Home - Blogs - Staff Blogs - Latest Blogs
by Natalie Krebs 09.16.2015 26 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy searches for a new police chief; Buddy the marijuana mascot hits college campuses; Kasich gears up for second debate

Good morning, Cincy! Hang in there: We're halfway through the week and crawling closer and closer to Oktoberfest this weekend. Here are some headlines to help pass some of the time until your next beer.

City Manager Harry Black, who fired Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell last Wednesday, said he will look high and low, near and far, and leave no stone unturned to find Cincinnati's new chief. Ok, well, he actually said that he will do a national search as well as post the position internally within the next two weeks to find the replacement. Mayor John Cranley has said that he supports the interim Police Chief and former Assistant Chief Eliot Isaac for the job. But the call goes to the city manager, who was given the power to hire and fire the police chief in 2001.

• Better late than never--the streetcars are finally coming. CAF USA, the Elmira, N.Y. company building the cars has said the first car will arrive by Oct. 30. The rest are arriving between the end of this year and early next year. The cars were supposed to arrive mid-September for the opening day, but the company pushed back the date due to manufacturing issues.

• ResponsibleOhio's executive director Ian James and Secretary of State Jon Husted are still going head to head over the Nov. 3 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Ohio. Husted has now claimed that ResponsibleOhio knew about the fraudulent signatures on its initial petition to get the measure on the ballot. James denies this. But Responsible Ohio charging full speed ahead to get the initiative passed. They've recently unveiled "Buddy the Marijuana mascot" at college campus to get the youth vote--a move so wild that they've attracted the attention of Late Show host Stephen Colbert. You can watch his segment here.

• Gov. John Kasich will take the stage again tonight for the second GOP debate on CNN. Things have changed since the first Fox News debate a few weeks ago. Then, Kasich barely made it into the top eight contenders to debate with front runners Donald Trump, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. This time around, Kasich didn't have to sneak into the debate. According to recent polls, Kasich has moved from the tail end to the middle. He's still way behind leaders Donald Trump and Ben Carson, but he's ahead of Walker, who has taken a rough tumble from the top to Kasich's former position. Some speculate that Walker, who turned Wisconsin into a right-to-work state, might launch some attacks at Kasich for backing off an anti-union movement, but the main target will still probably be Trump. 

• Trump isn't just the target of fellow GOP contenders. Tuesday morning, conservative group the Club for Growth launched a series of advertisements attacking Trump calling him "the worst kind of politician." It seems the group has some issues with statements Trump has made on supporting higher taxes on capital gains, healthcare and rejecting cuts to Social Security and Medicaid, which could ultimately be helping Kasich climb the polls. According to a Politico story on Monday, some Wall Street executives are afraid of a Trump presidency and have instead shoveled money towards Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kasich.

My email is nkrebs@citybeat.com, and I'd love to hear from you!


by Nick Swartsell 09.15.2015 27 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

GE to Cincy: It's not you, it's the GOP; families of those killed by police to rally in Cincy; Ohio, Kentucky pretty miserable, study finds

Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on in the news on this amazing fall day. No, seriously, it’s pretty much ideal outside right now so take a minute to go outside for a smoke break or to get some coffee or do some jumping jacks or pull ups on a street sign or something. I’ll wait.

OK. Back? Here we go. Maybe you’ve heard about the fact that our fair city was a’courtin one heck of a catch recently, but came away heartbroken. The object of our affection is really, really rich, into engineering and science stuff and already has a pretty close relationship with us. But when we tried to take that relationship to the next level, we were spurned because our elders have some conflicting political viewpoints. 

I’m talking about the fact that General Electric won’t be locating its corporate headquarters in Ohio at least in part because four high-level GOP politicians in the state oppose renewing the authority of the federal Export-Import Bank, which underwrites loans for companies that do lots of exporting. GE, which already has more employees in Ohio than any other state, does more exporting than any other company here. U.S. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both hailing from the Cincinnati area, as well as Ohio Gov. John Kasich and tea party firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan from Urbana all oppose the so-called Ex-Im Bank, saying that the private market could do a better job financing the corporate export game. 

It’s a little like having your crush over to your house when you’re a teenager and then your dad starts talking about the constitution while wearing a Gadsen flag T-shirt, only there are like, four dads and your crush employs thousands upon thousands of people. Hard to know who to root for here. On the one hand, I feel like corporations should get federal money exactly never and shouldn’t be throwing their political weight around. On the other hand, well, tea party nuttiness. Other politicians, including most Democrats in the state, support the Ex-Im bank, which is the flip side ideologically of what you’d think it would be. Kind of a lame situation all around.

• Western & Southern Financial Group President and CEO John Barrett discussed the company’s plans for a whole corner of downtown Cincinnati yesterday at a gathering for real-estate professionals. Barrett outlined plans for new restaurants, rooftop bars and other attractions in the area around Lytle Park in downtown’s southeastern corner, near where the company’s headquarters are located. Among the attractions will be a luxury hotel in the building that formerly housed the Anna Louise Inn, a women’s shelter, for more than 100 years. Western & Southern’s real estate arm, Eagle Realty, purchased that building after protracted legal wrangling with Cincinnati Union Bethel, which runs the shelter now located in Mount Auburn. I could tell you more about the awesome swanky rooftop bars and glitzy restaurants planned for the area, but I’d rather just pose a question: Since when does the CEO of a corporation, even one who’s been in the neighborhood since 1901, get to plan what a big chunk of the city looks like? I could go further but I’m just going to leave that right there because I’m a reporter and we don’t actually have opinions.

• Will the media be allowed to continue covering a trial involving a racially charged confrontation in June between police and pool-goers in Fairfield? That’s up for debate. A 12-year-old and 15-year-old are charged in Butler County Courts with resisting arrest in connection with that incident. The 12-year-old is also charged with assaulting an officer, and the 15-year-old with disorderly conduct. Attorneys for the juveniles have requested that press be barred from the ongoing court proceedings. The incident caught national attention after cell phone video emerged of the family in question being asked to leave the pool and subsequently being arrested. They and their supporters say police used inappropriate force during that incident and that their removal stems from the fact they are black. They’ve asked that charges against the children be dropped. Fairfield Police, however, say they were justified in their use of force and will be proceeding with the charges against the children.

• A meeting yesterday of Cincinnati’s Fraternal Order of Police yielded a vote of confidence in CPD’s interim chief Eliot Isaacs. That’s a big turnaround from the meeting's original purpose, which was to express no confidence in now-ousted chief Jeffrey Blackwell. Isaac is an insider with the department, having spent more than 25 years with CPD. Officers within the department had said morale was at a very low point due to communication issues, outdated equipment and low staffing. Those complaints came as controversy swirled around Blackwell, who garnered praise for his approach to community relations but criticism for his handling of internal affairs within the department. Blackwell’s supporters maintain he was fighting impossible headwinds within CPD as a chief hired from the outside against the wishes of incoming mayor John Cranley.

• Local families of those killed in police shootings will rally this Saturday at the University of Cincinnati, then march to the spot in Mount Auburn where Samuel Dubose was shot and killed earlier this summer. That rally will start at 6 p.m. in front of the UC police center at 51 W. Corry St. The families of Samuel Dubose, Samantha Ramsey, Tamir Rice and John Crawford III are expected to attend and address the crowd before marching.

• Finally, are you happy right now? Like, actually happy? According to a new study released by finance website WalletHub.com, the chances you answered yes to that question are much lower here in Ohio or Kentucky than in many other states. Wallethub’s recent ranking of happiest and least-happy states did not look favorably on the Tri-state. Ohio ranked 43 out of the 50 states plus Washington D.C. and Kentucky ranked 49. Ouch. At least Indiana ranked a little higher at 38. The study took into account depression rates, sleep surveys, suicide rates, average work hours, income growth, unemployment rates and other factors to give a rough indication of the happiest places in the U.S. Number one? Utah, of all places. Number two was Minnesota, somehow, which you’ll have to ask CityBeat reporter Natalie Krebs about, since she hails from the land of cold-ass winters and weird accents. Just kidding Natalie, I’m sure it’s great up there.

by Natalie Krebs 09.14.2015 28 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Red Bike turns 1; Music Hall renovators announced; Police union to vote on interim police chief

Happy Monday, Cincy! Hope everyone had a great weekend. Here are your morning headlines. 

• The Cincinnati Red Bike program celebrates its one-year anniversary tomorrow, and it's had a great start. In the past 12 months, the bike share program has blown the lid off of initial first year projections. It has logged more than 87,000 rides, 69-percent more than initial predictions,  and membership is at 1,330, 42-percent more than predicted. Stations were expanded out to Northside and northern Kentucky earlier than planned due to its popularity, and it now has 50 stations, 20 more than when the program launched. Best yet, the Red Bike hasn't lost a single bike! Red Bike officials say this kind of growth into the second and third year isn't expected, and some stations — like the ones in Northside and Uptown — aren't being used as much as they'd like. But that's not stopping the program from celebrating. In addition to throwing itself a birthday bash at Taft's Ale House in OTR, bike rentals will be only a dollar on its anniversary tomorrow. 

• Officials from the city and the arts community this afternoon will reveal the group that will be renovating Music Hall. The 2 p.m. press conference will include details about the crew that will help with the $125 million project. The historic building is in dire need of repairs and updates, as duct tape holds the carpet in place in some areas, old hemp rope is still used behind the scenes, buckets are set up to catch leaks and narrow passageways and doors make staging difficult to get through the 137-year-old structure, officials say.  

• The Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police is expected to issue a vote of confidence for Interim Police Chief Eliot Isaac today. Isaac was promoted to assistant police chief in July and received this quick bump up in ranks after City Manager Harry Black fired former Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell last Wednesday. Isaac is a 26-year veteran of the CPD and had been serving as captain since 2004 before being promoted to assistant chief this summer. 

• City Manager Harry Black's memo released last Wednesday, the day Blackwell was fired, cited low morale, frequent absences and described Blackwell as too self-promotional, among the reasons why the police chief was fired for cause, but the Enquirer is questioning whether his community-focused policing approach played a part in his dismissal. Blackwell's approach to working with kids in the community through programs like the Right to Read program and a recently launched pilot program that would extend hours in community centers has been cited as a model for police stations by some outside of Cincinnati but possibly shook the city's confidence in him during a recent spike in shootings. 

• The great recession has robbed many Ohio young people of valuable formative career experience, resulting in a rise in poverty even as unemployment goes down, according to a report detailed by the Columbus Dispatch. Employers are more hesitant to hire workers with less experience or transient work histories, which is what a lot of young people who emerged during the recession have on their resumes. Instead jobs like the ones at call centers and manufacturing, which have historically gone to young less skilled workers, are going to older workers. By some estimates, 30,000 16- to 24-year-olds are without a job and not in school.

That's all for now. Email me story ideas at nkrebs@citybeat.com.

by Nick Swartsell 09.11.2015 31 days ago
Posted In: News, Police at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
screen shot 2015-07-30 at 10.12.49 am

Report: Dubose Shooting "Entirely Preventable"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.

by Nick Swartsell 09.11.2015 31 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 32 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 33 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 33 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 34 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 38 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!