Say you’ve got a friend from out of town coming to Cincinnati. You really want to give them a warm welcome. What’s the best party in town for a newcomer? That’s right: a 2.5 hour hang sesh with city council!
Yesterday, members of council grilled Mayor John Cranley’s pick for city manager Harry Black about his specific vision for the city. Black already gave some broad outlines of his approach last week, but council wanted to get down to brass tacks. It was the predictable theater production these kinds of appointment hearings usually are, with Black providing careful, not terribly specific answers to questions from council members, most notably Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson, about specific ideas he would implement as the second-most powerful member of city government.
Black says he would need to assess where the city stands before making any drilled-down proposals. But as the Business Courier points out in its story today, he did tip his hand a bit on the streetcar, saying the city has limited amounts of money and that anything after the current phase of the project is something for future discussions. Black looks as if he’ll play pretty close to Cranley’s game plan for the city, which could well pit him against some members of council on a number of issues. That should make this afternoon’s full-council discussion and vote on his appointment interesting.
• As I mentioned yesterday, Cincinnati’s 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. Demonstrations against gay marriage bans took place last night downtown and will continue today outside the courthouse. Religious groups supporting the bans are also encouraging followers to turn out. Stay tuned for more on the court’s rulings.
• Also happening today — Hamilton County Commissioners will decide whether to put a .25 percent sales tax increase on the ballot to fund the renovation of Union Terminal and Music Hall. There has been a lot of wrangling about this proposal as the commissioners and anti-tax groups look for more financial input from the city. Meanwhile, supporters of the tax say it’s now or never for the renovations. Various alternative proposals have been floated, including cutting Music Hall from the deal or charging fees on tickets to events at the landmarks. We’ll report the commissioners’ decision when it comes down. They meet at 11 a.m.
• Also also happening today — Rev. Jesse Jackson will be at City Hall discussing a proposed amendment to the Constitution regarding voting rights in commemoration of today’s 49th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Mayor John Cranley and State Rep. Alicia Reece will introduce Jackson at 1 p.m.
• Toledo’s toxic algae woes may not be over, according to scientists. Last weekend the city advised citizens not to drink or bathe with water from the municipal water supply due to high levels of toxins from algae in Lake Erie. The algae has been increasing intensely due to runoff from large-scale farming and other industries. Scientists warn that it’s still early in the season for the algae, which usually peaks in late August. They also say the underlying conditions that caused the water emergency are nowhere near mitigated, though the city has taken extra precautions in purifying municipal water.
• When it comes to economics, it’s hard to get more mainstream than Standard and Poor’s, the financial analysis giant owned by McGraw-Hill. S&P authors the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is one of the few elite credit-rating agencies. Not exactly a leftist revolutionary group, then. But even this Wall Street giant has begun raising alarms about income inequality, releasing a report yesterday about the pragmatic hazards of the growing gap between the rich and the rest in the United States. The report sheds moral considerations about inequality, of course, in favor of cold, hard economics. And here, the gap has slowed growth and hindered our economy, the report says.
“Our review of the data, as well as a wealth of research on this matter, leads us to conclude that the current level of economic inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world’s biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population,” the report summarizes.
• Finally, the world has come to this: There’s a big fight brewing over who owns the rights to a selfie a monkey took back in 2011. Selfies weren’t quite the phenomenon they are now, so first and foremost I applaud the crested black macaque who snapped a pretty great pic of herself for being ahead of the curve. The photo happened when a British photographer set up his gear to trigger remotely as he was trying to get a candid photo of a group of the wild macaques in Indonesia. The monkey in question grabbed the gear and eventually found the shutter button, snapping hundreds of pics of herself and her surroundings.
Most were blurry, but a couple are crisp and colorful, and really, much better looking than any selfie I’ve ever attempted, which is depressing. Anyway, Wikimedia has posted the photo in its collection of more than 20 million royalty-free images. The photographer has sued Wikimedia to take the photo down, but the group, which runs Wikipedia, has claimed that since the monkey took the picture,
it owns the copyright to the image the photographer doesn't own the image. The group has yet to receive a cease-and-desist letter from said monkey, though rumor has it the macaque has asked that her Instagram and Tumblr handles be included when the photo is used online.
UPDATE: I pride myself on rarely having to do corrections, but they got me on this one. Apparently, Wikimedia isn't claiming that the monkey has the copyright, though I haven't checked to see if the monkey is feeling litigious. From the company:
Sometimes, all the forces of the universe conspire to make every important thing possible happen on the same day, at the same time. That day is tomorrow, when City Council will meet for the first time since its summer recess, Hamilton County Commissioners will vote on the icon tax and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in four states. To make sure you're ready, let's review a couple big upcoming news events, shall we?
• Time is ticking down for a possible tax hike deal to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. County Commissioners have until tomorrow to decide whether or not a proposed .25 percent sales tax will end up on the November ballot, and there’s no indication that two of the three commissioners are leaning toward voting for the tax as-is. At issue is the city’s contribution and the age-old city vs. county dynamic. Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann, both Republican, say they want a bigger financial commitment from the city, a sign of long-term buy-in. Monzel has floated the idea of cutting Music Hall out of the deal, since he says that building is the city’s responsibility and Union Terminal has more history county-wide. He’s said an alternative sales tax proposal could be ready for tomorrow’s meeting if a deal for both buildings can’t be reached. Another alternate idea involves ticket fees for those attending events at the buildings.
The city has pledged to continue the $200,000 a year it pays toward upkeep for each building and has committed an additional $10 million for Music Hall. Commissioners have said that isn’t enough. They’ll vote at their weekly meeting tomorrow on whether to put the issue on the ballot for voters to weigh.
• Tomorrow is a big day for other reasons. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. It will be a decisive moment for the marriage equality movement, which has been on a winning streak in the courts lately. The Supreme Court last June struck down a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and since then many courts have ruled against gay marriage bans and other laws restricting recognition of same-sex marriages. But two of the three judges on the appellate board here are appointees from former President George W. Bush’s time in office and have a record of rulings supporting conservative values. Both opponents and supporters of the bans have rallies planned during the 1 p.m. hearings. Religious groups in the area, including the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, are urging followers to pray for the judges. The church has voiced strong support for Ohio’s gay marriage ban, passed in 2004.
• An effort to open a cooperative grocery store in Clifton is coming down to the wire, an Enquirer report says. The proposed market has met a quarter of its $1.65 million fundraising goal, officials with the group say. That money comes from shares anyone can buy to become a part owner of the store and would go toward buying the former Keller’s IGA building on Ludlow Avenue. The Clifton Cooperative Market group is under contract to buy the building, but that contract expires Oct. 11. The group envisions an “upmarket” grocery that provides both staple goods and specialty items. If the group can get half the money, officials say, it will become easier to secure financing for the rest through bank loans.
• Miami University is tops! The local university ranks high on a few just-released Princeton Review lists, though not necessarily all positive ones. Miami is the nation’s 11th best party school, the review finds. It’s rocketed up five spots from last year, passing rival Ohio University. As an alum, I can tell you the recognition is long overdue. However, the school is also ranked fifth on the “little race and class interaction” list. So if you like partying with 16,000 friends who look a whole lot like you (assuming you look like an extra from a Brooks Brothers casual wear catalogue shoot) I’ve got the school for you. The school also ranked high for Greek life (sixth) and its entrepreneurial program (12th).
• Finally, a story about grandmothers in Aurora, Indiana who have taken up a new hobby — firearms. Two senior women there started a gun education group in May after being robbed. Women Armed and Ready, or WAR, trains women on proper use of handguns for self-defense, firearm laws and target shooting.
“My gun is the answer to anybody who thinks I'm an old lady living alone,” says WAR member Barb Marness. Enough said.
Hey all. As we all collectively recover from sitting in Washington Park for hours camped out for LumenoCity, let’s talk about what’s going on in the wide world, shall we?
The Cincinnati Police Department has released a report (scroll down to page four in that agenda) about the effectiveness of the anti-prostitution barriers on McMicken, which the city put up in May and took down last week. According to the report, the barricades did reduce prostitution, though some activity simply shifted to nearby blocks in Over-the-Rhine.
• The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center celebrated its 10th anniversary Sunday. After contention about its creation and financial struggles early in its existence, the museum and conference center looks to be on a very positive trajectory. Despite debt and a $1 million-plus operating deficit as recently as 2011, the Freedom Center has proven resilient. A July 2012 merger with the Museum Center has helped, as well as contributions from donors and the Center’s continually nationally recognized exhibitions and events. Attendance revenue is up 35 percent at the Center, a Cincinnati Enquirer article says, and the Center’s endowment is growing. On a personal note, this is one of my favorite places in the city, and the news that it’s doing well is great to hear indeed.
• The big story this morning is in Toledo, which is now in its third day without water due to contamination from algae. Four-hundred-thousand residents woke up Saturday morning to a warning from the city instructing them not to use tap water for drinking, showering or cleaning. Making matters worse, boiling the water only increases the concentration of toxins, so the water is completely unusable. Toledo’s Mayor D. Michael Collins announced Monday that tests of the water supply showed it was getting safer after clean-up efforts, but wanted more time to ensure it is completely safe. Residents Sunday night were told it would probably be safe to shower quickly or do laundry. Meanwhile, Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency Saturday, the National Guard began shipping in vats of water and grocery stores were picked clean of bottled water.
Experts say the current situation has been building for a decade, as sewage, farm and industrial runoff builds in Lake Erie. That’s supported the explosive growth of algae, which produces toxins that can cause liver problems and general illness, including nausea and dizziness. The toxins can also kill pets.
• Hamilton County Commissioners at their staff meeting this morning will discuss whether to put the so-called icon tax on the November ballot. As of Friday, none of the three commissioners were completely on board with any of the scenarios for a proposed tax hike to pay for renovations to Union Terminal and Music Hall, though the commissioners have expressed interest in finding a proposal that works for everyone. Probably the hardest to sway will be Commissioner Todd Portune, who said he doesn’t feel “any pressure at all” to vote in favor of a tax plan. At issue: how much the city should chip in for the renovations and whether it would be more appropriate to pay for at least some of the renovations with fees added to tickets to events at the facilities. The commissioners must make a decision by Aug. 6.
• LumenoCity wrapped up last night, and by all accounts it was a big success. The three-day event, which combined a light show projected onto Music Hall with a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance, drew 37,500 people who reserved tickets online in order to enter the park. This year, festivities included LumenoCity village, where folks could shop and hang out whether they had a ticket or not. I went Sunday, and it was great to see so many people mingling. Plus the Charley Harper tribute was especially amazing. But a thought: Who was left out by the ticketing system, which was predominantly administered online? Also, it’s interesting to think about spending $1 million on an hour-and-a-half-long light show in a historically low-income neighborhood when that’s the same amount of money the city has budgeted for social service agencies for the whole year. Just a thought.
• Finally, this story is the stuff of nightmares. Some kind of mechanical failure caused an explosion in an eggnog vat at a food lab in New Jersey. The ‘nog is one of my least favorite things in the world, and the thought of a violent explosion of the stuff is stomach-turning, to say the least. No one was killed in the blast (what a way to go that would be) but two scientists were injured and an entire back wall of the lab was blown down. One final thought about this whole thing — the establishment cooking up the beverage is called Pharmachem. Sounds delicious.
Hey all. Did you miss me? I ditched the morning news yesterday to
see if anyone noticed I was gone go find out more about Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley’s pick to be city manager. You can read all about what he’ll do if he gets the job here, but I’ll offer a brief recap. Black wants to play the long game, working on the city’s long-term financial planning and setting up something similar to the ten-year plan he worked on as the city of Baltimore’s finance head. He said he would stay away from the politics of some of the city’s more contentious projects like the streetcar, instead offering analytical and technical contributions to those undertakings.
• The barriers erected in May along McMicken Ave. in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview came down yesterday as originally scheduled. (Actually, I passed through the area on the way home from a show Wednesday night and they were already down by that point). The three blockades on various parts of the street were designed to cut down the high levels of prostitution happening in the area. The jury is out on whether or not the approach worked; some in the neighborhood say it actually made the problem worse and have filed a lawsuit to keep the city from putting them back up in the future, though others are much more positive about the outcome. Some claim the problem simply moved to other neighborhoods like Price Hill. The city is now weighing more permanent efforts to cut down prostitution in Cincinnati, including publishing the names of convicted johns.
• Ugh. Normally, I don’t roll individual crime reporting into the morning news, but this instance is just so scummy I feel like it has to be mentioned. Three men were arrested yesterday for allegedly assaulting a man named Johnny Hensley as he left the Drop-Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine, where he’d been staying. The assault happened Sunday at about 3 a.m., police say, and lasted for about 15 minutes. The three allegedly approached Hensley from behind and began punching him. Advocates for the homeless are calling it a hate crime.
• Here’s some good news. Ohio students entering high school as freshmen will get the chance to take the ACT and SAT when they become juniors free of charge. The Ohio Department of Education will pick up the tab for the cost of those tests as part of an effort to boost higher education among Ohioans. The tests usually cost about $50 each, and sometimes you may have to take them a couple times each to get a decent score. Well, I did, at least.
• The concentration of poverty in America’s suburbs is accelerating, a new brief by the Brookings Institution says. The release is an update of a 2011 study that showed the poor are increasingly found in the suburbs, counter to the common perception of poverty as something that is solely an inner-city problem. The numbers, which have been updated with the latest data from the Census American Community Survey, are pretty shocking. From 2000 to 2012, populations of poor folks increased by 139 percent in the suburbs, compared to a 50 percent increase in urban areas. In the Cincinnati area, the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs jumped by 70 percent in that time, compared to a 13 percent jump in the number of people living in poverty in the city.
• As the debate of immigration continues its nauseating, repetitious drone, the GOP congressional delegation has had something of a meltdown over the past couple days. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives yesterday seemed poised to vote on and pass a border security bill that would have given at least some money, though not as much as Democrats would like, for addressing the humanitarian crisis along America’s southern border. The bill was packed with conservative-friendly provisions, including a measure that would mean immediate deportation for young, unaccompanied migrants fleeing drug-related turmoil in Central America. But even that wasn’t conservative enough, and the bill was pulled before a vote after it became clear the tea party element of Congress would not support it. Lawmakers are trying again today to get enough support for some effort to address the border crisis, though there is no indication whether they will be successful. Congress is scheduled to be in recess after today until September.
• Right now, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other areas in western Africa are experiencing a deadly flare-up of the Ebola virus. More than 700 people have died from the disease, and about a thousand more have taken ill. Now, a U.S. aid worker infected with the virus, which has a 60 to 90 percent mortality rate, is coming to an Atlanta hospital for treatment. She or he will be the first known person with Ebola in the United States, experts say, though doctors and disease specialists say there is little chance the virus will spread here. The disease is terrifying, beginning as cold-like symptoms before escalating into an all-out assault on the body that can literally melt your organs. Researchers are working on a vaccine, and may be ready to test it by September.
Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley’s pick for the next city manager, spoke today about his ideas for keeping Cincinnati’s momentum moving forward.
At a news conference outside City Hall this morning, Black pledged that should he be selected to be city manager, his office would be transparent and accountable as it seeks to boost economic development, improve financial planning and preserve safety in the city. The city manager is arguably the second most powerful position in city government behind the mayor, hiring department heads and making day-to-day choices on the way the city runs.
Black currently serves as the finance director for the city of
Baltimore, a role he says has prepared him to be Cincinnati’s city manager.
“They’re both rustbelt cities,” Black said of Baltimore and Cincinnati. “They’re both challenged in similar ways. What may vary is scale. But the issues here are issues that I’ve seen.”
Black has been involved in political dustups in some of his past jobs, but has more than 25 years of public service experience and reams of positive recommendations. In his remarks today, he pledged to guide the city to a more long-term outlook on finances while forging an analytic rather than political approach to big issues.
He also said he would “think outside the box” in working to lift up Cincinnati’s low-income neighborhoods.
“We’ll have a segment of the community that may need help it terms of being employable,” he said. “As a local government, we have to be certain that we make that a priority as well. We may have to create economic opportunity and connect that segment of the community to those opportunities.”
Black, 51, grew up in Park Heights, a rough neighborhood in Baltimore, and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Mayor Cranley highlighted Black’s story when introducing his pick today. “Having grown up in the urban core, he pulled himself up, got himself educated and has had a very successful career in public service,” Cranley said.
Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black says his experience with long-term financial planning is what makes him the right choice.
“We can’t sustain and prosper by just balancing budgets,” he said. “We have to find ways to go beyond just balancing budgets, which is what we did in Baltimore in respects to the 10-year plan that we put in place. Black said “a longer-term approach” is important “not just in terms of filling budget shortfalls but also finding ways to reinvest back into the city.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. In addition to shoring up long-term financial planning here, he said he would create new ways for innovation to happen in the city. Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness.
Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
“I’m not a pitbull,” he said at the conference, “and only time will allow you to see that.”
Black said he would stay out of the politics of city government in favor of focusing on practical and technical aspects of the job, especially when it comes to controversial issues like the streetcar. Black said his job would be to provide technical and analytical input for council’s decisions.
“In terms of the streetcar project … the legislators have legislated this initiative and this project. It’s incumbent on me and my team to make sure that it’s executed, but to make sure that it’s executed in a cost-effective and responsible way,” he said. “As a city manager, I would rely on the idea that the legislative process is going to yield what the people want.”
Janet Reid, a Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and 3CDC Board Member, was part of the screening process that selected Black. She praised his abilities.
“I could recognize very early on that he has an unusual mixture of talents that would be just right mix for our city,” she said. “That includes the ability to look deeply into details as well as see the big picture.” Reid highlighted Black’s long public service career, praising what she called his proven track record.
Whether council chooses Black for city manager or not, the gig may be short-lived. Councilman Christopher Smitherman has proposed amending Cincinnati’s charter to create a so-called executive mayor. That would eliminate the city manager position and give the mayor’s office power over many elements of the current city manager’s role. Cranley has voiced support for the idea, though Smitherman has said he doesn’t think he has the votes on council to pass the measure and may need to collect voter signatures to get it on the ballot.
Smitherman, along with Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and Vice Mayor David Mann, attended today’s news conference introducing prospective City Manager Black.
The Senate (America’s most powerful deliberative body, not the hotdog place on Vine Street) voted yesterday
to approve former P&G CEO Bob McDonald as head of the Department of
Veterans Affairs. The vote was 97-0, and while such approvals are
usually kind of a mundane procedural affair, they’ve been pretty
difficult with many Obama nominees due to a pretty rowdy, partisan
Senate. Some expected McDonald to have some trouble during the
process, but the near-unanimous vote signals a vote of confidence in
the former Army Ranger and Cincinnati native. McDonald has pledged to
make reforms to the troubled VA within 90 days of starting his new gig.
• Mayor John Cranley has indicated his pick for the city’s next City Manager — Harry Black, finance director for the city of Baltimore. Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black, 51, grew up in a rough neighborhood in Baltimore and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”
Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. He sees a “tremendous” potential in Cincinnati and would like to shore up long-term financial planning here as well as create new ways for innovation to happen in the city.
Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness. Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.
• The city has unveiled the design for the streetcar’s power station. It appears the station, which will run power to the streetcar lines, will be a big rectangle on Court Street made out of bricks. It will also be adorned with artwork and some steel pieces, making it only slightly more visually interesting than the proposed GE building at The Banks.
What’s more interesting, to me, at least, is the logic behind the building’s location. It can’t go on Central Parkway, officials say, because of structural issues with the subway tunnels. And it can’t go in the subway tunnels because, according to the Business Courier, the long-term transit plan for Greater Cincinnati calls for the tunnels to be used for rail transit some day. I’m not holding my breath for the subway to start operating (that’s how many of my ancestors passed away), but it would be awesome to see rail travel going through those tunnels someday.
The city also revealed it will replace the 14 parking spaces the building would eliminate, answering concerns about parking loss due to the new structure.
• If you have plans this weekend that involve traversing
I-71, beware. The southbound side of the highway will be closed at the
Dana Avenue exit from Friday, Aug. 1 at 10 p.m. until Monday, Aug. 4 at 5
a.m. If you try to go that way, you’ll be routed along the Norwood
Lateral to I-75. Just a heads up.
• A recent piece on urban planning and development blog UrbanCincy.com asks some good questions about a large proposed 3CDC development at 15th and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine. The development, which is currently on hold, would look a lot like Mercer Commons just to the south, span most of a block, contain 300 parking spaces, 22,000 square feet of retail, and just 57 residential units. The piece questions whether the development as planned is really in the spirit of what residents want and what’s best for one of the city’s most promising pedestrian neighborhoods. It’s worth a read.
• Finally, a new Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, up 12 points over his challenger, Democrat Ed FitzGerald. That’s a huge gap, with FitzGerald trailing badly in terms of the number of Ohio voters who recognize his name. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they had no opinion of FitzGerald. That’s bad news, but it’s better than the 15-point deficit FitzGerald had in May, the last time the poll was done. Still, he has serious ground to cover in the three months before the November election. The challenger has been campaigning for more than a year and a half on promises to make higher education more affordable and reform the state’s charter school system, among a number of other talking points. FitzGerald’s campaign is heavily outgunned financially, with just under $2 million to Kasich’s $9 million. The challenger’s campaign recently launched its first TV ad, though Kasich has been running them for months.
Good morning all! Here's what's happening today.
A Hamilton County judge yesterday ordered the city to pay back the $4 million it borrowed from neighborhood funds in 2012. We reported on that money and other budget-related cuts to neighborhood funds in June. Common Pleas Judge Robert Gorman wasn’t amused, called the arrangement, which borrowed a total of $5 million from 12 neighborhoods, “creative financing.” He ordered the city to avoid such arrangements in the future. The city has paid off $1 million of the loan and had originally intended to pay the rest back in 2015. But that repayment was pushed until 2017 in Mayor Cranley’s recent budget. Now, the remaining money will be paid back on a court-ordered timeline that has not yet been set. The city hasn’t budgeted for that quicker repayment, though it says giving the money back won’t affect city services. The city originally borrowed the money to cover a debt to Cincinnati Public Schools.
• Mayor Cranley announced yesterday that the city is willing to commit $200,000 a year for 25 years toward upkeep of Union Terminal, a show of support that seems aimed at convincing Hamilton County Commissioners to put the so-called icon tax on the November ballot. The Cultural Facilities Task Force, a group of business leaders tasked with finding ways to renovate the crumbling train station as well as the city’s historic Music Hall, suggested the .25 percent tax hike earlier this summer as the best way to raise some of the estimated $330 million or more needed to fix up the buildings. The city already pays the $200,000 a year to help with Union Terminal’s maintenance requirements, but it isn’t required to do so. Cranley’s proposal would simply lock that amount in long-term.
• Dog owners in Cincinnati could soon be held more responsible for vicious pets. When it gets together again next week after its summer recess, City Council will consider an ordinance proposed by Councilman Chris Seelbach that would impose up to six months in jail for owners of dogs who seriously injury people. The proposed law doesn’t stipulate certain breeds and kicks in the first time a dog injures someone. Currently, no such penalties exist. A violent attack on a 6-year-old girl by two pit bulls in June resulted in only a $150 fine for the dogs’ owner.
“For decades the city of Cincinnati has given a free pass to owners of dangerous and vicious dogs who attack children, adults and other pets in our community," Seelbach told The Enquirer. "The vast majority of these attacks are due to negligent and irresponsible owners. It's time to eliminate the free pass."
• More trouble for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and this time it’s local. According to a federal report released Monday, accusations have surfaced that the Cincinnati VA hospital engaged in manipulation of patient wait-time data. Officials at the 277-bed hospital in Corryville altered records to hide the amount of time patients had to wait for care, according to an anonymous whistleblower cited in the report. Charges of record manipulation covering up long wait times for patients have brought intense scrutiny to the entire VA, sparking further investigation of 112 VA clinics nationally. Wait time data is tied to employee performance reviews and bonuses.
• After years of preparation, school districts in Ohio are gearing up for final implementation of national Common Core educational standards. As they do so, Republican lawmakers in the statehouse are working to repeal those guidelines. State Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta has introduced a bill to replace Common Core with state-specific benchmarks based in part on those used in Massachusetts. Thompson calls Common Core “the wrong road.” The standards were developed by education experts and politicians over a number of years and focus more on critical thinking skills in math and reading. The new benchmarks have caused criticism from both conservatives and liberals, however. Those to the right say the standards represent a federal takeover of education, while some on the left see massive benefits to large education companies like Pearson and see a corporate takeover of the school system.
• Hey, y’all seen that Snow Piercer movie? So this next thing is just like that, but also kind of the opposite. Basically, both are icy and really dystopian. If you’re the kind of person who is really into apocalyptic stuff, you’ve got $20,000-$40,000 lying around and you’re also into irony, have I got a deal for you. You can now take a climate change-themed cruise ship through parts of the arctic that, until recently, were impassible by boat due to, you know, being covered in ice like they're supposed to be. However, thanks to global warming, it's now possible to take a luxury liner from Alaska, swing north of the Arctic Circle, pop out near Greenland and be in New York City a month later. And for only the average yearly salary of a school teacher, you can do it.
The high end of the price range will get you a penthouse suite on the ship, all the better for watching sea waters rise and arctic seals and polar bears
cling desperately to ice floes bask in the newly balmy temperatures. The 68,000-ton,13-deck, 1,000-passenger ship, which has three times the per-passenger carbon footprint of a 747, is called the Crystal Serenity, of course, because nothing is more serene than watching the planet come apart at the seams before your very eyes. Pure magic.
It's Monday and stuff is already getting crazy. Here's the good, the bad and the befuddling in the news today.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones shared his thoughts Friday on… something… ostensibly related to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s recently announced immigration initiative. The initiative looks to attract documented immigrants who will contribute to economic growth in the region. Jones, who is well known for his vocal and strident opposition to immigration, went somewhere else entirely with it. Of note: Jones doesn’t seem to know the mayor’s name, calling him “Mayor Cranby” on 700 WLW. Anyway, Jones applauds Mayor
Cranberry’s Cranley's plan, or the imaginary version of it he's conjured, for some fairly nontraditional reasons. I’ll just let him tell ya what’s on his mind:
“I want [Cincinnati] to be a haven for illegal aliens also,” he said. “Really I do. If Cincinnati, with all the violence, the killings they have every night in downtown Cincinnati … anybody that’s illegal in the country, let alone in Butler County, I encourage them to go there. If you’re listening today, if you’re illegal, you’ve committed crime, the mayor, Cranley or Cranby or whatever his name is, wants you to come to Cincinnati. I encourage it.”
Jones, you see, is freaked out about all the undocumented folks streaming into Butler County and would rather they come to a place like Cincinnati where someone gets shot downtown every night (note: this is not even remotely reality, but let’s keep moving). Jones was making the rounds Friday, also appearing on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze (where, puzzlingly, he posed in front of a picture of Cincinnati's skyline, probably because Hamilton's isn't nearly as epic or dangerous-looking). He went on the show to raise alarms about the incredibly dangerous influx of undocumented immigrants caused by Obama’s lax immigration policies and the upswing in horrific crimes that has happened since. Oh, and they’re going to spread disease because they haven’t been immunized. Jones is worried about that, too.
Except a few things. State data shows crimes in Butler County have been steady or falling since 2007, including the drug-related crimes and violent offenses Jones cites. And while the sheriff vaguely highlighted a couple tragic and genuinely reprehensible individual examples, the flood of immigrant-related crime seems hard to find statistically. Also, epidemiologists say that refugees and immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America often have similar or even greater vaccination rates than U.S. citizens and pose little threat of spreading diseases. Finally, pinning a surge in illegal immigration on the Obama boogeyman is tough, since his administration has been pretty active in deporting undocumented immigrants. But, y'know, immigrants are scary and all.
• LumenoCity organizers have something new in store this year: an interactive website, app and social media presence that will stream the event live as well as aggregate social media posts about the event, which takes place in Washington Park and combines a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance with a dramatic light show projected onto Music Hall. The interactive portion will be introduced during the July 31 dress rehearsal, which has been opened up to an audience due to overwhelming demand for tickets to the event, which takes place Aug. 1 through Aug. 3.
• While you’re at LumenoCity this weekend — or, if you didn’t get tickets, hanging out around the park craning your neck to see what’s going on — you can pick up a new card designed to promote the arts in Over-the-Rhine. The Explore OTR card will be distributed by the small arts organizations in the city like Know Theatre and the Art Academy. After you’ve used the card at five of these smaller venues, you can redeem it for deals at larger arts organizations like the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Pretty cool.
• After some stinging criticism of General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks, some hand-wringing has commenced as to whether the gargantuan, decade-in-the-making development along the Ohio River is too boring (spoiler: probably).
A quote from Jim Fitzgerald, who sits on the city’s Urban Design Review Board:
"We have been disappointed with the quality of architecture on The Banks to date other than the stadiums. The stadiums are of reasonably good architecture, but the other buildings are very vanilla, very uninteresting, very disappointing."
The review board looks at all plans for buildings before construction begins, though their role is strictly advisory and their advice to the city is non-binding. Others, including city and county leaders, have pointed out that all the buildings currently constructed or planned for the site meet the standards the city has set out and say that the project is a work in progress.
• I’m always trying to get my out of town friends hooked on Cincinnati chili, with varying degrees of success. Skyline, it seems, is doing the same, making plans to open a fifth location in Louisville. Why Louisville? My guess: It’s just close enough that on a clear day, with the wind blowing just right, the fragrance of that sweet but spicy meat sauce wafts across the rolling landscape between the cities and entices Kentuckians the same way it does Cincy natives. Or there are just a lot of people originally from Cincinnati who now live there. Probably the latter. Currently, the chain operates stores in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and five locations in Florida, of all places. Go forth, Skyline, and spread the gospel of mountainous cheese and tiny hotdogs.
As we reported yesterday, Mayor John Cranley rolled out his new immigration task force at Music Hall. The volunteer group, made up of 78 community leaders split into five committees, will look for ways to make Cincinnati a welcoming city for immigrants with an eye toward economic development and growth. The initiative is in its early stages, with committees scheduled to report their findings and suggestions in December. No word so far on hot-button issues like undocumented immigrants, but you can read more about the task force and the work it will be doing in the above blog post.
The mayor also mentioned another immigration-related effort underway, though one unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and the Catholic Archdiocese are working to find ways to house some child refugees who have come to the U.S. through Mexico from Central America, fleeing turmoil related to drug violence in their home countries. The groups have applied for federal grant money through the Department of Health and Human Services to give about 50 refugee children a temporary place to stay in the Cincinnati area.
The massive border crossings have been called a humanitarian crisis and have drawn response from President Obama, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and many liberal and conservative groups. Perry, a staunch conservative, has taken the step of calling in National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. Closer to home, Dayton’s Mayor Nan Whaley recently caused controversy with conservatives when she expressed willingness to house some of the child immigrants in Dayton. That led to a backlash from Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who represents Dayton in Congress. Turner called her comments “completely out of line.” Dayton has been engaged in efforts since 2009 to attract more immigrants to the city, though those efforts are focused on documented immigrants who can help the city grow economically.
The federal government works to move unaccompanied child immigrants out of federal facilities and into temporarily housing with “sponsors,” families or non-profit groups. So far this year, the government has placed about 30,000 children into such arrangements.
• Last month we reported on a lawsuit against the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. The state has settled that suit, and now, local companies overcharged by the OBWC will be getting at least some of their money back. The state settled a lawsuit yesterday over unfair payment structures that gave big discounts on insurance rates to some companies while charging much higher rates to others. Local companies like BAE and non-profits like the Cincinnati Ballet are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the payment scheme. The OBWC has changed how they calculate payments and will create a $420 million fund to repay companies overcharged by the scheme.
• Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke today at the ongoing National Urban League Conference here in Cincinnati. Paul is a staunch libertarian conservative and tea party favorite who in the past has expressed some skepticism about parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying private businesses should be free to discriminate if they see fit. Paul has since walked back a bit on that, but statements like that make him an unlikely choice to speak at the civil rights organization’s big national gathering. He didn’t draw the biggest crowd of the conference, for sure, but he did touch on at least a couple issues relevant to the black community, including his ideas for changing mandatory drug sentencing laws. Current drug laws in the United States have contributed to the highly disproportionate incarceration rates faced by young black males, Paul says, and he’d like to change that. One proposal he'll be pursuing in the Senate-- ending the much higher penalties for selling crack over powdered cocaine. Paul also made his argument for libertarian policies that he says will increase the availability of jobs for everyone, including minorities. Paul has been reaching out to minority groups with mixed success as he builds up to his 2016 presidential bid. Meanwhile, Democrats are rolling their eyes at Paul’s attempts.
• Cincinnati set a Guinness World Record last night for most salsa dancers when more than 2,000 people danced at Fountain Square. The previous record was 1,600 dancers. The effort was put together by a number of community organizations to celebrate Cincinnati’s Hispanic community.
• Finally, if you’re like me after finishing a long article on the subject last week, you’re in too deep on the hot topic of charter schools and need some tips for how to uh, unwind. Luckily, Ohio Department of Education Communications Director John Charlton has some advice for anyone in this position. In a personal tweet sent out July 18, Chartlon advised opponents of charter schools to “take a break from muckraking and enjoy the weekend. Maybe you can get laid. Lol.” Charlton was responding to a tweet asserting that he thought “charter schools are OK no matter what shenanigans take place.” Laugh out loud!
Charlton deleted the tweet yesterday, and explained it this way:
"It was an offhanded comment made as a back and forth with critics who engaged me on my personal account," he said.
Bee-tee-dubs, keep an eye out for our piece on charter schools next week. It’s a deep dive into what’s up with Ohio’s charters. Until then, relax, enjoy your weekend, and maybe you can get… some pizza or something.
Mayor John Cranley today announced the creation of a 78-person task force that will work toward making Cincinnati "the most immigrant-friendly city in the country."
The effort will work to bring more investment from highly-educated and well-to-do immigrants to the area. Few specifics were offered about how the initiative would address the hot topic of undocumented immigration.
“This is a country of immigrants, and this is a place where immigration is rewarded and thanked,” Cranley said during a news conference at Music Hall. “We’re all going to be richer and better by being a friendly city for immigrants.”
The task force, which is all-volunteer and uses no city money at this point, will research ways to attract and retain immigrants in the city. The group will be split into five committees focused on economic development, community resources, education/talent retention, international attractions and rights and safety. The task force will be led by co-chairs Raj Chundur and Tom Fernandez.
Cranley cited economic studies suggesting that immigration is good for economic growth. Economic experts and politicians are split on the wider point of whether welcoming more immigrants overall aids the economy, though some researchers believe even undocumented immigrants are a net positive. Either way, there is much evidence to suggest well-thought-out programs to attract documented immigrants can help cities. Dayton began working to attract immigrants in 2009, and has received national attention for its program. Since the start of the program, more than 3,000 immigrants, mostly from Turkey, have moved to Dayton, helping to revitalize the city's blighted North Dayton neighborhood.
He specifically discussed the EB5 visa program, which rewards immigrants who invest between $500,000 to $1 million in their communities with a special long-term visa and the opportunity for citizenship. He said that program has helped spur development in the city, especially along the Short Vine area in Corryville.
“I can tell you this means a lot to me personally, because I and my family are immigrants to this country,” said University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, who will lead the task force’s education committee. Ono said his time at UC has shown him just how important attracting and retaining immigrants is for the city.
Cranley hedged some on revealing how undocumented immigrants would fit into the plan, saying that was work the task force will need to do as it prepares its recommendations.
“The whole point of the task force is to look at these issues in depth and come back with specific recommendations,” he said.
The mayor did share one effort to help children refugees in the country’s ongoing border crisis, though it is unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities Southwest Ohio CEO Ted Bergh is a co-chair on the task force’s community resources committee. That nonprofit group and the Catholic Archdiocese in Cincinnati are working to help house in dormitories and hopefully find temporary foster homes (called "sponsors") for about 50 kids who have crossed the border into the United States due to turmoil in Mexico and Central America.The groups have applied for federal grants through the Department of Health and Human Services to fund the effort.