Hey all! Once again, I’m rushing toward a day of covering meetings and hearings, so let’s do this morning news thing in a “just the facts” fashion.
First, about those meetings:
Cincinnati City Council today is expected to pass the streetcar operating and funding plans after the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee gave it the thumbs up yesterday. That’s a big deal, considering the city had been working for months to figure out where the system’s $4 million yearly operating budget would come from. But the fighting isn’t over. Now there’s disagreement about whether Metro or a contractor should run the streetcar. It’s a classic private vs. public argument. Vice Mayor David Mann and a majority of council want the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority to do the work. Councilmembers Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray, on the other hand, would like to see SORTA take bids on operations from private companies to see what kind of savings contracting the work could yield. A consultant for the transit authority, TRA, has generated numbers saying that the city could save about $300,000 a year by going private. SORTA’s union has taken issue with those numbers, though, and say they could match a private company’s price. Council won’t consider Mann’s proposal until sometime after Thanksgiving, which means a couple more weeks for wrangling over the deal.
City Council will also vote on a motion to name Third Street after Carl H. Lindner Jr., one of Cincinnati’s most towering business figures. That’s prompted some questions about Lindner’s legacy, specifically around LGBT issues. He gave millions to various causes around the city, but also had a darker side. Some, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, would like to take some time to get more public input on the move before putting his name on a prominent downtown street.
• Hamilton County Commissioners are holding a public hearing over the county’s 2015 budget this morning. The budget has been controversial. The original proposal by County Administrator Christian Sigman called for a .25 cent tax increase to fund renovations of a former hospital in Mt. Airy, a boost Republican commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann batted down recently. The Mt. Airy site, donated to the county by Mercy Hospital, would hold a new, updated crime lab and coroner’s office, as well as the county board of elections and other offices. The coroner’s office and crime lab are in serious need of updates, officials say, and are running at less than full capacity. Without the tax boost, however, the budget will remain flat and many other offices, including the Sheriff’s Department, will face cuts. Monzel has said he’d like to have the budget passed before Thanksgiving, making this the last significant hearing on the issue.
• Procter & Gamble has officially stepped up to publicly support same-sex marriage, the company said yesterday. While the company has had domestic partner benefits since 2001, this is the first time it’s made a public statement about the divisive issue. Though the announcement comes in the wake of a recent federal court decision upholding Ohio’s same-sex marriage amendment, the company says the move isn’t political, but is about supporting its employees and attracting the best possible talent.
• Major Hollywood movies filming here in Cincinnati give the city an undeniable cool factor, but does that translate into an economic boon as well? A recent study by the UC Center for Economics Education & Research says yes. The state pitches big tax breaks to film production companies, but also get a big boost in the jobs and economic activity those films bring, the study says — 4,000 jobs and $46 million in economic activity in Cincinnati for $6.5 million in tax breaks. But the equation may be more complicated than that. According to this Business Courier blog post, when you take into account the state’s return on investment – how much of that $46 million is coming back in taxes — and alternative uses for the tax dollars spent. Interesting stuff and worth thinking about.
• Ohio is about to free a prisoner wrongly convicted of murder almost 40 years ago. Ricky Jackson and two others were convicted of murdering a man in 1975 based on the eyewitness accounts of a single 12-year-old boy. That boy later recanted his testimony, saying he was "just trying to be helpful" to police by testifying. Jackson will be freed from jail Friday after a years-long legal battle aided by the Ohio Innocence Project. The Cleveland Scene first reported the story and drew attention the Jackson's plight.
• Finally, are we headed for another government shutdown? There’s a showdown brewing over President Barack Obama’s use of executive action to ease deportations of undocumented immigrants. Hardline conservative Republicans want to tuck measures preventing the president from doing this into spending bills integral to the budget process, forcing Obama to either sign them or veto them and halt Congress’ approval of funds that keep the federal government operating. GOP congressional leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner and probable Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said last year’s shutdown was damaging for the party and that they will not abide by a repeat. But the GOP’s tea party-aligned right flank says they won’t rule out grinding the government to a halt again.
What do you do to remember a billionaire who created thousands of jobs in the city and spread millions of dollars around to various charities?
What if that same guy gave generously to a group that pushed the passage of one of the country’s harshest anti-gay ordinances, hung out with the folks responsible for the saving and loan crisis in the 1990s and once ran a company that hired brutal Colombian paramilitary groups to protect its crops?
Maybe name a street after him.
Mayor John Cranley has proposed naming Third Street in Cincinnati “Carl H. Lindner Way” and hopes to have it pass Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday. Some in the city, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, have asked for more time and public input before the decision is made. Seelbach praised Lindner, but also criticized his stances on LGBT issues.
“Carl Lindner absolutely has made our city a better place in many, many ways,” Seelbach said during a Nov. 18 transportation committee meeting, citing his economic and charitable impact. “The problem is that we were perhaps the most anti-gay city in the country because of Article XII. One of the people, if not the person, who orchestrated its passage was Carl Lindner. That’s unfortunate, and he’s not here to defend himself, and I understand that. But I have a problem elevating him to where we are now naming one of our most prominent streets after someone whose efforts caused us to be known as an intolerable place.”
Seelbach said he wasn’t sure how he would vote on the issue given more time, but felt that public input on renaming the downtown thoroughfare was needed. Other council members agreed, though the measure passed out of committee and will be voted on by the full City Council tomorrow.
Seelbach, along with Councilmembers Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young, abstained from voting on the measure in committee. Simpson said she wanted public input and more time to think about the vote. Young said he wasn’t aware of Lindner’s role in Article XII and wanted to find out more.
There’s no doubt Lindner’s legacy is intertwined with Cincinnati’s. His name is on buildings he financed all over the city. Lindner, who died in 2011 at the age of 92, rose from meager beginnings to become one of America’s richest men, creating thousands of jobs and giving millions to charities in the area. He grew up in Norwood and started United Dairy Farmers from his family’s dairy shop. From that, his empire blossomed to include American Financial Corp., international produce corporation Chiquita, The Cincinnati Enquirer for a stretch and even the Cincinnati Reds for a few years. In 2000, he traded to bring hometown hero Ken Griffey Jr. back to Cincinnati, picking him up at Lunken Airport in one of his signature Rolls Royces.
But his power had a dark side. Lindner gave big money to Citizens for Community Values, the conservative group that pushed for the city’s 1993 Article XII charter amendment. The amendment barred laws protecting LGBT residents and made Cincinnati one of the most anti-gay cities in the country until it was repealed in 2004. Lindner's son, Carl Lindner III, served on the group's advisory board . The law is now seen as a black mark on the city, an embarrassing chapter from which Cincinnati has only recently recovered.
Lindner was also far from above reproach when it came to business ethics. He was very close with fellow Cincinnati captain of industry Charles Keating, another CCVer and so-called “face of the U.S. savings and loan bust,” a financial crisis in the 1990s that cost tax payers more than $3 billion. Keating was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the crisis, though he won an appeal on a technicality and was released after four. Before all that, though, Keating helped Lindner at American Financial, Lindner’s core business. The two were charged together in 1979 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for self-dealing from the company till. Lindner paid back more than $1 million, though he never admitted wrongdoing.
Lindner also oversaw other deeply troubling corporate practices, though he himself escaped implication in them. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million by the federal government after it was discovered that unnamed upper-level executives there were making payments to Colombian paramilitary groups beginning in 1997, during Lindner’s tenure at the helm of the company. Those payments, to groups like AUC and FARC that terrorized Columbian citizens, were found to be in violation of U.S. anti-terrorism laws. AUC was especially violent, carrying out some of the country's largest massacres. The group was also engaged in the country's cocaine trade.
Many details about shady practices at Chiquita were revealed years earlier in 1997, when The Cincinnati Enquirer published a year-long investigation it had done on the company. Chiquita slapped the paper with an immediate lawsuit because a reporter there had illegally hacked into the company's phone messaging system. The Enquirer quickly retracted the story, ran front-page apologies and paid a $10 million-plus settlement to the company. Chiquita claimed the stories were fundamentally unbalanced, though reviews by The New York Times and other national news outlets found some of the story's revelations couldn't easily be explained away. But the charges of phone hacking got most of the attention and took the air out of the Enquirer stories, as the American Journalism Review noted in a 1998 piece that gives excellent background into the relations between Lindner and Cincinnati's daily paper of record.
"Chiquita has been quite successful at
blunting the impact of the Enquirer series by focusing attention on the
paper's reporting techniques," the publication said.
The recent Enquirer story about the renaming of Third Street doesn't mention any of the controversy around Lindner or Chiquita.
Cranley’s move to name a public street after Lindner isn’t unique. Last month, there was a half-serious suggestion by Norwood Mayor Tom Williams to rename the Norwood Lateral after the Cincinnati-born businessman. That suggestion was in response to State Sen. Eric Kerney’s proposal to name the lateral after Barack Obama, though Williams said ideally he’d leave the highway alone entirely and not rename it after anyone.
Correction: an earlier version of this post referred to Carl Lindner III as president of CCV. He served on the group's advisory board, not as president.
Hey all. The tide has turned. Nearly every morning, I stop into one of a few downtown spots to grab a donut and (lately decaf) iced coffee on my walk to work. In the summer, this was unremarkable, but as the weather has gotten colder, it’s become something cashiers laugh at me about. Thing is, I have very poor impulse control and can’t wait more than a couple minutes to start drinking and always burn the hell outta my mouth on hot drinks. Today, though, I actually got hot coffee. It’s that cold out. “Finally,” the cashier said.
So yeah, news. A federal judge has recused himself in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Health over Ohio’s restrictions on clinics that provide abortions. Judge Timothy Black has sent the suit back for reassignment because he served on Planned Parenthood’s board 25 years ago. While he says he would follow legal precedent in deciding the suit, he wants to avoid any appearance of bias and is passing the case off to another judge.
• Former Mason mayor and outgoing Republican State Rep. Pete Beck has for months been facing charges that he committed investment fraud by luring investors into putting money into an insolvent company called Christopher Technologies. Beck was chief financial officer of the company. His case has yet to get underway as prosecutors continue to try and get documents with details about his investors. Beck was indicted 18 months ago. His attorneys say the state is taking too long and should drop the case, but attorneys for the AG’s office have said no way. Beck’s co-defendant Janet Combs, who runs Ark by the River Fellowship Ministries, has pleaded no contest to charges in connection with the case and will be testifying against Beck when his case goes to trial next year. Combs’ church, which judges have called “a cult,” has been ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution to victims of the investment scheme.
• Another local government has signaled support for efforts to make high-speed rail between Chicago and Cincinnati a reality. The city of Wyoming passed an ordinance yesterday requesting a feasibility study for the project from the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments. Hamilton County Commissioners have also backed the idea of a study to see how much such a project would cost. The effort is being led by non-profit All Aboard Ohio. The group has its quarterly public meeting tonight in Over-the-Rhine at 6 p.m.
• A bill passed yesterday by the Ohio House’s Education Committee would eliminate minimum salary requirements for teachers in the state. Supporters say the bill will make it possible to institute better merit pay for teachers. Opponents say it will just pit educators against each other. The bill should go up for a vote in the full House of Representatives sometime this week.
• Proposals for changing Ohio’s redistricting process for both congressional and state legislative districts are floating through the Ohio General Assembly. The plans, proposed by Republicans, would remove input from courts and the governor from the redistricting process. Instead, state legislators of both parties would vote on redistricting maps, and if they can’t agree, the maps will go on a ballot initiative for voters to decide. Conservatives call this method fairer, but some experts say it will only make Ohio’s already terribly lopsided redistricting process worse. Oh, great.
“It is the dominant party that holds the whip in its hand and can beat the opposing party, the minority, into subjection with it,” said Ohio State University law professor Dan Tokaji. “As a practical matter, the minority party has no real leverage under this proposal.”
• So, this is super-creepy. An Uber exec, frustrated about negative press coverage his company has been receiving, said the company should hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who report negative stories about the company. Uber’s Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael made the comments during a swank dinner hosted by a political consultant for the company and attended by VIPs like Ed Norton and Huffington Post publisher Arianna Huffington. Michael suggested Uber should spend a million dollars to fight back against journalists by digging into their “personal lives,” and their “families,” even throwing out a name or two of specific journalists they could target. Uber later said that the conversation was supposed to be off the record, and Michael said his comments were merely hypotheticals and don’t “reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”
Oh, of course. Saying you want to dig up the personal lives of people who criticize you and then saying "just kidding!" isn't creepy at all. Carry on.
I’m sure the big old lumps of snow are a bummer for those of you who drive to work, but it was super cool walking from Mount Auburn to CityBeat HQ this morning. Seeing the hillsides shrouded in white and downtown poking out of the mist on my way down reminded me how much I love this city. It also netted me a bunch of likes on Instagram, which is the main thing I’m excited about, of course.
Anyway, on to the news. Because ordering things from the Internet takes so, so long and just doesn’t have the wow factor it used to, Amazon has been considering using drones to deliver items to your door for about a year now. What’s more, the Greater Cincinnati area could be one of the first places to get that service if changes to aviation laws expected next year make it a possibility. The company is currently hiring drone pilots, engineers and other folks with relevant experience to help build its drone delivery program. Who wouldn’t want flying robots speeding toward your house with all that stuff you bought during your last stoned 2 a.m. shopping spree?
• It’s getting harder and harder to live on what you earn at jobs requiring few specialized skills, both in the area and in the country as a whole. That’s lead to a push in Greater Cincinnati to create new routes for workers who want to get high-skill jobs in the manufacturing and tech industries. Many companies offering these jobs can’t find enough qualified applicants, leading them to establish or support training and apprenticeship programs for low-skill workers and recent high school graduates.
• I learned a lot about sex trafficking doing our cover story a couple weeks ago on sex workers. The problem is real and huge. Here’s a terrifying story about captivity, sex trafficking and abuse at a house in Avondale, where as many as a dozen women were held by a Colerain man for an indeterminate amount of time. Christopher Hisle, who has been in trouble for running unlicensed sex-oriented businesses in the past, is charged with sex trafficking and faces up to 15 years in prison.
• If you’re looking to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act but are somewhat befuddled by the process, you’re in luck. An enrollment assistance center contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services is open in the city to help folks with navigating the healthcare exchanges. The center is at 4600 Wesley Ave. Suite C, Cincinnati OH 45212. You can give them a call as well at 513-802-8092, or visit them on Facebook and Twitter.
• Some conservative lawmakers in Ohio’s General Assembly are pushing a new bill that would make secret the details about those who supply lethal injection drugs to the state. Ohio hasn’t been able to find a source for lethal injection drugs because no companies want to be associated with supplying it. Making suppliers secret would solve this problem, Republican lawmakers say. Ohio has had to suspend executions due to the prolonged death of Dennis McGuire last January. McGuire was killed using a new combination of two drugs. Ohio has had to resort to such mixtures because the company that manufactures the original drug the state used has refused to sell it for use in executions. As McGuire died, witnesses say he was gasping for breath. The state says he was asleep and did not experience discomfort, but his 25-minute-long execution prompted a federal judge to issue a temporary stay on executions. The next scheduled lethal injection will take place Feb. 11 unless federal courts order more delays. In response to the drug dilemma, some lawmakers are calling for alternative execution methods, including returning to the electric chair, to be considered.
• Also in the State House, the House Education Committee is considering legislation today that would reduce the amount of time public school students spend taking standardized tests. House Bill 228 proposes limiting testing to four hours a year and has been greeted with enthusiasm by lawmakers, some school officials and education groups.
• Finally, here's a pro tip: don't drive yourself to your driver's license test, then lead cops on a car chase when they ask why you're driving before you have your license. Or do, if you want a really epic story about why you walk to work every day. I just walk because I'm too lazy to find a parking space. This guy's excuse is way more interesting.
Hey all, here’s what’s happening this morning. I’ll be brief. It’s Friday, and we all have stuff to do if we want to get out of work early.
City Council committed to doubling human services funding in its meeting yesterday. The fund, which provides money to 54 organizations that fight poverty in the city, will go from $1.5 million to $3 million in the next city budget. That boost will bring the fund up to .84 percent of the city’s operating budget, with a goal of eventually raising it to 1.5 percent, a level the city hasn’t seen in ten years due to harsh cuts during that time.
• At their respective meetings this week, both City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners agreed unanimously to create a city-county cooperation task force. The task force would look for ways to share services between the two governmental bodies. Councilman Chris Seelbach said he’d like to see the group find ways to cooperate with the region’s other municipalities as well, including places like Norwood and Saint Bernard.
• Developers are looking to pour about $80 million into projects in Mount Auburn, one of the city’s more neglected neighborhoods. The area just north of Over-the-Rhine and just south of Clifton and Corryville could see new office space and apartment buildings, among other development projects.
• In a way, this is the flip-side of the shared services coin: the City of Sharonville is considering doing away with its health department in order to contract services through Hamilton County Public Health. That’s upset some members of the community there. Mayor Kevin Hardman has recommended the move, and Sharonville City Council will vote on it soon.
• Are you ready for a Rand Paul presidential run? The Kentucky Senator and tea party hero is about “95 percent” certain to be vying for the Republican nomination in 2016, according to this Politico story. Paul’s father, Ron Paul, is something of a libertarian folk hero who has pushed for auditing the Federal Reserve Bank, zeroing out entire departments in the federal government and other kinds of whacky ideas. The elder Paul made runs in the last two presidential elections as an independent, where he got a lot of attention but not much of the vote. Rand has combined many of his father’s libertarian ideals with a more palatable tone and connections to both establishment and tea party factions of the GOP. He’s also tried to make inroads on traditionally progressive issues, saying he wants to reform drug laws and pull back U.S. military involvement overseas. He’s gone to places where liberals are most likely to hang out— speaking at UC Berkeley and this summer’s Urban League conference in Cincinnati, for instance — in an attempt to make his case. Be prepared to see a lot more of that in the near future.
• Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, firebrand Senator Elizabeth Warren will join Democratic leadership in that chamber, a sign the party is seeking to bring the left-leaning part of its base in closer. Warren has crusaded against big banks and their role in the financial crisis and has big populist appeal among progressives. Some of her job in her new position will be reaching out to those groups and voters as well as advising the party as a whole on policy and messaging. Some progressives have pushed her name as an alternative to Hillary Clinton for the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2016, but so far, Warren has said she’s staying out of the race.
City Council yesterday unanimously passed a motion committing $1.5 million more to the city’s Human Services fund in its next budget, doubling the fund’s size.
The increase is part of an ongoing rethinking of the city’s human services funding. But with that change in focus comes the potential that some of the 54 organizations that receive support from the fund could see some cuts in the next budget.
A working group headed by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and Vice Mayor David Mann suggests focusing first and foremost on two major areas: increasing gainful employment and reducing homelessness, splitting the fund down the middle for those purposes. Along with those major focus areas, it also suggests the establishment of a collaborative between law enforcement and the community to curtail violence in Cincinnati when more funds are available.
The changes won’t take place for another six months, kicking in with the new fiscal year, giving organizations and the city time to adjust to the new budget priorities.
“Number one, we wanted to make sure to increase how much we put into human services each year,” said Mann, who helped draw up the proposal, “and secondly that we focus on a few significant areas and see if we can’t make progress there instead of trying to shotgun amongst many programs.”
The motion to adopt the suggestions by the human services working group is the next step in a months-long process to update the way the city funds anti-poverty programs. It’s also a step toward restoring funding for human services to 1.5 percent of the city’s operating budget, a long-term goal for the city and a level it hasn’t seen in a decade.
Currently, the city’s $1.5 million human services fund accounts for just .42 percent of the city’s $358 million budget. In the past, the city has made deep cuts to the fund. The boost would raise the fund’s proportion of the budget to .84 percent. Simpson and others, including Mann, say they hope to get back to 1.5 percent as more funding becomes available.
Simpson says the working group included advice from the United Way, which currently helps the city evaluate programs it is funding, as well as community members and various boards like the Human Services Advisory Committee and the Community Development Advisory Board, which oversees how federal Community Development Block Grants are spent.
The city hasn’t decided where the money for the increase will come from yet, a point of concern for some council members.
“Whenever we move to increase funding for something, I like to be able to identify the source of funds,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He noted there was still time to do that before the overall budget is passed.
Flynn also said he’d like to see human services funding go through the same process, something that has been a sore point among some council members lately.
“There’s a lot of money that we’ve approved in our general operating budget that hasn’t gone through the guidelines and process that we’ve established,” Flynn said.
Councilman Seelbach expressed similar concerns, specifically about the way decisions are made on funding anti-poverty programs.
“All of us have agencies that we’re somewhat close to, and it’s not fair to pick them over others,” Seelbach said, a reference to recent moves that have shifted money from some nonprofits to others. “So if we can put them all in a fair, non-political process like the United Way, I think the city’s better for it.”
Hey hey all. Hope your Thursday is going well. Tomorrow’s Friday! And that's our 20th anniversary party! You should come. You should also venture out into that bleak, unforgiving cold to pick up a copy of our 20th anniversary issue now. It’s got a lot of really fun looks back at the past two decades of CityBeat as well as a picture of a very young me holding a puppy. How can you resist?
After the absolute deluge of news yesterday, today is relatively quiet. Well, for the most part. The hearing in Hamilton County courts on former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s request to have her felony conviction thrown out is happening as you read. Hunter was convicted on one of nine counts she was facing last month on a variety of charges. The one that stuck: allegations she improperly intervened in disciplinary actions against her brother, a court employee accused of assaulting an inmate. There’s a big wrinkle in the case, however, as three jurors have recanted their guilty verdicts. It promises to be a very interesting day in court.
• U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell will be dropping by Cincinnati today to talk about health care coverage and enrollment in a health policy under the Affordable Care Act ahead of the Nov. 15 open enrollment period. She’ll be joined by Mayor John Cranley at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at 12:45 p.m. Burwell will also be swinging through Columbus earlier in the day.
• It’s been a rough week, so I’m into this next thing. Today is World Kindness Day, it turns out. I’d never heard of that before, but I guess any excuse to be nice to people is a good one. If you mosey down to Fountain Square between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., you can pick a flower from a large flower wall being installed by KIND Healthy Snacks. The idea is you pass the flower along to a stranger or anyone else you see who could use a little pick-me-up. There will also be surprises for people who are nice or could use a little kindness throughout the day.
• This year is a big anniversary for another group. The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, which started in 1984, is celebrating 30 years working to end homelessness. The coalition has also been very active in asking big questions about development in Over-the-Rhine and other places where low-income folks live. They’re having a celebration Dec. 11.
• Ironically, there’s yet another big anniversary this year. The term “gentrification” was coined in 1964 by British sociologist Ruth Glass. Here’s a really fascinating and provocative history of the term published last week that’s worth reading.
• The debate over net neutrality has been on the front burner lately, thanks in part to new statements from President Barack Obama. That debate hasn’t just been about words and ideas, of course, because nothing in politics ever is. Cash has played a big role in the fight. Anti-net neutrality telecommunications companies, who want the right to create so-called “fast lanes” and treat certain kinds of internet content differently, have given more than $62 million to political action committees in the past 14 years. Compare that to big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which support net neutrality. They’ve given just $22 million. Part of that is that these companies haven’t been around or as powerful for as long. No matter what the cause, though, it’s clear that telecomm is pouring vast sums of money into the pockets of politicians to try and keep the federal government from making rules about net neutrality.
• Today, you get a crazy news two for one. First, a guy got arrested (in Florida, you guessed it) trying to steal a chainsaw by sticking it down his pants. That’s wonderful. Second, Philae, that unmanned European space probe you’ve probably already heard about, landed on a comet yesterday. That’s never been done before. The probe has been beaming back pictures and drilling samples out of the comet’s surface. It’s also been live-tweeting its trip, though most of its commentary has just been about the fact it’s really cold and boring in space and about how the comet doesn’t have as good of a jukebox or beer selection as The Comet.
Morning y’all. Here’s a brief news rundown before I head off to a day full of meetings and news conferences. Hope you’re having as much fun on your Wednesday as I will be.
Cincinnati is set to receive a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, the group's highest possible rating. HRC will announce the score today at 10 a.m. at Memorial Hall. It’s a huge turnaround from just a decade ago, when the city finally overturned one of the most restrictive anti-LGBT rights ordinances in the country.
• Cincinnati’s last remaining facility providing abortions, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Mount Auburn, is suing the state in federal court over a law prohibiting state-funded hospitals from entering into emergency patient transfer agreements with clinics. The Planned Parenthood clinic had an agreement with nearby UC Hospital before the law went into effect, but the hospital was forced to end the agreement. Attorneys for the clinic say recent citations from the Ohio Department of Health for not having that agreement could shut it down, which would leave southwestern Ohio without access to an abortion provider. That, they say, violates a Supreme Court decision that ruled that states can’t put an undue burden on women seeking abortions. Cincinnati could become the largest metro area in the country without access to a clinic if the Planned Parenthood facility closes.
• Hamilton County’s prospective 2015 budget looks to have a lot of departments tightening their belts. County commissioners have indicated they're leaning toward something closer to a $200 million budget instead the more robust one put forth by county administrator Christian Sigman. Republicans Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann are both proposing plans closer to the alternate path mainly because it doesn’t rely on a recommended quarter-cent sales tax increase, which would have needed voter approval next year. Democrat Todd Portune supports a 5-year tax bump, but he looks to be outvoted. If the commissioners forgo offering the tax increase to voters, it could leave a number of services, including the county coroner office and crime lab, without badly needed upgrades for another year. The budget would cut three positions from the office and could risk its accreditation, according to a budget impact report authored by Hamilton County Budget Director John Bruggen. It might eliminate 41 positions at the sheriff’s office, cause cuts to the county’s juvenile justice court, public defender’s office and many other county services. Commissioners hope to have the budget finalized by Nov. 24. A public hearing on the various options will be held Nov. 19.
• A fight is brewing over a proposal being considered by the Ohio Board of Education that could eliminate art, music and phys-ed instructors at some schools. Currently, Ohio has requirements that every public school in the state have at least five of eight specialized positions for each 1,000 students. Opponents of the standards change say it would allow schools to get rid of instructors for art, music, physical education and other subjects as well as librarians and other employees. These cuts, they say, would come most often at schools in low-income areas. Supporters say the change would give more power to local districts, allowing them to make staffing choices themselves. The standards have been in place since 1983. The 19-member board met yesterday in a public meeting to consider the idea, which a board committee has recommended for adoption. The meeting got testy when a 75-minute presentation about the standards was set before public comment could be heard. Four board members walked out of the meeting in protest, though they returned later.
• Authorities are gearing up for another round of civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury's decision on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown is expected sometime this month, possibly very soon. Indications seem to suggest the grand jury will choose not to indict Wilson, leaving officials in the St. Louis area on edge.
• Finally, this is what we’ve come to as a society — meta drones. This small unmanned aircraft just took off from another drone. The bigger one, shaped like an aircraft carrier that is, err, also an aircraft, is called the Helidrone. It can lift another, smaller drone into the air, where the smaller drone also takes off. This is useful because… well, it’s cool at least. Thanks science!
Hello all. Hope you’re ready for some news, because I’ve got a bunch for ya.
First, happy Veterans Day! Here’s a timely bit of news: Cincinnati City Council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young announced an initiative yesterday to track the number of veterans employed by the city in an effort make Cincinnati the most welcoming city in the country for veterans. The initiative will require contractors working on city projects to report how many veterans are employed on those projects, as well as keeping track of how many the city itself employs.
“This data will show how your tax dollars help grow opportunities for our veterans and keep their families employed and growing in our region,” Seelbach said in a statement. After the data is collected, the city will work with contractors and veterans service agencies in the city to improve veteran employment opportunities. In the years after 9/11, unemployment for vets has remained stubbornly high, even as unemployment for the general population starts to fall.
• The Human Rights Campaign, one of the biggest LGBT rights advocacy groups in the country, has chosen Cincinnati as the place it will unveil its 2014 Municipal Equality Index, which measures how welcoming cities are to members of the LGBT community. They’ll release the results tomorrow at Memorial Hall. Check out our brief piece here for more details.
• Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune want to explore the possibility of the city and county sharing certain services in an effort to boost efficiency for both. You can read more in our blog post from yesterday, but here’s the short take: It’s not a new idea, and there are a lot of political hoops to jump through that have kept shared services from happening in the past. But there’s also a lot of interest in the idea, and Cranley and Portune say their proposal will work. They’ll be asking City Council and county commissioners tomorrow to approve the creation of a task force that will meet regularly to oversee city-county cooperation.
• Downtown’s Horseshoe Casino last month had its lowest-grossing month since opening in March 2013, taking in just under $14 million. A crowded field of gambling options in the region, including neighboring Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Indiana has contributed to the low earnings.
• While we’re talking about Indiana: Will the default of a major tollway in that state make financing the Brent Spence Bridge replacement more difficult? It’s a possibility, some investment experts say. A company contracted to manage the $3.85 billion Indiana Toll Road went bankrupt this fall, which could have ripple effects for a similar Brent Spence project, spooking investors who might otherwise be interested in it. Another interesting wrinkle in this story is that the Indiana project fell behind financially because of declining traffic on the Indiana toll road, a result of fewer folks using cars to get from point A to point B.
• Ohio’s charter schools are some of the lowest-performing in the country, a recent study found. The Stanford University research shows that after a year in an average Ohio charter school, students lag behind public school pupils in reading and math. Ohio’s schools were the fourth-lowest out of 26 states studied in terms of performance. An analysis by the Akron Beacon Journal suggests that for-profit charter schools are the reason for much of the performance disparity, with 14 of the state’s 16 lowest-performing charters run by for-profit companies. Eight of the top 12 charter schools, meanwhile, are run by non-profits. The analysis notes there are some exceptions to the rule, however, including three suburban Columbus charters run by New York-based company Mosaica Education. You can read the whole report here.
• Days after the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld the region’s same-sex marriage bans, the Supreme Court has put a temporary delay on removal of a similar ban in Kansas. After a district court there struck down the state’s ban, Kansas requested the Supreme Court put that decision on hold. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked for response from same-sex marriage advocates to the state’s request, and in the meantime has temporarily delayed the removal of the state’s ban on gay marriage. The district court’s ruling was set to go into effect at 6 p.m. today, allowing same-sex couples in the state to wed. The ruling is just a temporary delay, however, and doesn’t signal whether the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in favor of the state.
• President Obama has made some of the most definitive statements of his presidency lately in regard to his support for net neutrality, saying yesterday that measures to ensure that Internet service providers treat online content equally is "a big priority of mine." The statement seemed like a bit of surprise to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, a former telecom executive appointed by Obama. He's responded that the FCC is an independent agency and will do what it sees fit. The question, of course, is why Obama nominated a telecom exec to be FCC chair in the first place, but yeah. The battle over net neutrality was already raging well before Obama took office but has intensified in recent years as telecom companies seek to create what opponents describe as "fast lanes" that give faster service to some kinds of content over others. Obama is pushing to reclassify ISPs as utilities instead of communications companies, which would give the federal government more power to regulate them and enforce rules about equal treatment of data flowing through ISPs' networks.
• A Deer Park man claiming he was Jesus has been taken into custody for mental evaluation, police there say. The man apparently made threats to a locally based, national-level politician and authorities are assessing what kind of risk he poses to others. Mental health is a serious issue, of course, but I really have to point out the epic one-liner this guy got off during a 911 call about his condition.
"I'm messed up," the man said to a 911 operator. "Can you tell my father I'm OK?"
"OK, where is your father at?" the operator asked.
"Uh, everywhere," the man claiming to be Jesus responded. Zing.
Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune are proposing a task force that could help the city and county governments share services. The idea has been proposed in the past with little progress, however, due to politics and an unwillingness to cut departments. But Portune and Cranley point to city-county cooperation on The Banks riverfront development project as proof the two governments can coordinate.
Portune acknowledged that the idea has been floated many times in the past. The Democrat commissioner sent a proposal to former Mayor Mark Mallory about the idea in 2011. Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann also discussed shared services many times with city officials, but again nothing ever came of the talks.
Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel has also expressed interest in shared services, pointing out situations where the city relies on the state, such as hospital inspections, as possible places where the city and county could work together. He says the county could do those inspections.
Hartmann has said coordinating services between the two bodies is a matter of political will, not necessarily further study. He’s on the fence about supporting the effort.
Past failures don’t mean cooperation isn’t possible or necessary, Portune said. He said The Banks project, which is finally seeing fruition after more than a decade of work, is a great example of what the city and county can do together.
“Just go about 12 blocks south of here and you look at the magnificent things that are happening on the city and the county’s central riverfront,” Portune said. “All of the new development at The Banks, all of that was planned and envisioned and decided through a joint city and county effort.”
He said a similar arrangement could work on a more permanent basis, helping both the city and county save valuable resources.
“In this day and age of lower revenues and resources, of squeezed budgets, of the state and federal government giving greater unfunded mandates on local governments,” Portune said, “we have to do more and more with less and less annually.”
Cranley and Portune will introduce matching proposals at Cincinnati City Council and board of commissioners meetings Wednesdays asking both bodies to create a group that would study ways the city and county could share some services for greater efficiency. The group would meet at least quarterly with commissioners and council members.
“We have to try all things,” Cranley said. He said dwindling resources and looming changes in state business taxes could take a bite out of local government funds. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of such changes by the state but said he sees shared services as a good idea either way. “Just because we think it’s fair and right that the state government stop attacking local government doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue shared services.”
Under the shared services arrangement, some departments in both governments, such as the county’s permitting departments or the city’s Environmental Services Office, could eventually see reductions as two offices are folded into one.
Cranley said a few areas spring to mind as possible places for sharing services, including the city prosecutor’s office. But he said that doesn’t mean the office will close up shop.
“I think the city is going to maintain a prosecutorial function,” Cranley said, noting that he thinks the city is better suited to pursue some cases, such as negligent property owners. “I think our efforts will be ramped up in some cases, not reduced.”
But Cranley also said that some prosecutions are duplicated by the two courts and that some criminal cases could be better handled by the county.
Portune said the effort could lead to wider cooperation among local governments. There is great interest in pooling resources and sharing services among the area’s 48 municipalities and other jurisdictions, he said.
“This effort should not be limited to just the city and the county,” he said. “It’s going to start out this way. But ... there’s a tremendous appetite with the other 48 local jurisdictions. Some of that has happened, but there’s an awful lot more that could and should.”
Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things.
• City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.
• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.
• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.
The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market.
"Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.
• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron.
The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.
UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.
• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further.
“The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”
• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.
“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”
• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.
All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.
• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.
• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.
Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.”
Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize.
"He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."
A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.
Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.
“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said.
• It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.
• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature.
• 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!
Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.
Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest.
Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual.
Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.
The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts.
• The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.
• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.
• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.
• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked.
• Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.
• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!
• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on.
The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have
208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will
lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space.
Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati
Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s
overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins.
Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of
housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the
city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods
Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could
go for a full council vote on Wednesday.
• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!
• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the
state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of
those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year,
while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate.
That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six
years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are
addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the
alarming increase in abuse of the drug.
• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.
• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.
Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.
Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.
“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”
Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."
“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”
“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.
Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.
Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.
“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”
After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.
Morning all. It’s Friday, I’m almost finished with a couple big stories for next week and I’m warm and cozy next to my portable fireplace (read: space heater). Things are looking up.
Let’s talk about news. Mayor John Cranley recently announced he is replacing Planning Commission Chair Caleb Faux with former Pleasant Ridge Community Council President Dan Driehaus. Last month, Faux and Cranley got into a tiff after City Manager Harry Black removed a provision from the planning commission’s agenda that would have preserved the possibility of commuter rail in the city’s plans for Wasson Way on the East Side. Faux accused Cranley, who is no fan of rail projects, of trying to block future light rail along Wasson Way. Cranley said he simply wanted to give more time for consideration of the measure.
Cranley said the move wasn't a reflection on Faux and that Driehaus is simply a better fit for the board. Council voted unanimously to approve Driehaus’ appointment.
Faux fired back yesterday after Cranley announced his replacement. While Faux said Driehaus is capable and will do a good job, he painted the mayor as a foe of city planning attempts to create pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods and a friend of big developers. Faux and Cranley have been at odds for years on the subject of form-based versus use-based codes, going back to Oakley’s Center of Cincinnati development last decade. That development put a Target, Meijers and other big box stores in the neighborhood. Faux opposed the project.
"What the mayor seems to want is a planning commission that will accept his direction and won't be independent,” Faux told the Business Courier yesterday. “I think he has a philosophy that we need to be friendly to developers and that using land-use regulations as a way to shape the city is not a good idea."
Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne brushed off that criticism. He pointed to Cranley’s involvement in the creation of tax-increment financing districts for Over-the-Rhine and downtown while he was on City Council as evidence the mayor is invested in creating urban spaces.
Pointing to redevelopment in OTR as a sign you’re not cozy with big developers is an interesting way to go. But I digress.
• Also in City Hall news, Cranley announced yesterday he will appoint former congressman and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to the city’s port authority board. Luken, who was instrumental in creating the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, has strong ties in the Cincinnati business community. He’s also close with Cranley, and the move may be a way to improve strained relations between the port and City Hall.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday announced a proposal to add people who are homeless to a list of those protected by the city’s hate crime laws. He also announced a second proposal adding $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter in OTR. You can read more about both here.
• Is Cincinnati the next Silicon Valley? The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible. The blog cited Cincinnati as one of eight unexpected cities where investors are flocking. OTR-based business incubator The Brandery got a specific shout out, as did the city’s major Fortune 500 companies and its “All American Midwest” feel. Trigger warning: The term “flyover city” is used in reference to Cincy in this article.
• Last night, the Ohio State Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would amend the state’s constitution and change the redistricting process for elections to the Ohio General Assembly. It took until 4 a.m. to reach the agreement, because the Senate parties hard. The amendment would create a seven-member board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two legislators from each party. That is two more members than the current board, which is made up of two statewide office holders and three legislators. The 10-year district maps drawn by the board would need two votes from the minority party or they would come up for review after four years. The bill next goes to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.
• Finally: Congress has agreed upon a budget, it seems, and the government won’t come to a grinding, weeks-long shutdown like it did last year. If you just leave it there and don’t think about it more than that, that’s good news. But looking into some of the budgetary sausage being made is a bit terrifying. Rolled up in the massive “CRomnibus” spending proposal (meaning continuing resolution plus omnibus spending bill) is a measure that would increase rich donors’ ability to give money to political parties. Currently, donors are limited to $97,200 as individuals. The new limit would be a seven-fold boost: $776,000. A married couple would be able to donate a jaw-dropping $3.1 million under the rule changes tucked into the shutdown-averting measure.
Another worrisome measure would dismantle certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which holds big banks accountable for reckless, risky financial dealings. In the simplest terms, the rules change would allow banks to keep certain risky assets in accounts insured by the federal government, leaving taxpayers on the hook for huge potential losses. As if we didn’t learn our lesson in 2008.
The measures were last-minute concessions needed to win the votes of a number of conservative congressmen. It’s depressing to think that our options are either a complete lapse into governmental dysfunction or these gimmes to the nation’s most powerful financial interests, but there you have it.
Have a fun Friday!
“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”
Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.
Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans. The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.
Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.
“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”
Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.
In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.
“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”
While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.
“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”
Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.
“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.
Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.
Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.
“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”
Morning y’all. Let’s get this news thing going.
Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved zoning changes for a major, and controversial, development in the CUF neighborhood just south of UC. The project, done by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co., will bring 180 apartments mostly for student housing, townhomes, a 380-space underground parking garage and up to 9,000 square feet of retail space to the spot where the historic Lenhardt’s restaurant was located on McMillan Avenue. The plans are a revision of an earlier proposal that called for called for eight stories on the buildings instead of six and an entrance for cars on Lyon Street which was later removed. Some community members say those revisions still don’t help the project fit in with the residential neighborhood.
A group of about 10 residents came to the meeting. They’d like to see something more oriented toward homeowners and long-term renters, they say, instead of students. They’re also highly concerned about parking and traffic in the busy McMillan-Calhoun corridor. Citing these concerns, both council members Yvette Simpson and Christopher Smitherman voted against the zoning changes, though they praised Gilbane for being flexible and taking community opinion into account in revising its plans. The townhomes, for instance, were added by Gilbane as a way to market the development to groups other than students. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at development in CUF next week.
• While we’re talking development: Change in Over-the-Rhine looks to be entering a new stage as more developers start talking about single-family housing instead of apartments or condos. The most recent development in this vein — five townhomes are coming to Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. Three will be newly built, two will be renovations and one is already sold. The 2,400-square-foot units built by John Huber Homes will cost between $400,000 to $600,000 a piece and will feature posh amenities such as rooftop decks and gated parking.
• City Council yesterday also passed a compromise on a seemingly innocuous parking ticket food drive initiative that had become the subject of some controversy. Originally, the plan, proposed by Councilmembers Chris Seelbach and Amy Murray, would have offered a one-time amnesty for the $90 cost of a single delinquent parking ticket in exchange for 10 canned food items. But that met with resistance from Councilman Kevin Flynn, who balked at the idea that those who don’t pay parking tickets would be able to get off so lightly. Mayor John Cranley also wasn’t into it, calling the idea “reckless.” A compromise was reached in Council’s Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday. The city will still collect the original $45 parking ticket fee but will waive late charges for anyone who brings in the canned goods. The offer is good from Dec. 15-19 and only applies to tickets from 2014.
"This is a one-time chance to clear an old debt and do good for your community at the same time,” Seelbach said. “In the New Year, the city will begin aggressive collection of delinquent parking tickets under a new contract with Xerox, but this holiday season you can come clean, make a donation and make a difference.”
• University of Cincinnati medical students yesterday staged a “die-in” to protest racial inequality in the nation’s justice system. More than 70 participated. You can read our story on that here.
• The state of Kentucky will no longer throw in tax dollars on religious group Answers in Genesis’ Noah’s Ark theme park project in Grant County. Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart sent the group a letter yesterday rescinding the state’s offer of up to $18 million in tax rebates because he says the project has gone from a tourist attraction to a ministry. Answers is known for making employees sign statements of faith pledging adherence to the group’s Christian beliefs. Answers also runs the well-known Creation Museum in Kentucky.
• Overcrowding at the Hamilton County Jail could determine how long former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter stays in jail. Hunter was sentenced to six months for a felony conviction recently and is supposed to report to jail immediately after Christmas. However, the jail is at capacity and first-time offenders who are non-violent are usually the first to be released under such overcrowded conditions.
“I want to make the public aware and everyone aware that this jail is full," Hamilton County Jail Administrator Maj. Charmaine McGuffey told Channel 5 yesterday. "We’ve been full for a number of years. And we’ve been making these hard difficult decisions all along. Tracie Hunter is going to be no different in the decision-making process.”
Fifty-six Hamilton County Democrats asked Judge Norbert Nadel, who sentenced Hunter, to defer her jail time until an appeal she has filed can be heard. Nadel refused that request. Hunter’s felony would usually only result in probation, but Nadel cited her stature as a public figure and judge in his decision to apply the harsher punishment.
More than 70 University of Cincinnati medical students today staged a “die in,” lying on the floor of the busy UC Medical Sciences Building to protest what they say are serious racial disparities in the nation’s justice system.
That protest mirrored similar events across the country reacting to police killings of unarmed black citizens and subsequent lack of indictments in some of those cases. Organizers of the event say that students at more than 70 medical schools participated in the noon demonstrations.
In Cincinnati, the medical and pharmacy students spent 20 minutes sprawled out beneath the building's soaring, modern atrium in white lab coats with signs reading “Am I Next?” and “Black Lives Matter." The group was mostly silent, save a reading of a passage from the Hippocratic Oath about understanding the needs of communities doctors serve.
Among them was Zuri Hemphill, a medical student who helped organize the protest.
“This is to stand in solidarity across the nation and to use our platform as medical students, because that’s something we’ve earned and a voice that we have, to call attention to the fact that this is not just a lower socio-economic problem but a problem across the black community and the entire American community,” she said.
The demonstration is the latest in a series that have taken place in Cincinnati and across the country over the issue of police use of force against people of color. That’s a subject especially sensitive to Cincinnati, which experienced days of civil unrest in 2001 after white police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed 18-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine.
The latest round of the conversation on race and the justice system was sparked by the Aug. 9 shooting death of 19-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That shooting sparked waves of protests in the city and around the country and focused attention on similar incidents, including the death of John Crawford of Fairfield, who was killed by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart.
A grand jury’s decision last month not to indict Wilson led to a fresh wave of protests, including one in Cincinnati that drew more than 300 people and briefly shut down I-75.
Beyond solidarity, Hemphill said today’s event was aimed at raising awareness among future healthcare professionals and the general population about the connections between racial disparities and healthcare.
“The reality is, there are 10 black students in my class. We’re not going to be treating all the black patients in Cincinnati. We as physicians need to understand the plights of our communities. We have to be advocates for all our patients of all races.”