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by Nick Swartsell 05.01.2015 61 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
bullhorn

Morning News and Stuff

Freddie Gray death ruled homicide; Ohio state officials' $9 million planes have wine bottle chillers; Larry Flynt makes his presidential endorsement

Good morning y’all. Like yesterday, I’m once again groggy this morning, but for different reasons that have everything to do with the news. So let’s talk about that.

Last night a group of about 300 gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse to protest inequities in the nation’s justice system and to express solidarity with Baltimore, where civil unrest has broken out after the April 18 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Gray died from injuries he sustained while in police custody. The rally and subsequent march through downtown and Over-the-Rhine, which drew more than 100, were peaceful and lasted about four hours. No one was arrested, though there were a few tense moments as protesters tried to enter a highway on-ramp and the Horseshoe Casino. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell was present at the protest last night, and this morning appeared on CNN touting the city’s protest response protocols, which have been adopted by the U.S. Justice Department as an example of how police should respond to such rallies.

Update: Gray's death has been ruled a homicide and the six Baltimore police officers involved will be charged. Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver, will be charged with second-degree murder, Baltimore State Attorney Marylin Mosby announced today. Other officers involved in Gray's arrest will face lesser charges.

“I heard your call for 'No justice, no peace,' ” Mosby said at a news conference. “Your peace is severely needed as I work to deliver justice for this young man.”

• Drug overdose deaths in Ohio have hit record numbers, according to a report released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Health. In 2013, 2,210 people died of overdoses in the state, a 10 percent increase in a year. It’s especially grim here in the Greater Cincinnati area: About 440, or 20 percent, of those deaths happened in Southwestern Ohio’s Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren Counties. Here in Hamilton County, deaths have increased 30 percent since last year, according to the report. More than 40 percent of those deaths statewide were caused by heroin overdoses, by far the biggest single cause of drug overdoses in the state. Heroin overdose deaths have spike sharply in the last four years, overtaking cocaine overdoses in 2012 as the leading cause of overdose death.

• Yesterday I told you about how the Cincinnati Enquirer swapped out a headline on a news article about a murder in OTR while taking criticism for its handling of that story. Several high-profile Cincinnatians have since called out the Enquirer for coverage they call sensationalist. You can read more about that, and CityBeat editor Danny Cross’ analysis, here.

• We all have needs. I maybe need to get around to buying a car eventually. Cincinnati needs better public transit. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and other top officials need $9.6 million worth of small aircraft to hop around the state in. The state has purchased two Beechcraft airplanes for officials to use on state business. State officials say the planes are needed replacements for older aircraft with rising maintenance costs. One of the shiny new planes holds nine passengers, the other six, and in case you’re wondering, yes, they do have all the necessary modern avionics equipment on board, including an entertainment center and the oh-so-vital wine bottle chillers because god knows you can’t drink room-temperature white wine while you’re floating somewhere above Youngstown on official state business.

• Speaking of Kasich, his profile is rising as he continues to kinda sorta run for president. I read this pretty long Atlantic article about him yesterday. The piece literally calls him a jerk and make him sound a little like he has attention deficit disorder. But the in-depth Atlantic piece also talks about his strengths, including his energy and his sometimes-gruff but sometimes-endearing plainspoken ways. Some other magazines and national publications have taken a closer look at Kasich over the past week or so, including conservative mag the National Review, which thinks his bid is a no-go. I’d tell you more about their article, but talking about the National Review makes my soul hurt so let’s just stop there, shall we?

• Speaking of the 2016 presidential race, Cincinnati’s uh, favorite (?) son Larry Flynt has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Good thing for Clinton? Bad thing for Clinton? Unclear. Flynt says he’s mostly behind Clinton because she has the best chance of winning and she’ll be able to appoint two or three Supreme Court justices, bringing the nation’s highest court under a decidedly liberal sway. Flynt was an ardent supporter of Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton. He doesn’t have any illusions that Hillary is about to take him on the campaign trail with her, though.

“I’m sure that Hillary doesn’t necessarily approve of everything I do,” he told Bloomberg Politics.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.30.2015 61 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Rally in Solidarity with Baltimore Draws Hundreds

Activists gathered peacefully to protest racial inequities in justice system

More than 300 gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse today to protest racial disparities in the justice system and express solidarity with Baltimore. More than a week of unrest has gripped that city after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died in police custody there April 18. Gray sustained severe spinal injuries while riding in a police van, slipped into a coma and died from his injuries.

The Cincinnati rally was the latest of several that have taken place downtown in the last year after the  shooting death of unarmed teen Mike Brown by white officer Darren Wilson brought national attention to the issue of racially-charged police-involved deaths. 

After the rally, a crowd of more than 100 marched down Central Parkway, through Over-the-Rhine, and to the Cincinnati Police Department District 1 headquarters on Ezzard Charles Drive.  From there, a smaller group of about 40 took a zig-zagging route past City Hall and Fountain Square. That group had a couple tense standoffs with police at the eastern end of Fifth Street near a highway onramp and in front of the Horseshoe Casino. All told, the protest lasted about four hours, winding down about 10 pm.

The protests were peaceful and did not result in any arrests, police said, though one protester was briefly detained on Vine Street and issued a citation for jaywalking. 

Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell

Police speak to activists on Vine Street at an April 30 rally protesting inequities in the justice system
Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell

Activist group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati organized the rally. Among attendees were long-time activist Iris Roley, who was a key participant in forging Cincinnati’s collaborative agreement which arose from civil unrest here14 years ago. That unrest was sparked by the 2001 shooting death of unarmed black man Timothy Thomas, the 16th person of color shot by Cincinnati Police over the course of a few years. Also in attendance were State Senator Cecil Thomas, police officer and Over-the-Rhine transit activist Derek Bauman, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell and others active in the community.

Black Lives Matter Cincinnati activist Rashida Manuel speaks to the crowd at an April 30 rally
Nick Swartsell

Many attendees said they were concerned about wider disparities in the justice system beyond police actions.

“They are stealing our people off the streets. 2 million black people are in prison and no one is talking about it,” said rally attendee Alexander Shelton. Shelton, and many others, decried socioeconomic conditions that have led to higher rates of arrest, incarceration and wrongful conviction for people of color, including lack of educational and employment opportunities, the isolation of black urban neighborhoods and the stereotyping of black males as dangerous "thugs."

Shelton also called for an awareness of other struggles, including those in the LGBT and workers' rights communities. Several who took the bullhorn in front of the courthouse echoed that sentiment.

Many also came simply to honor the lives of people of color.

“We’re to remember,” said co-organizer Rashida Manuel. “We’re here to remember Freddie Gray. We’re here to remember Maya Hall, the black trans woman who was killed in Baltimore last month. We’re here to remember Mike Brown, we’re here to remember John Crawford, and so many others I can’t possibly name. We’re here to remember Timothy Thomas. We’re here because we’re tired.”

John Crawford III was shot two days before Brown in Beavercreek. His father, John Crawford Jr., attended the rally and spoke briefly to the crowd.
Nick Swartsell

This post has been corrected from an earlier version that misstated Freddie Gray's age.
 
 
by Danny Cross 04.30.2015 62 days ago
Posted In: Media at 12:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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The Enquirer's OTR Shooting Coverage Was a Huge Mess

A few years ago, a friend and I were walking down the street in Over-the-Rhine from Neons to somewhere north on Main Street — maybe MOTR, maybe our friend’s place at 13th and Clay, might have been heading back to a car. I’m not really sure — it’s been three or four years now since people started coming back to the (mostly nighttime) amenities in the neighborhood. 

Just before we turned the corner from 12th onto Main, gunshots popped off behind us. We turned around and saw some dude running south on Sycamore. We bolted onto Main and jumped into a storefront doorway until things calmed down, called the police and then continued on our way. I followed up and found out that the man we saw running away neither died nor killed anyone.

It was a scene that has grown less common in recent years in the area, as the push of development has moved much of the drug dealing and related violence outward into other neighborhoods. In January WCPO reported that violent crime in OTR was down 74 percent since 2004, in part due to development and evolving policing tactics.

Such facts didn't deter The Enquirer from freaking the hell out yesterday when one of its reporters witnessed a shooting in front of a bunch of popular OTR restaurants. Reporter Emilie Eaton was on the same block when 30-year-old Gregory Douglas was shot around 9 a.m. near Vine and Mercer streets, fled a short distance then collapsed and died. Police today issued a warrant for the arrest of Darnell Higgins for the murder.

It's been a sad day for a lot of people: families and friends of the deceased and the accused; those who witnessed such violence up close.

It’s also a sad day to consider the state of local media, considering the response we've seen so far to The Enquirer's collection of coverage. It started with the reporter's first-person account of witnessing the shooting. Then came a news story questioning the neighborhood's safety, for some reason quoting the Hamilton County Republican chairman and a lone neighborhood resident saying he didn't feel safe these days. Soon afterward, a more formed version of the story was updated online — this time the headline tried to cleverly play on the word "dead" (“Gunfire in OTR brings morning to a dead stop”). The headline was later changed, “After fatal shooting, no easy answer in OTR," though the insensitive quip lives on in the story's URL.

The Enquirer’s decision to frame Douglas’ death as a question of whether or not OTR is safe for those of us unaccustomed to witnessing violence is generating the type of online debate (/clicks) the "newsroom of the future" was meant to induce. It has also been heavily criticized.

Here’s former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken on Facebook:

Here’s Derek Bauman, an OTR and mass transit advocate/suburban police officer, who wondered on Twitter why the first source in an early version of the “Is OTR safe yet” story quoted the county GOP chair before anyone else. Alex Triantafilou’s take? “There is more work to be done to make our city as safe as the suburbs."

Eaton's first-person story was published just hours after the shooting occurred. "A stray bullet could have easily missed the victim and hit me," she wrote. "The gunman could have come around the corner for me. I'm lucky to be writing this story right now."

The story elicited strong response from readers, but perhaps not the kind the Enquirer was picturing. About 20 wrote comments questioning the appropriateness of the piece, many along the lines of this:

As writers molded dispatches from the scene into The Enquirer’s larger collection of reporting on the incident, debate continued on social media. Enquirer writer John Faherty took to the comment section of Eaton's article to defend her.

Those of us in the media don’t enjoy criticizing each others' work, and we realize most people in the industry are dedicated and passionate. We respect colleagues at other media companies, especially when their dedication to the craft is evident.

Eaton clearly had a shitty morning. Her decision to immediately get back to doing her job is admirable.

Unfortunately, the collection of work to which she contributed was misguided, made worse by the classlessness with which Enquirer editors showed along the way. Publishing right-wing digs at inner-city neighborhoods has been a longstanding tradition at The Enquirer. Using a play on the word "dead" in a news story about a murder is the type of move that would get a college newspaper in trouble. It shouldn't be OK at any self-respecting daily. 

There's no way to tell which “content coach” might have shaped yesterday’s coverage. Any number of web editors could have written such an offensive headline — the newsroom of the future isn't set up to catch these things. Newsroom morale has been known to be low at Gannett papers across the country, and many of us actually feel bad for the many talented people struggling to produce quality work under such restrictive guidelines. 

Ultimately, reporting that might have culminated in an articulation of how opposite worlds intertwine in front of our eyes every day instead became a question of whether it's smart to eat and shop near poor people.

Later versions of the story noted that the lunch rush on Vine Street continued as usual just hours later, suggesting that maybe the question of whether or not Vine Street is safe had already been answered. 

"I'm not worried about it," said Mike Georgitan, a general manager at Pontiac BBQ on Vine Street. "It might affect lunch today – maybe," he shrugged. "But then it will pick back up."
A person is dead, and the cycle of poverty, crime, drugs and violence that gripped Over-the-Rhine long before a Japanese gastropub opened at 15th and Vine is still occurring all over this city. The Enquirer would be wise to demonstrate an understanding of these forces rather than following the path of least resistance to Internet debate.

It would be a lot more compelling than a description of how witnessing violence makes a typical white person feel.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.30.2015 62 days ago
at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_nickswartsell

Morning News and Stuff

Council eliminates private police in city; 'Enquirer' changes OTR shooting headline; Kasich to order statewide standards on police use of force

Hey hey Cincy. So I’m a little groggy today after spending, oh, I don’t know, over three hours binge-watching the latest few episodes of Mad Men last night. This is unlike me — I don’t normally watch TV and shows about sad rich dudes aren’t usually my jam. But watching Don Draper, Pete Campbell (especially Pete Campbell, who looks like a smug Frisch’s Big Boy come to life) and co. get their comeuppance is great. Anyway, I’m going to try and muddle through the news in my drowsy state. Let me tell you about all the stuff that’s been happening.

The epic dramatic series that is Cincinnati City Council aired its latest episode yesterday, and there were some big developments. OK, that’s obnoxious, sorry. I’m going to stop now. Among the more exciting moves: Council passed a measure giving the city the go-ahead to apply for nearly $29 million in federal TIGER grant funds for the Wasson Way bike trail, an ask we first told you about in this story.

Council also passed a resolution that prohibits private police groups from operating with police powers in Cincinnati. The decision comes after a man in Tulsa, Oklahoma died earlier this month when he was shot by a 71-year-old private police officer while laying on the ground handcuffed. Use of private police in Cincinnati dates back to 1983 and is relatively small — two companies employing about 10 people that provide police services for events, apartment complexes and places like the Regional Chamber of Commerce. Members of council, including Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who introduced the legislation, stressed that the decision wasn’t a reflection the service of private police agencies and was made based on legal liability issues for the city.

Chief Lester Slone of Cincinnati Private Police said the decision was unfortunate and will probably put the agency out of business. Slone has served with the CPP, which employs seven private officers, for 32 years.

• Later in the evening yesterday, Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black announced the city has reached an agreement with public employees in regard to the city's pension obligations. The agreement is a big deal, city officials say, finally fully accounting for the city's huge $682 million pension obligation. Both the city and public employees gave up some things to get to an agreement. Retired public employees will no longer get a cost of living increase on their pension payments in their first three years, for instance. Pension obligations have been a major governing issue for many cities, hobbling the finances of struggling cities like Detroit for decades.

• A newly released police report says Kings Mills transgender teen Leelah Alcorn wrote a brief suicide note the fateful night she jumped in front of a semi-truck on I-71. The note, which was uncovered after her death, simply said “I’ve had enough.” The police report also reveals that Alcorn had recently researched suicide prevention organizations and had written an online message to a friend recounting past suicidal thoughts.

• The Cincinnati Enquirer changed a headline on a story about a shooting in Over-the-Rhine from one making a play on the word “dead” to something more neutral. The original headline, about the shooting death of a 30-year-old man on Vine Street, originally read “Gunfire in OTR brings spring morning to a dead stop.” The headline now reads “After fatal shooting, no easy answer in OTR.” The story asks whether the shooting will affect business and perceptions of safety in the neighborhood.

The change comes as the Enquirer’s coverage of the shooting raises controversy on social media. An emotional first-person account of the shooting by an Enquirer reporter drew a slew of comments questioning the appropriateness of such a story.

“Why would this tragic event become a story about the reporter?,” one commenter wrote on Facebook and the Enquirer’s site. “Even if she did experience it, let's keep the reporting on the facts of the news event. I was okay with her expressing the shock and fear, but when it shifts into her expressing pride for her job and patting herself on the back for doing it…well, we've quickly lost focus of the sad news event that just happened. Not the right time and place.”

• A huge union’s Ohio chapters have put their weight behind a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. United Food and Commercial Workers Union local chapters 75, 880 and 1059 have endorsed efforts by weed legalization group ResponsibleOhio, the union said in a statement yesterday. UFCW represents 18,000 workers in the Greater Cincinnati area. ResponsibleOhio looks to gain enough signatures to put legislation on the November ballot that would legalize the purchase of marijuana for people over the age of 21. More controversially, the group’s proposal would also create 10 grow sites around the state run by its investors. Those would be the only sites permitted to grow marijuana for commercial sale. After controversy around this part of the plan, the group amended its proposal to allow home growers to grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The group claims it has collected 250,000 of the more than 300,000 signatures it needs.

Here are some quick, statewide hits:

• Gov. John Kasich will order Ohio police departments be held to a statewide standard when it comes to their use of force. That standard will require officers to avoid deadly force except in situations where their lives are clearly at risk among other stipulations. Kasich will sign an executive order to that effect, he says, one step in implementing suggestions from a statewide community-police relations task force Kasich created in response to police-related deaths of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford in Beavercreek. The announcement comes as unrest simmers in Baltimore, New York City and elsewhere around the country after the deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement. Kasich commented on several of these deaths, most notably Freddie Gray’s in Baltimore. “I don’t think you can break your own neck,” he said about the ongoing controversy around injuries Gray sustained in a police van after he was taken into custody. Gray’s spinal cord was nearly severed during a ride to a police station, and his windpipe was crushed. He lapsed into a coma and later died due to his injuries.

• A state law allowing the creation of open container districts where folks can drink right out in the open passed the Ohio legislature yesterday. That’s the biggest step necessary for Cincinnati and other cities to be able to create spots that mimic places like New Orleans’  Bourbon Street. Cincinnati hopes to create a district in time for the MLB All-Star Game in July.

That's all for me. Tweet at me. Email me.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.29.2015 63 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_04-22_gaymarriagens

Morning News and Stuff

Local rally to be held in solidarity with Baltimore; SCOTUS judges somewhat inscrutable on same-sex marriage; Sen. Bernie Sanders to run for Dem. presidential nomination

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s happening today.

Activist group Cincinnati Black Lives Matter tomorrow will hold an event in solidarity with Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody April 19, and those protesting his death. The group says it will meet at 6 p.m. outside the Hamilton County Courthouse. More than 400 people have signed up on a Facebook event set up by the group.

“We will stand in solidarity with the women and men of Baltimore who have decided to protest the defacto execution of Freddie Gray,” the group says on the event page.

Law enforcement authorities say they’re aware of the planned event and will plan accordingly. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil has said the department will work to allow peaceful, lawful demonstration, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said the department is striving to work with peaceful demonstrators. 

Protests broke out in Baltimore after Gray died of an apparent spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. You can follow news from Baltimore at fellow alt-weekly the Baltimore City Paper's website. They're doing crazy good work.

Most of those protests have been peaceful, but a few have spilled over into violence, and the governor of Maryland had called in the National Guard and other law enforcement agencies. The Butler County Sheriff, for instance, has sent a six-person SWAT unit to Baltimore. The unrest in Baltimore is the continuation of a national debate over treatment of blacks at the hands of mostly-white police forces across the country sparked by the police shooting death of unarmed 19-year-old black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. last summer. Meanwhile, tensions in other cities, including Cleveland, continue to simmer.

• The former Deer Park country club bartender who is charged with making threats against U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s life pleaded not guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court. Michael Hoyt was arrested after sending an e-mail to Boehner’s wife saying that he could have slipped something into the Republican’s drink on any number of occasions, but didn’t. When authorities arrested him, he told them he was Jesus and that Boehner was “evil” and needed to be killed. Hoyt has a history of mental illness, which his defense attorney says explains his actions. The U.S. District Court recently found Hoyt mentally competent to stand trial.

• Are fancy-schmancy glass bottles and frosted beer mugs not your style? There’s a new beer festival coming to Cincinnati this summer that might be more your speed. Washington Park will host the Cincinnati CANival, which, as you might surmise from the name, will celebrate the city’s best beers sold in convenient, portable aluminum cylinders. The festival is being organized by the same folks who bring you the Cincinnati Winter and Summer Beerfests, and will feature more than 125 varieties of beer. Tickets go on sale Friday.

• The big news for Cincinnati and the rest of the country, of course, is yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing on Obergefell v. Hodges, a combination of past cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee on the legality of states’ same-sex marriage bans. So … how did it all go? Will the court force Ohio to, you know, step into the 21st Century? Well, first, it’s a bit of fool’s errand to try and divine how the court will rule based on the questions they asked at the two-hour plus hearing. We won’t know for sure until the court actually rules on the case, which could happen as late as June. But, it’s interested to parse what was said in that hearing, and, as you might expect, the court’s nine justices were split along ideological lines in terms of their questions and apparent leanings. The court is currently pretty evenly weighted, with a couple justices who are reliably liberal in a way that almost assures they’ll side with same-sex marriage advocates and a couple who are so conservative they’ll almost certainly side against. Take Justice Antonin Scalia, for instance, who let loose with this pretty tasteless joke during the arguments. If anyone is a deciding vote, though, it’s Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate justice in most matters. Kennedy has written majority decisions in past court victories for same-sex marriage advocates, but he also struck a skeptical tone with his questions this time around.

 “This definition [of traditional marriage] has been with us for millennia,” Kennedy said during a question to attorneys for the plaintiffs. “And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’ ”

But later, Kennedy also highlighted the importance of acknowledging the dignity of same-sex couples. Other justices also hemmed and hawed in their questioning, so, you know, it’s hard to divine what the court will do. There was a lot more to the arguments, and the justice’s questions. This great rundown in the Washington Post is worth a look-through if you’re curious to untangle all the legal wrangling. For a more light-hearted view of the proceedings, this Politico piece is pretty hilarious.

• In other national news, the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential election is about to get more interesting. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will announce Thursday that he’s planning on seeking the party’s nomination, according to the New York Times, challenging Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Sanders isn’t really part of the Democratic Party, though he does meet with them and vote with them most of the time in the Senate. He’s an avowed socialist and looks to shore up support from the Democratic Party’s left flank, perhaps capitalizing on demand for a more liberal alternative to Clinton.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.28.2015 64 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Cincy State Pres supports weed legalization; SCOTUS hears same-sex marriage cases; unrest in Baltimore

Good morning y’all. Here’s the news today. There are a ton of things happening, so I’m just going to give you a brief rundown of them all.

A controversial Ohio marijuana legalization effort has a new booster. Cincinnati State Technical and Community College President Dr. O’dell Owens announced yesterday that he supports a ballot initiative by ResponsibleOhio that would create 10 state-sanctioned marijuana grow sites owned by the group’s investors and legalize the purchase of marijuana for people over the age of 21. Could future Cincinnati State students study marijuana agriculture? Could be.

“ResponsibleOhio’s marijuana legalization amendment will allow thousands of Ohioans to own and operate their own businesses and will create over 10,000 new jobs for Ohioans,” said Owens in a statement. “It will encourage new training programs at our state’s community colleges, which already play a vital role in developing talent for emerging industries.”

ResponsibleOhio says that Owens is not an investor in the $20 million effort, which will need to gain 300,000 signatures by this summer to get the proposed law on the November ballot.

• Does Cincinnati need more police on the streets? That’s what the city’s police union says. Police Union President Kathy Harrell told Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee yesterday that the group would like to see 134 more officers join the 1,001 currently serving. Harrell says the department frequently experiences “Code Zeroes,” or situations in which no officer is immediately available to respond to a call. Harrell said some of the problem lies with the fact that nearly 300 officers are currently assigned to special units. Those units do good work, she said, but pull police away from general duties like responding to calls. City Manager Harry Black has said he will be adding money for more new recruits in next year’s budget. One question that comes up from this: If crime is at historic lows and Mayor John Cranley touts the fact that he’s added police, how many officers specifically do we need? Cincinnati’s police force is currently proportional to other comparable cities. Before Cranley’s boost, the city already had 3.3 officers per 1,000 people, which is the same as cities like Pittsburgh and higher than cities like Columbus.

• Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate hopeful P.G. Sittenfeld hasn’t raised nearly as much money since former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland entered the race to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Their story asks if Strickland’s entrance into the race has slowed Sittenfeld’s campaign fundraising. Sittenfeld’s campaign says that’s not the case and that it has had some of its best fundraising days recently. The 30-year-old councilman was raising $10,000 a day starting in January, but after Strickland announced his candidacy that rate fell by half. Sittenfeld still bested Strickland in fundraising, netting more than $750,000 to Strickland’s $670,000 in the last fundraising reporting period. Despite that slim and perhaps receding  monetary edge, Sittenfeld is a big underdog in the race against Strickland, who has statewide name recognition and endorsements from Democratic bigwigs.

• One of the big arguments against shuttering poorly performing schools in Ohio, including controversial charter schools, is that doing so disrupts students’ education and cuts into their academic performance. But that’s not true, according to a study released today by think tank and charter school sponsors the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The institute, with the help of researchers from the Ohio State University and the University of Oklahoma, looked at 198 school closures across the state of Ohio from 2006 to 2012. What they found was that students at those schools actually performed far better when the moved on to other schools after their poorly performing charter and public schools shut down.

“The results of this study shatter popular myth that closing schools hurts kids academically,” said Fordham’s Ohio Research Director Aaron Churchill in a statement. “Students usually make a soft landing. After closure, children typically end up in higher-quality schools, and they make strong academic progress.”

• Today is the day. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in what is potentially the biggest same-sex marriage case in history. Their decision could decide whether states are allowed to ban same-sex marriages and whether they can refuse to recognize such marriage performed in other states. The case features several plaintiffs from Cincinnati, as well as others from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. Amazingly, folks who want to witness the arguments started lining up as early as last Friday outside the Supreme Court. A ruling in favor of marriage equality seems likely, given that the Supreme Court has already struck down a federal same-sex marriage ban. Even opponents of such marriages are expecting a ruling in favor of marriage equality, both here in Cincinnati and nationally.

• The other big national story is the unrest in Baltimore over the past couple days in response to the police-related death of Freddie Gray. Tens of thousands of protesters have swarmed the streets of the city decrying the unarmed 28-year-old’s death while in police custody. Gray, a black man, was arrested two weeks ago by Baltimore police and dragged to a police van. At some point before he arrived at the police station, Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury. He slipped into a coma and subsequently died. Unrest around his death has often been peaceful but at times has lapsed into violence — more than a dozen fires have been reported in the city, a number of police have been injured by rocks and other thrown items and some vandalism and looting have occurred. Fans at a Baltimore Orioles game Sunday night were kept in the stadium for a time as protests intensified around the stadium. Despite this, Orioles’ Chief Operating Officer John P. Angelos sided with the protesters who were peaceful, making some very cogent points during a Twitter argument with a sportscaster who criticized the protests. You can read his tweets here.

Angelos tied the unrest to the deep economic and racial divisions in Baltimore. The mostly black population where the riots broke out suffers from a 19-percent unemployment rate. The city’s black population suffers an infant mortality rate nine times that of its white population. These systemic conditions, folks like Angelos say, along with the unequal treatment of blacks in the justice system, are reasons why police killings of unarmed black men continue to elicit such anger in places like Baltimore, New York City, North Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere. As we explored in a feature last month on Cincinnati and police shootings, it will very likely take more than police reform to heal those wounds.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.27.2015 65 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ac2_7-30_shakespeare in washington park - photo provided by cincinnati shakespeare company copy

Morning News and Stuff

Are funding cuts at JFS putting kids in danger?; Washington Park to get huge porch; epic Gannett video fail

Hey all. Looks like a good number of folks out there have read our big feature on a group of refugees struggling and building community in the often-forgotten Millvale and North Fairmount area. If you haven’t gone and checked it out, you should. The folks we talked to for this story are brave, kind and all-around amazing. Their stories are at turns heartbreaking and inspiring — they’ve survived gunshot wounds, break-ins and many other hardships since arriving here looking for the American dream. That all sounds grim, but I promise there are some incredible bright spots as well. Please: Fead and pass along this story so more people are aware of their struggles and they can get help.

On to the news. A report from the Cincinnati Enquirer today asks if Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services is critically underfunded. Three recent fatal cases of child abuse occurred under the department’s watch. JFS has suffered a 1- percent decrease in its budget over the past 10 years. That means fewer caseworkers with fewer resources to help kids in poverty and dangerous parenting situations. The department says the blame rests with the parents of the children who died this year, but JFS’ shrinking staff (they’ve lost 39 percent of their workers in the last decade) isn’t helping the agency do its job keeping kids safe. Declining federal dollars to the department, as well as the fact Ohio spends the least of any state on child welfare, have contributed to the declining funding for JFS.

• 3CDC’s website was hacked over the weekend by a group expressing solidarity with Islamic militant group ISIS. A number of sites controlled by 3CDC were hacked Saturday night to read “I am Muslim and I love jihad. I love isis.” The sites were taken down within a couple hours of the attack and stayed down most of Sunday. It’s not the first time a local organization’s website has been hacked to bear a similar message. Last month, websites for Montgomery Inn and Moerlein Lager House were also hacked by someone claiming to represent ISIS.

• As a decisive Supreme Court case over same-sex marriage involving Cincinnatians looms, how do local religious groups stand when it comes to the issue? It’s an important question with a fairly predictable answer. Most of your more conservative religious organizations around the Cincinnati area, including a number of Catholic and Baptist churches, are against it. Some Jewish synagogues support it, some don’t. The most interesting part is that a  few churches seem to be breaking with tradition and coming out for marriage equality. Anyway, read more about the divide among faith groups here.

• Porch-less Cincinnatians can rejoice, because Washington Park is about to get a $400,000 deck for you sit on and tan yourself this summer. Well, at least when it’s not being rented for private events (hmm lame). The deck will have food and beverage vendors and chairs that are much comfier than the benches all around the park. The Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation, which led a multi-million renovation of the park in 2011, will build the deck.

• In other park news, University of Cincinnati Urban Planning students have come up with a number of prospective visions for the future of Burnet Woods, my favorite place in Cincinnati (well, it’s in the top five at least). The results are pretty interesting. My favorite project, and one that the Business Courier spends a good deal of time on, is a proposed land bridge between the Woods and UC. I used to walk from Clifton to UC through the park every day, and I would have paid a significant toll to use that land bridge. Most of these projects are probably too expensive or wild to see the light of day in their current form, but hopefully the ideas will spark conversation about how to make the park better.

• As mentioned above, tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in what may be the biggest case in the history of the struggle for marriage equality. Here’s a great New York Times story about how lawyers on both sides of the argument are preparing for the showdown and what’s at stake. Marriage equality advocates hope for a big win: that is, a ruling that overturns states’ bans on gay marriages entirely, effectively making same-sex marriage legal across the country. But there is a possibility that SCOTUS will hand activists a more incremental victory, ruling that states like Ohio have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states but don’t have to make the practice legal themselves. Attorneys representing Ohio and other states, on the other hand, hope that the court upholds the decision of the Federal Sixth Circuit Court and rules that voters, not judges, should decide who is allowed to marry whom. That result seems unlikely, since a number of other circuit courts have decided otherwise and since SCOTUS overturned a federal gay marriage ban. Either way, it seems like the arguments, and the court’s expected June decision, will be historic.

 

• Oh boy. The above ad(?)/celebration of all things Gannett, which owns USA Today, the Cincinnati Enquirer and about 80 other daily papers across the country, ran last week during a company-wide "town hall" to announce structural changes. The video features Gannett execs lip-synching a song that admonishes folks that "everything is awesome when you're part of the team." That's a bit ironic considering Gannett made many of its employees re-apply for their jobs over the last number of months. I'm just going to stop talking and let you watch it. It's incredible.

• Finally, today is the funeral for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man arrested by Baltimore police two weeks ago for running away from officers. Video shows Gray screaming as police dragged him to a van. Gray received a severe spinal cord injury while in the police van and subsequently died from that injury. His death has sparked large and ongoing protests in Baltimore, an echo of similar protests over police-related deaths in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and elsewhere around the country. Officials say they are investigating Gray’s death.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.23.2015 69 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach, Cranley debate OTR parking plan; CCV head Burress "not optimistic" about SCOTUS same-sex marriage case; GOP state lawmakers cut up Kasich budget

Hello Cincy. You know what time it is. Yep, news time.

It’s become a dependable, even comforting, routine. On Thursday mornings, I sit down and tell you all about the ways in which City Council bickered over the streetcar in its Wednesday meeting. The tradition continues.  A discussion yesterday about proposed Over-the-Rhine parking plans, which have been bandied back and forth for months, quickly devolved into a debate over the streetcar’s operating budget gap. Mayor John Cranley has been using that gap, which could be as high as $600,000 a year because of shortfalls in revenue and advertising receipts, as a reason council should pass his version of the OTR parking plan.

Cranley, who formerly proposed $300-a-year parking passes for residents in the neighborhood, now wants the passes to be valued at a market rate determined by the city manager. Meanwhile, Councilman Chris Seelbach has another idea: Cap the costs of the permits at $108. Seelbach’s plan calls for 450 permits, plus 50 non-metered, non-permitted flex spots for bartenders, waiters and the like who work in the neighborhood. Cranley’s plan calls for more flex spots. Either proposal would likely yield the highest-cost neighborhood parking permit in the country.

At issue is a philosophical debate: Cranley wants OTR residents to shoulder more of the cost of the streetcar. He also says the city has done enough to subsidize residents in OTR, citing tax abatements on many properties in the neighborhood and the fact that metered spots on the public streets around them would bring in more money than the permits do. Streetcar supporters like Seelbach and Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, however, say the streetcar is about economic development and that it will benefit the entire city, not just OTR residents. They say it isn’t fair to place its financial burden so much on those living in the neighborhood. Seelbach also points to residential parking permits in other neighborhoods, which are priced much more affordably than Cranley’s OTR plan.

• There was also a big hubbub about whether or not the streetcar will get in the way of major downtown events on Fifth Street like Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati. Mayor John Cranley yesterday railed against, as he said, “the idea that the city was secretly trying to discourage these events from maintaining their historic location,” and touted measures by city administration to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The backstory: In 2014, then-City Manager Scott Stiles released a memo stating that no special events could disrupt the streetcar’s operation. Depending on what you take “special events” to mean (i.e. is something that has been scheduled every year for at least a decade a special event?) that could mean the streetcar would take precedence over some beloved Cincinnati traditions. However, an agreement between streetcar operators SORTA and the city also signed later in 2014 allows streetcar operations to be disrupted for events up to four times a year. Sooo, yeah. Were those events ever actually in danger of being moved for the streetcar? Unclear.

• Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress thinks defeat may be at hand, at least in the short term, when it comes to the looming Supreme Court case around same-sex marriage. Springdale-based right-wing CCV has pushed a number of anti-gay rights measures over the years, and Burress was instrumental in engineering Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. That law is part of the current SCOTUS case. Burress told the Cincinnati Enquirer he’s “not very optimistic” about Ohio’s ban withstanding the court challenge, mostly because he says some of the justices are biased and don’t respect state sovereignty. But Burress also promised that the issue “won’t go away” anytime soon. You can read our story about case, and the local folks who are making history as the plaintiffs, here.

• The Ohio House of Representatives last night passed a record-breaking two-year budget for the state that looks much different than the one Gov. John Kasich suggested. The proposed budget spends more than the state ever has, while taxing top-tier earners less than it has in the past three decades. The proposal would put Ohio’s top income tax rate below 5 percent for the first time since 1982 but forgoes Kasich’s more regressive plan to lower income taxes by 23 percent and use a sales tax hike to pay for the cuts. The $131.6 billion spending package, the largest in state history, also zeroes out much of Kasich’s proposed reform to education spending. Kasich is not exactly stoked by the budget.

“After the fiscal crisis subsides people think it's OK to slip back to old habits,” Kasich’s office said in a statement to press. “The governor will do everything possible to prevent that from happening."

The budget isn’t a done deal. Next it heads to the state Senate, which is cooking up its own budget anyway. 

• After those long-winded updates, here's a quickie or two: Is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush really the cuddly moderate he's been made out to be, and, if not, does that open up a window of opportunity for Ohio Gov. Kasich in the GOP 2016 presidential sweepstakes? Despite being a proponent of Common Core and having some less-than-hardline views on immigration, ol' Jeb does have some harder right tendencies as well that make him more complicated to consider. This article gives some good examples.

• Finally, as a person who recently transitioned to Microsoft Office 365 for all my workaholic email needs, I really appreciate this hilarious Washington Post article about the company's new ad campaign. I really do love working while I'm also sleeping face down in my bed.

That is all. Tweet me. Email me. Or don’t. Actually, just go outside and enjoy the sun. But bring your smart phone just in case.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.22.2015 70 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cannabis

Morning News and Stuff

Marijuana legalization intrigue; the cost of gun violence in Ohio; search for the Loch Ness Monster on the internet

Good morning! News time.

Here’s a juicy story involving alleged sabotage, political intrigue and weed. A marijuana legalization group called Ohio Rights Group filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission last week alleging that ResponsibleOhio, another legalization effort, sabotaged its campaign to get a pro-marijuana law on Ohio’s ballot. The filing says that ResponsibleOhio’s Ian James and David Bruno infiltrated ORG last year in order to gain information about the group’s efforts, which they later used to dissuade potential ORG donors. James and Bruno are now involved in ResponsibleOhio’s effort to get a measure on the November ballot legalizing marijuana but restricting commercial growth to 10 sites around the state. They’ll need 300,000 signatures from Ohioans by this summer to do so. The group claims they’ve already collected more than 160,000. ResponsibleOhio called ORG’s complaint “bogus.”

• Good news on Earth Day here: The Cincinnati Zoo has saved a mind-boggling one billion gallons of water and millions of dollars with conservation practices it has been using over the last decade. That’s a year’s worth of water for 10,000 households. The zoo says it saved all that water through some rather mundane fixes: sealing up leaky pools, installing more water-efficient faucets and other fixtures, beefing up water filtration systems and other steps. The impact was huge, cutting water usage by more than three quarters. The zoo went from using 220 million gallons of water in 2005 to just over 50 million in 2014.  Very neat.

• Will the streetcar run later into the night? Some pro-streetcar activists hope so. A group of a few dozen that attended Monday’s Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority public hearing on the streetcar voiced concerns about the transit project’s hours of operation, saying they’d like to see it run later into the evening. Currently, it’s slated to start running at 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, it would stop running at 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday it would run until midnight. But SORTA has said it could push that operating window up, having it start later in the morning and end later in the evening.

• The game is up for a planned challenge to Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, which Gov. John Kasich controversially pushed through the conservative-dominated state house in 2013. Kasich was at odds with much of the state’s GOP on the expansion, which accepted federal funds to increase eligibility for the federal government’s health care program as part of the Affordable Care Act. Federal funds for the expansion will begin to taper off in 2017 and the state will have to foot some of the bill. A plan by State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, would have created a stipulation forbidding use of Ohio taxpayer funds to pay for the gap in the state budget state lawmakers are currently crafting. Butler, however, has since backed off of this idea and it looks as though the expansion, which gave 500,000 more Ohioans health coverage, is safe for now. That’s important for Kasich. The expansion is a key achievement in his time as governor and a talking point when it comes to the no-nonsense, get things done appeal he’s attempting to create as he mulls a presidential run.

• This investigative piece by left-leaning magazine Mother Jones is fascinating. According to 2012 gun crime data, gun violence in Ohio cost taxpayers more than $7.8 billion or $660 per capita per year. That’s chump change compared to some states like California, where it cost more than $25 billion a year. The state with the lowest per-capita cost was Hawaii at $234 a year; the state with the highest was Wyoming, which clocked in at $1,300 a year per capita. The per-capita data closely tracks with gun laws in states — places like Texas and Louisiana with permissive gun laws have much higher per-capita costs than tightly-regulated states. I can see some counter-arguments or questions about this, but it’s an interesting place to start a conversation about taxpayer costs and gun laws.

• Finally, the ultimate time-waster: Google has done its Google Maps thang in Scotland’s Loch Ness so you can search for the Loch Ness Monster.  I’ve been searching for the past two hours and I haven’t seen anything, but feel free to search the lake’s 263,162 million cubic feet of water yourself in search of the elusive prehistoric reptilian creature.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.21.2015 71 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_vlt2-nickswartsell

Morning News and Stuff

Panel debates charter schools; Kasich sets up presidential fundraising org; this train could get us to Chicago in 48 minutes

Hey all. News time.

Last night the League of Women Voters held a panel discussion in Clifton about Ohio’s charter schools, especially those in Cincinnati. The panel, titled “Charter Schools: Are They Accountable?," featured Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan, Aaron Churchill of charter school sponsoring organization the Thomas Fordham Institute, Steve Dyer of progressive think tank Innovation Ohio and Republican state Sen. Bill Seitz.

The answer to the titular question posed to the panel: No, charters aren’t being held accountable in Ohio, and that’s bad. Ronan said CPS loses about 8,000 students a year to charter schools in the city and that many of those schools aren’t prepared to educate them (see: the late VLT Academy, any number of other charters in the city). But some panelists argued that the oversight problems, which state lawmakers are working to fix with bills in the House and Senate, isn’t a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. They point to other charters that have succeeded and say that with reform and increased oversight, the privately run but publicly-funded schools will deliver on their promise. But there are probably going to have to be big changes: Charters in Ohio, most agree, are a big mess.

• At the same time a reasoned debate occurred on charter schools and the serious questions around educating Cincinnati’s next generation, elsewhere a highly paid grown man dropped numerous F-bombs about a game, reporters spilled much digital ink on the meaningless spectacle and we all clicked and clicked, spurring on the inane prattling of both. Well done, all of us.

• More changes to the Lytle Park area downtown are in the works, according to this Enquirer article. A few days ago, I linked you to a story in the Business Courier about the luxury hotel concept that will be moving into the Anna Louise Inn site, which has been occupied by a 104-year-old women’s shelter that is moving to Mount Auburn in June after a protracted legal battle. There’s way more happening in the neighborhood, including a $5 million-plus remake of Lytle Park, a $32 million ODOT rehab of the tunnel that carries I-71 underneath the park and other housing and commercial space in the area. Much of the change is being driven by Western & Southern, the insurance giant headquartered in the neighborhood, and its real estate arm Eagle Realty. I smell a new reality show called Extreme Corporate Makeover in the works here.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign registered a non-profit called A New Day for America with the IRS Monday, officially setting up a fundraising structure for the Republican’s nascent presidential bid. The group has some heavy hitters on its board, including former advertising executive and big-time GOP donor Philip Geier. A U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, a former state lawmaker and some Columbus businessmen round out the board of the group. It’s all a big sign that Kasich is more or less set on running for the Republican nomination, though he has yet to formally announce that intention. So far, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have all officially announced their campaigns. Others, including frontrunners former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are expected to announce their bids as well.

Right now, Kasich lags behind all of them, but a big primary win in one of the early states like New Hampshire could boost his profile. He’ll have to somehow convince GOP primary delegates that he’s moderate enough to win a general election but also conservative enough to uphold strong conservative values. He has competition on that front: Both Bush and Rubio exhibit some combination of staunch conservative policy positions and more moderate and practical beliefs, and both are already national players. But both also have vulnerabilities: Rubio is on the outs with much of the party after he attempted to launch an effort at comprehensive immigration reform. That’s sunk him with the party’s far-right faction. Bush, meanwhile, struggles with the general bad aftertaste the public remembers from Dubya’s presidency. Kasich’s chances may come down to the GOP’s estimation of how toxic the Bush name still is. We’ll see.

• I’m going to be brief with this because it’s maddening, but newsworthy: There could be an end in sight to the big fight going on in Washington over Loretta Lynch. No, not Appalachian songstress Loretta Lynn. I'm talking about the woman President Barack Obama has nominated to replace outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Lynch would be the first female African American A.G., and her nomination has been pending for five months as the Senate battles over voting on her. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has signaled he won’t put Lynch’s nomination vote through until another matter is settled: a Senate vote on a bill that would fight human trafficking. Sounds simple and like something everyone can get behind, right? Except that Republicans have tacked on an anti-abortion provision in that bill, and Democrats are refusing to pass it as it stands. But, according to this story, negotiations are underway to push the Lynch nomination to a vote after several high-profile Republicans have publicly criticized the hold up on her nomination. Phew. Everything is a mess. Everything sucks.

• Finally, let’s read this really quickly and dream: Japan’s maglev bullet train just set a new speed record of 375 miles an hour. At that speed, it would take you about 48 minutes to get to Chicago from Cincinnati. So if the United States was more forward-thinking in its transit policy, you could hop on the train after work, grab some deep-dish pizza and a can of Old Style (or if you like the taste of burning tires, a bottle of Malort), and be back before bedtime. (This is a slight exaggeration, of course, and it would be insanely complicated and expensive if not impossible to build such a train here, but still. We can dream, right?)

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 07.01.2015 8 hours 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 33 hours 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 06.29.2015 57 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
voices_wwe_johnkasich

Morning News and Stuff

Woman who removed confederate flag at S.C. capitol has local ties; same-sex marriage could boost Ohio's economy; Kasich, presidential campaign now officially "talking," may start seeing each other soon

Hello all. I hope your weekend was great and you got to spend some time soaking up the victorious vibes at the pride parade Saturday following Friday’s historic Supreme Court decision. It was indeed epic.

But now it’s Monday, so let’s talk about news for a minute. You may have seen the news about Bree Newsome, the woman who climbed up a flagpole in front of the South Carolina State House and took down a confederate flag flying there. It turns out she has a pretty strong local connection. Newsome’s father, Clarence Newsome, is the president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center here in Cincinnati. The elder Newsome hasn’t commented publicly on his daughter’s actions. Bree Newsome and another activist were arrested immediately after removing the flag. She is currently out on bond and is charged with defacing a state monument. That misdemeanor has a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Newsome’s actions come as debate rages about whether the banner should come down from state buildings there after the horrific shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston. The gunman, Dylann Roof, prominently displayed confederate flags on his car and other belongings and was a supporter of white supremacist causes. Roof’s act of violence has been followed by a spate of arsons against black churches in the South.

• Here’s a lighter story. You can now get a lil tipsy while pedaling around the city. No, I’m not talking about the old whiskey in the water bottle trick some local cyclists swear by, though that one is especially useful in dulling the pain of Cincinnati's hills. Recently-passed legislation allows passengers on so-called Pedal Wagons, which have been carrying people around downtown Cincinnati since 2012, to sip on some adult bevs while they ride. It used to be you had to pedal those 15-passenger wagons sober. But don’t worry. Those partaking only provide the pedal power, not the steering and navigation. A sober nerd… err, driver… does all that.

• Back to that historic same-sex marriage decision for a couple beats. Boone County will continue issuing marriage licenses today following a halt after the SCOTUS decision Friday. County officials said they had questions about the law for the Kentucky attorney general and would cease issuing the licenses until they were answered. But since those answers could take a while, and since it looks pretty bad to clam up and stop issuing licenses to everyone just because gay folks suddenly have the same rights as straight ones, the county clerk’s office has resumed granting the licenses as it waits for clarification. 

• More overt in their opposition to the SCOTUS decision: a dozen or so marchers in the pride parade, who carried signs about eternal damnation and the like, along with conservative groups like Greater Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values and the Ohio Christian Alliance. The latter group released a statement Friday warning that the country is "heading into a moral unknown" and that states' rights are being trampled by the ruling.

• Meanwhile, some economists expect that newly-legal same-sex marriage will pump millions of dollars in economic activity into Ohio. Nearly 10,000 same-sex couples are expected to marry over the next three years — half of the state’s total number of same-sex couples — according to a study by economic researchers Regionomics LLC. That could bring an extra $127 million to the state’s economy, creating 930 new jobs in the first year. And that’s just the money spent on the weddings. Other factors weren’t accounted for, including the benefit of keeping young people in the state who won’t have to leave to marry their partners. The study isn’t the end-all, be-all on the matter, of course, and it should be noted pro-marriage equality group Freedom to Marry commissioned the report. The study estimates that about 1,000 same-sex couples in Hamilton County will marry over the next three years, bringing in about $8 million in economic activity.

• Well, it’s kind of official. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has taken the next step in a dance rivaled in complexity and ambiguity by only the dating rituals of Millennials. Kasich's campaign staff has announced that he will announce July 21 that he’s going to run for the GOP’s nomination to run for president in 2016. Got all that? Basically, the pre-announcement shows that Kasich is serious and settled about his bid and will be mobilizing support for what is certain to be an uphill battle winning over GOP primary voters. It's basically Kasich 2 a.m. texting all those voters he's been flirting with to say, "Wut's up?" He’s got a lot of work ahead of him in wooing those voters though: polls show him catching about 1 percent of the primary vote right now, well behind front runners like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, also from Florida.

That's it for me today. Tweet or e-mail me with any news tips or rainy-day bike commuting tips that don't involve rye whiskey in my water bottle. I need 'em.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gaymarriage

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley unveils big parks plan; abortion restrictions advance through Ohio Senate; same-sex marriage legal across country after historic SCOTUS ruling

Goood morning y’all. I’m a bit bleary today, having spent yesterday on a bus to Columbus and back to watch the State Senate do its thang. More on that later, though.

In somber news, today is the funeral for Sonny Kim, the 27-year Cincinnati Police Department veteran who was shot to death last week while responding to a 911 call. The funeral service is being held at Xavier University’s Cintas Center, and Kim will be laid to rest at Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Tributes to Kim have poured in from around the city and across the country, and officers from places near and far have made the trip here to pay their respects. Thousands came to the visitation yesterday and are attending the funeral today.

• Mayor John Cranley made a big announcement yesterday, rolling out his plan for a huge revamp of Cincinnati’s parks. Cranley is proposing a property tax levy on the November ballot to raise about $5 million a year toward big parks and recreation revamps and new projects. In addition, the mayor has proposed issuing up to $100 million in bonds to fund those projects. Recipients of the money would include proposed bike trails like the Wasson Way Trail, a mountain bike trail through Mount Airy Forest, additions to one along the Mill Creek that could eventually extend from Queensgate to Carthage and beyond and the Oasis River Trail on the city’s south east side. The big bucks would also be used to revamp Inwood Park in Mount Auburn, Smale Riverfront Park downtown and Burnet Woods in Clifton. That last one has me a little worried. I’ve seen different descriptions of proposed changes to my favorite Cincy urban forest, and they sound harmless enough: updated parking lots, removing a road, installing a concession stand and restaurant at the park’s opening. But I also remember Cranley once remarking that the park was “creepy” because the trees are too dense there. Please don’t touch the trees. Other proposals include working to restore former King Records studios in Evanston and an urban campsite in Roselawn.

• Do you wanna know the top-paid CEOs for public companies in Cincinnati? Of course you do. Everyone wants to know about money and power brokers, right? The Cincinnati Business Courier just published its list of the highest earners, and it’s worth perusing so you know who’s got the cash and who’s got the clout. No surprises here, really. Procter & Gamble’s CEO A.G Lafley comes in at number one. He raked in $19.5 million in 2014. American Financial Group’s Carl and Craig Lindner came in at number two with a $15 million haul last year. Execs from Macy’s, Kroger and Ashland, Inc. rounded out the top five.

• The Ohio Senate has passed its version of the state’s budget, and today the Ohio House will vote on it as well. The big news about that, which I’ll be telling you about in detail next week, is that two anti-abortion provision that were squeezed into the budget last-minute look likely to make it through the process unscathed. One bans nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The other would require all clinics to get a variance within 60 days on requirements that they have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Cincinnati’s last remaining clinic providing abortions, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn, has been waiting on a variance to that rule for more than a year. Under the proposed rule change, the Ohio Department of Health would have to issue the variance within two months or it would be automatically denied. If the Mount Auburn facility shuts down, Cincinnati would be the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to a clinic. The state House and Senate have already reconciled their differences and the votes are mainly ceremonial, meaning the last hope for preventing those rules is a line-item veto from Gov. John Kasich.

• Other points from the state budget: the state’s historic preservation tax credit program will live to see another day, despite threats to zero it out for two years. Journalists lose big because a provision in the budget will seal concealed handgun license records, meaning we won’t be able to file public records requests for that information. Oil and gas companies will dodge a new fracking tax proposed by Gov. John Kasich, which wasn’t included in the budget. The legislature said no thanks to Kasich’s proposed huge tax cut for high-income earners and businesses, but did implement a more moderate cut for businesses and income taxes across the board. Kasich got a compromise on cigarette taxes: the Senate budget raises them by 35 cents, less than the dollar Kasich wanted but at least some boost to offset the budget’s big tax cuts.

• Here's some news that isn't really new: even after yesterday's big Supreme Court decision upholding a key tenet of Obamacare, Ohio Republicans are still promising to kill the president's signature healthcare law. Yawn.

• South Carolina State Senator, civil rights leader and Charleston church shooting victim Clementa Pinckney is being laid to rest today. President Obama is delivering the eulogy. Other victims of the massacre are also being remember today and over the weekend.

• Finally, you’ve probably already heard about the fact that history happened today in a major way. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this morning, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. You can read our coverage here. Click through all those links, get to know the Cincinnati plaintiffs in the case and what they’ve been fighting for, and hear Ohio’s reasoning for why it didn’t want to give up its ban.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me or e-mail me with info on where the celebrations will be this weekend.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pride_ns

Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide

In a 5-4 decision, court rules that 14th amendment requires all states to allow marriage between same sex couples

Just moments ago, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, a set of cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. The court ruled in a 5-4 opinion that the equal protection clause of the constitution requires all states to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples. 

"The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state," the decision, penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy reads. ""It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality," the decision later states.

The Supreme Court showdown arose from an earlier decision released by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati. That court upheld the same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. That decision put the Sixth Circuit at odds with other federal circuit courts, which had struck down marriage bans in other states. Lawyers for the plaintiffs appealed, bringing the case to the nation's highest court.

The Supreme Court case Obergefell vs. Hodges gets its name from Jim Obergefell, one of the plaintiffs, who hails from Cincinnati. Richard Hodges, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, is the named defendant. Cincinnatians

Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers are also among the plaintiffs. They're fighting to both be listed on their son Jayseon's birth certificate. You can read more about the Rogers and Obergefell and their involvement in this historic case in CityBeat's coverage here.

Marriage licenses will be available in Ohio counties immediately. In Hamilton County,. couples can obtain them from the Hamilton County Probate Court downtown among other locations.

The First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati has announced that Rev. Sharron Dittmar will be performing same-sex marriages to couples with marriage licenses free of charge June 30-July 2 at the Hamilton County Courthouse or at the First Unitarian Church in Avondale. You can reach the church at 513 351 6530.
Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers display son Jayseon’s birth certificate. The Rogers are part of the U.S. Supreme Court case over Ohio’s gay marriage ban.
Nick Swartsell

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar operating plan once again back to SORTA; parking garage mania; huge Supreme Court decisions

Hello all. Here’s what’s up this morning in Cincinnati. Before I begin, I want to repurpose a joke I made on Twitter as a (not really) serious proposition. Someone should be allowed to sell beer at City Hall. Heck, they could brew it in the basement. Two words: REVENUE STREAM. Am I right?

I say all this because yesterday was another crazy day at City Hall as Cincinnati City Council rushed through a number of last-minute deals before it goes on recess for the rest of the summer. It also got in more streetcar wrangling and a surprise twist fitting of any season finale. Council, which couldn’t come to an agreement previously on whether to choose a union or non-union streetcar operations contract, punted that decision to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which look poised to choose the cheaper, non-union option. That bid, called the turnkey scenario, would cost $4 million in the first year of operation, well less than the $4.7 million union-friendly bid called the management scenario. 

But City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley re-introduced that decision this week after Cranley pledged to allow $2 million from the city’s general fund to be used toward streetcar operations in an effort to pass the union-friendly operating agreement. That’s a big switch-up for Cranley, who previously pledged that he wouldn’t allow any extra city money to be used for the transit project. All seemed primed for the five Democrats on council to pass the union version of the contract. But Councilman Wendell Young, one of the Democratic coalition, voted against the measure. Young expressed serious concerns that the $2 million pledged by Cranley wouldn’t be enough, citing a letter by SORTA stating such. 

With the more expensive contract and less than enough money to operate the streetcar, Young expressed concern that operating hours for the streetcar would be cut. That could have put Cincinnati in a showdown with the Federal Transportation Administration since it stipulated the frequency of streetcar operations in its successful applications for millions in federal dollars for the project. So now, the ball is back in SORTA’s court, and the transit agency will almost certainly opt for the cheaper, non-union contract. Young and other Democrats decried what they called a false choice as yet another “game” turning the streetcar into a political football. Phew. Got all that? All right moving on.


• Cincinnatians in the 1880s had Music Hall. Local folks in the 1930s had Union Terminal. One-hundred years from now, architecture buffs and historians will look back fondly on this era as the golden age of magnificent edifices in which to leave your aging 1997 Toyota Corolla. What I mean to say is congrats, taxpayers! Soon, you’ll own more parking garages downtown and elsewhere. That’s great for me since I don’t own a car at all. Maybe I can park my bike in there. Council passed a number of big development deals yesterday, shoveling a ton of public cash to developers. These deals included more than $5 million in taxpayer money for a $34-million,130-unit apartment complex with commercial space and a parking garage at Eighth and Sycamore streets. That public money includes a $3.5 million city grant, which is awesome because I’m totally going to use one of those taxpayer funded apartments (I’m not) and a $2 million loan to 3CDC, which will build the city-owned parking garage. The development, undertaken by North Pointe Developers and North American Properties, will also receive a 15-year property tax abatement. On the other side of downtown, at Fourth and Race streets, the city will spend another $3 million to build another parking garage for another big development. An eight-story, 200-unit apartment building will sit atop that city-owned garage. Council also gave away some land, amending a deal with Model Group to give the developer property at Elder and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine for $1 upon the timely completion of a planned $21 million project that will bring 23 new apartments and 10 condos to that location. Should Model Group not finish the project in time, it will pay $106,000 for the land.

• Services for fallen Cincinnati Police officer Sonny Kim begin today at Xavier’s Cintas Center. A visitation for Kim will be held there starting at 1 p.m. Kim’s funeral is tomorrow at 11 a.m. Both are open to the public, which is asked to arrive and be seated by 10 a.m. tomorrow for the funeral. Officials say they expect crowds of thousands to attend, including officers from across the country. Kim died Friday after he and other officers were lured to Madisonville by a gunman who called 911 on himself.

• Wrong place. Wrong time. Incredibly unfortunate name. Mason City Councilman Richard Cox (can’t make this stuff up folks) is answering some tough questions today after he was spotted during a police sting at a motel room with a suspected sex worker. Authorities were led to the room by online ads and insider tips. Officers saw Cox leave a room occupied by the alleged sex worker, but Cox says he was simply there because an older man at a nearby store had asked him to deliver a note to the woman there, and Cox complied because he thought she was the man’s daughter. No charges have been filed in the incident.

• U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is cosponsoring two new bills designed to provide more help to opioid addicts. The Recovery Enhancement and Addiction Treatment act would expand treatment options for addicts, including lifting a limit on how many patients addiction treatment doctors can see in a year. That limit has left many in the state seeking treatment on long waiting lists. Another bill, the Jason Simcakoski bill, would provide more pain treatment options for military veterans. That bill is named after a Marine vet who fatally overdosed last summer. Ohio continues to struggle in the grips of a large-scale heroin and opioid crisis, with overdoses and overdose deaths on a steady incline. Overdose deaths in Ohio tripled between 2003 to 2013, when 2,100 died of drug overdoses.

• A huge U.S. Supreme Court decisions were announced today. SCOTUS upheld Affordable Care Act subsidies to states, including Ohio, meaning the ACA remains structurally sound. A challenge to the ability of the federal government to facilitate those subsidies called King v. Burwell could have shook Obama's signature healthcare law to its core; without the subsidies, many low-income residents in states with health care exchanges would not have been able to afford health care plans. Another important SCOTUS decision in a case around affordable housing in Texas delivered a huge victory for those looking to desegregate low-income, subsidized housing. Read more about that decision here. 

That’s it for me. I’m heading to Columbus to cover the final days of voting on the state’s budget, specifically some last minute provisions that Republican lawmakers have slipped into the financial plan that would make life very hard for Cincinnati’s last remaining abortion clinic and other clinics around the state. More soon. In the meantime, tweet at me or email with your suggestion for best lunch around the capitol.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.23.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Council poised to approve big development bucks; shooting interrupts anti-violence march; Ohio mulls eliminating "pink tax"

Good morning all. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s going on today.

City Council’s budget and finance committee yesterday approved pushing more than $6 million in TIF funds into building a parking garage in Oakley. The 383-space garage would serve Oakley Station, which just landed its first big office tenant. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will be bringing 400 office jobs to the development. Developers Al Neyer and USS Realty will put up the land for the garage. The city will pay the developer for the construction of the garage and lease the facility to them for 35 years. Neyer and USS will have the option to buy the building during that time, or purchase it from the city for $1 after the lease expires. TIF money takes property taxes from nearby new developments and reinvests those funds in other projects there instead of flowing them into the city’s general funds. The city must own a property to use TIF funds on it; thus the lease structure. A final council vote on the deal is expected today.

• Speaking of city money for development, the city will give more than $7 million in financial assistance to a downtown project at Eighth and Sycamore streets. That deal involves the development of a $35 million, 130-unit apartment building by North American Properties. The city will kick in a $3.5 million grant for the developer as well as $1.8 million in tax abatements for the project. In addition, the city will loan the Cincinnati Central City Development Corporation $2 million to build a parking garage and retail space as part of the deal. 3CDC will pay back that loan over the course of its 35-year lease. So how much money is all that, you ask? To give some perspective, the $7 million involved in the deal is about twice the amount of money the city has committed to human services funding for next fiscal year. But the development will create four full time and 24 part-time jobs worth about $2.2 million in income taxes, so there’s that.

• Mayor John Cranley has said he'll OK $2 million from the city's general fund for streetcar operations in an effort to ensure that SORTA approves a streetcar operations bid that uses union employees. But some city council members worry that the money won't be enough for the long-term operation of the streetcar, and are calling for more funds. Officials believe the project will cost about $4 million in its first year.

• The city’s dramatic struggle with gun violence continues. Last night during a march through Over-the-Rhine led by Bishop Bobby Hilton to protest gun violence, two men were shot in the neighborhood. One collapsed just half a block away from where the march took place. One, 18-year-old Justin Crutchfield, later died. Among those tending to Crutchfield was State Sen. Cecil Thomas, who was attending the rally. Thomas, a former police officer, has been active in OTR for years. Thomas said the majority of OTR residents don’t want any part in the violence and that it’s a small minority responsible for the crime. Many of the shootings have taken place during a pronounced spike in violence in the city, including last week’s shooting death of officer Sonny Kim, the first Cincinnati Police officer killed in the line of duty since 2000. CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell has drawn up a 90-day violence reduction plan at the request of City Manager Harry Black, but has delayed implementing that plan in the wake of Kim’s death.

• Very quick hit here: Cincinnati Red Bike is launching its first stations across the river in Northern Kentucky today, opening six new stations in Covington. Red Bike opened last fall and has since gained nearly 1,000 members, who have taken more than 46,000 rides.

• Are Pete Rose’s chances at reinstatement into Major League Baseball shot? Some say so. New evidence emerged Monday that Rose bet on baseball not just as a manager — the revelation that led to his suspension from the game in the first place — but also as a player. A notebook held by the federal government as it was investigating Rose has finally been released, and it details Rose’s wagers on the game as a player. Rose bet on the Reds, according to the evidence, though he never bet against his own team. The new revelations have many, including top sports commentators, predicting that Rose has lost any chance to gain reinstatement into the MLB, and thus a shot at the Hall of Fame.

• Finally, efforts are afoot at the state capital to abolish the so-called “pink tax” on feminine hygiene products. State Rep. Greta Johnson, D-Akron, is pushing the bill. She says women in Ohio spend $6-$10 a month on state taxes for hygiene products and that it’s time for Ohio to end the practice of putting state sales taxes on the items. Five other states have nixed their taxes on feminine hygiene products, including Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.22.2015 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tedstrickland

Morning News and Stuff

Community supports fallen officer; Uptown Rental Properties buys entire Corryvillle block; Strickland leads in Senate race

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on in Cincy as we all try to wake up and do work.

It’s been a somber few days in Cincinnati since Friday, when Cincinnati police officer Sonny Kim was shot and killed by a gunman in Madisonville. Though I can’t imagine how devastating that loss must be for his family, the community has come together to try and help them in their time of need. A GoFundMe account started by Mason Police Association President Derek Bauman has raised about $95,000 for the Kim family. University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono has announced his three sons will receive free undergraduate tuition at UC should they choose to go there.

Kim was responding to a 911 call about a man with a gun when he encountered 21-year-old Trepierre Hummons. Police say Hummons texted friends about his plan to commit “suicide by cop” and placed the 911 call himself to lure police to him. Hummons shot Kim before Hummons himself was killed by police. Kim was the first officer killed in the line of duty in Cincinnati in 15 years. Hummons was the 29th person killed by police in that time. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell called Kim “one of our best,” citing the numerous commendations he’s received. In his off time, Kim, a resident of Evendale, ran a karate dojo in Symmes Township. Mayor John Cranley has asked Cincinnatians to wear blue Friday, June 26 in memory of Kim. In the wake of Kim’s shooting, Blackwell has announced a two-week delay in implementation of CPD’s recently announced 90-day violence reduction plan.

• Uptown Rental Properties, a major developer in Corryville and the surrounding areas, now owns an entire city block of properties in the neighborhood. The developer has purchased 11 properties from the New Nazarene Baptist Church as well as another single family home on the block, which it has been interested in for two decades. Uptown has yet to announce plans for the spaces, and the church itself is leasing the building it formerly owned from Uptown until it finds a new location. But the purchase could well be a sign that more major development is afoot in Corryville. Uptown Rental Properties has been very active in the area, currently building more than 250 apartments in two nearby developments collectively worth $55 million. The developer also has big plans for neighboring Mount Auburn, where it has planned another $55 million in apartments and office space.

• Speaking of development, the Cincinnati Planning Commission has given the green light to a Towne Properties development that would feature seven newly constructed 2,800-square-foot townhomes on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine. However, the city’s Historic Conservation Board wants changes before the project goes forward, saying the buildings are “too short and squat” and should have more individuality overall, among other criticisms. As someone who has been criticized for these same shortcomings, I feel for these prospective buildings just a little. No one has ever told me that I “need more detailing around the corners” or that I need to be three stories tall to emphasize the verticality of my district, though, so that’s where my empathy ends. Towne will have to tweak the designs to meet the board’s suggestions and come back before it for final approval. The townhomes will be the Mount Adams-based developer’s first foray into Over-the-Rhine, and the development effort will led by former 3CDC VP Chad Munitz. Each townhome will have a garage and a private backyard. Expected starting price for each is $650,000.

• Marijuana legalization effort ResponsibleOhio faces a potential legislative roadblock even if its state constitutional amendment gets on the ballot and is approved by voters. State lawmakers are working to pass a ban on monopolies in the state constitution, a law that looks tailor-made to short circuit ResponsibleOhio’s efforts. If passed, that law would make the weed legalization effort’s proposal, which limits marijuana growth to 10 sites owned by the group’s investors, illegal before it even goes into effect. The anti-monopoly law must be passed by the state House and Senate and signed by Gov. Kasich before going into effect. ResponsibleOhio needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures this summer to get its initiative on the ballot. Its plan would legalize weed for anyone over 21, create the 10 grow sites and also allow for small amounts of non-commercial home growth.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said he would support removing the confederate flag from South Carolina state buildings if he lived there. In the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, S.C. last week where a white gunman killed nine black parishoners at a historically black church, a debate has raged about that state’s display of the flag above the state capitol building. Shooter Dylann Roof has expressed white supremacist ideals and sympathies and prominently displayed the flag on his car. The shooting has led to calls for removal of the flag from the capitol, and a number of liberal and conservative politicians have backed the idea.

• Democratic challenger and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland is leading over incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman in the 2016 race for Portman's Senate seat, a new poll shows. Strickland leads Portman by six points, according to a recently released Quinnipiac University poll. Meanwhile, Strickland’s Democratic primary challenger, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, continues to search for state-wide recognition. Eighty-five percent of voters across the state said they didn’t know enough about Sittenfeld to make a decision about him.

• Finally, as you might already know if you’ve been glued to SCOTUSblog like I have, the U.S. Supreme Court today did not release its decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, the landmark case that could decide the national fate of same-sex marriage. The court has just a few more days on which it will release decisions before its term is up at the end of the month. Meanwhile, OTR resident Jim Obergefell, for whom the case is named, continues to wait.

Story tips? Ideas on where I could get a used touring bike? Tweet at your boy or do the email thing.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.18.2015 13 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

City passes budget; last-minute state budget change could shut down clinics; mourning in Charleston, S.C.

Hey all. Here’s what’s up this morning.

 

Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed its $1 billion fiscal year 2016-2017 budget despite worries that wrangling between council and the mayor could spiral into a partial city government shutdown. The budget council passed looks similar to the one proposed by City Manager Harry Black, though it includes the full $3 million for United Way-vetted human services agencies council requested last November. Black’s original budget funded traditional human services at a much lower level.


The budget process this time around was full of last-minute deals and switcheroos by various council members. Vice Mayor David Mann, for instance, stepped across the line between his fellow Democrats on council and Mayor John Cranley to help engineer the final deal. Mann’s negotiations sometimes caused chagrin among his fellow Democrats — his vote against giving infant mortality agency Cradle Cincinnati $275,000 made that priority vulnerable to a veto, which Cranley took advantage of. All told, Cranley vetoed six ordinances containing Democratic council priorities, including a $400,000 grant for Clifton Market and $150,000 for bike lanes. Council had a majority of five votes on those spending measures but couldn’t muster the sixth to override the mayor. You can read all about the fiscal fun times in our coverage here.

 

• One thing council didn’t pass yesterday was an agreement about who will operate the streetcar. That means the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority will step in to decide which bid to take — most likely the cheaper turnkey option, in which an outside management company chooses its own workers instead of unionized SORTA employees. That option came in at about $4 million, just under the city’s $4.2 million budget for operating the streetcar. Another management bid approved by council’s budget and finance committee Monday involved a company overseeing SORTA employees and came in at $4.7 million. SORTA officials have said in the past that they can’t take up a bid for which they don’t have the money, so it looks like the cheaper option will happen by default, despite pro-union Cranley and five Democrats on council backing the more expensive option.

 

• But hold up, wait, there’s controversy around those bids. The head of the Amalgamated Transit Union says SORTA is “playing games” with the bidding process and that a cheaper option involving unionized workers might be available. ATU head Troy Miller has been emailing council members saying that one of the bidders, a company called First Transit, didn’t make it as a final bid despite having a cheaper plan that used union workers. That plan would have cost about $4.1 million, just under budget. The company has called that option a turnkey proposal, but says it would use union members. Here’s more on that story in this article by WCPO.

 

• Speaking of SORTA, and in less divisive news, the agency has released real-time streaming bus-arrival data, which has enabled for the creation of a new app that allows users to track the progress of Metro buses. That app was developed by local tech company Gaslight and will be available starting today. That is amazing. Like, an app that actually does something useful in my life on a daily basis instead of just having me take pictures of the food I’m eating or posting about dogs or something.

 

• 3CDC will use at least some of the $45 million in federal new market tax credits it just received to change up Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine, officials with the development group announced today. The project, which will expand and renovate the park, according to 3CDC, is expected to cost $27 million. Programming in the park, including fitness classes and basketball leagues, will be part of the project. The development group has said it will not be eliminating basketball courts or the pool at the park, a major sticking point with community members during the developer’s changes to Washington Park on the other side of OTR in 2012.

 

• More last-minute changes to the state budget mean that some women’s health clinics that provide abortions might be in danger of closing, at least temporarily. Ohio law requires clinics to have admitting privileges with local hospitals, or to obtain a variance from the Ohio Department of Health. A new tweak to those laws in the state budget would require those clinics to obtain their variance from the state within 60 days or shut down. Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn and the Women’s Med clinic in Dayton both operate on variances. The Planned Parenthood site in Cincinnati waited a full year to receive its variance last year and is currently awaiting another one. Women’s Med has waited two years for its exception. The state Senate expects to pass the budget today, after which it will negotiate its version with the Ohio House of Representatives ahead of a June 30 budget deadline.

 

• Finally, I don’t even know what to say about this other than to express some kind of unutterable sadness and anger. As you’ve probably already heard, nine people were shot to death while they prayed in a church in Charleston, South Carolina last night. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is an iconic, historically black church that has been serving black congregations since 1816. Charleston's Emanuel AME church, where the shooting took place, has been there since 1891 and has been a symbol of both refuge and resistance for the black community there. The suspected shooter, who was caught on video, is 21-year-old Dylann Roof, whose social media presence shows affiliation with or sympathy for white supremacist groups. Authorities are calling the shooting a hate crime. Among the dead, according to relatives, is South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, a civil rights leader and also the church’s pastor.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.17.2015 14 days ago
Posted In: News, Budget at 04:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Council Finally Passes FY 2016-2017 Budget

Spending plan restores human services funding, but Cranley vetoes other Democratic priorities

Cincinnati City Council today passed its FY 2016-2017 budget, a $1 billion spending plan that hews closely to the one drawn up by Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, but with boosted human services funding originally left out of the plan. 

The budget boosts police officers and will spend $110 million on road repair and fleet maintenance, big priorities for Cranley. Cranley called the budget "great" today as it passed, saying it is structurally balanced and forward-looking.

But not everyone got what they wanted from the process, and heightened tensions between the mayor and council may have left some hard feelings. Cranley and council have been fighting back and forth during the budget process. This morning, Cranley compared Democratic council members to children on a WLW talk show. Democrats have fired back with their own harsh words.

Despite the political wrangling, the final budget resulted from a deal cut this morning between the mayor and members of council, including council conservatives and Democrat Vice Mayor David Mann. The compromise provided an extra $500,000 in funding for traditional human services vetted by the United Way, an amount above the $2.5 million in the city administration's previous budget proposal.

That brings human services up to the $3 million for United Way-chosen human services organizations council unanimously requested last November, an amount initially left out of Black's budget. The city aims to fund human services at 1.5 of its capital budget, a goal it hasn't hit in a decade. Today's deal brings the city to .8 percent of the capital budget.

But the deal also left the council's five Democrats facing a mayoral veto on other spending priorities: individual ordinances calling for a $400,000 grant to co-op Clifton Market, $150,000 for bike lanes, $24,000 for new bus stops in Bond Hill and more money for community organizations. 

"If the trade-off is we don't get bus shelters in Bond Hill or work on bike trails or public support for Clifton Market I think it is worth the trade-off," Mann, the Democrat who helped broker the deal, said during today's council meeting.

Those individual ordinances were the result of a move by Cranley to split up Democrats' original omnibus budget counter-proposal. That put the individual pieces at the mercy of Cranley's veto. Each measure received only five votes on council. Six are needed to override a mayoral veto. True to his word, Cranley vetoed all four of the ordinances he took issue with. Cranley says the move increases transparency and keeps extra pork out of the budget. Democrats, however, have accused the mayor of playing politics, noting that the city administration's $375 million operating budget still came in omnibus form. Several, including Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, have said that amounts to ignoring the majority of council.

A standoff over Cranley's capital budget and Democrats' unfunded priorities led to speculation that Cincinnati might undergo a partial government shutdown, but today's deal and subsequent vote effectively funds the city's government when the current budget expires June 30.

City Hall was less successful in making a decision about streetcar operations today, however. City Council couldn't agree on either of the two operating bids presented by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority, meaning that SORTA itself will now make the call. That means the agency will probably select the cheaper turnkey solution, in which a management company will be able to hire outside employees instead of using SORTA's union workers. That bid came in at $4 million for the first year of operations, under the city's maximum of $4.2 million. A union-friendly management bid came to $4.7 million. SORTA says it legally cannot enter into a contract for which it does not have funding.

 
 
 
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