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.
Morning Cincy. Let’s talk about the news.
• The big story today is that House Speaker John Boehner’s country club bartender has been indicted for threatening to kill the powerful West Chester Republican. Michael Robert Hoyt was fired from his job at the Wetherington Country Club in West Chester last year, after which he sent a rambling email to Boehner’s wife saying that if he had wanted to kill Boehner, he could have slipped something into his wine many times. Hoyt, who has a history of mental illness, later told authorities investigating his email that he was Jesus Christ and that he needed to kill Boehner. Hoyt indicated he had a pistol, which was later seized by authorities. Killing a dude doesn’t sound very Jesus-y, but I digress. Hoyt is currently being held in a federal mental health facility for evaluation.
• An audit commissioned by Hamilton County slams former Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr.’s handling of the department. The audit compared the sheriff’s office to something from the 1950s, and one of its authors, attorney Scott Greenwood, said the department was “held together with smoke, mirrors and absolute secrecy.”
Among the problems the audit found were unguarded evidence rooms, single deputies overseeing up to 100 inmates and a lack of computerized recording keeping at the county’s traffic and other departments. Former sheriff Leis has said the audit is politically motivated and that he stands by his record. Republican County Commissioner Greg Hartmann has also come to Leis’ defense, saying the sheriff did the best he could with the resources available to him. Hartmann says the report seems to be a push for funding increases for the sheriff’s office, something he and fellow Republican commissioner Chris Monzel say isn’t possible.
The audit was highly critical of several resource shortcomings within the department, an issue that is still at play in the political fight between current Sheriff Jim Neil and county commissioners.
• Cincinnati is one of 15 destinations across the world highlighted in Jetsetter Magazine’s list of places to go in 2015. Jetsetter highlighted downtown’s arts district, including the Aronoff Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Arts Center and 21C as well as the city’s upscale dining scene and forthcoming bike path expansions. If they think that stuff is neat, wait till they get a look at our really rad warehouse punk shows and our awesome chili. Or maybe they’re not as into that kind of stuff. Cuba, Taipei in Taiwan, Kauai in Hawaii and Bordeaux, France, also made the list.
• Speaking of lists, Cincinnati is the tenth-best city in the country for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. A study by personal finance site Wallethub.com found Cincinnati among the top cities in the country for STEM jobs. The site measured job openings in STEM industries, wages for STEM workers, expected growth of related industries in coming years and other factors. Houston and Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina rounded out the top three. Columbus bested us by one spot, landing at number nine on the list.
• The Ohio Board of Education voted on a new president Monday, selecting Gov. John Kasich ally Tom Gunlock. Gunlock is one of eight at-large members on the 19-member board. While the other 11 members are elected to represent a district, Kasich appoints at-large members. The board looks to be the site of some serious fights this year over charter schools, common core, the 5 of 8 rule and other contentious issues. Though Democrats got battered in nearly every other state election, they came out with three more seats on the board in November. They’re still in the minority, however. Nearly all the Dems on the board backed Cincinnati’s Pat Bruns, a newly-elected board member, to head the board. Bruns and her fellow Democrats have promised push-back on charters, calling for more accountability for the private, state-funded schools. They’ve also signaled opposition to elimination of a rule that requires all schools to hire at least five out of eight kinds of specialists, including librarians and art teachers.
• The Obama administration is beginning to outline ambitious plans for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Last week Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx previewed a thirty-year plan for his agency ahead of a comprehensive report on the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs due later this year. Foxx said the report will focus on the inter-reliance of America’s many interwoven transit systems. He highlighted big population growth in the South and West as drivers of a need to update the nation’s systems, as well as the increasing number of people moving back to urban centers. Foxx said seemingly small factors such as increased reliance on bikes and walking shouldn’t be overlooked in the planning process, suggesting the department may pay close attention to urban areas where those changes are slowly coming about.
“What people are viewing as this cute, cuddly bike and pedestrian movement could be a real game-changer,” Foxx said in a Friday talk in Washington, D.C. about the upcoming report.
Hit me up with news tips, marriage or business (or marriage business) proposals, or inquiries for booking my one-man singing hackey sack musical at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the twitters: @nswartsell.
Morning y’all. I know, I know. I skipped our news rundown yesterday, but I had a good excuse: I spent some time at City Hall finding out about poverty-related challenges facing Cincinnati in the new year and efforts to address those issues, which I’ll be reporting on in-depth soon. In the meantime, let’s play catch up.
There’s a new parking plan for Over-the-Rhine floating around, and while it will cost less than Mayor John Cranley’s initial proposal to enact the highest residential parking fees in the country, some folks still aren’t happy about the impact it could have on low-income residents in the neighborhood.
The earlier plan, which floated a yearly $300 fee to park in OTR, was aimed at funding streetcar operating costs. Now those costs have been accounted for, but parking in the neighborhood is still kind of a mess. So the city’s transportation department has a new plan: a $108 yearly permit for residents, who will be limited to one car per person and two permits per household. Residents living in low-cost subsidized housing would pay $16 a year for their permits. Four-hundred-two spaces would be made available to permit holders in the neighborhood. Another 646 would have parking meters and the remaining 199 would be up for grabs by anyone at any time, completely unregulated. Those spots are aimed at OTR workers who commute in every morning. Vice Mayor David Mann questioned whether those spaces would really go to workers in the neighborhood. Others, including OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, raised concerns about low-income residents in the neighborhood. Messer pointed out that not all of the neighborhood’s residents who are low-income live in subsidized housing. The city is hoping to get the permitting program running by spring.
• Staying in Over-the-Rhine for a moment, let's talk about an international game design competition coming to the neighborhood later this month. Local startup ChoreMonster will host the Global Game Jam Jan. 23-25 at The Brandery headquarters in OTR. Past events have attracted game designers from 485 cities and 73 countries. Competitors are given 48 hours to design a game around a prompt given the opening day of the event. That game can run on any platform — mobile app, Mac, PC, or even the oldest-fashioned game platform of all — a kitchen table or dorm room floor. Yes, board and card games are allowed.
• Well, it happened, you already know about it, it was huge, etc., but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Ohio State University’s college football national title win last night. They upset Oregon, everyone in the state is wearing red and gray and so forth. And oh yeah, predictably, a bunch of people in Columbus set fire to a bunch of couches and stuff, knocked down goal posts at the OSU stadium, got arrested, etc. Here’s a handy AP style/word-usage note I’ve picked up from journalists covering the unrest: Apparently these kinds of things aren’t riots if they’re over football games. Instead, they’re “revelry.” Noted. Meanwhile, a furniture store that ran a promotion promising free furniture for customers if OSU won by more than seven points will pay more than $1.5 million in rebates after yesterday’s win, which maybe explains why people were burning all those old couches.
• So, will Ohio’s conservative Gov. John Kasich back a plan put forward by President Barack Obama to provide two years of free community college education for Americans? It’s too soon to say for sure, but the governor’s office released some cautiously almost-supportive language in response to the idea and said the gov is interested in the details. States will be footing a quarter of the bill for the plan and must opt-in for residents to be eligible for the proposed program. If conservative governors like Kasich were to support the plan, it would be a major bipartisan moment, since anything Obama does usually causes howls of socialism from the Republican party.
• Speaking of Kasich, he was sworn in yesterday for his second term as governor of Ohio. His 45-minute speech had few surprises, though he did kind of tear up a couple times (Ohio Republicans are an emotional lot, if Kasich and Rep. John Boehner are any indications) and took what seemed to be a passive-aggressive jab at the state’s legislature. He thanked the body, which is dominated by his fellow Republicans, for helping him expand Medicaid back in 2013. The joke is that the state legislature fought Kasich all the way to the end on the expansion. Perhaps it’s a sharp elbow from the governor as Ohio considers this year whether it will renew its acceptance of federal funds for the expansion.
• Finally, I’ve noted on this blog before that 90s throwback steez (my use of the word “steez” is proof of my late 90s slang savvy) is at an all-time high. We’re even going to have a repeat of that whole Y2K panic. It seems we’re all too fast for the planet and we’ve gotten ahead of the earth’s inconsistent rotation by about a second. That means we’ll need a so-called “leap second” this year. OK, no big deal, just count down to zero on New Year’s Eve 2015, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated. Turns out computer software hates it when you just go tacking extra seconds onto reality. The last leap second in 2012 crashed Yelp, Reddit, Gawker and other big websites. That actually sounds like a wonderful way to start a new year. Software engineers have worked out a fix to the problem, but the question is whether that fix will be implemented across all the various programs that like, run the Internet. I just hope Tumblr is OK and Buzzfeed is not.
Hit me up with news tips, frostbite prevention tips or just tips (paypal accepted): email@example.com or via Twitter before it crashes: @nswartsell.
Hey all. It’s Friday! But you already knew that. Here are some things you may not already be aware of.
Today is full of statewide and national news, but there’s at least one interesting local story happening right now. A Cincinnati company is following in the er, tire tracks of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, offering rides via an online reservation system. The difference is, Drivr Green Transportation Company is using all-electric Tesla luxury cars to squire you about town. Founders and Cincinnati natives Brandon Beard and Nick Seitz figured out they could run the service with lower overhead if they didn’t have to pay for gasoline. They tested the concept with three Tesla Model S cars on Uber’s network in August. Now, they’re running those three cars 20 to 22 hours a day while looking to lease 10 more cars and find 30 more drivers. The two say they’re not trying to compete with Uber and Lyft, but rather to fill an as-yet unmet demand for green luxury transportation.
• A bill giving more than $7 million to substance abuse programs and jails in Kentucky to help deal with the region’s heroin crisis passed the Kentucky Senate yesterday, the Associated Press reports. The bill also exempts heroin users from minor drug charges when calling 911 for a heroin overdose in an attempt to encourage people to reach out to emergency personnel during overdose situations. A sharp spike in heroin use and overdoses that has swept the region has hit Northern Kentucky especially hard.
• The state of Ohio has temporarily halted executions while it figures out its lethal injection method, as we reported yesterday. The state is abandoning the two-drug method it has used since 2011 after an execution last year took 26 minutes, resulting in audible struggles for breath from inmate Dennis McGuire while he was being executed. That incident sparked a lawsuit from McGuire’s family. The state has been using the sedative and painkiller mixture since 2011, when production of a third drug called thiopental sodium ceased in the United States. Ohio has announced it will go back to using that drug in its lethal injection procedure, though it has not announced how it intends to source it. The execution of Ronald Phillips, which was scheduled for Feb. 11, has been suspended until the state can source the third drug. Officials say other pending executions may also be pushed back.
• Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown is proposing an alternative for low-income folks who might otherwise avail themselves of high-interest payday loans. Brown’s plan would let Americans get short-term cash advances on their future tax returns based on tax credits for which they are eligible. Brown has been vocal in his opposition to payday lending companies, which charge huge sums to borrow small amounts of money and which often throw low-income people into a long-running cycle of debt.
"Ohioans shouldn't be trapped with a lifetime of debt from predatory loans – particularly if they have tax refunds waiting for them," Brown said in an emailed press release yesterday. "Three-quarters of Americans who turn to costly, high-interest payday loans may have money that they can claim each tax season in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit.”
• Gas prices are crazy low. Like, lower than they have been in years. If my car worked, I’d be hyped. But when the prices are lower and sales don’t spike to make up for that, the government’s receipts from the tax on gasoline also go way down. That’s not bad by itself, necessarily, but that money pays for some pretty important things infrastructure-wise. The tax hasn’t been raised in 20 years, and Americans are still paying 18 cents per gallon toward maintaining the nation’s roads, highways and bridges. Meanwhile, a staggering number of those roads and bridges are in need of repair or replacement. See: the Brent Spence Bridge, the Western Hills Viaduct, and thousands of other structures across the country. So, with Americans paying less for gas, it does sort of seem like an opportune time to think about raising the gas tax, no? So, you know, we still have roads to drive on and so we don’t have to wait for the river to freeze to get to Kentucky, right? Nah, Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, says. Not going to happen. Boehner proudly pointed out yesterday that he’s never voted to increase the tax and wouldn’t vote for an increase this time around if it were to come up in Congress. It’s not all the House Speaker’s fault, of course. As the orange one points out, there probably aren’t enough people in Congress (read: Republicans) willing to vote for this seemingly sane, rational decision about the nation’s infrastructure. Awesome.
• President Barack Obama will propose offering two-year college educations to American workers funded by the federal and state governments in a speech later today in Tennessee.
"Put simply, what I'd like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who's willing to work for it," Obama said in a video preview of his speech filmed ahead of his Jan. 20 State of the Union Address. "It's something we can accomplish, and it's something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anyone in the world."
The plan is going to have to make it through Congress, of course, and it’s unclear how willing the Republican-led bodies will be to help the plan off the ground. Republicans including Speaker Boehner have sounded a skeptical note about the idea. A spokesman for Boehner’s office said the proposal sounded "more like a talking point than a plan” without specifics on cost. The president has promised more details and a cost estimate will be delivered during the State of the Union and in his budget proposal, which is due in early February.
Morning y’all. I’m not going to comment on how cold it is this morning, because you probably already know. Instead, I’m just going to say I cannot feel my feet.
Anyway, what’s up today? Glad you asked.
One of the protesters arrested at a Nov. 25 rally in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct yesterday. Rhonda Shaw was one of the seven activists arrested on I-75 after protesters briefly made their way onto the highway. Shaw was the only one not eventually released on bond in the aftermath of the arrests. A judge removed a requirement that six other protesters who had already paid bail wear electronic monitoring devices, after which they were freed. All six still face disorderly conduct and inducing panic charges and will be in court this month. Shaw did not pay bail and was not released. Hamilton County Judge William Mallory dismissed another more serious charge of inducing panic in Shaw’s case. The disorderly conduct charge is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine.
The protest mirrored similar actions around the country over the lack of indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown. The event drew more than 300 people and led to a long, winding march through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach took a moment to remember Kings Mills transgender teen Leelah Alcorn during yesterday’s City Council meeting, reading an emotional statement addressed to LGBT individuals who are struggling with feelings of isolation. Alcorn committed suicide Dec. 28.
“You can survive the pain,” Seelbach said after reading from Alcorn’s suicide note, which she posted on Tumblr. “You can survive the isolation. You can because you're exactly who you're supposed to be. You're the person God made you to be, and you have the strength to persevere. It will not be easy. It may not get better with every day, but you can do it — I know you can.”
• A couple days ago, I told you Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld appears to have started raising money for a shot at Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s seat in 2016. If that’s true, he’d better start his hustle. Portman already has almost $6 million in the bank for the race, according to a campaign email. He’s also touting endorsements from a number of high-up Republicans including Gov. John Kasich. It’s unclear if the early saber-rattling is meant to scare away possible far-right primary challengers or send a message to an eventual Democratic contender for his seat, but it’s clear Portman has a big advantage at this early juncture.
• Officials yesterday released the full-length security video showing the Cleveland police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, including the troubling aftermath of that shooting. The beginning of the video, which was released shortly after the incident, shows a Cleveland police cruiser rushing into the park where Rice was playing, which was across the street from his house. Officer Timothy Leohman jumps out of the passenger side of the cruiser and immediately shoots Rice, who a 911 caller said was brandishing a pistol that was “probably fake.” That much we already knew. But the extended video also shows two officers tackling and wrestling Tamir’s 14-year-old sister Tajai Rice, eventually forcefully hustling her to the police car. Meanwhile, no officers attempt to assist Rice, who is lying in the park bleeding to death. It takes nearly 15 minutes for officers to remove Rice from the scene on a stretcher. He later died at the hospital.
Loehman was fired from the Independence, Ohio police department in 2012 because he exhibited signs of being emotionally unstable and was subsequently passed over for jobs at a number of other departments before getting a job in Cleveland. Last month, the Department of Justice released an unrelated, year-long report slamming the Cleveland Police Department for its use of force and an apparent racial bias in its policing.
• Finally, a Columbus suburb is getting what can only be described as a monumental honor. The city of Westerville will soon be home to the tacocropolis, aka the capitol of crunch; in other words, the country’s most expensive Taco Bell location. Westerville officials call it a great redevelopment project, and the development company says they see the upscale Taco Bell as an investment.
“Westerville is a very discriminating city about what they want done and how they want it to look," Hadler Company President Stephen Breech said. "Sometimes you get subpar looks from a fast-food building — but this isn't that kind of a facility. It has a lot of brick on it and things like that."
The developer won’t divulge how much the project will cost, and Taco Bell will only confirm that it is the chain’s most expensive location, building-wise, in the country.
A lot of brick on it, indeed. I really hope the “things like that” he’s referring to are giant, gold plated monuments to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
A few words on this week’s cover story about Ohio’s changes to the General Educational Development (GED) test. The piece first appeared in the Cleveland Scene, and it's a great, well-researched read. We did some significant reporting to localize it for Cincinnati, not all of which made it into the final article.
The GED is something a lot of folks don’t really think much about, and I admit I didn’t know a whole lot about it before digging in for our reporting. But the test is a vital lifeline toward a better life for folks who for one reason or another never got a high school diploma.
Seven-hundred-forty-seven people took the test in Hamilton County in 2014. That's down from 2,388 in 2013.
As you’ll read in the cover story, new changes that took affect in 2014 have made it more difficult and expensive to take and pass the test and move on to a trade school, a community college or a better job. New standards require higher levels of interpretive abilities and background knowledge to pass the GED. What's more, students must practice for and take the test on a computer — a big challenge for some students struggling with poverty — and the base fee the state charges for taking the test has tripled.
I went to the East End Adult Education Center to find out more about how the test is getting harder and who is taking it. While I was there, I also learned a lot about what is at stake for folks trying to pass it. I’d like to introduce you to a few of them here. Even though all of their stories didn’t fit in the cover piece, I think they’re important to talk about.
DaniJo Doud, 32, was sitting with head tutor Marty Walsh and practicing for the test when I walked through the door of the center on Eastern Avenue.
Doud got pregnant when she was 16 and ended up repeating the 9th grade three times before dropping out of school. She later struggled with heroin addiction, though she can tell you the exact day she stopped using: May 28, 2012. Now, she’d like to go to a nearby community college to eventually become a drug counselor.
“I always thought I was dumb,” she told me, “but I’m not. I came here and started out on a fourth or fifth grade level. I’m now on a 12th grade level on everything. I’ll graduate this year, I’m sure of it. I want to do the work. I love coming here. I don’t miss a day.”
The center is one of just a few in Cincinnati that offer GED study and testing services. Others, including Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, also provide these services, though often to large classes instead of one on one.
The East End Adult Education Center runs on grants and doesn’t charge students. It even offers scholarships to some students who can’t afford some or all of Ohio’s GED test fee. Adele Craft, the center’s executive director, says nearly all of the people who come here to study are facing economic challenges, or have had life hurdles that kept them from completing high school. Some are refugees.
You’ll read more about Sy Ohur in the cover story. Ohur came to the United States from Sudan in 2004, when the country was gripped by a bloody civil war that killed several hundred thousand people. Ohur fled here knowing almost zero English; Craft said he and other refugees who came around that time didn’t even know the alphabet. Ohur is now an American citizen with strong English skills. He has passed two parts of the GED previously, but then the test was redesigned and he’s had to go back to square one.
In the next room, 17-year-old Chris was studying math with his tutor Mike, going over some equations that — full disclosure — I didn’t really understand. Chris has been coming for a year. At first, he was compelled to come by court order due to problems he was having with truancy. Attending Riverside High School just wasn’t working out for him, he said, though he admits part of the problem was he had a hard time getting up early enough.
“But then I started coming here and started wanting to learn,” he says. “The teachers at school, they tried to help me out, but it wasn’t getting through to me like here. They’ve showed me different angles, different ways to look at things. It’s helped me out a lot.”
Chris, who lives just down the road, shows up every day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. He hopes to take the test soon. His immediate goal is to go to Cincinnati State and eventually transfer to a four-year college to become an architect.
The East End Adult Education Center, one of just a few in Cincinnati that provides test prep and allows students to take the actual GED onsite, sees about 100 students a year. About 20 pass the test each year. As Craft shows me the phone book-sized study guide students must contend with, she tells me passing the test is sometimes a multi-year effort.
That effort has been getting more difficult in Cincinnati and across the state. Craft said holding students to a higher standard and getting them prepared for college is a great goal and that the new test does that well. But she doesn’t like that people looking to better themselves have a harder road ahead of them.
“It’s just a lot, lot harder,” she said of the new test. “It’s going to take us a lot longer.”
Hey all! My colleague, CityBeat arts editor Jac Kern, just got engaged over the holiday and there’s champagne everywhere in the office right now. Congrats! Now I’m going to try to power through the distraction to bring you the news because I’m a soldier like that.
So the streetcar contingency budget, which is set aside for unforeseen complications and cost overruns, is healthier than previously thought, officials announced yesterday. Last month, streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced that the worst-case scenarios his office ran had the fund down to about $80,000 after everything was paid out. But after some political blowback, especially from streetcar foe Mayor John Cranley, Deatrick and company went back to the drawing board, reassessed costs and adjusted that figure. The new estimate is that the contingency fund has about $1.3 million left. What changed? Not much. Deatrick says the streetcar team renegotiated some contracts and scaled back a fence around the streetcar substation. That fence was set to be solid brick, but will now be partially steel. Some council members, including Chris Seelbach, expressed concerns that the project was being scaled back due to political pressure, but officials with the project say it will run the same distance with the same number of cars for the same amount of time and that it hasn’t been scaled back in any meaningful way.
• As the weather gets colder, demands on area homeless shelters are increasing, straining space available for those with nowhere else to go. While a funding increase council passed last month has given area shelters more money to work with, demand may outpace the increase.
"The demand for winter shelter has been greater than expected this winter," Strategies to End Homelessness President and CEO Kevin Finn said in a statement. "... Such increased and early demand could exhaust resources that we hope will last us through February."
• Local grilled cheese dynamo Tom + Chee is expanding, its founders report, with plans to open five new restaurants in Southern Texas, mostly in suburbs of Houston. The company has partnered with the Tunica-Biloxi tribe to bring the restaurants to the region. The new restaurants will join 13 others in Georgia, Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee.
• Northern Kentucky residents who have been touched by the region’s heroin epidemic took their concerns to the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfurt yesterday. One-hundred-thirty Northern Kentuckians came to the rally asking for changes to state laws that could cut down the number of heroin overdose deaths. Among the policy changes advocates are asking for: repeal of a law that keeps Kentucky police from carrying anti-overdose drugs like Narcan. Police in Cincinnati and many other cities carry the drugs, which can mean the difference between life and death for overdose victims.
A new program in Kentucky will give state funds to three hospitals to provide Narcan kits to emergency overdose patients, including St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Fort Thomas. The hospital was chosen due to the high number of overdose victims it treats.
• It’s official. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, has lived to fight another day as speaker of the house. Boehner held the most powerful perch in the House despite challenges from the far-right wing of the Republican party, who hold that he didn’t do enough to repeal Obamacare and cut the federal budget. Tea party-affiliated reps had a similar mutiny attempt last session, in 2013, when 12 voted against Boehner for speaker. This time, opposition doubled, as 24 conservative House members voted against him. Boehner still coasted to a win, but the drama highlights the continued fissures in the party. Even as it grows more powerful— the 246 seats Republicans hold in the House are the most they’ve had since the 1940s — it’s clear there’s little agreement about what should be done with that power. Perhaps in reflection of this mixed-up mindset, Boehner offered this lumpy, ill-formed bag of metaphors on the House floor after his win.
“So let’s stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong,” Boehner said. “May the fruits of our labors be ladders our children can use to climb to the stars.”
Fruit ladders to the stars, y’all.
Boehner was quick to deal out discipline to members who voted against him, having two Republicans who voted against him kicked off the House’s powerful rules committee, which sets the agenda for the House.
• One of the grand jurors in the Darren Wilson case is suing the St. Louis County prosecutor over what he says were misleading statements about the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson. Prosecutor Robert McCullough presented evidence to the grand jury after the August shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown by Ferguson Police officer Wilson. The grand jury member accuses McCullough of misleading the public about the grand jury’s deliberations and is asking to be able to speak publicly about the case in his suit. The juror, who so far has remained anonymous, is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Brown’s shooting along with other police shootings of unarmed black citizens have triggered civil unrest and activism around the country.
• Finally, this isn’t really news related but I have to share it anyway. Here are the ladies of Downton Abby, which just started a new season, playing Cards Against Humanity. Warning: it gets a lil raunchy. Also, you’re welcome.