Morning, y'all. It's only Tuesday and there is already lots and lots going on. Here we go.
A Hamilton County Common Pleas judge has allowed troubled charter school VLT Academy to stay open and ordered the Ohio Department of Education to help fund it. In a decision yesterday, Judge Nadine Allen ordered ODE to become the school’s sponsoring organization and provide almost $300,000 to pay staff and administration there. The school, which serves about 600 students in Pendleton, was scheduled to close last month because its sponsoring organization did not renew its contract. Education Resource Consultants of Ohio declined to continue supporting the school due to its academic performance and financial situation.
Ohio law stipulates that charter schools must have a sponsor to operate. VLT tried unsuccessfully to obtain a new sponsor, asking several organizations including the Ohio Department of Education. When ODE declined, citing the school’s poor academic performance, VLT sued in Hamilton County Common Please Court. VLT argued that its performance was never poor enough to trigger automatic closure. The school says that ODE is playing politics and that it warned other potential sponsoring organizations not to sponsor the school. ODE acknowledges it made organizations aware of the school’s performance issues.
Allen ruled that ODE made it difficult for the school to find a new sponsor and that closing the school would do harm to its students. Ninety-nine percent of VLT’s students are economically disadvantaged. The school has lost a third of its student body, and subsequently almost $2 million in funding, in the past three years as Pendleton and Over-the-Rhine undergo demographic shifts.
• State Rep. Connie Pillich will hold a roundtable discussion today in Cincinnati as part of a state-wide tour around veterans’ issues. That tour began July 2 in Huber Heights. The meeting with local veterans will focus on financial challenges facing the military community, including the need for financial literacy education for veterans and state-level unemployment benefits for their spouses. Pillich is a Democrat who has represented Montgomery in the state legislature since 2009. She’s currently vacating that seat to challenge State Treasurer Josh Mandel. She’s touting her efforts on veterans issues and her service in the armed forces as she travels around the state to meet with veterans and their families. Before her political career, Pillich served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years and did support duties during Operation Desert Storm.
• The Cincinnati Park Board settled a federal lawsuit today brought by several residents of Over-the-Rhine regarding rules put in place after the 2012 renovation at Washington Park. The residents said the rules, which forbade distributing food and clothing in the park and taking items out of trashcans, were drawn up without public scrutiny and designed to keep the homeless out of the park. The city dropped the rules in September 2012. The city has not commented on how it decided upon the rules in the first place. The amount of today’s settlement in the case wasn’t disclosed.
• Architect Magazine pulled no punches in an editorial on General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks yesterday. Written by former Cincinnati Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky, a noted architecture critic, the piece caustically derided the building, and The Banks, for a gutless lack of panache.
“Cincinnati, a proud city with a great heritage busily squandering it, will be stuck with the results of its own shortsightedness,” Betsky wrote in the piece. Ouch.
• Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and attorney general hopeful David Pepper will ask the Ohio General Assembly to provide more money for heroin clinics today in a press conference in Columbus. The Democrats say clinics around the state face a $20 million shortfall after recent changes in the way federal money is distributed. The heroin crisis has been a big talking point for Pepper, who has criticized Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine over his handling of the surge in addiction-related deaths.
• The number of people commuting by bicycle is up 60 percent nationally from the year 2000, according to recent data from the U.S. Census. But that data also show another dynamic–most of that increase has come from relatively wealthy, white commuters who can afford to choose how they roll. Among low-income people, especially people of color, the desire for car ownership is much higher and the value placed on alternate means of commuting is much lower. This may be because people in low income neighborhoods face much longer commute times and an environment without the necessary infrastructure for safe cycling. But there are also probably social factors at play — cars are still strong symbols of success across all levels of society in the U.S., and low income commuters desire those symbols as much as anyone.
• Finally, if you’re looking for the next big (literally, huge) thing in hip living arrangements, I’ve got you covered. If a renovated row house makes you yawn, and a partially reconstructed loft space is just too domestic for you, how about living in a Boeing 727? Bruce Campbell (no, not THAT Bruce Campbell, though I can totally see this plane abode being the setting of a campy horror flick) of Oregon is leading the way on this brave new trend. Share with all your friends who are still really, really, into Lost.
One year ago today, the city signed contracts to start construction on the streetcar. Fast forward 365 days, and the new transit loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine is quickly taking shape. Roads are closed as major sections of track go in. Workers are constructing concrete slabs for the passenger stops. The cars themselves are being built. And the city recently named downtown-based Kolar Design to do branding work for the streetcar. The Business Courier has photos of the progress so far. Or you can just drive through Over-the-Rhine and see for yourself. Just don’t take Race Street if you’re hoping to get downtown — it's still closed at 12th Street.
• We’ve all lived with roommates who don’t always take out their garbage. It’s gross. But I guess it could be worse. Like, tens of thousands of times worse. The city recently shut down a compost company called Cincy Compost in Winton Hills after two years of complaints from miles around about the ghastly smells emanating from what is effectively an 80,000 pound pile of rotting food, but things could get worse before they get better. The heap, which is piled two feet deep, needs to be cleaned up by the city now that the company is no longer in business. It seems the business didn’t get the correct balance of garbage for the compost process to work and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of garbage it took in. It racked up 45 code violations while it was open. Now the city will have to spend $250,000 to kick-start the process and finish turning the garbage into soil. That involves stirring all that garbage around, basically, which is only going to make the smell worse in the short-term. Gross.
• Community groups in the city will be holding a rally calling for an end to violence in the city at 7 p.m. in Piatt Park today. Last week, four people were shot, one fatally, in two separate but related incidents at the park. Cincinnati saw a surge in shootings early in the year, though that trend has slowed and the city may not see an increase over last year’s 75 murders. Forty-two people have been murdered in the city this year, many with guns.
• One guy who will not be at that rally, I’d imagine, is this dude, who threatened to shoot down a University of Cincinnati Health Air Care helicopter yesterday. Angry that the helicopter was flying too low over his Green Township house, Leonard Pflanz is accused of driving to Mercy West Hospital and telling the helicopter’s pilot that he would shoot him if he did it again. Pflanz is appearing in court this morning over charges stemming from the threat.
• General Motors may soon be in some big trouble with federal prosecutors, who are investigating whether the company made false statements about a defect in some of its cars that has killed at least 13 people. The defect relates to an ignition switch problem that has caused some GM cars to lose power while operating. The feds accuse GM of making misleading statements to the public about the defect, downplaying the dangers of the defective switches. The company has already been fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for dragging its feet in response to the problem. Some believe GM’s ultimate liability could end up being even more than the $1.2 billion Toyota was ordered to pay earlier this year over similar charges.
• Finally, Smithsonian Magazine reports that skin cells may be able to detect odors and that some of these odors may aid the body in the healing process. Basically, this means the whole surface of your body is receptive to smells in one way or another. This is interesting, maybe even great news, unless of course you live near a failed composting facility or something.
We're mere hours from freedom, folks. I'll be quick today and give you the morning news rundown in short order so you’re ready for the weekend.
If you’re a gay or bisexual man, the Food and Drug Administration won’t let you give blood. A blood drive today at UC’s Hoxworth Blood Center in Corryville is drawing attention to that rule hoping to get it changed. The FDA first instituted the policy in 1984 at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Gay and bisexual men are encouraged to bring eligible proxy donors to Hoxworth today as well as sign a national petition to the White House asking it to reconsider the rule. Organizers hope to get 50 donors, and if you want to give to the cause, get to Hoxworth or call for an appointment before 4:30 today. The center has computers where you can sign the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures nationally by the end of the month. The blood drive is part of a national gay blood drive taking place in 60 cities today.
• After a pretty harrowing week downtown (four people were shot in two incidents near Piatt Park, one of whom died of his injuries) the Cincinnati Police Department says it will be out in force this weekend for Bunbury Music Festival. CPD has instituted a no vacation policy for officers over the next few days so they can cover downtown and the rest of the city. Apologies to all the hard-working officers out there who were looking forward to partying with Andrew W.K.
Police Chief Ken Blackwell says it’s part of a larger effort to make sure police are ready for big summer events. These include the National Urban League Conference coming the last weekend in July, which features a keynote address by Vice President Joe Biden. That weekend will also be an all-hands-on-deck scenario, Blackwell says.
“The bottom line is that we took an oath to protect the city, and sometimes police work calls on you to work long hours and do stuff you ordinarily wouldn't want to do,” he told WLWT yesterday.
• Those fancy New Yorkers at Esquire stumbled across our quaint little river town yesterday, it seems, and decided it was noteworthy enough to write about. Overall, it’s a super-positive piece about the city, which is awesome. There are some stumbles in the article, though–originally it spelled the city’s name as “Cincinatti,” called Vine Street “Vine Avenue” (both since fixed) and asserted that local treasure and all-around swell bar Japp’s Since 1879 has been serving for 120 years. That's especially befuddling because the name implies it’s been open for 135 years, though it actually opened in 2011. Also puzzling is the writer’s assertion that revitalization in the city is without “inherent class warfare.” As far as I can tell, that’s been a pretty visible fight here in the city for decades, but, you know. These are small quibbles. The piece does highlight some great spots in town, including Japp’s, Everybody’s Records (no Shake-It, though!) and Holtman’s Donuts. It also enlightened me on a possible place to get a haircut downtown. Anyway, you should check out the article, even if it’s only to copy edit it further.
• Finally, here’s an interesting article about how ride share company Uber is restructuring how much it charges for rides, and why that matters in the grand scheme of urban transportation. With Uber and Lyft becoming more of a force in the Cincinnati area, it’s a good read.
More demand for housing aid and less money from the feds have combined to create a simple but brutal equation swelling the number of homeless individuals and families in the Cincinnati area and across the country. As more low-income people need affordable places to live, they have fewer housing options to choose from and less federal aid available to them, data shows. That’s left an increasing number of families and individuals on the streets.
In 2011, $2,225,000 was available to Hamilton County residents for rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, it’s just $750,000. These federal funds provide much-needed aid to families struggling to make rent payments.
The cuts come at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find. The amount of available affordable housing has decreased by 6.8 million units since 2007, while the number of very low-income renters who need it has grown by more than 2.5 million, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The money spent on rental aid in the past made a dent–a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 17 percent from 2005 to 2012, despite the economic recession and national housing crisis. Especially effective was the 2009 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Act, which spent $1.5 billion to aid families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Locally, federal programs have been crucial. Nearly all families in Hamilton County who received rental assistance through such programs avoided becoming homeless, according to a report by Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati non-profit.
Despite the success of the program and increasing need, the number of people in Hamilton County served by federal anti-homelessness efforts has dropped by more than 56 percent since 2011.
That year, 2,810 people received rental or utility assistance in Hamilton County from programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number dropped to 1,870 in 2012, and dropped again to 942 in 2013. This year is on pace to see a similar number–about 966– receive the services.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the county is rising. 8,271 people in Hamilton County experienced homelessness last year, according to the Strategies report. That’s up from 7,838 people in 2011 and 7,983 in 2012.
Families are hit especially hard hit by federal spending cuts.
"I have never seen this many families come to us from sleeping in a car," Darlene Guess, director of client programs at Bethany House Services, told the Cincinnati Enquirer July 9. The Cincinnati area's five shelters that serve homeless families in the city help about 1,000 families a year, service providers estimate.
The reductions come as a result of the 2011 sequester, continuing across-the-board cuts to federal programs that happened as a result of Congress not being able to reach budget agreements. Some of the funds were first allocated during the federal government’s 2009 stimulus efforts.
Shortfalls at HUD caused by the cuts could eventually mean as many as 140,000 fewer families nationally will receive rental assistance, and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless people will be cut off from other assistance programs offered through HUD.
Other dynamics associated with gridlock in Congress have exacerbated the problems facing low-income people on the brink of homelessness–Democrats and the GOP in Congress have fought a pitched battle over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, for instance, as unemployment levels recede at a stubbornly slow pace. Many have reached the end of their benefits, and now struggle to pay rent or mortgages.
Whoa, tons of news happening right now. Here's a brief rundown of what's up today.
Homelessness has spiked in Hamilton County, social service providers say. It’s a trend that’s happening across the country as federal spending cuts hit programs aimed at aiding the homeless and preventing homelessness. That trend has hit Cincinnati-area families hard, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Some of the increase right now is seasonal, the Enquirer story reports, but some is more systemic, coming from a greater emphasis on chronic individual homelessness over the past few years by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Hamilton County.
• The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced today that it will be expanding access to Lumenocity due to overwhelming demand. The light and music event takes place Aug. 1-3 at Washington Park.
CSO will release 3,300 additional tickets to the main events, plus another 5,000 to a dress rehearsal the day before, also in Washington Park. Those tickets will be given away in a drawing you can enter between now and Tuesday at lumenocity2014.com. In addition, the event will be broadcast live at Fountain Square and Riverbend. The Aug. 1 performance will be radio broadcast on 90.9 WGUC. The Aug. 2 performance will also be broadcast on public television station CET. The event will also be live streamed on Lumenocity’s website all three nights.
The event was wildly popular last year, so this year, the CSO hoped to gain a bit more control over the size of the crowd by issuing free tickets online. The 37,5000 tickets given out last month were snatched up in mere minutes. Some later popped up on eBay for as much as $150. Vice Mayor David Mann requested an investigation into the giveaway and resulting ticket resales.
• A city review board gave a big “meh” to design proposals for GE’s new building at The Banks. The Urban Design Review Board, which is responsible for giving recommendations about buildings that will have a significant profile downtown, was underwhelmed with the conservative plans for GE’s 10-story office building near the riverfront. The building’s architect calls it “timeless mainstream design,” but board members said it just looks like a run of the mill suburban office building.
“We were looking for a special building, and this is a routine one,” board Chairman Buck Niehoff said.
Ouch. To be fair though, the board does have a point. The building will be a very prominent part of The Banks, and GE is receiving unprecedented incentives from the city (read: from taxpayers) to build there. Is a little flash too much to ask? Maybe a tiara on top, or a Cadillac sticking out of part of the building. Or like, maybe it could look like a big jet engine? These ideas are free, GE, so you can take them if you want. Or call me, I’ve got tons more…
• The Ohio GOP is suing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, currently Cuyahoga County’s executive, over access to records detailing his comings and going at county offices and parking garages. The suit comes after media in Cleveland requested the same records back in April and were denied.
The GOP’s lawsuit is filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, and holds that FitzGerald’s records are public information that must be released. FitzGerald says the records of his keycard swipes at county buildings are security-sensitive information, and that they needs to be closely held because he’s had security concerns, including death threats, related to his job and his past work in law enforcement.
Ironically, his opponent Gov. John Kasich is fighting much the same fight. He’s refused to release information about his schedule and security threats, and is also facing a suit in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
• Controversy over immigration at the United States/Mexico border continues, and the situation is basically becoming a circus. President Obama yesterday met with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials, activists, and faith leaders to discuss the crisis at the border, where sharp spikes in migration by people from Central America, many of them children, are being reported. More than 52,000 youth have been caught crossing the country's southwestern border this year, double the amount from last year.
Perry spent at least part of the meeting making sour faces or perhaps fighting constipation. Obama's asking for $3.7 billion from Congress to help shore up the border with more judges and detention centers to expedite the deportation process, while Perry is asking for 1,000 National Guard troops at the border. The GOP, which controls the House of Representatives, looks unlikely to budge on the issue and give Obama the money. Some House members, including Rep. Randy Neugebauer, also of Texas, have complained that conditions at detention centers are too cushy. These are, by the way, the same detention centers that many reports show are overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane.
"When you look at the lovely way they're getting treated -- they're
getting free health care, free housing, you know, they're watching the
World Cup on big screen TVs," Neugebauer said on conservative pundit Sean Hannity's radio show yesterday. Well, jeez, sign me up for that, Randy.
Meanwhile, in what only highlights the absurdity of the political crapshow that the situation has become, noted humanitarian and completely reasonable person Glenn Beck has announced he's speeding toward the border with soccer balls and hot meals for migrant children. It's gotten real, I mean, really real, when Glenn Beck is one of the sane, caring voices in any debate.
• Finally, scientists have developed a chip that provides remote control birth control. The chip is implanted under the skin and can be switched off in case a woman decides she’d like to conceive. The device is projected to last for up to 16 years. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the device—studies must be done to determine its failure rate and whether it’s safe to have the chip in your body for an extended period of time.
Hey folks. The weather’s killer, the week is half over, and Beyoncé apparently loves Over-the-Rhine. It’s a great day to be in Cincinnati, so let’s talk about what’s going on, good and bad, in our fair city.
As a wise group of sages once said, cash rules everything around us, and if you’re looking for insight into the movers and shakers, the powerbrokers , the people pulling the levers in Cincy, you could do a lot worse than two lists that have recently popped up. One, released yesterday by Forbes, details the country’s richest families, and three area clans made the list. The Scripps family, owner of the E.W. Scripps media company, is tops in Cincinnati, with a net worth of $7.5 billion. They’re the 34th richest family in America. Next down the list are United Dairy Farmers and American Financial owners the Lindners, who have about $1.7 billion in assets and money in the bank. They’re ranked 130 on the national list. And with a measly $1.5 billion, the Farmers, who run the enormous Cintas uniform empire, round out Cincinnati’s contribution to Forbes’ rankings. They’re the 140th richest family in the country. The Waltons (Wal-Mart) and the Kochs (a bunch of things related to energy, including fracking companies in Ohio) topped the national list. No surprises there.
Another list of note is the Business Courier’s ranking of public companies in Cincinnati with the most cash on hand. These are companies with extra capital to spend who may make big moves in the next year or so. Procter and Gamble topped this list, followed by Macy’s, but you’ll also see some of the same names as the Forbes list, including American Financial (3rd on the list with almost $1.9 billion in cash), Cintas (5th on the list with $349 million) and the E.W. Scripps company (10th with $194 million.)
• For years, both when I lived here and during visits back home while I was living elsewhere, I would walk past the gorgeous but vacant church on Elm Street across from Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine and daydream about possible uses for the building. I definitely wasn’t the only one, and now two developers are turning their visions for the space into reality. Work is beginning to convert the 147-year-old church, which has been empty for over a decade, into a bar and events space for concerts, weddings, and other happenings. Building owners Josh Heuser and Michael Forgus envision their space as a community building cornerstone in the area–a place where people can come together. They hope to have the space open for business by May next year.
• Sometimes, one can isn’t enough. The folks at Rhinegeist in OTR have dreamed up a solution for the dilemma you face when you want a lot of beer but don’t want to carry around multiple cans, because let’s face it, that just doesn’t look very classy. They’ve come up with the crowler, which holds 32 ounces of the any of brewery’s creations. The crowler actually has more utility than just keeping you from double or triple fisting–it works like a growler, allowing you to take beer home, but with a much longer shelf life of up to a month. Genius.
• Connie Pillich, the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s treasurer, has floated the idea of creating an independent watchdog group to keep those counting and spending the state’s money accountable. The group would keep an eye on the treasurer’s office and other state government agencies to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds. Pillich has cited past scandals in the treasurer’s office, as well as questions about current treasurer Josh Mandel, as reasons Ohio needs the watchdog.
"We are in dire need of having an independent watchdog to make sure the office where all the people's money is kept is operating efficiently and safely," Pillich told Cleveland.com. "People should be able to go to bed at night assured there's someone in Columbus watching their funds."
Pillich is running against current treasurer Mandel, who has been the subject of scrutiny for alleged shady dealings. Mandel made a national list of worst politicians recently–one of just two Ohio politicians to receive that dubious distinction. Mandel denies any wrongdoing and points to the clean audits his office has received while he's been at his post.
• Ohio is getting all the big national events lately. The MLB All Star Game, the Gathering of the Juggalos, and now, the GOP National Convention, which looks likely to take place in Cleveland in 2016. The convention taskforce for the Republican National Committee announced its recommendation yesterday, and now the full RNC will vote on, and likely pass, that suggestion. The group responsible for the selection, headed by RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, has said they were blown away by Cleveland’s efforts to secure funding and demonstrate their readiness for tens of thousands of conservative convention-goers. The field of cities, which once included Cincinnati and Columbus as well as Las Vegas and other contenders, was narrowed down to just Cleveland and Dallas. The RNC convention group said they based their decision on how much each city rocked, and while Dallas was pretty good, Cleveland has a national reputation for said rocking. No telling how much the RNC was influenced by the Insane Clown Posse’s decision to relocate its annual convention of sorts to Ohio from Michigan, though Republican convention officials have been heard remarking that if Ohio is good enough for ICP, it’s good enough for the GOP. (This part is complete fiction, by the way, though who knows how these decisions are made...)
This news this morning is all (well, mostly) about politics, so put your civics hat on.
Former Procter and Gamble executive and prospective head of the Department of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald has quickly gone from wrangling over local sales taxes as head of the Cultural Facilities Task Force here in Cincinnati to meeting with senators in Washington. McDonald, who is President Obama’s nominee to lead the troubled VA, is making the rounds in the nation’s capital this week on a series of informal get-togethers with senators, who will vote on his confirmation soon. He’ll also be boning up on his knowledge of the VA and its current challenges.
Confirmation hearings for Obama’s nominees have been tough the past couple years, and with the high-level controversy swirling around the VA lately, McDonald could face a bumpy ride. High wait time for patients, patient fatalities and record-keeping scandals have clouded the agency’s image. McDonald will have to convince 14 senators on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that his corporate experience with P&G has equipped him to address these issues quickly and steer the VA back onto the right course. He’ll make his case at a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
• Now time for a quick break from the political: New music venues seem to
be popping up all over lately. The latest is in Clifton, where the
owners of Olives restaurant have announced they’re closing July 20 and
preparing to turn their space on Ludlow Avenue into a live music
destination. The restaurant is located in the historic Ludlow Garage,
which was run by Jim Tarbell and hosted national acts in the 1970s. The new venue will open in November, booking local and national acts. No word yet on what kinds of music are in store there.
• Now back to politics. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced yesterday that 16 of Ohio’s May 6 primary races around the state were decided by a single vote. That makes 63 races in a year’s time that have been decided by the slimmest of margins.
“This underscores the importance of election access and integrity,” Husted said, “and why it is so important to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
It’s funny that Husted would talk about making it easy to vote, given that the he and the Ohio GOP have moved time and again to restrict early voting hours around the state. These attempts include a swipe at Sunday voting directly before election day, a day with heavy turnout from African-American communities across the state. Courts later ordered Sunday voting restored.
• Democratic candidate for attorney general David Pepper has slammed his opponent, current Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, over a number of issues recently. These include DeWine’s lack of response to the state’s heroin addiction epidemic and the fact that DeWine drafted a brief in support of Hobby Lobby in its recent Supreme Court case. Now he’s blasting DeWine over Ohio’s lag in testing rape kits, which are samples collected when a rape is reported. Those samples can help identify the rapist — one in three kits results in a match with someone in Ohio’s DNA database. The problem is, Ohio has a backlog of more than 4,000 rape kits waiting to be tested, some more than 20 years old. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation can test about 300 of the kits in a month. That’s not fast enough, Pepper says, attributing it to DeWine’s mismanagement. He proposes sending the kits to other regional labs for testing, speeding up the process and hopefully catching more rapists.
“At the current rate, this will take four to five years,” Pepper says. “To me, that’s just not good enough.”
DeWine says he didn’t create the backlog and in fact requested the extra kits from local law enforcement agencies, which often had them locked away for years in evidence rooms, so they could eventually be tested. He says sending the kits to other labs is a bad idea and that the state’s lab has developed unique expertise necessary to test them.
• Well, shoot. The Associated Press announced recently that it plans to start publishing articles written by robots. The stories will mostly be business stories summarizing earnings reports, though AP has also been using robots for some sports reporting. It’s not an unprecedented move — The Los Angels Times and other publications have employed robots to write immediate reports on earthquakes, crime and other subjects where highly formulaic reports are required. The AP estimates that it will be able to produce more than 4,000 articles a quarter this way — a huge leap above the 300 it now produces.
No worries, though. This morning news roundup wasn't written by a robot. Or was it?
Long weekends mean lots of news. Let's get caught up.
Another incident involving pitbulls this weekend has some in Cincinnati calling for the city to reintroduce a ban on the breed. Over the weekend, a pitbull attacked a Jack Russell Terrier in East Price Hill, which has led its owner and others to demand action. The controversy around the dogs flared up in June when 6-year-old Zainabou Drame was severely injured by two pits in Westwood.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman has said he’s working on ways to address the issue in the Law and Public Safety Committee he chairs. He has yet to decide 100 percent what the right course of action is to address the problem, he says, but seems to believe that an outright ban wouldn’t work. He voted to repeal a ban the city once had. Smitherman has said he believes the problem is with irresponsible owners, not just the breed itself.
• Here’s some great news — work began today on protected bike lanes on Central Parkway. The first phase of the protected lane will stretch from Elm Street north to Marshall Street. Construction happening now includes striping the new bike-only lanes, putting up new signage, building new bus stops that keep buses and bikes separate and eventually installing plastic poles between the bike lanes and the rest of the road.
• Local anti-tax group COAST has raised opposition to Hamilton County Commissioners’ proposed plans to raise either sales or property taxes to help pay for renovations to Music Hall and Union Terminal. The group says the city, not the county, owns the buildings and that it’s unfair for the city to ask county taxpayers to foot the bill for their renovations. COAST supports an alternate idea floated by Commissioner Todd Portune that would raise the money by charging a tax on tickets to events held at the buildings. The group opposes putting the tax increase measure on the ballot so that, you know, the majority of taxpayers could decide for themselves the best way to go about paying for the buildings. At least two of the three county commissioners must approve the tax plan by Aug. 6 for it to go on the ballot.
• Filming begins today here in town for Miles Ahead, a film exploring Miles Davis’ reclusive period in the 1970s. Don Cheadle is directing the project, as well as starring as Davis. He chose Cincinnati because it has the architecture and vibe of 1950s and '60s-era Manhattan, which the film flashes back to periodically. Cheadle also cites Ohio tax credits, the city’s film support network and the fact that “this town is a music town,” he told The Enquirer.
• Construction began last week on five single-family townhomes in the Pendleton district of Over-the-Rhine. It’s part of a plan to bring suburban-style housing to OTR and the urban core, according to developer Edward Wright of Wright Design. Each of the five houses will have three bedrooms and a two-car garage. Four of the homes are new builds and one is a renovation. All are LEED certified. Five more are planned nearby in the next year.
• Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul continues to position himself for a 2016 presidential run. As he does so, he’s reaching out to minority voters and becoming more and more blunt about what he sees as the GOP’s big problem. Last week, he put it in the starkest terms yet.
“If we’re going to be the white party, we’re going to be the losing party,” he said July 2 at a ceremony in Kentucky honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Paul has made trips to low-income, predominantly minority communities in Kentucky and other states. But Paul has problems of his own to overcome, including past statements expressing doubt about some elements of the Civil Rights Act and the fact that both he and his father have some racially tinged baggage. Rand will be in Cincinnati July 25 speaking at the National Urban League conference.
It's almost the 4th of July, and what's more American than protests, historic music venues, under-funding education and weird robot selfies? That's what's on tap for the morning news today.
A Hamilton County judge ruled yesterday that nine Greenpeace protesters who hung huge banners from Procter and Gamble headquarters in March are still on the hook for burglary charges.
Lawyers for the group argued that no other laws were broken when the group trespassed on P&G property to protest the company’s use of palm oil. Felony burglary charges require more than just trespassing, but prosecutors say the group also damaged windows and could also be charged with criminal mischief or disorderly conduct. The distinction matters because trespassing is a minor charge, while the burglary counts carry penalties of up to eight years in prison.
The group was let into the building after one of the protesters posed as a business person. Once inside, they hung the banners from cables that prosecutors say caused damage. The Greenpeace members have said they didn’t damage anything. The group was protesting palm oil because its harvest is destructive to rain forest habitats that are home to many endangered animals, including tigers, which were featured prominently on the banners.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 21.
• Over-the-Rhine will get a big music venue and a historic building will be rehabbed at the same time. A project to redevelop OTR’s Woodward Theater is progressing with fresh financing. The owners of MOTR Pub, which is right across Main Street, purchased the theater last year. The plan has been to fix up the building, built in 1913, and turn it into a 600-capacity music venue for bands that draw a bigger crowd than MOTR can handle.
MOTR’s owners announced yesterday that they’ve secured the necessary $1.25 million in financing for the project from two nonprofit lenders. Building plans and permits have already been approved, and work will start soon to renovate the structure, which will include adding bars and a large stage. In the past, the building has been a theater (obviously), a Kroger store and an antique shop.
• Tomorrow when you’re lighting up some explosives and celebrating our founding fathers’ infinite wisdom, think about this: Cincinnati is No. 3 on the list of top places to celebrate the 4th of July. A ranking touted by Parade Magazine and originally put together by finance website WalletHub (sounds totally legit) put the city above Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and other quintessentially American cities. We came in just under Richmond, Virginia and Irvine, California, both of which clearly cheated. The rankings take into account 14 different factors including legality of fireworks, weather, average drink prices, the number of tri-cornered hats per capita and the statistical chance a bald eagle will land on your head while holding roman candles in its talons and screeching the "The Star Spangled Banner." Err, not so much the last two, but I would like to see the data on those. Cincinnati fared especially well in the “most swimming pools per capita” category (we ranked second) and the “most outdoor attractions” category (we ranked third). The worst place to celebrate the fourth? Corpus Christie, Texas. Seems about right.
• Let’s play good news/bad news. The state of Ohio is running a surplus this year, but most of it is already spoken for. The state is $800 million in the black, about 3 percent of Ohio’s total budget. But the majority of that extra money is going to tax cuts and a Medicare savings fund. About $76 million will go to low-income tax credits, $91 million to more general income tax reductions and about $229 million to tax breaks for businesses. The rest gets stashed away for next fiscal year, which starts today. Meanwhile, spending on education and other vital services remains flat, a point Democrats are highlighting as they look to unseat Gov. John Kasich in November.
• Finally, Google recently unleashed its street view cameras to take pictures of the insides of more than 200 museums across the country, including Union Terminal. A strange, postmodern byproduct of this effort is that sometimes these cameras come across mirrors inside the museums and end up taking weird robot selfies. The future is now, and I really don’t know how to feel about it. Questions: Are these robots on Instagram, and how long until Kim Kardashian and Kanye photobomb one of these shots?
Here at the morning news desk (which is really just my desk, only in the morning), we usually lead off with some local news. But the big story of the moment comes from across the river.
Kentucky's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled yesterday. The judge struck down Kentucky’s amendment to its state constitution banning same-sex marriages, though he is holding implementation of his ruling until after hearings here in Cincinnati next month. The next showdown over gay marriage in the region comes Aug. 6, when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals downtown will hear cases from Ohio, Kentucky and other states about same-sex marriage bans.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pitching user fees for events at Music Hall and the Cincinnati Museum Center as a way to raise funds to renovate the historic buildings. He floated the idea in a letter yesterday, where he also indicated he’s not sold on the idea of a sales tax hike to pay for the renovation projects. Portune said he’s not a flat no on the tax hike but that it will be a tough sell for him without some kind of ticket price increase. The buildings need more than $300 million in repairs.
An Indianapolis-based developer working on rehab projects for three iconic historic buildings in Cincinnati is making progress. Core Redevelopment LLC is redeveloping the former School for Creative and Performing Arts building in Pendleton, the Crosley building in Camp Washington and the old Windsor Elementary School in Walnut Hills. The group was just awarded tax credits on the Windsor project, which will contain 44 units of housing. CEO John Watson indicated that he thinks Walnut Hills is on the verge of a “full scale redevelopment” as a neighborhood. The SCPA project is expected to break ground in September and will be home to 142 units. Finally, the group will develop 238 units in the looming white Crosley building, which was built in the 1920s by the Crosley company as a factory for radios and other items. All three projects will be market rate housing. The group expects the 800-square-foot, one bedroom units at the Windsor building will run a little over $800 a month.
The city of Middletown is officially dissolving its housing authority after complaints it tried to kick people off Section 8 rolls. The Middletown Public Housing Authority voted unanimously to dissolve itself yesterday. MPHA will shut down by September, turning over 1,662 Section 8 vouchers to Butler and Warren Counties.
Miami University of Ohio is the most expensive public university in the country, a new study finds, and Ohio’s other public universities are also among the priciest. Miami rings up at a net cost of $24,000 a year after financial aid is considered. As an alum, this makes me wonder if the resale value of their degrees is higher, too. I have one recent-model English/Poli Sci double if any one’s interested… rarely used, buyer takes over payments.
It’s not every day you see your state’s Democratic senator take a selfie with your ultra conservative, Republican governor. But Sen. Sherrod Brown and Gov. John Kasich apparently got cozy for the camera yesterday at The Banks while celebrating the new GE deal. Cincinnati, bringing people together.
Finally, scientists are working on breeding bald chickens that can withstand the increased heat caused by climate change in regions near the equator. That's... terrifying. I imagine they'll be able to do it, though, since they've already been able to genetically engineer the spicy and extra crispy varieties.
Hey hey morning news readers! I’m back and ready to talk about what’s going on. So let’s go.
As we get closer to November, it’s worth taking a look at where local political action committee donations, or money to candidates from organizations like unions and businesses, are flowing. Few surprises in the data from the Ohio secretary of state: Republicans come up big in PAC money, with Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine and others getting big ups from places like P&G, Cincinnati Bell and AK Steel. Democrats like AG candidate David Pepper and treasurer hopeful State Rep. Connie Pillich have also gotten the PAC hookup, mostly from union groups. Local PACs have contributed more than $1 million to candidates. That money doesn’t represent the total amount business owners or group members gave — they can still donate individually as well.
• Three elderly Hamilton County couples are involved in a complex tangle that could cost the state of Ohio the billions of dollars it receives Medicaid funding. Ohio has refused to pay Medicaid benefits to the couples for nursing home care due to their purchases of financial products called annuities they made in order to become income-eligible for the program. Special laws govern which annuities retired couples can buy in order to “spend down,” or reduce their assets to a level at which they’re eligible for federal aid. Lawyers for the couples say they complied with that law, and a Cincinnati U.S. District Court judge has agreed. That means Ohio is out of compliance with federal Medicaid regulations, and could lose its funding from the federal government. That would potentially cost more than 2 million Ohioans their health coverage. The judge has given the state until Oct. 3 to become compliant with the law.
• It’s almost hard to imagine this, given the long-term dearth of good employment options, but some area industries are actually running a worker shortage. Truck drivers, HVAC workers, plumbers and other so-called “medium skill” careers are losing workers to retirement fast, and fewer young workers are stepping into the vacancies. There are downsides to these industries, including long hours away from home for truck drivers, but for a roving drifter such as myself, that’s hardly a problem. Hm. I do like driving…
• Imagine you’re a 38-year-old mother of three living in a suburb of Columbus and looking for a little fun. What do you do? If you live in the state that birthed aviation, (quiet, North Carolina) you go out and get the state another milestone, becoming the first woman to fly solo around the world, that’s what. Geraldine Mock, who passed away at the age of 88 yesterday, took off from Columbus in March 1964 and raced another woman with a two-day head start for the distinction. Jerrie won, returning 29 days after departure. Her plane was old and not in the best shape, but that apparently didn’t daunt Jerrie, who first took an interest in flight at age 7. She was also undaunted by the rigid ideas about what was appropriate for a lady at the time.
“I did not conform to what girls did,” she once said in an interview. “What the girls did was boring.”
• A couple days late on this one, but it bears mentioning. The Supreme Court has issued a stay on a lower court’s ruling that prohibited Ohio’s early voting rollback. That means that new restrictions on the number of early voting days passed by Republicans are still in place for now. Lower courts ruled that the laws, which eliminated so-called “golden week” during which Ohioans could register and vote in one fell swoop, as well as some Sunday voting hours, were unconstitutional because they placed an undue burden on minority voters. The Supreme Court’s conservative justices disagreed, and with early voting already slated to have started, the ruling comes as a victory for state Republicans.
• While we're on politics, here’s U.S. Rep. John Boehner talking about how he’s still going to be speaker of the House when the next Congress reconvenes in January, and also showering Jeb Bush and Ohio-based GOP presidential possibilities with praise. His confidence in keeping his job as head of the House of Representatives is bold, considering he barely held on to the position last time and the fact that there are likely to be even more ornery tea party-types in the House this time around to give him grief. We’ll see Boehner. We’ll see.
• Finally, something even more terrifying than the prospect of another Bush in the White House and more tea partiers in Congress: A man who recently arrived in Dallas from Liberia has tested positive for Ebola. Disease experts say there is little risk of the virus becoming as widespread here due to advanced isolation and sanitation practices, but still. Ever read that book Hot Zone? Yeah, maybe don't read it right now.
Published author, poet, teacher and long-time CityBeat columnist Kathy Y. Wilson has been named Writer-in-Residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Wilson is the first person to take on this new position, which she will serve through November.
As Writer-in-Residence, Wilson will conduct a writer’s workshop, speak at multiple community events and participate in library promotions throughout her residency.
Wilson should be no stranger to any habitual reader of CityBeat, whose “Your Negro Tour Guide” column was a feature in each weekly edition before she abruptly ended the column in 2005. She still remains a featured contributor, providing matter-of-fact and straight from the shoulder insight on the most pressing and important issues, from the election of Barack Obama to the current transgressions of the NFL. She’s never been one to shy away from cutting and abrasive commentary, providing insight that might otherwise remain concealed or ignored.
Wilson has extensive experience in the field of journalism and writing. She is currently a senior editor at Cincinnati Magazine and an adjunct instructor of Women’s Studies and Journalism at the University of Cincinnati, and was a contributor for “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio. Her work has been recognized on multiple occasions, and she was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for her in-depth profile of conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham, being nominated alongside writers from big name publications like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, National Geographic and New York Magazine — an achievement in and of itself.
Wilson had always dreamed of one day being featured on the shelves of a library and with multiple books to her name, that dream has been wholly accomplished. As the new Writer-in-Residence, she can help people consummate that very same dream.
Hello Cincy. I’m back with the news this morning for what will sadly be the last time this week. Texas beckons for a few days, and I must heed its hot, sweaty, libertarian call. I’ll be back this time next week, however, to talk about the news and make the cheesy, topical jokes even your one lame uncle wouldn’t touch, because someone has to do it.
Here’s a cool thing: The entire neighborhood of Lower Price Hill is getting free internet access courtesy of Cincinnati-area company Powernet. In addition, the company is donating a mobile computer lab to Lower Price Hill’s Oyler School and Community Learning Center. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld helped broker the partnership. Only 20 to 40 percent of residents in the low-income neighborhood have Internet access, according to an FCC report.
• Democratic candidates for statewide office are rallying in Washington Park this morning as part of their Tour to Restore Ohio campaign. Speakers include gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, attorney general hopeful David Pepper and state auditor candidate John Carney. FitzGerald has struggled against Republican Gov. John Kasich’s big fundraising and name recognition advantages. CityBeat covered the race between Pepper and Republican AG Mike DeWine earlier this summer.
• Another rally will be happening right across the street tonight. Write-in Hamilton County commissioner candidate Jim Tarbell is holding his campaign kickoff at Memorial Hall starting at 6 p.m. According to Tarbell’s website, the event will feature food and live music. It’s called Taste of Tarbell, which makes me wonder when the Republican incumbent in the race will launch his big rally, Smell the Monzel. Tarbell and the official Democratic candidate, Sean Patrick Feeney, an IT professional from North College Hill, are both taking on current Commissioner Chris Monzel. A majority on the commission’s three-seat board hangs in the balance.
• Some local transit advocates are pushing to get daily high-speed rail service between Cincinnati and Chicago. Seems like a cool idea, though there are some big hurdles to overcome. I for one would love to be able to jump on a train any given day and be in Chi a few hours later, since half of my friends just decided to up and move there recently, so count me in.
• Speaking of transportation, but on an entirely different scale, Cincinnati’s bike share Red Bike beat its first week goals in terms of ridership, getting nearly 1,800 trips. The nonprofit was hoping for 1,000. It was a busy weekend downtown, and roughly a quarter of those trips came on Saturday when 480 people used the service.
• A new study claims that Ohio could make $123 million in tax revenue if it legalized marijuana. Interesting. That’s not counting all the sales tax revenue generated from a special tax that could be passed on the sale of snacks, which I’m officially proposing right now as a way to fund Music Hall renovations.
• Finally, young American military veterans are experiencing much higher levels of unemployment than the general population and older vets, according to a Brookings Institute study. An opinion piece on the study talks about a big possible contributor to this troubling trend: lower levels of education among younger veterans.
Morning news, y'all!
A grand jury is convening right now, as I type, to decide whether to indict Beavercreek Police Officer Sean Williams in the death of John Crawford III. Williams shot Crawford, 22, while responding to a 911 call reporting a gunman at a Beavercreek Walmart. Crawford, however, turned out to be unarmed, carrying only a pellet gun sold at the store. Security footage taken by Walmart shows the shooting, though that footage has not been made public. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine allowed Crawford’s family and their attorney to see the tape, however, and they say it shows Crawford was not behaving in a threatening manner and was “shot on sight.” They’re calling for the grand jury to indict Officer Williams on murder charges. Beavercreek Police officials maintain that Williams acted properly to protect other patrons of the store. Marches and protests are planned in Beavercreek and other areas today in relation to the incident. The grand jury deliberations mirror similar proceedings in Ferguson, Missouri, where a grand jury was recently selected to decide whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Mike Brown.
• Tomorrow, police, social workers and volunteers will clean up what was once one of Cincinnati’s largest homeless camps, a seven-year-old collection of tents and improvised structures in an isolated corner of Queensgate. Police worked with social service agencies long-term to gain occupants’ trust and eventually convince them to move to safer places and seek help. The approach represents a marked departure from techniques police have used in years past to clear camps, when officers would sweep in, give residents just hours to vacate and sometimes issue trespassing citations.
• Apparently, I’m a member of the city’s one-half of one percent club. Clearly I’m not talking about my non-existent elite levels of wealth — I mean I’m a Cincinnati bike commuter. About one out of every 200 Cincinnatians bikes to work, according to Census data. Currently, the city ranks 45th in the nation for bicycle commuting. That’s a pretty low number in the grand scheme of things, but it represents a big increase over time — bike commuting is up 146 percent from a decade and a half ago.
• Speaking of rankings, Cincinnati made a Forbes list for the country’s 19 best opportunity cities. The list considers business opportunities, cost of living, unemployment rate and population growth, especially among young people, and uses that data to determine where a person has the best chance of making big waves and finding big success. Cincinnati ended up 18th on the list, coming in just above Winston-Salem, North Carolina and just below Shreveport, Louisiana. Ohio was well-represented — Columbus came in first, Toledo fourth and Akron 13th.
• P&G is distancing itself from the NFL as the league receives continued criticism over a player’s domestic violence incident. The Cincinnati-based company will pull out of a campaign in which players from each of the league’s 32 teams were to promote Crest toothpaste on social media and wear pink mouth guards during games to raise awareness for breast cancer. The company will still donate $100,000 to the American Cancer Society to raise breast cancer awareness, but will no longer be partnering with the NFL for the campaign. The move comes as the league faces continued criticism connected to revelations that Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punched and knocked out his girlfriend in an elevator. Rice was originally suspended for two games for the domestic violence incident, but after security tapes showing the brutal attack were released, public outcry forced the league and the team to release Rice from his contract. P&G caught some of this controversy after an ad for Baltimore Ravens-themed makeup from the company’s CoverGirl brand was altered to show the ad’s model with a black eye. The altered ad went viral, focusing attention on P&G’s sponsorship relationship with the league.
• In national news, Home Depot, which was recently the victim of the biggest information theft incident ever for a retailer, had been warned for years about the security of its data, a new report in The New York Times says. The company used outdated software and insufficient data security methods to house customer data, former employees for the company say, and had been warned of the risks since at least 2008. Hackers stole data for more than 40 million credit cards from Home Depot earlier this month, information that could be used to make more than $3 billion in fraudulent purchases. What’s worse? Experts are saying this kind of data theft could be “the new normal” as more and more companies experience data theft.
* Finally, ever seen hundreds of Canadians dressed like Batman? Now you have. I heard at least one guy in there is dressed up like The Joker. See if you can find him, Where's Waldo style.
Hello all. I'm gearing up to push a beer barrel around Fountain Square at this year's Oktoberfest kick off as part of Team City Beat, so I'll be brief in this end-of-week news rundown.
Mayor John Cranley last night delivered his first State of the City address. In it, he called 2014 a banner year for Cincinnati, counting crime reduction, the creation of new jobs and the continued changes happening in Over-the-Rhine and other historic neighborhoods among the city’s bright spots. Cranley touted future plans, including an increase in the number of police officers on the beat, a jobs program called the Hand Up Initiative, and several proposals to strengthen the city’s neighborhoods, including a beer garden in Mt. Airy Forest and a new Kroger’s in Avondale. He also touched on some of the challenges the city faces, such as the high number of youth killed and injured in gun violence and the lack of inclusion in the city’s hiring and contracting practices. But he largely skimmed over some major issues in Cincinnati, including the increasing difficulty many have in finding affordable housing and the city’s abysmal infant mortality rate, among others. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at the speech, and the city’s problems and promises, right here in the news department next week.
• Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has backed off on her suggestion she might sue the city if it doesn’t forgive her $300,000 loan. City Manager Harry Black earlier this week gave a quick, cold “no” to the idea the city might write off the loan to avoid a lawsuit from Rogers. In a change of tone, Rogers is now asking the city to help her make a plan to pay back the money.
• I don’t need to type this, even, but I need some way to lead into this next piece, so here I am stating the obvious: demand for housing in Over-the-Rhine is at a fever pitch right now. That’s across the income spectrum, but it seems the upper end of the continuum is getting the attention right now. In response to demand for swank spaces, 3CDC is ramping up renovations on a number of new condos and townhouses. The development group has sold 51 in the neighborhood so far this year, and at the current rate, says its current supply of 21 available properties will last until spring. So it’s making plans to crank out 24 new condos and 12 new townhouses in the area around the Vine Street corridor and Washington Park. The projects, representing more than $14 million in investment, are due to start construction in the coming weeks. Though price points haven’t been set on the properties yet, it seems all will be market rate.
• Wiedemann Brewery, which made beer in Greater Cincinnati for more than a century, is on its way back to the area. Jon and Nancy Newberry brought the brand back a couple years ago, and have recently announced plans to move production to Newport, where the company originated.
• Nina Turner, Democratic candidate for Ohio Secretary of State, got big ups from former President Bill Clinton Thursday. Clinton is touting Turner as an important alternative to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has been at the forefront of the party’s efforts in Ohio to roll back early voting hours.
“Elections matter and that’s why it matters to all of us who administers our elections,” Clinton said in a message sent by e-mail and letter to Ohio Democratic Party members and donors. “With Nina as Secretary of State, we can count on her to expand and protect the franchise and restore integrity and fairness to the electoral process in Ohio.”
• The House of Representatives Wednesday voted to audit the Federal Reserve to find out more about the nation’s central bank’s financial dealings. Republicans have been beating the drum on auditing the Fed pretty much since the last time they did it in 2010. But that bill, which was passed by all but one Republican and all but 91 of the House’s Democrats, came with two other bills that give big banks big perks, including significant deregulation on derivatives trading, the byzantine financial shell game that helped cause the financial crash of 2008. So Congress is interested in ferreting out dysfunction within the nation’s financial system, just so long as that dysfunction isn’t with big corporate money. Got it. It's unclear if the Senate will take up the bills.
• Finally, in international news, Scotland has voted against independence and will stick to being part of the United Kingdom. Fifty-five percent of Scottish voters said they wanted to stay a part of the UK. Scotland has been promised more autonomy as a way to keep it part of the UK, a change that could have big implications for the rest of the union, as this Reuters article explores.
Morning all! Let's jump right into the news.
Members of Cincinnati City Council have some preliminary good things to say about the Haile Foundation’s recent proposal for funding streetcar operating costs. Meanwhile, Mayor John Cranley has said he’s working on a plan of his own, and you can hear all about it… in a month or so. Vice Mayor David Mann and council members Kevin Flynn, P.G. Sittenfeld and Amy Murray all said the Haile plan was helpful as a starting point. Questions remain, however, about how much the tax plan will cost property owners in the proposed special taxing district, which will cover Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton. Murray, who voted against the streetcar project, also questioned whether the necessary 60 percent of property owners in those districts would back the tax and said there need to be back up options in place.
Meanwhile, Cranley said he’s confident he can come up with a plan council will support that provides the almost $4 million in yearly operating costs the streetcar needs without spending city money. He declined to give further details but said the plan should be ready in a month or so.
• Mayor Cranley won’t be talking much about that plan tonight when he gives his State of the City address, which will happen at 6 p.m. at Music Hall. Instead, he’ll outline other proposals and his vision for the year ahead. One seemingly mundane change he’ll be highlighting — the elimination of the more-or-less unenforced single garbage can rule. I live in a big house with 10 other roommates, and it’s not really my job to take the garbage out, but I can see how this is a big deal for people who live on a big hill (there are a lot of those in Cincinnati) and don’t want to lug one cartoonishly big trash can up and down steps all the time. Anyway, I’ve digressed. The State of the City is open to the public, though the mayor’s office encourages folks to RSVP here.
• City Council yesterday passed two new ordinances targeting sex trafficking, which I reported on yesterday. You can get more details on the new measures here.
• The sales tax increase to renovate Union Terminal has gotten a key backer. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce is endorsing the plan, which will go up for a vote on the November ballot. The plan is the product of a contentious struggle between Hamilton County Commissioners, the city and the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which originally drew up a $280 million plan funding both Music Hall and Union Terminal renovations. That plan, which sought to increase county sales taxes from 6.75 to 7 percent over 20 years, was jettisoned by commissioners in favor of the same hike for a shorter duration covering only Union Terminal. New efforts are underway to find money for Music Hall renovations.
• Quick hit: The owner of the car that was hit by big ole chunks of a Brent Spence Bridge off ramp Sunday will have to sue the state to be reimbursed, the Ohio Department of Transportation says. Bummer.
• Procter & Gamble is getting some social media heat surrounding its role as the NFL’s official beauty sponsor. The league has been experiencing huge amount of controversy in the past few weeks over Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice, who was suspended for two games following revelations he was involved in domestic violence against his fiancee. That suspension was made indefinite when tapes surfaced showing Rice brutally punching and knocking her out in an elevator. The league has taken heat for not acting quickly enough, with allegations flying that the league new about the severity of Rice’s crime before the tapes were made public. Meanwhile, in what amounts to either really bad timing or a severe case of tone-deafness, P&G’s Covergirl brand has been running the “get your game face on” campaign promoting their line of NFL-team-themed makeup. One of these has been photoshoped so that a model wearing Ravens purple makeup appears to have a black eye. As the image has gone viral, many on social media have turned to the company asking it to condemn the NFL and pull its sponsorship. Though P&G has issued a statement against domestic violence, the company has yet to pull the sponsorship, and critics say it isn’t doing enough to distance itself from the league. Covergirl’s Facebook page and other social media sites have received hundreds of negative comments about the situation.
• So the NFL is pretty soft on players who commit domestic violence, and our local mega-corporation keeps giving them money despite that. But hey, the Bengals are number one in Sports Illustrated’s NFL Power Rankings for the first time ever! So, that’s good, right? Eh.
• Quick hit number two: Yesterday I told you about an investigation into Ohio charter schools run by Chicago’s Concept Schools. Here’s more on that, including pushback from the schools’ officials and supporters.
• Here’s a story about how New Orleans, which has been the nation’s murder capital off and on for years, is using big data to track gang activity and help reduce violence in the city. It’s fascinating stuff that has some pretty interesting (and perhaps troubling) ramifications if you think about government's use of big data in general. On a side note, there’s a shout-out to an unnamed University of Cincinnati professor who apparently has helped the New Orleans Police Department work with data in tracking murders.
• Finally, founding members of Occupy Wall Street are suing each other over the movement’s most popular and recognized Twitter handle, @OccupyWallStNYC. Insert whatever joke you want right here.
Cincinnati City Council today unanimously passed two ordinances to address Cincinnati’s growing sex trafficking problem.
The ordinances were sponsored by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. One increases civil fines for using motor vehicles in solicitation or prostitution from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,500 for each subsequent offense. The other ordinance funnels fines for those offenses into a prostitution fund that will cover anti-prostitution efforts, including investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking crimes and programs that reduce prostitution.
That pool of money is actually the revival of a fund that was established by Councilman David Crowley in the early 2000s, Simpson said. “We’re really looking forward to reinstituting that; there’s a lot of work that needs to happen and those fines will go a small ways toward helping in those efforts.”
Simpson has been active on sex trafficking issues. Early this summer, she supported a controversial project that blocked off large sections of McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview. While many residents in the area applauded the blockade, saying it reduced activity from pimps and sex workers in the immediate area, other residents said it caused transportation problems, created a stigma around the area and had little effect on the overall occurrence of prostitution there. Residents of other neighborhoods, including Price Hill and Camp Washington, reported an increase in prostitution after the barricades went up and said sex workers were simply moving from McMicken to their communities.
Cincinnati Police Department, which put up the barricades, said there was no proof they caused an uptick of prostitution in other areas. They said the barriers seemed to reduce the occurrence of sex work in the area, at least temporarily. The barricades came down in July.
Some residents along McMicken have called for the barriers to become a full-time feature of the neighborhood. But many in the area, along with social service workers and city officials, agree that more needs to be done in terms of legal action against sex traffickers and extending treatment options for those caught up in sex work. Harsher penalties for pimps and johns, publicizing names of sex trafficking offenders and other measures have been floated as possible responses. One that has gained traction recently is a special “prostitution docket” in Hamilton County focused on reducing sex trafficking by reverting sex workers who also face addiction issues to treatment programs. Many across the political spectrum, including Simpson, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann and others, support the idea, but with treatment programs like the Center for Chemical Addictions Treatment House in the West End stretched to the limit, more programs will likely be needed.
In the meantime, Simpson says, the newest ordinances are a way to chip away at the problem.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to do what we’d like criminally because of the overcrowding of jails and other things,” she said. “This is a great way to ensure that we’re continually sending the message that this kind of activity is not permitted in our city and beginning the work of ending demand for these services.”
All right, let’s do this news thing.
Ohio has added a charter school from Cincinnati, as well as another from Columbus, to its investigation into Chicago-based Concept Schools, which runs 17 charter schools in the state. Concept has come under state and federal scrutiny after former teachers at the company’s Horizon Academy in Dayton made accusations about sexual misconduct, records forgery and other alleged crimes. The state has since received similar complaints about the Horizon Science Academies in Cincinnati and Columbus, officials say. This isn’t the first time charter schools in Cincinnati have come under fire. This summer, the Ohio Department of Education shut down VLT Academy in Pendleton due to low performance and lack of a sponsor organization.
• Cincinnati Assistant City Manager Bill Moller yesterday told city council’s finance and budget committee that the city shouldn’t have to commit public financial help to any hotel project at The Banks. The proposed location for a hotel is in a top-notch spot next to the ballpark, Moller pointed out, and the new General Electric offices moving in nearby will only make the area more attractive. The city and county are in talks with at least three hotel developers at this point. Financing plans for the project have yet to be proposed, though the hope is that a hotel at The Banks will be finished midway through 2015. Moller’s statements have come after some on council have begun questioning the city’s generosity when it comes to tax incentives and loans to lure businesses to downtown and other parts of the city.
• It’s fall, a time when educators’ thoughts turn to school books, lesson plans, shaping young minds and, of course, what to do if a psychotic gunman barges into your school and starts shooting. These are the depressing times we live in. One new defensive solution comes from a northern Ohio company and is called the Bearacade (it’s unclear why it’s called that, just go with it). The device is a metal wedge that can be crammed under a door and pinned to the floor in an emergency situation to keep shooters out of classrooms. Locally, Kings Schools in Warren County has begun installing the Bearacade. Practice for using the device, as described in The Cincinnati Enquirer, sounds slightly crazy:
“Unannounced, Goldie will suddenly shout a security emergency to the class, dash to the front of the room and slide baseball-style into the door. Hanging next to the entrance is the new door block, which he hastily installs, making it virtually impossible for any shooter to enter.”
However, surprise shouting and a home plate-style slide toward a door to install a metal wedge is probably less disruptive to the educational process than Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones’ suggestion that teachers carry heat in the classroom.
• Cincinnati Police say crime is down so far this year in the areas around University of Cincinnati. Though some high-profile cases, including violent burglaries, have brought attention to the area, robberies have decreased by half since a peak in 2009. Other crimes have also decreased. CPD has continued to add patrols in the areas around UC, despite the drop in criminal activity.
• Some scummy creeps claiming to be associated with the KKK distributed flyers around Green Township last week, including some with anti-immigration messages. Police there say activities from such groups crop up every few years and then abruptly dissipate. They say they’re keeping an eye on the situation but don’t expect much else from the group, which appears to be from southeastern Indiana.
• The Kentucky Supreme Court will hear arguments about one of the state’s most contentious death penalty cases. For 26 years, Gregory Wilson has been on death row, convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder of Deborah Pooley in Covington. But now, after a number of appeals on his behalf, the high court will consider whether or not his defense team did an adequate job and if new DNA evidence should be sought. Wilson’s advocates say the lawyers assigned to argue his case did little on his behalf and that DNA evidence could exonerate him. One of Wilson’s attorneys had never tried a felony, and the other was semi-retired and did not have an office or staff. But those looking to uphold his death sentence, including the Kentucky attorney general, say Wilson was convicted by overwhelming evidence, including the eye-witness testimony of his girlfriend, who is serving a life sentence for her role in the crime, and items he purchased with Pooley’s credit card after she was murdered. The case could set precedent for the way capital murder cases are tried in Kentucky, legal experts say.
• Poverty rates inched down slightly in 2013, the Census Bureau reported yesterday. Though that reduction hasn’t matched the reduction in the unemployment rate, the increase in jobs did make a dent in poverty stats. Median household income is still down 8 percent from pre-recession levels, Census data says. The number of children in poverty declined more significantly, from nearly 22 percent in 2012 to not quite 20 percent in 2013. That’s good news.
• Also good news — apparently, teen drug and alcohol use is down, according to a new study. Drug abuse in general in the United States has leveled off, according to the report by the Department of Health and Human Services. The study found that teens were turning away from illicit substances in favor of spending hours taking selfies that make them look bored, but in a cool way, and posting them on Tumblr.
• Finally, because nothing is more important to tea party types than fair representation in all realms of our modern democratic society, newly chosen Miss America Kira Kazantsev is getting flack for a three-month stint she did as an intern at Planned Parenthood. That revelation has set off a tidal wave of hate from some anti-abortion corners of the Internet, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t solely provide abortions and Kazantsev’s role involved supporting sex education, which, you know, actually reduces the need for abortion services. Bravely undeterred by this reality, Twitter users have taken to calling her “Ms. Abortion America,” “baby killer supporter” and suggesting that “this chick sure doesn’t represent me.” Because yes, Miss America is a publicly elected office whose life choices should represent every single American, no matter what their (completely unrelated) political ideologies may be.
Afternoon, y’all. I hope you’re enjoying the amazing fall weather as much as I am. My morning bike ride down Sycamore to the office was
brutally, eye-wateringly cold refreshingly brisk and left me 100-percent awake. Which is good, because this morning has been all hustle preparing for all the great stuff in the coming week's print issue. Anyway, here’s the news a bit later than usual.
City Manager Harry Black has little to say about Sunday’s proposal from Mahogany’s on The Banks owner Liz Rogers other than, “no, thanks.” The proposal, which read a little bit like a threat, promised no protests and no lawsuits if the city forgave a $300,000 loan Mahogany’s owes and sold Rogers the furniture and equipment from the restaurant (which the city owns as collateral) for $12,000. Vice Mayor David Mann and a few other council members, including P.G. Sittenfeld, Kevin Flynn and Christopher Smitherman have said they are very much not inclined to go along with that proposal, while Councilman Wendell Young has been the only member so far expressing openness to a possible deal. The rest deferred to the city administration. Black declined to comment further on the matter, citing the possibility of future litigation regarding the restaurant.
• Here’s something to put in the “surprise, I’m not surprised” file: Councilman Charlie Winburn said yesterday that the GOP pressured him to not support the Anna Louise Inn, a women’s shelter formerly located downtown and currently moving to Mount Auburn. Winburn is running for State Senate, and has been working his way to the left to try and scoop up some more votes against his Democratic opponent Cecil Thomas. Winburn, a Republican, voted Monday at a budget and finance committee meeting to sell city land for $1 to the shelter's new location, despite pressure from his party not to.
“I bucked the Republican Party and supported the Anna Louise Inn when I got pressure from my party to not to support this initiative for women,” he said at the meeting.
The Inn lost a protracted battle to stay at its location near Lytle Park downtown. Western and Southern had been working to buy the property, which Anna Louise operators Cincinnati Union Bethel were hoping to renovate and expand. The company won out after continued lawsuits around the Inn’s status as a shelter. Western and Southern has plans to convert the century-old shelter into a luxury hotel.
• Was it a losing gamble? Casinos in Ohio have delivered only about two thirds of the permanent jobs promised to the state during a 2009 campaign urging voters to approve them. Though the industry has come through, for the most part, on the 9,700 temporary construction jobs that built casinos across the state, including Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, those locations have yet to create a promised 7,500 permanent positions five years later, instead employing just 4,800 employees statewide. Casino officials say that’s because Ohio also legalized electronic slots at horse racing tracks, creating so-called “racinos” and cutting into casinos’ bottom lines. They also say that they’re still “reasonably close” to the promises they made to entice Ohio voters to approve casinos. Locally, Horseshoe Casino has lost nearly 400 jobs since opening a year and a half ago, though regionally the gambling industry in Greater Cincinnati still employs about 5,600 people.
• Cincinnati-based Macy’s Department Stores will be among the first companies to use the just-announced Apple Pay system, which lets iPhone 6 owners use their phones like credit cards. Apple Pay will use thumbprint recognition for security and allow users to simply wave their phone in front of a sensor to pay for purchases. I can’t decide if this is horrible or convenient, or, if like many things in the modern economy, it’s actually both at once. Regardless, I’ve already started practicing a smooth, continuous motion where I have my phone in front of my face for texting, then do the swipe thing to pay for donuts or what have you, and then immediately move the device back to my face to resume texting.
• County elections boards across the state are gearing up to begin early voting on Sept. 30 even as Secretary of State Jon Husted fights with federal courts to roll back the number of early voting days in Ohio. Husted and the state GOP have passed laws eliminating a number of early voting days in the name of making voting uniform across the state. Federal courts have struck down those laws as unconstitutional, though Husted has appealed those decisions. Early voting begins in two weeks, and instead of just letting the matter rest for the year and keeping the voting situation stable, Husted is hoping to get a decision soon allowing the GOP to roll back voting again. The reasoning? Federal rulings allowing counties leeway to set additional early voting hours could create “confusion among the electorate,” Husted says. Because, you know, constantly fighting to reduce the number of days people have to vote two weeks before voting is to start isn’t confusing at all.
• Urban Outfitters has once again set eyes rolling across the country with a shirt that seems to play off the 1970 Kent State University shootings. The one-off sweatshirt featured holes and what looked like bloodstains and was retailing for $129 before being yanked from the company’s website after controversy. The store has said it didn’t intend to evoke one of the most famous protest tragedies in history, during which four people died at the hands of National Guard troops. It’s yet another tone-deaf move for the hipster megastore, which is ironically led by conservative mega-donor and gay marriage opponent Richard Hayne. “But their novelty whiskey flasks are so totes adorbs,” you say. I know, I know. I feel betrayed as well.
Hey Cincinnati! Here’s your news for the day.
Mahogany’s at The Banks is closed, but the controversy continues. The restaurant closed Friday after its landlord asked it to vacate The Banks due to state sales tax violations and back rent the restaurant owed. Yesterday, owner Liz Rogers and her attorney presented the city with a proposal via a multi-page letter to City Manager Harry Black. The letter said that Mahogany’s had indeed closed its location at The Banks, but suggested a seven-point compromise between the city and the restaurant. That compromise includes forgiveness of a $300,000 debt Rogers owes the city and a $12,000 payment from Rogers to the city for furniture and equipment purchased with the city loan.
The letter charges that the city, while accommodating in some ways, set the restaurant up to fail by not providing conditions necessary to keep the business going and by leaking information about its financial struggles to the press. Rogers’ attorney states that she was told there would be a hotel and other amenities that would draw people to the riverfront development and suggested she could sue the city and her landlord for fraud, defamation of character, discrimination, breach of contract and other charges for not meeting its end of the bargain. It’s a fairly brazen move, considering Mahogany’s has fallen behind on loan and rent payments and that the city of late has been less than interested in making further deals with the restaurant. No word on a response from the city yet, but we’ll be updating as that happens.
• When folks say the Brent Spence Bridge is falling apart, they mean it literally. A group of Bengals fans Sunday got a rude surprise when big concrete chunks of an offramp from the bridge plunged from a support beam into the windshield of their car, parked just East of Longworth Hall. They were at the game at the time and no one was injured, but the incident underscores the precarious condition of the vital bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River. An annual inspection of the roadways around the bridge is scheduled to begin today.
• Officials in Butler County are mulling converting part of a struggling county-run nursing home into a detox center for heroin addicts.
Support for government-run nursing homes has been waning for years, and
Butler County’s is one of the last in the state. Officials with the
nursing home argue there is a need for the facility and that by
extending care to those needing addiction treatment, they can serve
another need while staying solvent. But some county officials, including
outspoken Sherriff Richard Jones, aren’t convinced the nursing home
should continue to exist at all, and they see addiction treatment there
as more risk than it's worth.
• Kentucky is moving closer to restoring voting for people with certain felonies. Currently, Kentuckians who have served time for a felony need a pardon from the governor to regain their voting rights. Only three other states have this requirement. Three bills proposing an amendment to the state’s constitution are currently being considered in the Kentucky legislature. An amendment, which requires passage by 60 percent of legislators and a statewide vote, would allow felons to cast ballots again after they’ve served prison time and probation. Those convicted of homicide, treason, bribery or sex crimes would not be eligible. One supporter of the proposal is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has been using justice system reform as a way to reach out to voters outside the traditional Republican base as he positions himself to run for president in 2016.
• In national news, the Census Bureau tomorrow will release its 2013 poverty statistics for America, giving us data on how much slow-moving economic recovery from the Great Recession has aided the country’s lowest earners. The news is not expected to be overwhelmingly good: While the unemployment rate has been falling, the poverty rate has barely budged, revealing that simply employing folks in any old (increasingly low-wage) job can’t get us back to where we were before the recession. Jared Bernstein, an economist with progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, sums up his projection of the data thusly: “…if I’m in the ballpark, Tuesday’s release will be another reminder of why many Americans still feel pretty gloomy about the recovery: It hasn’t much reached them.”
• Finally, I just have to throw this in here: a new study says that journalists consume more coffee than those in any other profession, drinking an average of four cups a day. I’d say I’m still just a fledgling journalist, and so I stick with one cup, though like my dark, cynical journalist heart, it is always completely black, ice cold and nearly bottomless. No, seriously, I get the biggest one Dunkin Donuts has, which is roughly the size of a small wastebasket.