The Anna Louise Inn today won another case in front of the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals. The ruling upheld a Historic Conservation Board decision that gave Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the inn, a conditional use permit that will allow the social service agency to carry on with a planned $13 million renovation. Western & Southern in a statement given to reporters following the decision vowed to appeal the ruling.
At the hearing, Western & Southern attorney Francis Barrett, who is
the brother of Western & Southern CEO John Barrett, continued his
argument that the Anna Louise Inn is a “high-crime area.” The accusation
is meant to disqualify the Inn for the conditional use permit, which
requires that the building’s use will not be detrimental to public
health and safety or negatively affect property values in the
neighborhood. During an Aug. 27 hearing, the Historic Conservation Board found no direct evidence connecting residents of the Anna Louise Inn to
criminal activity in the neighborhood.
Barrett also emphasized Western & Southern’s stance that continuing on the current path set by the Historic Conservation Board is a waste of taxpayer money because the Inn is receiving public funds. Barrett labeled the funds “excessive expenditures.” However, that argument has little bearing on whether the Inn deserves a conditional use permit, because it’s not relevant to zoning laws and rules.
Tim Burke, Cincinnati Union Bethel’s attorney, began his defense of the Anna Louise Inn by calling the ongoing case one of the most “frustrating” of his career. He suggested Western & Southern is just continuing its attempts to delay the Inn’s renovations as much as possible.
Regarding the charge that the Anna Louise Inn has adverse effects on public health and safety, Burke told the Zoning Board of Appeals that the only adverse effect is on Western & Southern because “they want the property and can’t get it.” He claimed there is no proof that the Anna Louise Inn perpetuates crime in the area, and testimony and evidence presented in the case has proven as much.
The case is only one of many in the ongoing conflict between Cincinnati Union Bethel and Western & Southern, which CityBeat previously covered in-depth (“Surrounded by Skyscrapers,” issue of Aug. 15). Cincinnati Union Bethel wants to renovate the Anna Louise Inn in part with $10 million in tax credit financing from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and a $2.6 million loan funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that was awarded by the city. Western & Southern says it wants to use the Lytle Park area, where the Inn is located, for private economic development.
The series of cases began when Judge Norbert Nadel ruled on May 27 that the Anna Louise Inn classifies as a “special assistance shelter,” which requires a different kind of zoning permit than the previous classification of “transitional housing.” That ruling was appealed by Cincinnati Union Bethel to the Ohio First District Court of Appeals, which held hearings on Oct. 30 and is expected to give a ruling soon.
A unanimous City Council vote on Wednesday to pass a resolution officially representing Cincinnati's opposition to the proposed H.B. 203, Ohio's own version of controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws, is part of a statewide advocacy effort to oppose loosening restrictions on the use of deadly force.
The vote puts Cincinnati in the middle of a national dialogue that's been ongoing since the death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in 2012.
The bill, introduced by House Republicans on June 11, contains several revisions to the state's gun laws, the most controversial of which is the proposal to expand the circumstances in which a person has no duty to retreat from a threatening situation before using force in self-defense. Those in opposition to the bill worry that change will encourage vigilante justice and give gun owners a false sense of entitlement in using their firearms in otherwise non-violent situations.
The bill's language also loosens restrictions on concealed carry permits and would make it easier for individuals subject to protection orders to obtain handguns.
State Rep. Alicia Reece spoke at a Wednesday press conference at City Hall to support Cincinnati's formal opposition to the bill. Reece, also president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, is part of its statewide campaign to garner enough opposition to H.B. 203 to present to Gov. John Kasich and other legislative leaders.
She says OLBC has already collected about 5,000 petitions and hopes to obtain more than 10,000 by the time the Ohio House of Representatives resumes regular sessions on Oct. 2.
Reece and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who sponsored the resolution, insist that Ohio's self-defense laws are already strong enough to protect those who face physical threats from others. In 2008, then-Gov. Ted Strickland signed Ohio's "Castle Doctrine" into law, which stripped homeowners of the duty to try to retreat in threatening situations and gives them the "benefit of the doubt" when they injure or kill a person who enters their residence or vehicle.
"While many states around the country which have Stand Your Ground laws are looking at ways in which they can repeal those laws, or change those laws, unfortunately Ohio is moving backwards by trying to implement Stand Your Ground laws, which has become one of the most polarizing issues not only in the state of Ohio, but in the country," said Reece at Wednesday's press conference.
The efficacy of stand-your-ground laws to reduce violence is widely debated; several researches insist that the laws actually cause an increase in homicides. Mark Hoekstra, an economist with Texas A&M University, published a study that found homicides increase 7 to 9 percent in states that pass stand your ground laws, compared to states that didn't pass laws over the same period. His study found no evidence the laws had an effect on deterring crime during the time period. Those statistics are difficult to gauge, however, because some homicides are legitimately considered "justifiable" while others may just be the result of the "escalation of violence in an otherwise non-violent situation," he told NPR in January.
H.B. 203 is currently waiting to be heard in front of the Policy and Legislative Oversight committee. See an analysis of the bill below:
Faced with the choice between job layoffs or a second round of unpaid furloughs for employees, executives at the financially troubled Gannett Co. announced today they were selecting the latter course.
Gannett, the parent firm of The Cincinnati Enquirer, announced a furlough program that will require most non-unionized workers to take at least five days of unpaid leave sometime in April, May or June. The move is expected to save the company about $20 million.
In the letter, the Democrats say they would find voter fraud to be a serious problem if it was happening, but they also note recent studies have found no evidence of widespread voter impersonation fraud. An Oct. 4 Government Accountability Office study could not document a single case of voter impersonation fraud. A similar study by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found a total of 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. That’s less than one case a year.
Tim Burke, chairman of both the Hamilton County Board of Elections and the Hamilton County Democratic Party, says the faulty voter registration forms, which groups like TTV typically cite as examples of in-person voter fraud, never amount to real voter fraud.
“Those nonexistent voters never show up to vote,” he says. “(The forms) were put together by people working on voter registration drives. Frankly, the intent wasn’t to defraud the board of elections; the intent was to defraud their employer into making them think they’re doing more work.”
In other words, people aren't submitting faulty voter registration forms to skew elections; registration drive employees are submitting the forms to try to keep their jobs.
To combat the seemingly nonexistent problem of voter impersonation fraud, TTV is planning on recruiting one million poll watchers — people that will stand by polling places to ensure the voting process is legitimate. The Democrats insist some of the tactics promoted by the group are illegal. The letter claims it’s illegal for anyone but election officials to inhibit the voting process in any way. Most notably, Ohio law prohibits “loiter[ing] in or about a registration or polling place during registration or the casting and counting of ballots so as to hinder, delay, or interfere with the conduct of the registration or election,” according to the letter.
Burke says state law allows both Democrats and Republicans
to hire observers at polling booths. However, the observers can only
watch, and they can’t challenge voters. Even if the appointed observers see suspicious
activity, they have to leave the voting area and report the activity
through other means.
The tactics adopted by TTV have an ugly history in the U.S. Utilizing poll watchers was one way Southern officials pushed away minority voters during the segregation era. By asking questions and being as obstructive as possible, the poll watchers of the segregation era intimidated black voters into not voting. In the post-segregation era, the tactics have continued targeting minority and low-income voters.
The Senate Democrats make note of the ugly history in their letter: “It has traditionally focused on the voter registration lists in minority and low-income precincts, utilizing ‘caging’ techniques to question registrations. It has included encouraging poll watchers to ‘raise a challenge’ when certain voters tried to vote by brandishing cameras at polling sites, asking humiliating questions of voters, and slowing down precinct lines with unnecessary challenges and intimidating tactics. These acts of intimidation undermine protection of the right to vote of all citizens.”
TTV has already faced some failures in Hamilton County. Earlier this year, the group teamed up with the Ohio Voter Integrity Project (VIP), another Tea Party group, to file 380 challenges to the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Of the 380 challenges, only 35 remain. The vast majority were thrown out.
“For the most part, they tried to get a bunch of UC students challenged because they didn’t have their dormitory rooms on their voter registration rolls,” Burke says. “All of those were rejected. We did nothing with those.”
But he said the group did bring up one legitimate
challenge. Some voters were still registered in a now-defunct trailer
park in Harrison, Ohio. Since the trailer park no longer exists,
Burke says no one should be voting from there. The board didn’t purge
those voters from the roll, but the board unanimously agreed to ensure those voters are challenged and sent to the correct polling place if they show up to vote.
Still, TTV insists on hunting down all the phantom impersonators and fraudulent voters. In partnership with VIP, TTV is continuing its mission to stop all the voter impersonation that isn't actually happening.
VIP is brandishing the effort with a program of its own. That organization is now hosting special training programs for poll workers. The organization insists its programs are nonpartisan, but Democrats aren’t buying it.
Burke says it’s normal for Democrats and Republicans to hire poll workers, but if the Voter Integrity Project program puts the organization’s anti-fraud politics into the training, it could go too far.
“The job of the poll worker is to assist voters in getting their ballots cast correctly,” Burke says. “It’s to be helpful. It’s not to be belligerent. It’s not to be making voters feel like they’re doing something evil.”
He added, “If poll workers are coming in and deciding that they’re going to be aggressive police officers making everybody feel like they’re engaged in voter fraud and therefore trying to intimidate voters, that’s absolutely wrong.”
Without much fanfare
but with supporters looking on in the Losantiville Room in Union Terminal,
Cincinnati City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday banning the injection of
wastewater underground within city limits.
“I’m proud to be on the first City Council to ban injection wells,” said Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who submitted the ordinance to council.
“I want to give props to the solicitors … who have come up with a very unusual thing in City Council — a one page ordinance.”
The ordinance, which passed unanimously after being voted out of committee on Tuesday, is aimed at preventing the injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, under Cincinnati. Its injection has been linked to a dozen earthquakes in northern Ohio.
Opponents also worry that the chemicals in the water, which is used to drill underground to free up gas and oil, can seep into drinking water. Oil and gas companies aren’t required to disclose which chemicals they use.
It’s unclear if the city’s ban on wastewater injection would hold up against a 2004 state law that gives the state of Ohio sole power in regulating oil and gas drilling. That regulatory power also extends to Class 2 injection wells.
At a news conference earlier in the day, Quinlivan cited a ProPublica story that said between 2007 and 2010, one well integrity violation was filed for every six wastewater injection wells.
She says data like this makes it clear injection wells are
Food and Water Watch organizer Alison Auciello spoke in
support of the City Council ordinance at the news conference.
“We’re pleased City Council has moved swiftly for the protection of its citizens,” Auciello said.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has received no injection well permit requests for southwestern Ohio, but Auciello says the legislation is a good preventive measure.
Heidi Hetzel-Evans, a spokesperson for ODNR, says it wouldn't be feasible to build injection wells in southwestern Ohio due to the region's geology.
"It's safe to say oil and gas drilling has no direct impact on southwestern Ohio," Hetzel-Evans says.
Auciello says more bans like the Cincinnati ordinance are necessary in Ohio. She says she’s concerned that Ohio is being turned into a dumping ground as massive amounts of wastewater from Pennsylvania are brought to Ohio due to a lack of regulation.
Auciello also echoed calls from environmental groups to ban fracking in Ohio. However, fracking supporters — including Gov. John Kasich — insist the process can be made safe with proper regulations.
This story was updated to reflect City Council's afternoon vote.
Despite the economic troubles affecting the state, Ohioans are smoking more than ever, according to a study that found the highest percentage point increase of any state. An official with the Ohio Department of Health attributes the increase to the stress people are under, though the Ohio General Assembly also cut funding to the state's smoking cessation help line, so there's that. Ohio ranked as the 36th healthiest state in 2011, down from 33 rd in 2010, while Indiana came in at 38th and Kentucky 43rd.
Occupy D.C. protesters built some type of structure in a park Saturday night, and police on Sunday notified them that they didn't have a permit and took it down, arresting dozens in the process. It was a pretty nice structure, though.
Republican Brad Wenstrup, a podiatrist and U.S. Army veteran who unsuccessfully ran for Cincinnati mayor in 2009, announced today that he will challenge incumbent Jean Schmidt next year in the GOP primary to run for Ohio's 2nd Congressional District seat.
Wenstrup ran against incumbent Mayor Mark Mallory, a Democrat, two years ago. Wenstrup lost 54-46 percent, but many local Republican leaders were impressed by the showing of the first-time political candidate.
Ohio voter advocates say there was a big elephant in the room during the creation of Ohio's controversial redistricting map, and it was super tan and cried a lot. The Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting says John Boehner was central in the process, working with map-making consultants and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Here's a link to the Ohio Redistricting Transparency Report. From The Enquirer:
"The report found: decisions were not made in public; public input was ignored; there was limited opportunity for the public to review proposed maps; the public was not provided with relevant data for proposed districts; nonpartisan redistricting criteria were not used; and the criteria used to evaluate plans were never publicly identified."