Morning y’all. Rather than brave the gross, cold weather, I’m working from home in the tiny circular turret next to my bedroom with a space heater blasting. One of the things I love about Cincinnati is not only that weird old houses like the one I live in still exist, but that I can afford to live in one on a journalist’s salary. That’s crazy.
But enough about me. What’s happened in the past 24 hours? A lot.
First, prosecutors have offered seven of the Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging anti-palm oil banners from Procter & Gamble headquarters last spring a plea deal. That deal would cut their charges from felony vandalism and burglary, which carry a penalty of more than nine years in jail, to a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespassing, which is punishable by no more than 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Nine activists in total gained access to P&G headquarters in March, hanging protest banners decrying the company’s role in deforestation related to their use of palm oil. Some protesters repelled down the side of the building. Prosecutors say the group did tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to windows in the building, though lawyers for the group deny this. They say the activists were simply exercising their First Amendment rights. One activist has since died in California and another took an earlier plea deal. A Dec. 12 hearing on the deal has been scheduled for the remaining seven.
• More than 100 people turned out last night for a rally downtown in honor of Eric Garner, who died in July after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold. A grand jury Wednesday announced it would not indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, who administered the hold. That has led to protests in New York City and around the country, including here. You can find our full coverage of the rally here.
• It seems we’re all about courts today. Special prosecutors in the case of former Juvenile Court Judge Traci Hunter want to send her to jail for up to 18 months. Hunter is in Hamilton County court right now for sentencing, and prosecutors are going after her aggressively. Hunter was convicted of one felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract in October. Her attorney has made three motions for a retrial since, citing procedural mistakes by the court and jurors who have recanted their guilty verdicts. Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel has declined those motions, however. Hunter says she will appeal her conviction.
UPDATE: Hunter has been sentenced to six months in Hamilton County jail.
• As anger over police use of force continues around the country, the Justice Department yesterday released the results of a year-and-a-half long investigation into the Cleveland Police Department. What they found was not good, and you can read our coverage of it here. The short version: The DOJ says the force has had numerous incidents of excessive force brought on by “systemic failures” within the department. CPD will be monitored by an independent panel as it makes court-enforceable reforms to its policing practices. The report comes as the department is under scrutiny for yet another controversial use of force incident: the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice at the hands of Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehman.
• The national economy added more than 320,000 jobs last month, government data released yesterday says, putting the nation on track for its best job growth in 15 years. Unemployment stayed at 5.8 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2008. Many analysts take the boost as a sign the economy is continuing to recover from the deepest and most far-reaching recession in decades. That growth came in a number of different sectors, lending credence to the assertion that the economy is growing more robust. Housing prices are rising, fuel prices are falling and local and state governments are hiring again. However, despite the good news, wages did not rise at all when adjusted for inflation. That’s been a stubborn problem for workers since the recession and one that feeds into a continued debate about the country’s income inequality.
• Finally, you remember former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, right? Whether or not you agree with the Bush-era leader’s politics, it seems fair to say he seemed like a low-key bloke, harmless and even approachable. At least I thought so until I saw his Christmas card this year. Dude looks like you just snatched some bacon out of his mouth while calling his mum a strumpet. I want to see the outtakes. Also, thank god I don’t send Christmas cards because they would all be at least this terrifying.
The Department of Justice yesterday released a report detailing its year-and-a-half-long investigation of the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force. Its findings, and its timing, are devastating, detailing incidents where unarmed civilians were shot 20 times during a car chase, a unarmed man kicked in the head by officers while in handcuffs and many other examples of unnecessary force.
The report comes as the nation grapples with anger over a number of police shootings of unarmed people, especially people of color. Among them is 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot in Cleveland by police last month.
“We have concluded that we have reasonable cause to believe that CPD engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the report states. “We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies and practices — including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies and inadequate engagement with the community — contribute to the unreasonable use of force.”
The DOJ launched the investigation in March 2013 after receiving complaints about multiple incidents of use of excessive force by CPD. Those incidents included a November 2012 chase in which two unarmed civilians were shot and killed in their stationary car by 13 officers who fired a total of 137 rounds.
The report says the problems go beyond officers on the beat and extend all the way up to those charged with investigating police misconduct.
"Deeply troubling to us was that some of the specially trained investigators who are charged with conducting unbiased reviews of officers' use of deadly force admitted to us that they conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible," the DOJ report says.
As a result of the study, CPD has signed an agreement with the Justice Department that will require the department to undergo independent monitoring while it undertakes serious reforms to its community engagement, officer training and accountability efforts.
"Together, we can build confidence in the division that will ensure compliance with the Constitution, improve public safety and make the job of delivering police services safer and more effective," said Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta in a statement on Thursday.
The report comes just two weeks after Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehman shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice two seconds after exiting a squad car onto a playground were Rice was playing with a toy gun. The 911 caller reporting the boy states twice that the gun he is carrying is “probably fake,” though a dispatcher does not relay that information to officers.
Loehman said he feared for his life when he shot Rice. Police officials have said the toy Rice was carrying looked just like a real weapon and therefore the officer had no choice but to shoot.
"This is an obvious tragic event where a young member of our community lost their life," said Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba during a news conference after the shooting. "We’ve got two officers who were out there protecting the public who had to do something no one wants to do.”
Yesterday, CNN reported newly uncovered details about Loehman’s past service as a police officer. Before being hired by CPD in March, Loehman was asked to leave suburban Independence, Ohio’s police force in 2012, documents show. A supervisor described Loehman as “emotionally immature.”
"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies," Independence Deputy Police Chief Jim Polak wrote in November 2012.
A group of more than 100 staged a peaceful rally in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday evening remembering Eric Garner, the 42-year-old man who died after New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo administered a choke hold on him last July.
A New York grand jury announced yesterday it would not hand down an indictment for Pantaleo, despite video footage showing Garner offering little resistance and posing no threat to officers during the incident. The announcement has triggered protests across the country, including massive unrest in New York City, where thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in anger. The decision is yet another chapter in the nation's recent struggle with racially charged police killings.
The officers involved say they only used the force necessary to subdue Garner and that previous health conditions including asthma contributed to his death.
Demonstrators in Cincinnati faced freezing rain and icy temperatures during the hour-and-a-half long event, which started at Piatt Park on Vine Street before briefly shutting down the street as protesters marched to Fountain Square. There, the group, which had been chanting "black lives matter" and Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," observed a few moments of silence for Garner and others who have died at the hands of police. Amid the swishing sound of a few ice skaters on the square's rink and Jingle Bells blasting over its PA system, many quietly laid on the ground with their hands up.
“I can’t just sit on a couch and watch TV and just watch it happen," said attendee Anna Alexander later. "I have to do something. It’s good to see that people actually care, that people are actually awake.”
Hello all, hope you’re doing well this morning. I’m having a bit of trouble getting started today, maybe due to CityBeat’s Bourbon and Bacon event last night. The party at Newport’s New Riff Distillery (which is amazing, by the way) featured nearly unlimited amounts of bacon-infused items. Bacon is one of my favorite things. I’m also a big fan of whiskey, which was also available in seemingly endless quantities. I’m still recovering.
Anyway, news time.
Usually, we think of the staunch conservatives in our state House of Representatives, bless their souls, as lovers of the smallest government possible. So it’s surprising that GOP state lawmakers have been working on a bill to pick cities’ pockets by reverting tax receipts usually going to municipalities to the state government. That bill got a little less pernicious yesterday, when a revised version passed the Ohio Senate. Mayor John Cranley touts the bill as a better deal for Cincinnati than it could have been. The proposal, which amends and allegedly simplifies Ohio’s tax rules for cities and other local governments, would cut the amount of money municipalities receive from businesses doing work in their jurisdictions. Many agree the current system is incredibly complex and makes it difficult for businesses to operate in multiple municipalities. But opponents of the original bill proposed by GOP lawmakers say the cuts to municipal tax receipts were too deep and, taken with other recent cuts to tax receipts, could hamper cities’ abilities to provide services. Cincinnati could have lost as much as $3 million a year from those cuts. The compromised bill minimizes some of those losses by keeping the municipal tax on items a company ships to places where it doesn’t have a storefront.
• A slightly fictionalized Hamilton County Christmas play in one act:
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil:
Hey guys, can I get a Harley? Maybe two Harleys? I want them for Christmas. They get better gas mileage than cars and the city taught us how to ride them.
Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel: I don’t know. Ask Greg Hartmann.
Sheriff Neil: He wrote me a letter. He said I have to wait.
Hartmann: Jim, I can’t believe you’re asking for this right now. You know money is tight and we can’t afford two Harleys. We’ve gotta tighten our belts, you know. Have you thought about a nice used Suzuki? Or maybe some bicycles? Red Bike is big right now.
Sheriff Neil: But everyone else is asking for cool wheels, too.
Monzel: We’ll just have to wait and see what Santa brings. We already gave you those cars you asked for.
• Surprise, surprise: House Speaker John Boehner, who is camped out in his safely Republican district just north of Cincinnati, doesn’t want any changes to the way Ohio draws its congressional districts. He says that having one party dominate the process isn’t a problem because both parties have done so over the years and that everyone working on rule changes for redistricting should see what shakes out in Arizona. The Supreme Court is currently hearing challenges to that state’s constitutional amendment cutting the state legislature out of redistricting in favor of an independent panel, a similar arrangement to some proposals for reforming Ohio’s redistricting process. But let’s not be hasty about working to change the process that has created Ohio’s ridiculously gerrymandered districts, Boehner says.
"For 40 years the Democrat Party had the pencil in their hands, and for the last 20 years we've had the pencil," Boehner told The Enquirer yesterday. "When you've got the pencil in your hand, you're going to use it to the best of your advantage."
• CityBeat contributor Ben Kaufman, who writes our "On Second Thought" column and "Curmudgeon Notes," tipped me off to this great exchange. Apparently, Enquirer parent company Gannett is reaching out to veteran journalists seeking help recruiting “leaders for the newsroom of tomorrow,” whatever that means. Gannett has been sugar-coating layoffs with this newsroom of tomorrow thing for a while and has even gone so far as to make reporters reapply for their jobs in a Hunger Games-esque battle for employment. A recruiter got a less than favorable response from three-decade veteran journalist Rick Arthur, who has been an editor at major newspapers and magazines. Arthur responds to the missive, which is, after all, not recruiting him but simply asking for help in recruiting others, with the following:
“I would never refer anyone to Gannett, an organization that has such disdain for copy editors and that treats its employees so shabbily, and whose executives, publishers and editors willfully deny that there are problems while creating — for the second time in a decade — the laughably Orwellian 'Newsroom of the Future.'
All the best, Rick”
• Finally, there’s continued anger around the nation over unarmed people, especially people of color, dying at the hands of police. Two brief developments:
A grand jury in New York yesterday declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in the death of Eric Garner, who Pantaleo put in a chokehold. Pantaleo died moments after the confrontation in an ambulance and can be heard on a video of the incident telling officers repeatedly he couldn’t breathe. The grand jury decision has sparked protests in New York City.
In Cleveland, there are new revelations in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who police shot on a playground. The officer involved in that shooting, Timothy Loehman, was asked to leave another police force in the small town of Independence, Ohio, in 2012 after being deemed unfit to serve there. Loehman reportedly had an emotional breakdown on a shooting range and was “uncommunicative and weepy” during the incident, reports on his dismissal say. The report also calls his performance with a weapon “dismal.”
Hey all. Here’s the news this morning.
Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter won’t get a new trial, a judge has ruled. Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel has denied all three of Hunter’s motions for retrial after she was convicted last month of one of eight felony counts in relation to her time as judge. Since her conviction, three jurors have recanted their guilty verdicts, however, and Hunter’s attorney has alleged procedural mistakes mean she should get a new trial. With those motions denied, Hunter will be sentenced this Friday. She plans to file an appeal on her conviction.
• Cincinnati must pay Duke Energy $15 million for moving utilities that stood in the way of the streetcar, a Hamilton County judge ruled Monday. The city already had that money in escrow as it awaited the ruling but plans to appeal Judge Carl Stich’s decision. That’s a good move, according to former city solicitor John Curp. Curp says the way Stich decided the case — by declaring the streetcar an “economic development project” — could set a hard precedent for other Ohio cities in the future. In order for Cincinnati to avoid paying Duke to move the utilities, the project would have to be something that benefits the city’s general welfare. Stich cited cases from the 1930s and the 1950s to justify his decision. Back then, public transit was run by private companies, a much different situation than today. Curp thinks the Ohio Supreme Court might have a different opinion of the streetcar and should hear the case to set a more modern precedent on transit projects.
• Do you have about $6,000 just sitting around taking up valuable space that could be used to, say, store an enormous ring? Do you need a sports-themed piece of jewelry so ostentatious no one will ever question your love for America’s favorite pastime? If so, I have a solution to both of your weird, unlikely problems. A Cincinnati Reds 1990 World Series ring has gone up for sale at a local auction house, and for a few grand you can make it yours. But be advised: It’s not Chris Sabo or Eric Davis’ ring. Heck, it’s not even Glenn Sutko’s, who saw action in one game that season. It belonged to one of the team’s part-time accountants, who I’m sure did great work counting the Reds' money. Every position is important on a winning team. Anyway, it’s big, it’s red, it has the logo on it and you should buy the ring. Or, I dunno, you could buy me a nice used car instead. Up to you.
• So it’s no secret the state’s Democratic party is hurting after last month’s disastrous statewide election. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern stepped down after losing his own state representative seat to a guy accused of burglary. Now there’s a scramble to take his spot, and former Cincinnati city councilman and recent attorney general candidate David Pepper is a frontrunner. But he’s got a challenge ahead of him in becoming the top Dem in the state: Ohio’s powerful Sen. Sherrod Brown has backed one of his opponents, former candidate for lieutenant governor Sharen Neuhardt, for the job. Pepper still sees himself as a front-runner in the contest to lead Democrats in one of the country’s most important swing states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The new state chair will be decided by a vote within the party Dec. 16.
• Chicago City Council voted yesterday to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour over the next five years. The move was a proposal by Mayor Rahm Emanuel ahead of proposed Illinois laws that could hamstring city governments when it comes to raising minimum wages and February’s Chicago mayoral election. The boost is expected to benefit about 400,000 workers in the city. Other cities like Seattle have passed similar increases recently.
• Finally, Republicans have scuttled an extension on tax cuts for low-income and middle class workers while pushing bigger corporate tax breaks. The cuts were part of a $400 billion bipartisan tax deal lawmakers in Washington were working to put together. But President Barack Obama’s announcement last month of an executive action allowing some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country has killed the deal as Republicans pull back from the low-income tax cuts like the Earned Income Tax Credit and double down on the corporate breaks. They say undocumented immigrants will take advantage of the EITC and other credits in large numbers and therefore can’t support the cuts. Translation: Obama made us mad so we’re taking the ball that keeps millions out of poverty and going home.
So my morning donut routine took a dramatic turn today when a box truck plowed into Servatii downtown right before I got there. The whole building was filled with smoke. It looked crazy, and I hope everyone is OK. I’m going to try not to take this as a sign from the universe that I should cut back on Servatii's double chocolate cake donuts.
Anyway, here’s your news.
The NAACP made it official this morning: The civil rights group is coming to Cincinnati for its 2016 national convention. The convention will put the city in the political spotlight and bring millions of dollars from visitors. Cincinnati last hosted the gathering in 2008 when both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama came to town as part of their campaigns for president. This time around should be equally auspicious. Two-thousand-sixteen promises a heated presidential race, Cleveland is getting the GOP National Convention and Columbus is in the running for the Democrats’ big get together that year. The NAACP indicated in October it was leaning toward Cincinnati pending a site visit, an announcement that surprised Baltimore, which had presumed it had the convention.
• 3CDC Executive Vice President Chad Munitz is leaving the organization to get back into real estate development. He currently works on asset and capital management for the group. Munitz, who previously served as economic development director with the city of Cincinnati, joined 3CDC in 2006. The development company has not indicated plans for replacing him.
• Local grant-making organization Peoples Liberty, funded by the Haile Foundation, launched over the summer with a pledge to fund plans from everyday citizens in a diverse, inclusive manner.
"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," the group’s CEO Eric Avner said over the summer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."
The group just announced its first two big winners: two guys named Brad. Both will receive $100,000 and a year to work on their projects. One Brad, last name Cooper, will use his money to pay himself a small salary and make two tiny houses in Over-the-Rhine, which he's hoping to sell for $85,000 each. The 200-square-foot homes will be affordable, provided someone can secure financing and the thousands of dollars needed for a down payment. Affordable is a relative term here and seems not to be the main goal of the project. Cooper stressed in an Enquirer article that the idea is about promoting the small-living movement, which has been getting increasing attention over the past few years.
"This is not for poor people," Cooper said. "This is for a wide variety of people who choose this as a lifestyle."
Just don’t call them playhouses for the hip.
The other winner is Brad Schnittger, who will be using his $100,000 to create a music licensing library for area musicians so they can sell their songs to movies, TV and advertising groups. Musicians will pay a small initial fee and then keep all the money they make selling music. Schnittger plays with local vets the Sundresses, so he knows a thing or two about the music industry. He says he thinks this will help Cincinnati’s music scene take things up a notch.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will be in court again today as a county judge hears the last of her motions for a new trial. Hunter was convicted last month on one felony count after she allegedly intervened in the firing of her brother, a juvenile court guard who allegedly hit an inmate. Hunter has filed three motions for retrial, saying there were procedural errors and juror misconduct during the trial. Three jurors have said they’ve changed their minds about their guilty verdicts, though it appears too late for those to be overturned. If Hunter’s last motion for a new trial is denied today, she has said she will appeal her conviction.
• Let’s jump right to national news for the finale. President Obama yesterday proposed a $263 million, three-year package that would increase training for police officers, work on needed reforms in law enforcement and spend $75 million on small cameras worn by police on their lapels. Obama made the announcement in the wake of ongoing protests over a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.
Welcome back to the post-holiday real world, where we all must once again perform tasks even more arduous than eating three pounds of turkey and falling asleep in a chair while grownups talk about football. But hey, it’s Cyber Monday, so you can still spend brain-melting amounts of time staring at a screen shopping for the perfect deal on those special-edition Ruth Bader Ginsburg signature Nike Dunks you’ve been wanting until you fall asleep in your chair while grownups talk about work. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, on to news.
If you weren’t following CityBeat over the holiday, you probably didn’t hear about this. A group of protesters arrested at a solidarity march for Ferguson, Mo. last week were jailed over Thanksgiving, despite having paid bail. Seven of the eight protesters arrested during the march’s shutdown of I-75 paid their $3,000 bond, but were kept in jail because they were deemed flight risks by Hamilton County Judge Melissa Powers. That meant that despite being charged with only misdemeanors, they had to wear electronic monitoring devices provided by an office that closed Wednesday around noon and wasn’t slated to reopen until today. The protesters were released Friday after Hamilton County Judge Ted Berry overturned the monitoring requirement, however.
• Over-the-Rhine continues to change at a rapid pace. Another huge development project is in the works for the neighborhood, this one around the historic Grammer’s bar and restaurant. Rookwood Pottery Co. owner Martin Wade is looking to spend $75 million on a project that will redevelop 100 apartments, create 40,000 square feet of office and retail space and build four single-family homes. No word yet on whether any of that living space will be affordable housing aimed at low-income residents, but the plans tend to sound more toward the upscale, with details like Rookwood pottery accents in the works. The final phase of the project will be a 68-unit apartment building aimed at families looking to move into the neighborhood in a space behind the OTR Kroger store that is currently a garden.
• Here’s some good news: Greater Cincinnati’s unemployment rate is down to 4.3 percent, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That’s the lowest it’s been in a decade. Last October, the rate was almost 7 percent.
• No, the Zoo hasn’t hired your one weird clickbait-sharing uncle as its new social media manager. Hackers have taken over the Cincinnati Zoo’s Facebook page and are posting all sorts of non-wildlife related content. The posts began about midnight Sunday and are the kind of thing that one annoying Facebook friend you have always posts: top five embarrassing photos lists, top 10 embarrassing holiday foods you shouldn’t eat lists, top 30 places to visit before your 40th birthday lists; that kind of thing. The Zoo has reached out to the social media company, which so far hasn’t taken any action to stop the posts. Officials with the Zoo are asking users to report the page as hacked.
• In what has to be one of the best examples of terrible journalism seen
in Ohio in years, Cleveland.com, the Cleveland Plain Dealers’ website,
published an article outlining the legal history of the father of the
unarmed12-year-old boy shot by Cleveland police last month. “Tamir
Rice’s Father Has History of Domestic Violence,” the headline screams,
apropos of absolutely nothing at all. The paper published the story Nov.
26, the same day a video showing Rice’s shooting was released. In the
video, an officer jumps out of a patrol car and shoots Rice, a bored-looking kid playing with a toy pistol, within
seconds of arriving at the scene. The shooting has caused a good deal of
anger in Cleveland, prompting demonstrations and calls for the involved
officers’ resignations. An investigation into the shooting is ongoing.
Meanwhile, in what is clearly some alternate reality…
• Members of the Cleveland Police Department are suing the department, saying it racially discriminates against white officers involved in shootings of blacks. Eight white officers and one Hispanic officer are suing over their treatment in wake of a 2012 high-speed chase that resulted in two suspects without guns being shot in their car more than 20 times. The City of Cleveland settled with the families of the two for $3 million. Thirteen officers fired 137 shots during the chase. The nine officers involved in the lawsuit complain that they were unfairly assigned desk duty, meaning they could only perform what the suit calls “boring, menial tasks.” The group says they should not be held accountable for the incident, since the Ohio Attorney General found that it was part of big systemic problems in the department. Huh. That’s interesting logic.
• Finally, I dunno how many of you remember Richard Scarry's Busy Town kids books. If you do, this is hilarious in a "it's really kind of dark because it's true" sort of way. If you don't remember the books, well, I think it's probably still hilarious.
UPDATED Nov. 28, 12:45 PM: Judge Ted Berry waived
the tracking device requirement for the protesters today, and those who posted bail (all but one) should be released in the next few hours.
Original Post: Some of the 15 protesters arrested during Tuesday’s march through downtown Cincinnati in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo. paid bail the next day. But while most folks were at home enjoying Thanksgiving Thursday, they were still in the Hamilton County Justice Center because some county offices are closed.
The march drew as many as 300 people during its nearly three-hour duration. During that time, at least 100 protesters streamed onto I-75, bringing traffic to a halt for a few minutes. Police, who had blocked traffic in the northbound lane of the highway, ordered protesters off under threat of arrest.
Those who didn’t leave fast enough ended up in jail.
The protesters were held without bond overnight and arraigned at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Bond for the eight charged with shutting down I-75 was set at $3,000. According to Hamilton County Criminal Court documents, two of those arrested, Liz Cambron and Aalap Bommaraju, paid bail early that afternoon. But they’ll be in jail over Thanksgiving, and maybe until Monday, their attorney Joe Russell says.
Judge Melissa Powers, the presiding judge, deemed the arrested protesters flight risks and ordered they be fitted with electronic monitoring devices. But the office that provides the devices closed at noon today and won’t reopen until next week.
“I don’t undersand how my clients are flight risks,” Russell said of Cambron and Bommaraju. “They aren’t the kind of people who want to get anyone run over.” Cambron is a graduate student at University of Illinois Chicago, and Bommaraju is a health worker pursuing his PhD at UC.
He says the two weren’t acting recklessly and were merely exercising their first amendment rights.
The rest of the group arrested on I-75 look to be in a similar situation. Brandon Geary, Robert Fairbanks, Hilliard Herring, Zachary Lucas, Cerissa Newbill and Rhonda Shaw were also arrested on the highway and have been ordered to wear the tracking devices after release on bond.
Representatives with the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts said they
could not provide any information on the cases during phone calls
“The reason they’re still in jail is because the county doesn’t have the electronic monitoring devices available,” Russel said. He was in court Friday morning working to get the two released.
A vigil asking the court to release the protesters on bond drew a crowd of about 35 people Thanksgiving day, including family members of some of the protesters. "He didn't even know he wasn't going home," said Evan Geary, brother of Brandon Geary, who also posted bond. "My parents had to tell him he wasn't going home. I'm surprised my parents didn't come. They were very happy this was happening," he said of the vigil.
Both Bommaraju and Cambron, along with others who were arrested after entering I-75, are charged with disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, and inducing panic. That charge is usually a first-degree misdemeanor, but could be a fifth or fourth degree felony if a prosecutor finds that significant “economic damage” was done in the commission of the offense.
Hey y’all. Yesterday was a long one, but today’s my birthday and tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So yeah, that’s awesome.
The big news this morning is something you’ve probably already heard about, maybe from our coverage last night. Roughly 300 people yesterday gathered at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street for a rally organized by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network. City and state politicians, including State Rep. Alicia Reece and Mayor John Cranley spoke at the event. At some point, most of those gathered embarked on what would become a nearly three-hour march that shut down I-75 and led to 15 arrests. Organizers of the rally say the march wasn’t part of their plans, and not all those who marched went out onto the highway. Protesters started dispersing about 8:30 p.m. after the march ended at the Hamilton County Justice Center. Those arrested on the highway are being charged with violations like disorderly conduct and inducing panic, while those arrested elsewhere are charged with disobeying traffic signals, according to court records. UPDATE: at least some of those arrested have been bonded out.
• Tell us how you really feel. A speech by Mayor John Cranley given Nov. 20 at the Cincinnati Masonic Center had many moments of surprising candor, according to the Business Courier, even for a mayor known to be upfront with his thoughts. During the speech, which wasn’t announced to the press but was recorded by the group, Cranley compared the state of the region’s bus system to the Titanic, called on-street bike lanes “special treatment” and a “disruption,” and called rail projects like the streetcar “19th century technology.” While those comments are provocative, they align pretty well with past positions the mayor has taken. Cranley said the bus system’s finances are in bad shape and argued the city shouldn’t be subsidizing county bus riders. The fare for SORTA buses outside the city is higher, but that higher rate doesn’t pay for the extra cost of running the buses. Cranley also offered a fascinating idea at the meeting: that the Census’ estimate for the city’s population is too low. Cranley thinks the city may have 310,000 residents, more than the roughly 298,000 the Census estimates.
• A new Over-the-Rhine business incubator is opening up Friday for people with great ideas but fewer resources. Mortar, a so-called “urban idea laboratory” on Vine Street, will offer a 10-week business class and support for entrepreneurs, especially underprivileged potential business owners, looking to start a business in Cincinnati’s urban core.
• As we reported yesterday, Ricky Jackson came to Cincinnati yesterday to thank the Ohio Innocence Project. The University of Cincinnati program helped him prove his innocence after he was convicted of a murder he didn't commit in 1975, and, as he said during a triumphant event yesterday at UC, “saved my life.” Jackson, who was just released last Friday, spent 39 years in prison for the crime before being exonerated.
• A bill being considered in Ohio’s General Assembly would end the state’s 20-year statute of limitations on rape cases. But that bill is stalled due to controversy over potential far-reaching consequences. Some lawmakers are pushing for an amendment to the law that would only eliminate the expiration date for cases in which DNA evidence is present proving the identity of the offender. The state of Ohio currently has a backlog of rape kits, evidence collected from a victim after a sexual assault is reported. That’s made finding and prosecuting rapists in a timely manner difficult.
• Finally, this is interesting. Do you remember the Presidential Fitness Test? If you went to public school, you probably took the test, which measured your running ability and your capacity for push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises. When I had to take this test as a youngin, I always pictured a very angry Ronald Regan (I don’t know why I pictured him. Bill Clinton was president at the time) yelling at me to do more sit-ups so the communists wouldn’t win. Turns out, I wasn’t far off the mark, though I should have imagined an earlier president. President Kennedy pushed for youth fitness measures in 1960, decrying the nation’s “growing softness.” The actual test wasn’t instituted until 1966. It included a softball throw that was meant to simulate chucking grenades. Probably would have been more excited for the whole thing as a child if they’d kept that part in.
A rally in remembrance of those who have died in recent police shootings of unarmed black men drew as many as 300 downtown Tuesday evening. The rally was followed by a nearly three-hour march that made its way through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the
West End before briefly shutting down I-75 as protesters streamed onto
The rally and march were in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., where black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot Aug. 9 by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Yesterday a grand jury in St. Louis County declined to indict Wilson, spurring civil unrest in the area and demonstrations in cities across the country. In Cincinnati, the march through downtown neighborhoods had echoes of the city’s past — civil unrest lasting days tore through the same communities in 2001 after unarmed black teenager Timothy Thomas was shot by white Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach in OTR.
“Honestly, after the decision yesterday I was a bit numb,” said Curtis Webb, as he marched through downtown. “I even questioned whether I would come out tonight. I’m tired of hearing the talk. I’m more interested in seeing the walk about these situations. As a black man, I’m… I don’t know. I’m scared to be black. I don’t know how to say it. I’m always questioning, 'Am I doing the right thing? Do I look too dangerous? Are the police going to pull me over?' ”
Cincinnati’s demonstrations started with a rally at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street attended by State Senator-elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece, community organizer Rev. Damon Lynch III and Mayor John Cranley, among others.
At the initial gathering on the steps of the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, Cranley highlighted the progress Cincinnati has made since 2001.
"Like all of you, I am deeply concerned about the loss of life and the events that are unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri," he said. "I can sympathize with all aspects of what the community is experiencing because Cincinnati has had similar tensions in the past. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of trial and errors, but we made progress."
“I spent 27 years in law enforcement, and not once did I fire my weapon to harm someone,” Cecil Thomas said. “And all of a sudden, we see so many officers so quick to pull their guns. How do you pull your gun on a 12-year-old when someone tells you it looks like he has a toy gun? We have to change the way we do our policing.”
Thomas was a peacemaker during the 2001 unrest, working with police, community groups and the city's Human Relations Commission to broker calm.
Many attendees at the initial rally joined in a meandering march that stopped traffic in many of the city’s major streets and passed just feet from the spot where Timothy Thomas was shot in 2001. However, the rally was much more peaceful than the days of unrest 13 years ago. About 20 police followed the march, blocking off streets and working to corral protesters. Organizers with the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network say the march was not part of their plans for the rally.
Tensions rose when protesters, after making their way down Ezzard Charles Drive in the West End, split off onto a highway on ramp onto the north-bound lane of I-75. Police had initially blocked the on ramp, but moved to the highway to block off traffic temporarily. After roughly five minutes, officers drove protesters off the highway with the threat of arrest. Eight protesters were arrested when they didn’t leave quickly enough. They are being held without bond at the Hamilton County Justice Center.
After leaving the highway, the march continued through the city for another hour, eventually dissipating at the Justice Center on Court and Main streets.
Joshua Davis, who helped lead the march, said the problems go beyond any specific case.
“I’m out here because I have nieces who are four, five, six years old and I want them to come up in a world where they don’t have to be afraid of the cops," he said. "There are many things cops can carry that don’t kill people. I’m out here not because I agree Mike Brown was innocent or guilty, or because the cop was guilty or innocent, but because black men are being killed daily.”
The march ended at the
Hamilton County Justice Center at about 8:30 p.m. Fifteen were arrested during the march, according to police.
UPDATE: A hearing for those arrested was held Wednesday at 12:30, according to the county clerk. Court records show some of the protesters have posted bond.
Hey all, let’s talk news.
This is a weird one. Someone or multiple someones fired shots at the Great American Tower downtown four times in the last week. The shooters have taken their potshots after business hours, when few people are in the building. There have been no injuries, though windows have been shattered. Police are a bit mystified by the shooting and are looking for a perpetrator. For now, employees will still be allowed in the building, though new security measures might be put in place by the building’s managers. While I’m not a huge fan of the tiara-ed building myself, there have to be better ways to register your distaste for a piece of architecture.
• Madisonville will receive $100 million in residential and commercial development in the coming year, which city officials say will provide a big economic boost to the East Side neighborhood. Mayor John Cranley touted the development yesterday at a Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District meeting. That board gave the go-ahead for an extension of Duck Creek Road past where it currently ends at Red Bank Road as part of the development. And there’s the rub: That part of the deal doesn’t sit well with members of the Madisonville Community Council, who are worried about possible traffic congestion caused by extending Duck Creek Road. The extension will cut close to John P. Parker Elementary School, and the council worries that it could limit the school’s enrollment. The council is looking for an explanation of why the road needs to be extended and some kind of compensation, perhaps in the form of scholarships that will help entice students to come to the school. RBM, a development group owned by nearby company Medpace, is planning the project. The company is working on details of the proposed development now.
• This weekend, the University of Cincinnati will host an 11-member task force appointed by President Barack Obama to investigate and hold conversations on policing in the 21st century. UC will host two of the task force's seven listening sessions Jan. 30 and 31. Other sessions have been held in Washington D.C., and two others will happen next month in Phoenix. The task force was created by a December executive order signed by Obama in the wake of controversy surrounding police use of force around the country.
• Mayor Cranley headed to Washington, D.C. last week to chat with federal officials about a number of issues, including Cincinnati’s bike trails, his Hand Up anti-poverty initiative and money to fix the crumbling Western Hills Viaduct. Cranley met with Department of Housing and Urban Development head Julian Castro, a fellow Democrat and the former mayor of San Antonio. He also met with officials at the Federal Highway Administration and joined up with other mayors from around the country to prod Congress to, well, do its job and actually pass some legislation this time around, specifically legislation that will help cities with development and infrastructure projects.
• Controversy over Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams’ letter decrying “racebaiting black leaders” continues. Activist group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, which published a letter addressed to the mayor asking for an apology, has said it will be attending tonight’s Norwood City Council meeting, which is at 7:30 p.m., to ask for a response in person. Mayor Thomas has indicated to media that he is sticking by his letter, which was written to express support for the Norwood Police Department as questions around police use of force continue to be a big topic across the country.
• Promoters working to bring the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Columbus are feeling pretty good these days. Recently, Democrats announced they intend to hold the convention the week of July 25, which Columbus has indicated is its ideal time frame. Convention-goers will need to be housed in Ohio State University dorms, which fill up with students again in August. Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was in the city Sunday and yesterday on a tour to consider the city’s logistical ability to handle the huge event. Should Dems tap Columbus over contenders Philadelphia and Brooklyn, N.Y., Ohio will host three major political conventions in the next presidential election year, with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the NAACP convention here in Cincinnati in 2016.
• Finally, this national story is gross. And creepy. And kind of brilliant. The San Francisco Zoo is offering the chance to sponsor a Madagascar hissing cockroach or a big ole’ hairy scorpion in honor of your ex this Valentine’s Day.
"These invertebrates are aggressive, active and alarmingly nocturnal. Much like your low-life ex, they are usually found in and around low-elevation valleys where they dig elaborate burrows or 'caves,' " reads promotional material for the scorpion adoption. "Also just like you-know-who, when a suitable victim wanders by, the scorpion grabs the doomed creature with its pinchers and stings the prey ... Charming."
Whoa. Bitter much? For $50, you can adopt the scorpion for your ex, to whom the zoo will send a stuffed scorpion stinger and a certificate. A similar deal for the cockroach costs $25. Nothing says “I’m over you” like dropping $50 to say, “I’m over you.”
Let’s just get right to it this morning.
It’s clear we as a society have lost our way. We’re so focused on the little things — pervasive poverty, military conflicts around the globe, our government’s inability to accomplish much of anything, etc. — that we’ve let a major atrocity slip right past us. But at least one local group has their priorities straight, and they’re not going to let someone get away with putting on a billboard three phonetic symbols representing the natural act of human procreation. That’s right, Citizens for Community Values is at it again as founder Phil Burress rails against a billboard on I-71 that reads “end boring sex” erected (oops, sorry) to advertise Jimmy Flynt Sexy Gifts, a new store in Sharonville owned by the brother of notorious porn mogul Larry Flynt. The store is only a couple miles from CCV’s headquarters, which is a pretty funny move. Jimmy Flynt says that’s because there’s big bucks in selling sexy stuff to suburban folks with some extra cash. Burress is outraged, however, that children riding with their parents on the interstate might see the word “sex.” Though really, you’d think CCV would be on board with a sentence that starts with the word “end” and ends with the word “sex.”
• Activists in Norwood have started a Change.org petition asking Mayor Thomas Williams to engage in a community forum around his racially charged comments on a Norwood Police Facebook page. The letter, signed simply “Norwood Citizens,” starts out by praising the department’s police officers and their work in the community, but condemns Williams’ statement made via social media in December. Those statements addressed to Norwood police pledged support for the department while decrying “race baiting black leaders and cowardly elected officials” over the ongoing protests around police shootings of unarmed black citizens. The online petition is the latest wrinkle in the drama around Williams’ statements, which led to calls for boycotts against Norwood and a response from black activists in the Greater Cincinnati area asking for an apology. Williams has subsequently told media that he stands by his statement.
• This is really cool: Today is the grand opening of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library’s Maker Space, which will be open to patrons of the library. The space includes technology like vinyl printers and cutting machines to make vinyl signs, laser cutting machines, 3D printers, sewing machines, audiovisual equipment including DSLR cameras, a soundproof recording booth with microphones and monitors, so-called “digital creation stations” with suites of creative software and a ton of other great things to help fledgling creatives with their projects, including something called an “ostrich egg bot.” Sounds very cool. All equipment will be free for patrons to use, but there will be a charge for materials like vinyl or resins for the 3D printers.
• Cincinnati’s Port Authority is looking to kick-start a local neighborhood by purchasing and renovating 40 single family homes in Evanston. The neighborhood borders Xavier University, contains Walnut Hills High School and is the home of King Records’ historic studio. But like many urban neighborhoods near the city’s core, it has fallen on hard times in the past few decades and has been ravaged by disinvestment, high rates of poverty and dwindling prospects for jobs. The port authority hopes it can work similar changes to those that have transformed Over-the-Rhine, which has seen a marked increase in development over the last five years.
"This is the 3CDC model on a miniature scale," Kroger Vice President Lynn Marmer, who chairs the port's board of directors, told the Business Courier. 3CDC is responsible for much of the change happening in OTR. The port hopes to sell the homes at market rate to entice families to move to Evanston.
• So, is legal pot coming to Ohio? Voters may be able to decide in November. The group ResponsibleOhio, one of two looking to put an initiative on the ballot this year, released some details of its plan this week, though the exact legal language of the proposed bill is fuzzy. The group suggests that growers around the state would cultivate the sticky-icky and send it to one of five labs in Ohio for potency and safety testing. Those labs would then distribute it to medicinal marijuana clinics and retailers. Should voters approve the plan, Ohio would be the first state to go from an outright ban on marijuana to full legality.
• Many conservative lawmakers in Ohio love the idea of the state paying for students to attend private schools, but it seems Ohio residents are more lukewarm to the idea. Ohio offers more than 60,000 vouchers to students so they can use funds set aside for public school to attend the private school of their choice. However, only one third of those vouchers were used last year, according to data from the State Board of Education reported by the Enquirer Saturday. Despite this, there seems to be little movement to reconsider the state’s school choice system, which is a darling of conservatives like Gov. John Kasich.
• Finally, on the national level, there’s this story, which is crazy. A junior at Yale University says he was leaving a library on campus when a police officer pulled a gun on him unprovoked because he allegedly matched the description of a burglary suspect. The twist in the story is that the student’s father is Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist who has written extensively about the deaths of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin and more generally about racial inequities in America’s justice system. Talk about getting the wrong person. Yale officials say they’re investigating the incident. The younger Blow says he remains shaken by the encounter, while his columnist father has penned a furious piece about the confrontation.
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is using a two-day event this weekend to kick off the 140th anniversary celebration of the founding of HUC in Clifton. On Sunday at 4 p.m., it will observe the role of one of the school's past presidents, Julian Morgenstern, in rescuing 11 college professors and five rabbinical students from Nazi-occupied Europe and the Holocaust. Many of the professors were dismissed from their European faculty jobs by the Nazis because they taught Jewish studies. Despite financial struggles, HUC-JIR hired them, nearly doubling its faculty.
One of the speakers Sunday will be Susannah Heschel, a professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the rescued scholars. The event is being held on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland as well as to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The program, which will be free and open to the public, begins in Scheuer Chapel on the campus at 3101 Clifton Ave. People who want to attend can RSVP by calling 513-487-3098 or going to http://huc.edu/rsvp/IHRD.
On Monday at 4 p.m., there will be a panel discussion on Respectful Discourse on College Campuses to focus on the increasing amount of hate speech on college campuses. Three college presidents will discuss how to promote safe and respectful spaces for political discourse — Santa Ono of the University of Cincinnati, Eli Capilouto of the University of Kentucky and Rabbi Aaron Panken of HUC-JIR. Professor Heschel will moderate the panel.
A second part of the program, which will start at 5:30 p.m., will feature three members of the clergy also talking about the subject — Rabbi Irwin Wise of Adath Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Amberley Village; Rev. Bruce Shipman; and Rev. Eugene Contadino, S.M., of St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic parish in Cincinnati.
Hey hey! In the past, specifically around election time, I’ve admonished you about getting involved in the democratic process. Well, it’s time to do your civic duty once again by casting your ballot in CityBeat’s Best of Cincinnati reader survey. Vote! Yes, it’s a long ballot, but don’t worry. You can skip some sections in case you don’t have an opinion on the best combination cupcake bakery/live music venue/dog grooming salon in the city.* But while you’re weighing in on the best burger in the city and the best place to hang while waiting for a table in OTR, consider casting a vote for best journalist, whether it be one of CityBeat’s great staffers or contributors, the top-notch reporters at other publications, or heck, yours truly. There are no electoral colleges or hanging chads in our process, so you’re basically mainlining democracy. America!
*Not a real category
On to news. Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed an ordinance adding homeless individuals to those protected by the city’s hate crimes law. The new ordinance could mean up to an extra 180 days in jail for those convicted of hate crimes against the homeless. Members of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, who worked with Councilman Chris Seelbach on the legislation, say it’s a huge step forward for the city.
• Cincinnati activists who have organized a number of events around racial injustices in police killings of unarmed black citizens are asking for an apology from the mayor of Norwood. Yesterday, I told you about a letter Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams sent to the city’s police force decrying what he called “race-baiting black leaders.” Williams’ letter refers to those who have raised questions and protest around police officers who have killed unarmed blacks across the country. Members of the group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, who have organized marches, teach-ins and other events protesting the deaths of citizens like John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others, sent their own letter addressed to Williams today asking for a full apology for his remarks.
“We call upon Mayor Williams to publicly retract these comments and issue an immediate public apology,” the letter says. “Locally and nationwide, Black people are under assault by the negligent policymakers, inequitable school systems, broken windows policing, disproportionate conviction, sentencing and incarceration, and overall limited access to resources that are designed to maintain a high quality of life. Drawing attention to these realities is not ‘race baiting’ and attempting to silence the critique of Black leaders is a form of derailment that we will not tolerate.”
The letter highlights a 2013 excessive use of force lawsuit brought against the Norwood Police Department that led to a misdemeanor assault conviction of involved officer Robert Ward, who subsequently resigned. It also highlights a 2014 Civil Rights lawsuit filed against the department by Maurice Snow, who alleges he was wrongfully imprisoned by police there in a case of mistaken identity. The activist group who wrote the letter is asking for an apology by Jan. 26.
• Northside is about to get another entertainment venue, along with a brewery. A group of local musicians and developers calling themselves Urban Artifact have put their heads together to create a concept for the old St. Pius X church on Blue Rock Street that will feature two performances spaces, a full-service brewery and other attractions. The brewery will start up next month, with a goal of being open by April. Another interesting detail: Live performances at the space will be recorded and streamed from the space’s website. Originally, Urban Artifact wanted to launch its model in Over-the-Rhine, but the building on Jackson Street it sought needed extensive renovations that would have precluded a quick opening.
• In-person head counts of students in Ohio charter schools done by the Ohio Board of Education often contrast sharply with those schools’ reported enrollment figures, the OBE announced earlier this week. Half of the 30 schools where auditors did surprise counts had head counts “significantly lower” than reported enrollments, the board said. The privately run schools receive taxpayer dollars on a per-student basis, raising questions about whether the schools are cheating taxpayers. Of the 30 schools counted, more than half had discrepancies greater than 10 percent. Some were off by as much as 50 percent. One school in Youngstown that was supposed to have 95 students had zero in attendance on the day a headcount was taken.
“I’m really kind of speechless of everything that I found. It’s quite a morass,” Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said during a news conference in Columbus this week. Yost stressed that the findings were by no means comprehensive and that further investigation was being carried out.
• Speaking of schools, a new study released last week shows that for the first time, more than half of U.S. public school students are considered low income. Fifty-one percent of students at public schools qualified for reduced price or free meals in 2013. That eligibility, based on household income, is used to determine how many students in a school are low-income. In 1989, fewer than 32 percent of students in public schools met those criteria. In 2000, that ratio had risen to 38 percent. The Southern Education Foundation produced the report using data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The report says the data marks a “turning point” for public schools and shows the trend is spread across the country. Mississippi had the highest concentration of poor students in public schools with 71 percent. Concentrations were highest generally in the South. Kentucky’s public schools had 55 percent low-income students; Ohio’s had 39 percent.
• Finally, let’s take it back to local news for a zany incident: The old cliché is that you can’t fight City Hall, but apparently you can drive a truck into it. William Jackson was upset about difficulties he has been having in selling his business Beverage King and decided to take his concerns to the city, piloting his extended cab pick up right into the steps of City Hall while his dog sat in the passenger seat. Jackson then demanded to see Mayor John Cranley, who is in D.C. this week meeting with federal officials. Both Jackson and the dog were unhurt, though first responders said Jackson may need psychiatric attention. Jackson faces misdemeanor inducing panic charges as well as the more-serious count of inducing lyrics to a country song.
As always, you can find me on Twitter or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both of those are also great for sending me news tips or pitches offering 1,000 Twitter followers for just $10.
Hey all! The luxurious CityBeat HQ is getting an update on its swank factor at the moment (read: we’re getting new carpet) so I’m hanging out around the house today eating cookies and checking out the news. Here’s what I’ve got:
We told you about the rumors last week, and now it’s official: Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is running for U.S. Senate. Sittenfeld is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Rob Portman in 2016. Portman’s looking for a second term and is gearing up with millions of dollars and an already established campaign machine to keep his seat. What’s more, Sittenfeld, 30, will need to navigate a primary season full of potential challengers, including former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland as well as U.S. Rep Tim Ryan and former Rep. Betty Sutton. But Sittenfeld thinks voters are ready for “a new generation of leaders” and says he’s the right guy for the job. Democrats think the seat may be vulnerable — Portman faces a likely primary challenge and has alienated some in his party by supporting same-sex marriage. They hope that increased voter turnout in the presidential election, which tends to skew Democratic, will put their candidate — perhaps Sittenfeld — over the top.
• Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams sent a recent letter to the city's police department blasting "race baiting black leaders and cowardly elected officials" and pledging seemingly unconditional support for the police force in the midst of racially charged questions around police use of force around the country after the police related deaths of unarmed black men and children such as Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice and others. Williams warns police in Norwood to be extra careful and stick together, telling them that, "God forbid, something controversial would happen, I WILL NOT ABANDON YOU." But what if something controversial happens because, god forbid, one of the officers messes up?
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ruled the death of Brandon Carl, the worker killed in the I-75 off-ramp collapse, a preventable workplace accident. But officials say they still aren’t confident about what caused the collapse and that an investigation could take six months. The collapse happened in three phases over the course of a few seconds. The middle of the overpass, which was being demolished, fell last, sending heavy construction equipment toppling onto Carl and killing him.
• Cincinnati is in the top 10 cities in the country for bedbugs yet again, but before you pack everything you own into black plastic garbage bags and burn it all, there’s hope. The city fell two spots on the list to number seven, behind Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Columbus and Dallas. We’ve also fallen behind Cleveland this year, which officially makes us the second least bed-buggy big city in Ohio behind Dayton. Congrats Cincy! I still feel really itchy now, just slightly less so than last year when I read about the list.
• What does House Speaker John Boehner do after a long day sitting in the House making that Grinch face while the president is speechifying? (Note: Microsoft Word didn’t underline “speechifying,” meaning it’s officially a real word.) He goes home and watches golf reruns. Boehner revealed this lifestyle tip, along with his reactions to Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union Address, in an interview with The Enquirer yesterday. He called many of Obama’s proposals, including the suggestion of two years of free community college education for some students, “ludicrous,” but did say he saw four areas where the GOP can work with the president. Those include fast tracking certain trade agreements with other countries, passing a new plan for funding the nation’s infrastructure, including highway funding, military intervention against terrorists and increasing the nation’s cybersecurity. Boehner also admitted he was a little rattled by the recent threat against his life by his old bartender, saying he would have never have ordered so many of those difficult-to-prepare mojitos if he knew the guy wanted to kill him and all.
• So I just want to alert you all to an upcoming holiday of sorts: Meat Week. It’s a national… err… thing… that happens every year from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1 where folks are encouraged (probably by some meat industry-related advocacy organization) to eat as much of the stuff as possible. It’s been going on since 2005, and one heroic soul in Cincinnati named Justin Tabas has taken it upon himself to organize a list of places from which to get said meat (mostly BBQ places like Eli’s and Walt’s). So yeah. Meet me at the meat places. Also, I apologize to all my wonderful vegetarian friends.
Hello all. I hope you’re not too hung over this morning from playing State of the Union Address drinking games, and that you found something worthwhile in the speech to either applaud or decry on social media for an adequate number of likes/retweets/whathaveyous. I’ll get back to the speech in a moment, but first let’s talk about what’s going on around Cincy.
Cincinnati City Council could vote tomorrow on a plan to consolidate the Cincinnati Police Department’s investigations units and court properties at a single location in the West End. Under the plan, the city would buy the former Kaplan College building at 801 Linn Street and move the units there from the building on Broadway the departments currently share with the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Officials say the move will save the city money — it currently pays well over half a million dollars a month for space in the Broadway building. It may also be the last straw, however, for plans to move city and county crime investigation operations to a centralized site at the former Mercy Hospital building in Mount Airy. Those plans were to include the county’s critically-outdated crime lab and hinge on county commissioners finding millions of dollars to retrofit that building.
• Southbound I-75 near Hopple Street is open again after the old Hopple Street off ramp collapsed Monday evening. The collapse killed a construction worker and injured a semi-truck driver, shutting down the highway all day yesterday. Experts believe improper demolition procedures caused the collapse, though the full cause is still under investigation.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was in court again today as prosecutors sought to retry her on eight felony charges connected to her time as judge. Hamilton County Judge Patrick Dinkelacker today set Hunter’s retrial on those counts for June 1. Hunter was accused of forging documents, misusing a court credit card and other alleged misconduct. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics. Hunter campaigned on a promise to reform the county’s juvenile justice system. Hunter was convicted last year on one felony count of having unlawful interest in a public contract. Hunter allegedly helped her brother, who was a juvenile court employee charged with striking an underage inmate, obtain documents illegally. Hunter has appealed that conviction, saying that some jurors changed their verdicts after the case was decided.
• Two iconic buildings in Cincinnati may be up for historic designation from the city. Council could vote tomorrow on designating as local landmarks the 1920s era Baldwin Piano Company Building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills and the Union Central Life Annex Building on Vine Street downtown. That building is a 1927 expansion to the iconic 4th and Vine Tower, often called PNC Tower, built in 1913. The Baldwin building was recently purchased by Neyer Properties, which is seeking state historic preservation tax credits as it moves toward developing luxury apartments in the building, an effort that historic designation could boost.
• Finally, about that State of the Union Address. It was long, 6,500 words long. And as State of the Union Addresses tend to do, it attracted a lot of think-pieces, moral outrage from the other side of the aisle and applause from fellow Democrats. It was also a great opportunity to see how much grey hair the commander in chief has accumulated since last year. But… what did the president actually say, beyond touting an improving economy and that moment where he bragged about winning two elections? And are any of his policy ideas remotely politically feasible with Republicans controlling both chambers of the legislative branch? Probably not. But here’s a handy list of all the policy proposals Obama put forward last night anyway.
Obama had already talked some about the big ones: a massive effort to extend two years of community college to American students, a move to require employers provide sick days and maternity leave for workers and another call to raise the minimum wage. Obama also touched ever-so-briefly on reforming the tax code to be friendlier to the middle class and tougher on corporations and financial institutions, preserving voting rights, demilitarizing the police and other hot-button issues. One particularly interesting proposal called for fast-tracking trade agreements with other countries through Congress, an idea that is unpopular with several progressive Democrats including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown shot back with a statement during the address comparing Obama’s idea to NAFTA, a controversial trade agreement with Mexico and Canada signed by President Bill Clinton that is often blamed for shipping American jobs to those countries. Brown suggested focusing on creating jobs in the U.S. first before rushing into more foreign trade agreements.
As I mentioned yesterday, Republicans began balking at the president’s suggestions well before the speech, and of course, shot back with plenty of rebuttals immediately afterward. The whole thing is a little like an argument between your family at Thanksgiving dinner while you sit at the kids table just trying to make it through to the pumpkin pie.
Welp, here’s the thing. You may well be reading this on your smartphone as you sit motionless in traffic on the interstate. And if that’s the case, you probably already know about what I’m going to say next. I offer my sympathies.
The big news this morning is that a large section of the old Hopple Street off ramp from I-75 collapsed last night. Tragically, a construction worker died after he was pinned under the rubble. A semi-truck driver was also injured when he collided with the fallen concrete on the highway. Crews had been preparing for the ramp’s demolition before the incident, which city officials are calling a “catastrophic pancake collapse." It’s unclear what caused the failure, but that didn’t stop some national news folks from jumping on Twitter and immediately calling it a sign that infrastructure spending is woefully inadequate. I mean, I agree, but you gotta realize they built a brand-new off ramp right up the highway. That’s little solace for those whose commute takes them down I-75 south. Officials say it could take up to 48 hours to clear the thousands of tons of concrete and metal from the highway. The section is closed until work is finished. So yeah, maybe take an alternate route. So glad I bike to work.
• Another Cincinnati neighborhood is getting a brewery. Nine Giant Brewery has announced plans to open in Pleasant Ridge’s central business district on the corner of Montgomery and Ridge Roads. The brewery is part of a larger planned development for the corner that aims to take advantage of the area’s Community Entertainment District designation, which it received in 2010. That designation allows for up to five new liquor licenses in the neighborhood.
• Oof. How do you steal from Big Boy? That guy is huge and terrifying.
Officials with Walnut-Hills based restaurant Frisch’s suspect one of the
company’s executives named Michael Hudson, a quiet guy who spent 35
years with the company working his way up through the accounting
department, stole millions from the company over the years.
Hudson told company attorneys he gambled that money away, though an
investigation is ongoing into whether Hudson has stashed some of it. Hudson abruptly shut off his computer and walked out of his job
after a routine audit discovered discrepancies in the company’s
financials pointing to his thefts. The company alleges Hudson reworked
payment software to kick him hundreds of thousands of extra dollars a
• Who knew Rep. John Boehner was a Taylor Swift fan? The House Speaker (or more precisely, his communications staff) has taken to using gifs of the pop star to snipe at President Barack Obama’s recently announced proposal that would provide two years of community college education to eligible Americans. Obama hasn’t released many details of the plan just yet, but is expected to soon. Swift… errr, Boehner… is up in arms about the plans’ costs (or is just trying really, really hard to be cool and connect with the young folks and convince them that free college is somehow not in their best interest). A caption under one of the gifs points to a counter-proposal of sorts, or at least five vague talking points about lowering taxes. Basically, this is just like when your uncle asked you if you like the new Miley Cirrus video at Christmas dinner.
• Tonight is President Obama’s State of the Union Address, and it’s sure to cause all kinds of cheers from Democrats about all the things he won’t be able to accomplish as a lame-duck president and jeers from Republicans who believe he is some kind of socialist bent on destroying the United States. In other words: grade-A television drama. Tune in and try to survive one of the following drinking games I've devised: take a shot every time Boehner rolls his eyes, or take one every time Obama mentions something he’d like to achieve that is completely politically impossible given the current makeup of the House and Senate. Fun!
Hello all! Happy Monday. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and there are a number of things going on around the city in commemoration of the civil rights leader, including a march from The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to Fountain Square at 10 a.m. and a ceremony at Music Hall at noon. This is the 40th year Cincinnati has celebrated MLK Day, so if you’re not stuck at work like I am, maybe head out and take part. More news:
Cincinnati’s City Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein retired Friday. Recently, Rubenstein has been the center of controversy around alleged prosecutorial overreach stemming from a case over the summer where a suspect was accused of stealing $200 worth of candy from a convenience store and putting it in his pants. A security camera was running at the time of the incident and the suspect’s public defender was able to get a copy of the tape. The prosecutor’s office, however, waited too long to request a copy and the store’s owner erased it. After the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office refused to release its copy, Rubenstein had a judge issue a warrant allowing him to search the entire public defender’s office, which of course was not well received. Head public defender Ray Faller fired off a letter to city officials in October accusing Rubenstein of violating the rights of accused suspects.
Councilman Charlie Winburn in October called for a Department of Justice investigation into Rubenstein’s actions. It’s unclear if Rubenstein’s sudden retirement has anything to do with the controversy. He had held the job, which prosecutes misdemeanors in the city, since 2011. He’d worked for the city since 1979. The city has named Assistant City Solicitor Heidi Rosales as interim prosecutor until a permanent replacement can be hired.
• Two of Cincinnati’s conservative congressmen are taking heat for supporting fellow local guy House Speaker John Boehner. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both among the most conservative members of the House, have been getting an earful from tea party-affiliated constituents about their support of Boehner during his re-election for House Speaker, the top perch in the chamber.
If you’re not familiar with this plot point in the ongoing soap opera that is Republican politics of late, a brief synopsis: The tea party hates Boehner because he hasn’t done enough to roll back federal spending, Obamacare and the liberal agenda in general. Whatever that is. Anyway, a few conservatives in the House signaled they were backing tea party affiliated challengers who lined up to oppose Boehner in the election for speaker, but mostly at the last minute. The gestures had little affect, and Boehner still won easily. Chabot and Wenstrup both point out it would have done little good to vote against their fellow Ohioan, and besides, they say, his challengers came too late and didn’t signal they were serious.
• The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear arguments about gay marriage bans in Ohio and other states this spring, lining up what could be a precedent-setting legal battle over Ohio’s ban. In November, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld those bans, though other circuit courts across the country have struck them down. That court’s logic was that any ban should be removed by democratic process, not by courts. Ohio voters approved a 2004 amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage, though some public opinion experts say mainstream values have changed since that time. Opponents of this logic liken marriage equality to past advances on civil rights issues which took federal intervention and court decisions to bring about.
• Will Ohio tap more private prison companies in response to a possible prison overcrowding crisis? It’s a possibility, state officials say. The number of prisoners in the state’s prison system has begun growing again. The state had been seeing declines due to changes in the way those convicted of some crimes are sentenced. Beginning in 2009, Ohio eliminated more than 2,000 spots for inmates across the state. But a recent increase in the prison-bound, especially non-violent drug offenders, will once again stretch the state’s capacity to hold prisoners.
Prison officials say the state either needs to find new ways to house those prisoners or commit to community-based programs that can mitigate the need to house people in state penitentiaries. But those programs can take time to work. In the meantime, the state is looking at ways it can house more inmates, potentially through contracts with private companies like Corrections Corporation of America, which runs a private prison in Youngstown and elsewhere in the state. Audits have found the company does not always comply with state standards. The company also has a rocky history. CCA’s Youngstown prison shut down for a few years after a number of inmate deaths and injuries focused scrutiny on the facility. Efforts to meet state standards at the prison proved too costly, and it was shuttered. It reopened a few years later as a temporary prison for those awaiting federal trials.
• Speaking of Ohio and Republicans, here's just what we need: more national Republicans in our fair state. The GOP announced this weekend that it will hold its first debate between candidates for the party’s presidential nomination in the heart of it all. The debate will take place in August. No specific location has been set yet, but the announcement is yet another sign that Ohio will be a huge focus for the 2016 presidential election. The GOP is holding the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Democrats are mulling putting theirs in Columbus and the NAACP will hold its 2016 convention in Cincinnati.
• Finally, I saw the headline for this story from the Associated Press and thought “I wonder if that’s in Ohio.” My suspicions were confirmed. Turns out that back in December, a couple folks tried to smuggle heroin into the Hamilton County Justice Center via a bible. What kind of joke can I make about this that won’t be horribly offensive? Just going to leave it right there and walk away.
Heya! I’m gearing up to spend a couple days in Chicago, so no morning news tomorrow. However, I’m leaving ya with a bunch of crazy stuff today, so check it out.
First, something’s in the air here in Cincinnati lately. Yesterday I told you about Michael Hoyt, the West Chester bartender who threatened to kill House Speaker John Boehner, possibly during a bout of mental illness. Today, we learn about Chris Cornell. No, not the long haired, goateed grunge singer. Different guy. Christopher Lee Cornell was arrested yesterday morning after buying two semi-automatic weapons from a gun shop in Colerain Township. Cornell had been on the Internet for months talking about a violent Jihad, it seems, and had even met up with a person who turned out to be a government informant a couple times here in Cincinnati. The plan Cornell reportedly hatched involved pipe bombs and a shooting spree at the U.S. Capitol building. When he and the informant made concrete travel plans for D.C., the FBI swooped in. Here’s the criminal complaint filed against Cornell in federal district court.
• The tangled, confusing fight over renovations to Over-the-Rhine’s Emery Theater continues as nonprofit group the Requiem Project sues the University of Cincinnati over the historic venue. Let’s recap, in the simplest way possible. Since 1969, the University of Cincinnati has owned a historic, 1911 building on Central Parkway that was once home to the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute but now houses downtown’s Coffee Emporium location as well as some luxury apartments. Know the building? Of course you do. I see everyone and their mom at Coffee Emporium. Anyway, in 1999, UC signed a 40-year, $40 lease with a for-profit group called the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership that allowed ECALP to renovate the building for use as 59 market-rate apartments. Still with me? Good. That group then spun the theater portion of the building over to the Emery Center Corporation, a non-profit charged specifically with renovating the theater. THAT group, ECC, in Sept. 2010 entered into a partnership with the Requiem Project, which was started by Tara Lindsey Gordon and Tina Manchise, who moved from New York to undertake the project. Flash forward a few years, and after some 35 fundraisers and some renovation, the Requiem Project was locked out of the building in August 2013. They were told UC would have to sign off on their contract with ECC, something that was not originally revealed to the nonprofit. A move by UC to sell the building to ECALP never materialized, and now Requiem is suing all parties involved for the rights to continue renovating, as well as $25,000 in damages. Phew.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will be in court again over the eight felony counts an earlier jury couldn’t agree upon last year. Hunter was convicted on a ninth count, having an unlawful interest in a public contract, but she has appealed that conviction and her six-month sentence has been suspended until that appeal goes through. The other eight counts that prosecutors will again try Hunter on involve misusing a court-issued credit card, tampering with court documents and other alleged misdeeds. Hunter and her attorney say she is a victim of politics and did not do anything wrong in her courtroom. The case has been incredibly controversial in Cincinnati. Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black and first female judge, and she came into office promising to reform the county’s juvenile justice system, which she says is racially biased. As Hunter's trial goes on, others have made similar accusations about the county. Recently, the Northern Kentucky-based Children’s Law Center sued the county over its treatment of juveniles. The Center alleges racial bias in the county’s juvenile justice system, including incidents where young people of color have been held without charge for weeks at a time.
• Good news for cigar aficionados, and an interesting moment in history for everyone: The United States has formally announced it is easing travel restrictions for folks wanting to go to Cuba. Many U.S. visitors will no longer need to apply for a special license from the Treasury to visit the island nation, will be allowed to use credit and debit cards, will not have restrictions on how much money they spend on the island, and will be allowed to bring back up to $400 in stuff, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products. There are a number of other rules that have been loosened or done away with as well. The move is the government’s first practical step since President Barack Obama announced he was seeking to repair relations with the communist country, which the U.S. has embargoed since the 1950s. The important question is, will those cigars taste as good now that they’re not forbidden?
• Finally, say you’ve just been elected president. You’re about to be sworn in and start serving your four years at the most stressful but also most prestigious job in the world, and you just want to take some time, kick back and savor the moment. What’s an appropriate victory meal? If it’s this day in 1909 and you’re then President-elect William Howard Taft (the notorious WHT) visiting Atlanta, you sit down to a huge possum feast. Taft’s a giant in this town and his historic home is right down the road from my historic home (one of the two is a museum; you can probably guess which). I had no idea about this. Possum: for the good times.
Cincinnati City Council today changed a rule that stipulates which public employees must live within city limits. The move effectively exempts embattled Director of Water and Sewers Tony Parrott from having to move to the city after he was punished in June for misleading officials about his residency.
Under the new rules, only the city manager, assistant city manager, city solicitor and police chief will need to live in the city. The 6-2 decision came with some argument, however. Councilmen Kevin Flynn and Wendell Young voted against the rule change. Flynn said he felt it wasn’t fair to make concessions for someone who deliberately misled the city. Young had broader qualms with the change, saying he thinks all high-level city administration employees should have to live in the city from which they get their taxpayer-funded salaries.
“I have great difficulty with people who are in the higher part of the administration who help to create the rules and in many cases enforce the rules, and then are not subject to them,” Young said. “I don’t understand how the city of Cincinnati is good enough to work in, good enough to provide your income, but isn’t good enough to live in.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn, however, said the situation was actually the city’s fault. In 2012, the city-run sewer district merged with the water works department, which serves both the city as well as most of Hamilton County and parts of Butler and Warren Counties. Winburn says the residency requirements for Parrott’s job should have been updated at that time, since it is now effectively an agency that serves the greater region.
“Are we going to split Mr. Parrott in two now?” Winburn asked. “Do we have to get Solomon in on this thing?”
Other council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, voted for the change on legal grounds. Ohio law forbids residency requirements for some city employees, and there are questions about whether the city’s former rules complied with those laws. City solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said she believes council’s change today falls within the state’s laws.
Parrot, who has served as head of the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works, had listed his residence as a property on Westwood Avenue that turned out to be an empty lot he owned. Meanwhile, he was actually living in Butler County. City officials found out about the discrepancy in June and disciplined Parrott by docking him 40 hours of pay and requiring him to move into the city within 180 days. That time had elapsed and Parrott still hadn’t moved back. Parrott was granted a 45-day extension at the end of the six-month period as the city decided whether to fire him or change its rules.
Wound up in the questions about Parrott’s residency is the city’s court-ordered, $3.2 billion sewer project, a huge undertaking that will stretch into the next decade. The city was ordered to update its sewer system after a lawsuit by homeowners and environmental groups. Some council members say Parrott is integral to that ongoing process. Others, however, say that doesn’t excuse his actions.
“I understand the desire to keep this person in place,” Flynn said, acknowledging Parrott’s big role. “But I cannot support keeping someone who has been dishonest with the city and has continued to be dishonest with the city. I think that does a disservice to the rest of our city employees and to our citizens.”
Parrott has told City Manager Harry Black that he doesn’t want to live in the city for personal reasons but does want to remain at his job.