklessly when confronting Crawford over the toy gun he had grabbed off the Walmart shelves. The city says the officers responded correctly and that Crawford did not respond to repeated requests by officers to drop the weapon. Officials also claim Crawford turned toward the officers aggressively. A security video of the incident shows Crawford with the toy weapon slung over his shoulder while he faced store shelves talking on his cellphone. A grand jury last fall found the officers actions were justified, but the Crawford family says their son’s civil rights were violated.

• A railroad company that owns lines along the proposed Oasis Bike Trail says the project is a bad idea. The Indiana and Ohio Railway Company yesterday released a statement opposing the project, saying it could cause deadly accidents.

"Pedestrians and freight trains do not mix,” the release from the railroad said. “The proposed Oasis trail would have pedestrians less than eight feet from active railroad tracks. The railroad's own rulebook requires its employees – who are trained railroad professionals – to keep at least 30 feet from moving trains at all times. Safety is the railroad's first priority, which is why we strongly object to placing pedestrians in such potentially tragic proximity to freight trains."

The proposed bike trail would run from downtown all the way east to Milford. Boosters of the project would like to see another set of tracks run by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Administration converted into a bike lane. Those tracks run next to the lines owned by Indiana and Ohio Railway.

• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that municipalities don't have the power to block fracking with zoning or land use ordinances yesterday. The finding comes as the result of a four-year-old lawsuit between the city of Munroe Falls and Beck Energy Corp., which sought to drill for oil using the controversial technique in the city. Munroe Falls refused, citing its zoning laws, even though the company had already gotten a permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the city doesn't have the power to overrule state decisions on fracking. You can read more in our story here.

• Rand Paul is expected to announce he’s officially running to be the GOP nominee for president in early April, the New York Times reports. Paul has picked April 7, sources close to the Kentucky senator say, as the date to make his announcement. That will more than likely put Paul ahead of his potential opponents in the GOP primary time-wise, giving him more opportunity to fundraise. Paul has been actively working to raise his profile over the past couple years, traveling around the country and engaging issues that aren’t typically seen as GOP strong points like drug policy and justice system reform. Paul has a tricky road to travel, however — he must continue to tend to his tea party base, with which he has been very popular, while courting more mainstream, establishment Republicans as well. Also a double-edged sword is the legacy of his father Ron Paul, who ran for president in the 1988, 2008 and 2012 elections. The elder Paul had a committed following from self-described libertarians, something Rand Paul has sought to capitalize on. Rand Paul must find a way to juggle these three distinct groups as he makes his case he’s the best pick for the GOP nomination. It will be a tall order given the GOP’s schizophrenia of late.

• Finally, if you’re feeling heroic about your morning commute, here’s an epic story to humble you. It’s about a 600-mile dogsled trip across Alaska to deliver medicine to a dying city in the days before GPS, Gore-Tex gloves or unmanned drones. So, you know, things could always be worse.

Snowed in somewhere and bored? Tweet at me with your news tips, bad jokes or just to say hey. No pics of snow, though. I have enough of those on my feed already, thanks. You can also e-mail me at nswartsell@citybeat.com if you're old-school.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.17.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_fracking.widea

Ohio Supreme Court: No Local Power to Block Fracking

Court sides with drilling company over municipality's attempt to stop fracking

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday struck a hard blow against local municipalities’ abilities to control fracking, handing down a 4-3 ruling stating that local zoning and land-use ordnances cannot be used to prohibit the controversial drilling technique if state law allows it.

The decision comes in response to a lawsuit by the city of Munroe Falls, a suburb outside of Akron, which has been trying to prohibit drilling by Beck Energy Corp. Beck sought to begin drilling on private property in Munroe Falls in 2011. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources  issued the company a permit, but the city sued to block drilling, citing a clause in the state constitution that provides for so-called “home rule.”

The court has ruled that clause does not apply to drilling activities, which a 2004 law made explicitly the domain of the state. That law was passed in an attempt to bring some consistency to the state’s oil and gas regulations, lawmakers said at the time. When state laws and local laws conflict, state laws win out, the court said.

"We have consistently held that a municipal-licensing ordinance conflicts with a state-licensing scheme if the 'local ordinance restricts an activity which a state license permits,’ " Justice Judith French wrote in the majority opinion.

Justice Terrance O’Donnell ruled with the majority, but issued his own more limited opinion on the case. The scope of lawmakers’ intentions when they passed the 2004 legislation isn’t immediately clear, he wrote in his opinion. O’Donnell says it’s uncertain whether the law is meant to usurp all local zoning and land-use ordinances when it comes to drilling.  

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, breaks up subterranean layers of rock to access hard-to-reach oil deposits. The practice has caused controversy over concerns that it can pollute groundwater and even cause small earthquakes.

Three justices dissented, citing concerns about local control over fracking. Justice William O’Neil called the decision a victory for big oil, which has lobbied for laxer regulations in the past decade.

“What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive,” O’Neil wrote in his dissent. “The oil and gas industry has gotten its way, and local control of drilling-location decisions has been unceremoniously taken away from the citizens of Ohio."

Justice Judith Lanzinger dissented on the grounds that state law and local home rule ordinances don’t necessarily have to be in conflict. Both Lanzinger and Justice Paul Pfifer, the third dissenter, argued that the 2004 law leaves more room for local control than the majority ruling grants.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.17.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tedstrickland

Morning News and Stuff

Former NKU employee busted for embezzlement also subject of sexual harassment settlement; Strickland seriously considering Senate run; federal judge puts stay on Obama immigration action

Hey all. I made the treacherous arctic trek into the CityBeat office this morning just to bring you the morning news. It’s a bit of a slow day, probably because all the newsmakers and shakers in the world are hunkered down doing whatever it is powerful people do on their snow days. I picture them sitting in front of a several fireplaces smoking multiple cigars while watching a whole wall of big-screen TVs and double-fisting mimosas, mostly because that’s what I would do if I had money and power. Anyway, here are a few things happening around the city and beyond today.

Let’s start off with grilled cheese. Cincinnati-based Tom and Chee restaurants just signed a franchise deal for its first location in Nashville. The brand has also planned other expansions in Tennessee as well as Texas, Nebraska, Missouri and other states. The rapidly growing chain started just five years ago and got a boost from a 2013 appearance on the ABC investment show Sharktank. It has since expanded to 22 locations, with plans to have 50 open by the end of this year. The brand has received more than 25,000 franchise requests from around the world since its appearance on the show.

• A former Northern Kentucky University employee who is currently serving jail time for embezzling money from the school was also the subject of an earlier sexual harassment complaint and court settlement, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. The university settled with former associate athletic director Chrissy Soards for $200,000 in 2013 after Soards complained that her boss, Scott Eaton, had sexually harassed her. Eaton was soon after fired for other ethics violations, including inappropriate sexual relationships with coworkers and an adult NKU student. After his dismissal, NKU discovered he had embezzled some $300,000 from the school, a crime for which he is currently serving 10 years in prison.

• Here’s more evidence former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland could jump into the 2016 U.S. Senate race against Sen. Rob Portman. In an interview with the Enquirer yesterday, Strickland said he’s “evaluating whether or not I am the person who is best positioned to do this and to win. I think I am, but I’m taking this very seriously.” That sounds pretty affirmative to me. Should he chose to run, Strickland’s candidacy could spell a major challenge for Democrat Senate hopeful and current Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld announced his candidacy a few weeks ago and has already begun fundraising. But he’ll have a challenge on his hands if one of the state’s best-known Democrats jumps into the race.

• Hey, this is terrifying. A CSX train full of oil from North Dakota derailed in West Virginia yesterday evening, causing the evacuation of two nearby towns and setting cars and a house afire. The oil was en route to coastal Virginia. No one was injured in the accident, but it’s the second oil related accident in this year. The other took place just 200 miles away in Virginia, where another train derailed and caught fire. Another accident involving a train carrying oil also happened last week in Canada when a train derailed and caught fire in Northern Ontario. The accidents and others like them have focused new questions on oil rail shipping safety standards.

• Yesterday, I told you about the budget hubbub currently going on between Republicans in the House and Democrats. The GOP Is steamed about President Barack Obama’s executive order halting deportations for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. They’re so steamed that they’ve passed a bill that makes funding for the Department of Homeland Security contingent on eliminating Obama’s orders.

Anyway, that’s yesterday. Obama’s executive orders prohibiting deportations are currently under attack from another source as well. A federal judge in Texas has put a stay on the actions, saying halting deportations could cause irreparable harm to states on the border, including Texas. The decision is in response to complaints from a group of conservative, mostly Southern states who say the executive action constitutes an overreach of power by Obama. They say halting deportations will result in more law enforcement expenses and other burdens associated with processing applications for deferred deportation. How not deporting people is more expensive than the millions we spend rounding up, holding and shipping people back across the border I don’t’ know, but that’s the logic the states are arguing. 

 
 
 
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