This news this morning is all (well, mostly) about politics, so put your civics hat on.
Former Procter and Gamble executive and prospective head of the Department of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald has quickly gone from wrangling over local sales taxes as head of the Cultural Facilities Task Force here in Cincinnati to meeting with senators in Washington. McDonald, who is President Obama’s nominee to lead the troubled VA, is making the rounds in the nation’s capital this week on a series of informal get-togethers with senators, who will vote on his confirmation soon. He’ll also be boning up on his knowledge of the VA and its current challenges.
Confirmation hearings for Obama’s nominees have been tough the past couple years, and with the high-level controversy swirling around the VA lately, McDonald could face a bumpy ride. High wait time for patients, patient fatalities and record-keeping scandals have clouded the agency’s image. McDonald will have to convince 14 senators on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that his corporate experience with P&G has equipped him to address these issues quickly and steer the VA back onto the right course. He’ll make his case at a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
• Now time for a quick break from the political: New music venues seem to
be popping up all over lately. The latest is in Clifton, where the
owners of Olives restaurant have announced they’re closing July 20 and
preparing to turn their space on Ludlow Avenue into a live music
destination. The restaurant is located in the historic Ludlow Garage,
which was run by Jim Tarbell and hosted national acts in the 1970s. The new venue will open in November, booking local and national acts. No word yet on what kinds of music are in store there.
• Now back to politics. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced yesterday that 16 of Ohio’s May 6 primary races around the state were decided by a single vote. That makes 63 races in a year’s time that have been decided by the slimmest of margins.
“This underscores the importance of election access and integrity,” Husted said, “and why it is so important to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
It’s funny that Husted would talk about making it easy to vote, given that the he and the Ohio GOP have moved time and again to restrict early voting hours around the state. These attempts include a swipe at Sunday voting directly before election day, a day with heavy turnout from African-American communities across the state. Courts later ordered Sunday voting restored.
• Democratic candidate for attorney general David Pepper has slammed his opponent, current Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, over a number of issues recently. These include DeWine’s lack of response to the state’s heroin addiction epidemic and the fact that DeWine drafted a brief in support of Hobby Lobby in its recent Supreme Court case. Now he’s blasting DeWine over Ohio’s lag in testing rape kits, which are samples collected when a rape is reported. Those samples can help identify the rapist — one in three kits results in a match with someone in Ohio’s DNA database. The problem is, Ohio has a backlog of more than 4,000 rape kits waiting to be tested, some more than 20 years old. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation can test about 300 of the kits in a month. That’s not fast enough, Pepper says, attributing it to DeWine’s mismanagement. He proposes sending the kits to other regional labs for testing, speeding up the process and hopefully catching more rapists.
“At the current rate, this will take four to five years,” Pepper says. “To me, that’s just not good enough.”
DeWine says he didn’t create the backlog and in fact requested the extra kits from local law enforcement agencies, which often had them locked away for years in evidence rooms, so they could eventually be tested. He says sending the kits to other labs is a bad idea and that the state’s lab has developed unique expertise necessary to test them.
• Well, shoot. The Associated Press announced recently that it plans to start publishing articles written by robots. The stories will mostly be business stories summarizing earnings reports, though AP has also been using robots for some sports reporting. It’s not an unprecedented move — The Los Angels Times and other publications have employed robots to write immediate reports on earthquakes, crime and other subjects where highly formulaic reports are required. The AP estimates that it will be able to produce more than 4,000 articles a quarter this way — a huge leap above the 300 it now produces.
No worries, though. This morning news roundup wasn't written by a robot. Or was it?
Long weekends mean lots of news. Let's get caught up.
Another incident involving pitbulls this weekend has some in Cincinnati calling for the city to reintroduce a ban on the breed. Over the weekend, a pitbull attacked a Jack Russell Terrier in East Price Hill, which has led its owner and others to demand action. The controversy around the dogs flared up in June when 6-year-old Zainabou Drame was severely injured by two pits in Westwood.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman has said he’s working on ways to address the issue in the Law and Public Safety Committee he chairs. He has yet to decide 100 percent what the right course of action is to address the problem, he says, but seems to believe that an outright ban wouldn’t work. He voted to repeal a ban the city once had. Smitherman has said he believes the problem is with irresponsible owners, not just the breed itself.
• Here’s some great news — work began today on protected bike lanes on Central Parkway. The first phase of the protected lane will stretch from Elm Street north to Marshall Street. Construction happening now includes striping the new bike-only lanes, putting up new signage, building new bus stops that keep buses and bikes separate and eventually installing plastic poles between the bike lanes and the rest of the road.
• Local anti-tax group COAST has raised opposition to Hamilton County Commissioners’ proposed plans to raise either sales or property taxes to help pay for renovations to Music Hall and Union Terminal. The group says the city, not the county, owns the buildings and that it’s unfair for the city to ask county taxpayers to foot the bill for their renovations. COAST supports an alternate idea floated by Commissioner Todd Portune that would raise the money by charging a tax on tickets to events held at the buildings. The group opposes putting the tax increase measure on the ballot so that, you know, the majority of taxpayers could decide for themselves the best way to go about paying for the buildings. At least two of the three county commissioners must approve the tax plan by Aug. 6 for it to go on the ballot.
• Filming begins today here in town for Miles Ahead, a film exploring Miles Davis’ reclusive period in the 1970s. Don Cheadle is directing the project, as well as starring as Davis. He chose Cincinnati because it has the architecture and vibe of 1950s and '60s-era Manhattan, which the film flashes back to periodically. Cheadle also cites Ohio tax credits, the city’s film support network and the fact that “this town is a music town,” he told The Enquirer.
• Construction began last week on five single-family townhomes in the Pendleton district of Over-the-Rhine. It’s part of a plan to bring suburban-style housing to OTR and the urban core, according to developer Edward Wright of Wright Design. Each of the five houses will have three bedrooms and a two-car garage. Four of the homes are new builds and one is a renovation. All are LEED certified. Five more are planned nearby in the next year.
• Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul continues to position himself for a 2016 presidential run. As he does so, he’s reaching out to minority voters and becoming more and more blunt about what he sees as the GOP’s big problem. Last week, he put it in the starkest terms yet.
“If we’re going to be the white party, we’re going to be the losing party,” he said July 2 at a ceremony in Kentucky honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Paul has made trips to low-income, predominantly minority communities in Kentucky and other states. But Paul has problems of his own to overcome, including past statements expressing doubt about some elements of the Civil Rights Act and the fact that both he and his father have some racially tinged baggage. Rand will be in Cincinnati July 25 speaking at the National Urban League conference.
It's almost the 4th of July, and what's more American than protests, historic music venues, under-funding education and weird robot selfies? That's what's on tap for the morning news today.
A Hamilton County judge ruled yesterday that nine Greenpeace protesters who hung huge banners from Procter and Gamble headquarters in March are still on the hook for burglary charges.
Lawyers for the group argued that no other laws were broken when the group trespassed on P&G property to protest the company’s use of palm oil. Felony burglary charges require more than just trespassing, but prosecutors say the group also damaged windows and could also be charged with criminal mischief or disorderly conduct. The distinction matters because trespassing is a minor charge, while the burglary counts carry penalties of up to eight years in prison.
The group was let into the building after one of the protesters posed as a business person. Once inside, they hung the banners from cables that prosecutors say caused damage. The Greenpeace members have said they didn’t damage anything. The group was protesting palm oil because its harvest is destructive to rain forest habitats that are home to many endangered animals, including tigers, which were featured prominently on the banners.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 21.
• Over-the-Rhine will get a big music venue and a historic building will be rehabbed at the same time. A project to redevelop OTR’s Woodward Theater is progressing with fresh financing. The owners of MOTR Pub, which is right across Main Street, purchased the theater last year. The plan has been to fix up the building, built in 1913, and turn it into a 600-capacity music venue for bands that draw a bigger crowd than MOTR can handle.
MOTR’s owners announced yesterday that they’ve secured the necessary $1.25 million in financing for the project from two nonprofit lenders. Building plans and permits have already been approved, and work will start soon to renovate the structure, which will include adding bars and a large stage. In the past, the building has been a theater (obviously), a Kroger store and an antique shop.
• Tomorrow when you’re lighting up some explosives and celebrating our founding fathers’ infinite wisdom, think about this: Cincinnati is No. 3 on the list of top places to celebrate the 4th of July. A ranking touted by Parade Magazine and originally put together by finance website WalletHub (sounds totally legit) put the city above Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and other quintessentially American cities. We came in just under Richmond, Virginia and Irvine, California, both of which clearly cheated. The rankings take into account 14 different factors including legality of fireworks, weather, average drink prices, the number of tri-cornered hats per capita and the statistical chance a bald eagle will land on your head while holding roman candles in its talons and screeching the "The Star Spangled Banner." Err, not so much the last two, but I would like to see the data on those. Cincinnati fared especially well in the “most swimming pools per capita” category (we ranked second) and the “most outdoor attractions” category (we ranked third). The worst place to celebrate the fourth? Corpus Christie, Texas. Seems about right.
• Let’s play good news/bad news. The state of Ohio is running a surplus this year, but most of it is already spoken for. The state is $800 million in the black, about 3 percent of Ohio’s total budget. But the majority of that extra money is going to tax cuts and a Medicare savings fund. About $76 million will go to low-income tax credits, $91 million to more general income tax reductions and about $229 million to tax breaks for businesses. The rest gets stashed away for next fiscal year, which starts today. Meanwhile, spending on education and other vital services remains flat, a point Democrats are highlighting as they look to unseat Gov. John Kasich in November.
• Finally, Google recently unleashed its street view cameras to take pictures of the insides of more than 200 museums across the country, including Union Terminal. A strange, postmodern byproduct of this effort is that sometimes these cameras come across mirrors inside the museums and end up taking weird robot selfies. The future is now, and I really don’t know how to feel about it. Questions: Are these robots on Instagram, and how long until Kim Kardashian and Kanye photobomb one of these shots?
Here at the morning news desk (which is really just my desk, only in the morning), we usually lead off with some local news. But the big story of the moment comes from across the river.
Kentucky's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled yesterday. The judge struck down Kentucky’s amendment to its state constitution banning same-sex marriages, though he is holding implementation of his ruling until after hearings here in Cincinnati next month. The next showdown over gay marriage in the region comes Aug. 6, when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals downtown will hear cases from Ohio, Kentucky and other states about same-sex marriage bans.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pitching user fees for events at Music Hall and the Cincinnati Museum Center as a way to raise funds to renovate the historic buildings. He floated the idea in a letter yesterday, where he also indicated he’s not sold on the idea of a sales tax hike to pay for the renovation projects. Portune said he’s not a flat no on the tax hike but that it will be a tough sell for him without some kind of ticket price increase. The buildings need more than $300 million in repairs.
An Indianapolis-based developer working on rehab projects for three iconic historic buildings in Cincinnati is making progress. Core Redevelopment LLC is redeveloping the former School for Creative and Performing Arts building in Pendleton, the Crosley building in Camp Washington and the old Windsor Elementary School in Walnut Hills. The group was just awarded tax credits on the Windsor project, which will contain 44 units of housing. CEO John Watson indicated that he thinks Walnut Hills is on the verge of a “full scale redevelopment” as a neighborhood. The SCPA project is expected to break ground in September and will be home to 142 units. Finally, the group will develop 238 units in the looming white Crosley building, which was built in the 1920s by the Crosley company as a factory for radios and other items. All three projects will be market rate housing. The group expects the 800-square-foot, one bedroom units at the Windsor building will run a little over $800 a month.
The city of Middletown is officially dissolving its housing authority after complaints it tried to kick people off Section 8 rolls. The Middletown Public Housing Authority voted unanimously to dissolve itself yesterday. MPHA will shut down by September, turning over 1,662 Section 8 vouchers to Butler and Warren Counties.
Miami University of Ohio is the most expensive public university in the country, a new study finds, and Ohio’s other public universities are also among the priciest. Miami rings up at a net cost of $24,000 a year after financial aid is considered. As an alum, this makes me wonder if the resale value of their degrees is higher, too. I have one recent-model English/Poli Sci double if any one’s interested… rarely used, buyer takes over payments.
It’s not every day you see your state’s Democratic senator take a selfie with your ultra conservative, Republican governor. But Sen. Sherrod Brown and Gov. John Kasich apparently got cozy for the camera yesterday at The Banks while celebrating the new GE deal. Cincinnati, bringing people together.
Finally, scientists are working on breeding bald chickens that can withstand the increased heat caused by climate change in regions near the equator. That's... terrifying. I imagine they'll be able to do it, though, since they've already been able to genetically engineer the spicy and extra crispy varieties.
A federal judge today ruled Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. But same-sex couples in the state can’t get marriage licenses just yet.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that a 2004 amendment to Kentucky's state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law found in the U.S. constitution.
It's another sign that the tide may be turning in the region. The decision comes as a similar ban looks to be in serious legal trouble in Indiana, and just before an August federal court date that will decide
questions surrounding the issue in Ohio and other states. Since February last year, federal courts have upheld the right to marry for same-sex couples 19 times.
The decision came in response to a challenge to Kentucky’s ban by two same-sex couples. Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James were denied a marriage license on Jan. 2013. They were charged with trespassing after refusing to leave the Jefferson County Clerk’s office after being turned down for their license. A jury eventually found them guilty, though the two were fined only $1. The two other plaintiffs in the case, Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, applied for a license in February 2013. The two have lived together for 34 years.
The plaintiffs and other same-sex couples looking to marry will have to wait a little longer, though. Heyburn has delayed implementation of his decision until after Aug. 6, when a higher court, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will hear several gay marriage cases from Kentucky, Ohio and two other states. Those cases will be heard in Cincinnati.
Heyburn, who in February also ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, rejected Kentucky’s reasons for its ban. Lawyers hired by the Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear argued that traditional marriage helps ensure economic stability and a favorable birth rate in the state. The state’s Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend the law on behalf of the state.
“These arguments are not those of serious people,” Heyburn said in his decision. He said there is “no conceivable, legitimate purpose” for the ban, which keeps same-sex couples in the state from enjoying the economic, social and emotional benefits of marriage. These include tax benefits, the ability to share insurance, the ability to adopt children as a couple and other rights.
The ruling continues a wave of recent decisions by federal courts upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples. But there’s still uncertainty even as the tide shifts. Most recently, on June 25, a judge struck down Indiana’s ban, allowing same-sex couples to immediately apply for marriage licenses. That decision was overturned a few days later on appeal, and couples who married in the three-day window are now waiting for a final decision to see if their marriages are valid in the state’s eyes. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
Phew. It's only Tuesday and this week is already shaping up to be super intense. Let's get into it.
One of the Cincinnati area’s two abortion clinics must close, a Hamilton County magistrate said yesterday, though his official ruling on the matter will come July 10.
Magistrate Michael Bachman’s decision is the next step in a long legal process that began in January, when the Ohio Board of Health ordered Women’s Med clinic in Sharonville to close because it did not comply with an Ohio law requiring all outpatient abortion clinics to have the ability to transfer patients to local hospitals. A 2013 Ohio law made complying with that rule more difficult by prohibiting tax-funded public hospitals from entering into such transfer agreements.
The clinic appealed the decision, asking for a waiver to the rule. That initial request was denied, and as the clinic continues its appeals, a Hamilton County judge ruled it could stay open. Bachman’s ruling, which must be approved by the original judge, would overturn that temporary reprieve. The area’s other clinic is a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn called the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center. If both shut down, Cincinnati will be the largest metropolitan area in the country without access to a local abortion clinic, The Enquirer reports.
• Speaking of questionable decisions regarding women’s health, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine led a group of 19 other Republican AGs who filed a brief supporting Hobby Lobby before the Supreme Court ruled on the recent contraceptive case. The brief likely had little bearing on the final outcome and was more a political gesture from DeWine and others who are dead set against President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The ACA is at the center of the Hobby Lobby case, which involved the company’s refusal to cover under its health insurance plan certain birth control devices it believes cause abortions. Scientists disagree with that assertion, but the court went with Hobby Lobby in a 5 to 4 decision yesterday.
DeWine’s opponent for attorney general, Democrat David Pepper, questioned whether the AG should have been filed the brief on Ohio taxpayers’ dime.
“Hobby Lobby has its own attorneys,” Pepper said. “They’re good lawyers, some of the best in the country. Let Hobby Lobby make its own arguments.”
* Some of Ohio’s heavy hitters are in town today to celebrate Cincinnati’s new agreement with General Electric. Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Brad Wenstrup and a number of other political and business leaders are set to attend a special ceremony celebrating the deal downtown today. GE’s new site is expected to bring about 2,000 jobs to The Banks when it’s all up and running.
• Also going on downtown today, possibly: I saw a tweet floating around saying that the world’s longest Bierwurst, a 250-foot-long beer-flavored sausage, will be served at Fountain Square at 11:30 am. I haven't been able to confirm that, but you can bet I'll be there to investigate this mysterious meat monstrosity.
• A study by State Impact Ohio shows that the tax burden paying for Ohio’s schools has shifted in the past two decades. The business community is paying less and individual homeowners and other small landowners are paying more, according to the study. Individuals paid 46 percent of school taxes in 1991 and now pay 70 percent due to changes in the way businesses are taxed. Ohio schools get much of their operating money from these property taxes.
• This month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was passed July 2 that year. Here’s an in-depth look at how the law came to be and a pretty depressing take on why it probably wouldn’t pass in today’s Congress.
The big news this morning is that President Obama will reportedly tap one of Cincinnati’s most prominent business leaders to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been mired in some pretty hefty troubles lately.
Obama is expected to nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald for the post. McDonald has a long military history — he’s a West Point grad and former Army Ranger — as well as having a lot of leadership experience with large, complex organizations. He became just the twelfth CEO at P&G in 2009 and left last year. He’s also the leader of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which has been working to find ways to preserve both Union Terminal and Music Hall.
Despite his impressive resume, McDonald has his work cut out for him. The VA has recently faced a number of charges of mismanagement stemming from botched record keeping and long wait times for care, which critics say have resulted in the deaths of patients.
• In what has to be the biggest national news of the day, the Supreme Court ruled that employers can refuse to offer birth control as part of their insurance packages for religious reasons. The case involves the Hobby Lobby corporation, which refuses to offer contraceptives due to the Christian beliefs of the corporation’s founders. Some polls show that many Americans believe corporations shouldn't be allowed to decide what kinds of items are offered via health insurance, though pro-life groups are applauding the ruling.
The decision split the court 5 to 4, with all five in the majority men. If you're completely befuddled and saddened by the ruling, take heart from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissenting opinion, which truly breathes hot fire. In it, she points out that some forms of contraception can cost a month's wages for minimum wage employees, that the court's ruling opens up a huge grey area about what can and can't be decided by corporations in terms of health care. She also warns that the court has "ventured into a minefield."
• I ride a bike to work so I don’t have to deal with traffic and roads being closed and whatnot. This usually works out great and I get to zip past all the chumps sitting in their idling cars. (Sorry if you drive to work. You’re not really a chump. I just hate driving and am really impatient in the mornings.) Except today. Twelfth and Race is shut down for streetcar work, throwing a serious obstacle in the route I and a lot of other people take. It’s going to be closed for the next six weeks. Also closed for the short-term: 12th and Clay, but that should be back in action Wednesday. Let’s just keep reminding ourselves that this is a sign that progress is happening, and that it’s a good thing. In the meantime, I need to figure out how to build that zip line I’ve been planning from my house to CityBeat’s office.
• The Enquirer today has a piece about “boomerang” residents — folks who move away to big metropolises but come back to the Queen City. As one of those folks myself, I feel fairly certain most people move back for the same reasons I did: easy access to Skyline and Putz’s blue soft serve ice cream. Mystery solved.
• An area man is about to go on trial. In North Korea. Jeffery Edward Fowle of Miamisburg visited the isolated totalitarian country in April and has been detained ever since for “hostile acts” against the state. Rumor has it he made disparaging remarks about North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un’s best friend Dennis Rodman and his rebounding skills.
• The Ohio State University welcomes its new president today. Michael Drake will be the school’s 15th head and the first African American to take the post. Drake was previously chancellor of University of California Irvine.
• ISIS, the brutal insurgent group of militants who have taken over a large swath of Iraq and some of Syria, have declared themselves a religious state governing the territory they’ve captured. That declaration is a challenge to the U.S.-supported Iraqi government's sovereignty and a new level of trouble for the already chaotic country. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is making moves to take back some ground they’ve lost to ISIS, and Iran has pledged to fight the group as well, suggesting no end on the horizon for the bloody conflict.
* Finally, Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar has been dead for two decades, but Smithsonian reports his legacy lives on in the form of the country's hippo infestation. That's gangster.
So I'm a bit late with news this morning, or the morning was a bit early, one of those. It probably has something to do with CityBeat winning six Cincinnati SPJ awards last night. Though I wasn't part of the team in 2013 when those awards were earned, I did my part by putting in extra hours celebrating.
Anyway, enough about us. Here's what's going on in the world.
Cincinnati’s startup community got some love yesterday when America Online cofounder Steve Case rolled into town with his Rise of the Rest tour, which celebrates entrepreneurs in American cities. Case praised Cincinnati’s progress in bringing vitality back to its downtown area and credited that renaissance at least in part to the city’s startups and young entrepreneurs.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzger, who is riding shotgun on the tour, also praised the Queen City for the level of access startups have to the large corporations in town. She said what the city needs now is a big hit — a startup that really makes it big and shows the world that Cincinnati is a great place to start a business.
Mayor John Cranley was in the mix as well, touting Cincinnati’s strengths as a marketing town. He called the city “the best place in the world” for marketing entrepreneurs. While that’s kind of like your parents talking about how awesome you are to their work colleagues (of course he’s going to say that), Cranley’s point holds some weight — with so many big companies in town needing all sorts of fresh ideas, it can’t hurt to be living at their doorstep if you’re hoping to do some business with them.
One Cincinnati startup, called Frameri, got $100,000 from Case and an invitation to pitch their business in Washington, D.C. Frameri, which makes high-style glasses with interchangeable frames and lenses, beat out seven other local businesses in a pitch competition. The company is an alum of OTR’s business incubator The Brandery. No word from Case yet on my business idea, which involves a food delivery service that launches burritos from those pneumatic tubes you see in old bank building drive-thrus. Still waiting for that call, Steve…
• In other downtown news, Kroger is adjusting its ideas about starting a grocery store in the Central Business District. The Business Courier reports that Kroger CEO Roger McMullen discussed the chain’s plans for a downtown store at yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting, revealing that less may be more in the company’s eyes. Kroger had been mulling a full-size store here but is now considering something smaller and more specialized.
• Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and other Democrats held an event this morning near UC criticizing Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature for the low level of funding for higher education in the state. Democrats also gathered in Columbus to protest dwindling education spending, which they say make college unaffordable for many Ohio families. One talking point — Ohio’s budget spends less than 10 percent on higher education for the first time in four decades. Gov. Kasich has acknowledged that college affordability is a problem but says schools need to do more to cut costs and make sure degrees lead to good-paying jobs.
• The Associated Press reports that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is having a difficult time documenting how it goes about choosing law firms for special assignments. DeWine says there’s a rigorous process used to vet firms and decide who gets the lucrative state contracts, but public records request by AP found… nothing. It’s entirely possible that the AG’s dog ate the records or that maybe DeWine just keeps all that info in his head. The revelation comes as allegations are being made that these kinds of contracts are often awarded to firms who donate to the state Republican party. DeWine’s opponent for the AG post, Cincinnati-based lawyer David Pepper, has said DeWine’s office is engaged in a “pay to play” arrangement. DeWine, however, says his office’s choices are transparent and fair.
• A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that political polarization, which is at an all-time high, contributes to income inequality. This is kind of like a two-for-one in the “hot political topics” world. The study doesn’t go so far as to nail down why the gap between America’s political ideologies tracks so closely with the gap in rich and poor Americans’ incomes, but it does make a couple guesses, which are worth reading about. Basically, it may have to do with the country’s rightward shift toward policies that tend to benefit more wealthy citizens. Or heck, maybe it’s just a big crazy coincidence and the tea party really will make everything great for everyone if we only embrace their Mad-Max style dreams for a government-less future. Could be.
A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.
A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.
About 100 activists showed up, holding signs and chanting as shareholders filed into the meeting at Music Hall. Some were local, while others came from Columbus, Florida and elsewhere.
The group organizing the event, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is based in Immokalee, Fla., and pushes for higher wages and improved working conditions for farm laborers. A large amount of produce production takes place in Florida and throughout the South, and the industry is rife with complaints of worker exploitation and mistreatment.
Hundreds of thousands of farm workers labor in Florida, and many make just pennies per pound picked, meaning it can take picking a couple tons a day to make a living wage. That’s if they make any money at all. Florida has prosecuted a number of cases of slave labor in the agricultural industry in the past decade and a half, leading to the discovery of more than 1,000 people being exploited for unpaid slave labor.
The adverse conditions affect people of color disproportionately. A study by the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that 50 percent of low-wage workers in the food industry are people of color, and that 65 percent of low-wage farm workers are Hispanic.
CIW started in 1993 as a small, local coalition working to improve these conditions, specifically working with tomato pickers. The group began near the city of Immokalee in southwest Florida, known as “the tomato capital of the world.” The organization had big success pushing for higher wages and better treatment and has grown to become a national-level organizing group for workers.
Oscar Otzoy picks produce and advocates for farm labor rights. He’s working in Columbus now but lived in Immokalee for eight years before that. He's been involved in the coalition to improve farm workers’ rights that entire time.
He says before the coalition, working days in the fields were long, and workers had little recourse when they were mistreated.
“Back then, you’d work long, hard hours, and if you were abused in the fields, if you were a victim of sexual harassment, as many women are, there was no system,” he said. “If workers wanted to complain, they would be fired on the spot. That’s all changing now.”
Otzoy says the life of a farm laborer can be hard, especially without groups like the CIW.
“You wake up very early in the morning, usually about 4 a.m., and then get on a bus to the field to work,” said Otzoy, describing a typical day before he joined the coalition. “But when you get there, you usually don’t start working until about 10 a.m., when the pesticides have dried and it’s safe to enter. All the time in between is unpaid.”
The CIW’s Fair Food Program, an effort to address some of the hardships of work in the produce industry, pushes for an extra cent per pound paid to workers, supports a code of conduct for companies and educates workers about their rights. CIW says the Fair Food Program has resulted in $12 million in extra pay for workers since it was first instituted.
McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Chipotle, Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Wal Mart, among other large companies responsible for billions of dollars in the produce trade, have all participated in the Fair Food Program. Some staunch holdouts include Wendy’s and Publix, a Southern grocery store chain.
Kroger is another company that has yet to join in.
“We’ve been here every year, and we’re trying to grow our numbers,” said Sameerah Ahmad, a local organizer working with CIW at the protest. “We’ve been organizing these protests for a few years. We want to show escalation and pressure and show we’re not going way.
Kroger is the nation’s largest grocer after Wal-Mart, with total sales of more than $34 billion. The chain has not yet responded to calls to join fair food efforts. While the company itself hasn’t participated directly in any known agricultural injustices, Ahmad said that as part of the produce industry, the company should make sure it’s sourcing its food ethically.
“Kroger can take a big step by supporting workers’ rights in the fields,” she said.
Alright, it’s pretty early in the morning for me, so please forgive me for the following hokey, news-related metaphor.
Cincinnati City Council is about to go on summer vacation, but they’ve spent the past few days doing all their homework, including at least one pretty tough math problem. Yesterday they turned their work in, giving final approval for deals that will bring more than 4,000 jobs to the city. These include an eventual 600 new jobs from Cincinnati Bell, which is consolidating its operations downtown, and another 650 new jobs from Catholic Health Partners, which is moving to Bond Hill.
They also made some more controversial decisions, including giving 3CDC preferred developer status over 33 properties north of Liberty Street. The neighborhood’s community council has balked at that idea, saying room needs to be made for independent developers, affordable housing and community input.
The toughest fight came over what to do about two affordable housing projects vying for the same pot of $1.9 million. In the end, council’s Budget and Finance Committee did some subtraction, giving $1.3 million to Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and holding back the rest for supportive permanent housing, possibly in the form a project in Avondale, though that project has received some criticism.
• Mayor John Cranley was scheduled to join U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzger and America Online co-founder Steve Case at Fountain Square this morning to talk about start-ups and entrepreneurialism. The event kicked off at 9:30 a.m. and was part of the “Rise of the Rest” tour, which celebrates start-up culture in America’s cities.
• The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been all over Cincinnati of late. A few days ago, it put two Cincinnati buildings on its list of 11 most endangered in the country. But it’s also given the city some positive attention, penning this blog/love letter to Cincinnati’s brewery scene. Aw shucks, thanks guys.
• There’s a bear out there, and he’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. The black bear seemingly wandered into Ohio from Kentucky sometime earlier this week and has most recently been spotted in Montgomery. An Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesperson told WXIX that the bear is “looking for a girlfriend” and that the limited bear population in Ohio means he’ll probably have little luck. Which makes me wonder: Whose job it is to teach this bear how to use Tinder?
• Ohio has seen its Hispanic populations grow in every county except one, even as the state’s non-Hispanic population declines. The state gained about 32,000 people who identify as Hispanic between 2010 and now, and lost 7,000 people identifying as non-Hispanic. The ethnic designation is a bit problematic — it has nothing to do with race and identifies people from a range of countries with a range of backgrounds — but in general refers to those who identify with cultures from Mexico, Central or South America. The boost in the Hispanic population isn’t so much due to immigration, demographers say, as it is to birthrate. More American-born Hispanics have recently come of age and started having children, according to the study done by the Census Bureau.
• A recent study suggests America's housing situation is about to change dramatically as more of the Millennial generation surges into the housing market. That could have huge implications for rental costs, housing availability in the city and the supply of affordable housing, experts say.
• Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-West Chester, is threatening to sue the Obama administration over his use of executive orders and his supposed failure at enforcing laws properly. The suit is also rumored to include a dispute over a used 1986 Pontiac Firebird Boehner bought from Obama on Craigslist that Boehner says has a pretty bad oil leak. No, no, it's actually just the first two. Because you know, Congress has been SO SO GOOD at its job lately.
• Finally, it’s been a mixed-up ride for the tea party of late. The insurgent conservative movement gained a huge victory when House candidate David Brat toppled Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But bruising primary results in other states, including Mississippi, haven’t been great for the movement. There, incumbent Senator Thad Cochran held on to his seat even after he was down in the primary election to tea partier and State Senator Chris McDaniel. But Cochran thumped McDaniel in a runoff election. Other primaries taking place in the past few days have shown similar results. The losses certainly don’t represent the end of the conservative phenomenon, but it seems candidates sponsored by outside groups like Club for Growth and Freedomworks are not gaining the traction conservative activists had hoped for. Which, you know, is great, because these guys are usually pretty nuts.
If you’re like me, you passed work crews installing the first stretch of streetcar tracks in the Central Business District today. If you’re REALLY like me (clumsy), you almost fell off your bike trying to get a better look at the work. This is not recommended. The track work is happening right around between Central Parkway and Court Street along Walnut Street, where the city held a press conference this morning to talk about the progress. Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had been a swing vote during the battle over whether the streetcar would even happen last winter, called the latest progress “a milestone” and said he’s not giving up on some federal money to help operate the streetcar. A $5 million application for a federal grant completed by the city looks unlikely to be successful in its current form. That money would have funded operating costs for the streetcar for the next few years, according to city officials. Other private funds have shored up the transit project’s operating budget to some degree, but more funding is needed.
• While we’re talking about that little corner of the world, check this out. Some day, you may see a new Kroger near the spot where streetcar tracks are going in. A $50 million residential development is being planned for the corner of Central Parkway and Walnut Street. It will feature 200 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Rookwood Properties, based in Blue Ash, has approached the grocery chain about possibly filling some of that retail space. It’s all speculative for now, though. Kroger is looking to open a new location downtown but will not comment on specific locations, including the development on Walnut. I hope they hurry up, because I need a place close by to purchase all my Triscuits, Arizona Green Tea tall cans and ready-made boneless buffalo wings, which is pretty much my daily lunch these days.
• As we reported yesterday, the Women’s Med Center in Sharonville will cease providing abortions. The facility announced yesterday it will not appeal an Aug. 18 court ruling upholding earlier orders that the clinic close down its abortion services. The clinic will remain open to provide other services, specifically helping prepare women seeking abortions before they receive the procedures at the company’s Dayton clinic location.
• Lots of rumblings about shady dealing at Cincinnati's major airport after an the Kentucky State Auditor released a report Tuesday calling for a restructuring of CVG's board. The audit details high levels of inefficiency, nepotism and back-room dealing in the way the airport is run. CVG is among the most expensive airports in the country for passengers, and its board has been under fire for some time. The audit comes after a nine-month special investigation into its operation. Proposals for restructuring the board focus on making it more regional, folding in a representative chosen by Hamilton County Commissioners, the Ohio governor's office and the Cincinnati mayor's office.
• OK, so there are a lot of complaints about the suddenly ubiquitous ice bucket challenge, but the Cincinnati Archdiocese has a unique one. The trend has attempted to harness social media to raise money for the ALS Association. That part is great. The organization funds research to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that eventually causes muscle paralysis and death. But a viral trend where people film themselves dumping super-cold water on themselves instead of giving money to charity and then challenge others to do the same as a kind of activism… seems a bit counterproductive. (Though, to be fair, the organization has said it’s gotten some $16 million in donations since the fad started).
Anyway, the Archdiocese has a different sort of problem with the challenge. They don’t mind the inane and narcissistic part. They’re upset about people giving money to the ALS Association, because the group funds research involving embryonic stem cells, the harvesting of which the church equates with abortion. Dump ice on yourself and post it on Vine all you want, the Archdiocese says, but god forbid you give any money to the group that’s trying to heal people.
"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in this," Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."
The Archdiocese has directed Catholics to send money to a catholic group that doesn’t use embryonic stem cells in its research instead.
• Remember Joe the Plumber? Of course you do! Ohio’s favorite native son first came to prominence during the 2008 presidential election when his shaky math about his small business (which he hadn’t even started yet) was picked up by the McCain campaign. Since that time, he's become a kind of pundit for the far right, writing books, appearing on talk shows and even running for Congress. He recently made national news by taking to Facebook and proposing HIS solution to the Ferguson unrest. His idea achieves a pretty impressive trifecta of being racist, classist and making absolutely no sense whatsoever. His post says “The best way to end the rioting and looting in Ferguson… Job Fair. They’ll scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on!” Great.
• Finally, speaking of working, this New Yorker piece on the trials of hourly workers in the age of employers’ push for maximum efficiency is a good read and very likely familiar for anyone who has ever had to work an ever-shifting schedule in retail, food or other service industries. Lots of interesting data and insights into the way the economy continues to shift in ways that are tough for working people.
Hey all! Was so busy chasing stories yesterday that I didn’t get a chance to do the morning news. Let’s catch up, shall we?
Welp, that’s not good. A spill at a Duke Energy facility about 20 miles upstream from Cincinnati dumped 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Ohio River late Monday night, officials say. The Coast Guard closed off the area around the spill, and crews are working on clean up, which could take several days. Greater Cincinnati Water Works closed off intake valves on the river to avoid taking in contaminated water, though it has since announced that the spill has passed Cincinnati and that operations have returned to normal. The plant in New Richmond has had a number of environmental issues in the past.
• The race for Republican Chris Monzel’s Hamilton County Commissioners seat just got a little more competitive. Former City Councilman Jim Tarbell has entered the fray as a write-in candidate for the Democrats. Tarbell and a couple other experienced Democrats came up as possibilities for the official Democratic candidate after Monzel’s icon tax plan caused an uproar earlier this month. But Sean Patrick Feeney, who won the Democratic primary, signaled he wouldn’t step down as the party’s candidate. Tarbell ran for the same seat in 2010, when he lost to Monzel.
• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store giant, has agreed to pay $650,000 to settle racial profiling charges brought about after an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office. That investigation started after customers, including actor Rob Brown, complained they were racially profiled at the chain’s New York stores. Brown was detained by security at the store on suspicion he stole merchandise, which turned out to be false. The investigation looked into profiling practices at the chain’s Herald Square store in New York City. In addition to the money, Macy’s has agreed to institute new employee training policies, post a “customer bill of rights” at its New York stores and its website, and other measures.
• The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, and is having a number of events to celebrate. One of these is the Dreamer’s Summit, happening tonight from 6-8 p.m. The free event features young immigrants who have settled in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky telling their stories — the struggles and triumphs they’ve experienced making their way from places around the world to live here. Seems very worth a trip to the riverfront, and if you get there an hour early at 5 p.m., you can get a free tour of the Freedom Center, certainly one of the coolest buildings in the city.
• A while back we reported on the fight over new Common Core educational standards. Now, that fight is getting real here in Ohio as conservative lawmakers in the state legislature attempt to pass a bill repealing Common Core in the state. But the stakes are higher than just a new set of standards. The legislation in question, House Bill 597, could mean that intelligent design and creationism, for instance, would be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
• The situation in Ferguson, Missouri continues to be tense as a grand jury gears up to consider the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a city police officer. Last night started off quiet, with slightly smaller groups gathering for peaceful protests in the city. But later in the evening, violence flared, causing police to use pepper spray and arrest 47 demonstrators. Despite the unrest, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol called last night a turning point, saying the crowd dynamics have changed and that calm is slowly returning to the city.
“We had to respond to fewer incidents than the night before,” he said. “There were no Molotov cocktails tonight. There were no shootings.”
• Finally, this is amazing — three teenage sisters from Georgia have made an app that tracks police misconduct, with the aim of creating a database of police abuse and holding law enforcement accountable. The app, appropriately called Five-0, is a kind of “Yelp for police officers,” the teens say. Kids these days.
This is big news for Cincinnati tourism — a sign that the city's ongoing revival is attracting national interest.
Road Scholar, the big tour company that plans excursions around the world — from Cuba to Cambodia — has just added Cincinnati to its Signature (American) Cities offerings. The first trip will be March 29-April 3, 2015, and is being advertised as a visit to "the first truly American major city — founded after the Revolutionary War by American-born settlers."
Here's the description from the brand-new (just released today) North American Preview catalog:
"Historians admire it as the first truly American major city — established after the Revolution by American-born founders. Art and culture lovers revere it for its galleries and performing-arts venues. Now it’s your turn to fall in love with Cincinnati, where laid-back Midwest charm meets artsy big-city sophistication on the banks of the Ohio River. Join local experts at museums and landmarks that interpret the many hats Cincinnati has worn, from America’s original boomtown to waypoint on the Underground Railroad. Admire Art Deco architecture and horticultural artistry unrivaled in the nation. Learn about the city from a unique perspective aboard a riverboat on the Ohio River. Go backstage at the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, enjoy the vitality of downtown right outside your hotel and much more."
A big part of the trip will be an exploration of Over-the-Rhine.
Prices start at $1,075 and include five nights of accommodation, 13 meals, three expert-led lectures and 10 field trips.
Cleveland already has been a Signature City. Road Scholar also is expanding the program to Indianapolis. Additionally, it will have an American Queen riverboat excursion from St. Louis to Louisville along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. This year, Road Scholar had an American Queen excursion that stopped in Cincinnati.
Road Scholar will also have a new "Silver Screen Cinematic Voyage" excursion on the American Queen from Cincinnati to St. Louis starting on July 11. It will visit sites associated with the filming of movies, such as In the Heat of the Night, which was filmed in Sparta, Ill.
For more information, visit roadscholar.org.
Hey. It's news time. Check it.
One of two abortion clinics in the Greater Cincinnati area must close by the end of the week, a Hamilton County judge ruled, unless its lawyers file an appeal.
Women's Med in Sharonville has been fighting for months to stay open after the state of Ohio refused to grant a variance to recent rules that require the clinic to have hospital-admitting privileges. The Ohio Department of Health has granted these exceptions to the clinic in the past, since the clinic’s doctors have individual admitting privileges at hospitals. The clinic appealed the state’s decision, but last month a ruling by a Hamilton County magistrate ordered the clinic to close. That ruling had to be approved by Judge Jerome Metz, who issued an earlier ruling allowing the clinic to stay open while it appealed the state’s decision. On Friday, Metz ruled that he could not overturn the magistrate’s decision and that the clinic had five days to appeal or close.
Val Haskell, the clinic’s owner, said that Gov. John Kasich is “methodically targeting each Ohio abortion provider for closure, one by one, hoping no one will notice. It is our medical center today, one in Cleveland or Columbus tomorrow."
Cincinnati has one other clinic, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn. It has been waiting for word from the state about its license renewal for more than a year.
Over the weekend, two Cincinnati activists traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, where unrest continues after the police shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown. Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church and Iris Roley, a Bond Hill businesswoman, made the trip to share ideas and best practices for recovering as a community from the trauma of such an incident. They’ll be sharing their thoughts on Cincinnati’s 2002 Collaborative Agreement, which helped define strategies for a more community-oriented approach to policing in the Cincinnati Police Department. Cincinnati knows the pain Ferguson is experiencing well, having seen days of protests and civil unrest following the 2001 death of Timothy Thomas at the hands of a Cincinnati police officer.
• Ferguson continues to roil after a brief respite last week. Over the weekend, crowds refused to disperse, despite a midnight curfew set by the governor, and police again used smoke bombs and tear gas on protestors. Meanwhile, an autopsy performed on Brown determined he had been shot six times. The governor has declared a state of emergency in the St. Louis suburb.
• 3CDC will be pitching in to get a long-running project downtown moving toward completion. The apartment tower at Fourth and Race has been in the works since February 2013, and 3CDC has already had a consulting role. But now they’ll build and own the site’s garage and ground-floor commercial space. Flaherty and Collins, an Indianapolis developer, will still develop the tower’s apartments. In the past, the project has included plans for a 12,000-square-foot grocery store, though those plans have been revised several times. It’s unclear how many units the building will include, though initial plans called for 300 apartments.
• Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald has waded into the sports mascot debate, saying that the Cleveland Indians’ mascot Chief Wahoo should be banned. The clearly racist caricature image of a smiling Native American has been the Indians’ logo for a long time, but continued controversy over professional sports teams’ usage of demeaning names and images based on stereotypes of Native Americans has called the image’s appropriateness into question. See: the whole huge debacle over the Washington Redskins. Gov. Kasich, asked the same question about the Chief, said “of course” the mascot shouldn’t be banished.
• Finally, this amazing story in The New York Times about the Mason Applebees at the center of the world this weekend. When tennis stars come to town for the Western & Southern Open, they flock to the 'Bees for some mozz sticks and appletinis. I’ll leave you with the best quote:
“We didn’t have to talk. Let’s just watch TV and eat.”
It's Friday. News was intense this week. Enough said. Let's get to this so we can all get to our weekends, shall we?
About 100 people gathered yesterday at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn to observe a moment of silence for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. People from all over Cincinnati came to remember Brown and others who had recently died in incidents with police, including John Crawford III. Crawford was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying what turned out to be a pellet gun. Both Brown and Crawford were black, stoking long-simmering anger about police treatment of people of color across the country.
“The call right now is to remember those who have died at the hands of police brutality. … It’s a call to demilitarize our police force,” said New Prospect's Rev. Damon Lynch III, who helped organize the local observance of a national moment of silence. “Tonight is a night just to try and deal with the pain we all feel.”
Groups in Dayton, Beavercreek, Cleveland and other Ohio cities also observed a moment of silence, along with many major cities across the country.
Ferguson police today identified the officer who shot Brown as Darren Wilson. Officials said he was responding to the armed robbery of a convenient store nearby when the Brown shooting occurred. Tensions in the city have eased remarkably, many news outlets are reporting, after the Missouri State Highway Patrol took over management of the protests Thursday. The Highway Patrol have taken a much more tolerant approach to the demonstrations over Brown’s death, and protesters have responded in kind with peaceful gatherings.
• Cincinnati’s Red Bike, the city’s new bike sharing program, is nearly ready to launch. Crews have been installing bike share stations around downtown and six are now finished at City Hall, Fountain Square, Great American Ball Park, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Sawyer Point. Bikes haven’t been installed yet, however. Eventually, the system will have 35 stations. It should be up and running sometime in September.
• Cincinnati is one of two Ohio cities that rank high for students in private schools. Both Cleveland and Cincy made the top 10 of a list put together by real estate website Trulia looking at the percentage of students in private schools in America’s major cities. Cleveland was seventh with 17.5 percent of its students opting out of public schools, and Cincinnati ninth, with 16.9 percent. New Orleans had the highest percentage, with one quarter of its students opting for private schools. Trulia says a number of factors came into play in the list, including the concentrations of Catholics and other religious groups who most often send their children to religious schools, as well as the quality of public schools in the area.
• Ohio’s unemployment rate rose for the first time this year, according to data from the state. The rate had been at 5.5 percent in May and June, the lowest it’s been in seven years, but jumped to 5.7 percent in July as employers cut the number of jobs in the state.
• So here’s a pretty creepy report about Ohio’s use of facial recognition software and how it’s been available to a huge number of people over the past year. Basically, the programs can grab a photo of someone’s face and match it up with information about that person in a database. The state has limited access to the program somewhat recently, but measures are still not in place to audit the system and detect inappropriate usage by state employees. About 8,900 searches have been conducted so far on the system.
• Finally, I have this for you. Basically, it’s what would happen if Jesus had done the whole loaves and fishes thing during shark week. A concerned San Antonio man donated a bunch of shark meat to a homeless shelter after spending seven hours fighting it out in the Gulf of Mexico, going all Old Man and the Sea on an 809-pound tiger shark. He donated about 75 pounds of the meat to Timon’s Ministries in Corpus Christi. The church remarked that it was the biggest fish they've ever had donated. I guess that blue whale I dropped off last year doesn't technically count as a fish. The shark meat fed about 90 homeless folks, most of whom liked it a lot, the church said.
Here at the morning news, we usually lead with things local and work our way out to the national stuff. But dear lord, it’s impossible not to talk about what’s going on right now in Ferguson, Missouri right off the top. I touched on the unrest in the St. Louis suburb a couple days ago, which started when an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer last week, apparently while he had his hands up. The police say Brown was trying to wrestle the officer’s gun away from him while the officer sat in his car. Eyewitnesses say something else entirely.
Things have only gotten more intense, with paramilitary-style law enforcement efforts, including snipers and police in body armor with assault rifles. Law enforcement has begun arresting journalists as well, including The Washington Post’s Wes Lowry. You can read the veteran reporter's account of his encounter with Ferguson police here. Police have released very little information about their activities or the events that unfolded to start the unrest.
Meanwhile, many are drawing parallels between Brown's death in Ferguson and a police shooting that happened Aug. 5 in Beavercreek, outside of Dayton, when 22-year-old John Crawford was shot to death in a Walmart by officers while holding a pellet gun sold in the store. Police officials haven't released details about the incident yet, other than to say that it appears the officers "acted appropriately." Ohio is an open carry state, and it is lawful to carry rifles or handguns in public.
• Closer to home, some very important questions face county voters this fall. Do you believe in aliens? How about ghosts? Sean Feeney, the Democratic candidate for Hamilton County Commissioner, has stated he’s in the race for good, even after Hamilton County Democrats asked him to step down in favor of someone with more name recognition. Feeney, 27, is an information technology consultant who has held a couple local political posts. He was also heavily into paranormal research for a number of years. He said he’s not necessarily a believer himself but has been interested in hunting for UFOs and ghosts because he wanted to bring “some order to a chaotic field,” though he hasn’t had time for such investigations recently.
As the fallout continues from the icon tax debacle, Hamilton County Democrats have been taking a much keener look at tea party-backed Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel’s seat. Monzel is up for reelection in November, and with all the ire from both Republicans and Democrats over his move to cleave Music Hall from a tax levy that will now only repair Union Terminal, the time seems ripe to challenge him. Officials with the Cincinnati Museum Center, which runs out of Union Terminal, have yet to signal whether they'll go along with the new deal.
Democrats missed their chance to switch out Feeney for someone more experienced like former Mayor Charlie Luken or former city council candidate Greg Landsman when the deadline to change candidates passed Monday. But I like this guy. I’d vote for someone who goes hunting for outer space aliens over someone whose party insists on irrationally harping and fear-mongering about the undocumented sort.
• Hey, though, here’s something really cool — a little-known Charley Harper mural will soon be reintroduced to the world. The Duke Energy Convention Center has a Harper mosaic, though it’s currently hidden behind drywall because it didn’t really go with the Center’s aesthetic or something, and because back in 1987 when it was covered up fewer people knew who Harper was. That’s dumb. Now, as the center undergoes a $5 million renovation, workers will free the mosaic from its “Cask of Amontillado”-like prison. The mosaic, called “Space Walk” and finished in 1970, is supposedly somewhat more abstract than much of Harper’s work. Councilman Chris Seelbach has pushed for the mosaic’s reintroduction to the world.
• Democratic candidates at the state level are having a tough time of late. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald ‘s campaign is stuck in a fight over revelations that police once found him in a car in a parking lot at 3 a.m. with a woman who wasn’t his wife and that he hasn’t had a full driver’s license in 10 years. Combined with low fundraising numbers and polls suggesting his recognition among voters hasn’t gained traction, the struggles have put some serious drag on his challenge to Republican Gov. John Kasich. That’s also affected down-ticket candidates, including attorney general hopeful David Pepper and secretary of state candidate, current State Senator Nina Turner, who said it's been "a tough week" on the campaign trail.
The thing about mornings and news is that they both keep happening over and over again, and you've gotta work to keep up with them. So here we are.
The furor over the icon tax change-up is not going away just yet. Mayor John Cranley had some choice words for Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann yesterday on the subject, calling for the two to take the Union Terminal-only tax initiative off the November ballot. He also questioned the commissioners’ disregard for former P&G head Bob McDonald’s input. McDonald is the head of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which researched, vetted and recommended the initial tax plan.
“I fear for the future of our county when the project can be hijacked – I’m not even sure by who,” Cranley said, lambasting the commissioners and their plan. “Nobody was pushing the plan they put forward.”
Hartmann shot back that Cranley was making statements out of emotion and that county voters would not have approved the original plan. He said the county has a relationship with Union Terminal it doesn’t have with Music Hall. Cranley has said the city won’t be putting any money forward toward Union Terminal without Music Hall in the plan.
• The Ohio Department of Transportation is commissioning an $8 million study to determine the impact tolls would have on traffic and low-income drivers if part a replacement to the outdated Brent Spence Bridge. The move comes after officials in both Ohio and Kentucky have said that tolls are the only way to pay for rebuilding the bridge, which will cost $2.6 billion. That’s a crazy amount of money. Isn’t anyone out there selling a gently used bridge on Craigslist or something? Or maybe just a big, Evel Knievel-style ramp system that shoots drivers over the river? I don’t know, just trying to think outside the box here. I’m imagining those angles won’t be covered by the study, which will be used to set the specifics of tolls, including possible variable rates for local drivers and various traffic levels at different times. There may also need to be adjustments for low-income drivers, though it is unclear what those would be.
• While we’re crossing the river, let’s talk about Covington. The city is opening up its Section 8 waiting list today, and before Covington City Hall even opened its doors, people were already lined up around the block. The Housing Authority of Covington serves all of Kenton County, which, like most other areas around the region, has experienced shortages of affordable housing since the Great Recession. The HAC office is at 2300 Madison Ave.
• A local radio host who lives in Maderia was arrested last night for allegedly shooting his wife after an argument. Blake Seylhouwer, who hosts Small Business Sunday on 55KRC and runs a cleaning business, says a gun he had with him accidentally went off as the two argued in their driveway, though authorities say Seylhouwer purposely fired at Misty Seylhouwer when she turned her back. She sustained wounds from bullet fragments in her chest, leg, neck and head. She was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover fully. Seylhouwer called 911 to report his wife’s injuries and was arrested shortly after paramedics arrived at the house. He’s been ordered to stay away from her and the couple’s two children and is being held on $250,000 bond.
• There’s really nothing like the wild rush of freedom that comes when you shrug off the bonds of state regulations to play the slots while enjoying a nice calming smoke. Customers of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino downtown will soon be able to experience that most basic and noble of liberties should a proposed expansion at the casino be approved by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. The expansion will create a 10,000 square foot smoking deck where gamblers can puff while they play. Casino owners in Ohio say other gaming sites in Indiana have an advantage in the market because they aren’t burdened by anti-smoking regulations.
• Finally, did Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul ditch ultra-conservatives in Iowa to hang out with none other than Alec Baldwin, an icon of the liberal media celebrity complex? That’s the word on the street. Paul skipped the Family Leadership Summit on Saturday, citing family commitments, but was later spotted with Baldwin and others at a fundraiser for a library in the Hamptons. The Summit has been a regular stop for GOP presidential hopefuls in the past, and it was expected Paul would attend as he builds steam for a presidential run in 2016. But he said family affairs called him to New York and that the Hamptons fundraiser was just a side stop. To be fair, I'd ditch a bunch of cranky tea party folks to hang out with the guy who played Liz Lemon's boss, too, and other conservatives, including Bill O’Reilly, were also in attendance at the fundraiser. Which is just a stirring reminder that nothing brings people together like libraries. Or maybe just parties thrown by people in the Hamptons with lots and lots of money. The ultra-posh region is a destination for cash farming, with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Sen. Ted Cruz heading that way to shake the area's various money trees.
News time. I haven't even had coffee yet and I did all this. Be impressed.
Troubled charter school VLT Academy in Over-the-Rhine is closing its doors, Superintendent Valerie Lee says. VLT, which we reported about last month in a story on charters, has faced some serious questions about its academic performance and financial structure. In Ohio, charter schools must have a sponsoring organization in order to operate. The school lost its sponsor in May and shortly thereafter sued the Ohio Department of Education over charges the ODE chased other sponsors away. A judge ordered ODE to sponsor the school and pay teachers’ salaries, though that order was stayed on appeal. Now VLT says it is out of money and must close. The school’s landlords say it owes them more than $1 million in back rent. VLT served about 600 students in the Pendleton area, nearly all of them low-income.
• Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s committed to making t
he best of a terrible idea the new icon tax plan work. The plan to fund the renovation of Union Terminal, which county commissioners substituted for a larger plan that also included Music Hall, has been controversial to say the least. Sigman has the unenviable job of taking an unpopular plan that doesn’t have all the details worked out, negotiating political, engineering and fiscal realities and making it all function. Unresolved questions include the availability of private donations and historic tax credits factored into the original plan. It’s also unclear whether the Cincinnati Museum Center, which runs out of Union Terminal, will go along with the deal. If it doesn’t, county commissioners could pull their support as well.
“We just have to get the details down,” Siman old the Business Courier, noting that his job is to carry out the county’s work without political bias. “I will have to make it work.”
Meanwhile, folks are getting all worked up about the political implications behind Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel's decision to cut the proverbial baby in half. Check out this opinion piece written by a former Hamilton County judge, who calls the move a "mix of chutzpah and ignorance." Oh, it gets harsher, too.
• Mayor Cranley participated in the installation of the first station for the city's bike share program, now called RedBike, on Fountain Square today at 11 a.m. He also became the program's first annual member. The bike share, run by a non-profit, will allow residents to use bikes for short trips and then drop them off at stations. The station at Fountain Square will be one of 35 throughout the city.
• Questions are being raised about an incident in which a man was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart. Police came to the Walmart last week after another customer in the store called to report a man brandishing and loading an assault rifle. Officers fired upon John Crawford III after they asked him to drop the weapon and he did not. The exact progression of events is unclear and police investigating the incident have asked Walmart for security footage from store cameras. What is clear, however, is that the item Crawford was carrying was actually a pellet gun from the store, albeit realistic-looking. Crawford’s family has called the shooting unjustified, though police say that officers appear to have acted appropriately under the circumstances. An investigation is ongoing.
The death of Crawford, who is black, calls to mind the current (and unfortunately, perennial) national conversation around the shootings of young black men done in "self defense" or by law enforcement personnel. The latest incident in this issue's long, sad history is playing out right now in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed 18-year-old was shot by police while his hands were in the air last week.
Meanwhile, another law-enforcement use of force incident from last year is heading to court. The family of a man who died while in the custody of the Hamilton County Sherriff’s Office in 2013 is suing the county and the officers involved in the incident. Deputies tazed 59-year-old Gary Roell six times last August after responding to calls about Roell breaking windows and throwing flower pots at his condominium complex in Sycamore Township. When the deputies finally subdued him after a struggle, they realized he wasn’t breathing. Roell was pronounced dead a short time later. Roell was a long-term sufferer of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, his family says, and was off his medication at the time of the incident. The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family alleges that deputies used excessive force when attempting to subdue Roell.
• In happier news, everyone's favorite ice cream is planning to expand outside the
Graeter Greater Cincinnati area to Chicago and perhaps Nashville. Graeter's is looking to open 10 to 15 new locations in new markets, which could also include St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The $40 million a year company also sells to grocery stores, which has kept me alive in the past as I wandered away from Cincinnati.
• Here’s a cool thing: A professor at the University of Texas in Dallas devised a way to visually plot the most influential cities over the past 2,600 years. The data visualization shows the progression of cultural hubs through time by tracking the birth and death locations of more than 120,000 highly influential people. While it seems to only document the history of western civilization, unfortunately, it’s still a cool look at which cities have gained and lost cultural clout over time.
New week, new... err, news. Let's get to it.
Sean Patrick Feeney isn’t leaving just yet. The Democratic candidate, an IT consultant from North College Hill, is running for Republican Chris Monzel’s Hamilton County commissioner seat. Democratic challengers have expressed a lot more interest in that seat after Monzel's recent icon tax moves. But Feeney said he won’t be stepping aside for any of the party’s heavy hitters who may want jump into the race, at least until Democrats give him a solid answer on who will be taking his place and what that candidate’s game plan is.
“I’m looking to get the groundswell of support,” Feeney told the Business Courier. Feeney has raised a few hundred dollars for his campaign and is little known around the region but hopes to rally and take advantage of displeasure over Commissioner Monzel’s move to cleave Music Hall from the icon tax plan. Meanwhile, former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken, former city council candidate Greg Landsman and former council member Jim Tarbell have all signaled some interest in running. For now, though, Feeney’s sticking to his guns, despite acknowledging that the Hamilton County Democratic Party has approached him about standing down. Feeney has received some criticism for not stepping down, including a tweet from Councilman Chris Seelbach comparing Feeney’s fundraising results to the $250,000 Landsman raised during his council bid.
• We’ve reported on the rising number of homeless shelters in Cincinnati have been seeing. A new report released today says the number of people spending the night on the street, sleeping in cars, under bridges and other places not designed for human habitation is also on the rise. Strategies to End Homelessness counted more than 1,500 people living on the streets in 2013, a 38-percent increase from 2012 and the highest number since 2006. Half of those surveyed by the organization identified as struggling with a mental illness. Fifty-two percent said they were struggling with addiction, and 68 percent said they had a disability of some kind. People living on the streets, as opposed to in a shelter, are more likely to be chronically homeless, the report says.
• A review of Cincinnati’s charter by a city task force has uncovered something surprising: Due to a long-overlooked provision, the city might get a vote on whether or not it should continue to fluoridate its water. The task force is working to rewrite the charter, stripping out antiquated language and unnecessary provisions. The group has been looking into Chapter XI, which stipulates that the city must vote in favor of fluoridation or halt putting the chemical in the water supply, something Greater Cincinnati Water Works says voters have never approved.
Fluoride was a hot-button topic when the chemical was first added to water supplies in the 1950s. Conspiracy theorists alleged fluoridation was a communist plot; more recent crackpots have called it a government mind-control technique. Health organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention disagree, saying fluoridation is one of the nation’s greatest public health efforts because it can prevent tooth decay. Despite this, many developed countries in Europe don’t fluoridate. Ohio state law requires water be fluoridated, but that law can be overridden by a city if its residents vote to remove the chemical. Twenty-two cities in Ohio don’t fluoridate. A move to vote on the issue would first have to be approved by Cincinnati City Council.
•The Washington Post ranked Great American Ballpark's beer selection best of any ballpark in the country in terms of quality. The Reds' beer offerings were ranked second overall as well, based on a number of factors. 'Nuff said, but if you want more details, here's a story about the rankings.
• A federal judge today extended until January a temporary ban on executions in Ohio following controversy over lethal injection drugs. That means the three executions the state had scheduled for this year will be delayed until next year. The original moratorium was ordered after the Jan. 16 execution of Dennis McGuire. That execution took an unusual amount of time, and witnesses reported McGuire gasped and struggled, though prison officials concluded he felt no pain. Other executions around the country using similar drugs have taken longer and resulted in prolonged suffering of the prisoners being executed. The state has said it will use the same drugs used in the McGuire execution, just in higher doses. The judge has ordered a delay so the state's execution methods can be investigated more thoroughly.
• A big donor to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s campaign owes more than $100,000 in overdue sales taxes. But Sudhir Dubey, a Columbus businessman, had enough cash to put $12,000 in the AG’s campaign coffers July 26, the Columbus Dispatch reports. Just a few months prior, DeWine’s office brought a lawsuit against Dubey for the unpaid taxes. DeWine’s campaign denies knowing Dubey and says proceedings against the donor have gone forward despite the contribution. But his opponent, Democrat David Pepper, has seized on the connection.
“Here, someone with little to no history of political giving gives a $12,000 check to DeWine’s campaign only months after DeWine opened a case against him,” said Peter Koltak, Pepper’s campaign spokesman. “It’s clear that donors believe they influence DeWine’s decision-making by dumping big money into his campaign.”
• As Ebola continues to rage through western Africa, a debate has flamed up about who is receiving experimental treatments designed to shore up victims’ immune systems against the virus. Two American missionaries received the experimental treatment, called ZMapp, upon returning to the United States two weeks ago. Critics have questioned why Americans are getting these new treatments, but not Africans. Supporters of the move point out the unfortunate history of drug tests on impoverished, vulnerable populations, including the infamous Tuskegee experiment. The latest outbreak of the virus is the largest yet known. Nearly 1,000 people have died from the fever, which starts out with cold-like symptoms before destroying organs and causing uncontrollable hemorrhaging.
• I leave you with this hall-of-fame moment in the annals of social media bloopers. On Saturday, Local 12 News tweeted a link to a story about the LEGO toy company, which is releasing a line of scientist figures. But the novel part, Local 12 says, is that the figures are FEMALE. As scientists! Mind blowing. The tweet was especially unfortunately worded, asking fellow Twitterers whether the figures were “a good idea, or ridiculous?” Hm. The social media missive immediately received a number of mocking replies, including “FEMALES are allowed to vote. Good idea or ridiculous?”
After such a jam-packed week, today's morning news feels kind of light. There's only a major highway project that some say could cause neighborhood displacement, big questions on a deal to save two Cincinnati landmarks and a few other things going on. You know, a pretty slow news day.
• More questions are arising about the Hamilton County Commissioners’ plan to put a sales tax initiative for Union Terminal on the November ballot. The original plan designed by the Cultural Facilities Task Force folded Music Hall into the tax increase and was based on a long-term, nine-month study of both buildings’ needs, financing possibilities and charitable commitments from donors.
The commissioners’ new plan, proposed by Chris Monzel and supported by anti-tax groups like COAST and the Cincinnati Tea Party cuts Music Hall from the deal. These groups had asked a number of questions about the original plan, but as the Business Courier reports, their own plan raises even more questions about private donations, cuts to spending on architectural elements of the renovation — and much more. The rundown of the new plan is worth a read and includes a pretty interesting question — was this plan, thrown together by anti-tax groups at the last minute, designed to fail at the ballot in November?
The Courier also has an opinion piece on Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s apparent change of heart about the deal. Hartmann looked to be the swing vote between fellow Republican Monzel’s opposition and Democrat Todd Portune’s acceptance of the Task Force’s original plan. He initially signaled that he thought he county and the city would reach a deal on both landmarks, then changed his tune. The commentary piece today explores the politics behind that change up.
• All the ire over the icon tax has inspired Democrats to take another look at Monzel’s commissioner seat. He’s up for reelection in November, and people suddenly are interested in running against him, including former Mayor Charlier Luken and former City Councilman and Cincinnati personality Jim Tarbell. But the Democrats already have a candidate, albeit a relatively inactive one. Sean Patrick Feeney of North College Hill is the party’s official candidate for the spot. He’s raised about $100 for his campaign. Hamilton County Democrats hope to have an official decision about their candidate by 4 p.m. today.
• Work started on the new I-71 interchange at Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive yesterday. The city hopes the new crossroads will bring new jobs and renewal to Avondale and Corryville, two of the city’s more neglected low-income neighborhoods. The update to the area has been on the drawing board for years, and yesterday’s groundbreaking represents a culmination of efforts and support from state, city and local groups. The city has pledged $20 million toward the project, and the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments has thrown in $25 million. More than 700 acres of land are expected to be redeveloped as the city works to attract new businesses and other tenants, including medical and research facilities.
All that development has many in the surrounding communities nervous, however, especially given the neighborhoods’ history with highway construction. Many black residents in Avondale and Corryville first came to the neighborhood when parts of the West End were bulldozed to make way for I-75 in the 1960s. Those folks saw a highway disrupt their lives again a decade later when I-71 bisected the neighborhood. City officials say every effort is being taken to involve residents in the ongoing planning efforts.
• A project to restore and move an historic fountain on Clifton Avenue in the gaslight district will start today. Efforts are underway to restore and shift the Probasco Fountain, which currently sits right along the street in Clifton in front of the Clifton Community Arts Center. The project will move the fountain, constructed in 1887, seven feet away from the street. Work is expected to take about 14 weeks.
• A report from the Ohio Department of Education says that Cincinnati Public Schools’ data improved for the 2013-2014 school year, but that its prior year data shows signs of misleading practices. In the past, ODE has found instances of so-called data scrubbing in attendance reports and other documentation from CPS. In 2012 -2013 data, ODE found 24 students were improperly reported truant, a revelation that affects attendance records and will spark a review and possible revision of the district’s report card. ODE reviewed 1,088 student records. Other big urban school districts had similar discrepancies in 2012-2013. Columbus had 141 students improperly reported out of more than 6,000 records reviewed, and Toledo had 86 out of more than 1,400. A former principal at a school in the Columbus Public School district has admitted to data manipulation related to these discrepancies and is currently under investigation to determine if she will keep her job.
• The White House went on lockdown yesterday — well, more of a lockdown than it’s always on, I guess — when a toddler crawled through the bars of the fence in front of the facility. Secret Service agents scrambled to get the child, who was eventually returned to his parents. The Secret Service had fun with the scare after the fact.
“We were going to wait until he learned to talk to question him,” said Secret Service Spokesman Edwin Donovan. Donovan said instead of a heavy-duty four-hour interrogation, the toddler got a time out.