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by Nick Swartsell 07.14.2015 53 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
rob portman

Morning News and Stuff

Lincoln Heights' struggles in national spotlight; Deters to address Fountain Square unrest; awkward times for Ohio GOPers

Good morning all. It’s news time, and the biggest news is something you probably already know: The Reds’ Todd Frazier won the MLB Home Run Derby last night in an amazing comeback, sending 14 over the fence in the final round of the tournament against Joc Pederson from the L.A. Dodgers. There were tons of fireworks, followed shortly afterward by a thunderstorm. It was that epic. This is only the second time someone has won the Derby on their home field — the Chicago Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg took the trophy at Wrigley Field in 1990. Frazier's victory is a great run-up to the big All-Star Game today.

Anyway, on to other news. The Atlantic yesterday published a big article on Lincoln Heights, the community just north of Cincinnati that was at one time one of the first primarily black self-governing cities in the country. And for a while, things were good there. Factory jobs assured good middle-class incomes and well-kept neighborhoods and schools. Famed poet Nikki Giovanni, musicians the Isley Brothers and other notable folks hailed from the burb. But systemic forces, including the way the city was incorporated by Hamilton County, conspired to hobble the community, and today it’s a struggling suburb with high poverty, no police force and crumbling schools. I’ve pitched this article to mags before and I’m a little bummed someone beat me to it, but I’m glad it’s being covered.

• Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters will hold a news conference at 11:30 a.m. today on the July 4 unrest at Fountain Square. Specifically, Deters is expected to address possible hate crime charges against three men accused of beating up Indiana native Christopher McKnight. Three men accused of the crime, who police arrested this week, are black. McKnight is white.

There has been some confusion about whether police believe the incident was racially motivated. An initial report by a responding officer called the altercation “anti-white” though police backpedaled on that assertion the next day. However, they reversed course again late last week when Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell asked the prosecutor’s office to pursue the hate crime charges. Video of part of the fight taken from a Metro bus doesn’t clear up the situation: It shows McKnight struggling with one individual, then shows a few others joining in the fight against him. McKnight is shown on both the defensive and pursuing and throwing punches during the altercation. Later, video shows him getting up and walking back and forth among the crowd with his hands up in an aggressive manner. He then wanders out of frame, where apparently a further fight took place that left him with a concussion and broken nose. It is unclear if police have more evidence that the altercation was racially motivated, or whether Deters will seek the hate crime charges in the case.  

• Major hotel company Winegardner and Hammons, Inc, and Eagle Realty, the real estate arm of Cincinnati-based insurance giant Western & Southern, yesterday received permission from the city’s Historic Conservation Board to go ahead with plans to turn the former Anna Louise Inn near Lytle Park downtown into a luxury hotel and restaurant. That approval comes after a number of aesthetic changes to the plans suggested at a conservation board meeting last month. Eagle purchased  the Anna Louise Inn after a protracted battle with Cincinnati Union Bethel, which had run a women’s shelter out of the building for more than a century. CUB had applied for state tax credits to help fund a renovation of the building. Western & Southern challenged the shelter’s receipt of those credits in court, arguing that the area wasn’t zoned for the building’s usage as a shelter. After lengthy court battles, CUB agreed to sell the building. The Anna Louise Inn recently relocated to Mount Auburn.

• Do you remember all those storms yesterday? Crazy stuff. All that wind and rain left more than 70,000 people in the region without power temporarily, according to Duke Energy. As of this morning, some 12,00 are still waiting for the lights to come back on. Some residents in North Avondale, Mount Healthy, North College Hill, Madisonville, Winton Woods, Fairfield and many other neighborhoods and suburbs in Ohio and Northern Kentucky remain without electricity. Some might have to wait days to have their power restored.

• GOP presidential politics in Ohio makes for some awkward situations, right? U.S. Sen. Rob Portman knows this all too well right now. Ohio’s Republican senator is currently polling behind his likely Democratic challenger, former governor Ted Strickland, in his battle for re-election in 2016. He needs a bit of help from his party, and, luckily, there’s a bright spot. Ohio will be a total political circus next year as both parties focus in on our state for the presidential election. That could play well for Portman, especially if Ohio Gov. John Kasich becomes the nominee.

Kasich’s presidential run would rally Republican voters around the state, an excitement that is almost sure to travel down-ballot and give Portman much-needed conservative votes. The only snag? Portman can’t really very wisely endorse Kasich. Portman has big ties to another GOP presidential hopeful, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has a much better chance of winning his party’s nomination at this point in the game. Portman needs Kasich, but he also doesn’t want to gamble on a long-shot candidate or burn his bridges with Bush. What’s a guy to do? Well, just stay quiet on the whole matter, it seems. Portman’s not endorsing anyone in the race. That’s tough luck for Kasich, who is having a bit of a hard time grabbing endorsements from some GOP bigwigs in Ohio, including Portman, Speaker of the House John Boehner and outspoken tea party U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan. U.S. Rep Steve Chabot, who represents Westwood, is also staying out of the primary endorsement game but puts Kasich’s chances among “the top five or six” GOP presidential nod hopefuls. Ouch.

That's it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. You know what's up.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.13.2015 54 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_quandaviermother_ns

Morning News and Stuff

Mother still searching for answers in police-involved shooting; three arrested for Fountain Square violence; can bike lanes ease economic and racial disparities?

Hey all! Was your All Star Game weekend rad? I spent the better part of mine far from the mass of ASG-related concerts and VIP invite-only parties, which are weird and a little like hosting a slightly unhip out-of-town guest who throws a party at your house for crusty old celebs on the other side of cultural relevancy (seriously, when was the last time you listened to a new Snoop Dogg track?) only you’re not invited. I’ll take Brighton or the Comet basement any day, though I hope if you hit up downtown you had a great time and got some autographs and free swag for your trouble.

Speaking of the ASG: If you’re trying to get into the actual game tomorrow and didn’t get your tickets a long time ago, it’ll cost ya now. Third-party tickets are running north of $800. That’s 100 $8 beers (is that the cost of a beer at the park? I'm sure it's something like that, right?) or a whole bunch of ballpark cheese coneys, just in case you’re keeping track.

• On to real news. About 30 protesters gathered with Erica Hicks-Woods and Rodriquis Woods, the parents of QuanDavier Hicks, outside Cincinnati Police Department District 1 headquarters in the West End Friday afternoon. Hicks’ parents drove from Atlanta for the rally and to ask questions of Cincinnati police about their son’s death. CPD officer Doris Scott shot the younger Hicks on a second-story stairwell near his Northside apartment after Hicks pointed a rifle at Scott and her partner, according to police. But Hicks-Woods says that version of events doesn’t add up to her, and she’s seeking more information. Hicks-Woods says police have barely spoken to her since the incident and that she’s been brushed off by the case’s lead investigator, who had promised her a meeting that day that was later cancelled. After rallying at the CPD station, Hicks-Woods spoke with Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, who promised a longer meeting over the weekend. She says she was also able to claim some of her son’s belongs which had previously been held, including a cellphone and a ring. An investigation into Hicks’ death is ongoing. CityBeat has requested all available public documents on the incident and will update the story as it unfolds.

• Authorities have arrested three men in connection with a beating that took place on Fountain Square July 4. Indiana resident Christopher McKnight was kicked and punched by a group of men during a period of unrest on the square. A video of the earlier portion of the incident shows McKnight wrestling against one man, then getting into a larger tussle with a few others before getting up, putting one of his shoes back on and walking back and forth in a crowd and raising his arms in an aggressive manner. Later, the altercation apparently continued, and McKnight sustained a concussion and other injuries requiring stitches. McKnight is white, and his assailants are black, which has led to suspicion that the attack was racially motivated. The responding officer on the scene initially described the attack as “anti-white” in police reports. CPD officials first disputed that assertion, but then said the incident may indeed have been a hate-crime. So far, police haven’t presented evidence or witness accounts supporting or disproving the hate crime accusation. Arrest documents for Raeshaun Hand, Antonio Tremble and Steven Montgomery, who were apprehended in connection with the attack, don’t show any indication they are charged with hate crimes at this point. The three face felonious assault charges. Police are looking for a fourth man suspected of participating in the incident as well.

• Here’s police item number three: Documents show the city administration offered CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell a year’s salary, or $136,000, a year extension of his health benefits, a $5,000 lump-sum payment and other concessions if he chose to leave the department. In return, Blackwell would have agreed not to sue the city, and both Blackwell and the city would have agreed not to make disparaging comments about each other to the media. Blackwell’s hypothetical departure made news earlier this summer when it was revealed the city had drawn up his walking papers. Blackwell said he wasn’t interested in leaving. City Manager Harry Black, who had the agreement drawn up, as well as Mayor John Cranley, both said they also wanted Blackwell to stay. The documents detailing the terms of the severance were released by the city at 5 p.m. last Friday, just before the city’s All-Star Game festivities kicked off in earnest. A Cincinnati Business Courier story questioned the timing of that release, saying it follows “a longstanding political and government strategy of pushing inconvenient news out at a time when few are paying attention.” Dang.

• The trial for the man accused of making threats to poison Speaker of the House John Boehner begins today. That charge carries a potential penalty of 10 years in prison. Michael Hoyt, 44, was a bartender at Boehner’s West Chester country club when he made threats to shoot Boehner or put something in his drink because he believed Boehner was the devil. Hoyt has a history of mental illness, and his attorneys have filed documents indicating they’ll be entering an insanity plea in the case.

• As Gov. John Kasich continues his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, questions are being raised about his administration’s transparency. Several groups concerned with government accountability have dinged Kasich’s record on the issue, saying Ohio’s government is much less transparent than it was when he took office. Among big red flags critics point to: the governor’s JobsOhio program, a private entity that runs on state liquor receipts in order to provide incentives to private companies looking to create jobs in Ohio. Fellow Republican Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost fought an unsuccessful battle with Kasich to be able to audit that organization last year. The administration, of course, has pushed back on charges that Kasich’s tenure has seen a more opaque state government. You can read more about Kasich’s record with government transparency in this Columbus Dispatch article.

• Two quick things nationally before I go: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, officially announced his candidacy for president today. Walker is among the frontrunners in the throng of guys running for the GOP nod. He’s a conservative darling who has won a bunch of props from far-righters for busting up bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public employees, among other staunchly conservative policy moves.

• Finally, real fast: Here’s a fascinating article about how bike lanes might be able to increase racial and economic equity in communities. True? A bunch of bike-boosting b.s.? Check out the article and decide for yourself. I think it’s a pretty interesting concept and a good way to expand the conversation about alternate means of transportation and the wider economic implications thereof.

I’m out! Tweet. Email. Etc.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.10.2015 57 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
baseball

Morning News and Stuff

Want to rent a room in OTR for $500... a night?; county clerks in Kentucky buck same-sex marriage ruling; Ohio considers amending grand jury process

So let’s talk a little about news today.

In case you like, didn’t see the 500 MLB All-Star Game headlines on the Cincinnati Enquirer’s website today, well, that’s happening. Two-hundred-thousand people are headed downtown. Traffic will be bad. Parking will be worse. Prepare yourself.

All that headache is probably worth it if you own an apartment or house anywhere near downtown and are willing to let some strangers crash there. Average prices to stay in Over-the-Rhine or downtown are more than $500 on room rental site Airbnb. No, that’s not monthly. That’s for one night. It’s a 25-percent increase from prices two months ago. The spike is simple economics — there are few hotel rooms left in town after MLB reserved 95 percent of them during the days around the game. That’s left people searching around in the sharing economy, where costs range from the very affordable for a place out in the ‘burbs to a $4,999 a night three-bedroom house with sweeping views in Bellevue, Ky. That five grand is pretty much a down payment on a house in my neighborhood, but whatever you need to party, I guess.

• The city’s police force is out in full force for the festivities, patrolling downtown by the hundreds. With the nation’s eyes on Cincy, city leaders are stressing the need for calm, professional policing, especially after last weekend’s unrest downtown following a concert injured two officers and lead to several arrests. CPD will be getting some help as well from a mounted unit borrowed from the Columbus police. That unit, paid for by the private group the Cincinnati Police Foundation, will patrol downtown on horses.  

• Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown has joined 56 other county clerks in asking Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to call a special session of the state’s legislature in order to take up a law creating religious exemptions to the Supreme Court’s recent decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. Brown, and other clerks across the state, say their religious freedoms are being violated because they’re being forced to license a practice they say is against their beliefs. Brown refused to issue any marriage licenses the day the decision came down last month but has since resumed the practice. Other clerks, however, have been more defiant. Casey Davis, who is the county clerk in uh… Casey County (Really? Really.) has refused to grant same-sex marriage licenses. Gov. Beshear met with Davis yesterday and told him to begin granting the licenses or step down from his job. Davis has refused to do either, saying he will go to jail for his religious beliefs if necessary.

• A panel responsible for recommending changes to Ohio’s constitution is considering reforms to the state’s grand jury system following controversial officer-involved shootings here and across the country. The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission is currently mulling recommendations made by the Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations convened by Gov. John Kasich last year after the police shooting deaths of John Crawford III in Beavercreek and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, among others. Among those recommendations: requiring judicial oversight in grand jury proceedings, releasing some testimony from proceedings to improve the transparency of the process and requiring grand juries review all officer-involved incidents resulting in death or injury, unless other independent investigations are conducted. Currently, there is some question about whether those changes should be made at the constitutional or legislative level, with lawmakers debating what exactly determines how Ohio’s grand jury system should operate. But whether or not the issue is constitutional or a matter for lawmakers, advocates say, it’s a good time to reconsider the state’s grand jury methods. They haven’t been examined by lawmakers in about 60 years.

• Finally, in national news, after a contentious vote yesterday, South Carolina today officially took down the Confederate flag that had been flying over the grounds of the state capital for more than 50 years.The flag was removed from the dome of the building itself in 2000, and its final banishment from the grounds takes place after the horrific shooting of nine African American churchgoers in Charleston by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

That’s it for me. Enjoy this All Star weekend! Oh, and come join our wiffle ball home run derby at Rhinegeist on Sunday. It’s gonna be fun.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.09.2015 58 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_smitherman_ck

Morning News and Stuff

Police say beating was hate crime; state investigating landscaper over diversity fraud; South Carolina removes Confederate flag

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s up in the news today.

Cincinnati police have asked Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters to pursue hate crime charges in connection with an attack on a man at Fountain Square Saturday night. That announcement marks a pronounced change of tone for the police, who earlier said the act did not appear to be racially motivated and that an officer on the scene who called the incident “anti-white” spoke in error. Twenty-seven-year-old Christopher McKnight, who is white, was attacked by several men, all black, following a period of unrest on Fountain Square in which two officers were injured and several arrests were made. Video of the incident taken from a Metro bus appears to show McKnight engaged in a one-on-one fight with another individual at first; soon, however, others also join in. One teen in a red shirt is shown trying to keep others from ganging up on McKnight, dragging another attacker off of him at one point. Soon, though, several teens attack McKnight, who is sometimes on the defensive, other times seen throwing punches. A couple minutes into the video, McKnight is seen getting up, putting one of his shoes back on and stalking back and forth along the sidewalk unaccosted by the crowd, eventually raising his arms in a challenging manner. He then walks out of frame of the camera. The video does not show what started the fight or an apparently later altercation that left McKnight bloodied on the sidewalk. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell has said he’s recommending Deters pursue the hate crime charge against McKnight’s unidentified attackers. No suspects have been arrested in the incident.

• The national office of the NAACP has filed a U.S. District Court lawsuit against former leadership of Cincinnati’s local chapter, advancing long-running controversy over the city’s branch of the civil rights organization. The drama started when Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman resigned as president last year. Ishton Morton stepped in to take his place, but the national NAACP suspended Morton, his wife and another member, Lettie Reid, from the organization, saying they weren’t focused on civil rights work. The NAACP lawsuit alleges that the three have continued to present themselves as local NAACP leaders despite the fact they are no longer members of the organization, conducting fundraising and spending the branch’s money without national authorization. The national group has asked a federal judge to yank incorporation from Cincinnati’s chapter and order its former leaders, including one-time president Ishton Morton, to pay $300,000 in damages. Morton and his allies say the national office is trying to dictate local affairs at the Cincinnati branch, and he’s vowed to fight the lawsuit. There’s a deep political element in the fight: Some within the local chapter have bristled at the rightward drift of the branch, which started under Smitherman and saw the civil right group allying with staunch conservative groups like the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes. Critics say the chapter’s activities in that time have drifted away from civil rights advocacy. Backers, however, say the branch is reflective of local wishes and that the national office is engaging in “voter suppression” by trying to dictate who leads the chapter.

• The state is investigating Newtown-based Evans Landscaping over allegations it has been abusing grants and other programs designed for minority-owned businesses. The company is also entangled in lawsuits around those allegations, which were filed by another company called Ergon Site Construction. An initial suit by Evans claims that Ergon owed the company $275,000 for work done on a contract. Ergon counter-sued, saying Evans was using the minority-owned Ergon to get minority contracts through the state and that the company kept state money meant for Ergon. In the midst of that fight, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Evans’ Newtown location Tuesday. Law enforcement officials would not comment on the reasons for the raid or whether it is related to fraud charges against Evans.

• So that was all super-heavy news. Here’s something less so. For $35 bucks, you can ride a zip line over The Banks. The zip line will go from an 80-foot platform in front  of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to a shorter platform near the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. It will be open starting Saturday at 11 a.m. and will go until 5 p.m. that day. The line will run Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon and then again from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Who’s going to do this with me? It sounds awesome.

• There is a lot of worry in Cincinnati surrounding the recent wave of shootings, which have spiked significantly over last year’s low numbers. But Cincinnati isn’t the only city experiencing increases in violence, and as its homicide numbers remain steady, other cities are seeing sharp increases. Among them is Milwaukee, which has seen 80 murders so far this year — double the 39 it had this time last year. In Baltimore, which has also seen a big spike in gun violence and deaths, the increase has led to the dismissal of the city’s police commissioner. Other cities, including St. Louis and New Orleans, are also experiencing big increases in murders. But social scientists are quick to point out that these spikes seem smaller in context to recent history. Even today’s increased numbers, which are only happening in certain cities, are still much lower than violent crime’s peak in the early 1990s. Experts have a variety of explanations for the mini-surge in violence in Cincinnati and elsewhere. Crime always picks up some in the summer, law enforcement officials note. Also, violent gun crime and murders have been so low in some cities like New York, which clocked its lowest murder rate in 50 years last year, that any increase looks big. Other experts point to the influence of drugs, weak gun laws or other explanations for the increasing violence.

• Finally, lawmakers in South Carolina voted last night to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state house there. The move comes in the wake of the shooting deaths of nine black church goes in Charleston at the hands of white supremacist Dylann Roof. Roof displayed the flag prominently on his vehicle and elsewhere.

That’s it for me. Tweet. Email. Etc.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.07.2015 59 days ago
Posted In: News, Police at 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_bones2_dsorcher

Officers Charged with Covering Up Accident for Controversial Cop

Sgt. Andrew Mitchell, involved in the 2011 shooting of David "Bones" Hebert, was allegedly removed from crash scene by other officers

Two Cincinnati Police Officers have been charged in the cover up of a car accident involving a third officer, Sgt. Andrew Mitchell. Mitchell was the same officer who shot and killed local musician David “Bones” Hebert in Northside in 2011, according to a source within the department.

According to court documents filed Saturday, Mitchell was off duty and driving his personal vehicle, a Honda Odyssey, on West McMicken Avenue in Fairview at 5 a.m. when he ran into a pole. Afterward, Officers Jason Cotterman and Sgt. Richard Sulfsted concealed Mitchell from witnesses, helped him get home and did not fully investigate the accident, according to charges pending against them in Hamilton County Municipal court.

Sulfsted was the supervisor on duty at the time. 

Both Cotterman and Sulfsted face multiple counts of obstructing justice and dereliction of duty. They’re expected in court July 16. Mitchell faces charges in relation to the accident, including reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

“Resulting from an internal Cincinnati Police Department investigation, three Cincinnati Police officers have been arrested and had their police powers suspended pending the outcome of court proceedings, which are now underway,” City Manager Harry Black said in a memo released today.

The memo reveals that the incident was reported to CPD’s internal investigation unit the next day, and that law enforcement officials and prosecutors have reviewed the case for months.

The accident and subsequent cover-up charges raise questions that have yet to be addressed as Cincinnati Police continue their investigation, including the nature of Mitchell’s activities that night along West McMicken Avenue, his fellow officers’ motivations for the alleged cover-up and why Mitchell has remained on the force following other questionable situations in his past service.

Police haven't responded to multiple requests for comment on the charges, and a voicemail box for CPD's public information office is full, according to an automated message. CityBeat has filed public records requests for more information on the incident.

Mitchell's shooting of Hebert in 2011 was controversial, causing a number of protests and investigations in Cincinnati. The shooting also led to a 2012 wrongful death lawsuit against the Cincinnati Police Department. That lawsuit claimed Hebert was complying with instructions given by an investigating officer when he was shot and killed by Mitchell in Northside. The suit also claimed excessive force was used and that Mitchell “acted intentionally, recklessly, wantonly, and with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Mr. Hebert.”



Mitchell shot Hebert after officers responded to a 911 call around 3 a.m. alleging that Hebert had robbed and assaulted an intoxicated man with a pirate sword. Hebert was located sitting on a sidewalk on Chase Avenue about 10 minutes later. During subsequent questioning, officers say Hebert drew a knife and moved toward an investigating officer, causing Mitchell to believe the officer’s life was in danger. Mitchell shot Hebert twice, killing him.
  


Independent and police investigation into the shooting found that responding officers, including Mitchell, got too close to Hebert and did not have a plan for engaging him, a violation of CPD procedure. Reports show that responding officers barely spoke with each other about the situation before engaging Hebert. Despite the fact he didn’t follow procedures, three internal investigations cleared Mitchell of wrongdoing. 



That wasn’t the only controversial incident involving Mitchell, however. In January of 2008, he was the subject of a civil rights suit after he allegedly used a taser improperly against a teenager. Mitchell allegedly tased Christopher Bauer from his police cruiser after he asked Bauer to stop. However, the teen was wearing headphones and a hoodie and didn’t hear the command. Bauer’s suit says he fell face forward and sustained substantial injuries during the incident. Mitchell was eventually placed on a 40-hour suspension after exhausting appeals within the department’s disciplinary system.

CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.07.2015 60 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
opera+in+the+park

Morning News and Stuff

CPD officers charged with cover-up; Cincy number one for recreation; OH pot farms would be unionized, legalization effort says

Hey all, here’s the news today.

Two Cincinnati police officers face charges of covering up a car wreck involving fellow officer Sgt. Andrew Mitchell. Mitchell crashed his car March 22 on West McMicken Ave. According to dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice charges filed in Hamilton County Municipal Court, officers Jason Cotterman and Richard Sulfsted acted to remove Mitchell from the scene and hide his involvement from investigators after that accident. Mitchell now faces criminal charges, including reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

• It’s too early to tell if an attack that took place on Fountain Square July 4 was racially motivated, police said during a news conference yesterday. The incident took place during a period of unrest in which a crowd at a post-fireworks concert allegedly threw bottles and fireworks at officers, resulting in increased police presence including officers in riot gear. Just after that confrontation nearby, a man was beaten by a group of teens and young adults. Originally, responding officer Alicia Essert indicated the assault on Christopher McKnight, a white man from Albany, Indiana, was a hate crime. McKnight suffered a broken nose, facial lacerations and other minor injuries after an altercation with a group of teens and young adults. Essert reported the incident as “anti-white” because the teens were black, Cincinnati Police Capt. Mike Neville told reporters yesterday. He says that’s an incorrect assertion, and that officials are working to investigate what happened before calling the incident a hate crime.

• Let’s talk a little bit more about Transdev, the company tapped to run the Cincinnati streetcar. The private French transit operator has its U.S. offices in Chicago and employs about 18,000 people here. It runs four other rail projects around the country. Transdev only runs one other streetcar project, however — the nation’s largest in New Orleans. The company has overseen ridership increases on that transit project and even an expansion of its route, something streetcar boosters looking to take the trolley uptown will find encouraging. Here in Cincinnati, Transdev will be on the hook for any cost overruns the $4 million a year project incurs, since the contract currently being negotiated between the company and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is a fixed-cost deal.

* Cincinnati is the best city in the country for recreation, according to personal finance website Wallethub. Researchers there took into account climate, recreational costs, quality of parks and the number of recreational facilities in 100 cities to arrive at its rankings. Cincy ranked high in most categories, though it took a big hit in climate — we're 58. Big shocker there. But otherwise, we shine when it comes to our parks and other recreational opportunities. Cincy has the third-most music venues per capita, for instance, and ranked number one in overall number of entertainment and recreational opportunities. Pretty cool.

• The three potential marijuana farms in Southwestern Ohio proposed by weed-legalization effort RepsonsibleOhio would be staffed by union workers, owners of those farms said yesterday. Former Cincinnati Bengal and current Arizona Cardinal Frostee Rucker, one of those owners, promised that the farms would protect workers’ rights at a news conference yesterday. Rucker and other owners signed an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers union at that event. Owners of three potential marijuana farms in central Ohio have signed a similar agreement. The group, which is looking to put a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot, is proposing legalizing marijuana for anyone 21 and up, and making vending licenses available similar to liquor licenses. However, commercial growth of marijuana would be limited to 10 farms across the state owned by investors in the initiative. That’s caused cries of monopoly from a diverse array of critics spanning conservative state lawmakers and officials to other legalization groups.

• Attorneys for six Baltimore police officers charged in the police custody death of Freddy Gray are asking courts to move their trials, arguing that it’s impossible for the officers to get a fair trial in Baltimore. Gray died after sustaining severe spinal cord injuries in the back of a police van in April. After his death, large-scale civil unrest broke out in Baltimore and protests sprung up around the country. Because of the continued tension in the city, attorneys for the officers say it isn’t possible to assemble an unbiased jury pool in time for their October trials. Officers face various charges of murder, manslaughter and other lesser crimes.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.06.2015 61 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

SORTA votes on streetcar contract; unrest downtown; map of rental affordability crisis

Good morning y’all. I hope your holiday weekend was as crazy as mine in all the good ways a weekend can be crazy without being crazy in all the bad ways a weekend can be. One BAD way your July 4 extravaganza can be crazy is when you have to wrestle a strange naked man off your porch. Yes, that happened to me this weekend. Our country really needs better mental health care systems. But enough about that. Let’s get right to the news thing.

Just a bit ago, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority board voted to award the Cincinnati streetcar operating contract to Transdev, a Chicago-based company that submitted the winning turnkey bid to run and staff the project. That bid, which came in at $4 million for the first year of operations, proposed using non-union employees instead of SORTA personnel. Another bid utilizing unionized folks came in at $4.7 million, which was over the city’s $4.2 million budget for the project.

SORTA is making the decision because Cincinnati City Council could not come to agreement about who should operate the streetcar due to the price difference. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents SORTA’s employees, tried unsuccessfully to convince Hamilton County courts to make council decide which bid should be selected, but a judge rejected their suit. Council’s five Democrats are pro-union, as is Mayor John Cranley. Cranley offered an extra $2 million toward the project if the union contract was selected, but some Democrats on council said they were worried that amount wasn’t enough to keep the project running at full capacity. Councilman Wendell Young voted against the union bid, citing those concerns and depriving the Dems of the fifth vote they needed to approve that bid.

• Here’s some more bad July 4 crazy. There was a rash of unrest on Fountain Square Saturday night as revelry turned into some fights. Cincinnati Police were called in and a group of 50 or more in the crowd became even more agitated, police say, throwing bottles and fireworks at officers. That in turn led to more police presence, this time in riot gear. Two officers were injured during the confrontation. Seven people were arrested. One person was hospitalized after he was beaten badly by a group of young men. It is unclear what connection, if any, the man had to the fights occurring in the area. Police are investigating that incident. Meanwhile, the biggest question local media can muster about the violence appears only to be what this means for next week’s MLB All-Star Game. Awesome.

• Where the ladies at? In the Cincinnati startup world, I mean. Women aren’t nearly as well-represented in the tech and startup industries here, despite being, you know, half the population. Business incubator The Brandery, for instance, had no females in its 2014 class, a problem the organization is looking to remedy for upcoming years, according to this story. It’s not just a problem for Cincinnati, of course — the world of entrepreneurs is famously male-centric. But there are some local efforts happening to change that here.

• Things are going to get interesting in Hamilton County in 2016, and not just because of the presidential election. There’s a big showdown brewing for a couple county commissioner seats. Both Democrat Todd Portune and Republican Greg Hartmann are up for re-election, and both could have some serious challengers.

Let’s zoom in on what’s likely to be the more interesting of the two races: State Rep. Denise Driehaus has signaled she’s carefully considering a run against Hartmann, who angered some voters with last year’s icon tax decision cutting renovations for landmark Music Hall out of a sales tax increase on last year’s ballot. Driehaus looks like she’ll be a strong candidate, but Hartmann has plenty of support, especially from the Hamilton County GOP and right wingers like anti-tax group COAST. He also has some donors with deep pockets. Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou has been touting a recent fundraising event for Hartmann that raked in $250,000 in a single night. That’s big bucks. County Dems, though, say Driehaus won’t need that much cash to topple Hartmann, who will be fighting the tides of demographic change in the county. Republican electorate here has been eroded in recent years, with a younger, more diverse and generally Democratic-leaning population trickling into Hamilton County as Republican voters head out to the ‘burbs.

• More bad July 4 crazy. Someone vandalized Serpent Mound, the ancient Native American burial site in Adams County. It appears someone basically took a big ole truck and did some donuts on the mound. Officials with the historic site say it will take extensive work to restore the damage. The mound is internationally recognized for its historic and cultural importance.

• Finally, I feel like I link you, my dear readers, to a map at least once a week. I hope they’re as interesting to you as they are to me. This one is pretty insane, I think. It’s been put together by the Urban Institute and technically shows rental affordability in every county in the U.S. compared to the national average. The bigger picture? It shows the country’s steadily-intensifying affordable housing crisis, especially for very low-income renters. Even though we have relatively low rents here in Cincy (unless you’re trying to move to Over-the-Rhine, am I right?), that crisis has hit home. In Hamilton County last year, there were 34 affordable units for every 100 low-income families. That’s better than the national average of 28 units per 100 families, but it’s still striking. Even more striking is how much worse that would be without various types of government rental assistance: Hamilton County would only have 10 units of affordable housing for every 100 families that needs them in the market without those subsidies. Yowza.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. But for god's sake if you come to hang out on my porch keep your clothes on.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.02.2015 65 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_education

Morning News and Stuff

Macy's dumps Trump; Ohio dumps PARCC test; will the state change the way it draws congressional districts?

What’s up Cincy? No morning news tomorrow so I can chase down sources for a longer piece I’m working on. I’ll also be pre-gaming patriotism in preparation for the Fourth. But let me give you a brief rundown of a few things happening around town and beyond before I go.

Locally-based Macy’s Department Stores dumped the Trump yesterday. Presumptive GOP presidential candidate and long-running punchline Donald Trump said some choice words about immigrants during his campaign announcement, which has inflamed a firestorm of controversy. Trump suggested that folks from Mexico are criminals and etc., etc., all the tired crap you hear from people who no one should be listening to. As a result, Macy’s has announced it will no longer carry Trump’s menswear line, breaking the hearts of I’m sure dozens of Cincinnati-area males who aspire to the Donald’s dizzying levels of douche-baggery. Trump released a statement on Instagram (of course) saying that the split was his idea and that Macy's is only a small portion of the brisk business he does selling ties that look like something a used car salesman would wear to a bachelor party.

• So is this kinda slimy? The vendors who usually sell you your pre-game Reds shirts, foam fingers, socks, underwear, and what-have-you won’t be allowed to do so during the MLB All-Star Game. As a condition of landing the big game, the city had to agree to limit the sale of merchandise between July 8 and July 15 in an area about a mile around the ballpark. Ticket sellers will also be prohibited from selling in the area during the All-Star Game period. Sellers will still be allowed to vend peanuts and water, however, a concession the city was able to wring from MLB. Some vendors aren’t happy about the arrangement, saying it will cut them out of one of the biggest potential money-making events in the city.

• Another state budget note: One of the provisions in the new financial plan has the state of Ohio dropping its relationship with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the company that was administering standardized tests for Ohio schools. The so-called PARCC test rollout, which has been associated with the new federal Common Core educational standards, has been marked by criticism and tech problems. Next year, the Ohio Department of Education will go with another company, the American Institutes for Research, which already develops some public school tests for Ohio. The change won’t affect the state’s implementation of Common Core, state officials say, though lawmakers have called for less overall testing time for students.

• Ever wonder why Ohio works the way it does politically? Here’s a pretty good breakdown of gerrymandering, or the process of redrawing electoral districts for political advantage. The data shows the way in which parties can arrange districts to win more seats than they get votes. Both parties are guilty of the practice, but in Ohio, it’s Republicans who generally benefit. And that benefit has grown over time. In the period between 1982 and 1990, Republican congressional candidates got 49 percent of the popular vote and subsequently occupied 49 percent of Ohio’s seats in Congress. Fast forward to the time between 2012 and now. Republican congressional candidates get about 55 percent of the popular vote in the state, but occupy 75 percent of the state’s available congressional seats. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing citizen panels instead of state lawmakers to draw those districts could mean changes for the way the district-drawing process is handled, putting it in the hands of regular citizens instead of politicians.

• So. You may be wondering what the difference is between a Gov. John Kasich presidential run and the campaign fortunes of say, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Both are kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel right now when it comes to polls and shots at winning the GOP nod. But this pretty excellent analysis of the race, and of the positions GOP guvs running for office find themselves in, brings in some good points, showing that Kasich isn’t as badly-positioned as one might imagine compared to a candidate like Christie or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. It’s an interesting look at the politics behind governors running for president, and also kind of a window into how big of a mess the Republican field for the presidential nomination is right now.

That’s it for me! I hope your holiday weekend is great. Tweet at me, e-mail, you know the drill.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.01.2015 66 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
weed

Noon News and Stuff

Drug cops seize $11K from man at local airport; Kasich cuts ed funding, keeps strict abortion regulations in budget; Portman's problems

Hey hey all! Hope your week is going well as we speed toward what I’m sure is going to be an awesome July 4 weekend. Before we get to news, I wanted to welcome our new staff writer and news reporter Natalie Krebs, who starts today. Natalie comes to us after working in the Texas Senate. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Texas and also completed the prestigious News21 program at Arizona State University. She’s done work for great investigative magazine the Texas Observer and other publications, and we’re super-excited to have her here. You’ll be seeing her byline start popping up in the next couple weeks.

On to news. A new report in the Washington Post says that local law enforcement agencies seized more than $11,000 from a young black man at CVG airport last year under federal asset-forfeiture laws. Those laws allow agencies to seize money associated with drug trafficking or other major crimes. Drug Enforcement Agency task force members took the money from Charles Clarke despite the fact that they didn’t find any drugs, guns or other illegal substances on him. Clarke, who smokes marijuana occasionally, reportedly had the smell of the drug on his belongings at the time, which was enough along with his one-way ticket and inability to account for the money’s source for cops to stop him and seize his stuff.

The airport’s police force and the Covington Police Department were the two agencies involved in the seizure, but a total of 11 local agencies want a piece of the money, including the Cincinnati Police Department. That’s due to the way DEA task forces are set up and the way they disperse asset forfeiture money. The agency defends the practice, saying it helps fund vital local law enforcement efforts across the country. The Post’s story is a pretty incredible read and definitely something worth knowing about.

• In lighter-hearted news: Soon, the enormous, 20-story ghost of a 19th century man will visit downtown Cincinnati every night. Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to alarm you. The giant specter will be the image of a vintage Cincinnati Red Stockings player, which will be projected onto Carew Tower in the evenings to celebrate the upcoming Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Festivities around the game will take place July 10-14. The haunting… err, I mean… celebration starts tonight with a ceremony at 9:30 p.m. After that, the display will be up every night at that time until 5 a.m. through July 15.

• On to state stuff. Gov. John Kasich used his line-item veto power to cut up the state Senate’s budget yesterday, nixing 44 provisions from the financial plan as he signed it into law. Among those provisions, he cut $78 million from public education funding by eliminating a pay-back for schools that once received money from what was called the tangible personal property tax. That tax has since been eliminated, but lawmakers have carved out the reimbursement to assure that schools continue to get adequate levels of funding. Local schools like Princeton and Mason received millions from the TPP funds and have protested their elimination. Kasich and the Ohio Board of Education say they haven’t nailed down which schools will see decreases in funding from the move. Kasich has argued that the TPP money mostly went to schools in high-income areas that could afford to provide more local support and that the money from the program could be better used to support low-income districts. Kasich tried to adjust the state-funding formula in his version of the budget, but that attempt was punted by state legislators.

• Among the things Kasich didn’t veto yesterday: new abortion restrictions slipped into the budget last-minute. You can read all about that situation in this week’s feature news story. Here’s a little preview: Those regulations could threaten Cincinnati’s last clinic that provides abortions.

• One thing the legislature and governor didn’t tackle in the flurry of legislative activity: charter school reform. As we’ve discussed in past articles, there are calls for the reform of Ohio’s charter school system on both sides of the aisle. But it won’t happen just yet. Lawmakers have tabled efforts at reform of the system until September. Lawmakers cite major changes to a controversial bill that would have adjusted the charter system, saying they need more time than the rapidly approaching summer break allows them. Critics of charters say lack of accountability and big issues with use of funds, testing and attendance records show that the charter system in the state needs to be reworked.

• It’s a big day for statewide news. Ahead of today’s deadline, marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio yesterday delivered nearly 700,000 signatures to Secretary of State Jon Husted. If enough signatures are valid and the initiative makes it onto the ballot, voters will decide whether to green-light the group’s constitutional amendment creating 10 legalized marijuana grow sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio investors. Possession of marijuana would be legal for anyone over 21, and licenses would be issued for sale of the drug. No other commercial growers would be permitted, however, a detail that has created controversy. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced their own ballot proposal that would make it much tougher for such so-called constitutional monopolies to pass. That law would more than likely invalidate ResponsibleOhio’s amendment. Voters will have a strange and potentially confusing choice at the ballots come November.

• Here’s an interesting read on U.S. Sen. Rob Portman as he runs for re-election. Portman’s taking a shellacking in the polls right now against his presumed Democratic challenger, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Despite being the incumbent in a state with a Republican governor, Portman is down six points to Strickland in two recent polls. Strickland still has to make it through a Democratic primary, where he faces Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, but he’s opened up a comfortable lead against the young councilman. He’ll also have to contend with Portman’s formidable $8 million campaign war chest, the largest of any GOP Senate candidate seeking 2016 reelection. The above article explores the reasons why Portman is floundering right now in his race — reasons that may be beyond his campaign’s control.

I’m out! Tweet at me about all the fun stuff to do this July 4. Or, you know, email me your boring news tips. I love em.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.30.2015 67 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Union to sue SORTA, city; Kasich poised to sign $71 billion Ohio budget; Texas city charges journalists $80,000 for public emails

Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on today in Cincinnati.

If you were wondering what all the traffic was about downtown this morning (I was) this probably had something to do with it. The Hamilton County Courthouse was evacuated around 8:20 a.m. due to a suspicious suitcase that was flagged by bomb sniffing dogs there. The perimeter around the courthouse was cleared and a bomb unit and federal anti-terrorism personnel were dispatched to the scene. No word yet on what the item in the suitcase turned out to be.

• Guess what I have for you… it’s… you guessed it. More streetcar drama. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents employees for the Southwest Regional Ohio Transit Authority, has announced it will file a lawsuit against SORTA and the city of Cincinnati to try and prevent them from accepting a bid that wouldn’t use union employees to operate the transit project.

According to the union, Cincinnati City Council must direct SORTA on which bid to select. Some members of Council supported a more expensive pro-union bid that cost $4.7 million to the non-union’s $4 million in the first year of operations, but couldn’t reach an agreement to recommend that bid during voting. The union-friendly contract comes in about $500,000 over budget for the city, which has caused conservatives on council to balk at the option. Democrat Wendell Young also voted against the pro-union deal, sinking it the last time it came before council, because he worried the $2 million from the city’s general fund Mayor John Cranley agreed to use toward the project wouldn’t be enough and that a shortfall would cause reduction in service for the streetcar.

Without an agreement, council punted the decision to SORTA, which says it has no choice but to choose the less-expensive option. The ATU is seeking an injunction in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to force council to make the decision, saying that is what is required under the language of a motion about streetcar operations council passed last year. A separate operations and maintenance agreement between SORTA and the city makes no mention of such a stipulation, however.

• Seven projects in Cincinnati representing more than $61 million in development will receive Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits, the state announced today. Among those projects is the revamp of the Baldwin building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills. The historic former piano factory will be converted from office space into market-rate apartments by Cincinnati-based Neyer Properties. Neyer will receive $4.8 million in tax credits on the $39 million project.

• New affordable housing for seniors is coming to Northside. Episcopal Retirement Homes is building the 56-unit, $10 million development at Knowlton and Mad Anthony streets, one of 10 the group is doing in Greater Cincinnati. The Northside development will be LEED certified and handicap accessible. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved tax exemptions on the development yesterday and full council is expected to approve them tomorrow.

• Gov. John Kasich today is expected to sign into law the state’s $71 billion biennial budget drawn up by state lawmakers. Kasich didn’t get a lot of what he wanted in the budget — sweeping tax cuts for businesses and high-earners, taxes on oil and gas fracking, his revamp of the state’s educational funding formula — but the state legislature’s budget is still plenty conservative, ushering in its own big income tax cuts. And Kasich will have a bit of revenge as he vetoes some items in the state house’s budget, though it’s unclear what he will slash with the veto pen.

Abortion advocates hope against hope he’ll cut out some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which conservative lawmakers slid into the budget at the last minute earlier this month. Those include a stipulation that clinics’ partner hospitals must be within 20 miles of the abortion provider and a tweak to the rules over how clinics without agreements with local hospitals are licensed. You can read in-depth about those rule changes and what they mean for Cincinnati and the state in tomorrow’s CityBeat print edition. Kasich is much more likely to veto items that limit his executive authority, including an attempt to close out a method Kasich used to expand Medicaid in the state over lawmakers’ objections. Kasich is ushering in the state’s budget even as he has his eye on bigger things: He’ll announce his run for president in Columbus July 21.

• Finally, this is a story that is probably most interesting to journalists, but here we go anyway. The city of McKinney, Texas, where police officer Eric Casebolt resigned earlier this month after he was shown on video pointing a gun at teenage pool party goers and slamming a teenaged girl to the ground, is charging journalists almost $80,000 for access to public records about Casebolt. Gawker Media has requested all official emails about Casebolt’s 10-year career as well as his personnel file. McKinney officials say that the city’s emails predating 2014 aren’t searchable and that they’ll have to hire a computer programmer to retrieve them, thus the huge expense. 

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 09.04.2015 26 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_gaymarriage_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Councilman Young pulls support for Chief Blackwell; records show officials colluded on Ohio charter data-rigging; Kim Davis in jail, Rowan County same-sex couples get licenses

Good morning all. Here’s the news today as we head into the long Labor Day weekend. I’ll be brief so we can all get there a little quicker, eh?

Cincinnati City Councilman and former Cincinnati Police officer Wendell Young says Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell has become a distraction and should move on. Young has until recently made statements of support for the chief but now says the negative attention and “sniping” has “achieved its desired result” and undermined Blackwell as the head of the department. Young says he still thinks Blackwell has done a good job in his two years as chief, but political turmoil at the city and within CPD as well as a tough summer that saw officer Sonny Kim shot and a rise in gun violence have taken their toll. Young says it’s in the city’s best interest and Blackwell’s that he move on.

Others on Council, as well as community members, however, continue to stick by the chief. Young’s fellow Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld have all made statements supporting Blackwell. He’s gotten a show of support outside City Hall, too — a Facebook group called “We’ve Got Blackwell’s Back” popped up yesterday and has garnered hundreds of followers. The support comes amid controversy, however, as rumors have swirled all summer about city leaders’ unhappiness with Blackwell and low morale at CPD. Cincinnati’s Fraternal Order of Police President Kathy Harrell has called a special Sept. 14 meeting to discuss those concerns, and some media outlets report that officers might take a vote of no confidence in Blackwell at that gathering.

• Some parents are fighting back against Cincinnati Public Schools' controversial decision to end first-come, first-served enrollment for the city’s sought-after magnet schools, forming a group called Cincinnatians for School Access to advocate for a return to that policy. CPS ended first-come, first-served last month, citing the nearly two-week camp outs district parents were undertaking in order to be first in line to enroll their children at schools like the Fairview-Clifton German Language School. The district says the first-come, first-served policy isn’t fair because some students don’t have parents who can afford to spend two weeks waiting in line to enroll. They’ve replaced the former system with a randomized lottery, at least for this year. But parents like those in CSA say that takes control out of parents’ hands. The new parent group is pushing to gain more members and convince CPS to reconsider the change.

• A couple quick business notes: First, I’m not much for fashion. Like, I think about it exactly never. If you’ve ever seen me walking to work, at City Hall covering Council, out on Saturday night or well, anywhere, really, you know this already. But I have to admit I have a weakness for cool sneakers, which makes me kinda excited about this news: Corporate, a mid-to-high-end sneaker boutique located in Hyde Park, is opening up a second store in Over-the-Rhine on Vine Street. The new location will focus less on athletic wear, owners say, and more on lifestyle-type gear. That’s great because I could use some new kicks and I really hate taking the bus to Hyde Park. But it’s also not-so-great because that’s on my walk home from work and I’m really worried about the toll all that temptation will take on my bank account.

• I think it’s pretty uncommon to celebrate your first birthday with a round of beers, but that’s the big plan for the one-year anniversary of Cincinnati Red Bike. The bike share company started Sept. 15 last year, and to celebrate they’ve partnered with the also recently opened Taft’s Ale House for a special brew commemorating the occasion. The two are just a block apart from each other in Over-the-Rhine, so the collaboration seemed like a natural way to have a party. Taft’s will create the Red Bike-themed brew, a low-alcohol lager (can’t be swerving on those rental bikes, after all) and host the big, bike-beer-birthday bash Sept. 15.

• An initial review of records detailing charter school accountability data flubs at the Ohio Department of Education is turning up some fairly disconcerting stuff. The state released 100,000 pages of records to media yesterday, some of which shows personnel at the ODE collaborating to goose charter school sponsor data by leaving out low-performing online charter schools. So far, the scandal around the data-fixing has revolved mostly around now-resigned ODE official David Hansen, husband of Gov. John Kasich's chief of staff Beth Hansen. But the emails and other documents released yesterday seem to show Hansen and other ODE officials discussed the data and how results might make charter school sponsors look better. Officials with the state say the records indicate that no one high up in the state's administration, including Kasich, was aware that the data-rigging was happening, though an analysis of the documents by journalists has yet to wrap up.

• This morning was another historic step for marriage equality as same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky were finally able to get marriage licenses there. The couples had been denied licenses despite the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this summer legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. County Clerk Kim Davis ceased issuing any marriage licenses at all, saying same-sex marriage violated her religious beliefs. Her refusal led to a court battle, which finally ended yesterday, when Davis was put in jail after being found in contempt of federal court. Couples in Rowan made their way through throngs of media, supporters and protesters to receive their licenses from deputy clerks early this morning.

• Finally, a little bit of national good news: Unemployment in the U.S. has fallen to a seven-and-a-half-year low at 5.1 percent. It’s not all great news, though. The country gained somewhat fewer jobs than expected, and wages didn’t rise much, either.

All right. I'm out. Have a great long weekend!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.03.2015 49 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jeffrey blackwell

Morning News and Stuff

FOP might cast no-confidence vote for Blackwell; voters will not get opportunity to approve most charter change proposals; Cincinnati, city of snobs?

Good morning all. Here’s what’s happening in the news today.

Cincinnati’s Fraternal Order of Police is set to cast a vote of no confidence regarding CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, according to union leadership. Union President Kathy Harrell is convening the Sept. 14 meeting to address what she says are issues around low morale, staffing and other concerns from officers. Though Harrell says she believes officers will cast the no confidence vote, that’s not set in stone, and the meeting will include an open forum during which officers can voice their opinions.

The meeting comes as Cincinnati experiences something of a spike in gun violence, which is up 30 percent from last year. Some other crimes are also up slightly — as a whole,  violent crime has risen 3 percent since this time last year — but that follows an abnormally quiet year last year, and overall crime rates line up with the past few years in the city. Other cities have also seen upticks in crime, some much more drastic than Cincinnati. But city leaders have said that’s no excuse and have pushed for new crime reduction measures. Blackwell introduced a 90-day crime reduction plan earlier this summer, which has gotten mixed reviews from the city manager, mayor and other leaders. Earlier in the summer, questions swirled around whether Blackwell was departing the force; city documents outlining his exit were detailed in media reports, though they were never signed and the chief stayed on. In June, black police union the Sentinels unanimously voted their support for the chief.

Blackwell called a news conference last night to address the pending FOP no-confidence vote, saying he felt sure he would remain chief and highlighting the efforts he has made to build community engagement and fight crime. He also stressed that staffing for the department is at a six-year high. The FOP hasn’t had a meeting like the one planned for next week in a decade, and officers in Cincinnati have never cast a no-confidence vote over a chief.

• If you were looking forward to voting on major changes to our city's governing system, well, sorry 'bout that. There were few surprises out of City Hall yesterday as Cincinnati City Council and Mayor John Cranley blocked the most substantive of suggested amendments to the city’s charter from appearing before voters in November. A measure allowing Council to fire the city manager and another that would have enabled it to engage in executive session both failed to gather enough votes to make it onto the November ballot. Some on Council, including council members Yvette Simpson and Kevin Flynn, supported bringing those changes to voters.

But the executive session amendment failed to reach the six-vote threshold needed to overturn last week’s mayoral veto. Cranley says he vetoed the amendment because it would bring more secrecy to government by allowing Council to meet in private. Simpson argued that executive session, which is permissible under state law and is used by most municipal councils in the state, would actually allow elected representatives to play a bigger role in decisions the city administration makes. Simpson pointed out that some information circulating within City Hall related to economic development deals, court cases, security and other issues must be kept confidential.

However, since Council must conduct all its business in public, it can’t be made privy to that information until it’s time to vote on it. That means elected representatives only get to engage in the final stages of decision making and aren’t involved in cutting economic development deals, for instance, until the final deal is reached. Simpson slammed that dynamic, saying that it means city administration and the mayor are allowed to hold private meetings and hash out private deals without Council’s knowledge. But City Manager Harry Black said Council is able to exercise oversight over any part of the deal-making process and can challenge the confidentiality of any information possessed by the city administration. Cranley said having access to such information as mayor is one of “the privileges of the position” and pointed out that executive and legislative roles must necessarily differ in City Hall.

The executive session amendment garnered five votes from Council. Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman voted against it. Councilman Chris Seelbach was absent from voting, but had previously indicated to media that he would not reprise his earlier “yes” vote on the amendment, making it unlikely the measure would overcome Cranley’s veto.

Cranley also railed against the provision allowing Council to fire the city manager, saying it would create an atmosphere where the city’s top executive would fear for his job “every week.” Cranley cited the dynamics of Council in the 1990s, before Council’s ability to fire the manager was revoked, to illustrate his point. However, some council members pushed back at his assertion. Sittenfeld, for example, said having nine council members overseeing the city manager seemed more democratic and more stable than having only the mayor do so.

Council did place two amendments on the November ballot. One would clean up archaic language in the city’s charter and also change the date of the city’s mayoral primary. The other would shift start dates for the mayor and council members from early December to early January.

OK. Look at me rambling on. Here are some quick hits for the rest of your news.

• The Cincinnati Zoo announced yesterday it will spend $12 million on an expansion of its gorilla exhibit, building an indoor greenhouse for the primates that will match the animals’ current outdoor area.

• Is Cincinnati one of the most unfriendly cities in the world?

Read More

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.02.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news-abortionclinics-700x615

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar builder burns midnight oil to complete vehicles; legal challenge to mayor's park proposal; Kasich speaks the language of youth

Hey hey all. Here’s what’s happening in the city and beyond this morning.

The company making Cincinnati’s streetcars, CAF USA, will be adding extra shifts at its manufacturing facility in New York in order to avoid being any later on delivering the vehicles. CAF originally told the city that the cars would be delivered by the end of this month. But a few weeks ago, the company revealed that they might not be ready until December, stoking apprehension that the delay could cause the entire transit project’s start date to be pushed back. The streetcar is supposed to start operating, with passengers, this time next year. Between now and then, a good deal of testing will need to be done on the cars, both at the manufacturing facility and here in Cincinnati, where the cars will have to take log a number of test miles before they can take passengers. However, officials with the city and with CAF say the delay won’t cause any lag in the project’s launch. The company has given the city a progress update on the vehicles and has said the first of the five cars could be delivered as early as October.

• Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Ohio yesterday filed a lawsuit against the state over recently passed new laws governing abortion access. CityBeat has covered the ongoing battle extensively, and you can read the backstory here, here, and here. Shorter version: A provision tucked into Ohio’s budget and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in June would give the Ohio Department of Health 60 days to approve an abortion provider’s license renewal or variance request. After that period, the request would be automatically denied and a clinic would lose its ability to perform the procedure. In its federal suit, Planned Parenthood says that presents an unconstitutional barrier to abortion access. Cincinnati’s last remaining clinic, Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, could be in jeopardy of closing due to that new rule. That would make Cincinnati the largest metro area in the country without direct access to an abortion clinic. The Mount Auburn clinic waited for more than a year to have its last variance request granted by ODH. After Planned Parenthood filed a previous lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Ohio laws that require clinics have hospital admitting privileges, but forbidding public hospitals from entering into such agreements, the department finally issued the clinic an exception to those rules. Now, the facility could be in danger of closing again thanks to the new restrictions Planned Parenthood is challenging.

• Mayor John Cranley’s proposed ballot initiative for city park upgrades is getting a legal challenge from one staunch opponent. Cincinnati attorney Don Mooney filed an objection to the initiative earlier this week, saying the wording of the ballot proposal is misleading and incomplete. Supporters of the initiative have already gained the needed signatures to place the proposal on the November ballot. Cranley’s proposal would boost property taxes to pay for upkeep to the city’s park as well as fund major changes to several, including Clifton’s Burnet Woods. The proposal is designed to raise about $5 million a year in property tax revenues. But that 75 percent of that money could be used on debt service for bonds the city would issue to raise tens of millions of dollars for the parks project. Therein lies the rub, or at least one of them: Mooney charges that the ballot initiative as written doesn’t make clear that it would allow the city, through the mayor and park board, to take on millions in debt. Mooney also criticizes the power given the mayor to make decisions about what to do with that money. Under the initiative’s current language, parks projects funded by the money would be proposed by the mayor and approved by the parks board without the approval of Cincinnati City Council. Mooney calls that a mayoral power grab.

• If you’re wondering what the long-promised new Kroger location in Corryville will look like, the grocery chain finally has some renderings for you to gander at. Kroger released some images of how the store should look when completed next year. At nearly 70,000 square feet, the location will nearly double the size of the current Kroger at the south end of Corryville’s Short Vine strip. Current plans flip the store’s orientation, putting its entrance facing Jefferson Street and the University of Cincinnati’s campus.

• Finally, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is a hip, with it guy. He knows what the kids like. They like Snapchat. They like bacon. They like GOP presidential primary candidates who are down with Snapchat and bacon. That’s why Kasich’s campaign pioneered a new kind of political ad today on the photo and video sharing app. The ad uses a filter on the app to render Kasich’s campaign logo as strips of bacon, which the app is running in early primary state New Hampshire from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. today. In his next move to win millennial voters, Kasich will post anonymously on Yik Yak with a special, super-secret guest verse on an A$AP Rocky song rapped entirely in Doge speak about his foreign policy platform. Such hip! Much vote!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.01.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_protester_7-9 copy

Planned Parenthood Sues Ohio Over Abortion Access

Suit claims new state laws unjustly limit women's access to abortion

Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio filed a federal lawsuit today against the state of Ohio, charging that "hostile policies" passed by the state in the last few years greatly restrict women's access to abortions.

The suit comes after new restrictions were slipped into Ohio's budget earlier this year. Among those restrictions was a clause that automatically suspends a clinic's license to provide abortions if the Ohio Department of Health does not respond to a license renewal application or request for variance to other restrictions within 60 days. In the past, ODH has taken a year or more to respond to applications from clinics in Cincinnati and elsewhere in the state.

New rules on abortion providers have come about in the past few years as conservative state lawmakers have sought to clamp down on abortion providers. Some lawmakers say the laws are about patient safety, while others admit they are intended to decrease the number of abortions performed in Ohio. Since the laws have been passed, the number of clinics in Ohio has dwindled from 14 to just nine.

Restrictions passed in 2009 required clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and a subsequent law passed in 2013 forbade publicly funded hospitals from entering into those agreements. That rule cost Cincinnati's last clinic providing abortions, the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, its transfer agreement with UC Hospital.

The center, run by Planned Parenthood, has since had to apply for variances to those rules, which it qualifies for because it has individual physicians who can admit patients to hospitals. Delays from the ODH granting a variance to those restrictions have put the future of Cincinnati's last operating clinic providing abortions in jeopardy. The center waited more than a year for its variance request, which the ODH finally granted after Planned Parenthood filed an earlier lawsuit against Ohio.

If the center were to cease providing abortions, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services. If another, similarly endangered clinic in Dayton were also shuttered, Southwest Ohio would be entirely without a clinic.

Officials with Planned Parenthood say the state's new laws are about politics, not patient safety.

"Despite what these politicians claim, medical experts have made it clear that these restrictions don’t enhance patient safety — just the opposite," Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio CEO Jerry Lawson said in a statement about the lawsuit. "Politicians in Ohio should be helping more women access health care — not making it harder."

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.01.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gay-marriage-rights

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach won't back executive session amendment; Pendleton affordable housing to get makeover; Rowan County Clerk still not doing her job because liberty

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

First, a man died last night after he was Tased by police in Over-the-Rhine. Cincinnati police responded to the Shell station on Liberty Street after reports the man was trying to rob a woman in a car there. When officers arrived, they say the man would not respond to verbal commands. He was Tased in the chest and detained. He later died from his injuries after going into cardiac arrest. Police rules prohibit Taser shots to the head, neck or chest areas unless officers or bystanders are in immediate danger. Police use of Tasers in Cincinnati has resulted in a number of deaths, including that of Everette Howard, who died after he was Tased by University of Cincinnati police in 2011. After Howard’s death, UC police banned use of Tasers.

UPDATE: In a news conferences about the incident, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said that the deceased, James Carney III, 48, was actively assaulting a woman in a car parked at an ATM. He did not comply and was Tased first in the back and then in the chest. He fell unconscious at that point and had to be removed from the car window. Blackwell has said there is no ATM camera, gas station security camera or body camera footage of the incident. We will update as more information becomes available.

• Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach will not vote again to support an amendment to the city of Cincinnati’s charter that would allow Council to meet in executive session. That’s big news because it leaves supporters of the amendment on Council one vote short of the six votes they need to override Mayor John Cranley’s veto of that amendment. The change to the charter, one of five suggested by the non-partisan Charter Review Task Force, looked like a slam dunk after Council passed it 6-3 last week. Cranley subsequently vetoed the change, but even he admitted it was mostly a symbolic move. The amendment looked to be headed for the November ballot for voters to approve or reject, but now its future is uncertain.

• A number of affordable housing units in Pendleton are getting a $5 million makeover. Five buildings that are part of the eight-building, 40-unit Cutter Apartments will be renovated by new owners Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and Wallick-Hendy Development, who bought the buildings last month. The 32 units are being renovated with help from a city of Cincinnati eight-year property tax exemption and will remain subsidized housing. Federal historic tax credits should also help fund the renovations. The buildings date back as far as the late 1800s.

• Mayor Cranley today announced he will unveil
at a 2 p.m. news conference a paid parental leave policy proposal (phew that’s a lot of alliteration) for city of Cincinnati employees. We'll update with details about that proposal as they're released. Currently, city employees can get up to six weeks of paid maternity leave depending on circumstances. Councilman Chris Seelbach has applauded the move while pointing out he and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson advanced a similar proposal this spring.

“While Councilwoman Simpson and I were excluded from the mayor's discussions and ultimate announcement,” Seelbach said in a post on social media, “I applaud him for coming around to support this important initiative for our workforce.”

• Let’s head south for a minute. The County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or really, any couples since the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land earlier this summer is… still refusing to do so because, well, Jesus. County Clerk Kim Davis is standing her ground even after the nation’s highest court yesterday slapped down her request for a stay on a lower court’s decision ordering her to issue the licenses.

Why? Because issuing licenses to two people who love each other and wish to be treated as a legal couple by the state would somehow infringe on Davis’ religious liberty. Yes. A county employee denying rights to someone is an exercise of liberty somehow, according to Davis. You know, if I got a job at Chick Fil-A and then refused to serve people because my religious beliefs said that people shouldn’t eat chicken, I would be fired. Davis should probably also be fired. But that could take a long time as doing so would likely set off a renewed round of legal wrangling.

• Finally, while we’re talking about the Supreme Court, here’s a pretty interesting New Yorker article about some upcoming decisions the court might hand down that could be very dismaying for liberals. Cases on abortion, affirmative action and unions could turn out disappointing for progressives, the article argues, despite big wins for lefties over the summer.

I’m out. Catch me in the twitterverse or put a letter in my ole email box whydontcha?

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.31.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_cincinnatibeerweek

Morning News and Stuff

Urban League releases study on racial disparities; Kroger to install beer taps, hold tastings; Kasich moves up to third in GOP ranking

Good morning y’all. I’m still super-drowsy from the weekend, which means it was a good one, right? Hope yours was also great. Let’s talk about that news stuff, shall we?

A new report released today from the Greater Cincinnati Urban League highlights what a lot of folks already know, even if they didn’t have the specific numbers in front of them to prove it: The disparities between blacks in Cincinnati and the city as a whole are huge.
The report’s in-depth data further buttresses findings CityBeat published last week in an investigation into the city’s deep racial and economic divides, which you can read here.

The study, called “The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities” details some of the disturbing realities for residents of the Greater Cincinnati area. According to the report, 76 percent of the city’s 14,000 families in poverty are black. Black men here die an average of 10 years sooner than white men, and black women die an average of six years sooner. The infant mortality rate in Hamilton County for black infants, 18.4 per 1,000, is more than triple that of white infants in the county. Black-owned businesses in Cincinnati are far rarer here than in other cities. We have 6.9 per 1,000 residents. Raleigh, North Carolina, on the other hand, has 18.8 per 1,000. The study is the first of its kind the Greater Cincinnati Urban League has released since 1995, and while it shows that the city has made great strides in police-community relations, it has much work to do in terms of economic segregation.

• Was training on the way for University of Cincinnati police officers that could have prevented the Samuel DuBose shooting? At least some officials with the department think so, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. DuBose was shot in the head and killed July 19 by UC police officer Ray Tensing. Tensing has been indicted on murder charges for the incident after his body camera showed him shooting DuBose with little warning after a routine traffic stop.

The department was in the process of buying new firearms training equipment in the weeks prior to the shooting, officials say. That training equipment could have prevented DuBose’s tragic death, UC Police Chief Jason Goodrich has said. In addition, more changes to training protocols could prevent a similar situation in the future, Goodrich and other UC officials say. These include more thorough monitoring of body camera footage, “contact cards” that better track the demographics of those officers stop and a new data system that tracks officers’ use of force. Records reported by the Enquirer show that UC police have increased their activity around the university campus in recent years, that officers have stopped and ticketed black motorists disproportionately and that officers have drawn their guns more frequently than in the past. Goodrich, however, says that some of that data is more complex than it might first appear — university officers have been called to respond to more felony warrants, which more typically involve drawing a weapon. The university has also increased the number of officers it employs, which has led to an increase in stops overall, officials say.

• In some lighter news, Kroger will begin installing beer taps and holding tasting sessions in some of its regional locations in order to, uh, tap into (ugh sorry) increasing demand for craft and local brews. Among the first stores to get the amenity this fall will be the new, enormous Kroger location in Oakley. The chain’s replacement for its current Corryville location will also get the taps when it opens in 2017.

• If you’re anything like my friends, you’ve probably worn at least one pair of Tom’s shoes in your lifetime. The company promotes a “buy one, donate one” model: For every pair you cop, a pair gets sent to people in a less-fortunate country. Tomorrow, the company’s so-called chief giving officer, Sebastian Fries, will be in town giving a keynote speech on Tom’s social enterprise model at the Cincinnati Museum Center, kicking off the city’s Social Enterprise Week. The series of events, created by Flywheel Cincinnati, is designed to celebrate and promote companies that have a social service dimension to their business model. Several locals involved in social enterprise businesses will join Fries in a panel discussion, and a range of other activities will take place throughout the week. 

• The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber has announced its support Mayor John Cranley’s proposed Cincinnati parks revamp funded by a potential property tax hike. But, uh, they’d rather you don’t try to spark up a joint in a future revamped Burnet Woods. The Chamber has also announced they’re opposing state ballot initiative Issue 3, which is ResponsibleOhio’s proposal to legalize marijuana in Ohio. That proposed constitutional amendment would make it cool in the eyes of the law for anyone 21 and up to smoke weed, but would limit commercial growth of the plant to 10 grow sites across the state owned by the group’s investors. The chamber says it’s concerned about the proposed constitutional amendment’s effect on workplace safety, saying it will negatively impact business’ ability to maintain a drug-free work environment. Both the state marijuana proposal and the county property tax hike will be on the November ballot for voters to approve or reject.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich is moving on up in the GOP presidential primary. D.C. politics publication The Hill ranks Kasich number three on its August list of Republican primary contenders, a serious jump up from his previous spot at number 10 last month. Some polls put Kasich ahead of former Florida governor and presumed frontrunner Jeb Bush in key primary states. Kasich, however, still trails real estate dude and hair piece model Donald Trump, who is somehow lodged in the number one slot in the GOP primary circus sideshow, err, race. Kasich has some big challenges ahead, however, including some staunchly conservative primary states coming up he’ll have to do well in despite the fact many rabid conservatives perceive him as a moderate. Which is pretty weird and terrifying, given the guv’s pretty conservative record in the state.

• Finally, one time this guy from Ohio got a mountain in Alaska named after him right before he even became president. Turns out, that peak would later become the tallest in the country when Alaska became a state in 1959. But President William McKinley never visited Alaska, and the state officially changed the name of Mount McKinley back to its original indigenous moniker, Denali, in 1980. Now the federal government has also announced it will begin officially recognizing the mountain as Denali, not Mount McKinley, which really makes a ton of sense, given that naming it after McKinley was a decision made by some rando adventurer traveling with a couple prospectors who really seems to have done so on a whim. But the change has Ohio lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, all in a huff. Many Republican lawmakers and even Democrat or two in the state have called the renaming a “political stunt” and a “constitutional overreach” by President Barack Obama, because of course they would say that. Meanwhile, there are some who believe that the mountain was named after McKinley in a sublime act of trolling against silver prospectors. McKinley, after all, was running on a platform advocating the gold standard.

That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with news tips or Mount McKinley-inspired rage.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.28.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ac_bp_pete rose_

Morning News and Stuff

Study shows kids have more health issues in low-income Cincy neighborhoods; Hamilton County bailiff accused of stealing property during evictions; decision on Rose reinstatement coming by end of year

Good morning all! Hope your Friday is starting off well. It’s gorgeous outside, so maybe cut work a little early if you can, eh?

In the meantime, here’s the news. A new study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center suggests that living in high-poverty areas might lead to more sickness among young children. Hospitalization rates for maladies like bronchitis and pneumonia among young children are very different across Hamilton County, the study found, with children in high-poverty areas making many more hospital trips for such problems than kids in better-off neighborhoods and suburbs. The study tracked hospital visits by census tract and found so-called “hot spots” with high hospitalization rates in low-income inner-city areas. Those areas often correspond with areas that have lower life expectancies and higher infant mortality rates.

The Children’s study illustrates just one of the many consequences of Cincinnati’s deep economic segregation, a set of dynamics we explore in depth in this week’s cover story. If you haven’t already, give it a look.

• This is pretty messed up: A Hamilton County Sheriff’s bailiff has been accused of stealing tenant property during evictions, selling it and pocketing the money. Deputy Bailiff Michael Garvey was arrested yesterday and faces charges of theft in office after officials say he took money and jewelry from the site of an eviction. He later tried to sell the jewelry. He’s currently being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center. Garvey has been a bailiff with Hamilton County for at least eight years.

• The Cincinnati Police Department is adding more officers to street patrols in a number of city neighborhoods starting next month. Twenty-four additional officers will patrol Districts 2 and 4 starting Sept. 13. District 2 includes East Walnut Hills, Evanston, Hyde Park, Madisonville, Pleasant Ridge and other East Side neighborhoods. District 4 includes Mount Auburn, Corryville, Walnut Hills, Avondale and other central neighborhoods. Chief Jeffrey Blackwell called the reassignments “phase two” of a safety plan that began with a 90-day summer initiative designed to curb an increase in gun violence in some city neighborhoods.

• U.S. Senate hopeful and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is going on the offensive against his Democratic primary opponent Ted Strickland, slamming the former Ohio governor yesterday at a news conference on the steps of City Hall for his lack of opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. That project is a contentious oil and gas conduit that would stretch between oil-rich areas in Alberta, Canada and Texas oil refineries. Environmental activists have decried the pipeline’s potential effects on the local environments it will pass through as well as its overall potential to increase oil consumption. President Barack Obama might soon deny a permit to build the pipeline after years of controversy over the project. Strickland earlier this week commented that he wouldn’t weigh in on the “divisive” subject because it didn’t impact Ohio. Sittenfeld has taken issue with that.

“Leaders lead,” Sittenfeld said at the news conference. “They don’t bob and weave and evade and equivocate.”

Sittenfeld also used the 15-minute press event to challenge Strickland to a series of six debates leading up to the Democratic primary. Strickland thus far has not agreed to any public debates between the candidates, probably because he’s in a very strong position and doesn’t need to. Polls show him neck and neck, or even slightly ahead, of incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman, despite Portman having a heavy fundraising advantage. Sittenfeld trails a distant third, and polls show him with little name recognition outside the Cincinnati area. Sittenfeld, however, says the race is still young and that his poll numbers and fundraising are improving.

• Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday that the MLB will decide by the end of the year whether or not to reinstate Cincinnati Reds hit king Pete Rose into the league, opening up the doors for Rose to be included in the MLB Hall of Fame. Rose was ousted from the league indefinitely in 1989 after an investigation showed he had bet on baseball while he was a manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He denied those allegations for a decade and a half. More recent revelations show Rose may well have bet on the game as early as 1984, while he was still a player-manager. Rose and his supporters argue he’s paid his debt for the wrongdoing and that he deserves to be re-admitted.

• Finally, state lawmakers are continuing to weigh a measure that would bring more accountability, and possibly funding changes, to the state’s charter school system. That system has come under fire lately after criminal investigations into charter school operators and revelations of data manipulation by the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school accountability arm. House Bill 2, which is currently being hashed out by state lawmakers, would put new accountability measures in place. Meanwhile, educational advocates, including the state’s teacher’s union and many local school leaders, are pushing lawmakers to address funding disparities as well. The way charter schools are funded now unfairly siphons money from public schools toward private, sometimes for-profit schools that don’t produce better results, advocates argue. Funding changes aren’t on the table yet for reform legislation, however, and it seems unlikely that the Republican-led Ohio General Assembly will take up suggested changes to the state’s charter funding mechanism.

That’s it for me. Email or tweet at me with news tips or fun stuff to do this weekend. I’m out.

 
 
by Natalie Krebs 08.27.2015 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cranley veto

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley vetoes secret council meetings; The city racks up late fees; Charter school suddenly closes; Pakistan extradites former Ohio state deputy treasurer

Happy Thursday, Cincy! Better yet, tomorrow's Friday. So here's today's headlines to make the week pass a little quicker. 

• Mayor John Cranley vetoed a Nov. 3 ballot-bound charter yesterday that would allow city council to meet in secret about certain topics, including property sales, the city manager's performance and some economic development deals. The charter amendment ballot initiative was passed by council on Monday with a vote of 6-3, with Councilmembers P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman voting against it. Despite Cranley's veto, the amendment isn't dead. The mayor admits it could very well end up back on the ballot as council appears to have the six votes needed to override his veto. The mayor said he vetoed the amendment allowing Council to use executive session for transparency reasons. The special executive sessions would have been restricted to items like assessing the city manager's performance, buying or selling property, disputes possibly ending up in court, security arrangements and items required to be kept secret by law.  

• Have trouble paying your bills on time? So does the city of Cincinnati! A city audit from January 2014 through July of this year found that taxpayers spent an additional $130,000 from late fees on the city's electrical bills. Taxpayers have been shelling out just under $7,000 on average per month for late fees for the first half of 2015. The city previously escaped Duke Energy's late fees as the company didn't charge them to the the government until a crackdown in 2014. City Manager Harry Black says a fix has reportedly come out of the City's Innovation Lab, but Councilman Kevin Flynn has expressed anger over the fees saying it shouldn't have taken a year to catch. 

Ian James, executive director of ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee trying to legalize marijuana, has accused Secretary of State Jon Husted of intentionally putting confusing language on its Nov. 3 ballot initiative. James accused Husted, who opposes the legalization, of using the word "monopoly," which he calls a "loaded term" on the ballot to confuse voters. The term has been floating around the group's initiative a lot, which would enact a constitutional amendment to legalize the plant, but restrict its growth to just 10 commercial farms in the state owned by the PAC's investors. State initiative 3 as of now will read, “Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes.” ResponsibleOhio says it's actually unfair to call it a monopoly when the amendment would allow for 1,150 retail stores that are not operated by investors.

In other weed news, gazing upon ResponsibleOhio's new mascot, Buddie, might make you feel like you've already smoked a couple Js. He has a marijuana bud for a head. Just gonna leave it right here for you to check out. The mascot has caused controversy because critics say he/she/it is too cartoonish and could be viewed as an attempt to entice kids to smoke weed.

• A Columbus charter school has abruptly closed its doors just after the start of the school year leaving 300 students stranded. FCI Academy was suspended by its Toledo sponsor, Education Service Center of Lake Erie West, for mismanagement, but apparently things had been going downhill for the charter school for awhile. The Columbus Dispatch reports that it found the school was keeping afloat for so long by deferring debt, borrowing money and not paying federal withholding and Medicare taxes. The school also received Fs from the state report card on things like graduation rates, gap closing and overall value-added. But despite these setbacks, the school is still determined to keep fighting, according to a note left on the school's locked door in front of its deserted parking lot on Wednesday. In the summer of 2014, FCI Academy laid off 17 employees, and a 2013 state audit showed a $700,000 operating deficit.  

• Former Ohio state deputy treasurer Amer Ahmed has been extradited by Pakistan to the U.S. to begin serving a 15 year sentence for bribery, wire fraud and money laundering. Amer was sentenced to prison by U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson of Columbus late last year. He and three co-conspirators were ordered to pay $3.2 million to the feds. He plead guilty to federal charges in 2013 then fled to Pakistan using fake travel documents. Ahmed served under Democratic state Treasurer Kevin L. Boyce until his defeat in 2010. During his tenure, he devised a plan to direct Ohio state brokerage business to a Canton securities broker. 

• One thing I noticed when I moved to Cincinnati is that people here love their chili.  Cincinnatians flock to the nearest Skyline after a long night of drinking the way the rest of the country flocks to IHOP. So with that, I am truly sorry to report the passing of the final surviving founder of Skyline, William Nicholas “Bill” Lambrinides on Tuesday at the age of 87. Lambrinides worked with his father, Nicolas, a Greek immigrant, and his two brothers, Lambert, Jim, Christie and John to open the first restaurant in 1949. The store has since grown to 110 locations to bring late-night happiness to folks in four states.

That's it for today! Email me with story tips!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.26.2015 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Naming rights for streetcar up for grabs; activists demand more community involvement in UC reforms; Columbus Dispatch demands charter school public records

Hey all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning.

So, do you want to see your name written really big on something attention-grabbing and controversial that will zoom around downtown most of the day and night? Do you have hundreds of thousands of dollars you’re not quite sure what to do with? Here’s an idea: buy some naming rights to the streetcar. Officials with the newly-created Cincinnati Street Railway, a nonprofit promoting the streetcar, are reaching out to marketing firms to help design advertising packages for corporate sponsors for the project. Similar marketing pushes in other cities with streetcars have netted millions in advertising revenues to go toward operation of the transit systems. Locally, some officials say the naming rights could net as much as $250,000 a year, though others say the project’s controversial nature makes it uncertain if big local corporations will want to put their names on it. A suggestion: maybe reach out to deep-pocketed, eccentric megalomaniacs? Perhaps Donald Trump will want to raise his profile here in town next year? What could be better than seeing The Donald’s giant face careening toward you on the front of a streetcar as you spend time in OTR just before the election? Though, hm, come to think of it, streetcar supporters may not be his target demographic.

• I’m not sure this is much news to anyone, but I’m going to say it anyway. We have an amazing library system here in Hamilton County. From its Maker Space to its innovative programming and events to the sheer amount of material available to check out, we have a rare thing here. And the numbers show it. Last year, The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County was the fifth-busiest library in the country, checking out more than 18 million items, according to data from the Public Library Association. Now, granted, at least a couple hundred of these check-outs were me borrowing the library’s DVD copies of the Bill and Ted movies, but still. Pretty impressive. The library moved up a spot on the ranking from 2013, when it was the sixth-busiest in the country. More than 600,000 people have library cards with the system. Not bad for the country’s 28th-biggest metropolitan area.

• Local faith leaders and activists are demanding more community involvement in changes the University of Cincinnati is undertaking in the wake of the Samuel DuBose shooting. Dubose was killed last month by UC police officer Ray Tensing after a routine traffic stop. Since that time, the university has vowed reform of its police department, including adjustments to off-campus patrols and joining in on the city’s collaborative agreement, which Cincinnati Police Department already abides by. That agreement was drawn up after the police shooting death of Timothy Thomas in 2001 caused days of civil unrest in Cincinnati. Activists and faith leaders are asking that UC compensate the DuBose family for his death, as well as submit to an external investigation into the school’s policing practices. A group including community activist Iris Roley, University of Cincinnati activist Alexander Shelton, Bishop Bobby Hilton, Pastor KZ Smith and others met with UC officials yesterday in a private meeting later described by Shelton as “tense” at times. UC President Santa Ono and newly-hired Vice President of Safety and Reform Robin Engel were among representatives for the university.

• Damn. Here’s the Columbus Dispatch throwing down about charter school transparency. In an editorial published today, the paper slams state officials for not releasing documents about the Ohio Board of Education’s omission of some data on poor-performing online charter schools in the state. The failure to include that data in reports about charter school performance led to an inflated evaluation for at least one organization that sponsors charters in the state. ODE official David Hansen was responsible for that data collection. He resigned following revelations of the omissions. His wife, incidentally, heads Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign. He’s a big, big supporter of charters in the state. The Dispatch, along with a number of other publications, has filed numerous public records requests for documents about the decision to withhold the less-than-flattering charter data, according to the editorial. And now they’re getting tired of waiting, it seems.

“If state Superintendent of Education Richard Ross is not covering up something embarrassing or illegal at the Ohio Department of Education, his recent actions aren’t helping his credibility,” the piece begins.

• Let’s circle back around to Donald Trump, since he’s leading national GOP presidential primary polls, and it seems like the whole world is kinda revolving around his circus of a campaign at the moment. The Donald  may well have taken it upon himself to offend Spanish-speaking Americans as much as possible lately, which is a questionable campaign strategy at best. In the past, Trump hasn’t done himself any favors with this large portion of the American population, describing Mexicans immigrants as "rapists" and criminals. But in true Trump fashion, he’s taken it a step further. Yesterday, he had Spanish-language news station Univision's lead anchor Jorge Ramos physically removed from a news conference for asking a question out of turn. He eventually let Ramos back in, but the exchange was heated, awkward and really just a bad idea all around. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists fired off a statement last night condemning Trump for the confrontation. Spanish-language media has covered Trump more extensively than mainstream media because the leading GOP contender keeps talking about his immigrant plan, which includes building a wall along the southern border and ending birthright citizenship.

That’s it for me. See ya tomorrow.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.25.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council private meeting amendment to go on November ballot; no more camping out for magnet school enrollment; former CPD captain in pro-weed ad

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

Cincinnati City Council yesterday moved along at least one charter amendment proposal, putting it on the November ballot for voters to approve. That amendment would clarify when council can meet in executive session, away from the staring eyes of the public. Ohio state law allows some use of executive session for municipal governments, and the charter amendment proposed would specify limited times when council could get together for discussions behind closed doors. Those include discussions about certain sensitive property transactions, ongoing court cases, security measures for city facilities and personnel, certain information about development deals and some discussions about the city manager’s job.

The Charter Review Committee, a group charged with suggesting changes to the city’s governing document, had suggested four other amendments. At least one of those, a measure that would clarify how long the mayor has to refer legislation to council committees, seems to have died on the vine. While it sounds arcane, the issue has big, contentious implications. The mayor’s ability to hold on to legislation amounts to a so-called “pocket veto,” critics on council claim, or a way for the mayor to effectively kill council actions he doesn’t like. Mayor Mark Mallory used this power more than 200 times during his time as mayor. Cranley is opposed to the amendment, but he also claims that the pocket veto isn’t a real thing. Some council members agree, saying that the mayor clinging on to legislation could be challenged in court. One thing is clear, however: an amendment won’t clear up the issue. Advocates for the measure fell one short of the six council votes needed to put the amendment on the November ballot.  

Other amendments, including one that would give council the power to fire the city manager, are hanging in there and might be considered next week, just short of the deadline to get the proposals on the November ballot.

• In other council news, a new tax levy for parks improvement will also go on the upcoming ballot. The property tax boost of 1 mill would mean that owners of a $100,000 home would pay about $35 extra a year. Council’s vote is somewhat symbolic. Organizers of a petition drive collected enough signatures throughout the city to put the initiative up before voters. If voters approve the measure, it would raise about $5 million a year. About $1.25 million of that would go toward park maintenance. The rest would go to new projects decided by the mayor and the park board. Parks funding has been cut in half in the last decade and a half, Cranley has noted.

• A long-held tradition for Cincinnati parents is over, at least for now. Folks in the Cincinnati Public School district looking to get their kids into magnets like the Fairview German Language School will no longer be able to sign up on a first-come, first-served basis, but instead will be entered into a lottery system. That will eliminate the yearly camp-outs that parents undertake as they wait to sign their children up for those schools. CPS has cited fairness and safety concerns for ending the first-come, first-served practice. Last year’s camp out lasted 16 days. Enrollment for CPS’ high-demand magnet schools has several tiers. First are priority students who already have a sibling attending the school. Then a number of seats are set aside for students whose nearby schools are among the district’s lowest performers, an effort to offer those students a chance at a better education. The rest have been up for grabs. Until now, seat availability was through the first-come, first-served approach. Now, a computer will randomly choose who gets to enroll.

• City officials and business leaders yesterday launched Union Hall, a facility in Over-the-Rhine that is touted as a one stop shop for entrepreneurs looking for help in launching start-ups. The site on Vine Street houses startup incubator The Brandery, Cintrifuse and CincyTech, all of which are aimed at helping get startups off the ground. The historic building, which has been a brewery, night club and speakeasy, will house about 100 employees.

• A former Cincinnati Police captain is appearing in an ad advocating for legalized marijuana. Retired Capt. Howard Rahtz, a member of a marijuana policy task force led by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, is seen in the commercials supporting ResponsibleOhio’s legalization effort arguing that the state’s marijuana laws don’t work and that it’s time to reform them. Rahtz touts his time as a Cincinnati police officer, saying he learned a great deal about drug addiction during his service. Opponents of the ResponsibleOhio measure, which would legalize marijuana for anyone over the age of 21, but restrict commercial growth to 10 sites across the state, say they’ll be airing their own commercials. Groups like Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies say ResponsibleOhio’s plan amounts to an unfair monopoly that will only benefit the group’s rich investors.

 
 
 
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