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by Nick Swartsell 01.02.2015 63 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Leelah Alcorn's mother expresses grief in first media interview; Ohio Against the World gets big ups from OSU win; NYPD's massive arrest slowdown

Hey hey Cincinnati! I hope your New Years Eve was as good as mine. I stayed out way too late and had more fun than you should be allowed to have while wearing a suit at CityBeat's speakeasy party. But enough about partying. Let’s get down to business.

Carla Alcorn, who has been mostly silent since daughter Leelah Alcorn’s suicide Dec. 28, gave her first interview with media Wednesday. Speaking to CNN, Alcorn expressed deep grief at the loss of the 17-year-old transgender teen from Kings Mills, whose given name was Joshua and who said in a suicide note that she had felt “like a girl trapped in a boy’s body” since the age of 4. Leelah’s suicide has sparked a national conversation about societal attitudes toward gender as well as the high rate of depression and suicide attempts among transgender people. The elder Alcorn told CNN that she forbade Leelah from obtaining medical procedures to help her transition toward more female physical traits because it was against the family’s religion.

"We don't support that, religiously," Alcorn's mother told CNN in an emotional phone interview. "But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy."

Controversy has arisen over the way some news outlets, Alcorn’s family and her school have identified Alcorn, using the name Joshua and male pronouns to refer to her.

• On a more upbeat note, a local fashion icon got some big attention yesterday after Ohio State beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and clenched a spot at college football’s championship game. As OSU pulled ahead late in the game, ESPN showed a fan in the crowd rocking an Ohio Against the World shirt, a brand dreamed up by Cincinnatian Floyd Johnson. OATW has already gotten a lot of national attention, but screen grabs of the ESPN shot showed up on Twitter and promptly exploded, sending the phrase Ohio Against the World trending worldwide. Full disclosure: I’m a huge OATW fan and own a few of their shirts, one of which I’m wearing as I type, so this may not be unbiased reporting I’m doing here. I could not care less about football (sorry Buckeyes fans) but it’s awesome that great local talent is getting much-deserved recognition. Go get yourself one of those shirts! Just be sure you’re buying the real deal when you hop online to order one and not one of these. Yes, yes, I get it. That’s supposed to be OSU’s font. Still not into it.

• Just a heads up: new parking meter times and rates go into effect today. Parking in Over-the-Rhine goes from 50 cents to $1 today, and you’ll have to pay from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. in OTR and downtown. The boost will be used to help pay for streetcar operating costs. Don’t fret if you don’t have change, though. The new meters take credit cards. 

• Tasha Thomas, the woman who was with John Crawford III in the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot him in August, died in a car accident yesterday. The accident occurred about 3 p.m. in downtown Dayton, authorities say. Thomas gained attention last month when a video tape was released showing Beavercreek police interrogating her harshly after the shooting. Crawford's shooting and other police killings of unarmed black citizens, including the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson Missouri, have ignited continuing protests across the country.

• Women in Ohio and Kentucky are pushing back against a new form of birth control called Essure offered by major drug company Bayer. Essure claims to be a form of easy, permanent birth control. Sounds great, right? The problem is, the device, which is implanted, has reportedly caused headaches, severe nausea and other symptoms in some women, perhaps due to the fact it contains nickel, which many are allergic to. Women suffering these symptoms claim they were not told about the device’s nickel content. Other women have reported that the device has caused internal damage when it shifted inside their bodies, or that scans by doctors have been unable to find the device after it has been implanted. A number of activists, including women in Ohio, have called for a ban on the product, starting wide-ranging social media campaigns and filing a lawsuit. But doctors and the FDA say they can’t demonstrate a link between the device and health problems. They say the device is safe to use and that problems associated with the implant are probably psychosomatic.

• The ongoing national argument over police tactics is having very real consequences within the nation’s largest police force. After a gunman ambushed and killed two officers Dec. 20, New York City police have decreased arrests 66 percent as part of a work slow down, the New York Post reports. The choke hold death of Eric Garner this summer and a subsequent grand jury’s decision not to indict an officer in that death has led to civil unrest in the city, and police have taken offense. The situation intensified when the gunman in Brooklyn murdered two officers last month. Since that incident, officers have protested by turning their backs to Mayor Bill deBlasio at public ceremonies for a perceived lack of support from the mayor. They’ve also instituted a slowdown on their policing and have announced they’ll only be arresting people when they have to — in part for safety reasons, and in part in protest. But think about that for just a minute. Shouldn’t police always approach and arrest people “only when they have to?”  The New York Post reports that ticketing for incidents in the city has dropped 94 percent since the murder of the two officers. Arrests for drug offenses have dropped 82 percent. What are the rest of those arrests all about anyway?

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.31.2014 65 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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News in Review 2014

Today's news and our top daily/weekly stories of 2014

Hey all! In a minute, I’m going to hit you with the list: the biggest, the most interesting and the most disturbing stories we covered this year on a daily or weekly basis. We’ve already given you our favorite news cover stories; those long-form pieces which we spent weeks or even months putting together. Now it’s time for the everyday stuff. But first, let me just throw a couple things your way that are making news on the last day of 2014.

Memorials are planned for Leelah Alcorn, the Kings Mills 17-year-old who committed suicide on I-71 Sunday after suffering with lengthy depression and isolation due to her transgender status. These memorials include a candlelight vigil in front of Kings High School Saturday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.  

In other news, the city came to an agreement with unions over its pension obligations last night. The deal, which took 10 months of negotiations, including a nine-hour marathon talk session between the city, employees and retirees, is complicated, but here’s the upshot: The agreement will allow the city to stabilize the pension fund, to which it owes $862 million, by whittling down retiree health benefits over time while putting $200 million from the health care trust fund into the pension fund. The city will also make a $38 million payment into the system next year.

On to the list. It’s a bit absurd to do these end of the year lists, right? I mean, ongoing stories don’t conveniently bookend themselves on New Years Eve, but tend to linger on and on (see: streetcar fight). But we have to stop somewhere and brag about our coverage, and the day we run out of calendar seems as good as any. So here are some of the big stories we covered in 2014:

1. Police Shootings and Race: A Familiar Story
Cincinnati is no stranger to controversy surrounding police shootings. So the unrest around an August incident in Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown felt very close to home. The incident sparked civil unrest in Ferguson and across the country. Just days before, a similar incident occurred in a Beavercreek Walmart, where police shot 22-year-old John Crawford while he was holding a pellet gun sold in the store.

We watched the Crawford case closely from the beginning. His shooting as well as a  number of others around the country that came to light afterward were especially pertinent in Cincinnati, bringing back memories of the 2001 shooting of Timothy Thomas by police in Over-the-Rhine. We covered the parallels between 2001 and now, followed local reaction to the recent police shootings and delved deep into racial tensions in Beavercreek. New incidents of questionable use of force by police officers continue to emerge, suggest this story is far from over. We’ll be following it just as closely in 2015.

2. Icon Tax Debate
Two of Cincinnati’s favorite buildings need big help. But getting the money to renovate historic Music Hall and Union Terminal has been a political struggle. An initial proposal by business leaders would have levied a .25 percent sales tax increase over time to fund renovations on both buildings. But Republican Hamilton County commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann balked at including Music Hall in that arrangement, opting instead to shorten the duration of the tax increase and only fix Union Terminal. That left supporters of OTR’s major landmark angry and triggered a campaign to unseat Hartmann in the November election, though that effort fizzled. Meanwhile, Music Hall may get the fixing up it needs after all: the building was awarded $20 million in tax credits in December that will go a long way toward needed renovations.

3. The Battle Over Cincinnati’s Last Abortion Clinic

After lawmakers passed restrictive new laws requiring clinics that provide abortions to have transfer agreements with area hospitals, and then turned around and barred state-funded hospitals from entering into those agreements, things looked bleak for the region’s two remaining clinics. The situation got even worse over the summer when the Ohio Department of Health revoked the license of one of those clinics, Women’s Med in Sharonville, after refusing to grant the clinic an exception to those new rules. The area’s last remaining abortion provider, the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn, got a similar warning from the state in November. The clinic had been waiting a year to hear back from the state about its request for a variance to the rules on the grounds that its doctors have individual admitting privileges with area hospitals. Planned Parenthood, which runs the clinic, sued the state, claiming Ohio’s laws are unconstitutional and present an undue burden to women seeking abortions. The state blinked, providing the clinic with a variance and keeping Cincinnati from becoming the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services.

4. Transit: Fights and Forward Movement
From ongoing streetcar drama to fights over bike lanes to efforts to bring better rail service to Cincinnati, how we get around got a lot of attention this year. In the spring, a battle flared up over Mayor John Cranley’s diversion of funds away from on-street bike lanes to bike paths, and further controversy arose over a new bike lane being built on Central Parkway. One business owner concerned about a few parking spots temporarily ground that project to a halt before the city agreed to spend thousands of extra dollars accommodating the parking concerns. There was some other progress on bike-related projects this year as paths on the city’s east side, including plans that could also someday include light rail, continued to take shape. Bickering about how the city will pay for the streetcar dominated the daily news, with new panics about the project’s yearly operating budget and construction contingency fund cropping up constantly. Meanwhile, in a project of a much larger scale, a group of advocates launched a campaign this year to get daily rail service going between Cincinnati and Chicago. Unlike the streetcar, that effort has been surprisingly bi-partisan. That level of agreement has been rare in transportation fights. But all the back and forth is good on one level — it means Cincinnatians are actively thinking about and engaged in conversations around transit alternatives.

5. Cincinnati’s Big Developments: Concerns and Questions
There’s no denying Cincinnati has had a huge year in terms of development. Over-the-Rhine continues to change at a rapid pace and other neighborhoods are quickly following suit in their own ways. But developers and the city administration that courts them are powerful folks, and it’s always good to ask questions when millions are getting thrown around like Monopoly money. We delved into concerns over Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation’s move into northern OTR, where the city awarded it decision-making power over a whole swath of neighborhood surrounding Findlay Market even as residents and the OTR Community Council expressed serious concerns about the deal. We talked to residents and businesses in Clifton Heights, where the city enacted zoning changes and tax deals for an out-of-town developer who will build a large, student-centered apartment complex despite protests from some long-time residents there. And we took a deep look into what the new I-71 interchange means for Avondale and Walnut Hills, both largely black communities whose members have historic reasons to distrust highway projects. Will development surrounding a new highway on and off ramp in these historically neglected and low-income neighborhoods lift up residents there, or will it bulldoze them? The questions around Cincinnati’s big-budget developments remain, and we’ll continue asking them in 2015.

6. Charter School Drama
2014 was the year things got weird at Ohio charter schools. VLT Academy in Cincinnati shut down after a long, messy fight by the school to secure a sponsor organization over protests from the Ohio Department of Education. A charter high school in Dayton, along with several others run by Chicago-based Horizon schools, came under scrutiny from federal authorities after former teachers made multiple reports of records forging and sexual misconduct. Overall, multiple studies, including a CityBeat review of state education data for Cincinnati charters, found that charters don’t seem to perform any better on the whole than public schools, and in many cases, perform worse. Meanwhile, charters are held to lower standards than public schools. All that begs the question: what are taxpayers getting for the diverted funds that pay for these often for-profit schools?

7. The Persistence of Poverty
We covered a number of issues surrounding poverty in Cincinnati, from former staffer German Lopez’s excellent cover story on the city’s poverty problem to more specific issues like affordable, subsidized housing, increases in homelessness in the city and a proposed hate crime law that would protect the homeless. There was also some good news, as Lower Price Hill, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods received free Wi-Fi so students and residents could connect to the outside world. As one of the city’s biggest, most complex challenges, Cincinnati’s high poverty rate works its way into a number of other issues such as sex trafficking, the heroin crisis and others, meaning we’re just getting started in our coverage. Expect much more in 2015.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Some other big stories we checked out this year include German Lopez’s great piece on efforts to legalize marijuana in Ohio and our coverage of the court battle over Ohio’s gay marriage ban. When you’re all bored and hungover tomorrow, peruse our coverage from the last year. Then hit me up with what you’d like to see in the new year. What’s important to you that Cincinnati media is neglecting?  Find me at nswartsell@citybeat.com and @nswartsell on Twitter.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.30.2014 66 days ago
Posted In: News at 02:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Kings Mills Transgender Teen's Suicide Note: "Fix Society"

Note posted on Tumblr details teen's struggle with depression over treatment based on transgender status

A suicide note posted on Tumblr says Leelah Alcorn had trouble finding acceptance. The Kings Mills 17-year-old, whose given name was Joshua, identified as female. After her 16th birthday, she hoped to transition physically into what she felt was her actual gender. But her parents refused to grant her the necessary permission to undergo the medical procedures, according to a note published online the day after her suicide. 

Alcorn died Sunday after being hit by a semi truck on southbound I-71 near the South Lebanon exit. The letter, which appears to have been queued to automatically post on the teen's Tumblr page on Monday, says Alcorn killed herself because she felt isolated and misunderstood due to the fact she identified as a female. The note’s signature includes the name Leelah, and also the name “Josh” crossed out.

The Tumblr page friends say belonged to Alcorn features both suicide-themed posts and a number of more lighthearted updates, including the teen's art and numerous pictures of her dressed in both men’s and women’s clothing.

"If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender,” the note reads. “I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally 'boyish' things to try to fit in.”

The note recounts Alcorn’s struggle to find acceptance and help from family, who she says are devout Christians, and her peers. Her parents tried faith-based counseling, the note says, but that did little to ease her confusion and feelings of isolation. The note says that Alcorn hoped to begin transitioning physically (usually achieved through hormone treatments or surgery) at age 16, but fell into a deeper depression when her parents would not grant her permission to do so. 

A second note auto-posted today offers apologies to specific people identified as Leelah's friends, as well as again lashing out at her parents.

Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach shared the original note on social media Monday and said it’s evidence that the region, and the country, need to extend better treatment to transgender people.

“While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years... the truth is... it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in the country,” Seelbach said in a Facebook post. “We have to do better.”

The note's closing paragraphs plead for change.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” the note ends. “Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year.”

According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, more than 40 percent of transgender people in America attempt suicide at some point in their lives. A more recent study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that the percentage spikes into the 60s for those without the support of family or peers.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol is investigating Alcorn’s death but has not returned a request for comment on the case.

The accident happened at about 2 a.m., according to police.

Originally, news media reported Alcorn's death as an accident and made no mention that she identified as female. Alcorn was a former student at Kings Mills High School who was well-liked by classmates, according to a release from the school. Alcorn was most recently enrolled in Ohio Virtual Academy, an online school.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Joshua's family and friends at this tragic time,” a representative for Kings Local Schools told WCPO. A post on the district's website gives a number which students at the school and friends of Alcorn can call to reach grief counselors and details for Alcorn's funeral. Alcorn's parents have asked for privacy in a statement released through the school.

Alcorn’s mother, Carla Alcorn, posted a message mourning the teen’s death on her Facebook page Monday.

“My sweet 16 year old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn went home to heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.”

The message has caused controversy on social media sites for refusing to recognize Leelah Alcorn's preferred gender. Other responses on social media criticized Kings Mills Local School District's similar handling of Alcorn's gender. Both Kings Mills Local Schools' Twitter and Facebook accounts were down today.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.30.2014 66 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Questions about I-71 interchange's benefit to Avondale, Walnut Hills; high-ranking GOP Congressman spoke at white power convention; whatever you're doing on New Year's is better than this

Morning all. It’s a slow news day around here, and we’re waiting for tomorrow for our obligatory end-of-year top 10 news stories list. But there are still some interesting things happening around the city and beyond in the waning days of 2014.

Police officers from around the region gathered last night to pay respects to two officers killed by a gunman in New York City earlier this month. Police from Covington, Kenton County and Campbell County attended a rally at a memorial for fallen officers in Covington to remember New York City Police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn. A few dozen members of the public also gathered for the event. Ramos and Liu’s shooter, who had earlier murdered his girlfriend in a Baltimore suburb, later killed himself. The incident has become a controversial moment in the nation’s tense struggle over police killings of unarmed people of color. Ramos and Liu’s shooter mentioned ongoing anger over the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died after an officer placed him in a choke hold. Activists decrying police violence have said the shootings of the officers are a tragedy and have called for peaceful protests.

• Cincinnati has gone all-in on a new highway interchange where I-71 passes through Walnut Hills and Avondale. But questions continue over whether that interchange will bring jobs and prosperity to some of the city’s poorest residents. It’s a tough question to answer because the project is fairly unique. Building a new highway on and off ramp in an already-built urban area is nearly unprecedented, and it’s tough to tell what will happen. That’s especially true since it’s unclear who will end up owning some of the 670 acres around the interchange officials say is blighted and in need of fresh development.  City officials tout a study by the UC Economics Center that predicts the new interchange could create 7,000 jobs. But other studies of highway development projects say it can be exceedingly hard to tell what their impacts will be. The city has more than $25 million in the project, so stakes are high. They’re also high for residents of the neighborhood — as we reported this summer, Avondale has a 40 percent poverty rate and has historically found itself cut off from the rest of the city economically and geographically. What’s more, some residents will need to move to make way for the interchange. As the project continues toward its November 2016 completion date, questions keep swirling.

• State Rep. John Becker, a staunch conservative representing suburban Cincinnati, has been busy during his freshman term, according to a recent profile in the Columbus Dispatch. The former anti-abortion activist has authored tons of right wing legislation — 27 bills, in fact —  and has courted a similarly prodigious amount of controversy. He’s been outspoken about police shootings of people of color, even commenting that he “wasn’t sure who the victim was” in the case of Mike Brown, an unarmed black man shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. He has suggested that similar shootings in Cleveland and Beavercreek involved drugs or “suicide by cop.” He’s also questioned why Planned Parenthood isn’t considered a hate group. That’s all charming stuff. Becker was reelected in November and will enjoy an increasingly conservative House — Republicans will hold 65 seats there next session. Up next on his agenda: abolishing the state’s income tax. Great!

• In national news, the Washington Post reports that House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, spoke at a white supremacist conference in 2002. The third most powerful member of the House appeared at a European-American Unity and Rights Organization convention in New Orleans hosted by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when he was a state representative. Representatives for Scalise’s office say he was unaware of the group’s connections with the white power movement and was in the midst of a statewide campaign rallying support for lowering taxes and other conservative ideas.

“For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” Scalise told the Times-Picayune as the story was breaking last night.

The revelation comes as Republicans look to make a new start with an expanded majority in the House and a newly minted majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, Democrats are pummeling Scalise over the revelations.

• Finally, if you’re not satisfied with Cincinnati’s New Year's Eve offerings (I can’t imagine why. There are about a million things to do) take heart: Whatever you get into is probably better than watching a giant nail drop in this Pennsylvania town. It's not even metal. It's wood. The, uh, nail dropping will commemorate a historic nail factory. Get wild.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.29.2014 67 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
hunter

Morning News and Stuff

Hunter not going to jail just yet; majority supports body cameras for cops; the infamous "Interview" ticket scalper

Hello, Cincy. I hope your holidays were great and you got whatever you wanted during the gift-giving rituals for whatever you celebrate. I got socks and a dress shirt and I’m actually pretty hyped about them. Wait, does that mean I’m old now? Oh no.

Anyway, news. The saga of Tracie Hunter continues. It looks like the former Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge will get a reprieve from jail for now. The Ohio Supreme Court last week upheld her request for a stay on her six-month sentence until after an appeal of her felony conviction can be heard. Hunter was convicted of having unlawful interest in a public contract in October, one of eight felony counts the county brought against her. The jury hung on the other seven counts.

The charge that stuck is usually punished by a fine and probation. However, Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced Hunter to the jail term because of her stature as a judge, he said. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics and that her aggressive attempts to reform the county’s juvenile justice system made some powerful enemies. Her critics say she broke the law by misusing court-issued credit cards, improperly handling court records and other infringements. 

The case has been complex and contentious. Hunter’s attorney filed three motions for a new trial, all of which were denied by Nadel, and three jury members who initially voted to convict Hunter on the felony count later recanted their votes, though it was already too late by that point. Attorneys with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, which is representing Hunter in the appeals process, say her appeal could take a year. Hunter supporters rallied Sunday in Bond Hill to show support for the suspended judge and call for changes to county’s juvenile justice system, which they say has huge racial disparities. 

• So you might have heard about that building that fell down in CityBeat’s neighborhood over the weekend. The vintage 1865 structure near the corner of Court and Race that last held a box factory partially collapsed for unknown reasons Saturday, scaring the crap out of nearby residents and, just as tragically, blocking CityBeat editor Danny Cross’s parking spot. There were no injuries, though two other cars that were parked there at the time were heavily damaged. Nearby buildings are structurally sound, engineers with the city have said.

• Another group protesting racial disparities held a vigil Saturday night in Washington Park in remembrance of those who have died at the hands of police across the country. The vigil drew about 30 people, who held candles and paid respects to Mike Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice and others who have died in incidents with police. The vigil was the latest in ongoing protests around police killings of unarmed black citizens, including now-infamous incidents in Ferguson, Mo., Beavercreek, Cleveland, New York City and others across the country. Grand juries have failed to indict the officers who shot or otherwise caused the deaths of unarmed citizens in many of these incidents, setting off large-scale incidents of civil unrest in cities across the country.  

• Even as protests and a bitter national argument about race and police forces plays out, Americans are unusually united about one thing: Police should wear cameras. Eighty-six percent of respondents to a national survey indicated they support body cameras for officers, according to the Washington Post. A large majority of respondents also agreed that deaths caused by police should be investigated by independent prosecutors who have no ties with the departments they're investigating.

• If you’ve been following statewide politics this year (say, perhaps, by reading this blog right here), you know that one of the biggest political fault-lines in Ohio is the state’s implementation of the new federal Common Core public education standards. Supporters say it better teaches critical thinking skills and prepares students to be competitive in the global marketplace. But there are plenty of detractors across the political spectrum. Those on the right say the new standards amount to a federal takeover of local school districts and the state’s own standards. Those on the left hate that the new standards rely on standardized testing. Conservative lawmakers this year drafted bills to repeal the standards despite the fact that some prominent conservatives in the state, including Gov. John Kasich, support them. Those lawmakers, including Republican State Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta, have recently signaled they’ll be at it again in the new year working to repeal the standards, and they appear to have a good deal of support in their quest. Check out this year-end rundown on Common Core by education news site State Impact for a deeper look at the drama over the standards.

• Finally, let’s talk about The Interview. First, the new Seth Rogen thing about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was coming out as expected, on schedule and painfully similar to every other Seth Rogen movie. Then Sony got hacked and people thought it was the North Koreans and the movie was shelved because of some vague threats about violence at theaters that decided to show it. Now, as the argument about whether North Korea really even did the hacking rages on, Sony has decided to release the movie on a limited basis anyway at places like Clifton’s Esquire Theater.

The movie has done poorly in its initial release in the real world, grossing less than $2 million. However, it’s done much better online, where it’s racked up more than $15 million in rentals and sales for Sony, which spent more than $40 million to make the two-hour insult to humanity’s intelligence. The brisk online business is good for Sony but bad for the local man who spent $650 on tickets to the premier, hoping to cash in on a sold-out crowd hungry to see what all the fuss was about. The online release deflated this intrepid scalper's Christmas cash dreams. He’s asked the theater for a refund, but the Esquire has refused. There are so many things to shake our heads about in this story. I’ll leave you to ponder the state of our society.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.23.2014 73 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Delay in Brent Spence replacement could cost $7 million a month, Ky. Gov. says; Beavercreek protesters charged; Economy grows at fastest rate in 11 years

Hello all! I’m here to give you one more news roundup before the holidays start in earnest. It’s pretty much the only reason I’m working today. Well, that and our holiday party. But that’s later. News is now.

It’s always rough when the authority figures in your life fight during the holidays. So it’s good news that the city and the county won’t be in court just yet over ongoing disagreements about how to tackle the region’s looming $3 billion sewer upgrade. Hamilton County owns the sewer system, but the City of Cincinnati runs it. And in the midst of a massive court-ordered upgrade after lawsuits from the EPA, environmental groups and homeowners, the two haven’t exactly seen eye to eye on how to get out of the mess. But in a meeting yesterday, the two governments agreed, at least in principle, to stop all the fussin’ and the feudin’ and work together to get things figured out. Early next year, the city and county will go through an independent mediation process to work through some of the issues around the revamp that have in the past landed them in court. That’s the holiday spirit!

• Meanwhile, just across the river, there’s another fight over billions of dollars still raging. Delays to a Brent Spence Bridge repair or replacement will cost taxpayers $7 million a month, Kentucky Governor Bill Beshear said yesterday at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce meeting in Covington. Beshear arrived at that number by considering the total cost of the project and government projections for inflation of construction costs. The obsolete though structurally sound bridge will cost $2.6 billion to replace and Beshear wants to talk about public-private partnerships as a way to get to that dollar amount. But those partnerships would probably mean tolls on the bridge — something many in Northern Kentucky are dead-set against. Opponents say tolls will adversely impact commuters who must cross the bridge every day. Anti-toll group Northern Kentucky United would like to see tolls off the table before any plan for the bridge goes forward. Beshear, on the other hand, wants to keep the option to use tolls open. He will meet with Ohio Gov. John Kasich in January to hammer out a plan for funding the bridge.

An appeals court has denied former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s request for a suspension of her six-month sentence, meaning she will more than likely have to report to jail Dec. 29. Hunter was convicted on one of eight felony counts this fall for having unlawful interest in a public contract. Prosecutors charge she improperly interceded on behalf of her brother, a juvenile jail employee charged with hitting an underage inmate. Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced her to the six months in Hamilton County jail last month. Hunter has appealed her conviction, and hoped to delay punishment until after that appeal was heard. Hunter's attorney also objected to a strongly-worded, one might even say snarky, letter from the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office calling for jail time for Hunter. The letter noted that Hunter had once promised to do anything for the children that came through her court, including go to jail. The letter suggested it was time for her to keep her promise.

• Four protesters arrested Saturday at a demonstration in the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot unarmed 22-year-old John Crawford III have been charged with trespassing and obstructing official business. The four, who are from Fairborn, Springfield and Wilberforce, pleaded not guilty and have been released on bond. The demonstration was a “die-in” where protesters laid on the ground in the Walmart. Management at the store decided to close in response to the protests over what they called safety concerns. Police officer Sean Williams shot Crawford Aug. 5 as Crawford walked around the store with a pellet gun sold at the Walmart.

• The U.S. economy saw the fastest growth its had in 11 years after a 5 percent boost in the third quarter of this year, according to the federal government. The U.S. Department of Commerce released the figures yesterday, which surprised many with their robustness and may indicate a deeper, more dynamic economic recovery is occurring. The growth came from an increase in consumer spending. The economy hasn’t grown so fast since this time in 2003, according to the report.

• Finally, a little year-end close-out question I'll be asking again next week: what were the biggest and most important stories this year? What did we miss? What did we get right? What do you think needs more coverage? We'll be hitting the ground running in 2015. Give us some juicy news tips.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or tweet at your boy at @nswartsell. Or you can e-mail me: nswartsell@citybeat.com

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.22.2014 74 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

OTR parking rates, hours going up; activists protesting racial disparities expand their focus; coming next decade (maybe): an 800-mph transit system

Good morning y’all! Let’s get down to business so we can get through this short holiday week and arrive as quickly and painlessly as possible at the moment when we open our presents.

If you park in Over-the-Rhine, be prepared for change. Or, well, not needing change. The city has installed new “smart” parking meters in the neighborhood, as well as downtown, that accept credit cards. But that convenience comes at a price in OTR — rates are going from 50 cents to $1 an hour. The times when you’ll be required to feed the meters in OTR and downtown have also been increased. Starting Jan. 1, the meters will run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Meter prices downtown will stay at $2 an hour for now, though City Council has given the OK for City Manager Harry Black to raise them as high as $2.15 an hour. The funds from the increase will go toward operating costs for the streetcar.

• Demonstrations continue over police killings of unarmed black men, including John Crawford III, shot this summer in a Beavercreek Walmart. Activists in Beavercreek Saturday briefly caused store management to shut down that Walmart after they staged a “die-in” at the store to protest the fact that the officer who shot Crawford was not indicted. Four of the protesters were arrested.

• Meanwhile, some activists here in Cincinnati have begun expanding their focus, taking the issue from the streets to the classroom. On Saturday, more than 120 people packed into OTR’s Peaslee Neighborhood Center for an hour-and-a-half-long teach-in and discussion on issues around race and police use of force. A number of speakers gave presentations on systemic racism, ways to make change and other topics. The teach-in was put together by an informal group of Cincinnati activists who say they will stage more events like it in the future.

The issue of police use of force has only gotten more contentious in recent days. On Saturday, a gunman shot and killed two New York City police officers while they were sitting in their squad car. The man earlier shot his girlfriend in Baltimore and fled the city. He had also recently posted threatening messages on social media about killing police officers.

Police officials have tied the killings to the large, ongoing demonstrations in New York City and to New York Mayor Bill deBlasio, who has been critical of police since taking office last year. They say the violent act was inspired by ongoing protests. Activists, however, say their movement has nothing to do with the shooter, who may have been suffering from a mental illness.

• Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman will be on a taskforce convened by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to study police-community relations and training procedures. Smitherman is one of 16 officials to join the task force, which will focus on making sure officers are trained to know when a situation requires deadly force and how to police racially diverse communities.

• Ohio’s minimum wage will be inching up in the new year. The state’s minimum wage level is tied to a consumer price index and will go from $7.95 to $8.10 on Jan. 1. The state has used the index to automatically determine its minimum wage since 2006 as an effort to keep the wage level in line with inflation and other consumer cost increases. Ohio’s rate is already above the national average of $7.25, though it is not high enough to raise most working a minimum wage job full time above the poverty line.

• Common Core has lived to fight another day in Ohio. A bill to repeal the federal education standards didn’t even make it to a vote in the Ohio House, which just ended its session. But you know there’s a sequel coming for this epic struggle. Republican State Rep. Andy Thompson from Marietta has vowed to reintroduce legislation killing Common Core next session, and he’s says he’s got backup coming. Several new House members campaigned on keeping Ohio out of the federal standards. Supporters of the new education goals say they help students learn critical thinking skills. Conservative opponents say the standards strip control from the state and local school districts and amount to a federal takeover of education. Other, more left-leaning critics of the standards decry Common Core’s reliance on standardized testing. Grab some popcorn. This drama is going to go on longer than those Lord of the Rings movies.

• Finally, do you want to travel around the country at 800 miles an hour? Don’t have enough cash to buy your own fighter jet? Tesla founder Elon Musk may have the answer for you. It’s called Hyperloop: a high-speed land-based transit system that would, in theory, zip people across a nationwide network of routes. Cincinnati and Columbus are both on a map that is included in a 76-page description of the project, though Cleveland got dissed. The first leg of this sci-fi transportation network would be built in California between San Francisco and L.A. for the low, low bargain price of $7 billion. Scientists hired by Musk to draw up the plans say raising the money will be the only big problem — they claim the science already exists to make 800 mph speeds a reality. Musk, who by the way is the same guy who started a company to shoot people into space for profit, has predicted the first hyperloop could be up and running in a decade. Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking about this.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.18.2014 78 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council passes tax deals; big announcement on Music Hall; this coffee has a little something extra

Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things.

• City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.

• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.

• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.

The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market.

"Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.

• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron. 

The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.

UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.

• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further.

“The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”

• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.

“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”

• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.17.2014 79 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gun

Morning News and Stuff

$3 billion for friendlier flushing; Cleveland Browns wide receiver on Rice/Crawford shirt; state gun laws changing

All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.

• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.

• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.

Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.”

Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize.

"He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."

A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.

Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.

“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said.

• It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.

• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature.

• 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.16.2014 80 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gilbanecliftondevelopment-600x887

Morning News and Stuff

City tax deals for developers draw scrutiny; streetcar passes selling briskly; Bush vs. Clinton: the rematch?

Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.

Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest.

Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual.

Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.

The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts.

• The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.

• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.

• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.

• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked.

• Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.

• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 03.05.2015 29 hours ago
Posted In: News at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gaymarriage

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Ohio Same-Sex Marriage Cases April 28

Ruling will decide the fate of same-sex marriage in Ohio and three other states

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing that will decide the fate of same-sex marriage bans in Ohio and three other states. On April 28, the court will hear arguments over whether same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Ohio’s ban passed as an amendment to the state’s constitution in 2004. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and other ban supporters say upholding the ban is about protecting voters’ rights to enact laws via the democratic process. But opponents equate same-sex marriage to now-protected civil rights such as provisions upholding voting rights and school integration that had to be upheld by decisions from the courts. They also cite more recent polls that show attitudes toward same-sex marriage are shifting.

Last year, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court in Cincinnati upheld the bans in the four states in a 2-1 decision, agreeing with DeWine’s argument. But there are signs the Supreme Court may not agree.

Other circuit courts across the country have thrown out similar bans. And in June 2014, the nation’s highest court struck down a 1996 federal law that effectively banned same-sex marriage in a narrow 5-4 decision. The five justices opposed to the federal bans included reliably liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer as well as moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who many legal experts believe represents the crucial vote for matters pitting liberals against conservatives on the court. All five justices who voted to strike down the federal ban remain on the court, though some have joined its more conservative wing in upholding other bans, most notably California’s 2008 ban.

Among the four cases to be presented in arguments over Ohio’s ban is a lawsuit against the state by James Obergefell of Cincinnati. Obergefell sought to be listed as the spouse of his terminally-ill longtime partner John Arthur on Arthur’s death certificate. The state refused to allow that, even though the two were legally married in another state. Arthur died in October 2013. 

After oral arguments, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the cases sometime in June.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 03.05.2015 34 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Rhinegeist crowlers

Morning News and Stuff

Bummer news for Rhinegeist in KY; UC Law chooses first female dean; DOJ's report on Ferguson is frightening

Hello Cincy! Here’s a brief rundown of what’s going on in the news today.

As I told you about earlier this week, Cincinnati City Council passed a new dog law that levies steep civil penalties (up to $15,000) for dog owners who don’t control their pets. The law was changed just slightly before passage, cutting out criminal penalties that duplicated already existing state laws. Council also wrangled over the streetcar again (surprise) and passed a measure that would increase the highest possible salary for assistant city manager to more than $160,000, a big bump. That move came with some argument from council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach, who felt raising prospective salaries at the top sent the wrong message when frontline workers are receiving just a 1.5 percent increase in pay. Council did also approve a small cost of living allowance increase for non-union city workers as well at their meeting yesterday, however.

• Local craft brewers Rhinegeist got some bummer news yesterday from the state of Kentucky, though other craft brewers may feel differently about a bill that passed the state Senate. That bill, HB 168, prohibits brewers in Kentucky from also owning distribution companies. That’s bad news for Rhinegeist because the company is just three months into its River Ghost venture, which was to distribute their beer as well as other spirits in the Bluegrass State. Other craft brewers are elated by the prospective law, however, because it also prohibits brewing giant Anheuser-Busch from owning distribution in the state. Smaller brewers say giant brewing companies put their own beers front and center in their distribution, muscling the little guy out. Anheuser-Busch will have to sell or close its two distributing businesses in the state.

• The University of Cincinnati College of Law now has a female dean for the first time in its 182-year history. UC announced yesterday that it has chosen Jennifer Bard for the top position at the law school. Bard is currently a law professor and assistant provost at Texas Tech University. She’s highly regarded: She was also a candidate for the top job at three other law schools. Bard, who has a background in bioethics and public health, will do double duty at UC, also serving on faculty at the university’s College of Medicine.

• We here at CityBeat’s news desk (“we” being pretty much just me and editor Danny Cross sometimes) talk a lot about affordable housing here in the morning news and in our more in-depth reporting. And while it’s true that the rental market is seeing an affordability crisis, with rents going up and affordable units going down, the home ownership market is a different story. Cincinnati is one of the most affordable cities in the country in terms of owning a home, according to a recent ranking by website Next City. Cincinnati ranks fourth in the country, behind just Pittsburgh, Cleveland and St. Louis in the estimated yearly salary needed to afford the average house in the city. Of course, that’s still a firmly middle-class salary: about $33,500, which aligns pretty neatly with the city’s median household income of $33,700.

• Think back about four months or so, if you can, to a flap about Ohio Gov. John Kasich allegedly saying that he didn’t think Obamacare could be repealed. The Associated Press insisted Kasich made the assertion during an interview, while the governor said he only meant that Medicaid expansions in the states that had accepted money from the federal government couldn’t be repealed. Kasich asked for a correction. AP stood its ground. Sound nitpicky? Kind of, but it was a really big deal because repealing Obamacare is a GOP obsession and any Republican, especially one of Kasich’s stature, saying it wasn’t possible risked all sorts of slings and arrows from the party. Now, as Kasich seeks to gain the GOP nomination for president, and as Obamacare hangs on a Supreme Court decision, Kasich has finally wrung a correction out of AP. The news group now says it misunderstood him and that he meant to say that Medicaid couldn’t be repealed, not Obamacare in total. Right.

• The Department of Justice will not seek civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson or the Ferguson Police Department in connection with the August shooting death of unarmed black citizen Michael Brown. But they are not happy with the department. At all. The DOJ issued a scathing and, quite frankly, terrifying report about the Ferguson PD, citing numerous instances of racial bias, inappropriate use of force and seeming violations of citizens’ rights. Eighty-eight percent of the department’s uses of force were against black residents of the city, according to the DOJ. The report claims that the department has been functioning as little more than a revenue-collecting arm of the city’s government and that ticket quotas were established solely for the purpose of raising funds for the city. The revelations come as the country continues to grapple with questions around race and police use of force.

That’s it for me. I’m off to put together next week’s feature and an upcoming cover story and will be out tomorrow doing so, so this is goodbye for the week. I'll miss y'all! What do you want to see CityBeat dive into next? Hit me with it on Twitter: @nwarstell or e-mail me at nswartsell@citybeat.com.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 03.04.2015 57 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC eyes Ziegler Park; streetcar contract drama; an unclear sentence could cost millions their healthcare

Hey all. Let’s get this news thing going before the snow comes once again and grinds everything to a halt. Or just dusts the ground with a little inconvenient powder, depending on how much you trust weather forecasters.

Yesterday I told you a bit about 3CDC’s presentation to City Council’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee. During that meeting, 3CDC head Steven Leeper said the developer might cross the $1 billion threshold this year for investment made in the basin since it began in 2003. Let’s dig into my notes a bit and talk in more detail about a couple things regarding Over-the-Rhine the developers have planned.

One of the noteworthy projects on the group’s radar is a redevelopment of Ziegler Park on Sycamore Street. The park is across from the former SCPA building and just a block from Main Street’s active corridor of restaurants, bars and apartments. 3CDC head Steve Leeper said Ziegler’s revamp would increase the number of basketball courts and other active features currently found there. Removal of the courts at Washington Park during its 2010 revamp by 3CDC caused controversy among neighborhood residents, many of whom used the courts regularly. Leeper promised that while Washington Park’s character is more “passive” in nature, Ziegler would be a much more “active” park.

“There will be a lot more athletic activities going on there,” Leeper said, “and hopefully it will attract kids from the neighborhood who can spend their time in those athletic endeavors like we all did when we were kids."

• Leeper also outlined progress on three facilities for individuals without homes — two in Queensgate set to replace the Drop Inn Center and City Gospel Mission facilities currently in Over-the-Rhine and a third in Mount Auburn built to replace the Anna Louise Inn downtown. These projects have been controversial — advocates fought hard for years to keep the Drop Inn Center at its location in OTR and a protracted legal battle stretched on for many months between Cincinnati Union Bethel, which runs the Anna Louise Inn in Lytle Park, and Western & Southern Financial Group, which eventually purchased the property against CUB’s wishes. The new spaces are a bit further from the city’s center, though they do have a larger capacity.

• Speaking of the Drop Inn Center, its winter shelter will be open the rest of this week in response to dropping temperatures, according to a release sent out by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Usually, the winter shelter is closed by this time of year, but with winter taking its time going away, the shelter will stay open a bit longer.

• Here we go again: More streetcar drama could be coming our way. There is currently a potential fight brewing over who will operate the transit project. Council has set a limit of $4.3 million a year on bids for running the streetcar. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is taking bids on the contract, and there’s controversy over whether to use union employees for the job or not. Some council members favor that move, even if it costs a bit more, and they’ve asked  SORTA to negotiate with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which also runs the city’s bus service. But ATU has accused SORTA of dragging its feet on contract negotiations and trying to undercut the union by demanding a separate collective bargaining agreement for running the streetcar. SORTA says a separate agreement is necessary because the scale of the streetcar — just 30 employees at most — is much smaller than 750 people who run the city’s bus service. Union officials, however, says that SORTA is trying to get the lowest bid possible out of the union in order to drive other bids down as well. My guess is we’ll be hearing a lot more on this one. A decision must be made on the operator of the project by July.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld today said he will stay in the race for U.S. Senate, ending speculation he might bow out after former governor Ted Strickland entered the race last week. Sittenfeld will face Strickland in the Democratic primary. The winner will face incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, unless he is felled by a primary challenger — an unlikely possibility.

“Since we launched our campaign, I have been more grateful than I can express for the enthusiasm, encouragement and support we've received,” Sittenfeld said today in a statement on social media and his website. “So I want you — my supporters and friends — to hear it from me directly: I'm all in. Ohio needs a forward-looking leader to replace Rob Portman and the broken culture in Washington that he's long been part of.”


• You might be able to walk around The Banks with a bit of the ole’ alcheyhol on Opening Day. For a while now, lawmakers in Ohio have been trying to pass legislation that would allow cities to designate open container districts where folks can have a beer out in public. It looks like the legislation is good to go, with enough support at the State House, and now local officials are telling the Ohio General Assembly to hurry the dang thing up so we can chug a couple Moerleins in public to celebrate the Reds beating the Pirates April 6. The bill looks likely to pass the House, hopefully with the two-thirds vote margin needed to put it into effect immediately. Local State Sens. Democrat Cecil Thomas and Republican Bill Seitz have introduced a bill in the Senate to speed the process up there as well. Now that’s what I call bipartisanship. If the bill passes, council will have to scramble to create and approve the districts, one of which looks likely to be the area around the stadium. Ladies and gentlemen, you have a month. Get to work.

• Hey! Do you want people fracking in state parks? It could happen soon whether you like it or not. Four years ago, Gov. John Kasich signed into law a provision allowing fracking on state land. He then pulled a fast one and declined to fund the commission that would give drillers approval for fracking permits on that land, basically circumventing the law he signed. Very clever. But the Ohio General Assembly, which is currently dominated by pro-fracking Republicans, is working to pass a bill called House Bill 8 that would bypass that commission. Proponents of the bill say it’s meant to help private landowners who want to sell drilling rights to wells that might end up under state land. But critics note that under the current version of the bill, so called “surface impacts,” or drilling directly on state land, are not outlawed and would be permissible if the law passes. The bill heads to committee next week and looks to pass there, after which it will be considered by the whole House.

• In national news, Supreme Court arguments begin in King vs. Burwell today, a lawsuit which could revoke health care subsidies for 7.5 million people currently signed up under the Affordable Care Act under the federal exchange. The core of the case is the contention that the language of the 2009 law does not allow the federal government to issue subsidies to people who went through the federal exchange, and that only those living in states that created their own exchanges are eligible for government help with their health care bills. It’s a nitpicky suit turning on a few words in a turn of phrase, but it could completely unravel Obamacare by making it unaffordable for those in the 34 states that did not or could not establish their own health care exchanges online. Many agree that’s the point of the suit, in fact — another attempt to repeal the healthcare system by throwing a legal wrench into its works. Just think! A pedantic semantics debate could leave millions without access to health care. And you thought clear writing wasn’t important.

That’s it for me. Hit me with those tweets and those e-mails: @nswartsell or nswartsell@citybeat.com

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 03.03.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ul_staff_washingtonpark_3cdc

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC: we're doing stuff; dog law to go before council; car trunk abduction a hoax

Morning y’all. Here’s what’s up today. First, I have a couple previews of stories that will be in the print issue tomorrow. We’re taking a deeper look at these issues, but here’s the teaser:

I skipped doing the morning news yesterday so I could check out council’s Law and Public Safety Committee meeting. The committee passed a new dog law in the wake of several severe dog bite incidents in the past year. The law isn’t breed specific but would create three categories for dogs based on their behavior and levy fines on owners depending on the severity of a dog’s offenses. Simply letting a dog run free unattended would result in a $50 fine, while more violent behavior from the dog would increase civil penalties for the owner. The committee didn’t pass a competing ordinance proposed by Mayor John Cranley that would have required pit bulls to wear special collars among other stipulations.

“I’m hopeful that this will help the police and prosecutors crack down on bad owners, prevent dog bites and make this a safer city,” said Councilman Chris Seelbach of the legislation the committee passed. Seelbach was a vocal opponent of the breed-specific law proposed by Cranley.

While we’re talking about council, let’s get right into today’s 3CDC presentation to the economic growth and infrastructure committee. 3CDC head Steven Leeper gave a number of updates about the developer’s activities on the long-stalled 4th and Race project, 3CDC’s efforts to redevelop Over-the-Rhine, especially north of Liberty Street. Also included were updates on a huge project at 15th and Race streets and the developer’s proposal to create two community entertainment districts downtown. Leeper fired back at criticisms of the proposal from those concerned that the six new liquor licenses granted in one of the districts would be controlled by 3CDC. Some, including Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, have questioned whether a developer controlling the licenses violates the spirit of community entertainment districts, which were created to boost small businesses and revitalize neighborhoods.

“We’re not interested in controlling liquor licenses,” Leeper said. “This is a means to an end. We have several terrific restaurateurs, small businesspeople. Everyone we’re talking to who is going into this site is from Cincinnati.”

• A group of activists is holding a town hall meeting at Bellarmine Chapel on the campus of Xavier University tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss comments made by Norwood Mayor Tom Williams in a January letter to the city’s police force calling black leaders in the community “race baiters.” The group says it hopes to start “a conversation where we can talk together about how our community can be welcoming to all who live here, shop here, visit here and worship here.” A Facebook listing for the event says childcare and refreshments will be provided.

• The Cincinnati Police Department has released video of an officer-involved shooting that occurred Monday morning in Price Hill. Police say 24-year-old Christian Jackson had broken into his ex-girlfriend’s house when police confronted him. After Jackson pointed a shotgun at them, police fired 11 times, hitting Jackson twice, according to the officers. Jackson ran two blocks before collapsing. He was taken to the hospital and is currently in stable condition.

This story is strange: this morning I woke up to Twitter posts about a person named Adam Hoover being abducted from work this morning and driven around I-275 in the trunk of his car. He posted a Facebook update about it, claiming he couldn’t call 911 because he was afraid his captors would hear him. Law enforcement soon found Hoover and began questioning him, and local news picked up the story, though there were few details available. Now, it all seems to have been a hoax. Hoover, a local activist who helped organize vigils for Leelah Alcorn after her death in December, apparently made up the entire ordeal, authorities say.

"This is a young man dealing with some issues in his life right now and for whatever reason he decided to stage this kidnapping and abduction," Green Township Police Lt. Jim Vetter told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

• Did Hillary Clinton circumvent federal email secrecy rules when she served as secretary of state? A New York Times story reveals that Clinton often used her personal email accounts to carry out official business as SOS. That’s against recent rules that require federal officials to use government email addresses for official business so their correspondence can be tracked and archived. Some Bush administration officials, including Karl Rove, were heavily criticized during W’s tenure for using secret, private email accounts to discuss official business. Sounds shady, but heck, is this really such a great strategy when apparently the federal government can read your private emails anyway?

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.27.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sheriff

Morning News and Stuff

Hamilton County Justice Center featured on reality TV; rally on Fountain Square tomorrow will memorialize trans murder victims; FCC says yes to net neutrality

Hey all! It’s Friday. I have work to do. Let’s keep this brief, shall we, while avoiding a stupid debate about the color of any pictures of women’s wear that might be floating around the Internet. (I see both blue and black and white and gold depending on when I look. Yes, I am special).

Paging Michel Foucault: Is it a good idea to put your county’s jail on a reality TV show? We’ll find out, I suppose. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil agreed several months ago to let MSNBC film an episode of its reality show Lockup in the Hamilton County Justice Center. It hasn’t aired yet, but a trailer for the episode shows inmates cussing at people, thousands of dollars in smuggled bootleg cigarettes and loose tobacco, some guy bragging about stabbing someone else with pencils and another dude describing his situation as “some ho-ass shit.” All of which sounds like a party I went to a couple Saturdays ago.

The bloody post-fight scenes look less like a party, however, and it’s pretty clear a big part of the show is the voyeuristic thrill of watching human suffering. Gross. But I digress. County officials told Sheriff Neil that having the reality show feature the county’s jail was probably not a good idea, but Neil went ahead with the program after producers approached him about it. I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it’s important to show people what really goes on in our justice system. On the other, this kind of reality TV-style sensationalism seems pretty exploitative of the folks behind bars, does it not?

Neil’s office says the show is a fair representation of life at the justice center, so there’s that. Lockup: Cincinnati airs Saturday at 10 p.m. in case you want to watch it or, you know, maybe do something more positive with your time than watch people in cages get blood dabbed off their faces.

• Oh, good. According a newly released report by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, the Ohio River received more than 23 million pounds of toxic material in 2013, the latest year for which data has been analyzed. That’s the most of any river in the country for the seventh year in a row, the commission says. The report cautions that despite the alarmingly large number, the river’s volume is also very large and the dilutive properties of all that water must be taken into account. But for comparison, the river receiving the next highest level of pollutants is the Mississippi, which saw more than 10 million pounds of toxins released into it last year. Much of the pollution in the Ohio River comes from nitrates, which are highly toxic to humans. Seventy-one percent of the pollution, according to the report, doesn’t enter the river until well downstream from Cincinnati at an AK Steel facility in Rockport, Indiana. So, uh, at least there’s that.

• A rally is planned tomorrow at 2 p.m. on Fountain Square for transgender murder victims killed in the last year. Among those victims was Tiffany Edwards, murdered last year in Walnut Hills. We first told you about Edwards during a long story we did on sex workers in Cincinnati and revisited her story last month in a piece on the challenges facing transgender individuals. Her alleged killer is currently on trial for her death. Tomorrow’s die-in will also memorialize seven other transgender individuals who have been murdered recently as a result of their transgender status.

• Ohio’s Senate race got a shout out in one of the nation’s premier news outlets. The Christian Science Monitor started off its preview of the 2016 Senate race with a long exploration of the brewing fight between former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Also featuring prominently in the coverage was Cincinnati’s own Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who has raised more than $500,000 for his own bid for the Democratic nomination. The Monitor posits that the high-profile Senate race will make Ohio even more important in the 2016 election, a presidential race in which the state already has a vital role. The Republican National Convention will be in Cleveland and the NAACP National Convention will take place in Cincinnati next year, guaranteeing Ohio a place in the center of national politics.

• As I noted yesterday in a morning news blog update (yes, I sometimes update the post throughout the day, so you know, keep your eyes on the blog), the Federal Communications Commission yesterday passed new rules keeping Internet companies from developing dedicated fast lanes for certain content providers while throttling others with slower speeds. The rules basically treat the Internet as a utility, which means service providers must treat all legal content equally. That way, Buzzfeed isn’t able to kick Internet providers a milli to put some insipid post about whether a dress is one color or another on a faster track than a long-form video doc about problems with the death penalty. The FCC also struck down some laws in certain states prohibiting municipalities from establishing their own Internet service providers to supplement the slim pickings found in many areas. That’s also good news.

That’s it for me. Tweet (@nswartsell) or e-mail me (nswartsell@citybeat.com) with any news tips, observations about Hamilton County's own reality TV panopticon, or what kind of guitar amp I should buy. I’m daydreaming about new music gear.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.26.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_weedunicorn700x615

Morning News and Stuff

Former attorney Deters: "lawyers are not a choral of angels;" Hamilton bans weed sales; GOP mocks Strickland Senate announcement

Hey all! Here’s the news today.

A well-known former attorney has filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky Bar Association to get his license back after it was suspended. Eric Deters has served three suspensions over his career for making false statements in court, failing to return a fee to a client and other infractions. The latest suspension was handed down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in April. The court has an agreement with the high court in Ohio, keeping Deters from practicing here as well. Now Deters says he’s served his suspensions and wants to go back to practicing law, and says the Kentucky Supreme Court should reinstate him. Deters retired rather than seek reinstatement in Kentucky and Ohio, and indicated at the time he had no interest in practicing law again in either state. He’s acting as his own attorney, which has led to this pretty amazing complaint:

"Deters is no saint," he writes of himself in his complaint. "He is a sinner. But Deters is fit to practice law. Lawyers are not a choral of angels." Choir? Corral? Whatever. Deters is too tough for the haters. “What Deters incurred, lesser men would have have crumbled long ago," he says of the emotional and physical toll his suspension has caused. He blames an infection that nearly took his arm on the stress and strife his suspension has inflicted on him.

• You can never ban the devil’s weed too early or too often. At least, that’s the prevailing wisdom on Hamilton’s City Council, which banned sale of the drug in the city limits yesterday in a 5-1 vote. Though marijuana is already illegal in Ohio, council members wanted to have a municipal ordinance in place just in case a potential ballot initiative legalizing the measure passes in November and all hell breaks loose. ResponsibleOhio, the group filing the initiative, still needs to collect 300,000 signatures by July to even get the measure on the ballot, but better safe than sorry, Hamilton officials say.

“It's just being prepared for what happens if anything happens whether it be legislature or amendment, it's just being prepared for the next step," Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said.

• The Kentucky House passed a bill yesterday allowing the state to participate in public-private partnerships, clearing another hurdle for a toll-based Brent Spence Bridge replacement. However, several key changes were made to the bill to make it more friendly to Kentucky residents and lawmakers who may oppose tolls. These include requiring any tolls levied as part of a public-private partnership to expire once debt on the project is paid off, requiring analysis of any public-private partnership to make sure it’s the best way to do a project and requiring a majority of lawmakers on project oversight commissions be from the county where the project is happening. Next, the bill goes to the Kentucky Senate, where it will face opposition from GOP senators who are staunchly opposed to tolls on the Brent Spence project.

• Here’s another tidbit from Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address earlier this week. Kasich devoted part of his speech to education in Ohio, defending his public school funding scheme and also his support of the state’s embattled charter school system. Kasich defended putting more money into that system despite low performance by many charter schools and questions about some schools’ integrity. He agreed that the system should have more oversight in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing at some schools across the state, but also defended schools that have simply been low-performing. Here, he made a pretty stunning statement:

“Let’s not judge someone as not doing their job because they’ve inherited a group of students who are just struggling,” he said.

Here’s the thing: This is the same (I’d say very fair and correct) logic many have used to defend struggling public schools the charter system was meant to compete with and do better than. That is more or less the whole reason charter schools exist, according to their creators and supporters. Sooo… blame public schools for their inability to educate students who struggle under the weight of very real massive systemic problems that make it difficult for them to learn, but don’t blame charter schools that take money from those schools and make their jobs even more difficult for the same thing. Got it.

• Speaking of Kasich, he’s finally getting some national attention as he steps up his efforts to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Maybe it’s not always the attention he wants — this story calls him out on his efforts to create a Rondald Reagan-inspired balanced budget amendment to the U.S. constitution — but on the other hand, if you’re a Republican governor looking to run for president, perhaps a piece in liberal Mother Jones magazine about how lame your policy ideas are means you’ve finally arrived. So, uh, congrats on the milestone, governor!

• Let’s talk about a former governor for a minute, specifically Democrat Ted Strickland, who just jumped into the 2016 U.S. Senate race. As we’ve already discussed, Strickland’s announcement earlier this week caused a big stir, and now he’s already getting hit by GOPers and concerned editorial writers across the state. Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges mocked Strickland’s entrance into the race on Twitter today, saying, “same old @ohdems. Can’t get their act together” in response to an article about Strickland possibly having to face Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in a primary. There are worries that a very contentious primary could sabotage Democrat’s chances at picking up incumbent Sen. Rob Portman’s seat, which is dearly needed if Democrats want to take back control of the Senate in 2016. On the other hand, having two strong candidates could be seen as an encouraging sign for the party, and the early level of mockery from Republicans shows they’re taking the threat from Strickland seriously. It’s already clear this isn’t last year’s governor’s race, where Kasich straight-up didn’t acknowledge Dem opponent Ed Fitzgerald during a debate because he didn’t have to.

• Finally, the Federal Communications Commission is voting on net neutrality today. This is a huge day for the Internet. If you don't know what's up, uh, start reading.

Update: the FCC voted 3-2 to require internet providers to operate as neutral gateways through which internet service flows. That ruling prohibits providers from making so-called "fastlanes" that would provide higher-speed connections for some companies and content. Also today, the FCC struck down state laws prohibiting cities from establishing their own internet services, allowing municipalities to create their own internet services in places that may only have one (or no) reliable internet service provider.

That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet at me. Email me (nswartsell@citybeat.com). Messenger pigeon me. Whatever you gotta do to get those news tips and whatever else you want to talk about. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.25.2015 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cincinnati-paul-brown-stadium

Morning News and Stuff

County taxpayers will cough up $7.5 mill for Bengals scoreboards; Strickland enters Senate race; Kasich tilts rightward for State of the State address

Morning y’all. Let’s talk about the news real quick. I think winter is getting to me, because this update got pretty opinionated pretty quickly.

Can you think of anything useful, even vital, on which the county could spend $7.5 million? Maybe chipping in a bit more toward the Union Terminal renovation, or giving a bit to the effort to shape up Music Hall? Maybe addiction treatment or some other human services funding? More sheriff’s deputies on the streets? Or, you know, maybe they could put that cash toward a new crime lab and morgue, both of which are critically crowded and out of date. Or etc. I ask because $7.5 million is the recently-announced amount county taxpayers will pay for new Bengals scoreboards as part of some $12 million overall the county will cough up from its sales tax fund for stadium improvements. Is there any estimate on return on investment for the county on this? Will the new high-definition scoreboards create at least $7.5 million in sales taxes for the county somehow? In return for this outpouring of county largess tied to the 15-year-old albatross of a stadium deal, the Bengals made an exception for projects at The Banks to a provision in their lease that stipulates the height of buildings around the stadium. That’s nice of them. These are all things I will receive exactly zero benefit from in my lifetime.

• Anyway. Speaking of the county, it has settled with the families of three women whose corpses were abused by a former morgue employee from the 1970s to the 1990s. The county will pay $800,000 to the families to end a lawsuit centered around the behavior of Kenneth Douglass, who is believed to have abused more than 100 bodies in the years he worked for the morgue.

• This is pretty cool, I think. The University of Cincinnati will redevelop the old Sears building on Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue in Corryville into an innovation hub for UC-related startups. The university will spend about $16 million to turn the 130,000-square-foot structure, which has a distinct Art Deco vibe, into a business and tech incubator. The building was the first Sears store in the city when it was built in 1929. I’ve always really liked this building, and recently, with the fencing that has surrounded it, I’ve been afraid they would tear it down. UC bought the building in 1981 and it housed the university’s campus services until last year. When I was an Americorps member a few years ago, the UC-affiliated nonprofit I worked for had storage space in the building. I know its creepy, dimly-lit hallways well and I’m excited to see it restored.

• It’s official. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has entered the 2016 Senate race. Strickland, who will be 75 by that time, could face off against Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, creating a high-profile battle between two of the biggest names in state politics. Portman is popular, with millions in the bank for his next campaign, but Strickland is a formidable opponent and perhaps Democrats’ best shot. However, at the moment, Strickland’s got some competition for the Democratic nomination in the form of Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld, 30, announced his intentions to run last month and has raised $500,000 for his campaign thus far. He’s a dynamic young candidate who has done a great deal in a short time and looks to still be on the rise. Some within the party believe he’ll bow out to the higher-profile and more experienced Strickland, but some of Sittenfeld’s own funders have indicated they’re backing him no matter who else is in the game. Will P.G. keep running, or will the state party convince him to sit this one out?

• Speaking of state politics, Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State address last night. During the hour-and-a-quarter long speech, Kasich tacked rightward, mostly emphasizing his plan to cut income taxes as a way to encourage economic growth. The speech is an important moment for Kasich as he seeks a larger spotlight. Kasich’s been traveling and fundraising in connection with his bid for the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 presidential election. Kasich’s recent budget proposals, which he again touted in his speech, suggest he’s trying to balance the demands of the Republican party’s right wing — cut taxes to the bone, ease regulations on businesses — with a need to stay viable in a general election by appearing to be a compassionate conservative who cares about the plight of the poor, education funding and so forth. It makes sense that Kasich would emphasize the more conservative elements of his plan in his address last night — the yearly oratory is traditionally aimed at the state legislature, which is dominated by rightward-leaning Republicans. Those lawmakers don’t seem super-enthused by Kasich’s plans, however, balking at tax increases on cigarettes and oil drilling, for instance.  One last note on Kasich’s big speech — he awarded the Governor’s Courage Award to Cincinnatian Lauren Hill, the Mt. Saint Joseph student and basketball player who is fighting an inoperable brain tumor.

• Finally, I generally like the New York Times. They often do fantastic work. But this piece today about downtown Cincinnati’s resurgence following the 2001 civil unrest is mystifying to me. First, there are about a million things that made Cincinnati sluggish and grim before and after the unrest, including many systemic issues that haunted and continue to haunt the city specifically and others endemic to a lot of other urban areas. There are about a million other things that have happened since the unrest that have made the city’s center, and many other downtowns, take off. Tying the two things together while saying that memories of the unrest are “fading” (probably not true) seems to miss a number of things. The article doesn’t mention the city’s pervasive poverty problem, the fact we’re at the bottom of the list in America for infant mortality, the fact that its police force (30 percent black) still doesn’t match the demographics of the city (which is 45 percent black). It barely glances at the issue of gentrification, a problem many say is accelerating in the urban core and a subject that has been hugely divisive over the past decade. Anyway. That’s my media criticism for the day.

Tweet at me (@nswartsell) or give me an e-mail (nswartsell@citybeat.com) if I bummed you out hating on the Bengals, or if you feel the way I do about the team's blinging new big screens.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.24.2015 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover_crimelab_jf02700x615

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC proposal could increase number of bars downtown; Mount Airy morgue/crimelab deal dead; DeWine rejects initial weed legalization ballot initiative

Hey all, here’s the news this morning.

Have you ever thought there should be more bars downtown? I hadn’t really thought about it before, but then I’m not a huge bar person. 3CDC, on the other hand, has and would like the city to take steps to increase the number of liquor licenses in two specific areas downtown. One, which would be called the Downtown West Community Entertainment District, would be near the convention center and Fountain Square, and another, called Downtown East, would  encompass the rest of downtown. Designating an area a community entertainment district makes it eligible for more liquor licenses from the state.

Currently, Cincinnati is maxed out, but the proposed scheme would add up to 21 new licenses in the two districts. Ten other neighborhoods in the city have this designation, including Over-the-Rhine, Price Hill and CUF. 3CDC would control all liquor licenses granted to the western district under the plan, which has the support of a majority of council and Mayor John Cranley. Supporters of the plan say it will attract more residents to the districts as well as increase tax revenue. Council looks to vote on the measure soon.

• A local man has filed a lawsuit against LA Fitness after he claims he was prohibited from praying in the locker room of the chain’s Oakley location. Mohamed Fall, a Muslim, worked out at the gym on a regular basis for more than a year. After his workouts, he would stand with his eyes closed in an empty corner of the locker room and pray without speaking.  Recently, three LA Fitness employees approached him while he was praying and told him he had to stop and that he should not pray in the locker room again. Fall says he was afraid he would be kicked out if he did not comply.

• Hamilton County Commissioners have officially signaled they will not be pursuing a plan to move the Hamilton County morgue and crime lab to a currently vacant hospital in Mount Airy that Mercy Health offered to donate to the county. While the building would be cost-free, the build out necessary to move the morgue, crime lab and other offices there is cost-prohibitive, commissioners have said. They’ve estimated it could cost as much as $100 million to retrofit the building. The decision comes as the county’s morgue and crime lab continue to sound alarms about their current cramped and outdated workspace.

• Legislation that would move the embattled Brent Spence Bridge replacement project another step toward reality is expected to pass in the Kentucky State House today. The bill would allow the state to use a public-private partnership to fund the project, specifically through tolling on the bridge. Officials in both states have struggled to find the necessary $2.6 billion to fund the bridge replacement project. Opponents of the current plan proposed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear say the project doesn’t need to cost that much, and that tolling will represent a huge burden on businesses and workers in both states. Northern Kentucky politicians and activists have been especially adamant about preventing tolling on the bridge.

• A petition drive to get legal weed on the November ballot in Ohio suffered a blow yesterday when Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected summary language for the petition. DeWine had several quibbles with the details, and lack thereof, in a summary of the proposed ballot language filed with his office by ResponsibleOhio. That group wants to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would create 10 marijuana grow sites in the state controlled by the group’s investors. The proposal would make marijuana legal to sell with a license, and anyone over the age of 21 could purchase it. Ohioans would also be allowed to grow a small amount of the drug at home, a change in position from the group’s original proposal. The group has until July to collect 300,000 signatures and file the petition with the secretary of state. DeWine and other statewide Republican officials have been vocal opponents of the idea, saying that it will increase drug use and that it constitutes a state-run monopoly. Ohio voters passed a similar constitutional amendment allowing four casinos in the state in 2009.

• On a somewhat related note, recreational weed became legal in Alaska today. I used to think I would never move to Alaska because IT GETS BELOW ZERO there, but, well... It’s also legal in Colorado and Washington state and will become legal in Oregon in July and in Washington D.C. later this week. 

• Veterans Affairs head and former P&G president Bob McDonald is drawing some criticism after he made a claim that he  once served in special forces. McDonald is a veteran who attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Army and attended Ranger training school. But he did not actually serve with the elite force. He told a homeless veteran in L.A. during a point-in-time count of that city's homeless population last month that he did serve in the special forces, however, a claim that has caused controversy. McDonald has apologized for the statement, saying it was a mistake.

That does it for your news wrap-up today. Tweet at your boy (@nswartsell) or send me a good old fashioned email at nswartsell@citybeat.com. Things I'm keen to get your thoughts on this week: news tips (of course), interesting parts of the city for an urban photography buff (me) and recommendations on cool sneakers (I'm due for a new pair).

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.23.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
wwe-cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Donors make it rain for Cranley; feds pledge cash for new Cincinnati labs; this man has been in jail for a quarter-century. Is he innocent?

Good morning y’all. I’m fresh off my epic, hour-long alpine adventure, also known as my walk to work. Did you wonder what happened to all the snow that had been on the roadways as you were driving leisurely to work this morning? It's now piled in mountains on the sidewalk by city snowplows. Thanks guys. I do have to say a city worker in a Bobcat drove by yesterday while I was digging my lady friend’s car out of the snow. He looped back around and with three or four quick maneuvers did what would have taken me 20 minutes with a shovel. Driving one of those things is an art, and I have met its Picasso.

Enough grumbling. It’s news time. Mayor John Cranley is, as the kids say, stacking cash (note: kids these days don’t actually say that). Cranley collected more than $250,000 at a Feb. 17 fundraiser for his re-election campaign. That may be the biggest haul ever for a city candidate, according to Cranley’s campaign, which is all the more impressive because Cranley doesn’t face reelection for almost two years. A ton of big names were in attendance at the event, and it seems like the city’s movers and shakers are backing the mayor.

Reds owner Bob Castellini was a host. So were Western and Southern CEO John Barrett, two members of the Lindner family and PACs from Kroger and Procter & Gamble. Cranley’s already got his eye on the election, having hired his campaign manager and setting a fundraising goal of $2 million. That’s a huge sum of money, some of which could go to help out allies in their City Council campaigns, though Cranley has said he won’t be doing that, focusing the cash on his own bid. Another possibility: Is Cranley setting such ambitious goals as a demonstration of his fundraising abilities so he can set up a bid for a higher office down the road?

• The federal government has said it will give $110 million to build a new facility in Cincinnati for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has been instrumental in securing the funding for the building, which will replace two aging facilities in the city, the Robert A. Taft Laboratory in the East End and the Alice Hamilton Laboratory in Pleasant Ridge. The new facility will consolidate them, making work easier for the federal employees there.

The Center for Disease Control oversees NIOSH. The agency researches ways to prevent injury and illness caused by occupational hazards, making recommendations to other federal agencies. The Cincinnati labs employ about 550 people. It’s not clear where the new labs will be located, but the Uptown Consortium, which represents major businesses and institutions in the Clifton, CUF, Corryville and Avondale neighborhoods including UC and several hospitals, is making a big pull to get the 14-acre site in that area. Other neighborhoods looking to get the facility include Bond Hill.

• Cincinnati anti-abortion activist Dr. John Wilke has died. He was 89. Wilke founded Greater Cincinnati Right to Life and Ohio Right to Life in the 1970s with his wife Barbara as debate swirled about a woman’s right to choose. The two groups have been incredibly active in the decades since as the issue has continued to be one of the country’s most intense and divisive. Wilke also served as head of national and international pro-life groups. Among Wilke’s more controversial assertions: that the stress caused by rape made it very unlikely a woman being raped would become pregnant. Other doctors and experts have since challenged that assertion, calling it bunk science and a cruel perspective on a terrible experience. Last month, Wilke released an autobiography about his time as a pro-life activist.

• A lawsuit over decades-old corpse abuse at the Hamilton County Morgue is in court today. The case involves the behavior of former morgue employee Kenneth Douglass, who was convicted six years ago of sexually abusing three bodies while he worked at the morgue. The families of the women whose corpses were abused have sued the county, charging that it should have known Douglass was engaging in illegal behavior at the facility and fired him. County officials and the estates of the former county coroner and supervisor, who the family also named in the suit and who have both since died, say they couldn’t have known Douglass would engage in behavior so abnormal and unpredictable.

• Has Kentucky held the wrong man in prison for 27 years? Some evidence suggests that might be the case. The Kentucky Innocence Project has been working on the case of William Virgil, who was convicted for the 1987 killing of psychiatric nurse Retha Welch in Newport. Virgil was convicted based on witness testimony, though some of those witnesses have since been discredited. Meanwhile, DNA evidence tested since the trial suggests Virgil may not have committed the crime. His DNA wasn’t found at the crime scene, Virgil’s advocates point out, and hers was not found on his clothing. The state is waiting for more tests to be done, but the Kentucky Innocence Project holds that there isn’t enough evidence against Virgil to hold him in prison.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.20.2015 14 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

City Hall might get metal detectors; will Oxford get Amtrak service to Chicago?; Kasich proposal would funnel nearly $1 billion a year to charter schools

Hey all! Here’s a quick morning news rundown.

In the wake of last month’s infamous pickup truck incident (wherein a disgruntled man tried to ram his vehicle into our seat of city government), City Hall might be getting metal detectors. Council voted yesterday to find out how much the security measure will cost. The city has already stationed another guard in the City Hall lobby and instituted a requirement that visitors to the mayor or council members be escorted. The extra security measures also come as a response to death threats received by Mayor John Cranley and Councilwoman Amy Murray. Cranley has declined a body guard but has said that the recent events have left him a bit shaken.

• Oxford could be on the path to getting its first train service in half a century. Officials in Butler County are discussing an application for a federal TIGER grant that would fund a stop in the city for trains heading to Chicago. Miami University hosts many students from the Chicago area, officials with the school say, and there is great demand for easy and affordable transit to the Windy City. Last month, officials with the school, the city and the county asked Amtrak to do a feasibility study on picking up passengers there. Currently, Amtrak’s Cardinal Line runs from Cincinnati to Chicago, but only in the middle of the night and only a few times a week. There are efforts underway to expand that service led by transit advocacy group All Aboard Ohio.

• Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to make some Medicaid recipients pay premiums could block access to health care for low-income folks, a new study finds. The report by liberal-leaning Policy Matters Ohio says the proposed premiums, which would start at $15 to $20 a month, would prove a significant hardship for low-income people making just above the federal poverty line (about $12,000 for a single person). The study looks at past efforts in other states to require low-income people to pay premiums on government-subsidized health care. In examples from many states over the past decade, health care costs went up as a result of low-income people having less access to preventative health care, causing them to develop serious conditions for which they seek emergency treatment.
Policy Matters’ study suggests the same could happen in Ohio should Kasich’s proposal be adopted.

• There’s actually a raft of news about Kasich, now that we’re talking about the gov, so I’ll just briefly run through the rest of it here. First, an analysis of his budget proposal finds that it would funnel more money into Ohio’s controversial charter school program, bringing the funding devoted to charter schools by the state to nearly $1 billion a year. Charters in the state have come under criticism over the past year due to sometimes-poor performance and lack of accountability. Ohio’s system takes money from public school districts and gives it to privately run schools that are held to a lower standard by the state. Some of these schools have excelled, delivering better student performance at a lower cost, but a number of others haven’t been nearly so successful. What’s more, several schools have been rocked by allegations of financial and other improprieties. There is movement at the state House to hold the schools to higher standards, but so far no legislation has been passed. You can read our in-depth story on the state’s charter schools here for more on that. Critics of Kasich’s plan to provide more funding for charters say it’s time to reform Ohio’s charter system entirely.

• Speaking of education, Kasich and his budget proposal, Ohio state legislators are going to change Kasich’s proposal for pubic school funding, Republican lawmakers have revealed. Though it’s unclear just what they’ll do when the get under the hood of Kasich’s funding changes, they’ve already chosen Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, to take the lead. Kasich’s public school funding proposal, which seeks to shift some state aid away from wealthy districts toward lower-income ones, left many scratching their heads earlier this month. Kasich’s complex proposed funding formula left some low-income districts with cuts while giving big percentage increases to wealthy districts like Indian Hill, which would get 21 percent more state aid under the model. There are reasons for that and other counter-intuitive increases, as we explored in our story on the proposal a couple weeks ago, but it still doesn’t sit right with many folks. Cupp has said there seem to be some “anomalies” in the formula, but that he won’t know exactly how everything is working until he and other lawmakers dive in and look at everything piece by piece.

Annnnnnd. I’m out. Happy Friday y’all. Tweet news tips, your favorite winter beer recommendations or Parks and Rec finale sadness/spoilers to me over the weekend: @nswartsell. Or you can e-mail me with all of that: nswartsell@citybeat.com.

 
 
 
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