In the sudden realization that like, hey, maybe we shouldn’t put people to death if we don’t really know what we’re doing, Ohio has dropped its two-drug execution method and will delay an imminent execution.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction today announced that it will stop using the method utilizing a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, which came under fire last year when it took 26 minutes to put convicted killer Dennis McGuire to death. Witnesses said McGuire was gasping for breath during his execution. His family is suing the state, claiming the execution caused needless pain and suffering.
Another execution in Arizona last year using the same method took more than two hours.
The state has said it will again use thiopental sodium, a sedative used until 2011, for executions. Ohio stopped using that drug because it is no longer produced in the United States. It is unclear how Ohio plans to obtain the drug, though compounding pharmacies, or labs that produce such drugs, could supply the state.
The announcement delays the execution of Ronald Phillips, who was convicted in the 1993 rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl. Officials say other executions may be delayed as well as the state sources the third drug or an alternative.
Morning y’all. I’m not going to comment on how cold it is this morning, because you probably already know. Instead, I’m just going to say I cannot feel my feet.
Anyway, what’s up today? Glad you asked.
One of the protesters arrested at a Nov. 25 rally in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct yesterday. Rhonda Shaw was one of the seven activists arrested on I-75 after protesters briefly made their way onto the highway. Shaw was the only one not eventually released on bond in the aftermath of the arrests. A judge removed a requirement that six other protesters who had already paid bail wear electronic monitoring devices, after which they were freed. All six still face disorderly conduct and inducing panic charges and will be in court this month. Shaw did not pay bail and was not released. Hamilton County Judge William Mallory dismissed another more serious charge of inducing panic in Shaw’s case. The disorderly conduct charge is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine.
The protest mirrored similar actions around the country over the lack of indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown. The event drew more than 300 people and led to a long, winding march through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach took a moment to remember Kings Mills transgender teen Leelah Alcorn during yesterday’s City Council meeting, reading an emotional statement addressed to LGBT individuals who are struggling with feelings of isolation. Alcorn committed suicide Dec. 28.
“You can survive the pain,” Seelbach said after reading from Alcorn’s suicide note, which she posted on Tumblr. “You can survive the isolation. You can because you're exactly who you're supposed to be. You're the person God made you to be, and you have the strength to persevere. It will not be easy. It may not get better with every day, but you can do it — I know you can.”
• A couple days ago, I told you Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld appears to have started raising money for a shot at Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s seat in 2016. If that’s true, he’d better start his hustle. Portman already has almost $6 million in the bank for the race, according to a campaign email. He’s also touting endorsements from a number of high-up Republicans including Gov. John Kasich. It’s unclear if the early saber-rattling is meant to scare away possible far-right primary challengers or send a message to an eventual Democratic contender for his seat, but it’s clear Portman has a big advantage at this early juncture.
• Officials yesterday released the full-length security video showing the Cleveland police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, including the troubling aftermath of that shooting. The beginning of the video, which was released shortly after the incident, shows a Cleveland police cruiser rushing into the park where Rice was playing, which was across the street from his house. Officer Timothy Leohman jumps out of the passenger side of the cruiser and immediately shoots Rice, who a 911 caller said was brandishing a pistol that was “probably fake.” That much we already knew. But the extended video also shows two officers tackling and wrestling Tamir’s 14-year-old sister Tajai Rice, eventually forcefully hustling her to the police car. Meanwhile, no officers attempt to assist Rice, who is lying in the park bleeding to death. It takes nearly 15 minutes for officers to remove Rice from the scene on a stretcher. He later died at the hospital.
Loehman was fired from the Independence, Ohio police department in 2012 because he exhibited signs of being emotionally unstable and was subsequently passed over for jobs at a number of other departments before getting a job in Cleveland. Last month, the Department of Justice released an unrelated, year-long report slamming the Cleveland Police Department for its use of force and an apparent racial bias in its policing.
• Finally, a Columbus suburb is getting what can only be described as a monumental honor. The city of Westerville will soon be home to the tacocropolis, aka the capitol of crunch; in other words, the country’s most expensive Taco Bell location. Westerville officials call it a great redevelopment project, and the development company says they see the upscale Taco Bell as an investment.
“Westerville is a very discriminating city about what they want done and how they want it to look," Hadler Company President Stephen Breech said. "Sometimes you get subpar looks from a fast-food building — but this isn't that kind of a facility. It has a lot of brick on it and things like that."
The developer won’t divulge how much the project will cost, and Taco Bell will only confirm that it is the chain’s most expensive location, building-wise, in the country.
A lot of brick on it, indeed. I really hope the “things like that” he’s referring to are giant, gold plated monuments to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
A few words on this week’s cover story about Ohio’s changes to the General Educational Development (GED) test. The piece first appeared in the Cleveland Scene, and it's a great, well-researched read. We did some significant reporting to localize it for Cincinnati, not all of which made it into the final article.
The GED is something a lot of folks don’t really think much about, and I admit I didn’t know a whole lot about it before digging in for our reporting. But the test is a vital lifeline toward a better life for folks who for one reason or another never got a high school diploma.
Seven-hundred-forty-seven people took the test in Hamilton County in 2014. That's down from 2,388 in 2013.
As you’ll read in the cover story, new changes that took affect in 2014 have made it more difficult and expensive to take and pass the test and move on to a trade school, a community college or a better job. New standards require higher levels of interpretive abilities and background knowledge to pass the GED. What's more, students must practice for and take the test on a computer — a big challenge for some students struggling with poverty — and the base fee the state charges for taking the test has tripled.
I went to the East End Adult Education Center to find out more about how the test is getting harder and who is taking it. While I was there, I also learned a lot about what is at stake for folks trying to pass it. I’d like to introduce you to a few of them here. Even though all of their stories didn’t fit in the cover piece, I think they’re important to talk about.
DaniJo Doud, 32, was sitting with head tutor Marty Walsh and practicing for the test when I walked through the door of the center on Eastern Avenue.
Doud got pregnant when she was 16 and ended up repeating the 9th grade three times before dropping out of school. She later struggled with heroin addiction, though she can tell you the exact day she stopped using: May 28, 2012. Now, she’d like to go to a nearby community college to eventually become a drug counselor.
“I always thought I was dumb,” she told me, “but I’m not. I came here and started out on a fourth or fifth grade level. I’m now on a 12th grade level on everything. I’ll graduate this year, I’m sure of it. I want to do the work. I love coming here. I don’t miss a day.”
The center is one of just a few in Cincinnati that offer GED study and testing services. Others, including Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, also provide these services, though often to large classes instead of one on one.
The East End Adult Education Center runs on grants and doesn’t charge students. It even offers scholarships to some students who can’t afford some or all of Ohio’s GED test fee. Adele Craft, the center’s executive director, says nearly all of the people who come here to study are facing economic challenges, or have had life hurdles that kept them from completing high school. Some are refugees.
You’ll read more about Sy Ohur in the cover story. Ohur came to the United States from Sudan in 2004, when the country was gripped by a bloody civil war that killed several hundred thousand people. Ohur fled here knowing almost zero English; Craft said he and other refugees who came around that time didn’t even know the alphabet. Ohur is now an American citizen with strong English skills. He has passed two parts of the GED previously, but then the test was redesigned and he’s had to go back to square one.
In the next room, 17-year-old Chris was studying math with his tutor Mike, going over some equations that — full disclosure — I didn’t really understand. Chris has been coming for a year. At first, he was compelled to come by court order due to problems he was having with truancy. Attending Riverside High School just wasn’t working out for him, he said, though he admits part of the problem was he had a hard time getting up early enough.
“But then I started coming here and started wanting to learn,” he says. “The teachers at school, they tried to help me out, but it wasn’t getting through to me like here. They’ve showed me different angles, different ways to look at things. It’s helped me out a lot.”
Chris, who lives just down the road, shows up every day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. He hopes to take the test soon. His immediate goal is to go to Cincinnati State and eventually transfer to a four-year college to become an architect.
The East End Adult Education Center, one of just a few in Cincinnati that provides test prep and allows students to take the actual GED onsite, sees about 100 students a year. About 20 pass the test each year. As Craft shows me the phone book-sized study guide students must contend with, she tells me passing the test is sometimes a multi-year effort.
That effort has been getting more difficult in Cincinnati and across the state. Craft said holding students to a higher standard and getting them prepared for college is a great goal and that the new test does that well. But she doesn’t like that people looking to better themselves have a harder road ahead of them.
“It’s just a lot, lot harder,” she said of the new test. “It’s going to take us a lot longer.”
Hey all! My colleague, CityBeat arts editor Jac Kern, just got engaged over the holiday and there’s champagne everywhere in the office right now. Congrats! Now I’m going to try to power through the distraction to bring you the news because I’m a soldier like that.
So the streetcar contingency budget, which is set aside for unforeseen complications and cost overruns, is healthier than previously thought, officials announced yesterday. Last month, streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced that the worst-case scenarios his office ran had the fund down to about $80,000 after everything was paid out. But after some political blowback, especially from streetcar foe Mayor John Cranley, Deatrick and company went back to the drawing board, reassessed costs and adjusted that figure. The new estimate is that the contingency fund has about $1.3 million left. What changed? Not much. Deatrick says the streetcar team renegotiated some contracts and scaled back a fence around the streetcar substation. That fence was set to be solid brick, but will now be partially steel. Some council members, including Chris Seelbach, expressed concerns that the project was being scaled back due to political pressure, but officials with the project say it will run the same distance with the same number of cars for the same amount of time and that it hasn’t been scaled back in any meaningful way.
• As the weather gets colder, demands on area homeless shelters are increasing, straining space available for those with nowhere else to go. While a funding increase council passed last month has given area shelters more money to work with, demand may outpace the increase.
"The demand for winter shelter has been greater than expected this winter," Strategies to End Homelessness President and CEO Kevin Finn said in a statement. "... Such increased and early demand could exhaust resources that we hope will last us through February."
• Local grilled cheese dynamo Tom + Chee is expanding, its founders report, with plans to open five new restaurants in Southern Texas, mostly in suburbs of Houston. The company has partnered with the Tunica-Biloxi tribe to bring the restaurants to the region. The new restaurants will join 13 others in Georgia, Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee.
• Northern Kentucky residents who have been touched by the region’s heroin epidemic took their concerns to the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfurt yesterday. One-hundred-thirty Northern Kentuckians came to the rally asking for changes to state laws that could cut down the number of heroin overdose deaths. Among the policy changes advocates are asking for: repeal of a law that keeps Kentucky police from carrying anti-overdose drugs like Narcan. Police in Cincinnati and many other cities carry the drugs, which can mean the difference between life and death for overdose victims.
A new program in Kentucky will give state funds to three hospitals to provide Narcan kits to emergency overdose patients, including St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Fort Thomas. The hospital was chosen due to the high number of overdose victims it treats.
• It’s official. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, has lived to fight another day as speaker of the house. Boehner held the most powerful perch in the House despite challenges from the far-right wing of the Republican party, who hold that he didn’t do enough to repeal Obamacare and cut the federal budget. Tea party-affiliated reps had a similar mutiny attempt last session, in 2013, when 12 voted against Boehner for speaker. This time, opposition doubled, as 24 conservative House members voted against him. Boehner still coasted to a win, but the drama highlights the continued fissures in the party. Even as it grows more powerful— the 246 seats Republicans hold in the House are the most they’ve had since the 1940s — it’s clear there’s little agreement about what should be done with that power. Perhaps in reflection of this mixed-up mindset, Boehner offered this lumpy, ill-formed bag of metaphors on the House floor after his win.
“So let’s stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong,” Boehner said. “May the fruits of our labors be ladders our children can use to climb to the stars.”
Fruit ladders to the stars, y’all.
Boehner was quick to deal out discipline to members who voted against him, having two Republicans who voted against him kicked off the House’s powerful rules committee, which sets the agenda for the House.
• One of the grand jurors in the Darren Wilson case is suing the St. Louis County prosecutor over what he says were misleading statements about the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson. Prosecutor Robert McCullough presented evidence to the grand jury after the August shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown by Ferguson Police officer Wilson. The grand jury member accuses McCullough of misleading the public about the grand jury’s deliberations and is asking to be able to speak publicly about the case in his suit. The juror, who so far has remained anonymous, is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Brown’s shooting along with other police shootings of unarmed black citizens have triggered civil unrest and activism around the country.
• Finally, this isn’t really news related but I have to share it anyway. Here are the ladies of Downton Abby, which just started a new season, playing Cards Against Humanity. Warning: it gets a lil raunchy. Also, you’re welcome.
Hey all. Hope your morning commute was safe and warm amidst the cold, nasty dusting of snow we got last night. I’m still glued to my space heater here at home, so I’ve yet to venture out into the grossness.
Here’s what’s up today:
It looks as if Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is seriously checking out a run for U.S. Senate. Sources close to Sittenfeld told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the 30-year-old Democrat has begun raising money for a bid at Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s seat. It’s a big jump from councilman to senator, and Sittenfeld may have some more experienced competition for the nod as the Democratic candidate. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has shown signs that he may be interested in running, as have former Ohio Congressional delegates Betty Sutton and Tim Ryan. However, Sittenfeld has laid some groundwork for a run, visiting all corners of the state in the past year on issues of taxes and the economy. He also has a number of Senate-themed website names on lockdown, including pgforsenate.com, sittenfeldforsenate.com, and surelysittenfeldsoundssenatorialsam.com (I made that last one up). He hasn’t made it official yet, and there’s no telling if he would stay in the race should someone more experienced like Strickland officially throw his hat in the ring. But party leaders like Hamilton County Democratic Party chair Tim Burke and Ohio Democratic Party head David Pepper say he could be a serious contender depending upon how things shake out ahead of 2016.
• Mount Auburn-based Christ Hospital is fighting a lawsuit claiming the health organization submitted $28 million in claims to Medicare that cannot be proven. The hospital claims the money was used to train doctors rotating into the hospital from other health organizations between 2007 and 2012, but former employee Glenda Overton says in her lawsuit that the claims the hospital filed were not documented in accordance with federal law. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2013, but federal judge Timothy Black just struck down the hospital’s request to dismiss the case Dec. 31. The hospital could be on the hook for more than $90 million in damages if a jury finds it is guilty of misrepresenting claims.
• One of Mayor John Cranley’s staff members made a pretty prestigious list this week. Daniel Rajaiah, Cranley’s director of external affairs and the head of the mayor’s immigration task force, appeared on Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list in policy and politics. Rajaiah has been at City Hall just over a year, but then, he hasn’t been out of college much longer than that. Rajaiah graduated from the University of Dayton in 2013. While at UD, he led the College Democrats of Ohio for a year. The magazine highlights his work on the immigration task force as well as his time at his college post, where he helped get 43,000 people registered to vote.
• Meet the new bosses, who look very much the same as the old bosses. As Congress prepares to start a new session today, let’s look at how representative our representatives are. Four out of five members of Congress are male, and four out of five are white. Women make up just 19 percent of the House of Representatives and 20 percent of the Senate, despite, you know, being half of the general population. Meanwhile, blacks make up just 10 percent of the House and a whole 2 percent of the Senate, despite representing 14 percent of the U.S. population. People of Hispanic origin make up just 8 percent of the House and 3 percent of the Senate. They account for 18 percent of the general population. Only three of Ohio’s 16 reps are women. Only two are black. The saddest part? What I just described to you is the most diverse Congress in history. America!
• Finally, remember how much of a fight it was to get a few miles of those streetcar tracks in the ground? I put forward this next bit of news only to demonstrate conclusively that we live in an entirely different dimension than some other parts of the country. Officials broke ground today on a high-speed rail project that could eventually shuttle people between Los Angeles and San Francisco at 220 mph. That means you could escape the hellish traffic hole that is the city of angels for the bay area, which is rapidly becoming one big Google campus, in just over two hours. Amazing. Sorry, LA and SF. I'm just kidding. I love you and your lack of below-freezing temperatures.
Morning all. Hope your weekend was great. Let’s get to the news.
About 300 people showed up Saturday outside Kings Mills High School for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Leelah Alcorn, the Kings Mills transgender teen who took her own life last month. Many attendees were Alcorn’s friends and classmates, representatives from LGBT groups like the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and trans-specific groups like the Heartland Trans Wellness Group. More than a dozen speakers addressed the crowd, including a number of trans people and their families. Their message: There is acceptance and support for people who identify as transgender or who feel they might be transgender.
“It really warms my heart seeing so many strangers and friends of Leelah coming out to support her,” said Abby Jones, who worked with Alcorn at Kings Island. Jones said Alcorn came out to her as transgender and shared the struggles she was having at home. Alcorn, born into a highly religious family, said in a suicide note shared to social media that she had trouble finding acceptance and help from her family, which sent her to religious counselors and tried therapies designed to convince Alcorn she was male.
• Heroin continues to be a huge issue in the Greater Cincinnati area, to the point where inmates are overdosing in jail. Local law enforcement and corrections officials are working to find out how inmates get the drugs while they’re behind bars. There have been a number of overdose incidents in Hamilton County jail, including two in the last 18 months, leading some to wonder whether guards are helping to smuggle the drug in. Officials say there’s no sign of that, and that inmates often smuggle the drug in by swallowing balloons filled with it before entering the jail or get it from visitors. In 2013, the county jail treated more than 9,000 heroin addicts. County jails in Northern Kentucky face similar levels of addicts and have also seen overdoses, a reflection of the swelling heroin epidemic happening outside the jails in the general population. Kentucky’s legislature will consider a number of often-contradictory bills in its upcoming session to address the problem. The bills seek to do everything from making treatment easier to attain for those arrested with the drug to increasing penalties for those caught with heroin without providing more funding for clinics and other treatment methods.
• Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on who will lead one of the world's most powerful deliberative bodies. Currently, that honor goes to Rep. John Boehner, who has spent two terms as House Speaker. Boehner says he expects an easy reelection from his party, but some conservatives are dead set against him. Among those is Boehner’s neighbor to the south, Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents Northern Kentucky. Massie has signaled he won’t be supporting Boehner for the most powerful job in the House, though he isn’t revealing who he will vote for. Massie is a tea partier who has opposed Boehner in the past, though never quite so publicly. A few other tea party-affiliated Republicans in the House have also indicated they won’t be supporting Boehner and have said they’re searching for his replacement. It’s a sign that even if Boehner wins his job again (which he probably will) it won’t be easy going for him over the next two years.
• Will Kentucky religious organization Answers in Genesis sue the state over the fact it rescinded tax credits for a Noah’s Ark theme park based on Answers’ hiring practices? It could happen, supporters of the group say. The group has been building its park in Grant County and was originally awarded millions in tax credits by the state. However, those credits were withdrawn after questions arose about requirements by Answers that prospective employees fill out a testament of faith and other religiously oriented pre-employment materials. Opponents of the group say those materials violate equal employment rules and therefore make the Ark Park ineligible for public money. But supporters of the park say religious groups can be exempted from such rules.
• So, say you oversaw the loss of tons of peoples’ credit card and other personal data and basically had to quit your job or be fired. What happens next? If you’re retiring Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel, you get $47 million. That’s Steinhafel’s retirement package, and it’s raising big questions about income inequality. You see, normal Target employees (you know, the ones who didn’t screw up big time and let the company get hacked) have only paltry 401Ks to fall back on when they get too old to stock shelves or sell those little pizzas in the café area. Experts say Steinhafel’s huge package (sounds weird when you say it that way) exemplifies another element of the continued divide between corporate bigwigs and every day workers and that other CEOs get similarly lush goodbye checks. So, if you want to be a millionaire, just, you know, make sure your company gets hacked and push for that golden parachute when you’re on your way out.
Hey hey Cincinnati! I hope your New Years Eve was as good as mine. I stayed out way too late and had more fun than you should be allowed to have while wearing a suit at CityBeat's speakeasy party. But enough about partying. Let’s get down to business.
Carla Alcorn, who has been mostly silent since daughter Leelah Alcorn’s suicide Dec. 28, gave her first interview with media Wednesday. Speaking to CNN, Alcorn expressed deep grief at the loss of the 17-year-old transgender teen from Kings Mills, whose given name was Joshua and who said in a suicide note that she had felt “like a girl trapped in a boy’s body” since the age of 4. Leelah’s suicide has sparked a national conversation about societal attitudes toward gender as well as the high rate of depression and suicide attempts among transgender people. The elder Alcorn told CNN that she forbade Leelah from obtaining medical procedures to help her transition toward more female physical traits because it was against the family’s religion.
"We don't support that, religiously," Alcorn's mother told CNN in an emotional phone interview. "But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy."
Controversy has arisen over the way some news outlets, Alcorn’s family and her school have identified Alcorn, using the name Joshua and male pronouns to refer to her.
• On a more upbeat note, a local fashion icon got some big attention yesterday after Ohio State beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and clenched a spot at college football’s championship game. As OSU pulled ahead late in the game, ESPN showed a fan in the crowd rocking an Ohio Against the World shirt, a brand dreamed up by Cincinnatian Floyd Johnson. OATW has already gotten a lot of national attention, but screen grabs of the ESPN shot showed up on Twitter and promptly exploded, sending the phrase Ohio Against the World trending worldwide. Full disclosure: I’m a huge OATW fan and own a few of their shirts, one of which I’m wearing as I type, so this may not be unbiased reporting I’m doing here. I could not care less about football (sorry Buckeyes fans) but it’s awesome that great local talent is getting much-deserved recognition. Go get yourself one of those shirts! Just be sure you’re buying the real deal when you hop online to order one and not one of these. Yes, yes, I get it. That’s supposed to be OSU’s font. Still not into it.
• Just a heads up: new parking meter times and rates go into effect today. Parking in Over-the-Rhine goes from 50 cents to $1 today, and you’ll have to pay from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. in OTR and downtown. The boost will be used to help pay for streetcar operating costs. Don’t fret if you don’t have change, though. The new meters take credit cards.
• Tasha Thomas, the woman who was with John Crawford III in the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot him in August, died in a car accident yesterday. The accident occurred about 3 p.m. in downtown Dayton, authorities say. Thomas gained attention last month when a video tape was released showing Beavercreek police interrogating her harshly after the shooting. Crawford's shooting and other police killings of unarmed black citizens, including the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson Missouri, have ignited continuing protests across the country.
• Women in Ohio and Kentucky are pushing back against a new form of birth control called Essure offered by major drug company Bayer. Essure claims to be a form of easy, permanent birth control. Sounds great, right? The problem is, the device, which is implanted, has reportedly caused headaches, severe nausea and other symptoms in some women, perhaps due to the fact it contains nickel, which many are allergic to. Women suffering these symptoms claim they were not told about the device’s nickel content. Other women have reported that the device has caused internal damage when it shifted inside their bodies, or that scans by doctors have been unable to find the device after it has been implanted. A number of activists, including women in Ohio, have called for a ban on the product, starting wide-ranging social media campaigns and filing a lawsuit. But doctors and the FDA say they can’t demonstrate a link between the device and health problems. They say the device is safe to use and that problems associated with the implant are probably psychosomatic.
• The ongoing national argument over police tactics is having very real consequences within the nation’s largest police force. After a gunman ambushed and killed two officers Dec. 20, New York City police have decreased arrests 66 percent as part of a work slow down, the New York Post reports. The choke hold death of Eric Garner this summer and a subsequent grand jury’s decision not to indict an officer in that death has led to civil unrest in the city, and police have taken offense. The situation intensified when the gunman in Brooklyn murdered two officers last month. Since that incident, officers have protested by turning their backs to Mayor Bill deBlasio at public ceremonies for a perceived lack of support from the mayor. They’ve also instituted a slowdown on their policing and have announced they’ll only be arresting people when they have to — in part for safety reasons, and in part in protest. But think about that for just a minute. Shouldn’t police always approach and arrest people “only when they have to?” The New York Post reports that ticketing for incidents in the city has dropped 94 percent since the murder of the two officers. Arrests for drug offenses have dropped 82 percent. What are the rest of those arrests all about anyway?
Hey all! In a minute, I’m going to hit you with the list: the biggest, the most interesting and the most disturbing stories we covered this year on a daily or weekly basis. We’ve already given you our favorite news cover stories; those long-form pieces which we spent weeks or even months putting together. Now it’s time for the everyday stuff. But first, let me just throw a couple things your way that are making news on the last day of 2014.
Memorials are planned for Leelah Alcorn, the Kings Mills 17-year-old who committed suicide on I-71 Sunday after suffering with lengthy depression and isolation due to her transgender status. These memorials include a candlelight vigil in front of Kings High School Saturday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
In other news, the city came to an agreement with unions over its pension obligations last night. The deal, which took 10 months of negotiations, including a nine-hour marathon talk session between the city, employees and retirees, is complicated, but here’s the upshot: The agreement will allow the city to stabilize the pension fund, to which it owes $862 million, by whittling down retiree health benefits over time while putting $200 million from the health care trust fund into the pension fund. The city will also make a $38 million payment into the system next year.
On to the list. It’s a bit absurd to do these end of the year lists, right? I mean, ongoing stories don’t conveniently bookend themselves on New Years Eve, but tend to linger on and on (see: streetcar fight). But we have to stop somewhere and brag about our coverage, and the day we run out of calendar seems as good as any. So here are some of the big stories we covered in 2014:
1. Police Shootings and Race: A Familiar Story
Cincinnati is no stranger to controversy surrounding police shootings. So the unrest around an August incident in Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown felt very close to home. The incident sparked civil unrest in Ferguson and across the country. Just days before, a similar incident occurred in a Beavercreek Walmart, where police shot 22-year-old John Crawford while he was holding a pellet gun sold in the store.
We watched the Crawford case closely from the beginning. His shooting as well as a number of others around the country that came to light afterward were especially pertinent in Cincinnati, bringing back memories of the 2001 shooting of Timothy Thomas by police in Over-the-Rhine. We covered the parallels between 2001 and now, followed local reaction to the recent police shootings and delved deep into racial tensions in Beavercreek. New incidents of questionable use of force by police officers continue to emerge, suggest this story is far from over. We’ll be following it just as closely in 2015.
2. Icon Tax Debate
Two of Cincinnati’s favorite buildings need big help. But getting the money to renovate historic Music Hall and Union Terminal has been a political struggle. An initial proposal by business leaders would have levied a .25 percent sales tax increase over time to fund renovations on both buildings. But Republican Hamilton County commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann balked at including Music Hall in that arrangement, opting instead to shorten the duration of the tax increase and only fix Union Terminal. That left supporters of OTR’s major landmark angry and triggered a campaign to unseat Hartmann in the November election, though that effort fizzled. Meanwhile, Music Hall may get the fixing up it needs after all: the building was awarded $20 million in tax credits in December that will go a long way toward needed renovations.
3. The Battle Over Cincinnati’s Last Abortion Clinic
After lawmakers passed restrictive new laws requiring clinics that provide abortions to have transfer agreements with area hospitals, and then turned around and barred state-funded hospitals from entering into those agreements, things looked bleak for the region’s two remaining clinics. The situation got even worse over the summer when the Ohio Department of Health revoked the license of one of those clinics, Women’s Med in Sharonville, after refusing to grant the clinic an exception to those new rules. The area’s last remaining abortion provider, the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn, got a similar warning from the state in November. The clinic had been waiting a year to hear back from the state about its request for a variance to the rules on the grounds that its doctors have individual admitting privileges with area hospitals. Planned Parenthood, which runs the clinic, sued the state, claiming Ohio’s laws are unconstitutional and present an undue burden to women seeking abortions. The state blinked, providing the clinic with a variance and keeping Cincinnati from becoming the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services.
4. Transit: Fights and Forward Movement
From ongoing streetcar drama to fights over bike lanes to efforts to bring better rail service to Cincinnati, how we get around got a lot of attention this year. In the spring, a battle flared up over Mayor John Cranley’s diversion of funds away from on-street bike lanes to bike paths, and further controversy arose over a new bike lane being built on Central Parkway. One business owner concerned about a few parking spots temporarily ground that project to a halt before the city agreed to spend thousands of extra dollars accommodating the parking concerns. There was some other progress on bike-related projects this year as paths on the city’s east side, including plans that could also someday include light rail, continued to take shape. Bickering about how the city will pay for the streetcar dominated the daily news, with new panics about the project’s yearly operating budget and construction contingency fund cropping up constantly. Meanwhile, in a project of a much larger scale, a group of advocates launched a campaign this year to get daily rail service going between Cincinnati and Chicago. Unlike the streetcar, that effort has been surprisingly bi-partisan. That level of agreement has been rare in transportation fights. But all the back and forth is good on one level — it means Cincinnatians are actively thinking about and engaged in conversations around transit alternatives.
5. Cincinnati’s Big Developments: Concerns and Questions
There’s no denying Cincinnati has had a huge year in terms of development. Over-the-Rhine continues to change at a rapid pace and other neighborhoods are quickly following suit in their own ways. But developers and the city administration that courts them are powerful folks, and it’s always good to ask questions when millions are getting thrown around like Monopoly money. We delved into concerns over Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation’s move into northern OTR, where the city awarded it decision-making power over a whole swath of neighborhood surrounding Findlay Market even as residents and the OTR Community Council expressed serious concerns about the deal. We talked to residents and businesses in Clifton Heights, where the city enacted zoning changes and tax deals for an out-of-town developer who will build a large, student-centered apartment complex despite protests from some long-time residents there. And we took a deep look into what the new I-71 interchange means for Avondale and Walnut Hills, both largely black communities whose members have historic reasons to distrust highway projects. Will development surrounding a new highway on and off ramp in these historically neglected and low-income neighborhoods lift up residents there, or will it bulldoze them? The questions around Cincinnati’s big-budget developments remain, and we’ll continue asking them in 2015.
6. Charter School Drama
2014 was the year things got weird at Ohio charter schools. VLT Academy in Cincinnati shut down after a long, messy fight by the school to secure a sponsor organization over protests from the Ohio Department of Education. A charter high school in Dayton, along with several others run by Chicago-based Horizon schools, came under scrutiny from federal authorities after former teachers made multiple reports of records forging and sexual misconduct. Overall, multiple studies, including a CityBeat review of state education data for Cincinnati charters, found that charters don’t seem to perform any better on the whole than public schools, and in many cases, perform worse. Meanwhile, charters are held to lower standards than public schools. All that begs the question: what are taxpayers getting for the diverted funds that pay for these often for-profit schools?
7. The Persistence of Poverty
We covered a number of issues surrounding poverty in Cincinnati, from former staffer German Lopez’s excellent cover story on the city’s poverty problem to more specific issues like affordable, subsidized housing, increases in homelessness in the city and a proposed hate crime law that would protect the homeless. There was also some good news, as Lower Price Hill, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods received free Wi-Fi so students and residents could connect to the outside world. As one of the city’s biggest, most complex challenges, Cincinnati’s high poverty rate works its way into a number of other issues such as sex trafficking, the heroin crisis and others, meaning we’re just getting started in our coverage. Expect much more in 2015.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Some other big stories we checked out this year include German Lopez’s great piece on efforts to legalize marijuana in Ohio and our coverage of the court battle over Ohio’s gay marriage ban. When you’re all bored and hungover tomorrow, peruse our coverage from the last year. Then hit me up with what you’d like to see in the new year. What’s important to you that Cincinnati media is neglecting? Find me at firstname.lastname@example.org and @nswartsell on Twitter.
A suicide note posted on Tumblr says Leelah Alcorn had trouble finding acceptance. The Kings Mills 17-year-old, whose given name was Joshua, identified as female. After her 16th birthday, she hoped to transition physically into what she felt was her actual gender. But her parents refused to grant her the necessary permission to undergo the medical procedures, according to a note published online the day after her suicide.
Alcorn died Sunday after being hit by a semi truck on southbound I-71 near the South Lebanon exit. The letter, which appears to have been queued to automatically post on the teen's Tumblr page on Monday, says Alcorn killed herself because she felt isolated and misunderstood due to the fact she identified as a female. The note’s signature includes the
name Leelah, and also the name “Josh” crossed out.
The Tumblr page friends say belonged to Alcorn features both suicide-themed posts and a number of more lighthearted updates, including the teen's art and numerous pictures of her dressed in both men’s and women’s clothing.
"If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender,” the note reads. “I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally 'boyish' things to try to fit in.”
The note recounts Alcorn’s struggle to find acceptance and help from family, who she says are devout Christians, and her peers. Her parents tried faith-based counseling, the note says, but that did little to ease her confusion and feelings of isolation. The note says that Alcorn hoped to begin transitioning physically (usually achieved through hormone treatments or surgery) at age 16, but fell into a deeper depression when her parents would not grant her permission to do so.
A second note auto-posted today offers apologies to specific people identified as Leelah's friends, as well as again lashing out at her parents.
Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach shared the original note on social media Monday and said it’s evidence that the region, and the country, need to extend better treatment to transgender people.
“While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years... the truth is... it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in the country,” Seelbach said in a Facebook post. “We have to do better.”
The note's closing paragraphs plead for change.
“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” the note ends. “Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year.”
According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, more than 40 percent of transgender people in America attempt suicide at some point in their lives. A more recent study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that the percentage spikes into the 60s for those without the support of family or peers.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol is investigating Alcorn’s death but has not returned a request for comment on the case.
The accident happened at about 2 a.m., according to police.
Originally, news media reported Alcorn's death as an accident and made no mention that she identified as female. Alcorn was a former student at Kings Mills High School who was well-liked by classmates, according to a release from the school. Alcorn was most recently enrolled in Ohio Virtual Academy, an online school.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Joshua's family and friends at this tragic time,” a representative for Kings Local Schools told WCPO. A post on the district's website gives a number which students at the school and friends of Alcorn can call to reach grief counselors and details for Alcorn's funeral. Alcorn's parents have asked for privacy in a statement released through the school.
Alcorn’s mother, Carla Alcorn, posted a message mourning the teen’s death on her Facebook page Monday.
“My sweet 16 year old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn went home to heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.”
The message has caused
controversy on social media sites for refusing to
recognize Leelah Alcorn's preferred gender. Other responses on social media
criticized Kings Mills Local School District's similar handling of Alcorn's gender. Both Kings Mills
Local Schools' Twitter and Facebook accounts were down today.
Morning all. It’s a slow news day around here, and we’re waiting for tomorrow for our obligatory end-of-year top 10 news stories list. But there are still some interesting things happening around the city and beyond in the waning days of 2014.
Police officers from around the region gathered last night to pay respects to two officers killed by a gunman in New York City earlier this month. Police from Covington, Kenton County and Campbell County attended a rally at a memorial for fallen officers in Covington to remember New York City Police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn. A few dozen members of the public also gathered for the event. Ramos and Liu’s shooter, who had earlier murdered his girlfriend in a Baltimore suburb, later killed himself. The incident has become a controversial moment in the nation’s tense struggle over police killings of unarmed people of color. Ramos and Liu’s shooter mentioned ongoing anger over the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died after an officer placed him in a choke hold. Activists decrying police violence have said the shootings of the officers are a tragedy and have called for peaceful protests.
• Cincinnati has gone all-in on a new highway interchange where I-71 passes through Walnut Hills and Avondale. But questions continue over whether that interchange will bring jobs and prosperity to some of the city’s poorest residents. It’s a tough question to answer because the project is fairly unique. Building a new highway on and off ramp in an already-built urban area is nearly unprecedented, and it’s tough to tell what will happen. That’s especially true since it’s unclear who will end up owning some of the 670 acres around the interchange officials say is blighted and in need of fresh development. City officials tout a study by the UC Economics Center that predicts the new interchange could create 7,000 jobs. But other studies of highway development projects say it can be exceedingly hard to tell what their impacts will be. The city has more than $25 million in the project, so stakes are high. They’re also high for residents of the neighborhood — as we reported this summer, Avondale has a 40 percent poverty rate and has historically found itself cut off from the rest of the city economically and geographically. What’s more, some residents will need to move to make way for the interchange. As the project continues toward its November 2016 completion date, questions keep swirling.
• State Rep. John Becker, a staunch conservative representing suburban Cincinnati, has been busy during his freshman term, according to a recent profile in the Columbus Dispatch. The former anti-abortion activist has authored tons of right wing legislation — 27 bills, in fact — and has courted a similarly prodigious amount of controversy. He’s been outspoken about police shootings of people of color, even commenting that he “wasn’t sure who the victim was” in the case of Mike Brown, an unarmed black man shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. He has suggested that similar shootings in Cleveland and Beavercreek involved drugs or “suicide by cop.” He’s also questioned why Planned Parenthood isn’t considered a hate group. That’s all charming stuff. Becker was reelected in November and will enjoy an increasingly conservative House — Republicans will hold 65 seats there next session. Up next on his agenda: abolishing the state’s income tax. Great!
• In national news, the Washington Post reports that House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, spoke at a white supremacist conference in 2002. The third most powerful member of the House appeared at a European-American Unity and Rights Organization convention in New Orleans hosted by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when he was a state representative. Representatives for Scalise’s office say he was unaware of the group’s connections with the white power movement and was in the midst of a statewide campaign rallying support for lowering taxes and other conservative ideas.
“For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” Scalise told the Times-Picayune as the story was breaking last night.
The revelation comes as Republicans look to make a new start with an expanded majority in the House and a newly minted majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, Democrats are pummeling Scalise over the revelations.
• Finally, if you’re not satisfied with Cincinnati’s New Year's Eve offerings (I can’t imagine why. There are about a million things to do) take heart: Whatever you get into is probably better than watching a giant nail drop in this Pennsylvania town. It's not even metal. It's wood. The, uh, nail dropping will commemorate a historic nail factory. Get wild.
Good morning Cincy! It’s finally getting to be bike commuting weather again, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’ve missed showing up to work all sweaty and out of breath with terrible helmet hair, and I’m sure my coworkers have missed it as well. Anyway, enough about my transportation habits, which I seem to talk about a lot in the morning news blog. Let’s get on to the news.
Sweet. More streetcar politics ahead. Moving utility lines to make way for a streetcar extension will be twice as costly as it was for the track currently being laid between Over-the-Rhine and downtown, according to an estimate performed last year by Duke Energy. Duke says the task, which is necessary before tracks are put down, could cost up to $38 million. Boosters want to get started on the next step for the streetcar, which would extend it near the University of Cincinnati and several of the city’s hospitals uptown. Councilman Chris Seelbach last week introduced an ordinance asking the city to begin looking at plans for the extension. But Mayor John Cranley, an ardent opponent of the project, has dismissed calls for the next step of streetcar as “silly.” Those pushing the city to begin planning for the uptown leg of the streetcar say if plans aren’t in place, the city could lose out on millions in federal funds that could help pay for next steps.
• More than 20 residents at the King Towers apartments in Madisonville are wondering where they’ll be staying following the tragic fire that swept through the building last week. That fire claimed the life of Cincinnati Firefighter Daryl Gordon. Representatives for The Community Builders, the building’s owners, on Sunday told residents they needed to be out of their temporary hotel rooms by 11 a.m. Monday morning. That caused an outcry from the residents and others, including members of Madisonville Community Council. Boston-based The Community Builders has since extended residents’ hotel stays until Wednesday and has promised to help find a solution for temporary housing for the residents while the building undergoes clean up and investigation, a process that could take months.
• Ready to start paying for Union Terminal? The county’s sales tax boost kicks in Wednesday after voters approved it in November. You’ll pay an extra .25 cents on the dollar so the county can pay for much-needed renovations to one of Cincinnati’s most iconic landmarks. The rate is going from 6.75 percent to 7 percent.
• A Greater Cincinnati area school district is boosting anti-drug messages to its students in anticipation of a potential marijuana farm nearby. Monroe Schools says a marijuana farm that would be established should legalization group ResponsibleOhio get its way is unwelcome in the city and that it sends messages to students that cancel out years of anti-drug efforts. One of the group’s 10 proposed grow sites would be in Middletown, less than two miles from Monroe’s K-12 public school. In response, the school district, some community leaders and law enforcement officials have teamed up to redouble anti-drug messages to teens, because telling a teenager not to do something is obviously the best way to make it seem uncool and unappealing. Meanwhile, ResponsibleOhio has responded by pointing out their legalization effort is only for those 21 and over. They also claim that the drug is already readily available to many on the black market and that their proposal would limit or eliminate that market.
• Ohio prison officials want to get inmates job interviews. Ohio Prison Director Gary Mohr has discussed efforts to recruit businesses who are willing to employ former inmates and has proposed setting up some inmates with job interviews upon their release. The program aims to cut recidivism among inmates and keep the number of repeat offenders in Ohio’s prisons to a minimum. Studies suggest those who find jobs after being released from prison have a much lower rate of additional criminal activity.
• In national news, here’s an alarming number: Law enforcement agencies make no arrests in one-third of all murders in the United States. That’s up from just 10 percent of homicides in 1965. Though violent crime has gone down across the U.S. in recent years, so have the percentage of cases in which police even find a suspect. The number of murders solved by law enforcement is even lower, since the FBI’s “clearance rate” only measures arrests, not convictions. The bureau estimates some 200,000 murders have gone unsolved since the 1960s. Law enforcement officials often blame a so-called “no snitch” attitude found in many low-income communities, where they say a number of community members refuse to cooperate with the police and help them find suspects. But some experts point out that murders of law enforcement officers, which often take place in those same neighborhoods, have a very high clearance rate, suggesting a difference in priority for different kinds of murder cases.
That’s it for me. Tweet me. Email me. Comment. Have you gotten your bike out yet? What’s the best spring bike ride location in Cincy? Let me know.
Good morning y’all. It’s the end of the week and the sun is out. Those are both good enough reasons to keep this news update short, so just the facts for you today.
Starting on a somber note, officials continue to investigate the death of Cincinnati firefighter Daryl Gordon, who fell down an elevator shaft while responding to a fire at an apartment building in Madisonville yesterday. Gordon was a 30-year veteran of the department. Two other firefighters and four residents where hurt in the blaze, which broke out early yesterday morning. Investigators are still trying to piece together exactly what happened to Gordon.
• Will you be able to walk around The Banks with an open beer in time for the Major League Baseball All Star Game in July? It’s looking increasingly possible. The Ohio House passed a bill allowing the creation of so-called “open container districts” this week. The proposed law could allow cities to designate specific areas where people can drink a cold one right out on the sidewalk. But the timeline is tight for would-be All Star Game revelers. The bill still has to go to through the state Senate and get Gov. John Kasich’s autograph. After that, the city could rush through designations for specific districts but would have to wait 30 days for them to take effect. The race is on.
• Three men who have wrongfully spent the past 18 years in prison may soon walk free thanks to efforts by the Ohio Innocence Project, which is based at University of Cincinnati’s College of Law. The Innocence Project announced yesterday that a Cuyahoga County Judge has thrown out the convictions of Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson based on new evidence. The three will be released on bond and get a new trial. Their incarceration stems from the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson, Jr. in Cleveland. Wheatt, Glover and Johnson who were nearby, were eventually arrested for the crime and convicted on the testimony of a single 14-year-old eyewitness. That witness later recanted her testimony and other evidence surfaced casting doubt that the three had a role in the crime.
• Ever been in a situation where you have to spend extended amounts of time the same room with someone who is competing with you for the affections of your crush? That’s probably how former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld will feel tonight when both attend and speak at the Ohio Democratic Party’s annual dinner. The two are currently going head to head in the party’s primary for the chance to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman. Making things especially uncomfortable is the fact that Sittenfeld had signaled he wouldn’t continue with campaign if Strickland entered the race. But the city councilman gained some good fundraising momentum and has decided to stay in the contest. Most of the higher-ups in the Democratic party have backed his more experienced foe, but Sittenfeld has said he’s in it to win it. I really hope someone seated them at the same table.
• I mentioned a couple days ago that the Ohio House was mulling a fetal heartbeat bill that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. That bill has now passed the House thanks in part to local state representatives Jonathan Dever of Madeira and Paul Zeltwanger of Mason, who both voted for the proposed law. The bill will now make its way to the state Senate, where it faces skepticism from some moderate Republicans. They say the bill wouldn't survive an inevitable legal challenge. Some supporters of the measure, however, say bring it on — they see the ensuing legal battle as a way to challenge the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision prohibiting abortion bans.
• Let's jaunt next door to the great state of Indiana where Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law yesterday a measure that prohibits the government from restricting religious freedom unless absolutely necessary. Critics of that bill say it could allow businesses to refuse service to people, including LGBT individuals, based on the business owner's religious beliefs. Pence says the bill will do no such thing, but that hasn't stopped backlash from forming. A number of businesses, including the NCAA, and even some religious groups have expressed reservations about the law, which takes effect in July. OK, let's leave Indiana now.
• News is happening in national politics. So much news. Well, really, political quasi-news that probably doesn’t actually make a difference but that we should pay attention to anyway because politicians are technically our employees and they haven’t really done that great of a job lately. One of the more interesting, and probably meaningless, stories on that front right now is that powerful Republicans in key primary states are saying that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is so far the only presidential candidate to officially announce his campaign, has no chance of winning. A poll of 100 influential Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire found that not one thought Cruz had a chance at the nomination, let alone prevailing in the general election. That’s important because those states are big in the primary game. Winning them signals to other delegates and funders around the rest of the country that you’re a serious contender.
• The other big story in national politics is that the most powerful, and many would say infamous, Democrat in the Senate will retire after his current term. Sen. Harry Reid, who is currently the Senate minority leader, has been a thorn in the side of nearly every Republican in Congress. Reid is a bare-knuckle brawler of a legislator who pulled out just as many nasty tricks during his time as Senate majority leader as his counterpart in the House, Republican John Boehner has. Reid’s 10-year turn as majority leader ended last November when Republicans took control of the Senate, but he’s continued to be a force there. The 75-year-old’s term ends next year. Republicans are rejoicing, seeing a rare opportunity to take Reid’s seat as one of Nevada’s two Senators.
Morning all. Are you as disappointed with the soggy gray awfulness outside as I am? Over the past few days I’ve been tuning up my bike, getting ready for spring. My plan was to get it out today and ride to work instead of walking. But this morning has been more kayak commuting weather, and since I don’t own a kayak, I’m working from home. Bummer. Anyway, let’s move on to news. This is the weekly City Council update edition, where I tell you about all the zany stuff our council members got up to yesterday.
First, council passed a resolution supporting marriage equality in the state of Ohio authored by Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay elected official.
“The protection and equality we want is no different than what everyone wants," Seelbach said, highlighting the ways in which his life with his partner are the same as any married couple’s. Seelbach also drew attention to the continued court battles being waged by Cincinnatians against Ohio’s gay marriage ban. Among them is Jim Obergefell, whose case against Ohio’s gay marriage ban will be tried in the U.S. Supreme Court next month. Obergefell is seeking to be listed on his late husband John Arthur’s death certificate. The two were legally married in Maryland.
“Our city could have fought us, as our state continued to do, but instead our city stood on the side of love with a message that is resoundingly clear: We welcome, accept and love everyone,” Obergefell said in a written statement read by a representative from LGBT rights group Why Marriage Matters.
Six council members voted for the resolution, with Councilman Charlie Winburn voting against it and two, P.G. Sittenfeld and Amy Murray, absent from the meeting for unrelated reasons. Winburn applauded Seelbach’s advocacy for the issue, but said he didn’t agree with its premise. Winburn has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage. Cincinnati joins several other Ohio cities, including Dayton and Columbus, in supporting marriage equality.
• More council stuff: our esteemed deliberative body yesterday rejected
another stab at a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that would have
created 400 permitted spots around the neighborhood. The plan would have
cost residents in the area $109 a year, plus $5 each for guest permits.
Some council members, including Seelbach, said the
price is still a bit too high and probably not necessary to generate
the revenue needed. “I think we’re close,” Seelbach said. “This is close
to what we would support. But the annual permit at $109 is the highest
Vice Mayor David Mann said he expected the plan to pass.
“This continues to be a work in progress,” Mann said. “We’re very open to changes as we implement and see how it works … but I think it’s time to do something. It’s been in and out of committee for three months.”
• Council also named a whole block of Colerain Avenue in Camp Washington after John "Johnny" Johnson, who has been working at Camp Washington Chili in the neighborhood for a mind-boggling 64 years. That's pretty cool. The restaurant, which I have patronized many a late night after various shows, has received national accolades for its chili, which is awesome. Johnson's uncle started the restaurant in 1940, and he began working there in 1951after coming here from Greece.
• The road is long and difficult and every step is studded with obstacles. No, I’m not talking about an underdog team in the NCAA tournament, nor the plot of a Tolkien novel. I speak of the streetcar, which is facing yet another round of drama this week involving contracts for who will operate the transit system. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, tasked with finding employees to operate the streetcar, must choose between two types of bids: those from companies that will manage SORTA’s union employees and those that will hire their own. Democrats on council want SORTA to go the former route and consider only bids that rely on employees from the Amalgamated Transit Union, of which most of SORTA’s employees are members. A past effort by council to get more details about the bids in relation to this wish drew sharp rebuke from the Federal Transit Authority, however, which said that any attempt to change SORTA’s bid process could result in loss of federal funds for the streetcar. The feds provided more than $45 million for the nearly $150 million project.
"If confidentiality is not maintained,” wrote FTA attorney John Lynch in a Monday letter to SORTA, “that presents risks to the process and increases potential exposure to protests and legal action from the proposers. The council's proposed changes to the procurement process could be perceived as giving preferential treatment to one contractor over another."
Now a new motion proposed yesterday by most of council’s Democrats would direct SORTA to only consider bids in which SORTA employees are used to run the streetcar. That motion needs two more votes and isn’t binding — it’s asking, not telling, SORTA to hire ATU employees. That motion also leaves maintenance personnel out of the equation, which is important because that’s a sticking point in negotiations between SORTA and the ATU on what using union workers would look like. The two are tangling over a few specialized maintenance positions that require particular electrical engineering training. The ATU says whoever does those jobs should be union members; SORTA says it has the right to hire outside workers for those positions. Phew. So there you have it. Bids for operating the streetcar are due at the end of the month, and SORTA’s board will vote to award the contract in July.
• Here’s a completely unsubstantiated, unscientific observation: People named “Woody” seem much more apt to support legalization efforts for marijuana. First there was Woody Harrelson, and now we have Taft Broadcasting Co. Development Director Woody Taft. Taft and his brother Dudley are among the funders of an ongoing effort by ResponsibleOhio to get an Ohio constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana on the November ballot. The Tafts are just a couple of the big names in town who have invested in the legalization scheme, which would legalize production and sale of marijuana but limit commercial cultivation to 10 legal growers. That dimension of the provision has raised ire from other pot legalization advocates. ResponsibleOhio has modified its proposal to allow for home growth of small amounts of weed, but those growers would not be allowed to sell their products.
The Tafts would be part owners of a marijuana cultivation farm proposed in Butler County should the ballot initiative pass.
“Our current laws are archaic and cruel to the people in Ohio who need medical marijuana,” Woody Taft said in a statement sent out by the pro-marijuana group.
• Finally, eight protesters were arrested outside House Speaker John Boehner’s Washington office yesterday. No, they weren’t up in arms about his continued efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or his moves to stymie Democrats’ immigration reform agenda. Nor were they there staging an intervention for Boehner’s all-too-evident tanning bed addiction.
Instead, they were all riled up about the fact that Boehner and other congressional Republicans haven’t moved fast enough on a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The House was set to vote on the bill way back at the beginning of the year, but some moderate GOPers balked at the ban because it required a woman to report her rape or incest to law enforcement in order to qualify for an exception to the proposed law. Members of the Christian Defense Coalition, who were the protesters praying outside of Boehner’s office, say his failure to push that bill through is a “betrayal” of the pro-life cause. Boehner’s office shot back that he’s the most pro-life speaker in history, which seems a hard claim to fact-check considering abortion was illegal for much of our country’s history.
That’s it for me. Tweet me. Email me. You know the drill.
Hey all, here’s the news today.
After some reconfiguration, 3CDC has announced it is moving ahead with its plans for development on the corner of 15th and Race Street. The development is set to include 27 affordable units of housing and 63 units total, along with more than 37,000 square feet of commercial space. It’s unclear what level of affordability the subsidized units will be, but 3CDC is applying for federal low-income housing tax credits and partnering with Model Group and Cornerstone Renter Equity on those units. The project will be 3CDC’s second-largest in OTR at 2.2 acres, just slightly smaller than Mercer Commons on Vine Street. The nonprofit developer had floated earlier plans that included a parking garage, but has nixed that idea after outcry from some neighborhood groups and historic preservation advocates. Instead, the project will include a surface lot behind buildings on Race Street.
• Suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was back in court today on a reprisal of sorts from her trial last year, when she was tried on nine felony charges and convicted of one. She’s being tried again on charges that she misused a court credit card. The jury couldn’t consider that charge last time due to a legal technicality dealing with the language of the charge, then-Hamilton County Court Judge Norbert Nadel ruled. Hunter also faces retrial on the other charges in June after the last jury couldn’t reach a verdict. Hunter pleaded not guilty to the credit card charge. She faces a year in prison if convicted.
• If you attend City Council meetings as much as I do, you hear the name Jeff McElravy pretty often. He’s been a big part of the city’s Department of Trade and Development, a post the city recently announced he’ll be leaving next month. McElravy had been interim head of the department during the city’s negotiations to bring General Electric to The Banks before he was replaced by current permanent trade and development head Oscar Bedolla. McElravy currently serves as the city’s downtown development manager. He’ll leave that job, and working for the city, on April 20.
• Though I’m sometimes pretty critical of our hometown grocery giant, I’ll give Kroger this: They do pretty well when it comes to beer selection. Just last night I scored Rivertown Brewery’s Vanilla Espresso Porter there, one of my favorites. And apparently, it’s just going to get better. The grocery chain has announced it is increasing its stock of local craft beers by 30 percent, giving more shelf space to Cincinnati names like Rhinegiest, Madtree and Christian Moerlein. I usually prefer to hit up Party Source for my beer (worker owned, what’s up) because they carry some of the best crazy dark beers, but hey, I’ll go Krogering in an emergency.
• A proposed transportation budget the Ohio General Assembly is mulling includes a provision that could make it much harder for college students from out of state to vote. The provision requires residents to register their cars in Ohio, if they have one, and get an Ohio driver’s license in order to vote here. Conservatives who are pushing the measure say it’s designed to keep non-residents from voting in state elections. If you register to vote from a campus address, you have to re-register your car in Ohio, the new provision stipulates. If you don’t, your out-of-state license becomes invalid.
Some Democratic lawmakers have cried foul, saying it amounts to voter suppression and intimidation of college students, who tend to vote more progressively. Some Democrats have shot back with a counter-proposal. If students must register their cars to register to vote, it only makes sense they get in-state tuition as well, right? State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Portage County, is pushing that exact logic in response to the Republican voter registration idea. She says the fees associated with car registration and license changes would be a deterrent for students and amount to suppressing their votes. Clyde and other Democrats have signaled they may not vote for the transportation budget if the provision isn’t removed.
• In other State House news, another abortion restriction bill will be up for a floor vote today in the Ohio House of Representatives. The bill would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Republicans there say they have enough votes to get the bill on to the state Senate, but GOP leaders there are worried the law could cause federal court challenges that might undermine other abortion restrictions passed in Ohio.
That’s it for me. Hit me up on Twitter or email me with your news tips.
Hey all. News has happened. Here it is.
First, let’s get this out of the way. I don’t watch football. Ever. But that doesn’t mean YOU don’t watch football. Or maybe someone you know? And heck, maybe you want to watch games that take place in the stadium you are paying for as a Hamilton County resident from the comfort of your own couch or favorite bar without having to pay the high ticket prices to see the game in person. That’s a perfectly understandable ambition, given that about many millions of our tax dollars are paying for the Bengals’ home. The good news is that almost every NFL team owner voted recently to end, at least for the coming season, the league’s policy of not televising games that don’t sell out. In fact, the only owner who didn’t vote to end the blackout policy is Bengals owner Mike Brown. Now, Brown says he supports televising every Bengals home game. But he’s concerned about the way revenue is split between home and away teams under the new agreement, which basically stipulates the home team will have to pay the away team if the game doesn’t reach 85 percent capacity. That does sound like a raw deal for small markets like Cincy, but so does voting to keep fans from watching games in the stadium they paid for. Glad I don’t care about football.
• Cincinnati developer Model Group will renovate 13 historic buildings containing affordable housing in Covington’s Mainstrasse district. The group will work in partnership with Welcome House, a social service agency based in the city, and use $700,000 in federal low-income housing tax credits for the project’s first phase. The project could also be eligible for historic preservation tax credits. The renovations will reduce the number of units available in the buildings from 51 to 43 but will result in larger living spaces aimed at single parents who need affordable housing. The project is expected to be complete in 2016. One building, 801 Main St., is a commercial space and will remain so after renovations wrap up.
• Yes, yes, we all complain about how crazy Cincinnati’s weather patterns are. I thought this was a tic common to many areas of the country, with nearly everyone thinking they have the craziest weather around. Turns out, however, that we have some scientific, or at least quasi-scientific, backing for our whining. Nate Silver’s data journalism project Five Thirty Eight ran some climate data on cities across the country and came up with the top places in the country with unpredictable weather. Guess what? Cincinnati is number four on the list. The analysis takes into account temperature, precipitation and a number of other meteorological phenomena. So yeah, next time you want to complain about the fact that it was 70 degrees yesterday and will be snowing tomorrow, go for it. Math is on your side.
• I’m a little late on this one, but in case you missed it, the push to get daily rail between Cincinnati and Chicago has some new supporters. The city of Norwood has signaled it is supporting those efforts, which are led by pro-transit group All Aboard Ohio. Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana, has also pitched in on the cause in a way, telling state and federal agencies they should keep current rail lines open between cities in Indiana and Chicago so service can someday be expanded.
• Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in New Hampshire today in what is his most straightforward presidential campaign trip yet. Kasich hasn’t officially announced he’s running for the GOP nomination for president (only U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has made that commitment) but there is simply no other reason for Kasich’s trip. He’s testing the waters in important primary states now, trying to boost his stature among Republicans who will have to decide who to nominate next summer at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Recent polls show Kasich doing well in Ohio but drawing mostly a blank in other parts of the country. If the gov is able to make news in New Hampshire, or New York and Maine, where he travels next, it could boost his profile and put him in league with figures like Cruz and U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who have been in the national spotlight by virtue of their offices and high-profile stances (some would say antics) against Democrats and President Barack Obama. Kasich at times tacks more moderate (at least when it comes to things like Ohio’s Medicaid expansion and Common Core education standards) and has been active mainly in Ohio, so he has some catching up to do. But, heck, saying one crazy thing about how climate change isn’t real or about how we should abolish a couple federal agencies could get him some big attention.
• Hey, did you know that testing giant Pearson, which designs and administers the Common Core tests Ohio students are currently taking, collects student data — name, gender, race, scores — even though the state of Ohio, to which the company reports, doesn’t? And also, did you know that the company has been monitoring students’ social media profiles for leaked test questions? Well, now you know.
• Finally, oof. Reaction to “Race Together,” a new initiative in which two of the nation’s big corporations team up to “tackle the issue of race in America” has been predictably brutal, with many taking to Twitter to mock the idea. Starbucks and Gannett announced March 19 that they were partnering on the project, the first phase of which involved baristas writing #racetogether on customers’ cups and engaging them in conversations about our society’s race issues. Because that’s what baristas want to do first thing in the morning when they’re facing a line of grumpy, caffeine-starved customers.
Starbucks has also been distributing a special edition of USA Today featuring stories about race, which Gannett guarantees is mostly typo-free because race is a very important issue. A few critiques come to mind, one of which is that hashtags don’t work outside the Internet. Also, maybe when your leadership teams look like this and this, it’s better to listen, do some corporate self-reflection and seek feedback instead of trying to “tackle” an issue.
Hey all. Hope you had a good weekend and are recovering from whatever NCAA tournament festivities you may have attended. Yeah, yeah, Xavier won. UC lost. The Dayton Flyers pulled out an upset over Providence Friday only to lose to the Sooners last night. Depending on who you were rooting for, you’re probably either nursing some slight heartache, the waning throes of a post-celebratory hangover, or both.
Anyway. Here’s what’s up in the news today.
Cincinnati's Red Bike is heading south. The city of Covington announced it has found funding for up to six Red Bike stations and will be working with the nonprofit to bring bike sharing to Northern Kentucky. The city has said it’s looking at locations near the Roebling suspension bridge, in Mainstrasse Village and other key places. The stations cost about $50,000 each. Cincinnati has 30 throughout downtown and uptown, spurred by a $1 million grant approved by Cincinnati City Council last year.
• A one-time 3CDC mover and shaker will now work for another big developer in Cincinnati. Former 3CDC Executive Vice President Chad Munitz, who left the developer in December, will soon start work with Mount Adams-based Towne Properties. Munitz played a big role in a number of 3CDC’s signature projects over his nine-year tenure there, including the redevelopment of OTR’s Washington Park. He’ll work to help Towne Properties identify new development opportunities in Cincinnati and beyond.
• Did Mason’s City Council violate the city’s charter and Ohio law when it held a last-minute special session to approve a tax deal with P&G last week? Some residents there think so. Mason’s council called the last-minute session Tuesday to pass a $34 million dollar deal that put the finishing touches on a $300 million plan by the company to expand a business center there. The trouble is, council gave only a day’s notice and scheduled the meeting mid-day during working hours, which could violate Ohio’s open meetings laws. Those laws require that the public business is done in a public manner with ample notice beforehand. The notice sent out by council about the meeting also didn’t stipulate a reason or agenda. Council immediately went into private executive session when it convened, then came out and approved the P&G deal. Critics, including some Mason residents, say it all seems secretive and not very public. Seems like they have a good point.
• ResponsibleOhio’s effort to make marijuana legal in Ohio took another step forward as the Ohio Ballot Board approved the group’s language for a proposed law it hopes to put on the ballot in November. ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would allow anyone over 21 to purchase and smoke weed, but would limit commercial cultivation of marijuana to 10 state-sanctioned growers. That detail has caused controversy from other marijuana legalization advocates. The group still needs to collect more than 300,000 valid signatures from Ohio voters in 44 of the state’s 88 counties by July to get the amendment on the ballot.
• Ohio is the 47th worst state in terms of its tax structure’s fairness to low-income people, a study by personal finance website Wallethub.com says. The report found that low-income Ohioans making $25,000 a year or less pay nearly 11.5 percent of their income in taxes, compared to 9.5 percent for high-income earners. By the way, Ohio didn’t do so great when it came to those top-tier workers, either. The state ranks the 41st best place for people making $150,000 a year or more.
• Here's a pretty interesting study that says urban sprawl costs America more than $1 trillion a year. Wait, so are they saying building highways on top of highways and more McMansions a 45-minute drive from major urban employment centers was an inefficient use of resources? Say it ain't so. Anyway, ignore my editorializing and check out the study. This seems like such a difficult and huge thing to calculate, and I wonder if any readers see things they've missed or other ways to frame the question of how sprawl impacts our economy.
• Finally, I think we all knew this was coming. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced this morning he’s running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. On Twitter. The simple tweet read, “I’m running for President and I hope to earn your support!” It also included a video of Cruz’s first campaign ad, a dramatic 30-second piece that shows people America-ing all over the place, riding motorcycles through the desert, welding things, playing baseball of course and generally holding small American flags in verdant parks the way we Americans are wont to do.
Notably missing: bald eagles dropping apple pies on our confused and cowering enemies. Otherwise, though, very American. Cruz is perhaps the most conservative of the many names that have been bandied about as a Republican nominee. The freshman Senator has been one of the most vocal opponents of President Barack Obama, especially the Affordable Care Act. Cruz played a big role in last October’s government shutdown when he engineered a bizarre faux-filibuster and other obstructive measures designed to block passage of a budget that allowed the ACA to remain funded. So he has that on his resume. He’s also a loud climate change denier, or at least skeptic, and generally opposes things that liberals and moderates are into.
Hey all, it’s news time on this glorious, if rainy, Friday. Let’s go.
It truly is Ohio against the world right now, at least when it comes to March Madness (which, if you’re anything like some of my friends, truly is your entire existence at this moment in time). The University of Cincinnati beat Purdue in a heart-stopper last night, Xavier bested Ole Miss and OSU beat Virginia Commonwealth University. Additionally, the Dayton Flyers pulled one out Wednesday against Boise State to make it into the tournament. They’ll be facing Providence College tonight. That’s great, but big challenges loom ahead: specifically, 8th-seed UC will have to face 1st-seed UK tomorrow. That’s going to be a tough game for the Bearcats. But let’s see what happens, right?
While we’re talking basketball, here’s an interesting look at which local programs are making money for their universities, and which are break-even propositions. UC, for instance, spends as much on its basketball program as its team brings in, while Xavier turns a handy profit — the Musketeers’ hoops squad brings in more than $6 million a year.
• Veterans Affairs Secretary and former P&G CEO Bob McDonald wants Cincinnati, along with other cities, to speed up the process of identifying and helping homeless veterans. McDonald visited local service agencies helping veterans yesterday and said he was impressed with the work those groups are doing, as well as the progress the city has made on veteran homelessness. But he also called for quicker turnaround when it comes to getting homeless veterans into housing, saying that the longer it takes to find them and get them on the right track, the less likely they will be to receive and utilize that aid at all. Mayor John Cranley, who joined McDonald on his tours of service agencies yesterday, is engaged in a national program to help vets, called the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. That initiative looks to end veteran homelessness across the country by the end of this year.
• The Cincinnati Zoo recently made a national list of top places to travel if you want to see cool animals. Family Fun magazine publishes its annual rankings on the best places to travel in a number of specific categories, and Cincinnati’s Zoo ranked number eight in the animal attractions category. It ranked just below Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which is pretty impressive. It’s one more accolade for the zoo, which is widely recognized as one of the best in the nation.
• U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents Northern Kentucky, has a GREAT idea for fixing the nation’s highway funding dilemma: strip funding for all other transit projects from the National Highway Trust Fund. Massie says the federal government’s grants for streetcars and other alternate forms of transit cost billions that could go toward building and repairing highways and bridges. Hm. Right. Except each of those projects keeps cars off the road, lessens America’s dependence on oil, may create economic development in the communities they’re built in and provide ways to work and recreation for the millions of Americans who don’t own cars. Which, as of yesterday, includes me. It’s also worth noting that only a small percentage of the Highway Trust Fund goes to transit projects, so cutting that funding would be a drop in the bucket. An alternative measure would be to increase the nation’s gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since grunge rock was cool the first time (that’s 1993).
• Former (and perhaps future) Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum was once again in the Greater Cincinnati area Thursday, fueling more speculation about his ambitions for the GOP presidential nomination. The former Pennsylvania senator stopped by a fundraiser in Montgomery hosted by the Northeast Hamilton County Republican Club. He avoided saying crazy stuff about religion (at least on the record) but did have some eyebrow-raising thoughts on the economy. Santorum is known to be a hardcore conservative when it comes to social issues, but there are signs he’s tacking moderate on the economy, a combination last tried by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee when he sought the GOP nomination in 2008. Santorum talked about how Republicans could capture the hearts and minds of America’s workers, backing policies that step away from the hardcore trickle down theories (tax cuts for the wealthy, decreased regulations) most recently advanced by the GOP. He revealed his presidential platform, should he run, would include supporting a small minimum wage increase — something few other Republicans seem willing to touch. He also committed something close to sacrilege for conservatives, saying the party needed to move on from Ronald Regan’s economic legacy and message. Santorum’s continued courting of the buckeye state (he was here visiting folks in Butler County a couple weeks ago for a religious freedom conference) comes ahead of his party’s national convention in Cleveland next year and is further evidence that the presidential race may be tightly focused on Ohio.
• While we’re talking presidential hopefuls, let’s cross the spectrum for a minute and talk about Democrats, specifically their frontrunner for the presidential nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She’s been dominating the field on the Dem side, even though she hasn’t officially announced her candidacy. But that could be changing, according to a new poll from news organization Reuters. That poll shows Clinton’s support among Democrats has dipped by 15 points since mid-February, and that now about 45 percent of those identifying with the party say they’re sure they’ll vote for her. That’s still a bigger margin than any other potential candidate, of which there are very few, but the drop is alarming. Some of the dip may be explained by the recent high-profile flap over Clinton’s e-mail usage while secretary of state. After the New York Times reported earlier this month that Clinton used a personal account to conduct State Department business, she has been on the defensive explaining that move. Clinton has turned over tens of thousands of work related e-mails sent from her personal account, but also had other e-mails she claims were personal deleted. That’s led some to suggest she may be hiding information. Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account appears to have fallen within State Department rules, which were changed after her tenure to require the Secretary of State to use a government account for accountability purposes.
And I’m out. Tweet me (@nswartsell), e-mail me (email@example.com) or comment below. What do you think? Do you hold out any hope for UC against UK? Do you think we should raise the gas tax? Should I buy a car or wait for regional transit in Cincinnati to become so stellar I won’t need one? (I'm not holding my breath on any of these).
Hey all! Working from home is usually great, unless you're working from home because you're waiting for the tow truck to come for your dear old car, which has finally given up the ghost. A moment of silence, please. Anyone selling a cheap, reliable BMW for someone on a journalist's salary? Thought not. Anyway, on to news.
Some City Council members are asking questions about a huge proposed highway project that could change the way people get to Cincinnati State. The I-74 exit onto Central Parkway near the community college is on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s chopping block. By 2018, the exit will be closed as the highway onramp comes down, part of a much larger revamping of the I-75 corridor through Hamilton County. ODOT has proposed a $42 million bridge over both highways from South Cumminsville to Central Parkway, but critics of that bridge, including some members of City Council, say that route would be just as troublesome to navigate as existing alternatives. Council member Kevin Flynn was skeptical, pointing out that the school is an entryway into college education for many seeking social mobility and that officials should be looking for ways to make it easier to get to, not more difficult. What’s more, it’s unclear how the city would pay for its half of the bridge. City Manager Harry Black, however, says the city supports the deal and will pay to study the project as it works to find funding sources for construction. The city will need to commit the funds by 2017. The bigger plan to revamp I-75 as it passes through Cincinnati has been in the works for years, according to ODOT and city officials.
• As a lover of Cincinnati and a lover of bikes, I’m sometimes befuddled by the controversies we get stuck on when it comes to cycling. The latest hubbub around the Central Parkway bike lane has to do with some plastic markers that separate the lane from the road, as well as the fact that some drivers are apparently not paying enough attention while they’re driving to notice when they’re in a lane where cars park.
The big deal, according to this "investigation" earlier this month? the fact that 300 of the 500 plastic bollards the city put in place when the bike lane was built last year are now broken. That apparently costs taxpayers money. Well, sort of. First, they’re $25 a piece, so it would cost about $7,500 to replace them all if the city hadn’t saved some for reuse. Keep in mind, for perspective, that the city spent $100,000 to reroute the lane after a single business owner complained about a couple street parking spots. What’s more, there’s already money in the grant that built the lane to fix them, so very little if any money will be coming out of taxpayers’ pockets.
That very minor problem aside, a couple business owners have also criticized the lane, complaining that motorists have been rear-ending or almost rear-ending cars that now park in a lane of Central Parkway to the left of the bike lane. How is that any different, from a drivers’ standpoint, than lanes all over the city that have parking during designated hours? Watch where you’re driving, pay attention to road signs and stop worrying about the bike lane. Problem solved, end of story.
• Does one of Cincinnati’s top public schools need to be restructured? That’s what an independent audit suggests. The School for Creative and Performing Arts is one of the city’s most prestigious K-12 schools — it requires auditions as part of a very selective enrollment process and once hosted an MTV reality series about its students striving toward careers in the arts. But the school has also seen some pretty rough turns, including the loss of half-a-million dollars by its private fundraising arm, Friends of SCPA, in a local pyramid scheme.
A report by consultants from the University of Maryland found that the school’s problems go beyond some lost fundraising money and include a need for greater accountability within the school’s administration. The report calls for the school to hire an executive director and a senior financial director to oversee the school’s money and an external affairs director to handle marketing and the school’s relationships with other organizations and the public. The report calls for those administrative changes to take place urgently — within the next six months — to put the school back on a sustainable path.
• News from the State House: another day, another attempt to fight Common Core in Ohio. The tests are part of new federal standards that look to increase educational readiness among students. Critics say the tests amount to a federal takeover of state education and increase testing loads on students. The bill, authored by Republican State Rep. Andrew Brenner from Powell, is in committee now. Gov. John Kasich supports the standards and would be unlikely to sign legislation repealing them.
• President Barack Obama was in Cleveland yesterday bashing Republicans in the city that will host their national convention next year. Obama said the House GOP’s recently released budget proposal is a gimme for those who are already rich that ignores the middle class and low-income people in America. The GOP’s plan would cut taxes for big businesses and wealthy Americans, which they say will stimulate job growth. The plan will also cut money from Medicare and other social programs in an attempt to erase the federal government’s deficit over the next decade.
Obama called the plan “trickle down economics” that won’t work for the middle class. Obama’s plan is generally the opposite: decrease tax loopholes for large corporations, raise taxes on the wealthy, spend billions on infrastructure and a free community college program he proposed last month. His budget would also reverse cuts to defense and other spending under sequestration. Obama touted the economy’s recovery that has occurred since he took office, including slowly falling unemployment numbers. Republicans, including the office of House Speaker John Boehner, shot back against his criticisms, calling his speech to the Cleveland City Club a “political stunt.”
• Finally, let’s go back to alternative forms of transportation for a minute. Forget bikes or streetcars — they do it a bit differently in the South, apparently. This guy got pulled over on I-75 near downtown Atlanta for riding his horse down the highway. He also had another horse with him, which maybe means he should have been using the rideshare lane? I don’t know. Anyway, the Long Rider, has he calls himself, is heading our way. He says he’s trying to get to Indiana by June for his sister’s birthday. He also says he rides to “feed the children,” though it’s unclear what that means.
And I’m out. Comment, tweet (@nswartsell) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) news tips or the best place to buy a used horse with less than 75,000 miles on it.
Hey Cincy! It’s news time.
The city of Cincinnati will forgive all but $100,000 of the nearly $300,000 Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers owes the city for her defunct restaurant, which closed its location at The Banks last September. City Manager Harry Black proposed the plan, which would require Rogers to make $800 monthly payments, in a memo to Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council yesterday. Meanwhile, Rogers announced today that she is planning two new ventures to help her make those payments: a gourmet ice cream business and a food truck. Rogers was given the loan in 2012 to bring her soul food restaurant to The Banks. She quickly fell behind on her loan payments, however, a fact she attributes to a lack of promised amenities, including a new hotel, at the riverfront development.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld could face a state investigation into his campaign finances after it was revealed he filed a report for his council campaign fund six months late. The report was due last July, but Sittenfeld didn’t file it until January. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is looking into the violation and could send it on to the Ohio Elections Commission. If the state commission finds Sittenfeld did violate campaign finance rules by turning in his report late, it could assess a fine of $100 for every day the report was late — which would mean Sittenfeld could owe as much as $18,000. Depending on the reasons for the delay, the commission could also decline to assess the fine or fine Sittenfeld a lower amount. The potential investigation could complicate the 30-year-old councilman’s bid for the Senate. Sittenfeld is currently in a primary race against 74-year-old former Ohio governor Ted Strickland for the Democratic nomination. The winner will go on to challenge sitting Republican Senator Rob Portman.
• Christopher Cornell, the Hamilton County man suspected of making plans to carry out terrorist acts in Washington D.C., will keep his access to a phone in the Boone County Jail where he is being held. Prosecutors have tried to keep him from having access to the phone, but a federal judge yesterday ruled that restricting Cornell’s access could keep him from planning his legal defense and also compromise his psychological health. Cornell is currently being held in isolation. So far, Cornell has only used the phone to call his lawyers, his family and, in one instance, the media. Cornell called FOX 19 and spoke to Tricia Macke for an hour, during which he claimed that if he hadn’t been arrested in January, he would have gone to Washington to carry out terrorist attacks. Recorded phone records show Cornell hasn’t used his phone access to attempt to reach out to others who might engage in terrorist acts.
• The Ohio Board of Education could vote soon on eliminating the so-called five of eight rule, which currently requires schools to have at least five of eight specialty staff members including art teachers and librarians. A legislative review board yesterday cleared the possible rule change, setting the board of education for a vote on eliminating the staffing requirements at its next meeting April 13 and 14. The proposed rule change has been very controversial; education advocates and other foes say it will disproportionately affect low-income students, whose districts are often strapped for cash, by allowing schools to eliminate art, music and other classes. Advocates for the rule changes say they want to give schools more discretion on how they spend their money.
• Taxpayers paid $3,400 for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to fly to Washington earlier this month for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, the Associated Press reports. The funds went toward hotel rooms, airfare and parking for the Republican governor and two staff members. That’s perfectly legal, but it also means taxpayers picked up the bill for Kasich to attend a highly partisan event. The speech, in which Netanyahu harshly criticized President Barack Obama for his policy toward Iran, was controversial, playing on a growing divide in Congress and in American politics in general. The GOP invited Netanyahu to speak but didn't give the White House a heads up beforehand. More than 50 top Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, did not attend the address, which was given to both House and Senate members.
• So it’s very little surprise that the University of Kentucky is the team to beat this year in the NCAA basketball tournament. This pretty insightful breakdown from the New York Times’ Upshot blog, however, gives you some nice pointers as to whether you should go with the favorites or pick an underdog. While you’re thinking about March Madness, pick up our issue this week, which has a great preview of all the hoops craziness. Because I’m not a statistician, sports fan or gambler, I always vote for our local teams until they inevitably lose, but hey, one of these years…
• Finally, this is unsettling to me, but maybe I just need to get more comfortable with the glories of late-stage capitalism already. A new company that lets you put your own face on action figures and dolls is coming to Cincinnati. AvaStars, which already has stores in Chicago and St. Louis, will soon open at Kenwood Towne Center. The store will allow children or really anyone for whom selfies are no longer gratifying enough to put their own faces on figurines, as well as appear in a customized video. Like I said, in the age of incessant social media self-branding, there’s something weird about this to me, but hey, I’m trying to be more positive this week, so let’s look at the upsides. This could be huge for a kid’s self-esteem and ability to envision their future — picture a lot more female scientist dolls, maybe, or other possibilities that undermine the constant drumbeat of oppressive normative messages most toys send to kids.
Morning y’all! I’ve been out of the morning news loop working on long-term projects but I’m back and ready to nerd out on some news. So let’s do it.
Twitter is all abuzz this morning with the news that the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority has approved plans to build a bike path on the Oasis Line near the Ohio River on the city’s East Side. That’s big news — as our feature on the potential Oasis path last month explored, completion of a bike trail there brings Cincinnati closer to a network of statewide trails and also makes biking from the East Side to downtown a possibility. SORTA controls the right of way on a set of tracks that will need to be paved for the bike path to be built. The Indiana-Ohio Railway company, however, voiced opposition to the plan, citing safety concerns and plans to expand its business in the area. The company owns tracks running just seven feet from the unused line the bike path would occupy.
• Will Pete Rose get reinstated into Major League Baseball, clearing the way for his induction into the Hall of Fame? It could happen, but the road facing Charlie Hustle is still a long one. Rose recently applied for reinstatement with new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who expressed openness to a conversation about letting Rose back in after taking baseball’s top position in January. Manfred has acknowledged he received Rose’s request but hasn’t tipped his hand about whether or when the hit king might be reinstated. Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, received a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 after he was investigated for betting on the game while he was a player and coach. Rose denied the allegations until 2003, when he publicly admitted he did bet on games.
• Two members of Cincinnati City Council would like to spend $9 million to revamp a 20-acre park in Mount Auburn while also improving the area around the park on Auburn Avenue for pedestrians. Inwood Park sits along Vine Street on the western edge of the neighborhood between uptown and downtown. Councilmen Charlie Winburn and Chris Seelbach would like the city to invest $5 million in the park over the next two budgets in a plan they unveiled before council’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday. The hope is that investment would help increase momentum on new development in the neighborhood, which has just begun to pick up. Developers Uptown Rentals and North American Properties plan to invest nearly $100 million in Mount Auburn in the near future, including the construction of 400 units of market-rate housing and tens of thousands of square feet of office space.
“As we’ve seen with Washington Park, these dollars do more than beautify our neighborhoods,” Seelbach said in a news release yesterday. “Inwood Park will become a destination in Uptown, drawing families, students and neighbors to spend time together, enjoying our city.”
I walk through this park all the time and think it’s pretty epic. The motion met with mixed reactions from the rest of the budget and finance committee, who are hesitant about the expenditures without reviewing the plan with the Parks Department and considering other uses for the money.
• Gov. John Kasich met Monday with the Ohio Taskforce on Community-Police Relations to discuss the group’s ongoing work. Kasich convened the task force in December in the wake of controversy over the shooting deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers, including Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford III in Beavercreek. The 18-member group made up of lawmakers, experts, law enforcement professionals and community leaders held four listening sessions across the state, including a marathon five-and-a-half hour session in Cincinnati March 9. Now, the task force must compile the hours of expert testimony and community input into a report with recommendations for policy changes, which is expected to be released April 30. In the meantime, Kasich dropped by the meeting Monday to hear initial thoughts from the task force members.
One member, Oregon, Ohio Police Chief Michael Navarre, said that all of his training has informed him to shoot in dangerous situations, and that "there is a huge gap between what community and police want," according to Gongwer news service. Kasich has said changing training and procedures for officers could be one outcome of the task force’s work.
• Finally, are you following this crazy story about New York millionaire and property magnate Robert Durst? You should be. Durst is suspected in three murders over the span of nearly two decades, including that of his wife, one of his best friends and a neighbor. The thing is, he’s been a suspect for years and was even acquitted on grounds of self-defense for one of the murder charge even after he admitted to dismembering the man he killed. The HBO series Jinx has chronicled Durst and the suspicions against him, and, incredibly, Durst was arrested in New Orleans just before the show’s finale to face charges in L.A. for one of the murders. There are so many things to unpack about this situation — how money changes your relationship to the justice system, the weird looking glass of true-crime TV and real law enforcement colliding, Durst’s own strange background and on and on. Anyway, the whole story is worth reading up on and I’m sure we’ll be searching for answers to the questions Jinx raises for years to come.
That’s it for me. Tweet me (@nswartsell). Email me (email@example.com). Say hey when you see me at Findlay Market. Whatever you gotta do to give me those news tips or your thoughts on the weird world of true-crime docu-dramas.