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by Rachel Podnar 05.29.2014 57 days ago
Posted In: LGBT Issues, Public Transit, City Council, Mayor at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Metro to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits

Organization could become first to utilize city’s proposed domestic partner registry

Kim Lahman was doing cartwheels in her mind for Metro this morning.

The organization’s Ridership and Development Director celebrated Metro’s announcement on Thursday that it will provide health and dental benefits to domestic partners of its employees.

Lahman said she has used same-sex partner benefits in the past, when she went back to school.

“[My partner and I] know first-hand what it means to have the flexibility and equality as others do in the workplace,” Lahman said at a press conference at Metro’s office. “This is just a fantastic day and I’m so proud that Metro is able to do the right thing.”

Metro is the first employer to say it will use Cincinnati’s domestic partner registry if the initiative passes next week in City Council. Should it pass, Cincinnati will be the 10th city in Ohio to have a domestic partner registry.

Mayor John Cranley and City Councilman Chris Seelbach attended the press conference and spoke in support of the move.

Cranley called it “symbolically and substantively right” and during   the announcement shared a memory in honor of Maya Angelou, her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

“She ended it with ‘Good morning,’” Cranley said. “I think this is a good morning for Cincinnati, a new day.”

Many of Cincinnati’s major employers, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Macy’s offer same-sex and domestic partner benefits.

Seelbach said while those companies already have systems to evaluate domestic partnerships, the registry will give other companies like Metro an easy way to provide those benefits.

“We are now leaders in the nation and the region to make sure everyone is welcome in our city, regardless of who they love,” Seelbach said. “Everyone should bring their full self to their workplace and be able to do that with health benefits for their partners.”

Seelbach said while Metro is the first to say it will use the registry, other companies like Cincinnati Bell have expressed interest.

Metro is a nonprofit tax-funded public service of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) with around 850 employees.

One of SORTA’s executive statements says the organization is committed to a work environment that “promotes dignity and respect for all.”

Board Chair Jason Dunn said SORTA’s commitment to inclusion is a great business decision.

“It shows that we value our employees,” Dunn said. “It shows that not only is Metro on the cutting edge of transportation but also making sure we are open to talent and we are open to retaining great talent in our system.”

Same-sex partners with a valid marriage license, same-sex partners registered by a government entity and same-sex partners with a sworn affidavit will be recognized by Metro for domestic partner benefits, which will take effect January 1, 2015.

 

 

 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.29.2014 57 days ago
Posted In: Transportation at 07:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Will the Streetcar Go West Someday?

Advocates push for expanded transit options in Western Hills Viaduct replacement plan

Picture yourself hopping on a streetcar in Price Hill or Westwood and cruising downtown for lunch.

It probably won’t happen anytime soon. But a group of West Side residents was determined to put just that image in the heads of city council’s transportation committee as it met yesterday to consider what will be done with the city’s aging Western Hills Viaduct.

About 25 people showed up to the meeting to advocate for expanded transit options as planning for the bridge goes forward.

"It's about the future of our city and connecting one another,” said John Eby, a resident of Westwood, during Wednesday’s meeting. “Think of this as the economic development tool that will help connect Price Hill and Westwood to downtown."

Even without the added transit considerations, the project is daunting. The half-mile long bridge is 82 years old and was last rehabbed in 1977. So it’s getting a little crumbly.

Though it’s structurally sound for now, engineers say it will need to be completely rehabbed or replaced in the next 10 years. A study released last week found the bridge’s condition to be among of the worst in the state.

The viaduct is owned by Hamilton County, which pays Cincinnati to do upkeep.

City engineers are leaning toward replacement, though that’s going to be expensive. Estimated costs come in around $240 million for a new bridge, which would have two decks and be placed just south of the current one. So far, the city’s dedicated less than $6 million for the project.

But this moment, as the city mulls what to do about the bridge, is the perfect time to look at new transit options, advocates say.

Adding dedicated lanes for light rail would cost $24 million a lane, engineers estimate. But designing the bridge with extra structural integrity for streetcar rails, which don’t require extra lanes, could be a cheaper option, said city engineer Richard Szekeresh.

It wouldn’t be the first time a streetcar has made the trip over the Mill Creek and train yards spanned by the viaduct. In the 1950s, streetcars ran along the bridge’s lower deck.

But don’t start making plans to get out of downtown and hit up your favorite Westside chili parlor for lunch just yet. City officials say they’re in the opening stages of the project. Engineers hope to have designs drawn up by the end of the year, but it will be six to eight years before construction starts, according to city transportation manager Michael Moore. Before that is the long road to secure state funding and make sure the necessary local funds are in place.

Advocates say the project may be the last chance to leave the door open for future transit options like light rail or the streetcar. A new Eighth Street viaduct was just completed, and crews are wrapping up work on the Sixth Street bridge as well. Neither will carry rail into the West Side, which is home to about 20 percent of the city.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 04.22.2014 93 days ago
Posted In: Mayor, News at 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
parkway

New Bikeway Proposal Could Cost Additional $110,000

Vice Mayor Mann set to introduce motion to save parking spaces

The city’s cost of a long-planned piece of cycling infrastructure could more than double if City Council approves a motion Vice Mayor David Mann planned to introduce on April 23. 

Mayor John Cranley successfully paused the Central Parkway Bikeway Project for public discourse in response to a handful of business owners and residents taking exception to it, and a spokesman for Mann shared his suggested compromise with CityBeat today.

In response to an April 21 special Neighborhoods Committee meeting, Mann seeks to alter the bike route to appease people who don’t want to see parking spaces removed, but the updated plan will cost an additional $110,00 on top of the $82,600 the city would pay under the original plan, which would create the beginning of a cycling corridor running from Elm Street downtown to Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. The project was supposed to break ground next month and could lose $330,400 in federal money if the contract isn’t awarded by May 1. 

“We routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as a city to create new jobs in our community,” Mann said in a statement. “We should not approve a new project that places 60 newly created jobs in jeopardy when such a sensible accommodation is available.”

The planned bikeway is an innovative piece of cycling infrastructure meant to better protect cyclists along a critical thoroughfare that would connect a number of inner-city neighborhoods and business districts. The lane will be protected, meaning cyclists will have their own lane with a buffer separating them from traffic; in some areas plastic bollards will separate the bike and automobile lanes. The street will not be widened, so traffic lanes will be impacted through restriping, and parking will be restricted during peak traffic hours in the morning and evening. 

Opponents of the project are concerned about losing public, on-street parking for parts of the day as well as potentially encountering traffic issues from shaving lanes from Brighton Place to Liberty Street. They also worry the bollards will become a blight issue and emergency vehicles will be impeded during one-lane hours.

Mann’s motion supports an alternative plan for a section running from Ravine Street to Brighton Place that would preserve 23 parking spaces full-time, alter 4,300 square feet of greenspace and remove 15 trees at an estimated cost of $110,000. The parking spaces would benefit a building owner and his tenants at 2145 Central Parkway. 

City Councilman Chris Seelbach and others demonstrated frustration with the administration’s interest in stepping in at the 11th hour. 

“I think we have reached a new era in Cincinnati: two steps forward, pause, lots of long meetings, two steps forward, and I’m convinced after the pause and lots of long meetings, we will continue to go two steps forward today,” Seelbach said at the April 21 meeting. 

Mayor Cranley requested City Manager Scott Stiles delay awarding a contract after meeting with local business owner Tim Haines, who purchased a vacant building located at 2145 Central Parkway in 2012 for $230,000. His building now houses 65 employees from 12 different businesses including his own, Relocation Strategies. Haines has become a mouthpiece for the opposition to the bikeway — though he adamantly states he is not against the lane; he is just against the project’s current incarnation as it affects Central Parkway near his business, which utilizes 500 feet of on-street, unmetered parking, which translates to 30 parking spaces.

“If parking wasn’t an issue, I would open up my arms and welcome the bike path,” Haines says. “Parking for my 65 tenants is in jeopardy. As a business owner I have to fight for my tenants. … Could they park and walk a quarter of a mile? They could, but that’s not what they signed up for when they moved in.”

Haines has a 16-space parking lot adjacent to his building that some of his tenants use and also owns a parking lot across the street that is in disrepair. Haines says he already cleared it of underbrush to cut down criminal activity and disposed of dozens of tires and beer bottles. He says it would cost up to $300,000 to upgrade the lot. 

During the April 21 presentation, Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) Director Michael Moore presented the committee with an alternative recently developed with Cranley’s office that he said would appease Haines and his tenants but would cost more money. Moore pushed the notion that the alternative creates a more balanced bikeway plan.

The original plan, passed by council last year, restricts parking in front of Haines’ building from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Moore’s alternative, which Mann is on board with, is to ramp the bike lane over the curb adjacent to a sidewalk where there is currently a tree-lined area in front of Haines’ building and another business in order to preserve public parking full-time. 

At the meeting, council member Young took exception to the suggestion of changing the project at this point.  

“For the life of me, I don’t see where the reasonableness and the balance is with people who come so far after the fact that want us to make these changes and the dollar amount it’s going to cost the taxpayers to get it done,” Young said. “I am appalled that people can come after the fact and tie up all these people down here to simply want accommodations for them.”

Mann shared another perspective.

“There’s a gentleman who has brought 60 jobs to the city, including some folks who have Parkinson’s and use the building, and the proposal that’s being made seems to me to represent balance,” Mann said. “We spend millions of dollars, typically, to support development, to support jobs, and you’re saying that the proposal that was originally approved by this council without a hearing like this is so pristine that it cant be adjusted in any way, and if it’s adjusted that is a statement of imbalance? I just don’t follow that.”

For the past year and a half, DOTE conducted surveys, sought public input and developed plans for the bikeway. After a strong consensus, the department chose the protected bikeway plan. The bikeway is estimated to add just three seconds of motorist commute time by 2030, though some naysayers suggest that delivery trucks will clog the lanes and the turn left from Ravine Street will create an even longer lag. 

Community outreach for the design began in March of last year with eight community council meetings. Letters were mailed to residents, businesses and property owners, but Haines and several other business owners stated they didn’t receive any and weren’t aware of the project until late last year. 

A website designed for public feedback also garnered about 600 messages mainly supporting the bikeway project. DOTE held an open house last September and the Over-The-Rhine and Northside community councils, Findlay Market and Northside Business Association endorsed the project. 

Simpson expressed frustration with halting progress for a last-minute meeting.

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate process,” she said. “Really, technically you can go over everything over the past two years. The reality is we need to look forward. If we want to be less auto-focused and more focused on other types of transit, we’re going to have to ruffle a couple of feathers.”

Supporters — some who biked to the April 21 meeting and utilized a bike valet setup in front of City Hall — represented various groups of the community from health and community councils to business owners and cyclists. Their number doubled opponents — mainly business owners along Central Parkway in the West End and the West End Community Council, though some West End residents and business owners supported the original bikeway plan.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 04.09.2014 106 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
transparency map

Ohio Ranks Poorly in Government Transparency

Options for tracking government spending rank higher than only four states in the U.S.

Ohio scored fifth-worst in a nationwide government transparency survey conducted by a national consumer group focused on investigating and advocating for American citizens against powerful interest groups.

The group gave Ohio a “D-” ranking after its government spending transparency website earned 51 points out of 100 in U.S. Public Interest Research Group's fifth annual “Following the Money” report. 

“Ohio’s been kind of sinking through the ratings year by year,” says Phineas Baxendall, a U.S. PIRG senior policy analyst and co-author of the report released on Tuesday. “It used to do much better, which doesn’t mean they’re dismantling their transparency systems. It just means our standards get tougher each year and they’re more staying in place while other states are improving.”

Ohio’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t offer certain customizable search options including bid award recipients, keywords, agency and bulk download searches. Ohio’s poor score follows three years of ranking in the bottom half of the study.  

Researchers look for transparency websites to be comprehensive, one-stop and offer simple search formats. 

The nation as a whole is moving toward a more transparent approach to documenting government spending. Since PIRG began the study, all six categories it uses to compile rankings have shown an increase in states performing specific duties. The largest leaps in the past five years involve showing how a project benefits from taxpayer subsidies, which has seen an increase from two to 33 states, and how tax money is spent with an increase from eight to 44 states. All states now have ledger listings for transactions of any government spending on a website, compared to only 32 five years ago. 

Ohio’s score doesn’t reflect Cincinnati’s efforts to be transparent. In a 2013 study in transparency of the 30 largest cities in America, Cincinnati scored a “B+” for providing ledger listings for spending information, allowing Cincinnatians to view where money is spent, specific recipients of tax subsidies and the existence of a service request center allowing residents to notify officials about quality of life issues. 

Suggestions for improvement included making checkbook-level spending information searchable by the vendor who received the money and developing a comprehensive transparency website.

“We feel strongly that this isn’t a partisan issue, and the fact that states that do best in our rankings show no political pattern, with Texas and Massachusetts standing side-by-side, sort of speaks that this is one of those issues that should not be politicized,” Baxendall says. “We look forward to advancement in transparency in Ohio regardless of who is in office.”

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 04.02.2014 114 days ago
Posted In: News at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
otr

OTR Foundation to Host Property Rehabilitation Series

Workshops intend to educate potential homeowners on purchasing and rehab processes

The Over-the-Rhine Foundation will host a series of upcoming workshops aimed at educating people interested in downtown living on how to rehabilitate properties.

Part of the nonprofit’s mission is to engage community members in the neighborhood’s future as a compliment to larger development companies’ efforts, which have largely shaped the neighborhood’s resurgence in recent years. This effort is specifically targeting those interested in moving to OTR, the Brewery District or Pendleton. 

“Lots of people are really interested and excited about the idea of rehabbing one of the buildings to live-in in Over-the-Rhine,” says Marilyn Hyland, a board trustee for OTR Foundation. “Then they get into it and find it’s really complicated. This is an opportunity for people of both professional and personal perspectives to help people who really want to do this with their families and to have the wisdom of experience as they go forward with it themselves.”

The first of the three workshops — which take place at the Art Academy of Cincinnati on Jackson Street — will take place on April 12 and include a lecture from owners who rehabbed their homes, followed by an optional tour of renovated homes.

A second workshop on May 10 delves into selecting and purchasing a building, working with various contractors, hidden costs and navigating planning, zoning and other regulations. A third on June 14 dives into the financial aspect of renovation.

People can register for the workshop series by going to otrfoundation.org. The cost goes up from $35 to $50 starting April 4. Space is limited and will close once 80 people have registered.

“We as a foundation are committed to revitalizing the diverse OTR neighborhood, and a key objective is building community by encouraging and promoting owner-occupied development,” Kevin Pape, OTR Foundation president, said in a statement. “These workshops will help individuals gain access to the resources, expertise, and development tools needed to ensure the success of their community investments.”

More information is available at otrfoundation.org/3OTR.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.24.2014 123 days ago
at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Colerain Oil Pipe Back in Operation as Cleanup Continues

A pipeline that burst in a Colerain nature preserve last week spilling thousands of gallons of oil is back in operation after crews repaired a 5-inch-long crack in the bottom of the pipe.

Colerain Township Fire Department Captain Steven Conn says officials shut the pipe down shortly after the spill on March 17 and have temporarily repaired the crack. The entire pipe, which runs through the Glen Oak Nature Preserve, will eventually be replaced.

“Eventually they will come back in, stop production and remove that section of piping according to their plan,” Conn says. 

The cause of the crack remains unclear, and a Department of Transportation investigation will take weeks to test the pipe for any chemicals that could have caused a crack.

Crews cleaned up about 20,000 gallons of oil so far and anticipate cleaning for another five to six days. The preserve will remain closed, along with the nearby Obergiesing Soccer Complex, until a command center for officials working on the leak is relocated. Representatives from Sunoco Logistics, Mid-Valley Piping Company, the Environmental Protection Agency, Colerain Township and Hamilton County Parks will utilize the command center as they respond to the mess.

Twenty-four small animals have been treated after being covered in oil, and a wildlife organization from Delaware came to Cincinnati to help oil-soaked animals.

Officials say there are no reports of oil leaking into the Great Miami River. Conn says the area will be tested and monitored for at least a year after the cleanup is complete.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.21.2014 126 days ago
at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
enroll

Health Insurance Deadline Approaching

Local organizations available to help people sign up ahead of March 31 deadline

Enroll America, a nonprofit designed to help citizens who are uninsured wade through the insurance process, stopped by Cincinnati on Monday during a four-city Ohio tour meant to educate citizens on their health insurance options ahead of a March 31 deadline to sign up for coverage.

The Get Covered America campaign visited the Word of Deliverance Ministries for the World and WLWT, where it held a phone drive to help people sign up for health coverage.

“We have been particularly reaching out to young folks,” says Trey Daly, Ohio’s director for Enroll America.

Those who are uninsured making more than $16,200 a year or families of four making more than $32,913 have until the end of this month to sign up for coverage or face penalties.

One major source of information locally is the Freestore Foodbank on Liberty Street, which received federal grants to help with outreach and the enrollment process. Many people coming through the Foodbank, however, already qualify for Medicaid — individuals earning less than $16,200 and families of four bringing in less than $32,913 — which doesn't have a set deadline to apply. 

Next Tuesday, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College will host a free health insurance workshop. Enroll America's website lists other informational events offering details about the process and an online calculator that provides estimates of how much an insurance premium would cost, along with other insurance-finding tools. Local centers are also offering one-on-one help and can be found at enrollamerica.org or healthcare.gov. 

On Wednesday, Ryan Luckie, team leader for the Affordable Care Act at the foodbank, worked from Mercy Hospital in Anderson, where he said there was consistent traffic.

“It’s now picking up as we approach March 31,” Luckie says.

The centers are typically on a first-come first-serve basis, but there is also an option to call ahead to schedule an appointment.  Those still seeking health insurance after March 31 will have to wait until Nov. 15 when open enrollment begins, Luckie says. Those people who have experienced what’s known as a “life event," either loss of employment, recently married or recently birthed a child, may have their deadline extended, Luckie says.

People seeking help with their insurance should bring proof of income for the last 30 days and social security numbers and date of birth for everyone seeking coverage within a household.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.18.2014 128 days ago
Posted In: 2014 election, Governor, Taxes at 03:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_kasichtaxcuts

Lt. Governor Candidate Blasts Kasich's Tax Cut Proposal

Sharen Neuhardt says Kasich's claim to be helping women is "despicable and wrong"

Lt. Governor-candidate Sharen Neuhardt held a press conference on the City Hall front steps today to lament a tax cut proposed by Gov. John Kasich, claiming that it furthers his agenda to help Ohio’s top 1 percent.

Kasich has proposed to cut income tax 8.5 percent across the board by 2016, which would help drive Ohio’s top tax rate below 5 percent. The governor claims single mothers making $30,000 would save an extra few hundred dollars on taxes every year as part of his proposed tax cut, a claim Neuhardt called “despicable and wrong.”

During the press conference, Neuhardt said Kasich is using the plight of single mothers to propagate a tax cut that would disproportionately benefit Ohio’s upper echelon.

“I want to really emphasize pay equality is always an important issue,” Neuhardt said.

Neuhardt doesn’t have a plan to square the $11,600 pay disparity between genders in 2012 that she cites, but she did say that her administration would need to reverse everything Kasich’s administration has done in order to get Ohio’s economy moving forward, should she and her running mate, gubernatorial candidate Ed Fitzgerald, win office in November. 

“We need Ohio’s working class to have money in their pocket,” Neuhardt said.

Kasich’s previous budget took the first steps toward pushing the state’s top tax rate below 5 percent by lowering income tax across the board and raising sales tax, a combination that disproportionately favors the wealthy. CityBeat covered that plan here and Kasich’s early 2013 budget proposals here and here.

Council members P.G. Sittenfield and Yvette Simpson spoke about pay disparity before Neurhardt took the podium on Tuesday.

Simpson stated women on average are earning 27 percent less than men in Ohio and Latin American women are earning 57 percent less.

“In the year 2014, that’s unacceptable,” Simpson said.

She also stated that Cincinnati has a 50-percent single mother rate and that 53 percent of children are living in poverty.

Sittenfield said the way toward eliminating pay disparity is through “meaningful reforms,” not tax cuts.

“Wage equality is not just a women’s issue — it’s a family issue and it’s an Ohio issue,” Sittenfield said.

Kasich proposed the cuts as part of a mid-biennium review intended to lay out administrative goals for next year.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.12.2014 134 days ago
at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

City to Continue Using Green Energy

Council support changes city manager's mind about going back to fossil fuels

Interim City Manager Scott Stiles today announced his intention to keep Cincinnati’s electricity green after City Councilman Chris Seelbach rallied a majority of council to oppose Stiles’ earlier plan to go back to using conventional fossil fuels to light and heat the city.

Instead, Cincinnati will continue using 100-percent renewable-backed energy from First Energy Solutions.

The city signed on with First Energy in 2012, making Cincinnati the largest metropolitan are in the country to use 100-percent renewable energy.

Stiles was expected to sign the three-year contract with First Energy Solutions today, according to city spokeswoman Meg Olberding.

Sellbach and other council members convinced Stiles to change his mind about the contract, Olberding says.

She also added that First Energy told Stiles it would allow any customer who wants to save the additional $5.63 annual savings of conventional energy to opt-out of the green energy agreement.

The green energy plan is estimated to save customers $43.58 compared Duke’s standard service.

About 65,000 households and small businesses will continue using First Energy unless they choose to retain another energy supplier.

Stiles will also institute a green energy fee of $.006 on each electric bill as part of a program he’s developing that will help local business owners and residents equip their homes or offices with energy-saving solutions. The program will be run by the Office of Environment and Sustainability.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.07.2014 140 days ago
Posted In: News, Drugs, Voting, Development, Mayor at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Early voting agreement sought, downtown project scrutinized, drug abuse reportedly drops

Mayor John Cranley is trying to find a compromise over whether early voting will move out of downtown after the 2016 general election, as some Republicans in the county government have suggested. Cranley called for a meeting with Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, Cincinnati NAACP President Ishton Morton and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel. The meeting will aim to “discuss alternatives the City of Cincinnati can offer to accommodate early voting downtown after the 2016 elections. (Cranley) believes that such a discussion is consistent with the recommendation of the secretary of state that there be an effort to find a nonpartisan solution to the existing disagreement.”

With a $12 million price tag in mind, Cranley remains worried Cincinnati is paying too much for a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. But the project is truly one of a kind, claims The Business Courier: The tower would boast nearly twice the number of luxury apartments of any other project underway in Over-the-Rhine or downtown. And it would replace a decrepit garage and establish the first full-scale grocery store downtown in decades.

A study found Ohio teens’ painkiller abuse dropped by 40 percent between 2011 and 2013. State officials quickly took credit for the drop, claiming their drug prevention strategies are working. But because the Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey only has two sets of data on painkillers to work with — one in 2011 and another in 2013 — it’s possible the current drop is more statistical noise than a genuine downturn, so the 2015 and 2017 studies will be under extra scrutiny to verify the trend.

Similarly, fewer Ohio teens say they’re drinking and smoking. But 46 percent say they text while driving.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in January, down from 7.3 percent the year before. The numbers reflect both rising employment and dropping unemployment in the previous year.

To prove his conservative bona fides, Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted a rifle when he walked on stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, will headline a Hamilton County Republican Party dinner.

Researchers studied a woman who claims she can will herself out of her body.

Personal note: This is my last “Morning News and Stuff” and blog for CityBeat. After today, I will be leaving to Washington, D.C., for a new journalistic venture started by bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate. (CityBeat Editor Danny Cross wrote a lot of nice things about the move here, and my last commentary touched on it here.) Thank you to everyone who read my blogs during my nearly two years at CityBeat, and I hope I helped you understand the city’s complicated, exciting political and economic climate a little better, even if you sometimes disagreed with what I wrote.

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by Nick Swartsell 07.25.2014 3 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
rand_paul,_official_portrait,_112th_congress_alternate

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy making moves on immigration, Rand Paul speaks at Urban League and Ohio Dept. of Ed spokesman has advice for charter school opponents

News time!

As we reported yesterday, Mayor John Cranley rolled out his new immigration task force at Music Hall. The volunteer group, made up of 78 community leaders split into five committees, will look for ways to make Cincinnati a welcoming city for immigrants with an eye toward economic development and growth. The initiative is in its early stages, with committees scheduled to report their findings and suggestions in December. No word so far on hot-button issues like undocumented immigrants, but you can read more about the task force and the great work it will be doing in the above blog post.

The mayor also mentioned another immigration-related effort underway, though one unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and the Catholic Archdiocese are working to find ways to house some child refugees who have come to the U.S. through Mexico from Central America, fleeing turmoil related to drug violence in their home countries. The groups have applied for federal grant money through the Department of Health and Human Services to give about 50 refugee children a temporary place to stay in the Cincinnati area.

The massive border crossings have been called a humanitarian crisis and have drawn response from President Obama, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and many liberal and conservative groups. Perry, a staunch conservative, has taken the step of calling in National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. Closer to home, Dayton’s Mayor Nan Whaley recently caused controversy with conservatives when she expressed willingness to house some of the child immigrants in Dayton. That led to a backlash from Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who represents Dayton in Congress. Turner called her comments “completely out of line.” Dayton has been engaged in efforts since 2009 to attract more immigrants to the city, though those efforts are focused on documented immigrants who can help the city grow economically.

The federal government works to move unaccompanied child immigrants out of federal facilities and into temporarily housing with “sponsors,” families or non-profit groups. So far this year, the government has placed about 30,000 children into such arrangements.

Last month we reported on a lawsuit against the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. The state has settled that suit, and now, local companies overcharged by the OBWC will be getting at least some of their money back. The state settled a lawsuit yesterday over unfair payment structures that gave big discounts on insurance rates to some companies while charging much higher rates to others. Local companies like BAE and non-profits like the Cincinnati Ballet are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the payment scheme. The OBWC has changed how they calculate payments and will create a $420 million fund to repay companies overcharged by the scheme.

• Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke today at the ongoing National Urban League Conference here in Cincinnati. Paul is a staunch libertarian conservative and tea party favorite who in the past has expressed some skepticism about parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying private businesses should be free to discriminate if they see fit. Paul has since walked back a bit on that, but statements like that make him an unlikely choice to speak at the civil rights organization’s big national gathering. He didn’t draw the biggest crowd of the conference, for sure, but he did touch on at least a couple issues relevant to the black community, including his ideas for changing mandatory drug sentencing laws. Current drug laws in the United States have contributed to the highly disproportionate incarceration rates faced by young black males, Paul says, and he’d like to change that. One proposal he'll be pursuing in the Senate-- ending the much higher penalties for selling crack over powdered cocaine. Paul also made his argument for libertarian policies that he says will increase the availability of jobs for everyone, including minorities. Paul has been reaching out to minority groups with mixed success as he builds up to his 2016 presidential bid. Meanwhile, Democrats are rolling their eyes at Paul’s attempts.

• Cincinnati set a Guinness World Record last night for most salsa dancers when more than 2,000 people danced at Fountain Square. The previous record was 1,600 dancers. The effort was put together by a number of community organizations to celebrate Cincinnati’s Hispanic community.

• Finally, if you’re like me after finishing a long article on the subject last week, you’re in too deep on the hot topic of charter schools and need some tips for how to uh, unwind. Luckily, Ohio Department of Education Communications Director John Charlton has some advice for anyone in this position. In a personal tweet sent out July 18, Chartlon advised opponents of charter schools to “take a break from muckraking and enjoy the weekend. Maybe you can get laid. Lol.” Charlton was responding to a tweet asserting that he thought “charter schools are OK no matter what shenanigans take place.” Laugh out loud!

Charlton deleted the tweet yesterday, and explained it this way:

"It was an offhanded comment made as a back and forth with critics who engaged me on my personal account," he said.

Bee-tee-dubs, keep an eye out for our piece on charter schools next week. It’s a deep dive into what’s up with Ohio’s charters. Until then, relax, enjoy your weekend, and maybe you can get… some pizza or something.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.24.2014 26 hours ago
Posted In: Immigration at 11:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cranleyimmigration

Cranley Announces Immigration Initiative

Initiative will work to attract immigrants with economic development in mind

Mayor John Cranley today announced the creation of a 78-person task force that will work toward making Cincinnati "the most immigrant-friendly city in the country."

The effort will work to bring more investment and highly-educated, well-to-do immigrants to the area, though few specifics were offered about how the initiative would address the hot topic of undocumented immigration.

“This is a country of immigrants, and this is a place where immigration is rewarded and thanked,” Cranley said during a news conference at Music Hall. “We’re all going to be richer and better by being a friendly city for immigrants.”

The task force, which is all-volunteer and uses no city money at this point, will research ways to attract and retain immigrants in the city. The group will be split into five committees focused on economic development, community resources, education/talent retention, international attractions and rights and safety. The task force will be led by co-chairs Raj Chundur and Tom Fernandez.

Cranley cited economic studies suggesting that immigration is good for economic growth. Economic experts and politicians are split on the wider point of whether welcoming more immigrants overall aids the economy, though some researchers believe even undocumented immigrants are a net positive. Either way, there is much evidence to suggest well-thought-out programs to attract immigrants can help cities. Dayton began working to attract immigrants in 2009, and has received national attention for its program. Since the start of the program, more than 3,000 immigrants, mostly from Turkey, have moved to Dayton, helping to revitalize the city's blighted North Dayton neighborhood.

He specifically discussed the EB5 visa program, which rewards immigrants who invest between $500,000 to $1 million in their communities with a special long-term visa and the opportunity for citizenship. He said that program has helped spur development in the city, especially along the Short Vine area in Corryville.

“I can tell you this means a lot to me personally, because I and my family are immigrants to this country,” said University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, who will lead the task force’s education committee. Ono said his time at UC has shown him just how important attracting and retaining immigrants is for the city.

Cranley hedged some on revealing how undocumented immigrants would fit into the plan, saying that was work the task force will need to do as it prepares its recommendations.

“The whole point of the task force is to look at these issues in depth and come back with specific recommendations,” he said.

The mayor did share one effort to help children refugees in the country’s ongoing border crisis, though it is unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities Southwest Ohio CEO Ted Bergh is a co-chair on the task force’s community resources committee. That nonprofit group and the Catholic Archdiocese in Cincinnati are working to help house in dormitories and hopefully find temporary foster homes (called "sponsors") for about 50 kids who have crossed the border into the United States due to turmoil in Mexico and Central America.The groups have applied for federal grants through the Department of Health and Human Services to fund the effort.


 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.24.2014 28 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do_washington park opening_photo 3cdc

Morning News and Stuff

VP in Cincy, city tops for recreation, and $100,000 to work on your dream project

Tons going on today in Cincinnati. Check it out.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke this morning at the National Urban League Conference, which is here in town this year. Biden’s speech touched on the challenges the black community has historically faced and the progress the country has made toward economic and social equality. But there are a lot of challenges ahead, the VP said.

“Both civil and economic rights are under siege in the aftermath of the great recession. We can’t be satisfied with where we are now in either civil rights or economic opportunities for African Americans,” he said. Biden called out new voting laws designed to “prevent fraud where no fraud exists” in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ohio has attempted to enact new voting laws as well, limiting early voting times during which many black voters go to the ballot.

“We need to call this what it is,” Biden said. “This is an attempt to suppress minority voting masquerading as an attempt to end fraud.”

Biden also outlined the deep economic disparities facing African Americans, including lack of access to high-quality education and good paying jobs. But there's hope, he said, highlighting new jobs in technology and the medical industry. "If I made this presentation to you seven years ago, I wouldn't be so optimistic. But I'm telling you, this is a new era, not just because of this administration. We're better positioned than anyone in the world." But the United States needs to invest in education and infrastructure to capitalize on that opportunity, Biden said.

True to form, he sprinkled some scatter-brained levity into his talk, opening with wall to wall jokes. Biden’s daughter Ashley is on the board of the Urban League, he noted.  “I should have had at least one Republican kid who makes money,” he joked. “That way, when they put me in a home, I get a room with a view.”

• Hundreds of folks from all over the city crowded into the Sharonville Convention Center last night to talk about the plan to hike sales taxes to pay for renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall. Many supporters of the plan showed up, but there were some skeptics in the audience as well. One suggestion that popped up a couple times, and that Commissioners say they may consider, is splitting renovations of the two buildings. Some have suggested raising taxes by a smaller amount so that people across the county can help pay for the badly-needed renovations to Union Terminal, while saving less-urgent Music Hall for the city to fund. Other attendees at the meeting didn’t like the proposed tax plan at all, saying they felt it put too much burden on the county. Many of the plan’s supporters came sporting the yellow signs that are part of the Save Our Icons campaign, a local effort to raise awareness about the buildings and advocate for a renovation plan sponsored by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Music Hall Revitalization Company. The next and final public meeting on the plan before Commissioners decide whether it will go on the ballot will be at the Commissioners’ regular meeting at 11 a.m. on Monday, July 30.

• Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald is another step closer to becoming the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs after the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs voted unanimously yesterday to endorse his nomination. The VA has been plagued by mismanagement, with serious questions arising about patient wait times and record keeping at the agency. Sen. Sherrod Brown is on the committee, and voiced strong confidence in McDonald.

“The VA is faced with many hurdles that it must overcome,” Brown said. “These hurdles are not insurmountable, and I am confident Bob McDonald will meet these challenges head-on.”

McDonald is a veteran himself, graduating from West Point and serving in the Army Rangers before his time at P&G.

“…I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference,” McDonald told the committee yesterday.

• Cincinnati is the top city in the country for recreation, a new ranking says. A study done by finance website WalletHub.com puts our fair city on top of the nation’s 100 largest cities when it comes to having a good time. The study measured availability and affordability of various recreation—from parks to bowling to beer and wine—and then ranked cities accordingly. In all, 24 factors were considered. Most notably, the city is 2nd in the country when it comes to low prices for pizza and burgers. That’s the kind of metric I like to see. I may need to verify this during lunch hour today.

• A local non-profit called People’s Liberty has announced it will give out two $100,000 grants to Cincinnatians looking to make a difference in their community. Smaller grants will also be available for one-off projects and efforts. The group, which will be based in the Globe Building across from Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine, is looking for “civic rock stars” who will use the money to try new, adventurous ways of getting people civically engaged. The grants will come with access to work space, support from staff, and connections with Cincinnati’s business and non-profit communities.

The coolest thing about this idea, I think, is the promise to make it inclusive and diverse.

"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," CEO Eric Avner told the Enquirer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."

• Finally, from the "weird crimes" file—the press secretary for a Pennsylvania Republican congressman was arrested late last week for trying to bring a loaded 9mm pistol into the Cannon congressional office building. Ryan Shucard, the press secretary for Rep. Tom Marino, tried to walk right through a security checkpoint at the building, which is just a block from the Capitol. Security found the weapon and magazine, and how Shucard is charged with carrying a weapon without a license, which is a felony.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.23.2014 52 hours ago
Posted In: News at 08:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do_bright ride_photo urban basin bicycle club facebook page

Morning News and Stuff

Bike lane nears completion, food stamp usage down and powdered alcohol

 It’s a pretty good morning for news, so let’s get to it.

Cincinnati City Council's epic struggle this spring over the Central Parkway bike lane is barely a memory and the city is well on its way to a protected bike route from uptown to downtown. Crews are painting the new lanes right now, like, probably as I type, sectioning off a whole portion of the road meant only for cyclists. No more frantically looking over your shoulder every three seconds, bikers. No more getting caught behind a cyclist when you’re late to work, drivers. Everyone wins. After the lanes are painted and signage about new parking patterns is installed, crews will put up the plastic poles between the road and the bike lane, and we’ll all be ready to ride.

• A non-profit development group for the city’s uptown neighborhoods is looking for land to purchase in order to make a new federal research center a reality. The Uptown Consortium is trying to find the 14 acres in Avondale and Corryville near Reading Road and Martin Luther King Blvd. for the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety to build its multimillion dollar headquarters. NIOSH already runs two facilities in the region—one in the East End and another in Pleasant Ridge. This facility would consolidate the two and bring hundreds of jobs to the uptown area. Both the current facilities are 60 years old. The area is already home to a number of health facilities, including UC Health and Children’s Hospital. Representatives for the consortium said the land hunt is an ongoing project with no set timeline just yet. NIOSH researches issues around workplace safety.

• The Hamilton County Coroner yesterday released the autopsy report for Brogan Dulle, the 21-year-old UC student who went missing  in the early hours of May 18 and was later found hanged in the building next to his apartment. The report confirms what authorities believed—that Dulle’s death was suicide. No signs of trauma or struggle were found on Dulle’s body other than the hanging-related injuries that caused his death.

There are still puzzling elements about Dulle’s death, mostly around why he would want to commit suicide.

“It's an investigation that's raised a lot of questions and we still have a lot of questions we may never know the answers to," said Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey.

• Food stamp usage is down in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, following a national trend, says a report from the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The report found that usage dropped more than 4 percent in Ohio from Feb. 2013 to Feb. 2014. Some of this news is good–a portion of those spending reductions came from a decrease in demand due to the economy’s slight but steady improvement. But some of the reductions come from last year’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government’s main nutrition aid effort. SNAP spending by the federal government increased following the great recession as more individuals and families navigated tough economic situations and found themselves needing aid. That increase became a talking point for Republicans looking to slash government spending. At its peak in 2010 spending from the SNAP program accounted for .5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, nearly double what it had been earlier in the decade. Conservatives in Congress used the fact spending had gone up to attempt deep cuts to the program, passing several new stipulations. As the economy gets better, and as these cuts have taken effect, spending on SNAP has dropped to .25 percent of the nation’s economy, according to research by the Congressional Budget Office.

• Do you like alcohol, but hate that it’s in that hard-to-transport liquid form? Science has you covered. Turns out there’s a product called Palcohol that is, you guessed it, powdered, freeze-dried alcohol. Kind of like astronaut ice cream, only it’ll get ya drunk. This definitely reminds me of a certain Parks and Recreation bit. While Ron Swanson says there’s no wrong way to consume alcohol, the Ohio General Assembly wouldn’t say that. Lawmakers are working on a bill to ban the product. Palcohol received approval from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, though ATF quickly reversed that decision. It’s also been banned or will soon be banned in a number of other states including Alaska and New York. Turns out, things that aren’t that great for you anyway are even worse for you in powdered form. In May, an 18-year-old Ohio man died from consuming a heaping helping of powdered caffeine. The FDA now warns consumers to, you know, not do that kind of thing. Palcohol's inventor released a video addressing some concerns about the product, which you can check out right here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 3 days ago
Posted In: News, Drugs at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Northside Community Council OKs Needle Exchange

Northside program an effort to fight disease, demonstrate benefits of exchanges

Northside Community Council voted July 21 to allow a needle exchange program in the neighborhood. The effort, run by the Cincinnati Exchange Program, will start sometime in August and operate from a van one day a week for three hours at a time. Planned Parenthood will also participate, providing testing services for diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

Exchanges, which aim to cut down the transmission of those diseases among intravenous drug users, have been controversial in the city. A similar effort in Springdale earlier this year was shut down after just a few weeks due to outcry from some in the community. But the community council in Northside thinks the program is worth it.

“The community has been doing its due diligence as to how the program would work and what the repercussions are, and decided the health benefits definitely outweigh any consequences,” said Northside Community Council President Ollie Kroner. “Northside wants to be part of the solution to the heroin epidemic.”

A 2012 study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that needle exchange programs can greatly reduce the number used syringes found littering streets. And a 2004 study by the World Health Organization found that exchanges do not increase the rate of heroin use in areas where they are undertaken.

Heroin addiction has been rising steadily in Ohio in the past five years. 2012 Ohio Department of Health data shows that 159 people in Hamilton County died from heroin overdoses, a 6 percent increase over the year before. Experts trace the epidemic to an increase in the availability of prescription opiates in the last decade. As Ohio has cracked down on those drugs, addicts turn to other, similar drugs to experience the same high. The most popular by far is heroin.

Local organizations, including Northside-based Caracole work hard to fight heroin addiction and prevent overdoses. But as heroin use increases, needles infected with various blood-borne diseases including HIV and hepatitis are a serious concern. Hepatitis C in particular has been increasing among intravenous drug users in the area. Needle exchanges allow a person to exchange a used needle for a new, sterile one, so they at least won’t catch deadly diseases associated with intravenous drug use. The exchanges also cut down on the level of needle litter, meaning less risk of exposure for community members who aren’t using.

Opponents say exchanges encourage heroin use, but supporters of the programs say the availability of clean needles alone won’t sway a person to take or not take the incredibly addictive drug.

Kroner said the effort is a six-month pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of needle exchanges. Though some in the community have expressed concerns that the exchange will create a perception that Northside has a heroin issue, Kroner emphasized that the program isn’t a response to any specific drug problem in the community.

“What we’re really hoping is that Northside can show that this kind of program can work in other communities,” Kroner said.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

National Urban League comes to Cincy, landmark renovations may cost more cash, Cranley says cities don't need to annex the burbs

It's morning! I have news! Morning news! Wow, sorry, that's a lot of exclamation points. I sprung for the large iced coffee this morning and probably need to settle down a little. Anyway, here we go:

Cincinnati is playing host to the annual National Urban League Conference this week. The event, held by one of America’s oldest and largest civil rights organizations, is expected to draw 8,000 people to the city for events Wednesday through Saturday.

The conference is a big deal for Cincinnati. Last time the city tried to host the event in 2003, it was recovering from the 2001 civil unrest that gave Cincinnati a national reputation for race problems. Notable black entertainers boycotted downtown and the Urban League took its conference elsewhere. Since then, some reconciliation and a lot of revitalization has happened, but many old problems remain. In a report called “The State of Black America,” the Urban League ranked the city 74th out of 77 peer cities in terms of economic equity between blacks and whites. Blacks in the Greater Cincinnati area make an average of $24,272 a year compared to $57,481 for whites, the greatest disparity of any city in the region.

Here’s a quote worth thinking about in a Cincinnati Enquirer piece on the event:

"The riots ... were also about economic frustration," said Donna Jones Baker, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio. "These economic gaps continue. And while we have a vibrancy in the city because of wonderful things happening, we have a group of people who can't access them. We can’t expect people to suffer in silence forever.”

Among those attending the event are Vice President Joe Biden and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Biden will make opening remarks Wednesday and Paul will deliver a town hall speech Friday. This seems like a good opportunity for both to keep their speaking short and their listening long, but yeah.

• The cost of renovating Union Terminal and Music Hall may be more than initially estimated, a group of consultants say. International real estate company Hines looked over engineers’ $331 million cost estimates and found places where more money may be needed for both projects. The possible overrun could amount to $10 million more added to the project.

The revelation comes during a continuing disagreement about where renovation money should come from. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann suggests the city chip in to help shore up the landmarks. Hartmann argues that the county can’t “go it alone” in efforts to fix the buildings. A further city contribution would be in addition to the $10 million the city has already pledged for the renovations. Mayor John Cranley shot back at Hartmann yesterday with an editorial detailing the city’s ongoing commitment to the buildings.

• A group of parachutists landed on a parking garage at Fourth and Elm yesterday, according to police. Annnd…. that’s about all anyone knows about it. The group may have been BASE jumpers parachuting from Carew Tower, or may have jumped from an airplane, though air traffic controllers at Lunken Airport didn’t report anything out of the ordinary. Maybe they were protesting something, but none were wearing tiger suits or waving banners shaming Procter & Gamble, so it's hard to tell.

• Horseshoe Casino, which has been open just over a year, is undertaking a half-million dollar, 8,700-square-foot expansion. The new addition sounds like it will be a patio for people to take smoke breaks when they need to cool off from all the fun they’re having fighting battles against the one-armed bandit (that’s a slot machine for those not hip to casino lingo). The patio will be enclosed, have a bar and will only be accessible from inside the casino, Horseshoe representatives say, though they’re tight-lipped so far about further details.  

• Cincinnati and Mayor Cranley are featured prominently in a Governing magazine article about changes in the way cities view their outlying suburbs. The article discusses how some cities are shifting away from the view that suburbs are valuable prizes to be annexed or wrapped up in Indianapolis/Louisville-style city and county combined governments. A renewed interest in cities among the young and well-to-do and an increase in suburban poverty are cited as reasons for the shift in thinking from some city leaders.

Cranley’s view that Cincinnati is just fine without taking over surrounding suburbs challenges conventional accepted wisdom.

“You had a sentiment that urban cores need the wealth of the suburbs to have a better budget picture,” he says in the article. “People in the suburbs escaped the city to flee the problems. But that’s changing. You’re going to see cities in a better financial situation than a lot of the suburbs.”

• Finally, a story that could (hopefully) only happen in New York City, where a developer has won permission from the city to have two separate entrances in a new apartment building — one for well-to-do residents of its luxury units and another for the tenants of its required-by-law affordable units. So, basically, a poor door.

Last year, another developer explained just such a plan for another building thusly:

“No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a senior VP at Toll Brothers, a New York development company. “So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.”

Translation: Being rich is hard when you have to rub elbows with not-rich folks, who should just shut up and enjoy the crumbs we’re throwing them.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.21.2014 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
voices_wwe_greenpeaceprotest_jf6

Morning News and Stuff

Greenpeace case moves forward, local activists rally for Palestinian civilians and an epic achievement

Heavy stuff in the news today, but there’s a bright spot at the end of this rundown, something so inspiring it will probably change your life. Well, maybe just your week. Err, I don’t want to oversell it. I promise you’ll be amused for at least a couple minutes if you make it to the end of this. Read on.

The next chapter in the saga of nine Greenpeace activists who hung banners from P&G buildings happens today. A pretrial hearing will determine whether lawyers for the activists will be able to access P&G e-mails about the event to use in their case. Lawyers are also requesting records about maintenance of the building, more than likely related to the alleged $18,000 in damage done to windows in the building. That damage is part of prosecutors’ case that the group should face felony charges. Meanwhile, the Greenpeace activists are considering a plea deal that would keep them out of jail but saddle them with probation and felonies on their records. A date for the trial is expected to be set today.

Update: One of the nine protesters will take the plea deal, WLWT reports. The other eight will go to trial to face burglary and vandalism charges.

Hundreds rallied downtown Sunday to show support for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, where more than 400 civilians have been killed over the past few weeks in clashes between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas. Local protesters said their rally was about highlighting Palestinian civilians’ human rights.

“We have to be the voice for the voiceless," said Zeinab Schwen, a Symmes Township resident with family in Gaza. "For the children and parents, we have to speak up. It is not OK. It is not OK what Israel is doing.”

Israel launched a ground offensive Sunday in Gaza in response to rocket attacks from Hamas. Israeli leaders say they’re not trying to hurt civilians, and that Palestinian militants are putting them in harm’s way. But some witnesses claim that the Israeli army is targeting ambulances and other civilian vehicles as it carries out its offensive. In addition to the hundreds killed in Gaza, more than 3,000 Palestinians have been wounded by the fighting. 20 Israeli soldiers, including two with American citizenship, have also been killed.

• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store behemoth, is nearing a settlement in a civil rights suit brought by actor Rob Brown. Brown, the star of TV series “Treme,” says the chain’s New York City store profiled him and others due to his race. He is black.  According to his suit, Brown was handcuffed and detained by security at the store for more than an hour when attempting to buy a watch for his mother. Other shoppers have filed similar complaints alleging they were held by security and accused of stealing because of their race. Details of the upcoming settlement have not been released.

• More questions are arising about ethics in the Ohio Attorney General’s office. The Dayton Daily News had an investigative piece Saturday about the AG’s office and the way it hands out contracts to outside firms. It’s a subject that has been reported on in the past–a number of media outlets have investigated law contracts the AG has awarded to legal firms who donate to the DeWine campaign and the Ohio GOP. Today’s piece finds similar connections with contracts awarded to firms to collect on debts owed to the state. The piece finds a high correlation between firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign and ones that get those collections contracts. Especially noteworthy are instances where firms run by those close to DeWine win contracts over more experienced vendors.

• Death and destruction. Racial Profiling. Allegations of cronyism. To give you a break from all the doom and gloom in this morning news, I found someone who has attained an amazing, completely laudable achievement, someone who can restore our faith in humanity and expand our understanding of what is possible in this world. It’s this guy, who just set the world record for number of tattoos of the same cartoon character on a person’s body. He has 41 Homer Simpson tats, all on his arm. He’s reached this pinnacle of human achievement despite having been forbidden from watching the show by his father, who he calls “a real life Ned Flanders” when he was growing up. Next time you think you can’t do something, that your goal is too hard, that the world is too harsh, remember this man. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.18.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
fountainsquare-downtowncincinnati-resized

Morning News and Stuff

New housing downtown, tea party IRS suit goes forward, penal pizza party

The news transpiring this morning is all across the board.

The reshaping of Cincinnati’s downtown continues, and one of the biggest signs of more impending changes is the increase in housing in the city’s urban core. More people are interested in living in or near downtown, and developers are happy to oblige. Construction is ongoing for nearly 1,000 new apartments and condos in and around downtown, The Business Courier reports in a rundown of new construction today. The biggest projects include phase two of The Banks, which will have 305 new apartments, the so-called 580 building on Walnut Street, which is being converted from office space to 179 luxury apartments, and between 180 and 225 new apartments going in above Macy’s downtown location. There are also a number of projects happening in Over-the-Rhine, including a $26 million development in the Pendleton area that will also include 40,000 feet of retail space.

• All that change isn’t going unnoticed. It seems like I’m talking about Cincinnati making it onto some top 10 list or national publication at least a couple times a week here at the morning news, and here’s another one: Fortune magazine included Cincinnati in a list of top five cities with up-and-coming downtown areas. The article highlights Over-the-Rhine, saying, “while it’s still a work in progress, it’s already been transformed into one of Cincinnati’s most vibrant communities.” Oh, to work at a national magazine, parachute into a city for a couple days and reduce complex, decades-old dynamics into pithy, erudite observations. But I digress.

Tea partiers won a victory of sorts in U.S. District Court yesterday when Judge Susan Dlott ruled a group of the political activists could pursue suits against Internal Revenue Service employees in Cincinnati. The activists’ claims, first filed last year, state that IRS officials unfairly flagged their applications for nonprofit status based on the fact the groups have names indicating they are conservative or have “tea party” in the name. Nonprofits can’t be primarily political, and in assessing a groups’ application, the IRS must determine the level of political involvement in which a group engages. While the IRS admits it did flag tea party groups, it also did so for some liberal groups, including Occupy-affiliated activists. Still, the conservative groups argue that the IRS acted in a discriminatory way by delaying or denying their applications. The judge’s ruling clears the way for the groups’ lawsuits to go forward.

• There’s a new senate candidate in Kentucky joining the Mitch McConnell/Alison Lundergan-Grimes fray, and he wants you to know he’s full of crap. “Honest” Gil Fulbright is a fake candidate created by represent.us, a group advocating to get big-money influence out of politics. Fulbright, who is played by an actor from New York, is pretty honest about his intentions.

“People of Kentucky, you deserve complete honesty, so here it is,” he says in a video. “I don't care about you. Unless you are a donor, a lobbyist who can write a big fat check, the result that you get from voting for me is negligible."

The parody is a way for the group to drive home its point that most politicians in Congress are beholden to the big-money donors who help them get elected. The group says satire is a more effective way to reach people than traditional news. Probably true.

Kentucky’s senate race, where Democrat Lundergan-Grimes is working to unseat incumbent and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is expected to be the most expensive in history. Candidates and outside groups are on track to spend $100 million to convince voters they’re the better choice. A good deal of that money comes from big-money donors and PACs.

• Finally, while we’re talking about Kentucky, I need to share this story with you. The morning news absolutely does not condone law breaking, but if you’re going to do it, you might take a tip from this criminal genius. A Corbin, Kentucky man was arrested Tuesday for shoplifting. When taken to the station, he asked to make his requisite one phone call. Did he use that call to get in touch with a family member, friend or significant other who could bail him out? No, no. He used his only phone call to order five pizzas in the name of the officer who arrested him. The pizzas were then delivered to the police station, to the confusion of officers. This was either an A-plus troll move or an act of kindness. Something tells me this guy knew it was going to be a long night for everyone involved and just wanted to get the party started right. The authorities were not amused, however, and are now adding charges of impersonating an officer to his shoplifting counts.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.17.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
an_lumenocity_365cincinnati

Morning News and Stuff

The ins and outs of the landmark tax, charter school concerns, Lumenocity-themed beer and bears on a plane

Here it is: Everything (well, probably) that you need to know today.

The struggle to pay for renovations for Union Terminal and Music Hall continues to make news, with articles out this morning exploring the details of the buildings’ ownership and why a tax hike to fix them up won’t be like the much-loathed 1996 stadium deal. The Enquirer delves into the reasons why the city isn’t responsible for upkeep of the buildings even though it technically owns them. Basically, non-profits that lease the spaces are contractually obligated to pay for their maintenance, though the city also pitches in some funds to help.  Meanwhile, the Business Courier has a look at the way a tax hike would be structured. The piece points out that the increase doesn’t make the same assumptions about economic growth that the stadium deal did, and is therefore unlikely to balloon out of control.

• P&G left the game, but it turns out the game needs it. That game is adult diapers. The Cincinnati company is considering jumping back into adult incontinence products after leaving a decade ago. P&G already makes diapers for babies, and with the market for adult diapers growing by 8 percent a year, it’s an easy and attractive step that could net P&G $500 million annually. That’s great, but I find it a little depressing that as a nation we’re having a harder and harder time not peeing ourselves. But hey, the market is getting bigger because we’re all getting older because we’re living longer, right? That’s a good thing.

• One of the many reasons I left my former city of residence, Washington D.C., was a whale. A pink, cartoonish whale with a smug smile. Call it a reverse Ahab situation–I tried to avoid it, but instead of being elusive, it was ubiquitous. I came back here, to landlocked Ohio, partially to escape it. But now it has followed me. I’m talking about the logo for Vineyard Vines, an up-market clothing brand that recently announced it may build its first Ohio store in Kenwood. The brand specializes in a certain kind of east coast prep look. Think boat shoes. Novelty ties. Business casual pants in salt water taffy colors, or with little whales all over them. It’s a very Washington vibe, and before now you had to drive hours to get it. But soon, you too can be covered in little pink whales. It’s great news on the development front, to be sure, but it also gives me flashbacks to my time elbowing through gaggles of Georgetown grads for a spot at many a bar in DC.

• Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Christian Moerlein are teaming up to create a Lumenocity-themed beer for next month’s light show. Do I really need to say anything else about that? Sounds awesome.

• Ohio’s Board of Education is investigating reports that a Dayton charter school has been the site of racism, sexual misconduct, testing irregularities, misreporting of attendance figures, and other problems. A number of former teachers have testified that Horizon Science Academy has been mismanaged. The school is run by Chicago-based Concept Schools, which operates 19 schools in Ohio. The education organization is already under investigation by the FBI.

• Finally, the Transportation Safety Administration (you know, the folks who make you wait in line forever and have a machine that can see through your clothes) is probably one of the most-hated government agencies, but they can write a good blog. Their last few, about some of the crazy things people try to take through airport security, are pretty good reads (with pics!) Highlights include loaded guns, bullet-shaped knives, throwing knives, blades stashed in Scooby Doo greeting cards, fireworks, spent artillery shells and bear repellent. Four words for Samuel L. Jackson in case he’s looking for his next project/sequel opportunity: Bears on a Plane.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.16.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ed fitzgerald

Morning News and Stuff

DOJ will jump in on Ohio early voting; Cincinnati tops for design; race for governor heats up

Good morning all. I may be writing this news rundown from my porch at home, enjoying the amazing weather and eating Graeter’s black cherry ice cream for breakfast, but that doesn’t mean I’m not real, real serious about the news. Let’s do this.

As we reported yesterday, the Obama administration is expected to jump into the fight over early voting in Ohio. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made remarks, released yesterday, indicating that the Justice Department will file with the Ohio ACLU and other civil rights organizations already fighting reductions to early voting in the state. The administration has made voting rights a key issue following last year’s Supreme Court decision that rolled back certain sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

• The head of Cincinnati Metro resigned yesterday, according to a press release by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Metro’s CEO Terry Garcia Crews will step down immediately and will be temporarily replaced by Darryl Haley, who was Metro’s executive director of development. Metro will conduct a national search for her permanent replacement. In the press release, Crews says she’s leaving to focus on her family, including her parents, who live out of town, and to continue her transportation consulting business.

“I have great confidence in the leadership and the team at Metro and community leaders to carry forth the discussion and implementation of expanding public transportation in this community,” Garcia Crews said.

Metro gives about 17 million individual rides each year. Its role looks to grow as transit needs in the city expand and the streetcar comes online next year.

There was some drama in Over-the-Rhine last night, though the actual situation was not quite as intense as initial reports made it out to be. Police entered a building at 13th and Walnut to do an inspection at the request of the building’s owner. They came upon a man who fled from them. As he fled, a gun the man was carrying went off. Multiple news outlets reported the officers had been fired upon and that a standoff situation was developing. In reality, the gun accidentally went off as the man attempted to hide it in his pants. Which, yeah, probably not a great idea, but there you have it. The man fled to another building, threw the gun out a window and hid. He was arrested a short time later and faces multiple charges today. Still a scary scenario, but, you know, not exactly a police shootout.

A list put together by CityLab shows that Cincinnati is among the top cities in the country when it comes to design. While we all know the Queen City has some great graphic design and marketing talent, it’s surprising to see the city also ranks impressively high for industrial design. Our fair city is well-represented in nearly every category measured, which is pretty cool.

• Remember that guy who threatened to shoot down a helicopter a couple days ago? Yeah, a judge told him today to cool it with the guns for a while, and required him to turn over his firearms to authorities. I’m sure there are some hardcore gun rights activists out there fuming about how the government is infringing on his 1st Amendment right to express displeasure with helicopters and his 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but me, I’m perfectly OK with it in this particular case. At least he didn't try hiding them in his pants.

• The race for Ohio governor is getting interesting. Democratic contender Ed FitzGerald’s campaign is citing polls that show him neck and neck with incumbent Gov. John Kasich, though, as with any poll that a campaign is excited about, it’s probably best to be wary. The poll was paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party and echoes another recent Democrat-funded poll showing FitzGerald within striking distance. However, both of these polls contradict earlier independent polling done this spring showing Kasich ahead by as many as 15 points.

FitzGerald’s campaign is getting proactive, though, dropping its first TV ad today. In the ad, FitzGerald implies that Gov. Kasich is all about the 1 percenters.

“Who is the promise of Ohio meant for?” FitzGerald asks in the 30 second spot. “Just the wealthy and well-connected?”

FitzGerald gives a shout out to “Ohioans who get up early and get it done every day,” which made me kind of feel bad about working from home while eating ice cream. He goes on to promise support for the state’s middle class, including more funding for teachers, police and firefighters. Though he never mentions Kasich by name, he hits on the idea that the current administration favors the wealthy again at the end of the ad.

Meanwhile, an attack site paid for by the Ohio Republican Party against the challenger called fitzgeraldforohio.com just sprung up. The site mostly attacks FitzGerald on his first choice of running mate, former lieutenant governor candidate Eric Kearney. Kearney quit the ticket in December last year after it was revealed he owed a large amount in back taxes. The site also features an ad linking FitzGerald to former Gov. Ted Strickland, who has endorsed FitzGerald. The ad argues that Strickland was bad for Ohio and FitzGerald would be, too.

In a kind of strange twist, however, the ad seems to blame Strickland for many ills Ohio faced due to the great recession, including spiking unemployment and budget overruns. As if those same dynamics weren’t happening in nearly every state around the country during Strickland’s term from 2007 to 2011, when the recession was at its worst. The candidates’ next filing deadline is just a couple weeks away, and it will be interesting to see if either grab more big bucks. Stay tuned.

 
 
 
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