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by Natalie Krebs 10.07.2015 49 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Morning News and Stuff

ResponsibleOhio under investigation for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms; Sittenfeld calls for opponents to renounce NRA support; Blue Lives Matter launches billboard campaign; U.S. under fire for Doctors Without Borders bombing

Hey Cincy! Here are your morning headlines.  

• There's potentially more trouble on the horizon for ResponsibleOhio less than a month before voters head to the polls to vote on its ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is looking into possible voter registration fraud after the board found that at least four of the registration forms filed by a company on behalf of the super PAC were signed by dead people and two were signed by people currently incarcerated and therefore illegible to vote. The registrations forms were submitted by the Strategic Network, a Columbus company specializing in political campaigns that is headed by Ian James, the man who also serves as executive director for ResponsibleOhio. The board made the decision yesterday to issue subpoenas to James and the other leaders of the Strategic Network. James denies any intentional illegal wrongdoing and claims that his company has a "zero tolerance policy" toward fraud. It’s unclear who filled out and submitted the voter registration forms, but submitting a fraudulent voter registration form is a felony offense. James claims that the group is required by law to turn over every voter registration form it collects, even those that are invalid. 

• Less than a week after the tragic shooting at a Roseburg, Ore. community college, city councilman and U.S. Senate candidate P.G. Sittenfeld issue a statement asking his opponents to renounce their support for the National Rifle Association. The NRA has previously endorsed Republican candidate Rob Portman and fellow Democratic opponent Ted Strickland in its famous rating program where it assigns a letter grade to politicians. In his video statement, Sittenfeld asks that his opponents "no longer chase A+ ratings from the same organization that blocked a universal background check bill following a horrific massacre of five and six-year old children in Newtown." Sittenfeld is trailing behind former Ohio governor and fellow Democrat Strickland, who is widely known across the state and has secured the endorsement from the state's Democratic party. 

• Cincinnati is sitting on some serious cash. At the end of the 2015 fiscal year, the city has $19 million left over, which turned out to be way more than the initial $3.9 million the city predicted to have at the end of June. In a memo to Mayor John Cranley, City Manager Harry Black has requested they should it safe and save most of it but also included a sizable wish list. Many of the items requested are related to law enforcement and crime reduction, which has been a hot topic since Cincinnati has experienced a spike in shootings and Black recently fired of former police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. Some of the items, which must be approved by the city council, included spending $2 million on a down payment for Cincinnati Police body cameras, $500,000 for police overtime in spots with heavy crime, $200,000 for a witness protection program and $175,000 for a partnership with Hamilton County to a program to support the re-entry of offenders. 

• Surely you've heard of Black Lives Matter by now, the group that has been active for the past few years in bringing attention to the issue of police brutality against African-Americans. Well, a new group has popped up in support of police called Blue Lives Matter and they've launched a national billboard campaign with 14 billboards across the country. The group is hoping to spread awareness and fight what it sees as anti-police rhetoric in the wake of high profile police shootings, including the July shooting in Mount Auburn of Sam Dubose by a University of Cincinnati police officer.

• International aid group Doctors Without Borders appealed yesterday for an independent agency to investigate the bombing of one of its clinics in Afghanistan last Saturday by U.S. special operation forces. The bombing killed 22 patients and medical staff members, including three children, and injured 37 people. The U.S. has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was trying to take out Taliban militants, and did not mean to hit the aid clinic, but U.S. military officials' stories keep changing, which has prompted suspicion from the international community of the U.S.'s mission.   

As always, email me with story idea, comments or general concerns.

by Nick Swartsell 10.06.2015 50 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley touts more money for cops, park plan in State of the City; Council poised to vote on King historic status; area districts push back against charter schools

Good morning folks. Let’s talk about news today, eh?

First off, let me tell you about Mayor John Cranley’s second State of the City speech, which he gave to a crowd of about 700 movers, shakers and awkward journalists (at least one awkward journalist) last night at Great American Ball Park.

The mayor is obligated by the city charter to give folks an update on what he’s up to once a year, and for Cranley that meant talking about economic development deals and balancing the budget, asking city council for $800,000 for new violence prevention measures and promoting his somewhat controversial parks levy, which would create an amendment to the city charter and raise property taxes slightly to give big makeovers to a number of Cincinnati parks.

Cranley also pledged to create a task force to explore ways to reduce childhood poverty and a healthcare initiative to reduce infant mortality in the city. He did all this while making a slightly convoluted metaphor about home runs and base hits and sharing a personal experience with the mythical double rainbow. We’ll be parsing the mayor’s proposals more precisely soon, but in the meantime, that’s the broad overview you need to know.

• As Cranley was making his speech last night, a group of around 50 gathered at City Hall to protest the looming closure of Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic that provides abortions. City Councilman Chris Seelbach spoke to the group, pledging support for Planned Parenthood and calling on fellow city officials to support the city’s last remaining clinic. A smaller group then marched to Great American Ball Park, chanting and holding signs asking Cranley to show support for the facility and for the pro-choice movement. The mayor, who has said he was unaware of the rally, did not make remarks to the group following his speech.

The Ohio Department of Health last month denied a license renewal for the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn. The clinic is run by Planned Parenthood and has stayed open by order of a federal judge as it awaits the results of an appeal to that decision. Planned Parenthood Southwestern Ohio and legal representatives for Women’s Med clinic in Dayton that faces a similar situation have also sued the state of Ohio over its increasingly strict restrictions on clinics that provide abortions. Should the clinics lose their appeal in federal court, both will shut down. Without a clinic, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services.

• After a somewhat contentious Neighborhoods Committee meeting yesterday, Cincinnati City Council is expected to vote tomorrow on historic landmark status for the former King Records site in Evanston, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports. That designation could make it much harder to tear down the buildings but could also spark a big legal battle reminiscent of the struggle over the Gamble House, the historic Westwood abode built by the son of one of P&G’s founders. That 170-year-old building was torn down in 2013. The site in Evanston is significant for a number of reasons, one of which is that it’s the place where James Brown made many of his early recordings. One of the two buildings on the site is currently owned by Dynamic Industries, which would like to tear it down. Want to know more about Evanston, King Records and the push and pull between the current owners of the could-be historic site and those looking to preserve the building? We have a story on that.

• A group composed of 43 school districts in Greater Cincinnati, including Cincinnati Public Schools, is pushing back against charter school expansion in the state. The Greater Cincinnati School Advocacy Network recently called for greater accountability for charter schools and changes to the way in which they are funded. GCSAN says charters unfairly drain public money from public school districts while not providing a better alternative for low-income students as they were intended to do. CPS loses thousands of students to local charters each year. The district says it’s not totally opposed to the concept — it sponsors two charter schools itself  — but warns that voters in the district are tired of seeing their money spent on private charter schools that don’t perform well.

The push back comes as charters in Ohio face deep scrutiny over an Ohio Department of Education data fixing scandal, performance issues and questions about oversight. In general, charters in the state have laxer oversight from the ODE and lower performance standards. You can read our story about charters in Cincinnati and throughout the state here.

• How much tax revenue will be created from legalizing marijuana if voters pass a ballot initiative doing so this November? Like most controversial political questions, it depends entirely on whom you ask. The Ohio Department of Taxation estimates revenues somewhere between $133 and almost $300 million could flow from the sale of marijuana. Not surprisingly, ResponsibleOhio, which created the petition drive to get the issue on the November ballot, has higher numbers, saying legalization would create $2 billion in marijuana sales, bringing municipalities and counties more than $554 million in revenue. The state’s estimates vary depending on assumptions about how much of the current illicit marijuana market switches to legal usage.

But ResponsibleOhio says the state erred in considering how many people use marijuana in Ohio and say its number is based on more reliable federal drug usage studies. What’s a few hundred million dollars, though, am I right? ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would legalize marijuana usage and purchase for anyone over the age of 21. The proposal would also create more than 1,000 licenses similar to liquor licenses for the sale of the drug. However, the controversial part of the plan is that only 10 grow sites, all owned by ResponsibleOhio investors, would be allowed across the state. Voters will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal on the November ballot.

by Nick Swartsell 10.05.2015 51 days ago
Posted In: News, Cycling at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_bright ride_photo urban basin bicycle club facebook page

Cincinnati Among Top Cities for Growth in Bicycle Commuting

Commuting by bike increased by 350 percent last year, the third-biggest increase among major cities

You may have seen recent 2014 American Community Survey data released by the U.S. Census Bureau showing that bicycle commuting continues to rise.

Cincinnati has been one of the cities leading the way in that growth, it turns out.

The League of American Bicyclists recently analyzed those ACS numbers and came up with data showing where cycling and bike commuting are biggest and growing fastest. While Cincinnati ranked 31st among the 70 biggest U.S. cities in terms of share of cyclists commuting to work (we’re at just under 1 percent), the number of bike commuters here is growing faster than just about anywhere else in the country.

Bike commuting in Cincinnati increased by 350 percent last year, according to the ACS. That’s more than any other major city besides Detroit, which saw a 403 percent boost, and Pittsburgh, which saw bicycle commuting go up by 360 percent.

Cincinnati easily beat out other Ohio cities, including Columbus (ranked 36th with .8 percent of commutes happening by bike) and Cleveland (ranked 40th with .7 percent).

The city with the top percentage of bicycle commuters is, predictably, Portland, Ore., where more than 7 percent of commutes are taken by bicycle. The city has more than 23,000 cyclists. Oregon is tops in terms of states when it comes to bike commuters, as well. Ohio is well down that list, ranking 36th.

As a bike commuter, I'm excited that I have more company on the roads. You can read the whole League of American Bicyclists report here.

by Nick Swartsell 10.05.2015 51 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Enquirer story on historic conservation board appears, disappears; Cranley to deliver state of the city address this evening; Kasich zeroes in on New Hampshire, where he trails

Hello all. Hope you enjoyed your weekend. Yesterday was the ideal day weatherwise, so if you stayed inside all day, well, that sucks for you. I went to a pumpkin festival at Lobenstein farms in Indiana, where I got a strange white pumpkin that I believe is probably haunted. I also had the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten and some amazing fried chicken. So I’d say it all balances out. Anyway, none of that is news. This is news.

First — it’s the last day to go register to vote for the November election. Go do that now. Though there aren’t any major public officials to weigh in on this year, there are several very important ballot issues, including changes to the redistricting process for Ohio’s State House seats, whether to create a state-sanctioned,10-farm weed monopoly to legalize marijuana and whether to pass a levy that would provide millions to new park projects. So. Go register. I’ll wait.

Back? OK.

• Over the weekend, The Cincinnati Enquirer posted, then took down, a story about changes to the city’s urban conservator office and Historic Conservation Board, which help decide questions of historic preservation, demolition permits and the like. Basically, these bodies help mediate the push-pull between developers who want to build buildings at maximum profit and community members and historic preservation advocates who want to save old buildings that contribute to the character of Cincy’s neighborhoods.

Lately, there have been shake ups on both the board and with the urban conservator, who was unceremoniously removed from his post in late August. Meanwhile, four of the board’s six members are newcomers who have contributed to Mayor John Cranley’s campaign. Some, including some Over-the-Rhine community leaders, see this as a politicizing of these decision-making bodies and a possible weakening of the city’s historic preservation safeguards to the benefit of developers friendly with Cranley. But others defend the changes, saying rotation on the board is healthy to get fresh perspectives on historic conservation. The Enquirer says it took down the story because it accidentally posted an unedited version a couple days ahead of schedule. You can read the original version, which does contain some errors, in this Facebook post by transit activist and OTR resident Derek Bauman. It will be interesting to read the final version of that story when it finally comes out.

• A group of activists will take to City Hall today to protest the pending closing of Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic that provides abortions. More than 100 people are confirmed for the rally on a Facebook event posted by the group, which says it is protesting to get city officials to express support for abortion rights and opposition to the clinic’s closure. Several Democratic city officials have already expressed support for Planned Parenthood.

The Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, which is run by Planned Parenthood, was denied a license renewal by the Ohio Department of Health last week. It is staying open pending an appeal of that decision, but could close immediately if federal courts find in favor of the state. That would make Cincinnati the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortions. The Women’s Med Clinic in Dayton faces a similar situation with the ODH; if both shut down, the entirety of Southwestern Ohio would be without direct access to abortion services. Today’s rally begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

• Meanwhile, most city officials will be away from City Hall at Great American Ball Park this afternoon for Mayor John Cranley’s second state of the city speech, where he’ll unveil his priorities for the coming year. Among those priorities is a task force aimed at lifting 10,000 children and 5,000 adults out of poverty. The task force will be expected to deliver a set of action steps by June 30 for that goal. In 2012, more than half of the city’s children lived in poverty. That ratio has gone down to 44 percent since, but it’s unclear why that is. Whatever the reason, city officials say that’s still far too many kids without basic needs. Ohio’s childhood poverty rate is 23 percent and the nation’s is 22.

Cranley will likely talk about other priorities he has for the coming year, including an initiative to raise millions for Cincinnati parks by putting a permanent property tax levy into the city’s charter so the city can issue bonds for capital projects in the parks. Projects such as the Wasson Way bike trail, a redevelopment of Burnet Woods and other money-intensive efforts are on the slate should that levy pass in November.

Here are some quick notes about state and national politics/other news:

• The state of Ohio is getting tons of money for charter schools, despite recent scandals about data-fixing in the Ohio Department of Education and generally lagging performance from those schools. The U.S. Department of Education is awarding eight states money for their charter programs, and Ohio is among them. Despite being the lowest-performing of the eight, the state could receive more than $70 million for the privately run, publicly funded schools, the most of any of the eight states. The story linked above has more information and is definitely worth a read.

• U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has raised a big old mountain of cash from Republican donors in his re-election bid. Portman will face either former Ohio governor Ted Strickland or Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the general election next year, both of whom trail Portman’s $2 million quarterly fundraising haul significantly. That’s not the whole story, however. Democratic primary frontrunner Strickland is polling dead even with Portman and in some polls surpassing him, despite the fundraising deficit. Many political observers predict the race to be among the most costly in the country as Dems and the GOP battle it out for control of the Senate in a presidential election year. Outside groups are already pouring money into Ohio against Strickland.

• Ohio governor and GOP presidential primary contender John Kasich has called New Hampshire, an early primary state, essential to his bid for his party’s nomination and indicated this weekend that a bad showing there would be the end of his campaign. Unfortunately, he’s also lagging there, dropping from second behind Donald Trump in a poll last month to seventh in a poll taken this month. The guv just opened his campaign headquarters in the state, which has its primary in about four months.

• Probably not a surprise, but Republicans are still fighting over who will replace U.S. Rep. John Boehner of West Chester in his powerful speaker of the house role. Boehner resigned from Congress recently amid infighting over a possible government shutdown by hardline right wing Republicans. His second-in-command, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, seems to be the favorite for the position, but recent slip-ups by McCarthy and an announcement that Utah’s Rep. Jason Chaffetz is also running for the role have increased the uncertainty about who will take the reigns for Republicans, who control the House of Representatives with a large majority.

• Finally, stock up on those solid color neon hoodies now. American Apparel announced bankruptcy today. The company, which sells basic clothing items that are made in America, has lost money every year since 2010. It suffered a blow last year as founder Dov Charney was ousted amid widespread allegations that he engaged in sexual harassment against employees. The company says its retail locations, including the one in Cincinnati, will remain open amid the bankruptcy.

by Nick Swartsell 10.02.2015 54 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Will the Freedom Center get a charter school?; Sheriff Jones won't run for Boehner's seat; Vatican clarifies on Kim Davis visit

Hey all! Here’s a brief news rundown for your Friday. Let’s get to the weekend already.

Is a charter school coming to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center? It could happen, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Carpe Diem is a charter sponsored by Cincinnati Public Schools that operates out of Aiken High School. The school has expressed interest in opening up another CPS-sponsored charter in the Freedom Center, though nothing official has been planned yet. The charter’s CEO has said he’d be interested in having the school open as soon as next fall, though CPS has yet to make a decision about whether it wants another charter, saying such a school would need to perform as well or better than traditional public schools in the city. CPS currently sponsors two charters. Charters in Cincinnati and Ohio in general have a mixed record over the past decade, with some performing as well or better than public schools while many others have lagged and been shut down for performance issues or ethics violations.

• What’s the most Instagramed spot in Ohio? It’s the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, according to a review of social media data by travel website busbud.com. The site looked at which attractions in every state generated the most hashtags on the popular, Facebook-owned image-posting social media app. The zoo joins the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the White House in D.C. and the Space Needle in Seattle as one of the most popular spots for ‘gramming in the country. I would have guessed Washington Park, but yeah. Pretty cool for the zoo.

• Apologies in advance for fans of Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, because I have some disappointing news for you. The staunchly anti-immigrant sheriff, who has gained a national profile due to his aggressive stance on conservative issues and appearances on talk shows discussing those views, won’t be running for U.S. Rep. John Boehner’s congressional seat. As we reported last week, Jones had indicated he was interested in campaigning for the spot, which Boehner vacated Friday after years of fighting with congressional conservatives as speaker of the house. But Jones has since announced that, while Congress could “use someone like him,” he’s better off staying in Butler County.

• A Chicago-based investor in ResponsibleOhio’s plan to legalize marijuana in the state has backed out, according to the group. Meanwhile, Youngstown-based Brian Kessler, whose father invented the Hula-Hoop, is in to take his place. Kessler is now one of the 22 investors who have gone public about their role funding ResponsibleOhio’s drive to pass an amendment to the Ohio constitution that would legalize marijuana and create 10 constitutionally mandated grow sites across the state. The identity of another 30 investors has not been made public by the group.

• So everyone got all riled up about the Pope’s visit with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last week. Now the Vatican is clarifying that meeting... kind of. Davis, you’ll remember, refused to issue marriage licenses even in the wake of this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Davis was eventually found in contempt of court and went to jail for her refusal on religious grounds to issue the licenses. Fast forward a bit. Davis recently revealed that when the pope was here in the U.S. a couple weeks back, she was granted a 15-minute visit with the religious leader. This was something of a shock to many progressives, who were still applauding Pope Francis' statements before Congress on climate change and income inequality. Many, of course, took the visit as a signal that the pope agreed with Davis on her stand. Now, however, the Vatican is saying that the visit was requested by Davis and doesn’t mean that the pope supported her point of view or her actions. Annnnnd… that’s about all the church said. So. Hm.

• Finally, you’ve certainly already heard about the horrific school shooting in Oregon yesterday, but it seems strange not to mention it in a news round up. So here’s a story with what we know so far. As your humble morning news blogger, can I suggest we simply pause to feel for those involved and not instantly begin fighting about this? No? OK.

That’s it for me. Twitter, email, etc. You know what’s up.

by Nick Swartsell 10.01.2015 55 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City passes paternity leave plan; Denise Driehaus to run for county commish; state passes "ban the box" legislation

Hey hey! Good morning Cincy. How’s it going? Here’s what’s up in the news today.

Yesterday the city officially announced the results of a long-awaited study about disparities in the companies it hires to take on taxpayer-funded projects as well as several measures it plans to take to address those inequities. According to the Croson Study, only about 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts went to black-owned businesses and only about 6.2 percent went to businesses owned by women. This despite the fact that black and women owned businesses in the city have the capacity to do 20 percent of that work, the study says. You can read more about the study and the city’s proposed solutions, which include race and gender-based contracting requirements, in our online story yesterday. City contracts represent more than $1 billion in spending, and city officials say getting that pie split up more equitably could go a long way toward addressing the deep economic inequalities in the city.

• Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed legislation that gives all city employees six weeks of parental leave after they have or adopt a baby, including 28 days at 70 percent of their pay. Council members Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson proposed the new paternity leave policy, which the city administration estimates will cost about $225,000 a year. Council voted 7-2 to pass the proposal. Seelbach, Simpson and other backers say the slight cost to the city is worth it, saying it’s the right thing to do and that it will help the city recruit the best and brightest employees. Council members Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray voted against the measure, in part because they believe leave offered to employees should be decided through negotiations with the city employees union.

• One of Cincinnati’s iconic but currently empty churches will be born again as an event center, developers say. Towne Properties, which has its headquarters in a portion of the building, will redevelop the former Holy Cross Monastery, which overlooks the city from its lofty perch in Mount Adams, turning it into an upscale space for weddings and other events.  The church has been empty since 1977, and Towne has owned it since 1980. The developer has been puzzled over what to do with the property, considering a hotel or office space for the building. But none of that worked out on paper and so the historic 12,000-square-foot church, built in 1873, has remained empty except for some pretty amazing art exhibits that have popped up from time to time there. I remember seeing Shinji Turner-Yamamoto’s beautiful Global Tree Project at the monastery back in the day. It’s an incredible place.

• Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus has officially announced she’s running for Hamilton County commissioner against sitting Republican commish Greg Hartmann next year. Driehaus, a Clifton resident with a long history of service in local and state politics, is prohibited by term limits from running for another stint as state rep. Hartmann first got the commissioners job in 2008 when he ran unopposed for the post, replacing outgoing commish Pat DeWine. Before that, he mounted an unsuccessful bid for Ohio Secretary of State.

• The Ohio General Assembly yesterday passed so-called “ban the box” legislation that strikes questions about prospective employees’ criminal records from public job applications. The state struck a similar question from its job applications in June, but now an application for any public job in Ohio won’t have questions about an applicant’s criminal history. Proponents say that will help ex-offenders get a new start and decrease the chances they’ll end up in prison again. You can read about the ban the box effort in our in-depth feature story on the subject published in June.

• Finally, in national news, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is raising nearly as much money as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the two duel it out in the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential nomination. Sanders raised $26 million in the last fundraising quarter to presumed frontrunner Clinton’s $28 million. That’s kind of crazy because Sanders is an independent, not a Democrat, and he’s been running around for years telling people he’s a socialist. Not exactly the most obvious path to the White House. Clinton, meanwhile, is named Clinton and has the vast fundraising network of her former president husband Bill and plenty of backers from her time as a senator. But then, when the top GOP contender for the presidential nomination is Donald Trump, all the rules we all thought were well understood and set in stone go flying out the window.

That’s it for me! Email or tweet at me and let me know if Washington Park is open to us commoners (aka the public) today. You know what I'm talking about if you passed by yesterday.

by Nick Swartsell 09.30.2015 56 days ago
Posted In: News at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

City Unveils Efforts to Address Contracting Disparities

Croson Study reveals that minority and women owned businesses receive few contracts, have capacity to do much more

City of Cincinnati officials today unveiled the final draft of a long-awaited study of gender and racial disparities in the city’s contracting practices, as well as ordinances that might address some of those inequalities, including race and gender based requirements for contractors.

The so-called Croson Study shows that between 2009 and 2013, black-owned businesses were awarded only 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts, totaling about $5 million, despite blacks making up more than 45 percent of the city’s population. Businesses owned by women fared only slightly better during the study’s time frame, getting only 6.2 percent of the city’s contracts. Eighteen percent of busineses in Cincinnati are owned by blacks, and nearly 30 percent are owned by women.

Mayor John Cranley cast the report as a positive step toward more equitable contracting for the city.

“We’re finally here after a long amount of hard work,” Cranley said during a ceremony today at City Hall featuring a wide array of about two dozen city officials, faith leaders, members of the business community, activists and others. “We have a lot of great things happening in the city, but we’re not perfect, and, clearly, the city’s procurement process has not reflected the diversity of our city.” 

Councilman Wendell Young also praised the study, but sounded a much more somber note.

“Since we’ve confirmed what we already know, how hard are we willing to work to address the problems?” he asked. “It’s true that the city of Cincinnati is making great progress. It’s also true that a significant part of this community is not feeling that progress. Cincinnati has many distinctions that we’re not proud of."

Young citing the city’s sky-high infant mortality, childhood poverty and black unemployment rates.

“Today we’re at the point where we have the road map and the confirmation. From today on we find out if we have the political will, the ability, the skill and whether the work we do can make a difference. We won’t be the first, but we’re going to find a way to make this work. And if we can’t do that, heaven help us all.”

The report also revealed that 70 percent of the city's $1.2 billion in prime contracts went to a small group of businesses, a fact that many on city council found disturbing.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman said that fact should make not just minority and female-owned businesses angry, but anyone who has competed for a city contract.

"That's one hell of a country club," he said.

Cranley touted steps the city has already taken toward diversifying its contracting, including recently establishing the city’s new Department of Economic Inclusion and making changes to its Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program. But he also said the Croson Study and its suggestions are huge parts of the solution.

The study makes several suggestions for improvements in the city’s contracting process on four different monetary levels, from under $5,000 to more than $250,000, on both the prime contract and subcontract levels. Some recommended solutions are based on race and gender categories, while others are neutral.

On the subcontracting level, Cincinnati City Council will consider ordinances which create a Minority Business Enterprise program and a Women Business Enterprise program, allowing such businesses to compete with each other for certain set-aside contracts.

On the much larger prime contracting level, businesses will be given points on some bids if they are at least 51 percent owned by minorities or women.

Some council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, want the city to go farther in ensuring better equity in awarding contracts at the $1 billion prime contracting level. Both Simpson and Councilman Chris Seelbach offered pointed questions about what more could be done at the prime contracting level to ensure a greater piece of that large pie goes to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The city usually awards prime contracts to companies, which then hire subcontractors. City Manager Harry Black pointed out that the city will make requirements for businesses winning prime bids as to the level of minority subcontractors they should hire. Businesses winning contracts with the city of more than $50,000 will be required to subcontract 17 percent black-owned businesses for construction work and 14 percent black-owned businesses for other services, and 14 and 16 percent businesses owned by women for those categories respectively.

One recommendation made by the Croson Study that the city has not yet considered is ending so-called master agreements, or contracts with companies that can be used by multiple city departments on separate projects and which can be subject to multi-year renewals without re-bidding.

“The city should eliminate the use of master agreements and follow the competitive bidding standards for all contracts,” the study states in its conclusion.

One point that every city official agrees upon, however, is that minority- and female-owned businesses are up to the task of doing more projects on taxpayers' behalf.

The study shows that black-owned businesses in the city have the capacity to take on up to 20 percent of the city’s contracts. Businesses owned by women see a similar capacity gap: The report shows female-owned businesses have the ability to tackle another 20 percent of the city’s contracts.

“To all my colleagues here, please do not use the word ‘capacity,’ " Smitherman said.

Though the report is clear, the details involved in increasing minority contracts awarded by the city are complex. Part of the complication comes from the legal realities around what the city can and can’t do to increase minority contracting.

The Croson Study gets its name from a U.S. Supreme Court case, City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, in which the Virginia city was sued by a contractor over its contract diversity initiatives. The Supreme Court ruled Richmond’s setbacks of contracts for minority businesses unconstitutional and set a standard of strict scrutiny, the highest legal standard, for municipal contracting diversity programs.

That means that cities risk lawsuits if they don’t demonstrate a very clear need to enact gender- or race-specific contracting guidelines and cannot show that those guidelines are narrowly tailored to address disparities without discriminating against other businesses.

Cincinnati has already been through such a lawsuit in 2004, when Cleveland Construction Company unsuccessfully sued the city over its contracting diversity policies. The company claimed that the city’s Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program, which was used in part to score the bids from Cleveland and other companies, created unconstitutional racial and gender classifications and violated its rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. An initial decision from the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas agreed with that claim, and the city amended the race- and gender-related parts of its SBE program. The case went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in favor of the city.

The Croson Study offers some protection from future lawsuits, say city officials and representatives from Mason Tillman Associates, which conducted the 338-page report. The report quantifies the extent of Cincinnati’s contracting diversity problems and puts forward recommendations, many poised to be passed by council, that are tailored to address them.

“It gives us a legal basis to do what we need to do to be a city that will work for everybody and not just for a few,” Cranley said.

by Natalie Krebs 09.30.2015 56 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Campbell County Schools superintendent retires after domestic violence charges; child poverty still a problem for Cincy; Kim Davis meets the Pope?

Good morning, Cincinnati! Here are your morning headlines. 

• Campbell County Schools Superintendent Glen Miller abruptly announced his retirement after he was charged with domestic violence. Miller has been on paid administrative leave since he was arrested last Wednesday night at his Erlanger home after his daughter called 911 to report that he has struck his wife in the head and neck. Miller told police his wife's injuries were a result of an accident, but his story didn't quite match his wife and daughter's versions. He was booked into Kenton County Detention Center and charged with domestic violence that same evening just after midnight and released the following afternoon. Miller has been superintendent of Campbell County Schools for four years. His retirement will go into effect November 1. In the meantime, Associate Superintendent Shelli Wilson will be placed in charge of the district. 

• Cincinnati State is considering a partnership with private testing and consulting firm Pearson to attempt to boost its enrollment and retention rates. The college seems to have hit a rough patch. Current enrollment is just below 10,000, 10 percent lower than a year ago, it faces a state-mandated tuition freeze and president O'dell Owens recently departed after tensions with the board of trustees. Cincinnati State is reportedly discussing a 10-year contract with Pearson that would give the company control of its $550,000 marketing and recruiting budget in exchange for 20 percent of students' tuition recruited above the college's quota of 4,000. If it goes through, this contract would be the first for the New York-based company, which earns much of its revenue through K-12 standardized test preparation. Given the college's not-so-great reputation for relying heavily on test scores, the college's faculty senate has urged the administration to wait on the contract until the results of spring recruitment are in. 

• Child poverty is down in Cincinnati, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, but the rate is way above state and national averages. According to the survey, child poverty is down to 44.1 percent from 51.3 percent in 2012, but it's double the national average of 21.7 percent and near double the state average of 22.9 percent. City Health Commissioner Noble Maseru has suggested targeting the poorest zip codes first to begin to further bringing that number down, but no concrete plan has been put in place. 

• Infamous Rowan County clerk Kim Davis apparently secretly met with Pope Francis. According to Davis's lawyer, officials sneaked Davis and her husband, Joe, into the Vatican Embassy in Washington D.C. last Thursday afternoon where the Pope gave her rosary beads and told her to "stay strong." During his first visit to the U.S., Pope Francis did not publicly support Davis by name but instead stated that "conscious objection is a right that is a part of every human right." Davis spent time in the Carter County Detention Center for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She and her husband were conveniently already in Washington D.C. to accept an award from conservative group, the Family Research Council. 

• Cincinnati is a travel hotspot, or at least, "on the verge of a hip explosion," according to Forbes Travel Guide. According to the magazine, Cincinnati has a hilly landscape much like San Francisco's without the San Francisco prices, and the newly gentrified, or "revitalized," Over-the-Rhine is like Brooklyn before the hipsters took it over. Other reasons the third-largest city in Ohio makes "the perfect weekend getaway" include Skyline cheese coneys, a ton of German beers and Kentucky whiskeys to choose from and a "surprisingly impressive array of luxury hotel options." 

That's it for today! Email is nkrebs@citybeat.com, and I'd love to hear from you!            

by Nick Swartsell 09.29.2015 57 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sen. Mitch McConnell

Morning News and Stuff

Study finds gender, racial disparities in city contracting; Mount Auburn clinic will stay open pending appeal; Ziegler Park plan presented in OTR

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

A study covering the last five years of city of Cincinnati contracting found that the city hasn’t hired nearly as many minority and women-owned businesses as it should for taxpayer-funded jobs. The 338-page study on racial disparities, called the Croson Study, was conducted by outside researchers with public policy research firm Mason Tillman Associates. Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black said in a memo yesterday that the study reveals a “demonstrated pattern of disparity” in city contracting. He says ordinances are being drafted by the city administration to address those disparities. The study suggests both race and gender neutral fixes as well as those that rely on race and gender preferences. The latter are legally dicey: The city could face lawsuits over race and gender preferences in hiring, even if it has evidence that its current methods for ensuring equity in its contracting practices aren’t working.

• Cincinnati’s last remaining women’s health clinic that provides abortions will stay open as it appeals a decision by the Ohio Department of Health denying it a license. The Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn lost its license under a new state law slipped into this year’s budget that gives the ODH just 60 days after an application is received to renew a clinic’s license. In the past, it has taken the ODH more than a year to do so for the Cincinnati clinic. Planned Parenthood, which runs the facility, is suing the state over the law, which it says presents an undue burden on women seeking abortions. The Mount Auburn clinic would have to close Thursday if not for the appeal. If it shuts down, Cincinnati will become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to an abortion provider. Another clinic in Dayton faces a similar situation, and if it also closed down, only seven clinics would remain in the state, and none would remain in Southwestern Ohio. A rally supporting Planned Parenthood is planned for 11 a.m. today at the Mount Auburn location.

• Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank has agreed to pay more than $18 million to settle claims it engaged in discriminatory lending practices against minorities seeking auto loans. A federal investigation into Fifth Third’s lending practices through car dealerships found that the bank’s guidelines to dealers left a wide latitude of pricing discretion for loans. That discretion led directly to more expensive loans for qualified black and Hispanic buyers than were given to qualified white buyers, according to the feds. Minority car buyers paid an average of $200 more than white buyers due to those discrepancies, according to the investigation. The question is whether those dealers were more or less uniformly charging minorities slightly more than white buyers, or if some dealerships charged minorities a lot more and others played by the straight and narrow. Fifth Third points out that it didn’t make these loans itself, but merely purchased them from the dealers. The bank maintains it treats its customers equally. The bank will pay another $3.5 million in an unrelated settlement over deceptive credit card sales practices some telemarketers with the bank engaged in, according to federal investigators.

• Last night, representatives with 3CDC, the city and planning firm Human Nature held a presentation and listening session unveiling their plans for a revamped Ziegler Park. Their $30 million proposal includes revamped basketball courts, a new pool in the northern section of the park and a quiet, tree-lined green space above a new parking garage across the street. Ziegler sits along Sycamore Street across from the former School for Creative and Performing Arts on the border of Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton. An Indianapolis developer, Core Redevelopment, is currently renovating the SCPA building into luxury apartments. This change, along with others in the rapidly developing neighborhoods, has spurred increased concerns about gentrification in the area. Some who are wary of the park say the proposed renovation could play into a dynamic where long-term, often minority residents in the neighborhood are made to feel unwelcome or even priced out. 3CDC officials say they’ve taken steps to make sure neighborhood wishes for the park are honored. Last night’s meeting was the final of four input sessions the developer has undertaken.

• It’s not often you get two different Zieglers in the news, but today is one of those days. The Cincinnati Visitor’s Bureau has hired a new national sales manager who will focus on marketing to the LGBT community. David Ziegler will head up the group’s pitch to LGBT groups, which CVB has already made strides on. The visitor’s bureau has been working with area hotels to get them certified as LGBT-friendly and has worked to bring LGBT conventions and meetings to the city.

• Finally, after House Speaker John Boehner’s abrupt exit last week (which you can read more about in this week’s news feature out tomorrow), you might be concerned for his squinty-eyed Republican friend in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell represents Kentucky and also holds the most powerful role in the prestigious legislative body, ushering through waves of conservative legislation.

But that’s where it’s tough for McConnell: Republicans in the Senate have a very slim majority that isn’t adequate to pass things beyond a Democratic filibuster or presidential veto. McConnell has taken a beating over this in the past from tea party radicals like Sen. Ted Cruz in much the same way Boehner did in the House, leading many staunch conservatives to call for his head next. But it’s unlikely the 74-year-old McConnell will be toppled the way Boehner was anytime soon, this Associated Press story argues, due to the nature of the Senate and McConnell’s strong support from his more moderate GOP colleagues.

by Natalie Krebs 09.28.2015 58 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
WWE Boehner

Morning News and Stuff

Boehner resigns and slams fellow Republicans; Health Department denies Planned Parenthood license; Kasich targets Iowa

Good morning, Cincinnati! There was a lot going on around the city this weekend, and I hope everyone got out and enjoyed something, whether it was Midpoint Music Festival, Clifton Fest or the "blood" supermoon eclipse last night. Here are today's headlines. 

• In case you were distracted by having too much fun this weekend, Speaker of the House and West Chester native John Boehner announced his resignation on Friday. Boehner met with Pope Francis on Thursday and apparently that night before going to bed told his wife that he'd had enough. Boehner has served as House speaker for five years and declined to say what he has planned next at the news conference on Friday.  

Boehner then spoke to CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday where he assured the nation that there will be no government shutdown and fired some shots at uncompromising Republicans, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, calling them "false prophets." Boehner was facing a potential vote that would remove him from his position so the House could pass a bill that would include a provision that would defund Planned Parenthood, an uncompromising demand that conservatives are making in order to pass the budget. The move hasn't sat well at all with Boehner. "Our founders didn't want some parliamentary system where, if you won the majority, you got to do whatever you wanted. They wanted this long, slow process," he told CBS. More coverage on Boehner's resignation to come this week in CityBeat.

• Speaking of shutting down Planned Parenthood, Cincinnati could potentially become the largest metropolitan area without an abortion clinic. State health officials denied licenses to the Planned Parenthood in Mount Auburn and the Women's Med clinic in Dayton. Both clinics were unable to find a private hospital to create a patient-transfer agreement with as required by a recently passed Ohio state law and requested an exemption from the Ohio Department of Health. The move could shut down the last two abortion providers in southwestern Ohio and reduce the number of surgical abortion providers in Ohio to seven. There were 14 in 2013. Both facilities have 30 days to request a hearing to appeal the denial, and Planned Parenthood has already said it plans to. 

• Former Cincinnati Police Capt. Gary Lee will run for Hamilton County sheriff. Lee, who was with the Cincinnati Police Department for 33 years, will run against Democratic incumbent Jim Neil. During his time with the CPD, Neil worked in the vice unit, special services section, and was District 1 captain.

• Gov. John Kasich is targeting the Feb.1 Iowa caucuses in the wake of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's departure from the presidential race. Kasich has most recently focused on finishing strong in New Hampshire, which has a history of favoring more moderate Republicans, but now has shifted his focus to Iowa where he hopes a strong finish can help him in the Michigan and Ohio primaries. Kasich is reportedly following a strategy used in 2012 by then-Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who did win New Hampshire and the Republican nomination, but ultimately lost the election. 

• NASA says it will reveal a major finding about Mars this morning. The space agency is keeping quiet about what exactly it found, but I'm hoping it's Martians. The Guardian thinks it could have to something to do with finding evidence of water on the planet, and they have more evidence to back up their prediction. Either way, it'll be exciting. 

• Didn't stay up late to watch last night's supermoon eclipse? It was pretty awesome, but congratulations on getting more sleep than many other Cincinnatians. If you missed out or just want to relive the experience this morning, you can check out some pretty cool photos here. 

That's all for now. Email me at nkrebs@citybeat.com with any story tips.