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by Nick Swartsell 06.18.2014 43 days ago
Posted In: News at 03:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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OTR Community Council: Rethink Deal with 3CDC North of Liberty

Community group says it's time for more resident involvement in neighborhood development

The Over-the-Rhine Community Council today asked Mayor John Cranley and City Council not to make a deal with 3CDC over buildings north of Liberty Street.

In a letter authored by OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, the group praised 3CDC’s work over the last 10 years but said the developer’s large cache of properties is slowing down the neighborhood’s continued recovery, and suggested that more transparent process for choosing developers is needed. The letter also said that more voices from the community need to be heard in the development process.

“We believe it's time for a new era in our neighborhood,” Messer wrote in the letter, dated June 18. “A common thread in the neighborhood is the expressed desire to protect and expand our cultural diversity and this, in part, can be done by paying close attention to providing affordable housing options in both the rental and the purchase markets.”

Messer asked that more small, independent developers be brought into the fold in OTR and highlighted the council’s partnerships with nonprofit Over the Rhine Community Housing and the Over the Rhine Foundation. The letter stressed the need for both more market rate and affordable housing in the neighborhood, where demand for housing has outstripped supply. Prices have ballooned in the past five years, and the neighborhood is now one of the most expensive in the city.

3CDC has spent nearly $400 million on redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine, much of it south of Liberty Street in the so-called Gateway Quarter near Central Parkway and Vine Street. Now the group is looking north. 3CDC has asked for the rights to develop 20 vacant properties around Findlay Market, and the city may grant its request by designating the group “preferred developer” of the sites. The group could then recommend redevelopment plans that it or another developer would carry out.

3CDC could choose to farm out development to smaller groups. It applied for the preferred developer status months ago, and officials with the developer say they haven’t heard concerns from the community about the properties before now.

Mayor Cranley has voiced support for 3CDC’s request, citing the developer’s long history in the neighborhood. But the OTR Community Council and other stakeholders in the neighborhood say the city needs to find ways to encourage more equitable and transparent ways to choose developers.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.18.2014 43 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Lytle Park changes, early voting hours and mummies

All right. It's time for the good stuff, the bad stuff and the ugly stuff in today's news. Fair warning — the ugly stuff involves a mummy.

Big changes are coming to the Lytle Park area. Alterations to the area’s historic district designation are set to pass City Council today. Western and Southern Financial Group, which owns the whole dang area many of the buildings around the district, wants to expand its office space and will need the ability to tear down a parking garage and some other buildings in the historic district to do so. So it's asked the city's planning commission to change the district, which expires this year. The changes were folded into the renewal of the area's historic designation and have gone through the commission and City Council's Neighborhoods Committee and now just need final approval.

The area became the city’s first historic district when it was designated such in 1964. The district as it is currently drawn prevents the changes Western and Southern would like to make, but the proposed redrawn boundaries would leave the buildings in question out of the district. There are a few historic buildings in the district whose designation would change due to the plan, including the University Club and the Sheakley Building. The owners of those buildings said they have big investments in the historic structures, however and would not be significantly changing or selling them.

Meanwhile, Western and Southern is gearing up to convert the Anna Louise Inn into a luxury hotel. The Inn, which was run by nonprofit Cincinnati Union Bethel, served as a women’s shelter for over 100 years before being purchased by the company after a long legal battle. Because low-income women escaping abuse and exploitation just don’t look good in a neighborhood you’re trying to turn into a shimmering and artificial oasis of ludicrous wealth.

Funding disparities between two affordable housing projects in the city are raising questions about the ways the city allocates money for such projects. A 100-unit supportive living site in Avondale requested $500,000 in funds last year from the city, and its application has still not been processed despite council approving the project. Meanwhile, a vote later this month could send $1.8 million toward 40 units of affordable housing in Pendleton. Difficulties have popped up with the site chosen for the Avondale project, but some on council, including Yvette Simpson, are questioning why money is going to the more recent Pendleton proposal over the Avondale site. Advocates for housing in the city say the two projects aren't competing and that funding should be found for both.

• The city of Cincinnati was awarded $1 million in federal transportation grants Tuesday. The city announced it will use the money for bike trails. Half will go to an expansion of a trail in Westwood, and the other half will go to fixing up part of the trail near Lunken Airport. The city will pitch in another $125,000 for both projects.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has set early voting hours for the state but only after some arm-twisting by the Supreme Court. Originally, Husted had moved to eliminate early voting the Sunday and Monday before election day. He claimed the move was for more uniformity in voting hours across the state. Voting rights advocates, however, claimed the changes curtailed voting opportunities, especially for minority voters.

The Supreme Court agreed that, you know, generally giving people the chance to vote is good and ordered Ohio to reinstate the days. Now the time frame is set. Voters will be able to cast ballots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in the month before the election and will be able to vote from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. the Monday before election day. This schedule starts in August.

• In the category of “surreal, awful things that could only happen in an Ohio rustbelt city,” a boy exploring an abandoned house in Dayton found… a mummy. Apparently the man who once lived in the house hung himself in a closet, which preserved his body. He wasn’t discovered for five years, until the curiosity of youth led the boy to the house. Multiple levels of disturbing right there.

• Finally, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today canceled the trademarks for the name of a certain Washington, D.C. based football team on the grounds that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.” The office went on to say that the name is definitely an ethnic slur and should never have been able to be patented in the first place. In case you're wondering why it took until 2014 to figure that out (I sure was), the trademark was overturned once before, in 1992, but was reinstated by federal courts due to a technicality. The Trademark Office says that no such error exists in this case and that the ruling will likely stand. Finally.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.17.2014 44 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Barricades, free speech, and museums up, McDonalds down

It's morning. I've got news. Check it out.

Barricades along McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview are working to deter prostitution, Cincinnati Police said yesterday in a presentation to City Council’s Human Services Committee. The barriers sit in three locations along the street and were put up April 30 as part of a program to fight sex work and human trafficking in the area. Other efforts include new laws making penalties tougher for pimps and johns and releasing the names of those convicted of soliciting prostitutes.

The stretch of McMicken is known for high levels of prostitution and other crime. In January, a 24-year-old woman was shot in the head and killed on the street. Authorities suspect she was involved in the sex trade. Police say the volume of prostitution in the area has gone down with the barricades, though they also acknowledge that they’ve seen an uptick in activity in places like the West End. Residents in West Price Hill have also reported an increase in prostitution since the barriers went up. Some residents in the area aren’t convinced the barricades help and say they make their daily commutes more difficult, though others say they’ve noticed a difference in the level of crime. The barricades will come down by the end of the summer.

• Everyone’s favorite proto-tea party group and an anti-abortion organization got a win yesterday when the Supreme Court ruled that they can challenge an Ohio law prohibiting false statements in political advertising.

The court ruled both the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, or COAST, and the Susan B. Anthony List were harmed by the Ohio law and could sue the state. In 2010, Democrat Steve Driehaus, then running for governor, threatened legal action over SBA plans to buy billboards saying he voted for “tax-payer funded abortions.” SBA cited Driehaus’ support of the Affordable Care Act as proof of the claim. Though Driehaus dropped the matter after losing the election, SBA sued, saying their First Amendment rights were violated. COAST jumped on the suit as well, claiming they did not carry out plans for similar advertisements due to fear of legal action.

SBA’s assertion against Driehaus was incredibly questionable — using taxpayer money for abortions is still illegal under the ACA, and abortion providers must still go to great pains to show they’re not using public money to administer the procedure — but the larger issue of free speech convinced both liberal and conservative justices at the Supreme Court. Lower courts originally dismissed the groups’ suits, but the case will now go back to them to be settled.

Former Reds slugger and skipper Pete Rose got to manage a baseball team again yesterday, doing a one-day stint with the Bridgeport Bluefish, a Connecticut team in the independent Atlantic League. The 73-year-old hasn’t managed a game since his suspension from major league baseball 25 years ago for gambling.

• In other sports news, Team USA won over Ghana to kick off its bid for the World Cup, but you probably already know that from all the yelling your neighbors did about it last night. At least that’s how I know about it. We're number one!

• …Except when it comes to health care. In fact, a new study by the Commonwealth Fund shows the United States is number 11 when it comes to our health care system when compared with 10 other developed countries. The U.S. ranked behind the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, France and Canada in terms of quality of healthcare available. We’re number 11! That’s like being number one twice! The U.S. was legitimately number one in a single category, though: We have the most expensive health care of all the countries in the study.

• Before you get too sad, consider this: Another study found there are more museums in the United States than Starbucks and McDonalds combined. We have about 25,000 of the two chains combined, and more than 35,000 museums. Now if they would just combine the two so I can see some postmodern art and grab a Big Mac at the same time, or maybe enjoy a smoothie as I check out the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.
 
 
by Rachel Podnar 06.16.2014 45 days ago
Posted In: News at 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Obama Signs Ban on LGBTQ Discrimination by Federal Contractors

Private-sector non-discrimination legislation still stalled in House

President Barack Obama today announced plans to sign an executive order that will protect LGBTQ employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a move that covers 20 percent of the American workforce.

Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Rea Carey said the executive order will be a major step forward.

“Now millions of people will have the economic security they need to provide for their families,” Carey said in a press release. “This decision is good for LGBTQ people, good for our economy and good for America.”

The initiative was a campaign promise in 2008, and LGBTQ groups have pressured the president to issue the order for years.

Obama announced this decision before appearing at a Democratic gay-rights fundraiser on Tuesday and as greater protection stalls in Congress.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect all American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity passed the Senate in November but has since been halted in the House.

According to the Washington Post, 24 of the top 25 federal contractors have nondiscrimination policies towards sexual orientation, and 13 of those policies include gender identity. So while the executive order will cover 20 percent of the workforce, most are already protected.

Although many private employers offer protection, discrimination is still on the books in many states.

In 29 states, it is still legal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; and in 32 states, gender identity is grounds for discrimination.

Carey stressed the work that remains.  

“Unfortunately, many of us who don't work for federal contractors will still lack workplace protections,” she said. “Now we must redouble our efforts for the urgent passage of state employment protections and strong federal legislation.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.16.2014 45 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

The power's out, CVG will track your phone, campaign finance fun

Hey all. Let’s get straight to the important stuff… Across city, a whole lot of ice cream is melting. Large swaths of the east side seem to be without power right now for an indeterminate reason. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people are without electricity.

• Some of Cincinnati’s city department directors have been caught living outside the city limits. That’s a violation of city regulations, according to the Cincinnati Business Journal, which drew attention to the situation last month. Metropolitan Sewer District Director Tony Parrott and Citizen Complaint Authority Director Kenneth Glenn were disciplined by the city for skirting the residency rules. Glenn, who has been living in West Chester, is retiring in July. Parrott has been living in Butler County; he’s been docked 40 hours of vacation time and has six months to establish residency in the city limits. Now me, I’m from Butler County, and would give up a week’s vacation to not live there, but hey, that’s just me.

• On a note that’s bound to freak some people out, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will be the first in the country to track the number of travelers in specific parts of the airport by using signals from their Wi-Fi devices. The information will help the airport mitigate congested spots and calculate wait times at security checkpoints. Lockheed Martin owns BlipTrack, the system being used to monitor devices. The company says no personal data is collected by the system, which only looks at the number of signals being emitted from devices. I'm cool with this so long as they aren't keeping track of the embarrassing amount of time I spend on Twitter while waiting for my plane.

• Campaign finance reports filed Friday show council member Charlie Winburn with a big stack of cash going into his run for state Senate. Winburn, a Republican, announced his candidacy last week, and his filings show he’s got more than $50,000 to spend. He’ll be challenging former council member Cecil Thomas, a Democrat. Thomas hasn’t filed a finance report this time around but had $1,500 going into the Democratic primary. He looks to have an advantage, though, due to the ninth district’s highly Democratic tilt. The district stretches across most of Cincinnati and other urban parts of Hamilton County. All statewide candidates filed Friday, and the results are fairly predictable, with Republican candidates getting large contributions and widening fundraising leads over their Democratic opponents. Gov. John Kasich doubled up on Democratic opponent Ed FitzGerald, gaining $1.7 million in contributions this period to FitzGerald’s $800,000. That puts Kasich with more than $9 million overall to spend in the race, compared to FitzGerald’s less than $2 million.

• On the subject of Republicans, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be in town today. He’s promoting his new solo rap mixtape, which doubles as a campaign tool for his presidential bid. No, actually, that’s completely made up. He’s here to raise money for the Republican National Committee, and you can hear him talk for just $1,000. For that price, he better at least drop a couple freestyle rhymes about his economic policy ideas, though. Bush's name has been floated as a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, though he's a ways down the list.

• On a sad note, Casey Kasem passed away Sunday. He was most famous for his radio show, American Top 40, which millions of people listened to for decades. Closer to my heart, he was also the voice of Shaggy. No, not that Shaggy. Shaggy of Scooby Doo fame, which for you youngsters out there was kind of like Adventure Time before there was Adventure Time. I was a big fan. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.13.2014 48 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Chabot tries to cut Section 8, Pew on partisanship, the Pope on economics and Meat Rushmore

Ready for your Friday the 13th morning news? Let’s do this. 

As we’ve reported a couple times already, Cincinnati is in a hard spot when it comes to affordable housing. So Rep. Steve Chabot, Republican representing part of the city, did the logical thing recently and tried to push through an amendment to a House bill that would cut $3 billion in funding for Section 8 vouchers. Wait, that doesn't seem logical at all. Keep in mind the Republican-authored bill he was amending already cut $1.8 billion from transportation and HUD programs. But Chabot thinks folks are hanging out in subsidized housing too long, calling  the system that keeps people from homelessness “a way of life for too many in this country.” Luckily, even the heavily Republican House said “nah” to Chabot’s cuts. The amendment failed yesterday.

A $2,500 reward offered by Brogan Dulle’s family when the 21-year-old UC student went missing May 19 will be given to the woman whose 911 call lead authorities to his body a week later. The woman, who hasn’t been identified in reports, said she came upon Dulle’s body in the basement of building she works in on East McMillan next door to where he lived. The woman apparently didn’t know he was dead and called 911 reporting an intruder. Authorities found Dulle hanged in the basement, and the Hamilton County coroner later ruled his death a suicide. In total, $20,000 was offered for information about Dulle’s whereabouts. UC offered $10,000, and is still mulling what to do with the money. Local restaurant owner Jeff Ruby gave another $7,500, which he’ll be contributing to tuition at UC for Dulle’s younger brother Tim.

A new Pew research project released yesterday tracks the increasing partisanship among American voters. Though hardly surprising, the study quantifies the fact that people are hunkering down in their ideological biases, with more folks crowding to the far left and far right ideologically over the past few years and fewer holding a mix of views in the middle.

Pope Francis just keeps spitting hot fire. The pope said yesterday in an interview with a Spanish-language newspaper that the world’s economic system causes war and imperialism and that it squashes peoples’ individuality. Francis has made a name for himself pushing a relatively more inclusive vision of the Catholic Church and emphasizing its social justice tenets, and his recent eyebrow-raising remarks continue that trend.

Finally, yesterday was National Jerky Day. I know. I missed it, too. But apparently a major jerky company constructed a large model of Mount Rushmore made from a glorious 1,600 pound mix of dried meats. Really gross, but also kind of amazing. The company displayed it in New York yesterday and will now ship it back to headquarters in Wisconsin. It’s probably en route right now, actually. It will have to pass through the Midwest at some point. If you hear about someone hijacking three quarters of a ton of jerky as it makes its way across the Brent Spence Bridge, it totally wasn’t me.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.12.2014 49 days ago
Posted In: Cycling at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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City Funds Non-Profit Bike Share, Battles Over Bike Paths

Council gives money to bike share but puts off bike path decision

Before the summer is over, Cincinnatians should be able to rent a bike in OTR, Clifton or downtown and take it for a spin. But whether or not there will eventually be more bike lanes to ride in may still be up in the air.

City Council on Wednesday passed legislation to help fund a bike share program in Cincinnati, but not before arguments over the bike paths prioritized in Mayor John Cranley’s budget.

The bike share program, run by a non-profit company called Cincy Bike Share, would allow residents and visitors to purchase a year-long membershipor a daily pass to gain access to 300 bikes from 35 stations in the central business district, Over-the-Rhine and uptown. Over the last few years, successful bike shares have started in a number of large cities, including Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The motion passed by council gives the startup $1.1 million from the city’s capital improvements fund to help get its operation off the ground. The group estimates it will need at least another $1 million in investment to ramp up, but Cincy Bike Share Executive Director Jason Barron has expressed confidence it can attract that money.

But there was some controversy. Though all members of council supported the money to Cincy Bike Share, the motion originally came bundled with funding for a number of off-road bike trails the mayor prioritized in his budget.
Those trails have been controversial, as they represent a shift in course from the last council’s plans for on-street bike lanes.

Some council members said they didn’t know enough about the bike paths included in the motion to vote yes or no.

“The problem is, someone has paired these two issues together,” said council member Chris Seelbach. “And the bike paths may be perfectly legitimate, but the public deserves a presentation on what these paths are, why they deserve $200,000 set aside for them and what they will be used for.”

Seelbach pointed out that some of the paths need millions in funds to be completed and asked what a little money from the city would do to help their progress.

But Cranley said money for the Bike Share program is already overdue and needed to be approved immediately if that project is to go forward. A motion to consider both measures together failed a council vote.

“I’m just trying to get the Bike Share passed,” Cranley said. “I believe the Bike Share plan is going to be dead if we don’t get it through today.”

Cranley said the bike path spending will not happen in the near future and ordinances could be passed to revise that spending later.

Eventually, the measures were split after some argument between the mayor and council members Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young, all of whom wanted Cincy Bike Share and bike path funding considered separately.

Council will vote on the bike path funding issue later, after presentations from the groups building the trails in question.
Young called splitting the two issues to find out more about the paths “time well spent.”

Simpson told CityBeat she and other council members are pleased that Cincy Bike Share will be funded and that they’ll get a chance to learn more about proposed bike paths.

“I support biking and bike trails in general, it’s just one of those weird nuance things where if we’re going to defund one thing and start funding something else, you want to know what it is,” Simpson said.

She added that she was hopeful the city can find ways to fund both bike paths and urban lanes.


Update: an earlier version of this story stated that Cincy Bike Share is a for-profit company. The organization is a non-profit. The error has been corrected.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.12.2014 49 days ago
at 08:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Bike Share and early voting are a go, and the dangerous weight of love

Alright alright… here’s the deal today.

City Council voted unanimously last night to fund Cincy Bike Share, which means in the next few months you should be able to get on (someone else’s) bike and ride. No word on prices for rentals just yet. Here's more on that, plus council's tiff over bike paths.

Also of import, though probably not nearly as exciting — council voted to raise water rates four percent. The money will go to shore up the city's water works, which have been losing revenue.

A federal court handed down a big victory for voting rights advocates yesterday when it ruled that Ohio must maintain three days of early voting. U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus ruled that the state must provide voting the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before election day. Democrats have been fighting state laws and orders from the secretary of state that they say unfairly affect urban minority voters.

In 2012, the Republican-controlled state legislature voted to eliminate weekend early voting, though a lawsuit by Democrats, including the Obama campaign, led to that law being overturned. Earlier this year, however, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, a Republican, adopted a voting schedule that eliminated Sunday early voting. The schedule was put together by the bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials. Democrats say the elimination of Sunday voting disadvantages inner-city black voters, many of whom are organized by urban churches that provide transportation to polling places on Sundays before elections.

Cincinnati is getting bigger. But just a tiny bit. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the city, which had been losing population for decades, has gained about 1,000 new people since 2010. That’s just a blip in the city’s population of nearly 300,000, but the census data seems to show the city has gained for two years in a row, meaning at least it’s heading in the right direction. So that tiny gain is big news.

Of course, Cincy’s tiny .25 percent annual growth rate is dwarfed by some other cities, including Columbus, which has grown about 1.5 percent annually. Meanwhile, cities like Austin, Texas have been posting up to 6 percent growth rates in the past few years. Something like 25 people move to Austin in an average day. Imagine how hard it would be to get LumenoCity tickets if that were the case in Cincinnati.

• Speaking of the light show, The Cincinnati Museum Center and marketing firm Landor are working on a LumenoCity-like event at Union Terminal in September. Plans aren’t finalized yet, but organizers hope to nail things down soon.

• And speaking of Union Terminal (look at these segues today!), Hamilton County Commissioners have given the green light to a public hearing on proposals to raise sales taxes in order to come up with the funds to renovate the former train station and Music Hall. They’ll hold the hearing next month. It will include a presentation by the Cultural Facilities Task Force, a group of 22 area business leaders who are recommending putting the tax on the ballot. Both buildings are highly historic and iconic in the city. Union Terminal, the Western Hemisphere’s largest semi-dome building, is renowned for its unique Art Deco construction. It’s also rumored to be the model for The Hall of Justice, which appears in DC’s Batman, Superman, and other comics, so there’s that. And Music Hall… well, just look at that amazing piece of 1878 gothic architecture. Place is crazy awesome looking. The buildings need about $275 million in repairs, though county commissioners would probably try to get $150 million from the tax increase. Some $34 million has already been raised through private donors.

• In national news, the race is on for ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's job. Cantor got beat in his primary by tea partier David Brat and has subsequently resigned his post as majority leader. This matters because Cantor has been a big driver of the House's dysfunction, helping to push the war over Obamacare past the brink and into government shutdown last fall. Though Cantor has struggled with his party's far right wing (obviously, since they kicked him out of office), whoever takes his place will inherit similar power over the rowdy, rowdy Republican House. And there are some pretty hardline applicants for the job. Oh great.

• Finally, love is a destructive thing. You know that touristy thing couples do where they lock a padlock to a bridge in Europe to show they're everlastingly committed to each other and all that gross stuff? I guess no one ever really goes back and cuts their lock off when they break up, and thus, all that weight collapsed a bridge in Paris. There's a depressing metaphor somewhere in there, but I'll let you find it.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.11.2014 50 days ago
Posted In: Prisons, Privatization at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Liberty for Sale

ACLU Says Feds Should End Contract at Ohio Private Prison

Private prisons "a failed experiment," group says

Youngstown's Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, Ohio's only privately run prison, has had a fraught history since it was opened by Corrections Corporation of America in 1997. In its first year, the prison saw 13 stabbings, two murders and six escapes, far more than comparable prisons. 

Under a cloud of violence and mismanagement, the prison closed in 2001, only to reopen three years later on a federal contract to hold mostly undocumented immigrants who have committed federal crimes. 

Now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is calling for the federal government to stop contracting CCA to hold immigrant prisoners at the NEOCC, citing mismanagement at private prisons across the country.

“Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Ohioans,” says ACLU of Ohio Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner. “For-profit prisons have been a failed experiment here for decades. Violence increases, drug use is common and medical care is neglected, leading to facilities deteriorating rapidly. Despite all these problems, we continue to give taxpayer money to these for-profit companies that are subject to little oversight.”  

Critics like Brickner say private prisons create perverse incentives to maximize the number of incarcerated people and keep inmates in jail longer. Supporters say private prisons are cheaper because companies are compelled to run them more efficiently to turn a profit. 

CityBeat has reported on issues at the prison extensively. Problems with violence among prisoners and between prisoners and staff, drug use, unsanitary conditions, medical neglect and poor ventilation are common in the facility, according to inmates and some officials. 

In "Liberty for Sale," published in September of 2012, then-CityBeat reporter German Lopez explored some of the problems running rampant at NEOCC and other private prisons. Adding profit motive to incarceration has some serious implications, Lopez wrote:

The conflict between costs and adequate safety measures presents real-life, statistical consequences. A study at George Washington University found private prisons have a 50 percent higher rate of inmate-on-staff assault and a 66 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assault than publicly owned and managed prisons. Another study, in the Federal Probation Journal in 2004, had similar results — it found that, compared to public prisons, private prisons have a 50 percent higher rate of inmate-on-staff assault and inmate-on-inmate assault.

Lopez also found that private prisons may not even be cheaper and more efficient in the long run — the main point supporters of the private prison system use to explain why they're preferable to state or federally run facilities.

CCA’s contract with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is up in 2015, and the ACLU is asking the federal government not to extend it. The call comes after a report done by the advocacy group found a number of human rights violations at other privately run prisons contracted to detain immigrant prisoners in Texas. The report found similar abuses at these facilities, with prisoners experiencing neglect, violence and unsanitary conditions.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.11.2014 50 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
640px-eric_cantor,_official_113th_congress_photo_portrait

Morning News and Stuff

Old smokestacks, Congress mulling cuts, hitting the high notes for dating success

All right, folks. Morning news time again.

The iconic Hudepohl smokestack you see from I-75 could end up in Over-the-Rhine. The city is looking at ways to save the old Hudepohl brewery, which it bought last month. The former Hudepohl headquarters, built in 1946 and used until 1985, includes four buildings on Sixth Street in Queensgate. It's currently abandoned. The complex includes the Hudepohl tower, a 170-foot-tall brick smokestack with the company’s named spelled on it in white bricks that has become a Cincinnati landmark. One set of plans being considered is the relocation of 70 feet of the tower (from just under the L in “Hudepohl” to the top) to Over-the-Rhine, where the company was originally founded in 1885.

• Right across the river, Covington is the eighth most affordable city in the country, according to a study by finance website NerdWallet.com. The study looked at a number of cost of living considerations, including housing costs and average prices for groceries. Columbus (15), Indianapolis (22), Lexington (53) and Louisville (89) also made the top 100 list, though Cincinnati is nowhere to be found.

An article in the new issue of Inc. Magazine prominently features Cincinnati’s startup scene. It highlights the city’s business incubators, co-working spaces, marketers and investors who are boosting the city’s tech profile. The author applauds strides the city has made fostering startups, and concludes that the region is on the right course for expanding innovation and tech-related jobs. 

Procter and Gamble has committed $1 million to the Regional Economic Development Initiative, an organization focused on bringing jobs to the Greater Cincinnati area. REDI is lead by a 15-member board of Cincinnati political and business leaders including Mayor John Cranley, Western and Southern CEO John Barrett and Reds minority owner Tom Williams, the board’s chair.

• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that payday lenders aren’t subject to a law governing short-term loans and that they can continue making loans to low-income folks at, like, 12 billion percent interest. Great, because that’s totally good for society and our economy.

• The House this week is considering a Republican-drafted spending bill for The Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The appropriations bill contains more than $1.8 billion in cuts to housing programs, commuter rail initiatives and efforts to help the homeless. The White House has slammed the bill, and it will face a tough ride in the Senate.

• The big national story this morning, of course, is that Virginia Republican and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election to tea party challenger David Brat. Brat toppled Cantor even though the seven-term incumbent outspent him twenty five to one and is one of the most powerful Republicans in the country. A majority leader in the House has never lost a primary since the position was created 115 years ago. That's probably good news for House Speaker and everyone's favorite Southwestern Ohio spray tan aficionado John Boehner, who was feeling the heat from far-right Republicans looking to oust him from the speaker's seat. Cantor, who had an often antagonistic relationship with Boehner, was thought to be his strongest possible successor. Or, Cantor's loss may stress Boehner out even more, as the tea party torches get closer to the speaker's office...

• Finally, a newly discovered katydid has the highest-pitched vocalizations of any animal ever recorded. Scientists say the noises help attract the opposite sex, which is weird, because every time I’m in a bar and start hitting the high notes in my silky falsetto the opposite happens.

And that’s every thing that has happened in the past 24 hours, give or take. Follow me on Twitter at @nswartsell, where I retweet Parks and Rec quotes and news stories about appropriation bills. I’m a man of many moods.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 07.31.2014 13 hours ago
at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Harry Black

Cranley's Pick for City Manager Lays Out Vision for Cincinnati

Harry Black touts his experience as a long-time public servant

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.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.30.2014 39 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Senate OKs McDonald as VA head, Cranley touts city manager pick and FitzGerald trails Gov. Kasich in recent poll

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.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.29.2014 63 hours ago
at 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_6-18_unionterminal

Morning News and Stuff

City must pay back neighborhood money, Cranley pledges city money for landmarks and a $40,000 climate change cruise

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.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.28.2014 3 days ago
at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
an_lumenocity_365cincinnati

Morning News and Stuff

Butler County sheriff on immigration plan, LumenoCity goes interactive and The Banks... boring?

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.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.25.2014 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
rand_paul,_official_portrait,_112th_congress_alternate

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy making moves on immigration, Rand Paul speaks at Urban League and Ohio Dept. of Ed spokesman has advice for charter school opponents

News time!

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.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.24.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: Immigration at 11:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cranleyimmigration

Cranley Announces Immigration Initiative

Initiative will work to attract immigrants with economic development in mind

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.


 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.24.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do_washington park opening_photo 3cdc

Morning News and Stuff

VP in Cincy, city tops for recreation, and $100,000 to work on your dream project

Tons going on today in Cincinnati. Check it out.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke this morning at the National Urban League Conference, which is here in town this year. Biden’s speech touched on the challenges the black community has historically faced and the progress the country has made toward economic and social equality. But there are a lot of challenges ahead, the VP said.

“Both civil and economic rights are under siege in the aftermath of the great recession. We can’t be satisfied with where we are now in either civil rights or economic opportunities for African Americans,” he said. Biden called out new voting laws designed to “prevent fraud where no fraud exists” in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ohio has attempted to enact new voting laws as well, limiting early voting times during which many black voters go to the ballot.

“We need to call this what it is,” Biden said. “This is an attempt to suppress minority voting masquerading as an attempt to end fraud.”

Biden also outlined the deep economic disparities facing African Americans, including lack of access to high-quality education and good paying jobs. But there's hope, he said, highlighting new jobs in technology and the medical industry. "If I made this presentation to you seven years ago, I wouldn't be so optimistic. But I'm telling you, this is a new era, not just because of this administration. We're better positioned than anyone in the world." But the United States needs to invest in education and infrastructure to capitalize on that opportunity, Biden said.

True to form, he sprinkled some scatter-brained levity into his talk, opening with wall to wall jokes. Biden’s daughter Ashley is on the board of the Urban League, he noted.  “I should have had at least one Republican kid who makes money,” he joked. “That way, when they put me in a home, I get a room with a view.”

• Hundreds of folks from all over the city crowded into the Sharonville Convention Center last night to talk about the plan to hike sales taxes to pay for renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall. Many supporters of the plan showed up, but there were some skeptics in the audience as well. One suggestion that popped up a couple times, and that Commissioners say they may consider, is splitting renovations of the two buildings. Some have suggested raising taxes by a smaller amount so that people across the county can help pay for the badly-needed renovations to Union Terminal, while saving less-urgent Music Hall for the city to fund. Other attendees at the meeting didn’t like the proposed tax plan at all, saying they felt it put too much burden on the county. Many of the plan’s supporters came sporting the yellow signs that are part of the Save Our Icons campaign, a local effort to raise awareness about the buildings and advocate for a renovation plan sponsored by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Music Hall Revitalization Company. The next and final public meeting on the plan before Commissioners decide whether it will go on the ballot will be at the Commissioners’ regular meeting at 11 a.m. on Monday, July 30.

• Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald is another step closer to becoming the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs after the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs voted unanimously yesterday to endorse his nomination. The VA has been plagued by mismanagement, with serious questions arising about patient wait times and record keeping at the agency. Sen. Sherrod Brown is on the committee, and voiced strong confidence in McDonald.

“The VA is faced with many hurdles that it must overcome,” Brown said. “These hurdles are not insurmountable, and I am confident Bob McDonald will meet these challenges head-on.”

McDonald is a veteran himself, graduating from West Point and serving in the Army Rangers before his time at P&G.

“…I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference,” McDonald told the committee yesterday.

• Cincinnati is the top city in the country for recreation, a new ranking says. A study done by finance website WalletHub.com puts our fair city on top of the nation’s 100 largest cities when it comes to having a good time. The study measured availability and affordability of various recreation—from parks to bowling to beer and wine—and then ranked cities accordingly. In all, 24 factors were considered. Most notably, the city is 2nd in the country when it comes to low prices for pizza and burgers. That’s the kind of metric I like to see. I may need to verify this during lunch hour today.

• A local non-profit called People’s Liberty has announced it will give out two $100,000 grants to Cincinnatians looking to make a difference in their community. Smaller grants will also be available for one-off projects and efforts. The group, which will be based in the Globe Building across from Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine, is looking for “civic rock stars” who will use the money to try new, adventurous ways of getting people civically engaged. The grants will come with access to work space, support from staff, and connections with Cincinnati’s business and non-profit communities.

The coolest thing about this idea, I think, is the promise to make it inclusive and diverse.

"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," CEO Eric Avner told the Enquirer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."

• Finally, from the "weird crimes" file—the press secretary for a Pennsylvania Republican congressman was arrested late last week for trying to bring a loaded 9mm pistol into the Cannon congressional office building. Ryan Shucard, the press secretary for Rep. Tom Marino, tried to walk right through a security checkpoint at the building, which is just a block from the Capitol. Security found the weapon and magazine, and how Shucard is charged with carrying a weapon without a license, which is a felony.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.23.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do_bright ride_photo urban basin bicycle club facebook page

Morning News and Stuff

Bike lane nears completion, food stamp usage down and powdered alcohol

 It’s a pretty good morning for news, so let’s get to it.

Cincinnati City Council's epic struggle this spring over the Central Parkway bike lane is barely a memory and the city is well on its way to a protected bike route from uptown to downtown. Crews are painting the new lanes right now, like, probably as I type, sectioning off a whole portion of the road meant only for cyclists. No more frantically looking over your shoulder every three seconds, bikers. No more getting caught behind a cyclist when you’re late to work, drivers. Everyone wins. After the lanes are painted and signage about new parking patterns is installed, crews will put up the plastic poles between the road and the bike lane, and we’ll all be ready to ride.

• A non-profit development group for the city’s uptown neighborhoods is looking for land to purchase in order to make a new federal research center a reality. The Uptown Consortium is trying to find the 14 acres in Avondale and Corryville near Reading Road and Martin Luther King Blvd. for the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety to build its multimillion dollar headquarters. NIOSH already runs two facilities in the region—one in the East End and another in Pleasant Ridge. This facility would consolidate the two and bring hundreds of jobs to the uptown area. Both the current facilities are 60 years old. The area is already home to a number of health facilities, including UC Health and Children’s Hospital. Representatives for the consortium said the land hunt is an ongoing project with no set timeline just yet. NIOSH researches issues around workplace safety.

• The Hamilton County Coroner yesterday released the autopsy report for Brogan Dulle, the 21-year-old UC student who went missing  in the early hours of May 18 and was later found hanged in the building next to his apartment. The report confirms what authorities believed—that Dulle’s death was suicide. No signs of trauma or struggle were found on Dulle’s body other than the hanging-related injuries that caused his death.

There are still puzzling elements about Dulle’s death, mostly around why he would want to commit suicide.

“It's an investigation that's raised a lot of questions and we still have a lot of questions we may never know the answers to," said Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey.

• Food stamp usage is down in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, following a national trend, says a report from the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The report found that usage dropped more than 4 percent in Ohio from Feb. 2013 to Feb. 2014. Some of this news is good–a portion of those spending reductions came from a decrease in demand due to the economy’s slight but steady improvement. But some of the reductions come from last year’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government’s main nutrition aid effort. SNAP spending by the federal government increased following the great recession as more individuals and families navigated tough economic situations and found themselves needing aid. That increase became a talking point for Republicans looking to slash government spending. At its peak in 2010 spending from the SNAP program accounted for .5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, nearly double what it had been earlier in the decade. Conservatives in Congress used the fact spending had gone up to attempt deep cuts to the program, passing several new stipulations. As the economy gets better, and as these cuts have taken effect, spending on SNAP has dropped to .25 percent of the nation’s economy, according to research by the Congressional Budget Office.

• Do you like alcohol, but hate that it’s in that hard-to-transport liquid form? Science has you covered. Turns out there’s a product called Palcohol that is, you guessed it, powdered, freeze-dried alcohol. Kind of like astronaut ice cream, only it’ll get ya drunk. This definitely reminds me of a certain Parks and Recreation bit. While Ron Swanson says there’s no wrong way to consume alcohol, the Ohio General Assembly wouldn’t say that. Lawmakers are working on a bill to ban the product. Palcohol received approval from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, though the department quickly reversed its decision. It’s also been banned or will soon be banned in a number of other states including Alaska and New York. Turns out, things that aren’t that great for you anyway are even worse for you in powdered form. In May, an 18-year-old Ohio man died from consuming a heaping helping of powdered caffeine. The FDA now warns consumers to, you know, not do that kind of thing. Palcohol's inventor released a video addressing some concerns about the product, which you can check out right here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News, Drugs at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_needleexchange_jf

Northside Community Council OKs Needle Exchange

Northside program an effort to fight disease, demonstrate benefits of exchanges

Northside Community Council voted July 21 to allow a needle exchange program in the neighborhood. The effort, run by the Cincinnati Exchange Program, will start sometime in August and operate from a van one day a week for three hours at a time. Planned Parenthood will also participate, providing testing services for diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

Exchanges, which aim to cut down the transmission of those diseases among intravenous drug users, have been controversial in the city. A similar effort in Springdale earlier this year was shut down after just a few weeks due to outcry from some in the community. But the community council in Northside thinks the program is worth it.

“The community has been doing its due diligence as to how the program would work and what the repercussions are, and decided the health benefits definitely outweigh any consequences,” said Northside Community Council President Ollie Kroner. “Northside wants to be part of the solution to the heroin epidemic.”

A 2012 study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that needle exchange programs can greatly reduce the number used syringes found littering streets. And a 2004 study by the World Health Organization found that exchanges do not increase the rate of heroin use in areas where they are undertaken.

Heroin addiction has been rising steadily in Ohio in the past five years. 2012 Ohio Department of Health data shows that 159 people in Hamilton County died from heroin overdoses, a 6 percent increase over the year before. Experts trace the epidemic to an increase in the availability of prescription opiates in the last decade. As Ohio has cracked down on those drugs, addicts turn to other, similar drugs to experience the same high. The most popular by far is heroin.

Local organizations, including Northside-based Caracole work hard to fight heroin addiction and prevent overdoses. But as heroin use increases, needles infected with various blood-borne diseases including HIV and hepatitis are a serious concern. Hepatitis C in particular has been increasing among intravenous drug users in the area. Needle exchanges allow a person to exchange a used needle for a new, sterile one, so they at least won’t catch deadly diseases associated with intravenous drug use. The exchanges also cut down on the level of needle litter, meaning less risk of exposure for community members who aren’t using.

Opponents say exchanges encourage heroin use, but supporters of the programs say the availability of clean needles alone won’t sway a person to take or not take the incredibly addictive drug.

Kroner said the effort is a six-month pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of needle exchanges. Though some in the community have expressed concerns that the exchange will create a perception that Northside has a heroin issue, Kroner emphasized that the program isn’t a response to any specific drug problem in the community.

“What we’re really hoping is that Northside can show that this kind of program can work in other communities,” Kroner said.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

National Urban League comes to Cincy, landmark renovations may cost more cash, Cranley says cities don't need to annex the burbs

It's morning! I have news! Morning news! Wow, sorry, that's a lot of exclamation points. I sprung for the large iced coffee this morning and probably need to settle down a little. Anyway, here we go:

Cincinnati is playing host to the annual National Urban League Conference this week. The event, held by one of America’s oldest and largest civil rights organizations, is expected to draw 8,000 people to the city for events Wednesday through Saturday.

The conference is a big deal for Cincinnati. Last time the city tried to host the event in 2003, it was recovering from the 2001 civil unrest that gave Cincinnati a national reputation for race problems. Notable black entertainers boycotted downtown and the Urban League took its conference elsewhere. Since then, some reconciliation and a lot of revitalization has happened, but many old problems remain. In a report called “The State of Black America,” the Urban League ranked the city 74th out of 77 peer cities in terms of economic equity between blacks and whites. Blacks in the Greater Cincinnati area make an average of $24,272 a year compared to $57,481 for whites, the greatest disparity of any city in the region.

Here’s a quote worth thinking about in a Cincinnati Enquirer piece on the event:

"The riots ... were also about economic frustration," said Donna Jones Baker, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio. "These economic gaps continue. And while we have a vibrancy in the city because of wonderful things happening, we have a group of people who can't access them. We can’t expect people to suffer in silence forever.”

Among those attending the event are Vice President Joe Biden and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Biden will make opening remarks Wednesday and Paul will deliver a town hall speech Friday. This seems like a good opportunity for both to keep their speaking short and their listening long, but yeah.

• The cost of renovating Union Terminal and Music Hall may be more than initially estimated, a group of consultants say. International real estate company Hines looked over engineers’ $331 million cost estimates and found places where more money may be needed for both projects. The possible overrun could amount to $10 million more added to the project.

The revelation comes during a continuing disagreement about where renovation money should come from. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann suggests the city chip in to help shore up the landmarks. Hartmann argues that the county can’t “go it alone” in efforts to fix the buildings. A further city contribution would be in addition to the $10 million the city has already pledged for the renovations. Mayor John Cranley shot back at Hartmann yesterday with an editorial detailing the city’s ongoing commitment to the buildings.

• A group of parachutists landed on a parking garage at Fourth and Elm yesterday, according to police. Annnd…. that’s about all anyone knows about it. The group may have been BASE jumpers parachuting from Carew Tower, or may have jumped from an airplane, though air traffic controllers at Lunken Airport didn’t report anything out of the ordinary. Maybe they were protesting something, but none were wearing tiger suits or waving banners shaming Procter & Gamble, so it's hard to tell.

• Horseshoe Casino, which has been open just over a year, is undertaking a half-million dollar, 8,700-square-foot expansion. The new addition sounds like it will be a patio for people to take smoke breaks when they need to cool off from all the fun they’re having fighting battles against the one-armed bandit (that’s a slot machine for those not hip to casino lingo). The patio will be enclosed, have a bar and will only be accessible from inside the casino, Horseshoe representatives say, though they’re tight-lipped so far about further details.  

• Cincinnati and Mayor Cranley are featured prominently in a Governing magazine article about changes in the way cities view their outlying suburbs. The article discusses how some cities are shifting away from the view that suburbs are valuable prizes to be annexed or wrapped up in Indianapolis/Louisville-style city and county combined governments. A renewed interest in cities among the young and well-to-do and an increase in suburban poverty are cited as reasons for the shift in thinking from some city leaders.

Cranley’s view that Cincinnati is just fine without taking over surrounding suburbs challenges conventional accepted wisdom.

“You had a sentiment that urban cores need the wealth of the suburbs to have a better budget picture,” he says in the article. “People in the suburbs escaped the city to flee the problems. But that’s changing. You’re going to see cities in a better financial situation than a lot of the suburbs.”

• Finally, a story that could (hopefully) only happen in New York City, where a developer has won permission from the city to have two separate entrances in a new apartment building — one for well-to-do residents of its luxury units and another for the tenants of its required-by-law affordable units. So, basically, a poor door.

Last year, another developer explained just such a plan for another building thusly:

“No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a senior VP at Toll Brothers, a New York development company. “So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.”

Translation: Being rich is hard when you have to rub elbows with not-rich folks, who should just shut up and enjoy the crumbs we’re throwing them.

 
 
 
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