As previously noted, tons happened yesterday. Let’s dive in now that the dust is settling.
The Cultural Facilities Task Force pitched its ideas for ways to fund Union Terminal and Music Hall renovations to Hamilton County Commissioners. The group of business leaders suggested a tax levy that would raise either sales or property taxes to net about $300 million for the projects. Both buildings need significant work. The sales tax would be a quarter of a percent, while the less-favored property tax would amount to about $35 a year on a $100,000 home. The task force recommended the sales tax in part because it will net money from visitors who don’t live in the county as well as residents. But some experts say sales tax puts more burden on the low-income.
The Cincinnati Zoo saw all that prospective cash and decided it wants in. Zoo Director Thane Maynard wrote a letter to the commissioners asking them to consider cutting the zoo into the deal. Many of its buildings are old, even historic, and in need of restoration, Maynard said. Commissioners were skeptical about the possibility of extending the money to three cultural institutions, though they noted the zoo’s needs.
Both Music Hall and Union Terminal were just placed on the National Trust’s list of 11 most endangered buildings. They’re the only two in Ohio on the list, which, if you think about it, is pretty astounding. It’s the first time the Trust has spotlighted two buildings in the same city on its list.
• 3CDC is one step away from gaining preferred developer status for 33 buildings around Findlay Market after the council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved its request yesterday. The status means 3CDC would vet and approve development projects proposed for the buildings as well as carry out its own. It’s the first major play by the development group north of Liberty Street.
OTR Community Council wrote a letter last week to the Mayor John Cranley asking for the city to hold off on the deal, citing concerns about resident involvement and affordable housing. Stay tuned for our in-depth news story about developments north of Liberty, coming tomorrow. Council takes a final vote on 3CDC’s request at tomorrow’s council meeting.
• Also in the Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday, council members navigated a tricky conundrum between two affordable housing projects looking for funds. In the past, council has supported giving about $500,000 to a project in Avondale call the Commons at Alaska. The project would provide permanent supportive housing for about 100 people, including some who are disabled. That money would come from a pot of federal funds totaling about $1.9 million. However, Columbus-based developer NCR has encountered difficulties with its chosen site as some members of the surrounding community have protested the plans.
Meanwhile, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing has been working with a developer on a plan to buy 40 subsidized units in neglected properties in Pendleton and renovate them. The city administration indicated they’d have access to that same $1.9 million, so the group didn’t go looking for other money. The two groups found themselves at an impasse. Neither wanted to compete with the other for the money, but both need the funds for their projects. Vice Mayor David Mann suggested splitting the money, and after some wrangling the committee parceled out $1.3 million to the Pendleton project and will hold the rest until the Commons at Alaska, or some other permanent supportive housing project, is ready to go online.
• Representatives from Columbus were in D.C. yesterday to make the case that Columbus is the best possible host for the Democratic National Convention. They're competing with Cleveland and some other cities that aren't in Ohio for the event, which will determine the party's nominee for president in 2016. Both Columbus and Cleveland also courted the GOP for the Republican convention, but I won't tell if you don't.
• There’s a terrible “born again” joke in this next story, but I will not be the one dropping it. Just the facts: A guy from the U.S. got stuck in a giant vagina sculpture in Germany. It took 22 rescuers 30 minutes to get him out. America!
• If you can’t take the Heat, get out of Miami. At least, that’s what someone has advised LeBron James, and he's apparently listening. Ohio’s not-yet-prodigal son has opted out of the last two years of his contract with the team and is now a free agent, according to news reports. It’s not certain that he’ll leave the Heat, but it’s clear he’s at least taking stock of his options. Meanwhile, the entire city of Cleveland sits patiently, waiting for that “so, what’s up?” text message from James…
General Electric is officially moving 1,800 employees to The Banks, the entertainment and retail complex on Cincinnati's riverfront. But it took some deal-sweetening by the city to make it happen. City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners on Monday approved a landmark deal that incentivizes the company to consolidate some administrative and finance jobs at the site, which will be 10 stories tall and cost about $90 million to build.
The city's bid beat out Norwood and other locations, though the city and county had to offer one of the most generous deals in the region's history. The company will receive a 75-percent property tax abatement for the next 15 years, with the other 25 percent of those taxes going to Cincinnati Public Schools. Eighty-five percent of employees' city earnings taxes will also flow back to the company over that period of time.
GE said the incentives are needed because moving to The Banks will be about 15 percent more expensive than other bids it considered. The city hopes the deal will lead to a long-term payoff. County officials tout studies showing big benefits. The Economics Center for Education and Research at UC ran the numbers on the deal and suggest that the project could bring in $1 billion in overall economic activity. The site should reach full capacity by 2018.
The estimated average salary of an employee at the site will be about $79,000, company officials say.
Despite some questions about how quickly the deal came together, both council and county commissioners passed it unanimously during an unusual joint meeting at Great American Ball Park. Council member P.G. Sittenfeld praised the project but noted the city will need to remember to balance fairness and overall impact in the future. Council member Chris Seelbach used the occasion to tout the streetcar, tweeting that it was a big factor in GE's choice to move to The Banks.
A rare alignment of the stars (or at least schedules) makes today a crazy day to be a general-assignment reporter. And while I wouldn’t normally just give you a list of really exciting, awesome meetings that are happening, there are lots of issues that could decide the city’s future being debated around town. I prefer to think of it like a civics-themed pub crawl. In the middle of the day. On Monday. And there’s no drinking (at least until afterward).
• Hamilton County Commissioners meet at noon to hear a presentation from the Cultural Facilities Task Force, a cadre of 22 business leaders who are working on ways to renovate Union Terminal and Music Hall. They’ll be talking about a proposed sales tax increase as well as other options for funding the renovations before the commissioners decide whether the proposal should go on the ballot.
• Then, at 1 p.m., council’s Budget and Finance Committee meets to discuss development in Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street, as well as funding for two affordable housing developments. 3CDC would like the rights to develop 20-35 buildings in the area around Findlay Market, though OTR Community Council has asked the city to find ways to get more small developers and resident input into the development process there. Council will also consider a debate over how to fund some affordable housing units in Pendleton and Avondale — council had voted to support the development in Avondale, but some neighborhood resistance to the project has stalled it for the moment. Meanwhile, the city is debating moving some money for that project to one in Pendleton. Advocates say both are necessary and should be funded.
The council meetings are at City Hall, and the Commissioners’ meeting is at the county building on Court Street.
• Another big meeting today involves the city’s deal with General Electric that will bring 2,000 of the company’s employees to The Banks. Council and the commissioners meet at Great American Ball Park at 10 a.m. to discuss incentives for the company for its move, including a 100 percent abatement on property taxes at the site for the next 15 years. The expected package is one of the sweetest deals the city has ever offered a company. GE has also been mulling relocation to other sites, including Norwood, and is asking for the incentives because moving to The Banks could cost more than other options.
• An increasing number of foreign students attend Ohio’s 13 public universities, making Ohio eighth in the nation for international enrollment. Toledo University had the most international students last year, followed by Miami University.
• Pro-choice and pro-life groups are both pointing to 2015 as a big year for the fight over women's health in Ohio. Ohio Right to Life, a very active pro-life activist group, has indicated it’s putting together an aggressive legislative agenda for next year in an effort to curtail the availability of abortions in the state. The group says they’ll be pushing five or six bills to that end and has expressed confidence that many of the incumbents in the Ohio General Assembly, as well as Gov. John Kasich, will be re-elected and support their goals. Meanwhile, NARAL Ohio Pro-Choice, a pro-choice advocacy group in the state, has sounded alarms, saying Ohio is becoming “one of the most dangerous states for women’s health.”
• Finally, with World Cup fever reminding Americans that, oh yeah, soccer is a thing, it’s a great time to check out this Atlantic article on why we call it that in the first place when the rest of the world calls it football. (Hint: It's the Brits' fault.)
Now an advocacy organization is pushing for the BWC to pay back the difference.
While the ins and outs of the rates are complicated, the underlying concept is fairly straightforward: Worker’s compensation functions as a kind of insurance for employers. If an employee gets hurt on the job, worker’s comp will pay for lost wages and medical costs so long as the business is current on its monthly workers comp payment. A lawsuit brought by some employers receiving higher rates charged that those rates were unfair, even forcing some employers into bankruptcy.
The courts have agreed. The appellate court’s decision upholds an earlier ruling against the BWC by the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
The courts ruled the BWC, along with lobbyists of some favored businesses, rigged workers compensation rates so that some companies picked to be designated “group rate employers” received what the court called “excessive, undeserved premium discounts” on their workers compensation insurance plans. Where did the money for those discounts come from? According to the court, from businesses who were not part of the special group rate. Those businesses paid almost $860 million extra on their workers compensation plans.
BWC hasn’t started paying back the money, and head Steven Buehner told a Cleveland news outlet last week that the agency will appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court. It has until June 30 to do so.
Buehner says the agency’s rates simply reflect the nature of providing insurance — that low-risk customers receive lower rates than higher-risk clients. Buehner said there isn’t some big pot of money somewhere that the BWC is sitting on and that it hasn’t cheated anyone out of any funds.
If the court’s ruling holds, the BWC will owe more than 100 Cincinnati-area employers $100,000 or more, including a number of nonprofits and arts organizations. All told, the BWC could owe area businesses more than $100 million. Progress Ohio, an advocacy group, has asked Gov. John Kasich to act and make sure the BWC pays the money back.
According to Progress Ohio, which is advocating for the employers in question, the BWC could owe the Cincinnati Ballet more than $300,000, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park nearly $150,000 and the Cincinnati YMCA $140,000. BAE, a British-owned security and armaments business with a plant in Fairfield, is the area employer owed the largest amount of money; according to the advocacy organization, the BWC charged BAE more than $1.4 million extra in premiums.
The Cincinnati YWCA is also owed payback — about $14,000. The organization told WCPO earlier this week it will be "thrilled" to get that money back so it can use it to help women and children in need.
Friday's usually kind of a slow news day, but lots of important or just plain weird stuff has already happened. Get ready for it.
In what must be one of the most biblical mass transit emergencies in recent Cincinnati memory, a Metro bus was partially sucked down a 20-foot-deep sinkhole near the zoo at about 9:30 last night. Then the ground opened up, and the stink did begin to emerge from the angry earth, and woah, those on the bus were sore afraid. Or something like that. City officials say some failed sewer lines caused the hole. As if being nearly swallowed by the earth isn’t unpleasant enough, there was also the smell of raw sewage to contend with. In an ironic note, yesterday was also “Dump the Pump Day,” a day designed to get commuters out of their cars and onto public transit. Workers from Cincinnati’s Metropolitan Sewer District are out to fix the hole and sewer lines.
• Former Over-the-Rhine social service agency City Gospel Mission is clear to move to Queensgate. Wrangling over some compliance issues with the Department of Housing and Urban Development had stalled the agency's plans for a men's shelter there, which has been on the drawing board for months. HUD said City Gospel's mens-only approach might violate certain non-discrimination clauses on deeds to the land the agency wanted to use for its new shelter. But after some pushing by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, HUD has given the agency the go ahead. City Gospel will host some women’s programming at the shelter and is part of Cincinnati’s Homeless to Homes program, which helps both men and women transition from homelessness.
• Ohio’s newest jobs report came out today. It shows the state is at 5.5 percent unemployment, its lowest level since the recession and well under the national rate of 6.3 percent. Republicans, of course, are touting this as a win for Gov. John Kasich, while Democrats are pointing out that the low number has a lot to do with how many Ohioans have left the workforce altogether. Unemployment stats only measure those who are looking for work, not those who have given up on the job hunt. The state added 2,900 total jobs in May but lost 14,000 people who dropped out of the workforce. Many of these are the long-term unemployed, who studies show have an especially hard time finding work.
• Speaker of the House John Boehner has slammed the Obama administration over the looming situation in Iraq, where a new insurgency group calling itself ISIS is overtaking cities and the Iraqi military. Boehner used the situation, as Republicans are wont to do, to talk about how bad Obama is at everything, saying that “terrorism has increased exponentially under this president.” That's of course not a view everyone with knowledge about the situation in the Middle East shares, and it's clear the current problem has at least some major roots in Bush-era decisions. Political posturing aside, Boehner also showed his softer side Wednesday when he gave a smooch to former Rep. Gabby Giffords at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Giffords, who has made a long, emotional recovery from near-fatal injuries she received during a mass shooting in 2011, threw out the first pitch. After having a moment with Giffords, Boehner then promptly… you guessed it… got all teary-eyed, though not teary-eyed enough to do anything about gun control efforts in Congress, it would seem.
• So a 63-year-old woman on oxygen in Marion, Indiana fought off a burglar with a back scratcher. I couldn’t write anything more awesome than her account of the incident, so here are a couple little bits:
“Guy had a hockey mask on and I almost started laughing,” the woman told a reporter. “If he hadn't have got out that back door, I'd have beat him to death.”
The best news today is that this week is almost over. But there’s a lot more to talk about, so let’s go.
As we reported yesterday, Over-the-Rhine’s Community Council is asking the city to hold off on a deal with 3CDC over vacant properties north of Liberty Street near Findlay Market. The council says 3CDC has slowed the development process by banking a large number of properties, and the group believes small, independent developers could do the job faster and better meet the community's needs.
• Meanwhile, on the other side of the basin, everyone at The Banks is about to get a new neighbor. General Electric is moving more than 1,400 employees to the retail and entertainment development on the Ohio River by 2017, the Business Courier reports. City and county officials will vote Monday on the tax incentives that GE gets for heading south, and after that, it will be a done deal. These are pretty much no-nonsense administrative, IT and finance offices for one of the region’s biggest businesses we’re talking about, but all I can picture is some crazy Real World scenario. Only with jet engines. Which sounds awesome.
Before we get all excited about Real World GE 2017, though, I should note that both the company and Mayor Cranley have refused to comment on the reported decision. The deal is expected to go public Monday.
• Democratic candidate for Governor Ed FitzGerald unveiled his plan for affordable higher education yesterday. FitzGerald’s proposal includes finding ways to lower administrative costs at the state’s colleges, increasing the availability of financial aide, expanding a college savings plan, getting more students into early college enrollment while they’re still in high school, and boosting community colleges and trade schools. Fitzgerald cited the nearly $4 billion in student loan debt Ohioans carry as a reason to lower college costs. He also took the opportunity to hit incumbent John Kasich for tuition hikes FitzGerald says resulted from Kasich’s cuts to state funding for higher ed.
FitzGerald also suggested voters start calling him “Higher Ed FitzGerald,” though at press time, no one had addressed the gubernatorial hopeful by this self-conferred nickname. (That last part didn’t really happen, at least not while the cameras were rolling.)
• In certainly the most important news of the day, Facebook was down briefly this morning. But don’t worry, CNN was on it. No wonder my 4 a.m. tirade about Game of Thrones didn't get the likes it obviously deserved.
• Finally, a record-low 7 percent of Americans really like Congress, and the rest prefer being bitten by dogs or having poison ivy all over their bodies or something. But I’m willing to bet more Americans are fans of Guided By Voices, one of the greatest bands to emerge from our area (OK, Dayton, but The Southgate House used to be their home base of sorts). One of those Americans is outgoing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who is leaving his post to take some time off. Carney gave his final press briefing at the White House yesterday with one of GBV’s best songs as a send-off sound track. Carney’s been a vocal fan of the band for years, and has taken multiple opportunities to mention them from the White House podium. He even hung out with the guys on stage at their most recent DC show. Speed on, Jay, speed on.
In a letter authored by OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, the group praised 3CDC’s work over the last 10 years but said the developer’s large cache of properties is slowing down the neighborhood’s continued recovery, and suggested that more transparent process for choosing developers is needed. The letter also said that more voices from the community need to be heard in the development process.
“We believe it's time for a new era in our neighborhood,” Messer wrote in the letter, dated June 18. “A common thread in the neighborhood is the expressed desire to protect and expand our cultural diversity and this, in part, can be done by paying close attention to providing affordable housing options in both the rental and the purchase markets.”
Messer asked that more small, independent developers be brought into the fold in OTR and highlighted the council’s partnerships with nonprofit Over the Rhine Community Housing and the Over the Rhine Foundation. The letter stressed the need for both more market rate and affordable housing in the neighborhood, where demand for housing has outstripped supply. Prices have ballooned in the past five years, and the neighborhood is now one of the most expensive in the city.
3CDC has spent nearly $400 million on redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine, much of it south of Liberty Street in the so-called Gateway Quarter near Central Parkway and Vine Street. Now the group is looking north. 3CDC has asked for the rights to develop 20 vacant properties around Findlay Market, and the city may grant its request by designating the group “preferred developer” of the sites. The group could then recommend redevelopment plans that it or another developer would carry out.
3CDC could choose to farm out development to smaller groups. It applied for the preferred developer status months ago, and officials with the developer say they haven’t heard concerns from the community about the properties before now.
Mayor Cranley has voiced support for 3CDC’s request, citing the developer’s long history in the neighborhood. But the OTR Community Council and other stakeholders in the neighborhood say the city needs to find ways to encourage more equitable and transparent ways to choose developers.
Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Rea Carey said the executive order will be a major step forward.
“Now millions of people will have the economic security they need to provide for their families,” Carey said in a press release. “This decision is good for LGBTQ people, good for our economy and good for America.”
The initiative was a campaign promise in 2008, and LGBTQ groups have pressured the president to issue the order for years.
Obama announced this decision before appearing at a Democratic gay-rights fundraiser on Tuesday and as greater protection stalls in Congress.
Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect all American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or
gender identity passed the Senate in November but has since been halted in the
According to the Washington Post, 24 of the top 25 federal contractors have nondiscrimination policies towards sexual orientation, and 13 of those policies include gender identity. So while the executive order will cover 20 percent of the workforce, most are already protected.
Although many private employers offer protection, discrimination is still on the books in many states.
29 states, it is still legal for employers to discriminate on the basis of
sexual orientation; and in 32 states, gender identity is grounds for
Carey stressed the work that remains.
“Unfortunately, many of us who don't work for federal contractors will still lack workplace protections,” she said. “Now we must redouble our efforts for the urgent passage of state employment protections and strong federal legislation.”
So let's get to what's happened in the past three days in the real world while we were all busy watching fireworks and drinking beers, shall we?
The Great Recession dropped incomes in 111 of 120 communities in the Greater Cincinnati area, according to a report today by The Cincinnati Enquirer. The recession lasted from 2007 to 2009, though its reverberations are still being felt today. The drop hit wealthy neighborhoods like Indian Hill and low-income areas like Over-the-Rhine alike. The average drop in income was more than 7 percent across the region, though reasons for the loss and how quickly various neighborhoods have recovered are highly variable. Wealthier places like Indian Hill, where income is tied more to the stock market, are well-positioned to continue an already-underway rebound. Meanwhile, places with lower-income residents like Price Hill still face big challenges.
• A Centerville man filed a lawsuit against Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino Friday, charging that the downtown gambling complex engaged in false imprisonment and malicious prosecution last year. Mark DiSalvo claims that he was detained while leaving the casino after a dispute over $2,000 in video poker winnings. DiSalvo wasn’t able to immediately claim the winnings because he didn’t have the proper identification, but was told he would receive paperwork allowing him to claim the money later. He says he waited two hours before receiving the forms. Afterward, as he stopped to check the nametag of an employee who was less than kind to him, he was confronted by casino security officers, who called police. Three Cincinnati police officers were originally named in the suit as well, but the department settled out of court. DiSalvo claims casino employees and police gave false testimony about him and his prior record.
• Sometimes, something is better than nothing. At least, that appears to be the thinking for groups supporting the Hamilton County Commissioners’ compromise icon tax plan to renovate Union Terminal. The Cincinnati Museum Center board decided to back the commissioners’ version of the plan last week, despite earlier misgivings. That plan replaced a proposal by the Cultural Facilities Task Force that would have also renovated Music Hall.
Now the task force, led by Ross, Sinclaire and Associates CEO Murray Sinclaire, is regrouping and looking for ways to fund the Music Hall fixes without tax dollars.
“Initially we were very disappointed and somewhat frustrated because of all the time we spent” on the initial proposal, Murray said, but “we’ve got an amazing group of people with a lot of expertise and we’ll figure it out.”
Meanwhile, Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel, who helped orchestrate the new, more limited deal, has said he supports it. Initially, he indicated he wasn’t sure if he would vote for the plan himself. The backing of the Museum Center board has swayed him, however, and he now says he’s an enthusiastic supporter of the effort to shore up Union Terminal.
• The Cincinnati Cyclones have a new logo, which is exciting, at least in theory. The team’s prior logo looked a lot like a stack of bicycle tires brought to life by a stiff dose of methamphetamines, and the one before that looked Jason Voorhees fan art. Neither of which is really all that bad if you want to strike fear and confusion (mostly confusion) into the hearts of your opponents. But the team, making a bid for a higher level of professionalism, tapped Cincinnati-based design and branding firm LPK for a new look. The results are slick and clean, with the team’s colors adorning a sleek sans-serif font and a big “C” with a kind of weather-report tornado symbol in the middle. The team’s marketing reps call the new logo “versatile,” while fans have taken to the team’s social media sites to call it boring and generic and to compare it to water circling a toilet bowl. Personally, they can put just about whatever they want on their jerseys and I’d still hit up any game on $1 dollar hotdog night. Not a lot of hockey options around here.
• In the past three days, federal judges have stayed or struck down some of the nation’s strictest laws against women’s health facilities that provide abortions, enacted last summer in Texas and Louisiana. The laws stipulated very specific standards for clinics. The Louisiana law, which was put on hold by a federal judge Sunday night, set requirements that facilities have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, a rule that could have shut down every clinic in the state. The Texas law stipulated that clinics had to meet the same standards applied to hospitals, which would have dictated how wide hallways had to be in the facilities and other burdensome rules. That law was struck down by a federal judge Friday. The law would have caused the closure of 12 clinics in the state. Ohio has laws similar to Louisiana’s requiring hospital admitting privileges. That has caused problems for many facilities here, including one in Sharonville which a Hamilton County magistrate ordered to stop providing abortion services last month.
There is so much happening today and I'm going to tell you about
all most of it.
The board of the Cincinnati Museum Center yesterday voted to support county commissioners’ plan to fund renovations of historic Union Terminal, which houses the museum. Officials for the Museum Center originally criticized the plan, which replaced an earlier proposal that included Music Hall, because it seemed to put some funding sources for renovations to both Union Terminal and Music Hall in jeopardy. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann voted to put the new plan on the November ballot despite these concerns. Now officials with the Museum Center say their concerns have been addressed and they’re comfortable putting their support behind the new, Union Terminal-only deal, which will raise about $170 million through a .25 percent sales tax increase. The renovation project is expected to cost about $208 million. The gap will need to be covered by private donations and possible historic tax credits.
• Speaking of lots of money (seems like we’re always talking about lots of money around here, but hey, cities are expensive) the streetcar battle continues as the city searches for funds to pay operating costs. Right now, the city needs to account for a slightly less than $4 million a year to run the streetcar plus another $1 million in startup funds, which will need to be raised by next July. Supporters on city council say this shouldn’t be a problem and that multiple options exist for ways to raise the funds, including sponsorships and advertising, selling gift cards for rides on the streetcar, different property tax districts, possible grants and private donations. But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley, are more doom and gloom, saying that the shortfall is just the kind of scenario they had in mind when they spoke out against the streetcar. Either way, the city is committed at this point. It agreed to run the streetcar for 25 years when it accepted millions in federal grant money for its construction. Is there a really large couch somewhere in the city with lots of change under the cushions? I’d start there.
• Ah, the early days of presidential campaigns, when the candidates are about as committal as those tentative, nascent romances you had your freshman year of college. Sen. Rob Portman has officially decided he wants to think about the possibility he might run for president in 2016 and is considering setting up an exploratory committee so he can raise and spend money should he decide he wants to try for the big gig. That’s basically the campaign equivalent of texting someone, “hey, ‘sup?” The presidency has yet to text him back, but I’ll keep you updated. Portman has been also non-committal in his statements, saying he’ll think about a run for the White House if no other Republican candidates seem capable of winning but that right now he’s just working on his Senate campaign. He’s raised $5 million toward that end, money he could shift that over toward a national campaign.
• California lawmakers have passed a law requiring its colleges to adopt the most precise standards yet for what constitutes sexual consent as part of a drive to curb the sexual assault crisis sweeping college campuses. The so-called "yes means yes" bill is controversial, which is kind of mind-boggling since its provisions sound like common sense when you read them.
The prospective law says that consent is "an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity" and that lack of struggle, silence or the use of drugs or alcohol do not invalidate claims of sexual abuse. Opponents say the bill is an overreach and too politically correct and that it could open up universities to lawsuits. California Gov. Jerry Brown must still sign the bill into law, and has until September to do so.
• A while back we talked about New York City’s mixed-income developments and so-called “poor doors,” or separate entrances the buildings’ low-income residents must use. The battle over those doors rages on, and the New York Times has an in-depth look at the fight. As large-scale public housing goes the way of the dodo across the country and affordable housing becomes more a private enterprise, it’s a debate worth check out.
• So. There are a lot of important things going on in the world. We’re struggling with how to handle ISIL, a militant, fundamentalist insurgent group in Iraq, and the UK just raised its terror alert level due to threats from the group. Russia continues to dance all over the Ukraine. Our economy is struggling to support America’s middle class. Racial tensions in the U.S. continue to simmer and our police forces are becoming more militarized. But the most breathtaking news of all happened yesterday, when President Barack Obama wore a tan suit. TAN. In what only further proves that journalists on Twitter are the absolute worst people on the planet, that little bit of ephemera went viral as every reporter ostensibly paid to inform you about a news conference discussing some of the aforementioned important events flipped their wig about Obama’s new fashion statement. The suit was completely unremarkable– a little too baggy, a little too buff-colored, maybe, but come on now. The response to Obama's suit even spawned an article about the response, because that’s journalism now. Someone got paid to write that article about journalists' response to Obama's suit, and now I’m writing about the article about the response. Sigh.
• In other important national news, forget those cases of beer that have like, 30 beers in them. Reuters reports that a small brewery has invented the 99-pack of beer. Alas, it’s only available in Texas, where gas station beer caves are the size of airplane hangers and the average Super Bowl party attracts 500 people.
This week is almost over, and that's a great thing. I haven't had my customary coffee and donut yet this morning, so let's do this news so I can get to that.
Security footage from the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot John Crawford III shows that Crawford was not acting violently, an attorney for his family said yesterday in a statement. Attorney Michael Wright says Crawford was facing some shelves and talking on his cellphone when he was fired upon and that police “shot him on sight.”
This contradicts officers’ reports. They say Crawford was waiving the pellet gun he had picked up from a shelf at the store and refused to drop it. Reports said, “he looked like he was going to go violently.”
Crawford, 22, is one of a number of young black men who have died during incidents with police recently under controversial circumstances. The death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a few days after Crawford’s death sparked wide-scale unrest in the St. Louis suburb.
Activists in Beavercreek and across the country have demanded release of the security footage of Crawford’s shooting, which Attorney General Mike DeWine has refused to release until a grand jury is convened Sept. 3. DeWine says releasing the tapes to the public could bias the jury pool and hinder the ongoing investigation.
• There has been talk lately of changing some one-way streets in Over-the-Rhine to two-way, including parts of Main Street. The shift could slow traffic to levels safer for pedestrians and help local businesses, traffic experts say. UrbanCincy has a much more detailed rundown of proposed changes and the history of traffic patterns in OTR here. It’s interesting stuff, especially if you have to drive through the area every day or live there and have to deal with the increased traffic zooming through.
• The Hamilton County Board of Elections today announced it will host a “vote check” where county residents can call into a the board to make sure their voter registration is good to go. The phone-bank style call-in session will be held Sept. 23 from 5 to 6 p.m. and on Oct. 6 at the same time. That Oct. 6 date is the last day to register or change your voter registration information in Ohio. Put it on your calendar.
• I didn’t know a place in America could be more or less American than any other place in America, but apparently there’s a listicle for a city’s degree of American-ness, and Cincinnati came in second behind Nashville. The report by WalletHub.com, a personal finance website, considered 26 factors in the country’s 366 largest metro areas including age, income, housing, gender and other demographic measures to come to its ranking of places most statistically like America’s overall averages. Indianapolis came in third in the most-American sweepstakes. The southwest dominated the bottom five, with two Texas cities (Brownsville and McAllen) and an Arizona burg (Yuma) hanging out and being all un-American (whatever that means) with the likes of Altoona, Pa. and Boulder, Co. America!
• If you spend a lot of time up in West Chester, well, first, sorry about that. That’s unfortunate. But if you are hanging around up there in the land of Ikea and you’re hoping for that rare, elusive, thrilling sighting of House Speaker John Boehner, who reps the area hard in Congress, well, you may as well be looking for a yeti. You won’t see Boehner at the local Red Robin or whatever the heck other fancy, all-you-can-eat-fries restaurants they have up there, shaking hands and kissing babies in his district, because he’s out raising millions for the GOP. Yes, he has a Democratic challenger for his re-election bid, Miami University professor Tom Poetter, but Boehner’s not sweating him too much. His campaign has raised more than $2 million to Poetter’s $60,000, and Boehner’s coasted to re-election easily in the past. Instead, Boehner is wooing party donors in Wyoming (the state, not the neighborhood) resort towns and shoring up his power base with fellow establishment GOPers, hustling hard to keep his seat as speaker as he fights off attacks from his right.
• Finally — cheer up! The economy is getting better. For someone. Somewhere. Economic growth was better than expected in the last quarter, according to the Department of Commerce. Despite this, more Americans are anxious about the state of the economy now than during the Great Recession, a new Rutgers University poll reports. Some of this has to do with the fact that the average worker still hasn’t recovered fully financially from the economic downturn, wages have remained stagnant even as unemployment has decreased and perceptions of job security are lower than ever, even as Wall Street rebounds and corporate profits have soared.
Morning y'all! After a rough start (a bit more on that later), I'm here and ready to give you the news.
Two prosecutors from Hamilton County will lead the state’s investigation into the police shooting death of John Crawford III, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced yesterday.
Stacey DeGraffenreid and Mark Piepermeierand were appointed by the AG yesterday. Piepermeierand, of Sharonville, heads the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office criminal division and has handled many high-profile cases in that capacity. He’s responsible for reviewing all police use-of-force issues in Hamilton County and has done so for the past 15 years.
Police shot Crawford inside a Beavercreek Walmart Aug. 6. Another customer called 911 when he saw Crawford with what he thought was an assault rifle. Officers arrived and demanded Crawford drop the weapon, which turned out to be a pellet gun from the store. When he didn’t comply immediately, officers shot him and he died. Crawford’s family, along with activists, have called for answers as to why he was shot.
• The state of Ohio has ordered embattled restaurant Mahogany’s closed after it didn’t follow state sales tax rules. The restaurant on The Banks has struggled to pay rent and loans owed to the city and was almost evicted in April. The restaurant was able to catch up on the rent but still owes more than $300,000 to the city in loans. Owner Liz Rogers has said that the restaurant has struggled after $80,000 was embezzled from the establishment and a rough winter kept business slow. Rogers has also pointed the finger toward someone in the city’s administration who she says has been leaking untrue information about the business. Mahogany’s can reopen after it pays back the undisclosed amount it owes the state in sales taxes.
• Think sky-high executive pay is kind of absurd? You’re not alone. Former Kroger CEO David Dillion said during a panel on management at the Aspen Ideas Summit last month that his paycheck for leading the company was “ludicrous." A video of that summit is just now trickling out, with Huffington Post covering the statement yesterday.
Dillion’s $13 million paycheck last year was actually below the $15 million average for CEOs in America, which makes his compensation “seem a little more responsible,” he said during the summit. “Still you’d argue, I think,” he continued, “it was pretty damn high.”
Dillion said his eight-figure pay package started out fairly reasonable but ballooned out of control as Kroger’s stock went up. That’s a terrible problem to have. That dang stock price, that dang paycheck, both just rising and rising and rising like the temperature needle on my poor struggling car as I sat in traffic this morning (yes, my car overheated on the way here and I’m bitter). There’s just nothing you can do about that. If only Dillion had like, RUN THE COMPANY or something, maybe he could have gotten that ludicrous pay rate under control. Oh, wait…
• Speaking of big ole billowy clouds o’ cash, former 20102 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is on his way to Kentucky to help make it rain for Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is fighting a tough battle against his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan-Grimes. McConnell has been pulling out all the conservative A-listers to raise cash, a sign that he’s seriously worried he could lose his seat in what looks to be one of the most contentious and expensive Senate campaigns in history. It’s certainly the fight of his career, but the stakes go higher than that. Every seat matters come November, when Democrats will struggle to maintain their slim majority in the Senate. Should Republicans take enough seats, they’ll run both that chamber and the House, making President Obama’s last two years in office one big bummer.
• Another politician experiencing a big ole bummer right now is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was indicted a couple weeks back on some pretty serious felony charges involving abuse of power. It's a long, complicated story that involves a DUI (not Perry's), some backroom dealings, a possibly shady cancer research organization and more. So much more. Anyway, Perry's been kinda sailing through this whole thing, smirking in his mugshot and getting ice cream afterward, the whole deal. He's also played it well politically, refusing public money for his defense team of all-star attorneys. But he recently dropped a comment about that that is less than great PR. He's not turning down public money for his defense because it's the right thing to do, but "to keep folks from grousing about it," he said. The whole Texas-sized imbroglio (gotta love that word) has also hit Perry where it hurts: his holster.
• I usually try to end with some weird news to lighten the mood a lil, but this story is just crazy and sad and confusing. A shooting instructor in Arizona died Monday while teaching a 9-year-old girl how to shoot an uzi. The girl lost control of the semi-automatic weapon due to its recoil as she was firing, and the instructor was shot in the head. An investigation is ongoing to determine the exact sequence of events.
Hey all. It's morning news, and I'm earlier than usual. I'm as surprised as you are.
The city of Cincinnati has announced it will cover medically necessary transgender surgery for employees under its insurance plan. A majority of city council signed a letter urging the change, which was then initiated by interim City Manager Scott Stiles. The city will be the first in Ohio to do so, joining only Berkeley, Calif., Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Seattle offering the benefit. A mental health professional will have to agree that the procedure is necessary for an employee before it is covered. The change will kick in next year and is a way for the city to stay competitive and attract the best job candidates possible, said Councilman Chris Seelbach. Many large companies, including P&G, offer transgender-inclusive benefits.
• Oops again. Duke Energy revised their estimates for the amount of diesel fuel it spilled into the Ohio River last week up to 9,000 gallons. The company previously reported it thought about 5,000 gallons had spilled when an oil transfer valve was left open Aug. 18 at the company’s New Richmond power plant. On the positive side, the cleanup of that spill is almost complete, and no adverse affects to wildlife or residents living along the river have been reported.
• A shifty fast-food sovereign looks to leave the country he rules for cold northern lands to save a few gold coins. Meanwhile, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown really wants you to grab a Frosty and a Crave Case this weekend in protest. Brown is up in arms about a proposed merger between Burger King and Canadian-based Tim Horton’s. The deal would create one of the world’s largest fast food conglomerates and see the king abdicating his burger throne in Miami, Florida for Canada. That part rankles Brown, who says the merger could well be a corporate inversion, or a move from the U.S. meant to evade corporate taxes. He’s encouraging his constituents to grab some grub from Ohio-based companies like Wendy’s or White Castle.
“Burger King’s decision to abandon the United States means consumers should turn to Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers or White Castle sliders,” Brown said in a press release that contained little hint anyone responsible was aware how hilarious that sounds. I’m going to avoid all this royal intrigue and continue to get my burgers from the grill outside of Avril-Bleh’s downtown.
• A national gun control group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense has started a petition asking Cincinnati-based Kroger to ban open carry in its stores. The group cites recent violence in the company’s stores, including a Georgia murder-suicide in June and another shooting incident in the same state that left two people injured. Kroger has said that the safety of its customers is important and that its policy is to follow prevailing state law. Open carry laws vary by state, with some states like Ohio placing few restrictions on your right to tote a deadly weapon around while you’re picking out breakfast cereal or cilantro for a nice homemade pico de gallo. Moms Demand Action received criticism recently when it was revealed the group received $50 million from noted gun control advocate and ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, anonymous sources reveal, is not in fact a mom.
• A national Pew Research poll released yesterday found that Americans have very little faith in law enforcement’s ability to hold its officers accountable for misconduct, engage in good race-relations practices and use an appropriate level of force. This distrust held true for respondents of all races but was especially marked among those in the black community, where nine out of 10 respondents said the police do a “fair” to “poor” job. The poll comes as the police shooting of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen in a St. Louis suburb, has set off a national debate over police conduct, especially as it relates to race.
• Finally, this new photography project by the New Orleans Times-Picayune is worth a look. You can slide between photos of New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina and recent pics of what the same areas look like today to get a powerful look at how the city has — and in some places hasn’t, really — recovered from the disaster.
Heya. It's news time.
Got a few hundred thousand dollars sitting around? Want to be part of the
gentrification renaissance in Over-the-Rhine? Step up and make your pitch to 3CDC! The development corporation has announced it will open up the 33 city-owned properties for which it is the preferred developer to other developers who want to get in on the action in OTR. 3CDC will then make recommendations to the city on which plans for the properties around Findlay Market get the green light, based on financial feasibility, timeliness of renovation, parking considerations and whether hotdogs, tacos and pizza served at your proposed upscale but casual eatery are artisanal enough. Proponents of the process say it’s far more open than 3CDC’s development strategies thus far, while opponents of the development group’s preferred developer status say 3CDC still has too much power calling the shots in the neighborhood.
• As the streetcar gets closer to a reality in downtown and OTR, Northern Kentucky is now looking at how it can get on board. City leaders in Newport and Covington are talking about ways those cities can link up with Cincinnati’s streetcar. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran and Newport City Commissioner Beth Fennell have expressed support for the idea, saying the transit system could alleviate traffic problems and boost economic development there.
• While we’re talking Northern Kentucky, let’s talk about the Noah’s Ark theme park, called The Ark Encounter, being built in Grant County. The project has come under fire from Americans for the Separation of Church and State, a national advocacy group, because it has applied for tax credits despite possibly discriminatory hiring practices. Americans for Separation of Church and State points out that the park’s parent organization, Answers in Genesis, requires job applicants to sign a “statement of faith” that pledges allegiance to the group’s Christian values, including opposition to homosexuality and a belief in the literal truth of the bible. Americans for Separation of Church and state says that amounts to discriminatory hiring and should make the Ark project ineligible for the $73 million in tax incentives the state has approved for the project. Officials with The Ark Encounter say the park’s employment policies have yet to be written and that they will comply with all state and federal laws.
• Butler County Children Services employees have been on strike for the past week, fighting for a 3.5 percent pay increase each year for the next three years. The county is standing firm, however, and things have started getting acrimonious. The county claims union representatives for the Child Services workers have misrepresented work done by the county since the strike has happened by claiming that some 80 home visits have been missed in that time. Union officials deny any misrepresentation. They say they’ve been forced to strike by the county’s refusal to meet their demands and that work isn’t getting done. The county has hired a number of new personnel since the strike and say they’re handling the workload without the striking union members.
• Gov. John Kasich signaled last week that he will again turn down job-requirement waivers for food aid in all but 17 counties in the state. Last year, the governor’s office allowed just 16 counties to get the waivers, which the federal government issues in high-unemployment areas to exempt those seeking food stamps from work requirements. Without the waiver, food aid recipients are limited to three months of benefits before they must find a job or enter a state-funded work program. But both jobs and spots in these work programs have been difficult to find, leading to criticism of Kasich’s decision to turn down the waiver in most of Ohio’s counties from groups like the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and liberal think tanks like Ohio Policy Matters. Advocacy groups have filed a federal civil rights claim seeking to overturn the state’s decision and extend the waiver to all 88 Ohio counties.
• In national news, the funeral for Mike Brown, the 18-year-old shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, was held today. Brown’s family has asked protesters who have taken to the streets in the wake of his Aug. 9 shooting for a peaceful event. Ferguson has been on edge since the shooting, with everything from peaceful demonstrations to all-out rioting taking place. Civil rights attorney Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the parents of Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin all attended the memorial.
It's a gross rainy Friday, so grab some coffee and let's settle in with some news.
Two local organizations that help veterans experiencing homelessness will be getting a $1.5 million boost, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and former P&G head Bob McDonald announced yesterday. A program run by Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries in Woodlawn will get nearly $1 million in grant funding from the VA. The Rehabilitation Center Inc. serves seven counties in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. The Talbert House in Walnut Hills, which serves veterans in Hamilton County, will get the other $500,000. The funding is part of more than $300 million in grants given out nationwide, nearly $9 million of which went to organizations in Ohio fighting homelessness among veterans.
• Is there anything more comforting than the knowledge your local police department is slowly becoming a paramilitary force? Recent revelations about the federal government’s program decommissioning military equipment into the hands of local law enforcement are mind-boggling and also darkly hilarious.
Even among my friends and family who are still afraid of living in urban areas, I would think fear of landmines in Cincinnati is pretty low, maybe non-existent. But that hasn’t stopped the Hamilton County law enforcement officials from receiving two land-mine detection kits from the program. Kenton County got a mine-resistant truck along with 44 pairs of night-vision goggles, 34 pieces of body armor and 22 assault rifles. Newport got a pretty awesome Humvee, though it’s not armor plated. Really important question here, guys — is that thing land-mine proof?
• Caesar’s Entertainment Corp., parent company to Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, will pay the largest fine ever doled out by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Caesars will pay a $200,000 fine for lack of financial transparency involving the company’s ongoing $23 billion debt restructuring efforts.
• Attorney General candidate David Pepper has received criticism recently for his legal record. Do records show he embezzled money? Took bribes? Sold drugs? No, no, I’m afraid it’s much darker. Pepper, it seems, is a serial illegal parker. Over the past 14 years, Pepper has paid more than $9,000 in parking fines, averaging 13 tickets a year, though the bulk occurred when he was County Commissioner from 2007 to 2009, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. That’s a lot of tickets, sure, but most of them are for parking at expired meters. Some are a bit more serious offenses — displaying expired plates. When you break it down, he’s been fined about $700 a year for all those offenses. Pepper’s campaign chalks the fines up to a busy schedule and a lot of late meetings. But his opponent Mike DeWine’s campaign says the number of offenses isn’t an accident and makes him unfit to be attorney general.
“Nearly everyone has made a mistake by forgetting to go back and feed a parking meter,” DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch said. “But that Mr. Pepper racked up nearly $10,000 in fines shows a stunning disregard for basic traffic laws — particularly for someone running to be Ohio’s top law officer.”
Pepper’s campaign said it would rather have that smudge than allegations facing DeWine, which include accusations that the attorney general’s office has been engaged in pay-to-play practices, allegedly awarding lucrative legal contracts with the AG’s office to private firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign.
“[Pepper is] happy to debate old parking tickets versus Mike DeWine’s current practices as attorney general,” Pepper spokesman Peter Koltak said.
• Finally, things in Ferguson, Mo., seem to be calming down for the time being. Protests, some violent, have rocked the St. Louis suburb since the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Lately, however, the protests have become somewhat more peaceful. Yesterday the state’s National Guard units withdrew from the city and the number of arrests police have made has been dropping. Investigations into the shooting are ongoing, as the Justice Department works with state and local law enforcement to try and determine what happened between Brown and officer Darren Wilson. Wilson says that Brown attacked him in his patrol car, though others say Wilson was the aggressor and that Brown was retreating when he was shot. An autopsy showed that Wilson shot Brown at least six times.
If you’re like me, you passed work crews installing the first stretch of streetcar tracks in the Central Business District today. If you’re REALLY like me (clumsy), you almost fell off your bike trying to get a better look at the work. This is not recommended. The track work is happening right around between Central Parkway and Court Street along Walnut Street, where the city held a press conference this morning to talk about the progress. Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had been a swing vote during the battle over whether the streetcar would even happen last winter, called the latest progress “a milestone” and said he’s not giving up on some federal money to help operate the streetcar. A $5 million application for a federal grant completed by the city looks unlikely to be successful in its current form. That money would have funded operating costs for the streetcar for the next few years, according to city officials. Other private funds have shored up the transit project’s operating budget to some degree, but more funding is needed.
• While we’re talking about that little corner of the world, check this out. Some day, you may see a new Kroger near the spot where streetcar tracks are going in. A $50 million residential development is being planned for the corner of Central Parkway and Walnut Street. It will feature 200 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Rookwood Properties, based in Blue Ash, has approached the grocery chain about possibly filling some of that retail space. It’s all speculative for now, though. Kroger is looking to open a new location downtown but will not comment on specific locations, including the development on Walnut. I hope they hurry up, because I need a place close by to purchase all my Triscuits, Arizona Green Tea tall cans and ready-made boneless buffalo wings, which is pretty much my daily lunch these days.
• As we reported yesterday, the Women’s Med Center in Sharonville will cease providing abortions. The facility announced yesterday it will not appeal an Aug. 18 court ruling upholding earlier orders that the clinic close down its abortion services. The clinic will remain open to provide other services, specifically helping prepare women seeking abortions before they receive the procedures at the company’s Dayton clinic location.
• Lots of rumblings about shady dealing at Cincinnati's major airport after an the Kentucky State Auditor released a report Tuesday calling for a restructuring of CVG's board. The audit details high levels of inefficiency, nepotism and back-room dealing in the way the airport is run. CVG is among the most expensive airports in the country for passengers, and its board has been under fire for some time. The audit comes after a nine-month special investigation into its operation. Proposals for restructuring the board focus on making it more regional, folding in a representative chosen by Hamilton County Commissioners, the Ohio governor's office and the Cincinnati mayor's office.
• OK, so there are a lot of complaints about the suddenly ubiquitous ice bucket challenge, but the Cincinnati Archdiocese has a unique one. The trend has attempted to harness social media to raise money for the ALS Association. That part is great. The organization funds research to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that eventually causes muscle paralysis and death. But a viral trend where people film themselves dumping super-cold water on themselves instead of giving money to charity and then challenge others to do the same as a kind of activism… seems a bit counterproductive. (Though, to be fair, the organization has said it’s gotten some $16 million in donations since the fad started).
Anyway, the Archdiocese has a different sort of problem with the challenge. They don’t mind the inane and narcissistic part. They’re upset about people giving money to the ALS Association, because the group funds research involving embryonic stem cells, the harvesting of which the church equates with abortion. Dump ice on yourself and post it on Vine all you want, the Archdiocese says, but god forbid you give any money to the group that’s trying to heal people.
"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in this," Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."
The Archdiocese has directed Catholics to send money to a catholic group that doesn’t use embryonic stem cells in its research instead.
• Remember Joe the Plumber? Of course you do! Ohio’s favorite native son first came to prominence during the 2008 presidential election when his shaky math about his small business (which he hadn’t even started yet) was picked up by the McCain campaign. Since that time, he's become a kind of pundit for the far right, writing books, appearing on talk shows and even running for Congress. He recently made national news by taking to Facebook and proposing HIS solution to the Ferguson unrest. His idea achieves a pretty impressive trifecta of being racist, classist and making absolutely no sense whatsoever. His post says “The best way to end the rioting and looting in Ferguson… Job Fair. They’ll scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on!” Great.
• Finally, speaking of working, this New Yorker piece on the trials of hourly workers in the age of employers’ push for maximum efficiency is a good read and very likely familiar for anyone who has ever had to work an ever-shifting schedule in retail, food or other service industries. Lots of interesting data and insights into the way the economy continues to shift in ways that are tough for working people.
Hey all! Was so busy chasing stories yesterday that I didn’t get a chance to do the morning news. Let’s catch up, shall we?
Welp, that’s not good. A spill at a Duke Energy facility about 20 miles upstream from Cincinnati dumped 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Ohio River late Monday night, officials say. The Coast Guard closed off the area around the spill, and crews are working on clean up, which could take several days. Greater Cincinnati Water Works closed off intake valves on the river to avoid taking in contaminated water, though it has since announced that the spill has passed Cincinnati and that operations have returned to normal. The plant in New Richmond has had a number of environmental issues in the past.
• The race for Republican Chris Monzel’s Hamilton County Commissioners seat just got a little more competitive. Former City Councilman Jim Tarbell has entered the fray as a write-in candidate for the Democrats. Tarbell and a couple other experienced Democrats came up as possibilities for the official Democratic candidate after Monzel’s icon tax plan caused an uproar earlier this month. But Sean Patrick Feeney, who won the Democratic primary, signaled he wouldn’t step down as the party’s candidate. Tarbell ran for the same seat in 2010, when he lost to Monzel.
• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store giant, has agreed to pay $650,000 to settle racial profiling charges brought about after an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office. That investigation started after customers, including actor Rob Brown, complained they were racially profiled at the chain’s New York stores. Brown was detained by security at the store on suspicion he stole merchandise, which turned out to be false. The investigation looked into profiling practices at the chain’s Herald Square store in New York City. In addition to the money, Macy’s has agreed to institute new employee training policies, post a “customer bill of rights” at its New York stores and its website, and other measures.
• The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, and is having a number of events to celebrate. One of these is the Dreamer’s Summit, happening tonight from 6-8 p.m. The free event features young immigrants who have settled in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky telling their stories — the struggles and triumphs they’ve experienced making their way from places around the world to live here. Seems very worth a trip to the riverfront, and if you get there an hour early at 5 p.m., you can get a free tour of the Freedom Center, certainly one of the coolest buildings in the city.
• A while back we reported on the fight over new Common Core educational standards. Now, that fight is getting real here in Ohio as conservative lawmakers in the state legislature attempt to pass a bill repealing Common Core in the state. But the stakes are higher than just a new set of standards. The legislation in question, House Bill 597, could mean that intelligent design and creationism, for instance, would be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
• The situation in Ferguson, Missouri continues to be tense as a grand jury gears up to consider the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a city police officer. Last night started off quiet, with slightly smaller groups gathering for peaceful protests in the city. But later in the evening, violence flared, causing police to use pepper spray and arrest 47 demonstrators. Despite the unrest, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol called last night a turning point, saying the crowd dynamics have changed and that calm is slowly returning to the city.
“We had to respond to fewer incidents than the night before,” he said. “There were no Molotov cocktails tonight. There were no shootings.”
• Finally, this is amazing — three teenage sisters from Georgia have made an app that tracks police misconduct, with the aim of creating a database of police abuse and holding law enforcement accountable. The app, appropriately called Five-0, is a kind of “Yelp for police officers,” the teens say. Kids these days.
This is big news for Cincinnati tourism — a sign that the city's ongoing revival is attracting national interest.
Road Scholar, the big tour company that plans excursions around the world — from Cuba to Cambodia — has just added Cincinnati to its Signature (American) Cities offerings. The first trip will be March 29-April 3, 2015, and is being advertised as a visit to "the first truly American major city — founded after the Revolutionary War by American-born settlers."
Here's the description from the brand-new (just released today) North American Preview catalog:
"Historians admire it as the first truly American major city — established after the Revolution by American-born founders. Art and culture lovers revere it for its galleries and performing-arts venues. Now it’s your turn to fall in love with Cincinnati, where laid-back Midwest charm meets artsy big-city sophistication on the banks of the Ohio River. Join local experts at museums and landmarks that interpret the many hats Cincinnati has worn, from America’s original boomtown to waypoint on the Underground Railroad. Admire Art Deco architecture and horticultural artistry unrivaled in the nation. Learn about the city from a unique perspective aboard a riverboat on the Ohio River. Go backstage at the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, enjoy the vitality of downtown right outside your hotel and much more."
A big part of the trip will be an exploration of Over-the-Rhine.
Prices start at $1,075 and include five nights of accommodation, 13 meals, three expert-led lectures and 10 field trips.
Cleveland already has been a Signature City. Road Scholar also is expanding the program to Indianapolis. Additionally, it will have an American Queen riverboat excursion from St. Louis to Louisville along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. This year, Road Scholar had an American Queen excursion that stopped in Cincinnati.
Road Scholar will also have a new "Silver Screen Cinematic Voyage" excursion on the American Queen from Cincinnati to St. Louis starting on July 11. It will visit sites associated with the filming of movies, such as In the Heat of the Night, which was filmed in Sparta, Ill.
For more information, visit roadscholar.org.