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by Nick Swartsell 11.19.2014 31 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

City fights over public vs. private streetcar operation; Ohio to free man wrongly imprisoned for 40 years; is another government shutdown looming?

Hey all! Once again, I’m rushing toward a day of covering meetings and hearings, so let’s do this morning news thing in a “just the facts” fashion.

First, about those meetings:

Cincinnati City Council today is expected to pass the streetcar operating and funding plans after the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee gave it the thumbs up yesterday. That’s a big deal, considering the city had been working for months to figure out where the system’s $4 million yearly operating budget would come from. But the fighting isn’t over. Now there’s disagreement about whether Metro or a contractor should run the streetcar. It’s a classic private vs. public argument. Vice Mayor David Mann and a majority of council want the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority to do the work. Councilmembers Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray, on the other hand, would like to see SORTA take bids on operations from private companies to see what kind of savings contracting the work could yield. A consultant for the transit authority, TRA, has generated numbers saying that the city could save about $300,000 a year by going private. SORTA’s union has taken issue with those numbers, though, and say they could match a private company’s price. Council won’t consider Mann’s proposal until sometime after Thanksgiving, which means a couple more weeks for wrangling over the deal.

City Council will also vote on a motion to name Third Street after Carl H. Lindner Jr., one of Cincinnati’s most towering business figures. That’s prompted some questions about Lindner’s legacy, specifically around LGBT issues. He gave millions to various causes around the city, but also had a darker side. Some, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, would like to take some time to get more public input on the move before putting his name on a prominent downtown street.

• Hamilton County Commissioners are holding a public hearing over the county’s 2015 budget this morning. The budget has been controversial. The original proposal by County Administrator Christian Sigman called for a .25 cent tax increase to fund renovations of a former hospital in Mt. Airy, a boost Republican commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann batted down recently. The Mt. Airy site, donated to the county by Mercy Hospital, would hold a new, updated crime lab and coroner’s office, as well as the county board of elections and other offices. The coroner’s office and crime lab are in serious need of updates, officials say, and are running at less than full capacity. Without the tax boost, however, the budget will remain flat and many other offices, including the Sheriff’s Department, will face cuts. Monzel has said he’d like to have the budget passed before Thanksgiving, making this the last significant hearing on the issue.

• Procter & Gamble has officially stepped up to publicly support same-sex marriage, the company said yesterday. While the company has had domestic partner benefits since 2001, this is the first time it’s made a public statement about the divisive issue. Though the announcement comes in the wake of a recent federal court decision upholding Ohio’s same-sex marriage amendment, the company says the move isn’t political, but is about supporting its employees and attracting the best possible talent.

• Major Hollywood movies filming here in Cincinnati give the city an undeniable cool factor, but does that translate into an economic boon as well? A recent study by the UC Center for Economics Education & Research says yes. The state pitches big tax breaks to film production companies, but also get a big boost in the jobs and economic activity those films bring, the study says — 4,000 jobs and $46 million in economic activity in Cincinnati for $6.5 million in tax breaks. But the equation may be more complicated than that. According to this Business Courier blog post, when you take into account the state’s return on investment – how much of that $46 million is coming back in taxes — and alternative uses for the tax dollars spent. Interesting stuff and worth thinking about.

Ohio is about to free a prisoner wrongly convicted of murder almost 40 years ago. Ricky Jackson and two others were convicted of murdering a man in 1975 based on the eyewitness accounts of a single 12-year-old boy. That boy later recanted his testimony, saying he was "just trying to be helpful" to police by testifying. Jackson will be freed from jail Friday after a years-long legal battle aided by the Ohio Innocence Project. The Cleveland Scene first reported the story and drew attention the Jackson's plight.

• Finally, are we headed for another government shutdown? There’s a showdown brewing over President Barack Obama’s use of executive action to ease deportations of undocumented immigrants. Hardline conservative Republicans want to tuck measures preventing the president from doing this into spending bills integral to the budget process, forcing Obama to either sign them or veto them and halt Congress’ approval of funds that keep the federal government operating. GOP congressional leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner and probable Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said last year’s shutdown was damaging for the party and that they will not abide by a repeat. But the GOP’s tea party-aligned right flank says they won’t rule out grinding the government to a halt again.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.18.2014 32 days ago
Posted In: News at 02:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
carl-lindner-jr

Council Might Name Third Street after Carl Lindner

Proposal has brought up entrepreneur's controversial past

What do you do to remember a billionaire who created thousands of jobs in the city and spread millions of dollars around to various charities?

What if that same guy gave generously to a group that pushed the passage of one of the country’s harshest anti-gay ordinances, hung out with the folks responsible for the saving and loan crisis in the 1990s and once ran a company that hired brutal Colombian paramilitary groups to protect its crops?
 
Maybe name a street after him.

Mayor John Cranley has proposed naming Third Street in Cincinnati “Carl H. Lindner Way” and hopes to have it pass Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday. Some in the city, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, have asked for more time and public input before the decision is made. Seelbach praised Lindner, but also criticized his stances on LGBT issues.

“Carl Lindner absolutely has made our city a better place in many, many ways,” Seelbach said during a Nov. 18 transportation committee meeting, citing his economic and charitable impact. “The problem is that we were perhaps the most anti-gay city in the country because of Article XII. One of the people, if not the person, who orchestrated its passage was Carl Lindner. That’s unfortunate, and he’s not here to defend himself, and I understand that. But I have a problem elevating him to where we are now naming one of our most prominent streets after someone whose efforts caused us to be known as an intolerable place.”

Seelbach said he wasn’t sure how he would vote on the issue given more time, but felt that public input on renaming the downtown thoroughfare was needed. Other council members agreed, though the measure passed out of committee and will be voted on by the full City Council tomorrow.

Seelbach, along with Councilmembers Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young, abstained from voting on the measure in committee. Simpson said she wanted public input and more time to think about the vote. Young said he wasn’t aware of Lindner’s role in Article XII and wanted to find out more.

There’s no doubt Lindner’s legacy is intertwined with Cincinnati’s. His name is on buildings he financed all over the city. Lindner, who died in 2011 at the age of 92, rose from meager beginnings to become one of America’s richest men, creating thousands of jobs and giving millions to charities in the area. He grew up in Norwood and started United Dairy Farmers from his family’s dairy shop. From that, his empire blossomed to include American Financial Corp., international produce corporation Chiquita, The Cincinnati Enquirer for a stretch and even the Cincinnati Reds for a few years. In 2000, he traded to bring hometown hero Ken Griffey Jr. back to Cincinnati, picking him up at Lunken Airport in one of his signature Rolls Royces.

But his power had a dark side. Lindner gave big money to Citizens for Community Values, the conservative group that pushed for the city’s 1993 Article XII charter amendment. The amendment barred laws protecting LGBT residents and made Cincinnati one of the most anti-gay cities in the country until it was repealed in 2004. Lindner's son, Carl Lindner III, served on the group's advisory board . The law is now seen as a black mark on the city, an embarrassing chapter from which Cincinnati has only recently recovered.

Lindner was also far from above reproach when it came to business ethics. He was very close with fellow Cincinnati captain of industry Charles Keating, another CCVer and so-called “face of the U.S. savings and loan bust,” a financial crisis in the 1990s that cost tax payers more than $3 billion. Keating was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the crisis, though he won an appeal on a technicality and was released after four. Before all that, though, Keating helped Lindner at American Financial, Lindner’s core business. The two were charged together in 1979 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for self-dealing from the company till. Lindner paid back more than $1 million, though he never admitted wrongdoing.

Lindner also oversaw other deeply troubling corporate practices, though he himself escaped implication in them. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million by the federal government after it was discovered that unnamed upper-level executives there were making payments to Colombian paramilitary groups beginning in 1997, during Lindner’s tenure at the helm of the company. Those payments, to groups like AUC and FARC that terrorized Columbian citizens, were found to be in violation of U.S. anti-terrorism laws. AUC was especially violent, carrying out some of the country's largest massacres. The group was also engaged in the country's cocaine trade.

Many details about shady practices at Chiquita were revealed years earlier in 1997, when The Cincinnati Enquirer published a year-long investigation it had done on the company. Chiquita slapped the paper with an immediate lawsuit because a reporter there had illegally hacked into the company's phone messaging system. The Enquirer quickly retracted the story, ran front-page apologies and paid a $10 million-plus settlement to the company. Chiquita claimed the stories were fundamentally unbalanced, though reviews by The New York Times and other national news outlets found some of the story's revelations couldn't easily be explained away. But the charges of phone hacking got most of the attention and took the air out of the Enquirer stories, as the American Journalism Review noted in a 1998 piece that gives excellent background into the relations between Lindner and Cincinnati's daily paper of record.

"Chiquita has been quite successful at blunting the impact of the Enquirer series by focusing attention on the paper's reporting techniques," the publication said.

The recent Enquirer story about the renaming of Third Street doesn't mention any of the controversy around Lindner or Chiquita.

Cranley’s move to name a public street after Lindner isn’t unique. Last month, there was a half-serious suggestion by Norwood Mayor Tom Williams to rename the Norwood Lateral after the Cincinnati-born businessman. That suggestion was in response to State Sen. Eric Kerney’s proposal to name the lateral after Barack Obama, though Williams said ideally he’d leave the highway alone entirely and not rename it after anyone.

Correction: an earlier version of this post referred to Carl Lindner III as president of CCV. He served on the group's advisory board, not as president.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.18.2014 32 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
uber

Morning News and Stuff

Judge in Planned Parenthood suit won't hear case; Cincinnati-Chicago rail gets more support; Uber exec: Let's dig up dirt on journalists

Hey all. The tide has turned. Nearly every morning, I stop into one of a few downtown spots to grab a donut and (lately decaf) iced coffee on my walk to work. In the summer, this was unremarkable, but as the weather has gotten colder, it’s become something cashiers laugh at me about. Thing is, I have very poor impulse control and can’t wait more than a couple minutes to start drinking and always burn the hell outta my mouth on hot drinks. Today, though, I actually got hot coffee. It’s that cold out. “Finally,” the cashier said.

So yeah, news. A federal judge has recused himself in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Health over Ohio’s restrictions on clinics that provide abortions. Judge Timothy Black has sent the suit back for reassignment because he served on Planned Parenthood’s board 25 years ago. While he says he would follow legal precedent in deciding the suit, he wants to avoid any appearance of bias and is passing the case off to another judge.

• Former Mason mayor and outgoing Republican State Rep. Pete Beck has for months been facing charges that he committed investment fraud by luring investors into putting money into an insolvent company called Christopher Technologies. Beck was chief financial officer of the company. His case has yet to get underway as prosecutors continue to try and get documents with details about his investors. Beck was indicted 18 months ago. His attorneys say the state is taking too long and should drop the case, but attorneys for the AG’s office have said no way. Beck’s co-defendant Janet Combs, who runs Ark by the River Fellowship Ministries, has pleaded no contest to charges in connection with the case and will be testifying against Beck when his case goes to trial next year. Combs’ church, which judges have called “a cult,” has been ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution to victims of the investment scheme.

• Another local government has signaled support for efforts to make high-speed rail between Chicago and Cincinnati a reality. The city of Wyoming passed an ordinance yesterday requesting a feasibility study for the project from the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments. Hamilton County Commissioners have also backed the idea of a study to see how much such a project would cost. The effort is being led by non-profit All Aboard Ohio. The group has its quarterly public meeting tonight in Over-the-Rhine at 6 p.m.

• A bill passed yesterday by the Ohio House’s Education Committee would eliminate minimum salary requirements for teachers in the state. Supporters say the bill will make it possible to institute better merit pay for teachers. Opponents say it will just pit educators against each other. The bill should go up for a vote in the full House of Representatives sometime this week.

• Proposals for changing Ohio’s redistricting process for both congressional and state legislative districts are floating through the Ohio General Assembly. The plans, proposed by Republicans, would remove input from courts and the governor from the redistricting process. Instead, state legislators of both parties would vote on redistricting maps, and if they can’t agree, the maps will go on a ballot initiative for voters to decide. Conservatives call this method fairer, but some experts say it will only make Ohio’s already terribly lopsided redistricting process worse. Oh, great.

“It is the dominant party that holds the whip in its hand and can beat the opposing party, the minority, into subjection with it,” said Ohio State University law professor Dan Tokaji. “As a practical matter, the minority party has no real leverage under this proposal.”

• So, this is super-creepy. An Uber exec, frustrated about negative press coverage his company has been receiving, said the company should hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who report negative stories about the company. Uber’s Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael made the comments during a swank dinner hosted by a political consultant for the company and attended by VIPs like Ed Norton and Huffington Post publisher Arianna Huffington. Michael suggested Uber should spend a million dollars to fight back against journalists by digging into their “personal lives,” and their “families,” even throwing out a name or two of specific journalists they could target. Uber later said that the conversation was supposed to be off the record, and Michael said his comments were merely hypotheticals and don’t “reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”

Oh, of course. Saying you want to dig up the personal lives of people who criticize you and then saying "just kidding!" isn't creepy at all. Carry on.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.17.2014 33 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Amazon drones may be buzzing this way; Ohio lawmakers mull making execution drug provider secret; driver's license test turns epic

I’m sure the big old lumps of snow are a bummer for those of you who drive to work, but it was super cool walking from Mount Auburn to CityBeat HQ this morning. Seeing the hillsides shrouded in white and downtown poking out of the mist on my way down reminded me how much I love this city. It also netted me a bunch of likes on Instagram, which is the main thing I’m excited about, of course.

Anyway, on to the news. Because ordering things from the Internet takes so, so long and just doesn’t have the wow factor it used to, Amazon has been considering using drones to deliver items to your door for about a year now. What’s more, the Greater Cincinnati area could be one of the first places to get that service if changes to aviation laws expected next year make it a possibility. The company is currently hiring drone pilots, engineers and other folks with relevant experience to help build its drone delivery program. Who wouldn’t want flying robots speeding toward your house with all that stuff you bought during your last stoned 2 a.m. shopping spree?

• It’s getting harder and harder to live on what you earn at jobs requiring few specialized skills, both in the area and in the country as a whole. That’s lead to a push in Greater Cincinnati to create new routes for workers who want to get high-skill jobs in the manufacturing and tech industries. Many companies offering these jobs can’t find enough qualified applicants, leading them to establish or support training and apprenticeship programs for low-skill workers and recent high school graduates.

• I learned a lot about sex trafficking doing our cover story a couple weeks ago on sex workers. The problem is real and huge. Here’s a terrifying story about captivity, sex trafficking and abuse at a house in Avondale, where as many as a dozen women were held by a Colerain man for an indeterminate amount of time. Christopher Hisle, who has been in trouble for running unlicensed sex-oriented businesses in the past, is charged with sex trafficking and faces up to 15 years in prison.

• If you’re looking to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act but are somewhat befuddled by the process, you’re in luck. An enrollment assistance center contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services is open in the city to help folks with navigating the healthcare exchanges. The center is at 4600 Wesley Ave. Suite C, Cincinnati OH 45212. You can give them a call as well at 513-802-8092, or visit them on Facebook and Twitter.

• Some conservative lawmakers in Ohio’s General Assembly are pushing a new bill that would make secret the details about those who supply lethal injection drugs to the state. Ohio hasn’t been able to find a source for lethal injection drugs because no companies want to be associated with supplying it. Making suppliers secret would solve this problem, Republican lawmakers say. Ohio has had to suspend executions due to the prolonged death of Dennis McGuire last January. McGuire was killed using a new combination of two drugs. Ohio has had to resort to such mixtures because the company that manufactures the original drug the state used has refused to sell it for use in executions. As McGuire died, witnesses say he was gasping for breath. The state says he was asleep and did not experience discomfort, but his 25-minute-long execution prompted a federal judge to issue a temporary stay on executions. The next scheduled lethal injection will take place Feb. 11 unless federal courts order more delays. In response to the drug dilemma, some lawmakers are calling for alternative execution methods, including returning to the electric chair, to be considered.

• Also in the State House, the House Education Committee is considering legislation today that would reduce the amount of time public school students spend taking standardized tests. House Bill 228 proposes limiting testing to four hours a year and has been greeted with enthusiasm by lawmakers, some school officials and education groups. 

• Finally, here's a pro tip: don't drive yourself to your driver's license test, then lead cops on a car chase when they ask why you're driving before you have your license. Or do, if you want a really epic story about why you walk to work every day. I just walk because I'm too lazy to find a parking space. This guy's excuse is way more interesting.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.14.2014 36 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
rand_paul,_official_portrait,_112th_congress_alternate

Morning News and Stuff

Next budget could double human services funding; $80 million in development for Mount Auburn; will Rand run?

Hey all, here’s what’s happening this morning. I’ll be brief. It’s Friday, and we all have stuff to do if we want to get out of work early.

City Council committed to doubling human services funding in its meeting yesterday. The fund, which provides money to 54 organizations that fight poverty in the city, will go from $1.5 million to $3 million in the next city budget. That boost will bring the fund up to .84 percent of the city’s operating budget, with a goal of eventually raising it to 1.5 percent, a level the city hasn’t seen in ten years due to harsh cuts during that time.

• At their respective meetings this week, both City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners agreed unanimously to create a city-county cooperation task force. The task force would look for ways to share services between the two governmental bodies. Councilman Chris Seelbach said he’d like to see the group find ways to cooperate with the region’s other municipalities as well, including places like Norwood and Saint Bernard.

• Developers are looking to pour about $80 million into projects in Mount Auburn, one of the city’s more neglected neighborhoods. The area just north of Over-the-Rhine and just south of Clifton and Corryville could see new office space and apartment buildings, among other development projects.

• In a way, this is the flip-side of the shared services coin: the City of Sharonville is considering doing away with its health department in order to contract services through Hamilton County Public Health. That’s upset some members of the community there. Mayor Kevin Hardman has recommended the move, and Sharonville City Council will vote on it soon.

• Are you ready for a Rand Paul presidential run? The Kentucky Senator and tea party hero is about “95 percent” certain to be vying for the Republican nomination in 2016, according to this Politico story. Paul’s father, Ron Paul, is something of a libertarian folk hero who has pushed for auditing the Federal Reserve Bank, zeroing out entire departments in the federal government and other kinds of whacky ideas. The elder Paul made runs in the last two presidential elections as an independent, where he got a lot of attention but not much of the vote. Rand has combined many of his father’s libertarian ideals with a more palatable tone and connections to both establishment and tea party factions of the GOP. He’s also tried to make inroads on traditionally progressive issues, saying he wants to reform drug laws and pull back U.S. military involvement overseas. He’s gone to places where liberals are most likely to hang out— speaking at UC Berkeley and this summer’s Urban League conference in Cincinnati, for instance — in an attempt to make his case. Be prepared to see a lot more of that in the near future.

• Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, firebrand Senator Elizabeth Warren will join Democratic leadership in that chamber, a sign the party is seeking to bring the left-leaning part of its base in closer. Warren has crusaded against big banks and their role in the financial crisis and has big populist appeal among progressives. Some of her job in her new position will be reaching out to those groups and voters as well as advising the party as a whole on policy and messaging. Some progressives have pushed her name as an alternative to Hillary Clinton for the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2016, but so far, Warren has said she’s staying out of the race.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.14.2014 36 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Council Commits to Doubling Human Services Fund

Next budget will see more money and refocused priorities

City Council yesterday unanimously passed a motion committing $1.5 million more to the city’s Human Services fund in its next budget, doubling the fund’s size.

The increase is part of an ongoing rethinking of the city’s human services funding. But with that change in focus comes the potential that some of the 54 organizations that receive support from the fund could see some cuts in the next budget.

A working group headed by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and Vice Mayor David Mann suggests focusing first and foremost on two major areas: increasing gainful employment and reducing homelessness, splitting the fund down the middle for those purposes. Along with those major focus areas, it also suggests the establishment of a collaborative between law enforcement and the community to curtail violence in Cincinnati when more funds are available.

The changes won’t take place for another six months, kicking in with the new fiscal year, giving organizations and the city time to adjust to the new budget priorities.

“Number one, we wanted to make sure to increase how much we put into human services each year,” said Mann, who helped draw up the proposal, “and secondly that we focus on a few significant areas and see if we can’t make progress there instead of trying to shotgun amongst many programs.”

The motion to adopt the suggestions by the human services working group is the next step in a months-long process to update the way the city funds anti-poverty programs. It’s also a step toward restoring funding for human services to 1.5 percent of the city’s operating budget, a long-term goal for the city and a level it hasn’t seen in a decade.

Currently, the city’s $1.5 million human services fund accounts for just .42 percent of the city’s $358 million budget. In the past, the city has made deep cuts to the fund. The boost would raise the fund’s proportion of the budget to .84 percent. Simpson and others, including Mann, say they hope to get back to 1.5 percent as more funding becomes available.

Simpson says the working group included advice from the United Way, which currently helps the city evaluate programs it is funding, as well as community members and various boards like the Human Services Advisory Committee and the Community Development Advisory Board, which oversees how federal Community Development Block Grants are spent.

The city hasn’t decided where the money for the increase will come from yet, a point of concern for some council members.

“Whenever we move to increase funding for something, I like to be able to identify the source of funds,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He noted there was still time to do that before the overall budget is passed.

Flynn also said he’d like to see human services funding go through the same process, something that has been a sore point among some council members lately.

“There’s a lot of money that we’ve approved in our general operating budget that hasn’t gone through the guidelines and process that we’ve established,” Flynn said. 



Councilman Seelbach expressed similar concerns, specifically about the way decisions are made on funding anti-poverty programs.

“All of us have agencies that we’re somewhat close to, and it’s not fair to pick them over others,” Seelbach said, a reference to recent moves that have shifted money from some nonprofits to others. “So if we can put them all in a fair, non-political process like the United Way, I think the city’s better for it.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.13.2014 37 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
wwe_outerspace

Morning News and Stuff

Tracie Hunter requests retrial in court today; gentrification turns 50; is that a chainsaw in your pants, or... oh, wow, it really is a chainsaw in your pants

Hey hey all. Hope your Thursday is going well. Tomorrow’s Friday! And that's our 20th anniversary party! You should come. You should also venture out into that bleak, unforgiving cold to pick up a copy of our 20th anniversary issue now. It’s got a lot of really fun looks back at the past two decades of CityBeat as well as a picture of a very young me holding a puppy. How can you resist?

After the absolute deluge of news yesterday, today is relatively quiet. Well, for the most part. The hearing in Hamilton County courts on former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s request to have her felony conviction thrown out is happening as you read. Hunter was convicted on one of nine counts she was facing last month on a variety of charges. The one that stuck: allegations she improperly intervened in disciplinary actions against her brother, a court employee accused of assaulting an inmate. There’s a big wrinkle in the case, however, as three jurors have recanted their guilty verdicts. It promises to be a very interesting day in court.

• U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell will be dropping by Cincinnati today to talk about health care coverage and enrollment in a health policy under the Affordable Care Act ahead of the Nov. 15 open enrollment period. She’ll be joined by Mayor John Cranley at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at 12:45 p.m. Burwell will also be swinging through Columbus earlier in the day.

• It’s been a rough week, so I’m into this next thing. Today is World Kindness Day, it turns out. I’d never heard of that before, but I guess any excuse to be nice to people is a good one. If you mosey down to Fountain Square between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., you can pick a flower from a large flower wall being installed by KIND Healthy Snacks. The idea is you pass the flower along to a stranger or anyone else you see who could use a little pick-me-up. There will also be surprises for people who are nice or could use a little kindness throughout the day.

• This year is a big anniversary for another group. The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, which started in 1984, is celebrating 30 years working to end homelessness. The coalition has also been very active in asking big questions about development in Over-the-Rhine and other places where low-income folks live. They’re having a celebration Dec. 11.

• Ironically, there’s yet another big anniversary this year. The term “gentrification” was coined in 1964 by British sociologist Ruth Glass. Here’s a really fascinating and provocative history of the term published last week that’s worth reading.

• The debate over net neutrality has been on the front burner lately, thanks in part to new statements from President Barack Obama. That debate hasn’t just been about words and ideas, of course, because nothing in politics ever is. Cash has played a big role in the fight. Anti-net neutrality telecommunications companies, who want the right to create so-called “fast lanes” and treat certain kinds of internet content differently, have given more than $62 million to political action committees in the past 14 years. Compare that to big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which support net neutrality. They’ve given just $22 million. Part of that is that these companies haven’t been around or as powerful for as long. No matter what the cause, though, it’s clear that telecomm is pouring vast sums of money into the pockets of politicians to try and keep the federal government from making rules about net neutrality.

• Today, you get a crazy news two for one. First, a guy got arrested (in Florida, you guessed it) trying to steal a chainsaw by sticking it down his pants. That’s wonderful. Second, Philae, that unmanned European space probe you’ve probably already heard about, landed on a comet yesterday. That’s never been done before. The probe has been beaming back pictures and drilling samples out of the comet’s surface. It’s also been live-tweeting its trip, though most of its commentary has just been about the fact it’s really cold and boring in space and about how the comet doesn’t have as good of a jukebox or beer selection as The Comet.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.12.2014 39 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Planned Parenthood suing the state, Hamilton County belt-tightening and drones carrying other drones

Morning y’all. Here’s a brief news rundown before I head off to a day full of meetings and news conferences. Hope you’re having as much fun on your Wednesday as I will be.

Cincinnati is set to receive a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, the group's highest possible rating. HRC will announce the score today at 10 a.m. at Memorial Hall. It’s a huge turnaround from just a decade ago, when the city finally overturned one of the most restrictive anti-LGBT rights ordinances in the country.

• Cincinnati’s last remaining facility providing abortions, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Mount Auburn, is suing the state in federal court over a law prohibiting state-funded hospitals from entering into emergency patient transfer agreements with clinics. The Planned Parenthood clinic had an agreement with nearby UC Hospital before the law went into effect, but the hospital was forced to end the agreement. Attorneys for the clinic say recent citations from the Ohio Department of Health for not having that agreement could shut it down, which would leave southwestern Ohio without access to an abortion provider. That, they say, violates a Supreme Court decision that ruled that states can’t put an undue burden on women seeking abortions. Cincinnati could become the largest metro area in the country without access to a clinic if the Planned Parenthood facility closes.

• Hamilton County’s prospective 2015 budget looks to have a lot of departments tightening their belts. County commissioners have indicated they're leaning toward something closer to a $200 million budget instead the more robust one put forth by county administrator Christian Sigman. Republicans Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann are both proposing plans closer to the alternate path mainly because it doesn’t rely on a recommended quarter-cent sales tax increase, which would have needed voter approval next year. Democrat Todd Portune supports a 5-year tax bump, but he looks to be outvoted. If the commissioners forgo offering the tax increase to voters, it could leave a number of services, including the county coroner office and crime lab, without badly needed upgrades for another year. The budget would cut three positions from the office and could risk its accreditation, according to a budget impact report authored by Hamilton County Budget Director John Bruggen. It might eliminate 41 positions at the sheriff’s office, cause cuts to the county’s juvenile justice court, public defender’s office and many other county services. Commissioners hope to have the budget finalized by Nov. 24. A public hearing on the various options will be held Nov. 19.

A fight is brewing over a proposal being considered by the Ohio Board of Education that could eliminate art, music and phys-ed instructors at some schools. Currently, Ohio has requirements that every public school in the state have at least five of eight specialized positions for each 1,000 students. Opponents of the standards change say it would allow schools to get rid of instructors for art, music, physical education and other subjects as well as librarians and other employees. These cuts, they say, would come most often at schools in low-income areas. Supporters say the change would give more power to local districts, allowing them to make staffing choices themselves. The standards have been in place since 1983. The 19-member board met yesterday in a public meeting to consider the idea, which a board committee has recommended for adoption. The meeting got testy when a 75-minute presentation about the standards was set before public comment could be heard. Four board members walked out of the meeting in protest, though they returned later. 

• Authorities are gearing up for another round of civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury's decision on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown is expected sometime this month, possibly very soon. Indications seem to suggest the grand jury will choose not to indict Wilson, leaving officials in the St. Louis area on edge.

• Finally, this is what we’ve come to as a society — meta drones. This small unmanned aircraft just took off from another drone. The bigger one, shaped like an aircraft carrier that is, err, also an aircraft, is called the Helidrone. It can lift another, smaller drone into the air, where the smaller drone also takes off. This is useful because… well, it’s cool at least. Thanks science!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.11.2014 39 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City initiative seeks to boost veteran employment; study finds Ohio's charter schools low-performing; Obama takes on net neutrality

Hello all. Hope you’re ready for some news, because I’ve got a bunch for ya.

First, happy Veterans Day! Here’s a timely bit of news: Cincinnati City Council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young announced an initiative yesterday to track the number of veterans employed by the city in an effort make Cincinnati the most welcoming city in the country for veterans. The initiative will require contractors working on city projects to report how many veterans are employed on those projects, as well as keeping track of how many the city itself employs.

“This data will show how your tax dollars help grow opportunities for our veterans and keep their families employed and growing in our region,” Seelbach said in a statement. After the data is collected, the city will work with contractors and veterans service agencies in the city to improve veteran employment opportunities. In the years after 9/11, unemployment for vets has remained stubbornly high, even as unemployment for the general population starts to fall.

• The Human Rights Campaign, one of the biggest LGBT rights advocacy groups in the country, has chosen Cincinnati as the place it will unveil its 2014 Municipal Equality Index, which measures how welcoming cities are to members of the LGBT community. They’ll release the results tomorrow at Memorial Hall. Check out our brief piece here for more details.

• Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune want to explore the possibility of the city and county sharing certain services in an effort to boost efficiency for both. You can read more in our blog post from yesterday, but here’s the short take: It’s not a new idea, and there are a lot of political hoops to jump through that have kept shared services from happening in the past. But there’s also a lot of interest in the idea, and Cranley and Portune say their proposal will work. They’ll be asking City Council and county commissioners tomorrow to approve the creation of a task force that will meet regularly to oversee city-county cooperation.

• Downtown’s Horseshoe Casino last month had its lowest-grossing month since opening in March 2013, taking in just under $14 million. A crowded field of gambling options in the region, including neighboring Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Indiana has contributed to the low earnings.

• While we’re talking about Indiana: Will the default of a major tollway in that state make financing the Brent Spence Bridge replacement more difficult? It’s a possibility, some investment experts say. A company contracted to manage the $3.85 billion Indiana Toll Road went bankrupt this fall, which could have ripple effects for a similar Brent Spence project, spooking investors who might otherwise be interested in it. Another interesting wrinkle in this story is that the Indiana project fell behind financially because of declining traffic on the Indiana toll road, a result of fewer folks using cars to get from point A to point B.

• Ohio’s charter schools are some of the lowest-performing in the country, a recent study found. The Stanford University research shows that after a year in an average Ohio charter school, students lag behind public school pupils in reading and math. Ohio’s schools were the fourth-lowest out of 26 states studied in terms of performance. An analysis by the Akron Beacon Journal suggests that for-profit charter schools are the reason for much of the performance disparity, with 14 of the state’s 16 lowest-performing charters run by for-profit companies. Eight of the top 12 charter schools, meanwhile, are run by non-profits. The analysis notes there are some exceptions to the rule, however, including three suburban Columbus charters run by New York-based company Mosaica Education. You can read the whole report here.

• Days after the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld the region’s same-sex marriage bans, the Supreme Court has put a temporary delay on removal of a similar ban in Kansas. After a district court there struck down the state’s ban, Kansas requested the Supreme Court put that decision on hold. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked for response from same-sex marriage advocates to the state’s request, and in the meantime has temporarily delayed the removal of the state’s ban on gay marriage. The district court’s ruling was set to go into effect at 6 p.m. today, allowing same-sex couples in the state to wed. The ruling is just a temporary delay, however, and doesn’t signal whether the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in favor of the state.

• President Obama has made some of the most definitive statements of his presidency lately in regard to his support for net neutrality, saying yesterday that measures to ensure that Internet service providers treat online content equally is "a big priority of mine." The statement seemed like a bit of surprise to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, a former telecom executive appointed by Obama. He's responded that the FCC is an independent agency and will do what it sees fit. The question, of course, is why Obama nominated a telecom exec to be FCC chair in the first place, but yeah. The battle over net neutrality was already raging well before Obama took office but has intensified in recent years as telecom companies seek to create what opponents describe as "fast lanes" that give faster service to some kinds of content over others. Obama is pushing to reclassify ISPs as utilities instead of communications companies, which would give the federal government more power to regulate them and enforce rules about equal treatment of data flowing through ISPs' networks.

• A Deer Park man claiming he was Jesus has been taken into custody for mental evaluation, police there say. The man apparently made threats to a locally based, national-level politician and authorities are assessing what kind of risk he poses to others. Mental health is a serious issue, of course, but I really have to point out the epic one-liner this guy got off during a 911 call about his condition.

"I'm messed up," the man said to a 911 operator. "Can you tell my father I'm OK?"

"OK, where is your father at?" the operator asked.

"Uh, everywhere," the man claiming to be Jesus responded. Zing.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.10.2014 40 days ago
Posted In: News, County Commission at 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
untitled

Cranley, Portune Propose City-County Shared Services Taskforce

Group would meet regularly to determine areas where services can be combined

Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune are proposing a task force that could help the city and county governments share services. The idea has been proposed in the past with little progress, however, due to politics and an unwillingness to cut departments. But Portune and Cranley point to city-county cooperation on The Banks riverfront development project as proof the two governments can coordinate.

Portune acknowledged that the idea has been floated many times in the past. The Democrat commissioner sent a proposal to former Mayor Mark Mallory about the idea in 2011. Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann also discussed shared services many times with city officials, but again nothing ever came of the talks. 

Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel has also expressed interest in shared services, pointing out situations where the city relies on the state, such as hospital inspections, as possible places where the city and county could work together. He says the county could do those inspections.

Hartmann has said coordinating services between the two bodies is a matter of political will, not necessarily further study. He’s on the fence about supporting the effort.

Past failures don’t mean cooperation isn’t possible or necessary, Portune said. He said The Banks project, which is finally seeing fruition after more than a decade of work, is a great example of what the city and county can do together.

“Just go about 12 blocks south of here and you look at the magnificent things that are happening on the city and the county’s central riverfront,” Portune said. “All of the new development at The Banks, all of that was planned and envisioned and decided through a joint city and county effort.”

He said a similar arrangement could work on a more permanent basis, helping both the city and county save valuable resources.

“In this day and age of lower revenues and resources, of squeezed budgets, of the state and federal government giving greater unfunded mandates on local governments,” Portune said, “we have to do more and more with less and less annually.”

Cranley and Portune will introduce matching proposals at Cincinnati City Council and board of commissioners meetings Wednesdays asking both bodies to create a group that would study ways the city and county could share some services for greater efficiency. The group would meet at least quarterly with commissioners and council members.

“We have to try all things,” Cranley said. He said dwindling resources and looming changes in state business taxes could take a bite out of local government funds. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of such changes by the state but said he sees shared services as a good idea either way. “Just because we think it’s fair and right that the state government stop attacking local government doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue shared services.”

Under the shared services arrangement, some departments in both governments, such as the county’s permitting departments or the city’s Environmental Services Office, could eventually see reductions as two offices are folded into one.

Cranley said a few areas spring to mind as possible places for sharing services, including the city prosecutor’s office. But he said that doesn’t mean the office will close up shop.

“I think the city is going to maintain a prosecutorial function,” Cranley said, noting that he thinks the city is better suited to pursue some cases, such as negligent property owners. “I think our efforts will be ramped up in some cases, not reduced.”

But Cranley also said that some prosecutions are duplicated by the two courts and that some criminal cases could be better handled by the county.

Portune said the effort could lead to wider cooperation among local governments. There is great interest in pooling resources and sharing services among the area’s 48 municipalities and other jurisdictions, he said.

“This effort should not be limited to just the city and the county,” he said. “It’s going to start out this way. But ... there’s a tremendous appetite with the other 48 local jurisdictions. Some of that has happened, but there’s an awful lot more that could and should.”

 
 

 

 

 
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