Morning all. It’s a slow news day around here, and we’re waiting for tomorrow for our obligatory end-of-year top 10 news stories list. But there are still some interesting things happening around the city and beyond in the waning days of 2014.
Police officers from around the region gathered last night to pay respects to two officers killed by a gunman in New York City earlier this month. Police from Covington, Kenton County and Campbell County attended a rally at a memorial for fallen officers in Covington to remember New York City Police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn. A few dozen members of the public also gathered for the event. Ramos and Liu’s shooter, who had earlier murdered his girlfriend in a Baltimore suburb, later killed himself. The incident has become a controversial moment in the nation’s tense struggle over police killings of unarmed people of color. Ramos and Liu’s shooter mentioned ongoing anger over the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died after an officer placed him in a choke hold. Activists decrying police violence have said the shootings of the officers are a tragedy and have called for peaceful protests.
• Cincinnati has gone all-in on a new highway interchange where I-71 passes through Walnut Hills and Avondale. But questions continue over whether that interchange will bring jobs and prosperity to some of the city’s poorest residents. It’s a tough question to answer because the project is fairly unique. Building a new highway on and off ramp in an already-built urban area is nearly unprecedented, and it’s tough to tell what will happen. That’s especially true since it’s unclear who will end up owning some of the 670 acres around the interchange officials say is blighted and in need of fresh development. City officials tout a study by the UC Economics Center that predicts the new interchange could create 7,000 jobs. But other studies of highway development projects say it can be exceedingly hard to tell what their impacts will be. The city has more than $25 million in the project, so stakes are high. They’re also high for residents of the neighborhood — as we reported this summer, Avondale has a 40 percent poverty rate and has historically found itself cut off from the rest of the city economically and geographically. What’s more, some residents will need to move to make way for the interchange. As the project continues toward its November 2016 completion date, questions keep swirling.
• State Rep. John Becker, a staunch conservative representing suburban Cincinnati, has been busy during his freshman term, according to a recent profile in the Columbus Dispatch. The former anti-abortion activist has authored tons of right wing legislation — 27 bills, in fact — and has courted a similarly prodigious amount of controversy. He’s been outspoken about police shootings of people of color, even commenting that he “wasn’t sure who the victim was” in the case of Mike Brown, an unarmed black man shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. He has suggested that similar shootings in Cleveland and Beavercreek involved drugs or “suicide by cop.” He’s also questioned why Planned Parenthood isn’t considered a hate group. That’s all charming stuff. Becker was reelected in November and will enjoy an increasingly conservative House — Republicans will hold 65 seats there next session. Up next on his agenda: abolishing the state’s income tax. Great!
• In national news, the Washington Post reports that House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, spoke at a white supremacist conference in 2002. The third most powerful member of the House appeared at a European-American Unity and Rights Organization convention in New Orleans hosted by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when he was a state representative. Representatives for Scalise’s office say he was unaware of the group’s connections with the white power movement and was in the midst of a statewide campaign rallying support for lowering taxes and other conservative ideas.
“For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” Scalise told the Times-Picayune as the story was breaking last night.
The revelation comes as Republicans look to make a new start with an expanded majority in the House and a newly minted majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, Democrats are pummeling Scalise over the revelations.
• Finally, if you’re not satisfied with Cincinnati’s New Year's Eve offerings (I can’t imagine why. There are about a million things to do) take heart: Whatever you get into is probably better than watching a giant nail drop in this Pennsylvania town. It's not even metal. It's wood. The, uh, nail dropping will commemorate a historic nail factory. Get wild.
Hello, Cincy. I hope your holidays were great and you got whatever you wanted during the gift-giving rituals for whatever you celebrate. I got socks and a dress shirt and I’m actually pretty hyped about them. Wait, does that mean I’m old now? Oh no.
Anyway, news. The saga of Tracie Hunter continues. It looks like the former Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge will get a reprieve from jail for now. The Ohio Supreme Court last week upheld her request for a stay on her six-month sentence until after an appeal of her felony conviction can be heard. Hunter was convicted of having unlawful interest in a public contract in October, one of eight felony counts the county brought against her. The jury hung on the other seven counts.
The charge that stuck is usually punished by a fine and probation. However, Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced Hunter to the jail term because of her stature as a judge, he said. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics and that her aggressive attempts to reform the county’s juvenile justice system made some powerful enemies. Her critics say she broke the law by misusing court-issued credit cards, improperly handling court records and other infringements.
The case has been complex and contentious. Hunter’s attorney filed three motions for a new trial, all of which were denied by Nadel, and three jury members who initially voted to convict Hunter on the felony count later recanted their votes, though it was already too late by that point. Attorneys with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, which is representing Hunter in the appeals process, say her appeal could take a year. Hunter supporters rallied Sunday in Bond Hill to show support for the suspended judge and call for changes to county’s juvenile justice system, which they say has huge racial disparities.
• So you might have heard about that building that fell down in
CityBeat’s neighborhood over the weekend. The vintage 1865 structure
near the corner of Court and Race that last held a box factory partially
collapsed for unknown reasons Saturday, scaring the crap out of nearby
residents and, just as tragically, blocking CityBeat editor Danny
Cross’s parking spot. There were no injuries, though two other cars that
were parked there at the time were heavily damaged. Nearby buildings
are structurally sound, engineers with the city have said.
• Another group protesting racial disparities held a vigil Saturday night in Washington Park in remembrance of those who have died at the hands of police across the country. The vigil drew about 30 people, who held candles and paid respects to Mike Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice and others who have died in incidents with police. The vigil was the latest in ongoing protests around police killings of unarmed black citizens, including now-infamous incidents in Ferguson, Mo., Beavercreek, Cleveland, New York City and others across the country. Grand juries have failed to indict the officers who shot or otherwise caused the deaths of unarmed citizens in many of these incidents, setting off large-scale incidents of civil unrest in cities across the country.
• Even as protests and a bitter national argument about race and police forces plays out, Americans are unusually united about one thing: Police should wear cameras. Eighty-six percent of respondents to a national survey indicated they support body cameras for officers, according to the Washington Post. A large majority of respondents also agreed that deaths caused by police should be investigated by independent prosecutors who have no ties with the departments they're investigating.
• If you’ve been following statewide politics this year (say, perhaps, by reading this blog right here), you know that one of the biggest political fault-lines in Ohio is the state’s implementation of the new federal Common Core public education standards. Supporters say it better teaches critical thinking skills and prepares students to be competitive in the global marketplace. But there are plenty of detractors across the political spectrum. Those on the right say the new standards amount to a federal takeover of local school districts and the state’s own standards. Those on the left hate that the new standards rely on standardized testing. Conservative lawmakers this year drafted bills to repeal the standards despite the fact that some prominent conservatives in the state, including Gov. John Kasich, support them. Those lawmakers, including Republican State Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta, have recently signaled they’ll be at it again in the new year working to repeal the standards, and they appear to have a good deal of support in their quest. Check out this year-end rundown on Common Core by education news site State Impact for a deeper look at the drama over the standards.
• Finally, let’s talk about The Interview. First, the new Seth Rogen thing about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was coming out as expected, on schedule and painfully similar to every other Seth Rogen movie. Then Sony got hacked and people thought it was the North Koreans and the movie was shelved because of some vague threats about violence at theaters that decided to show it. Now, as the argument about whether North Korea really even did the hacking rages on, Sony has decided to release the movie on a limited basis anyway at places like Clifton’s Esquire Theater.
The movie has done poorly in its initial release in the real world, grossing less than $2 million. However, it’s done much better online, where it’s racked up more than $15 million in rentals and sales for Sony, which spent more than $40 million to make the two-hour insult to humanity’s intelligence. The brisk online business is good for Sony but bad for the local man who spent $650 on tickets to the premier, hoping to cash in on a sold-out crowd hungry to see what all the fuss was about. The online release deflated this intrepid scalper's Christmas cash dreams. He’s asked the theater for a refund, but the Esquire has refused. There are so many things to shake our heads about in this story. I’ll leave you to ponder the state of our society.
Hello all! I’m here to give you one more news roundup before the holidays start in earnest. It’s pretty much the only reason I’m working today. Well, that and our holiday party. But that’s later. News is now.
It’s always rough when the authority figures in your life fight during the holidays. So it’s good news that the city and the county won’t be in court just yet over ongoing disagreements about how to tackle the region’s looming $3 billion sewer upgrade. Hamilton County owns the sewer system, but the City of Cincinnati runs it. And in the midst of a massive court-ordered upgrade after lawsuits from the EPA, environmental groups and homeowners, the two haven’t exactly seen eye to eye on how to get out of the mess. But in a meeting yesterday, the two governments agreed, at least in principle, to stop all the fussin’ and the feudin’ and work together to get things figured out. Early next year, the city and county will go through an independent mediation process to work through some of the issues around the revamp that have in the past landed them in court. That’s the holiday spirit!
• Meanwhile, just across the river, there’s another fight over billions of dollars still raging. Delays to a Brent Spence Bridge repair or replacement will cost taxpayers $7 million a month, Kentucky Governor Bill Beshear said yesterday at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce meeting in Covington. Beshear arrived at that number by considering the total cost of the project and government projections for inflation of construction costs. The obsolete though structurally sound bridge will cost $2.6 billion to replace and Beshear wants to talk about public-private partnerships as a way to get to that dollar amount. But those partnerships would probably mean tolls on the bridge — something many in Northern Kentucky are dead-set against. Opponents say tolls will adversely impact commuters who must cross the bridge every day. Anti-toll group Northern Kentucky United would like to see tolls off the table before any plan for the bridge goes forward. Beshear, on the other hand, wants to keep the option to use tolls open. He will meet with Ohio Gov. John Kasich in January to hammer out a plan for funding the bridge.
• An appeals court has denied former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s request for a suspension of her six-month sentence, meaning she will more than likely have to report to jail Dec. 29. Hunter was convicted on one of eight felony counts this fall for having unlawful interest in a public contract. Prosecutors charge she improperly interceded on behalf of her brother, a juvenile jail employee charged with hitting an underage inmate. Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced her to the six months in Hamilton County jail last month. Hunter has appealed her conviction, and hoped to delay punishment until after that appeal was heard. Hunter's attorney also objected to a strongly-worded, one might even say snarky, letter from the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office calling for jail time for Hunter. The letter noted that Hunter had once promised to do anything for the children that came through her court, including go to jail. The letter suggested it was time for her to keep her promise.
• Four protesters arrested Saturday at a demonstration in the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot unarmed 22-year-old John Crawford III have been charged with trespassing and obstructing official business. The four, who are from Fairborn, Springfield and Wilberforce, pleaded not guilty and have been released on bond. The demonstration was a “die-in” where protesters laid on the ground in the Walmart. Management at the store decided to close in response to the protests over what they called safety concerns. Police officer Sean Williams shot Crawford Aug. 5 as Crawford walked around the store with a pellet gun sold at the Walmart.
• The U.S. economy saw the fastest growth its had in 11 years after a 5 percent boost in the third quarter of this year, according to the federal government. The U.S. Department of Commerce released the figures yesterday, which surprised many with their robustness and may indicate a deeper, more dynamic economic recovery is occurring. The growth came from an increase in consumer spending. The economy hasn’t grown so fast since this time in 2003, according to the report.
• Finally, a little year-end close-out question I'll be asking again next week: what were the biggest and most important stories this year? What did we miss? What did we get right? What do you think needs more coverage? We'll be hitting the ground running in 2015. Give us some juicy news tips.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or tweet at your boy at @nswartsell. Or you can e-mail me: email@example.com
Good morning y’all! Let’s get down to business so we can get through this short holiday week and arrive as quickly and painlessly as possible at the moment when we open our presents.
If you park in Over-the-Rhine, be prepared for change. Or, well, not needing change. The city has installed new “smart” parking meters in the neighborhood, as well as downtown, that accept credit cards. But that convenience comes at a price in OTR — rates are going from 50 cents to $1 an hour. The times when you’ll be required to feed the meters in OTR and downtown have also been increased. Starting Jan. 1, the meters will run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Meter prices downtown will stay at $2 an hour for now, though City Council has given the OK for City Manager Harry Black to raise them as high as $2.15 an hour. The funds from the increase will go toward operating costs for the streetcar.
• Demonstrations continue over police killings of unarmed black men, including John Crawford III, shot this summer in a Beavercreek Walmart. Activists in Beavercreek Saturday briefly caused store management to shut down that Walmart after they staged a “die-in” at the store to protest the fact that the officer who shot Crawford was not indicted. Four of the protesters were arrested.
• Meanwhile, some activists here in Cincinnati have begun expanding their focus, taking the issue from the streets to the classroom. On Saturday, more than 120 people packed into OTR’s Peaslee Neighborhood Center for an hour-and-a-half-long teach-in and discussion on issues around race and police use of force. A number of speakers gave presentations on systemic racism, ways to make change and other topics. The teach-in was put together by an informal group of Cincinnati activists who say they will stage more events like it in the future.
The issue of police use of force has only gotten more contentious in recent days. On Saturday, a gunman shot and killed two New York City police officers while they were sitting in their squad car. The man earlier shot his girlfriend in Baltimore and fled the city. He had also recently posted threatening messages on social media about killing police officers.
Police officials have tied the killings to the large, ongoing demonstrations in New York City and to New York Mayor Bill deBlasio, who has been critical of police since taking office last year. They say the violent act was inspired by ongoing protests. Activists, however, say their movement has nothing to do with the shooter, who may have been suffering from a mental illness.
• Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman will be on a taskforce convened by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to study police-community relations and training procedures. Smitherman is one of 16 officials to join the task force, which will focus on making sure officers are trained to know when a situation requires deadly force and how to police racially diverse communities.
• Ohio’s minimum wage will be inching up in the new year. The state’s minimum wage level is tied to a consumer price index and will go from $7.95 to $8.10 on Jan. 1. The state has used the index to automatically determine its minimum wage since 2006 as an effort to keep the wage level in line with inflation and other consumer cost increases. Ohio’s rate is already above the national average of $7.25, though it is not high enough to raise most working a minimum wage job full time above the poverty line.
• Common Core has lived to fight another day in Ohio. A bill to repeal the federal education standards didn’t even make it to a vote in the Ohio House, which just ended its session. But you know there’s a sequel coming for this epic struggle. Republican State Rep. Andy Thompson from Marietta has vowed to reintroduce legislation killing Common Core next session, and he’s says he’s got backup coming. Several new House members campaigned on keeping Ohio out of the federal standards. Supporters of the new education goals say they help students learn critical thinking skills. Conservative opponents say the standards strip control from the state and local school districts and amount to a federal takeover of education. Other, more left-leaning critics of the standards decry Common Core’s reliance on standardized testing. Grab some popcorn. This drama is going to go on longer than those Lord of the Rings movies.
• Finally, do you want to travel around the country at 800 miles an hour? Don’t have enough cash to buy your own fighter jet? Tesla founder Elon Musk may have the answer for you. It’s called Hyperloop: a high-speed land-based transit system that would, in theory, zip people across a nationwide network of routes. Cincinnati and Columbus are both on a map that is included in a 76-page description of the project, though Cleveland got dissed. The first leg of this sci-fi transportation network would be built in California between San Francisco and L.A. for the low, low bargain price of $7 billion. Scientists hired by Musk to draw up the plans say raising the money will be the only big problem — they claim the science already exists to make 800 mph speeds a reality. Musk, who by the way is the same guy who started a company to shoot people into space for profit, has predicted the first hyperloop could be up and running in a decade. Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking about this.
Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things.
• City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.
• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.
• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.
The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market.
"Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.
• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron.
The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.
UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.
• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further.
“The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”
• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.
“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”
• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.
All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.
• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.
• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.
Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.”
Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize.
"He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."
A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.
Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.
“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said.
• It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.
• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature.
• 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!
Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.
Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest.
Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual.
Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.
The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts.
• The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.
• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.
• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.
• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked.
• Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.
• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!
• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on.
The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have
208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will
lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space.
Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati
Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s
overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins.
Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of
housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the
city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods
Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could
go for a full council vote on Wednesday.
• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!
• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the
state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of
those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year,
while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate.
That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six
years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are
addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the
alarming increase in abuse of the drug.
• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.
• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.
Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.
Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.
“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”
Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."
“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”
“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.
Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.
Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.
“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”
After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.
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.
Hey hey! In the past, specifically around election time, I’ve admonished you about getting involved in the democratic process. Well, it’s time to do your civic duty once again by casting your ballot in CityBeat’s Best of Cincinnati reader survey. Vote! Yes, it’s a long ballot, but don’t worry. You can skip some sections in case you don’t have an opinion on the best combination cupcake bakery/live music venue/dog grooming salon in the city.* But while you’re weighing in on the best burger in the city and the best place to hang while waiting for a table in OTR, consider casting a vote for best journalist, whether it be one of CityBeat’s great staffers or contributors, the top-notch reporters at other publications, or heck, yours truly. There are no electoral colleges or hanging chads in our process, so you’re basically mainlining democracy. America!
*Not a real category
On to news. Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed an ordinance adding homeless individuals to those protected by the city’s hate crimes law. The new ordinance could mean up to an extra 180 days in jail for those convicted of hate crimes against the homeless. Members of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, who worked with Councilman Chris Seelbach on the legislation, say it’s a huge step forward for the city.
• Cincinnati activists who have organized a number of events around racial injustices in police killings of unarmed black citizens are asking for an apology from the mayor of Norwood. Yesterday, I told you about a letter Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams sent to the city’s police force decrying what he called “race-baiting black leaders.” Williams’ letter refers to those who have raised questions and protest around police officers who have killed unarmed blacks across the country. Members of the group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, who have organized marches, teach-ins and other events protesting the deaths of citizens like John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others, sent their own letter addressed to Williams today asking for a full apology for his remarks.
“We call upon Mayor Williams to publicly retract these comments and issue an immediate public apology,” the letter says. “Locally and nationwide, Black people are under assault by the negligent policymakers, inequitable school systems, broken windows policing, disproportionate conviction, sentencing and incarceration, and overall limited access to resources that are designed to maintain a high quality of life. Drawing attention to these realities is not ‘race baiting’ and attempting to silence the critique of Black leaders is a form of derailment that we will not tolerate.”
The letter highlights a 2013 excessive use of force lawsuit brought against the Norwood Police Department that led to a misdemeanor assault conviction of involved officer Robert Ward, who subsequently resigned. It also highlights a 2014 Civil Rights lawsuit filed against the department by Maurice Snow, who alleges he was wrongfully imprisoned by police there in a case of mistaken identity. The activist group who wrote the letter is asking for an apology by Jan. 26.
• Northside is about to get another entertainment venue, along with a brewery. A group of local musicians and developers calling themselves Urban Artifact have put their heads together to create a concept for the old St. Pius X church on Blue Rock Street that will feature two performances spaces, a full-service brewery and other attractions. The brewery will start up next month, with a goal of being open by April. Another interesting detail: Live performances at the space will be recorded and streamed from the space’s website. Originally, Urban Artifact wanted to launch its model in Over-the-Rhine, but the building on Jackson Street it sought needed extensive renovations that would have precluded a quick opening.
• In-person head counts of students in Ohio charter schools done by the Ohio Board of Education often contrast sharply with those schools’ reported enrollment figures, the OBE announced earlier this week. Half of the 30 schools where auditors did surprise counts had head counts “significantly lower” than reported enrollments, the board said. The privately run schools receive taxpayer dollars on a per-student basis, raising questions about whether the schools are cheating taxpayers. Of the 30 schools counted, more than half had discrepancies greater than 10 percent. Some were off by as much as 50 percent. One school in Youngstown that was supposed to have 95 students had zero in attendance on the day a headcount was taken.
“I’m really kind of speechless of everything that I found. It’s quite a morass,” Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said during a news conference in Columbus this week. Yost stressed that the findings were by no means comprehensive and that further investigation was being carried out.
• Speaking of schools, a new study released last week shows that for the first time, more than half of U.S. public school students are considered low income. Fifty-one percent of students at public schools qualified for reduced price or free meals in 2013. That eligibility, based on household income, is used to determine how many students in a school are low-income. In 1989, fewer than 32 percent of students in public schools met those criteria. In 2000, that ratio had risen to 38 percent. The Southern Education Foundation produced the report using data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The report says the data marks a “turning point” for public schools and shows the trend is spread across the country. Mississippi had the highest concentration of poor students in public schools with 71 percent. Concentrations were highest generally in the South. Kentucky’s public schools had 55 percent low-income students; Ohio’s had 39 percent.
• Finally, let’s take it back to local news for a zany incident: The old cliché is that you can’t fight City Hall, but apparently you can drive a truck into it. William Jackson was upset about difficulties he has been having in selling his business Beverage King and decided to take his concerns to the city, piloting his extended cab pick up right into the steps of City Hall while his dog sat in the passenger seat. Jackson then demanded to see Mayor John Cranley, who is in D.C. this week meeting with federal officials. Both Jackson and the dog were unhurt, though first responders said Jackson may need psychiatric attention. Jackson faces misdemeanor inducing panic charges as well as the more-serious count of inducing lyrics to a country song.
As always, you can find me on Twitter or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both of those are also great for sending me news tips or pitches offering 1,000 Twitter followers for just $10.
Hey all! The luxurious CityBeat HQ is getting an update on its swank factor at the moment (read: we’re getting new carpet) so I’m hanging out around the house today eating cookies and checking out the news. Here’s what I’ve got:
We told you about the rumors last week, and now it’s official: Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is running for U.S. Senate. Sittenfeld is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Rob Portman in 2016. Portman’s looking for a second term and is gearing up with millions of dollars and an already established campaign machine to keep his seat. What’s more, Sittenfeld, 30, will need to navigate a primary season full of potential challengers, including former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland as well as U.S. Rep Tim Ryan and former Rep. Betty Sutton. But Sittenfeld thinks voters are ready for “a new generation of leaders” and says he’s the right guy for the job. Democrats think the seat may be vulnerable — Portman faces a likely primary challenge and has alienated some in his party by supporting same-sex marriage. They hope that increased voter turnout in the presidential election, which tends to skew Democratic, will put their candidate — perhaps Sittenfeld — over the top.
• Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams sent a recent letter to the city's police department blasting "race baiting black leaders and cowardly elected officials" and pledging seemingly unconditional support for the police force in the midst of racially charged questions around police use of force around the country after the police related deaths of unarmed black men and children such as Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice and others. Williams warns police in Norwood to be extra careful and stick together, telling them that, "God forbid, something controversial would happen, I WILL NOT ABANDON YOU." But what if something controversial happens because, god forbid, one of the officers messes up?
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ruled the death of Brandon Carl, the worker killed in the I-75 off-ramp collapse, a preventable workplace accident. But officials say they still aren’t confident about what caused the collapse and that an investigation could take six months. The collapse happened in three phases over the course of a few seconds. The middle of the overpass, which was being demolished, fell last, sending heavy construction equipment toppling onto Carl and killing him.
• Cincinnati is in the top 10 cities in the country for bedbugs yet again, but before you pack everything you own into black plastic garbage bags and burn it all, there’s hope. The city fell two spots on the list to number seven, behind Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Columbus and Dallas. We’ve also fallen behind Cleveland this year, which officially makes us the second least bed-buggy big city in Ohio behind Dayton. Congrats Cincy! I still feel really itchy now, just slightly less so than last year when I read about the list.
• What does House Speaker John Boehner do after a long day sitting in the House making that Grinch face while the president is speechifying? (Note: Microsoft Word didn’t underline “speechifying,” meaning it’s officially a real word.) He goes home and watches golf reruns. Boehner revealed this lifestyle tip, along with his reactions to Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union Address, in an interview with The Enquirer yesterday. He called many of Obama’s proposals, including the suggestion of two years of free community college education for some students, “ludicrous,” but did say he saw four areas where the GOP can work with the president. Those include fast tracking certain trade agreements with other countries, passing a new plan for funding the nation’s infrastructure, including highway funding, military intervention against terrorists and increasing the nation’s cybersecurity. Boehner also admitted he was a little rattled by the recent threat against his life by his old bartender, saying he would have never have ordered so many of those difficult-to-prepare mojitos if he knew the guy wanted to kill him and all.
• So I just want to alert you all to an upcoming holiday of sorts: Meat Week. It’s a national… err… thing… that happens every year from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1 where folks are encouraged (probably by some meat industry-related advocacy organization) to eat as much of the stuff as possible. It’s been going on since 2005, and one heroic soul in Cincinnati named Justin Tabas has taken it upon himself to organize a list of places from which to get said meat (mostly BBQ places like Eli’s and Walt’s). So yeah. Meet me at the meat places. Also, I apologize to all my wonderful vegetarian friends.
Hello all. I hope you’re not too hung over this morning from playing State of the Union Address drinking games, and that you found something worthwhile in the speech to either applaud or decry on social media for an adequate number of likes/retweets/whathaveyous. I’ll get back to the speech in a moment, but first let’s talk about what’s going on around Cincy.
Cincinnati City Council could vote tomorrow on a plan to consolidate the Cincinnati Police Department’s investigations units and court properties at a single location in the West End. Under the plan, the city would buy the former Kaplan College building at 801 Linn Street and move the units there from the building on Broadway the departments currently share with the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Officials say the move will save the city money — it currently pays well over half a million dollars a month for space in the Broadway building. It may also be the last straw, however, for plans to move city and county crime investigation operations to a centralized site at the former Mercy Hospital building in Mount Airy. Those plans were to include the county’s critically-outdated crime lab and hinge on county commissioners finding millions of dollars to retrofit that building.
• Southbound I-75 near Hopple Street is open again after the old Hopple Street off ramp collapsed Monday evening. The collapse killed a construction worker and injured a semi-truck driver, shutting down the highway all day yesterday. Experts believe improper demolition procedures caused the collapse, though the full cause is still under investigation.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was in court again today as prosecutors sought to retry her on eight felony charges connected to her time as judge. Hamilton County Judge Patrick Dinkelacker today set Hunter’s retrial on those counts for June 1. Hunter was accused of forging documents, misusing a court credit card and other alleged misconduct. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics. Hunter campaigned on a promise to reform the county’s juvenile justice system. Hunter was convicted last year on one felony count of having unlawful interest in a public contract. Hunter allegedly helped her brother, who was a juvenile court employee charged with striking an underage inmate, obtain documents illegally. Hunter has appealed that conviction, saying that some jurors changed their verdicts after the case was decided.
• Two iconic buildings in Cincinnati may be up for historic designation from the city. Council could vote tomorrow on designating as local landmarks the 1920s era Baldwin Piano Company Building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills and the Union Central Life Annex Building on Vine Street downtown. That building is a 1927 expansion to the iconic 4th and Vine Tower, often called PNC Tower, built in 1913. The Baldwin building was recently purchased by Neyer Properties, which is seeking state historic preservation tax credits as it moves toward developing luxury apartments in the building, an effort that historic designation could boost.
• Finally, about that State of the Union Address. It was long, 6,500 words long. And as State of the Union Addresses tend to do, it attracted a lot of think-pieces, moral outrage from the other side of the aisle and applause from fellow Democrats. It was also a great opportunity to see how much grey hair the commander in chief has accumulated since last year. But… what did the president actually say, beyond touting an improving economy and that moment where he bragged about winning two elections? And are any of his policy ideas remotely politically feasible with Republicans controlling both chambers of the legislative branch? Probably not. But here’s a handy list of all the policy proposals Obama put forward last night anyway.
Obama had already talked some about the big ones: a massive effort to extend two years of community college to American students, a move to require employers provide sick days and maternity leave for workers and another call to raise the minimum wage. Obama also touched ever-so-briefly on reforming the tax code to be friendlier to the middle class and tougher on corporations and financial institutions, preserving voting rights, demilitarizing the police and other hot-button issues. One particularly interesting proposal called for fast-tracking trade agreements with other countries through Congress, an idea that is unpopular with several progressive Democrats including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown shot back with a statement during the address comparing Obama’s idea to NAFTA, a controversial trade agreement with Mexico and Canada signed by President Bill Clinton that is often blamed for shipping American jobs to those countries. Brown suggested focusing on creating jobs in the U.S. first before rushing into more foreign trade agreements.
As I mentioned yesterday, Republicans began balking at the president’s suggestions well before the speech, and of course, shot back with plenty of rebuttals immediately afterward. The whole thing is a little like an argument between your family at Thanksgiving dinner while you sit at the kids table just trying to make it through to the pumpkin pie.
Welp, here’s the thing. You may well be reading this on your smartphone as you sit motionless in traffic on the interstate. And if that’s the case, you probably already know about what I’m going to say next. I offer my sympathies.
The big news this morning is that a large section of the old Hopple Street off ramp from I-75 collapsed last night. Tragically, a construction worker died after he was pinned under the rubble. A semi-truck driver was also injured when he collided with the fallen concrete on the highway. Crews had been preparing for the ramp’s demolition before the incident, which city officials are calling a “catastrophic pancake collapse." It’s unclear what caused the failure, but that didn’t stop some national news folks from jumping on Twitter and immediately calling it a sign that infrastructure spending is woefully inadequate. I mean, I agree, but you gotta realize they built a brand-new off ramp right up the highway. That’s little solace for those whose commute takes them down I-75 south. Officials say it could take up to 48 hours to clear the thousands of tons of concrete and metal from the highway. The section is closed until work is finished. So yeah, maybe take an alternate route. So glad I bike to work.
• Another Cincinnati neighborhood is getting a brewery. Nine Giant Brewery has announced plans to open in Pleasant Ridge’s central business district on the corner of Montgomery and Ridge Roads. The brewery is part of a larger planned development for the corner that aims to take advantage of the area’s Community Entertainment District designation, which it received in 2010. That designation allows for up to five new liquor licenses in the neighborhood.
• Oof. How do you steal from Big Boy? That guy is huge and terrifying.
Officials with Walnut-Hills based restaurant Frisch’s suspect one of the
company’s executives named Michael Hudson, a quiet guy who spent 35
years with the company working his way up through the accounting
department, stole millions from the company over the years.
Hudson told company attorneys he gambled that money away, though an
investigation is ongoing into whether Hudson has stashed some of it. Hudson abruptly shut off his computer and walked out of his job
after a routine audit discovered discrepancies in the company’s
financials pointing to his thefts. The company alleges Hudson reworked
payment software to kick him hundreds of thousands of extra dollars a
• Who knew Rep. John Boehner was a Taylor Swift fan? The House Speaker (or more precisely, his communications staff) has taken to using gifs of the pop star to snipe at President Barack Obama’s recently announced proposal that would provide two years of community college education to eligible Americans. Obama hasn’t released many details of the plan just yet, but is expected to soon. Swift… errr, Boehner… is up in arms about the plans’ costs (or is just trying really, really hard to be cool and connect with the young folks and convince them that free college is somehow not in their best interest). A caption under one of the gifs points to a counter-proposal of sorts, or at least five vague talking points about lowering taxes. Basically, this is just like when your uncle asked you if you like the new Miley Cirrus video at Christmas dinner.
• Tonight is President Obama’s State of the Union Address, and it’s sure to cause all kinds of cheers from Democrats about all the things he won’t be able to accomplish as a lame-duck president and jeers from Republicans who believe he is some kind of socialist bent on destroying the United States. In other words: grade-A television drama. Tune in and try to survive one of the following drinking games I've devised: take a shot every time Boehner rolls his eyes, or take one every time Obama mentions something he’d like to achieve that is completely politically impossible given the current makeup of the House and Senate. Fun!
Hello all! Happy Monday. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and there are a number of things going on around the city in commemoration of the civil rights leader, including a march from The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to Fountain Square at 10 a.m. and a ceremony at Music Hall at noon. This is the 40th year Cincinnati has celebrated MLK Day, so if you’re not stuck at work like I am, maybe head out and take part. More news:
Cincinnati’s City Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein retired Friday. Recently, Rubenstein has been the center of controversy around alleged prosecutorial overreach stemming from a case over the summer where a suspect was accused of stealing $200 worth of candy from a convenience store and putting it in his pants. A security camera was running at the time of the incident and the suspect’s public defender was able to get a copy of the tape. The prosecutor’s office, however, waited too long to request a copy and the store’s owner erased it. After the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office refused to release its copy, Rubenstein had a judge issue a warrant allowing him to search the entire public defender’s office, which of course was not well received. Head public defender Ray Faller fired off a letter to city officials in October accusing Rubenstein of violating the rights of accused suspects.
Councilman Charlie Winburn in October called for a Department of Justice investigation into Rubenstein’s actions. It’s unclear if Rubenstein’s sudden retirement has anything to do with the controversy. He had held the job, which prosecutes misdemeanors in the city, since 2011. He’d worked for the city since 1979. The city has named Assistant City Solicitor Heidi Rosales as interim prosecutor until a permanent replacement can be hired.
• Two of Cincinnati’s conservative congressmen are taking heat for supporting fellow local guy House Speaker John Boehner. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both among the most conservative members of the House, have been getting an earful from tea party-affiliated constituents about their support of Boehner during his re-election for House Speaker, the top perch in the chamber.
If you’re not familiar with this plot point in the ongoing soap opera that is Republican politics of late, a brief synopsis: The tea party hates Boehner because he hasn’t done enough to roll back federal spending, Obamacare and the liberal agenda in general. Whatever that is. Anyway, a few conservatives in the House signaled they were backing tea party affiliated challengers who lined up to oppose Boehner in the election for speaker, but mostly at the last minute. The gestures had little affect, and Boehner still won easily. Chabot and Wenstrup both point out it would have done little good to vote against their fellow Ohioan, and besides, they say, his challengers came too late and didn’t signal they were serious.
• The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear arguments about gay marriage bans in Ohio and other states this spring, lining up what could be a precedent-setting legal battle over Ohio’s ban. In November, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld those bans, though other circuit courts across the country have struck them down. That court’s logic was that any ban should be removed by democratic process, not by courts. Ohio voters approved a 2004 amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage, though some public opinion experts say mainstream values have changed since that time. Opponents of this logic liken marriage equality to past advances on civil rights issues which took federal intervention and court decisions to bring about.
• Will Ohio tap more private prison companies in response to a possible prison overcrowding crisis? It’s a possibility, state officials say. The number of prisoners in the state’s prison system has begun growing again. The state had been seeing declines due to changes in the way those convicted of some crimes are sentenced. Beginning in 2009, Ohio eliminated more than 2,000 spots for inmates across the state. But a recent increase in the prison-bound, especially non-violent drug offenders, will once again stretch the state’s capacity to hold prisoners.
Prison officials say the state either needs to find new ways to house those prisoners or commit to community-based programs that can mitigate the need to house people in state penitentiaries. But those programs can take time to work. In the meantime, the state is looking at ways it can house more inmates, potentially through contracts with private companies like Corrections Corporation of America, which runs a private prison in Youngstown and elsewhere in the state. Audits have found the company does not always comply with state standards. The company also has a rocky history. CCA’s Youngstown prison shut down for a few years after a number of inmate deaths and injuries focused scrutiny on the facility. Efforts to meet state standards at the prison proved too costly, and it was shuttered. It reopened a few years later as a temporary prison for those awaiting federal trials.
• Speaking of Ohio and Republicans, here's just what we need: more national Republicans in our fair state. The GOP announced this weekend that it will hold its first debate between candidates for the party’s presidential nomination in the heart of it all. The debate will take place in August. No specific location has been set yet, but the announcement is yet another sign that Ohio will be a huge focus for the 2016 presidential election. The GOP is holding the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Democrats are mulling putting theirs in Columbus and the NAACP will hold its 2016 convention in Cincinnati.
• Finally, I saw the headline for this story from the Associated Press and thought “I wonder if that’s in Ohio.” My suspicions were confirmed. Turns out that back in December, a couple folks tried to smuggle heroin into the Hamilton County Justice Center via a bible. What kind of joke can I make about this that won’t be horribly offensive? Just going to leave it right there and walk away.
Heya! I’m gearing up to spend a couple days in Chicago, so no morning news tomorrow. However, I’m leaving ya with a bunch of crazy stuff today, so check it out.
First, something’s in the air here in Cincinnati lately. Yesterday I told you about Michael Hoyt, the West Chester bartender who threatened to kill House Speaker John Boehner, possibly during a bout of mental illness. Today, we learn about Chris Cornell. No, not the long haired, goateed grunge singer. Different guy. Christopher Lee Cornell was arrested yesterday morning after buying two semi-automatic weapons from a gun shop in Colerain Township. Cornell had been on the Internet for months talking about a violent Jihad, it seems, and had even met up with a person who turned out to be a government informant a couple times here in Cincinnati. The plan Cornell reportedly hatched involved pipe bombs and a shooting spree at the U.S. Capitol building. When he and the informant made concrete travel plans for D.C., the FBI swooped in. Here’s the criminal complaint filed against Cornell in federal district court.
• The tangled, confusing fight over renovations to Over-the-Rhine’s Emery Theater continues as nonprofit group the Requiem Project sues the University of Cincinnati over the historic venue. Let’s recap, in the simplest way possible. Since 1969, the University of Cincinnati has owned a historic, 1911 building on Central Parkway that was once home to the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute but now houses downtown’s Coffee Emporium location as well as some luxury apartments. Know the building? Of course you do. I see everyone and their mom at Coffee Emporium. Anyway, in 1999, UC signed a 40-year, $40 lease with a for-profit group called the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership that allowed ECALP to renovate the building for use as 59 market-rate apartments. Still with me? Good. That group then spun the theater portion of the building over to the Emery Center Corporation, a non-profit charged specifically with renovating the theater. THAT group, ECC, in Sept. 2010 entered into a partnership with the Requiem Project, which was started by Tara Lindsey Gordon and Tina Manchise, who moved from New York to undertake the project. Flash forward a few years, and after some 35 fundraisers and some renovation, the Requiem Project was locked out of the building in August 2013. They were told UC would have to sign off on their contract with ECC, something that was not originally revealed to the nonprofit. A move by UC to sell the building to ECALP never materialized, and now Requiem is suing all parties involved for the rights to continue renovating, as well as $25,000 in damages. Phew.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will be in court again over the eight felony counts an earlier jury couldn’t agree upon last year. Hunter was convicted on a ninth count, having an unlawful interest in a public contract, but she has appealed that conviction and her six-month sentence has been suspended until that appeal goes through. The other eight counts that prosecutors will again try Hunter on involve misusing a court-issued credit card, tampering with court documents and other alleged misdeeds. Hunter and her attorney say she is a victim of politics and did not do anything wrong in her courtroom. The case has been incredibly controversial in Cincinnati. Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black and first female judge, and she came into office promising to reform the county’s juvenile justice system, which she says is racially biased. As Hunter's trial goes on, others have made similar accusations about the county. Recently, the Northern Kentucky-based Children’s Law Center sued the county over its treatment of juveniles. The Center alleges racial bias in the county’s juvenile justice system, including incidents where young people of color have been held without charge for weeks at a time.
• Good news for cigar aficionados, and an interesting moment in history for everyone: The United States has formally announced it is easing travel restrictions for folks wanting to go to Cuba. Many U.S. visitors will no longer need to apply for a special license from the Treasury to visit the island nation, will be allowed to use credit and debit cards, will not have restrictions on how much money they spend on the island, and will be allowed to bring back up to $400 in stuff, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products. There are a number of other rules that have been loosened or done away with as well. The move is the government’s first practical step since President Barack Obama announced he was seeking to repair relations with the communist country, which the U.S. has embargoed since the 1950s. The important question is, will those cigars taste as good now that they’re not forbidden?
• Finally, say you’ve just been elected president. You’re about to be sworn in and start serving your four years at the most stressful but also most prestigious job in the world, and you just want to take some time, kick back and savor the moment. What’s an appropriate victory meal? If it’s this day in 1909 and you’re then President-elect William Howard Taft (the notorious WHT) visiting Atlanta, you sit down to a huge possum feast. Taft’s a giant in this town and his historic home is right down the road from my historic home (one of the two is a museum; you can probably guess which). I had no idea about this. Possum: for the good times.
Cincinnati City Council today changed a rule that stipulates which public employees must live within city limits. The move effectively exempts embattled Director of Water and Sewers Tony Parrott from having to move to the city after he was punished in June for misleading officials about his residency.
Under the new rules, only the city manager, assistant city manager, city solicitor and police chief will need to live in the city. The 6-2 decision came with some argument, however. Councilmen Kevin Flynn and Wendell Young voted against the rule change. Flynn said he felt it wasn’t fair to make concessions for someone who deliberately misled the city. Young had broader qualms with the change, saying he thinks all high-level city administration employees should have to live in the city from which they get their taxpayer-funded salaries.
“I have great difficulty with people who are in the higher part of the administration who help to create the rules and in many cases enforce the rules, and then are not subject to them,” Young said. “I don’t understand how the city of Cincinnati is good enough to work in, good enough to provide your income, but isn’t good enough to live in.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn, however, said the situation was actually the city’s fault. In 2012, the city-run sewer district merged with the water works department, which serves both the city as well as most of Hamilton County and parts of Butler and Warren Counties. Winburn says the residency requirements for Parrott’s job should have been updated at that time, since it is now effectively an agency that serves the greater region.
“Are we going to split Mr. Parrott in two now?” Winburn asked. “Do we have to get Solomon in on this thing?”
Other council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, voted for the change on legal grounds. Ohio law forbids residency requirements for some city employees, and there are questions about whether the city’s former rules complied with those laws. City solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said she believes council’s change today falls within the state’s laws.
Parrot, who has served as head of the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works, had listed his residence as a property on Westwood Avenue that turned out to be an empty lot he owned. Meanwhile, he was actually living in Butler County. City officials found out about the discrepancy in June and disciplined Parrott by docking him 40 hours of pay and requiring him to move into the city within 180 days. That time had elapsed and Parrott still hadn’t moved back. Parrott was granted a 45-day extension at the end of the six-month period as the city decided whether to fire him or change its rules.
Wound up in the questions about Parrott’s residency is the city’s court-ordered, $3.2 billion sewer project, a huge undertaking that will stretch into the next decade. The city was ordered to update its sewer system after a lawsuit by homeowners and environmental groups. Some council members say Parrott is integral to that ongoing process. Others, however, say that doesn’t excuse his actions.
“I understand the desire to keep this person in place,” Flynn said, acknowledging Parrott’s big role. “But I cannot support keeping someone who has been dishonest with the city and has continued to be dishonest with the city. I think that does a disservice to the rest of our city employees and to our citizens.”
Parrott has told City Manager Harry Black that he doesn’t want to live in the city for personal reasons but does want to remain at his job.
Morning Cincy. Let’s talk about the news.
• The big story today is that House Speaker John Boehner’s country club bartender has been indicted for threatening to kill the powerful West Chester Republican. Michael Robert Hoyt was fired from his job at the Wetherington Country Club in West Chester last year, after which he sent a rambling email to Boehner’s wife saying that if he had wanted to kill Boehner, he could have slipped something into his wine many times. Hoyt, who has a history of mental illness, later told authorities investigating his email that he was Jesus Christ and that he needed to kill Boehner. Hoyt indicated he had a pistol, which was later seized by authorities. Killing a dude doesn’t sound very Jesus-y, but I digress. Hoyt is currently being held in a federal mental health facility for evaluation.
• An audit commissioned by Hamilton County slams former Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr.’s handling of the department. The audit compared the sheriff’s office to something from the 1950s, and one of its authors, attorney Scott Greenwood, said the department was “held together with smoke, mirrors and absolute secrecy.”
Among the problems the audit found were unguarded evidence rooms, single deputies overseeing up to 100 inmates and a lack of computerized recording keeping at the county’s traffic and other departments. Former sheriff Leis has said the audit is politically motivated and that he stands by his record. Republican County Commissioner Greg Hartmann has also come to Leis’ defense, saying the sheriff did the best he could with the resources available to him. Hartmann says the report seems to be a push for funding increases for the sheriff’s office, something he and fellow Republican commissioner Chris Monzel say isn’t possible.
The audit was highly critical of several resource shortcomings within the department, an issue that is still at play in the political fight between current Sheriff Jim Neil and county commissioners.
• Cincinnati is one of 15 destinations across the world highlighted in Jetsetter Magazine’s list of places to go in 2015. Jetsetter highlighted downtown’s arts district, including the Aronoff Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Arts Center and 21C as well as the city’s upscale dining scene and forthcoming bike path expansions. If they think that stuff is neat, wait till they get a look at our really rad warehouse punk shows and our awesome chili. Or maybe they’re not as into that kind of stuff. Cuba, Taipei in Taiwan, Kauai in Hawaii and Bordeaux, France, also made the list.
• Speaking of lists, Cincinnati is the tenth-best city in the country for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. A study by personal finance site Wallethub.com found Cincinnati among the top cities in the country for STEM jobs. The site measured job openings in STEM industries, wages for STEM workers, expected growth of related industries in coming years and other factors. Houston and Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina rounded out the top three. Columbus bested us by one spot, landing at number nine on the list.
• The Ohio Board of Education voted on a new president Monday, selecting Gov. John Kasich ally Tom Gunlock. Gunlock is one of eight at-large members on the 19-member board. While the other 11 members are elected to represent a district, Kasich appoints at-large members. The board looks to be the site of some serious fights this year over charter schools, common core, the 5 of 8 rule and other contentious issues. Though Democrats got battered in nearly every other state election, they came out with three more seats on the board in November. They’re still in the minority, however. Nearly all the Dems on the board backed Cincinnati’s Pat Bruns, a newly-elected board member, to head the board. Bruns and her fellow Democrats have promised push-back on charters, calling for more accountability for the private, state-funded schools. They’ve also signaled opposition to elimination of a rule that requires all schools to hire at least five out of eight kinds of specialists, including librarians and art teachers.
• The Obama administration is beginning to outline ambitious plans for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Last week Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx previewed a thirty-year plan for his agency ahead of a comprehensive report on the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs due later this year. Foxx said the report will focus on the inter-reliance of America’s many interwoven transit systems. He highlighted big population growth in the South and West as drivers of a need to update the nation’s systems, as well as the increasing number of people moving back to urban centers. Foxx said seemingly small factors such as increased reliance on bikes and walking shouldn’t be overlooked in the planning process, suggesting the department may pay close attention to urban areas where those changes are slowly coming about.
“What people are viewing as this cute, cuddly bike and pedestrian movement could be a real game-changer,” Foxx said in a Friday talk in Washington, D.C. about the upcoming report.
Hit me up with news tips, marriage or business (or marriage business) proposals, or inquiries for booking my one-man singing hackey sack musical at email@example.com or on the twitters: @nswartsell.
Morning y’all. I know, I know. I skipped our news rundown yesterday, but I had a good excuse: I spent some time at City Hall finding out about poverty-related challenges facing Cincinnati in the new year and efforts to address those issues, which I’ll be reporting on in-depth soon. In the meantime, let’s play catch up.
There’s a new parking plan for Over-the-Rhine floating around, and while it will cost less than Mayor John Cranley’s initial proposal to enact the highest residential parking fees in the country, some folks still aren’t happy about the impact it could have on low-income residents in the neighborhood.
The earlier plan, which floated a yearly $300 fee to park in OTR, was aimed at funding streetcar operating costs. Now those costs have been accounted for, but parking in the neighborhood is still kind of a mess. So the city’s transportation department has a new plan: a $108 yearly permit for residents, who will be limited to one car per person and two permits per household. Residents living in low-cost subsidized housing would pay $16 a year for their permits. Four-hundred-two spaces would be made available to permit holders in the neighborhood. Another 646 would have parking meters and the remaining 199 would be up for grabs by anyone at any time, completely unregulated. Those spots are aimed at OTR workers who commute in every morning. Vice Mayor David Mann questioned whether those spaces would really go to workers in the neighborhood. Others, including OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, raised concerns about low-income residents in the neighborhood. Messer pointed out that not all of the neighborhood’s residents who are low-income live in subsidized housing. The city is hoping to get the permitting program running by spring.
• Staying in Over-the-Rhine for a moment, let's talk about an international game design competition coming to the neighborhood later this month. Local startup ChoreMonster will host the Global Game Jam Jan. 23-25 at The Brandery headquarters in OTR. Past events have attracted game designers from 485 cities and 73 countries. Competitors are given 48 hours to design a game around a prompt given the opening day of the event. That game can run on any platform — mobile app, Mac, PC, or even the oldest-fashioned game platform of all — a kitchen table or dorm room floor. Yes, board and card games are allowed.
• Well, it happened, you already know about it, it was huge, etc., but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Ohio State University’s college football national title win last night. They upset Oregon, everyone in the state is wearing red and gray and so forth. And oh yeah, predictably, a bunch of people in Columbus set fire to a bunch of couches and stuff, knocked down goal posts at the OSU stadium, got arrested, etc. Here’s a handy AP style/word-usage note I’ve picked up from journalists covering the unrest: Apparently these kinds of things aren’t riots if they’re over football games. Instead, they’re “revelry.” Noted. Meanwhile, a furniture store that ran a promotion promising free furniture for customers if OSU won by more than seven points will pay more than $1.5 million in rebates after yesterday’s win, which maybe explains why people were burning all those old couches.
• So, will Ohio’s conservative Gov. John Kasich back a plan put forward by President Barack Obama to provide two years of free community college education for Americans? It’s too soon to say for sure, but the governor’s office released some cautiously almost-supportive language in response to the idea and said the gov is interested in the details. States will be footing a quarter of the bill for the plan and must opt-in for residents to be eligible for the proposed program. If conservative governors like Kasich were to support the plan, it would be a major bipartisan moment, since anything Obama does usually causes howls of socialism from the Republican party.
• Speaking of Kasich, he was sworn in yesterday for his second term as governor of Ohio. His 45-minute speech had few surprises, though he did kind of tear up a couple times (Ohio Republicans are an emotional lot, if Kasich and Rep. John Boehner are any indications) and took what seemed to be a passive-aggressive jab at the state’s legislature. He thanked the body, which is dominated by his fellow Republicans, for helping him expand Medicaid back in 2013. The joke is that the state legislature fought Kasich all the way to the end on the expansion. Perhaps it’s a sharp elbow from the governor as Ohio considers this year whether it will renew its acceptance of federal funds for the expansion.
• Finally, I’ve noted on this blog before that 90s throwback steez (my use of the word “steez” is proof of my late 90s slang savvy) is at an all-time high. We’re even going to have a repeat of that whole Y2K panic. It seems we’re all too fast for the planet and we’ve gotten ahead of the earth’s inconsistent rotation by about a second. That means we’ll need a so-called “leap second” this year. OK, no big deal, just count down to zero on New Year’s Eve 2015, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated. Turns out computer software hates it when you just go tacking extra seconds onto reality. The last leap second in 2012 crashed Yelp, Reddit, Gawker and other big websites. That actually sounds like a wonderful way to start a new year. Software engineers have worked out a fix to the problem, but the question is whether that fix will be implemented across all the various programs that like, run the Internet. I just hope Tumblr is OK and Buzzfeed is not.
Hit me up with news tips, frostbite prevention tips or just tips (paypal accepted): firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter before it crashes: @nswartsell.