• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on.
The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have
208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will
lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space.
Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati
Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s
overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins.
Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of
housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the
city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods
Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could
go for a full council vote on Wednesday.
• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!
• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the
state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of
those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year,
while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate.
That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six
years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are
addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the
alarming increase in abuse of the drug.
• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.
• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.
Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.
Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.
“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”
Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."
“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”
“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.
Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.
Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.
“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”
After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.
Morning all. It’s Friday, I’m almost finished with a couple big stories for next week and I’m warm and cozy next to my portable fireplace (read: space heater). Things are looking up.
Let’s talk about news. Mayor John Cranley recently announced he is replacing Planning Commission Chair Caleb Faux with former Pleasant Ridge Community Council President Dan Driehaus. Last month, Faux and Cranley got into a tiff after City Manager Harry Black removed a provision from the planning commission’s agenda that would have preserved the possibility of commuter rail in the city’s plans for Wasson Way on the East Side. Faux accused Cranley, who is no fan of rail projects, of trying to block future light rail along Wasson Way. Cranley said he simply wanted to give more time for consideration of the measure.
Cranley said the move wasn't a reflection on Faux and that Driehaus is simply a better fit for the board. Council voted unanimously to approve Driehaus’ appointment.
Faux fired back yesterday after Cranley announced his replacement. While Faux said Driehaus is capable and will do a good job, he painted the mayor as a foe of city planning attempts to create pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods and a friend of big developers. Faux and Cranley have been at odds for years on the subject of form-based versus use-based codes, going back to Oakley’s Center of Cincinnati development last decade. That development put a Target, Meijers and other big box stores in the neighborhood. Faux opposed the project.
"What the mayor seems to want is a planning commission that will accept his direction and won't be independent,” Faux told the Business Courier yesterday. “I think he has a philosophy that we need to be friendly to developers and that using land-use regulations as a way to shape the city is not a good idea."
Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne brushed off that criticism. He pointed to Cranley’s involvement in the creation of tax-increment financing districts for Over-the-Rhine and downtown while he was on City Council as evidence the mayor is invested in creating urban spaces.
Pointing to redevelopment in OTR as a sign you’re not cozy with big developers is an interesting way to go. But I digress.
• Also in City Hall news, Cranley announced yesterday he will appoint former congressman and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to the city’s port authority board. Luken, who was instrumental in creating the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, has strong ties in the Cincinnati business community. He’s also close with Cranley, and the move may be a way to improve strained relations between the port and City Hall.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday announced a proposal to add people who are homeless to a list of those protected by the city’s hate crime laws. He also announced a second proposal adding $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter in OTR. You can read more about both here.
• Is Cincinnati the next Silicon Valley? The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible. The blog cited Cincinnati as one of eight unexpected cities where investors are flocking. OTR-based business incubator The Brandery got a specific shout out, as did the city’s major Fortune 500 companies and its “All American Midwest” feel. Trigger warning: The term “flyover city” is used in reference to Cincy in this article.
• Last night, the Ohio State Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would amend the state’s constitution and change the redistricting process for elections to the Ohio General Assembly. It took until 4 a.m. to reach the agreement, because the Senate parties hard. The amendment would create a seven-member board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two legislators from each party. That is two more members than the current board, which is made up of two statewide office holders and three legislators. The 10-year district maps drawn by the board would need two votes from the minority party or they would come up for review after four years. The bill next goes to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.
• Finally: Congress has agreed upon a budget, it seems, and the government won’t come to a grinding, weeks-long shutdown like it did last year. If you just leave it there and don’t think about it more than that, that’s good news. But looking into some of the budgetary sausage being made is a bit terrifying. Rolled up in the massive “CRomnibus” spending proposal (meaning continuing resolution plus omnibus spending bill) is a measure that would increase rich donors’ ability to give money to political parties. Currently, donors are limited to $97,200 as individuals. The new limit would be a seven-fold boost: $776,000. A married couple would be able to donate a jaw-dropping $3.1 million under the rule changes tucked into the shutdown-averting measure.
Another worrisome measure would dismantle certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which holds big banks accountable for reckless, risky financial dealings. In the simplest terms, the rules change would allow banks to keep certain risky assets in accounts insured by the federal government, leaving taxpayers on the hook for huge potential losses. As if we didn’t learn our lesson in 2008.
The measures were last-minute concessions needed to win the votes of a number of conservative congressmen. It’s depressing to think that our options are either a complete lapse into governmental dysfunction or these gimmes to the nation’s most powerful financial interests, but there you have it.
Have a fun Friday!
“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”
Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.
Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans. The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.
Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.
“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”
Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.
In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.
“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”
While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.
“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”
Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.
“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.
Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.
Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.
“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”
Morning y’all. Let’s get this news thing going.
Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved zoning changes for a major, and controversial, development in the CUF neighborhood just south of UC. The project, done by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co., will bring 180 apartments mostly for student housing, townhomes, a 380-space underground parking garage and up to 9,000 square feet of retail space to the spot where the historic Lenhardt’s restaurant was located on McMillan Avenue. The plans are a revision of an earlier proposal that called for called for eight stories on the buildings instead of six and an entrance for cars on Lyon Street which was later removed. Some community members say those revisions still don’t help the project fit in with the residential neighborhood.
A group of about 10 residents came to the meeting. They’d like to see something more oriented toward homeowners and long-term renters, they say, instead of students. They’re also highly concerned about parking and traffic in the busy McMillan-Calhoun corridor. Citing these concerns, both council members Yvette Simpson and Christopher Smitherman voted against the zoning changes, though they praised Gilbane for being flexible and taking community opinion into account in revising its plans. The townhomes, for instance, were added by Gilbane as a way to market the development to groups other than students. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at development in CUF next week.
• While we’re talking development: Change in Over-the-Rhine looks to be entering a new stage as more developers start talking about single-family housing instead of apartments or condos. The most recent development in this vein — five townhomes are coming to Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. Three will be newly built, two will be renovations and one is already sold. The 2,400-square-foot units built by John Huber Homes will cost between $400,000 to $600,000 a piece and will feature posh amenities such as rooftop decks and gated parking.
• City Council yesterday also passed a compromise on a seemingly innocuous parking ticket food drive initiative that had become the subject of some controversy. Originally, the plan, proposed by Councilmembers Chris Seelbach and Amy Murray, would have offered a one-time amnesty for the $90 cost of a single delinquent parking ticket in exchange for 10 canned food items. But that met with resistance from Councilman Kevin Flynn, who balked at the idea that those who don’t pay parking tickets would be able to get off so lightly. Mayor John Cranley also wasn’t into it, calling the idea “reckless.” A compromise was reached in Council’s Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday. The city will still collect the original $45 parking ticket fee but will waive late charges for anyone who brings in the canned goods. The offer is good from Dec. 15-19 and only applies to tickets from 2014.
"This is a one-time chance to clear an old debt and do good for your community at the same time,” Seelbach said. “In the New Year, the city will begin aggressive collection of delinquent parking tickets under a new contract with Xerox, but this holiday season you can come clean, make a donation and make a difference.”
• University of Cincinnati medical students yesterday staged a “die-in” to protest racial inequality in the nation’s justice system. More than 70 participated. You can read our story on that here.
• The state of Kentucky will no longer throw in tax dollars on religious group Answers in Genesis’ Noah’s Ark theme park project in Grant County. Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart sent the group a letter yesterday rescinding the state’s offer of up to $18 million in tax rebates because he says the project has gone from a tourist attraction to a ministry. Answers is known for making employees sign statements of faith pledging adherence to the group’s Christian beliefs. Answers also runs the well-known Creation Museum in Kentucky.
• Overcrowding at the Hamilton County Jail could determine how long former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter stays in jail. Hunter was sentenced to six months for a felony conviction recently and is supposed to report to jail immediately after Christmas. However, the jail is at capacity and first-time offenders who are non-violent are usually the first to be released under such overcrowded conditions.
“I want to make the public aware and everyone aware that this jail is full," Hamilton County Jail Administrator Maj. Charmaine McGuffey told Channel 5 yesterday. "We’ve been full for a number of years. And we’ve been making these hard difficult decisions all along. Tracie Hunter is going to be no different in the decision-making process.”
Fifty-six Hamilton County Democrats asked Judge Norbert Nadel, who sentenced Hunter, to defer her jail time until an appeal she has filed can be heard. Nadel refused that request. Hunter’s felony would usually only result in probation, but Nadel cited her stature as a public figure and judge in his decision to apply the harsher punishment.
More than 70 University of Cincinnati medical students today staged a “die in,” lying on the floor of the busy UC Medical Sciences Building to protest what they say are serious racial disparities in the nation’s justice system.
That protest mirrored similar events across the country reacting to police killings of unarmed black citizens and subsequent lack of indictments in some of those cases. Organizers of the event say that students at more than 70 medical schools participated in the noon demonstrations.
In Cincinnati, the medical and pharmacy students spent 20 minutes sprawled out beneath the building's soaring, modern atrium in white lab coats with signs reading “Am I Next?” and “Black Lives Matter." The group was mostly silent, save a reading of a passage from the Hippocratic Oath about understanding the needs of communities doctors serve.
Among them was Zuri Hemphill, a medical student who helped organize the protest.
“This is to stand in solidarity across the nation and to use our platform as medical students, because that’s something we’ve earned and a voice that we have, to call attention to the fact that this is not just a lower socio-economic problem but a problem across the black community and the entire American community,” she said.
The demonstration is the latest in a series that have taken place in Cincinnati and across the country over the issue of police use of force against people of color. That’s a subject especially sensitive to Cincinnati, which experienced days of civil unrest in 2001 after white police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed 18-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine.
The latest round of the conversation on race and the justice system was sparked by the Aug. 9 shooting death of 19-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That shooting sparked waves of protests in the city and around the country and focused attention on similar incidents, including the death of John Crawford of Fairfield, who was killed by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart.
A grand jury’s decision last month not to indict Wilson led to a fresh wave of protests, including one in Cincinnati that drew more than 300 people and briefly shut down I-75.
Beyond solidarity, Hemphill said today’s event was aimed at raising awareness among future healthcare professionals and the general population about the connections between racial disparities and healthcare.
“The reality is, there are 10 black students in my class. We’re not going to be treating all the black patients in Cincinnati. We as physicians need to understand the plights of our communities. We have to be advocates for all our patients of all races.”
Hey all. I’m about to run out and cover a bunch of stuff, but here’s a quick hit list of what’s up today.
The streetcar’s contingency construction budget may only have about $80,000 unaccounted for, project executive John Dietrick announced yesterday. It started with nearly $8 million. That low number is a worst-case projection, but with 21 months left until construction is finished, it's a very slim cushion. Part of the problem: The city spent $1 million from that fund covering the costs of delaying the streetcar while fighting over whether to continue the project last winter.
• UC students have been staging so-called “die in” demonstrations over the past few days in protest against police shootings of unarmed black citizens. Another one will take place today at noon in the university’s Medical Sciences Building.
• Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will have to wait for an appeal on her felony convictions from jail, Judge Norbert Nadel ruled yesterday. Hunter was convicted on one felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract over allegedly interceding in the firing of her brother, a court employee. A jury hung on eight other felony counts in her trial. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics as the county’s first black juvenile court judge. She faces six months in jail.
• State lawmakers have squashed, for now, a highly restrictive “heartbeat bill” that would have made abortions illegal in Ohio after a fetus has a detectable heartbeat. A vote on the bill was killed by conservative lawmakers who feel the law may be unconstitutional. They say they fear court challenges to the bill could endanger Ohio’s other abortion restrictions.
• The Ohio Board of Education agreed yesterday to strike down the state’s so-called “5 of 8” rule that required schools to hire specialized positions like art teachers and librarians. Boosters say the move gives local districts more control over their budgets, but opponents say it will make it easier for cash-strapped schools to eliminate necessary staff. The bill will next go to the state legislature for approval before coming back to the board for a final vote in March.
• We all have deadlines. Congress’ deadline is Thursday, when our current, hard-won federal budget expires. And while it looks like there won’t be a big, destructive fight over the budget this year resulting in a weeks-long shutdown like last year, it also looks equally likely that Congress won’t get the job done in time. While key congressional leaders agreed last night on a trillion-dollar deal, there are still a lot of bumps in the road before the legislation makes it to the president’s desk.
The court case is over, but issues of race and politics that made it so contentious continue swirling.
Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter to six months in jail and a year of probation Dec. 5 after she was convicted on one of nine felony counts last month. Hunter asked Nadel to defer her prison sentence until an appeal of her conviction had gone through. Nadel denied that request today and Hunter will most likely be behind bars soon.
Some say justice has been served, but others say the penalty is too harsh and premature. A letter signed by 56 people including many area Democrat leaders to Nadel Dec. 8 asked the judge to defer Hunter’s sentence until after her appeal is heard. The letter says Hunter’s appeal is made on “substantial grounds” and points out that if she goes to jail now and is latter vindicated, it will be a “pyrrhic victory” because she will have already served her sentence by that time. The letter cites the fact Hunter has no previous record and did not stand to gain financially from the crime.
It also points out the racial tension over the case and connects it to larger issues of race relations in the region and around the country, as anger continues over recent police killings of unarmed black men and a refusal by grand juries to indict officers in those cases.
“All across the country, serious questions of trust are being raised about the fairness of our justice system in dealing with matters involving race,” said the letter sent by the Hamilton County Democratic Party and signed by Chairman Tim Burke, State Senator elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece and other notable party members. “To sentence to jail the only African American to ever be elected to our juvenile court, and one of the very few African Americans to ever be elected in a contested county-wide election in Hamilton County … will only deepen that mistrust. That is particularly true in light of the fact that other first-time offenders under similar circumstances would receive no jail time at all.”
Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black judge. After the
election for the seat in 2010 went to her opponent by a very narrow margin, she
fought a year-and-a-half-long court battle in order to get uncounted votes
counted to prove she had won. She came into the position intent on changing a
system where black juveniles are 10 times more likely to be arrested than
Almost 80 percent of children arrested in Hamilton County are black, according to a November federal lawsuit by Covington-based Children’s Law Center against the county.
That resolve ruffled feathers. Among others, The Cincinnati Enquirer sued her for refusing to let reporters into her courtroom. Hunter’s methods as a judge were unorthodox and her opponents say often illegal.
After a long, dramatic trial, Hunter was convicted last month for interceding on behalf of her brother, a juvenile court employee who was fired for allegedly punching an underage inmate. Hunter obtained medical records on that inmate for her brother, prosecutors charged. A jury deadlocked on eight other felony charges involving fraud, misuse of a court credit card, interfering with investigations and forgery. She motioned for a retrial three times, citing three black jurors who recanted their guilty verdicts and procedural irregularities in the courtroom. Judge Nadel denied all three motions.
Critics like Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou say Hunter was quite simply a bad judge and that her indictment and conviction have nothing to do with race. Her stature as a judge only makes her transgressions worse, and she should be disciplined accordingly, her critics say. That means jail time for a low-level felony that usually only gets probation.
“Judge Hunter is a judge and a public official," Nadel said after Hunter was sentenced. "Unfortunately, it may be a felony 4, but that is a double whammy."
All right y’all. After a brief delay while I listened to a presentation about health insurance (as captivating as it sounds) I’m here with the news this morning.
Cincinnati’s 600-strong uniformed police force will eventually be equipped with body cameras after a seven-month pilot program involving West Side officers wrapped up this week. The move comes as activists around the country call for more police accountability in the wake of recent police shootings of unarmed citizens. Cincinnati’s body camera program will cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million depending on which vendor the city chooses. Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety committee has pledged to help find funds, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell will be making a trip to Washington to ask the federal government for some of the money as well. Officers involved in the pilot program said the cameras they tested aren’t perfect and expressed concerns about privacy for victims of crime and whether what is filmed will end up as public record.
Some activists around the country have called for federal rules requiring police wear body cameras, and President Barack Obama announced last week an plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help equip police departments with the technology. Others, however, question the efficacy of the method, pointing to the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a choke hold by police in July. The officer who placed Garner in a headlock was not indicted by a grand jury despite video footage of the incident.
• Though the streetcar is months away from being operational, you can still give the transit fanatic (or skeptic) in your life a rail-themed Christmas gift. Starting today, SORTA is offering a commemorative early pass for the Cincinnati streetcar allowing unlimited rides for periods of time after the streetcar opens. You can get the $25 card for those members of your family who are afraid of downtown and with whom you argued about the streetcar this Thanksgiving. Maybe some free rides will change their minds. Or they’ll hate it and give it to you to use. Win-win. They, or you, will be able to ride cost-free for the first 15 days the streetcar is operating. You can step it up for the serious streetcar supporter and get the $50 or $100 cards, which give the recipient 30 and 60 days of fare-free riding, respectively. These are the first physical items issued to the public for the transit project, which I’m sure will be interesting to some folks.
• Answers in Genesis, the religious group behind a controversial Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County, Ky., has launched a billboard campaign it says seeks to correct “myths” about the project. The park has raised eyebrows because it could receive state tax credits even though its parent company makes its employees sign statements affirming their Christian religious beliefs. If the park did the same with prospective employees, it would not be eligible for help from the state. The state’s Tourism Development Finance Authority has preliminarily approved a 10-year tax incentive package for the park that could be worth up to $18 million on the $73 million project. National advocates for the separation of church and state have cried foul at the deal, saying it violates state and federal non-discrimination laws. The Ark group, however, says they’ll comply with those laws for the park. They’re fighting back with 16 billboards in Frankfort, Louisville and Lexington directing people to their website. They’ve also sprung for an electronic billboard ad running in New York City’s Times Square for some reason.
"With this new billboard campaign, the attention-grabbing wording will get people to visit our website, where they will discover the truth about our full-size Ark and learn how some intolerant people are trying to keep it from succeeding," the group said in an email news release.
• The Ohio Board of Education will meet today and discuss eliminating rules that require public schools in Ohio to hire art and music teachers, librarians and other specialized staff. The so-called “5 of 8” rule could be on the chopping block because some local control advocates say it amounts to an unfunded mandate on local schools from the state. However, those who support the rule say it ensures that all schools have faculty who can teach vital subjects and perform other necessary duties. They say eliminating the rule will hurt low-income students, whose cash-strapped schools will be most likely to drop the positions.
• State Rep. Alicia Reece formally introduced the so-called “John Crawford’s Law” yesterday, which would require toy guns to be brightly colored to distinguish them from real weapons. The bill aims to prevent police shootings like the one that happened in August at a Beavercreek Walmart, where Crawford was shot while holding a BB gun. More recently, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot and killed for holding a toy pistol on a playground in Cleveland. In a puzzling addition, the law would also limit where a person can carry a BB gun, even though Ohio remains an open carry state where you can tote around your real gun almost anywhere you please.
Hey hey! It’s Monday. Stuff has been happening. Let’s get our news on.
The idea of law enforcement piloting tiny unmanned craft with cameras is pretty unnerving to some folks, which is understandable. No one wants a little flying robocop filming you through your window as you eat Doritos and watch your seventh episode of Adventure Time in your bathrobe. But the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office, which recently purchased a small drone, is seeking to allay such fears. They say the department will only use its tiny, $800 drone for taking overhead shots of traffic accidents and the like. Some call the idea creepy, but others say it’s legit as long as boundaries are followed.
“I don’t think we should be afraid of technology so long as it applies to and is used for a proper purpose,” Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “This seems like it’s a legitimate use of the technology.”
• A rally protesting racial injustice and recent police killings of unarmed black citizens drew more than 100 people outside Xavier’s Cintas Center Saturday night, during a game between the Musketeers and the University of Alabama. The several student groups who organized the rally said attendance was well above what they expected. The rallies protested grand jury decisions not to indict officers who have killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., Beavercreek, Ohio, and New York City.
“While some evidence is unclear, we cannot ignore the reality that yet more White police officers have shot and killed unarmed Black males,” the groups said in a joint statement emailed Saturday. “This is an unfortunate epidemic that is occurring across this nation.”
Another protest at the University of Cincinnati organized by student groups there will take place today at 1 p.m. at University Mainstreet.
• After this summer’s big showdown over the icon tax, efforts to raise the money to renovate historic Music Hall continue. Key fundraiser and philanthropic leader Otto Budig, who is helping lead the Cultural Facilities Taskforce charged with administering the repairs, says right now boosters still need to raise $40 million of the project’s estimated $123 million cost. So far, the taskforce has locked in $45 million in private donations as well as $25 million in tax credits. The City of Cincinnati has also committed another $10 million, as well as $400,000 annually. Budig says raising the rest will be difficult, but he’s vowed to make it happen.
• Over-the-Rhine’s super-popular Rhinegeist Brewery is expanding into Northern Kentucky with a new distribution company called River Ghost. Rhinegeist already runs its own distribution in Southwestern Ohio, and Erlanger-based River Ghost will help the company do the same south of the river.
• So here’s an update about efforts to get quick, daily rail service running from Cincinnati to Chicago. We left off in that story telling you about transit group All Aboard Ohio's push to get local universities on board with the idea, and it looks like that’s starting to happen a bit. The City of Oxford and Miami University recently announced they will send a joint letter next month asking for a train stop in the city. Currently, Amtrak’s Cardinal Line runs through Oxford but doesn’t stop there. It’s a baby step for the idea of daily service in the region. Miami U and Oxford aren’t pushing for that, at least not yet — they’re just asking to be cut in on the already existing route. But the addition could demonstrate pent-up demand for rail travel in the area, especially from Millennials who are less likely to own a car.
• Finally, Congress is stuck in gear. Plenty of folks feel like our elected officials don’t represent the interests of the average American. So let’s get more power to a viable third party to get things moving again and provide a little more competition and representation, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not. This Vox article highlights the complexities of that issue. The emergence of a powerful third party could grind the gears of government even further into dysfunction. Depressingly, it’s by virtue of the fact that most all our political structures are designed for, and maintained by, the two major parties that a hypothetical populist third party couldn’t work, according to the piece.
Hey all, let’s talk news.
This is a weird one. Someone or multiple someones fired shots at the Great American Tower downtown four times in the last week. The shooters have taken their potshots after business hours, when few people are in the building. There have been no injuries, though windows have been shattered. Police are a bit mystified by the shooting and are looking for a perpetrator. For now, employees will still be allowed in the building, though new security measures might be put in place by the building’s managers. While I’m not a huge fan of the tiara-ed building myself, there have to be better ways to register your distaste for a piece of architecture.
• Madisonville will receive $100 million in residential and commercial development in the coming year, which city officials say will provide a big economic boost to the East Side neighborhood. Mayor John Cranley touted the development yesterday at a Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District meeting. That board gave the go-ahead for an extension of Duck Creek Road past where it currently ends at Red Bank Road as part of the development. And there’s the rub: That part of the deal doesn’t sit well with members of the Madisonville Community Council, who are worried about possible traffic congestion caused by extending Duck Creek Road. The extension will cut close to John P. Parker Elementary School, and the council worries that it could limit the school’s enrollment. The council is looking for an explanation of why the road needs to be extended and some kind of compensation, perhaps in the form of scholarships that will help entice students to come to the school. RBM, a development group owned by nearby company Medpace, is planning the project. The company is working on details of the proposed development now.
• This weekend, the University of Cincinnati will host an 11-member task force appointed by President Barack Obama to investigate and hold conversations on policing in the 21st century. UC will host two of the task force's seven listening sessions Jan. 30 and 31. Other sessions have been held in Washington D.C., and two others will happen next month in Phoenix. The task force was created by a December executive order signed by Obama in the wake of controversy surrounding police use of force around the country.
• Mayor Cranley headed to Washington, D.C. last week to chat with federal officials about a number of issues, including Cincinnati’s bike trails, his Hand Up anti-poverty initiative and money to fix the crumbling Western Hills Viaduct. Cranley met with Department of Housing and Urban Development head Julian Castro, a fellow Democrat and the former mayor of San Antonio. He also met with officials at the Federal Highway Administration and joined up with other mayors from around the country to prod Congress to, well, do its job and actually pass some legislation this time around, specifically legislation that will help cities with development and infrastructure projects.
• Controversy over Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams’ letter decrying “racebaiting black leaders” continues. Activist group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, which published a letter addressed to the mayor asking for an apology, has said it will be attending tonight’s Norwood City Council meeting, which is at 7:30 p.m., to ask for a response in person. Mayor Thomas has indicated to media that he is sticking by his letter, which was written to express support for the Norwood Police Department as questions around police use of force continue to be a big topic across the country.
• Promoters working to bring the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Columbus are feeling pretty good these days. Recently, Democrats announced they intend to hold the convention the week of July 25, which Columbus has indicated is its ideal time frame. Convention-goers will need to be housed in Ohio State University dorms, which fill up with students again in August. Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was in the city Sunday and yesterday on a tour to consider the city’s logistical ability to handle the huge event. Should Dems tap Columbus over contenders Philadelphia and Brooklyn, N.Y., Ohio will host three major political conventions in the next presidential election year, with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the NAACP convention here in Cincinnati in 2016.
• Finally, this national story is gross. And creepy. And kind of brilliant. The San Francisco Zoo is offering the chance to sponsor a Madagascar hissing cockroach or a big ole’ hairy scorpion in honor of your ex this Valentine’s Day.
"These invertebrates are aggressive, active and alarmingly nocturnal. Much like your low-life ex, they are usually found in and around low-elevation valleys where they dig elaborate burrows or 'caves,' " reads promotional material for the scorpion adoption. "Also just like you-know-who, when a suitable victim wanders by, the scorpion grabs the doomed creature with its pinchers and stings the prey ... Charming."
Whoa. Bitter much? For $50, you can adopt the scorpion for your ex, to whom the zoo will send a stuffed scorpion stinger and a certificate. A similar deal for the cockroach costs $25. Nothing says “I’m over you” like dropping $50 to say, “I’m over you.”
Let’s just get right to it this morning.
It’s clear we as a society have lost our way. We’re so focused on the little things — pervasive poverty, military conflicts around the globe, our government’s inability to accomplish much of anything, etc. — that we’ve let a major atrocity slip right past us. But at least one local group has their priorities straight, and they’re not going to let someone get away with putting on a billboard three phonetic symbols representing the natural act of human procreation. That’s right, Citizens for Community Values is at it again as founder Phil Burress rails against a billboard on I-71 that reads “end boring sex” erected (oops, sorry) to advertise Jimmy Flynt Sexy Gifts, a new store in Sharonville owned by the brother of notorious porn mogul Larry Flynt. The store is only a couple miles from CCV’s headquarters, which is a pretty funny move. Jimmy Flynt says that’s because there’s big bucks in selling sexy stuff to suburban folks with some extra cash. Burress is outraged, however, that children riding with their parents on the interstate might see the word “sex.” Though really, you’d think CCV would be on board with a sentence that starts with the word “end” and ends with the word “sex.”
• Activists in Norwood have started a Change.org petition asking Mayor Thomas Williams to engage in a community forum around his racially charged comments on a Norwood Police Facebook page. The letter, signed simply “Norwood Citizens,” starts out by praising the department’s police officers and their work in the community, but condemns Williams’ statement made via social media in December. Those statements addressed to Norwood police pledged support for the department while decrying “race baiting black leaders and cowardly elected officials” over the ongoing protests around police shootings of unarmed black citizens. The online petition is the latest wrinkle in the drama around Williams’ statements, which led to calls for boycotts against Norwood and a response from black activists in the Greater Cincinnati area asking for an apology. Williams has subsequently told media that he stands by his statement.
• This is really cool: Today is the grand opening of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library’s Maker Space, which will be open to patrons of the library. The space includes technology like vinyl printers and cutting machines to make vinyl signs, laser cutting machines, 3D printers, sewing machines, audiovisual equipment including DSLR cameras, a soundproof recording booth with microphones and monitors, so-called “digital creation stations” with suites of creative software and a ton of other great things to help fledgling creatives with their projects, including something called an “ostrich egg bot.” Sounds very cool. All equipment will be free for patrons to use, but there will be a charge for materials like vinyl or resins for the 3D printers.
• Cincinnati’s Port Authority is looking to kick-start a local neighborhood by purchasing and renovating 40 single family homes in Evanston. The neighborhood borders Xavier University, contains Walnut Hills High School and is the home of King Records’ historic studio. But like many urban neighborhoods near the city’s core, it has fallen on hard times in the past few decades and has been ravaged by disinvestment, high rates of poverty and dwindling prospects for jobs. The port authority hopes it can work similar changes to those that have transformed Over-the-Rhine, which has seen a marked increase in development over the last five years.
"This is the 3CDC model on a miniature scale," Kroger Vice President Lynn Marmer, who chairs the port's board of directors, told the Business Courier. 3CDC is responsible for much of the change happening in OTR. The port hopes to sell the homes at market rate to entice families to move to Evanston.
• So, is legal pot coming to Ohio? Voters may be able to decide in November. The group ResponsibleOhio, one of two looking to put an initiative on the ballot this year, released some details of its plan this week, though the exact legal language of the proposed bill is fuzzy. The group suggests that growers around the state would cultivate the sticky-icky and send it to one of five labs in Ohio for potency and safety testing. Those labs would then distribute it to medicinal marijuana clinics and retailers. Should voters approve the plan, Ohio would be the first state to go from an outright ban on marijuana to full legality.
• Many conservative lawmakers in Ohio love the idea of the state paying for students to attend private schools, but it seems Ohio residents are more lukewarm to the idea. Ohio offers more than 60,000 vouchers to students so they can use funds set aside for public school to attend the private school of their choice. However, only one third of those vouchers were used last year, according to data from the State Board of Education reported by the Enquirer Saturday. Despite this, there seems to be little movement to reconsider the state’s school choice system, which is a darling of conservatives like Gov. John Kasich.
• Finally, on the national level, there’s this story, which is crazy. A junior at Yale University says he was leaving a library on campus when a police officer pulled a gun on him unprovoked because he allegedly matched the description of a burglary suspect. The twist in the story is that the student’s father is Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist who has written extensively about the deaths of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin and more generally about racial inequities in America’s justice system. Talk about getting the wrong person. Yale officials say they’re investigating the incident. The younger Blow says he remains shaken by the encounter, while his columnist father has penned a furious piece about the confrontation.
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is using a two-day event this weekend to kick off the 140th anniversary celebration of the founding of HUC in Clifton. On Sunday at 4 p.m., it will observe the role of one of the school's past presidents, Julian Morgenstern, in rescuing 11 college professors and five rabbinical students from Nazi-occupied Europe and the Holocaust. Many of the professors were dismissed from their European faculty jobs by the Nazis because they taught Jewish studies. Despite financial struggles, HUC-JIR hired them, nearly doubling its faculty.
One of the speakers Sunday will be Susannah Heschel, a professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the rescued scholars. The event is being held on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland as well as to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The program, which will be free and open to the public, begins in Scheuer Chapel on the campus at 3101 Clifton Ave. People who want to attend can RSVP by calling 513-487-3098 or going to http://huc.edu/rsvp/IHRD.
On Monday at 4 p.m., there will be a panel discussion on Respectful Discourse on College Campuses to focus on the increasing amount of hate speech on college campuses. Three college presidents will discuss how to promote safe and respectful spaces for political discourse — Santa Ono of the University of Cincinnati, Eli Capilouto of the University of Kentucky and Rabbi Aaron Panken of HUC-JIR. Professor Heschel will moderate the panel.
A second part of the program, which will start at 5:30 p.m., will feature three members of the clergy also talking about the subject — Rabbi Irwin Wise of Adath Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Amberley Village; Rev. Bruce Shipman; and Rev. Eugene Contadino, S.M., of St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic parish in Cincinnati.
Hey hey! In the past, specifically around election time, I’ve admonished you about getting involved in the democratic process. Well, it’s time to do your civic duty once again by casting your ballot in CityBeat’s Best of Cincinnati reader survey. Vote! Yes, it’s a long ballot, but don’t worry. You can skip some sections in case you don’t have an opinion on the best combination cupcake bakery/live music venue/dog grooming salon in the city.* But while you’re weighing in on the best burger in the city and the best place to hang while waiting for a table in OTR, consider casting a vote for best journalist, whether it be one of CityBeat’s great staffers or contributors, the top-notch reporters at other publications, or heck, yours truly. There are no electoral colleges or hanging chads in our process, so you’re basically mainlining democracy. America!
*Not a real category
On to news. Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed an ordinance adding homeless individuals to those protected by the city’s hate crimes law. The new ordinance could mean up to an extra 180 days in jail for those convicted of hate crimes against the homeless. Members of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, who worked with Councilman Chris Seelbach on the legislation, say it’s a huge step forward for the city.
• Cincinnati activists who have organized a number of events around racial injustices in police killings of unarmed black citizens are asking for an apology from the mayor of Norwood. Yesterday, I told you about a letter Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams sent to the city’s police force decrying what he called “race-baiting black leaders.” Williams’ letter refers to those who have raised questions and protest around police officers who have killed unarmed blacks across the country. Members of the group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, who have organized marches, teach-ins and other events protesting the deaths of citizens like John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others, sent their own letter addressed to Williams today asking for a full apology for his remarks.
“We call upon Mayor Williams to publicly retract these comments and issue an immediate public apology,” the letter says. “Locally and nationwide, Black people are under assault by the negligent policymakers, inequitable school systems, broken windows policing, disproportionate conviction, sentencing and incarceration, and overall limited access to resources that are designed to maintain a high quality of life. Drawing attention to these realities is not ‘race baiting’ and attempting to silence the critique of Black leaders is a form of derailment that we will not tolerate.”
The letter highlights a 2013 excessive use of force lawsuit brought against the Norwood Police Department that led to a misdemeanor assault conviction of involved officer Robert Ward, who subsequently resigned. It also highlights a 2014 Civil Rights lawsuit filed against the department by Maurice Snow, who alleges he was wrongfully imprisoned by police there in a case of mistaken identity. The activist group who wrote the letter is asking for an apology by Jan. 26.
• Northside is about to get another entertainment venue, along with a brewery. A group of local musicians and developers calling themselves Urban Artifact have put their heads together to create a concept for the old St. Pius X church on Blue Rock Street that will feature two performances spaces, a full-service brewery and other attractions. The brewery will start up next month, with a goal of being open by April. Another interesting detail: Live performances at the space will be recorded and streamed from the space’s website. Originally, Urban Artifact wanted to launch its model in Over-the-Rhine, but the building on Jackson Street it sought needed extensive renovations that would have precluded a quick opening.
• In-person head counts of students in Ohio charter schools done by the Ohio Board of Education often contrast sharply with those schools’ reported enrollment figures, the OBE announced earlier this week. Half of the 30 schools where auditors did surprise counts had head counts “significantly lower” than reported enrollments, the board said. The privately run schools receive taxpayer dollars on a per-student basis, raising questions about whether the schools are cheating taxpayers. Of the 30 schools counted, more than half had discrepancies greater than 10 percent. Some were off by as much as 50 percent. One school in Youngstown that was supposed to have 95 students had zero in attendance on the day a headcount was taken.
“I’m really kind of speechless of everything that I found. It’s quite a morass,” Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said during a news conference in Columbus this week. Yost stressed that the findings were by no means comprehensive and that further investigation was being carried out.
• Speaking of schools, a new study released last week shows that for the first time, more than half of U.S. public school students are considered low income. Fifty-one percent of students at public schools qualified for reduced price or free meals in 2013. That eligibility, based on household income, is used to determine how many students in a school are low-income. In 1989, fewer than 32 percent of students in public schools met those criteria. In 2000, that ratio had risen to 38 percent. The Southern Education Foundation produced the report using data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The report says the data marks a “turning point” for public schools and shows the trend is spread across the country. Mississippi had the highest concentration of poor students in public schools with 71 percent. Concentrations were highest generally in the South. Kentucky’s public schools had 55 percent low-income students; Ohio’s had 39 percent.
• Finally, let’s take it back to local news for a zany incident: The old cliché is that you can’t fight City Hall, but apparently you can drive a truck into it. William Jackson was upset about difficulties he has been having in selling his business Beverage King and decided to take his concerns to the city, piloting his extended cab pick up right into the steps of City Hall while his dog sat in the passenger seat. Jackson then demanded to see Mayor John Cranley, who is in D.C. this week meeting with federal officials. Both Jackson and the dog were unhurt, though first responders said Jackson may need psychiatric attention. Jackson faces misdemeanor inducing panic charges as well as the more-serious count of inducing lyrics to a country song.
As always, you can find me on Twitter or via email at email@example.com. Both of those are also great for sending me news tips or pitches offering 1,000 Twitter followers for just $10.
Hey all! The luxurious CityBeat HQ is getting an update on its swank factor at the moment (read: we’re getting new carpet) so I’m hanging out around the house today eating cookies and checking out the news. Here’s what I’ve got:
We told you about the rumors last week, and now it’s official: Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is running for U.S. Senate. Sittenfeld is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Rob Portman in 2016. Portman’s looking for a second term and is gearing up with millions of dollars and an already established campaign machine to keep his seat. What’s more, Sittenfeld, 30, will need to navigate a primary season full of potential challengers, including former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland as well as U.S. Rep Tim Ryan and former Rep. Betty Sutton. But Sittenfeld thinks voters are ready for “a new generation of leaders” and says he’s the right guy for the job. Democrats think the seat may be vulnerable — Portman faces a likely primary challenge and has alienated some in his party by supporting same-sex marriage. They hope that increased voter turnout in the presidential election, which tends to skew Democratic, will put their candidate — perhaps Sittenfeld — over the top.
• Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams sent a recent letter to the city's police department blasting "race baiting black leaders and cowardly elected officials" and pledging seemingly unconditional support for the police force in the midst of racially charged questions around police use of force around the country after the police related deaths of unarmed black men and children such as Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice and others. Williams warns police in Norwood to be extra careful and stick together, telling them that, "God forbid, something controversial would happen, I WILL NOT ABANDON YOU." But what if something controversial happens because, god forbid, one of the officers messes up?
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ruled the death of Brandon Carl, the worker killed in the I-75 off-ramp collapse, a preventable workplace accident. But officials say they still aren’t confident about what caused the collapse and that an investigation could take six months. The collapse happened in three phases over the course of a few seconds. The middle of the overpass, which was being demolished, fell last, sending heavy construction equipment toppling onto Carl and killing him.
• Cincinnati is in the top 10 cities in the country for bedbugs yet again, but before you pack everything you own into black plastic garbage bags and burn it all, there’s hope. The city fell two spots on the list to number seven, behind Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Columbus and Dallas. We’ve also fallen behind Cleveland this year, which officially makes us the second least bed-buggy big city in Ohio behind Dayton. Congrats Cincy! I still feel really itchy now, just slightly less so than last year when I read about the list.
• What does House Speaker John Boehner do after a long day sitting in the House making that Grinch face while the president is speechifying? (Note: Microsoft Word didn’t underline “speechifying,” meaning it’s officially a real word.) He goes home and watches golf reruns. Boehner revealed this lifestyle tip, along with his reactions to Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union Address, in an interview with The Enquirer yesterday. He called many of Obama’s proposals, including the suggestion of two years of free community college education for some students, “ludicrous,” but did say he saw four areas where the GOP can work with the president. Those include fast tracking certain trade agreements with other countries, passing a new plan for funding the nation’s infrastructure, including highway funding, military intervention against terrorists and increasing the nation’s cybersecurity. Boehner also admitted he was a little rattled by the recent threat against his life by his old bartender, saying he would have never have ordered so many of those difficult-to-prepare mojitos if he knew the guy wanted to kill him and all.
• So I just want to alert you all to an upcoming holiday of sorts: Meat Week. It’s a national… err… thing… that happens every year from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1 where folks are encouraged (probably by some meat industry-related advocacy organization) to eat as much of the stuff as possible. It’s been going on since 2005, and one heroic soul in Cincinnati named Justin Tabas has taken it upon himself to organize a list of places from which to get said meat (mostly BBQ places like Eli’s and Walt’s). So yeah. Meet me at the meat places. Also, I apologize to all my wonderful vegetarian friends.
Hello all. I hope you’re not too hung over this morning from playing State of the Union Address drinking games, and that you found something worthwhile in the speech to either applaud or decry on social media for an adequate number of likes/retweets/whathaveyous. I’ll get back to the speech in a moment, but first let’s talk about what’s going on around Cincy.
Cincinnati City Council could vote tomorrow on a plan to consolidate the Cincinnati Police Department’s investigations units and court properties at a single location in the West End. Under the plan, the city would buy the former Kaplan College building at 801 Linn Street and move the units there from the building on Broadway the departments currently share with the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Officials say the move will save the city money — it currently pays well over half a million dollars a month for space in the Broadway building. It may also be the last straw, however, for plans to move city and county crime investigation operations to a centralized site at the former Mercy Hospital building in Mount Airy. Those plans were to include the county’s critically-outdated crime lab and hinge on county commissioners finding millions of dollars to retrofit that building.
• Southbound I-75 near Hopple Street is open again after the old Hopple Street off ramp collapsed Monday evening. The collapse killed a construction worker and injured a semi-truck driver, shutting down the highway all day yesterday. Experts believe improper demolition procedures caused the collapse, though the full cause is still under investigation.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was in court again today as prosecutors sought to retry her on eight felony charges connected to her time as judge. Hamilton County Judge Patrick Dinkelacker today set Hunter’s retrial on those counts for June 1. Hunter was accused of forging documents, misusing a court credit card and other alleged misconduct. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics. Hunter campaigned on a promise to reform the county’s juvenile justice system. Hunter was convicted last year on one felony count of having unlawful interest in a public contract. Hunter allegedly helped her brother, who was a juvenile court employee charged with striking an underage inmate, obtain documents illegally. Hunter has appealed that conviction, saying that some jurors changed their verdicts after the case was decided.
• Two iconic buildings in Cincinnati may be up for historic designation from the city. Council could vote tomorrow on designating as local landmarks the 1920s era Baldwin Piano Company Building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills and the Union Central Life Annex Building on Vine Street downtown. That building is a 1927 expansion to the iconic 4th and Vine Tower, often called PNC Tower, built in 1913. The Baldwin building was recently purchased by Neyer Properties, which is seeking state historic preservation tax credits as it moves toward developing luxury apartments in the building, an effort that historic designation could boost.
• Finally, about that State of the Union Address. It was long, 6,500 words long. And as State of the Union Addresses tend to do, it attracted a lot of think-pieces, moral outrage from the other side of the aisle and applause from fellow Democrats. It was also a great opportunity to see how much grey hair the commander in chief has accumulated since last year. But… what did the president actually say, beyond touting an improving economy and that moment where he bragged about winning two elections? And are any of his policy ideas remotely politically feasible with Republicans controlling both chambers of the legislative branch? Probably not. But here’s a handy list of all the policy proposals Obama put forward last night anyway.
Obama had already talked some about the big ones: a massive effort to extend two years of community college to American students, a move to require employers provide sick days and maternity leave for workers and another call to raise the minimum wage. Obama also touched ever-so-briefly on reforming the tax code to be friendlier to the middle class and tougher on corporations and financial institutions, preserving voting rights, demilitarizing the police and other hot-button issues. One particularly interesting proposal called for fast-tracking trade agreements with other countries through Congress, an idea that is unpopular with several progressive Democrats including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown shot back with a statement during the address comparing Obama’s idea to NAFTA, a controversial trade agreement with Mexico and Canada signed by President Bill Clinton that is often blamed for shipping American jobs to those countries. Brown suggested focusing on creating jobs in the U.S. first before rushing into more foreign trade agreements.
As I mentioned yesterday, Republicans began balking at the president’s suggestions well before the speech, and of course, shot back with plenty of rebuttals immediately afterward. The whole thing is a little like an argument between your family at Thanksgiving dinner while you sit at the kids table just trying to make it through to the pumpkin pie.
Welp, here’s the thing. You may well be reading this on your smartphone as you sit motionless in traffic on the interstate. And if that’s the case, you probably already know about what I’m going to say next. I offer my sympathies.
The big news this morning is that a large section of the old Hopple Street off ramp from I-75 collapsed last night. Tragically, a construction worker died after he was pinned under the rubble. A semi-truck driver was also injured when he collided with the fallen concrete on the highway. Crews had been preparing for the ramp’s demolition before the incident, which city officials are calling a “catastrophic pancake collapse." It’s unclear what caused the failure, but that didn’t stop some national news folks from jumping on Twitter and immediately calling it a sign that infrastructure spending is woefully inadequate. I mean, I agree, but you gotta realize they built a brand-new off ramp right up the highway. That’s little solace for those whose commute takes them down I-75 south. Officials say it could take up to 48 hours to clear the thousands of tons of concrete and metal from the highway. The section is closed until work is finished. So yeah, maybe take an alternate route. So glad I bike to work.
• Another Cincinnati neighborhood is getting a brewery. Nine Giant Brewery has announced plans to open in Pleasant Ridge’s central business district on the corner of Montgomery and Ridge Roads. The brewery is part of a larger planned development for the corner that aims to take advantage of the area’s Community Entertainment District designation, which it received in 2010. That designation allows for up to five new liquor licenses in the neighborhood.
• Oof. How do you steal from Big Boy? That guy is huge and terrifying.
Officials with Walnut-Hills based restaurant Frisch’s suspect one of the
company’s executives named Michael Hudson, a quiet guy who spent 35
years with the company working his way up through the accounting
department, stole millions from the company over the years.
Hudson told company attorneys he gambled that money away, though an
investigation is ongoing into whether Hudson has stashed some of it. Hudson abruptly shut off his computer and walked out of his job
after a routine audit discovered discrepancies in the company’s
financials pointing to his thefts. The company alleges Hudson reworked
payment software to kick him hundreds of thousands of extra dollars a
• Who knew Rep. John Boehner was a Taylor Swift fan? The House Speaker (or more precisely, his communications staff) has taken to using gifs of the pop star to snipe at President Barack Obama’s recently announced proposal that would provide two years of community college education to eligible Americans. Obama hasn’t released many details of the plan just yet, but is expected to soon. Swift… errr, Boehner… is up in arms about the plans’ costs (or is just trying really, really hard to be cool and connect with the young folks and convince them that free college is somehow not in their best interest). A caption under one of the gifs points to a counter-proposal of sorts, or at least five vague talking points about lowering taxes. Basically, this is just like when your uncle asked you if you like the new Miley Cirrus video at Christmas dinner.
• Tonight is President Obama’s State of the Union Address, and it’s sure to cause all kinds of cheers from Democrats about all the things he won’t be able to accomplish as a lame-duck president and jeers from Republicans who believe he is some kind of socialist bent on destroying the United States. In other words: grade-A television drama. Tune in and try to survive one of the following drinking games I've devised: take a shot every time Boehner rolls his eyes, or take one every time Obama mentions something he’d like to achieve that is completely politically impossible given the current makeup of the House and Senate. Fun!
Hello all! Happy Monday. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and there are a number of things going on around the city in commemoration of the civil rights leader, including a march from The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to Fountain Square at 10 a.m. and a ceremony at Music Hall at noon. This is the 40th year Cincinnati has celebrated MLK Day, so if you’re not stuck at work like I am, maybe head out and take part. More news:
Cincinnati’s City Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein retired Friday. Recently, Rubenstein has been the center of controversy around alleged prosecutorial overreach stemming from a case over the summer where a suspect was accused of stealing $200 worth of candy from a convenience store and putting it in his pants. A security camera was running at the time of the incident and the suspect’s public defender was able to get a copy of the tape. The prosecutor’s office, however, waited too long to request a copy and the store’s owner erased it. After the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office refused to release its copy, Rubenstein had a judge issue a warrant allowing him to search the entire public defender’s office, which of course was not well received. Head public defender Ray Faller fired off a letter to city officials in October accusing Rubenstein of violating the rights of accused suspects.
Councilman Charlie Winburn in October called for a Department of Justice investigation into Rubenstein’s actions. It’s unclear if Rubenstein’s sudden retirement has anything to do with the controversy. He had held the job, which prosecutes misdemeanors in the city, since 2011. He’d worked for the city since 1979. The city has named Assistant City Solicitor Heidi Rosales as interim prosecutor until a permanent replacement can be hired.
• Two of Cincinnati’s conservative congressmen are taking heat for supporting fellow local guy House Speaker John Boehner. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both among the most conservative members of the House, have been getting an earful from tea party-affiliated constituents about their support of Boehner during his re-election for House Speaker, the top perch in the chamber.
If you’re not familiar with this plot point in the ongoing soap opera that is Republican politics of late, a brief synopsis: The tea party hates Boehner because he hasn’t done enough to roll back federal spending, Obamacare and the liberal agenda in general. Whatever that is. Anyway, a few conservatives in the House signaled they were backing tea party affiliated challengers who lined up to oppose Boehner in the election for speaker, but mostly at the last minute. The gestures had little affect, and Boehner still won easily. Chabot and Wenstrup both point out it would have done little good to vote against their fellow Ohioan, and besides, they say, his challengers came too late and didn’t signal they were serious.
• The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear arguments about gay marriage bans in Ohio and other states this spring, lining up what could be a precedent-setting legal battle over Ohio’s ban. In November, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld those bans, though other circuit courts across the country have struck them down. That court’s logic was that any ban should be removed by democratic process, not by courts. Ohio voters approved a 2004 amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage, though some public opinion experts say mainstream values have changed since that time. Opponents of this logic liken marriage equality to past advances on civil rights issues which took federal intervention and court decisions to bring about.
• Will Ohio tap more private prison companies in response to a possible prison overcrowding crisis? It’s a possibility, state officials say. The number of prisoners in the state’s prison system has begun growing again. The state had been seeing declines due to changes in the way those convicted of some crimes are sentenced. Beginning in 2009, Ohio eliminated more than 2,000 spots for inmates across the state. But a recent increase in the prison-bound, especially non-violent drug offenders, will once again stretch the state’s capacity to hold prisoners.
Prison officials say the state either needs to find new ways to house those prisoners or commit to community-based programs that can mitigate the need to house people in state penitentiaries. But those programs can take time to work. In the meantime, the state is looking at ways it can house more inmates, potentially through contracts with private companies like Corrections Corporation of America, which runs a private prison in Youngstown and elsewhere in the state. Audits have found the company does not always comply with state standards. The company also has a rocky history. CCA’s Youngstown prison shut down for a few years after a number of inmate deaths and injuries focused scrutiny on the facility. Efforts to meet state standards at the prison proved too costly, and it was shuttered. It reopened a few years later as a temporary prison for those awaiting federal trials.
• Speaking of Ohio and Republicans, here's just what we need: more national Republicans in our fair state. The GOP announced this weekend that it will hold its first debate between candidates for the party’s presidential nomination in the heart of it all. The debate will take place in August. No specific location has been set yet, but the announcement is yet another sign that Ohio will be a huge focus for the 2016 presidential election. The GOP is holding the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Democrats are mulling putting theirs in Columbus and the NAACP will hold its 2016 convention in Cincinnati.
• Finally, I saw the headline for this story from the Associated Press and thought “I wonder if that’s in Ohio.” My suspicions were confirmed. Turns out that back in December, a couple folks tried to smuggle heroin into the Hamilton County Justice Center via a bible. What kind of joke can I make about this that won’t be horribly offensive? Just going to leave it right there and walk away.
Heya! I’m gearing up to spend a couple days in Chicago, so no morning news tomorrow. However, I’m leaving ya with a bunch of crazy stuff today, so check it out.
First, something’s in the air here in Cincinnati lately. Yesterday I told you about Michael Hoyt, the West Chester bartender who threatened to kill House Speaker John Boehner, possibly during a bout of mental illness. Today, we learn about Chris Cornell. No, not the long haired, goateed grunge singer. Different guy. Christopher Lee Cornell was arrested yesterday morning after buying two semi-automatic weapons from a gun shop in Colerain Township. Cornell had been on the Internet for months talking about a violent Jihad, it seems, and had even met up with a person who turned out to be a government informant a couple times here in Cincinnati. The plan Cornell reportedly hatched involved pipe bombs and a shooting spree at the U.S. Capitol building. When he and the informant made concrete travel plans for D.C., the FBI swooped in. Here’s the criminal complaint filed against Cornell in federal district court.
• The tangled, confusing fight over renovations to Over-the-Rhine’s Emery Theater continues as nonprofit group the Requiem Project sues the University of Cincinnati over the historic venue. Let’s recap, in the simplest way possible. Since 1969, the University of Cincinnati has owned a historic, 1911 building on Central Parkway that was once home to the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute but now houses downtown’s Coffee Emporium location as well as some luxury apartments. Know the building? Of course you do. I see everyone and their mom at Coffee Emporium. Anyway, in 1999, UC signed a 40-year, $40 lease with a for-profit group called the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership that allowed ECALP to renovate the building for use as 59 market-rate apartments. Still with me? Good. That group then spun the theater portion of the building over to the Emery Center Corporation, a non-profit charged specifically with renovating the theater. THAT group, ECC, in Sept. 2010 entered into a partnership with the Requiem Project, which was started by Tara Lindsey Gordon and Tina Manchise, who moved from New York to undertake the project. Flash forward a few years, and after some 35 fundraisers and some renovation, the Requiem Project was locked out of the building in August 2013. They were told UC would have to sign off on their contract with ECC, something that was not originally revealed to the nonprofit. A move by UC to sell the building to ECALP never materialized, and now Requiem is suing all parties involved for the rights to continue renovating, as well as $25,000 in damages. Phew.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will be in court again over the eight felony counts an earlier jury couldn’t agree upon last year. Hunter was convicted on a ninth count, having an unlawful interest in a public contract, but she has appealed that conviction and her six-month sentence has been suspended until that appeal goes through. The other eight counts that prosecutors will again try Hunter on involve misusing a court-issued credit card, tampering with court documents and other alleged misdeeds. Hunter and her attorney say she is a victim of politics and did not do anything wrong in her courtroom. The case has been incredibly controversial in Cincinnati. Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black and first female judge, and she came into office promising to reform the county’s juvenile justice system, which she says is racially biased. As Hunter's trial goes on, others have made similar accusations about the county. Recently, the Northern Kentucky-based Children’s Law Center sued the county over its treatment of juveniles. The Center alleges racial bias in the county’s juvenile justice system, including incidents where young people of color have been held without charge for weeks at a time.
• Good news for cigar aficionados, and an interesting moment in history for everyone: The United States has formally announced it is easing travel restrictions for folks wanting to go to Cuba. Many U.S. visitors will no longer need to apply for a special license from the Treasury to visit the island nation, will be allowed to use credit and debit cards, will not have restrictions on how much money they spend on the island, and will be allowed to bring back up to $400 in stuff, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products. There are a number of other rules that have been loosened or done away with as well. The move is the government’s first practical step since President Barack Obama announced he was seeking to repair relations with the communist country, which the U.S. has embargoed since the 1950s. The important question is, will those cigars taste as good now that they’re not forbidden?
• Finally, say you’ve just been elected president. You’re about to be sworn in and start serving your four years at the most stressful but also most prestigious job in the world, and you just want to take some time, kick back and savor the moment. What’s an appropriate victory meal? If it’s this day in 1909 and you’re then President-elect William Howard Taft (the notorious WHT) visiting Atlanta, you sit down to a huge possum feast. Taft’s a giant in this town and his historic home is right down the road from my historic home (one of the two is a museum; you can probably guess which). I had no idea about this. Possum: for the good times.
Cincinnati City Council today changed a rule that stipulates which public employees must live within city limits. The move effectively exempts embattled Director of Water and Sewers Tony Parrott from having to move to the city after he was punished in June for misleading officials about his residency.
Under the new rules, only the city manager, assistant city manager, city solicitor and police chief will need to live in the city. The 6-2 decision came with some argument, however. Councilmen Kevin Flynn and Wendell Young voted against the rule change. Flynn said he felt it wasn’t fair to make concessions for someone who deliberately misled the city. Young had broader qualms with the change, saying he thinks all high-level city administration employees should have to live in the city from which they get their taxpayer-funded salaries.
“I have great difficulty with people who are in the higher part of the administration who help to create the rules and in many cases enforce the rules, and then are not subject to them,” Young said. “I don’t understand how the city of Cincinnati is good enough to work in, good enough to provide your income, but isn’t good enough to live in.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn, however, said the situation was actually the city’s fault. In 2012, the city-run sewer district merged with the water works department, which serves both the city as well as most of Hamilton County and parts of Butler and Warren Counties. Winburn says the residency requirements for Parrott’s job should have been updated at that time, since it is now effectively an agency that serves the greater region.
“Are we going to split Mr. Parrott in two now?” Winburn asked. “Do we have to get Solomon in on this thing?”
Other council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, voted for the change on legal grounds. Ohio law forbids residency requirements for some city employees, and there are questions about whether the city’s former rules complied with those laws. City solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said she believes council’s change today falls within the state’s laws.
Parrot, who has served as head of the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works, had listed his residence as a property on Westwood Avenue that turned out to be an empty lot he owned. Meanwhile, he was actually living in Butler County. City officials found out about the discrepancy in June and disciplined Parrott by docking him 40 hours of pay and requiring him to move into the city within 180 days. That time had elapsed and Parrott still hadn’t moved back. Parrott was granted a 45-day extension at the end of the six-month period as the city decided whether to fire him or change its rules.
Wound up in the questions about Parrott’s residency is the city’s court-ordered, $3.2 billion sewer project, a huge undertaking that will stretch into the next decade. The city was ordered to update its sewer system after a lawsuit by homeowners and environmental groups. Some council members say Parrott is integral to that ongoing process. Others, however, say that doesn’t excuse his actions.
“I understand the desire to keep this person in place,” Flynn said, acknowledging Parrott’s big role. “But I cannot support keeping someone who has been dishonest with the city and has continued to be dishonest with the city. I think that does a disservice to the rest of our city employees and to our citizens.”
Parrott has told City Manager Harry Black that he doesn’t want to live in the city for personal reasons but does want to remain at his job.