Good morning y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s happening in Cincy today.
The Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority and the Amalgamated Transit Union finally signed an agreement yesterday over the potential for ATU employees to work jobs operating the streetcar. The union doesn’t have the gig yet, however; council will be deciding among yet-to-be-released bids for managing the streetcar that could include or exclude ATU employees. Meanwhile, SORTA will release details about the price tags on those bids by the end of this week, the transit authority says. The names of the companies making those bids will stay under wraps until July, however.
• Community activists, faith leaders and elected officials yesterday called for the creation of a new community development corporation that will push for economic advancement in the city’s low-income minority neighborhoods. The group, which includes State Rep. Alicia Reece, Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young, Rev. Damon Lynch III and others, also called for $50 million from city and state funds to support businesses, provide job training and foster economic development in neighborhoods like Avondale, Bond Hill and others. The group says the way to address some of the city’s big issues with crime and poverty is by getting to their root and providing more economic opportunity.
• Seven new single-family townhomes are coming to Over-the-Rhine. The homes will feature three bedrooms, about 2,800 square feet each, with basements and detached garages. They’re expected to start at about $650,000 each. Mount Adams-based Towne Properties is undertaking the development near the corner of 15th and Elm streets. Towne recently hired Chad Munitz, formerly of 3CDC, and he’s been key in putting together the OTR development, Towne’s first in the neighborhood. The homes will be modeled after another Towne development called Beacon Hill in Deerfield Township.
• Mustaches are so hip right now. Or rather, I guess, they were so hip about three years ago. But it takes that long for huge buildings to catch up to trends, you know, because they’re like, huge buildings and don’t really get around town much. Anyway, the Scripps Center downtown is currently getting a bit of a hipster makeover with vinyl panels that will make the building look like it’s wearing a retro Cincinnati Reds cap and a big ole handlebar mustache. It’s not that the building is feeling its age and is trying to keep up with current fashions — it’s for the MLB All Star Game next month. Cool man. Just don't try to ride a fixed gear, Scripps Center. That ship has sailed.
• Cincinnati has a way to go when it comes to startups, a new ranking by the entrepreneurship-focused Kaufman Foundation says. The city ranked 32nd among the nation’s 40 largest cities, coming in behind Columbus (12th) and Indianapolis (28th) when it comes to the number of startups created in the city per capita and the number of new entrepreneurs in the city. But there’s good news, too — the city gained two spots on the list since last year, when it was 34th.
• Finally, law enforcement officials investigating the police shooting death of Tamir Rice in Cleveland last year have finished their investigation and turned over their findings to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors office. Now, the prosecutor says, the case will go before a grand jury to decide whether to indict Cleveland Police officer Timothy Loehmann, who jumped from a police cruiser and shot Rice on playground while the 12-year-old played with a toy pistol. A separate civil suit by Rice’s parents against the city is also pending.
Good morning y’all. Some jerk ran me off the road this morning while I biked to work. I’m OK except for some scraped-up hands, but it hurts to type. Which means you’re getting a bare-bones, just the facts morning news today. OK? OK.
• One of the five new shelters representing a shift in how the city deals with homelessness will open this fall in Queensgate, but it currently needs $2.7 million for opening and operating costs and may have to start out in debt. A new campaign called “Bring it Home” looks to bridge that financial gap. The new Drop Inn Center, which will replace the current, long-standing location in Over-the-Rhine near Washington Park, is set to open in September at the former Butternut Bread factory. The shelter, which will be called Shelterhouse, joins the Lighthouse Sheakley Center for Youth and Talbert House Parkway Center, which opened in 2012, the new City Gospel Mission in the West End, which also replaced a former location in OTR in April, and the Mount Auburn replacement location for the Anna Louise Inn, called the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women, which will open Friday. Those locations are part of a Strategies to End Homelessness push to reduce the number of homeless in the city. The idea behind the new shelters, backers say, is to provide more than just a place to stay — each also includes social services like substance abuse treatment, mental and medical health care and other services. The goal is to transition those experiencing homelessness to housing. The Homeless to Homes Shelter Collaborative, which started in 2010 to raise money for the effort, has raised more than $39 million of the needed $42 million for the shelters.
• Details are trickling out about the Cincinnati Police Department’s plan to curb the recent rash of shootings in the city. According to police officials, at least one part of the plan will be reassigning 50 officers to problem spots where a number of the recent shootings have occurred. City Manager Harry Black has asked Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell for a complete 90-day plan for addressing the violence by Friday. Local leaders including community activist Iris Roley, State Rep. Alicia Reece, Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young, Rev. Damon Lynch and others are announcing their own plan to help fight the violence today at 11 a.m.
• Meanwhile, City Manager Harry Black yesterday released a memo to Cincinnati City Council and Mayor John Cranley revealing that the Cincinnati Police Department is undergoing a comprehensive “climate assessment.” That assessment will seek out problem areas, assess employee morale and communication and follow up on suggested solutions, the memo says. Currently, the city is also undertaking a similar assessment on the Department of Sewers and Greater Cincinnati Waterworks, and has recently completed assessments for the city’s Human Resources, Human Services and Recreation Departments.The memo comes after days of speculation about the meaning of a resignation letter drawn up by the city manager for Chief Blackwell.
• Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning is the third-best in the world for design, according to a recent survey of industry professionals by website Business Insider. Nearly 78 percent of respondents said an education from DAAP was valuable, putting the school above big-name art schools like Carnegie Mellon, Parsons the New School for Design, the Pratt Institute, Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cooper Union, among others. Only The Rhode Island School of Design (number one) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab ranked higher among the 633 industry insiders surveyed.
• The state of Ohio may soon pass a law granting protection from prosecution for people who call for help for heroin overdose victims. Sometimes companions of an overdose victim don’t call for medical attention because they fear they’ll be arrested on drug charges. The so-called Good Samaritan bill currently before the Ohio General Assembly would shelter callers from such legal action. Similar bills have gone before the Ohio General Assembly before, most recently in the last legislative session. But some lawmakers, Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus of Clifton Heights, believe that the legislature is ready to pass the bill this time around. Kentucky already has a similar law, which it passed earlier this year.
• Finally, this is a huge bummer. The Columbus Dispatch this morning announced that its print products, including its daily paper, 24 weekly papers for the city’s suburbs and seven magazines, are being sold to New York-based New Media Investment Group, Inc. That conglomerate is most widely known for owning GateHouse Media, a collection of 126 daily papers and more than 500 total publications in 32 states. The Columbus Dispatch has been owned by C-bus locals the Wolfe family for 110 years, making the Dispatch one of the oldest — and one of the last —independently-owned papers in the state. The paper often does great, error-free, typo-free journalism. GateHouse utilizes a centralized approach to newspaper production: copy editing, page design and other functions for its papers are often performed at a single location outside the city where the papers are produced.
Morning Cincinnati. The sun has apparently caught whatever terrible cold I had last week and is off sick for a couple days. It feels like October outside, which would be cool if we got Halloween and colorful leaves. But actually we just get coldness which isn’t that great. Anyway, news time.
More city-police chief news is afoot. City Manager Harry Black has given Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell until Friday to present a 90-day plan for reducing violence in the city. Black says the chief can have an extension into next week if he needs it, but wants to be proactive and find causes and solutions for the city’s recent spike in shootings. Cincinnati has seen more than 50 shootings and 11 killings in the last month, and 30 murders so far this year. In Cincinnati and most other major cities, crime usually spikes as the weather gets warmer, but this year’s increase has been bigger than normal. The Friday deadline for Blackwell comes as questions swirl around resignation papers drawn up by the city manager’s office for Blackwell. Mayor John Cranley and the city manager both say they want Blackwell to stay and that he initiated conversations about his resignation last week. Blackwell says he’s not going anywhere and wants to remain chief. He’s been chief for two years, before which he served with the Columbus Police Department.
• Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee voted yesterday to purchase a four-mile stretch of rail right of way for the Wasson Way bike trail. The city will purchase the land sometime in the next two years for $11.75 million from Norfolk Southern Railways. The bike trail will stretch from Mariemont to Evanston, with a proposed extension into Avondale. The deal goes before a full council vote Wednesday.
• Great news: Whether the Reds win or, you know, do that other thing they’ve been doing a lot lately, Cincinnati is one of the best cities in the country for baseball fans. That’s according to a new study by WalletHub.com. The website looked at 11 factors in deciding its rankings of 272 cities, including how well each city’s professional or college team does, how expensive tickets are, stadium amenities and other criteria. Cincinnati did well — we’re the third best city in the country when it comes to baseball. But here’s the not so great part. Numbers one and two are St. Louis and Pittsburgh, respectively. You win some, you lose some…
• Former Mason mayor and Warren County State Rep. Pete Beck was found guilty today on 17 counts of fraud and corruption. Beck was accused of cheating a local company out of millions of dollars and originally faced more than 60 counts of fraud and corruption. Some of those charges were reduced, and he was found not guilty on another 21 counts today. Some of the guilty verdict covered serious felony charges. No sentencing date has been announced yet.
• When you think of hip up and coming cities, what places pop into your head? I’ll wait while you write out a list. Did that list include Columbus? Mine didn’t, but hey, what do I know? Here’s a funny article in national magazine Mother Jones about how Ohio’s capital is marketing itself to the young and hip. It's kind of unclear if the author visited the flat, gray city, but the piece asks some intriguing questions. Is it the next Brooklyn? Hm. Probably not. It is, as the article puts it, vanilla ice cream in a world of exotic gelato. But it’s like, cheap, and stuff, so there’s that. Oh, and OSU. It also has that going for it.
• Finally, more Rand Paul stuff. Turns out all those stands Paul is taking against the NSA and foreign intervention aren’t endearing the U.S. Senator from Kentucky to big Republican donors. In the toss-up race for the Republican presidential nomination, big GOP donors are spreading money around to any number of hopefuls: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and other potential front runners. Pretty much everyone but Paul. That will certainly hobble the libertarian’s chances of spreading his message with TV ads and the like as the primary race heats up. But it may also further endear him to his anti-establishment libertarian base and may entice some voters who don’t traditionally vote Republican into the fold.
Hey y’all. Oh boy, did some news happen since last time we talked.
First, as I told you about on Friday, the city has finalized a deal to purchase right of way along the Wasson Way rail line from Norfolk Southern. If council approves the deal, the city will pay $11. 75 million for the right of way need to build a 7.5 mile bike path from Mariemont to Evanston. The city is currently applying for millions in federal grants to help pay for the path.
• Did the city make moves to sack the police chief? Or was he thinking about quitting? The City of Cincinnati recently drew up resignation documents for Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports. Both Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, who has the power to dismiss the chief, have said that the documents were drawn up after Blackwell inquired about resigning. Blackwell didn’t sign those documents, and has since said he’s not planning on going anywhere. Some, including Councilman Wendell Young, a former police officer, have said they think the papers are a sign that Blackwell was about to be pushed out. Cranley and Black, however, both say they didn’t want Blackwell to leave. The resignation letter comes to light as the city receives accolades from across the country for its community-based policing practices, but also struggles with a recent wave of gun violence that has shootings at a ten-year high.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is still hustling to make the case that he, not former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, is best Democrat to challenge U.S. Sen Rob Portman in 2016. Yesterday, both were in Mason speaking at the Warren County Democratic Party’s annual dinner. There, Sittenfeld found he’s still got his work cut out for him, according to an Enquirer story today. The crowd seemed much warmer to Strickland, the story says, and many weren’t that familiar with Sittenfeld. The 30-year-old has gotten some support for his run, raising a respectable amount of money for his campaign this year, mostly from Cincinnati donors. But 71-year-old Strickland has statewide name recognition and the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton on his side. Top Dems have called for Sittenfeld to step aside, and some at the Warren County dinner last night agreed, but Sittenfeld has said he’s in the race to stay.
• If your bike was stolen from downtown or OTR recently, here’s a quick hit of potentially good news: The Cincinnati Police Department says it located several stolen bikes in the West End this weekend. If you’re missing your ride, you could get a call from the cops soon about that.
• The Ohio Department of Education has finished part of its investigation into Chicago-based Concept Schools in the state, specifically the organization’s Dayton-based location, where former teachers and administrators say employees allowed sex games between students, tampered with testing attendance data and committed other crimes. The 106 complaints lodged against the school could not be proven, ODE says, though the organization isn’t ruling out action in the future if more evidence comes to light. Other charges of test tampering, including at Horizon Academy in Bond Hill, another Concept school, are still under investigation. Concept says the department’s findings prove that the allegations against the schools were nothing more than a “witch hunt” against charters. Concept is also under a separate white collar crime investigation by the FBI for other business misconduct charges at some of its 18 Ohio schools.
• If you’re really into buying stuff off the internet, here’s a small bit of bad news for you: Amazon will begin charging Ohio sales tax on items it sells online. The company estimates that the move, which comes as Congress works to expand taxes on internet commerce, will put between $150 million to $200 million into the state’s coffers.
• Ohio State University has created a committee to study whether the school’s top administrators make too much money. OSU’s former president Gordon Gee was the highest paid public university president in the country, a fact that has created some controversy as college becomes more and more unaffordable for students. Gee’s replacement, Michael Drake, has pledged to work toward a more affordable college experience for students. The school says it would like its executives — people like Drake as well as athletic coaches and high-profile physicians employed by OSU — to be paid the same as the average position at comparable universities.
• Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, died over the weekend of brain cancer. The younger Biden was the former attorney general of Delaware and a figure many Democrats had once looked to as a rising political star. Biden passed up a chance to run for his father’s Senate seat when the elder Biden became VP in 2008, instead staying in Delaware to continue serving as AG. He had been a favorite to run for governor there in 2016 before his health deteriorated.
• How big a deal is Sen. Bernie Sander’s presidential run? Many have written off the self-professed socialist as a long shot contender for the Democratic nomination against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that’s probably accurate. But Sanders has still been receiving a surprising amount of support and excitement from left-leaning Democrats. As the above New York Times story about the race makes clear, Sanders could at least make things interesting in the primary.
• As we talked about a couple days ago, a key tenet of the U.S. Patriot Act expired yesterday after U.S. Senator Rand Paul led resistance to its renewal. The program allowed the federal government to collect massive amounts of cell phone call data from American citizens, something Paul calls a violation of constitutional rights. The lapse is almost certainly temporary — a compromise bill looks likely to pass the Senate in a few days — but the stand allowed Paul to make a political point and score a few among his libertarian base for his presidential bid.
Hey all! News time.
First, a couple Cincinnati City Council things. Council yesterday voted to apply for up to $33 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants for the proposed Elmore Street Connector project. The bridge, which would connect Cincinnati State to the West Side after the current I-74 exit there is removed, is expected to cost up to $44 million. Currently, the city and the state would split that cost, but the federal money could lower the burden for both significantly.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is undertaking a years-long reworking of the I-75 corridor, which includes changing interchanges that connect the highway and I-74 to uptown. ODOT’s original plans remove the I-74 exit onto Central Parkway, which carries traffic to Cincinnati State’s doorstep, but wouldn’t replace that exit. That led to proposals for an overpass over I-75 to relink the area with Beekman Street, which runs through South Cumminsville and other neighborhoods on the other side of the Mill Creek Valley. Despite the backing of area employers in the Uptown Consortium, the project has been controversial.
But the bridge won’t cause delays to other parts of the project as previously expected, ODOT now says. Last month, officials said that constructing the bridge, which Cincinnati State President O’Dell Owens has championed, could delay the construction of the Hopple Street ramp until as late as 2020. After the potential delay was revealed and business owners in Camp Washington raised objections, Owens wrote a letter to ODOT requesting that the Hopple project not be delayed by the I-74 bridge. In an email response to that letter yesterday, Ohio Department of Transportation Acting District Deputy Director Gary L. Middleton said that removing the current I-74 interchange and constructing the new bridge would not affect the construction time frame for the Hopple exit.
Owens has said the bridge would provide Cincinnati State students living on the West Side a vital direct link to the school. Economic impact studies touted by Mayor John Cranley’s office and undertaken by the Greater Cincinnati Economics Center for Education & Research in 2014 suggest that the bridge could have an economic impact worth millions, as well as reconnecting neglected neighborhoods like Millvale and South Cumminsville, which were cut off from the rest of the city by construction of the interstates.
Now, if we could just get some of those millions for more public transit options in Cincinnati….
• A major bike trail on Cincinnati’s East Side could soon be one step closer to reality. The city of Cincinnati hopes to have a deal to present City Council for purchasing the right of way along the mostly unused Wasson Way rail line by Monday, City Manager Harry Black revealed in yesterday’s City Council meeting. The right of way, currently owned by Norfolk Southern, is needed for a proposed 7.5-mile bike path stretching from Mariemont to Xavier University in Evanston. Plans for an extension into Avondale have also been floated. Securing right of way for the trail is a crucial step and one that needs to be taken soon, Black said. The city is in the final stages of applying for a share of $500 million in TIGER grants the U.S. Department of Transportation has made available this year, and owning right of way is an important part of winning those funds.
• The Greater Cincinnati YMCA released big renovation plans for its downtown location yesterday. The building was built in 1917 and is an iconic presence along Central Parkway. The branch closed in December for the work, and now the YMCA is rolling out its detailed plans for what it will look like when finished. Among the big changes: much more natural light in the facility’s two-story fitness center, lounges with 50-inch TVs, new weight-lifting equipment and preservation of the site’s running track. That last one is huge for me. Sign me up when they reopen. I hate treadmills and it’s very difficult to find a good indoor track these days. City Council yesterday voted to approve a tax exemption for the entirety of the improvements made to the property. The project will revamp the entire building and add up to 65 units of affordable housing for seniors. The work is expected to cost $27 million. The facility is expected to be open to the public again around this time next year. In the meantime, 12 other branches are open in the West End, Walnut Hills, Northern Kentucky and elsewhere around the area.
• A group of about 50 people gathered at Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine yesterday for a rally organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter in remembrance of unarmed women and trans people of color killed recently in police-related incidents around the country. Among those remembered was Rekia Boyd, who died in 2012 after off-duty Chicago police officer Dante Servin fired into a dark alley and shot her. Boyd was not involved in an earlier confrontation that led officer Servin to give chase to the group of people he fired at, and a Chicago judge found his actions “beyond reckless.” Servin, who says one of the group pulled something from their waistband and that he feared for his life at the time, was not punished for Boyd’s death. Organizers of yesterday’s rally in OTR said they wanted to highlight Boyd’s story and others as continued attention is paid to the shooting of unarmed men of color like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.
• Finally, Cincinnati isn’t the only Ohio city grabbing on to the tiny house trend. People’s Liberty grant recipient Brad Cooper has gotten a lot of attention lately for his project, which looks to build two 200-square foot houses in Over-the-Rhine. Cooper got $100,000 from People's Liberty to carry out that plan, but Cincy isn't the only city where enthusiasm is growing for the concept. This Cleveland Plain Dealer article details how the small, simple house movement is gathering steam in Cleveland and Toledo, where folks are making big plans to build similar tiny houses in urban areas.
That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with any story tips or just to say hey.
Good morning Cincy. Here’s your news today.
While we’ve all heard the good news that is going down in Cincinnati, there’s one big exception. Some recent serious but mostly non-fatal shootings in Walnut Hills, CUF, West End and other neighborhoods (including a few right outside my house in Mount Auburn) have put gun crimes in Cincinnati at a 10-year high. That’s caused some to call into question the effectiveness of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV. The program has produced good results in the past, though its funding has been uneven. But with gun violence on the rise, detractors like Councilman Charlie Winburn say it might be time to try something else. Winburn suggested getting rid of CIRV during a presentation of crime data at Tuesday’s Cincinnati City Council Law and Public Safety Committee meeting. Others, however, say the program, which relies on a number of methods including civilian peacekeepers, law enforcement home visits to repeat offenders and social service referrals, is doing its job and needs more support. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson suggested at the Tuesday meeting that more emphasis on social services and anti-poverty measures like neighborhood redevelopment might be part of the answer.
• Greater Cincinnati’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 14 years, according to figures released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Companies in the region added nearly 20,000 new jobs in April, the data shows, the biggest increase in the past three years. But the area hasn’t avoided a major pitfall that has accompanied economic recovery around the country — while the overall unemployment rate is down, economists say, so are wages in the region. Meanwhile, underemployment, or people working part-time when they want to be working full time, is up in the Greater Cincinnati area. That dynamic could keep the economy sluggish, experts say.
• A plan to renovate 13 buildings in Covington’s MainStrasse neighborhood for 50 units of low-income housing we told you about in March has run into opposition from some in the community, who are vowing to fight the development. Cincinnati-based Model Group and women’s shelter Welcome House have partnered on the project, which is slated to receive federal low-income housing tax credits through the Kentucky Housing Corp. About half of the buildings have already been green-lighted for those credits, and applications for the rest will be filed later this year. But neighboring property owners are upset about the fact those tax credits require the currently crumbling buildings on Pike Street to remain low-income housing for 30 years after they’re renovated. They say that will dampen private investment in the area and lower the value of their properties, and they’re asking the city to fight the state’s decision to award the credits. However, it’s unclear that Covington officials have any power to challenge the state’s decision.
• Yikes. A sheriff’s deputy in Clark County Ohio, where Springfield is, has been fired after he took to Twitter with some seriously racist thoughts about protests in Baltimore. That city experienced civil unrest last month after a man named Freddie Gray died in police custody under questionable circumstances. “Baltimore the last few days = real life Planet of the Apes,” Clark County Deputy Zachary Davis tweeted April 28. Another tweet that day suggested: “It’s time to start using deadly force in Baltimore. When they start slaying these ignorant young people it’ll send a message.” After the tweets were brought to the attention of Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly yesterday, Davis was immediately fired. “If you’re posting these type of statements then I don’t feel you can serve this community,” Kelly told the Springfield News-Sun yesterday evening. Good for him.
• Two of the most powerful Republicans in Kentucky, and really in the whole country, have been butting heads big time in the Senate. U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who as you probably already know is running for president, has been digging in his heals on a portion of the Patriot Act that allows the National Security Administration to collect so-called meta data on Americans’ cell phone calls. Congress has just days to renew that particular program, as well as other parts of the Patriot Act. Paul and other Senators on both sides of the aisle have refused to allow cloture in the Senate for a bill that would do that unless NSA cell phone surveillance programs are nixed or significantly reformed. Paul and other Senators have used procedural maneuvers to keep that from happening.
That, of course, hasn’t been great for Kentucky’s other Senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is charged with getting things passed through the chamber. This is especially awkward since McConnell has endorsed Paul for president. It’s yet another example of the complicated, fractious relationships that the GOP must navigate as it tries to take back the White House in 2016. Paul is playing the NSA card to appeal both to his grassroots, anti-government libertarian base as well as more civil-liberty minded independents. Meanwhile, rank and file Republicans want to see the Patriot Act renewal passed. Politics is awkward and complicated, y’all.
Good morning all. Here’s the news today.
Streetcar advocates are forming a new nonprofit to help raise funds, encourage ridership and help sell advertising on the downtown and Over-the-Rhine transit project. The group will be called Cincinnati Street Railway, a nod to the city’s original streetcar transit authority. CSR will be a “non-political” and “fun” booster for rail in the basin, Haile U.S. Bank Foundation Vice President Eric Avner said yesterday at a Believe in Cincinnati townhall meeting at the Mercantile Library. The group will stay out of the fray on some of the car’s thornier issues, such as the push for an uptown extension, and will be focused on making Phase 1 of the project “as successful as possible.”
• Other key advocates for the transit project, including longtime streetcar booster John Schneider, who has led efforts to make the project a reality, Believe in Cincinnati Chairman Ryan Messer and Vice Mayor David Mann also spoke about the streetcar at the townhall meeting. Mann touched on the continued debate between the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which will operate the streetcar, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, which staffs SORTA’s Metro buses. ATU is bidding to staff the streetcar as well, and Democratic members of council have insisted that the operating contract be awarded to union workers. However, five highly specialized jobs involving streetcar maintenance might have to be given to non-union workers, SORTA says. That’s tripped up talks between the transit authority and the union, and SORTA says it might have to go with a non-union streetcar operator, as the Business Courier reported yesterday. The transit authority is set to release the bids it has received to operate the streetcar on June 5. Testing on the streetcar begins in October. Mann says it would be “foolish” for ATU to lose the opportunity to run the streetcar based on those jobs, which he says ATU doesn’t have employees trained to do at this point anyway. ATU has proposed to SORTA that union employees be trained to do the specialized jobs, but SORTA has said that the training isn’t available in the tight timeframe in question.
• Over-the-Rhine-based Rhinegeist is expanding, opening a so-called “nanobrewery” at its distribution site in Columbus. That small brewery will only do experimental batches of possible new beers, and there are no current plans for a location like the one in OTR. The Columbus location won’t be open to the public and won’t sell beer. But Rhinegeist’s Bryant Goulding told the Akron Beacon Journal that he’s not ruling out a more public presence in Columbus in the future and that the Columbus brewery could supply some Columbus-exclusive brews down the road.
• The city of Cincinnati today official opens its Office of Performance and Data Analytics, as well as its CityStat and Innovation Lab initiatives. The efforts, which are City Manager Harry Black's first big initiative since coming to Cincinnati last year, are designed to bring a data-driven approach to city government. The programs are patterned after similar initiatives in Baltimore, where Black served in a number of roles. Black hopes to use data collected by the office to set performance goals for departments and zero in on problems in city services. The office has been given $400,000 in the coming biannual budget.
• Let’s go back to the Mercantile Library for a minute. Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Faherty will become its new executive director, the Cincinnati institution said yesterday. The Mercantile is a membership library located downtown on Walnut Street. Founded in 1835 and headquartered in the historic Mercantile Building since 1909, the library boasts more than 200,000 volumes. The library hosts a number of high-profile literary events and public functions. Faherty has worked for the Enquirer for three years after relocating from fellow Gannett paper the Arizona Republic. He’ll leave the paper in June to take the reigns of the historic library.
• Is John Kasich getting soft on unions? The Ohio guv and GOP presidential hopeful was on the campaign trail yesterday when he said that Ohio doesn’t need a right to work law. A number of other conservative states have such laws, which forbid labor contracts between employers and workers which require all employees to be union members. Kasich has said outlawing that practice isn’t necessary in Ohio because the state doesn’t have a lot of contentious labor issues. That’s a strikingly moderate stance for the governor, who shortly after taking office in 2011 moved to eliminate public employees’ collective bargaining rights. That move was reversed by a statewide referendum in which voters overwhelmingly chose to preserve public employees’ union rights. Kasich’s statement on right to work comes a day after the governor eliminated collective bargaining rights for 15,000 home healthcare and childcare workers who contract with the state. So, you know, he’s still not that into unions.
• It’s official. Rand Paul is courting the hipster vote. The U.S. Senator from Kentucky and Republican presidential hopeful yesterday made a campaign stop at The Strand bookstore in Manhattan. It’s an amazing bookstore, but yeah. Also very hip. Anyway, Paul drew a big crowd to the store after he was invited to speak by co-owner Nancy Bass Wyden, who is married to Oregon Democrat U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. You can read more about the appearance, and Paul’s efforts to win over young voters, in this New York Times story. The Strand has become a customary stopover for Democratic politicians hawking their newest books. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently dropped by promoting her new tome, though the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has declined to appear there. Instead, she opted for a nearby Barnes & Noble to premier her latest book. Oof.
Good morning y’all. I’m back from vacation and ready to give you all the news and stuff you can handle. In case you’re wondering, my time off involved a jaunt to Chicago for a concert where audience members were encouraged to divide into two huge groups and run at each other high-fiving, trips to five Pilsen Mexican restaurants and a long night/early morning in a private karaoke room where they keep up the bootleg music videos, Red Bull, beer and Drake tracks until you die (I abstained from the beer and the Drake, but did drink way too much Red Bull). Then I came back to Cincinnati and promptly got sicker than I’ve been in a long time. Fun stuff.
Anyway, let’s do this news thing. Home prices in Over-the-Rhine are getting higher and higher, but you probably already knew that. What you maybe didn’t know is how close the neighborhood is getting to million-dollar homes. Recently, a condo on Central Parkway sold for $850,000, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. That’s roughly 4,250 nights in a private karaoke room in Chicago’s Chinatown, or, you know, 2,125 months (177 years) in an affordable apartment that costs $400 a month. While that huge figure is something of an outlier, the neighborhood is certainly heating up. The average sale price for single family homes in the neighborhood was hovering around $220,000 in 2010. These days, it’s nearly twice that at $427,000. Those developing high-selling properties in the neighborhood say that there’s more to the story than the big numbers and that they’ve put in tons of investment to bring the properties up to their current condition. Of course, the rise in values also raises questions about affordability in the historically low-income neighborhood. The amount of affordable housing in OTR has dwindled in recent years, though new additions could help that situation. Over the Rhine Community Housing, for example, just finished its Beasley Place building on Republic Street, which will provide 13 new units of subsidized housing in the neighborhood.
• Will a major federal lab end up in uptown Cincinnati? It’s a good possibility. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is looking to consolidate two labs it currently runs in the city and is at least considering the possibility of building its new $110 million facility near the University of Cincinnati. NIOSH Director John Howard told the Cincinnati Business Courier recently that proximity to UC is a big consideration. Should NIOSH decide to build uptown, the development could play into a bigger push by area leaders to create an “innovation corridor” near the site of the new I-71 interchange along Reading Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Avondale and Walnut Hills. Uptown or no, NIOSH would like to keep the proposed 350,000-square-foot building within the I-275 loop, it says, in part because of public transit considerations.
• Speaking of public transit, don’t look to Ohio to start spending more on it anytime soon. The state legislature has dismissed suggestions that the state spend more on public transportation as it crafts the next two-year budget. Legislators in the GOP-dominated state house have brushed aside a $1 million study by the Ohio Department of Transportation calling for more spending on buses, rail and other forms of public transit. That study highlighted the growing need for public transit among the state’s low income and elderly, as well as the increasing popularity of a less car-dependent lifestyle among young professionals Ohio would like to attract. Currently, Ohio ranks 37th in per-capita spending on transit, despite being the nation’s 7th most populous state. The study recommended a $2.5 million boost in transit spending in the next year alone, part of a much larger boost over time. Even Gov. John Kasich, a vocal opponent of most transit spending, put an extra $1 million in his suggested budget for transit next year. But no go, the legislature says.
• While we’re talking about Kasich, let’s touch on his recent move cutting collective bargaining rights for home health care workers and in-home childcare workers. These workers aren’t state employees but contract with the state for some work. In 2007, then-Gov. Ted Strickland handed down an executive order giving those workers collective bargaining rights, which allowed them to receive health insurance from state worker unions among other benefits. Kasich promised to rescind that executive order during his successful run for governor against Strickland, but has held off until now, he says, to preserve the workers’ access to insurance. Now, the governor says the Affordable Care Act means that the workers don’t need unions to get health care, and that as contractors they shouldn’t be given bargaining rights. Kasich has long been a foe of collective bargaining — after taking office in 2008, he worked to end collective bargaining rights for all state employees. Voters later struck down his efforts in a state-wide referendum. Democrats and union representatives have cried foul at Kasich’s latest move.
“It’s a sad day when those who care for our children, our seniors and Ohioans with disabilities — and who simply want to be able to make ends meet while providing that invaluable service — become the target of a cynical political attack," Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper said in a statement.
• Finally, the big story today is happening in Cleveland, where questions about police use of force are swirling. Just days after courts dismissed manslaughter charges against Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo, a settlement between the city and the federal government looks imminent. In 2010, Brelo, who is white, fired 15 rounds into the windshield of a car, killing unarmed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both black, after a police chase that started when a backfire from the car was mistaken for a gunshot. That incident, as well as many others, were highlighted in a nearly two-year investigation by the DOJ into the department’s use of force. That investigation found what the DOJ calls systemic problems with the department’s use of force and the way it reports and disciplines officers who may have used force improperly.
U.S. attorneys are holding meetings with various stakeholders in the city today and are expected to soon announce a settlement between the city’s police department and the U.S. Department of Justice. The expected consent decree would put CPD under federal oversight and bring about big reforms for the department, which continues to draw controversy. Last year, an officer with the department shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice while the child played with a toy pistol. Charges against that officer are pending.
Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate Candidate P.G. Sittenfeld has come out in support of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana in Ohio.
The proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution by ResponsibleOhio would allow anyone in the state over 21 to buy marijuana but would restrict commercial growth to 10 sites around the state owned by the group's investors.
[See also: "Going for the Green," CityBeat Feb. 4 2015]
Sittenfeld told reporters in Columbus today that Ohio's marijuana laws are "broken" and that he favors legalization and regulation of the drug. Sittenfeld cited the disproportionate number of people of color jailed over marijuana violations in the U.S. and the dangerous black market for the drug as reasons he supports legalization.
"We have a binary choice between do we want to take this opportunity to move forward from the broken laws of the past, and I would vote yes on this opportunity," Sittenfeld said.
Sittenfeld is the first city councilman to come out in support for the ballot initiative, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by July in order to make it onto the November ballot. The group says it is well on its way to that goal. But some controversy has erupted, both from conservative lawmakers and other legalization groups. Conservatives like Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine say that legalization will increase drug usage and crime. Other legalization advocates, on the other hand, decry ResponsibleOhio's proposal as a state-sanctioned monopoly on marijuana.
The group's initial proposal did not allow private growers to cultivate marijuana, but after an outcry from legalization supporters, the group amended its proposal to allow for small amounts of the crop to be grown for personal use.
The group's proposal has garnered an interesting mix of supporters and investors, from basketball Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who has pitched in money for the effort, to conservative-leaning business leaders and officials. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters recently said he supports at least looking into legalization of marijuana, calling Ohio's drug laws "archaic." Deters stopped short of endorsing ResponsibleOhio's plan. He is heading up a task force studying the implications of legalizing the drug here.
Recreational marijuana use is legal in four states, and 19 others allow medicinal use.
Sittenfeld made the comments as he is campaigning for big promotion. The 30-year-old city councilman is currently locked in a tough Democratic primary race against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland for the chance to run against GOP incumbent Sen. Rob Portman in 2016.
Hey all! I’m going to do a long news blog today. I won’t be doing the blog tomorrow or next week, as I need to burn up the vacation time I have before it expires and my boss says I’m not allowed to work while I’m not working. Tyranny, I say. Anyway, let's get all caught up before I jet.
The big news today is that the Cincinnati Enquirer is looking for a new top editor. Executive Editor Carolyn Washburn’s last day was yesterday, the Enquirer announced today. Washburn’s departure follows former publisher Margaret Buchanan, who left her post in March and was replaced by one-time Enquirer editor Rick Green. Washburn’s tenure saw the Enquirer shed a number of its long-time reporters and copy editors as part of parent company Gannett’s efforts to move toward the so-called “newsroom of the future.” That sounds like some cool, gee-wiz place where reporters fly around on hover boards and drive DeLoreans at 88 mph to break news two days before it happens, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually similar to a regular corporate newsroom, just with no copy editors and more typos. The Enquirer says Washburn will stay in town but has not revealed the circumstances behind her departure or what she’ll be doing next.
• Yesterday City Manager Harry Black unveiled his proposed $2.1 billion budget for 2016-2017. We’re still combing through that 769-page document, but we can give you the highlights. Disappointingly, there are very few pictures in the budget, though there are a lot of graphs. Facial hair growth for certain elected city officials, for example, is on the uptrend. Speaking of Mayor John Cranley, he's backed the budget, suggesting council pass it without amendment. Chances of that happening are on a sharp downtrend, however.
Human services will see $3.7 million in funding under the budget. Some of that will go toward Cranley’s Hand Up initiative and the city-county joint initiative Strategies to End Homelessness. Meanwhile, the $250,000 the city allocated in the last budget to Cradle Cincinnati to fight infant mortality disappears in this budget, and mega-charity funder United Way will get only about half of the $3 million council wanted.
Police and fire are prioritized in the spending plan, with increases that will bring 23 more officers and to Cincinnati’s streets. The budget also proposes big fixes for Cincinnati’s roads over the next five years and the city’s vehicle fleet over the next 12, spending $172 million on the paving alone over that time and another $35 million on vehicles. The plan is to get 85 percent of the city’s roads in good condition. Right now, about half are in poor shape. The city will take on nearly $91 million in debt in the process, though Black says the ratio of debt to cash used in this part of the capital budget is still prudent and that the investments will save the city millions over time.
This is just the first step in the long, sometimes grinding, budget process. We'll keep you up to date as council wrangles with the spending plan and also go in-depth ourselves.
• What else? Things are happening on the state’s voting rights front. We’ll be going in depth on that soon, but here’s some stuff to know: Hot on the heals of a settlement between Ohio and the NAACP on early voting last month, another lawsuit has been filed against the state alleging that its rules disadvantage voters who mostly skew Democrat, low-income and minority. That suit has been filed by Hillary Clinton's top campaign attorney. Meanwhile, there’s a bill in the General Assembly that would require voters to have a voter identification card. Ohioans who make above the federal poverty level (about $12,000 for a single person) would have to pay $8.50 under the proposed law for the card. Critics say that amounts to a poll tax and is unconstitutional. The fight is a big deal, as Ohio is a vital swing state in the 2016 presidential election.
Other politics tidbits:
• Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel wanted to fire County Administrator Christian Sigman over Sigman’s recent comments about The Banks, even drafting a press release announcing the administrator’s departure. Sigman’s job was spared at the last minute, however; Republican Commissioner Greg Hartmann didn’t want to see Sigman dismissed, and Democrat Todd Portune began crafting a compromise. Sigman was taken off economic development duties instead of losing his job, according to the commissioners.
• Real quick, but noteworthy: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a GOP presidential hopeful, is polling neck and neck with Democratic prez frontrunner Hillary Clinton in Kentucky, at least according to one new poll.
• Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is down one endorsement for his presidential bid: Ohio Treasurer and fellow Republican Josh Mandel has announced he’s endorsing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Awkward.
• On the national stage, U.S. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is fighting with the White House over comments President Barack Obama made about U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren has been criticizing Obama on what she says is a NAFTA-esque foreign trade deal. She alleges that the Trans Pacific Partnership deal will cost Americans jobs and shouldn’t give so-called “fast track” status to trade deals with other countries. The White House slammed Warren on that assertion, and Brown says their comments about her were disrespectful. Brown has also been fighting the trade legislation package, lobbying other Democrats in the Senate to block it from passage without amendments he says are designed to protect American workers. That’s led to some tension between the White House and Brown. The White House has asked the senator to apologize for his remarks about Obama’s remarks about Warren. Uh, got that? It’s starting to get to GOP levels of in-fighting over there.
That's it for me. See you in a week or so. Tweet at me or email me while I'm gone. Fair warning: I won't check the email but I might see the tweet.