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by Nick Swartsell 10.16.2015 42 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

More developments in Issue 22 fight; block party planned Saturday to remember DuBose, Hicks, others; Kasich's campaign releases proposed tax plan

Morning all! Here’s a quick rundown of the news today.

Let’s talk about the latest in the ongoing debate over Issue 22, Mayor John Cranley’s proposed charter amendment to fund changes to the city’s parks via a 1 mill property tax levy. Yesterday, Parks Director Wille Carden said figures estimating the cost of 16 proposed projects that would be funded by that amendment were generated by the mayor’s office. Carden said that those estimates are at best rough guesses and that the amendment might not fund all of them. Overall, the mayor’s office says those projects will cost $85 million and that decisions about which will be funded will depend on public input, how shovel-ready each one is and other considerations. Issue 22 detractors used these revelations to further press their criticisms of the amendment, saying that the proposed property tax is ill-considered. Supporters are standing by the amendment, however, saying that even if all the projects aren’t funded, the city’s parks stand to benefit greatly from the measure.

• A majority of Cincinnati City Council now officially opposes that charter amendment, with council members Wendell Young and Chris Seelbach yesterday penning an editorial against Issue 22. Seelbach and Young cited lack of provisions for public input and better uses for the tax dollars at stake as among the reasons they’re joining council members Charlie Winburn, Amy Murray and Yvette Simpson in opposing the plan. Vice Mayor David Mann and Councilmen Kevin Flynn, P.G. Sittenfeld and Christopher Smitherman all support the amendment, citing the opportunity to provide vastly better funding for the city’s parks as the reason for their support.

• One of the projects on the Issue 22 list is a revamp of Ziegler Park, which sits on the Over-the-Rhine side of Sycamore Street right on the border with Pendleton. The Park Board yesterday voted to acquire the land necessary to begin that revamp, which will proceed with or without the Issue 22 funding. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation is a major partner on the $30 million project and has said it is assembling funding to make the renovation of the park a reality. 3CDC says a new pool and water attraction will be part of that overhaul, as well as a large green space across the street next to condos in the former SCPA building.

That green space will sit atop a large parking garage very similar to one built underneath Washington Park in OTR. The basketball courts currently next to Ziegler will be preserved, though new courts will be installed. The proposed revamp has caused some controversy in the community, which is predominantly low-income and black. Some activists have expressed concern that changes to the park could exclude current long-term residents of the area. 3CDC says it has held a number of public meetings and is striving to make the park accessible to all, but bitter memories of Washington Park’s renovation still linger. Activists point to the changes to that park, which removed basketball courts, sitting spaces along the perimeter of the park and other features popular with long-term users, as reasons for their concerns.

• Members of Cincinnati Black Lives Matter tomorrow are throwing a block party in Mount Auburn to honor the life of Sam DuBose and other unarmed people of color killed by police. The event, which is meant to rally support around the families of DuBose, Quandavier Hicks and others, kicks off tomorrow at 2 p.m. at Thill and Vine streets and will feature free music and food, and later a rally protesting police violence. Meanwhile, a push for greater accountability and justice continues at the University of Cincinnati, which employed officer Ray Tensing, who shot DuBose back in July. Tensing is currently facing murder charges for that shooting, but student activists at UC are asking for bigger changes, including a big increase in the enrollment of black students on UC’s main campus. Currently, only 5 percent of students at UC’s flagship Clifton campus are black. You can read the full list of steps the so-called Irate8 (named after the 8 percent of black students in the UC system as a whole) here.

• I’m a history nerd, so this is really, really cool. Yale University recently released thousands of never-before-seen pictures of Depression-era America taken by Works Progress Administration photographers. Among them are a bunch from Cincinnati, which you can see here. It’s always super-interesting to see these kinds of candid shots, which illustrate what every day life was like back then, taking away some of the mists and myths of history and making that time period seem very relatable and not-so-distant. Check ‘em out.

• Finally, what would Gov. John Kasich do if he won the Republican nomination for presidency and then the general election in 2016? Well, according to the guv, he’d basically dismantle the federal government’s funding for transportation and education, letting states decide through block grants how they’d like to handle those services. Kasich is putting forth a so-called “balanced budget” proposal that would do just that as a demonstration of what he’d do if he wins the White House. Oh yeah, that budget proposal also slashes taxes for large corporations and high earners, dropping the top tax rate from nearly 40 percent to 28 percent. It also gives a slight increase to the Earned Income Tax Credit, which goes to the country’s lowest earners.

Most of Kasich’s cuts, however, come on the top end of the earning spectrum, and would actually… get ready for this… create a budget deficit for the first eight years they were in effect, according to the man himself. Kasich says increased profits and economic activity from the lower taxes, along with big spending cuts, would then balance things out, however, filling revenue gaps created by the tax cuts. If all that sounds familiar, it’s because conservatives have been touting this approach since Ronald Regan was president. Has a similar plan worked in Ohio? Kinda-sorta-not really. Kasich has cut income taxes, but spending has also grown in Ohio. Kasich has raised other taxes, mostly sales taxes that put a higher proportional burden on low-earners, to make up the difference. The state does have a surplus, mostly because the economy has rebounded and Ohio, like most other states, has added jobs. How much of this was Kasich’s doing, however, is up for serious debate.

Annnnnd… I’m out. Twitter. Email. You know what’s up.

by Nick Swartsell 10.15.2015 43 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Park Board votes to ask for return of pro-Issue 22 contribution; city manager gets raise; what happens if pro and anti-pot legalization amendments pass?

Hey all! I’m still struggling out of a food coma after attending last night’s Iron Fork event, but copious amounts of black coffee help me persevere. Anyway, let’s talk about news really quick.

I told you yesterday about the controversy swirling around a $200,000 contribution the Cincinnati Parks Board made to a group supporting Issue 22, the mayor’s proposed charter amendment funding the city’s parks. That controversy reached such a fever pitch that this morning, the Parks Board voted to ask for the money back. Though critics of that contribution say it is improper and illegal, the board stands by the appropriateness of its contribution, which it says came from a private endowment, not from tax dollars. However, board members said the money had become “a distraction” and that they’ve voted to ask for it back to keep from clouding the parks levy issue. Welp. There you go.

• Cincinnati City Council yesterday voted 5-4 to give City Manager Harry Black a 3-percent raise. There was controversy over the size of that raise, however, and debate about the process by which it was awarded. Black already received a 1.5-percent cost of living increase on his one-year anniversary over the summer, a fact Mayor John Cranley said he was unaware of. Some on Council, including Vice Mayor David Mann, thought another 3 percent on top of that cost of living bump was too much.

“It sends an improper message,” Mann said, citing the city’s high poverty rates and attention to income inequality over the past year. “I just can’t bring myself to support this large an increase.”

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld expressed similar hesitancy with the size of Black’s raise, which will increase his salary to more than $256,000 a year. Sittenfeld said the overall 4.5-percent raise could present a tough position when the city negotiates wages with other city employees.

“Our society is upside down right now,” he said. “When you say 4.5 percent is right for those at the top, but not for you, that sends the wrong message.”

Councilman Chris Seelbach opposed any raise for the manager, saying his salary is already high enough. Though council members praised Black’s performance, some said there were areas for improvement. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson listed off a number of critiques, including a suggestion Black work harder at engaging the community. Simpson, Seelbach, Sittenfeld and Mann all voted against the 4.5-percent increase, though Sittenfeld and Mann said they were open to a smaller raise. Councilman Charlie Winburn voted for the raise, and generally praised Black, but had harsh words about his handling of the dismissal of former Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, which he said the city had “botched up so bad.”

Some council members pointed out that the ordinance passed to hire Black last year stipulated a performance review for the city manager. That review, which was supposed to be performed by a committee and include input from all council members, was never completed. Instead, Mayor John Cranley says he’s gone over Black’s performance verbally with the city manager. Councilwoman Amy Murray also said yesterday that she sat down with Black to review his performance. Though council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach balked at providing Black with the raise without the stipulated committee review, other council members, including Kevin Flynn, pinned that responsibility on Council itself, not the mayor or the city manager. Flynn said that if Council wanted to review the city manager, it should have taken initiative and done so, and that it wasn’t fair to hold the city manager’s raise because it hadn’t.

• The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation swung through the area yesterday to talk about inner-city violence. And what better place to give such a talk than the mean streets of… Kenwood? Yeah. To be fair, that’s where the FBI’s local field office is, so that’s where FBI Executive Director James B. Comey gave remarks about the bureau’s increased efforts to deal with violent crime in inner-city neighborhoods. Though there isn’t any one over-arching initiative the bureau is launching, Comey said, it is definitely putting more of its top agents on the issue. Comey blamed the heroin crisis gripping many areas of the country for some of the violence, as well as short-handed law enforcement departments in many municipalities. Interestingly, however, there is some disagreement as to whether a big spike in crime actually exists. While some cities have seen a spike in murders and shootings, some of those increases come over rock-bottom lows in previous years, and the overall picture is more complex. Here’s a pretty fascinating exploration of that dynamic.

• It goes without saying that national politics, including the election of U.S. representatives, is like a kinda shady game of chess. And it looks like outgoing House Speaker John Boehner is moving a few pieces around before he splits. Some sources say Boehner’s been active in pushing for Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds to take his District 8 seat in Congress. So far, a half-dozen GOP candidates have expressed interest in the seat, which will go to the winner of an as yet to be scheduled special election. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Boehner has been making calls on Reynolds’ behalf and helping introduce the 46-year-old to big wigs in the party. Boehner is set to leave his perch Oct. 30, but has also promised not to leave until Republicans have found someone to replace him as house speaker, which, umm… could take a while.

• So here’s an awkward situation that could happen. What if Ohioans pass both Issue 3, ResponsibleOhio’s marijuana legalization effort, and Issue 2, lawmakers’ attempt to do an end-run around the legalization effort by outlawing monopolies like the one ResponsibleOhio is proposing? Statewide polling says that could happen. A poll out of Kent State University found that 54 percent of adults are planning to vote yes on Issue 2, and 56 percent are planning on voting yes for Issue 3. Obviously, this is just one poll, and it’s likely that some people are just a little confused at this point, but it brings up an interesting and thus far unanswered question: What happens if voters approve to conflicting amendments to the state’s constitution? The short version of that answer is that no one really knows, and it would likely trigger a long court battle. Proponents for both sides take issue with the poll, of course, saying their particular effort will prevail and the opposition will not, citing their own polling. With just weeks before the election, this one’s going to be interesting.

by Nick Swartsell 10.14.2015 44 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Harry Black

Morning News and Stuff

Parks fight intensifies; should Black get a raise?; women's clinics stay open, but new restrictions loom

Good morning all. Here’s the news today. And no, I didn’t watch the Democratic presidential primary debate last night, the same way I didn’t watch the Republican one the night it aired. I get paid to think, read and write about politics from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or later) Monday through Friday. The last thing I want to do when I’m done is go home, pop the top off a beer and listen to some drab older folks who have dedicated their drab lives to drab electoral and policy chicanery talk about said drab chicanery. Bor-ing. I sat around and watched skate videos on Thrasher’s Instagram account instead. Milton Martinez for prez what up. That said, I’ve been watching the debate this morning while I’m on the clock. I’ll tell you about it at the bottom.

• But first, let’s talk local drama. There’s an enormous fan somewhere in the city, and yesterday some stuff definitely hit it. The fight over Issue 22, Mayor John Cranley’s proposed charter amendment to raise money for 16 big parks projects, got real, with opponents of the plan coming out of the woodwork.

Cincinnati attorney and anti-Issue 22 Save Our Parks member Timothy Mara put a letter in Cincinnati Parks Director Willie Carden’s mailbox yesterday calling the parks board out for a contribution to the Issue 22 booster campaign that Mara says is illegal and inappropriate. The Parks Board has pushed back against that assertion, saying that the funds came from an endowment, not tax dollars, and that the donation was perfectly legal. Mara is asking the parks board to take back the $200,000 donation, which was used to help fund a pro-amendment ad that features Cranley basically playing all the sports and passing a number of different balls to himself. Which is kind of an odd choice for the ad as far as narrative devices go, since opponents of the mayor’s proposal are basically accusing him of fiscal ball-hogging with the amendment.

Meanwhile, former Cincinnati vice mayor, longtime civil rights leader and former Issue 22 supporter Marian Spencer was on the radio talking about how she hung up on Cranley after a phone call from the mayor she says was rather discourteous. Key quote here: “I told him I’m 95 and no one tells me how to vote.” Dang. The mayor remembers the conversation differently, according to quotes posted by an Enquirer reporter on social media. He says that he was merely reminding Spencer that she would be the most prominent opponent of the parks plan if she came out against it. Phew. You can read all about the multiple back and forths, plus my reporting from the pretty informative and evenly matched Issue 22 debate held by The Cincinnati Enquirer Monday, in our story yesterday.

• Cincinnati City Council is set to vote today on whether or not to give City Manager Harry Black a $10,000 raise. This could be somewhat controversial, however, as the city hasn’t completed a required performance review on Black. The ordinance hiring Black set forth that requirement. Cranley, who recommends the raise, says he’s evaluated Black and found he deserves the extra money, but a review committee is supposed to undertake the performance evaluation with input from every member of Council. We’ll see if that proves a roadblock to Black’s pay bump, which would bring his salary up to about $256,000. I would like to add a friendly amendment to the mayor’s motion which gives me a $10,000 raise as well. I promise to spend it all on coneys or Rhinegeist or something else that boosts the local economy.

• Oh yeah. Some other big local stuff happened yesterday: A federal judge ruled that Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic performing abortions, the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, can stay open as it fights Ohio’s new abortion regulations. An earlier stay in orders to close the clinic, which was denied a license renewal by the Ohio Department of Health, expired yesterday. The new federal injunction will keep the clinic, and another in Dayton, open until Planned Parenthood’s federal court case challenging Ohio’s new abortion laws goes to trial next year. Here’s the full story, which per usual we reported first. Not that we’re keeping track or anything, because we don’t care about scoops or whatever real journalists call that stuff.

• While it’s really big news that the Mount Auburn and Dayton clinics have a temporary reprieve from the state breathing down their necks, there are more restrictions potentially on the way. The Ohio General Assembly is mulling three bills expected to pass by the end of the year that would further restrict abortion access in Ohio. One would strip all state funds from Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions here. Another would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks. A third would outlaw all abortions due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome in a fetus. Ohio would be the first in the nation to pass such a law.

Conservative lawmakers behind the bills, which are currently in the Ohio Senate, acknowledge that they are attempting to eliminate abortion in the state. The effort mirrors a national move to defund Planned Parenthood: A showdown in Congress over taxpayer funding for abortion nearly shut down the federal government last month. All the hubbub stems from a series of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue for profit. Though a number of government investigations have found no wrongdoing on Planned Parenthood’s part, and though the videos in question and others used against the organization have been somewhat debunked, lawmakers say they want to make sure taxpayers aren’t contributing to organizations that provide abortions.

• Let’s go to the other end of the life spectrum, shall we? Here’s an interesting op-ed from a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who opposes the death penalty. It discusses several Ohio and Kentucky Republican lawmakers who are pushing to end capital punishment for a lot of reasons both practical and moral. Very interesting stuff, and worth a read. Surprised? You must have missed our feature on conservatives pushing to end Ohio’s death penalty, which is also worth perusing.

• We all need to lighten up. At least, that’s what Gov. John “Party Time” Kasich says. Kasich got some blowback last week after he told a young woman trying to ask a question at a University of Richmond campaign appearance that he didn’t have any Taylor Swift tickets for her. Kayla Solsbak then wrote an op-ed for the university paper about Kasich’s comment to her, which went viral. Note to Kasich: not how you win the youth vote. Anyway, at another campaign stop in New Hampshire yesterday, Kasich said he was tired of getting hassled for his jokes.

“Let’s also get a sense of humor back in America, OK,” he said to the crowd, which applauded. I mean, I don’t think it’s that America doesn’t have a sense of humor, though. I think it was just that Kasich’s jokes are pretty sexist and reductive of women, which isn’t anywhere near as funny as, say, making fun of yourself for being out of touch, which Kasich could also easily do. Anyway, Kasich says the negative attention is good and that he’s just, like, trying to be his authentic self. To paraphrase: haters gonna hate, I’ma do me. Which is a pretty hipster thing to say, so maybe he is in touch with us Millenials after all.

• So back to the Democratic presidential primary debate last night. What can you say, really? Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn’t mess up, keeping her frontrunner status. And she raised debate around Planned Parenthood and other women’s issues that sorely need to be talked about. But she also didn’t put any nails in the coffin of her nearest contender U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, either, and he’ll likely see a surge in interest, even though he didn’t outright win this round.

Meanwhile, Sanders, the independent running as a Democrat who says he’s a socialist (got that?) pretty much ran over Clinton when it came to his signature issues of income inequality, financial industry regulation and campaign finance reform. But he didn’t really branch out from those and lay claim to any new ground, which has some pundits wondering if he can really make himself look presidential before next November. He also came across as kind of hawkish, saying he would take the U.S. into war if necessary, and was wishy-washy on gun control, both of which could hobble him with the progressives he’s supposed to be rallying. Clinton, who has about the most hawkish record a Democrat can have, didn’t best him here, but she didn’t really need to.

Oh, and there were other candidates, too. Jim Webb mostly complained about how long he’d been waiting to answer questions (10 minutes is an eternity, right?) and divulged that he killed an enemy soldier in battle. The prime takeaway from Lincoln Chafee’s 10 minutes total of speaking time during the two-hour debate was that he’s managed to not be involved in any scandals (good job, Chaf!) and Martin O’Malley said little that would give him a breakthrough moment. So that’s that.

I’m out. See you later. In the meantime, get at me via email or Twitter.

by Nick Swartsell 10.13.2015 45 days ago
Posted In: News at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
news1_protester_7-9 copy

Women's Clinics to Stay Open — For Now

Federal judge rules Mount Auburn Planned Parenthood and Dayton facility can continue operation during fight over state laws

The only remaining women's clinic in Cincinnati that provides abortions will stay open, for now at least.

A federal judge today issued an injunction allowing Planned Parenthood's Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center, a women's clinic that provides abortions in Mount Auburn, to stay open until next year as it fights Ohio's  abortion laws and appeals a decision by the Ohio Department of Health declining to renew its license.

Planned Parenthood is fighting a federal court case over restrictive new laws in Ohio that have pushed the clinic, and another in Dayton, to the brink of closure. A federal judge ruled that the clinics have a good chance of winning their case, and thus forbade Ohio from forcing them to close.

Today's ruling extends a temporary stay on the clinics' closure a federal judge handed down late last month. That stay was set to expire today. The clinic was denied a license last month after new rules passed in Ohio's budget legislation this summer mandated a clinic close if the Ohio Department of Health did not issue a license within 60 days of receiving an application. In the past, the Mount Auburn clinic waited more than a year to receive license renewals.

"Today, the court ruled in favor of Ohio women, ensuring access to safe and legal abortion,” said Jerry Lawson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio in a statement. “This sends an important message to Ohio politicians that their unconstitutional attempts to restrict access to abortion will not stand. Patient safety is our top priority. We will continue to stand up for Ohio women who rely on Planned Parenthood for the care they need.”

The clinic, and another facility called Women's Med Clinic in Dayton, found themselves facing imminent closure due to increasingly strict Ohio laws around abortion. Ohio law requires clinics to have transfer agreements with local hospitals in case patients need emergency care. But in 2013, the state passed a law forbidding state-funded hospitals from entering into those transfer agreements, ending a partnership between the Mount Auburn clinic and UC Medical Center. No private hospital in the city will enter into an agreement with an abortion clinic, but clinics who have physicians with individual admitting privileges at local hospitals can apply for a variance to the laws. The Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn had been operating under a license obtained with those variances until the new laws were passed this summer.

Conservative lawmakers say the laws exist to ensure the safety of women using the clinics, though some also acknowledge they're designed to cut down the number of abortions in the the state. Ohio has gone from 14 clinics to just nine since the new, more restrictive laws are passed, and pending the results of the federal case Planned Parenthood is currently fighting against the new laws, Cincinnati and Dayton's clinics could also close. The elimination of the Mount Auburn clinic would make Cincinnati the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion.

by Nick Swartsell 10.13.2015 45 days ago
Posted In: News at 01:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_smale riverfront park-courtesy cincinnati parks

Parks Tax Fight Gets Real

A 95-year-old civil rights icon says she hung up on Cranley; local lawyer wants campaign money returned to Parks Board

As voters get nearer to weighing in on Mayor John Cranley's proposed amendment to Cincinnati's charter that would create a permanent property tax to fund the city's parks, things are getting contentious.

Supporters of Issue 22, which would raise property taxes by about $35 for a $100,000 house, say it will help Cincinnati create “world class parks,” boost neighborhoods and economic development throughout the city. But detractors say the amendment gives too much control to the mayor and will allow him to take on debt the city will be paying for years to come, money that will be used to boost for-profit ventures in the city’s public parks.

Former Cincinnati vice mayor and civil rights leader Marian Spencer today said that Mayor John Cranley had harsh words for her regarding her opposition to the proposed charter amendment.

"He said to me, angrily, 'Your face will be on the Enquirer, the front page, opposing the levy, and you're not going to like that,' " Spencer said during an appearance today on 1230 AM WDBZ. "I told him I'm 95 and nobody tells me how to vote. He didn't have anything else to say because I think I hung up."

Cranley remembers the conversation differently, though, according to a social media post by Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Carrie Blackmore Smith reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier. According to that post, Cranley says he didn't threaten Spencer, but merely told her she would be the most prominent opponent of the amendment if she came out against it.

Spencer originally supported the levy, but says once she read the full text of the amendment, she pulled her endorsement. She says she's concerned that the proposed tax increase is a permanent charter amendment, which she called "bad policy" in a letter to Parks Board Director Willie Carden last month. She also expressed consternation in that letter that the amendment language doesn't guarantee that improvements made to parks will be free of admissions charges to Cincinnati residents. Finally, she said in the missive that large changes to the city's parks should be initiated by citizens, not the mayor, and should go through the normal budget process involving City Council.

Spencer's letter isn't the only unfriendly missive in Carden's mailbox lately.

In a letter delivered to the parks director today, Cincinnati attorney Timothy Mara of anti-Issue 22 group Save Our Parks called a $200,000 contribution to a campaign boosting the parks levy “illegal” and demanded the money be taken back.

"Given the facts as we know them, it is imperative that the Park Board act today to set this matter right by first securing the return of its $200,000 campaign contribution," Mara wrote in the letter delivered this morning.

Cranley appears in the television ad funded in part with the park board's contribution, touting the charter amendment as he plays various sports including football, basketball and baseball. The ad features slick production and is running in local markets.

The two sides of the fight battled it out at a public debate hosted by The Cincinnati Enquirer Oct. 12 at The Phoenix downtown. Don Mooney, a Cincinnati attorney who has helped organize opposition to the plan, argued against the amendment, while environmentalist Brewster Rhoads presented the case for it. Cranley himself was invited to participate in the event, but declined unless he would not be on the stage at the same time as the opposition and could speak last, according to the Enquirer.

At the debate, Mooney blasted Cranley’s proposal, calling it a “slush fund” for the mayor. He pointed to the ballot language, which gives control over the money raised to the mayor and the Cincinnati Park Board. The mayor appoints the park board with council approval. Critics like Mooney have questioned why the amendment language doesn’t stipulate any requirements for Cincinnati City Council or community involvement.

That, Mooney says, primes Cincinnati for “a commercial and corporate takeover of our parks.” Mooney cites recent closures of Washington Park due to for-profit events as evidence for this, as well as a proposed public-private partnership with Western & Southern to remake Lytle Park downtown.

But Rhoads says the amendment is about boosting Cincinnati’s public parks, not selling them off. He says for-profit events like those at Washington Park are rare events that put much-needed funds in the city’s coffers for parks.

At the debate, Rhoads also pushed back against the assertion that the mayor will control the funds raised by the amendment. Ohio law requires City Council to approve any bonds issued by the city, he said, giving the elected body a say over which projects will be funded by the amendment.

Rhoads did acknowledge that the amendment’s language would be better if it had specific guidelines for community involvement, but said that the parks board does a good job with getting the community engaged.

“It’s not a perfect plan,” he said. “But we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The mayor has proposed 16 projects to be funded by bonds issued with seed money from the property tax increase, though none are specifically listed in the amendment language. Among these are an effort to save and restore the former King Records site in Evanston and create a museum there; millions in funding for the Wasson Way bike path, which would cut through a number of East Side neighborhoods on its way into Uptown; and money to give large urban woods like Burnet Woods and Mount Airy Forest facelifts. All told, the price tag for those projects comes to about $80 million.

Rhoads argued that the city doesn’t have enough money to fund park maintenance currently. He and other supporters say 25 percent of the money raised by the property tax levy will go toward maintenance costs. Critics, however, point out that the language on the ballot only stipulates that the 25 percent cannot be used toward debt service for capital projects, not a requirement for it to be used for maintenance.

Mooney questioned how the city doesn’t have enough money for park maintenance when the Park Board has millions in its accounts and was able to spend $200,000 to fund the pro-Issue 22 ad featuring Cranley. Rhoads demurred on that question, saying he doesn’t speak for the Issue 22 campaign. Parks Board President Carl Budig said the donation to the campaign came from a special endowment. He defended the contribution as appropriate and legal.

Mara pushed back against that assertion, however.

"The fact that the money may originally have come from an endowment or donation to the Park Board does not mean that the $200,000 political campaign gift is legal," he wrote in the letter. "Once accepted by the Park Board, that money became 'public funds' subject to the above-described prohibition against campaign expenditures by a public entity."

by Natalie Krebs 10.13.2015 45 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

CPS Board votes to renovate Vine Street school; still no price tag on I-71 uptown exchange; Democratic presidential hopefuls hit Las Vegas

Cincinnati Public Schools could be getting much needed additional space for pre-schoolers as soon as next school year. The CPS board voted unanimously in favor of renovating the old Vine Street school. The old school, which sits at Vine and Mulberry streets in Mount Auburn, has been empty since 2012. The building was last used to house Rothenberg and Taft elementary schools while their buildings were undergoing renovations. The proposed project will cost about $7-$8 million and go forth "when the funds are available," ideally opening next fall potentially as a pre-school, according to board member Eve Bolton. Pre-school expansion has become a priority for CPS as it turns away 1,000 kids from pre-school every year.

• A debate over Mayor John Cranley's proposed city park property tax levy between pro-levy environmentalist Brewster Rhodes and anti-levy activist Don Mooney drew a crowd of more than 200 people to The Phoenix downtown yesterday. Mooney is disturbed over the amount of control Mayor Cranley, who was not in attendance, has over the money and projects. Rhodes argued it's OK because City Council, the parks board and the mayor would share control. Rhodes later admitted the proposal wasn't perfect because it lacked public input. I was not in attendance at this event, but staff writer Nick Swartsell was, so more details on this debate will follow. 

• There is still no cost estimate from the state on the new Uptown Interstate-71 exchange. The Ohio Department of Transportation is dragging its heels on finalizing the sale price of 16 properties, and the price tag for the project won't be known until those sales are finalized. A spokesman for the DOT told the Enquirer that the real estate purchases could possibly be a contributing factor in holding up the construction, but the project should be finished by August 2017. Gov. John Kasich, who is currently schmoozing with undecided voters in New Hampshire, has pushed the project since he first took office in 2011. The Uptown area is the second-biggest area for jobs in the city, but lacks direct access from interstate 71.  

• The Red Bike program, which recently turned 1 year old, celebrated another milestone yesterday: It had its 100,000th ride. Cincinnati resident Keith Piercy unsuspectedly checked out bike that made the milestone ride Monday morning and was actually on his way to buy a bike helmet, having recently enrolled in the city-wide bike-sharing program. As someone who frequently bikes to work on bike lanes that are nearly empty, I encourage everyone to follow Piercy's example. 

• The stoners of Colorado and their fun, fruity marijuana-laced candy couldn't win over Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. He recently returned from a trip to the state that has famously legalized recreational marijuana and reported that he met with more than a dozen people who apparently told him "you'd be crazy to bring this to Ohio." DeWine gave a press conference yesterday in which he declared, “Ohio will be fundamentally changed if Issue 3 passes." DeWine took issue with the marijuana-laced candies, which look the same as non-laced candies and could potentially be a danger to kids. Ian James, the executive director of ResponsibleOhio, the super PAC responsible for putting Issue 3 on the Nov. 3 ballot, said DeWine didn't meet with marijuana supporters in Colorado, including Gov. John Hickenlooper. 

• Well, we've all just barely recovered from the GOP presidential primary debates in time to watch the Democrats duke it out. Jim Webb, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee and Martin O'Malley will be in Las Vegas tonight to push their liberal agendas on CNN. Clinton and Sanders will likely be the most-watched contenders, as they're received the most attention for their campaigns, but it should be nice to see a few extra faces in there. The action starts at 8:30.

If you start to zone out in the middle of the debate, you can always stay focused by looking for City Councilman P.G Sittenfeld, who will be popping his head in three times during the debate in the form of television spots. The spots form a kind of narrative arc to promote his run for the U.S. Senate, where he is far behind better-known fellow Democratic contender and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland.

Send me an email or find me on Twitter. See y'all later!

by Natalie Krebs 10.12.2015 46 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Democrats endorse park tax levy; UC Health to repay millions in fraudulent Medicare claims; outside reports find Tamir Rice shooting justified

Good morning Cincinnati! Here are today's headlines. 

• City Democrats got together Saturday morning in Northside and voted 41-17 to endorse Mayor John Cranley's proposed permanent income tax levy to support the city's park system. If passed on the Nov. 3 ballot, the tax would be written into the city charter and would cost homeowners $35 for every $100,000 in home value. It would bring in an estimated $5.5 million annually and allow the mayor to propose projects to the park board, bypassing City Council, which has some concerned it could lead to the commercialization of the city's parks. Some say the money could be better spent on other citywide issues, like poverty. The Democratic precinct executives who gathered on Oct. 10 generally said that while the proposal wasn't perfect, it would be beneficial to set aside extra money to maintain the city's parks in the future. 

• Speaking of parks, today city officials are considering naming two parks after a fallen police officer and two firefighters. The city's Law and Public Safety Committee is considering renaming the East Hyde Park Commons after CPD Officer Sonny Kim, who was shot in June while on duty. The Queensgate Recreation Area would be renamed for firefighters Daryl Gordon and Oscar Armstrong III, who died in fires in March of this year and in 2003. 

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday that UC Health and West Chester Hospital will have to pay back $4.1 million in fraudulent Medicaid and Medicare claims. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Dr. Abubakar Atiq Durrani, a former surgeon at the hospital, brought in $7.125 million in Medicare payments from 2010 to 2013 when he performed medically unnecessary spinal surgeries — and botched many of them. Durrani, who is a Pakistani citizen, fled the country for Pakistan in 2013 after facing a 36-count federal indictment and hundreds of lawsuits, leaving his wife and three children in the area. The allegations against Durrani include failing to read or ignoring x-rays he ordered, falsely telling patients they were in danger of grave injury without surgery and pre-signing prescription pads for patient Oxycodone prescriptions to be later filled out by a member of his staff. 

• Kroger, the largest traditional grocer in the country, with 400 stores and 400,000 employees, has agreed to extend its health benefits to its transgendered employees. The locally based corporation is the nation's seventh largest employer. The Enquirer reported that a Kroger employee had posted the news on her Facebook page. The extended benefits will cover surgery and drugs for gender reassignment starting at the beginning of 2016. 

Two outside reports found that the Cleveland police officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice last November was justified in his actions. Rice was shot in a Cleveland park by officer Timothy Loehmann after he and his partner responded to a call that a black boy was waving a gun at people in the park. Rice was fatally hit in the torso and was later found to be holding a pellet gun. The Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office released reports last night from a retired FBI agent and a Denver prosecutor that concluded that the officer had used a reasonable use of force, as Rice was perceived as a serious threat.

Feel free to email me with story tips, questions and possible Halloween costumes at nkrebs@citybeat.com.
by Nick Swartsell 10.09.2015 49 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Former Drop Inn Center reopens in Queensgate; free health screenings offered throughout city on Sunday; U.S. House slips further into chaos

Good morning all. It’s news time friends.

Today marks the opening of David and Rebecca Baron Center for Men, the homeless shelter in Queensgate replacing the Drop Inn Center that was located in Over-the-Rhine for decades. The shelter, located in a renovated Butternut Bread factory on Gest Street, has 150 beds and more than 79,000 square feet of space. The shelter, operated by nonprofit Shelterhouse, is one of five operating as part of the city’s Homelessness to Homes plan overseen by Strategies to End Homelessness. The move marks the end of years of fighting by advocates for the homeless to keep the shelter, the region’s largest, in Over-the-Rhine.

• Cincinnati’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists yesterday hosted a panel discussion on media coverage of the July shooting death of Samuel DuBose by University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing. The panel, staged at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, included Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black, attorneys for both the DuBose family and Ray Tensing, a representative from Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters’ office and news directors from The Cincinnati Enquirer and Channels 9, 19, 12 and 5. Topics ranged from the portrayal of both Tensing and DuBose in the initial reporting of the incident — many outlets showed a mugshot of DuBose and referred to him as a “suspect” in their early reports, while showing Tensing in uniform — to the media’s responsibility to report accurately without further inflaming community tensions. I live tweeted a lot of the discussion, as did many other attendees, under the hashtag #wordsandimages. Check out the discussion.

• First Lady Dena Cranley and a number of faith leaders will announce the first step in a major health initiative today at City Hall at 1 pm. Cranley, national executive director of the First Ladies Health Initiative Tracey Alston and the wives of a number of church leaders will unveil the first-annual health day, which will take place Sunday Oct. 11. The event, which will offer free health screenings for a number of conditions from diabetes to HIV, will take place at 18 locations throughout the city. You can find these locations and hours they'll be open here.

• A landmark historic building in Walnut Hills is on its way to renovation. Last week, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation purchased the iconic Paramount Building on Peebles Corner for $750,000 and plans a full-scale redevelopment of the property. The foundation estimates that work will cost at least $3 million and is currently raising funds to complete the effort. The 80-year-old Paramount long served as a theater in the neighborhood and is one of Walnut Hills’ distinctive landmarks with its turret-like front façade.

• How much does health care cost in Cincinnati? Well, it depends, and it’s kinda arbitrary. That’s especially true when it comes to care for women, a new study released by castlighthealth.com finds. Costs for procedures like mammograms diverge wildly in the Cincinnati area, running anywhere from $123 to nearly $300 depending on where you go. HPV tests are similarly wide-ranging in their costs. Healthcare outlets charge anywhere from $24 to $208 for the routine test. Some other, non-gender specific health services, such as a preventive primary care visit, also vary wildly in price, but the ranges are especially wide for services for women. The price differences reflect the varying deals insurers are able to strike with hospitals and other healthcare providers, as well as a number of other factors that Castlight researchers say show how dysfunctional America’s healthcare system is. You can see the full study and how Cincinnati compares to other cities here.

• So this is just really cool. Officials and community advocates in Akron shut down a highway to hold a 500-person dinner and community conversation. On Oct. 4, Akron police shut down a section of the city's Inner Belt Freeway while volunteers set up 63 tables for guests. Attendees, led by facilitators, then had a meal and discussed the city's future, delving into a number of contentious issues while taking notes and sketching out ideas. Among the topics of discussion: what to do with the freeway they were sitting on, which cut through low-income neighborhoods and separated them from downtown when it was built in the 1970s. That freeway will soon be shut down  — it serves only 18,000 cars a day, a far cry from the 120,000 for which it was designed.

• Could John Boehner’s resignation from the House of Representatives and the ensuing chaos it has caused (more on that in a minute) have repercussions in the Kentucky governor’s race? It’s looking like it. Republican gubernatorial candidate and tea party dude Matt Bevin has been waging a tough-fought campaign against Democrat candidate Jack Conway. But now, at least some prominent Republicans in Kentucky are turning their backs on Bevin in favor of Conway as a result of distaste for the tea party movement that has caused deep fissures within the GOP. Part of the lingering bitterness is from Bevin’s 2012 primary challenge of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Bevin ran a nasty campaign against McConnell, marshaling tea party anger and attempting to use it against the veteran lawmaker. Bevin failed in that race, but has been seen as a viable candidate for governor. But with the divide between establishment Republicans and radical tea party conservatives growing wider, it may be hard for him to pull together the support he needs to defeat Conway.

• Finally, speaking of all that, I just want to talk really quick about how fascinating things are getting in the House of Representatives. A couple weeks back we told you about how the resignation of House Speaker and Greater Cincinnatian John Boehner could bring more power to hardline rightwingers in the GOP. At the time, this was an arguable point, considering House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was all lined up to take Boehner’s place. Now, it’s not that McCarthy isn’t conservative, but like Boehner, he has no interested in shutting down the government or engaging in some of the more radical tactics tea party conservatives in the House have championed. Welp, hate to say I told you so, but yesterday McCarthy dropped out of the running for speaker, and now Republicans are scrambling to find a willing replacement who isn’t part of the three dozen or so tea party radicals in the GOP. Party leaders, including Boehner, who just wants to get the hell out of there at this point, are reportedly begging U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, former Vice Presidential candidate in Mitt Romney’s last run, to step up and take the job, but Ryan’s all like, nah, that’s cool I’m good.

That’s it for me. Hit me up on Twitter or email me with news tips or your favorite Halloween haunted houses. I’m trying to hit up several before they close for the season.

by Natalie Krebs 10.08.2015 50 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City Council votes to preserve Kings Records building; Study finds Cranley's park tax levy will bring $117 million; Half of Ohioans on board with legalizing weed

It's almost Friday, Cincy! Hang in there with me. I've got plenty of studies and polls to keep you going this morning. 

• City Council voted unanimously yesterday to designate the old Kings Records building a historic landmark. The future of the building has been controversial as city leaders and activists have fought to save the building. They hope that it renovation along with a nearby educational facility could revitalize Evanston. However, the building's owner, Dynamite Industries, has other ideas. They would like to demolish the building and may sue the city over its decision. Kings Records saw its heyday 1940s to the 1970s when it was the sixth largest record label in the world. Famous musicians like Otis Redding and James Brown spent time at the Evanston studio, and Brown recorded some of his greatest hits with the label.                

• A report commissioned by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Cincinnati Business Committee found Mayor Cranley's proposed tax levy for city parks would have an economic impact of $117 million in the first ten years. Cranley has proposed a permanent property tax levy to revamp and maintain the city's parks with 16 different projects, like increasing hiking and biking trails to attract commuters. Some worry about the lack of oversight in Cranley's proposal and that his plan, which he has referred to as "park-o-nomics" could lead to the commercialization of public parks. 

• A just over half of Ohioians--53 percent to be exact--are on board with legalizing marijuana for recreational use compared to 44 percent who said they are not. The Quinnipiac poll found that 65 percent claim they would definitely not use marijuana it if it were legalized, however. The poll didn't specifically ask about Issue 3, but posed general questions about legalizing the drug. The survey found men were overall more supportive of it then women as were younger people more so than older folk.  

The same poll found that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland at 46 percent support is slightly ahead of GOP candidate Rob Portman, who had 43 percent support. 

• While it might not yet have the tech reputation of San Francisco or Austin, website ValuePenguin.com ranked Cincinnati ninth on its list of mid-sized cities for web developers. According to its data, Cincinnati has about 910 web development jobs with an average salary of $65,390 and the cost of living here definitely beats that of San Francisco and Austin. The cities are placed into three categories based on population: large, mid-sized and small. You can check out the full list here. 

• Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn will be answering some tough questions from Congress this morning. The executive is scheduled to go before a U.S. House subcommittee investigating the discovery that VW has been cheating on their U.S. emissions tests. U.S. inspectors found nearly 500,000 cars starting with the 2009 models were equipped with software to distort the emissions produced during government tests. Horn is planning on telling Congress that he had only learned of the software a few week ago. VW and U.S. official have not yet announced how they will fix the recalled vehicles. 

• I went to my first Cincinnati Reds game against the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday. The Reds lost their last home game pretty badly, but the game redeemed itself slightly in the eighth inning when they managed to strike out the 11th Cubs batter. For this, I won a small LaRosa's pizza as did everyone else with a ticket to that game. So how many free pizzas has LaRosa's given out in the four years that they've offered this promotion? According to the Cincinnati Business Courier, 640,000. But this year they gave away one-third less pizzas as compared to last year. Attendance was down as Reds didn't quite do so well. Better luck next year, Reds! 

As usual, my email me at nkrebs@citybeat.com. Any story ideas or happenings are welcome.

by Nick Swartsell 10.07.2015 51 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cranley's Anti-Poverty Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

Supporters cheer the mayor's focus on childhood poverty, but critics say Cranley's proposals don't go far enough

Mayor John Cranley’s State of the City speech earlier this week touched on a number of issues the mayor has deemed priorities in the coming year — among them, the city’s sky-high childhood poverty rate.

Last year, according the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 44.3 percent of the city’s children lived in poverty. That’s down from over 50 percent in 2012, when Cincinnati ranked second-highest in the country, but still double the national average of about 22 percent and nearly double Ohio’s average of 23 percent.

Cranley says he wants to find ways to lift 10,000 of Cincinnati’s 30,000 poor kids out of poverty in the next five years. To do that, he’s proposing convening a task force that will present recommendations for reaching that goal. The task force will present those recommendations June 30, 2016 — the day before the city’s new fiscal year.

Is that goal realistic? And does Cranley’s proposal to create a task force that will research ways to address childhood poverty in Cincinnati go far enough? Some say no, citing other Cranley proposals, including a parks charter amendment that would spend millions in property tax revenues to create new recreational attractions, that will spend much more money on things critics say are less pressing or effective.

Meanwhile, others applaud the fact the mayor is focusing on the problem and say they are willing to give his ideas time to play out.

City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is among the critics of Cranley’s approach.

In an Oct. 6 editorial for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Simpson said the mayor’s big speech left out some key considerations — from the University of Cincinnati police shooting death of Samuel DuBose and ongoing racial issues in the city to progress made on the city’s streetcar system.

One of the speech’s big shortfalls, Simpson says, is the lack of a serious plan to address poverty in the city.

“For those individuals living in poverty and organizations actively working on the root causes and effects of institutional, inter-generational poverty everyday, organizing a ‘summit’ and expecting it will lead to a one-third reduction in our childhood poverty rate in 5 years is, at best, out of touch and at worst, disrespectful,” Simpson wrote in the piece.

Simpson said Cranley’s statements are surprising considering the recent fight between the mayor’s office and City Council over human services funding in the city’s budget. Democrats on Council pushed for more money for programs traditionally funded through human services in the budget to get the city back on track toward devoting at least 1 percent of the budget toward such programs.

Council passed a resolution last fall asking the city to double funding for traditional human services programs. While making this year’s city budget, however, City Manager Harry Black ignored that resolution and put much of that money in new programs not usually associated with traditional human services. Meanwhile, federal money usually given to other programs was directed toward the mayor’s Hand Up Initiative, which looks to get more poor Cincinnatians into jobs making around $10 an hour through programs like Cincinnati Cooks! and Cincinnati Works. Those dynamics caused a big battle over the city budget.

Community activist Mike Moroski sits on the steering committee for Hand Up. He’s also the executive director of UpSpring, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the city’s childhood poverty problem. Moroski says he’s not always been a Cranley fan, but his time working on Hand Up has convinced him the mayor is responsive to input and new ideas. He says he’s willing to give Cranley’s anti-poverty ideas time to bear fruit.

“I voted for [Cranley’s 2013 mayoral opponent] Roxanne Qualls,” Moroski says. “I didn't think John Cranley would be a very good mayor.”

Moroski says he still disagrees with Cranley on some issues, including the streetcar, but says those issues aren’t as important as addressing the city’s big poverty problem. He says he believes the mayor — and City Council — are serious about working toward solving that problem and that he hopes city officials can work past politics together toward that end.
“Will Mayor Cranley's new Task Force do just that? I have no idea, but I am willing to be hopeful and wait and see,” Moroski said in an email yesterday. “I am not willing to dismiss it right out of the gate. Did he spend enough time on it last evening? I don't know — I am not going to pass judgment because it wasn't talked about enough — I am just happy it was talked about.”

The city has made some efforts to address its deep economic divisions, including a recent raft of ordinances that would help address the racial and gender disparities in its contracting practices. However, Cincinnati is still a place of stunning inequalities when it comes to the economic conditions of its neighborhoods, and ways to address those inequalities look to remain front and center in conversations about the city’s future.

"Mayor Cranley wants 2016 to be the year that we dig in and have real conversations about poverty and take action," Moroski says. "And I will support that. I will also support any initiative that any council member proposes that does the same. And, as I said, if any of these initiatives appear to be hollow, then I will pass judgment. But not until I see what plays out."