So as you may (or may not) have noticed, there was no morning news update yesterday. Did you know that the internet is a thing that can go out, that it doesn't just emanate from some corner of the universe like gravity or light? We went without the unifying force in the world for hours yesterday, huddled around each others' desks in fear while gazing into our smartphones, praying for 4G coverage.
But now we're back online and serving up a double dose of morning news.
Local charter school VLT Academy is gone, but some say the lingering spirit of unregulated schooling and questionable legality remains in the building. The Ohio Department of Education is investigating Hope4Change Academy, a charter that began operating in August at VLT's former site on Sycamore in Pendleton. That school, or whatever it is, no longer has a sponsoring organization, meaning it legally can't operate as a school. The ODE ordered it to shut down, but says its classrooms are still full of students. An employee of Hope4Change told a reporter that the building is a tutoring center, and officials with the school claim they're just making computers available to students who need to take online classes. The ODE is continuing to investigate.
• Let's go back to that parking permit idea Mayor Cranley floated the other day, which could charge OTR residents $300-$400 a year to park in the neighborhood to help fund streetcar operating costs. Turns out it would be the most expensive of such programs in the country, tripling car-choked San Francisco's $110-a-year permit scheme. Critics say that would be a huge burden on the neighborhood's low-income population. Mayor Cranley has said that low-income residents of the neighborhood would be exempted from the fee.
• There is another new wrinkle in the Mahogany’s saga, the controversial restaurant and only African-American-owned business at The Banks. The establishment was told Wednesday it was in violation of its lease and would have to vacate the riverfront development.
The restaurant’s lease says Mahogany’s must be open daily, a clause it violated when it closed for four days in late August due to unpaid state sales taxes, its landlord NIC Riverbanks One said. However, Mahogany’s attorney today said that the order to vacate is in error, and that the restaurant’s lease only applies to voluntary closures, not the tax struggles it has faced. The restaurant paid the back taxes it owed and reopened Saturday. It’s just the latest chapter of troubles for the restaurant, which has struggled with rent payments and other difficulties for two years at The Banks.
• A Cincinnati resident and former University of Toledo student says a man who raped her was fined $25 and given probation by the school. She filed a complaint with the Department of Education against the university Wednesday, joining a number of other students at schools across the country challenging the way the institutions punish sexual assault. She’s outraged, she says, by the punishment a former acquaintance received for allegedly sexually assaulting her while both were at UT. She reported the incident six months later after battling anxiety and depression. The university has confirmed that it fined her attacker $25, required him to attend 10 hours of sexual assault training and put him on a year-long probation. He was allowed to remain at the school and keep his campus job. The woman left University of Toledo to finish her studies elsewhere.
"The way they handled it was extremely upsetting," the woman told USA Today.
• With tension still in the air from recent police shootings in Ferguson, Mo. and closer to home in Beavercreek, local groups held a forum in Evanston last night to discuss issues surrounding law enforcement treatment of minorities. Among those in attendance were Cincinnati Chief of Police Jeffery Blackwell, community leaders and activists Rev. Damon Lynch, III and Iris Roley, Councilman Chris Seelbach and others. Blackwell commented that some Cincinnati Police officers are trying out body cameras. He also commented on the investigation into the shooting death of John Crawford III, who was killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart Aug. 5. Attorney General Mike DeWine has declined to release to the public security camera footage of the shooting. Blackwell said the footage should be made public.
• Cincinnati is one of Bicycling magazine’s top 50 bike-friendly cities, rolling in at number 35. That’s just under Chattanooga and just above Milwaukee. New York City, Chicago, and Minneapolis rounded out the top three, respectively. The rankings consider bike infrastructure such as bike lanes and trails, as well as environmental factors such as hills and hot summers. Working in Cincinnati’s favor: The Central Park bike lanes and RedBike, the city’s new bike share program.
• Going after the elusive gambling hipster demographic, Horseshoe Casino has announced it will be hosting a farmer's market next week on Sept. 10. The event will feature 24 vendors, cooking demonstrations, and more. If rain happens, the market will move to the casino's parking garage. There is a Portlandia reference in this somewhere and I just can't find it right now so I'll leave it up to you.
• Fast food workers across the country began strikes and protests yesterday, hoping to push some of the nation’s biggest food chains toward a $15 an hour minimum wage. Labor organizers with the Service Employees International Union say actions are planned in more than 100 cities. The SEIU is also encouraging workers outside the fast food industry to get involved, including home health care and janitorial workers.
• Finally, this new Google Glass app detects other peoples' emotions. You know, the kind of thing you do naturally when you’re having a face-to-face conversation with someone that is unmediated by some crazy internet-connected device you have attached to your face.
Whoa. We're already halfway through the week. That's awesome. Here's your news today as we sail toward the weekend.
The parents of four Colerain High School students filed a $25 million lawsuit yesterday against the school and the Colerain Township Police Department alleging racial discrimination violating the students’ constitutional rights.
The lawsuit claims that the students were held in a room guarded by armed officers for six hours and interrogated April 10 after school officials said threats about a school shooting were found online. The four were later expelled. Officials say they found evidence on social media that the teens had gang affiliations. These accusations stem mostly from the fact the students were making “street signs,” in a rap video, administrators say, or “hand gestures associated with hip-hop culture” as their attorneys called the gestures. Hm. Neither of those sound racial at all.
The students involved in the lawsuit, who are black, say white students at the school who engaged in similar conduct were not expelled. School officials deny any racial discrimination in discipline, though the school’s disciplinary records show that black students receive a higher number of expulsions than white students at the school, despite making up a smaller proportion of the student body.
• Mayor John Cranley has suggested that maybe the streetcar will just run part time if voters, property owners along its route, or council members don’t find some way to pay for a projected $3.8 million shortfall in operating funds. Last week Cranley told 700 WLW’s Bill Cunningham, who is not really known to host reasonable conversations about public transit, that running the streetcar on reduced hours or select days, say when the Bengals or Reds play, could be an outcome of a funding shortfall.
Supporters say the money shouldn’t be hard to find, and that there are a number of options available. They also say that Cranley and other critics aren’t taking into account the expected upswing in economic activity the streetcar will bring.
Cranley said he was looking to property owners in OTR to get behind a special taxing district or $300-$400 residential parking permits that could make up some of that money. The thing is, the federal grant application the city filed to get the funds to build the streetcar stipulates that it will run seven days a week. Currently, the streetcar is slated to run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on weekends. Cranley has said there is nothing stipulating how frequently it must run, however.
“Remember there is no obligation that we have to run it on a certain level of frequency," Cranley said in the interview. "So if it doesn't end up having a lot of ridership we can reduce the rides on it.”
• Work will begin in the next couple weeks to gut the former SCPA building on Sycamore Street in Pendleton to turn it into 142 market-rate luxury apartments under the name Alumni Lofts. Core Redevelopment, the Indianapolis-based developer leading the project, recently contracted the interior demolition out to Erlanger, Ky., company Environmental Demolition Group. There will be some special challenges in redeveloping the former school including two pools on the fifth floor that will have to be removed without damaging the building’s walls and floors. The redevelopment is a part of big ongoing changes in Pendleton, which also include the construction of single-family homes in the neighborhood and other renovation projects for apartment buildings.
• Another big apartment project in a historic building is beginning to take shape in nearby Walnut Hills. Evanston-based Neyer Properties has purchased the historic 1920s-era former Baldwin Piano Company building on Gilbert Avenue for $17 million. Neyer has indicated it is looking to turn the building, which is currently office space, into 170-190 loft-style apartments.
• A suburban Detroit man who shot a woman on his front porch seeking help after a car accident was sentenced today to a minimum of 17 years in prison. Theodore Wafer of Dearborn Heights shot and killed Renisha McBride Nov. 2, 2013 as she stood on Wafer’s front porch. She had been banging on Wafer’s front door, seeking help after she hit a parked car and sustaining injuries hours earlier. Wafer, whose car had been vandalized a few weeks prior, said he thought his home was being invaded. He grabbed a shotgun and fired through his screen door, killing McBride. He called 911 afterward. Wafer stood trial and was found guilty of second-degree murder in August for the shooting. He claimed the shooting was self-defense.
• Finally, app-based rideshare company Uber has caused some controversy here in Cincinnati and across the country. Critics say the company skirts rules and regulations that cab companies usually have to follow. But the flak Uber has gotten here is nothing compared to Germany, where a court in Frankfurt just issued a temporary ban on the service that could hobble the company’s ability to operate across that country. The ban comes after a lawsuit by taxi companies alleging that Uber doesn’t have the necessary insurance and permits to operate in Germany.
So let's get to what's happened in the past three days in the real world while we were all busy watching fireworks and drinking beers, shall we?
The Great Recession dropped incomes in 111 of 120 communities in the Greater Cincinnati area, according to a report today by The Cincinnati Enquirer. The recession lasted from 2007 to 2009, though its reverberations are still being felt today. The drop hit wealthy neighborhoods like Indian Hill and low-income areas like Over-the-Rhine alike. The average drop in income was more than 7 percent across the region, though reasons for the loss and how quickly various neighborhoods have recovered are highly variable. Wealthier places like Indian Hill, where income is tied more to the stock market, are well-positioned to continue an already-underway rebound. Meanwhile, places with lower-income residents like Price Hill still face big challenges.
• A Centerville man filed a lawsuit against Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino Friday, charging that the downtown gambling complex engaged in false imprisonment and malicious prosecution last year. Mark DiSalvo claims that he was detained while leaving the casino after a dispute over $2,000 in video poker winnings. DiSalvo wasn’t able to immediately claim the winnings because he didn’t have the proper identification, but was told he would receive paperwork allowing him to claim the money later. He says he waited two hours before receiving the forms. Afterward, as he stopped to check the nametag of an employee who was less than kind to him, he was confronted by casino security officers, who called police. Three Cincinnati police officers were originally named in the suit as well, but the department settled out of court. DiSalvo claims casino employees and police gave false testimony about him and his prior record.
• Sometimes, something is better than nothing. At least, that appears to be the thinking for groups supporting the Hamilton County Commissioners’ compromise icon tax plan to renovate Union Terminal. The Cincinnati Museum Center board decided to back the commissioners’ version of the plan last week, despite earlier misgivings. That plan replaced a proposal by the Cultural Facilities Task Force that would have also renovated Music Hall.
Now the task force, led by Ross, Sinclaire and Associates CEO Murray Sinclaire, is regrouping and looking for ways to fund the Music Hall fixes without tax dollars.
“Initially we were very disappointed and somewhat frustrated because of all the time we spent” on the initial proposal, Murray said, but “we’ve got an amazing group of people with a lot of expertise and we’ll figure it out.”
Meanwhile, Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel, who helped orchestrate the new, more limited deal, has said he supports it. Initially, he indicated he wasn’t sure if he would vote for the plan himself. The backing of the Museum Center board has swayed him, however, and he now says he’s an enthusiastic supporter of the effort to shore up Union Terminal.
• The Cincinnati Cyclones have a new logo, which is exciting, at least in theory. The team’s prior logo looked a lot like a stack of bicycle tires brought to life by a stiff dose of methamphetamines, and the one before that looked Jason Voorhees fan art. Neither of which is really all that bad if you want to strike fear and confusion (mostly confusion) into the hearts of your opponents. But the team, making a bid for a higher level of professionalism, tapped Cincinnati-based design and branding firm LPK for a new look. The results are slick and clean, with the team’s colors adorning a sleek sans-serif font and a big “C” with a kind of weather-report tornado symbol in the middle. The team’s marketing reps call the new logo “versatile,” while fans have taken to the team’s social media sites to call it boring and generic and to compare it to water circling a toilet bowl. Personally, they can put just about whatever they want on their jerseys and I’d still hit up any game on $1 dollar hotdog night. Not a lot of hockey options around here.
• In the past three days, federal judges have stayed or struck down some of the nation’s strictest laws against women’s health facilities that provide abortions, enacted last summer in Texas and Louisiana. The laws stipulated very specific standards for clinics. The Louisiana law, which was put on hold by a federal judge Sunday night, set requirements that facilities have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, a rule that could have shut down every clinic in the state. The Texas law stipulated that clinics had to meet the same standards applied to hospitals, which would have dictated how wide hallways had to be in the facilities and other burdensome rules. That law was struck down by a federal judge Friday. The law would have caused the closure of 12 clinics in the state. Ohio has laws similar to Louisiana’s requiring hospital admitting privileges. That has caused problems for many facilities here, including one in Sharonville which a Hamilton County magistrate ordered to stop providing abortion services last month.
There is so much happening today and I'm going to tell you about
all most of it.
The board of the Cincinnati Museum Center yesterday voted to support county commissioners’ plan to fund renovations of historic Union Terminal, which houses the museum. Officials for the Museum Center originally criticized the plan, which replaced an earlier proposal that included Music Hall, because it seemed to put some funding sources for renovations to both Union Terminal and Music Hall in jeopardy. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann voted to put the new plan on the November ballot despite these concerns. Now officials with the Museum Center say their concerns have been addressed and they’re comfortable putting their support behind the new, Union Terminal-only deal, which will raise about $170 million through a .25 percent sales tax increase. The renovation project is expected to cost about $208 million. The gap will need to be covered by private donations and possible historic tax credits.
• Speaking of lots of money (seems like we’re always talking about lots of money around here, but hey, cities are expensive) the streetcar battle continues as the city searches for funds to pay operating costs. Right now, the city needs to account for a slightly less than $4 million a year to run the streetcar plus another $1 million in startup funds, which will need to be raised by next July. Supporters on city council say this shouldn’t be a problem and that multiple options exist for ways to raise the funds, including sponsorships and advertising, selling gift cards for rides on the streetcar, different property tax districts, possible grants and private donations. But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley, are more doom and gloom, saying that the shortfall is just the kind of scenario they had in mind when they spoke out against the streetcar. Either way, the city is committed at this point. It agreed to run the streetcar for 25 years when it accepted millions in federal grant money for its construction. Is there a really large couch somewhere in the city with lots of change under the cushions? I’d start there.
• Ah, the early days of presidential campaigns, when the candidates are about as committal as those tentative, nascent romances you had your freshman year of college. Sen. Rob Portman has officially decided he wants to think about the possibility he might run for president in 2016 and is considering setting up an exploratory committee so he can raise and spend money should he decide he wants to try for the big gig. That’s basically the campaign equivalent of texting someone, “hey, ‘sup?” The presidency has yet to text him back, but I’ll keep you updated. Portman has been also non-committal in his statements, saying he’ll think about a run for the White House if no other Republican candidates seem capable of winning but that right now he’s just working on his Senate campaign. He’s raised $5 million toward that end, money he could shift that over toward a national campaign.
• California lawmakers have passed a law requiring its colleges to adopt the most precise standards yet for what constitutes sexual consent as part of a drive to curb the sexual assault crisis sweeping college campuses. The so-called "yes means yes" bill is controversial, which is kind of mind-boggling since its provisions sound like common sense when you read them.
The prospective law says that consent is "an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity" and that lack of struggle, silence or the use of drugs or alcohol do not invalidate claims of sexual abuse. Opponents say the bill is an overreach and too politically correct and that it could open up universities to lawsuits. California Gov. Jerry Brown must still sign the bill into law, and has until September to do so.
• A while back we talked about New York City’s mixed-income developments and so-called “poor doors,” or separate entrances the buildings’ low-income residents must use. The battle over those doors rages on, and the New York Times has an in-depth look at the fight. As large-scale public housing goes the way of the dodo across the country and affordable housing becomes more a private enterprise, it’s a debate worth check out.
• So. There are a lot of important things going on in the world. We’re struggling with how to handle ISIL, a militant, fundamentalist insurgent group in Iraq, and the UK just raised its terror alert level due to threats from the group. Russia continues to dance all over the Ukraine. Our economy is struggling to support America’s middle class. Racial tensions in the U.S. continue to simmer and our police forces are becoming more militarized. But the most breathtaking news of all happened yesterday, when President Barack Obama wore a tan suit. TAN. In what only further proves that journalists on Twitter are the absolute worst people on the planet, that little bit of ephemera went viral as every reporter ostensibly paid to inform you about a news conference discussing some of the aforementioned important events flipped their wig about Obama’s new fashion statement. The suit was completely unremarkable– a little too baggy, a little too buff-colored, maybe, but come on now. The response to Obama's suit even spawned an article about the response, because that’s journalism now. Someone got paid to write that article about journalists' response to Obama's suit, and now I’m writing about the article about the response. Sigh.
• In other important national news, forget those cases of beer that have like, 30 beers in them. Reuters reports that a small brewery has invented the 99-pack of beer. Alas, it’s only available in Texas, where gas station beer caves are the size of airplane hangers and the average Super Bowl party attracts 500 people.
This week is almost over, and that's a great thing. I haven't had my customary coffee and donut yet this morning, so let's do this news so I can get to that.
Security footage from the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot John Crawford III shows that Crawford was not acting violently, an attorney for his family said yesterday in a statement. Attorney Michael Wright says Crawford was facing some shelves and talking on his cellphone when he was fired upon and that police “shot him on sight.”
This contradicts officers’ reports. They say Crawford was waiving the pellet gun he had picked up from a shelf at the store and refused to drop it. Reports said, “he looked like he was going to go violently.”
Crawford, 22, is one of a number of young black men who have died during incidents with police recently under controversial circumstances. The death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a few days after Crawford’s death sparked wide-scale unrest in the St. Louis suburb.
Activists in Beavercreek and across the country have demanded release of the security footage of Crawford’s shooting, which Attorney General Mike DeWine has refused to release until a grand jury is convened Sept. 3. DeWine says releasing the tapes to the public could bias the jury pool and hinder the ongoing investigation.
• There has been talk lately of changing some one-way streets in Over-the-Rhine to two-way, including parts of Main Street. The shift could slow traffic to levels safer for pedestrians and help local businesses, traffic experts say. UrbanCincy has a much more detailed rundown of proposed changes and the history of traffic patterns in OTR here. It’s interesting stuff, especially if you have to drive through the area every day or live there and have to deal with the increased traffic zooming through.
• The Hamilton County Board of Elections today announced it will host a “vote check” where county residents can call into a the board to make sure their voter registration is good to go. The phone-bank style call-in session will be held Sept. 23 from 5 to 6 p.m. and on Oct. 6 at the same time. That Oct. 6 date is the last day to register or change your voter registration information in Ohio. Put it on your calendar.
• I didn’t know a place in America could be more or less American than any other place in America, but apparently there’s a listicle for a city’s degree of American-ness, and Cincinnati came in second behind Nashville. The report by WalletHub.com, a personal finance website, considered 26 factors in the country’s 366 largest metro areas including age, income, housing, gender and other demographic measures to come to its ranking of places most statistically like America’s overall averages. Indianapolis came in third in the most-American sweepstakes. The southwest dominated the bottom five, with two Texas cities (Brownsville and McAllen) and an Arizona burg (Yuma) hanging out and being all un-American (whatever that means) with the likes of Altoona, Pa. and Boulder, Co. America!
• If you spend a lot of time up in West Chester, well, first, sorry about that. That’s unfortunate. But if you are hanging around up there in the land of Ikea and you’re hoping for that rare, elusive, thrilling sighting of House Speaker John Boehner, who reps the area hard in Congress, well, you may as well be looking for a yeti. You won’t see Boehner at the local Red Robin or whatever the heck other fancy, all-you-can-eat-fries restaurants they have up there, shaking hands and kissing babies in his district, because he’s out raising millions for the GOP. Yes, he has a Democratic challenger for his re-election bid, Miami University professor Tom Poetter, but Boehner’s not sweating him too much. His campaign has raised more than $2 million to Poetter’s $60,000, and Boehner’s coasted to re-election easily in the past. Instead, Boehner is wooing party donors in Wyoming (the state, not the neighborhood) resort towns and shoring up his power base with fellow establishment GOPers, hustling hard to keep his seat as speaker as he fights off attacks from his right.
• Finally — cheer up! The economy is getting better. For someone. Somewhere. Economic growth was better than expected in the last quarter, according to the Department of Commerce. Despite this, more Americans are anxious about the state of the economy now than during the Great Recession, a new Rutgers University poll reports. Some of this has to do with the fact that the average worker still hasn’t recovered fully financially from the economic downturn, wages have remained stagnant even as unemployment has decreased and perceptions of job security are lower than ever, even as Wall Street rebounds and corporate profits have soared.
Morning y'all! After a rough start (a bit more on that later), I'm here and ready to give you the news.
Two prosecutors from Hamilton County will lead the state’s investigation into the police shooting death of John Crawford III, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced yesterday.
Stacey DeGraffenreid and Mark Piepermeierand were appointed by the AG yesterday. Piepermeierand, of Sharonville, heads the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office criminal division and has handled many high-profile cases in that capacity. He’s responsible for reviewing all police use-of-force issues in Hamilton County and has done so for the past 15 years.
Police shot Crawford inside a Beavercreek Walmart Aug. 6. Another customer called 911 when he saw Crawford with what he thought was an assault rifle. Officers arrived and demanded Crawford drop the weapon, which turned out to be a pellet gun from the store. When he didn’t comply immediately, officers shot him and he died. Crawford’s family, along with activists, have called for answers as to why he was shot.
• The state of Ohio has ordered embattled restaurant Mahogany’s closed after it didn’t follow state sales tax rules. The restaurant on The Banks has struggled to pay rent and loans owed to the city and was almost evicted in April. The restaurant was able to catch up on the rent but still owes more than $300,000 to the city in loans. Owner Liz Rogers has said that the restaurant has struggled after $80,000 was embezzled from the establishment and a rough winter kept business slow. Rogers has also pointed the finger toward someone in the city’s administration who she says has been leaking untrue information about the business. Mahogany’s can reopen after it pays back the undisclosed amount it owes the state in sales taxes.
• Think sky-high executive pay is kind of absurd? You’re not alone. Former Kroger CEO David Dillion said during a panel on management at the Aspen Ideas Summit last month that his paycheck for leading the company was “ludicrous." A video of that summit is just now trickling out, with Huffington Post covering the statement yesterday.
Dillion’s $13 million paycheck last year was actually below the $15 million average for CEOs in America, which makes his compensation “seem a little more responsible,” he said during the summit. “Still you’d argue, I think,” he continued, “it was pretty damn high.”
Dillion said his eight-figure pay package started out fairly reasonable but ballooned out of control as Kroger’s stock went up. That’s a terrible problem to have. That dang stock price, that dang paycheck, both just rising and rising and rising like the temperature needle on my poor struggling car as I sat in traffic this morning (yes, my car overheated on the way here and I’m bitter). There’s just nothing you can do about that. If only Dillion had like, RUN THE COMPANY or something, maybe he could have gotten that ludicrous pay rate under control. Oh, wait…
• Speaking of big ole billowy clouds o’ cash, former 20102 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is on his way to Kentucky to help make it rain for Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is fighting a tough battle against his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan-Grimes. McConnell has been pulling out all the conservative A-listers to raise cash, a sign that he’s seriously worried he could lose his seat in what looks to be one of the most contentious and expensive Senate campaigns in history. It’s certainly the fight of his career, but the stakes go higher than that. Every seat matters come November, when Democrats will struggle to maintain their slim majority in the Senate. Should Republicans take enough seats, they’ll run both that chamber and the House, making President Obama’s last two years in office one big bummer.
• Another politician experiencing a big ole bummer right now is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was indicted a couple weeks back on some pretty serious felony charges involving abuse of power. It's a long, complicated story that involves a DUI (not Perry's), some backroom dealings, a possibly shady cancer research organization and more. So much more. Anyway, Perry's been kinda sailing through this whole thing, smirking in his mugshot and getting ice cream afterward, the whole deal. He's also played it well politically, refusing public money for his defense team of all-star attorneys. But he recently dropped a comment about that that is less than great PR. He's not turning down public money for his defense because it's the right thing to do, but "to keep folks from grousing about it," he said. The whole Texas-sized imbroglio (gotta love that word) has also hit Perry where it hurts: his holster.
• I usually try to end with some weird news to lighten the mood a lil, but this story is just crazy and sad and confusing. A shooting instructor in Arizona died Monday while teaching a 9-year-old girl how to shoot an uzi. The girl lost control of the semi-automatic weapon due to its recoil as she was firing, and the instructor was shot in the head. An investigation is ongoing to determine the exact sequence of events.
Hey all. It's morning news, and I'm earlier than usual. I'm as surprised as you are.
The city of Cincinnati has announced it will cover medically necessary transgender surgery for employees under its insurance plan. A majority of city council signed a letter urging the change, which was then initiated by interim City Manager Scott Stiles. The city will be the first in Ohio to do so, joining only Berkeley, Calif., Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Seattle offering the benefit. A mental health professional will have to agree that the procedure is necessary for an employee before it is covered. The change will kick in next year and is a way for the city to stay competitive and attract the best job candidates possible, said Councilman Chris Seelbach. Many large companies, including P&G, offer transgender-inclusive benefits.
• Oops again. Duke Energy revised their estimates for the amount of diesel fuel it spilled into the Ohio River last week up to 9,000 gallons. The company previously reported it thought about 5,000 gallons had spilled when an oil transfer valve was left open Aug. 18 at the company’s New Richmond power plant. On the positive side, the cleanup of that spill is almost complete, and no adverse affects to wildlife or residents living along the river have been reported.
• A shifty fast-food sovereign looks to leave the country he rules for cold northern lands to save a few gold coins. Meanwhile, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown really wants you to grab a Frosty and a Crave Case this weekend in protest. Brown is up in arms about a proposed merger between Burger King and Canadian-based Tim Horton’s. The deal would create one of the world’s largest fast food conglomerates and see the king abdicating his burger throne in Miami, Florida for Canada. That part rankles Brown, who says the merger could well be a corporate inversion, or a move from the U.S. meant to evade corporate taxes. He’s encouraging his constituents to grab some grub from Ohio-based companies like Wendy’s or White Castle.
“Burger King’s decision to abandon the United States means consumers should turn to Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers or White Castle sliders,” Brown said in a press release that contained little hint anyone responsible was aware how hilarious that sounds. I’m going to avoid all this royal intrigue and continue to get my burgers from the grill outside of Avril-Bleh’s downtown.
• A national gun control group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense has started a petition asking Cincinnati-based Kroger to ban open carry in its stores. The group cites recent violence in the company’s stores, including a Georgia murder-suicide in June and another shooting incident in the same state that left two people injured. Kroger has said that the safety of its customers is important and that its policy is to follow prevailing state law. Open carry laws vary by state, with some states like Ohio placing few restrictions on your right to tote a deadly weapon around while you’re picking out breakfast cereal or cilantro for a nice homemade pico de gallo. Moms Demand Action received criticism recently when it was revealed the group received $50 million from noted gun control advocate and ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, anonymous sources reveal, is not in fact a mom.
• A national Pew Research poll released yesterday found that Americans have very little faith in law enforcement’s ability to hold its officers accountable for misconduct, engage in good race-relations practices and use an appropriate level of force. This distrust held true for respondents of all races but was especially marked among those in the black community, where nine out of 10 respondents said the police do a “fair” to “poor” job. The poll comes as the police shooting of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen in a St. Louis suburb, has set off a national debate over police conduct, especially as it relates to race.
• Finally, this new photography project by the New Orleans Times-Picayune is worth a look. You can slide between photos of New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina and recent pics of what the same areas look like today to get a powerful look at how the city has — and in some places hasn’t, really — recovered from the disaster.
Heya. It's news time.
Got a few hundred thousand dollars sitting around? Want to be part of the
gentrification renaissance in Over-the-Rhine? Step up and make your pitch to 3CDC! The development corporation has announced it will open up the 33 city-owned properties for which it is the preferred developer to other developers who want to get in on the action in OTR. 3CDC will then make recommendations to the city on which plans for the properties around Findlay Market get the green light, based on financial feasibility, timeliness of renovation, parking considerations and whether hotdogs, tacos and pizza served at your proposed upscale but casual eatery are artisanal enough. Proponents of the process say it’s far more open than 3CDC’s development strategies thus far, while opponents of the development group’s preferred developer status say 3CDC still has too much power calling the shots in the neighborhood.
• As the streetcar gets closer to a reality in downtown and OTR, Northern Kentucky is now looking at how it can get on board. City leaders in Newport and Covington are talking about ways those cities can link up with Cincinnati’s streetcar. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran and Newport City Commissioner Beth Fennell have expressed support for the idea, saying the transit system could alleviate traffic problems and boost economic development there.
• While we’re talking Northern Kentucky, let’s talk about the Noah’s Ark theme park, called The Ark Encounter, being built in Grant County. The project has come under fire from Americans for the Separation of Church and State, a national advocacy group, because it has applied for tax credits despite possibly discriminatory hiring practices. Americans for Separation of Church and State points out that the park’s parent organization, Answers in Genesis, requires job applicants to sign a “statement of faith” that pledges allegiance to the group’s Christian values, including opposition to homosexuality and a belief in the literal truth of the bible. Americans for Separation of Church and state says that amounts to discriminatory hiring and should make the Ark project ineligible for the $73 million in tax incentives the state has approved for the project. Officials with The Ark Encounter say the park’s employment policies have yet to be written and that they will comply with all state and federal laws.
• Butler County Children Services employees have been on strike for the past week, fighting for a 3.5 percent pay increase each year for the next three years. The county is standing firm, however, and things have started getting acrimonious. The county claims union representatives for the Child Services workers have misrepresented work done by the county since the strike has happened by claiming that some 80 home visits have been missed in that time. Union officials deny any misrepresentation. They say they’ve been forced to strike by the county’s refusal to meet their demands and that work isn’t getting done. The county has hired a number of new personnel since the strike and say they’re handling the workload without the striking union members.
• Gov. John Kasich signaled last week that he will again turn down job-requirement waivers for food aid in all but 17 counties in the state. Last year, the governor’s office allowed just 16 counties to get the waivers, which the federal government issues in high-unemployment areas to exempt those seeking food stamps from work requirements. Without the waiver, food aid recipients are limited to three months of benefits before they must find a job or enter a state-funded work program. But both jobs and spots in these work programs have been difficult to find, leading to criticism of Kasich’s decision to turn down the waiver in most of Ohio’s counties from groups like the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and liberal think tanks like Ohio Policy Matters. Advocacy groups have filed a federal civil rights claim seeking to overturn the state’s decision and extend the waiver to all 88 Ohio counties.
• In national news, the funeral for Mike Brown, the 18-year-old shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, was held today. Brown’s family has asked protesters who have taken to the streets in the wake of his Aug. 9 shooting for a peaceful event. Ferguson has been on edge since the shooting, with everything from peaceful demonstrations to all-out rioting taking place. Civil rights attorney Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the parents of Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin all attended the memorial.
It's a gross rainy Friday, so grab some coffee and let's settle in with some news.
Two local organizations that help veterans experiencing homelessness will be getting a $1.5 million boost, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and former P&G head Bob McDonald announced yesterday. A program run by Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries in Woodlawn will get nearly $1 million in grant funding from the VA. The Rehabilitation Center Inc. serves seven counties in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. The Talbert House in Walnut Hills, which serves veterans in Hamilton County, will get the other $500,000. The funding is part of more than $300 million in grants given out nationwide, nearly $9 million of which went to organizations in Ohio fighting homelessness among veterans.
• Is there anything more comforting than the knowledge your local police department is slowly becoming a paramilitary force? Recent revelations about the federal government’s program decommissioning military equipment into the hands of local law enforcement are mind-boggling and also darkly hilarious.
Even among my friends and family who are still afraid of living in urban areas, I would think fear of landmines in Cincinnati is pretty low, maybe non-existent. But that hasn’t stopped the Hamilton County law enforcement officials from receiving two land-mine detection kits from the program. Kenton County got a mine-resistant truck along with 44 pairs of night-vision goggles, 34 pieces of body armor and 22 assault rifles. Newport got a pretty awesome Humvee, though it’s not armor plated. Really important question here, guys — is that thing land-mine proof?
• Caesar’s Entertainment Corp., parent company to Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, will pay the largest fine ever doled out by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Caesars will pay a $200,000 fine for lack of financial transparency involving the company’s ongoing $23 billion debt restructuring efforts.
• Attorney General candidate David Pepper has received criticism recently for his legal record. Do records show he embezzled money? Took bribes? Sold drugs? No, no, I’m afraid it’s much darker. Pepper, it seems, is a serial illegal parker. Over the past 14 years, Pepper has paid more than $9,000 in parking fines, averaging 13 tickets a year, though the bulk occurred when he was County Commissioner from 2007 to 2009, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. That’s a lot of tickets, sure, but most of them are for parking at expired meters. Some are a bit more serious offenses — displaying expired plates. When you break it down, he’s been fined about $700 a year for all those offenses. Pepper’s campaign chalks the fines up to a busy schedule and a lot of late meetings. But his opponent Mike DeWine’s campaign says the number of offenses isn’t an accident and makes him unfit to be attorney general.
“Nearly everyone has made a mistake by forgetting to go back and feed a parking meter,” DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch said. “But that Mr. Pepper racked up nearly $10,000 in fines shows a stunning disregard for basic traffic laws — particularly for someone running to be Ohio’s top law officer.”
Pepper’s campaign said it would rather have that smudge than allegations facing DeWine, which include accusations that the attorney general’s office has been engaged in pay-to-play practices, allegedly awarding lucrative legal contracts with the AG’s office to private firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign.
“[Pepper is] happy to debate old parking tickets versus Mike DeWine’s current practices as attorney general,” Pepper spokesman Peter Koltak said.
• Finally, things in Ferguson, Mo., seem to be calming down for the time being. Protests, some violent, have rocked the St. Louis suburb since the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Lately, however, the protests have become somewhat more peaceful. Yesterday the state’s National Guard units withdrew from the city and the number of arrests police have made has been dropping. Investigations into the shooting are ongoing, as the Justice Department works with state and local law enforcement to try and determine what happened between Brown and officer Darren Wilson. Wilson says that Brown attacked him in his patrol car, though others say Wilson was the aggressor and that Brown was retreating when he was shot. An autopsy showed that Wilson shot Brown at least six times.
If you’re like me, you passed work crews installing the first stretch of streetcar tracks in the Central Business District today. If you’re REALLY like me (clumsy), you almost fell off your bike trying to get a better look at the work. This is not recommended. The track work is happening right around between Central Parkway and Court Street along Walnut Street, where the city held a press conference this morning to talk about the progress. Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had been a swing vote during the battle over whether the streetcar would even happen last winter, called the latest progress “a milestone” and said he’s not giving up on some federal money to help operate the streetcar. A $5 million application for a federal grant completed by the city looks unlikely to be successful in its current form. That money would have funded operating costs for the streetcar for the next few years, according to city officials. Other private funds have shored up the transit project’s operating budget to some degree, but more funding is needed.
• While we’re talking about that little corner of the world, check this out. Some day, you may see a new Kroger near the spot where streetcar tracks are going in. A $50 million residential development is being planned for the corner of Central Parkway and Walnut Street. It will feature 200 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Rookwood Properties, based in Blue Ash, has approached the grocery chain about possibly filling some of that retail space. It’s all speculative for now, though. Kroger is looking to open a new location downtown but will not comment on specific locations, including the development on Walnut. I hope they hurry up, because I need a place close by to purchase all my Triscuits, Arizona Green Tea tall cans and ready-made boneless buffalo wings, which is pretty much my daily lunch these days.
• As we reported yesterday, the Women’s Med Center in Sharonville will cease providing abortions. The facility announced yesterday it will not appeal an Aug. 18 court ruling upholding earlier orders that the clinic close down its abortion services. The clinic will remain open to provide other services, specifically helping prepare women seeking abortions before they receive the procedures at the company’s Dayton clinic location.
• Lots of rumblings about shady dealing at Cincinnati's major airport after an the Kentucky State Auditor released a report Tuesday calling for a restructuring of CVG's board. The audit details high levels of inefficiency, nepotism and back-room dealing in the way the airport is run. CVG is among the most expensive airports in the country for passengers, and its board has been under fire for some time. The audit comes after a nine-month special investigation into its operation. Proposals for restructuring the board focus on making it more regional, folding in a representative chosen by Hamilton County Commissioners, the Ohio governor's office and the Cincinnati mayor's office.
• OK, so there are a lot of complaints about the suddenly ubiquitous ice bucket challenge, but the Cincinnati Archdiocese has a unique one. The trend has attempted to harness social media to raise money for the ALS Association. That part is great. The organization funds research to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that eventually causes muscle paralysis and death. But a viral trend where people film themselves dumping super-cold water on themselves instead of giving money to charity and then challenge others to do the same as a kind of activism… seems a bit counterproductive. (Though, to be fair, the organization has said it’s gotten some $16 million in donations since the fad started).
Anyway, the Archdiocese has a different sort of problem with the challenge. They don’t mind the inane and narcissistic part. They’re upset about people giving money to the ALS Association, because the group funds research involving embryonic stem cells, the harvesting of which the church equates with abortion. Dump ice on yourself and post it on Vine all you want, the Archdiocese says, but god forbid you give any money to the group that’s trying to heal people.
"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in this," Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."
The Archdiocese has directed Catholics to send money to a catholic group that doesn’t use embryonic stem cells in its research instead.
• Remember Joe the Plumber? Of course you do! Ohio’s favorite native son first came to prominence during the 2008 presidential election when his shaky math about his small business (which he hadn’t even started yet) was picked up by the McCain campaign. Since that time, he's become a kind of pundit for the far right, writing books, appearing on talk shows and even running for Congress. He recently made national news by taking to Facebook and proposing HIS solution to the Ferguson unrest. His idea achieves a pretty impressive trifecta of being racist, classist and making absolutely no sense whatsoever. His post says “The best way to end the rioting and looting in Ferguson… Job Fair. They’ll scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on!” Great.
• Finally, speaking of working, this New Yorker piece on the trials of hourly workers in the age of employers’ push for maximum efficiency is a good read and very likely familiar for anyone who has ever had to work an ever-shifting schedule in retail, food or other service industries. Lots of interesting data and insights into the way the economy continues to shift in ways that are tough for working people.
Halloween is here. I’m taking an informal poll: how many folks are dressing up as Union Terminal and/or Music Hall tonight? I’m not knocking ya. I just wish I’d thought of that in time. Instead I have an Abraham Lincoln mask, American flag aviators, and a bow tie for a costume, so I will probably look like a very unappealing, election-themed male stripper. Procrastination is lame, folks.
These are painful times for the Cincinnati Enquirer. A reorganization has been happening for a while now, but recently, news broke that a number of newsroom veterans are leaving the paper, including No. 2 in command Laura Trujillio and social issues reporter Mark Curnute, whose stories I've always been impressed with. Over the past couple months, employees have been asked to reapply for their jobs under new, more digitally-oriented job descriptions. That's definitely ruffled some feathers, and has caused the biggest shake-up in the paper's history. The departures probably have something to do with the fact Gannett brass have been wrapping layoffs at the Enquirer and other papers in the disingenuous corporate speak of an exciting new opportunity to create "the newsroom of the future", but who knows?
• Right now the Ohio Department of Transportation is having its Southwestern Ohio town hall meeting on the future of public transit in the state. In Lebanon, because everyone knows that is the absolute hub of public transit in the region. You can watch the proceedings live here if you’d like to follow along at home. It’s standing room only there, maybe because I spread a rumor that there’s an ODOT party bus shuttling folks to some killer Halloween parties right after the meeting. That’s false, as far as I know.
• You’ve probably already heard about the controversy over a proposal by outgoing State Sen. Eric Kearney to change the name of State Route 562 from the Norwood Lateral to the Barack Obama Norwood Lateral Highway. I bet you can guess some folks’ reaction to that idea. Norwood Mayor Tom Williams doesn’t want a name change, but did throw out another, much different suggestion: naming it after Norwood-raised business magnate Carl Lindner, who died in 2011. Williams called Lindner, who owned Chiquita, Great American Insurance, and a number of other businesses “a beautiful individual” and said the several times he got to hang out with him were “an absolute thrill.” Hm. Maybe let’s just keep calling it the Norwood Lateral.
• More than 400 people in eastern Ohio were forced to leave their homes this week after a fracking operation there began leaking and “shooting an invisible gaseous discharge into the air.”
…no, I’m just not even going to go there. The blowout happened about 6 p.m. Tuesday. Homes within a 2 mile radius of the site where evacuated, though officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources say no permanent environmental impact was caused by the leak and residents were back in their houses by midnight. No word on the cause of the accident.
• Is the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party on the way out? Could be. Some say those within the party are furious at the monumental disaster that Dem gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s campaign has become, and party chair Chris Redfern could take the heat for that. We’ll see.
• Almost a year exactly after political brinksmanship and partisan wrangling ground the U.S. government to a halt, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says if voters in Kentucky choose him, it’s because “they want divided government.” It may be true, though. New polls heading into the Nov. 4 election show McConnell up five points over his Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
• Finally, I want to introduce you to perhaps the weirdest online quiz ever. Can you distinguish the wisdom passed down by ornery, Texan tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz from the golden, learned lessons of rapper and self-proclaimed genius Kanye West? The Washington Post wants to help you find out.
That’s the opinion of John Sanphillippo of San Francisco, in this recent article from newgeography.com about how acquaintances from there who, upon finding that city too expensive, moved to Cincinnati and discovered a similar environment, only affordable.
His point is very provocative — young people who want but can’t afford the progressive, stimulating urban life that is such a lure for cities like San Francisco, Brooklyn, N.Y., Seattle or Boston aren’t giving up on their dreams and retreating to the familiar dullness of Great American Suburbia.
Instead, they’re finding that all cities now — and especially what he calls “Rust Belt” cities — are alive with examples of progressive New Urbanism. And he singles out Cincinnati as a choice example.
The photos aren’t marked, but you can see Shake It Records, the Suspension Bridge, East Walnut Hills, Vine Street. And the author doesn’t even mention the streetcar.
This article ran Saturday on the New Geography site, a joint venture of author Joel Kotkin (The City: A Global History) and Praxis Strategy Group devoted to “analyzing and discussing the places where we live and work.”
According to his bio, Sanphillippo “lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at granolashotgun.com. He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for faircompanies.com, and is a regular contributor to strongtowns.org. He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long- term prospects.”
All right! So I’ve got some great Halloween parties lined up and it’s really hard to sit still and focus on important things. But since that’s pretty much what being a grownup is about, and since they pay me to (kind of) be a grownup around here, let’s talk about news for a few.
• Though most of the action happened in committee meetings, City Council made final a bunch of things it has been working on, including funding the mayor’s Hand Up initiative. The jobs program has been controversial since the funding will come in part from other programs. Get the back story on that here.
Council also gave the thumbs up for City Manager Harry Black’s proposals for the city’s $18 million budget surplus. The city will stash most of it away in savings or emergency accounts for weather and such, give some to a new data analysis office, use some to fight infant mortality and to repay neighborhood programs.
Council also gave final approval to an ordinance that would make getting expungements easier for those convicted under Cincinnati’s old marijuana law. Lingering criminal records for a number of city residents mean difficulty finding jobs and getting school loans, something the new law looks to address.
Finally, council passed new regulations on Uber and Lyft. You can read more about that here. Busy day.
• A while back I told you about outspoken Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones taping an interview for The Daily Show. Well, this probably goes without saying, but… it didn’t go so well. It’s gotta be hard when you’re diametrically opposed to the viewpoints of the show you’re going on, and they have all the editing power, but still. It was rough. Jones, who made his way down to the belly of the liberal beast, Austin, Texas, for the taping, continually insisted that illegal immigrants get all sorts of free stuff the rest of us aren’t privy to. I’ll let you watch the results yourself if you haven’t already.
• Also a while back, and also something you should watch — the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial meeting at which Gov. John Kasich more or less ignored beleaguered challenger Ed FitzGerald. I also, because I’m thoughtful like that, linked you to a page with a video of the exchange, or, well, lack thereof. Only the Plain Dealer later took that video down, which is weird, right? So here it is again. Warning: strong language in the article accompanying the vid, including the terms "douchecanoe" and "asshat."
• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from the Clintons in her nail-biter of a challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell. Hillary Clinton will appear with Grimes today in Louisville and Saturday in Covington at 11th-hour campaign rallies. No word what their Friday plans are, but I’m going to some great Halloween parties if y’all are reading and interested.
Two relatively new Ohio parks, Cincinnati’s Washington Park and Columbus’ Columbus Commons and Scioto Mile, were among the four finalists for the non-profit Urban Land Institute’s 2014 Urban Open Space Award.
According to the Institute, the award “celebrates and promotes vibrant, successful urban open spaces by annually recognizing and rewarding an outstanding example of a public destination that has enriched and revitalized its surrounding community.”
The 2014 winner was Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, described by the Institute as a “5.2-acre deck park built over a recessed freeway in Texas” (similar to what Cincinnati planners want to do with downtown’s Fort Washington Way). It bridges “the downtown Dallas cultural district with burgeoning mixed-use neighborhoods, reshaping the city and catalyzing economic development.”
The award was made at the Institute’s October meeting.
The two other finalists were Tulsa’s Guthrie Green and Santa Fe’s Railyard Park and Plaza.
To be eligible, parks had to meet these criteria:
▪ Be located in an urbanized area in North America;
▪ Have been open to the public at least one year and no more than 15 years;
▪ Be predominantly outdoors and inviting to the public;
▪ Be a lively gathering space, providing abundant and varied seating, sun and shade, and trees and plantings, with attractions and features that offer many different ways for visitors to enjoy the space;
▪ Be used intensively on a daily basis, and act as a destination for a broad spectrum of users throughout the year;
▪ Have a positive economic impact on its surroundings;
▪ Promote physical, social, and economic health of the larger community; and provide lessons, strategies, and techniques that can be used or adapted in other communities.
Phew! Our election issue is done and out in the world, I just wrapped up a draft of next week’s cover story, and I have literally hours before the next City Council meeting. Let’s hang out for a minute and talk about what’s going on.
Mayor John Cranley has endorsed former City Councilman and Human Rights Commission head Cecil Thomas in his run for state Senate, but it’s understandable if you were thinking otherwise. Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, running against Thomas, has pulled a Cranley quote from a Cincinnati Enquirer article published back in April praising Winburn and put it in campaign material. That kinda, you know, makes it look like Cranley is endorsing him.
Cranley’s standing behind his fellow Democrat, which would be kind of awkward for Winburn if he wasn’t just plowing right on through it.
“His endorsement won't matter at this point," Winburn says. "He has to let everyone know he's a Democrat."
• Iconic Cincinnatian Leslie Isaiah Gaines passed away on Monday. Gaines was a Renaissance man the likes of which we rarely see these days— a larger-than-life lawyer, preacher, songwriter and Hamilton County municipal court judge. Gaines broke down barriers as a black lawyer and judge, as well as standing up for the legal rights of people of all colors.
• The Vatican has removed three Cincinnati catholic priests for sexual abuse offenses involving children. The decision to permanently remove Thomas Kuhn, Thomas Feldhaus and Ronald Cooper from the priesthood was announced yesterday, and while advocacy groups say they’re glad some justice is being done, they also heavily criticize the long, slow nature of the process. The three had been suspended for years and were still collecting paychecks from the church. Feldhaus’ offense dates back to 1979, and Cooper’s to the 1980s. The three are among more than a dozen Cincinnati-area priests investigated following a national scandal involving child abuse in the Catholic church that surfaced more than a decade ago.
• I’m only surprised that it took so long for this to happen. Ghost Hunters, the popular SyFy channel TV series, recently filmed an episode, airing tonight at 9 p.m., in Music Hall. The building is supposedly one of the country’s most haunted locations. Music Hall was constructed starting in 1876 on a former orphanage and burial ground for indigent citizens, and thousands of bones were found during the process. More remains have also been found in subsequent updates of the building, as well as in neighboring Washington Park. So if anywhere has ghosts, it’s Music Hall. The only question is whether any of those ghosts have tons and tons of money and want to like, chip in on some home repairs.
• Cincinnati may end up losing a $4.3 million federal grant for a bike trail on the city’s east side if it follows through with a plan to build on a route along an old train line instead of along the river. Part of the Ohio River Trail has already been built, but continuing to build along the river could be complex and expensive, requiring purchasing property from private owners and building a flood wall. Instead, council is considering shifting to the Oasis Line, a stretch of seldom-used train tracks. Supporters say that plan would be much cheaper and faster to build. But that plan has its own complications, including approval from the Federal Transportation Authority and Genesse and Wyoming Railroad, which holds some rights to the tracks. There’s also the fact that the federal grant money at stake can’t be moved from the Ohio River Trail to the Oasis Line.
• As a candidate, this is not the kind of news you want to hear a week from election day. Cuyahoga County Inspector General Nailah Byrd released a report on County Executive and Democratic candidate for Ohio governor Ed FitzGerald yesterday slamming the fact he drove without a driver’s license for 10 months after taking office. Byrd, who was appointed by FitzGerald, said the Democrat committed “a breach of public trust” for driving his own vehicle and county vehicles without a valid license. The inspector general doesn’t have any disciplinary powers over FitzGerald, but it’s the last thing his sagging, ill-run campaign needs at this point. Incumbent Gov. John Kasich has a towering, double-digit lead over his challenger, and has run circles around him in terms of fundraising, which basically means we’re doomed to four more years of having a governor who defends Ohio’s gay marriage ban, pushes abortion restrictions, refuses federal funds for food aid, and so forth. Great.
Morning y’all. Before we begin, I have to share something only tangentially related to the news. Last night I went and checked out a concert at Union Terminal, which has a 100-year-old organ in house and more than 4,000 pipes for that organ built into the walls. I don’t know a whole lot about baroque and classical music, but I do know a lot about loud music, and it was insanely loud. And awesome. Very recommended. To tie this into newsy stuff, I’ll just say go weigh in one way or the other on Issue 8 (the icon tax) at your local polling place.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday more or less tied up what the city will do with its $18 million budget surplus. The committee, which is composed of all nine council members basically adopted City Manager Harry Black’s recommendations outright. The decision came with controversy, however, as some on Council again questioned the process by which the recommendations were proposed. Council members Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and P.G. Sittenfeld pushed back on the process, accusing Budget Committee Chair Charlie Winburn of trying to push the proposals through quickly and asking why public input wasn’t sought on the proposals before they were brought before Council for a vote. The three abstained from voting for Black’s recommendations.
• Council also wrangled again over funding for Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative at the committee meeting. Several council members had questions about why some established programs are being cut to fund the $2.3 million jobs initiative, especially when the city is running a large budget surplus. Councilman Chris Seelbach pushed for an amendment to the ordinance funding the program to try and restore some cuts to housing advocacy group Housing Opportunities Made Equal and People Working Cooperatively, which helps the elderly and low-income with home weatherization, maintenance and energy efficiency. Those programs lost federal dollars from Community Development Block Grants that have been diverted to the mayor’s new jobs program. The amendment was voted down, 5-4.
“These programs employ people,” said Councilman Wendell Young, who, along with council members Seelbach, Sittenfeld and Simpson voted for the amendment. “When these programs take a hit, that impacts their employees. There’s a real paradox there. These programs leverage dollars. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s help everybody.”
Others turned out to either support the mayor’s program or oppose the cuts. Many spoke on behalf of Cincinnati Cooks, which is a Hand Up partner. But some questioned the mayor’s program. Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless Director Josh Spring praised the organization's partnering with Hand Up, but said cutting other programs was counterproductive and unnecessary.
“Are we really going to lower poverty by five percent in five years by serving just 4,000 people? What the mayor has accomplished is that he has forced groups that get along to come down here and fight each other,” Spring said. “We do have a surplus. There are other ways to do this. Things like lead abatement, things like home repair, things like upward mobility so that folks experiencing low incomes can move up economically — those aren’t handouts.”
• One other skirmish broke out at the marathon meeting, which was still going when I stopped watching it on Citicable at about 6 p.m. (yes, I lead an exciting and enviable life). The tussle broke out over money that was once set aside for permanent supportive housing in the city. That money had been earmarked for a prospective 99-unit affordable housing development in Avondale for those recovering from addiction and other issues called Commons at Alaska. However, pushback from some community members there hamstrung that development. Now it will be used for other things.
“Last June, we had money set aside in the budget for permanent supportive housing,” Seelbach said. “I know some people say Alaska Commons doesn’t have enough community buy-in. But permanent supportive housing is an essential part of the equation. We were told we were not going to be eliminating it. And now guess what? We’re eliminating permanent supportive housing. Well, I’m not going to do that.” Seelbach voted against moving the money, along with Simpson, Young and Sittenfeld.
• That’s enough City Council action, at least until Wednesday. Let’s move on. Normally, the words “best” and “suburbs” in the same sentence cause heavy cognitive dissonance in my brain. But this is cool, I guess. Three Cincinnati suburbs have been ranked among the best in America by a new study. Madeira (3), Montgomery (21) and Wyoming (24) were tops in the region and among the best in the country, according to Business Insider. The rankings looked at nearly 300 ‘burbs across the country and took into account housing affordability, commute times, poverty, public school ratings and the number of stifling gated communities, GAP outlets and SUVs with stick figure family stickers on the back window per capita. Just kidding on those last ones, guys. Suburbs can be cool, too.
• The end of a long, watery saga: Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant, a boat that has been basically sinking since August, is being demolished.
• The Ohio Department of Transportation commissioned a study to determine future transit needs, and it found that the state will need to double its funding of transit over the next decade to more than $1 billion due to increasing demand. In 2000, the state spent $44 million for public transit. In 2013, it spent just $7.3 million. ODOT also gets money for transit from the federal government, however. Gov. John Kasich's administration has been especially cold to public transit, calling passenger rail supporters a "train cult" and turning down $400 million in federal funds for a commuter line between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. He also, you know, withheld state funds for the streetcar. This is why we can't have nice things.
• In Ohio and beyond, it’s looking more and more likely that Democrats are going to take a beating this midterm election. That’s especially true in Congress, where once-safely Democratic House seats suddenly seem to be up for grabs. If Dems lose enough of those seats, they may not have any chance of taking back a majority in the House until redistricting rolls around again. Many analysts and some in the party have blamed the potential slide in House seats on the unpopularity of the president.
• Finally, if all this news is just too overwhelming for you (I know how you feel) check out this porcupine. He’s eating a pumpkin. It's adorable. You’re welcome.
If you got caught with a joint that one time in college here in Cincinnati and now you're applying for jobs, that youthful indiscretion can make it much tougher for you.
But that could change. Some of the 10,000 Cincinnatians convicted under an unpopular and now-repealed marijuana law may soon be able to put the past behind them.
City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee today passed an ordinance that, if backed by a full Council vote Wednesday, would allow some city residents convicted of having less than 200 grams of marijuana to have the charges removed from their criminal record.
In 2006, the city passed an ordinance making it a criminal offense to have even small amounts of the drug. A first offense was a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. A second offense could net someone a first degree misdemeanor charge punishable by 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Under Ohio law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor charge akin to a parking ticket. Those charges are much easier to get expunged. But municipalities can pass tougher laws against the drug, leading to a patchwork of penalties from one place to another.
Cincinnati’s law was repealed by City Council in 2011, but the after effects remain for many in the city. The drug charges stay on a person’s criminal record, are difficult to get expunged and could inhibit them from getting jobs or school loans.
“Our goal to seal these records so citizens can get on with their life and get jobs," said Councilman Charlie Winburn at the Monday meeting. Winburn, a Republican, has been pushing the ordinance as he runs for state Senate in Cincinnati’s largely Democratic 9th District.
Hey all! We’re hustling this week to put together our election issue, which will be just overrun with everything you need to know before Nov. 4 or, heck, right now if you’re doing the early voting thing. In light of that, I’m going to hit you with a brief, just-the-facts version of morning news.
• Some folks in the city, including advocates for the poor, are upset with the way Mayor John Cranley’s new job training program, called the “Hand Up” initiative, will be funded. That initiative is getting some of its funding from federal grants originally slated for other established programs in the city. Cranley says those programs aren’t the best use of the federal funds, and that his program will help up to 4,000 Cincinnatians reach self-sufficiency. Others, however, challenge that assertion.
• Seven Greenpeace activists were scheduled to stand trial today for hanging a banner protesting P&G’s use of palm oil from the company’s headquarters in March. But that trial has been postponed until Jan. 20. Another activist who was also facing charges died Oct. 6. A ninth took a plea deal Sept. 8 and is awaiting sentencing. The remaining activists could face more than nine years in prison on felony burglary and vandalism charges.
• Yet another development deal may be happening soon on Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine. Have you ever driven down Central Parkway near Liberty Street and wondered what the building that says Warner Brothers on the front was all about? Developer Urban Sites is considering turning the 40,000-square-foot historic building, which was used by the film company as a vault, into offices or apartments.
• Democrat Senate candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is still running neck and neck with Sen. Mitch McConnell in one of the country’s most-watched races. Recent polls put the two dead even, and, in a sign that folks who follow such things think she still has a chance, Grimes was endorsed by two of Kentucky’s major newspapers over the weekend. Both the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader have backed Grimes. McConnell’s challenger made a last-minute swoop through Covington over the weekend, showing up to hang out with a few dozen supporters at the MainStrasse Village Dog PawRade.
• Let’s zoom out to the bigger picture on the Senate. This AP story explores how weak Republican governors in some states could hurt the party’s chances of taking back the Senate, which it desperately, desperately wants to do so it can keep President Obama from doing really communistic type things like making sure people have health care and stuff.
• Finally, while we’re talking about elections, could the national attention focused on civil unrest Ferguson, Mo., spur greater black turnout in this midterm election? I normally don’t pay too much mind to the Daily Beast, but this article is thought-provoking.
Cranley’s “Hand Up” job initiative will be funded in part by cuts to other anti-poverty and blight mitigation programs. That has some advocates for the poor up in arms.
The Hand Up program, which has an overall budget of $2.3 million, will provide education, job training and other services for Cincinnatians experiencing poverty. It will fund nonprofit job training organizations Cincinnati Cooks, Cincinnati Works and Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention.
Cranley says the program will eventually provide more than 4,000 Cincinnatians with jobs making at least $10 an hour. But it will do so by redirecting more than $1 million from federal Community Development Block Grants that was budgeted to other well-established Cincinnati programs that serve the poor.
Former City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham, who now works for the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, says the cuts are short-sighted and unfair.
“The programs the mayor has recommended for elimination are the few we have that are able to address systemic discrimination and inequality faced by our citizens,” she wrote in an Oct. 21 editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer. She also noted that there are other more pressing concerns the funds could be used for.
“Block-grant funds could also be used to create more units of affordable housing,” she says, “an especially acute need given than homelessness in the city is increasing and the average age of a person receiving emergency shelter last year here was 9.”
Cranley says the cuts have been vetted by a board that approves the city’s use of CDBG funds. CDBG grants, which come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, allow cities some flexibility in how they’re distributed. But HUD hasn’t prioritized job training over the kinds of programs being cut, critics like Dillingham say.
The cuts include $40,375 from Housing Opportunities Made Equal, which does tenant advocacy work, tenant education and other services. About $152,000 will come from People Working Cooperatively, an organization that provides home repairs, energy efficiency help and other services to low-income people.
Some critics, including Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer, say Cranley’s message of job training over assistance for the poor mirrors regressive conservative talking points about poverty, including Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s infamous budget proposal last year, which slashed spending on food aid and other anti-poverty programs.
Cranley has said that the program is designed prioritize teaching people to provide for themselves over “traditional welfare handouts.”
Councilman Chris Seelbach has been skeptical of the cuts and has drawn up a motion to restore funds to some of the programs. He’s hoping to get the motion before council at its Nov. 3 meeting.