While Congress has been wrangling back and forth for months about raising the federal minimum wage, the City of Cincinnati is doing what it can to encourage businesses to pay their employees enough to get by.
The Cincinnati Living Wage Employer Initiative will officially recognize employers paying their employees at least $10.10 an hour, the same hike congressional Democrats have been pushing in the House and Senate. The program looks to reward businesses and nonprofits that take the step, providing a website, cincinnatilivingwage.com, where consumers can check to see which businesses pay employees a fair wage.
Though the program is voluntary, the hope is that positive recognition and consumer pressure will encourage businesses to pay employees a wage that allows them to be self-sustaining.
“Although the city of Cincinnati cannot legislate a higher minimum wage–that’s left up to the state–we do feel we have a crucial role to play in creating a culture of living wage employers,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at an Oct. 2 news conference announcing the initiative, which he’s helped push.
“Cincinnati cannot wait on Congress to take action,” he said. “But our local businesses and organizations can raise their minimum wage voluntarily and immediately, and individuals can make conscientious consumer decisions about spending their money with those employers.”
So far, four organizations, including the city, are listed as partners in the initiative. One is Cincinnati-based Grandin Properties, whose CEO Peg Wyant appeared with Sittenfeld at the Oct. 2 announcement.
Another is Pi Pizza, which is opening its first store in Cincinnati downtown at Sixth and Main Streets on Oct. 13. The company, based in St. Louis, has paid non-tipped workers at its seven locations in Missouri, Washington DC and elsewhere $10.10 an hour for five months. The company looks to employ about 100 people in Cincinnati.
Pi Pizza CEO Chris Sommers estimates about 75 percent of those employees will be hourly and not working for tips, meaning they’ll benefit from the wage boost. Sommers said the increased payroll costs are more than balanced by reduced employee turnover rates and increased productivity.
“We did it without raising prices, and we did it after extensive quantitative and qualitative analysis to make sure we could pay for it and that we could still grow and expand to cities like Cincinnati,” Sommers said of the wage boost.
He encouraged other businesses to make a similar commitment.
“If Pi Pizza can do it, you can do it,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s good for business–more people walking around, with not only more money to put gas in their cars, more money to get their cars fixed, but also more people to buy pizza. And that’s important, right?”
Boosting the minimum wage has caused a deep debate in the United States. Proponents, including President Barack Obama, who called for the boost to $10.10 during this year’s state of the union address, say that low-wage workers don’t make enough to survive easily or raise families, boosting dependence on government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. Opponents, however, including Republicans in Congress like House Speaker John Boehner, say that it will cost businesses more and stifle job growth. Republicans also say that most low-wage jobs are held by high school students, part-time workers who aren’t trying to sustain themselves independently or raise families.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data, however, show that two-thirds of minimum wage workers are over the age of 19. Sommers said that few, if any, of the 107 employees at a recent orientation for Pi Pizza’s Cincinnati location were young students.
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, though 23 states, including Ohio, have a higher minimum. The highest wage in the country is in Washington State, where employers must pay adult non-tipped workers at least $9.87. Ohio’s minimum wage is currently $7.95, which will increase to $8.10 in January, thanks to a 2005 constitutional amendment that pegs the state’s minimum to inflation. Even at this new state minimum wage, however, a worker working 40 hours a week will still gross less than $17,000 a year. At $10.10, the same worker would earn $21,000– enough to put a family of three just above the federal poverty level.
“While even the higher hourly wage will leave some people vulnerable, the extra earned income represents the difference between people being able to sustain a basic existence or not,” Sittenfeld said.
Heya! CityBeat reporters fanned out across the city this morning picking up what’s happening. We’re omnipresent, omniscient and fueled by dangerous amounts of coffee. Nah, just kidding. There were two of us, and we each swooped in on a story or two. Here’s what we found.
Cincinnati Police officers in the Central Business District as well as some neighborhood-based officers will begin carrying the overdose reversal drug naloxone today. Some medical personnel with the city’s fire department already carry the antidote, but select CPD officers will carry it on a six-month trial basis since officers are usually the first on the scene of drug overdoses. If the trial is successful, the practice of carrying the antidote may be expanded throughout CPD. The drug prevents respiratory failure from overdoses of heroin and prescription opiates.
• Cincinnati’s domestic partner registry kicked off today. The registry lets same-sex couples register with the city so that employers who offer same-sex benefits can verify employees’ partner status. Councilman Chris Seelbach, who sponsored the original measure in council, held a kick-off at City Hall this morning. Several couples filled out applications and a notary was on site to notarize them. The registry will make it easier for businesses that provide same-sex partners benefits, since the companies won’t need to spend their own resources verifying couples’ partner status.
• On the other side of downtown, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld held an event announcing a voluntary initiative encouraging Cincinnati businesses to pay employees higher wages. The initiative will recognize local businesses that pay employees at least $10.10 an hour. That rate, initially proposed by President Obama, has been batted about in Congress for the last six months. The event took place at soon-to-open Pi Pizza, a St. Louis-based company that has been paying workers at its seven locations in St. Louis, Washington, DC and elsewhere $10.10 for four months. The pizzeria is located at Sixth and Main and will open Oct. 13. Along with Pi, long-time Cincinnati business Grandin Properties is also among the first organizations to be recognized by the city for paying its workers a living wage.
• Lincoln Heights Fire and Police Departments were both shuttered this morning due to a lapse in insurance coverage. Dispatchers for Hamilton County said both stopped responding to calls at midnight. Lincoln Heights leaders are meeting this morning to discuss the situation, and neighboring municipalities, including Lockland, have taken over response to emergency calls in the meantime. The Lincoln Heights Police Department has been rocked by recent allegations of corruption, though there is no indication the sudden closure of the department is related to the accusations of widespread officer misconduct.
• If you’re planning on heading to the West Side this weekend, be advised: the lower deck of the crumbling Western Hills Viaduct will be closed most of the day this Saturday for emergency repairs. The exit ramp from southbound I-75 to Harrison Ave. will also be closed until 10 a.m. that morning. The aging viaduct has been the focus of a lot of attention over the past number of months as engineers develop plans to replace it.
• State Rep. Dale Mallory is under investigation for campaign finance violations stemming from his failure to accurately report Bengals tickets he received from lobbyists. The Democrat, who hails from the West End and whose family has a half-century history in state politics, could face legal repercussions for not reporting tickets worth nearly $400 given to him by payday lender Axcess Financial and law firm Taft, Stettinius and Hollister. The lobbyists have already paid fines for failing to report the gifts. Mallory’s lawyer calls the issue a “paperwork error or technical violation” and says he is working with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s office to resolve the matter. Mallory faces misdemeanor charges for filing false disclosure forms, which could result in a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
• Kentucky’s intense Senate race may come down to one key issue: coal. This long-form piece explores how both Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes are falling over themselves to be seen as a big friend to big coal, which for years has held the fate of Kentucky in its hands. Yes, the piece is from Yahoo News. Stay with me here, it's pretty good. It’s shaping up to be the most expensive Senate race in history, and it has big implications for whether Democrats keep their slim majority there.
• Finally, Ohio is America's 44th happiest state, and Kentucky is 47th, according to a study by finance website WalletHub. Funny, I felt much less happy in the other states I've lived in, but I guess the data says that's just me and I'm a weirdo because I like it here.
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.
At least some of the 15 protesters arrested during Tuesday’s march through downtown Cincinnati in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo. have paid bail. But while most folks are at home enjoying Thanksgiving, they’ll still be in the Hamilton County Justice Center because some county offices are closed.
The march drew as many as 300 people during its nearly three-hour duration. During that time, at least 100 protesters streamed onto I-75, bringing traffic to a halt for a few minutes. Police, who had blocked traffic in the northbound lane of the highway, ordered protesters off under threat of arrest.
Those who didn’t leave fast enough ended up in jail.
The protesters were held without bond overnight and arraigned at 12:30 p.m. today. Bond for the eight charged with shutting down I-75 was set at $3,000. According to Hamilton County Criminal Court documents, two of those arrested, Liz Cambron and Aalap Bommaraju, paid bail early this afternoon. But they’ll be in jail over Thanksgiving, and maybe until Monday, their attorney Joe Russell says.
Judge Melissa Powers, the presiding judge, deemed the arrested protesters flight risks and ordered they be fitted with electronic monitoring devices. But the office that provides the devices closed at noon today and won’t reopen until next week. Until then, protesters who would otherwise be out on bond will likely be spending the holiday weekend in jail.
“I don’t undersand how my clients are flight risks,” Russell said of Cambron and Bommaraju. “They aren’t the kind of people who want to get anyone run over.” Cambron is a graduate student at University of Illinois Chicago, and Bommaraju is a health worker pursuing his PhD at UC.
He says the two weren’t acting recklessly and were merely exercising their first amendment rights.
The rest of the group arrested on I-75 are look to be in a similar situation. Brandon Geary, Robert Fairbanks, Hilliard Herring, Zachary Lucas and Rhonda Shaw were also arrested on the highway and have been ordered to wear the tracking devices after release on bond.
Representatives with the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts said they
could not provide any information on the cases during phone calls
“The reason they’re still in jail is because the county doesn’t have the electronic monitoring devices available,” Russel said. He said he'll be in court Friday working to get the two released.
A vigil asking the court to release the protesters on bond will take place tomorrow at 10 a.m.
Both Bommaraju and Cambron, along with others who were arrested after entering I-75, are charged with disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, and inducing panic. That charge is usually a first- degree misdemeanor, but could be a fifth or fourth degree felony if a prosecutor finds that significant “economic damage” was done in the commission of the offense.
Hey y’all. Yesterday was a long one, but today’s my birthday and tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So yeah, that’s awesome.
The big news this morning is something you’ve probably already heard about, maybe from our coverage last night. Roughly 300 people yesterday gathered at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street for a rally organized by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network. City and state politicians, including State Rep. Alicia Reece and Mayor John Cranley spoke at the event. At some point, most of those gathered embarked on what would become a nearly three-hour march that shut down I-75 and led to 15 arrests. Organizers of the rally say the march wasn’t part of their plans, and not all those who marched went out onto the highway. Protesters started dispersing about 8:30 p.m. after the march ended at the Hamilton County Justice Center. Those arrested on the highway are being charged with violations like disorderly conduct and inducing panic, while those arrested elsewhere are charged with disobeying traffic signals, according to court records. UPDATE: at least some of those arrested have been bonded out.
• Tell us how you really feel. A speech by Mayor John Cranley given Nov. 20 at the Cincinnati Masonic Center had many moments of surprising candor, according to the Business Courier, even for a mayor known to be upfront with his thoughts. During the speech, which wasn’t announced to the press but was recorded by the group, Cranley compared the state of the region’s bus system to the Titanic, called on-street bike lanes “special treatment” and a “disruption,” and called rail projects like the streetcar “19th century technology.” While those comments are provocative, they align pretty well with past positions the mayor has taken. Cranley said the bus system’s finances are in bad shape and argued the city shouldn’t be subsidizing county bus riders. The fare for SORTA buses outside the city is higher, but that higher rate doesn’t pay for the extra cost of running the buses. Cranley also offered a fascinating idea at the meeting: that the Census’ estimate for the city’s population is too low. Cranley thinks the city may have 310,000 residents, more than the roughly 298,000 the Census estimates.
• A new Over-the-Rhine business incubator is opening up Friday for people with great ideas but fewer resources. Mortar, a so-called “urban idea laboratory” on Vine Street, will offer a 10-week business class and support for entrepreneurs, especially underprivileged potential business owners, looking to start a business in Cincinnati’s urban core.
• As we reported yesterday, Ricky Jackson came to Cincinnati yesterday to thank the Ohio Innocence Project. The University of Cincinnati program helped him prove his innocence after he was convicted of a murder he didn't commit in 1975, and, as he said during a triumphant event yesterday at UC, “saved my life.” Jackson, who was just released last Friday, spent 39 years in prison for the crime before being exonerated.
• A bill being considered in Ohio’s General Assembly would end the state’s 20-year statute of limitations on rape cases. But that bill is stalled due to controversy over potential far-reaching consequences. Some lawmakers are pushing for an amendment to the law that would only eliminate the expiration date for cases in which DNA evidence is present proving the identity of the offender. The state of Ohio currently has a backlog of rape kits, evidence collected from a victim after a sexual assault is reported. That’s made finding and prosecuting rapists in a timely manner difficult.
• Finally, this is interesting. Do you remember the Presidential Fitness Test? If you went to public school, you probably took the test, which measured your running ability and your capacity for push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises. When I had to take this test as a youngin, I always pictured a very angry Ronald Regan (I don’t know why I pictured him. Bill Clinton was president at the time) yelling at me to do more sit-ups so the communists wouldn’t win. Turns out, I wasn’t far off the mark, though I should have imagined an earlier president. President Kennedy pushed for youth fitness measures in 1960, decrying the nation’s “growing softness.” The actual test wasn’t instituted until 1966. It included a softball throw that was meant to simulate chucking grenades. Probably would have been more excited for the whole thing as a child if they’d kept that part in.
A rally in protest of recent police shootings of unarmed black men drew as many as 300 downtown Tuesday evening. The rally was followed by a nearly three-hour march that made its way through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the
West End before briefly shutting down I-75 as protesters streamed onto
The rally and march were in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., where black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot Aug. 9 by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Yesterday a grand jury in St. Louis County declined to indict Wilson, spurring civil unrest in the area and demonstrations in cities across the country. In Cincinnati, the march through downtown neighborhoods had echoes of the city’s past — civil unrest lasting days tore through the same communities in 2001 after unarmed black teenager Timothy Thomas was shot by white Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach in OTR.
“Honestly, after the decision yesterday I was a bit numb,” said Curtis Webb, as he marched through downtown. “I even questioned whether I would come out tonight. I’m tired of hearing the talk. I’m more interested in seeing the walk about these situations. As a black man, I’m… I don’t know. I’m scared to be black. I don’t know how to say it. I’m always questioning, 'Am I doing the right thing? Do I look too dangerous? Are the police going to pull me over?' ”
Cincinnati’s demonstrations started with a rally at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street attended by State Senator-elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece, community organizer Rev. Damon Lynch III and Mayor John Cranley, among others.
At the initial gathering on the steps of the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, Cranley highlighted the progress Cincinnati has made since 2001.
"Like all of you, I am deeply concerned about the loss of life and the events that are unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri," he said. "I can sympathize with all aspects of what the community is experiencing because Cincinnati has had similar tensions in the past. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of trial and errors, but we made progress."
“I spent 27-seven years in law enforcement, and not once did I fire my weapon to harm someone,” Cecil Thomas said. “And all of a sudden, we see so many officers so quick to pull their guns. How do you pull your gun on a 12-year-old when someone tells you it looks like he has a toy gun? We have to change the way we do our policing.”
Thomas was a peacemaker during the 2001 unrest, working with police, community groups and the city's Human Relations Commission to broker calm.
Many attendees at the initial rally joined in a meandering march that stopped traffic in many of the city’s major streets and passed just feet from the spot where Timothy Thomas was shot in 2001. However, the rally was much more peaceful than the days of unrest 13 years ago. About 20 police followed the march, blocking off streets and working to corral protesters. Organizers with the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network say the march was not part of their plans for the rally.
Tensions rose when protesters, after making their way down Ezzard Charles Drive in the West End, split off onto a highway onramp, spilling over a berm and onto the north-bound lane of I-75. Police blocked off traffic temporarily, but drove protesters off the highway with the threat of arrest. A few protesters were arrested when they didn’t leave quickly enough. After leaving the highway, the march continued through the city for another hour, eventually dissipating at the Justice Center on Court and Main streets.
Joshua Davis, who helped lead the march, said the problems go beyond any specific case.
“I’m out here because I have nieces who are four, five, six years old and I want them to come up in a world where they don’t have to be afraid of the cops," he said. "There are many things cops can carry that don’t kill people. I’m out here not because I agree Mike Brown was innocent or guilty, or because the cop was guilty or innocent, but because black men are being killed daily.”
The march ended at the
Hamilton County Justice Center at about 8:30 p.m. Fifteen were arrested during the march, according to police.
UPDATE: A hearing for those arrested was held Wednesday at 12:30, according to the county clerk. Court records show some of the protesters have posted bond.
Ricky Jackson was just 20 and fresh out of the Marines when he went to jail for murder in 1975. Authorities pinned the killing of Harold Franks, a fifty nine-year-old money order clerk in Cleveland, on Jackson and two of his friends, brothers Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman. The conviction came on the testimony of a single twelve-year-old boy with bad eyesight and a confused story.
He spent the next 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Jackson was released last Friday, the last of the trio to be freed after that witness, Eddie Vernon, admitted he made up his testimony under police pressure. Today, Jackson was in Cincinnati to thank those who worked tirelessly to help free him.
“I would have walked if it would have come to that,” Jackson said to a packed house on University of Cincinnati's campus. “I wanted to come meet the people instrumental in saving my life.”
The Ohio Innocence Project, which runs out of University of Cincinnati’s College of Law, has been working on Jackson's case since 2010, digging for years to get public records about the case. A Cleveland Scene article in 2011 focused more attention on the story as well. Since those beginnings, OIP has played a huge role in getting Jackson exonerated.
OIP was founded in 2003 to investigate and litigate cases where prisoners have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. The group is made up of UC Law professors and students who use DNA evidence, new witnesses, evidence of police misconduct, and other information to exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates. In just over a decade, they’ve helped free 18 inmates who were wrongfully convicted of murder and other charges. Jackson is the longest-serving inmate in Ohio to be exonerated.
Jackson’s codefendant Ronnie Bridgeman was paroled in 2010, but Jackson’s parole board continued to keep him in prison. Jackson says parole boards wanted him to admit guilt and express regret for the crime before they released him. The only problem was, he was innocent.
“I was on the cusp a lot of times,” he said of confessing. “It seemed like, to me, the only way I was going to get out was to admit guilt. But there was a lot more at stake than just me saying I committed the crime when I know I didn’t. That man’s family gets no justice, I get no justice… at the end of the day I just couldn’t lay down with that in my heart.”
He passed the time by staying fit and helping run the prison’s horticultural project. He ran a greenhouse, something he enjoyed immensely. Still, the time was wearing on him.
“After my last parole board hearing, I was really at an all time low,” he said. “I’m running out of time. I’m 57. How much time to do I really have left? I hate to use this cliché, but they came through like a knight in shining armor. When I was at my eleventh hour, didn’t know what direction I was going to take… these guys came.”
Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project, says Jackson was steadfast in his innocence. He recalls first meeting Jackson at a recent hearing on his request for a new trial in light of witness Vernon recanting his testimony. Prosecutors were offering Jackson a deal — once again, if he would say he was guilty, he could walk free.
“He just looked at us and said, ‘I don’t need anymore time to think about it. I will not take that deal,' ” Godsey recalls. Prosecutors soon conceded that without their only witness, they had no case. Jackson was free.
There are challenges ahead, to be sure. He spent many of his formative years — when most people go to college, start careers, and build families — behind bars.
The OIP is stepping in again with assistance. The group has raised nearly $43,000 to help Jackson get a new start. They’re also fighting the state of Ohio to get a settlement for him based on his wrongful conviction. That could be huge — $40,000 for every year he was imprisoned, plus lost wages and other damages. But it’s not guaranteed. Sometimes, prosecutors fight against these settlements. So far, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office has not officially acknowledged that Jackson is innocent or that they were wrongly imprisoned.
In the meantime, Jackson says he’s not sure just yet what he’ll do. But he says he’s up for the challenge of building a life.
“It’s not difficult at all," he said. "Compared to what I just came from, this is beautiful.”
Your morning news today is gonna be a little grim and heavy. Sometimes that's how the news goes, folks.
A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Mike Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The incident has been highly racially charged from the start and caused months of unrest between protesters and police in Ferguson and surrounding communities. Brown was black and Wilson is white. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch delivered the grand jury’s decision in a highly unusual, and perhaps highly unwise, 9 p.m. press conference, despite the fact the grand jury reached its decision much earlier in the day. The rambling, 20-minute announcement lead with a strong condemnation of social media, the 24-four hour news cycle and other seemingly unrelated forces before getting to a strong defense of Wilson from the prosecutor. It’s exceedingly unusual for a grand jury to not hand down an indictment, unless that indictment is for a police officer who has killed someone in the line of duty.
The announcement was followed by waves of anger from already-gathered protesters, and civil unrest quickly spread through Ferguson. Police and National Guard troops on the scene began firing tear gas and smoke bombs shortly after the decision was read. Reports on the ground relayed some peaceful protesters as well as incidents of looting and vandalism. Several buildings and at least two police cruisers had gone up in flames by this morning, and St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar said he had heard at least 150 gunshots throughout the night. President Barack Obama sounded a skeptical note about the decision but called for peace in Ferguson. Brown’s family released a statement expressing their extreme disappointment with the verdict but also called for protesters to remain peaceful.
Calmer demonstrations have sprung up in many cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Seattle and New York. A peaceful demonstration organized by the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the National Action Network will be held in Cincinnati today at 5 p.m. at the U.S. District Courthouse downtown.
• Last week, Cleveland native Ricky Jackson was released from prison after spending 39 years there for a murder he didn’t commit. Today at noon, Jackson will be in Cincinnati appearing at UC’s School of Law to thank the school’s Ohio Innocence Project and others who helped free him. Jackson’s story was first unearthed by the Cleveland Scene and taken up by the Innocence Project shortly thereafter. He was convicted based on the sole testimony of a 12-year-old boy who later admitted he had made up his statements. Jackson is the 18th person freed by the program.
• Over-the-Rhine's newest brewery and tap house is almost ready for guests. Taft's Ale House, which is on 15th and Race, received its fermenters and brewhouse yesterday. They were lowered in with a crane, which is pretty epic. The owners say they'd like to be open by Reds Opening Day next year.
• If someone offered you a free building, would you take it? Hamilton County commissioners aren’t sure they will. Mercy Hospital has offered to donate their former facility in Mount Airy to the county. A number of the county’s offices, including the county’s cramped coroner and crime lab, could move there, but the new location won’t be cheap. It could cost up to $100 million to retrofit the building for its new tenants, money commissioners say they don’t have, especially after their vote yesterday to approve a relatively skinny $201 million budget. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have both indicated the county may not take the building after all. Democrat Commissioner Todd Portune is also skeptical about moving county services to Mount Airy, though for other reasons. He says the county’s board of elections, which was also proposed as a tenant at the site, should stay downtown.
• Finally, as if my faith in humanity needed more testing this week, there’s this story. Someone stole a Sasquatch statue out of a family’s yard in Delhi. The thing weighs 400 pounds, so it’s an impressive bit of thievery, though also pretty heartless.
“I want squashy back,” the statue’s owner told Channel 12 News. “We've got to dress him up for Christmas. We can't have Christmas without Squashy."
Morning all. Let’s get right to the news, shall we?
It’s hardly a secret that arrest rates in communities across the country are often much higher for minorities. That’s certainly true for suburbs in the Cincinnati area, where authorities often arrest a much higher proportion of blacks than whites. In Sharonville, for instance, blacks are 12 times more likely to be arrested, and in Norwood, they’re seven times more likely. Law enforcement authorities in those communities say that the data controls for the lower population of blacks in those communities but doesn’t take into account the fact that not everyone committing crimes in those places lives there, which they say skews the numbers. Civil rights activists, however, say the data shows a clear racial disparity caused by a number of factors that need to be addressed. Many studies have made it clear that drug use, for instance, is just as high among whites as it is blacks, but law enforcement in many communities makes many more arrests in the latter.
• Are City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley trying to pre-empt a rail project right out of existence? It seems a little premature to say, but that’s the concern expressed by the city’s planning commission chair Caleb Faux and some advocates for a rail component of the proposed Wasson Way trail. The project looks to extend bike paths and eventually, possible commuter rail lanes through Evanston, Hyde Park and Mount Lookout. But on Thursday, Black removed from the city’s planning commission agenda legislation seeking to preserve the possibility of rail in the area by creating a transportation overlay district. The move has sparked worries that Black was acting on orders from Cranley, no friend of rail, in a bid to pre-emptively block a future rail project through the Wasson Way corridor. Cranley said he only wanted to give time for more public input before a vote on the overlay district was taken.
• In other City Hall news, Black announced his pick for the city’s director of trade and development today in a news release. Oscar Bedolla will be the city’s head of economic development. He previously worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration on infrastructure projects in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and Denver.
• State Rep. Alicia Reece, who represents Cincinnati, is pushing for a law that would require greater aesthetic differences between fake guns and real ones in the wake of another police shooting Saturday night in Cleveland. A 12-year-old boy was shot and killed by police officers, who thought the toy gun he was carrying was a semi-automatic pistol. The incident has tragic echoes of the August shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart. Crawford was carrying a pellet gun sold in the store when police shot him.
• As lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly wrangle over how to fix the state’s unemployment compensation system, a new report on the fund reviews how slashes to taxes on employers put the state in debt to the federal government to the tune of $1.3 billion. It’s interesting reading, to say the least, and a primer in the problems that can arise from some lawmakers' "cut every possible tax to the bone” mentality.
• Finally, if you’re really serious about video games, I have a Kickstarter for you to check out. It’s for a company that wants to make a controller that extracts real blood from you every time you’re injured in a video game. “It’s stupidly simple,” the pitch starts. Well, that’s at least partially right. Yow. The device keeps track of how much blood it hass removed, however, so you don’t like, pass out or bleed to death because you’re terrible at "Call of Duty."
Before news, let’s talk chili. Yesterday, true to my word, I checked out Cretan’s Grill in Carthage as part of my quest to discover the city’s smaller independent chili parlors. Excellent start. I paid five bucks for two coneys and a ton of fries. The chili was great — a little sweeter and meatier than say, Skyline. Where should I go next week?
Anyway, a lot of stuff happened yesterday. News stuff. So let’s get to it.
Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have agreed to pay $281,000 to keep open the possibility the county could acquire a former hospital in Mount Airy. The commissioners made the move in anticipation of possibly renovating the building to house several county offices, though they have made it clear those renovations will not happen in the coming year. County Administrator Christian Sigman originally proposed a 2015 budget with a .25 percent sales tax increase to pay for renovations so that the county coroner, crime lab and board of elections along with other offices could occupy the building. Monzel and Hartmann have signaled they will not support a sales tax increase, however, and want a long-term plan for how the former Mercy hospital might be used.
• As we reported last night, the Ohio Department of Health has renewed the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center’s license, meaning Cincinnati’s last clinic providing abortions will stay open. Planned Parenthood had filed a lawsuit against the state after the clinic in Mount Auburn was cited for lacking a transfer agreement with an area hospital. The clinic had an agreement with UC Hospital, but lost it when a law forbidding state-funded hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion providers was passed last year. The clinic applied 14 months ago for an exception to that rule because it has doctors on staff with individual admitting privileges with nearby hospitals.
• Cincinnati Red Bike may be expanding soon. The nonprofit bike sharing company that Cincinnati City Council boosted last year with $1 million in startup funds has been a big success, beating ridership projections in its opening weeks this summer. Currently, Red Bike has 30 stations in downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and uptown near UC. The company has been talking with Northern Kentucky officials about possibly putting additional stations in places like Covington and Newport. Red Bike is also considering putting new stations in places like Longworth Hall downtown and Burnet Woods in Clifton.
• More bad local media news. Scripps Networks Interactive, a Nashville-based entertainment company that produces HGTV, the Food Network and the Travel Channel, is closing its Cincinnati office and shedding the 150 positions based here. The company spun off from Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps in 2008 and employs about 2,000 people total.
• A bill that would ban abortions in Ohio once a fetus has a detectable heartbeat passed committee yesterday and will now make its way to a vote in the full Ohio House. The legislation, which could outlaw abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, would be one of the most restrictive in the country if passed. Bill cosponsors Reps. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance and Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon have said they see the legislation as a means for challenging Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. If they want a legal battle over the bill, they’ll probably get it. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has threatened a lawsuit if the measure makes it into law, which has some conservatives, including Gov. John Kasich, wary of passing the bill. Federal courts have found similar bans in other states unconstitutional, and a lawsuit challenging the ban could also jeopardize other anti-abortion laws in the state, conservative lawmakers feel.
The measure barely made it through the House’s Health and Aging Committee. Several last-minute swaps of committee members were performed so that there would be enough committee members present and so that those supporting the bill would outnumber those opposed. The proposal passed 11-6 after three Republicans and one Democrat were swapped out of the committee. That’s… kinda sketchy.
• Finally, President Barack Obama announced yesterday evening he would take sweeping executive action to grant relief to millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Up to five million immigrants could be shielded from deportation by the action, which directs immigration officials and law enforcement to focus on criminals instead of families. It’s a huge move, and one that has drawn a lot of attention. Conservatives have gone nuts over the announcement. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn predicted instances of “anarchy” and “violence” as a result of the move, and many other GOP officials have called Obama’s power play an illegal use of presidential power. Obama has countered that every president has used executive actions and that Congress should focus on passing legislation to fix America’s broken immigration system.
Send me news tips, chili tips, hate mail, suggestions for what I should buy myself for my birthday, fan mail, weird tweets, whatever: @nswartsell or firstname.lastname@example.org Remember, even your hateful tweets boost my Klout score, so fire away.
Before we get to news this morning, I have a query for readers. I want to venture away from the safe world of our ubiquitous chain Cincinnati chili restaurants for a day, lovely as they are, and try a smaller, more obscure chili parlor in town for lunch. Where should I go? I’m thinking about this place, but I’m open to suggestions. I’ll report back my findings tomorrow morning.
Ok, on to business. A bunch of stuff happened yesterday in City Council, but it was all stuff we sort of expected would happen, right? Council passed a streetcar operating agreement and funding mechanism, a bit of a landmark achievement for the project. After a couple years of fighting, hand-wringing and politicking, it seems like this thing is actually going to happen, funded by a roll back on property tax abatements in Over-the-Rhine, a parking meter increase there and of course rider fares.
“Three months ago, I didn’t know if we’d be here today with a revenue stream,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who chairs Council’s transportation committee, yesterday during the meeting. Murray was opposed to the project originally, but voted for the measure along with the rest of Council minus Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman. Smitherman said he still had serious concerns about the project’s financial prospects, saying no one is sure what ridership will be like.
• Who will be greeting those riders is still in question, though. A fight had been brewing over whether to employ SORTA’s unionized employees to run the streetcar or bid the work out to a private company. Consultants for the transit authority say a private company could save the city as much as $300,000 a year, though Democrats on council and representatives from SORTA’s union debate that number. Council sidestepped the argument for now by passing a resolution stating that SORTA should bid the job out to see what kind of offers it can get, but that the final decision on staffing will be voted on by council, which has so far leaned toward hiring SORTA employees. One possible arrangement: SORTA workers do the actual driving, so to speak, while a private company performs the managerial side of operating the streetcar.
• Council also voted to co-name Third Street downtown Carl H. Lindner, Jr. Way. The vote was unanimous, but not without its own bit of controversy. Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly-gay councilmember, said the vote required some deep soul-searching on his part. Lindner was a big funder of Citizens for Community Values, a group that pushed for Cincinnati’s harsh Article XII anti-gay charter amendment in the 1990s. Lindner also had some other dark moments during his career, though those didn’t enter into the street-naming conversation in Council.
“As a gay person, I don’t want to be judged solely on my sexual orientation,” Seelbach said. “There’s a lot to me besides my sexual orientation. And there’s a lot to Mr. Lindner besides his anti-gay history and positions. And a lot of that is really wonderful, from the jobs he created to the nonprofits he supported. Those things make me see him as a more whole person than just his anti-gay past.”
Despite Seelbach's yes vote, his comments drew an angry response from Councilman Charlie Winburn, who said Lindner was something of a mentor to him.
“I think it’s shameful of you to make a comment like that when a man has died and has given so much to Cincinnati.” Winburn said. Lindner passed away in 2011. “You should keep your vote. Your vote is not received."
• Well then. On a less awkward note, Council also approved a liquor license request for Nick and Drew Lachey’s Lachey’s Bar in Over-the-Rhine, which is hoping to open before Thanksgiving. So there’s that.
• A judge has turned down suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s first two requests for a new trial. Hunter filed three motions asking for a new trial after jury members recanted their guilty verdicts. The jurors said they were pressured into their decisions. Those motions would have been heard in court today.
"Once a jury has returned a verdict, and that jury has been polled, a juror may not rescind their verdict," Judge Norbert Nadel wrote in his decision. Hunter was tried on nine felony counts last month, and convicted on one — a charge stemming from her allegedly passing on documents about her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate. The jury hung on the other counts. A judge will hear Hunter’s final motion for retrial Dec. 2.
• Business opportunity alert: did you know Mayday is for sale? For $285,000 you get the bar and all of its inventory. Not a bad deal. Owners Vanessa Barber and Kim Mauer are moving on to other opportunities after five years of running the bar, which was known as the Gypsy Hut prior to their tenure there. I have a lot of fond memories playing music and billiards there, as well as climbing onto the roof of that building under both its names, so I hope someone snatches it up. I’d buy it, but I’m just a little short on cash. About, oh, $284,000 short. No worries, though, the bar will stay open until a new owner comes along.
• Speaking of opportunities… if you’re a fellow scribe, heads up. The Cincinnati Enquirer is hiring in tons of positions, many of them reporters to replace those it lost during a Gannett-wide restructuring process.
• Finally, our most esteemed Twitter friend John Mattress is at it again. Bacon is expensive indeed.
For chili tips, or heck, even if you want to throw some news my way, hit me up on Twitter or at email@example.com
Hey all! Once again, I’m rushing toward a day of covering meetings and hearings, so let’s do this morning news thing in a “just the facts” fashion.
First, about those meetings:
Cincinnati City Council today is expected to pass the streetcar operating and funding plans after the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee gave it the thumbs up yesterday. That’s a big deal, considering the city had been working for months to figure out where the system’s $4 million yearly operating budget would come from. But the fighting isn’t over. Now there’s disagreement about whether Metro or a contractor should run the streetcar. It’s a classic private vs. public argument. Vice Mayor David Mann and a majority of council want the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority to do the work. Councilmembers Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray, on the other hand, would like to see SORTA take bids on operations from private companies to see what kind of savings contracting the work could yield. A consultant for the transit authority, TRA, has generated numbers saying that the city could save about $300,000 a year by going private. SORTA’s union has taken issue with those numbers, though, and say they could match a private company’s price. Council won’t consider Mann’s proposal until sometime after Thanksgiving, which means a couple more weeks for wrangling over the deal.
City Council will also vote on a motion to name Third Street after Carl H. Lindner Jr., one of Cincinnati’s most towering business figures. That’s prompted some questions about Lindner’s legacy, specifically around LGBT issues. He gave millions to various causes around the city, but also had a darker side. Some, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, would like to take some time to get more public input on the move before putting his name on a prominent downtown street.
• Hamilton County Commissioners are holding a public hearing over the county’s 2015 budget this morning. The budget has been controversial. The original proposal by County Administrator Christian Sigman called for a .25 cent tax increase to fund renovations of a former hospital in Mt. Airy, a boost Republican commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann batted down recently. The Mt. Airy site, donated to the county by Mercy Hospital, would hold a new, updated crime lab and coroner’s office, as well as the county board of elections and other offices. The coroner’s office and crime lab are in serious need of updates, officials say, and are running at less than full capacity. Without the tax boost, however, the budget will remain flat and many other offices, including the Sheriff’s Department, will face cuts. Monzel has said he’d like to have the budget passed before Thanksgiving, making this the last significant hearing on the issue.
• Procter & Gamble has officially stepped up to publicly support same-sex marriage, the company said yesterday. While the company has had domestic partner benefits since 2001, this is the first time it’s made a public statement about the divisive issue. Though the announcement comes in the wake of a recent federal court decision upholding Ohio’s same-sex marriage amendment, the company says the move isn’t political, but is about supporting its employees and attracting the best possible talent.
• Major Hollywood movies filming here in Cincinnati give the city an undeniable cool factor, but does that translate into an economic boon as well? A recent study by the UC Center for Economics Education & Research says yes. The state pitches big tax breaks to film production companies, but also get a big boost in the jobs and economic activity those films bring, the study says — 4,000 jobs and $46 million in economic activity in Cincinnati for $6.5 million in tax breaks. But the equation may be more complicated than that. According to this Business Courier blog post, when you take into account the state’s return on investment – how much of that $46 million is coming back in taxes — and alternative uses for the tax dollars spent. Interesting stuff and worth thinking about.
• Ohio is about to free a prisoner wrongly convicted of murder almost 40 years ago. Ricky Jackson and two others were convicted of murdering a man in 1975 based on the eyewitness accounts of a single 12-year-old boy. That boy later recanted his testimony, saying he was "just trying to be helpful" to police by testifying. Jackson will be freed from jail Friday after a years-long legal battle aided by the Ohio Innocence Project. The Cleveland Scene first reported the story and drew attention the Jackson's plight.
• Finally, are we headed for another government shutdown? There’s a showdown brewing over President Barack Obama’s use of executive action to ease deportations of undocumented immigrants. Hardline conservative Republicans want to tuck measures preventing the president from doing this into spending bills integral to the budget process, forcing Obama to either sign them or veto them and halt Congress’ approval of funds that keep the federal government operating. GOP congressional leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner and probable Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said last year’s shutdown was damaging for the party and that they will not abide by a repeat. But the GOP’s tea party-aligned right flank says they won’t rule out grinding the government to a halt again.