Hey all! Here’s the news today.
A well-known former attorney has filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky Bar Association to get his license back after it was suspended. Eric Deters has served three suspensions over his career for making false statements in court, failing to return a fee to a client and other infractions. The latest suspension was handed down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in April. The court has an agreement with the high court in Ohio, keeping Deters from practicing here as well. Now Deters says he’s served his suspensions and wants to go back to practicing law, and says the Kentucky Supreme Court should reinstate him. Deters retired rather than seek reinstatement in Kentucky and Ohio, and indicated at the time he had no interest in practicing law again in either state. He’s acting as his own attorney, which has led to this pretty amazing complaint:
"Deters is no saint," he writes of himself in his complaint. "He is a sinner. But Deters is fit to practice law. Lawyers are not a choral of angels." Choir? Corral? Whatever. Deters is too tough for the haters. “What Deters incurred, lesser men would have have crumbled long ago," he says of the emotional and physical toll his suspension has caused. He blames an infection that nearly took his arm on the stress and strife his suspension has inflicted on him.
• You can never ban the devil’s weed too early or too often. At least, that’s the prevailing wisdom on Hamilton’s City Council, which banned sale of the drug in the city limits yesterday in a 5-1 vote. Though marijuana is already illegal in Ohio, council members wanted to have a municipal ordinance in place just in case a potential ballot initiative legalizing the measure passes in November and all hell breaks loose. ResponsibleOhio, the group filing the initiative, still needs to collect 300,000 signatures by July to even get the measure on the ballot, but better safe than sorry, Hamilton officials say.
“It's just being prepared for what happens if anything happens whether it be legislature or amendment, it's just being prepared for the next step," Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said.
• The Kentucky House passed a bill yesterday allowing the state to participate in public-private partnerships, clearing another hurdle for a toll-based Brent Spence Bridge replacement. However, several key changes were made to the bill to make it more friendly to Kentucky residents and lawmakers who may oppose tolls. These include requiring any tolls levied as part of a public-private partnership to expire once debt on the project is paid off, requiring analysis of any public-private partnership to make sure it’s the best way to do a project and requiring a majority of lawmakers on project oversight commissions be from the county where the project is happening. Next, the bill goes to the Kentucky Senate, where it will face opposition from GOP senators who are staunchly opposed to tolls on the Brent Spence project.
• Here’s another tidbit from Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address earlier this week. Kasich devoted part of his speech to education in Ohio, defending his public school funding scheme and also his support of the state’s embattled charter school system. Kasich defended putting more money into that system despite low performance by many charter schools and questions about some schools’ integrity. He agreed that the system should have more oversight in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing at some schools across the state, but also defended schools that have simply been low-performing. Here, he made a pretty stunning statement:
“Let’s not judge someone as not doing their job because they’ve inherited a group of students who are just struggling,” he said.
Here’s the thing: This is the same (I’d say very fair and correct) logic many have used to defend struggling public schools the charter system was meant to compete with and do better than. That is more or less the whole reason charter schools exist, according to their creators and supporters. Sooo… blame public schools for their inability to educate students who struggle under the weight of very real massive systemic problems that make it difficult for them to learn, but don’t blame charter schools that take money from those schools and make their jobs even more difficult for the same thing. Got it.
• Speaking of Kasich, he’s finally getting some national attention as he steps up his efforts to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Maybe it’s not always the attention he wants — this story calls him out on his efforts to create a Rondald Reagan-inspired balanced budget amendment to the U.S. constitution — but on the other hand, if you’re a Republican governor looking to run for president, perhaps a piece in liberal Mother Jones magazine about how lame your policy ideas are means you’ve finally arrived. So, uh, congrats on the milestone, governor!
• Let’s talk about a former governor for a minute, specifically Democrat Ted Strickland, who just jumped into the 2016 U.S. Senate race. As we’ve already discussed, Strickland’s announcement earlier this week caused a big stir, and now he’s already getting hit by GOPers and concerned editorial writers across the state. Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges mocked Strickland’s entrance into the race on Twitter today, saying, “same old @ohdems. Can’t get their act together” in response to an article about Strickland possibly having to face Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in a primary. There are worries that a very contentious primary could sabotage Democrat’s chances at picking up incumbent Sen. Rob Portman’s seat, which is dearly needed if Democrats want to take back control of the Senate in 2016. On the other hand, having two strong candidates could be seen as an encouraging sign for the party, and the early level of mockery from Republicans shows they’re taking the threat from Strickland seriously. It’s already clear this isn’t last year’s governor’s race, where Kasich straight-up didn’t acknowledge Dem opponent Ed Fitzgerald during a debate because he didn’t have to.
• Finally, the Federal Communications Commission is voting on net neutrality today. This is a huge day for the Internet. If you don't know what's up, uh, start reading.
Update: the FCC voted 3-2 to require internet providers to operate as neutral gateways through which internet service flows. That ruling prohibits providers from making so-called "fastlanes" that would provide higher-speed connections for some companies and content. Also today, the FCC struck down state laws prohibiting cities from establishing their own internet services, allowing municipalities to create their own internet services in places that may only have one (or no) reliable internet service provider.
That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet at me. Email me (email@example.com). Messenger pigeon me. Whatever you gotta do to get those news tips and whatever else you want to talk about.
Morning y’all. Let’s talk about the news real quick. I think winter is getting to me, because this update got pretty opinionated pretty quickly.
Can you think of anything useful, even vital, on which the county could spend $7.5 million? Maybe chipping in a bit more toward the Union Terminal renovation, or giving a bit to the effort to shape up Music Hall? Maybe addiction treatment or some other human services funding? More sheriff’s deputies on the streets? Or, you know, maybe they could put that cash toward a new crime lab and morgue, both of which are critically crowded and out of date. Or etc. I ask because $7.5 million is the recently-announced amount county taxpayers will pay for new Bengals scoreboards as part of some $12 million overall the county will cough up from its sales tax fund for stadium improvements. Is there any estimate on return on investment for the county on this? Will the new high-definition scoreboards create at least $7.5 million in sales taxes for the county somehow? In return for this outpouring of county largess tied to the 15-year-old albatross of a stadium deal, the Bengals made an exception for projects at The Banks to a provision in their lease that stipulates the height of buildings around the stadium. That’s nice of them. These are all things I will receive exactly zero benefit from in my lifetime.
• Anyway. Speaking of the county, it has settled with the families of three women whose corpses were abused by a former morgue employee from the 1970s to the 1990s. The county will pay $800,000 to the families to end a lawsuit centered around the behavior of Kenneth Douglass, who is believed to have abused more than 100 bodies in the years he worked for the morgue.
• This is pretty cool, I think. The University of Cincinnati will redevelop the old Sears building on Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue in Corryville into an innovation hub for UC-related startups. The university will spend about $16 million to turn the 130,000-square-foot structure, which has a distinct Art Deco vibe, into a business and tech incubator. The building was the first Sears store in the city when it was built in 1929. I’ve always really liked this building, and recently, with the fencing that has surrounded it, I’ve been afraid they would tear it down. UC bought the building in 1981 and it housed the university’s campus services until last year. When I was an Americorps member a few years ago, the UC-affiliated nonprofit I worked for had storage space in the building. I know its creepy, dimly-lit hallways well and I’m excited to see it restored.
• It’s official. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has entered the 2016 Senate race. Strickland, who will be 75 by that time, could face off against Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, creating a high-profile battle between two of the biggest names in state politics. Portman is popular, with millions in the bank for his next campaign, but Strickland is a formidable opponent and perhaps Democrats’ best shot. However, at the moment, Strickland’s got some competition for the Democratic nomination in the form of Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld, 30, announced his intentions to run last month and has raised $500,000 for his campaign thus far. He’s a dynamic young candidate who has done a great deal in a short time and looks to still be on the rise. Some within the party believe he’ll bow out to the higher-profile and more experienced Strickland, but some of Sittenfeld’s own funders have indicated they’re backing him no matter who else is in the game. Will P.G. keep running, or will the state party convince him to sit this one out?
• Speaking of state politics, Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State address last night. During the hour-and-a-quarter long speech, Kasich tacked rightward, mostly emphasizing his plan to cut income taxes as a way to encourage economic growth. The speech is an important moment for Kasich as he seeks a larger spotlight. Kasich’s been traveling and fundraising in connection with his bid for the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 presidential election. Kasich’s recent budget proposals, which he again touted in his speech, suggest he’s trying to balance the demands of the Republican party’s right wing — cut taxes to the bone, ease regulations on businesses — with a need to stay viable in a general election by appearing to be a compassionate conservative who cares about the plight of the poor, education funding and so forth. It makes sense that Kasich would emphasize the more conservative elements of his plan in his address last night — the yearly oratory is traditionally aimed at the state legislature, which is dominated by rightward-leaning Republicans. Those lawmakers don’t seem super-enthused by Kasich’s plans, however, balking at tax increases on cigarettes and oil drilling, for instance. One last note on Kasich’s big speech — he awarded the Governor’s Courage Award to Cincinnatian Lauren Hill, the Mt. Saint Joseph student and basketball player who is fighting an inoperable brain tumor.
• Finally, I generally like the New York Times. They often do fantastic work. But this piece today about downtown Cincinnati’s resurgence following the 2001 civil unrest is mystifying to me. First, there are about a million things that made Cincinnati sluggish and grim before and after the unrest, including many systemic issues that haunted and continue to haunt the city specifically and others endemic to a lot of other urban areas. There are about a million other things that have happened since the unrest that have made the city’s center, and many other downtowns, take off. Tying the two things together while saying that memories of the unrest are “fading” (probably not true) seems to miss a number of things. The article doesn’t mention the city’s pervasive poverty problem, the fact we’re at the bottom of the list in America for infant mortality, the fact that its police force (30 percent black) still doesn’t match the demographics of the city (which is 45 percent black). It barely glances at the issue of gentrification, a problem many say is accelerating in the urban core and a subject that has been hugely divisive over the past decade. Anyway. That’s my media criticism for the day.
Tweet at me (@nswartsell) or give me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) if I bummed you out hating on the Bengals, or if you feel the way I do about the team's blinging new big screens.
Hey all, here’s the news this morning.
Have you ever thought there should be more bars downtown? I hadn’t really thought about it before, but then I’m not a huge bar person. 3CDC, on the other hand, has and would like the city to take steps to increase the number of liquor licenses in two specific areas downtown. One, which would be called the Downtown West Community Entertainment District, would be near the convention center and Fountain Square, and another, called Downtown East, would encompass the rest of downtown. Designating an area a community entertainment district makes it eligible for more liquor licenses from the state.
Currently, Cincinnati is maxed out, but the proposed scheme would add up to 21 new licenses in the two districts. Ten other neighborhoods in the city have this designation, including Over-the-Rhine, Price Hill and CUF. 3CDC would control all liquor licenses granted to the western district under the plan, which has the support of a majority of council and Mayor John Cranley. Supporters of the plan say it will attract more residents to the districts as well as increase tax revenue. Council looks to vote on the measure soon.
• A local man has filed a lawsuit against LA Fitness after he claims he was prohibited from praying in the locker room of the chain’s Oakley location. Mohamed Fall, a Muslim, worked out at the gym on a regular basis for more than a year. After his workouts, he would stand with his eyes closed in an empty corner of the locker room and pray without speaking. Recently, three LA Fitness employees approached him while he was praying and told him he had to stop and that he should not pray in the locker room again. Fall says he was afraid he would be kicked out if he did not comply.
• Hamilton County Commissioners have officially signaled they will not be pursuing a plan to move the Hamilton County morgue and crime lab to a currently vacant hospital in Mount Airy that Mercy Health offered to donate to the county. While the building would be cost-free, the build out necessary to move the morgue, crime lab and other offices there is cost-prohibitive, commissioners have said. They’ve estimated it could cost as much as $100 million to retrofit the building. The decision comes as the county’s morgue and crime lab continue to sound alarms about their current cramped and outdated workspace.
• Legislation that would move the embattled Brent Spence Bridge replacement project another step toward reality is expected to pass in the Kentucky State House today. The bill would allow the state to use a public-private partnership to fund the project, specifically through tolling on the bridge. Officials in both states have struggled to find the necessary $2.6 billion to fund the bridge replacement project. Opponents of the current plan proposed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear say the project doesn’t need to cost that much, and that tolling will represent a huge burden on businesses and workers in both states. Northern Kentucky politicians and activists have been especially adamant about preventing tolling on the bridge.
• A petition drive to get legal weed on the November ballot in Ohio suffered a blow yesterday when Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected summary language for the petition. DeWine had several quibbles with the details, and lack thereof, in a summary of the proposed ballot language filed with his office by ResponsibleOhio. That group wants to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would create 10 marijuana grow sites in the state controlled by the group’s investors. The proposal would make marijuana legal to sell with a license, and anyone over the age of 21 could purchase it. Ohioans would also be allowed to grow a small amount of the drug at home, a change in position from the group’s original proposal. The group has until July to collect 300,000 signatures and file the petition with the secretary of state. DeWine and other statewide Republican officials have been vocal opponents of the idea, saying that it will increase drug use and that it constitutes a state-run monopoly. Ohio voters passed a similar constitutional amendment allowing four casinos in the state in 2009.
• On a somewhat related note, recreational weed became legal in Alaska today. I used to think I would never move to Alaska because IT GETS BELOW ZERO there, but, well... It’s also legal in Colorado and Washington state and will become legal in Oregon in July and in Washington D.C. later this week.
• Veterans Affairs head and former P&G president Bob McDonald is drawing some criticism after he made a claim that he once served in special forces. McDonald is a veteran who attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Army and attended Ranger training school. But he did not actually serve with the elite force. He told a homeless veteran in L.A. during a point-in-time count of that city's homeless population last month that he did serve in the special forces, however, a claim that has caused controversy. McDonald has apologized for the statement, saying it was a mistake.
That does it for your news wrap-up today. Tweet at your boy (@nswartsell) or send me a good old fashioned email at email@example.com. Things I'm keen to get your thoughts on this week: news tips (of course), interesting parts of the city for an urban photography buff (me) and recommendations on cool sneakers (I'm due for a new pair).
Good morning y’all. I’m fresh off my epic, hour-long alpine adventure, also known as my walk to work. Did you wonder what happened to all the snow that had been on the roadways as you were driving leisurely to work this morning? It's now piled in mountains on the sidewalk by city snowplows. Thanks guys. I do have to say a city worker in a Bobcat drove by yesterday while I was digging my lady friend’s car out of the snow. He looped back around and with three or four quick maneuvers did what would have taken me 20 minutes with a shovel. Driving one of those things is an art, and I have met its Picasso.
Enough grumbling. It’s news time. Mayor John Cranley is, as the kids say, stacking cash (note: kids these days don’t actually say that). Cranley collected more than $250,000 at a Feb. 17 fundraiser for his re-election campaign. That may be the biggest haul ever for a city candidate, according to Cranley’s campaign, which is all the more impressive because Cranley doesn’t face reelection for almost two years. A ton of big names were in attendance at the event, and it seems like the city’s movers and shakers are backing the mayor.
Reds owner Bob Castellini was a host. So were Western and Southern CEO John Barrett, two members of the Lindner family and PACs from Kroger and Procter & Gamble. Cranley’s already got his eye on the election, having hired his campaign manager and setting a fundraising goal of $2 million. That’s a huge sum of money, some of which could go to help out allies in their City Council campaigns, though Cranley has said he won’t be doing that, focusing the cash on his own bid. Another possibility: Is Cranley setting such ambitious goals as a demonstration of his fundraising abilities so he can set up a bid for a higher office down the road?
• The federal government has said it will give $110 million to build a new facility in Cincinnati for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has been instrumental in securing the funding for the building, which will replace two aging facilities in the city, the Robert A. Taft Laboratory in the East End and the Alice Hamilton Laboratory in Pleasant Ridge. The new facility will consolidate them, making work easier for the federal employees there.
The Center for Disease Control oversees NIOSH. The agency researches ways to prevent injury and illness caused by occupational hazards, making recommendations to other federal agencies. The Cincinnati labs employ about 550 people. It’s not clear where the new labs will be located, but the Uptown Consortium, which represents major businesses and institutions in the Clifton, CUF, Corryville and Avondale neighborhoods including UC and several hospitals, is making a big pull to get the 14-acre site in that area. Other neighborhoods looking to get the facility include Bond Hill.
• Cincinnati anti-abortion activist Dr. John Wilke has died. He was 89. Wilke founded Greater Cincinnati Right to Life and Ohio Right to Life in the 1970s with his wife Barbara as debate swirled about a woman’s right to choose. The two groups have been incredibly active in the decades since as the issue has continued to be one of the country’s most intense and divisive. Wilke also served as head of national and international pro-life groups. Among Wilke’s more controversial assertions: that the stress caused by rape made it very unlikely a woman being raped would become pregnant. Other doctors and experts have since challenged that assertion, calling it bunk science and a cruel perspective on a terrible experience. Last month, Wilke released an autobiography about his time as a pro-life activist.
• A lawsuit over decades-old corpse abuse at the Hamilton County Morgue is in court today. The case involves the behavior of former morgue employee Kenneth Douglass, who was convicted six years ago of sexually abusing three bodies while he worked at the morgue. The families of the women whose corpses were abused have sued the county, charging that it should have known Douglass was engaging in illegal behavior at the facility and fired him. County officials and the estates of the former county coroner and supervisor, who the family also named in the suit and who have both since died, say they couldn’t have known Douglass would engage in behavior so abnormal and unpredictable.
• Has Kentucky held the wrong man in prison for 27 years? Some evidence suggests that might be the case. The Kentucky Innocence Project has been working on the case of William Virgil, who was convicted for the 1987 killing of psychiatric nurse Retha Welch in Newport. Virgil was convicted based on witness testimony, though some of those witnesses have since been discredited. Meanwhile, DNA evidence tested since the trial suggests Virgil may not have committed the crime. His DNA wasn’t found at the crime scene, Virgil’s advocates point out, and hers was not found on his clothing. The state is waiting for more tests to be done, but the Kentucky Innocence Project holds that there isn’t enough evidence against Virgil to hold him in prison.
Hey all! Here’s a quick morning news rundown.
In the wake of last month’s infamous pickup truck incident (wherein a disgruntled man tried to ram his vehicle into our seat of city government), City Hall might be getting metal detectors. Council voted yesterday to find out how much the security measure will cost. The city has already stationed another guard in the City Hall lobby and instituted a requirement that visitors to the mayor or council members be escorted. The extra security measures also come as a response to death threats received by Mayor John Cranley and Councilwoman Amy Murray. Cranley has declined a body guard but has said that the recent events have left him a bit shaken.
• Oxford could be on the path to getting its first train service in half a century. Officials in Butler County are discussing an application for a federal TIGER grant that would fund a stop in the city for trains heading to Chicago. Miami University hosts many students from the Chicago area, officials with the school say, and there is great demand for easy and affordable transit to the Windy City. Last month, officials with the school, the city and the county asked Amtrak to do a feasibility study on picking up passengers there. Currently, Amtrak’s Cardinal Line runs from Cincinnati to Chicago, but only in the middle of the night and only a few times a week. There are efforts underway to expand that service led by transit advocacy group All Aboard Ohio.
• Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to make some Medicaid recipients pay premiums could block access to health care for low-income folks, a new study finds. The report by liberal-leaning Policy Matters Ohio says the proposed premiums, which would start at $15 to $20 a month, would prove a significant hardship for low-income people making just above the federal poverty line (about $12,000 for a single person). The study looks at past efforts in other states to require low-income people to pay premiums on government-subsidized health care. In examples from many states over the past decade, health care costs went up as a result of low-income people having less access to preventative health care, causing them to develop serious conditions for which they seek emergency treatment. Policy Matters’ study suggests the same could happen in Ohio should Kasich’s proposal be adopted.
• There’s actually a raft of news about Kasich, now that we’re talking about the gov, so I’ll just briefly run through the rest of it here. First, an analysis of his budget proposal finds that it would funnel more money into Ohio’s controversial charter school program, bringing the funding devoted to charter schools by the state to nearly $1 billion a year. Charters in the state have come under criticism over the past year due to sometimes-poor performance and lack of accountability. Ohio’s system takes money from public school districts and gives it to privately run schools that are held to a lower standard by the state. Some of these schools have excelled, delivering better student performance at a lower cost, but a number of others haven’t been nearly so successful. What’s more, several schools have been rocked by allegations of financial and other improprieties. There is movement at the state House to hold the schools to higher standards, but so far no legislation has been passed. You can read our in-depth story on the state’s charter schools here for more on that. Critics of Kasich’s plan to provide more funding for charters say it’s time to reform Ohio’s charter system entirely.
• Speaking of education, Kasich and his budget proposal, Ohio state legislators are going to change Kasich’s proposal for pubic school funding, Republican lawmakers have revealed. Though it’s unclear just what they’ll do when the get under the hood of Kasich’s funding changes, they’ve already chosen Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, to take the lead. Kasich’s public school funding proposal, which seeks to shift some state aid away from wealthy districts toward lower-income ones, left many scratching their heads earlier this month. Kasich’s complex proposed funding formula left some low-income districts with cuts while giving big percentage increases to wealthy districts like Indian Hill, which would get 21 percent more state aid under the model. There are reasons for that and other counter-intuitive increases, as we explored in our story on the proposal a couple weeks ago, but it still doesn’t sit right with many folks. Cupp has said there seem to be some “anomalies” in the formula, but that he won’t know exactly how everything is working until he and other lawmakers dive in and look at everything piece by piece.
Annnnnnd. I’m out. Happy Friday y’all. Tweet news tips, your favorite winter beer recommendations or Parks and Rec finale sadness/spoilers to me over the weekend: @nswartsell. Or you can e-mail me with all of that: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hey all! Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on today in the news.
Cincinnati Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan will retire from her position, making way for former Enquirer reporter and editor Rick Green to take the helm of the paper. Green is currently the publisher of the Des Moines Register, where he was previously head editor. The move comes as Enquirer parent company Gannett undertakes a drastic restructuring of its newsroom, changing job descriptions and eliminating positions as it seeks to create what it calls “the newsroom of the future.” The changes haven’t been well-received: A dozen long-time newsroom staff left the paper rather than reapply for their jobs late last year.
• Will the railway company that owns tracks next to the proposed Oasis bike trail put a halt to the 17-mile long project between downtown and Milford? This Cincinnati Business Courier article takes a look at the ins and outs of the situation. Genesee & Wyoming Inc., the parent company of the Indiana and Ohio Railway Company, sent a letter to Mayor John Cranley last week outlining its business and safety concerns about the project. The company cites accidents that have occurred when people trespass too close to rail lines as among its worries, but it also claims it may want to use the tracks the bike lane would pave over. It doesn’t own that set of tracks — the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority controls them — but the company says it has the right to use them. That, however, is a matter of legal debate, one that looks likely to play out if the bike trail is to go forward.
Clarification: the stretch of track in question is four miles long. The entire project is 17.
• If you didn’t already know, the Cincinnati Bearcats lost to Xavier in last night’s Crosstown
Shootout err, “Classic.” It was the first time in three years the game was held on either team’s arena (the ‘Cats got home court advantage) as the result of a big brawl after the 2012 game. I’ve been watching the game since I was but a wee lad even though I’m not much of a sports fan. I pull for UC every year. And just about every year, no matter how good they are, they lose. That’s about all I’m going to say about the entire unfortunate situation. Next year.
• Here’s an interesting bit of data: According to personal finance site WalletHub.com, Ohio cities rank pretty low in terms of economic diversity. That is to say, the state’s major cities have big wealth gaps, or a large divide between highest and lowest earners with a high concentration of wealth in relatively few hands. In a ranking of 350 cities compiled by the site, Ohio doesn’t even make an appearance until we get to Columbus, which is the 208th most economic diverse city in the country. Cincinnati comes in at 262, followed by Cleveland at 341, Akron at 345, Dayton at 346 and Toledo at 349. Ouch. Carrolton, Texas had the most economic diversity, followed by Orange, Calif. Flint, Mich., was 350th on the list.
• Today is Ohio’s 212th birthday. We officially became a state Feb. 19, 1803 and were the 17th state to join the U.S., meaning we got in on this whole statehood bandwagon way before it was cool to do so. Happy birthday, you old geezer. You don’t look a day over 200.
• Ohio Gov. John Kasich visited South Carolina yesterday as he does the delicate dance that is running for president before you’ve formally acknowledged that you’re running for president. Such trips are usually two-fold: to court potential supporters and fundraisers and to try out campaigning to see if a run looks promising. Kasich spoke to a crowd of GOPers at the South Carolina House Caucus, trying to thread the needle that is appealing to the party’s ultra-conservative southern base, which he’ll probably need if he wants the party’s nomination, while preserving the compassionate conservative mantle he’s tried to don in a bid for general election viability. We’ll see how that goes.
Morning y’all. I won’t be making any comments about the snow and the cold today, other than to tell you the low tomorrow is expected to be -15 degrees. Let’s compare that with past places we’ve lived or could have lived (it will be 70 degrees tomorrow in Texas, for example) and take a moment to think about how our life choices got us into this situation. And… OK. Let’s learn from our mistakes without dwelling on them, shall we, and move on to the news. Everything is happening at once today and I’m gonna tell you about it.
A weed legalization effort is making room for home growers. ResponsibleOhio, which has mounted a petition drive to put legalized marijuana on the November ballot, is adjusting its pitch to Ohio voters. Previously, the group proposed a measure that would have created 10 legal growing sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio’s investors. Those sites would be the only places in the state allowed to grow marijuana. Now the group says it is amending the language of its ballot issue to allow home growth, so long as growers don’t exceed a certain amount and don’t sell their crops. The adjustment comes after many decried the original plan, which was patterned after Ohio’s casino amendment, as a state-run monopoly on weed.
• Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Committee voted yesterday not to declare Mahogany’s restaurant owner Liz Rogers in default on her $300,000 loan from the city. Mahogany’s opened at The Banks in 2012 after city officials recruited Rogers to try and boost diversity among business owners at the riverfront development. Rogers eventually fell behind on the loan, and the restaurant closed last October. Rogers said the business didn’t succeed because promised amenities that would have drawn more customers to The Banks, including a major hotel, did not materialize in time. But Rogers’ critics say she simply did not run a tight ship. Councilman Kevin Flynn proposed the default declaration, but other council members yesterday voted against it, citing other businesses who have yet to pay back city loans who have not been declared in default.
• The city of Beavercreek has responded to a lawsuit by the family of John Crawford III, who was shot Aug. 5 by police officers in a Walmart there. The city is asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, which charges that officers behaved recklessly when confronting Crawford over the toy gun he had grabbed off the Walmart shelves. The city says the officers responded correctly and that Crawford did not respond to repeated requests by officers to drop the weapon. Officials also claim Crawford turned toward the officers aggressively. A security video of the incident shows Crawford with the toy weapon slung over his shoulder while he faced store shelves talking on his cellphone. A grand jury last fall found the officers actions were justified, but the Crawford family says their son’s civil rights were violated.
• A railroad company that owns lines along the proposed Oasis Bike Trail says the project is a bad idea. The Indiana and Ohio Railway Company yesterday released a statement opposing the project, saying it could cause deadly accidents.
"Pedestrians and freight trains do not mix,” the release from the railroad said. “The proposed Oasis trail would have pedestrians less than eight feet from active railroad tracks. The railroad's own rulebook requires its employees – who are trained railroad professionals – to keep at least 30 feet from moving trains at all times. Safety is the railroad's first priority, which is why we strongly object to placing pedestrians in such potentially tragic proximity to freight trains."
The proposed bike trail would run from downtown all the way east to Milford. Boosters of the project would like to see another set of tracks run by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Administration converted into a bike lane. Those tracks run next to the lines owned by Indiana and Ohio Railway.
• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that municipalities don't have the power to block fracking with zoning or land use ordinances yesterday. The finding comes as the result of a four-year-old lawsuit between the city of Munroe Falls and Beck Energy Corp., which sought to drill for oil using the controversial technique in the city. Munroe Falls refused, citing its zoning laws, even though the company had already gotten a permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the city doesn't have the power to overrule state decisions on fracking. You can read more in our story here.
• Rand Paul is expected to announce he’s officially running to be the GOP nominee for president in early April, the New York Times reports. Paul has picked April 7, sources close to the Kentucky senator say, as the date to make his announcement. That will more than likely put Paul ahead of his potential opponents in the GOP primary time-wise, giving him more opportunity to fundraise. Paul has been actively working to raise his profile over the past couple years, traveling around the country and engaging issues that aren’t typically seen as GOP strong points like drug policy and justice system reform. Paul has a tricky road to travel, however — he must continue to tend to his tea party base, with which he has been very popular, while courting more mainstream, establishment Republicans as well. Also a double-edged sword is the legacy of his father Ron Paul, who ran for president in the 1988, 2008 and 2012 elections. The elder Paul had a committed following from self-described libertarians, something Rand Paul has sought to capitalize on. Rand Paul must find a way to juggle these three distinct groups as he makes his case he’s the best pick for the GOP nomination. It will be a tall order given the GOP’s schizophrenia of late.
• Finally, if you’re feeling heroic about your morning commute, here’s an epic story to humble you. It’s about a 600-mile dogsled trip across Alaska to deliver medicine to a dying city in the days before GPS, Gore-Tex gloves or unmanned drones. So, you know, things could always be worse.
Snowed in somewhere and bored? Tweet at me with your news tips, bad jokes or just to say hey. No pics of snow, though. I have enough of those on my feed already, thanks. You can also e-mail me at email@example.com if you're old-school.
The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday struck a hard blow against local municipalities’ abilities to control fracking, handing down a 4-3 ruling stating that local zoning and land-use ordnances cannot be used to prohibit the controversial drilling technique if state law allows it.
The decision comes in response to a lawsuit by the city of Munroe Falls, a suburb outside of Akron, which has been trying to prohibit drilling by Beck Energy Corp. Beck sought to begin drilling on private property in Munroe Falls in 2011. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued the company a permit, but the city sued to block drilling, citing a clause in the state constitution that provides for so-called “home rule.”
The court has ruled that clause does not apply to drilling activities, which a 2004 law made explicitly the domain of the state. That law was passed in an attempt to bring some consistency to the state’s oil and gas regulations, lawmakers said at the time. When state laws and local laws conflict, state laws win out, the court said.
"We have consistently held that a municipal-licensing ordinance conflicts with a state-licensing scheme if the 'local ordinance restricts an activity which a state license permits,’ " Justice Judith French wrote in the majority opinion.
Justice Terrance O’Donnell ruled with the majority, but issued his own more limited opinion on the case. The scope of lawmakers’ intentions when they passed the 2004 legislation isn’t immediately clear, he wrote in his opinion. O’Donnell says it’s uncertain whether the law is meant to usurp all local zoning and land-use ordinances when it comes to drilling.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, breaks up subterranean layers of rock to access hard-to-reach oil deposits. The practice has caused controversy over concerns that it can pollute groundwater and even cause small earthquakes.
Three justices dissented, citing concerns about local control over fracking. Justice William O’Neil called the decision a victory for big oil, which has lobbied for laxer regulations in the past decade.
“What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive,” O’Neil wrote in his dissent. “The oil and gas industry has gotten its way, and local control of drilling-location decisions has been unceremoniously taken away from the citizens of Ohio."
Justice Judith Lanzinger dissented on the grounds that state law and local home rule ordinances don’t necessarily have to be in conflict. Both Lanzinger and Justice Paul Pfifer, the third dissenter, argued that the 2004 law leaves more room for local control than the majority ruling grants.
Hey all. I made the treacherous arctic trek into the CityBeat office this morning just to bring you the morning news. It’s a bit of a slow day, probably because all the newsmakers and shakers in the world are hunkered down doing whatever it is powerful people do on their snow days. I picture them sitting in front of a several fireplaces smoking multiple cigars while watching a whole wall of big-screen TVs and double-fisting mimosas, mostly because that’s what I would do if I had money and power. Anyway, here are a few things happening around the city and beyond today.
Let’s start off with grilled cheese. Cincinnati-based Tom and Chee restaurants just signed a franchise deal for its first location in Nashville. The brand has also planned other expansions in Tennessee as well as Texas, Nebraska, Missouri and other states. The rapidly growing chain started just five years ago and got a boost from a 2013 appearance on the ABC investment show Sharktank. It has since expanded to 22 locations, with plans to have 50 open by the end of this year. The brand has received more than 25,000 franchise requests from around the world since its appearance on the show.
• A former Northern Kentucky University employee who is currently serving jail time for embezzling money from the school was also the subject of an earlier sexual harassment complaint and court settlement, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. The university settled with former associate athletic director Chrissy Soards for $200,000 in 2013 after Soards complained that her boss, Scott Eaton, had sexually harassed her. Eaton was soon after fired for other ethics violations, including inappropriate sexual relationships with coworkers and an adult NKU student. After his dismissal, NKU discovered he had embezzled some $300,000 from the school, a crime for which he is currently serving 10 years in prison.
• Here’s more evidence former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland could jump into the 2016 U.S. Senate race against Sen. Rob Portman. In an interview with the Enquirer yesterday, Strickland said he’s “evaluating whether or not I am the person who is best positioned to do this and to win. I think I am, but I’m taking this very seriously.” That sounds pretty affirmative to me. Should he chose to run, Strickland’s candidacy could spell a major challenge for Democrat Senate hopeful and current Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld announced his candidacy a few weeks ago and has already begun fundraising. But he’ll have a challenge on his hands if one of the state’s best-known Democrats jumps into the race.
• Hey, this is terrifying. A CSX train full of oil from North Dakota derailed in West Virginia yesterday evening, causing the evacuation of two nearby towns and setting cars and a house afire. The oil was en route to coastal Virginia. No one was injured in the accident, but it’s the second oil related accident in this year. The other took place just 200 miles away in Virginia, where another train derailed and caught fire. Another accident involving a train carrying oil also happened last week in Canada when a train derailed and caught fire in Northern Ontario. The accidents and others like them have focused new questions on oil rail shipping safety standards.
• Yesterday, I told you about the budget hubbub currently going on between Republicans in the House and Democrats. The GOP Is steamed about President Barack Obama’s executive order halting deportations for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. They’re so steamed that they’ve passed a bill that makes funding for the Department of Homeland Security contingent on eliminating Obama’s orders.
Anyway, that’s yesterday. Obama’s executive orders prohibiting deportations are currently under attack from another source as well. A federal judge in Texas has put a stay on the actions, saying halting deportations could cause irreparable harm to states on the border, including Texas. The decision is in response to complaints from a group of conservative, mostly Southern states who say the executive action constitutes an overreach of power by Obama. They say halting deportations will result in more law enforcement expenses and other burdens associated with processing applications for deferred deportation. How not deporting people is more expensive than the millions we spend rounding up, holding and shipping people back across the border I don’t’ know, but that’s the logic the states are arguing.
Good morning Cincy. Remember last weekend when the high was 59 degrees? No, no, I don’t either. Let’s just not talk about the fact that winter is apparently going to last forever and get on with the news, shall we?
A major Cincinnati fundraiser for the Democratic Party has put his backing behind current City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in his run for the U.S. Senate. Cincinnati businessman Allan Berliant raised as much as $500,000 for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 through his network of donors both here in Cincinnati and around the country. He expects many of those donors could chip in for Sittenfeld in his upcoming race.
"I have been very pleased almost to the point of being surprised at the breadth, width and depth and passion of support, both politically and financially, that I've seen here in the last three weeks,” Berliant told the Cincinnati Business Courier about Sittenfeld’s campaign. “I'm a fairly seasoned political fundraiser. I will tell you there is a lot of excitement surrounding this campaign and that is off to a great start."
The 30-year-old councilman has a big task ahead, as Democratic favorite and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has made noises about entering the race for the seat. And should Sittenfeld best Strickland and the other experienced Democrats eying the seat, he’ll have to take on sitting Sen. Rob Portman, who has already raised $6 million ahead of the election. Sources say Sittenfeld has raised about $500,000 since he announced his campaign a few weeks ago.
• Officials with Columbus-based Kokosing construction company apologized Friday for the fatal collapse of the Hopple Street off ramp last month. The collapse, which investigators believe was at least in part caused by last-minute changes to demolition plans, killed construction foreman Brandon Carl. Officials with the company have said a review shows key details missing from the plans, including stipulations about how to remove the road surface on the ramp.
"I am very sorry, and all of us are deeply troubled by these findings," CEO Brian Burgett said in a statement about the accident. The company will institute new safety policies as a result of the accident, having an independent engineering firm produce plans for bridge demolitions along with Kokosing’s in-house engineers. Demolition won’t proceed unless both plans match.
• So this is cool: A proposed tribute to Crosley Field, the Cincinnati Reds’ former home in Queensgate, is making headway. Designs have been drawn up for replica foul poles, a mural depicting the field near where it stood at Findlay Street and Western Avenue, a pocket park with information about the Crosley and other historical features. Crosley was the home of the Reds from 1912 to 1970, when the team moved to Riverfront Stadium. It was demolished in 1972. Boosters are aiming to have the tribute done in time for the 2015 MLB All Star game, which will take place in Cincinnati July 14.
• House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP members of the House are playing budget hardball again, this time over immigration. Republicans are risking shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security over several executive orders President Barack Obama has issued over the past two years. Boehner has signaled he won’t back down on a bill the House passed to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded for the next year. The department’s current funding ends Feb. 27. The GOP funding bill rolls back Obama’s 2012 and 2014 executive orders that have kept the federal government from deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. The GOP bill stands no chance with Democrats in the Senate and President Barack Obama has threatened to veto it, putting the Department of Homeland Security’s funding in a precarious position. Boehner says the House has done its job and passed a bill to fund the department and that it’s up to Senate Democrats and the president to follow through. Democrats, on the other hand, are saying that the bill is an obvious no-go and that far-right members of the House are once again playing political brinksmanship.
• Low-earning salaried positions could become eligible for overtime pay if a plan by the Obama administration comes to fruition. Under current rules, companies can declare some low-paid workers making as little as $23,600 “exempt" employees, meaning they’re not eligible for overtime. Labor advocates say that arrangement allows employers to take advantage of workers by forcing them to work long hours with no extra compensation, eroding the traditional 40 hour work week. The Department of Labor has discussed a plan would raise the floor for those who can be considered exempt to somewhere between $42,000 and $52,000 a year. Anyone under that salary range would have to be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. Liberal think tank Economic Policy Institute says the increase could affect between 3 and 6 million workers in the U.S. The Department of Labor is expected to roll out its proposal sometime in February or March.
Hey all! News time.
First, a couple Cincinnati City Council things. Council yesterday voted to apply for up to $33 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants for the proposed Elmore Street Connector project. The bridge, which would connect Cincinnati State to the West Side after the current I-74 exit there is removed, is expected to cost up to $44 million. Currently, the city and the state would split that cost, but the federal money could lower the burden for both significantly.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is undertaking a years-long reworking of the I-75 corridor, which includes changing interchanges that connect the highway and I-74 to uptown. ODOT’s original plans remove the I-74 exit onto Central Parkway, which carries traffic to Cincinnati State’s doorstep, but wouldn’t replace that exit. That led to proposals for an overpass over I-75 to relink the area with Beekman Street, which runs through South Cumminsville and other neighborhoods on the other side of the Mill Creek Valley. Despite the backing of area employers in the Uptown Consortium, the project has been controversial.
But the bridge won’t cause delays to other parts of the project as previously expected, ODOT now says. Last month, officials said that constructing the bridge, which Cincinnati State President O’Dell Owens has championed, could delay the construction of the Hopple Street ramp until as late as 2020. After the potential delay was revealed and business owners in Camp Washington raised objections, Owens wrote a letter to ODOT requesting that the Hopple project not be delayed by the I-74 bridge. In an email response to that letter yesterday, Ohio Department of Transportation Acting District Deputy Director Gary L. Middleton said that removing the current I-74 interchange and constructing the new bridge would not affect the construction time frame for the Hopple exit.
Owens has said the bridge would provide Cincinnati State students living on the West Side a vital direct link to the school. Economic impact studies touted by Mayor John Cranley’s office and undertaken by the Greater Cincinnati Economics Center for Education & Research in 2014 suggest that the bridge could have an economic impact worth millions, as well as reconnecting neglected neighborhoods like Millvale and South Cumminsville, which were cut off from the rest of the city by construction of the interstates.
Now, if we could just get some of those millions for more public transit options in Cincinnati….
• A major bike trail on Cincinnati’s East Side could soon be one step closer to reality. The city of Cincinnati hopes to have a deal to present City Council for purchasing the right of way along the mostly unused Wasson Way rail line by Monday, City Manager Harry Black revealed in yesterday’s City Council meeting. The right of way, currently owned by Norfolk Southern, is needed for a proposed 6.5-mile bike path stretching from Mariemont to Xavier University in Evanston. Plans for an extension into Avondale have also been floated. Securing right of way for the trail is a crucial step and one that needs to be taken soon, Black said. The city is in the final stages of applying for a share of $500 million in TIGER grants the U.S. Department of Transportation has made available this year, and owning right of way is an important part of winning those funds.
• The Greater Cincinnati YMCA released big renovation plans for its downtown location yesterday. The building was built in 1917 and is an iconic presence along Central Parkway. The branch closed in December for the work, and now the YMCA is rolling out its detailed plans for what it will look like when finished. Among the big changes: much more natural light in the facility’s two-story fitness center, lounges with 50-inch TVs, new weight-lifting equipment and preservation of the site’s running track. That last one is huge for me. Sign me up when they reopen. I hate treadmills and it’s very difficult to find a good indoor track these days. City Council yesterday voted to approve a tax exemption for the entirety of the improvements made to the property. The project will revamp the entire building and add up to 65 units of affordable housing for seniors. The work is expected to cost $27 million. The facility is expected to be open to the public again around this time next year. In the meantime, 12 other branches are open in the West End, Walnut Hills, Northern Kentucky and elsewhere around the area.
• A group of about 50 people gathered at Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine yesterday for a rally organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter in remembrance of unarmed women and trans people of color killed recently in police-related incidents around the country. Among those remembered was Rekia Boyd, who died in 2012 after off-duty Chicago police officer Dante Servin fired into a dark alley and shot her. Boyd was not involved in an earlier confrontation that led officer Servin to give chase to the group of people he fired at, and a Chicago judge found his actions “beyond reckless.” Servin, who says one of the group pulled something from their waistband and that he feared for his life at the time, was not punished for Boyd’s death. Organizers of yesterday’s rally in OTR said they wanted to highlight Boyd’s story and others as continued attention is paid to the shooting of unarmed men of color like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.
• Finally, Cincinnati isn’t the only Ohio city grabbing on to the tiny house trend. People’s Liberty grant recipient Brad Cooper has gotten a lot of attention lately for his project, which looks to build two 200-square foot houses in Over-the-Rhine. Cooper got $100,000 from People's Liberty to carry out that plan, but Cincy isn't the only city where enthusiasm is growing for the concept. This Cleveland Plain Dealer article details how the small, simple house movement is gathering steam in Cleveland and Toledo, where folks are making big plans to build similar tiny houses in urban areas.
That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with any story tips or just to say hey.
Good morning Cincy. Here’s your news today.
While we’ve all heard the good news that is going down in Cincinnati, there’s one big exception. Some recent serious but mostly non-fatal shootings in Walnut Hills, CUF, West End and other neighborhoods (including a few right outside my house in Mount Auburn) have put gun crimes in Cincinnati at a 10-year high. That’s caused some to call into question the effectiveness of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV. The program has produced good results in the past, though its funding has been uneven. But with gun violence on the rise, detractors like Councilman Charlie Winburn say it might be time to try something else. Winburn suggested getting rid of CIRV during a presentation of crime data at Tuesday’s Cincinnati City Council Law and Public Safety Committee meeting. Others, however, say the program, which relies on a number of methods including civilian peacekeepers, law enforcement home visits to repeat offenders and social service referrals, is doing its job and needs more support. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson suggested at the Tuesday meeting that more emphasis on social services and anti-poverty measures like neighborhood redevelopment might be part of the answer.
• Greater Cincinnati’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 14 years, according to figures released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Companies in the region added nearly 20,000 new jobs in April, the data shows, the biggest increase in the past three years. But the area hasn’t avoided a major pitfall that has accompanied economic recovery around the country — while the overall unemployment rate is down, economists say, so are wages in the region. Meanwhile, underemployment, or people working part-time when they want to be working full time, is up in the Greater Cincinnati area. That dynamic could keep the economy sluggish, experts say.
• A plan to renovate 13 buildings in Covington’s MainStrasse neighborhood for 50 units of low-income housing we told you about in March has run into opposition from some in the community, who are vowing to fight the development. Cincinnati-based Model Group and women’s shelter Welcome House have partnered on the project, which is slated to receive federal low-income housing tax credits through the Kentucky Housing Corp. About half of the buildings have already been green-lighted for those credits, and applications for the rest will be filed later this year. But neighboring property owners are upset about the fact those tax credits require the currently crumbling buildings on Pike Street to remain low-income housing for 30 years after they’re renovated. They say that will dampen private investment in the area and lower the value of their properties, and they’re asking the city to fight the state’s decision to award the credits. However, it’s unclear that Covington officials have any power to challenge the state’s decision.
• Yikes. A sheriff’s deputy in Clark County Ohio, where Springfield is, has been fired after he took to Twitter with some seriously racist thoughts about protests in Baltimore. That city experienced civil unrest last month after a man named Freddie Gray died in police custody under questionable circumstances. “Baltimore the last few days = real life Planet of the Apes,” Clark County Deputy Zachary Davis tweeted April 28. Another tweet that day suggested: “It’s time to start using deadly force in Baltimore. When they start slaying these ignorant young people it’ll send a message.” After the tweets were brought to the attention of Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly yesterday, Davis was immediately fired. “If you’re posting these type of statements then I don’t feel you can serve this community,” Kelly told the Springfield News-Sun yesterday evening. Good for him.
• Two of the most powerful Republicans in Kentucky, and really in the whole country, have been butting heads big time in the Senate. U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who as you probably already know is running for president, has been digging in his heals on a portion of the Patriot Act that allows the National Security Administration to collect so-called meta data on Americans’ cell phone calls. Congress has just days to renew that particular program, as well as other parts of the Patriot Act. Paul and other Senators on both sides of the aisle have refused to allow cloture in the Senate for a bill that would do that unless NSA cell phone surveillance programs are nixed or significantly reformed. Paul and other Senators have used procedural maneuvers to keep that from happening.
That, of course, hasn’t been great for Kentucky’s other Senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is charged with getting things passed through the chamber. This is especially awkward since McConnell has endorsed Paul for president. It’s yet another example of the complicated, fractious relationships that the GOP must navigate as it tries to take back the White House in 2016. Paul is playing the NSA card to appeal both to his grassroots, anti-government libertarian base as well as more civil-liberty minded independents. Meanwhile, rank and file Republicans want to see the Patriot Act renewal passed. Politics is awkward and complicated, y’all.
Good morning all. Here’s the news today.
Streetcar advocates are forming a new nonprofit to help raise funds, encourage ridership and help sell advertising on the downtown and Over-the-Rhine transit project. The group will be called Cincinnati Street Railway, a nod to the city’s original streetcar transit authority. CSR will be a “non-political” and “fun” booster for rail in the basin, Haile U.S. Bank Foundation Vice President Eric Avner said yesterday at a Believe in Cincinnati townhall meeting at the Mercantile Library. The group will stay out of the fray on some of the car’s thornier issues, such as the push for an uptown extension, and will be focused on making Phase 1 of the project “as successful as possible.”
• Other key advocates for the transit project, including longtime streetcar booster John Schneider, who has led efforts to make the project a reality, Believe in Cincinnati Chairman Ryan Messer and Vice Mayor David Mann also spoke about the streetcar at the townhall meeting. Mann touched on the continued debate between the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which will operate the streetcar, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, which staffs SORTA’s Metro buses. ATU is bidding to staff the streetcar as well, and Democratic members of council have insisted that the operating contract be awarded to union workers. However, five highly specialized jobs involving streetcar maintenance might have to be given to non-union workers, SORTA says. That’s tripped up talks between the transit authority and the union, and SORTA says it might have to go with a non-union streetcar operator, as the Business Courier reported yesterday. The transit authority is set to release the bids it has received to operate the streetcar on June 5. Testing on the streetcar begins in October. Mann says it would be “foolish” for ATU to lose the opportunity to run the streetcar based on those jobs, which he says ATU doesn’t have employees trained to do at this point anyway. ATU has proposed to SORTA that union employees be trained to do the specialized jobs, but SORTA has said that the training isn’t available in the tight timeframe in question.
• Over-the-Rhine-based Rhinegeist is expanding, opening a so-called “nanobrewery” at its distribution site in Columbus. That small brewery will only do experimental batches of possible new beers, and there are no current plans for a location like the one in OTR. The Columbus location won’t be open to the public and won’t sell beer. But Rhinegeist’s Bryant Goulding told the Akron Beacon Journal that he’s not ruling out a more public presence in Columbus in the future and that the Columbus brewery could supply some Columbus-exclusive brews down the road.
• The city of Cincinnati today official opens its Office of Performance and Data Analytics, as well as its CityStat and Innovation Lab initiatives. The efforts, which are City Manager Harry Black's first big initiative since coming to Cincinnati last year, are designed to bring a data-driven approach to city government. The programs are patterned after similar initiatives in Baltimore, where Black served in a number of roles. Black hopes to use data collected by the office to set performance goals for departments and zero in on problems in city services. The office has been given $400,000 in the coming biannual budget.
• Let’s go back to the Mercantile Library for a minute. Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Faherty will become its new executive director, the Cincinnati institution said yesterday. The Mercantile is a membership library located downtown on Walnut Street. Founded in 1835 and headquartered in the historic Mercantile Building since 1909, the library boasts more than 200,000 volumes. The library hosts a number of high-profile literary events and public functions. Faherty has worked for the Enquirer for three years after relocating from fellow Gannett paper the Arizona Republic. He’ll leave the paper in June to take the reigns of the historic library.
• Is John Kasich getting soft on unions? The Ohio guv and GOP presidential hopeful was on the campaign trail yesterday when he said that Ohio doesn’t need a right to work law. A number of other conservative states have such laws, which forbid labor contracts between employers and workers which require all employees to be union members. Kasich has said outlawing that practice isn’t necessary in Ohio because the state doesn’t have a lot of contentious labor issues. That’s a strikingly moderate stance for the governor, who shortly after taking office in 2011 moved to eliminate public employees’ collective bargaining rights. That move was reversed by a statewide referendum in which voters overwhelmingly chose to preserve public employees’ union rights. Kasich’s statement on right to work comes a day after the governor eliminated collective bargaining rights for 15,000 home healthcare and childcare workers who contract with the state. So, you know, he’s still not that into unions.
• It’s official. Rand Paul is courting the hipster vote. The U.S. Senator from Kentucky and Republican presidential hopeful yesterday made a campaign stop at The Strand bookstore in Manhattan. It’s an amazing bookstore, but yeah. Also very hip. Anyway, Paul drew a big crowd to the store after he was invited to speak by co-owner Nancy Bass Wyden, who is married to Oregon Democrat U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. You can read more about the appearance, and Paul’s efforts to win over young voters, in this New York Times story. The Strand has become a customary stopover for Democratic politicians hawking their newest books. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently dropped by promoting her new tome, though the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has declined to appear there. Instead, she opted for a nearby Barnes & Noble to premier her latest book. Oof.
Good morning y’all. I’m back from vacation and ready to give you all the news and stuff you can handle. In case you’re wondering, my time off involved a jaunt to Chicago for a concert where audience members were encouraged to divide into two huge groups and run at each other high-fiving, trips to five Pilsen Mexican restaurants and a long night/early morning in a private karaoke room where they keep up the bootleg music videos, Red Bull, beer and Drake tracks until you die (I abstained from the beer and the Drake, but did drink way too much Red Bull). Then I came back to Cincinnati and promptly got sicker than I’ve been in a long time. Fun stuff.
Anyway, let’s do this news thing. Home prices in Over-the-Rhine are getting higher and higher, but you probably already knew that. What you maybe didn’t know is how close the neighborhood is getting to million-dollar homes. Recently, a condo on Central Parkway sold for $850,000, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. That’s roughly 4,250 nights in a private karaoke room in Chicago’s Chinatown, or, you know, 2,125 months (177 years) in an affordable apartment that costs $400 a month. While that huge figure is something of an outlier, the neighborhood is certainly heating up. The average sale price for single family homes in the neighborhood was hovering around $220,000 in 2010. These days, it’s nearly twice that at $427,000. Those developing high-selling properties in the neighborhood say that there’s more to the story than the big numbers and that they’ve put in tons of investment to bring the properties up to their current condition. Of course, the rise in values also raises questions about affordability in the historically low-income neighborhood. The amount of affordable housing in OTR has dwindled in recent years, though new additions could help that situation. Over the Rhine Community Housing, for example, just finished its Beasley Place building on Republic Street, which will provide 13 new units of subsidized housing in the neighborhood.
• Will a major federal lab end up in uptown Cincinnati? It’s a good possibility. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is looking to consolidate two labs it currently runs in the city and is at least considering the possibility of building its new $110 million facility near the University of Cincinnati. NIOSH Director John Howard told the Cincinnati Business Courier recently that proximity to UC is a big consideration. Should NIOSH decide to build uptown, the development could play into a bigger push by area leaders to create an “innovation corridor” near the site of the new I-71 interchange along Reading Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Avondale and Walnut Hills. Uptown or no, NIOSH would like to keep the proposed 350,000-square-foot building within the I-275 loop, it says, in part because of public transit considerations.
• Speaking of public transit, don’t look to Ohio to start spending more on it anytime soon. The state legislature has dismissed suggestions that the state spend more on public transportation as it crafts the next two-year budget. Legislators in the GOP-dominated state house have brushed aside a $1 million study by the Ohio Department of Transportation calling for more spending on buses, rail and other forms of public transit. That study highlighted the growing need for public transit among the state’s low income and elderly, as well as the increasing popularity of a less car-dependent lifestyle among young professionals Ohio would like to attract. Currently, Ohio ranks 37th in per-capita spending on transit, despite being the nation’s 7th most populous state. The study recommended a $2.5 million boost in transit spending in the next year alone, part of a much larger boost over time. Even Gov. John Kasich, a vocal opponent of most transit spending, put an extra $1 million in his suggested budget for transit next year. But no go, the legislature says.
• While we’re talking about Kasich, let’s touch on his recent move cutting collective bargaining rights for home health care workers and in-home childcare workers. These workers aren’t state employees but contract with the state for some work. In 2007, then-Gov. Ted Strickland handed down an executive order giving those workers collective bargaining rights, which allowed them to receive health insurance from state worker unions among other benefits. Kasich promised to rescind that executive order during his successful run for governor against Strickland, but has held off until now, he says, to preserve the workers’ access to insurance. Now, the governor says the Affordable Care Act means that the workers don’t need unions to get health care, and that as contractors they shouldn’t be given bargaining rights. Kasich has long been a foe of collective bargaining — after taking office in 2008, he worked to end collective bargaining rights for all state employees. Voters later struck down his efforts in a state-wide referendum. Democrats and union representatives have cried foul at Kasich’s latest move.
“It’s a sad day when those who care for our children, our seniors and Ohioans with disabilities — and who simply want to be able to make ends meet while providing that invaluable service — become the target of a cynical political attack," Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper said in a statement.
• Finally, the big story today is happening in Cleveland, where questions about police use of force are swirling. Just days after courts dismissed manslaughter charges against Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo, a settlement between the city and the federal government looks imminent. In 2010, Brelo, who is white, fired 15 rounds into the windshield of a car, killing unarmed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both black, after a police chase that started when a backfire from the car was mistaken for a gunshot. That incident, as well as many others, were highlighted in a nearly two-year investigation by the DOJ into the department’s use of force. That investigation found what the DOJ calls systemic problems with the department’s use of force and the way it reports and disciplines officers who may have used force improperly.
U.S. attorneys are holding meetings with various stakeholders in the city today and are expected to soon announce a settlement between the city’s police department and the U.S. Department of Justice. The expected consent decree would put CPD under federal oversight and bring about big reforms for the department, which continues to draw controversy. Last year, an officer with the department shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice while the child played with a toy pistol. Charges against that officer are pending.
Via The Enquirer:
"This is a place that has been through difficult times," Lynch said, referring to the city's riots 14 years ago, which led to a lawsuit and accusations of racial profiling by police. "Cincinnati exemplifies the fact that a city is a living thing — and it is comprised of all residents of a community."
• Cincinnati has long underfunded human services, at least according to its own goal of using 1.5 percent of the city budget for things like programs to end homelessness, provide job training and offer support for victims of crime. It doesn’t look like the city will get back to that rate any time soon, and City Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday questioned why City Manager Harry Black’s budget doesn’t include $3 million council unanimously agreed in November to use to reduce homelessness and help boost gainful employment.
Here’s some context via the Business Courier:
It has been longstanding city council practice to direct the city manager what to put in the budget by a motion backed by a majority of council members, so Black's statement appears to permanently alter a standing way of doing business at City Hall. It also increases the tension between Black, Cranley and City Council, particularly majority Democrats, over their governing relationship.
With funding allocated for a mayoral priority but not one supported by all council members, Seelbach said it raised concerns over Black’s independence and whether he reports to Cranley or Cranley and all nine council members.
“It strikes me as very strange,” Seelbach said. “It seems like a symptom of that.”
“So noted,” Black said.
• City pools are set to open this week, but six out of the city’s 25 might not open on time because they’re facing a shortage of 65 lifeguards. The Enquirer today noted why the pools are important to low-income children, many of whom receive free lunch and take advantage of having something to do other than the bad stuff kids get into when they’re bored (my words).
• Social justice activists planned to call on Major League Baseball this morning to speak out on racial injustice, specifically police brutality and what the group calls “blatant disrespect of African Americans in Ohio’s justice system.” The press conference scheduled for 11 a.m. today will include Bishop Bobby Hilton of Word of Deliverance, Pastor Damon Lynch III of New Prospect Baptist Church, Pastor Chris Beard of Peoples Church and Rev. Alan Dicken of Carthage Christian Church.
• WCPO Digital’s series on marijuana continued today looks at what Ohio can expect business-wise if and when the state legalizes pot. WCPO sent two reporters who probably can’t pass a drug test anymore to Colorado to report on the industry and a family who moved there from the Cincinnati area so their daughter who suffers from seizures would have access to medical marijuana.
• The Reds say the stadium smoke stack that caught on fire
last weekend will be fully operable by the time the team returns from its
current road trip. Firefighters climbed two ladders to put out the fire in one
of the “PNC Power Stacks” during a game against the San Francisco Giants last
weekend. A few sections of fans were evacuated but the game was never delayed. The Reds got whooped all weekend so the fire was actually a pleasant distraction and ended up on Sportscenter and stuff.
• Apparently there are lines out the door at a new chicken finger restaurant in West Chester called Raising Cane’s and its owners are going to open more stores, potentially one downtown.
• The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit yesterday against a collection of cancer charities it says misused millions of dollars in donations. Sounds like someone’s going to be in serious trouble for it. Worth a read from the Los Angeles Times to hear about the various members of the James Reynolds Sr. allegedly involved.
In reality, officials say, millions of dollars raised by four “sham charities” lined the pockets of the groups’ founders and their family members, paying for cars, luxury cruises, and all-expense paid trips to Disney World for charity board members.
The 148-page fraud lawsuit accuses the charities of ripping off donors nationwide to the tune of $187 million from 2008 to 2012 in a scheme one federal official called “egregious” and “appalling.”
• Twenty-one-thousand gallons of oil is now sitting in the ocean instead of being burned into the air by automobiles. The U.S. Coast Guard says it has formed a four-mile slick along the central California coastline.
• In good California news, Los Angeles City Council approved raising the city’s minimum wage to a nation-high $15 an hour by 2020.
• Documents recovered during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden? Sure.
• Five global banks to pay $5 billion fine and plead guilty to criminal charges after an investigation into whether traders at the banks “colluded to move foreign currency rates in directions to benefit their own positions.” OK.
• Scientists say a snake ancestor had little toes even though it slithered.
Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate Candidate P.G. Sittenfeld has come out in support of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana in Ohio.
The proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution by ResponsibleOhio would allow anyone in the state over 21 to buy marijuana but would restrict commercial growth to 10 sites around the state owned by the group's investors.
[See also: "Going for the Green," CityBeat Feb. 4 2015]
Sittenfeld told reporters in Columbus today that Ohio's marijuana laws are "broken" and that he favors legalization and regulation of the drug. Sittenfeld cited the disproportionate number of people of color jailed over marijuana violations in the U.S. and the dangerous black market for the drug as reasons he supports legalization.
"We have a binary choice between do we want to take this opportunity to move forward from the broken laws of the past, and I would vote yes on this opportunity," Sittenfeld said.
Sittenfeld is the first city councilman to come out in support for the ballot initiative, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by July in order to make it onto the November ballot. The group says it is well on its way to that goal. But some controversy has erupted, both from conservative lawmakers and other legalization groups. Conservatives like Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine say that legalization will increase drug usage and crime. Other legalization advocates, on the other hand, decry ResponsibleOhio's proposal as a state-sanctioned monopoly on marijuana.
The group's initial proposal did not allow private growers to cultivate marijuana, but after an outcry from legalization supporters, the group amended its proposal to allow for small amounts of the crop to be grown for personal use.
The group's proposal has garnered an interesting mix of supporters and investors, from basketball Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who has pitched in money for the effort, to conservative-leaning business leaders and officials. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters recently said he supports at least looking into legalization of marijuana, calling Ohio's drug laws "archaic." Deters stopped short of endorsing ResponsibleOhio's plan. He is heading up a task force studying the implications of legalizing the drug here.
Recreational marijuana use is legal in four states, and 19 others allow medicinal use.
Sittenfeld made the comments as he is campaigning for big promotion. The 30-year-old city councilman is currently locked in a tough Democratic primary race against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland for the chance to run against GOP incumbent Sen. Rob Portman in 2016.
Hey all! I’m going to do a long news blog today. I won’t be doing the blog tomorrow or next week, as I need to burn up the vacation time I have before it expires and my boss says I’m not allowed to work while I’m not working. Tyranny, I say. Anyway, let's get all caught up before I jet.
The big news today is that the Cincinnati Enquirer is looking for a new top editor. Executive Editor Carolyn Washburn’s last day was yesterday, the Enquirer announced today. Washburn’s departure follows former publisher Margaret Buchanan, who left her post in March and was replaced by one-time Enquirer editor Rick Green. Washburn’s tenure saw the Enquirer shed a number of its long-time reporters and copy editors as part of parent company Gannett’s efforts to move toward the so-called “newsroom of the future.” That sounds like some cool, gee-wiz place where reporters fly around on hover boards and drive DeLoreans at 88 mph to break news two days before it happens, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually similar to a regular corporate newsroom, just with no copy editors and more typos. The Enquirer says Washburn will stay in town but has not revealed the circumstances behind her departure or what she’ll be doing next.
• Yesterday City Manager Harry Black unveiled his proposed $2.1 billion budget for 2016-2017. We’re still combing through that 769-page document, but we can give you the highlights. Disappointingly, there are very few pictures in the budget, though there are a lot of graphs. Facial hair growth for certain elected city officials, for example, is on the uptrend. Speaking of Mayor John Cranley, he's backed the budget, suggesting council pass it without amendment. Chances of that happening are on a sharp downtrend, however.
Human services will see $3.7 million in funding under the budget. Some of that will go toward Cranley’s Hand Up initiative and the city-county joint initiative Strategies to End Homelessness. Meanwhile, the $250,000 the city allocated in the last budget to Cradle Cincinnati to fight infant mortality disappears in this budget, and mega-charity funder United Way will get only about half of the $3 million council wanted.
Police and fire are prioritized in the spending plan, with increases that will bring 23 more officers and to Cincinnati’s streets. The budget also proposes big fixes for Cincinnati’s roads over the next five years and the city’s vehicle fleet over the next 12, spending $172 million on the paving alone over that time and another $35 million on vehicles. The plan is to get 85 percent of the city’s roads in good condition. Right now, about half are in poor shape. The city will take on nearly $91 million in debt in the process, though Black says the ratio of debt to cash used in this part of the capital budget is still prudent and that the investments will save the city millions over time.
This is just the first step in the long, sometimes grinding, budget process. We'll keep you up to date as council wrangles with the spending plan and also go in-depth ourselves.
• What else? Things are happening on the state’s voting rights front. We’ll be going in depth on that soon, but here’s some stuff to know: Hot on the heals of a settlement between Ohio and the NAACP on early voting last month, another lawsuit has been filed against the state alleging that its rules disadvantage voters who mostly skew Democrat, low-income and minority. That suit has been filed by Hillary Clinton's top campaign attorney. Meanwhile, there’s a bill in the General Assembly that would require voters to have a voter identification card. Ohioans who make above the federal poverty level (about $12,000 for a single person) would have to pay $8.50 under the proposed law for the card. Critics say that amounts to a poll tax and is unconstitutional. The fight is a big deal, as Ohio is a vital swing state in the 2016 presidential election.
Other politics tidbits:
• Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel wanted to fire County Administrator Christian Sigman over Sigman’s recent comments about The Banks, even drafting a press release announcing the administrator’s departure. Sigman’s job was spared at the last minute, however; Republican Commissioner Greg Hartmann didn’t want to see Sigman dismissed, and Democrat Todd Portune began crafting a compromise. Sigman was taken off economic development duties instead of losing his job, according to the commissioners.
• Real quick, but noteworthy: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a GOP presidential hopeful, is polling neck and neck with Democratic prez frontrunner Hillary Clinton in Kentucky, at least according to one new poll.
• Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is down one endorsement for his presidential bid: Ohio Treasurer and fellow Republican Josh Mandel has announced he’s endorsing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Awkward.
• On the national stage, U.S. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is fighting with the White House over comments President Barack Obama made about U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren has been criticizing Obama on what she says is a NAFTA-esque foreign trade deal. She alleges that the Trans Pacific Partnership deal will cost Americans jobs and shouldn’t give so-called “fast track” status to trade deals with other countries. The White House slammed Warren on that assertion, and Brown says their comments about her were disrespectful. Brown has also been fighting the trade legislation package, lobbying other Democrats in the Senate to block it from passage without amendments he says are designed to protect American workers. That’s led to some tension between the White House and Brown. The White House has asked the senator to apologize for his remarks about Obama’s remarks about Warren. Uh, got that? It’s starting to get to GOP levels of in-fighting over there.
That's it for me. See you in a week or so. Tweet at me or email me while I'm gone. Fair warning: I won't check the email but I might see the tweet.
Hey hey. Let’s do this news thing real quick.
After the whole
hubbub around Mayor John Cranley’s veto of the OTR parking permit plan last
week, it seems like a strange question to ask, but here we go: Does the mayor
need more power? According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Councilman Christopher
Smitherman is working to get an initiative on the ballot that would do just
that. Sort of. Smitherman’s months-long advocacy for moving Cincinnati to a
so-called “executive mayor” system is about accountability, he says, not about
giving away more power. Under
Smitherman’s proposed changes, the city would eliminate the city manager
position and the mayor would assume the responsibilities of that office —
hiring and firing department heads, etc. The mayor would also retain veto power
and still attend council meetings, but council would select its own president
(currently the mayor’s job), who would select committee heads and make
council’s agenda, effectively eliminating the mayor’s power to “pocket veto”
Other members of council,
including Councilman Kevin Flynn, who is helping oversee a review of the city’s
charter, are opposed to the executive mayor idea. Flynn’s Charter Review
Committee has been meeting for months, kicking around ideas for ways to reorganize
Cincinnati’s unusual power structure. The city’s current system creates the
strongest mayor of any major city in the country, the committee has said. The committee has its own recommendations for ways to change city government, including requiring the mayor to pass along all legislation to city council committees within 14 days, ending the so-called "pocket veto." The committee would also like to see council given the power to fire the city manager. The Charter Review Committee has been holding public input sessions around the city. The next two are at the Westwood Town Hall May 14 and the Oakley Senior Center May 18. Both sessions start at 6 pm.
• Is Joe Deters
cool with legalizing weed? Another sign marijuana legalization in Ohio is moving
toward the mainstream: The Hamilton County Prosecutor is leading a taskforce
looking into the law enforcement ramifications of legalizing the drug. Marijuana
legalization group ResponsibleOhio
approached Deters about the study, though
Deters says he’s not doing it to simply endorse the group’s legalization
proposal. ResponsibleOhio wants to legalize the sale of marijuana to
anyone age 21 or over, but the group's ballot initiative would limit
growth of the crop to 10 sites around the state.
Deters has expressed frustration with the current legal setup for dealing with marijuana and ambivalence about the drug being illegal.
“I've seen firsthand how ineffective and inefficient marijuana laws are,” Deters said in a statement about the task force. “I strongly believe we must have an honest and in-depth assessment of the positive and negative impacts that legalization can have, so that Ohioans can make an informed decision."
The taskforce includes elected officials, experts on drug policy and academics. The group will develop a white paper outlining policy recommendations on ways to improve laws governing marijuana in the state.
• Don’t do lame stuff with your garbage or you may get fined, according to changes in the city of Cincinnati's garbage pickup policy. In the days leading up to June 1, city sanitation workers will be hanging orange tags on garbage that is improperly prepared. Before May 17, they’ll still haul the trash away but leave the tag as a reminder. After that date, you’ll have to correct whatever problem you have with your trash and call 591-6000 to get it picked up, but you won’t have to pay a fine. After June starts, however, residents who don’t have their trash in order can be fined anywhere from $50 to $2,000. The low end of that range is for folks who just used the wrong can or other minor violations. The high end is for improperly disposed construction debris and other heavy stuff. You can read the criteria for improper trash here. The sanitation department says the fines are necessary to keep trash pick up efficient and effective.
• Cincinnati Public School District’s Walnut Hills High School is the number one school in Ohio, according to a new ranking from U.S. News and World Report. Overall, Walnut is the 65th best high school in the nation according to the ranking. Four other area schools also landed in the top 10 of the statewide rankings, including Indian Hill High School, which came in at number two.
• So Bill Murray
might be spending a little less time partying in Austin and more time in
Cincinnati. That’s because his son, Luke Murray, has landed a job as an
assistant coach for Xavier University’s men’s basketball program. The younger
Murray has held several coaching jobs in college basketball and was last at the
University of Rhode Island as an assistant coach. Xavier head basketball coach
Chris Mack has called Murray “one of the top young assistant coaches in the
America.” Sounds good. Word is, his dad comes to a lot of the games the younger
Murray coaches. Let’s hope the Coffee and Cigarettes and Groundhog Day star
hangs out here on occasion, and maybe brings a Wu-Tang Clan member with him.
Morning y’all! It’s bike to work week, so I hope you saddled up on your commute today. Here’s what’s up in the news.
It’s kind of unbelievable that solid statistics on housing on one of the city’s most actively developed neighborhood don’t exist. I’ve been working to find solid numbers on affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine forever, so this is great news: Xavier’s Community Building Institute and the Over-the-Rhine Community Council are teaming up to conduct a much-needed housing survey in OTR. As land values and housing costs in the neighborhood skyrocket (some condos there have reached the $600,000 mark, and proposed new single-family homes could go for as much), many worry about dwindling supplies of low-income housing there. Though a neighborhood comprehensive plan was completed in 2002, there have been no other comprehensive studies of housing in the neighborhood since. Much of the data on housing in OTR is scattered and incomplete. CBI’s efforts will change that — starting in June the organization will do a complete survey of the buildings in OTR to record how many units each has and how much it costs to live in them.
• A seven-story hotel by Marriott is coming to riverfront development The Banks, the lead development group for the project announced today. That’s a relief for city and county officials and area business leaders who have been waiting for that major piece of the Banks puzzle for a long time. Stakeholders had originally hoped to have the hotel open in time for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game in July, but it looks as though the hotel will now open in spring 2017.
• The city of Cincinnati will pay Cincinnati Public Schools $2.1 million in back property taxes from the downtown Duke Energy Center. The CPS Board of Education and the Ohio tax commissioner have been fighting the city since 2011 over taxes on the property, which is managed by a private company. The city has argued that it is exempt from such taxes since the building is owned by a public entity and obtained a tax exemption from state legislators in 2012. But CPS and the state tax assessor have fought that claim in court. The city has now settled with the district and will pay the $2.1 million to the schools. Had the city lost its case with CPS, it would have had to pay up to $25 million in back taxes and other costs.
• Here’s cool news: Former MVP and 2012 Hall of Famer Barry Larkin is working for the Reds again. No, you won’t see the shortstop running the bases, but he’ll be an infield instructor for the Reds’ minor league teams. Larkin played for the Reds for nearly two decades from 1986 to 2004.
• The city of Covington’s City Hall is currently located in a former J.C. Penny department store building, and before that it was located in another former department store. But that could change soon, and the seat of city government there could get a new, more permanent home in a proposed riverfront development called Duveneck Place, named after the famous Covington-born artist Frank Duveneck. That building would be the first major riverfront development in Covington since the 2008 Ascent luxury condos and could host both the city’s administrative offices and Kenton County offices. The city’s main administrative building has moved around several times since Covington’s ornate official City Hall building was demolished in 1970.
• As state lawmakers mull a bill that would eliminate a question about felonies from public organizations’ job applications, private companies wrangle with whether or not they should do the same. Some big, generally conservative companies like Koch Industries have announced they no longer ask about felony convictions on job applications, but many others, especially those in the area, still do. That puts a barrier between former convicts and employment, a key factor in reducing recidivism. Such barriers also disproportionately affect minorities, who are more often subject to arrest and conviction in the first place. Here’s an Enquirer story about the push to do away with a box on employment applications asking about felonies. I’ve been speaking with former convicts and academics who study this issue for a long story on the topic. Stay tuned for that.
• Finally, a report by the Baltimore Sun shows that thousands apprehended by Baltimore Police have been so severely injured they cannot be taken directly to jail. Between June 2012 and April 2015, the Baltimore City Detention Center refused to admit 2,600 arrestees because injuries they sustained from police were too severe and required immediate medical attention. These included broken bones, head injuries and other traumas. The report comes in the wake of civil unrest around the April death of Freddie Gray in police custody and a looming U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the city’s police force.
Morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on today.
The battle over Over-the-Rhine’s parking plan continues. Yesterday, Mayor John Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to eliminating permit parking in the city — currently, one part of Clifton near Cincinnati state and the tiny Pendleton neighborhood both have permits available for residents. He said he’d also be interested in auctioning off spots in OTR to the highest bidder.
That doesn't sit well with permit advocates in the neighborhood, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach and OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer.
At the bottom of the debate is a philosophical difference: Cranley wants any parking plan to be first and foremost a revenue generator to pay for the streetcar and pay back taxpayers for investment in OTR. On Wednesday, he vetoed a parking plan for the neighborhood that would have created up to 450 permitted spots for residents at $108 a year. Previously, Cranley had proposed a plan that would have charged $300 a year and then later another that would have charged an unspecified market rate for the spaces.
Cranley says it’s unfair to taxpayers that certain spots can be bought by residents of a neighborhood that has seen millions in taxpayer money spent on redevelopment. Taxpayers pay for the roads, Cranley says, and should be able to park on them. What’s more, he says, creating a permit plan for OTR will only encourage other neighborhoods to seek them. Downtown has already made movement toward that end.
Permit supporters, meanwhile, see the measure mainly as a way to make
life easier for residents who have to park in one of the most popular
places in town. Supporters of the parking permits, including Democrats on council, say they will help keep low-income people who can’t afford garages or extended time at meters in the neighborhood.
There is nothing unusual about parking permits in neighborhoods. Cities like Columbus, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco (the nation’s most expensive at $110 a year) and many other major urban areas have them. Even smaller cities like Newport, Covington and Bloomington, Indiana have them. Hell, in Washington, D.C., you have to have D.C. plates to park on most streets and need to apply for a visitor’s permit if you don’t (I know this by experience and it is awful). But if it wasn’t for that permit system, residents in popular neighborhoods would spend an hour after work circling the block looking for a place to put their cars while tourists or folks from the other side of the city dropped by and took their time eating at that new $40-a-plate neo soul food place. (Err, sorry. Did I mention D.C. was awful?)
On the other hand, the affordability card is a funny one to play here. In terms of affordability, all the parking plans, including Cranley’s, presented a clause for lower-cost permits for low-income residents. But there are bigger issues as rents in OTR continue to increase and the neighborhood shifts ever-more toward the high-end in terms of the businesses and homes there. Perhaps a discussion about how much affordable housing is in the neighborhood, instead of spinning wheels on a parking plan, would better serve low-income folks?
• Here’s another transportation mess: Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Chair Charlie Winburn is threatening to withhold city funds from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority for its Metro bus program until it releases information about the bids it has received to operate the streetcar. Those bids were due March 30, but SORTA says it will not release them until it has made a selection, claiming that making the information public will compromise the competitive bid process. Winburn says the public has a right to know how much the streetcar will cost them. The Cincinnati Enquirer has sued SORTA for the records, which it says fall under open records laws. SORTA’s attorney disagrees. The question now is whether a judge will agree and if the ruling will come before SORTA makes its pick and releases the documents anyway.
• Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune might get an unexpected Republican challenger in the 2016 election. Hamilton County Appeals Court Judge Sylvia Hendon might run against Portune, she says. Hendon, 71, is about to hit the age limit for judges in Ohio but isn’t ready to give up public service. Democrats say they aren’t worried; though Hendon has served in a number of capacities in the county’s judicial system, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Cooke says she doesn’t have the name recognition to mount a serious challenge to the popular Portune. But Republicans say her time as a top judge gave her strong managerial skills and unique qualifications for the commissioner’s spot. They say she’ll be a strong contender should she choose to run. Commissioners oversee the county budget and the county’s various departments. Hendon is also looking at running for county recorder, a position held by Democrat Wayne Coates. Another Republican, former Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel, is also contemplating a run for that seat.
• Are online charter schools getting taxpayer money for students who are no longer enrolled in their courses? Some recent evidence seems to suggest that, and a state investigation might result. Data from one online school, Ohio Virtual Academy, shows that hundreds of students were on that school’s rolls but hadn’t logged in to classes in months. Only 14 had been withdrawn. OVA has 13,000 students. It’s not the first time charters have seen scrutiny for their attendance records. The schools get paid millions in state funds based on the number of students they have attending classes. In January, a state investigation found significant discrepancies between reported attendance and actual attendance at many of charters across the state.
• Finally, there’s another marijuana legalization scheme in Ohio, and it just cleared its first hurdle. Better for Ohio is challenging ResponsibleOhio’s plan for weed legalization by… doing almost exactly the same plan. The difference is that instead of ResponsibleOhio’s 10 grow sites, Better for Ohio would create 40, each tied (not kidding here) to a serial number on a specific $100 bill stipulated in the group’s plan. The holder of that bill would be allowed to grow marijuana at one of the grow sites. Private, non-commercial growth would also be allowed, and wouldn’t require registration with the state the way ResponsibleOhio’s plan does. The state just gave the OK for the group’s initial ballot language, and now it just has to get the necessary 300,000-plus signatures. Of course, there’s been some sniping between Better for Ohio and ResponsibleOhio, with both groups criticizing the other’s plan. Things are getting heated in the weed legalization game.
That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with news tips or just to say hey.