Good morning all. Here’s a quick look at news today.
Do we have a streetcar budget yet? Not quite. Cincinnati City Council this week came so, so close to nailing down a first-year operating budget for the transit project, but stumbled in the last yard before the end zone yesterday in what can only be described as a headache-inducing last-minute meltdown. (I know because I’m one of the ones who ended up with a headache from watching it go down). The issue? Councilman Kevin Flynn, who joined the 6-2 vote for the $4.2 million first-year budget in committee, balked in the final voting yesterday, citing concerns about where contingency and startup funds for the project are sourced from in the budget. Flynn indicated that if his concerns are addressed, he’ll vote for the budget. Meanwhile, the budget passed 5-4, but Mayor John Cranley threatened to veto it. So back to committee it goes so Council can hammer out what will likely be the final details. The budget is due to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority at the end of the month. The streetcar is expected to start operations sometime in September.
• Council also wrangled just a bit over a motion to ban city-funded travel to North Carolina and Mississippi, both of which have recently passed laws many say are anti-LGBT. Those laws allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals and also stipulate that trans individuals must use restrooms assigned to their physical gender traits, not their identified genders. The ban wouldn't cover emergency travel to those states — say in case of a hurricane or terrorist attack — but would otherwise keep city officials and employees from going to the state. The legislation also asks city administration to begin courting companies to move to Cincinnati that have indicated they'll leave the states in question over the anti-LGBT laws. The motion, introduced by Councilman Chris Seelbach, passed 7-2. Councilmembers Charlie Winburn and Amy Murray voted against the travel ban.
• Quick. Name the most underrated place in Kentucky. Did you save Covington? You win… something. Anyway, travel website Thrillist.com agrees with you, giving props to the city’s bourbon bars, historic districts and art galleries. It also praises the Roebling Suspension Bridge and calls Covington a… hipster enclave… whatever that is. Of course, the first thing the site mentions is the wonderful view of Cincinnati, and the last thing it suggests is grabbing a slice of Goodfellas Pizza, which is a chain restaurant. It is headquartered in the Cov, though, so I guess it counts. Anyway, pretty cool.
• Remember that big fight over legalizing marijuana last year? Republicans were pretty dead-set against efforts to do so, but now some are trotting out their own plan. State lawmakers have introduced a proposal to legalize medicinal marijuana by 2018. Under the plan, folks over 18 could buy edible marijuana products, patches, oils and probably the good ole fashioned green stuff with a doctor’s prescription. Lawmakers say they’ll work over the next year to figure out who would be allowed to grow the crops, and within two years, Ohio could join 24 other states that have legalized medicinal use of the drug.
• Democratic presidential primary contenders Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will square off in their final scheduled debate tonight. The debate comes as Sanders has made some big gains — though probably not big enough — by capturing some primary and caucus wins over the past few weeks. Clinton still has a commanding delegate lead, however, and has a much more feasible path to the nomination. That means tonight’s debate could be a knock-down, drag out fight as the two make their respective cases with an eye toward New York primary voters, who will go to the polls next week. That means Clinton will likely have to explain her stance on Wall Street regulations, where Sanders has run squarely to her left. Sanders, meanwhile, will have to deal with some baggage he’s been carrying around about gun control, a big issue in the state and one of the few areas where Clinton is seen as more liberal. Stay tuned. It’ll get real.
• Finally, Republicans in the House of Representatives seem likely to miss a statutory budget deadline as they fight over various ideologically-charged proposals for the government’s financial blueprint. That deadline is tomorrow, by the way, and the House seems nowhere close to coming to an agreement that would both satisfy its most conservative members and stand any chance of passing the Senate. That’s a big embarrassment for House Speaker Paul Ryan, some say, who took the reins from former speaker John Boehner last year. Ryan, who has recently had to beat back speculation that he’s hoping to be a surprise candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, says he’s hopeful the House will come together around a spending plan soon. Failure to pass the plan is more of an embarrassment than a catastrophe at this point — Congress can still pass individual bills funding the various departments of government, and spending levels were set in a biannual bill last year — but by statute, the House must pass a spending plan every year. Republicans, including Ryan, have lambasted Democrats in the past when it has appeared that the spending plans won’t materialize on time.
Cincinnati City Council today passed a ban on non-essential city-funded travel to North Carolina and Mississippi today in response to harsh laws passed in those states allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals and prohibiting transgender individuals from using restrooms that match the gender they identify with.
The motion, presented by Councilman Chris Seelbach and passed 6-2, also directs the city to reach out to companies that have indicated they are leaving those states due to the laws to try and convince them to come to Cincinnati.
The laws, passed in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage, have been highly controversial and look likely to face challenges in federal courts.
“Regardless of who you are or who you love, you should be protected from discrimination,” Seelbach said. “Anti-LGBT discrimination is not a Cincinnati value, and this motion is in that spirit.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn had pointed questions about the motion. He and Councilwoman Amy Murray, both Republicans, voted against the effort.
Winburn asked what "essential travel" meant and what Seelbach hoped to accomplish with the legislation.
“In essence, this would ban city personnel traveling to the states of North Carolina or Mississippi for any business purpose that isn’t an emergency situation, which could be if we had to go to North Carolina to obtain a commodity or deal with an emergency," City Manager Harry Black said, answering Winburn's first question. "That’s a highly unlikely scenario.”
Seelbach threw out the idea of terrorist attacks or a hurricane as possible scenarios in which city travel to the states would be allowed. Sending emergency crews or assistance wouldn’t be off the table in those cases.
Winburn wasn't convinced.
“The problem I have with this whole ordinance is — it’s wrong to target transgender or gay people, but it’s also wrong to target Republicans," Winburn said. “In passing this motion today, what do you plan to accomplish?”
"I guess my only concern is that this motion will do what you intend it to do. If we could all search our hearts and learned to love each other, we wouldn’t have to be passing things like this. I don’t think the laws change anything."
Seelbach said the motion would make a difference by sending a message and possibly netting Cincinnati more high-paying employers.
“The goal is to send a message that anti-gay discrimination won’t be tolerated by Cincinnati, that we won’t use taxpayer dollars to do business with states who have passed ideologically charged laws that target gay people," he said. "We want to lure these businesses, these good-paying jobs, to our city, because we’ve done a fantastic job welcoming LGBT individuals."
After years of wrangling, fretting and plenty of political tug-of-wars, and just six months before the streetcar is scheduled to start gliding passengers around downtown and Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati City Council almost passed the transit project's first-year operating budget today.
Council passed the budget out of the transportation committee earlier this week with a veto-proof 6-2 majority. But Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had been the swing vote in Council's 2013 battle with Mayor John Cranley to restart the streetcar, reversed course today and voted against the ordinance.
Without Flynn's vote, Cranley indicated he would veto the operating budget.
“I don’t feel in good conscience
that we can proceed if Mr. Flynn is unhappy," Cranley said. "My assumption as of yesterday was
that six people were supporting this.”
Flynn cited concerns about money set aside for contingencies in the first year of the streetcar's operation and start-up costs. His concerns boil down to where that money — $1.1 million for start-up costs and some $550,000 for contingencies — is coming from.
Flynn said he doesn't believe that all the contingency money will be spent on true contingencies — that the city will need to use it for extra foreseeable expenses — and that the money for the cushion should come from an already-existing construction contingency fund that still has $900,000.
“That’s what I’m asking for, because we’ve been told construction is essentially completed and there’s $900,000 in construction contingency fund left," Flynn told Council after his surprise "no" vote.
"In transportation yesterday, we heard people
wanting to give free rides," Flynn said. "This is a very, very aggressive budget relative to
ridership, relative to advertising dollars and sponsorship dollars. We can’t
afford to give away free anything. And then, when I started thinking about this
ordinance more, when I voted for the streetcar, I said we would not be using
money form the general fund for the streetcar."
Much of the money in question comes from an increase in parking rates and hours in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. Other Council members pointed out, and Flynn acknowledged that the parking funds would not exist if Council hadn't changed parking policies to raise money for the streetcar. But he also said that since contingency money is left over for construction, it should be used first for start-up costs and contingencies. Flynn said he was worried that the construction contingency fund would evaporate if it wasn't used.
"I’ve been involved in enough construction projects to know — if there’s money left, they’ll find a way to spend it," he said. "I want to get that money out of there now.”
City Manager Harry Black sought to allay those concerns. “We are micromanaging the contingency side of the budget," he said.
"Any action related to the contingency must be approved by the city manager.”
There are other concerns — the construction contingency fund is tied up in a process involving the Federal Transportation Authority, and the city must technically ask the FTA to use it, city administration pointed out.
Preservationists are pushing back against a plan to demolish the historic Dennison Hotel building on Main Street. The Joseph family, of Joseph Automotive Group wealth, has released renderings of a potential Fortune 500 company's headquarters it could potentially develop, should the Historic Conservation Board OK the building's demolition. Opponents of demolition have been circulating copies of a Cincinnati Enquirer article from the 1980s via social media as an example of the Joseph family failing to deliver on promises of shiny new office complexes after demolishing historical buildings in the past. Documents filed by the family's attorney with the Historic Conservation Board show that the family purchased the Dennison Hotel in 2013 in part to stifle plans to convert the structure into affordable housing. The family will present its case for demolition in front of the Historic Conservation Board on April 18.
• Hamilton County library employee Rachel Dovel might file a federal lawsuit against the library for failing to cover her gender reassignment surgery via its insurance policy. Dovel, who has worked for the library for the past decade, has been transitioning from male to female for the past two years and said the library's insurance policy won't cover gender confirmation surgery necessary to complete her transition. The library's trustees are currently debating adding the procedure to the employee medical plan in August, but Dovel says she feels she's already waiting long enough.
• The University of Cincinnati Department of Public Safety announced it is launching a nationwide search for a new chief of police and assistant chief of police. Previous Police Chief Jason Goodrich and Major Tim Thornton both resigned last February following a review into the department after the July shooting death of Mount Auburn resident Samuel DuBose by UC Police Officer Ray Tensing. The 11-person search committee will be lead by S. Gregory Baker, UC's director of police community relations, starting at the end of April. The university said the search will go on until the right people are found.
• The issue of medical marijuana is inching back this year for Ohio. The Ohio House is expected to lay out its proposal for medical marijuana today. Both the House and the Senate have had separate hearing on the issue, and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, a Republican from Clarksville, says the legislation will likely be a joint effort. The Senate is currently wrapping up its own hearings on the issue. Polls have shown Ohioans support the legalization of medical marijuana. And it seems whatever plan legislators roll out will probably have a better shot at passing than ResponsibleOhio's failed attempt last election at getting voters to approve a constitutional amendment to legalize all marijuana.
• Donald Trump has fired back against those tricky Republicans who are trying to figure out a way to deny the GOP frontrunner the presidential nomination. As Republicans stumble toward a likely contested convention in Cleveland this July, Trump has started accusing the party of trying to steal the election from him. Trump told the crowd at a campaign event in upstate New York that the system is "absolutely rigged" and that the Republican National Committee should be "ashamed of itself." Trump, who has with 742 delegates, leading rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's 529 delegates, looks unlikely to secure the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the nomination by July.
A potential lawsuit against the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County over the library’s lack of benefits for trans individuals could be the first of its kind in the country, putting Cincinnati on the map again for LGBT issues.
Library employee Rachel Dovel has been transitioning from male to female over the past two years. In February last year, she changed her name legally from Nathan and has come out as transgender. Now, she says she needs gender confirmation surgery to complete her transition and match her physical traits with the gender she identifies with. The library’s insurance doesn’t cover that procedure, however.
The library’s trustees say they haven’t made a decision one way or the other about the coverage and say they’re not trying to discriminate against Dovel. The board’s seven members — President Elizabeth LaMacchia, Vice President Allen G. Zaring IV, Secretary Barbara Trauth, Robert G. Hendon, Monica Donath Kohnen, William Moran and Ross Wright — are appointed to seven-year terms by the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas and the Hamilton County Commission.
The board will consider whether or not to acquire trans-inclusive benefits in August. The coverage will cost a little more than the library’s current plan, though advocates say that price increase is minimal. After a year-long fight to get the surgery, the end of the summer is too long to wait, Dovel says.
“It’s been really stressful,” Dovel says. “This is a surgery I need to get to feel like I’m moving on with my life and not transitioning forever. I just want to live a normal life and I thought I was going to be able to do that last year when I was trying to get the ball moving on getting the surgery scheduled. Transitioning is already hard enough.”
The delay has led Dovel and her attorney to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Pending the EEOC’s response, Dovel’s attorney says they are prepared to file a federal gender-discrimination lawsuit against the library.
“Rachel’s case against the library will be a case of first impression in the country, meaning no employer in the United States has refused to offer coverage for gender confirmation surgery, leading their employee to file a federal lawsuit,” Dovel’s attorney Josh Langdon said at a news conference April 12 in front of the downtown library. “Just like Obergefell v. Hodges, Cincinnati will literally make history with Rachel’s case.”
That case, in which Over-the-Rhine resident Jim Obergefell and a number of other plaintiffs sued the state of Ohio and other states over same-sex marriage bans, eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court and resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country.
Dovel and Langdon say they don’t want their situation to progress that far, but after fighting the library for a year, Langdon says, “We’re nearing the end of the rope."
“I hope they don’t force me to take it that far, but if that’s what it takes,” Dovel says. “This isn’t just about me. There could be future employees or their families who need this medically necessary care.”
Dovel, who works processing books for circulation, has been with the library for more than a decade. She says she believes in the library’s mission and would like to stay there, but also needs the medical care she’s working to get.
Dovel initially sought to have the surgery under the library’s health insurance policy. But she was informed that the policy under Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield did not offer coverage for the procedure. Dovel and attorneys challenged Anthem, saying the fact it did not offer the coverage violated gender discrimination clauses under the Affordable Care Act. The insurance company eventually complied, offering supplemental coverage for transgender care, including the procedure Dovel would like to receive. However, the library has yet to purchase that coverage.
A number of local corporations already offer such coverage, including Macy’s and Kroger. Trans advocates say procedures like the one Dovel is seeking are vital.
“More and more people are recognizing that these things are not only beneficial to transgender people, they’re medically necessary,” says Callie Wright, board member for local trans advocacy organization Heartland Trans Wellness Group. “This is not just us talking who want these surgeries. This is many organizations of medical and mental health professionals, who say these things are as necessary as any other medical treatment.”
The mental health dimension of transgender treatment was tragically illustrated by the death of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who took her own life late in 2014 after her parents refused to permit her to undergo transition procedures.
The April 12 news conference brought local and national advocates including Heartland and a representative for national LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, Cincinnati Police Department LGBT outreach officers and Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach.
“This is about her health care, and her relationship with a medical doctor licensed by the state of Ohio, who says she needs these medical procedures to live her life as a healthy individual," Seelbach said. "That decision should be made between Rachel and her medical doctor, not a politically-appointed medical board.”
Seelbach touts Cincinnati as the first city in the Midwest to offer transgender-inclusive medical benefits and says that, overall, the city has made huge strides from a place that had very restrictive anti-LGBT rights legislation just a decade ago. He said he hopes the library will follow that example.
“It’s time to go forward, following the lead of the city and our corporate community,” Seelbach said. “It’s the right thing to do because of history, it’s the right thing to do because of Rachel’s health.”
• City Council's Budget and Finance Committee has approved a ban on all non-essential city-funded or city-sponsored travel to North Carolina and Mississippi. The committee approved the motion at Monday's meeting put forth by council members Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young, Christopher Smitherman and Vice Mayor David Mann in a vote of 6-2. The ban is a way for Cincinnati to put pressure on North Carolina and Mississippi to reconsider newly created law laws that discriminate against LGBT people. North Carolina's law requires people to use the bathroom of the gender listed on their birth certificate. Mississippi's law allows businesses to refused to serve LGBT people if they object on religious grounds. Council is expected vote on the motion Wednesday.
• Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted wants to overturn a judge's March 15 order that kept polls open an additional hour in Hamilton, Clermont, Warren and Butler counties after a traffic accident tied up greater Cincinnati roads. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott issued the order after a major accident on I-275 on the day of Ohio's presidential primary left many voters claiming they would be unable to reach polls by closing time. The decision was unusual because it was made quickly with no plaintiff and no hearing for evidence. Husted has called Dlott's intervention into the electoral process "unreasonable" and says he's appealing the order because he says he doesn't want to set a precedent with the presidential election on the horizon.
• Warren County transgender teen Leelah Alcorn's Tumblr post five days after her 2014 suicide made national headlines and sparked a national outcry about the controversial practice of conversion therapy, including a promise from President Barack Obama to support a ban. But at a Monday presidential campaign event in Troy, New York, Gov. John Kasich said he's never heard of her. Kasich's response reportedly was from a question about conversion therapy, and his spokesman Joe Andrews later explained Kasich's lapse in memory, saying that the GOP presidential hopeful couldn't recall every tragic death in the state. Last December, conversion therapy in Ohio made headlines again when Cincinnati became the second city in the country after Washington, D.C. to pass a law banning the practice.
The owners of downtown’s Dennison building bought it in 2013 at least in part because of concerns about a proposed plan to turn it into affordable housing, documents filed with Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board reveal.
The revelation comes as Columbia REI, LLC, the owners of the Dennison, look to move forward with controversial plans to demolish the building, constructed in 1892 from designs by noted architect Samuel Hannaford.
The documents, which are downloadable here and were first reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier, show that Dennison owners Columbia Development Corp. — run by the Joseph Auto Group family — purchased the building from an affiliate of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation in August 2013 for $744,000, a price the developer negotiated. 3CDC had purchased the property from The Model Group the month prior for $1.3 million. Model itself purchased the property in 2010 for $700,000 to develop affordable housing with Talbert House. 3CDC has made no comment about the sale.
“This acquisition was necessary to protect the family’s investment in this block of downtown Cincinnati,” the documents, filed in response to conservation board questions, reads. “As media groups have confirmed, and as the family had become aware, 3CDC engaged The Model Group for the remodeling of this building into a facility to be owned, occupied, and used by The Talbert House, a halfway house providing housing for persons who have transitioned through the criminal justice system and incarceration. Since it was believed this type of use would have a damaging effect on their investment in particular and on the neighborhood in general, the family concluded it was necessary to acquire this property. The acquisition would then be a part of the assemblage of the parcels in this block to facilitation a major redevelopment."
Model Group and 3CDC’s plans involved redeveloping the building into 63 one bedroom, one bath units of affordable housing. Reports say the $10 million redevelopment, to which the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority pledged $3.3 million, would have been permanent supportive housing, which provides services and other support for those with disabilities or addiction issues transitioning out of homelessness.Those plans fell through, however.
Cincinnati is more affordable than many major cities, but is still experiencing the national trend of shortage in affordable housing. Rising rents and dwindling subsidized and otherwise affordable units of housing have put a squeeze on low-income individuals. A study by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless found that in order to comfortably afford a two-bedroom apartment at the $769 average monthly rate in Hamilton County, a minimum-wage worker would have to work 73 hours a week. About 24 percent of renters in Cincinnati have incomes below the poverty level.
The Dennison was the last of more than 20 single-room occupancy hotels that dotted downtown; it charged around $90 a week. Another single-room occupancy hotel once occupying the Metropole building was redeveloped into the 21c Museum Hotel in 2012.
The documents from Columbia at one point refer to the Dennison’s former use as a single-room occupancy hotel for low-income individuals as “a flophouse.”
Representatives for the Joseph family point out that the building had fallen into severe disrepair and was “disgraceful,” as the documents call it. Attorney Fran Barrett says the building is in disrepair and poses a danger to passersby, and that's a big reason to tear it down. Columbia seeks to redevelop the property and several adjoining properties into a headquarters for an as-yet undetermined Fortune 500 company. The group envisions “an attractive, Class-A office building” to occupy the 69,000 square foot site, according to Columbia attorney Fran Barrett.
Barrett argues that, though the building was designed by the firm of the noted architect, the Dennison is not one of Hannaford's noteworthy works. He compared Hannaford to Pete Rose and called the Dennison a "broken-bat base hit," according to the Business Courier.
Columbia has been responsible for past demolitions of nearby buildings, and some of the sites of those former buildings are now parking lots, preservation advocates say.
The developer commissioned cost estimates for reusing the Dennison building — a part of the process of getting a demolition permit — and says that reuse of the building as apartments, condos, office space or a hotel is not economically feasible.
The city's Historic Conservation Board will discuss Columbia's demolition permit at its April 18 meeting.
The University of Cincinnati is working on big changes to its police department but still has work ahead of it, a UCPD official said at a conference on police reform yesterday.
University of Cincinnati Police Department Director of Community Relations S. Gregory Baker called the July 19 UCPD shooting of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose “an atrocity” and told a crowd of about 50 that the university is pushing to get a more diverse police force, change training officers receive, add more front-line managers overseeing patrol officers and a number of other changes in the coming months.
Baker spoke at the first event of a five-night conference recognizing the 15th anniversary of civil unrest in Over-the-Rhine over the police shooting death of unarmed Timothy Thomas. Activist Iris Roley and other members of the Black United Front, which helped establish Cincinnati’s Collaborative Agreement in the wake of the unrest, organized the conference. Anti-poverty group the AMOS Project, the Hamilton County Office of Reentry, Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority and a number of other groups helped sponsor the conference, which is being held at the New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn.
Last night’s talk focused specifically on reform efforts underway at UC after UCPD officer Ray Tensing shot and killed DuBose in Mount Auburn after a routine traffic stop for a missing front license plate. Tensing was indicted on murder charges, and UC has paid a $4.6 million settlement to DuBose’s family.
The incident, which sparked peaceful protests and national media attention, has also brought about efforts at deep change at the university, Baker says.
“Unfortunately, we had to arrive at this situation through a very tragic incident,” he said. “No amount of money will bring Mr. DuBose back, so really this reform is bigger than Mr. DuBose. We can’t pay for his life, and we don’t want this to ever happen again.”
One very specific upcoming piece of that puzzle, according to Baker: a report from independent police accountability firm Exiger that will examine department hiring practices, its diversity, its training procedures, use of force policies, traffic stops and arrests. That report will also detail suggestions for reform. It’s due out in June.
Another substantive reform that has already been implemented: The department now has sergeants supervising patrol officers, and officer behavior, stops and arrests are now being monitored for bias and racial disparities.
Those disparities have been huge. Baker says the university ramped up its police force in the years preceding the DuBose shooting, in response to a spike in crime around the university that started around 2008. The school ended up doubling the 35 officers it had in 2013 to 70 in just a year and a half. It’s now the third-largest law enforcement agency in the county behind the Cincinnati Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.
With that increased enforcement came huge racial disparities. The student body on UC’s campus is only 8 percent black, though the neighborhoods surrounding it, especially to the west, have a much larger proportional black population. Increased police activity led to a disproportionate number of stops and arrests of blacks.
Traffic stops went up 300 percent to 2000 in 2015. Arrests also tripled.
But during this time, stops of white individuals actually decreased. Black stops went way up, however. Tickets written by Tensing in the year before he shot DuBose, went to blacks 81 percent of the time.
“Was it racist?” Baker asks about the disparities. “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…”
In the wake of the shooting, UCPD was ordered to roll back its involvement in the communities surrounding the school. Officers can now only stop a person if they are imminently threating someone or if an officer witnesses them committing a crime. Otherwise, university police must call the Cincinnati Police Department.
The department is still wrestling with what its role should be in those communities around the school, Baker says. It’s also working on gaining back trust within those communities.
The university has created a 19-member community advisor council that will weigh in on ongoing reform efforts. That council is made up of students, neighborhood residents around the university and faith leaders. Baker says it’s “very diverse.”
Other reforms are more general and are still materializing. Baker says the department is committed to increasing the number of officers of color on the force. He says that of the 72 officers currently serving in the UCPD, only one is black.
“We have to look at this one African American officer,” he said. “That’s just wrong. The police should reflect the diversity of the community. We have a problem with that at UC.”
There are still unanswered questions, however. When a CityBeat reporter asked about the other officers involved in the DuBose shooting who initially corroborated Tensing’s story in preliminary police reports, Baker shook his head.
“Those officers made statement within the urgency of the situation,” he said. “They blurted things out.” Baker pointed out they gave a more accurate accounting of events before the grand jury that indicted Tensing.
“They corrected their testimony to be consistent with the video tape,” he said. “They knew what was on the tape because they saw it themselves. That’s a very unsettled piece of this. They’re currently still working on the force.”
Baker, who spent 30 years working for the city of Cincinnati in public safety and community development before he came to UCPD in August, says he believes the department is making progress. He said the work the department is doing is vital, given concerns around crime, campus shootings and other public safety issues.
The crime issue will come up again during the five-day community-police relations conference, which also features film screenings, workshops and discussions on Cincinnati Police and the Collaborative Agreement. You can find the full schedule here.
Good morning all. It snowed this weekend. It’s nasty out right now. Insert T.S. Eliot “Wasteland” reference. Let’s not talk about it and just go straight to non-weather related news, shall we?
Cincinnati could get a unified effort to expand preschool offerings to more needy kids. At least, that possibility seems more likely after a gathering yesterday to discuss preschool funding effort Preschool Promise and Cincinnati Public Schools’ own operating levy, which also includes some preschool provisions. Many are worried that if the two efforts aren’t combined, voters confronted with two educationally related levies this November will sink one or both of them.
Representatives from CPS, Preschool Promise and the Cincinnati Business Committee spoke at the panel discussion, which was hosted by anti-poverty group the AMOS Project. All say they’re looking for a way to join forces. CPS’s levy would come in the form of property taxes, while Preschool Promise hasn’t officially announced an ask from taxpayers. But many believe a boost in the city’s earnings tax, which is paid by those who work in Cincinnati, would be the most likely potential funding source. Experts and Preschool Promise boosters cite studies showing that quality preschool can boost a child’s chances of rising out of poverty. Half of Cincinnati’s children live below the poverty line, making the city second worst in the country by that measure. Preschool Promise wants to extend the opportunity to attend preschool, either at CPS or through private preschools, to all of the city’s 9,000 3- and 4-year-olds.
• Cincinnati’s streetcar could start operating Sept. 1 if Cincinnati City Council approves a first-year budget for the transit project it will consider this week. Council’s Budget and Finance Committee will consider that $4.2 million budget drawn up by City Manager Harry Black today. More than $2 million in parking revenues from changes in parking fees in Over-the-Rhine and downtown, $677,000 in rider fares, $450,000 in naming rights, sponsorships and advertising and $11,000 in property tax receipts from reduced tax abatements in OTR and downtown will pay for the streetcar’s first year. Another crucial funding source will be $900,000 pledged by the Haile Foundation for the streetcar’s first year.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach, officials with national LGBT group the Human Rights Campaign, transgender activist Paula Ison and others are pushing the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to extend medical benefits for transgender employees. One of those employees, Rachel Dovel, is seeking gender confirmation surgery, which the library’s insurance policy does not cover. Dovel has worked at the library for a decade. The library’s board of directors recently declined to change its employee insurance in response to a request from Dovel, and now attorneys representing her have brought up the possibility of legal action. The library board has said it hasn’t made any final decisions on the request and is researching the possible change. The city of Cincinnati provides such benefits to its employees, as do several of the city’s large corporations like Kroger and Macy’s. Seelbach and representatives from LGBT groups will hold a press conference tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in front of the library’s Vine Street entrance to discuss the issue, according to a news release from Dovel’s attorneys.
• A week-long panel on the aftermath of the 2001 unrest and its legacy kicks off tonight at the New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn. The conference is hosted by activists and organizations responsible for the city's historic Collaborative Agreement. A presentation by law enforcement officials to give updates on developments in the Sam DuBose case will start at 6 p.m. The conference will also include film screenings, panel discussions and workshops throughout the week. Find out more details here. In the meantime, read CityBeat's story on the aftermath of 2001, which includes reams of data on policing, economics in the black community and demographic changes in Over-the-Rhine since the unrest there.
• Last week, we told you about efforts by Cincinnati City Council banning non-essential city-funded travel to North Carolina, which passed harsh laws allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals on religious grounds. Now, the city of Dayton has also passed similar legislation, cutting off city-funded travel to that state and Mississippi, which has also passed similar laws. Dayton Mayor Nann Whaley last week issued a memo explaining that the move comes because the legislation in those states violates the inclusive values that Dayton represents. Other municipalities and local governments in Ohio have also passed similar travel bans, including Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located.
• Well, it’s probably happening. Things look more and more likely to get live in Cleveland this summer as the Republican Party inches closer to a contested presidential primary convention there. Frontrunner Donald Trump has taken something of a nosedive, leaving it quite possible, even probable, that none of the GOP’s candidates will get the requisite 1,237 delegates needed to grab the party’s nomination outright. Trump took a beating in Wisconsin last week, narrowing considerably the path to the magic number for him. That’s good news — perhaps the only good news — for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is trailing a distant third behind Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. So what’s Kasich thinking? Here’s his contested convention strategy.
• Meanwhile, is there a dark horse waiting in this primary circus? Some people think so, and they also believe that horse has two first names and went to my alma mater. That’s right — Miami University alum and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s name continues to float around as a possible entrant into the nomination battle. Republicans would have to change a rule they set that keeps any candidate who has not won a majority of delegates in eight states from entering the nomination proceedings, but they could do that.
There are reasons to think he might — he’s been on international trips with U.S. allies, his staff released a campaign-like video featuring Ryan talking about uniting the country and he’s outwardly taking other steps to run what some call “a parallel campaign” to counter the angry messages Trump and Cruz have used to rise to prominence. The question is whether that campaign is purely to boost an alternative vision of the Republican Party — one that is still staunchly conservative but outwardly less hostile and destructive — or whether there is the seed of a convention challenge in the efforts. Time will tell.
Yesterday we told you about a Cincinnati City Council move to ban non-essential city-funded travel to North Carolina in the aftermath of legislation there legalizing certain discrimination against members of the LGBT community. Council also wants to go further than that by turning their opposition into opportunity. The motion authored by Councilman Chris Seelbach and signed by fellow council members Wendell Young, Yvette Simpson, Kevin Flynn, Christopher Smitherman and Vice Mayor David Mann directs the city to work at attracting businesses leaving North Carolina due to its new law. Seelbach has also indicated he’ll amend the motion to include Mississippi, which recently passed similar “religious freedom” laws allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals.
• One-hundred years ago this month, Cincinnati voters did something brave and nearly unthinkable: voting to build a massive, cutting-edge citywide transit project. Yes, I’m talking about the Cincinnati subway system. We all know the sad end to that story, but did you know the city continues to perform maintenance on the tunnels to keep them viable for future use? Or that less than 15 years ago, a regional transit plan went before voters that proposed utilizing the tunnels for light rail (called MetroMoves, it failed by a 2-1 margin, by the way). Anyway, the city’s phantom subway system got some national attention this week. As you might expect from national coverage of a local issue, the article has some big, kind of head-scratching inaccuracies, but it’s worth checking out all the same.
• A century later, it turns out we’re still trying to figure out transit, though some cities are moving faster than others. The Northern Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, the transit authority that serves Cleveland and the surrounding areas, for instance, recently announced a 20-year initiative to improve social equity through transit opportunities, especially for citizens without cars. That plan looks to right what the authority says have been lopsided spending priorities that privilege highway funding at the expense of transit for those who don’t own cars.
• Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black received some national recognition this week, making Government Technology magazine’s “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers” list. Black joins other government administrators from across the country on the list, which touts his efforts to bring big data analytics to Cincinnati City Hall. You can see the article about Black here.
• So, The Banks has been open for five years now. How is the massive development effort going? Things are still shaky, according to this report on the restaurant and bar scene at the riverfront development, but with big boosts on the horizon. The years-long, multi-million-dollar development effort has seen some high-profile closures over the past few years, including Toby Keith’s, Mahogany’s and others. That’s meant less rent coming in for the developer of those spaces, who argues that the county needs to revise its tax valuations on The Banks in response to the challenges. But General Electric’s new office space and the coming addition of 300 more apartments at The Banks could give the next spurt of energy the development needs to stabilize, and a new hotel slated to open next year could also provide a big boost.
• Northern Kentucky University today is hosting an all-day conference on economic inequality. The event, put on by the International Peace and Justice Center, will explore work being done in the region to increase economic opportunities for communities around Cincinnati and will feature community organizers, academics, authors and more. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is free to the public.
• Finally, fault lines around race and economics continue to play a big role in the 2016 presidential primaries. Yesterday, former president Bill Clinton argued with Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia during a speech he gave promoting his wife, Democrat presidential primary contender Hillary Clinton.
The exchange is especially significant because Philly will be the site of the Democratic National Convention this summer. As activists protested him, Clinton defended his 1990s-era law enforcement reforms that many say increased mass incarceration, saying that the BLM activists in attendance were supporting criminals and murderers. Clinton himself has been apologetic about those reforms in the past, saying they “overshot the mark” in being tough on crime, contributing to high levels of incarceration for blacks.
At the event yesterday, Clinton also defended his wife’s statement during the 1990s calling some black youth “super predators,” a remark Hillary has apologized for on the presidential primary campaign trail. The testy exchange angered liberal activists and caused pundits to wonder if Clinton had made a big error for his wife’s campaign. But this piece in the Washington Post suggests it wasn’t an error at all, but a pivot in message for HRC’s campaign ahead of the general election, where she’ll need white voters in a fight against a Republican opponent. Ah, politics.
I’m out. Have a great weekend.