Holder revealed the DOJ’s intention to join the fight in Ohio over early voting during an interview about terrorism with ABC News in London July 11. That portion of the interview was unaired. Holder’s comments were revealed when the DOJ released transcripts to the press this week.
The Ohio suit, originally brought by the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups, claims the Republican-led elimination of early voting hours is unconstitutional because it will disproportionately affect minorities.
Ohio’s General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans, passed laws in February eliminating six early voting days and same-day voter registration. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted subsequently eliminated early voting the last two Sundays before elections and on weekday evenings in the days before elections.
Some of Husted’s cuts to early voting the Sunday before elections were undone by a federal district court judge, who ruled that the state must reinstitute early voting in the final three days before an election. Despite that victory, the other cuts have yet to be restored and are the grounds for the ACLU’s lawsuit.
In the interview, Holder said voting is “the most basic of our rights” and vowed that he “will use every power that I have, every ability that I have as Attorney General to defend that right to vote.”
Holder also said the DOJ will file in another voting rights case over Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which has seen a pitched battle in federal courts.
Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald applauded Holder’s comments in a news release today.
“I’m pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice will be joining the fight to protect voter rights in Ohio,” FitzGerald said in the release. “Under Governor Kasich, access to the polls has significantly decreased for hardworking Ohioans across the state.”
Morning, y'all. It's only Tuesday and there is already lots and lots going on. Here we go.
A Hamilton County Common Pleas judge has allowed troubled charter school VLT Academy to stay open and ordered the Ohio Department of Education to help fund it. In a decision yesterday, Judge Nadine Allen ordered ODE to become the school’s sponsoring organization and provide almost $300,000 to pay staff and administration there. The school, which serves about 600 students in Pendleton, was scheduled to close last month because its sponsoring organization did not renew its contract. Education Resource Consultants of Ohio declined to continue supporting the school due to its academic performance and financial situation.
Ohio law stipulates that charter schools must have a sponsor to operate. VLT tried unsuccessfully to obtain a new sponsor, asking several organizations including the Ohio Department of Education. When ODE declined, citing the school’s poor academic performance, VLT sued in Hamilton County Common Please Court. VLT argued that its performance was never poor enough to trigger automatic closure. The school says that ODE is playing politics and that it warned other potential sponsoring organizations not to sponsor the school. ODE acknowledges it made organizations aware of the school’s performance issues.
Allen ruled that ODE made it difficult for the school to find a new sponsor and that closing the school would do harm to its students. Ninety-nine percent of VLT’s students are economically disadvantaged. The school has lost a third of its student body, and subsequently almost $2 million in funding, in the past three years as Pendleton and Over-the-Rhine undergo demographic shifts.
• State Rep. Connie Pillich will hold a roundtable discussion today in Cincinnati as part of a state-wide tour around veterans’ issues. That tour began July 2 in Huber Heights. The meeting with local veterans will focus on financial challenges facing the military community, including the need for financial literacy education for veterans and state-level unemployment benefits for their spouses. Pillich is a Democrat who has represented Montgomery in the state legislature since 2009. She’s currently vacating that seat to challenge State Treasurer Josh Mandel. She’s touting her efforts on veterans issues and her service in the armed forces as she travels around the state to meet with veterans and their families. Before her political career, Pillich served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years and did support duties during Operation Desert Storm.
• The Cincinnati Park Board settled a federal lawsuit today brought by several residents of Over-the-Rhine regarding rules put in place after the 2012 renovation at Washington Park. The residents said the rules, which forbade distributing food and clothing in the park and taking items out of trashcans, were drawn up without public scrutiny and designed to keep the homeless out of the park. The city dropped the rules in September 2012. The city has not commented on how it decided upon the rules in the first place. The amount of today’s settlement in the case wasn’t disclosed.
• Architect Magazine pulled no punches in an editorial on General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks yesterday. Written by former Cincinnati Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky, a noted architecture critic, the piece caustically derided the building, and The Banks, for a gutless lack of panache.
“Cincinnati, a proud city with a great heritage busily squandering it, will be stuck with the results of its own shortsightedness,” Betsky wrote in the piece. Ouch.
• Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and attorney general hopeful David Pepper will ask the Ohio General Assembly to provide more money for heroin clinics today in a press conference in Columbus. The Democrats say clinics around the state face a $20 million shortfall after recent changes in the way federal money is distributed. The heroin crisis has been a big talking point for Pepper, who has criticized Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine over his handling of the surge in addiction-related deaths.
• The number of people commuting by bicycle is up 60 percent nationally from the year 2000, according to recent data from the U.S. Census. But that data also show another dynamic–most of that increase has come from relatively wealthy, white commuters who can afford to choose how they roll. Among low-income people, especially people of color, the desire for car ownership is much higher and the value placed on alternate means of commuting is much lower. This may be because people in low income neighborhoods face much longer commute times and an environment without the necessary infrastructure for safe cycling. But there are also probably social factors at play — cars are still strong symbols of success across all levels of society in the U.S., and low income commuters desire those symbols as much as anyone.
• Finally, if you’re looking for the next big (literally, huge) thing in hip living arrangements, I’ve got you covered. If a renovated row house makes you yawn, and a partially reconstructed loft space is just too domestic for you, how about living in a Boeing 727? Bruce Campbell (no, not THAT Bruce Campbell, though I can totally see this plane abode being the setting of a campy horror flick) of Oregon is leading the way on this brave new trend. Share with all your friends who are still really, really, into Lost.
One year ago today, the city signed contracts to start construction on the streetcar. Fast forward 365 days, and the new transit loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine is quickly taking shape. Roads are closed as major sections of track go in. Workers are constructing concrete slabs for the passenger stops. The cars themselves are being built. And the city recently named downtown-based Kolar Design to do branding work for the streetcar. The Business Courier has photos of the progress so far. Or you can just drive through Over-the-Rhine and see for yourself. Just don’t take Race Street if you’re hoping to get downtown — it's still closed at 12th Street.
• We’ve all lived with roommates who don’t always take out their garbage. It’s gross. But I guess it could be worse. Like, tens of thousands of times worse. The city recently shut down a compost company called Cincy Compost in Winton Hills after two years of complaints from miles around about the ghastly smells emanating from what is effectively an 80,000 pound pile of rotting food, but things could get worse before they get better. The heap, which is piled two feet deep, needs to be cleaned up by the city now that the company is no longer in business. It seems the business didn’t get the correct balance of garbage for the compost process to work and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of garbage it took in. It racked up 45 code violations while it was open. Now the city will have to spend $250,000 to kick-start the process and finish turning the garbage into soil. That involves stirring all that garbage around, basically, which is only going to make the smell worse in the short-term. Gross.
• Community groups in the city will be holding a rally calling for an end to violence in the city at 7 p.m. in Piatt Park today. Last week, four people were shot, one fatally, in two separate but related incidents at the park. Cincinnati saw a surge in shootings early in the year, though that trend has slowed and the city may not see an increase over last year’s 75 murders. Forty-two people have been murdered in the city this year, many with guns.
• One guy who will not be at that rally, I’d imagine, is this dude, who threatened to shoot down a University of Cincinnati Health Air Care helicopter yesterday. Angry that the helicopter was flying too low over his Green Township house, Leonard Pflanz is accused of driving to Mercy West Hospital and telling the helicopter’s pilot that he would shoot him if he did it again. Pflanz is appearing in court this morning over charges stemming from the threat.
• General Motors may soon be in some big trouble with federal prosecutors, who are investigating whether the company made false statements about a defect in some of its cars that has killed at least 13 people. The defect relates to an ignition switch problem that has caused some GM cars to lose power while operating. The feds accuse GM of making misleading statements to the public about the defect, downplaying the dangers of the defective switches. The company has already been fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for dragging its feet in response to the problem. Some believe GM’s ultimate liability could end up being even more than the $1.2 billion Toyota was ordered to pay earlier this year over similar charges.
• Finally, Smithsonian Magazine reports that skin cells may be able to detect odors and that some of these odors may aid the body in the healing process. Basically, this means the whole surface of your body is receptive to smells in one way or another. This is interesting, maybe even great news, unless of course you live near a failed composting facility or something.
We're mere hours from freedom, folks. I'll be quick today and give you the morning news rundown in short order so you’re ready for the weekend.
If you’re a gay or bisexual man, the Food and Drug Administration won’t let you give blood. A blood drive today at UC’s Hoxworth Blood Center in Corryville is drawing attention to that rule hoping to get it changed. The FDA first instituted the policy in 1984 at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Gay and bisexual men are encouraged to bring eligible proxy donors to Hoxworth today as well as sign a national petition to the White House asking it to reconsider the rule. Organizers hope to get 50 donors, and if you want to give to the cause, get to Hoxworth or call for an appointment before 4:30 today. The center has computers where you can sign the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures nationally by the end of the month. The blood drive is part of a national gay blood drive taking place in 60 cities today.
• After a pretty harrowing week downtown (four people were shot in two incidents near Piatt Park, one of whom died of his injuries) the Cincinnati Police Department says it will be out in force this weekend for Bunbury Music Festival. CPD has instituted a no vacation policy for officers over the next few days so they can cover downtown and the rest of the city. Apologies to all the hard-working officers out there who were looking forward to partying with Andrew W.K.
Police Chief Ken Blackwell says it’s part of a larger effort to make sure police are ready for big summer events. These include the National Urban League Conference coming the last weekend in July, which features a keynote address by Vice President Joe Biden. That weekend will also be an all-hands-on-deck scenario, Blackwell says.
“The bottom line is that we took an oath to protect the city, and sometimes police work calls on you to work long hours and do stuff you ordinarily wouldn't want to do,” he told WLWT yesterday.
• Those fancy New Yorkers at Esquire stumbled across our quaint little river town yesterday, it seems, and decided it was noteworthy enough to write about. Overall, it’s a super-positive piece about the city, which is awesome. There are some stumbles in the article, though–originally it spelled the city’s name as “Cincinatti,” called Vine Street “Vine Avenue” (both since fixed) and asserted that local treasure and all-around swell bar Japp’s Since 1879 has been serving for 120 years. That's especially befuddling because the name implies it’s been open for 135 years, though it actually opened in 2011. Also puzzling is the writer’s assertion that revitalization in the city is without “inherent class warfare.” As far as I can tell, that’s been a pretty visible fight here in the city for decades, but, you know. These are small quibbles. The piece does highlight some great spots in town, including Japp’s, Everybody’s Records (no Shake-It, though!) and Holtman’s Donuts. It also enlightened me on a possible place to get a haircut downtown. Anyway, you should check out the article, even if it’s only to copy edit it further.
• Finally, here’s an interesting article about how ride share company Uber is restructuring how much it charges for rides, and why that matters in the grand scheme of urban transportation. With Uber and Lyft becoming more of a force in the Cincinnati area, it’s a good read.
More demand for housing aid and less money from the feds have combined to create a simple but brutal equation swelling the number of homeless individuals and families in the Cincinnati area and across the country. As more low-income people need affordable places to live, they have fewer housing options to choose from and less federal aid available to them, data shows. That’s left an increasing number of families and individuals on the streets.
In 2011, $2,225,000 was available to Hamilton County residents for rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, it’s just $750,000. These federal funds provide much-needed aid to families struggling to make rent payments.
The cuts come at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find. The amount of available affordable housing has decreased by 6.8 million units since 2007, while the number of very low-income renters who need it has grown by more than 2.5 million, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The money spent on rental aid in the past made a dent–a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 17 percent from 2005 to 2012, despite the economic recession and national housing crisis. Especially effective was the 2009 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Act, which spent $1.5 billion to aid families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Locally, federal programs have been crucial. Nearly all families in Hamilton County who received rental assistance through such programs avoided becoming homeless, according to a report by Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati non-profit.
Despite the success of the program and increasing need, the number of people in Hamilton County served by federal anti-homelessness efforts has dropped by more than 56 percent since 2011.
That year, 2,810 people received rental or utility assistance in Hamilton County from programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number dropped to 1,870 in 2012, and dropped again to 942 in 2013. This year is on pace to see a similar number–about 966– receive the services.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the county is rising. 8,271 people in Hamilton County experienced homelessness last year, according to the Strategies report. That’s up from 7,838 people in 2011 and 7,983 in 2012.
Families are hit especially hard hit by federal spending cuts.
"I have never seen this many families come to us from sleeping in a car," Darlene Guess, director of client programs at Bethany House Services, told the Cincinnati Enquirer July 9. The Cincinnati area's five shelters that serve homeless families in the city help about 1,000 families a year, service providers estimate.
The reductions come as a result of the 2011 sequester, continuing across-the-board cuts to federal programs that happened as a result of Congress not being able to reach budget agreements. Some of the funds were first allocated during the federal government’s 2009 stimulus efforts.
Shortfalls at HUD caused by the cuts could eventually mean as many as 140,000 fewer families nationally will receive rental assistance, and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless people will be cut off from other assistance programs offered through HUD.
Other dynamics associated with gridlock in Congress have exacerbated the problems facing low-income people on the brink of homelessness–Democrats and the GOP in Congress have fought a pitched battle over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, for instance, as unemployment levels recede at a stubbornly slow pace. Many have reached the end of their benefits, and now struggle to pay rent or mortgages.
Whoa, tons of news happening right now. Here's a brief rundown of what's up today.
Homelessness has spiked in Hamilton County, social service providers say. It’s a trend that’s happening across the country as federal spending cuts hit programs aimed at aiding the homeless and preventing homelessness. That trend has hit Cincinnati-area families hard, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Some of the increase right now is seasonal, the Enquirer story reports, but some is more systemic, coming from a greater emphasis on chronic individual homelessness over the past few years by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Hamilton County.
• The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced today that it will be expanding access to Lumenocity due to overwhelming demand. The light and music event takes place Aug. 1-3 at Washington Park.
CSO will release 3,300 additional tickets to the main events, plus another 5,000 to a dress rehearsal the day before, also in Washington Park. Those tickets will be given away in a drawing you can enter between now and Tuesday at lumenocity2014.com. In addition, the event will be broadcast live at Fountain Square and Riverbend. The Aug. 1 performance will be radio broadcast on 90.9 WGUC. The Aug. 2 performance will also be broadcast on public television station CET. The event will also be live streamed on Lumenocity’s website all three nights.
The event was wildly popular last year, so this year, the CSO hoped to gain a bit more control over the size of the crowd by issuing free tickets online. The 37,5000 tickets given out last month were snatched up in mere minutes. Some later popped up on eBay for as much as $150. Vice Mayor David Mann requested an investigation into the giveaway and resulting ticket resales.
• A city review board gave a big “meh” to design proposals for GE’s new building at The Banks. The Urban Design Review Board, which is responsible for giving recommendations about buildings that will have a significant profile downtown, was underwhelmed with the conservative plans for GE’s 10-story office building near the riverfront. The building’s architect calls it “timeless mainstream design,” but board members said it just looks like a run of the mill suburban office building.
“We were looking for a special building, and this is a routine one,” board Chairman Buck Niehoff said.
Ouch. To be fair though, the board does have a point. The building will be a very prominent part of The Banks, and GE is receiving unprecedented incentives from the city (read: from taxpayers) to build there. Is a little flash too much to ask? Maybe a tiara on top, or a Cadillac sticking out of part of the building. Or like, maybe it could look like a big jet engine? These ideas are free, GE, so you can take them if you want. Or call me, I’ve got tons more…
• The Ohio GOP is suing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, currently Cuyahoga County’s executive, over access to records detailing his comings and going at county offices and parking garages. The suit comes after media in Cleveland requested the same records back in April and were denied.
The GOP’s lawsuit is filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, and holds that FitzGerald’s records are public information that must be released. FitzGerald says the records of his keycard swipes at county buildings are security-sensitive information, and that they needs to be closely held because he’s had security concerns, including death threats, related to his job and his past work in law enforcement.
Ironically, his opponent Gov. John Kasich is fighting much the same fight. He’s refused to release information about his schedule and security threats, and is also facing a suit in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
• Controversy over immigration at the United States/Mexico border continues, and the situation is basically becoming a circus. President Obama yesterday met with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials, activists, and faith leaders to discuss the crisis at the border, where sharp spikes in migration by people from Central America, many of them children, are being reported. More than 52,000 youth have been caught crossing the country's southwestern border this year, double the amount from last year.
Perry spent at least part of the meeting making sour faces or perhaps fighting constipation. Obama's asking for $3.7 billion from Congress to help shore up the border with more judges and detention centers to expedite the deportation process, while Perry is asking for 1,000 National Guard troops at the border. The GOP, which controls the House of Representatives, looks unlikely to budge on the issue and give Obama the money. Some House members, including Rep. Randy Neugebauer, also of Texas, have complained that conditions at detention centers are too cushy. These are, by the way, the same detention centers that many reports show are overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane.
"When you look at the lovely way they're getting treated -- they're
getting free health care, free housing, you know, they're watching the
World Cup on big screen TVs," Neugebauer said on conservative pundit Sean Hannity's radio show yesterday. Well, jeez, sign me up for that, Randy.
Meanwhile, in what only highlights the absurdity of the political crapshow that the situation has become, noted humanitarian and completely reasonable person Glenn Beck has announced he's speeding toward the border with soccer balls and hot meals for migrant children. It's gotten real, I mean, really real, when Glenn Beck is one of the sane, caring voices in any debate.
• Finally, scientists have developed a chip that provides remote control birth control. The chip is implanted under the skin and can be switched off in case a woman decides she’d like to conceive. The device is projected to last for up to 16 years. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the device—studies must be done to determine its failure rate and whether it’s safe to have the chip in your body for an extended period of time.
Hey folks. The weather’s killer, the week is half over, and Beyoncé apparently loves Over-the-Rhine. It’s a great day to be in Cincinnati, so let’s talk about what’s going on, good and bad, in our fair city.
As a wise group of sages once said, cash rules everything around us, and if you’re looking for insight into the movers and shakers, the powerbrokers , the people pulling the levers in Cincy, you could do a lot worse than two lists that have recently popped up. One, released yesterday by Forbes, details the country’s richest families, and three area clans made the list. The Scripps family, owner of the E.W. Scripps media company, is tops in Cincinnati, with a net worth of $7.5 billion. They’re the 34th richest family in America. Next down the list are United Dairy Farmers and American Financial owners the Lindners, who have about $1.7 billion in assets and money in the bank. They’re ranked 130 on the national list. And with a measly $1.5 billion, the Farmers, who run the enormous Cintas uniform empire, round out Cincinnati’s contribution to Forbes’ rankings. They’re the 140th richest family in the country. The Waltons (Wal-Mart) and the Kochs (a bunch of things related to energy, including fracking companies in Ohio) topped the national list. No surprises there.
Another list of note is the Business Courier’s ranking of public companies in Cincinnati with the most cash on hand. These are companies with extra capital to spend who may make big moves in the next year or so. Procter and Gamble topped this list, followed by Macy’s, but you’ll also see some of the same names as the Forbes list, including American Financial (3rd on the list with almost $1.9 billion in cash), Cintas (5th on the list with $349 million) and the E.W. Scripps company (10th with $194 million.)
• For years, both when I lived here and during visits back home while I was living elsewhere, I would walk past the gorgeous but vacant church on Elm Street across from Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine and daydream about possible uses for the building. I definitely wasn’t the only one, and now two developers are turning their visions for the space into reality. Work is beginning to convert the 147-year-old church, which has been empty for over a decade, into a bar and events space for concerts, weddings, and other happenings. Building owners Josh Heuser and Michael Forgus envision their space as a community building cornerstone in the area–a place where people can come together. They hope to have the space open for business by May next year.
• Sometimes, one can isn’t enough. The folks at Rhinegeist in OTR have dreamed up a solution for the dilemma you face when you want a lot of beer but don’t want to carry around multiple cans, because let’s face it, that just doesn’t look very classy. They’ve come up with the crowler, which holds 32 ounces of the any of brewery’s creations. The crowler actually has more utility than just keeping you from double or triple fisting–it works like a growler, allowing you to take beer home, but with a much longer shelf life of up to a month. Genius.
• Connie Pillich, the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s treasurer, has floated the idea of creating an independent watchdog group to keep those counting and spending the state’s money accountable. The group would keep an eye on the treasurer’s office and other state government agencies to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds. Pillich has cited past scandals in the treasurer’s office, as well as questions about current treasurer Josh Mandel, as reasons Ohio needs the watchdog.
"We are in dire need of having an independent watchdog to make sure the office where all the people's money is kept is operating efficiently and safely," Pillich told Cleveland.com. "People should be able to go to bed at night assured there's someone in Columbus watching their funds."
Pillich is running against current treasurer Mandel, who has been the subject of scrutiny for alleged shady dealings. Mandel made a national list of worst politicians recently–one of just two Ohio politicians to receive that dubious distinction. Mandel denies any wrongdoing and points to the clean audits his office has received while he's been at his post.
• Ohio is getting all the big national events lately. The MLB All Star Game, the Gathering of the Juggalos, and now, the GOP National Convention, which looks likely to take place in Cleveland in 2016. The convention taskforce for the Republican National Committee announced its recommendation yesterday, and now the full RNC will vote on, and likely pass, that suggestion. The group responsible for the selection, headed by RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, has said they were blown away by Cleveland’s efforts to secure funding and demonstrate their readiness for tens of thousands of conservative convention-goers. The field of cities, which once included Cincinnati and Columbus as well as Las Vegas and other contenders, was narrowed down to just Cleveland and Dallas. The RNC convention group said they based their decision on how much each city rocked, and while Dallas was pretty good, Cleveland has a national reputation for said rocking. No telling how much the RNC was influenced by the Insane Clown Posse’s decision to relocate its annual convention of sorts to Ohio from Michigan, though Republican convention officials have been heard remarking that if Ohio is good enough for ICP, it’s good enough for the GOP. (This part is complete fiction, by the way, though who knows how these decisions are made...)
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?
So let's get to what's happened in the past three days in the real world while we were all busy watching fireworks and drinking beers, shall we?
The Great Recession dropped incomes in 111 of 120 communities in the Greater Cincinnati area, according to a report today by The Cincinnati Enquirer. The recession lasted from 2007 to 2009, though its reverberations are still being felt today. The drop hit wealthy neighborhoods like Indian Hill and low-income areas like Over-the-Rhine alike. The average drop in income was more than 7 percent across the region, though reasons for the loss and how quickly various neighborhoods have recovered are highly variable. Wealthier places like Indian Hill, where income is tied more to the stock market, are well-positioned to continue an already-underway rebound. Meanwhile, places with lower-income residents like Price Hill still face big challenges.
• A Centerville man filed a lawsuit against Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino Friday, charging that the downtown gambling complex engaged in false imprisonment and malicious prosecution last year. Mark DiSalvo claims that he was detained while leaving the casino after a dispute over $2,000 in video poker winnings. DiSalvo wasn’t able to immediately claim the winnings because he didn’t have the proper identification, but was told he would receive paperwork allowing him to claim the money later. He says he waited two hours before receiving the forms. Afterward, as he stopped to check the nametag of an employee who was less than kind to him, he was confronted by casino security officers, who called police. Three Cincinnati police officers were originally named in the suit as well, but the department settled out of court. DiSalvo claims casino employees and police gave false testimony about him and his prior record.
• Sometimes, something is better than nothing. At least, that appears to be the thinking for groups supporting the Hamilton County Commissioners’ compromise icon tax plan to renovate Union Terminal. The Cincinnati Museum Center board decided to back the commissioners’ version of the plan last week, despite earlier misgivings. That plan replaced a proposal by the Cultural Facilities Task Force that would have also renovated Music Hall.
Now the task force, led by Ross, Sinclaire and Associates CEO Murray Sinclaire, is regrouping and looking for ways to fund the Music Hall fixes without tax dollars.
“Initially we were very disappointed and somewhat frustrated because of all the time we spent” on the initial proposal, Murray said, but “we’ve got an amazing group of people with a lot of expertise and we’ll figure it out.”
Meanwhile, Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel, who helped orchestrate the new, more limited deal, has said he supports it. Initially, he indicated he wasn’t sure if he would vote for the plan himself. The backing of the Museum Center board has swayed him, however, and he now says he’s an enthusiastic supporter of the effort to shore up Union Terminal.
• The Cincinnati Cyclones have a new logo, which is exciting, at least in theory. The team’s prior logo looked a lot like a stack of bicycle tires brought to life by a stiff dose of methamphetamines, and the one before that looked Jason Voorhees fan art. Neither of which is really all that bad if you want to strike fear and confusion (mostly confusion) into the hearts of your opponents. But the team, making a bid for a higher level of professionalism, tapped Cincinnati-based design and branding firm LPK for a new look. The results are slick and clean, with the team’s colors adorning a sleek sans-serif font and a big “C” with a kind of weather-report tornado symbol in the middle. The team’s marketing reps call the new logo “versatile,” while fans have taken to the team’s social media sites to call it boring and generic and to compare it to water circling a toilet bowl. Personally, they can put just about whatever they want on their jerseys and I’d still hit up any game on $1 dollar hotdog night. Not a lot of hockey options around here.
• In the past three days, federal judges have stayed or struck down some of the nation’s strictest laws against women’s health facilities that provide abortions, enacted last summer in Texas and Louisiana. The laws stipulated very specific standards for clinics. The Louisiana law, which was put on hold by a federal judge Sunday night, set requirements that facilities have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, a rule that could have shut down every clinic in the state. The Texas law stipulated that clinics had to meet the same standards applied to hospitals, which would have dictated how wide hallways had to be in the facilities and other burdensome rules. That law was struck down by a federal judge Friday. The law would have caused the closure of 12 clinics in the state. Ohio has laws similar to Louisiana’s requiring hospital admitting privileges. That has caused problems for many facilities here, including one in Sharonville which a Hamilton County magistrate ordered to stop providing abortion services last month.
There is so much happening today and I'm going to tell you about
all most of it.
The board of the Cincinnati Museum Center yesterday voted to support county commissioners’ plan to fund renovations of historic Union Terminal, which houses the museum. Officials for the Museum Center originally criticized the plan, which replaced an earlier proposal that included Music Hall, because it seemed to put some funding sources for renovations to both Union Terminal and Music Hall in jeopardy. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann voted to put the new plan on the November ballot despite these concerns. Now officials with the Museum Center say their concerns have been addressed and they’re comfortable putting their support behind the new, Union Terminal-only deal, which will raise about $170 million through a .25 percent sales tax increase. The renovation project is expected to cost about $208 million. The gap will need to be covered by private donations and possible historic tax credits.
• Speaking of lots of money (seems like we’re always talking about lots of money around here, but hey, cities are expensive) the streetcar battle continues as the city searches for funds to pay operating costs. Right now, the city needs to account for a slightly less than $4 million a year to run the streetcar plus another $1 million in startup funds, which will need to be raised by next July. Supporters on city council say this shouldn’t be a problem and that multiple options exist for ways to raise the funds, including sponsorships and advertising, selling gift cards for rides on the streetcar, different property tax districts, possible grants and private donations. But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley, are more doom and gloom, saying that the shortfall is just the kind of scenario they had in mind when they spoke out against the streetcar. Either way, the city is committed at this point. It agreed to run the streetcar for 25 years when it accepted millions in federal grant money for its construction. Is there a really large couch somewhere in the city with lots of change under the cushions? I’d start there.
• Ah, the early days of presidential campaigns, when the candidates are about as committal as those tentative, nascent romances you had your freshman year of college. Sen. Rob Portman has officially decided he wants to think about the possibility he might run for president in 2016 and is considering setting up an exploratory committee so he can raise and spend money should he decide he wants to try for the big gig. That’s basically the campaign equivalent of texting someone, “hey, ‘sup?” The presidency has yet to text him back, but I’ll keep you updated. Portman has been also non-committal in his statements, saying he’ll think about a run for the White House if no other Republican candidates seem capable of winning but that right now he’s just working on his Senate campaign. He’s raised $5 million toward that end, money he could shift that over toward a national campaign.
• California lawmakers have passed a law requiring its colleges to adopt the most precise standards yet for what constitutes sexual consent as part of a drive to curb the sexual assault crisis sweeping college campuses. The so-called "yes means yes" bill is controversial, which is kind of mind-boggling since its provisions sound like common sense when you read them.
The prospective law says that consent is "an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity" and that lack of struggle, silence or the use of drugs or alcohol do not invalidate claims of sexual abuse. Opponents say the bill is an overreach and too politically correct and that it could open up universities to lawsuits. California Gov. Jerry Brown must still sign the bill into law, and has until September to do so.
• A while back we talked about New York City’s mixed-income developments and so-called “poor doors,” or separate entrances the buildings’ low-income residents must use. The battle over those doors rages on, and the New York Times has an in-depth look at the fight. As large-scale public housing goes the way of the dodo across the country and affordable housing becomes more a private enterprise, it’s a debate worth check out.
• So. There are a lot of important things going on in the world. We’re struggling with how to handle ISIL, a militant, fundamentalist insurgent group in Iraq, and the UK just raised its terror alert level due to threats from the group. Russia continues to dance all over the Ukraine. Our economy is struggling to support America’s middle class. Racial tensions in the U.S. continue to simmer and our police forces are becoming more militarized. But the most breathtaking news of all happened yesterday, when President Barack Obama wore a tan suit. TAN. In what only further proves that journalists on Twitter are the absolute worst people on the planet, that little bit of ephemera went viral as every reporter ostensibly paid to inform you about a news conference discussing some of the aforementioned important events flipped their wig about Obama’s new fashion statement. The suit was completely unremarkable– a little too baggy, a little too buff-colored, maybe, but come on now. The response to Obama's suit even spawned an article about the response, because that’s journalism now. Someone got paid to write that article about journalists' response to Obama's suit, and now I’m writing about the article about the response. Sigh.
• In other important national news, forget those cases of beer that have like, 30 beers in them. Reuters reports that a small brewery has invented the 99-pack of beer. Alas, it’s only available in Texas, where gas station beer caves are the size of airplane hangers and the average Super Bowl party attracts 500 people.
This week is almost over, and that's a great thing. I haven't had my customary coffee and donut yet this morning, so let's do this news so I can get to that.
Security footage from the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot John Crawford III shows that Crawford was not acting violently, an attorney for his family said yesterday in a statement. Attorney Michael Wright says Crawford was facing some shelves and talking on his cellphone when he was fired upon and that police “shot him on sight.”
This contradicts officers’ reports. They say Crawford was waiving the pellet gun he had picked up from a shelf at the store and refused to drop it. Reports said, “he looked like he was going to go violently.”
Crawford, 22, is one of a number of young black men who have died during incidents with police recently under controversial circumstances. The death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a few days after Crawford’s death sparked wide-scale unrest in the St. Louis suburb.
Activists in Beavercreek and across the country have demanded release of the security footage of Crawford’s shooting, which Attorney General Mike DeWine has refused to release until a grand jury is convened Sept. 3. DeWine says releasing the tapes to the public could bias the jury pool and hinder the ongoing investigation.
• There has been talk lately of changing some one-way streets in Over-the-Rhine to two-way, including parts of Main Street. The shift could slow traffic to levels safer for pedestrians and help local businesses, traffic experts say. UrbanCincy has a much more detailed rundown of proposed changes and the history of traffic patterns in OTR here. It’s interesting stuff, especially if you have to drive through the area every day or live there and have to deal with the increased traffic zooming through.
• The Hamilton County Board of Elections today announced it will host a “vote check” where county residents can call into a the board to make sure their voter registration is good to go. The phone-bank style call-in session will be held Sept. 23 from 5 to 6 p.m. and on Oct. 6 at the same time. That Oct. 6 date is the last day to register or change your voter registration information in Ohio. Put it on your calendar.
• I didn’t know a place in America could be more or less American than any other place in America, but apparently there’s a listicle for a city’s degree of American-ness, and Cincinnati came in second behind Nashville. The report by WalletHub.com, a personal finance website, considered 26 factors in the country’s 366 largest metro areas including age, income, housing, gender and other demographic measures to come to its ranking of places most statistically like America’s overall averages. Indianapolis came in third in the most-American sweepstakes. The southwest dominated the bottom five, with two Texas cities (Brownsville and McAllen) and an Arizona burg (Yuma) hanging out and being all un-American (whatever that means) with the likes of Altoona, Pa. and Boulder, Co. America!
• If you spend a lot of time up in West Chester, well, first, sorry about that. That’s unfortunate. But if you are hanging around up there in the land of Ikea and you’re hoping for that rare, elusive, thrilling sighting of House Speaker John Boehner, who reps the area hard in Congress, well, you may as well be looking for a yeti. You won’t see Boehner at the local Red Robin or whatever the heck other fancy, all-you-can-eat-fries restaurants they have up there, shaking hands and kissing babies in his district, because he’s out raising millions for the GOP. Yes, he has a Democratic challenger for his re-election bid, Miami University professor Tom Poetter, but Boehner’s not sweating him too much. His campaign has raised more than $2 million to Poetter’s $60,000, and Boehner’s coasted to re-election easily in the past. Instead, Boehner is wooing party donors in Wyoming (the state, not the neighborhood) resort towns and shoring up his power base with fellow establishment GOPers, hustling hard to keep his seat as speaker as he fights off attacks from his right.
• Finally — cheer up! The economy is getting better. For someone. Somewhere. Economic growth was better than expected in the last quarter, according to the Department of Commerce. Despite this, more Americans are anxious about the state of the economy now than during the Great Recession, a new Rutgers University poll reports. Some of this has to do with the fact that the average worker still hasn’t recovered fully financially from the economic downturn, wages have remained stagnant even as unemployment has decreased and perceptions of job security are lower than ever, even as Wall Street rebounds and corporate profits have soared.
Morning y'all! After a rough start (a bit more on that later), I'm here and ready to give you the news.
Two prosecutors from Hamilton County will lead the state’s investigation into the police shooting death of John Crawford III, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced yesterday.
Stacey DeGraffenreid and Mark Piepermeierand were appointed by the AG yesterday. Piepermeierand, of Sharonville, heads the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office criminal division and has handled many high-profile cases in that capacity. He’s responsible for reviewing all police use-of-force issues in Hamilton County and has done so for the past 15 years.
Police shot Crawford inside a Beavercreek Walmart Aug. 6. Another customer called 911 when he saw Crawford with what he thought was an assault rifle. Officers arrived and demanded Crawford drop the weapon, which turned out to be a pellet gun from the store. When he didn’t comply immediately, officers shot him and he died. Crawford’s family, along with activists, have called for answers as to why he was shot.
• The state of Ohio has ordered embattled restaurant Mahogany’s closed after it didn’t follow state sales tax rules. The restaurant on The Banks has struggled to pay rent and loans owed to the city and was almost evicted in April. The restaurant was able to catch up on the rent but still owes more than $300,000 to the city in loans. Owner Liz Rogers has said that the restaurant has struggled after $80,000 was embezzled from the establishment and a rough winter kept business slow. Rogers has also pointed the finger toward someone in the city’s administration who she says has been leaking untrue information about the business. Mahogany’s can reopen after it pays back the undisclosed amount it owes the state in sales taxes.
• Think sky-high executive pay is kind of absurd? You’re not alone. Former Kroger CEO David Dillion said during a panel on management at the Aspen Ideas Summit last month that his paycheck for leading the company was “ludicrous." A video of that summit is just now trickling out, with Huffington Post covering the statement yesterday.
Dillion’s $13 million paycheck last year was actually below the $15 million average for CEOs in America, which makes his compensation “seem a little more responsible,” he said during the summit. “Still you’d argue, I think,” he continued, “it was pretty damn high.”
Dillion said his eight-figure pay package started out fairly reasonable but ballooned out of control as Kroger’s stock went up. That’s a terrible problem to have. That dang stock price, that dang paycheck, both just rising and rising and rising like the temperature needle on my poor struggling car as I sat in traffic this morning (yes, my car overheated on the way here and I’m bitter). There’s just nothing you can do about that. If only Dillion had like, RUN THE COMPANY or something, maybe he could have gotten that ludicrous pay rate under control. Oh, wait…
• Speaking of big ole billowy clouds o’ cash, former 20102 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is on his way to Kentucky to help make it rain for Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is fighting a tough battle against his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan-Grimes. McConnell has been pulling out all the conservative A-listers to raise cash, a sign that he’s seriously worried he could lose his seat in what looks to be one of the most contentious and expensive Senate campaigns in history. It’s certainly the fight of his career, but the stakes go higher than that. Every seat matters come November, when Democrats will struggle to maintain their slim majority in the Senate. Should Republicans take enough seats, they’ll run both that chamber and the House, making President Obama’s last two years in office one big bummer.
• Another politician experiencing a big ole bummer right now is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was indicted a couple weeks back on some pretty serious felony charges involving abuse of power. It's a long, complicated story that involves a DUI (not Perry's), some backroom dealings, a possibly shady cancer research organization and more. So much more. Anyway, Perry's been kinda sailing through this whole thing, smirking in his mugshot and getting ice cream afterward, the whole deal. He's also played it well politically, refusing public money for his defense team of all-star attorneys. But he recently dropped a comment about that that is less than great PR. He's not turning down public money for his defense because it's the right thing to do, but "to keep folks from grousing about it," he said. The whole Texas-sized imbroglio (gotta love that word) has also hit Perry where it hurts: his holster.
• I usually try to end with some weird news to lighten the mood a lil, but this story is just crazy and sad and confusing. A shooting instructor in Arizona died Monday while teaching a 9-year-old girl how to shoot an uzi. The girl lost control of the semi-automatic weapon due to its recoil as she was firing, and the instructor was shot in the head. An investigation is ongoing to determine the exact sequence of events.
Hey all. It's morning news, and I'm earlier than usual. I'm as surprised as you are.
The city of Cincinnati has announced it will cover medically necessary transgender surgery for employees under its insurance plan. A majority of city council signed a letter urging the change, which was then initiated by interim City Manager Scott Stiles. The city will be the first in Ohio to do so, joining only Berkeley, Calif., Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Seattle offering the benefit. A mental health professional will have to agree that the procedure is necessary for an employee before it is covered. The change will kick in next year and is a way for the city to stay competitive and attract the best job candidates possible, said Councilman Chris Seelbach. Many large companies, including P&G, offer transgender-inclusive benefits.
• Oops again. Duke Energy revised their estimates for the amount of diesel fuel it spilled into the Ohio River last week up to 9,000 gallons. The company previously reported it thought about 5,000 gallons had spilled when an oil transfer valve was left open Aug. 18 at the company’s New Richmond power plant. On the positive side, the cleanup of that spill is almost complete, and no adverse affects to wildlife or residents living along the river have been reported.
• A shifty fast-food sovereign looks to leave the country he rules for cold northern lands to save a few gold coins. Meanwhile, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown really wants you to grab a Frosty and a Crave Case this weekend in protest. Brown is up in arms about a proposed merger between Burger King and Canadian-based Tim Horton’s. The deal would create one of the world’s largest fast food conglomerates and see the king abdicating his burger throne in Miami, Florida for Canada. That part rankles Brown, who says the merger could well be a corporate inversion, or a move from the U.S. meant to evade corporate taxes. He’s encouraging his constituents to grab some grub from Ohio-based companies like Wendy’s or White Castle.
“Burger King’s decision to abandon the United States means consumers should turn to Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers or White Castle sliders,” Brown said in a press release that contained little hint anyone responsible was aware how hilarious that sounds. I’m going to avoid all this royal intrigue and continue to get my burgers from the grill outside of Avril-Bleh’s downtown.
• A national gun control group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense has started a petition asking Cincinnati-based Kroger to ban open carry in its stores. The group cites recent violence in the company’s stores, including a Georgia murder-suicide in June and another shooting incident in the same state that left two people injured. Kroger has said that the safety of its customers is important and that its policy is to follow prevailing state law. Open carry laws vary by state, with some states like Ohio placing few restrictions on your right to tote a deadly weapon around while you’re picking out breakfast cereal or cilantro for a nice homemade pico de gallo. Moms Demand Action received criticism recently when it was revealed the group received $50 million from noted gun control advocate and ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, anonymous sources reveal, is not in fact a mom.
• A national Pew Research poll released yesterday found that Americans have very little faith in law enforcement’s ability to hold its officers accountable for misconduct, engage in good race-relations practices and use an appropriate level of force. This distrust held true for respondents of all races but was especially marked among those in the black community, where nine out of 10 respondents said the police do a “fair” to “poor” job. The poll comes as the police shooting of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen in a St. Louis suburb, has set off a national debate over police conduct, especially as it relates to race.
• Finally, this new photography project by the New Orleans Times-Picayune is worth a look. You can slide between photos of New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina and recent pics of what the same areas look like today to get a powerful look at how the city has — and in some places hasn’t, really — recovered from the disaster.
Heya. It's news time.
Got a few hundred thousand dollars sitting around? Want to be part of the
gentrification renaissance in Over-the-Rhine? Step up and make your pitch to 3CDC! The development corporation has announced it will open up the 33 city-owned properties for which it is the preferred developer to other developers who want to get in on the action in OTR. 3CDC will then make recommendations to the city on which plans for the properties around Findlay Market get the green light, based on financial feasibility, timeliness of renovation, parking considerations and whether hotdogs, tacos and pizza served at your proposed upscale but casual eatery are artisanal enough. Proponents of the process say it’s far more open than 3CDC’s development strategies thus far, while opponents of the development group’s preferred developer status say 3CDC still has too much power calling the shots in the neighborhood.
• As the streetcar gets closer to a reality in downtown and OTR, Northern Kentucky is now looking at how it can get on board. City leaders in Newport and Covington are talking about ways those cities can link up with Cincinnati’s streetcar. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran and Newport City Commissioner Beth Fennell have expressed support for the idea, saying the transit system could alleviate traffic problems and boost economic development there.
• While we’re talking Northern Kentucky, let’s talk about the Noah’s Ark theme park, called The Ark Encounter, being built in Grant County. The project has come under fire from Americans for the Separation of Church and State, a national advocacy group, because it has applied for tax credits despite possibly discriminatory hiring practices. Americans for Separation of Church and State points out that the park’s parent organization, Answers in Genesis, requires job applicants to sign a “statement of faith” that pledges allegiance to the group’s Christian values, including opposition to homosexuality and a belief in the literal truth of the bible. Americans for Separation of Church and state says that amounts to discriminatory hiring and should make the Ark project ineligible for the $73 million in tax incentives the state has approved for the project. Officials with The Ark Encounter say the park’s employment policies have yet to be written and that they will comply with all state and federal laws.
• Butler County Children Services employees have been on strike for the past week, fighting for a 3.5 percent pay increase each year for the next three years. The county is standing firm, however, and things have started getting acrimonious. The county claims union representatives for the Child Services workers have misrepresented work done by the county since the strike has happened by claiming that some 80 home visits have been missed in that time. Union officials deny any misrepresentation. They say they’ve been forced to strike by the county’s refusal to meet their demands and that work isn’t getting done. The county has hired a number of new personnel since the strike and say they’re handling the workload without the striking union members.
• Gov. John Kasich signaled last week that he will again turn down job-requirement waivers for food aid in all but 17 counties in the state. Last year, the governor’s office allowed just 16 counties to get the waivers, which the federal government issues in high-unemployment areas to exempt those seeking food stamps from work requirements. Without the waiver, food aid recipients are limited to three months of benefits before they must find a job or enter a state-funded work program. But both jobs and spots in these work programs have been difficult to find, leading to criticism of Kasich’s decision to turn down the waiver in most of Ohio’s counties from groups like the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and liberal think tanks like Ohio Policy Matters. Advocacy groups have filed a federal civil rights claim seeking to overturn the state’s decision and extend the waiver to all 88 Ohio counties.
• In national news, the funeral for Mike Brown, the 18-year-old shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, was held today. Brown’s family has asked protesters who have taken to the streets in the wake of his Aug. 9 shooting for a peaceful event. Ferguson has been on edge since the shooting, with everything from peaceful demonstrations to all-out rioting taking place. Civil rights attorney Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the parents of Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin all attended the memorial.
It's a gross rainy Friday, so grab some coffee and let's settle in with some news.
Two local organizations that help veterans experiencing homelessness will be getting a $1.5 million boost, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and former P&G head Bob McDonald announced yesterday. A program run by Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries in Woodlawn will get nearly $1 million in grant funding from the VA. The Rehabilitation Center Inc. serves seven counties in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. The Talbert House in Walnut Hills, which serves veterans in Hamilton County, will get the other $500,000. The funding is part of more than $300 million in grants given out nationwide, nearly $9 million of which went to organizations in Ohio fighting homelessness among veterans.
• Is there anything more comforting than the knowledge your local police department is slowly becoming a paramilitary force? Recent revelations about the federal government’s program decommissioning military equipment into the hands of local law enforcement are mind-boggling and also darkly hilarious.
Even among my friends and family who are still afraid of living in urban areas, I would think fear of landmines in Cincinnati is pretty low, maybe non-existent. But that hasn’t stopped the Hamilton County law enforcement officials from receiving two land-mine detection kits from the program. Kenton County got a mine-resistant truck along with 44 pairs of night-vision goggles, 34 pieces of body armor and 22 assault rifles. Newport got a pretty awesome Humvee, though it’s not armor plated. Really important question here, guys — is that thing land-mine proof?
• Caesar’s Entertainment Corp., parent company to Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, will pay the largest fine ever doled out by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Caesars will pay a $200,000 fine for lack of financial transparency involving the company’s ongoing $23 billion debt restructuring efforts.
• Attorney General candidate David Pepper has received criticism recently for his legal record. Do records show he embezzled money? Took bribes? Sold drugs? No, no, I’m afraid it’s much darker. Pepper, it seems, is a serial illegal parker. Over the past 14 years, Pepper has paid more than $9,000 in parking fines, averaging 13 tickets a year, though the bulk occurred when he was County Commissioner from 2007 to 2009, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. That’s a lot of tickets, sure, but most of them are for parking at expired meters. Some are a bit more serious offenses — displaying expired plates. When you break it down, he’s been fined about $700 a year for all those offenses. Pepper’s campaign chalks the fines up to a busy schedule and a lot of late meetings. But his opponent Mike DeWine’s campaign says the number of offenses isn’t an accident and makes him unfit to be attorney general.
“Nearly everyone has made a mistake by forgetting to go back and feed a parking meter,” DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch said. “But that Mr. Pepper racked up nearly $10,000 in fines shows a stunning disregard for basic traffic laws — particularly for someone running to be Ohio’s top law officer.”
Pepper’s campaign said it would rather have that smudge than allegations facing DeWine, which include accusations that the attorney general’s office has been engaged in pay-to-play practices, allegedly awarding lucrative legal contracts with the AG’s office to private firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign.
“[Pepper is] happy to debate old parking tickets versus Mike DeWine’s current practices as attorney general,” Pepper spokesman Peter Koltak said.
• Finally, things in Ferguson, Mo., seem to be calming down for the time being. Protests, some violent, have rocked the St. Louis suburb since the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Lately, however, the protests have become somewhat more peaceful. Yesterday the state’s National Guard units withdrew from the city and the number of arrests police have made has been dropping. Investigations into the shooting are ongoing, as the Justice Department works with state and local law enforcement to try and determine what happened between Brown and officer Darren Wilson. Wilson says that Brown attacked him in his patrol car, though others say Wilson was the aggressor and that Brown was retreating when he was shot. An autopsy showed that Wilson shot Brown at least six times.
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.