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by Nick Swartsell 04.13.2016 45 days ago
Posted In: News at 02:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

No Streetcar Budget Just Yet

Flynn reverses course, Cranley threatens veto after budget passes 5-4

After years of wrangling, fretting and plenty of political tug-of-wars, and just six months before the streetcar is scheduled to start gliding passengers around downtown and Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati City Council almost passed the transit project's first-year operating budget today.

Almost.

Council passed the budget out of the transportation committee earlier this week with a veto-proof 6-2 majority. But Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had been the swing vote in Council's 2013 battle with Mayor John Cranley to restart the streetcar, reversed course today and voted against the ordinance.

Without Flynn's vote, Cranley indicated he would veto the operating budget.

“I don’t feel in good conscience that we can proceed if Mr. Flynn is unhappy," Cranley said. "My assumption as of yesterday was that six people were supporting this.”

Flynn cited concerns about money set aside for contingencies in the first year of the streetcar's operation and start-up costs. His concerns boil down to where that money — $1.1 million for start-up costs and some $550,000 for contingencies — is coming from.

Flynn said he doesn't believe that all the contingency money will be spent on true contingencies — that the city will need to use it for extra foreseeable expenses — and that the money for the cushion should come from an already-existing construction contingency fund that still has $900,000.

“That’s what I’m asking for, because we’ve been told construction is essentially completed and there’s $900,000 in construction contingency fund left," Flynn told Council after his surprise "no" vote.

"In transportation yesterday, we heard people wanting to give free rides," Flynn said. "This is a very, very aggressive budget relative to ridership, relative to advertising dollars and sponsorship dollars. We can’t afford to give away free anything. And then, when I started thinking about this ordinance more, when I voted for the streetcar, I said we would not be using money form the general fund for the streetcar."

Much of the money in question comes from an increase in parking rates and hours in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. Other Council members pointed out, and Flynn acknowledged that the parking funds would not exist if Council hadn't changed parking policies to raise money for the streetcar. But he also said that since contingency money is left over for construction, it should be used first for start-up costs and contingencies. Flynn said he was worried that the construction contingency fund would evaporate if it wasn't used.

"I’ve been involved in enough construction projects to know — if there’s money left, they’ll find a way to spend it," he said. "I want to get that money out of there now.”

City Manager Harry Black sought to allay those concerns. “We are micromanaging the contingency side of the budget," he said. "Any action related to the contingency must be approved by the city manager.”

But Flynn held fast, and Council will now have to tinker with the budget to get the six votes necessary to avoid a mayoral veto.

Other council members who support the streetcar, including Yvette Simpson, said moving the money is reckless and that it can be transferred over after construction is finished. “The reason I’m concerned about pulling money out of contingency is because our project manager says pulling money out of contingency could damage the project," Simpson said. "We can believe what we want to believe or we can believe what our experts say.”

There are other concerns — the construction contingency fund is tied up in a process involving the Federal Transportation Authority, and the city must technically ask the FTA to use it, city administration pointed out.

Simpson said she was worried that a small amount of money could “short circuit” the enormous, $148 million federally funded project. “We have a start date of Sept. 2016, and a boatload of developers building along the route. If it doesn’t start on time, it’s going to cost us a lot more than $550,000 to fix it.”

The budget is due to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority at the end of the month. The streetcar is expected to start full operation sometime in September.
 
 
by Natalie Krebs 04.13.2016 45 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
fountains_libraryfountain_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Preservationists fire back against plans to demolish Dennison building; UC police begin search for new chief; Ohio House to lay out proposal for medical marijuana

Preservationists are pushing back against a plan to demolish the historic Dennison Hotel building on Main Street. The Joseph family, of Joseph Automotive Group wealth, has released renderings of a potential Fortune 500 company's headquarters it could potentially develop, should the Historic Conservation Board OK the building's demolition. Opponents of demolition have been circulating copies of a Cincinnati Enquirer article from the 1980s via social media as an example of the Joseph family failing to deliver on promises of shiny new office complexes after demolishing historical buildings in the past. Documents filed by the family's attorney with the Historic Conservation Board show that the family purchased the Dennison Hotel in 2013 in part to stifle plans to convert the structure into affordable housing. The family will present its case for demolition in front of the Historic Conservation Board on April 18. 

• Hamilton County library employee Rachel Dovel might file a federal lawsuit against the library for failing to cover her gender reassignment surgery via its insurance policy. Dovel, who has worked for the library for the past decade, has been transitioning from male to female for the past two years and said the library's insurance policy won't cover gender confirmation surgery necessary to complete her transition. The library's trustees are currently debating adding the procedure to the employee medical plan in August, but Dovel says she feels she's already waiting long enough.

• The University of Cincinnati Department of Public Safety announced it is launching a nationwide search for a new chief of police and assistant chief of police. Previous Police Chief Jason Goodrich and Major Tim Thornton both resigned last February following a review into the department after the July shooting death of Mount Auburn resident Samuel DuBose by UC Police Officer Ray Tensing. The 11-person search committee will be lead by S. Gregory Baker, UC's director of police community relations, starting at the end of April. The university said the search will go on until the right people are found. 

• The issue of medical marijuana is inching back this year for Ohio. The Ohio House is expected to lay out its proposal for medical marijuana today. Both the House and the Senate have had separate hearing on the issue, and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, a Republican from Clarksville, says the legislation will likely be a joint effort. The Senate is currently wrapping up its own hearings on the issue. Polls have shown Ohioans support the legalization of medical marijuana. And it seems whatever plan legislators roll out will probably have a better shot at passing than ResponsibleOhio's failed attempt last election at getting voters to approve a constitutional amendment to legalize all marijuana. 

• Donald Trump has fired back against those tricky Republicans who are trying to figure out a way to deny the GOP frontrunner the presidential nomination. As Republicans stumble toward a likely contested convention in Cleveland this July, Trump has started accusing the party of trying to steal the election from him. Trump told the crowd at a campaign event in upstate New York that the system is "absolutely rigged" and that the Republican National Committee should be "ashamed of itself." Trump, who has with 742 delegates, leading rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's 529 delegates, looks unlikely to secure the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the nomination by July.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.12.2016 46 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
dovel

Library Employee Might File Federal Suit Over Trans Benefits

Ten-year employee Rachel Doval says the library has waited long enough to provide benefits that would help her transition

A potential lawsuit against the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County over the library’s lack of benefits for trans individuals could be the first of its kind in the country, putting Cincinnati on the map again for LGBT issues.

Library employee Rachel Dovel has been transitioning from male to female over the past two years. In February last year, she changed her name legally from Nathan and has come out as transgender. Now, she says she needs gender confirmation surgery to complete her transition and match her physical traits with the gender she identifies with. The library’s insurance doesn’t cover that procedure, however.

The library’s trustees say they haven’t made a decision one way or the other about the coverage and say they’re not trying to discriminate against Dovel. The board’s seven members — President Elizabeth LaMacchia, Vice President Allen G. Zaring IV, Secretary Barbara Trauth, Robert G. Hendon, Monica Donath Kohnen, William Moran and Ross Wright — are appointed to seven-year terms by the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas and the Hamilton County Commission.

The board will consider whether or not to acquire trans-inclusive benefits in August. The coverage will cost a little more than the library’s current plan, though advocates say that price increase is minimal. After a year-long fight to get the surgery, the end of the summer is too long to wait, Dovel says.

“It’s been really stressful,” Dovel says. “This is a surgery I need to get to feel like I’m moving on with my life and not transitioning forever. I just want to live a normal life and I thought I was going to be able to do that last year when I was trying to get the ball moving on getting the surgery scheduled. Transitioning is already hard enough.”

The delay has led Dovel and her attorney to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Pending the EEOC’s response, Dovel’s attorney says they are prepared to file a federal gender-discrimination lawsuit against the library.

“Rachel’s case against the library will be a case of first impression in the country, meaning no employer in the United States has refused to offer coverage for gender confirmation surgery, leading their employee to file a federal lawsuit,” Dovel’s attorney Josh Langdon said at a news conference April 12 in front of the downtown library. “Just like Obergefell v. Hodges, Cincinnati will literally make history with Rachel’s case.”

That case, in which Over-the-Rhine resident Jim Obergefell and a number of other plaintiffs sued the state of Ohio and other states over same-sex marriage bans, eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court and resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country.

Dovel and Langdon say they don’t want their situation to progress that far, but after fighting the library for a year, Langdon says, “We’re nearing the end of the rope."

“I hope they don’t force me to take it that far, but if that’s what it takes,” Dovel says. “This isn’t just about me. There could be future employees or their families who need this medically necessary care.”

Dovel, who works processing books for circulation, has been with the library for more than a decade. She says she believes in the library’s mission and would like to stay there, but also needs the medical care she’s working to get.

Dovel initially sought to have the surgery under the library’s health insurance policy. But she was informed that the policy under Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield did not offer coverage for the procedure. Dovel and attorneys challenged Anthem, saying the fact it did not offer the coverage violated gender discrimination clauses under the Affordable Care Act. The insurance company eventually complied, offering supplemental coverage for transgender care, including the procedure Dovel would like to receive. However, the library has yet to purchase that coverage.

A number of local corporations already offer such coverage, including Macy’s and Kroger. Trans advocates say procedures like the one Dovel is seeking are vital.

“More and more people are recognizing that these things are not only beneficial to transgender people, they’re medically necessary,” says Callie Wright, board member for local trans advocacy organization Heartland Trans Wellness Group. “This is not just us talking who want these surgeries. This is many organizations of medical and mental health professionals, who say these things are as necessary as any other medical treatment.”

The mental health dimension of transgender treatment was tragically illustrated by the death of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who took her own life late in 2014 after her parents refused to permit her to undergo transition procedures.

The April 12 news conference brought local and national advocates including Heartland and a representative for national LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, Cincinnati Police Department LGBT outreach officers and Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach.

“This is about her health care, and her relationship with a medical doctor licensed by the state of Ohio, who says she needs these medical procedures to live her life as a healthy individual," Seelbach said. "That decision should be made between Rachel and her medical doctor, not a politically-appointed medical board.”

Seelbach touts Cincinnati as the first city in the Midwest to offer transgender-inclusive medical benefits and says that, overall, the city has made huge strides from a place that had very restrictive anti-LGBT rights legislation just a decade ago. He said he hopes the library will follow that example.

“It’s time to go forward, following the lead of the city and our corporate community,” Seelbach said. “It’s the right thing to do because of history, it’s the right thing to do because of Rachel’s health.”

 
 
by Natalie Krebs 04.12.2016 46 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Music Hall renovations get Historical Preservation Board approval; city one step closer to banning travel to North Carolina and Mississippi; Husted wants to overturn decision to keep primary polls open longer

Music Hall has gotten one big step closer to its $135 million facelift. The city's Historical Preservation Board voted unanimously on Monday to approve developer Music Hall Revitalization Co.'s plans. The 140-year-old landmark structure is set to close in June for a year to undergo major remodeling, and the board's decision means the developer can now apply for building permits from the city. The only details still pending city approval are small things like paint color, lighting and acoustic treatment, which must be checked off by city's historical conservation staff by July 1. Music Hall is technically owned by the city of Cincinnati, but is currently on lease to the Music Hall Revitalization Co. The city is planning to kick in $16 million for the renovations. 

• City Council's Budget and Finance Committee has approved a ban on all non-essential city-funded or city-sponsored travel to North Carolina and Mississippi. The committee approved the motion at Monday's meeting put forth by council members Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young, Christopher Smitherman and Vice Mayor David Mann in a vote of 6-2. The ban is a way for Cincinnati to put pressure on North Carolina and Mississippi to reconsider newly created law laws that discriminate against LGBT people. North Carolina's law requires people to use the bathroom of the gender listed on their birth certificate. Mississippi's law allows businesses to refused to serve LGBT people if they object on religious grounds. Council is expected vote on the motion Wednesday. 

• Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted wants to overturn a judge's March 15 order that kept polls open an additional hour in Hamilton, Clermont, Warren and Butler counties after a traffic accident tied up greater Cincinnati roads. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott issued the order after a major accident on I-275 on the day of Ohio's presidential primary left many voters claiming they would be unable to reach polls by closing time. The decision was unusual because it was made quickly with no plaintiff and no hearing for evidence. Husted has called Dlott's intervention into the electoral process "unreasonable" and says he's appealing the order because he says he doesn't want to set a precedent with the presidential election on the horizon.

• Warren County transgender teen Leelah Alcorn's Tumblr post five days after her 2014 suicide made national headlines and sparked a national outcry about the controversial practice of conversion therapy, including a promise from President Barack Obama to support a ban. But at a Monday presidential campaign event in Troy, New York, Gov. John Kasich said he's never heard of her. Kasich's response reportedly was from a question about conversion therapy, and his spokesman Joe Andrews later explained Kasich's lapse in memory, saying that the GOP presidential hopeful couldn't recall every tragic death in the state. Last December, conversion therapy in Ohio made headlines again when Cincinnati became the second city in the country after Washington, D.C. to pass a law banning the practice.                                

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.12.2016 46 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_04-06_dennison1_nsedited

Documents: Dennison Owners Bought Building to Block Supportive Housing

In filings with Historic Conservation Board, Joseph family says it was protecting investments in the neighborhood

The owners of downtown’s Dennison building bought it in 2013 at least in part because of concerns about a proposed plan to turn it into affordable housing, documents filed with Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board reveal.

The revelation comes as Columbia REI, LLC, the owners of the Dennison, look to move forward with controversial plans to demolish the building, constructed in 1892 from designs by noted architect Samuel Hannaford.

The documents, which are downloadable here and were first reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier, show that Dennison owners Columbia Development Corp. — run by the Joseph Auto Group family — purchased the building from an affiliate of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation in August 2013 for $744,000, a price the developer negotiated. 3CDC had purchased the property from The Model Group the month prior for $1.3 million. Model itself purchased the property in 2010 for $700,000 to develop affordable housing with Talbert House. 3CDC has made no comment about the sale.

“This acquisition was necessary to protect the family’s investment in this block of downtown Cincinnati,” the documents, filed in response to conservation board questions, reads. “As media groups have confirmed, and as the family had become aware, 3CDC engaged The Model Group for the remodeling of this building into a facility to be owned, occupied, and used by The Talbert House, a halfway house providing housing for persons who have transitioned through the criminal justice system and incarceration. Since it was believed this type of use would have a damaging effect on their investment in particular and on the neighborhood in general, the family concluded it was necessary to acquire this property. The acquisition would then be a part of the assemblage of the parcels in this block to facilitation a major redevelopment."

Model Group and 3CDC’s plans involved redeveloping the building into 63 one bedroom, one bath units of affordable housing. Reports say the $10 million redevelopment, to which the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority pledged $3.3 million, would have been permanent supportive housing, which provides services and other support for those with disabilities or addiction issues transitioning out of homelessness.Those plans fell through, however.

Cincinnati is more affordable than many major cities, but is still experiencing the national trend of shortage in affordable housing. Rising rents and dwindling subsidized and otherwise affordable units of housing have put a squeeze on low-income individuals. A study by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless found that in order to comfortably afford a two-bedroom apartment at the $769 average monthly rate in Hamilton County, a minimum-wage worker would have to work 73 hours a week. About 24 percent of renters in Cincinnati have incomes below the poverty level.

The Dennison was the last of more than 20 single-room occupancy hotels that dotted downtown; it charged around $90 a week. Another
single-room occupancy hotel once occupying the Metropole building was redeveloped into the 21c Museum Hotel in 2012.

The documents from Columbia at one point refer to the Dennison’s former use as a single-room occupancy hotel for low-income individuals as “a flophouse.”

Representatives for the Joseph family point out that the building had fallen into severe disrepair and was “disgraceful,” as the documents call it. Attorney Fran Barrett says the building is in disrepair and poses a danger to passersby, and that's a big reason to tear it down. Columbia seeks to redevelop the property and several adjoining properties into a headquarters for an as-yet undetermined Fortune 500 company. The group envisions “an attractive, Class-A office building” to occupy the 69,000 square foot site, according to Columbia attorney Fran Barrett.

Barrett argues that, though the building was designed by the firm of the noted architect, the Dennison is not one of Hannaford's noteworthy works. He compared Hannaford to Pete Rose and called the Dennison  a "broken-bat base hit," according to the Business Courier.

Columbia has been responsible for past demolitions of nearby buildings, and some of the sites of those former buildings are now parking lots, preservation advocates say.

The developer commissioned cost estimates for reusing the Dennison building — a part of the process of getting a demolition permit — and says that reuse of the building as apartments, condos, office space or a hotel is not economically feasible.

The city's Historic Conservation Board will discuss Columbia's demolition permit at its April 18 meeting.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.11.2016 47 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1

What's UC Doing to Reform its Police Department?

Efforts to end disparities in stops and arrests, hire more black officers underway

The University of Cincinnati is working on big changes to its police department but still has work ahead of it, a UCPD official said at a conference on police reform yesterday.

University of Cincinnati Police Department Director of Community Relations S. Gregory Baker called the July 19 UCPD shooting of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose “an atrocity” and told a crowd of about 50 that the university is pushing to get a more diverse police force, change training officers receive, add more front-line managers overseeing patrol officers and a number of other changes in the coming months.

Baker spoke at the first event of a five-night conference recognizing the 15th anniversary of civil unrest in Over-the-Rhine over the police shooting death of unarmed Timothy Thomas. Activist Iris Roley and other members of the Black United Front, which helped establish Cincinnati’s Collaborative Agreement in the wake of the unrest, organized the conference. Anti-poverty group the AMOS Project, the Hamilton County Office of Reentry, Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority and a number of other groups helped sponsor the conference, which is being held at the New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn.

Last night’s talk focused specifically on reform efforts underway at UC after UCPD officer Ray Tensing shot and killed
DuBose in Mount Auburn after a routine traffic stop for a missing front license plate. Tensing was indicted on murder charges, and UC has paid a $4.6 million settlement to DuBose’s family.

The incident, which sparked peaceful protests and national media attention, has also brought about efforts at deep change at the university, Baker says.

“Unfortunately, we had to arrive at this situation through a very tragic incident,” he said
. “No amount of money will bring Mr. DuBose back, so really this reform is bigger than Mr. DuBose. We can’t pay for his life, and we don’t want this to ever happen again.”

One very specific upcoming piece of that puzzle, according to Baker: a report from independent police accountability firm Exiger that will examine department hiring practices, its diversity, its training procedures, use of force policies, traffic stops and arrests. That report will also detail suggestions for reform. It’s due out in June.

Another substantive reform that has already been implemented: The department now has sergeants supervising patrol officers, and officer behavior, stops and arrests are now being monitored for bias and racial disparities.

Those disparities have been huge. Baker says the university ramped up its police force in the years preceding the
DuBose shooting, in response to a spike in crime around the university that started around 2008. The school ended up doubling the 35 officers it had in 2013 to 70 in just a year and a half. It’s now the third-largest law enforcement agency in the county behind the Cincinnati Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.

With that increased enforcement came huge racial disparities. The student body on UC’s campus is only 8 percent black, though the neighborhoods surrounding it, especially to the west, have a much larger proportional black population. Increased police activity led to a disproportionate number of stops and arrests of blacks.

Traffic stops went up 300 percent to 2000 in 2015. Arrests also tripled.  

But during this time, stops of white individuals actually decreased. Black stops went way up, however. Tickets written by Tensing in the year before he shot
DuBose, went to blacks 81 percent of the time.

“Was it racist?” Baker asks about the disparities. “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…”

In the wake of the shooting, UCPD was ordered to roll back its involvement in the communities surrounding the school. Officers can now only stop a person if they are imminently threating someone or if an officer witnesses them committing a crime. Otherwise, university police must call the Cincinnati Police Department.

The department is still wrestling with what its role should be in those communities around the school, Baker says. It’s also working on gaining back trust within those communities.

The university has created a 19-member community advisor council that will weigh in on ongoing reform efforts. That council is made up of students, neighborhood residents around the university and faith leaders. Baker says it’s “very diverse.”

Other reforms are more general and are still materializing. Baker says the department is committed to increasing the number of officers of color on the force. He says that of the 72 officers currently serving in the UCPD, only one is black.

“We have to look at this one African American officer,” he said. “That’s just wrong. The police should reflect the diversity of the community. We have a problem with that at UC.”

There are still unanswered questions, however. When a CityBeat reporter asked about the other officers involved in the
DuBose shooting who initially corroborated Tensing’s story in preliminary police reports, Baker shook his head.

“Those officers made statement within the urgency of the situation,” he said. “They blurted things out.” Baker pointed out they gave a more accurate accounting of events before the grand jury that indicted Tensing.

“They corrected their testimony to be consistent with the video tape,” he said. “They knew what was on the tape because they saw it themselves. That’s a very unsettled piece of this. They’re currently still working on the force.”

Baker, who spent 30 years working for the city of Cincinnati in public safety and community development before he came to UCPD in August, says he believes the department is making progress. He said the work the department is doing is vital, given concerns around crime, campus shootings and other public safety issues.

The crime issue will come up again during the five-day community-police relations conference, which also features film screenings, workshops and discussions on Cincinnati Police and the Collaborative Agreement. You can find the full schedule here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.11.2016 47 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
paul ryan

Morning News and Stuff

Will Cincy get a unified effort to expand preschool?; LGBT groups want library to extend trans health benefits; could Paul Ryan run for prez?

Good morning all. It snowed this weekend. It’s nasty out right now. Insert T.S. Eliot “Wasteland” reference. Let’s not talk about it and just go straight to non-weather related news, shall we?

Cincinnati could get a unified effort to expand preschool offerings to more needy kids. At least, that possibility seems more likely after a gathering yesterday to discuss preschool funding effort Preschool Promise and Cincinnati Public Schools’ own operating levy, which also includes some preschool provisions. Many are worried that if the two efforts aren’t combined, voters confronted with two educationally related levies this November will sink one or both of them.

Representatives from CPS, Preschool Promise and the Cincinnati Business Committee spoke at the panel discussion, which was hosted by anti-poverty group the AMOS Project. All say they’re looking for a way to join forces. CPS’s levy would come in the form of property taxes, while Preschool Promise hasn’t officially announced an ask from taxpayers. But many believe a boost in the city’s earnings tax, which is paid by those who work in Cincinnati, would be the most likely potential funding source. Experts and Preschool Promise boosters cite studies showing that quality preschool can boost a child’s chances of rising out of poverty. Half of Cincinnati’s children live below the poverty line, making the city second worst in the country by that measure. Preschool Promise wants to extend the opportunity to attend preschool, either at CPS or through private preschools, to all of the city’s 9,000 3- and 4-year-olds.

• Cincinnati’s streetcar could start operating Sept. 1 if Cincinnati City Council approves a first-year budget for the transit project it will consider this week. Council’s Budget and Finance Committee will consider that $4.2 million budget drawn up by City Manager Harry Black today. More than $2 million in parking revenues from changes in parking fees in Over-the-Rhine and downtown, $677,000 in rider fares, $450,000 in naming rights, sponsorships and advertising and $11,000 in property tax receipts from reduced tax abatements in OTR and downtown will pay for the streetcar’s first year. Another crucial funding source will be $900,000 pledged by the Haile Foundation for the streetcar’s first year.

• Councilman Chris Seelbach, officials with national LGBT group the Human Rights Campaign, transgender activist Paula Ison and others are pushing the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to extend medical benefits for transgender employees. One of those employees, Rachel Dovel, is seeking gender confirmation surgery, which the library’s insurance policy does not cover. Dovel has worked at the library for a decade. The library’s board of directors recently declined to change its employee insurance in response to a request from Dovel, and now attorneys representing her have brought up the possibility of legal action. The library board has said it hasn’t made any final decisions on the request and is researching the possible change. The city of Cincinnati provides such benefits to its employees, as do several of the city’s large corporations like Kroger and Macy’s. Seelbach and representatives from LGBT groups will hold a press conference tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in front of the library’s Vine Street entrance to discuss the issue, according to a news release from Dovel’s attorneys.

• A week-long panel on the aftermath of the 2001 unrest and its legacy kicks off tonight at the New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn. The conference is hosted by activists and organizations responsible for the city's historic Collaborative Agreement. A presentation by law enforcement officials to give updates on developments in the Sam DuBose case will start at 6 p.m. The conference will also include film screenings, panel discussions and workshops throughout the week. Find out more details here. In the meantime, read CityBeat's story on the aftermath of 2001, which includes reams of data on policing, economics in the black community and demographic changes in Over-the-Rhine since the unrest there.

• Last week, we told you about efforts by Cincinnati City Council banning non-essential city-funded travel to North Carolina, which passed harsh laws allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals on religious grounds. Now, the city of Dayton has also passed similar legislation, cutting off city-funded travel to that state and Mississippi, which has also passed similar laws. Dayton Mayor Nann Whaley last week issued a memo explaining that the move comes because the legislation in those states violates the inclusive values that Dayton represents. Other municipalities and local governments in Ohio have also passed similar travel bans, including Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located.

• Well, it’s probably happening. Things look more and more likely to get live in Cleveland this summer as the Republican Party inches closer to a contested presidential primary convention there. Frontrunner Donald Trump has taken something of a nosedive, leaving it quite possible, even probable, that none of the GOP’s candidates will get the requisite 1,237 delegates needed to grab the party’s nomination outright. Trump took a beating in Wisconsin last week, narrowing considerably the path to the magic number for him. That’s good news — perhaps the only good news — for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is trailing a distant third behind Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. So what’s Kasich thinking? Here’s his contested convention strategy.

• Meanwhile, is there a dark horse waiting in this primary circus? Some people think so, and they also believe that horse has two first names and went to my alma mater. That’s right — Miami University alum and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s name continues to float around as a possible entrant into the nomination battle. Republicans would have to change a rule they set that keeps any candidate who has not won a majority of delegates in eight states from entering the nomination proceedings, but they could do that.

There are reasons to think he might — he’s been on international trips with U.S. allies, his staff released a campaign-like video featuring Ryan talking about uniting the country and he’s outwardly taking other steps to run what some call “a parallel campaign” to counter the angry messages Trump and Cruz have used to rise to prominence. The question is whether that campaign is purely to boost an alternative vision of the Republican Party — one that is still staunchly conservative but outwardly less hostile and destructive — or whether there is the seed of a convention challenge in the efforts. Time will tell.

 
 
by Steve Beynon 04.08.2016 50 days ago
Posted In: 2016 election at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
clinton

Rumble for Democratic Nomination (Mostly) a Clean Fight

Until recently, the most heated the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination got consisted of disagreements with campaign finance and fighting over the word “progressive.” For the past year, Democrats have prided themselves with debating issues and not mangling each other like the Republicans.

However, the battle over the April 19 New York primaries have added a new layer of tension to the campaigns. The Empire State is Clinton territory — serving as one of the state’s senators from 2001 - 2009. But the Sanders campaign has launched a full assault, gathering an army of mostly young volunteers and holding massive rallies in Clinton’s backyard — aiming for a major upset.

Clinton still leads the insurgent campaign, according to the most recent Quinnipiac poll, but nowhere near the 40 points she was leading by in the same poll conducted in June. The Democratic frontrunner’s New York support has been bleeding for months. While a loss in New York would not spell doom for the former secretary of state, it would be a massive moral loss.

The delegate gain and upset would likely propel Sanders unlike any of his other victories in this election. The Vermont senator needs 56 percent of the remaining delegates to topple Clinton. However, that does not take superdelegates into account  — which Clinton has a virtual monopoly on.

Clinton lashed out against Sanders’ qualifications for the presidency, suggesting he may not be ready for the Oval Office while echoing some of her rhetoric in the past, labeling the Vermont senator as a one-issue candidate.

“He’s been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hasn't studied or understood,” Clinton said in an interview on Morning Joe. “What he has been saying about the core issue in his whole campaign doesn’t seem to be rooted in an understanding of either the law or the practical ways you get something done.”

While addressing supporters in Philadelphia, Sanders came back swinging in an unprecedented move.

“We have won seven out of eight of the recent primaries and caucuses, and she has been saying lately that I may be ‘not qualified’ to be president. Well, let me just say in response to secretary Clinton. I don’t believe she is qualified if she is through her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special-interest funds,” Sanders said.

This is the first time either Democratic candidate has suggested their challenger is “unqualified,” a phrase that caught a lot of media attention and folks questioning if Sanders is keeping true to his original promise of not being negative.

“I don’t think you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street with your super PAC. I don’t think you're qualified if you voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are qualified if you supported virtually every disastrous free trade agreement that have cost us millions of decent paying jobs.” Sanders added.

Clinton expressed her puzzlement over Sanders’ statement, saying, “I don’t know why he’s saying that, but I will take Bernie Sanders over Donald Trump or Ted Cruz anytime."

Ask virtually any Bernie Sanders supporter and one of the most respectful qualities they see in the Vermont senator is he has never ran a negative ad over the course of three decades in the political arena — despite losing about half-a-dozen elections over the years.

On the flipside, there’s undoubtedly a lot of frustration in the Sanders camp that the campaign largely holds back munitions it has against Clinton. For base liberals, Hillary Clinton is standing in the way of what they see as a real future for progressive politics. To a lot of his supporters, Sanders is a once-in-a-generation dream candidate, similar to the energy behind President Barack Obama when he first sought the presidency.

This has bubbled into a real desire that Sanders will finally take the gloves off and lash out against the Democratic frontrunner. However, if Sanders would attempt any knockout attack, it would be antithetical of the campaign’s values. It’s a rarity Sanders even names Hillary Clinton. In most speeches he refers to her as “my opponent” or indirectly jabs at her with his populist rhetoric.

Clinton’s campaign is likely equally frustrated. Lashing out against Sanders would risk further alienating his liberal followers, and Clinton’s mission this summer has to be uniting the party and courting Sanders supporters to combat the Republican nominee.

There’s a movement called “Bernie or Bust,” where Sanders supporters are refusing to turn out to the polls in November if he isn’t the Democratic nominee. With bulk of the electorate under 30 siding with Sanders, some of which very passionately, Clinton has had to be careful not to bruise up the Vermont senator. Also, any attack she lays out leads to the massive donations for the Sanders camp.

When Sanders said Clinton was “unqualified” at the Philadelphia rally, the crowd went wild. He finally fed that desire to throw a direct punch. It was the kind of red meat the Republican base has been spoiled with in the form of “Lyin’ Ted” and “Little Marco.” It is not unthinkable that supporters for any candidate on either side of the aisle craves some level of red meat — Democrats rarely get that service in any election.

In an election where the frontrunner for the opposing party defends the size of his genitalia on a debate stage, it is hard to imagine any realistic scenario in which either Democratic candidate goes too far.

After some blasted Sanders for his heated rhetoric, he ceased fire on the “unqualified” remarks. In a town hall Friday, Sanders said “of course” his Democratic rival is fit for the presidency. “On her worst day she would be an infinitely better president than either of the Republican candidates,” Sanders said.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.08.2016 50 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Harry Black

Morning News and Stuff

City could work at grabbing businesses fleeing North Carolina's anti-gay laws; Cincinnati subway turns 100, doesn't look a day over whatever age the Parthenon is; former Prez Bill Clinton argues with Black Lives Matter

Yesterday we told you about a Cincinnati City Council move to ban non-essential city-funded travel to North Carolina in the aftermath of legislation there legalizing certain discrimination against members of the LGBT community. Council also wants to go further than that by turning their opposition into opportunity. The motion authored by Councilman Chris Seelbach and signed by fellow council members Wendell Young, Yvette Simpson, Kevin Flynn, Christopher Smitherman and Vice Mayor David Mann directs the city to work at attracting businesses leaving North Carolina due to its new law. Seelbach has also indicated he’ll amend the motion to include Mississippi, which recently passed similar “religious freedom” laws allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals.

• One-hundred years ago this month, Cincinnati voters did something brave and nearly unthinkable: voting to build a massive, cutting-edge citywide transit project. Yes, I’m talking about the Cincinnati subway system. We all know the sad end to that story, but did you know the city continues to perform maintenance on the tunnels to keep them viable for future use? Or that less than 15 years ago, a regional transit plan went before voters that proposed utilizing the tunnels for light rail (called MetroMoves, it failed by a 2-1 margin, by the way). Anyway, the city’s phantom subway system got some national attention this week. As you might expect from national coverage of a local issue, the article has some big, kind of head-scratching inaccuracies, but it’s worth checking out all the same.

• A century later, it turns out we’re still trying to figure out transit, though some cities are moving faster than others. The Northern Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, the transit authority that serves Cleveland and the surrounding areas, for instance, recently announced a 20-year initiative to improve social equity through transit opportunities, especially for citizens without cars. That plan looks to right what the authority says have been lopsided spending priorities that privilege highway funding at the expense of transit for those who don’t own cars.

• Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black received some national recognition this week, making Government Technology magazine’s “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers” list. Black joins other government administrators from across the country on the list, which touts his efforts to bring big data analytics to Cincinnati City Hall. You can see the article about Black here.

• So, The Banks has been open for five years now. How is the massive development effort going? Things are still shaky, according to this report on the restaurant and bar scene at the riverfront development, but with big boosts on the horizon. The years-long, multi-million-dollar development effort has seen some high-profile closures over the past few years, including Toby Keith’s, Mahogany’s and others. That’s meant less rent coming in for the developer of those spaces, who argues that the county needs to revise its tax valuations on The Banks in response to the challenges. But General Electric’s new office space and the coming addition of 300 more apartments at The Banks could give the next spurt of energy the development needs to stabilize, and a new hotel slated to open next year could also provide a big boost.

• Northern Kentucky University today is hosting an all-day conference on economic inequality. The event, put on by the International Peace and Justice Center, will explore work being done in the region to increase economic opportunities for communities around Cincinnati and will feature community organizers, academics, authors and more. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is free to the public.

• Finally, fault lines around race and economics continue to play a big role in the 2016 presidential primaries. Yesterday, former president Bill Clinton argued with Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia during a speech he gave promoting his wife, Democrat presidential primary contender Hillary Clinton.

The exchange is especially significant because Philly will be the site of the Democratic National Convention this summer. As activists protested him, Clinton defended his 1990s-era law enforcement reforms that many say increased mass incarceration, saying that the BLM activists in attendance were supporting criminals and murderers. Clinton himself has been apologetic about those reforms in the past, saying they “overshot the mark” in being tough on crime, contributing to high levels of incarceration for blacks.

At the event yesterday, Clinton also defended his wife’s statement during the 1990s calling some black youth “super predators,” a remark Hillary has apologized for on the presidential primary campaign trail. The testy exchange angered liberal activists and caused pundits to wonder if Clinton had made a big error for his wife’s campaign. But this piece in the Washington Post suggests it wasn’t an error at all, but a pivot in message for HRC’s campaign ahead of the general election, where she’ll need white voters in a fight against a Republican opponent. Ah, politics.

I’m out. Have a great weekend.

 
 
by Danny Cross 04.07.2016 51 days ago
Posted In: Media at 01:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ire2

UC Students’ CityBeat Story Wins National Investigative Reporting Award

Investigation into athletic spending gone wild at public universities beats out major J-school projects from across the country

One of the nation’s premier journalism organizations today awarded 12 University of Cincinnati students its top prize for student investigative reporting among large universities.

Investigative Reporters and Editors, a 41-year-old nonprofit, chose “Robin Hood in Reverse” as the best piece of student investigative journalism among major universities in 2015. The finalists included a 27-person team from 19 universities chosen for the national News 21 initiative at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism.

CityBeat published the story on May 6, 2015. It was researched and written by a dozen UC students, mostly juniors and sophomores, as a class project last spring.

The students examined athletic and academic spending at Ohio’s eight largest universities. Using NCAA reports filed by each school, the class revealed individual students paid as much as $1,226 annually to subsidize soaring athletic department deficits at seven of the schools, including their own. Using a Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics database, the class showed academic spending per student dropped over the past decade at six schools.

One IRE contest judge praised the story for showing UC students were particularly hard hit, “unwittingly paying more than $1,000 a year” to cover athletic deficits while “spending-per-student on undergraduate education dropped almost 25 percent in recent years.”

The judge noted interviews with UC students brought home the impact of spending decisions, citing several in the story: “ ‘It seems to be a corruption in education,’ said one honor student. ‘I didn’t come to UC for sports. I came here for an education,’ said another student.”

Drawing on scholarly studies and interviews with experts, the student journalists disproved the widely held myth that a successful athletic program translates into an increase in applications and donations.

Dr. Jeffrey Blevins, chair of the UC Journalism Department, says the award demonstrates the progress his department has made since it was formed just four years ago.

“What impresses me most is that our student work is competing with the likes of some of the best journalism programs in the country — Columbia University, Northwestern University, Arizona State University and the University of Missouri,” Blevins says. “We are a scrappy bunch, but we are making our presence known on the national stage.”

In past years, IRE has awarded its top honor for student investigative reporting to some of the country’s most renowned journalism programs, including Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

The 12 UC undergraduates who researched and wrote the story are very much like the working-class students they wrote about. Many in the class were like Katie Coburn, then a sophomore who worked 35 to 40 hours a week at two jobs while taking 18 credit hours.

“I am a working-class student. I have a ton of loans, I pay my own rent, my utilities and my groceries,” Coburn says. “All this motivated me to work harder because I was passionate about the topic.”

UC Assistant Professor Craig Flournoy, who oversaw the project, says his students created a template any reporter could use to investigate the athletic spending arms race and its impact on academics.

“Focus on schools in the same state or athletic conference,” Flournoy says. “Use NCAA reports to track each school’s athletic deficits over time and how much a student pays to subsidize those deficits. Use the Knight Commission database to track each school’s academic spending per student over time.”

The online version of the story includes links to the Knight Commission database and academic research, along with databases and charts detailing the students’ findings.

Once the students had this data, they interviewed officials, faculty members, experts and students, many of whom were unaware that they were footing the bill for the deficits and directly impacted by cuts in academic spending.

“Their quotes were among the most powerful parts of the story,” Flournoy says.

Coburn says she was humbled by the award and grateful for the experience of working on the project.

“Great work comes from passion,” she says. “Through this class, I proved that with my passion for journalism, I can make an impact before I graduate, before I’m even considered a professional journalist. I am a student, but I can still make a difference. That is what I proved to myself.”

Along with Coburn, the students recognized for work on the story were Morgan Batanian, Fernanda Crescente, Taylor Jackson, Tyler Kuhnash, Camri Nelson, Taylor Hayden, Talis Linauts, Kayleigh Murch, Matt Nichols, Malia Pitts and Lauren Smith.

The full list of 2015 IRE awards winners can be found here.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 05.26.2016 60 hours ago
Posted In: News at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_dennison2_ns

Dennison Vote Delayed

Representatives for Joseph family make their argument for tearing down the historic building, but no decision reached yet

After a nearly four-hour meeting, Cincinnati's Historic Conservation Board adjourned this afternoon without voting on Columbia REI, LLC's application to tear down the historic Dennison building downtown at 716-718 Main St.

That application has caused controversy. Columbia, owned by the powerful Joseph family, says it would be too expensive to save the building and would like to build a headquarters for an as-yet unidentified Fortune 500 company on the site. But preservationists say the building, which was designed by the firm of noted architect Samuel Hannaford, is a vital part of downtown's urban fabric.

Representatives for Columbia and the Joseph family presented their case to five members of the seven-member board. The group called a number of experts they've hired while they've owned the building to give evidence they say shows the building can't be redeveloped in an economically feasible way due to its poor condition and structural attributes.

Most of the presentation restated the key points of this assertion in greater detail, but there was at least one new revelation: how the Cincinnati City Center Development Company, which purchased the building for $1.2 million and then sold it to Columbia for $740,000, recouped money on the deal. Representatives for the Joseph family say the group paid 3CDC further development costs after the initial sale, making up the missing money.

The meeting had its fair share of contention: Columbia's attorney Fran Barrett moved to have Cincinnati Urban Conservator Beth Johnson's testimony stricken from the proceedings. Barrett said that Johnson has shown "extreme prejudice and bias" and that the Josephs "have a stacked deck against us going in" to their demolition application.

Johnson last month wrote a report taking staunch issue with the Josephs' assertion that anything other than demolishing the building would present the company with an economic hardship, pointing out the building's sound structural condition and the fact that studies on the economic feasibility of redevelopment of the building didn't take into account historic state tax credits and other incentives.

Lance Brown, the executive vice president of Beck Consulting, which drew up the economic feasibility report, told the board that no normal type of use — apartments, condos, office space — was feasible for the Dennison. However, when pushed by the board, Brown admitted he wasn't specifically familiar with incentives like state Historic Preservation tax credits, LEED tax credits, or city grants and tax credits that could have made the project more feasible.

Multiple board members also took issue with Brown's use of the term "flophouse" to describe the Dennison's former life as a single room occupancy hotel. Brown cracked that he got his understanding of that term from "extensive research on Wikipedia and Google."

Board member Judith Spraul-Schmidt chided Brown for using the term, saying that such housing was designed to be "decent and safe."

The board will work with attorneys representing the Josephs and opponents of the demolition application to set the next hearing, at which those seeking to save the Dennison will make their case.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.26.2016 65 hours ago
Posted In: News at 11:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover_otr

Effort to Preserve 300 Units of OTR Affordable Housing Unveiled

Cranley budget proposal calls for $2 million in OTR to foster mixed-income developments

Over-the-Rhine will get 300 improved units of affordable housing, many as part of mixed-income developments, if $2 million in funding in Mayor John Cranley’s budget proposal is approved. Another $2 million would be dedicated to affordable housing elsewhere in the city if the plan goes forward.

The plan would rehabilitate affordable housing at eight sites, many under contracts with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Currently, those sites house 302 units of housing, many of which city officials say are in substandard and neglected condition. The city money would go toward a $135 million effort by developers like Model Group and 3CDC to turn those sites into 304 units of high-quality affordable housing along with 212 market rate units at four of the sites.

Cranley, Vice Mayor David Mann, representatives from Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and developers Model Group and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation unveiled the proposal today at a news conference outside 1525 Race St., which would see 25 units of affordable housing developed by Model along with 85 market rate units.

“We’re very excited to be here today to celebrate affordable housing and a diverse community in Over-the-Rhine,” said Over-the-Rhine Community Executive Director Mary Burke Rivers. “People who are working in our city, or retired, or veterans, can’t afford what the market provides for housing. It’s gotten very complicated, but at its core it’s a simple math problem. This money addresses that math problem.”

The developments are designed to help the slide in affordable housing the neighborhood has seen in the past decade, Cranley says. Since 2000, 73 percent of OTR’s lowest-cost housing units have left the neighborhood, according to a study by Xavier’s Community Building Institute. That's caused some displacement of residents.

“We’ve seen here in Over-the-Rhine an extraordinary renaissance that was unthinkable five or 10 years ago,” Cranley said at the news conference. “But I think we all believe it should not come at the expense of the people who have lived here a long time. There have always been HUD contracts that have been extended for 15 or 30 years to preserve affordable housing. But it’s not enough, and we’d like to do more. We want to adjust to changing circumstances. We want a healthy community that is mixed income. I think this is a tremendous opportunity to do that.”

Cranley says the financing is general fund money coming from the city’s sale of the Blue Ash Airport and refinancing of some streetcar expenses.

Model Group CEO Bobby Maly says affordable housing and economic development can go hand and hand.

“Investing in affordable housing can also be investing in economic development and revitalization. That means investing in high-quality affordable housing alongside, adjacent to, high-quality market rate housing. It also means investing in affordable housing next to high-investment community projects. Things like Washington Park and other public investments.”

A focus on mixed-income development is the very deliberate focus of the proposal, Mann says.

“It’s no accident that we’re here,” Mann said about the site of the news announcement, a series of empty buildings on Race Street. “Next door, new, market rate condos are being built. As I understand from (3CDC CEO) Mr. (Steve) Leeper, they’ll be $300,000 and up. Here, because of the affordable housing money that the budget will commit to Over-the-Rhine, there will be about 25 renovated units of affordable housing.”

Mann cited statistics that 50 percent of renters in Cincinnati pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for apartments, the threshold for affordability set by the federal government.

“We hope there are ways that the $2 million can be leveraged,” Mann said, to create more opportunities for affordable housing creation. The other $2 million will be dispersed to developers doing low-income housing projects in other parts of the city through an as-yet-to-be-determined process.

The plan would, in some cases, move affordable units to other buildings and create market rate or mixed-income developments in their place.

As and example: Among the sites involved in the OTR plan are the Jan and Senate Apartments, six buildings containing 101 units of subsidized housing, and the so-called Mercy portfolio, which includes 140 units in 18 buildings in OTR for people making less than 60 percent of the area median income — about $71,000 for a family of four. About 70 of those units are in bad shape, developers say, while another 70 need only minor work.

Developers say the Jan and Senate properties are in danger of losing their rental subsidies due to their poor condition and have begun managing the sites and moving tenants to other, nearby affordable units with the help of the Cincinnati Legal Aid Society ahead of rehab work. The HUD contracts held by the Jan and Senate buildings would then be transferred to a number of other affordable housing sites, 3CDC and Model Group say in an outline of their plan provided by city officials. About 45 units of housing at 60 percent of the area median income will stay at the Jan and Senate as part of a mixed-income development.

 
 
by Natalie Krebs 05.26.2016 67 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Off-duty CPD officer fatally shoots robbery suspect; Cranley wants to restore human services funding; medical marijuana bill heads to Kasich's desk

Good morning, Cincy! A lot is happening around the city so let's get straight to the headlines. 

• An off-duty Cincinnati police officer fatally shot a man suspected of robbing a Madisonville bank yesterday afternoon. CPD Chief Eliot Isaac confirmed that the still-unnamed CPD officer fired two shots at 20-year-old Terry Frost in the Fifth Third bank off Madison Avenue shortly after 4 p.m. Frost reportedly claimed to have a gun during the robbery, then, after being shot, stumbled off into the woods behind the bank where he was found dead by CPD officers. Police still haven't said whether Frost had a gun or any other weapon. CPD is planning on holding a press conference this morning to reveal the name of the officer. This is the third fatal shooting by a CPD officer this year. 

• Mayor John Cranley says he is not OK with the cuts to human services funding in City Manager Harry Black's proposed budget released last week. Cranley told The Enquirer he wants to bring back 82 percent of the $413,500 Black has proposed cutting, amounting to an 8.5 percent decrease. Under Cranley's proposal, human services funding would account for 1.9 percent of the budget. Black's budget dedicates $4 million to five different agencies with the majority of funds going to nonprofit United Way. 

• Mayor Cranley appears to be a busy man at the moment. The mayor will also hold a press conference with Vice Mayor David Mann this morning at 10:30 a.m. in Over-The-Rhine to unveil the details of a $135 million initiative to upgrade and add low-income housing to the neighborhood. The effort reportedly will be led by 3CDC and Walnut Hills nonprofit The Model Group. 

• The city is taking Mahogany's owner Liz Rogers to court. Rogers received a $300,000 loan from the city in 2012 to open the soul food restaurant, which went under in September 2014. Taxpayers have forgiven Rogers for two-thirds of the loan, but she is refusing to repay the $96,928 she still owes the city. Rogers missed her $800 loan payments in March and April, and the city filed suit on May 11. Vice Mayor Mann said the city was left with "no choice." She is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 1.  

• A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Ohio in a highly restrictive form is on its way to Gov. John Kasich's desk. The legislation passed the Senate last evening with a margin of just three votes. The bill would still prohibit growing and smoking the plant, but would allow it in a vapor form and would be available for doctors to prescribe to patients with a list of approved medical conditions. The Ohio Department of Commerce would oversee the growth, distribution and testing of the plant. Some Democrats expressed disapproval at the provision that allows employers to fire employees who tested positive for the drug — even if they have a prescription. If Gov. Kasich signs the bill into law, Ohio will become the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana. 

• Gov. Kasich, like Mayor Cranley, also appears to have a lot on his plate now. Also on its way to the Gov.'s desk: a bill that would require taxpayers to fork over thousands of dollars to keep polls open longer. The proposal from Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Green Township, came from the controversy sparked after a federal judge in Hamilton County ordered the polls during the March 15 primary to stay open 90 minutes longer. The bill would require state judges who order polls to stay open later to collect bonds. Several Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union have objected to the proposed change, saying it could discourage people from voting.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.25.2016 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tom massie

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar start date set; will Avondale get a real grocery store?; Kasich still won't support Trump

Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on in the world today.

The city of Cincinnati has officially announced an opening date for the city’s streetcar. The transit project running through Over-the-Rhine and downtown will take its first passengers Sept. 9, beginning with an opening ceremony at some point mid-day. The project, which has been fraught with political battles and funding concerns, is being financed with increased parking revenues, advertising proceeds and other sources that aren’t part of the city’s general fund budget.

• Mayor John Cranley yesterday rolled out more of his proposals for the city’s budget, which involve some $30 million for neighborhood projects. He spoke at a news conference in Avondale about projects he’d like to see funded in that neighborhood under his proposed fiscal plan, including a renewed Avondale Towne Center with a Save-A-Lot grocery store. Avondale has been trying to get a full-service grocery store since Aldi left the neighborhood about eight years ago. The city would chip in about $2 million to get development started under Cranley’s plan. The mayor did acknowledge that neighborhood activists had hoped for a higher-scale store such as a Kroger but that the Save-A-Lot will be expected to stock fresh produce and other necessities. Cranley yesterday also announced he would provide $3.2 million for a new community development corporation in Bond Hill and Roselawn.

• Cranley is set to pitch another round of investments today in the city’s East Side neighborhoods. He’s also expected to announce that the city will purchase the land necessary to build the Wasson Way bike trail. That $11.8 million, 4.1-mile stretch of former railway is vital to the completion of the trail, which would pass through a number of East Side neighborhoods on its way to Uptown. If the city doesn’t purchase the land by the end of July, the price will jump by nearly $600,000. It’s unclear where the construction money for the project will come from. The city applied for a federal TIGER grant last year to help fund building costs for the bike trail but was turned down.

• Wait. Hold on. Do I agree on something with U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, the tea party crusader from Northern Kentucky? It would… kind of appear so. Massie owes the GOP $24,000 in “party dues,” i.e. money from his fundraising coffers the party expects in order to stay in its good graces. Massie has criticized the practice, which is also used to determine who gets which committee assignment in the House. Particular assignments have particular dollar amounts assigned to them, and the more influential the committee, the more money a House member is expected to kick in. Massie is slamming this system, saying it means the best fundraisers, not the best lawmakers, get oversized influence in the legislative process. In what may be the only example of partisan agreement between a tea party member and the rest of Congress, some Democrats agree with him. I also think it sounds pretty messed up.

• What policies will law enforcement officers and departments have to follow regarding body cameras across Ohio?

Read More

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.24.2016 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
trump

Morning News and Stuff

Judge divvies up DuBose settlement; council members request MSD audit; Clinton beating Trump in Ohio polls

Good morning all. Lots to talk about today so let’s get to it!

The 13 children of Samuel DuBose will each receive more than $200,000 as part of a settlement between the family and the University of Cincinnati, a Hamilton County judge ruled yesterday. DuBose was shot and killed by UC police officer Ray Tensing July 19 last year. In addition to the money for his children, DuBose’s mother Audrey DuBose will receive $90,000, his six siblings will receive $32,000 each and his father Sam Johnson will receive $25,000, Judge Ralph Winlker announced yesterday. The settlement, which also includes other elements such as college tuition for DuBose’s children, resolves a civil suit against the university. Criminal proceedings are ongoing against former officer Tensing, who is charged with murder and manslaughter. He’s scheduled to stand trial on those charges in October.

• Cincinnati City Council members are requesting the recently completed audit of the region’s Metropolitan Sewer District ahead of the city's budget process, but City Manager Harry Black says they shouldn't rush. The audit, which resulted from revelations that MSD spent millions on contracts it didn’t properly put through a bidding process, is still with the city’s lawyers in a working draft form, Black says. But with work on the city’s budget looming, council members like Kevin Flynn and Chris Seelbach say the time is now to reveal the results of the audit. Things got testy when Council pushed for more information from the audit at yesterday’s budget and finance committee meeting, with Black resisting requests for that information and Seelbach accusing the city manager of giving him an eye roll. Oh snap.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is at the White House today meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and state and local government officials as part of a discussion on gun violence. Sittenfeld made gun control a big part of his campaign when he was running for Senate against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland. Sittenfeld lost that race but has pledged to continue efforts to curtail shootings. He told WVXU he is there to learn more about strategies for curbing gun violence and that he doesn’t think the invite has anything to do with his former Senate campaign. President Barack Obama and VP Biden endorsed Strickland in that race.

This is a weird article. Breaking news: The city has a lot of stairs. Some of them are crumbling. More breaking news: The city isn’t exactly rushing to pay to fix them. Thus concludes your breaking news update about something you probably already knew about. The steps are a big part of the city’s walking infrastructure (I take them every day). But they’ve been neglected since, well, probably since people started moving out of the city. The money it would take to fix them is also an infinitesimally small portion of the city’s budget at a time when Mayor John Cranley is discussing throwing $30 million to a few city neighborhoods.

• A federal judge has temporarily blocked an Ohio law that would strip $1.4 million in public money from Planned Parenthood in the state. That money goes to providing health screenings for low-income women, not to providing abortions. The temporary restraining order keeping Ohio from enforcing the law, which passed in February, comes as a larger court fight around the measure continues. You can read more about all of that in our story here.

• Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost yesterday announced the results of surprise headcounts at Ohio charter schools, saying at least some of the schools had very few or no students attending on the days of the unannounced visits. Yost said the extremely low attendance numbers at three charters in the state suggests they might be operating illegally as distance learning schools instead of the brick and mortar schools they’re certified to operate as. It’s the latest revelation in a bad stretch for the state’s charters, which have faced allegations of mismanagement and an Ohio Department of Education data rigging scandal that artificially inflated charter school performance by omitting some low-performing online schools. Yost visited 14 drop-out recovery schools around the state and found an average attendance of just 34 percent.

• The revelations, as well as other frustrations with the state’s public schools, had the auditor spitting hot fire at the ODE yesterday, calling it “among the worst, if not the worst-run agency in state government.” Yost cited poor charter school accountability and performance as well as a slow roll out for ODE’s new data management system as among the sources for his frustration with the agency.

• Finally, more presidential politics, because I know you need more of that in your life. Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump in Ohio, according to the latest polls asking voters about the upcoming general election. But it’s not the blowout you might expect. Clinton’s up 44 percent to Trump’s 39 percent in the Buckeye State — less than her primary opponent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who bests Trump 48 percent to 39 percent in the CBS/YouGov poll. Voters have a pretty negative opinion of both candidates, however — 55 percent view Clinton negatively and 59 percent feel the same about Trump.

That’s it for me. See you tomorrow. Tweet or email in the meantime.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.23.2016 5 days ago
Posted In: News, Women's Health at 03:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_protester_7-9 copy

Federal Court Blocks Ohio Law Defunding Planned Parenthood

Temporary restraining order against the state will allow Planned Parenthood to continue providing health services for now

A federal circuit court today temporarily blocked an Ohio law that would strip Planned Parenthood of about $1.4 million in state and federal funds.

That law was slated to go into effect today, but will now be placed on hold until June 6 as the court considers a longer-lasting injunction against the defunding move by conservative state lawmakers. 

The money the state seeks to withhold is used by Planned Parenthood to provide non-abortion healthcare services, including HIV and cancer screenings. 

Judge Michael R. Barrett of the U.S. Southwest District Court ruled that the organization’s challenge to the law has a significant chance of success in federal courts, and thus placed a temporary restraining order on the state, preventing it from enforcing the law for the time being.

Barrett agreed with Planned Parenthood’s arguments that the law blocking the money could severely damage medical-screening activities the organization undertakes, and that those operations could be hard to reestablish.

“Plaintiffs explain that without the funds at issue here, Plaintiffs will be forced to stop providing services such as pap smears and other cancer screenings, tests for HIV/AIDS and tests and treatment for other STDs, infant mortality prevention programs, and sexual health education programs,” Barrett wrote in his ruling today. “Therefore, the Court concludes that for purposes of deciding Plaintiffs’ Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Plaintiffs have established irreparable injury.”

In seeking the injunction, Planned Parenthood argues that the law violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment by targeting the organization due to the fact it provides abortions.

State lawmakers have been open in acknowledging that they seek to strip funds from Planned Parenthood because the organization provides abortions, even though the public money given to the organization goes to other health services.

Conservatives in the state house have said they’re opposed to abortion for moral and safety reasons, and have described their crackdown on abortion providers like Planned Parenthood as a way to protect women.

“We have an obligation to say to Planned Parenthood, until you get out of the business of termination of pregnancy, the destruction of human life, we are not going to choose to fund you,” Ohio Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Republican who helped push the law, said during debate over the defunding provision in January.

But Planned Parenthood claims these clinics aren't immediately in a position to fill the healthcare gaps it would leave, which would include 70,000 free STD screenings it provides through a Centers for Disease Control program and 5,000 free HIV tests for populations at high risk for the virus.

Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio serves 20 counties in the region. It says about 75 percent of its clients are low-income.
 
The defunding effort is the latest in a recent string of laws passed by Ohio Republicans seeking to limit abortions. The state has passed ever-stricter standards, including stipulations about admitting privileges at local hospitals and rules against publicly funded hospitals entering into such agreements with abortion clinics. That’s whittled down the number of clinics in the state from 14 a few years ago to just nine today. Among them is the last clinic in the Cincinnati area, the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, which has been threatened with closure over the new laws.

Planned Parenthood officials cheered the federal court’s decision today.

“This ruling is a victory for the tens of thousands of Ohioans that rely on Planned Parenthood for care each year,” said Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio CEO Jerry Lawson. “Our state legislators want to ban abortion across the board, and they were willing to decimate access to preventive care in the process. But this isn’t about politics for our patients, it’s about their health and their lives. If you have a lump in your breast or need an HIV test, lawmakers should be making it easier, not harder, to get the care you need.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.23.2016 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
michelle dillingham 2

Morning News and Stuff

City's top brass all got raises last year; local Dems tussle over 2017; historic Bavarian Brewery safe for now

Hey hey Cincinnati. Hope you got outside and soaked up the perfect weather this weekend. Now it’s back to the real world, where news happens.

The directors of every city of Cincinnati department received raises this past year, according to city records reported by The Cincinnati Enquirer. In total, those raises are costing city taxpayers $234,000 more a year. Some of the city’s 25 department heads got those pay bumps despite making few of their stated goals and receiving rather mixed performance reviews. Top salary getters include Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac, whose $162,000 paycheck is 20 percent more than his predecessor Chief Jeffrey Blackwell made. Fire Chief Richard Braun, who is now also making $162,000, saw his pay raised 16 percent. Those raises came during a time when the city projected as much as a $14 million budget deficit. That deficit was cut in half by more recent economic projections, but could still trigger cuts to the city’s human services and economic development efforts, among other services. The city manager’s recently released budget calls for a 1 percent raise for all city employees, and police and fire personnel are negotiating to get a 3 percent bump.

• Speaking of the budget, Mayor John Cranley is set to unveil his ideas for the city’s financial plan today at 11 a.m. at Westwood Town Hall, according to a news release from the mayor's office. On the agenda: $30 million for neighborhood projects in that neighborhood and in places like West Price Hill, North Avondale, Bond Hill and others. City Manager Black released his budget proposal Thursday, and Cranley has two weeks to submit his version to City Council. He’ll be presenting his version of the budget at town halls throughout the week.

• We haven’t even survived 2016 yet, but we’re already talking about the election after it. Last week, we told you about the increasing focus around Cincinnati’s 2017 mayoral and City Council races. Now, after revelations that Councilwoman Yvette Simpson sent out a memo to potential firms that could help her in a bid opposing fellow Dem Cranley, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke is asking party members to focus on this year’s election. Burke has said it’s too early to focus on next year just yet when there are big races at the county level — most notably a pitched fight for control of the Hamilton County Commission. State Rep. Denise Driehaus is running to grab a seat on that body, and if she pulls out a victory against Republican interim commissioner Dennis Deters, the three-member group that oversees the county could have a Democrat majority for the first time in years. But the call for unity from Burke comes as the party is experiencing tension between two factions in the city: younger, more progressive Dems who tended to support the streetcar and who push for items like increases in human services funding, and more established, moderate Democrats like Mayor Cranley.

• That battle continues to shape up: progressive 2013 City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham is launching her bid for a Council seat in the 2017 election tonight at Bromwell’s Harth-Lounge at 6 p.m. Dillingham came in 12th in that race and hopes to turn support for her from progressives into a Council seat this time around.

• A historic building in Covington will get at least a little more time safe from the wrecking ball. Kenton County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Summe told Bavarian Brewery owners Columbia Sussex that they can’t demolish the 100-year-old building. The structure, which sits in a historic district, once held Jillian’s nightclub. Columbia-Sussex originally wanted to put a casino on the property, but Kentucky legislators have yet to pass a law that would allow that to happen. Now, the company says the only way it can see a return on investment is by demolishing the building. Covington’s Urban Design Review Board previously denied a permit application for that demolition, and Judge Summe’s ruling affirms that position. Columbia-Sussex can appeal her decision, however.

• Finally, University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono made big news over the weekend with his admission that he suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts as a younger man. Ono made the revelation at a fundraiser Saturday for mental health-awareness group 1N5, whose name is a reference to research that shows one in five individuals in the United States suffers from mental illness. Ono said that by talking about his past struggles, he hoped to show that mental illness is treatable and nothing to be ashamed of.

 
 
by Natalie Krebs 05.20.2016 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
yvette simpson

Morning News and Stuff

Councilwoman Simpson drops hints at possible mayoral run; UC down to final candidates for police chief; Oklahoma passes most restrictive abortion bill yet

Good morning y’all! Here are your morning headlines.

• Councilwoman Yvette Simpson might have released the first shred of evidence that she’s running for mayor next year. Simpson sent a letter to consulting firms this month searching for someone who could help with a “campaign against an incumbent executive office holder,” aka Mayor John Cranley. Simpson won’t officially say yet whether she’s going to take a shot at Cranley’s spot or just run for a third term on Council in 2017 but says she’ll make a decision by the end of this year.

• It’s that super exciting time of year when the city lays out its budget for next year. Yesterday, City Manager Harry Black presented his plan for a $1.2 billion city budget that includes raises for city employees, cuts to the human service department and the city’s economic development programs and building a new marina. Yep, the city wants the Parks Department to build a marina along the Ohio River. Mayor Cranley has two weeks to present the budget to Council, which will then approve or amend it some time before the next fiscal year begins on July 1.

• The University of Cincinnati Department of Public Safety says it is down to three candidates to lead the department. The candidates were chosen by an outside consulting firm and include the director of public safety at Oregon State University, a previous CPD officer with more than 20 years experience and police deputy chief at Ohio State. The department is also down to two candidates for assistant chief, including a CPD Department Captain. UC will present the candidates to the public during open forums will be held May 23-25. Former Police Chief Jason Goodrich and Assistant Chief Tim Thornton resigned in February in the wake of the shooting of Mount Auburn resident Samuel DuBose by former UC police officer Ray Tensing.

• Judge Tracie Hunter will not be going to jail today. The suspended juvenile court judge was supposed to start her 60-day jail sentence today, but a judge suspended her sentence after Hunter filed a petition claiming misconduct by the special prosecutor and judge during her trial. Federal Judge Timothy Black ruled Hunter can remain free during the proceedings. A jury convicted Hunter of unlawful interest in a public contract for helping her brother in a discipline hearing 19 months ago.

• Could U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown become Vice President Brown? Yesterday, Sen. Brown was seen parading around with current VP Joe Biden in Columbus, leading to rumors that the progressive senator could be Hillary Clinton’s pick for running mate. Nothing is certain yet, as Biden told White House reporters that Brown would be a “great pick” but then went on to highlight other strong Democratic contenders without hinting at a favorite.

• Oklahoma’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill yesterday that would subject doctors to felony charges and revoke their medical licenses for performing abortions. The bill — which is most restrictive abortion bill passed yet — is still waiting on a signature from Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. If signed in to law, it will almost certainly be challenged in state or federal court where legal experts say it will likely be declared unconstitutional.

News tips go here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.19.2016 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

It's City Budget Season Again!

On deck: a marina at Smale, employee raises and cuts to human services

Are you ready for city budget season? It started today.

City Manager Harry Black this morning presented his vision for Cincinnati’s fiscal year 2017 spending blueprint; a $1.2 billion budget he touts as structurally balanced. On deck: a literal deck, as in, a marina along the Ohio River built by the Cincinnati Parks Department, raises for city employees — three percent for police and fire, plus a boost for low-paid workers through a municipal living wage initiative — and cuts to some agencies to make up for a projected $6.7 million revenue shortfall, priming another potential battle over the city’s human services funding.

Last year, Council battled for, and received, $3 million for human services to be spent through a United Way-run funding process, which vets social service organizations based on effectiveness. This year, that amount will drop to $2,781,000.

That nine percent drop once again falls short of a City Council commitment set last decade pledging to commit at least 1.5 percent of the city’s operating budget to human services.

Other organizations now, but not previously, categorized in the human services section of the budget will also take hits. Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative, which runs through Cincinnati Works, will receive $225,000 — $25,000 less than last year. Some programs previously funded by the city, like Cradle Cincinnati, which seeks to address the city’s high infant mortality rate, will receive no money at all. Last year, Cradle got $250,000 from the city’s human services fund.

Not everyone will lose when it comes to human services funding, however. The Center for Closing the Health Gap, run by close Cranley ally and former mayor Dwight Tillery, will see its city funding boosted to $1 million, a $250,000 increase over last year. The organization has received increases in past budgets under Cranley as well.

The city’s economic development programs will also see big cuts. Nearly every program funded by that portion of the budget will take hits, totaling about $285,000. Only MORTAR, a program seeking to boost minority entrepreneurship, will see a slight budget boost.

The funding cuts could have been worse: originally, the city was projected to have as much as a $14 million deficit. But revised projections by University of Cincinnati economists showed the revenue gap will be about half that size. Income tax revenues to the city are expected to grow by 4.6 percent, according to a report on the budget issued by City Manager Black.

But the need for cuts elsewhere won’t stop the city from investing in a marina along Smale Riverfront Park. The park board today voted to go forward with the project, which has been in the works for nearly two decades, and Black’s budget calls for $750,000 of city money to go toward the estimated $3.6 million cost of the project. That money is part of $4 million in Black's budget for parks capital projects. Other money could come from past federal funds for Smale, as well as an application for a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The board says the project, which as proposed would have room for 29 boats, will generate revenue for the parks department.

More on the budget as the process unfolds; this party is just getting started. Mayor Cranley has two weeks to present the budget to Council, which will then vote to approve or amend it. The process should wrap up sometime before July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.19.2016 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sherrod brown

Will Sen. Sherrod Brown be Clinton's VP Pick?

Appearance yesterday in Columbus with VP Joe Biden stokes speculation

You might have missed it, but U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from the Cleveland area, was traveling around with Vice President Joe Biden yesterday in Columbus.

It’s easy to see the two palling around as a hint that Brown, whose name has been tossed around as a running mate for Democratic presidential primary frontrunner Hillary Clinton, might be next in line for Biden’s job.

But is Brown actually a contender in the veepstakes?

So far, the gruff-voiced progressive senator has demurred on that suggestion, trying to shift the spotlight to other potential VP picks.

“I think Secretary Perez and Tim Kaine would be good vice presidents,” Brown told media yesterday. Tom Perez is Obama’s labor secretary, and Kaine is a U.S. senator from Virginia.

Biden and Brown were visiting the Buckeye State to tout President Barack Obama’s move to extend overtime pay to more U.S. workers, and to do some politicking around the 2016 election. Ohio is a vital swing state for 2016 presidential contenders, a fact that Biden acknowledged was a factor in the trip. More specifically, the two did a bit of campaigning for former Democratic Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who is campaigning to take Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s seat in November.

Ohio’s Senate situation could provide a good reason Brown wouldn’t get the VP nod from Clinton. As Brown himself has pointed out, he would have to leave his Senate seat before 2018, when he’s up for reelection. Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich would then get to pick his replacement. That’s a seat Democrats can’t afford to lose as they wrestle to regain control of Congress.

But don’t count Brown out just yet.

Biden yesterday told White House reporters that Brown “would be a great pick” as Clinton’s running mate. But he also highlighted the strong pool of candidates Democrats have available and didn’t offer an endorsements.

Among other possible picks are Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and progressive firebrand Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who some say Clinton could choose to try and build a bridge with supporters of her primary rival, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
 
 
 
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