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

Morning News and Stuff

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

Good morning y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news today before you head off for your weekend.

At a news conference this morning, the Cincinnati Fire Department released a report on the March 26 death of FAO Daryl Gordon, the 54-year-old who was killed after falling down an elevator shaft while responding to a fire in Madisonville. That report reveals that other firefighters wrote a warning on the door to that elevator shaft just minutes before Gordon fell. “Do not enter, open shaft,” the black scrawl on the white door reads. Officials with CFD believe thick smoke and dim lighting conditions may have prevented Gordon from seeing the warning. He was in the building about 10 minutes, working to rescue some of the 29 residents who were eventually removed from the structure. Gordon’s death was the first for CFD in seven years. The department plans to use the report released today to review its operating procedures and avoid a similar accident in the future.

• Another important report is coming down the pike today. The University of Cincinnati Police Department will release its initial findings in the investigation into the police shooting death of Samuel DuBose by UC officer Ray Tensing. The shooting happened after Tensing pulled DuBose over for a routine traffic stop. When
DuBose refused to exit his car and turned the key in the ignition, Tensing shot him in the head. DuBose’s car then rolled for more than a block. Many, including Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, have called the shooting inexcusable, but Tensing and his attorneys argue he acted in self defense and felt he would be dragged by the vehicle. Tensing is charged with murder in the incident and will stand trial later this year.

• An historic theater in Northern Kentucky could soon become another area brewery. Bellevue City Council yesterday approved a proposal by Cincinnati-based developer Kent Hardman to convert the 73-year-old Marianne Theater in Bellevue into a unique entertainment venue that just happens to brew beer as well. Hardman wants to retain the theater’s stage and screen to show movies and stage live shows. This kind of setup has seen big success in other parts of the country, including my former home of Austin, which has the Alamo Drafthouse, a theater where you can drink. They also serve great food. If developers find a way to bring chicken wings into the NKY plan, I’ll be there every week.

• The latest GOP polls from the early presidential primary state of Iowa are about what you’d expect on first glance, with some surprising details once you dig in. According to the Quinnipiac University poll released today, Ohio’s guy, Gov. John Kasich, aka K-Dawg, aka Big Queso, (OK I’ll stop now) is in fifth place with 5 percent of the vote. That’s surprising considering Kasich hasn’t really been focusing much on Iowa and because other polls in past months have had him down around 2 percent of the vote. That ascendancy is the good news for him, however. The bad news is he’s in a three-way tie for fifth and he and the rest of the GOP field are being dominated by a real estate Svengali with a bad hairpiece. Yes, Donald Trump is still on top, followed by former doctor Ben Carson. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush round out the top four. A surprise at the bottom of the list is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who leads Iowa’s next door neighbors and was at one point the front runner in the GOP’s Random House sweepstakes-style contest for president. What a mess.

• Hey, so check this out. Did the above 2016 rundown give you a headache? Are you daunted by the fact we have well over a year of this garbage we have to pay attention to before the election? Are you ready to throw in the towel?

Well, here’s a brief illustration of why all this stuff matters. As Democrats and Republicans tussle over which of their problematic candidates will fight the other party’s problematic candidate in a gross-out battle of yawn-inducing personal attacks, political back-flipping and the like, multiple perches on the U.S. Supreme Court might be at stake. That’s right. Our judges are aging, with three in their 80s, and the next president may well get to appoint a significant number of replacements as they retire. Given the huge role the nation’s highest court has played in recent issues (see: same-sex marriage, abortion, affordable housing, affirmative action, etc.) and the fact that presidents usually choose a judge who roughly agrees with them ideologically, that’s super-terrifying.

So, you know. Pay attention. Vote. All that good stuff.

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

Morning News and Stuff

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

Heya, Cincinnati. Let’s talk about news, because, oh dang, we’ve got a lot to discuss.

As we noted yesterday morning, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black has fired police chief Jeffrey Blackwell, replacing him with CPD Assistant Chief Eliot Isaac, a 26-year veteran of the department. The firing took place quickly and was announced at the same time a 35-page report on Blackwell’s shortcomings was released. The reports, which you can read here and here, are alarming.

But Blackwell’s abrupt firing sparked something that can only be described as a deeply embarrassing shitstorm at City Hall.

You can read more about that here, but here are the cliff notes: Blackwell’s supporters crammed into Council chambers to speak during the public input session of Council’s regular meeting, only to find they had no place to sit due to a large number of chairs reserved for CPD officers. City Council members complained they did not have time to read the study on the climate within CPD, which was conducted by the city manager, before learning of Blackwell’s termination. The input session was disorganized and chaotic, sometimes degenerating into complete disorder as Mayor John Cranley and individual council members verbally sniped at each other. Cranley had at least a few members of the public removed from the chambers for talking over him and drew boos from the crowd when he was perceived as talking down to opposing council members like Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach.

Some on Council, including Charterite Kevin Flynn and Democrat Vice Mayor David Mann, expressed sadness that the situation had come to firing the chief, but said the report — which found 82 percent of the nearly 500 officers surveyed had very low morale and contained testimony from three officers about favoritism, retaliation and vanity by the chief — left no other option. Others, however, including former CPD officer Wendell Young and Simpson had deep misgivings about the process by which the firing took place, decrying what they say is a lack of transparency and professionalism.

Black and Cranley pushed back against those assertions, saying the climate assessment was a careful, methodical effort undertaken over the course of months.

Blackwell himself showed up to the meeting, but did not speak before Council. He left shortly after arriving, a group of supporters and media trailing him. He suggested he would file a lawsuit against the city, called out members of the media he felt had been unfair to him and stressed that he loved the people of Cincinnati.

The dismissal, the subsequent tumult and City Hall and the fact that Cincinnati is once again searching for a new police chief — its third in four years — all made national headlines.

An interesting side note: While considering the until-yesterday unseen evidence against Blackwell, it’s informative to remember past struggles CPD has had with leadership. Here are some articles about former chief Thomas Streicher from back in 2009, published in your favorite Cincinnati weekly. Streicher, who it seems ruled CPD with a harsh, sometimes arbitrary fist, was never removed from his post but instead retired in 2011.

• Phew. So that happened. What else is going on? Well, the New York Times Magazine apparently thinks the University of Cincinnati’s campus is pretty enough to feature it in a big photo essay, highlighting a number of the uptown campus’ buildings designed by famous architects. The photo feature’s title — Cincinnati Starchitecture — is cringe-worthy, but the photos are pretty nice. EDIT: In my morning haziness and rush to give you all the news stuff, I missed this much more substantive article about UC's efforts to build top-notch architecture in a bid to compete for students that, uh, ran with the above photo essay. Oops. My bad. That's much better, New York Times.

• Here we go again: Is House Speaker and West Chesterite John Boehner on his way out as the top dog in the House of Representatives? Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, has once again fired warning shots over Boehner’s bow, saying that the speaker’s position on a number of issues could trigger a revolt from conservatives in the House. Earlier this summer, Meadows introduced a measure in the House that hammered Boehner on his leadership and, if voted through, would strip him of his position. That measure hasn’t been taken up for a vote, but there are methods by which conservative members of the House could take it up, Meadows recently said, noting that he and other far-right conservatives are watching the speaker closely.

• Cincinnati activists and legal experts are in Ferguson, Mo. offering advice and warnings as a commission wraps up a report on last year’s civil unrest over the police killing of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown there. Community activists Iris Roley and Pastor Damon Lynch III, as well as attorney Al Gerhardstein, were all instrumental in pushing for Cincinnati’s collaborative agreement, which arose from similar unrest here following the 2001 police shooting of an unarmed black man named Timothy Thomas. The three addressed the Ferguson Commission, which is set to release a report with recommendations for ways to improve law enforcement oversight and police-community relations. The group admonished the commission to actively and tirelessly work on the issue, instead of just publishing their report and moving on. You can read more about their advice to Ferguson here.

• Finally, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is in Columbus today making a campaign appearance at a “Women for Hillary” organizing event. She’ll focus on issues facing women at that event, including the pay gap, reproductive rights, parental leave and other issues. Clinton is seen as the frontrunner in the Democratic primary, though self-professed socialist Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has been gaining in the polls, drawing big crowds to rallies around the country. Clinton thus far has been hobbled by questions around her use of a private email address during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State. She recently addressed that controversy, apologizing for her use of a separate email address to conduct official government business but maintaining that she did not break any laws while doing so.

That’s it for me. Find me on Twitter or shoot me an email with news tips, bad jokes or suggestions for cool fall road trips.

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

Noon News and Stuff

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

Good morning all. Let’s get right to the news.

It’s a big day at City Hall, and so the morning news today is all about what's going on with city government.

First, a breaking story. Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black announced today that he has fired Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. He’s named current CPD Assistant Chief Eliot Isaac to the role of interim chief. We’ll update shortly.

Meanwhile, there will be a show of support for former chief Blackwell today at 12:30 p.m. outside City Hall. The group We’ve Got Blackwell’s Back organized that event in response to a looming Sept. 14 Fraternal Order of Police meeting where union leadership says there will be a vote of no confidence by officers. Blackwell’s critics say the Cincinnati Police Department has critical staffing, communication and morale issues that have festered this summer as gun crimes rose, the department dealt with the shooting death of officer Sonny Kim and other difficult circumstances challenged the department. But the chief’s supporters say he’s done a fantastic job during a difficult time in the city and that his potential ouster is political in nature. They point to the fact that when he was campaigning for mayor, Cranley asked then-City Manager Milton Dohoney not to hire a chief until the election was finished so the newly elected mayor could have a say in the hiring. Dohoney hired Blackwell despite this request. Blackwell’s supporters say Cranley would like to oust Blackwell and install his own choice for police chief.

Blackwell’s firing might have some consequences for the city. Yesterday, the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice told the city it would relocate its 2016 and 2017 conventions if Blackwell were removed from his post unjustly. That could cost the city $1 million, a letter from the organization cautioned. Blackwell is a member of NABCJ.

• Council might refer to committee a parental leave plan suggested by council members Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson. That plan would allow up to six weeks of parental leave for city employees. The first two weeks would come out of the employee’s accrued leave. The next four are covered by the city at 70 percent of the employee’s salary. The plan would cost the city an estimated $140,000 a year. It’s in line with state practices and similar leave plans passed by cities like Dayton.

The proposal, which Seelbach and Simpson have been developing since this spring, looked like it might have competition from another parental leave plan put forward by Mayor John Cranley recently. Seelbach and Simpson expressed consternation over that proposal, saying they weren’t invited to participate in drafting the competing plan or even notified of the press conference at which it was announced. That plan would have let employees take the same six weeks off, but would have had city workers borrowing time off from future leave time instead of having it covered by the city. It seemed like a showdown was brewing over the two plans, but Cranley has signaled his support for Simpson and Seelbach’s proposal, saying its costs are reasonable and admitting their plan mirrors best practices elsewhere in the state.

• Mayor Cranley’s tax levy proposal for making capital improvements to the city’s parks got a victory and a loss yesterday. The Hamilton County Board of Elections unanimously certified the ballot language for the initiative, despite legal challenges alleging that the language was misleading. Meanwhile, long-time parks advocate and former Cincinnati vice mayor Marian Spencer pulled her endorsement of the project. Spencer cited the fact that the measure would become part of the city’s charter, a permanent change, instead of subject to democratic review. She called that “bad policy.” She also said the language of the charter amendment doesn’t guarantee that attractions built with the money raised by the levy will be free and open to the public. She cited the Smale Riverfront Park carousel as an example. Users must pay to ride that attraction. Finally, Spencer echoed other charter amendment opponents in pointing out that under the proposal, the mayor and the parks board will have full control over what is built with the estimated $5 million a year the levy will draw in. City Council will have no say in the projects. Spencer was a co-chair of the campaign before she jumped ship; she appeared with Cranley at the news conference announcing the proposal.

Quick hits:

• Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus might run for Hamilton County Commissioner against Republican Greg Hartmann in 2016. If she wins, that could shift the balance of power on the currently Republican-led body.

• A deputy clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky has said he will issue same-sex marriage licenses even if the head county clerk, Kim Davis, orders him not to. Davis went to jail over a federal contempt of court finding last week because she refused to administer marriage licenses despite a court order.

• Kentucky state tax credits for a low-income housing development in Covington will stay despite protests from some city officials and business owners there.

Phew! That’s a lot of big stuff. That’s all for me today, but stay tuned for more info on City Council and other news going on throughout the city. Follow me on Twitter for updates.

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

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

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

UPDATE: Supporters of fired Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell took to the steps of City Hall Cincinnati City Council chambers to voice their opposition to the chief's dismissal by City Manager Harry Black. Former chief Blackwell himself appeared at Council's public input session, though he was not invited to speak before Council. Afterward, he told reporters outside the chamber that he would file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city, saying he didn't learn why he was being fired from the city and that he still hasn't seen the reports released today about his performance.

Dozens crowded into Council chambers and signed up to speak in favor of the chief. At times, the public hearing got contentious, with Council members and Mayor John Cranley verbally sparring with each other.

Simpson said Blackwell was escorted from CPD HQ after firing. "If this is justified, give this man, Council, the public, the chance to read [the report against Blackwell]," Simpson said. That report had been released just hours earlier.

Councilmembers Simpson, Wendell Young, P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach, while acknowledging the seriousness of the charges against Blackwell, said they took deep issue with the way in which he was dismissed. They pointed to the fact they didnt' find out the firing was happening until this morning and that the swearing-in for the interim chief, Eliot Isaac, was taking place immediately after the public hearing.

The tense atmosphere was perhaps exacerbated by rows of chairs reserved for police officers and their families, leaving community members standing toward the back of the room. At times, the mayor took a strong, almost antagonistic approach to public commenters and his critics on Council. At one point, Cranley scolded Councilwoman Yvette Simpson for raising her voice and cut her off, saying her allotted six minutes were up. Later in the meeting, after several warnings, Cranley had a few members of the public removed by officers for interrupting while he was speaking.

Some Councilmembers, including former Cincinnati Police officer Young, questioned the appearance the large group of CPD officers in the room presented, saying it heightened tensions.  City Manager Harry Black then dismissed many of the officers until the public hearing concluded.

Cranley and Black admonished Councilmembers and the public not to rush to judgement, and to read the report detailing the allegations against Blackwell. Cranley called the evidence against Blackwell "overwhelming" and said that anyone reading the report would conclude that Black "made the right choice."


City Manager Harry Black announced this morning that he has fired Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell due to "lack of sufficient and proper communication, particularly within the command staff, coupled with a consistent and pervasive disregard for the chain of command," according to a 35-page memo the city released today. That memo contained testimony from CPD officials alleging poor leadership from the chief.

The city also released a department climate assessment that says a lack of communication, leadership and technology has contributed to low morale and has put the department at risk of high rates of officer attrition.

Black announced that Assistant Police Chief Eliot Isaac, a 26-year veteran of CPD, will be the interim police chief.

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

Among the allegations against Blackwell in the report, which includes statements from CPD Specialist Scotty Johnson and Public Information Officer Tiffany Hardey, are charges that Blackwell has been verbally abusive and retaliatory toward officers, that he has been unavailable during critical moments in recent months, that he played favorites in assigning overtime, that he spent too much time self-promoting, including taking selfies at the funeral of murdered CPD officer Sonny Kim and that he used his perch as chief to get free tickets to sporting events.

Blackwell has been embattled for months. Early this summer, severance documents between Blackwell and the city came to light, though these were never signed by the chief and he asserted he was staying on the force. More recently, Cincinnati's Fraternal Order of Police announced a Sept. 14 meeting, and union leadership said officers would take a vote of no confidence in Blackwell.

Blackwell’s critics say the Cincinnati Police Department's critical staffing, communication and morale issues have festered this summer as gun crimes rose, the department dealt with the shooting death of officer Sonny Kim and other difficult circumstances challenged the department.

But the chief’s supporters, including some council members and other public figures, say he’s done a fantastic job during a difficult time in the city and that his potential ouster is political in nature. They point to the fact that when he was campaigning for mayor, Cranley asked then-City Manager Milton Dohoney not to hire a chief until the election was finished so the newly elected mayor could have a say in the hiring. Dohoney hired Blackwell despite this request. Blackwell’s supporters say Cranley would like to oust Blackwell and install his own choice for police chief.

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

Morning News and Stuff

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

Hey, Cincy! I can only hope you're recovering a long weekend of sun and hot dogs. As you recover from your hangover and sunburns, you can catch up on today's headlines. 

City Manager Harry Black hits the one year mark working for the city today. To celebrate, Mayor John Cranley would like to give him a raise, but some council members are questioning if he should get one before he undergoes a review. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson has called for a formal review of Black's performance before pay increase is approved. Black currently makes $245,000 per year, and his contract states that an annual review should set up through the mayor and city council, though the only review done so far has been a in-person, verbal review by Mayor Cranley with no documentation for the press to review. Black has been criticized by some for being too aligned with Cranley. In the last year, Black has had to deal with the deaths of a police officer, firefighter and construction worker, a spike in shootings and a rocky relationship with Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and a significant restructuring of the city workforce.  

• So how much money would legalizing marijuana bring to Ohio? Numbers vary, according to the Enquirer, but they're in the billions. A task force headed by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters released a report in July estimating that if the ResponsibleOhio ballot initiative passes, retail sales could bring in $2.26 billion. But an estimate by New Frontier, an analytics firm in Washington D.C., put that number at $1.8 billion. So, we're not really sure. What we do know is that the super PAC is spending million on advertising campaigns to push through a constitutional amendment to legalize growth of the plant that would limit that growth to 10 commercial farms in the state. Individuals could purchase a license for $50 that would allow the growth of four plants, but without the ability to sell them. 

• Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis spent Labor Day weekend in jail for refusing to issue marriage license to same-sex couples, claiming it violates her religious beliefs. Her attorneys filed an appeal for her release yesterday, but in the meantime, Ohio governor and Republican presidential nominee John Kasich, who opposes same-sex marriage, says Davis should follow the law and issue the licenses. Davis has found supporters in other GOP candidates, though. Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee will join protesters today outside the jail where Davis is being held to demand her release. UPDATE: Davis was ordered released from jail by a federal judge this afternoon.

• The FBI is investigating a former Ohio State professor who mysteriously resigned and disappeared last March. Engineering Professor Rongxing Li had been the director of the OSU mapping and geographic information system laboratory and was known for his work with NASA on 2003 and 2009 exploration missions. The FBI has filed federal search warrants in Columbus to determine if Li was sharing defense secrets with the Chinese. In early 2014, Li submitted a $36.9 million proposal to do imaging work for a 2020 NASA mission to Mars where he was exposed to U.S. defense information he was prohibited from sharing with the Chinese. It has since come to light that Li has significant ties to a Chinese university.  

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

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

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More

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

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Swartsell 09.01.2015 35 days ago
Posted In: News at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
news1_protester_7-9 copy

Planned Parenthood Sues Ohio Over Abortion Access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Swartsell 09.01.2015 36 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach won't back executive session amendment; Pendleton affordable housing to get makeover; Rowan County Clerk still not doing her job because liberty

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

First, a man died last night after he was Tased by police in Over-the-Rhine. Cincinnati police responded to the Shell station on Liberty Street after reports the man was trying to rob a woman in a car there. When officers arrived, they say the man would not respond to verbal commands. He was Tased in the chest and detained. He later died from his injuries after going into cardiac arrest. Police rules prohibit Taser shots to the head, neck or chest areas unless officers or bystanders are in immediate danger. Police use of Tasers in Cincinnati has resulted in a number of deaths, including that of Everette Howard, who died after he was Tased by University of Cincinnati police in 2011. After Howard’s death, UC police banned use of Tasers.

UPDATE: In a news conferences about the incident, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said that the deceased, James Carney III, 48, was actively assaulting a woman in a car parked at an ATM. He did not comply and was Tased first in the back and then in the chest. He fell unconscious at that point and had to be removed from the car window. Blackwell has said there is no ATM camera, gas station security camera or body camera footage of the incident. We will update as more information becomes available.

• Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach will not vote again to support an amendment to the city of Cincinnati’s charter that would allow Council to meet in executive session. That’s big news because it leaves supporters of the amendment on Council one vote short of the six votes they need to override Mayor John Cranley’s veto of that amendment. The change to the charter, one of five suggested by the non-partisan Charter Review Task Force, looked like a slam dunk after Council passed it 6-3 last week. Cranley subsequently vetoed the change, but even he admitted it was mostly a symbolic move. The amendment looked to be headed for the November ballot for voters to approve or reject, but now its future is uncertain.

• A number of affordable housing units in Pendleton are getting a $5 million makeover. Five buildings that are part of the eight-building, 40-unit Cutter Apartments will be renovated by new owners Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and Wallick-Hendy Development, who bought the buildings last month. The 32 units are being renovated with help from a city of Cincinnati eight-year property tax exemption and will remain subsidized housing. Federal historic tax credits should also help fund the renovations. The buildings date back as far as the late 1800s.

• Mayor Cranley today announced he will unveil
at a 2 p.m. news conference a paid parental leave policy proposal (phew that’s a lot of alliteration) for city of Cincinnati employees. We'll update with details about that proposal as they're released. Currently, city employees can get up to six weeks of paid maternity leave depending on circumstances. Councilman Chris Seelbach has applauded the move while pointing out he and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson advanced a similar proposal this spring.

“While Councilwoman Simpson and I were excluded from the mayor's discussions and ultimate announcement,” Seelbach said in a post on social media, “I applaud him for coming around to support this important initiative for our workforce.”

• Let’s head south for a minute. The County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or really, any couples since the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land earlier this summer is… still refusing to do so because, well, Jesus. County Clerk Kim Davis is standing her ground even after the nation’s highest court yesterday slapped down her request for a stay on a lower court’s decision ordering her to issue the licenses.

Why? Because issuing licenses to two people who love each other and wish to be treated as a legal couple by the state would somehow infringe on Davis’ religious liberty. Yes. A county employee denying rights to someone is an exercise of liberty somehow, according to Davis. You know, if I got a job at Chick Fil-A and then refused to serve people because my religious beliefs said that people shouldn’t eat chicken, I would be fired. Davis should probably also be fired. But that could take a long time as doing so would likely set off a renewed round of legal wrangling.

• Finally, while we’re talking about the Supreme Court, here’s a pretty interesting New Yorker article about some upcoming decisions the court might hand down that could be very dismaying for liberals. Cases on abortion, affirmative action and unions could turn out disappointing for progressives, the article argues, despite big wins for lefties over the summer.

I’m out. Catch me in the twitterverse or put a letter in my ole email box whydontcha?