All right. Let’s talk about this news stuff, shall we?
In just 12 days, voters will decide whether or not to back a plan put forward by Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel for fixing Union Terminal. But the details still haven’t been worked out completely, as this Business Courier article discusses. The tax increase proposal, an alternative to another scheme drawn up over a number of months by a cadre of the city’s business leaders that also included Music Hall, has been a kind of plan-as-you-go effort by the commissioners. The 5-year, .25-percent sales tax increase won’t provide all the money needed for the project, and it’s still a bit up in the air where the rest will come from. The structure of the deal will hold Cincinnati Museum Center, which occupies the building, accountable for cost overruns or revenue shortfalls, which they’ll need to make up with private financing or donations. A new nonprofit entity might also need to be created to officially lease the building from the city in order to qualify for state and federal tax credits, a possible stumbling block that will require city-county coordination. All of which is to say there’s a long way to go before the landmark is on its way to renovation.
• The NAACP is ready to tap Cincinnati for its 2016 national convention pending a site visit in November. That’s a bit of a surprise, as many assumed Baltimore, where the organization is headquartered, would get the nod for its presidential election year convention. Cincinnati also hosted the NAACP convention in 2008. Big political players, including presidential candidates, often speak at the convention during election years. The 2016 election is shaping up to be huge for Ohio, with Cleveland hosting the GOP national convention and Columbus in the running for the Democrat’s big national event.
• A talk by award-winning conservative Washington Post columnist George Will at Miami University last night drew a number of protesters unhappy that the school invited him to speak. Will has caused controversy over remarks he made in a column in June criticizing new sexual assault rules on many college campuses. Will has blasted the “progressivism” of the rules, saying they place men accused of assault in a “guilty until proven innocent” situation. Specifically, Will criticized measures that stipulate a person who is considerably inebriated is unable to give sexual consent. Students and faculty who opposed Will’s talk say they collected more than 1,000 signatures from members of the Miami University community asking the school to cancel the event.
Will has gained a reputation for his controversial, sometimes outlandish remarks. He has dismissed climate change science, for instance. Most recently, he claimed on Fox News that Ebola could be spread through the air via coughs and sneezes, an assertion contradicted by nearly all scientists who study the disease.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s attorney Clyde Bennett has filed a motion for a retrial, saying that two of the 12 jurors on the case did not vote to find Hunter guilty on a felony charge earlier this month. Hunter was on trial for nine felony counts. The jury hung on the other eight but allegedly agreed that she was guilty of improperly intervening in a case involving her brother, a court employee who allegedly punched a juvenile inmate. Hunter’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 8, though a Nov. 13 hearing on Bennett’s retrial motion could change that.
• If you live in Kentucky and are hoping Yuengling comes to your neck of the woods soon, you may be disappointed. There’s a battle brewing (haha) over beer distribution in the state as giant Anheuser-Busch seeks to buy a distributor in the Kentucky that could give the company a quarter of the beer market there. That has mid-sized independent companies like Yuengling and some wholesalers saying there may not be room for them. Generally, beer brewers aren’t allowed to own distributors or stores under anti-trust laws, but Anheuser-Busch won the right to own one in Louisville after suing the state in 1978.
• In international news, four former employees of Blackwater, the private security firm that the U.S. contracted during the Iraq war, have been convicted for the 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis. The incident, which happened at a public square in Baghdad, became notorious as an example of U.S. contractors’ misconduct during the Iraq war. A judge in the case ruled that the killings were not an act of war, but a crime. One defendant, sniper Nicholas Slatten, faces life in prison for murder. Three others face 30 year minimum sentences for charges including committing a using a machine gun to carry out a violent crime and voluntary manslaughter.
Good morning y’all! Here’s a quicker than usual rundown of the day’s news before I jet for an interview.
There is yet another version of the Union Terminal restoration deal being passed around. The deal, which Hamilton County Commissioners are expected to vote on soon, doesn’t make many changes to the sales tax hike on the November ballot, but would hold the Cincinnati Museum Center responsible for any cost overruns the project might incur while allowing its leaders to seek financing for the project. Voters will still have to approve the .25 percent sales tax increase before that deal would go into effect.
• VLT Academy might be gone, but there’s at least one more bit of turbulence related to the troubled former charter school. VLT closed in August after losing its sponsoring organization, required by Ohio law, and falling behind on its rent. It seems computers sold at an auction to pay off the school’s debts may not have been scrubbed of private personal information. The Ohio Department of Education says it has launched an investigation to make sure that information was erased properly and didn’t fall into the wrong hands.
• The push for a high-speed rail route between Chicago and Cincinnati has gained more supporters. The mayor and city manager of Hamilton recently sent a letter to OKI, the region’s planning office asking for the office to fund a feasibility study for the potential project. They join Hamilton County Commissioners, who voted in September to request that study. The rail line could have big economic benefits, but would also be a huge, long-term undertaking.
• Speaking of transit, you can tell the Ohio Department of Transportation what you’d like to see in the future at a public discussion from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Oct. 31. Yes, that’s in the middle of a workday. It’s also in Lebanon for some reason, which you can’t really get to by public transit. That has some people kind of miffed. The meeting is for the entire Southwestern Ohio region, ODOT says, and that’s why it has to be held in a central location. Come on, guys, you couldn’t have two meetings in Dayton and Cincinnati on a couple Saturdays? I’ll bring the donuts and coffee. Anyway, the event is part of a statewide outreach effort by ODOT to get input about transit options in the state. Meetings have also been conducted in Columbus, Cleveland, Athens and Findlay.
• An Ohio man arrested in North Korea in May finally returned home today. Officials in the isolated country detained Jeffery Fowle after leaving a bible in a nightclub there. He was held until recently on charges of Christian evangelism, a crime in North Korea. His release might have been hastened by repeated appeals by President Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
• We’ve reported a bit about Common Core in the past. Controversy continues over the new federal academic standards, and the fight is coming to the state board of education elections. Seven candidates are running for election to the 19 member board, and several of them have made repealing the standards a key point in their campaigns. Mary Prichard, who is running to represent Butler, Preble, Montgomery and Miami Counties on the board, has made the issue the centerpiece of her candidacy. She calls the standards “a government takeover.” Zac Haines, running to represent Hamilton and Warren Counties, has promised to work to repeal them in the state. His opponent, Pat Bruns of Price Hill, supports the standards. Ohio is one of 40 states to implement Common Core.
• Wait. Did Gov. John Kasich really say that? He did, and he didn’t. The Associated Press reports that in a speech Monday, Kasich said a repeal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “not gonna happen.” Then Kasich, either backtracking or clarifying, ran them down and asked the AP to make a correction. He was only referring to the Medicaid expansion of the ACA, he said. That’s been a controversial issue all its own, with many conservative governors refusing to take the federal dollars to increase eligibility for residents of their states. Kasich did take the money, though, which has helped hundreds of thousands of Ohioans get medical coverage.
Kasich’s correction is a bit of a small distinction, since most conservatives roll the ACA up in one big, evil ball. Rejecting the Medicaid expansion has been something of a litmus test for conservative governors. But Kasich has not only taken it, he’s praised the program. Opposition to expanding Medicaid, which governors like Texas’ Rick Perry have worn like a badge of honor, “was really either political or ideological," Kasich said in the same speech. "I don't think that holds water against real flesh and blood and real improvements in people's lives.”
That alone is a noteworthy thing for a conservative governor to say. But have no fear, Kasich still hates the program, saying in his clarification that it “can and should be repealed.” Wait, even the part you said helps people?
So it’s not Monday anymore, which is a plus, but still. This week is the first week in my mission to give up caffeine and donuts. It’s going to be a long, long haul. Anyway, on with the news.
The city administration yesterday described in more detail a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that’s been floating around for a bit now. The plan would charge $300 a year, or $25 a month, for residents to park in the neighborhood as a way to raise funds for the streetcar. Increased rates and hours for parking meters are also part of the plan. Currently, you have to feed the meters from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Sunday. The new hours would stretch from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday thru Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Mayor John Cranley has championed the plan. Council would need to vote on the residential permit part of the plan, which would be the highest parking fee in the country if enacted. City officials stressed at the Monday Neighborhood Committee meeting that they were still in the planning phases of the proposal, that a final proposal was contingent on continued feedback from residents, and that they weren’t asking for any decisions to be made yet.
• It’s not very often labor unions and conservative anti-tax groups get together on an issue. But it seems like proposed tolls to fund the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge may just be the one issue that… uh oh… bridges the usually wide ideological divide (see what I did there?) Advocacy group Northern Kentucky United, which has campaigned against tolls for the Brent Spence with its “No BS Tolls” initiative, announced that both Teamsters Local 100 and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes have hopped on board the effort. You may remember COAST as the folks who stamped their feet and threw a temper tantrum over Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The two groups are the first Ohio organizations to support the anti-toll group, which claims to have 2,000 members. The group is totally against those BS tolls, that much we know. Less certain is what alternate proposals the group does back for the crumbling 51-year-old bridge’s replacement. It will cost something like $2.5 billion to replace, and federal and state officials have said government dollars are not in the cards for the project.
• Embattled Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter today was suspended from practicing law by the Ohio Supreme Court, meaning she cannot practice law anywhere or represent anyone in a courtroom. Hunter was convicted on one felony count in a high-profile trial last week. Hunter was accused of forging documents, misusing a court credit card, improperly intervening for her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate and other charges. She was convicted on the charge she illegally gained documents for her brother, though the jury was hung on the other eight felony counts she faced. Hunter faces up to a year and a half in prison. Sentencing in the case will begin Dec. 2.
• Oh man, this is terrifying. What would you do if a county prosecutor’s office mistakenly put your picture in a newsletter as someone who had a recent heroin conviction? That happened to Dana J. Davis of Covington. Davis was temporarily put out of work, mistrusted by neighbors, and even shunned by family after an electronic newsletter contained his picture and a blurb that he’d pleaded guilty to a heroin charge and had been sentenced to prison time. But it was a different Dana Davis, and the Kenton County Prosecutor’s office grabbed the wrong photo. Oops. Now Davis is suing over the mistake, looking to be compensated for lost wages and damage to his reputation. The prosecutor’s office is arguing they shouldn’t have to pay because the newsletter does a public good, and because the prosecutor’s office is immune from that kind of lawsuit. The case is headed to court.
• Here’s something I can get behind. Cincinnati is the second best city in the country for Halloween, according to a new ranking released by lifestyle site mylife.com. The rankings took into account number of costume shops per capita (we ranked second), vacant houses (we also ranked second), local Twitter mentions of Halloween, as well as interviews with local ghosts camped out in abandoned costume shops tweeting about Halloween (not really). The rankings do give a shout out to the city’s rich history, though, as well as Pete Rose for some reason. If you’re curious, number one was Las Vegas. Florida and Arizona were represented heavily in the top 10, which makes sense. Both are terrifying places.
• A minimum wage job in Ohio won’t pay for a college education, a new story from data reporters at Cleveland.com finds. I guess the shocking news in this is that it ever did. Apparently, in 1983, you could work a minimum wage job full-time during the summers and school breaks, work ten hours a week during school, and make ends meet. That seems so quaint now! It would take a wage of $18 an hour to make that possible today, and working minimum wage will leave you more than $11,000 shy of the average tuition, room and board at a university in the state. In my day, I worked two jobs, crashed at my mom’s house and commuted an hour each way my senior year, sometimes sleeping in my car, and sold blood and the rights for my first-born child to pay for my degree from Miami University. Ok, maybe not all of that, but it was kinda rough. Alls I’m saying is, kids these days should have to do the same.
• A new study finds Ohio has benefited greatly from its expansion of Medicaid. More than 367,000 Ohioans are now enrolled as of August 2014, according to the report by Policy Matters Ohio. The report claims that the expansion has lowered health care costs and improved health outcomes for low-income people. You can read all the details here.
Transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox will give a keynote speech at Northern Kentucky University in celebration of LGBT History Month on Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m.
Many will recognize Cox for her groundbreaking role as Sophia Burset, an incarcerated transgender woman, in the Netflix com-dram series Orange Is the New Black.
Earlier this year, she made history as the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time Magazine and the first to produce and appear in her own television show, TRANSForm Me.
Her success in the film and TV industry has made Cox a highly sought after speaker. Her empowering messages about gender expectations and transgender issues have made her an icon in the LGBT community, being named in Out Magazine’s “Out 100” and one of the top 50 transgender icons by Huffington Post.
Tickets for the event have been selling quickly, as less than 10 remain available to the public. They can be purchased for $10 in Student Union Room 320 on the NKU campus.
The event is sponsored by the university's LGBTQ Programs & Services, which provides advocacy and support to NKU students, staff, faculty and the greater Northern Kentucky community. More info here.
Hello Cincy! Here’s what’s going on this morning.
Though you won’t find a way to help shore up the building on the ballot in November, efforts to fund renovations of Music Hall may get a big boost soon. Advocates for the Cincinnati landmark have applied for $25 million through the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program offered by the state once every two years. Music Hall is competing for the tax credits with The Huntington Building and May Co. Department Store building in Cleveland and the former Goodyear headquarter building in Akron. The award would be in addition to another $25 million in other tax credits and $40 million in private donations, all of which go along way toward the building’s estimated $133 million renovation costs. The winner of the credits will be announced in December.
• Lots of questions have been popping up in City Council and elsewhere recently about the way the city makes development loans, even as past loans to some of the city’s biggest developers continue to linger unpaid. Council members have expressed concerns that there isn’t enough of a process for deciding who gets the loans and on what terms, leaving a patchwork of deals that are of questionable value for the city. The city has a number of old loans it has made to big developers still hanging around, including almost $9 million worth from between 1991 and 2001. Those loans were used on big, now completed projects in and around downtown. The terms are fairly generous, and many of the borrowers have yet to repay much if any of the principles on those loans.
• Err, so I went to school here for a few years. The Principal of Edgewood High School, which is up in Butler County between Hamilton and Middletown, has said he’ll be getting his concealed carry permit so he can start packing a gun on the job. State law allows individual districts to decide if staff should be armed, but Edgewood, based in the rural/exurban town of Trenton, is the only district in the Greater Cincinnati area that has moved to allow it. Principal Russ Fussnecker said he may start carrying the weapon before the school year is out. He says it’s a measure “to make the school safer” in case of a mass shooter. Other schools have taken milder safety measures. Kings High School in Mason has installed new barriers to keep someone from shooting their way through doors into the school. Lakota has added in-school police and training drills.
•Law enforcement officials from Memphis, Tenn., and Detroit are meeting with officials from Ohio in Cleveland this week to discuss rape kit backlogs at a first-of-its-kind summit around the issue. Untested kits, which may contain genetic information that can convict rapists, have piled up here and in other states. The untested kits have become a big issue in this year's race for attorney general, as challenger Democrat David Pepper hits Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine over Ohio's backlog.
• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from Democrats in her much-watched run against Kentucky Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Many of the 16 female Democratic senators are rallying around Grimes with campaign plugs, strategy advice, money and other support. Powerful Senators like Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and progressive firebrand Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. have all jumped on board, holding fundraisers, donating cash and giving shout outs to Grimes. Whether all that help will pay off remains to be seen. Various pundits and polls have recently declared Grimes dead in the water, while others say she’s still neck and neck with McConnell.
• One of the big issues in the race is the state’s dependence on coal. Both McConnell and Grimes have promised to keep coal-friendly policies alive in Kentucky, which is dominated by the industry. McConnell has tied Grimes to Obama, who many Kentuckians blame for the industry’s decline. But how much does coal really matter to Kentucky? Turns out, there is as much myth flying around as fact.
• Throw off thy long-sleeved chains of corporate oppression, my barista sisters and brothers, and put on the short-sleeve shirt or necktie of freedom. But please not both at the same time, because that just looks terrible. Starbucks is lifting its ban on visible body art, as well as “colored ties and neck scarves and black denim.” Really? You all couldn’t wear black jeans? If CityBeat outlawed black denim, I would have to go buy like, five new pairs of pants.
All right. It’s beautiful outside right now and I’m at a desk (as I imagine you are) with a load of election stories to write. I’m sure you’ve got your own stuff going on as well; let’s do this news thing quick so we can all be a little closer to getting to the weekend.
Are you embarrassed for Ohio yet? No? Just wait. Everyone’s favorite big-talkin’ sheriff will be representing the Greater Cincinnati area to an audience of millions soon. Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones is filming a segment of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, where he will tangle with host Jon Stewart. Jones is well known for his antics and sometimes factually questionable assertions. He recently tried to bill Mexico for the amount it cost Butler County to jail undocumented immigrants he alleges came from that country. He also likes to equate immigrants with crime, drugs and disease which I explored briefly a while back. Now… he’s going national.
“We’re going to be filming a segment on illegal immigration and the upcoming elections,” Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer about the show, which he’s filming this afternoon. Can’t wait!
• Dena Cranley, wife of Mayor John Cranley, will join 14 area pastors’ wives in an effort to extend health tests and information about diseases that predominantly affect low-income urban areas, the mayor's office said in a news release today. The services will be available at area churches with financial support from Walgreens. The program is part of a national push called First Ladies Health Initiative that has already been launched in Los Angeles and Chicago. The initiative provides free screening for diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, and more.
• 3CDC will buy three buildings with 80 units of low-income housing in Over-the-Rhine on the 200 block of West 12th Street across from the Drop Inn Center and at 1301 Walnut Street. The developer says the buildings are “problem” properties, with high amounts of police calls, and that residents there want out. 3CDC says it’s helping those living in the 64 occupied units find other places to live. The developer doesn’t know what it will do with the buildings yet, but says the building on Walnut may become an expansion of nearby Mercer Commons project and could end up as mixed-income housing,. Helping low-income people find more enjoyable, safer surroundings sounds great, but a couple questions spring to mind. Will the low-income units be replaced one-for-one? What do residents have to say, and will they be relocated to nearby housing in OTR? None have been quoted so far about the buildings’ problems, and it’s unclear where they will be moved to. You can peruse crime stats yourself to see the propensity of police calls to the buildings, how many people arrested lived in the buildings and so forth.
• There’s a reason you shouldn’t get relationship-related tattoos, and I think it’s kind of the same with building names. Chiquita Brands International peaced out on Cincinnati in 2011, first moving to North Carolina and now training its wondering eyes toward Ireland. Until recently, we still had a big, prominent building, the Chiquita Center, bearing the company’s name. It kind of made us look like we weren’t ready to move on from the relationship. No more. We’re finally letting go. The center will be rebranded as 250 East Fifth, a simple, bold declaration that the building doesn’t need to define itself by its bygone relationship with some flashy, globe-trotting company with tons of banana money.
• Finally, I think I found my Halloween costume. This guy was dressed in the creepiest possible way when he drunkenly entered someone’s house and passed out on their couch, only to be discovered by children. Undead Santa couch surfer for the win.
It’s probably safe to call 80,000 tons of rotting meat and vegetables a big mess. In fact, I don’t want to live in a world where such a thing doesn’t qualify for “big mess” status. The deeper issue is what can be learned from such a mess and who will be held responsible.
Council voted Oct. 15 to spend $300,000 to clean up Compost Cincy, a former composting company created in Winton Hills in 2012 with the help of the city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability (OES).
Neighbors of the site have complained for the past year of unbearable odors. The company closed its doors in October 2013, but the smell remained. Now, the city is left with the bill for cleaning it up.
Composting takes food waste, and by rotating it and controlling its decomposition, converts it into soil. San Francisco was the first city to institute a municipal program when it started collecting compostable waste in 1996. Today, the city collects more than 600 tons of waste a day for composting. A number of other cities, including Portland, Ore., Seattle, Boulder, Colo., and other generally progressive places also have programs. If composting isn’t done correctly, though, allowing for the correct mixture of air to reach the refuse, you just end up with a progressively worse smell.
That seems to be what happened with Compost Cincy. Since 2012, the company accumulated 45 code violations from the city and two EPA citations. The city refused to renew its lease last year due to complaints about odor. One factor at play may have been the fact the company was doing outdoor composting. Many compost facilities are located indoors as a way to mitigate odor creation.
The OES will cover $220,000 of the cost of clean up with its budget, with another $80,000 coming from city contingency account. Mayor John Cranley pinned a good deal of the blame for the project’s failure on the city office.
“The origin of this entire organization is to combat odor,” Cranley said during an Oct. 15 City Council meeting. “So it’s pretty embarrassing that it was this office that came up with this compost mess in the first place. It’s a nightmare for the people who have had to go through this for a year."
Council voted 9-0 to fund the clean up effort. But Cranley’s remarks created a good deal of controversy around the role of the organization and the city’s efforts to establish sustainability programs.
The official mission of the office goes beyond odor control. The OES is charged with leading sustainability efforts in the city. That includes redeveloping brownfield sites around the city, helping run Cincinnati’s recycling program and protecting the city’s air quality. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach all chimed in to support the office.
“I want to stick up for the Office of Environment because I don’t think it’s their fault, or that they were in any way trying to emit odors on purpose in our city,” Seelbach said at the meeting. “Composting is something that there is a large demand for. The business, Compost Cincy, was actually doing really well because lots of people wanted to bring their compost there and buy the soil that it produces.”
Seelbach said zoning was the big issue, something the OES doesn’t control. Simpson said that the Office of Trade and Development, not the OES, selected the site. She said the office needs more support.
“We need more resources to the offices of sustainability to so we can get at least 10 years behind,” Simpson said, noting that Cincinnati is falling short of sustainability efforts made in other, comparable cities. She acknowledged that Compost Cincy was "poorly executed" but said that wasn't the fault of OES.
She praised the city’s recycling program and said the city should support more sustainability efforts, not mock failures. She pointed out that council and the mayor have been willing to support other endeavors that don’t guarantee success.
“We’re going to continue to have conversations about whether the city should support small businesses, and we just invested $5 million in Cintrifuse, which runs start ups,” she said. “Some may work, some may not, some stay in the city and some may leave, but there’s no question we should spend money on that.”
Cranley also faulted other OES initiatives, including the city’s infamously unpopular one garbage can policy.
“This came out of the same organization that said we should have meatless Monday and all kinds of bad ideas,” he said. “It seems like we should not be funding organizations who then end up creating multi-hundred-thousand-dollar cleanups.”
Councilman Kevin Flynn also had pointed questions about the project, but from a different angle.
“If this was a good business, then why is the city having to pay $300,000 to clean up this mess?” he asked. “We need to be able to go after the money that resulted from these people paying for dropping off their waste and the money from the people who were buying the dirt created by that waste. Under our current policy, we don’t have that ability to do it.”
Flynn said the structure of the business and the city’s agreement with it mean that owner Grant Gibson may not be liable for cleanup costs. Gibson told The Cincinnati Enquirer he had sunk about $500,000 into the business.
Meanwhile, Compost Cincy’s website is still live, though it states that the company is shuttered. In a somewhat passive aggressive farewell message, the owners also put some blame on the zoning process for the company's problems, though they say, in the end, location doesn’t matter as much as the attitudes of a composting project's neighbors. The site’s farewell missive seems to claim it was sunk by unfounded fears about composting.
“If our society doesn't move faster towards actually being green and not talking about it, our planet will be 100 percent wrecked of natural resources in the very near future,” the site says. “With that said, make the changes necessary to your life.”
Good morning Cincy! I’m a little groggy today after last night’s Iron Fork event, which was awesome. If you were at the Moerlein Taproom for the chef showdown and restaurant sampling festivities, you probably saw me with the group that pretty much monopolized the giant Jenga set all night. Sorry ‘bout that. Anyway, on with the news.
One of the Greenpeace activists on trial for hanging an anti-palm oil banner from P&G headquarters has died, the Associated Press reports. Tyler David Wilkerson, 27, died Oct. 6, according to an obituary in the Fresno Bee newspaper. No cause of death or other details have been released. Wilkerson was one of eight activists facing felony burglary and vandalism charges in connection with the March protest. A ninth activist took a plea bargain.
• Yesterday’s City Council meeting was action packed. Well, maybe not action packed, but interesting and eventful. OK, OK, just eventful, and with more bickering than usual for some reason. Members of council got their feathers all ruffled by the fact that the media knew about Cincinnati’s $18 million budget surplus before they did, perhaps marking the end of new City Manager Harry Black’s honeymoon with the city’s most illustrious deliberative body. Council members found it a bit off-putting that plans were already being made for that money before they even knew it existed. Black promised to make sure every council member is tipped off the next time the city finds unexpected change in the couch cushions.
But look at me over here gossiping. Substantive stuff happened as well.
• The city will pay $300,000 to help clean up a failed compost facility in Winton Hills affectionately nick-named “Big Stanky.” OK, no one but me calls it that. But it does smell very bad, and that’s caused a great deal of controversy. The company, Cincy Compost, went bust earlier this year, but left something like 80,000 tons of rotting meat and other food scraps behind. The city is chipping in on the cleanup because it has to be done, but Mayor Cranley and a few council members weren’t happy about it. Cranley used the issue as an opportunity to jab at the city’s Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability, which he blamed for the mess. Other council members, including Chris Seelbach, jumped to defend the office, to which Cranley replied that the office’s “Meatfree Monday” initiative was dumb. Seemed like a bit of a low blow, since Seelbach is a vegetarian, but that’s neither here nor there.
• Council also voted to apply for nine HUD grants worth more than $6 million for the city’s Continuum of Care program. The money would be used to provide rental assistance for homeless, low-income people with disabilities. Council also approved a $500,000 loan to Walnut Court Limited Partnership, a Walnut Hills developer. The developer will be rehabbing 30 units in the neighborhood to provide housing for very low income individuals. This deal was a bit more controversial, as Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned how the property, which was overseen by HUD, came to need such extensive renovations and why the city should have to pay for them.
• Moving on to market rate developments, there are some new plans for the former site of the historic house that held Christy’s/Lenhardt’s restaurant and bar in Clifton Heights. The house was demolished last year to make way for an apartment building in the university neighborhood. Gilbane Development Co., which was part of initial plans to put a larger development at the site, has come back with some revised, scaled-down ideas. The building was originally going to be eight stories tall with 245 units of housing. It will now be only six stories with 190 units, as well as some commercial space. The project will be part of a larger development effort for the block that should happen sometime in 2015.
• A little old, but worth noting: The Hamilton County Public Defenders Office has written a letter to Mayor John Cranley
about Cincinnati Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein, saying he took
inappropriate actions last month by getting a judge to sign a warrant
that would have allowed him to search the entire public defender’s
office over a single robbery case. That just doesn’t happen to private
law firms, the defender’s office says, and shouldn’t be allowed. The
mayor and the city manager have said they want to work with the public
defender’s office to make sure evidence is gathered in the least
invasive way possible in the future.
• LeBron James was in Cincinnati yesterday for a Cavs preseason game at
Xavier University against the Indiana Pacers, and he said he liked the
city, calling it “a great sports town.” Despite being arguably the
state’s biggest name in sports, James had never played in Cincinnati
before. He scored 26 points in the game.
• Let’s take a quick jog south and revisit the Kentucky Senate race, shall we? Recent articles have prognosticated that time is almost up for Democrat Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the party’s national arm in the race, stopped spending money on ads in the state this week, leading reporters to say the party is pulling out of the race and that Grimes is ready for the fork, cause she’s done. That appears to have been a premature judgment, however. Potential Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned for Grimes yesterday in Louisville, urging voters in the Bluegrass State to “put another crack in the glass ceiling” by putting Grimes into office. It also turns out that the DSCC is still running polls in Kentucky and may jump back into the race with more ads before all is said and done. Grimes' campaign also has about $4 million in that cash money in the bank, so don't count her out just yet.
Much has been made of Grimes’ refusal to say who she voted for in the last two presidential elections, and some pundits, including conservative commentator Rich Lowry, have said it has sunk Grimes’ chances in the race. Lowry wrote a deeply dumb rant ostensibly about that subject (though it quickly jumps the rails and becomes yet another boring anti-Obama diatribe about four paragraphs in). Clearly Democrats are still hoping Grimes has a chance, though.
So much stuff has happened in the last 24 hours. I’m just going to hit you with all of it without my usual witty introduction.
A jury found Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter guilty on one felony count yesterday. The jury says Hunter broke the law by gaining access to confidential files relating to the firing of her brother, an employee of the juvenile court, and passing them on to him. The jury could not reach a decision on eight other felony charges against Hunter, for which she may or may not be retried. The conviction carries a penalty of up to a year and a half in prison. Hunter will be sentenced in December. It’s also very likely the state Supreme Court will take disciplinary action, which may include disbarring her. Hunter has been on suspension with pay as the trial took place and will now be suspended without pay until she is removed from the bench officially.
• Sometimes you put on that pair of jeans you haven’t worn in a long time and find some cash you forgot about wadded up in one of the pockets. I love those days. Cincinnati just found $18 million in its pants somewhere, and now the city is debating how to spend it. The cash is a budget surplus from better-than-expected tax revenues and cost-cutting. City Manager Harry Black has some ideas on how to use that money, including kicking more than $4 million to a fund for winter weather response, using another $4 million to pay back neighborhood development funds the city borrowed, holding $3 million in reserve for possible future police and fire expenses, $275,000 to make sure the city hires more businesses owned by women and minorities, $400,000 for a new city government performance analysis office and other ideas. I always just spend extra money I find on pizza, but that’s probably among the reasons why I don’t run the city. But seriously, $18 million is enough to buy each resident of the city $60.50 worth of pizza, maybe combined into one enormous Adriatico’s MegaBearcat the size of Mt. Airy Forest. Think about it, Mr. Black.
• You’ll note that using any of the surplus to fund streetcar operating costs is not on that list, presumably because Mayor John Cranley has drawn a hard line in the sand about using city money for its projected $4 million annual shortfall. But others are more open to using money from the city’s coffers to plug that gap, including Vice Mayor David Mann, who suggested at yesterday’s City Council Transportation Committee meeting that while not ideal, he hasn’t written off the idea. That’s significant because Cranley's suggestion to draw down operating hours to close the funding gap would have to be approved by City Council. Other options include raising funds through a parking plan, special improvement or other means. Council seems split on whether it would vote for a reduction in service hours
• Mayor Cranley thinks there are "too many" transitional living houses for those recovering from addiction in the city, but Price Hill-based New Foundations Transitional Living can stay in the neighborhood, according to a settlement it reached with the city recently. The six homes for men and women recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol have been the focus of controversy in recent months. Neighbors complained earlier this year about the houses, saying the neighborhood wasn’t zoned for them. Price Hill is zoned for single occupancy, not the so-called “congregant occupancy” needed to normally run group homes. The city investigated removing the homes from the neighborhood. But under the Fair Housing Act, transitional homes such as New Foundations are allowed in single occupancy neighborhoods. Under a compromise, the for-profit group will reduce the occupancy of the houses and promise not to expand in the neighborhood.
• Another building along Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine is being rehabbed, and this one’s really cool news. The Central Parkway YMCA is getting a $27 million renovation that will include the creation of affordable housing. The update will modernize and augment the building’s fitness equipment, adding new weight rooms and group fitness areas, a cycling studio and put affordable housing for seniors on the top floors. I love the building and have recently pondered getting a membership because they’re one of the few fitness places in town with an actual track for running. I should probably wait a little bit on that, though, because the building will be closing in December for renovations. It’s expected to open back up in early 2016.
• If you’re not tired of the tea party vs. conservative establishment narrative that has dominated the political news cycle the past, oh, seems like forever now, here’s another one for you. Some prominent local tea party activists are bummed because they weren’t allowed into a Monday rally for Gov. John Kasich in Butler County. The group, including Cincinnati Tea Party President Ann Becker, was outside the rally protesting Common Core, the educational initiative that looks to standardize performance measures for U.S. students. They say they were denied admission because they were wearing anti-Common Core T-shirts. Officials with the Kasich campaign say it had nothing to do with their shirts and everything to do with the fact they were being disruptive to the event. I honestly don’t know who to root for here so I’m just going to move along on this.
• While we’re on the “suburbs are cray” tip, let’s talk about this story for just a sec. State Rep. Ron Maag is throwing a fundraiser he’s calling a “Machine Gun Social” in Lebanon Oct. 25. By throwing Maag a little cash for his re-election campaign, you get to fire machine guns in a nature preserve. Just like when you were in high school and your cool gun rights friend would invite you out to the rock quarry to shoot at bottles and cans! But don’t worry — you have to be at least a teenager to fire the guns, they’ll be permanently pointed downrange and there will be instructors present to, like, instruct you on the best way to neutralize a threatening soda can with a hail of semi-automatic rifle fire. Maag’s Democratic opponent is of course pitching a fit, but has chosen, oddly, only to take issue with his use of the word “social.”
• Whoa, this is already too long, but I need to get at least one national story in here. Another medical worker in Texas has tested positive for Ebola. That worker apparently flew from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she started having symptoms. I usually try to end this stuff on a positive, non-terrifying note, but today I failed.
So, I skipped writing the morning news yesterday to hang out at City Council half the day. I know, you’re jealous. Let’s catch up.
The city should declare Mahogany’s, the former restaurant at The Banks, in default on its $300,000 loan, Councilman Kevin Flynn said during the Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday. After coming to The Banks two years ago, restaurant owner Liz Rogers fell behind on rent, loan payments and state sales taxes, eventually shuttering Mahogany’s last month. Rogers has tried to convince the city to reduce the amount she owes, and even threatened to sue, but the terms of her loan mean she may be on the hook for more than just the $300,000. The city could initiate foreclosure proceedings on her other restaurant in Butler County, which she offered up as collateral. Rogers may also be asked to pay back a nearly $700,000 grant the city gave her. Rogers still owes more than $265,000 on the loan and is $40,000 behind on her payments. Flynn is asking for all relevant financial records from the restaurant so the city can determine what assets still remain that the city could claim to recoup part of its investment.
• Meanwhile, in the Law and Public Safety Committee meeting earlier yesterday, councilmembers wrestled with Councilman Charlie Winburn’s marijuana expungement ordinance. Winburn’s proposal looks to give those convicted under a 2006 city law that criminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana a chance to expunge those convictions from their criminal records. In Ohio, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor that does not show up on a person’s criminal record, though the ordinance changed that to a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which does. The ordinance itself was repealed by council in 2011, but many who were convicted still have trouble getting jobs or educational loans due to the blemish on their records. The committee wrestled with some detailed legal questions about the ordinance, including the tricky nature of issuing an ordinance that seeks to work retroactively. Though the ordinance has yet to pass out of committee, Winburn said he hoped it would be ready for a full council vote in two weeks.
• A new budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman looks to fundamentally shift the way the county pays for the services it provides. It will do so in a way that could very well shift more of the burden onto the backs of low and middle-income people, however, as sales taxes increase and property taxes go down. You can read more about that here.
• Dr. Deana Marchbein, the president of Doctors Without Borders USA and expert on Ebola, spoke last night at the downtown library. Marchbein talked about the risk the virus represents, as well as other world health issues worth concern. Marchbein has said she isn’t super worried about Ebola in the United States since it is less contagious than many other diseases and because the U.S. has better access to modern medical isolation of patients than West Africa, where the disease has run rampant. Marchbein did express serious concern about that, noting that the spread of the disease there has grown out of control. Her talk is well timed; last week in Dallas, a man from Liberia died from the disease, the first fatality in the U.S., and a second case, the first time Ebola has been transmitted here, was discovered. That person, a nurse who treated the deceased man in Dallas, is now isolated and receiving treatment for the virus.
• Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes faced off in their first and only debate last night. McConnell is the Senate minority leader and has held the Kentucky Senate seat for 30 years. Grimes is the Kentucky Secretary of State. The two went at each other last night, trading barbs on a number of issues while not really revealing anything new about their policy proposals. McConnell battered Grimes by tying her to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and basically any other Democrat he could think of, including the Clintons. Grimes bashed McConnell over his cozy relationships with big money donors, including the infamous Koch Brothers, who have poured millions into a large number of races for candidates supporting their vision of a libertarian utopia where companies have little oversight from the government.
The race has been a titanic battle so far. Grimes has been running very close behind McConnell, who usually coasts to victory. At least one recent major poll has put Grimes ahead by a couple points, though other polls have her trailing by the same margin.
• Finally, if you’re like me, you’re still trying to figure out what to wear to Halloween parties. Yes, I’m kind of a grownup, sort of, but my friends still have costume parties so I’m still required to figure out what to be every year. My fallback—a cowboy—is getting pretty old, so I’ve been perusing costume ideas. But I don't think any of these are going to work. I can’t decide if the zombie hotdog costume is the worst thing ever, or the hashtag costume. No, wait, definitely the hashtag. Warning: a few of these are mildly NSFW.