Say you’ve got a friend from out of town coming to Cincinnati. You really want to give them a warm welcome. What’s the best party in town for a newcomer? That’s right: a 2.5 hour hang sesh with city council!
Yesterday, members of council grilled Mayor John Cranley’s pick for city manager Harry Black about his specific vision for the city. Black already gave some broad outlines of his approach last week, but council wanted to get down to brass tacks. It was the predictable theater production these kinds of appointment hearings usually are, with Black providing careful, not terribly specific answers to questions from council members, most notably Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson, about specific ideas he would implement as the second-most powerful member of city government.
Black says he would need to assess where the city stands before making any drilled-down proposals. But as the Business Courier points out in its story today, he did tip his hand a bit on the streetcar, saying the city has limited amounts of money and that anything after the current phase of the project is something for future discussions. Black looks as if he’ll play pretty close to Cranley’s game plan for the city, which could well pit him against some members of council on a number of issues. That should make this afternoon’s full-council discussion and vote on his appointment interesting.
• As I mentioned yesterday, Cincinnati’s 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. Demonstrations against gay marriage bans took place last night downtown and will continue today outside the courthouse. Religious groups supporting the bans are also encouraging followers to turn out. Stay tuned for more on the court’s rulings.
• Also happening today — Hamilton County Commissioners will decide whether to put a .25 percent sales tax increase on the ballot to fund the renovation of Union Terminal and Music Hall. There has been a lot of wrangling about this proposal as the commissioners and anti-tax groups look for more financial input from the city. Meanwhile, supporters of the tax say it’s now or never for the renovations. Various alternative proposals have been floated, including cutting Music Hall from the deal or charging fees on tickets to events at the landmarks. We’ll report the commissioners’ decision when it comes down. They meet at 11 a.m.
• Also also happening today — Rev. Jesse Jackson will be at City Hall discussing a proposed amendment to the Constitution regarding voting rights in commemoration of today’s 49th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Mayor John Cranley and State Rep. Alicia Reece will introduce Jackson at 1 p.m.
• Toledo’s toxic algae woes may not be over, according to scientists. Last weekend the city advised citizens not to drink or bathe with water from the municipal water supply due to high levels of toxins from algae in Lake Erie. The algae has been increasing intensely due to runoff from large-scale farming and other industries. Scientists warn that it’s still early in the season for the algae, which usually peaks in late August. They also say the underlying conditions that caused the water emergency are nowhere near mitigated, though the city has taken extra precautions in purifying municipal water.
• When it comes to economics, it’s hard to get more mainstream than Standard and Poor’s, the financial analysis giant owned by McGraw-Hill. S&P authors the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is one of the few elite credit-rating agencies. Not exactly a leftist revolutionary group, then. But even this Wall Street giant has begun raising alarms about income inequality, releasing a report yesterday about the pragmatic hazards of the growing gap between the rich and the rest in the United States. The report sheds moral considerations about inequality, of course, in favor of cold, hard economics. And here, the gap has slowed growth and hindered our economy, the report says.
“Our review of the data, as well as a wealth of research on this matter, leads us to conclude that the current level of economic inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world’s biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population,” the report summarizes.
• Finally, the world has come to this: There’s a big fight brewing over who owns the rights to a selfie a monkey took back in 2011. Selfies weren’t quite the phenomenon they are now, so first and foremost I applaud the crested black macaque who snapped a pretty great pic of herself for being ahead of the curve. The photo happened when a British photographer set up his gear to trigger remotely as he was trying to get a candid photo of a group of the wild macaques in Indonesia. The monkey in question grabbed the gear and eventually found the shutter button, snapping hundreds of pics of herself and her surroundings.
Most were blurry, but a couple are crisp and colorful, and really, much better looking than any selfie I’ve ever attempted, which is depressing. Anyway, Wikimedia has posted the photo in its collection of more than 20 million royalty-free images. The photographer has sued Wikimedia to take the photo down, but the group, which runs Wikipedia, has claimed that since the monkey took the picture,
it owns the copyright to the image the photographer doesn't own the image. The group has yet to receive a cease-and-desist letter from said monkey, though rumor has it the macaque has asked that her Instagram and Tumblr handles be included when the photo is used online.
UPDATE: I pride myself on rarely having to do corrections, but they got me on this one. Apparently, Wikimedia isn't claiming that the monkey has the copyright, though I haven't checked to see if the monkey is feeling litigious. From the company:
Sometimes, all the forces of the universe conspire to make every important thing possible happen on the same day, at the same time. That day is tomorrow, when City Council will meet for the first time since its summer recess, Hamilton County Commissioners will vote on the icon tax and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in four states. To make sure you're ready, let's review a couple big upcoming news events, shall we?
• Time is ticking down for a possible tax hike deal to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. County Commissioners have until tomorrow to decide whether or not a proposed .25 percent sales tax will end up on the November ballot, and there’s no indication that two of the three commissioners are leaning toward voting for the tax as-is. At issue is the city’s contribution and the age-old city vs. county dynamic. Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann, both Republican, say they want a bigger financial commitment from the city, a sign of long-term buy-in. Monzel has floated the idea of cutting Music Hall out of the deal, since he says that building is the city’s responsibility and Union Terminal has more history county-wide. He’s said an alternative sales tax proposal could be ready for tomorrow’s meeting if a deal for both buildings can’t be reached. Another alternate idea involves ticket fees for those attending events at the buildings.
The city has pledged to continue the $200,000 a year it pays toward upkeep for each building and has committed an additional $10 million for Music Hall. Commissioners have said that isn’t enough. They’ll vote at their weekly meeting tomorrow on whether to put the issue on the ballot for voters to weigh.
• Tomorrow is a big day for other reasons. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. It will be a decisive moment for the marriage equality movement, which has been on a winning streak in the courts lately. The Supreme Court last June struck down a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and since then many courts have ruled against gay marriage bans and other laws restricting recognition of same-sex marriages. But two of the three judges on the appellate board here are appointees from former President George W. Bush’s time in office and have a record of rulings supporting conservative values. Both opponents and supporters of the bans have rallies planned during the 1 p.m. hearings. Religious groups in the area, including the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, are urging followers to pray for the judges. The church has voiced strong support for Ohio’s gay marriage ban, passed in 2004.
• An effort to open a cooperative grocery store in Clifton is coming down to the wire, an Enquirer report says. The proposed market has met a quarter of its $1.65 million fundraising goal, officials with the group say. That money comes from shares anyone can buy to become a part owner of the store and would go toward buying the former Keller’s IGA building on Ludlow Avenue. The Clifton Cooperative Market group is under contract to buy the building, but that contract expires Oct. 11. The group envisions an “upmarket” grocery that provides both staple goods and specialty items. If the group can get half the money, officials say, it will become easier to secure financing for the rest through bank loans.
• Miami University is tops! The local university ranks high on a few just-released Princeton Review lists, though not necessarily all positive ones. Miami is the nation’s 11th best party school, the review finds. It’s rocketed up five spots from last year, passing rival Ohio University. As an alum, I can tell you the recognition is long overdue. However, the school is also ranked fifth on the “little race and class interaction” list. So if you like partying with 16,000 friends who look a whole lot like you (assuming you look like an extra from a Brooks Brothers casual wear catalogue shoot) I’ve got the school for you. The school also ranked high for Greek life (sixth) and its entrepreneurial program (12th).
• Finally, a story about grandmothers in Aurora, Indiana who have taken up a new hobby — firearms. Two senior women there started a gun education group in May after being robbed. Women Armed and Ready, or WAR, trains women on proper use of handguns for self-defense, firearm laws and target shooting.
“My gun is the answer to anybody who thinks I'm an old lady living alone,” says WAR member Barb Marness. Enough said.
Hey all. As we all collectively recover from sitting in Washington Park for hours camped out for LumenoCity, let’s talk about what’s going on in the wide world, shall we?
The Cincinnati Police Department has released a report (scroll down to page four in that agenda) about the effectiveness of the anti-prostitution barriers on McMicken, which the city put up in May and took down last week. According to the report, the barricades did reduce prostitution, though some activity simply shifted to nearby blocks in Over-the-Rhine.
• The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center celebrated its 10th anniversary Sunday. After contention about its creation and financial struggles early in its existence, the museum and conference center looks to be on a very positive trajectory. Despite debt and a $1 million-plus operating deficit as recently as 2011, the Freedom Center has proven resilient. A July 2012 merger with the Museum Center has helped, as well as contributions from donors and the Center’s continually nationally recognized exhibitions and events. Attendance revenue is up 35 percent at the Center, a Cincinnati Enquirer article says, and the Center’s endowment is growing. On a personal note, this is one of my favorite places in the city, and the news that it’s doing well is great to hear indeed.
• The big story this morning is in Toledo, which is now in its third day without water due to contamination from algae. Four-hundred-thousand residents woke up Saturday morning to a warning from the city instructing them not to use tap water for drinking, showering or cleaning. Making matters worse, boiling the water only increases the concentration of toxins, so the water is completely unusable. Toledo’s Mayor D. Michael Collins announced Monday that tests of the water supply showed it was getting safer after clean-up efforts, but wanted more time to ensure it is completely safe. Residents Sunday night were told it would probably be safe to shower quickly or do laundry. Meanwhile, Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency Saturday, the National Guard began shipping in vats of water and grocery stores were picked clean of bottled water.
Experts say the current situation has been building for a decade, as sewage, farm and industrial runoff builds in Lake Erie. That’s supported the explosive growth of algae, which produces toxins that can cause liver problems and general illness, including nausea and dizziness. The toxins can also kill pets.
• Hamilton County Commissioners at their staff meeting this morning will discuss whether to put the so-called icon tax on the November ballot. As of Friday, none of the three commissioners were completely on board with any of the scenarios for a proposed tax hike to pay for renovations to Union Terminal and Music Hall, though the commissioners have expressed interest in finding a proposal that works for everyone. Probably the hardest to sway will be Commissioner Todd Portune, who said he doesn’t feel “any pressure at all” to vote in favor of a tax plan. At issue: how much the city should chip in for the renovations and whether it would be more appropriate to pay for at least some of the renovations with fees added to tickets to events at the facilities. The commissioners must make a decision by Aug. 6.
• LumenoCity wrapped up last night, and by all accounts it was a big success. The three-day event, which combined a light show projected onto Music Hall with a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance, drew 37,500 people who reserved tickets online in order to enter the park. This year, festivities included LumenoCity village, where folks could shop and hang out whether they had a ticket or not. I went Sunday, and it was great to see so many people mingling. Plus the Charley Harper tribute was especially amazing. But a thought: Who was left out by the ticketing system, which was predominantly administered online? Also, it’s interesting to think about spending $1 million on an hour-and-a-half-long light show in a historically low-income neighborhood when that’s the same amount of money the city has budgeted for social service agencies for the whole year. Just a thought.
• Finally, this story is the stuff of nightmares. Some kind of mechanical failure caused an explosion in an eggnog vat at a food lab in New Jersey. The ‘nog is one of my least favorite things in the world, and the thought of a violent explosion of the stuff is stomach-turning, to say the least. No one was killed in the blast (what a way to go that would be) but two scientists were injured and an entire back wall of the lab was blown down. One final thought about this whole thing — the establishment cooking up the beverage is called Pharmachem. Sounds delicious.
Hey all. Did you miss me? I ditched the morning news yesterday to
see if anyone noticed I was gone go find out more about Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley’s pick to be city manager. You can read all about what he’ll do if he gets the job here, but I’ll offer a brief recap. Black wants to play the long game, working on the city’s long-term financial planning and setting up something similar to the ten-year plan he worked on as the city of Baltimore’s finance head. He said he would stay away from the politics of some of the city’s more contentious projects like the streetcar, instead offering analytical and technical contributions to those undertakings.
• The barriers erected in May along McMicken Ave. in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview came down yesterday as originally scheduled. (Actually, I passed through the area on the way home from a show Wednesday night and they were already down by that point). The three blockades on various parts of the street were designed to cut down the high levels of prostitution happening in the area. The jury is out on whether or not the approach worked; some in the neighborhood say it actually made the problem worse and have filed a lawsuit to keep the city from putting them back up in the future, though others are much more positive about the outcome. Some claim the problem simply moved to other neighborhoods like Price Hill. The city is now weighing more permanent efforts to cut down prostitution in Cincinnati, including publishing the names of convicted johns.
• Ugh. Normally, I don’t roll individual crime reporting into the morning news, but this instance is just so scummy I feel like it has to be mentioned. Three men were arrested yesterday for allegedly assaulting a man named Johnny Hensley as he left the Drop-Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine, where he’d been staying. The assault happened Sunday at about 3 a.m., police say, and lasted for about 15 minutes. The three allegedly approached Hensley from behind and began punching him. Advocates for the homeless are calling it a hate crime.
• Here’s some good news. Ohio students entering high school as freshmen will get the chance to take the ACT and SAT when they become juniors free of charge. The Ohio Department of Education will pick up the tab for the cost of those tests as part of an effort to boost higher education among Ohioans. The tests usually cost about $50 each, and sometimes you may have to take them a couple times each to get a decent score. Well, I did, at least.
• The concentration of poverty in America’s suburbs is accelerating, a new brief by the Brookings Institution says. The release is an update of a 2011 study that showed the poor are increasingly found in the suburbs, counter to the common perception of poverty as something that is solely an inner-city problem. The numbers, which have been updated with the latest data from the Census American Community Survey, are pretty shocking. From 2000 to 2012, populations of poor folks increased by 139 percent in the suburbs, compared to a 50 percent increase in urban areas. In the Cincinnati area, the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs jumped by 70 percent in that time, compared to a 13 percent jump in the number of people living in poverty in the city.
• As the debate of immigration continues its nauseating, repetitious drone, the GOP congressional delegation has had something of a meltdown over the past couple days. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives yesterday seemed poised to vote on and pass a border security bill that would have given at least some money, though not as much as Democrats would like, for addressing the humanitarian crisis along America’s southern border. The bill was packed with conservative-friendly provisions, including a measure that would mean immediate deportation for young, unaccompanied migrants fleeing drug-related turmoil in Central America. But even that wasn’t conservative enough, and the bill was pulled before a vote after it became clear the tea party element of Congress would not support it. Lawmakers are trying again today to get enough support for some effort to address the border crisis, though there is no indication whether they will be successful. Congress is scheduled to be in recess after today until September.
• Right now, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other areas in western Africa are experiencing a deadly flare-up of the Ebola virus. More than 700 people have died from the disease, and about a thousand more have taken ill. Now, a U.S. aid worker infected with the virus, which has a 60 to 90 percent mortality rate, is coming to an Atlanta hospital for treatment. She or he will be the first known person with Ebola in the United States, experts say, though doctors and disease specialists say there is little chance the virus will spread here. The disease is terrifying, beginning as cold-like symptoms before escalating into an all-out assault on the body that can literally melt your organs. Researchers are working on a vaccine, and may be ready to test it by September.
Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley’s pick for the next city manager, spoke today about his ideas for keeping Cincinnati’s momentum moving forward.
At a news conference outside City Hall this morning, Black pledged that should he be selected to be city manager, his office would be transparent and accountable as it seeks to boost economic development, improve financial planning and preserve safety in the city. The city manager is arguably the second most powerful position in city government behind the mayor, hiring department heads and making day-to-day choices on the way the city runs.
Black currently serves as the finance director for the city of
Baltimore, a role he says has prepared him to be Cincinnati’s city manager.
“They’re both rustbelt cities,” Black said of Baltimore and Cincinnati. “They’re both challenged in similar ways. What may vary is scale. But the issues here are issues that I’ve seen.”
Black has been involved in political dustups in some of his past jobs, but has more than 25 years of public service experience and reams of positive recommendations. In his remarks today, he pledged to guide the city to a more long-term outlook on finances while forging an analytic rather than political approach to big issues.
He also said he would “think outside the box” in working to lift up Cincinnati’s low-income neighborhoods.
“We’ll have a segment of the community that may need help it terms of being employable,” he said. “As a local government, we have to be certain that we make that a priority as well. We may have to create economic opportunity and connect that segment of the community to those opportunities.”
Black, 51, grew up in Park Heights, a rough neighborhood in Baltimore, and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Mayor Cranley highlighted Black’s story when introducing his pick today. “Having grown up in the urban core, he pulled himself up, got himself educated and has had a very successful career in public service,” Cranley said.
Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black says his experience with long-term financial planning is what makes him the right choice.
“We can’t sustain and prosper by just balancing budgets,” he said. “We have to find ways to go beyond just balancing budgets, which is what we did in Baltimore in respects to the 10-year plan that we put in place. Black said “a longer-term approach” is important “not just in terms of filling budget shortfalls but also finding ways to reinvest back into the city.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. In addition to shoring up long-term financial planning here, he said he would create new ways for innovation to happen in the city. Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness.
Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
“I’m not a pitbull,” he said at the conference, “and only time will allow you to see that.”
Black said he would stay out of the politics of city government in favor of focusing on practical and technical aspects of the job, especially when it comes to controversial issues like the streetcar. Black said his job would be to provide technical and analytical input for council’s decisions.
“In terms of the streetcar project … the legislators have legislated this initiative and this project. It’s incumbent on me and my team to make sure that it’s executed, but to make sure that it’s executed in a cost-effective and responsible way,” he said. “As a city manager, I would rely on the idea that the legislative process is going to yield what the people want.”
Janet Reid, a Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and 3CDC Board Member, was part of the screening process that selected Black. She praised his abilities.
“I could recognize very early on that he has an unusual mixture of talents that would be just right mix for our city,” she said. “That includes the ability to look deeply into details as well as see the big picture.” Reid highlighted Black’s long public service career, praising what she called his proven track record.
Whether council chooses Black for city manager or not, the gig may be short-lived. Councilman Christopher Smitherman has proposed amending Cincinnati’s charter to create a so-called executive mayor. That would eliminate the city manager position and give the mayor’s office power over many elements of the current city manager’s role. Cranley has voiced support for the idea, though Smitherman has said he doesn’t think he has the votes on council to pass the measure and may need to collect voter signatures to get it on the ballot.
Smitherman, along with Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and Vice Mayor David Mann, attended today’s news conference introducing prospective City Manager Black.
The Senate (America’s most powerful deliberative body, not the hotdog place on Vine Street) voted yesterday
to approve former P&G CEO Bob McDonald as head of the Department of
Veterans Affairs. The vote was 97-0, and while such approvals are
usually kind of a mundane procedural affair, they’ve been pretty
difficult with many Obama nominees due to a pretty rowdy, partisan
Senate. Some expected McDonald to have some trouble during the
process, but the near-unanimous vote signals a vote of confidence in
the former Army Ranger and Cincinnati native. McDonald has pledged to
make reforms to the troubled VA within 90 days of starting his new gig.
• Mayor John Cranley has indicated his pick for the city’s next City Manager — Harry Black, finance director for the city of Baltimore. Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black, 51, grew up in a rough neighborhood in Baltimore and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. He sees a “tremendous” potential in Cincinnati and would like to shore up long-term financial planning here as well as create new ways for innovation to happen in the city.
Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness. Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
• The city has unveiled the design for the streetcar’s power station. It appears the station, which will run power to the streetcar lines, will be a big rectangle on Court Street made out of bricks. It will also be adorned with artwork and some steel pieces, making it only slightly more visually interesting than the proposed GE building at The Banks.
What’s more interesting, to me, at least, is the logic behind the building’s location. It can’t go on Central Parkway, officials say, because of structural issues with the subway tunnels. And it can’t go in the subway tunnels because, according to the Business Courier, the long-term transit plan for Greater Cincinnati calls for the tunnels to be used for rail transit some day. I’m not holding my breath for the subway to start operating (that’s how many of my ancestors passed away), but it would be awesome to see rail travel going through those tunnels someday.
The city also revealed it will replace the 14 parking spaces the building would eliminate, answering concerns about parking loss due to the new structure.
• If you have plans this weekend that involve traversing
I-71, beware. The southbound side of the highway will be closed at the
Dana Avenue exit from Friday, Aug. 1 at 10 p.m. until Monday, Aug. 4 at 5
a.m. If you try to go that way, you’ll be routed along the Norwood
Lateral to I-75. Just a heads up.
• A recent piece on urban planning and development blog UrbanCincy.com asks some good questions about a large proposed 3CDC development at 15th and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine. The development, which is currently on hold, would look a lot like Mercer Commons just to the south, span most of a block, contain 300 parking spaces, 22,000 square feet of retail, and just 57 residential units. The piece questions whether the development as planned is really in the spirit of what residents want and what’s best for one of the city’s most promising pedestrian neighborhoods. It’s worth a read.
• Finally, a new Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, up 12 points over his challenger, Democrat Ed FitzGerald. That’s a huge gap, with FitzGerald trailing badly in terms of the number of Ohio voters who recognize his name. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they had no opinion of FitzGerald. That’s bad news, but it’s better than the 15-point deficit FitzGerald had in May, the last time the poll was done. Still, he has serious ground to cover in the three months before the November election. The challenger has been campaigning for more than a year and a half on promises to make higher education more affordable and reform the state’s charter school system, among a number of other talking points. FitzGerald’s campaign is heavily outgunned financially, with just under $2 million to Kasich’s $9 million. The challenger’s campaign recently launched its first TV ad, though Kasich has been running them for months.
Good morning all! Here's what's happening today.
A Hamilton County judge yesterday ordered the city to pay back the $4 million it borrowed from neighborhood funds in 2012. We reported on that money and other budget-related cuts to neighborhood funds in June. Common Pleas Judge Robert Gorman wasn’t amused, called the arrangement, which borrowed a total of $5 million from 12 neighborhoods, “creative financing.” He ordered the city to avoid such arrangements in the future. The city has paid off $1 million of the loan and had originally intended to pay the rest back in 2015. But that repayment was pushed until 2017 in Mayor Cranley’s recent budget. Now, the remaining money will be paid back on a court-ordered timeline that has not yet been set. The city hasn’t budgeted for that quicker repayment, though it says giving the money back won’t affect city services. The city originally borrowed the money to cover a debt to Cincinnati Public Schools.
• Mayor Cranley announced yesterday that the city is willing to commit $200,000 a year for 25 years toward upkeep of Union Terminal, a show of support that seems aimed at convincing Hamilton County Commissioners to put the so-called icon tax on the November ballot. The Cultural Facilities Task Force, a group of business leaders tasked with finding ways to renovate the crumbling train station as well as the city’s historic Music Hall, suggested the .25 percent tax hike earlier this summer as the best way to raise some of the estimated $330 million or more needed to fix up the buildings. The city already pays the $200,000 a year to help with Union Terminal’s maintenance requirements, but it isn’t required to do so. Cranley’s proposal would simply lock that amount in long-term.
• Dog owners in Cincinnati could soon be held more responsible for vicious pets. When it gets together again next week after its summer recess, City Council will consider an ordinance proposed by Councilman Chris Seelbach that would impose up to six months in jail for owners of dogs who seriously injury people. The proposed law doesn’t stipulate certain breeds and kicks in the first time a dog injures someone. Currently, no such penalties exist. A violent attack on a 6-year-old girl by two pit bulls in June resulted in only a $150 fine for the dogs’ owner.
“For decades the city of Cincinnati has given a free pass to owners of dangerous and vicious dogs who attack children, adults and other pets in our community," Seelbach told The Enquirer. "The vast majority of these attacks are due to negligent and irresponsible owners. It's time to eliminate the free pass."
• More trouble for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and this time it’s local. According to a federal report released Monday, accusations have surfaced that the Cincinnati VA hospital engaged in manipulation of patient wait-time data. Officials at the 277-bed hospital in Corryville altered records to hide the amount of time patients had to wait for care, according to an anonymous whistleblower cited in the report. Charges of record manipulation covering up long wait times for patients have brought intense scrutiny to the entire VA, sparking further investigation of 112 VA clinics nationally. Wait time data is tied to employee performance reviews and bonuses.
• After years of preparation, school districts in Ohio are gearing up for final implementation of national Common Core educational standards. As they do so, Republican lawmakers in the statehouse are working to repeal those guidelines. State Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta has introduced a bill to replace Common Core with state-specific benchmarks based in part on those used in Massachusetts. Thompson calls Common Core “the wrong road.” The standards were developed by education experts and politicians over a number of years and focus more on critical thinking skills in math and reading. The new benchmarks have caused criticism from both conservatives and liberals, however. Those to the right say the standards represent a federal takeover of education, while some on the left see massive benefits to large education companies like Pearson and see a corporate takeover of the school system.
• Hey, y’all seen that Snow Piercer movie? So this next thing is just like that, but also kind of the opposite. Basically, both are icy and really dystopian. If you’re the kind of person who is really into apocalyptic stuff, you’ve got $20,000-$40,000 lying around and you’re also into irony, have I got a deal for you. You can now take a climate change-themed cruise ship through parts of the arctic that, until recently, were impassible by boat due to, you know, being covered in ice like they're supposed to be. However, thanks to global warming, it's now possible to take a luxury liner from Alaska, swing north of the Arctic Circle, pop out near Greenland and be in New York City a month later. And for only the average yearly salary of a school teacher, you can do it.
The high end of the price range will get you a penthouse suite on the ship, all the better for watching sea waters rise and arctic seals and polar bears
cling desperately to ice floes bask in the newly balmy temperatures. The 68,000-ton,13-deck, 1,000-passenger ship, which has three times the per-passenger carbon footprint of a 747, is called the Crystal Serenity, of course, because nothing is more serene than watching the planet come apart at the seams before your very eyes. Pure magic.
It's Monday and stuff is already getting crazy. Here's the good, the bad and the befuddling in the news today.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones shared his thoughts Friday on… something… ostensibly related to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s recently announced immigration initiative. The initiative looks to attract documented immigrants who will contribute to economic growth in the region. Jones, who is well known for his vocal and strident opposition to immigration, went somewhere else entirely with it. Of note: Jones doesn’t seem to know the mayor’s name, calling him “Mayor Cranby” on 700 WLW. Anyway, Jones applauds Mayor
Cranberry’s Cranley's plan, or the imaginary version of it he's conjured, for some fairly nontraditional reasons. I’ll just let him tell ya what’s on his mind:
“I want [Cincinnati] to be a haven for illegal aliens also,” he said. “Really I do. If Cincinnati, with all the violence, the killings they have every night in downtown Cincinnati … anybody that’s illegal in the country, let alone in Butler County, I encourage them to go there. If you’re listening today, if you’re illegal, you’ve committed crime, the mayor, Cranley or Cranby or whatever his name is, wants you to come to Cincinnati. I encourage it.”
Jones, you see, is freaked out about all the undocumented folks streaming into Butler County and would rather they come to a place like Cincinnati where someone gets shot downtown every night (note: this is not even remotely reality, but let’s keep moving). Jones was making the rounds Friday, also appearing on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze (where, puzzlingly, he posed in front of a picture of Cincinnati's skyline, probably because Hamilton's isn't nearly as epic or dangerous-looking). He went on the show to raise alarms about the incredibly dangerous influx of undocumented immigrants caused by Obama’s lax immigration policies and the upswing in horrific crimes that has happened since. Oh, and they’re going to spread disease because they haven’t been immunized. Jones is worried about that, too.
Except a few things. State data shows crimes in Butler County have been steady or falling since 2007, including the drug-related crimes and violent offenses Jones cites. And while the sheriff vaguely highlighted a couple tragic and genuinely reprehensible individual examples, the flood of immigrant-related crime seems hard to find statistically. Also, epidemiologists say that refugees and immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America often have similar or even greater vaccination rates than U.S. citizens and pose little threat of spreading diseases. Finally, pinning a surge in illegal immigration on the Obama boogeyman is tough, since his administration has been pretty active in deporting undocumented immigrants. But, y'know, immigrants are scary and all.
• LumenoCity organizers have something new in store this year: an interactive website, app and social media presence that will stream the event live as well as aggregate social media posts about the event, which takes place in Washington Park and combines a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance with a dramatic light show projected onto Music Hall. The interactive portion will be introduced during the July 31 dress rehearsal, which has been opened up to an audience due to overwhelming demand for tickets to the event, which takes place Aug. 1 through Aug. 3.
• While you’re at LumenoCity this weekend — or, if you didn’t get tickets, hanging out around the park craning your neck to see what’s going on — you can pick up a new card designed to promote the arts in Over-the-Rhine. The Explore OTR card will be distributed by the small arts organizations in the city like Know Theatre and the Art Academy. After you’ve used the card at five of these smaller venues, you can redeem it for deals at larger arts organizations like the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Pretty cool.
• After some stinging criticism of General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks, some hand-wringing has commenced as to whether the gargantuan, decade-in-the-making development along the Ohio River is too boring (spoiler: probably).
A quote from Jim Fitzgerald, who sits on the city’s Urban Design Review Board:
"We have been disappointed with the quality of architecture on The Banks to date other than the stadiums. The stadiums are of reasonably good architecture, but the other buildings are very vanilla, very uninteresting, very disappointing."
The review board looks at all plans for buildings before construction begins, though their role is strictly advisory and their advice to the city is non-binding. Others, including city and county leaders, have pointed out that all the buildings currently constructed or planned for the site meet the standards the city has set out and say that the project is a work in progress.
• I’m always trying to get my out of town friends hooked on Cincinnati chili, with varying degrees of success. Skyline, it seems, is doing the same, making plans to open a fifth location in Louisville. Why Louisville? My guess: It’s just close enough that on a clear day, with the wind blowing just right, the fragrance of that sweet but spicy meat sauce wafts across the rolling landscape between the cities and entices Kentuckians the same way it does Cincy natives. Or there are just a lot of people originally from Cincinnati who now live there. Probably the latter. Currently, the chain operates stores in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and five locations in Florida, of all places. Go forth, Skyline, and spread the gospel of mountainous cheese and tiny hotdogs.
As we reported yesterday, Mayor John Cranley rolled out his new immigration task force at Music Hall. The volunteer group, made up of 78 community leaders split into five committees, will look for ways to make Cincinnati a welcoming city for immigrants with an eye toward economic development and growth. The initiative is in its early stages, with committees scheduled to report their findings and suggestions in December. No word so far on hot-button issues like undocumented immigrants, but you can read more about the task force and the work it will be doing in the above blog post.
The mayor also mentioned another immigration-related effort underway, though one unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and the Catholic Archdiocese are working to find ways to house some child refugees who have come to the U.S. through Mexico from Central America, fleeing turmoil related to drug violence in their home countries. The groups have applied for federal grant money through the Department of Health and Human Services to give about 50 refugee children a temporary place to stay in the Cincinnati area.
The massive border crossings have been called a humanitarian crisis and have drawn response from President Obama, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and many liberal and conservative groups. Perry, a staunch conservative, has taken the step of calling in National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. Closer to home, Dayton’s Mayor Nan Whaley recently caused controversy with conservatives when she expressed willingness to house some of the child immigrants in Dayton. That led to a backlash from Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who represents Dayton in Congress. Turner called her comments “completely out of line.” Dayton has been engaged in efforts since 2009 to attract more immigrants to the city, though those efforts are focused on documented immigrants who can help the city grow economically.
The federal government works to move unaccompanied child immigrants out of federal facilities and into temporarily housing with “sponsors,” families or non-profit groups. So far this year, the government has placed about 30,000 children into such arrangements.
• Last month we reported on a lawsuit against the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. The state has settled that suit, and now, local companies overcharged by the OBWC will be getting at least some of their money back. The state settled a lawsuit yesterday over unfair payment structures that gave big discounts on insurance rates to some companies while charging much higher rates to others. Local companies like BAE and non-profits like the Cincinnati Ballet are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the payment scheme. The OBWC has changed how they calculate payments and will create a $420 million fund to repay companies overcharged by the scheme.
• Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke today at the ongoing National Urban League Conference here in Cincinnati. Paul is a staunch libertarian conservative and tea party favorite who in the past has expressed some skepticism about parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying private businesses should be free to discriminate if they see fit. Paul has since walked back a bit on that, but statements like that make him an unlikely choice to speak at the civil rights organization’s big national gathering. He didn’t draw the biggest crowd of the conference, for sure, but he did touch on at least a couple issues relevant to the black community, including his ideas for changing mandatory drug sentencing laws. Current drug laws in the United States have contributed to the highly disproportionate incarceration rates faced by young black males, Paul says, and he’d like to change that. One proposal he'll be pursuing in the Senate-- ending the much higher penalties for selling crack over powdered cocaine. Paul also made his argument for libertarian policies that he says will increase the availability of jobs for everyone, including minorities. Paul has been reaching out to minority groups with mixed success as he builds up to his 2016 presidential bid. Meanwhile, Democrats are rolling their eyes at Paul’s attempts.
• Cincinnati set a Guinness World Record last night for most salsa dancers when more than 2,000 people danced at Fountain Square. The previous record was 1,600 dancers. The effort was put together by a number of community organizations to celebrate Cincinnati’s Hispanic community.
• Finally, if you’re like me after finishing a long article on the subject last week, you’re in too deep on the hot topic of charter schools and need some tips for how to uh, unwind. Luckily, Ohio Department of Education Communications Director John Charlton has some advice for anyone in this position. In a personal tweet sent out July 18, Chartlon advised opponents of charter schools to “take a break from muckraking and enjoy the weekend. Maybe you can get laid. Lol.” Charlton was responding to a tweet asserting that he thought “charter schools are OK no matter what shenanigans take place.” Laugh out loud!
Charlton deleted the tweet yesterday, and explained it this way:
"It was an offhanded comment made as a back and forth with critics who engaged me on my personal account," he said.
Bee-tee-dubs, keep an eye out for our piece on charter schools next week. It’s a deep dive into what’s up with Ohio’s charters. Until then, relax, enjoy your weekend, and maybe you can get… some pizza or something.
Mayor John Cranley today announced the creation of a 78-person task force that will work toward making Cincinnati "the most immigrant-friendly city in the country."
The effort will work to bring more investment from highly-educated and well-to-do immigrants to the area. Few specifics were offered about how the initiative would address the hot topic of undocumented immigration.
“This is a country of immigrants, and this is a place where immigration is rewarded and thanked,” Cranley said during a news conference at Music Hall. “We’re all going to be richer and better by being a friendly city for immigrants.”
The task force, which is all-volunteer and uses no city money at this point, will research ways to attract and retain immigrants in the city. The group will be split into five committees focused on economic development, community resources, education/talent retention, international attractions and rights and safety. The task force will be led by co-chairs Raj Chundur and Tom Fernandez.
Cranley cited economic studies suggesting that immigration is good for economic growth. Economic experts and politicians are split on the wider point of whether welcoming more immigrants overall aids the economy, though some researchers believe even undocumented immigrants are a net positive. Either way, there is much evidence to suggest well-thought-out programs to attract documented immigrants can help cities. Dayton began working to attract immigrants in 2009, and has received national attention for its program. Since the start of the program, more than 3,000 immigrants, mostly from Turkey, have moved to Dayton, helping to revitalize the city's blighted North Dayton neighborhood.
He specifically discussed the EB5 visa program, which rewards immigrants who invest between $500,000 to $1 million in their communities with a special long-term visa and the opportunity for citizenship. He said that program has helped spur development in the city, especially along the Short Vine area in Corryville.
“I can tell you this means a lot to me personally, because I and my family are immigrants to this country,” said University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, who will lead the task force’s education committee. Ono said his time at UC has shown him just how important attracting and retaining immigrants is for the city.
Cranley hedged some on revealing how undocumented immigrants would fit into the plan, saying that was work the task force will need to do as it prepares its recommendations.
“The whole point of the task force is to look at these issues in depth and come back with specific recommendations,” he said.
The mayor did share one effort to help children refugees in the country’s ongoing border crisis, though it is unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities Southwest Ohio CEO Ted Bergh is a co-chair on the task force’s community resources committee. That nonprofit group and the Catholic Archdiocese in Cincinnati are working to help house in dormitories and hopefully find temporary foster homes (called "sponsors") for about 50 kids who have crossed the border into the United States due to turmoil in Mexico and Central America.The groups have applied for federal grants through the Department of Health and Human Services to fund the effort.
Published author, poet, teacher and long-time CityBeat columnist Kathy Y. Wilson has been named Writer-in-Residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Wilson is the first person to take on this new position, which she will serve through November.
As Writer-in-Residence, Wilson will conduct a writer’s workshop, speak at multiple community events and participate in library promotions throughout her residency.
Wilson should be no stranger to any habitual reader of CityBeat, whose “Your Negro Tour Guide” column was a feature in each weekly edition before she abruptly ended the column in 2005. She still remains a featured contributor, providing matter-of-fact and straight from the shoulder insight on the most pressing and important issues, from the election of Barack Obama to the current transgressions of the NFL. She’s never been one to shy away from cutting and abrasive commentary, providing insight that might otherwise remain concealed or ignored.
Wilson has extensive experience in the field of journalism and writing. She is currently a senior editor at Cincinnati Magazine and an adjunct instructor of Women’s Studies and Journalism at the University of Cincinnati, and was a contributor for “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio. Her work has been recognized on multiple occasions, and she was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for her in-depth profile of conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham, being nominated alongside writers from big name publications like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, National Geographic and New York Magazine — an achievement in and of itself.
Wilson had always dreamed of one day being featured on the shelves of a library and with multiple books to her name, that dream has been wholly accomplished. As the new Writer-in-Residence, she can help people consummate that very same dream.
Hello Cincy. I’m back with the news this morning for what will sadly be the last time this week. Texas beckons for a few days, and I must heed its hot, sweaty, libertarian call. I’ll be back this time next week, however, to talk about the news and make the cheesy, topical jokes even your one lame uncle wouldn’t touch, because someone has to do it.
Here’s a cool thing: The entire neighborhood of Lower Price Hill is getting free internet access courtesy of Cincinnati-area company Powernet. In addition, the company is donating a mobile computer lab to Lower Price Hill’s Oyler School and Community Learning Center. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld helped broker the partnership. Only 20 to 40 percent of residents in the low-income neighborhood have Internet access, according to an FCC report.
• Democratic candidates for statewide office are rallying in Washington Park this morning as part of their Tour to Restore Ohio campaign. Speakers include gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, attorney general hopeful David Pepper and state auditor candidate John Carney. FitzGerald has struggled against Republican Gov. John Kasich’s big fundraising and name recognition advantages. CityBeat covered the race between Pepper and Republican AG Mike DeWine earlier this summer.
• Another rally will be happening right across the street tonight. Write-in Hamilton County commissioner candidate Jim Tarbell is holding his campaign kickoff at Memorial Hall starting at 6 p.m. According to Tarbell’s website, the event will feature food and live music. It’s called Taste of Tarbell, which makes me wonder when the Republican incumbent in the race will launch his big rally, Smell the Monzel. Tarbell and the official Democratic candidate, Sean Patrick Feeney, an IT professional from North College Hill, are both taking on current Commissioner Chris Monzel. A majority on the commission’s three-seat board hangs in the balance.
• Some local transit advocates are pushing to get daily high-speed rail service between Cincinnati and Chicago. Seems like a cool idea, though there are some big hurdles to overcome. I for one would love to be able to jump on a train any given day and be in Chi a few hours later, since half of my friends just decided to up and move there recently, so count me in.
• Speaking of transportation, but on an entirely different scale, Cincinnati’s bike share Red Bike beat its first week goals in terms of ridership, getting nearly 1,800 trips. The nonprofit was hoping for 1,000. It was a busy weekend downtown, and roughly a quarter of those trips came on Saturday when 480 people used the service.
• A new study claims that Ohio could make $123 million in tax revenue if it legalized marijuana. Interesting. That’s not counting all the sales tax revenue generated from a special tax that could be passed on the sale of snacks, which I’m officially proposing right now as a way to fund Music Hall renovations.
• Finally, young American military veterans are experiencing much higher levels of unemployment than the general population and older vets, according to a Brookings Institute study. An opinion piece on the study talks about a big possible contributor to this troubling trend: lower levels of education among younger veterans.
Morning news, y'all!
A grand jury is convening right now, as I type, to decide whether to indict Beavercreek Police Officer Sean Williams in the death of John Crawford III. Williams shot Crawford, 22, while responding to a 911 call reporting a gunman at a Beavercreek Walmart. Crawford, however, turned out to be unarmed, carrying only a pellet gun sold at the store. Security footage taken by Walmart shows the shooting, though that footage has not been made public. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine allowed Crawford’s family and their attorney to see the tape, however, and they say it shows Crawford was not behaving in a threatening manner and was “shot on sight.” They’re calling for the grand jury to indict Officer Williams on murder charges. Beavercreek Police officials maintain that Williams acted properly to protect other patrons of the store. Marches and protests are planned in Beavercreek and other areas today in relation to the incident. The grand jury deliberations mirror similar proceedings in Ferguson, Missouri, where a grand jury was recently selected to decide whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Mike Brown.
• Tomorrow, police, social workers and volunteers will clean up what was once one of Cincinnati’s largest homeless camps, a seven-year-old collection of tents and improvised structures in an isolated corner of Queensgate. Police worked with social service agencies long-term to gain occupants’ trust and eventually convince them to move to safer places and seek help. The approach represents a marked departure from techniques police have used in years past to clear camps, when officers would sweep in, give residents just hours to vacate and sometimes issue trespassing citations.
• Apparently, I’m a member of the city’s one-half of one percent club. Clearly I’m not talking about my non-existent elite levels of wealth — I mean I’m a Cincinnati bike commuter. About one out of every 200 Cincinnatians bikes to work, according to Census data. Currently, the city ranks 45th in the nation for bicycle commuting. That’s a pretty low number in the grand scheme of things, but it represents a big increase over time — bike commuting is up 146 percent from a decade and a half ago.
• Speaking of rankings, Cincinnati made a Forbes list for the country’s 19 best opportunity cities. The list considers business opportunities, cost of living, unemployment rate and population growth, especially among young people, and uses that data to determine where a person has the best chance of making big waves and finding big success. Cincinnati ended up 18th on the list, coming in just above Winston-Salem, North Carolina and just below Shreveport, Louisiana. Ohio was well-represented — Columbus came in first, Toledo fourth and Akron 13th.
• P&G is distancing itself from the NFL as the league receives continued criticism over a player’s domestic violence incident. The Cincinnati-based company will pull out of a campaign in which players from each of the league’s 32 teams were to promote Crest toothpaste on social media and wear pink mouth guards during games to raise awareness for breast cancer. The company will still donate $100,000 to the American Cancer Society to raise breast cancer awareness, but will no longer be partnering with the NFL for the campaign. The move comes as the league faces continued criticism connected to revelations that Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punched and knocked out his girlfriend in an elevator. Rice was originally suspended for two games for the domestic violence incident, but after security tapes showing the brutal attack were released, public outcry forced the league and the team to release Rice from his contract. P&G caught some of this controversy after an ad for Baltimore Ravens-themed makeup from the company’s CoverGirl brand was altered to show the ad’s model with a black eye. The altered ad went viral, focusing attention on P&G’s sponsorship relationship with the league.
• In national news, Home Depot, which was recently the victim of the biggest information theft incident ever for a retailer, had been warned for years about the security of its data, a new report in The New York Times says. The company used outdated software and insufficient data security methods to house customer data, former employees for the company say, and had been warned of the risks since at least 2008. Hackers stole data for more than 40 million credit cards from Home Depot earlier this month, information that could be used to make more than $3 billion in fraudulent purchases. What’s worse? Experts are saying this kind of data theft could be “the new normal” as more and more companies experience data theft.
* Finally, ever seen hundreds of Canadians dressed like Batman? Now you have. I heard at least one guy in there is dressed up like The Joker. See if you can find him, Where's Waldo style.
Hello all. I'm gearing up to push a beer barrel around Fountain Square at this year's Oktoberfest kick off as part of Team City Beat, so I'll be brief in this end-of-week news rundown.
Mayor John Cranley last night delivered his first State of the City address. In it, he called 2014 a banner year for Cincinnati, counting crime reduction, the creation of new jobs and the continued changes happening in Over-the-Rhine and other historic neighborhoods among the city’s bright spots. Cranley touted future plans, including an increase in the number of police officers on the beat, a jobs program called the Hand Up Initiative, and several proposals to strengthen the city’s neighborhoods, including a beer garden in Mt. Airy Forest and a new Kroger’s in Avondale. He also touched on some of the challenges the city faces, such as the high number of youth killed and injured in gun violence and the lack of inclusion in the city’s hiring and contracting practices. But he largely skimmed over some major issues in Cincinnati, including the increasing difficulty many have in finding affordable housing and the city’s abysmal infant mortality rate, among others. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at the speech, and the city’s problems and promises, right here in the news department next week.
• Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has backed off on her suggestion she might sue the city if it doesn’t forgive her $300,000 loan. City Manager Harry Black earlier this week gave a quick, cold “no” to the idea the city might write off the loan to avoid a lawsuit from Rogers. In a change of tone, Rogers is now asking the city to help her make a plan to pay back the money.
• I don’t need to type this, even, but I need some way to lead into this next piece, so here I am stating the obvious: demand for housing in Over-the-Rhine is at a fever pitch right now. That’s across the income spectrum, but it seems the upper end of the continuum is getting the attention right now. In response to demand for swank spaces, 3CDC is ramping up renovations on a number of new condos and townhouses. The development group has sold 51 in the neighborhood so far this year, and at the current rate, says its current supply of 21 available properties will last until spring. So it’s making plans to crank out 24 new condos and 12 new townhouses in the area around the Vine Street corridor and Washington Park. The projects, representing more than $14 million in investment, are due to start construction in the coming weeks. Though price points haven’t been set on the properties yet, it seems all will be market rate.
• Wiedemann Brewery, which made beer in Greater Cincinnati for more than a century, is on its way back to the area. Jon and Nancy Newberry brought the brand back a couple years ago, and have recently announced plans to move production to Newport, where the company originated.
• Nina Turner, Democratic candidate for Ohio Secretary of State, got big ups from former President Bill Clinton Thursday. Clinton is touting Turner as an important alternative to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has been at the forefront of the party’s efforts in Ohio to roll back early voting hours.
“Elections matter and that’s why it matters to all of us who administers our elections,” Clinton said in a message sent by e-mail and letter to Ohio Democratic Party members and donors. “With Nina as Secretary of State, we can count on her to expand and protect the franchise and restore integrity and fairness to the electoral process in Ohio.”
• The House of Representatives Wednesday voted to audit the Federal Reserve to find out more about the nation’s central bank’s financial dealings. Republicans have been beating the drum on auditing the Fed pretty much since the last time they did it in 2010. But that bill, which was passed by all but one Republican and all but 91 of the House’s Democrats, came with two other bills that give big banks big perks, including significant deregulation on derivatives trading, the byzantine financial shell game that helped cause the financial crash of 2008. So Congress is interested in ferreting out dysfunction within the nation’s financial system, just so long as that dysfunction isn’t with big corporate money. Got it. It's unclear if the Senate will take up the bills.
• Finally, in international news, Scotland has voted against independence and will stick to being part of the United Kingdom. Fifty-five percent of Scottish voters said they wanted to stay a part of the UK. Scotland has been promised more autonomy as a way to keep it part of the UK, a change that could have big implications for the rest of the union, as this Reuters article explores.
Morning all! Let's jump right into the news.
Members of Cincinnati City Council have some preliminary good things to say about the Haile Foundation’s recent proposal for funding streetcar operating costs. Meanwhile, Mayor John Cranley has said he’s working on a plan of his own, and you can hear all about it… in a month or so. Vice Mayor David Mann and council members Kevin Flynn, P.G. Sittenfeld and Amy Murray all said the Haile plan was helpful as a starting point. Questions remain, however, about how much the tax plan will cost property owners in the proposed special taxing district, which will cover Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton. Murray, who voted against the streetcar project, also questioned whether the necessary 60 percent of property owners in those districts would back the tax and said there need to be back up options in place.
Meanwhile, Cranley said he’s confident he can come up with a plan council will support that provides the almost $4 million in yearly operating costs the streetcar needs without spending city money. He declined to give further details but said the plan should be ready in a month or so.
• Mayor Cranley won’t be talking much about that plan tonight when he gives his State of the City address, which will happen at 6 p.m. at Music Hall. Instead, he’ll outline other proposals and his vision for the year ahead. One seemingly mundane change he’ll be highlighting — the elimination of the more-or-less unenforced single garbage can rule. I live in a big house with 10 other roommates, and it’s not really my job to take the garbage out, but I can see how this is a big deal for people who live on a big hill (there are a lot of those in Cincinnati) and don’t want to lug one cartoonishly big trash can up and down steps all the time. Anyway, I’ve digressed. The State of the City is open to the public, though the mayor’s office encourages folks to RSVP here.
• City Council yesterday passed two new ordinances targeting sex trafficking, which I reported on yesterday. You can get more details on the new measures here.
• The sales tax increase to renovate Union Terminal has gotten a key backer. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce is endorsing the plan, which will go up for a vote on the November ballot. The plan is the product of a contentious struggle between Hamilton County Commissioners, the city and the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which originally drew up a $280 million plan funding both Music Hall and Union Terminal renovations. That plan, which sought to increase county sales taxes from 6.75 to 7 percent over 20 years, was jettisoned by commissioners in favor of the same hike for a shorter duration covering only Union Terminal. New efforts are underway to find money for Music Hall renovations.
• Quick hit: The owner of the car that was hit by big ole chunks of a Brent Spence Bridge off ramp Sunday will have to sue the state to be reimbursed, the Ohio Department of Transportation says. Bummer.
• Procter & Gamble is getting some social media heat surrounding its role as the NFL’s official beauty sponsor. The league has been experiencing huge amount of controversy in the past few weeks over Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice, who was suspended for two games following revelations he was involved in domestic violence against his fiancee. That suspension was made indefinite when tapes surfaced showing Rice brutally punching and knocking her out in an elevator. The league has taken heat for not acting quickly enough, with allegations flying that the league new about the severity of Rice’s crime before the tapes were made public. Meanwhile, in what amounts to either really bad timing or a severe case of tone-deafness, P&G’s Covergirl brand has been running the “get your game face on” campaign promoting their line of NFL-team-themed makeup. One of these has been photoshoped so that a model wearing Ravens purple makeup appears to have a black eye. As the image has gone viral, many on social media have turned to the company asking it to condemn the NFL and pull its sponsorship. Though P&G has issued a statement against domestic violence, the company has yet to pull the sponsorship, and critics say it isn’t doing enough to distance itself from the league. Covergirl’s Facebook page and other social media sites have received hundreds of negative comments about the situation.
• So the NFL is pretty soft on players who commit domestic violence, and our local mega-corporation keeps giving them money despite that. But hey, the Bengals are number one in Sports Illustrated’s NFL Power Rankings for the first time ever! So, that’s good, right? Eh.
• Quick hit number two: Yesterday I told you about an investigation into Ohio charter schools run by Chicago’s Concept Schools. Here’s more on that, including pushback from the schools’ officials and supporters.
• Here’s a story about how New Orleans, which has been the nation’s murder capital off and on for years, is using big data to track gang activity and help reduce violence in the city. It’s fascinating stuff that has some pretty interesting (and perhaps troubling) ramifications if you think about government's use of big data in general. On a side note, there’s a shout-out to an unnamed University of Cincinnati professor who apparently has helped the New Orleans Police Department work with data in tracking murders.
• Finally, founding members of Occupy Wall Street are suing each other over the movement’s most popular and recognized Twitter handle, @OccupyWallStNYC. Insert whatever joke you want right here.
Cincinnati City Council today unanimously passed two ordinances to address Cincinnati’s growing sex trafficking problem.
The ordinances were sponsored by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. One increases civil fines for using motor vehicles in solicitation or prostitution from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,500 for each subsequent offense. The other ordinance funnels fines for those offenses into a prostitution fund that will cover anti-prostitution efforts, including investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking crimes and programs that reduce prostitution.
That pool of money is actually the revival of a fund that was established by Councilman David Crowley in the early 2000s, Simpson said. “We’re really looking forward to reinstituting that; there’s a lot of work that needs to happen and those fines will go a small ways toward helping in those efforts.”
Simpson has been active on sex trafficking issues. Early this summer, she supported a controversial project that blocked off large sections of McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview. While many residents in the area applauded the blockade, saying it reduced activity from pimps and sex workers in the immediate area, other residents said it caused transportation problems, created a stigma around the area and had little effect on the overall occurrence of prostitution there. Residents of other neighborhoods, including Price Hill and Camp Washington, reported an increase in prostitution after the barricades went up and said sex workers were simply moving from McMicken to their communities.
Cincinnati Police Department, which put up the barricades, said there was no proof they caused an uptick of prostitution in other areas. They said the barriers seemed to reduce the occurrence of sex work in the area, at least temporarily. The barricades came down in July.
Some residents along McMicken have called for the barriers to become a full-time feature of the neighborhood. But many in the area, along with social service workers and city officials, agree that more needs to be done in terms of legal action against sex traffickers and extending treatment options for those caught up in sex work. Harsher penalties for pimps and johns, publicizing names of sex trafficking offenders and other measures have been floated as possible responses. One that has gained traction recently is a special “prostitution docket” in Hamilton County focused on reducing sex trafficking by reverting sex workers who also face addiction issues to treatment programs. Many across the political spectrum, including Simpson, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann and others, support the idea, but with treatment programs like the Center for Chemical Addictions Treatment House in the West End stretched to the limit, more programs will likely be needed.
In the meantime, Simpson says, the newest ordinances are a way to chip away at the problem.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to do what we’d like criminally because of the overcrowding of jails and other things,” she said. “This is a great way to ensure that we’re continually sending the message that this kind of activity is not permitted in our city and beginning the work of ending demand for these services.”
All right, let’s do this news thing.
Ohio has added a charter school from Cincinnati, as well as another from Columbus, to its investigation into Chicago-based Concept Schools, which runs 17 charter schools in the state. Concept has come under state and federal scrutiny after former teachers at the company’s Horizon Academy in Dayton made accusations about sexual misconduct, records forgery and other alleged crimes. The state has since received similar complaints about the Horizon Science Academies in Cincinnati and Columbus, officials say. This isn’t the first time charter schools in Cincinnati have come under fire. This summer, the Ohio Department of Education shut down VLT Academy in Pendleton due to low performance and lack of a sponsor organization.
• Cincinnati Assistant City Manager Bill Moller yesterday told city council’s finance and budget committee that the city shouldn’t have to commit public financial help to any hotel project at The Banks. The proposed location for a hotel is in a top-notch spot next to the ballpark, Moller pointed out, and the new General Electric offices moving in nearby will only make the area more attractive. The city and county are in talks with at least three hotel developers at this point. Financing plans for the project have yet to be proposed, though the hope is that a hotel at The Banks will be finished midway through 2015. Moller’s statements have come after some on council have begun questioning the city’s generosity when it comes to tax incentives and loans to lure businesses to downtown and other parts of the city.
• It’s fall, a time when educators’ thoughts turn to school books, lesson plans, shaping young minds and, of course, what to do if a psychotic gunman barges into your school and starts shooting. These are the depressing times we live in. One new defensive solution comes from a northern Ohio company and is called the Bearacade (it’s unclear why it’s called that, just go with it). The device is a metal wedge that can be crammed under a door and pinned to the floor in an emergency situation to keep shooters out of classrooms. Locally, Kings Schools in Warren County has begun installing the Bearacade. Practice for using the device, as described in The Cincinnati Enquirer, sounds slightly crazy:
“Unannounced, Goldie will suddenly shout a security emergency to the class, dash to the front of the room and slide baseball-style into the door. Hanging next to the entrance is the new door block, which he hastily installs, making it virtually impossible for any shooter to enter.”
However, surprise shouting and a home plate-style slide toward a door to install a metal wedge is probably less disruptive to the educational process than Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones’ suggestion that teachers carry heat in the classroom.
• Cincinnati Police say crime is down so far this year in the areas around University of Cincinnati. Though some high-profile cases, including violent burglaries, have brought attention to the area, robberies have decreased by half since a peak in 2009. Other crimes have also decreased. CPD has continued to add patrols in the areas around UC, despite the drop in criminal activity.
• Some scummy creeps claiming to be associated with the KKK distributed flyers around Green Township last week, including some with anti-immigration messages. Police there say activities from such groups crop up every few years and then abruptly dissipate. They say they’re keeping an eye on the situation but don’t expect much else from the group, which appears to be from southeastern Indiana.
• The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments about one of the state’s most contentious death penalty cases. For 26 years, Gregory Wilson has been on death row, convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder of Deborah Pooley in Covington. But now, after a number of appeals on his behalf, the high court will consider whether or not his defense team did an adequate job and if new DNA evidence should be sought. Wilson’s advocates say the lawyers assigned to argue his case did little on his behalf and that DNA evidence could exonerate him. One of Wilson’s attorneys had never tried a felony, and the other was semi-retired and did not have an office or staff. But those looking to uphold his death sentence, including the Kentucky attorney general, say Wilson was convicted by overwhelming evidence, including the eye-witness testimony of his girlfriend, who is serving a life sentence for her role in the crime, and items he purchased with Pooley’s credit card after she was murdered. The case could set precedent for the way capital murder cases are tried in Kentucky, legal experts say.
• Poverty rates inched down slightly in 2013, the Census Bureau reported yesterday. Though that reduction hasn’t matched the reduction in the unemployment rate, the increase in jobs did make a dent in poverty stats. Median household income is still down 8 percent from pre-recession levels, Census data says. The number of children in poverty declined more significantly, from nearly 22 percent in 2012 to not quite 20 percent in 2013. That’s good news.
• Also good news — apparently, teen drug and alcohol use is down, according to a new study. Drug abuse in general in the United States has leveled off, according to the report by the Department of Health and Human Services. The study found that teens were turning away from illicit substances in favor of spending hours taking selfies that make them look bored, but in a cool way, and posting them on Tumblr.
• Finally, because nothing is more important to tea party types than fair representation in all realms of our modern democratic society, newly chosen Miss America Kira Kazantsev is getting flack for a three-month stint she did as an intern at Planned Parenthood. That revelation has set off a tidal wave of hate from some anti-abortion corners of the Internet, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t solely provide abortions and Kazantsev’s role involved supporting sex education, which, you know, actually reduces the need for abortion services. Bravely undeterred by this reality, Twitter users have taken to calling her “Ms. Abortion America,” “baby killer supporter” and suggesting that “this chick sure doesn’t represent me.” Because yes, Miss America is a publicly elected office whose life choices should represent every single American, no matter what their (completely unrelated) political ideologies may be.
Afternoon, y’all. I hope you’re enjoying the amazing fall weather as much as I am. My morning bike ride down Sycamore to the office was
brutally, eye-wateringly cold refreshingly brisk and left me 100-percent awake. Which is good, because this morning has been all hustle preparing for all the great stuff in the coming week's print issue. Anyway, here’s the news a bit later than usual.
City Manager Harry Black has little to say about Sunday’s proposal from Mahogany’s on The Banks owner Liz Rogers other than, “no, thanks.” The proposal, which read a little bit like a threat, promised no protests and no lawsuits if the city forgave a $300,000 loan Mahogany’s owes and sold Rogers the furniture and equipment from the restaurant (which the city owns as collateral) for $12,000. Vice Mayor David Mann and a few other council members, including P.G. Sittenfeld, Kevin Flynn and Christopher Smitherman have said they are very much not inclined to go along with that proposal, while Councilman Wendell Young has been the only member so far expressing openness to a possible deal. The rest deferred to the city administration. Black declined to comment further on the matter, citing the possibility of future litigation regarding the restaurant.
• Here’s something to put in the “surprise, I’m not surprised” file: Councilman Charlie Winburn said yesterday that the GOP pressured him to not support the Anna Louise Inn, a women’s shelter formerly located downtown and currently moving to Mount Auburn. Winburn is running for State Senate, and has been working his way to the left to try and scoop up some more votes against his Democratic opponent Cecil Thomas. Winburn, a Republican, voted Monday at a budget and finance committee meeting to sell city land for $1 to the shelter's new location, despite pressure from his party not to.
“I bucked the Republican Party and supported the Anna Louise Inn when I got pressure from my party to not to support this initiative for women,” he said at the meeting.
The Inn lost a protracted battle to stay at its location near Lytle Park downtown. Western and Southern had been working to buy the property, which Anna Louise operators Cincinnati Union Bethel were hoping to renovate and expand. The company won out after continued lawsuits around the Inn’s status as a shelter. Western and Southern has plans to convert the century-old shelter into a luxury hotel.
• Was it a losing gamble? Casinos in Ohio have delivered only about two thirds of the permanent jobs promised to the state during a 2009 campaign urging voters to approve them. Though the industry has come through, for the most part, on the 9,700 temporary construction jobs that built casinos across the state, including Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, those locations have yet to create a promised 7,500 permanent positions five years later, instead employing just 4,800 employees statewide. Casino officials say that’s because Ohio also legalized electronic slots at horse racing tracks, creating so-called “racinos” and cutting into casinos’ bottom lines. They also say that they’re still “reasonably close” to the promises they made to entice Ohio voters to approve casinos. Locally, Horseshoe Casino has lost nearly 400 jobs since opening a year and a half ago, though regionally the gambling industry in Greater Cincinnati still employs about 5,600 people.
• Cincinnati-based Macy’s Department Stores will be among the first companies to use the just-announced Apple Pay system, which lets iPhone 6 owners use their phones like credit cards. Apple Pay will use thumbprint recognition for security and allow users to simply wave their phone in front of a sensor to pay for purchases. I can’t decide if this is horrible or convenient, or, if like many things in the modern economy, it’s actually both at once. Regardless, I’ve already started practicing a smooth, continuous motion where I have my phone in front of my face for texting, then do the swipe thing to pay for donuts or what have you, and then immediately move the device back to my face to resume texting.
• County elections boards across the state are gearing up to begin early voting on Sept. 30 even as Secretary of State Jon Husted fights with federal courts to roll back the number of early voting days in Ohio. Husted and the state GOP have passed laws eliminating a number of early voting days in the name of making voting uniform across the state. Federal courts have struck down those laws as unconstitutional, though Husted has appealed those decisions. Early voting begins in two weeks, and instead of just letting the matter rest for the year and keeping the voting situation stable, Husted is hoping to get a decision soon allowing the GOP to roll back voting again. The reasoning? Federal rulings allowing counties leeway to set additional early voting hours could create “confusion among the electorate,” Husted says. Because, you know, constantly fighting to reduce the number of days people have to vote two weeks before voting is to start isn’t confusing at all.
• Urban Outfitters has once again set eyes rolling across the country with a shirt that seems to play off the 1970 Kent State University shootings. The one-off sweatshirt featured holes and what looked like bloodstains and was retailing for $129 before being yanked from the company’s website after controversy. The store has said it didn’t intend to evoke one of the most famous protest tragedies in history, during which four people died at the hands of National Guard troops. It’s yet another tone-deaf move for the hipster megastore, which is ironically led by conservative mega-donor and gay marriage opponent Richard Hayne. “But their novelty whiskey flasks are so totes adorbs,” you say. I know, I know. I feel betrayed as well.
Hey Cincinnati! Here’s your news for the day.
Mahogany’s at The Banks is closed, but the controversy continues. The restaurant closed Friday after its landlord asked it to vacate The Banks due to state sales tax violations and back rent the restaurant owed. Yesterday, owner Liz Rogers and her attorney presented the city with a proposal via a multi-page letter to City Manager Harry Black. The letter said that Mahogany’s had indeed closed its location at The Banks, but suggested a seven-point compromise between the city and the restaurant. That compromise includes forgiveness of a $300,000 debt Rogers owes the city and a $12,000 payment from Rogers to the city for furniture and equipment purchased with the city loan.
The letter charges that the city, while accommodating in some ways, set the restaurant up to fail by not providing conditions necessary to keep the business going and by leaking information about its financial struggles to the press. Rogers’ attorney states that she was told there would be a hotel and other amenities that would draw people to the riverfront development and suggested she could sue the city and her landlord for fraud, defamation of character, discrimination, breach of contract and other charges for not meeting its end of the bargain. It’s a fairly brazen move, considering Mahogany’s has fallen behind on loan and rent payments and that the city of late has been less than interested in making further deals with the restaurant. No word on a response from the city yet, but we’ll be updating as that happens.
• When folks say the Brent Spence Bridge is falling apart, they mean it literally. A group of Bengals fans Sunday got a rude surprise when big concrete chunks of an offramp from the bridge plunged from a support beam into the windshield of their car, parked just East of Longworth Hall. They were at the game at the time and no one was injured, but the incident underscores the precarious condition of the vital bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River. An annual inspection of the roadways around the bridge is scheduled to begin today.
• Officials in Butler County are mulling converting part of a struggling county-run nursing home into a detox center for heroin addicts.
Support for government-run nursing homes has been waning for years, and
Butler County’s is one of the last in the state. Officials with the
nursing home argue there is a need for the facility and that by
extending care to those needing addiction treatment, they can serve
another need while staying solvent. But some county officials, including
outspoken Sherriff Richard Jones, aren’t convinced the nursing home
should continue to exist at all, and they see addiction treatment there
as more risk than it's worth.
• Kentucky is moving closer to restoring voting for people with certain felonies. Currently, Kentuckians who have served time for a felony need a pardon from the governor to regain their voting rights. Only three other states have this requirement. Three bills proposing an amendment to the state’s constitution are currently being considered in the Kentucky legislature. An amendment, which requires passage by 60 percent of legislators and a statewide vote, would allow felons to cast ballots again after they’ve served prison time and probation. Those convicted of homicide, treason, bribery or sex crimes would not be eligible. One supporter of the proposal is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has been using justice system reform as a way to reach out to voters outside the traditional Republican base as he positions himself to run for president in 2016.
• In national news, the Census Bureau tomorrow will release its 2013 poverty statistics for America, giving us data on how much slow-moving economic recovery from the Great Recession has aided the country’s lowest earners. The news is not expected to be overwhelmingly good: While the unemployment rate has been falling, the poverty rate has barely budged, revealing that simply employing folks in any old (increasingly low-wage) job can’t get us back to where we were before the recession. Jared Bernstein, an economist with progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, sums up his projection of the data thusly: “…if I’m in the ballpark, Tuesday’s release will be another reminder of why many Americans still feel pretty gloomy about the recovery: It hasn’t much reached them.”
• Finally, I just have to throw this in here: a new study says that journalists consume more coffee than those in any other profession, drinking an average of four cups a day. I’d say I’m still just a fledgling journalist, and so I stick with one cup, though like my dark, cynical journalist heart, it is always completely black, ice cold and nearly bottomless. No, seriously, I get the biggest one Dunkin Donuts has, which is roughly the size of a small wastebasket.
Things happen. News things. Even on Fridays. That’s why I’m here. Let’s do this.
The city will not step in to help Mahogany’s, the embattled restaurant at The Banks. The establishment’s landlord, NIC Riverbanks One LLC, served Mahogany’s an eviction notice last week after the restaurant fell behind on rent and state sales taxes. The city, which recruited Mahogany’s to come to The Banks from Hamilton in 2012 in part to increase diversity at the new development, had until today to step in and broker some kind of agreement between the restaurant and the leasing agent. Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has said the restaurant is looking to relocate.
New City Manager Harry Black, who started work this week, said the administration won’t be coming to Mahogany’s aid and that it’s high time the city get out of the restaurant business. The restaurant owes about $250,000 on a loan the city gave in 2012. That loan was accompanied by a nearly $700,000 grant.
• A federal judge ruled yesterday that a 19-year-old Ohio law banning lies in campaign ads is unconstitutional and must be repealed. That’s a win for Cincinnati-area conservative group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, as well as anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List, both of whom sued Ohio over the law in 2010. That case stemmed from a complaint then-U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus filed with the Ohio Elections Commission. Driehaus complained that a billboard ad SBA planned to buy accusing him of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions was a lie. The billboard’s owner declined to run the ad due to the possibility of legal action under the Ohio law. SBA and COAST claim that’s a violation of their free speech rights, and a federal judge agreed, saying it was up to voters to decide the truth of political statements, not the government.
• Just a quick hit: Yesterday I wrote about Cincinnati’s Red Bike
program, and how it will launch Monday. Well, here’s a useful list of all 30 of the bike share’s locations around the city.
• Another quick one: Mayor John Cranley yesterday convened a meeting for folks interested in becoming involved in the Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet, an advisory board made up of, you guessed it, young professionals. Cranley gave remarks about his vision for the city as it relates to the youngins, pledged to consider and advocate for proposals the group comes up with and also briefly mourned the ephemerality of his youth. YPKC leadership talked about the role the group can play by keeping issues important to young people on the city’s radar. The group is taking applications until Oct. 31 and will meet monthly.
• I missed this one a few days ago but feel like it’s noteworthy, so let’s circle back and take a brief look. Brewery X, the project that looks to renovate Mount Adams’ historic pump building, is on again after some back and forth over the terms of a $1.5 million loan the city was considering for the project. The deal has been restructured in such a way that the city will retain ownership of the building, instead of the developer having the option to eventually buy it for $1.
• OK, so this is kind of terrifying. Nineteen-year-old T.J. Lane, who killed three people in a 2012 school shooting, briefly escaped from a prison 80 miles south of Toledo yesterday with two other inmates. Ohio Highway Patrol officers recaptured him about six hours later just 100 yards away from the facility. The other two escapees were also quickly recaptured. Prison officials say they’re investigating how Lane escaped and why he wasn’t in a more secure prison.
• President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton will participate in a volunteer swearing-in ceremony today honoring the 20th anniversary of national service program AmeriCorps, which was created on this day in 1994. Since that time, more than 900,000 people have served more than 1 billion hours of community service, officials with the program say. Full disclosure: I did AmeriCorps for two years here in Cincinnati and it was pretty much a life-changing experience.
• Favorable weather for abundant harvests in major food producing regions around the globe means food has gotten relatively cheaper, the United Nations says. The UN’s global food price index is at its lowest level in four years, with most essentials from grains to dairy products becoming more affordable. Some foods like beef and pork are still expensive, however. And though it’s been going down recently, food is still more expensive than it was in the past. Most prices are still significantly higher than they were in the 1990s.