Good morning Cincy! Here’s what’s going on around the city and other, less cool places in the world.
There’s a new proposal to help fund operating costs for Cincinnati’s streetcar. The Haile Foundation, which has pledged donations to help cover some of the project’s funding gap, has suggested that a special improvement tax district covering downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton could help cover the streetcar’s $3 million operating shortfall. Downtown already has a similar district, which raises about $2.5 million. That district would expire if property owners in all three districts approve the new plan, which is expected to raise about $5 million a year. About half that money would be used for the streetcar. It’s unclear at this point how much that would raise the cost of owning property in the districts, but Haile VP Eric Avner says the increase wouldn’t be large or burdensome. Some nonprofits in the neighborhoods have questions about how the plan would affect their operating costs but have not said they oppose the measure.
• Starting Monday, you’ll be able to borrow a bike from one of 30 bike racks around the city, ride around uptown, downtown, and Over-the-Rhine, and then drop the bike off at any other rack and be on your way. Red Bike, the nonprofit running the bike share, has announced that the cost for borrowing a bike will be $8 a day or $80 for a yearly membership. Each ride is limited to 60 minutes, but riders can check their bike in and start over with another as many times as they like. The bike share is intended to provide commuters and visitors with a quick, easy and environmentally friendly alternative to driving around the city’s core and uptown neighborhoods. Earlier this summer, Cincinnati City Council approved a proposal by Mayor John Cranley providing $1 million in start up funds for the project.
• The University of Cincinnati has more students enrolled for the fall semester than it has ever had before, the school says. Total enrollment at all UC campuses is 43,691 students. That includes a record 6,651 freshmen. The university says it has also increased the diversity of its student body. U.S. News and World Report ranks UC 129th among U.S. universities, a six-spot increase from last year.
• Testimony began today in the case against Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter. As we’ve talked about before here at the morning news, this is a complicated and highly contentious court battle. Hunter faces nine felony charges, including forging records and improper use of a court credit card. She claims the charges are false and that she’s the victim of politics. But there are a number of subplots beyond that basic argument — the trial looks to be one for the ages and is worth following.
• Ohio’s beer industry is providing more state residents with jobs, according to a report released by the industry group the Beer Institute. The institute, which sounds like a fabulous place to work, ranks Ohio sixth in the nation for brewing jobs. Breweries employ about 83,000 people across the state, the study says, and puts about $10 billion into the state’s economy. Christian Moerlein here in Cincinnati has been a part of that great news. The company employs about 325 people in the city and says it’s looking to hire more.
“We were the original brewing city outside of Germany," said Mike Wayne, general manager of Moerlein’s brewery in OTR. "We were the best once, we can be the best again."
I’ll toast to that.
• Here’s a pretty interesting article about the always-controversial intersection of fashion and politics. It seems a number of places around the country have taken to instituting laws against wearing your pants too low on your hips, which inspired NPR to take a long historical odyssey into the roots of that trend and the ramifications of legislating fashion. Warning: This article contains the phrase “the murky genesis of saggy pants,” which is maybe the best/worst subhead I’ve ever seen in a news article.
• Thirteen years ago today, the U.S. experienced one of the most terrifying events in its history when hijackers flew airliners into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. A number of memorial services, moments of silence and other events have been taking place across the country. Meanwhile, the U.S. is still wrestling with how to navigate the post-9-11 world, as evidenced by the recent struggle to respond to newly powerful terrorist groups like ISIS.
• Finally, I would be remiss in my job of telling you what you need to know for the day if I didn’t link you to this epic high school yearbook photo a Schenectady, New York student is fighting to use as his senior picture. It’s incredible.
Morning all! Here’s all the news you need today.
The trial of Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter begins today after two days of jury selection. It promises to be a wild ride. Hunter has been indicted on nine felony counts, including misuse of a court credit card, records forgery and other offenses involving the firing of her brother, a juvenile court employee who allegedly punched a juvenile inmate. But supporters say she’s the victim of politics. Some, including Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, suggest that statements made by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters are unethical and could taint a jury pool. Deters last week placed blame on Hunter for crimes defendants in her court committed later. Opening statements from both sides of the case will be heard today.
• The city is moving forward on an updated land use plan, which has been underway since 2011 and is part of the city’s overall comprehensive plan. But the plan’s first draft has left some folks in Mount Adams livid. Some community members there are upset because the new plan would allow buildings up to eight stories tall to be built there. The hilltop neighborhood has a number of historic homes with great views of the river and downtown, and residents worry that buildings that tall could destroy those views, and even worse, the character of the neighborhood. Officials say their concerns will be addressed in the plan’s upcoming second draft, but some in Mount Adams want a revision sooner.
• Here’s some good news. Last week, the Bengals scored some major nice-guy points when they hired Devon Still on for their practice squad after he was cut from the regular roster. Why’s that so nice? Still’s daughter is battling cancer, and the team hired him on in a practice role so he could keep his insurance coverage. The news got better for Still today when the Bengals announced they’ve hired him back onto the active roster. A practice squad player makes about $100,000 a year–not too shabby, but a paltry sum compared to the $400,000 minimum salary an active roster player gets. The team is also donating proceeds from sales of Still’s jersey to his daughter’s cancer fight. His jersey has quickly become the top seller for the team.
• Someday soon there may be a lot of droning going on in Hamilton County, and for once, it won't be coming from county commissioners. County officials have said they’d love to get some of those flying robot drone things to do cool stuff. Some of that stuff sounds innocuous enough–inspecting roofs on county-owned buildings, etc., but some of it, like searching for criminals, sounds a bit more dystopian. No worries just yet, as federal regulations prohibit drone usage in highly-populated areas. But new, clearer rules on drone usage may be adopted by the end of this year, and that could open up all kinds of possibilities for the county and even private companies to utilize the tiny unmanned aircraft. Personally, I’d really like a drone that could airdrop a Bearcat pizza onto CityBeat’s roof once a day. Where do I file for that permit?
• Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, responding to protests and online petitions, again refused to release security footage of the Aug. 5 police shooting that killed John Crawford III in a Walmart in the Dayton suburb. DeWine said releasing the footage to the public would be “playing with dynamite” and could compromise the investigation into the shooting. Meanwhile, the city of Beavercreek is totally working to address the issue. Or wait, actually, the city is just mulling hiring a public relations firm to manage the attention it’s getting as a result of controversy around Crawford’s death. Crawford, a 22-year-old black male, was carrying a pellet gun he found in the store when police shot him. Officers were responding to a 911 call saying a man with an assault rifle was in the store. Crawford’s family and their lawyer have viewed the security footage and said it appears Crawford was not given adequate time to drop the weapon and was “shot on sight."
• Meanwhile, outrage continues in Ferguson, Mo., where 18-year-old Mike Brown was killed in a similar police shooting last month. More than 600 residents took to the city's first council meeting since the shooting to express their frustrations with the slow-moving investigation into Brown's death.
* DiGiorno, a bake-at-home pizza brand, has taught us all a very unfortunate lesson. There are actually times when pizza is not appropriate. The brand used the domestic violence awareness hashtag #WhyIStayed to promote its delicious, I-can't-believe-it's-not-delivery pizza, tweeting "#WhyIStayed You had pizza". The uproar was of course immediate. The brand's social media team apologized, saying they hadn't read what the hashtag was about before posting. Always read about the hashtag. Always.
• Finally, on the national/international stage, the group of fundamentalists calling themselves the Islamic State, or ISIS, has continued to run rampant across large swaths of Iraq. They’re exceptionally brutal, torturing and killing Iraqi men, women and children and others who have resisted them or who they feel are not sufficiently committed to their ideology. They’ve also beheaded two American journalists. President Obama has ordered airstrikes against the group, and has indicated more action may be forthcoming. But do Americans really want another conflict in Iraq? This Washington Post story explores that question in depth.
Hey all, I have to run to a press conference momentarily on the state of Cincinnati restaurant Mahogany’s (I hope there’s food) but here’s a truncated morning news for ya. All the info, none of my usual cheesy jokes, except for that one I just made about food.
UPDATE: Mahogany's owner Liz Rogers announced at the news conference that the restaurant is looking to relocate from The Banks.
“We find that we are in the midst of a climate that is not conducive to successfully executing our business model here at The Banks,” Rogers said. “We have determined that our restaurant model is not a fit for The Banks development and are interested in relocating.”
Rogers said that the media has blown challenges Mahogany’s has faced out of proportion, scaring away customers and investors. The restaurant has faced a number of hurdles, including tens of thousands of dollars in back rent and loan payments and, most recently, a four-day closure due to unpaid Ohio sales taxes. Rogers also said running the restaurant has been difficult because she was told there would be more activity at The Banks to boost business, including a hotel that has not yet been built.
She was mum on where Mahogany's may move, but one possible spot is Over-the-Rhine. Representatives from 3CDC have said they met with Rogers Friday about the restaurant possibly moving there, though the developer said the meeting was just the first step in a long process and that the spaces they have may not fit the restaurant's needs.
• Guess what? Cincinnati's urban core is gentrifying. That itself may not be news, but this UrbanCincy exploration of the city’s gentrification dynamics is pretty informative.
Let me hit you with a quote from the story: “We do know, however, that some housing prices, particularly in the city center where demand is highest, are starting to get out of hand.”
• A local company, General Cable, has been awarded a contract of unspecified value to provide wiring for Cincinnati’s first five streetcars. The company’s products include aluminum, copper and fiber optic wire and are used in many transit systems across the country. The cars themselves aren’t made in Cincinnati, but it’s cool that at least some components will be.
• What’s next for Music Hall after the big icon tax dustup? That’s what the Cultural Facilities Task Force is working on now. They’re exploring a number of options to accomplish the $123 million task of fixing up the 136-year-old landmark, including soliciting increased private donations, asking for more help from the city and even seeking money from outside Cincinnati.
• A Delhi couple who allegedly dealt heroin to a man who subsequently overdosed are being charged with manslaughter. It’s the first time Hamilton County prosecutors have charged a dealer in connection with an overdose death, according to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters. The region is suffering especially badly from the ongoing heroin crisis, which is playing out in communities across the nation.
• Cincinnati Children's Hospital admitted the most new patients in its history Friday, officials for the hospital say. Those new patients came to the hospital with respiratory symptoms similar to those caused by the enterovirus currently sweeping parts of Missouri, Illinois, Columbus and other parts of the Midwest. Officials with the hospital say the children being admitted aren't any sicker than usual, just that there are many more than usual.
• If you’re looking forward to a debate between Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine and his challenger Democrat David Pepper, well… maybe don’t hold your breath. It’s shaping up like the two may not debate at all before the November election, this Columbus Dispatch story says.
• Finally, admit it. You have friends who are really into Apple products. The company is expected to announce some new goodies today during its big annual media event, for which it has constructed a three-story tower of sorts, because hey, what else are you gonna do with all the money you’ve made from a million iPods? There are breathless guesses about a new and bigger iPhone. There are whispers about wearable devices. The term “phablet” has been uttered in reverent tones. If you’re at a loss because there isn’t currently a device that fills that awkward gap between your iPhone and your iPad, well, today may be your lucky day.
Lots of court action happening in this Monday edition of morning news. Let's see what's on the docket, eh?
One of the nine Greenpeace protesters who broke in to Procter and Gamble’s headquarters this spring will plead guilty today to lesser felony charges, the Associated Press reports. Charles Long of Chicago will take a plea deal to avoid serving jail time and will instead do community service and pay restitution. Long and the eight other protesters entered P&G’s Cincinnati headquarters March 4. The group hung large banners from the side of the building protesting the company’s use of palm oil, which Greenpeace says leads to rainforest destruction. The protesters argue they were within the bounds of the First Amendment when they committed the act. All but Long are fighting the felony burglary and vandalism charges, which carry a possible sentence of nine years in jail.
• One of Cincinnati’s biggest developers is seeking to transform a whole block of Race Street near Findlay Market, as we reported Friday. Check out the details of Model Group’s plan here.
• Though Cincinnati missed out (if that’s what you want to call it) on the 2016 GOP National Convention, the city may still have a shot at another major national gathering. Cincy is still in the running for the 2016 NAACP Convention and is competing with St. Louis, Baltimore and Austin, Texas for the gathering. Cincinnati last hosted the annual convention in 2008. Both Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain spoke at that event, and the coming election year convention will surely be just as politically important. Representatives from the city traveled to Las Vegas in July to make the pitch for Cincinnati, and a site visit here is expected sometime in the fall. The NAACP will make the final decision sometime before the end of the year.
If Cincinnati lands the convention, 2016 could be a big year for Ohio politically. Cleveland ended up with the Republican National Convention and Columbus is competing for the Democrats’ national gathering. There’s some grousing, by the way, that Cleveland ended up with the convention because of the pull and political ambitions of powerful Ohio Republicans Sen. Rob Portman and Gov. John Kasich, both of whom have hinted at possible bids for the party’s presidential nomination.
* New City Manager Harry Black starts today. Black, Cranley's pick for the job, was previously the City of Baltimore's finance head. He replaces interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who will go back to his role as assistant city manager.
• Jury selection for Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s trial on nine felony counts begins today. Hunter is facing charges of forgery, tampering with evidence and abuse of court credit cards and faces up to 13 years in prison. The case is politically contentious, with Hunter foe Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters saying that Hunter is partly responsible for two shooting deaths in Avondale due to rulings she made that kept the juveniles involved out of prison. Both sides have long witness lists and attorneys who express confidence they’ll win the day. Hunter’s attorneys and supporters say she’s being railroaded and that she’s faced political resistance since she won a highly contested election for the position in 2010.
• Scientists and doctors are expressing concern over an uptick in hospitalizations for a respiratory illness called Enterovirus EV-D68. The virus causes symptoms very much like a severe cold. Enteroviruses aren’t new, or even all that rare, but recent outbreaks among children in Kansas City, Mo. Ohio, Illinois and other Midwestern cities have raised eyebrows. In Kansas City, up to 30 children a day have been hospitalized with the virus. A hospital in Columbus reported a 20 percent increase in patients with severe respiratory symptoms, and the facility is currently testing the patients to see if they are suffering from the enterovirus. So far, none of the outbreaks have caused any deaths.
• Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson said over the weekend that he will sell his share of the team after it was revealed he had sent racist emails to other team officials two years ago. One email complained about the number of black cheerleaders and fans the team had and said black fans scared away more wealthy whites. Levenson has apologized for the email, saying it was “inappropriate” and “offensive.” Officials for the Hawks have distanced themselves from Levenson.
"Bruce was confronted with this email from 2012, and he decided that instead of fighting it ... he thought it was best for the city, for the team, for his family, to walk away," Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told CNN Sunday.
• Finally, you may have seen some news stories circulating about how someone finally solved Britain’s century-and-a-quarter-old Jack the Ripper mystery using an old shawl and some modern genetics work. Not so fast, Smithsonian magazine says. The magazine and other skeptics say there are still a number of questions about the evidence used to arrive at the conclusion that a 23-year-old Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski was the killer.
One of Cincinnati’s biggest developers has plans to reshape an entire block of Race Street near Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine.
Model Group, which is based in Walnut Hills, has put in an application with Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation to develop city-owned properties on the 1800 block of Race Street. In addition, the developer has recently purchased a number of other properties on the block. The grand vision: more than 50,000 square feet of commercial space and 40,000 square feet of office space in the area just east of the historic market.
“We want it to feel like an extension of the market,” said Model Group COO Bobby Maly Sept. 5. But don’t call it Findlay Market II. “We’re not trying to be the market," he said.
The deal isn’t finalized yet, however. Model will still need approval from 3CDC and the city. On June 25, City Council approved 3CDC's request to be preferred developer of the area around the market. The non-profit development group is currently taking applications from developers who want in on the action in the rapidly changing neighborhood and advising the city about which projects should get the go-ahead. Except for a couple businesses such as Rhinegeist brewery, the area of OTR north of Liberty Street is still mostly untouched by redevelopment.
3CDC’s request that the city make it preferred developer in the area caused controversy. Critics, including Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer, say the group has too much power and shouldn’t be allowed to call the shots entirely in OTR. 3CDC has led the drive to reshape the part of the neighborhood south of Liberty Street, including the renovation of Washington Park, the enormous Mercer Commons project and a bevy of smaller retail, dining and residential spaces, especially along Vine Street. But Messer and others say smaller developers could move quicker than 3CDC, which has banked a number of buildings, shoring them up just enough to save them and then boarding them up. He has also expressed concerns that the development group isn’t serving the interests of everyone in the neighborhood and hasn’t paid close enough attention to the need for things like affordable housing there.
“A common thread in the neighborhood is the expressed desire to protect and expand our cultural diversity and this, in part, can be done by paying close attention to providing affordable housing options in both the rental and the purchase markets,” Messer said in a June 18 letter to the city asking it to not grant 3CDC preferred developer status.
While Model Group has played a relatively smaller role in OTR than the nonprofit 3CDC, it has also been very active in the area, especially in the Pendleton District to the east. Model has been working on Pendleton Square, a $26 million residential development just north of the Horseshoe Casino. That project could create about 40 new market-rate residential units and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space in the neighborhood, which is also experiencing a surge in redevelopment efforts.
“Golden Week”, the five-day period in which Ohio residents can simultaneously register and vote, will be restored under a ruling a federal judge made this week.
U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus issued a preliminary injunction Thursday ordering the state to establish at least two additional days of early voting in October, as well as evening hours during the week of Oct. 20. Counties would have the right to tack on additional voting hours too.
The ruling is the latest chapter in Ohio's early voting saga, and a setback for Ohio Gov. John R Kasich and Secretary of State Jon A. Husted. Both Republicans say measures to reduce early voting are an effort to make voting hours across the state more uniform. In February, Kasich signed into law a bill that eliminated Golden Week, effectively reducing the early voting period to 28 days from 35 days. Husted also issued a directive that lopped off evening and weekend hours. Such measures were necessary to reduce fraud, save money and create uniformity across the state, Kasich and his supporters have said.
The “ruling kicks the door open to having different rules for voting in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, which is not fair and uniform,” Husted said in a statement.
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by several civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of Ohio, and several African-American churches. Economus ruled that the reductions would disproportionately hurt low-income and minority voters, many of whom overwhelmingly use Golden Week to cast ballots. African-American churches, in particular, have taken advantage of the week by providing congregates transportation to and from the polls after services.
According to a study cited in the ruling on early voting in the greater Cleveland area, “African-American voters cast an estimated 77.9 perfect of all” early votes in 2008.
In 2012, 1.9 million out of 5.6 million votes were cast early, according to the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
“This ruling will safeguard the vote for thousands of Ohioans during the midterm election,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a press release. “If these cuts had been allowed to remain in place, many voters would have lost a critical opportunity to participate in our democratic process this November. This is a huge victory for Ohio voters and for all those who believe in protecting the integrity of our elections.”
Early in-person voting will now begin Sept. 30, not Oct. 7.
The state will review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal, said Republican Mike DeWine, a spokesman for the state attorney general.
So as you may (or may not) have noticed, there was no morning news update yesterday. Did you know that the internet is a thing that can go out, that it doesn't just emanate from some corner of the universe like gravity or light? We went without the unifying force in the world for hours yesterday, huddled around each others' desks in fear while gazing into our smartphones, praying for 4G coverage.
But now we're back online and serving up a double dose of morning news.
Local charter school VLT Academy is gone, but some say the lingering spirit of unregulated schooling and questionable legality remains in the building. The Ohio Department of Education is investigating Hope4Change Academy, a charter that began operating in August at VLT's former site on Sycamore in Pendleton. That school, or whatever it is, no longer has a sponsoring organization, meaning it legally can't operate as a school. The ODE ordered it to shut down, but says its classrooms are still full of students. An employee of Hope4Change told a reporter that the building is a tutoring center, and officials with the school claim they're just making computers available to students who need to take online classes. The ODE is continuing to investigate.
• Let's go back to that parking permit idea Mayor Cranley floated the other day, which could charge OTR residents $300-$400 a year to park in the neighborhood to help fund streetcar operating costs. Turns out it would be the most expensive of such programs in the country, tripling car-choked San Francisco's $110-a-year permit scheme. Critics say that would be a huge burden on the neighborhood's low-income population. Mayor Cranley has said that low-income residents of the neighborhood would be exempted from the fee.
• There is another new wrinkle in the Mahogany’s saga, the controversial restaurant and only African-American-owned business at The Banks. The establishment was told Wednesday it was in violation of its lease and would have to vacate the riverfront development.
The restaurant’s lease says Mahogany’s must be open daily, a clause it violated when it closed for four days in late August due to unpaid state sales taxes, its landlord NIC Riverbanks One said. However, Mahogany’s attorney today said that the order to vacate is in error, and that the restaurant’s lease only applies to voluntary closures, not the tax struggles it has faced. The restaurant paid the back taxes it owed and reopened Saturday. It’s just the latest chapter of troubles for the restaurant, which has struggled with rent payments and other difficulties for two years at The Banks.
• A Cincinnati resident and former University of Toledo student says a man who raped her was fined $25 and given probation by the school. She filed a complaint with the Department of Education against the university Wednesday, joining a number of other students at schools across the country challenging the way the institutions punish sexual assault. She’s outraged, she says, by the punishment a former acquaintance received for allegedly sexually assaulting her while both were at UT. She reported the incident six months later after battling anxiety and depression. The university has confirmed that it fined her attacker $25, required him to attend 10 hours of sexual assault training and put him on a year-long probation. He was allowed to remain at the school and keep his campus job. The woman left University of Toledo to finish her studies elsewhere.
"The way they handled it was extremely upsetting," the woman told USA Today.
• With tension still in the air from recent police shootings in Ferguson, Mo. and closer to home in Beavercreek, local groups held a forum in Evanston last night to discuss issues surrounding law enforcement treatment of minorities. Among those in attendance were Cincinnati Chief of Police Jeffery Blackwell, community leaders and activists Rev. Damon Lynch, III and Iris Roley, Councilman Chris Seelbach and others. Blackwell commented that some Cincinnati Police officers are trying out body cameras. He also commented on the investigation into the shooting death of John Crawford III, who was killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart Aug. 5. Attorney General Mike DeWine has declined to release to the public security camera footage of the shooting. Blackwell said the footage should be made public.
• Cincinnati is one of Bicycling magazine’s top 50 bike-friendly cities, rolling in at number 35. That’s just under Chattanooga and just above Milwaukee. New York City, Chicago, and Minneapolis rounded out the top three, respectively. The rankings consider bike infrastructure such as bike lanes and trails, as well as environmental factors such as hills and hot summers. Working in Cincinnati’s favor: The Central Park bike lanes and RedBike, the city’s new bike share program.
• Going after the elusive gambling hipster demographic, Horseshoe Casino has announced it will be hosting a farmer's market next week on Sept. 10. The event will feature 24 vendors, cooking demonstrations, and more. If rain happens, the market will move to the casino's parking garage. There is a Portlandia reference in this somewhere and I just can't find it right now so I'll leave it up to you.
• Fast food workers across the country began strikes and protests yesterday, hoping to push some of the nation’s biggest food chains toward a $15 an hour minimum wage. Labor organizers with the Service Employees International Union say actions are planned in more than 100 cities. The SEIU is also encouraging workers outside the fast food industry to get involved, including home health care and janitorial workers.
• Finally, this new Google Glass app detects other peoples' emotions. You know, the kind of thing you do naturally when you’re having a face-to-face conversation with someone that is unmediated by some crazy internet-connected device you have attached to your face.
Whoa. We're already halfway through the week. That's awesome. Here's your news today as we sail toward the weekend.
The parents of four Colerain High School students filed a $25 million lawsuit yesterday against the school and the Colerain Township Police Department alleging racial discrimination violating the students’ constitutional rights.
The lawsuit claims that the students were held in a room guarded by armed officers for six hours and interrogated April 10 after school officials said threats about a school shooting were found online. The four were later expelled. Officials say they found evidence on social media that the teens had gang affiliations. These accusations stem mostly from the fact the students were making “street signs,” in a rap video, administrators say, or “hand gestures associated with hip-hop culture” as their attorneys called the gestures. Hm. Neither of those sound racial at all.
The students involved in the lawsuit, who are black, say white students at the school who engaged in similar conduct were not expelled. School officials deny any racial discrimination in discipline, though the school’s disciplinary records show that black students receive a higher number of expulsions than white students at the school, despite making up a smaller proportion of the student body.
• Mayor John Cranley has suggested that maybe the streetcar will just run part time if voters, property owners along its route, or council members don’t find some way to pay for a projected $3.8 million shortfall in operating funds. Last week Cranley told 700 WLW’s Bill Cunningham, who is not really known to host reasonable conversations about public transit, that running the streetcar on reduced hours or select days, say when the Bengals or Reds play, could be an outcome of a funding shortfall.
Supporters say the money shouldn’t be hard to find, and that there are a number of options available. They also say that Cranley and other critics aren’t taking into account the expected upswing in economic activity the streetcar will bring.
Cranley said he was looking to property owners in OTR to get behind a special taxing district or $300-$400 residential parking permits that could make up some of that money. The thing is, the federal grant application the city filed to get the funds to build the streetcar stipulates that it will run seven days a week. Currently, the streetcar is slated to run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on weekends. Cranley has said there is nothing stipulating how frequently it must run, however.
“Remember there is no obligation that we have to run it on a certain level of frequency," Cranley said in the interview. "So if it doesn't end up having a lot of ridership we can reduce the rides on it.”
• Work will begin in the next couple weeks to gut the former SCPA building on Sycamore Street in Pendleton to turn it into 142 market-rate luxury apartments under the name Alumni Lofts. Core Redevelopment, the Indianapolis-based developer leading the project, recently contracted the interior demolition out to Erlanger, Ky., company Environmental Demolition Group. There will be some special challenges in redeveloping the former school including two pools on the fifth floor that will have to be removed without damaging the building’s walls and floors. The redevelopment is a part of big ongoing changes in Pendleton, which also include the construction of single-family homes in the neighborhood and other renovation projects for apartment buildings.
• Another big apartment project in a historic building is beginning to take shape in nearby Walnut Hills. Evanston-based Neyer Properties has purchased the historic 1920s-era former Baldwin Piano Company building on Gilbert Avenue for $17 million. Neyer has indicated it is looking to turn the building, which is currently office space, into 170-190 loft-style apartments.
• A suburban Detroit man who shot a woman on his front porch seeking help after a car accident was sentenced today to a minimum of 17 years in prison. Theodore Wafer of Dearborn Heights shot and killed Renisha McBride Nov. 2, 2013 as she stood on Wafer’s front porch. She had been banging on Wafer’s front door, seeking help after she hit a parked car and sustaining injuries hours earlier. Wafer, whose car had been vandalized a few weeks prior, said he thought his home was being invaded. He grabbed a shotgun and fired through his screen door, killing McBride. He called 911 afterward. Wafer stood trial and was found guilty of second-degree murder in August for the shooting. He claimed the shooting was self-defense.
• Finally, app-based rideshare company Uber has caused some controversy here in Cincinnati and across the country. Critics say the company skirts rules and regulations that cab companies usually have to follow. But the flak Uber has gotten here is nothing compared to Germany, where a court in Frankfurt just issued a temporary ban on the service that could hobble the company’s ability to operate across that country. The ban comes after a lawsuit by taxi companies alleging that Uber doesn’t have the necessary insurance and permits to operate in Germany.
So let's get to what's happened in the past three days in the real world while we were all busy watching fireworks and drinking beers, shall we?
The Great Recession dropped incomes in 111 of 120 communities in the Greater Cincinnati area, according to a report today by The Cincinnati Enquirer. The recession lasted from 2007 to 2009, though its reverberations are still being felt today. The drop hit wealthy neighborhoods like Indian Hill and low-income areas like Over-the-Rhine alike. The average drop in income was more than 7 percent across the region, though reasons for the loss and how quickly various neighborhoods have recovered are highly variable. Wealthier places like Indian Hill, where income is tied more to the stock market, are well-positioned to continue an already-underway rebound. Meanwhile, places with lower-income residents like Price Hill still face big challenges.
• A Centerville man filed a lawsuit against Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino Friday, charging that the downtown gambling complex engaged in false imprisonment and malicious prosecution last year. Mark DiSalvo claims that he was detained while leaving the casino after a dispute over $2,000 in video poker winnings. DiSalvo wasn’t able to immediately claim the winnings because he didn’t have the proper identification, but was told he would receive paperwork allowing him to claim the money later. He says he waited two hours before receiving the forms. Afterward, as he stopped to check the nametag of an employee who was less than kind to him, he was confronted by casino security officers, who called police. Three Cincinnati police officers were originally named in the suit as well, but the department settled out of court. DiSalvo claims casino employees and police gave false testimony about him and his prior record.
• Sometimes, something is better than nothing. At least, that appears to be the thinking for groups supporting the Hamilton County Commissioners’ compromise icon tax plan to renovate Union Terminal. The Cincinnati Museum Center board decided to back the commissioners’ version of the plan last week, despite earlier misgivings. That plan replaced a proposal by the Cultural Facilities Task Force that would have also renovated Music Hall.
Now the task force, led by Ross, Sinclaire and Associates CEO Murray Sinclaire, is regrouping and looking for ways to fund the Music Hall fixes without tax dollars.
“Initially we were very disappointed and somewhat frustrated because of all the time we spent” on the initial proposal, Murray said, but “we’ve got an amazing group of people with a lot of expertise and we’ll figure it out.”
Meanwhile, Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel, who helped orchestrate the new, more limited deal, has said he supports it. Initially, he indicated he wasn’t sure if he would vote for the plan himself. The backing of the Museum Center board has swayed him, however, and he now says he’s an enthusiastic supporter of the effort to shore up Union Terminal.
• The Cincinnati Cyclones have a new logo, which is exciting, at least in theory. The team’s prior logo looked a lot like a stack of bicycle tires brought to life by a stiff dose of methamphetamines, and the one before that looked Jason Voorhees fan art. Neither of which is really all that bad if you want to strike fear and confusion (mostly confusion) into the hearts of your opponents. But the team, making a bid for a higher level of professionalism, tapped Cincinnati-based design and branding firm LPK for a new look. The results are slick and clean, with the team’s colors adorning a sleek sans-serif font and a big “C” with a kind of weather-report tornado symbol in the middle. The team’s marketing reps call the new logo “versatile,” while fans have taken to the team’s social media sites to call it boring and generic and to compare it to water circling a toilet bowl. Personally, they can put just about whatever they want on their jerseys and I’d still hit up any game on $1 dollar hotdog night. Not a lot of hockey options around here.
• In the past three days, federal judges have stayed or struck down some of the nation’s strictest laws against women’s health facilities that provide abortions, enacted last summer in Texas and Louisiana. The laws stipulated very specific standards for clinics. The Louisiana law, which was put on hold by a federal judge Sunday night, set requirements that facilities have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, a rule that could have shut down every clinic in the state. The Texas law stipulated that clinics had to meet the same standards applied to hospitals, which would have dictated how wide hallways had to be in the facilities and other burdensome rules. That law was struck down by a federal judge Friday. The law would have caused the closure of 12 clinics in the state. Ohio has laws similar to Louisiana’s requiring hospital admitting privileges. That has caused problems for many facilities here, including one in Sharonville which a Hamilton County magistrate ordered to stop providing abortion services last month.
There is so much happening today and I'm going to tell you about
all most of it.
The board of the Cincinnati Museum Center yesterday voted to support county commissioners’ plan to fund renovations of historic Union Terminal, which houses the museum. Officials for the Museum Center originally criticized the plan, which replaced an earlier proposal that included Music Hall, because it seemed to put some funding sources for renovations to both Union Terminal and Music Hall in jeopardy. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann voted to put the new plan on the November ballot despite these concerns. Now officials with the Museum Center say their concerns have been addressed and they’re comfortable putting their support behind the new, Union Terminal-only deal, which will raise about $170 million through a .25 percent sales tax increase. The renovation project is expected to cost about $208 million. The gap will need to be covered by private donations and possible historic tax credits.
• Speaking of lots of money (seems like we’re always talking about lots of money around here, but hey, cities are expensive) the streetcar battle continues as the city searches for funds to pay operating costs. Right now, the city needs to account for a slightly less than $4 million a year to run the streetcar plus another $1 million in startup funds, which will need to be raised by next July. Supporters on city council say this shouldn’t be a problem and that multiple options exist for ways to raise the funds, including sponsorships and advertising, selling gift cards for rides on the streetcar, different property tax districts, possible grants and private donations. But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley, are more doom and gloom, saying that the shortfall is just the kind of scenario they had in mind when they spoke out against the streetcar. Either way, the city is committed at this point. It agreed to run the streetcar for 25 years when it accepted millions in federal grant money for its construction. Is there a really large couch somewhere in the city with lots of change under the cushions? I’d start there.
• Ah, the early days of presidential campaigns, when the candidates are about as committal as those tentative, nascent romances you had your freshman year of college. Sen. Rob Portman has officially decided he wants to think about the possibility he might run for president in 2016 and is considering setting up an exploratory committee so he can raise and spend money should he decide he wants to try for the big gig. That’s basically the campaign equivalent of texting someone, “hey, ‘sup?” The presidency has yet to text him back, but I’ll keep you updated. Portman has been also non-committal in his statements, saying he’ll think about a run for the White House if no other Republican candidates seem capable of winning but that right now he’s just working on his Senate campaign. He’s raised $5 million toward that end, money he could shift that over toward a national campaign.
• California lawmakers have passed a law requiring its colleges to adopt the most precise standards yet for what constitutes sexual consent as part of a drive to curb the sexual assault crisis sweeping college campuses. The so-called "yes means yes" bill is controversial, which is kind of mind-boggling since its provisions sound like common sense when you read them.
The prospective law says that consent is "an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity" and that lack of struggle, silence or the use of drugs or alcohol do not invalidate claims of sexual abuse. Opponents say the bill is an overreach and too politically correct and that it could open up universities to lawsuits. California Gov. Jerry Brown must still sign the bill into law, and has until September to do so.
• A while back we talked about New York City’s mixed-income developments and so-called “poor doors,” or separate entrances the buildings’ low-income residents must use. The battle over those doors rages on, and the New York Times has an in-depth look at the fight. As large-scale public housing goes the way of the dodo across the country and affordable housing becomes more a private enterprise, it’s a debate worth check out.
• So. There are a lot of important things going on in the world. We’re struggling with how to handle ISIL, a militant, fundamentalist insurgent group in Iraq, and the UK just raised its terror alert level due to threats from the group. Russia continues to dance all over the Ukraine. Our economy is struggling to support America’s middle class. Racial tensions in the U.S. continue to simmer and our police forces are becoming more militarized. But the most breathtaking news of all happened yesterday, when President Barack Obama wore a tan suit. TAN. In what only further proves that journalists on Twitter are the absolute worst people on the planet, that little bit of ephemera went viral as every reporter ostensibly paid to inform you about a news conference discussing some of the aforementioned important events flipped their wig about Obama’s new fashion statement. The suit was completely unremarkable– a little too baggy, a little too buff-colored, maybe, but come on now. The response to Obama's suit even spawned an article about the response, because that’s journalism now. Someone got paid to write that article about journalists' response to Obama's suit, and now I’m writing about the article about the response. Sigh.
• In other important national news, forget those cases of beer that have like, 30 beers in them. Reuters reports that a small brewery has invented the 99-pack of beer. Alas, it’s only available in Texas, where gas station beer caves are the size of airplane hangers and the average Super Bowl party attracts 500 people.
Transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox will give a keynote speech at Northern Kentucky University in celebration of LGBT History Month on Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m.
Many will recognize Cox for her groundbreaking role as Sophia Burset, an incarcerated transgender woman, in the Netflix com-dram series Orange Is the New Black.
Earlier this year, she made history as the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time Magazine and the first to produce and appear in her own television show, TRANSForm Me.
Her success in the film and TV industry has made Cox a highly sought after speaker. Her empowering messages about gender expectations and transgender issues have made her an icon in the LGBT community, being named in Out Magazine’s “Out 100” and one of the top 50 transgender icons by Huffington Post.
Tickets for the event have been selling quickly, as less than 10 remain available to the public. They can be purchased for $10 in Student Union Room 320 on the NKU campus.
The event is sponsored by the university's LGBTQ Programs & Services, which provides advocacy and support to NKU students, staff, faculty and the greater Northern Kentucky community. More info here.
Hello Cincy! Here’s what’s going on this morning.
Though you won’t find a way to help shore up the building on the ballot in November, efforts to fund renovations of Music Hall may get a big boost soon. Advocates for the Cincinnati landmark have applied for $25 million through the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program offered by the state once every two years. Music Hall is competing for the tax credits with The Huntington Building and May Co. Department Store building in Cleveland and the former Goodyear headquarter building in Akron. The award would be in addition to another $25 million in other tax credits and $40 million in private donations, all of which go along way toward the building’s estimated $133 million renovation costs. The winner of the credits will be announced in December.
• Lots of questions have been popping up in City Council and elsewhere recently about the way the city makes development loans, even as past loans to some of the city’s biggest developers continue to linger unpaid. Council members have expressed concerns that there isn’t enough of a process for deciding who gets the loans and on what terms, leaving a patchwork of deals that are of questionable value for the city. The city has a number of old loans it has made to big developers still hanging around, including almost $9 million worth from between 1991 and 2001. Those loans were used on big, now completed projects in and around downtown. The terms are fairly generous, and many of the borrowers have yet to repay much if any of the principles on those loans.
• Err, so I went to school here for a few years. The Principal of Edgewood High School, which is up in Butler County between Hamilton and Middletown, has said he’ll be getting his concealed carry permit so he can start packing a gun on the job. State law allows individual districts to decide if staff should be armed, but Edgewood, based in the rural/exurban town of Trenton, is the only district in the Greater Cincinnati area that has moved to allow it. Principal Russ Fussnecker said he may start carrying the weapon before the school year is out. He says it’s a measure “to make the school safer” in case of a mass shooter. Other schools have taken milder safety measures. Kings High School in Mason has installed new barriers to keep someone from shooting their way through doors into the school. Lakota has added in-school police and training drills.
•Law enforcement officials from Memphis, Tenn., and Detroit are meeting with officials from Ohio in Cleveland this week to discuss rape kit backlogs at a first-of-its-kind summit around the issue. Untested kits, which may contain genetic information that can convict rapists, have piled up here and in other states. The untested kits have become a big issue in this year's race for attorney general, as challenger Democrat David Pepper hits Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine over Ohio's backlog.
• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from Democrats in her much-watched run against Kentucky Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Many of the 16 female Democratic senators are rallying around Grimes with campaign plugs, strategy advice, money and other support. Powerful Senators like Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and progressive firebrand Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. have all jumped on board, holding fundraisers, donating cash and giving shout outs to Grimes. Whether all that help will pay off remains to be seen. Various pundits and polls have recently declared Grimes dead in the water, while others say she’s still neck and neck with McConnell.
• One of the big issues in the race is the state’s dependence on coal. Both McConnell and Grimes have promised to keep coal-friendly policies alive in Kentucky, which is dominated by the industry. McConnell has tied Grimes to Obama, who many Kentuckians blame for the industry’s decline. But how much does coal really matter to Kentucky? Turns out, there is as much myth flying around as fact.
• Throw off thy long-sleeved chains of corporate oppression, my barista sisters and brothers, and put on the short-sleeve shirt or necktie of freedom. But please not both at the same time, because that just looks terrible. Starbucks is lifting its ban on visible body art, as well as “colored ties and neck scarves and black denim.” Really? You all couldn’t wear black jeans? If CityBeat outlawed black denim, I would have to go buy like, five new pairs of pants.
All right. It’s beautiful outside right now and I’m at a desk (as I imagine you are) with a load of election stories to write. I’m sure you’ve got your own stuff going on as well; let’s do this news thing quick so we can all be a little closer to getting to the weekend.
Are you embarrassed for Ohio yet? No? Just wait. Everyone’s favorite big-talkin’ sheriff will be representing the Greater Cincinnati area to an audience of millions soon. Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones is filming a segment of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, where he will tangle with host Jon Stewart. Jones is well known for his antics and sometimes factually questionable assertions. He recently tried to bill Mexico for the amount it cost Butler County to jail undocumented immigrants he alleges came from that country. He also likes to equate immigrants with crime, drugs and disease which I explored briefly a while back. Now… he’s going national.
“We’re going to be filming a segment on illegal immigration and the upcoming elections,” Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer about the show, which he’s filming this afternoon. Can’t wait!
• Dena Cranley, wife of Mayor John Cranley, will join 14 area pastors’ wives in an effort to extend health tests and information about diseases that predominantly affect low-income urban areas, the mayor's office said in a news release today. The services will be available at area churches with financial support from Walgreens. The program is part of a national push called First Ladies Health Initiative that has already been launched in Los Angeles and Chicago. The initiative provides free screening for diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, and more.
• 3CDC will buy three buildings with 80 units of low-income housing in Over-the-Rhine on the 200 block of West 12th Street across from the Drop Inn Center and at 1301 Walnut Street. The developer says the buildings are “problem” properties, with high amounts of police calls, and that residents there want out. 3CDC says it’s helping those living in the 64 occupied units find other places to live. The developer doesn’t know what it will do with the buildings yet, but says the building on Walnut may become an expansion of nearby Mercer Commons project and could end up as mixed-income housing,. Helping low-income people find more enjoyable, safer surroundings sounds great, but a couple questions spring to mind. Will the low-income units be replaced one-for-one? What do residents have to say, and will they be relocated to nearby housing in OTR? None have been quoted so far about the buildings’ problems, and it’s unclear where they will be moved to. You can peruse crime stats yourself to see the propensity of police calls to the buildings, how many people arrested lived in the buildings and so forth.
• There’s a reason you shouldn’t get relationship-related tattoos, and I think it’s kind of the same with building names. Chiquita Brands International peaced out on Cincinnati in 2011, first moving to North Carolina and now training its wondering eyes toward Ireland. Until recently, we still had a big, prominent building, the Chiquita Center, bearing the company’s name. It kind of made us look like we weren’t ready to move on from the relationship. No more. We’re finally letting go. The center will be rebranded as 250 East Fifth, a simple, bold declaration that the building doesn’t need to define itself by its bygone relationship with some flashy, globe-trotting company with tons of banana money.
• Finally, I think I found my Halloween costume. This guy was dressed in the creepiest possible way when he drunkenly entered someone’s house and passed out on their couch, only to be discovered by children. Undead Santa couch surfer for the win.
It’s probably safe to call 80,000 tons of rotting meat and vegetables a big mess. In fact, I don’t want to live in a world where such a thing doesn’t qualify for “big mess” status. The deeper issue is what can be learned from such a mess and who will be held responsible.
Council voted Oct. 15 to spend $300,000 to clean up Compost Cincy, a former composting company created in Winton Hills in 2012 with the help of the city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability (OES).
Neighbors of the site have complained for the past year of unbearable odors. The company closed its doors in October 2013, but the smell remained. Now, the city is left with the bill for cleaning it up.
Composting takes food waste, and by rotating it and controlling its decomposition, converts it into soil. San Francisco was the first city to institute a municipal program when it started collecting compostable waste in 1996. Today, the city collects more than 600 tons of waste a day for composting. A number of other cities, including Portland, Ore., Seattle, Boulder, Colo., and other generally progressive places also have programs. If composting isn’t done correctly, though, allowing for the correct mixture of air to reach the refuse, you just end up with a progressively worse smell.
That seems to be what happened with Compost Cincy. Since 2012, the company accumulated 45 code violations from the city and two EPA citations. The city refused to renew its lease last year due to complaints about odor. One factor at play may have been the fact the company was doing outdoor composting. Many compost facilities are located indoors as a way to mitigate odor creation.
The OES will cover $220,000 of the cost of clean up with its budget, with another $80,000 coming from city contingency account. Mayor John Cranley pinned a good deal of the blame for the project’s failure on the city office.
“The origin of this entire organization is to combat odor,” Cranley said during an Oct. 15 City Council meeting. “So it’s pretty embarrassing that it was this office that came up with this compost mess in the first place. It’s a nightmare for the people who have had to go through this for a year."
Council voted 9-0 to fund the clean up effort. But Cranley’s remarks created a good deal of controversy around the role of the organization and the city’s efforts to establish sustainability programs.
The official mission of the office goes beyond odor control. The OES is charged with leading sustainability efforts in the city. That includes redeveloping brownfield sites around the city, helping run Cincinnati’s recycling program and protecting the city’s air quality. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach all chimed in to support the office.
“I want to stick up for the Office of Environment because I don’t think it’s their fault, or that they were in any way trying to emit odors on purpose in our city,” Seelbach said at the meeting. “Composting is something that there is a large demand for. The business, Compost Cincy, was actually doing really well because lots of people wanted to bring their compost there and buy the soil that it produces.”
Seelbach said zoning was the big issue, something the OES doesn’t control. Simpson said that the Office of Trade and Development, not the OES, selected the site. She said the office needs more support.
“We need more resources to the offices of sustainability to so we can get at least 10 years behind,” Simpson said, noting that Cincinnati is falling short of sustainability efforts made in other, comparable cities. She acknowledged that Compost Cincy was "poorly executed" but said that wasn't the fault of OES.
She praised the city’s recycling program and said the city should support more sustainability efforts, not mock failures. She pointed out that council and the mayor have been willing to support other endeavors that don’t guarantee success.
“We’re going to continue to have conversations about whether the city should support small businesses, and we just invested $5 million in Cintrifuse, which runs start ups,” she said. “Some may work, some may not, some stay in the city and some may leave, but there’s no question we should spend money on that.”
Cranley also faulted other OES initiatives, including the city’s infamously unpopular one garbage can policy.
“This came out of the same organization that said we should have meatless Monday and all kinds of bad ideas,” he said. “It seems like we should not be funding organizations who then end up creating multi-hundred-thousand-dollar cleanups.”
Councilman Kevin Flynn also had pointed questions about the project, but from a different angle.
“If this was a good business, then why is the city having to pay $300,000 to clean up this mess?” he asked. “We need to be able to go after the money that resulted from these people paying for dropping off their waste and the money from the people who were buying the dirt created by that waste. Under our current policy, we don’t have that ability to do it.”
Flynn said the structure of the business and the city’s agreement with it mean that owner Grant Gibson may not be liable for cleanup costs. Gibson told The Cincinnati Enquirer he had sunk about $500,000 into the business.
Meanwhile, Compost Cincy’s website is still live, though it states that the company is shuttered. In a somewhat passive aggressive farewell message, the owners also put some blame on the zoning process for the company's problems, though they say, in the end, location doesn’t matter as much as the attitudes of a composting project's neighbors. The site’s farewell missive seems to claim it was sunk by unfounded fears about composting.
“If our society doesn't move faster towards actually being green and not talking about it, our planet will be 100 percent wrecked of natural resources in the very near future,” the site says. “With that said, make the changes necessary to your life.”
Good morning Cincy! I’m a little groggy today after last night’s Iron Fork event, which was awesome. If you were at the Moerlein Taproom for the chef showdown and restaurant sampling festivities, you probably saw me with the group that pretty much monopolized the giant Jenga set all night. Sorry ‘bout that. Anyway, on with the news.
One of the Greenpeace activists on trial for hanging an anti-palm oil banner from P&G headquarters has died, the Associated Press reports. Tyler David Wilkerson, 27, died Oct. 6, according to an obituary in the Fresno Bee newspaper. No cause of death or other details have been released. Wilkerson was one of eight activists facing felony burglary and vandalism charges in connection with the March protest. A ninth activist took a plea bargain.
• Yesterday’s City Council meeting was action packed. Well, maybe not action packed, but interesting and eventful. OK, OK, just eventful, and with more bickering than usual for some reason. Members of council got their feathers all ruffled by the fact that the media knew about Cincinnati’s $18 million budget surplus before they did, perhaps marking the end of new City Manager Harry Black’s honeymoon with the city’s most illustrious deliberative body. Council members found it a bit off-putting that plans were already being made for that money before they even knew it existed. Black promised to make sure every council member is tipped off the next time the city finds unexpected change in the couch cushions.
But look at me over here gossiping. Substantive stuff happened as well.
• The city will pay $300,000 to help clean up a failed compost facility in Winton Hills affectionately nick-named “Big Stanky.” OK, no one but me calls it that. But it does smell very bad, and that’s caused a great deal of controversy. The company, Cincy Compost, went bust earlier this year, but left something like 80,000 tons of rotting meat and other food scraps behind. The city is chipping in on the cleanup because it has to be done, but Mayor Cranley and a few council members weren’t happy about it. Cranley used the issue as an opportunity to jab at the city’s Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability, which he blamed for the mess. Other council members, including Chris Seelbach, jumped to defend the office, to which Cranley replied that the office’s “Meatfree Monday” initiative was dumb. Seemed like a bit of a low blow, since Seelbach is a vegetarian, but that’s neither here nor there.
• Council also voted to apply for nine HUD grants worth more than $6 million for the city’s Continuum of Care program. The money would be used to provide rental assistance for homeless, low-income people with disabilities. Council also approved a $500,000 loan to Walnut Court Limited Partnership, a Walnut Hills developer. The developer will be rehabbing 30 units in the neighborhood to provide housing for very low income individuals. This deal was a bit more controversial, as Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned how the property, which was overseen by HUD, came to need such extensive renovations and why the city should have to pay for them.
• Moving on to market rate developments, there are some new plans for the former site of the historic house that held Christy’s/Lenhardt’s restaurant and bar in Clifton Heights. The house was demolished last year to make way for an apartment building in the university neighborhood. Gilbane Development Co., which was part of initial plans to put a larger development at the site, has come back with some revised, scaled-down ideas. The building was originally going to be eight stories tall with 245 units of housing. It will now be only six stories with 190 units, as well as some commercial space. The project will be part of a larger development effort for the block that should happen sometime in 2015.
• A little old, but worth noting: The Hamilton County Public Defenders Office has written a letter to Mayor John Cranley
about Cincinnati Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein, saying he took
inappropriate actions last month by getting a judge to sign a warrant
that would have allowed him to search the entire public defender’s
office over a single robbery case. That just doesn’t happen to private
law firms, the defender’s office says, and shouldn’t be allowed. The
mayor and the city manager have said they want to work with the public
defender’s office to make sure evidence is gathered in the least
invasive way possible in the future.
• LeBron James was in Cincinnati yesterday for a Cavs preseason game at
Xavier University against the Indiana Pacers, and he said he liked the
city, calling it “a great sports town.” Despite being arguably the
state’s biggest name in sports, James had never played in Cincinnati
before. He scored 26 points in the game.
• Let’s take a quick jog south and revisit the Kentucky Senate race, shall we? Recent articles have prognosticated that time is almost up for Democrat Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the party’s national arm in the race, stopped spending money on ads in the state this week, leading reporters to say the party is pulling out of the race and that Grimes is ready for the fork, cause she’s done. That appears to have been a premature judgment, however. Potential Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned for Grimes yesterday in Louisville, urging voters in the Bluegrass State to “put another crack in the glass ceiling” by putting Grimes into office. It also turns out that the DSCC is still running polls in Kentucky and may jump back into the race with more ads before all is said and done. Grimes' campaign also has about $4 million in that cash money in the bank, so don't count her out just yet.
Much has been made of Grimes’ refusal to say who she voted for in the last two presidential elections, and some pundits, including conservative commentator Rich Lowry, have said it has sunk Grimes’ chances in the race. Lowry wrote a deeply dumb rant ostensibly about that subject (though it quickly jumps the rails and becomes yet another boring anti-Obama diatribe about four paragraphs in). Clearly Democrats are still hoping Grimes has a chance, though.
So much stuff has happened in the last 24 hours. I’m just going to hit you with all of it without my usual witty introduction.
A jury found Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter guilty on one felony count yesterday. The jury says Hunter broke the law by gaining access to confidential files relating to the firing of her brother, an employee of the juvenile court, and passing them on to him. The jury could not reach a decision on eight other felony charges against Hunter, for which she may or may not be retried. The conviction carries a penalty of up to a year and a half in prison. Hunter will be sentenced in December. It’s also very likely the state Supreme Court will take disciplinary action, which may include disbarring her. Hunter has been on suspension with pay as the trial took place and will now be suspended without pay until she is removed from the bench officially.
• Sometimes you put on that pair of jeans you haven’t worn in a long time and find some cash you forgot about wadded up in one of the pockets. I love those days. Cincinnati just found $18 million in its pants somewhere, and now the city is debating how to spend it. The cash is a budget surplus from better-than-expected tax revenues and cost-cutting. City Manager Harry Black has some ideas on how to use that money, including kicking more than $4 million to a fund for winter weather response, using another $4 million to pay back neighborhood development funds the city borrowed, holding $3 million in reserve for possible future police and fire expenses, $275,000 to make sure the city hires more businesses owned by women and minorities, $400,000 for a new city government performance analysis office and other ideas. I always just spend extra money I find on pizza, but that’s probably among the reasons why I don’t run the city. But seriously, $18 million is enough to buy each resident of the city $60.50 worth of pizza, maybe combined into one enormous Adriatico’s MegaBearcat the size of Mt. Airy Forest. Think about it, Mr. Black.
• You’ll note that using any of the surplus to fund streetcar operating costs is not on that list, presumably because Mayor John Cranley has drawn a hard line in the sand about using city money for its projected $4 million annual shortfall. But others are more open to using money from the city’s coffers to plug that gap, including Vice Mayor David Mann, who suggested at yesterday’s City Council Transportation Committee meeting that while not ideal, he hasn’t written off the idea. That’s significant because Cranley's suggestion to draw down operating hours to close the funding gap would have to be approved by City Council. Other options include raising funds through a parking plan, special improvement or other means. Council seems split on whether it would vote for a reduction in service hours
• Mayor Cranley thinks there are "too many" transitional living houses for those recovering from addiction in the city, but Price Hill-based New Foundations Transitional Living can stay in the neighborhood, according to a settlement it reached with the city recently. The six homes for men and women recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol have been the focus of controversy in recent months. Neighbors complained earlier this year about the houses, saying the neighborhood wasn’t zoned for them. Price Hill is zoned for single occupancy, not the so-called “congregant occupancy” needed to normally run group homes. The city investigated removing the homes from the neighborhood. But under the Fair Housing Act, transitional homes such as New Foundations are allowed in single occupancy neighborhoods. Under a compromise, the for-profit group will reduce the occupancy of the houses and promise not to expand in the neighborhood.
• Another building along Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine is being rehabbed, and this one’s really cool news. The Central Parkway YMCA is getting a $27 million renovation that will include the creation of affordable housing. The update will modernize and augment the building’s fitness equipment, adding new weight rooms and group fitness areas, a cycling studio and put affordable housing for seniors on the top floors. I love the building and have recently pondered getting a membership because they’re one of the few fitness places in town with an actual track for running. I should probably wait a little bit on that, though, because the building will be closing in December for renovations. It’s expected to open back up in early 2016.
• If you’re not tired of the tea party vs. conservative establishment narrative that has dominated the political news cycle the past, oh, seems like forever now, here’s another one for you. Some prominent local tea party activists are bummed because they weren’t allowed into a Monday rally for Gov. John Kasich in Butler County. The group, including Cincinnati Tea Party President Ann Becker, was outside the rally protesting Common Core, the educational initiative that looks to standardize performance measures for U.S. students. They say they were denied admission because they were wearing anti-Common Core T-shirts. Officials with the Kasich campaign say it had nothing to do with their shirts and everything to do with the fact they were being disruptive to the event. I honestly don’t know who to root for here so I’m just going to move along on this.
• While we’re on the “suburbs are cray” tip, let’s talk about this story for just a sec. State Rep. Ron Maag is throwing a fundraiser he’s calling a “Machine Gun Social” in Lebanon Oct. 25. By throwing Maag a little cash for his re-election campaign, you get to fire machine guns in a nature preserve. Just like when you were in high school and your cool gun rights friend would invite you out to the rock quarry to shoot at bottles and cans! But don’t worry — you have to be at least a teenager to fire the guns, they’ll be permanently pointed downrange and there will be instructors present to, like, instruct you on the best way to neutralize a threatening soda can with a hail of semi-automatic rifle fire. Maag’s Democratic opponent is of course pitching a fit, but has chosen, oddly, only to take issue with his use of the word “social.”
• Whoa, this is already too long, but I need to get at least one national story in here. Another medical worker in Texas has tested positive for Ebola. That worker apparently flew from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she started having symptoms. I usually try to end this stuff on a positive, non-terrifying note, but today I failed.
So, I skipped writing the morning news yesterday to hang out at City Council half the day. I know, you’re jealous. Let’s catch up.
The city should declare Mahogany’s, the former restaurant at The Banks, in default on its $300,000 loan, Councilman Kevin Flynn said during the Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday. After coming to The Banks two years ago, restaurant owner Liz Rogers fell behind on rent, loan payments and state sales taxes, eventually shuttering Mahogany’s last month. Rogers has tried to convince the city to reduce the amount she owes, and even threatened to sue, but the terms of her loan mean she may be on the hook for more than just the $300,000. The city could initiate foreclosure proceedings on her other restaurant in Butler County, which she offered up as collateral. Rogers may also be asked to pay back a nearly $700,000 grant the city gave her. Rogers still owes more than $265,000 on the loan and is $40,000 behind on her payments. Flynn is asking for all relevant financial records from the restaurant so the city can determine what assets still remain that the city could claim to recoup part of its investment.
• Meanwhile, in the Law and Public Safety Committee meeting earlier yesterday, councilmembers wrestled with Councilman Charlie Winburn’s marijuana expungement ordinance. Winburn’s proposal looks to give those convicted under a 2006 city law that criminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana a chance to expunge those convictions from their criminal records. In Ohio, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor that does not show up on a person’s criminal record, though the ordinance changed that to a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which does. The ordinance itself was repealed by council in 2011, but many who were convicted still have trouble getting jobs or educational loans due to the blemish on their records. The committee wrestled with some detailed legal questions about the ordinance, including the tricky nature of issuing an ordinance that seeks to work retroactively. Though the ordinance has yet to pass out of committee, Winburn said he hoped it would be ready for a full council vote in two weeks.
• A new budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman looks to fundamentally shift the way the county pays for the services it provides. It will do so in a way that could very well shift more of the burden onto the backs of low and middle-income people, however, as sales taxes increase and property taxes go down. You can read more about that here.
• Dr. Deana Marchbein, the president of Doctors Without Borders USA and expert on Ebola, spoke last night at the downtown library. Marchbein talked about the risk the virus represents, as well as other world health issues worth concern. Marchbein has said she isn’t super worried about Ebola in the United States since it is less contagious than many other diseases and because the U.S. has better access to modern medical isolation of patients than West Africa, where the disease has run rampant. Marchbein did express serious concern about that, noting that the spread of the disease there has grown out of control. Her talk is well timed; last week in Dallas, a man from Liberia died from the disease, the first fatality in the U.S., and a second case, the first time Ebola has been transmitted here, was discovered. That person, a nurse who treated the deceased man in Dallas, is now isolated and receiving treatment for the virus.
• Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes faced off in their first and only debate last night. McConnell is the Senate minority leader and has held the Kentucky Senate seat for 30 years. Grimes is the Kentucky Secretary of State. The two went at each other last night, trading barbs on a number of issues while not really revealing anything new about their policy proposals. McConnell battered Grimes by tying her to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and basically any other Democrat he could think of, including the Clintons. Grimes bashed McConnell over his cozy relationships with big money donors, including the infamous Koch Brothers, who have poured millions into a large number of races for candidates supporting their vision of a libertarian utopia where companies have little oversight from the government.
The race has been a titanic battle so far. Grimes has been running very close behind McConnell, who usually coasts to victory. At least one recent major poll has put Grimes ahead by a couple points, though other polls have her trailing by the same margin.
• Finally, if you’re like me, you’re still trying to figure out what to wear to Halloween parties. Yes, I’m kind of a grownup, sort of, but my friends still have costume parties so I’m still required to figure out what to be every year. My fallback—a cowboy—is getting pretty old, so I’ve been perusing costume ideas. But I don't think any of these are going to work. I can’t decide if the zombie hotdog costume is the worst thing ever, or the hashtag costume. No, wait, definitely the hashtag. Warning: a few of these are mildly NSFW.
A budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman unveiled Oct. 13 called for a .25 percent increase in sales taxes and a decrease in property taxes for the county. The decrease would amount to $38 for every $100,000 worth of property, meaning homeowners would generally see a wash or net savings on the deal while low-income and middle class residents pay more in taxes.
Sigman says the budget represents a big
change in the way the county funds itself. The benefit of relying more
on sales tax, he says, is that it raises much more money from those who
live outside the county but buy things here. The budget proposal would
provide $210 million in 2015. That’s short of the $222 million needed by
county departments, but a big jump from the $200 million available
under the current budget.
Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune said the proposal was “bound to be controversial,” since sales taxes place a higher burden on the poor.
Unlike income or property taxes, everyone pays the same sales tax rates regardless of income or assets. But lower income residents generally spend more of their money on necessities, including those subject to sales tax, meaning they end up paying a larger portion of their income in sales taxes. The bottom fifth of workers in Ohio, those making less than $17,000 a year, pay 7 percent of their income in sales taxes under the state’s current tax structure. Meanwhile, top earners, those making more than $138,000, pay as little as 1 percent in sales tax. And Ohio’s tax structure has gotten more regressive over the years due to cuts in the state’s income tax.
At 6.75 percent, Hamilton County’s sales tax is about average for the state. Even if the .25 percent increase were to pass on the ballot in November, it would still be lower than other major cities in Ohio. Franklin County, where Columbus is located, has a 7.5 percent sales tax, and in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is, it’s 8 percent.
The sales tax increase was first proposed last summer as part of a plan to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. Republican County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voted to strip Music Hall out of that plan, but the tax hike will be on the November ballot for Union Terminal. That hike could also be used to provide for a number of other county needs, including a proposed move for the county Board of Elections office from downtown to Mount Airy.
Commissioners have not said whether they support the budget proposal.
Oh wow it’s Friday, I saw pretty much the best show I’ve seen in months last night when Mirah played MOTR Pub and I just had a pretty great donut and tons of iced coffee. But this isn’t a baked goods or early 2000s music blog (I wish), so let’s get to the news.
Attorneys for the Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging a banner from P&G’s headquarters in March lost a legal tussle yesterday as a judge ruled jurors wouldn’t be able to take a tour of the crime scene. The defense alleges the activists didn’t damage windows when hanging the banner, and that other windows on other floors have similar damage that pre-existed the protest. The felony charges against the activists hinge on that damage. P&G says the company has made so many changes since the incident, including new security measures, that a tour of the building would only confuse jurors. The judge in the case sided with the company, because nothing is more confusing to jurors comparing windows than some extra security guards milling about. Eight of the nine protesters face felony burglary charges that could land them in prison for more than nine years. A ninth protester made a plea bargain over the summer.
• Imagine this: guidelines from a federal agency are vague and clouded, and local factions on both sides of an argument are using that ambiguity to make political points. Shocker, right? The streetcar funding imbroglio is a white elephant gift that just keeps getting passed back and forth between the mayor, transit advocates and news organizations. First, the mayor said the city may cut streetcar service if the project’s $4 million annual operational funding gap isn’t filled. Advocates for the project objected, saying that the federal grants used to build the streetcar prohibit the city from doing so. Then a Cincinnati Enquirer story last month said the hours would be up to the city, with the Federal Transportation Administration staying out of the mix. But it also suggested that the city couldn’t run it only for special events, as Mayor Cranley suggested on 700 WLW in what he later called an “extreme hypothetical.”
Hm. So, uh, can we just get some numbers up in this? Like, just how many hours a week does the city have to run the streetcar? In its various grant applications to the FTA, the city has promised to run the streetcar 16-18 hours a day, 365 days a year. Is the city tied to that number? The FTA’s response to the controversy doesn't totally clear this up.
“We expect Cincinnati to provide the nature and quality of service that
it proposed in both the TIGER and Urban Circulator grant applications,
which were a consideration in the selection of the applications for the
award of grant funding,” the agency said in a statement responding to recent questions from the Cincinnati Business Courier. Well, huh.
• The clock is still ticking on an effort to establish a co-op grocery store at the site of the former Keller’s IGA in Clifton, but the game is now in overtime. Officials with the group Clifton Cooperative Market announced they’ve signed an extension on a contract to purchase the building on Ludlow Avenue near Clifton Avenue, and now have 90 more days to do so. The group is trying to raise $1.65 million to buy the building by selling shares to community members. So far, they’ve got more than 800 co-op members and $600,000 banked for the project. The market will be an “uptrend” grocery, which I think means $3 bottled sodas, a lot of quinoa and kale as far as the eye can see. I’m not hating. I like all those things.
• Here's an interesting story about the way the city of Cincinnati collects property taxes, and how small-government conservatives passed laws back in the late 90s limiting the amount the city can collect to a specific dollar figure. The results have been a mixed bag at best.
• Cincinnati is one of the worst places in the country for irrelevant political ads, a new study has found. I mean, given the level of non-representation we’re getting out of our federal, state and local politicians and the appalling lack of options we have for most races, I’d say pretty much anything these jokers slap on a billboard is more or less irrelevant. But alas, the study says our ranking is because our market is split between Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and because candidates in one state often have to buy ads for the whole region.
• The accepted wisdom on millennials is that we’re all entitled Bard College grads working on our Tumblr poetry blogs and being snotty to baby boomers from our perch as lowly Starbucks baristas while we work to save up money to move to Bushwick. We really haven't helped ourselves in this regard, as we're pretty much a generation obsessed with branding ourselves as such. But hey! Did you know that two-thirds of millennials don’t have a bachelor’s degree? Did you know that many grew up facing deep poverty and lack of educational opportunity? This NPR piece gives a little more attention to young folks who you probably won’t see on an episode of Girls anytime soon. It’s a good read.
• Finally, I can't decide if this fake John Matarese Twitter account is trolling us or not. Or if it's even really fake. John, is that you?
Theoretically, there is no better real estate for a political candidate than the inside of a polling place, where a candidate’s name can be freshly stamped onto voters’ minds as they enter the voting booth. Currently, though, only one politician in Ohio gets access to this potential last-minute plug: Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.
He says recent voter information signs prominently featuring his name are standard issue for secretary of state. But Democrats say he’s taking unfair advantage of his position.
There are laws against campaigning in polling places, and bumper stickers, buttons or other campaign swag are frowned upon in our temples of democracy the way movie theaters hate it when you try to sneak in some Twizzlers or a bunch of McChicken sandwiches in your pants. (I tried this once and the theater wasn’t too happy. I think you can sneak snacks into the polling places, though.)
So big signs with your name on them are a no-go, unless you’re the current secretary of state, charged with overseeing elections. Then you’re required to draw up informational posters with instructions on how voters can update their voter registration and make sure they’re at the right polling place. These posters can be posted at voting locations. You can also put your name on those things. Real big, if you want to.
Husted definitely wanted to, and did, emblazoning his name and signature on 2-foot by 3-foot posters that his office is now requiring all polling places to post. That has Democrats, including Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Tim Burke, crying foul.
Burke has taken exception to the inclusion of Husted’s name “the size of an oversized bumper sticker” on those posters. Burke is also chair of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, and he fired off an email earlier this week to Husted’s office demanding clarification about the requirement polling places post the posters. The letter contained some not-so-subtle digs as well.
“I am struggling to understand how it is legitimate or fair to create a situation where you will be the only candidate on the ballot in next month’s election to have your name prominently displayed along with the office to which you seek reelection in each polling place,” Burke wrote in the message dated Oct. 7.
Burke also questioned the inclusion of a second, 11-by-17-inch poster that likewise prominently features Husted’s name. That poster, designed by a 5th grade contest winner, has little factual information about voting, Burke says.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Damschroder replied later that evening, saying the posters are a routine task for the secretary of state’s office and that Husted’s name and signature are present to assure voters that the poster is official. Damschroder also pointed out that county board of elections members, such as Burke, have their signatures displayed at the bottom of ballots.
Those signatures are small, however, and are unaccompanied by text spelling out the commissioners’ names. Perhaps they should work on the size and legibility of their autographs.
Let’s not forget the fifth-grade contest winner in all this. Damschroder said polling places aren’t required to post that poster.
“We have simply suggested that boards of elections post the winning design to advance the two-fold goal of encouraging participation in the democratic process, generally, and building civic-mindedness among the next generation of voters,” he said.
If that kid is following along with what’s happening to that poster, she or he is surely getting a lesson about politics as well.