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.”
Hey all. Let’s get straight to the important stuff… Across city, a whole lot of ice cream is melting. Large swaths of the east side seem to be without power right now for an indeterminate reason. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people are without electricity.
• Some of Cincinnati’s city department directors have been caught living outside the city limits. That’s a violation of city regulations, according to the Cincinnati Business Journal, which drew attention to the situation last month. Metropolitan Sewer District Director Tony Parrott and Citizen Complaint Authority Director Kenneth Glenn were disciplined by the city for skirting the residency rules. Glenn, who has been living in West Chester, is retiring in July. Parrott has been living in Butler County; he’s been docked 40 hours of vacation time and has six months to establish residency in the city limits. Now me, I’m from Butler County, and would give up a week’s vacation to not live there, but hey, that’s just me.
• On a note that’s bound to freak some people out, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will be the first in the country to track the number of travelers in specific parts of the airport by using signals from their Wi-Fi devices. The information will help the airport mitigate congested spots and calculate wait times at security checkpoints. Lockheed Martin owns BlipTrack, the system being used to monitor devices. The company says no personal data is collected by the system, which only looks at the number of signals being emitted from devices. I'm cool with this so long as they aren't keeping track of the embarrassing amount of time I spend on Twitter while waiting for my plane.
• Campaign finance reports filed Friday show council member Charlie Winburn with a big stack of cash going into his run for state Senate. Winburn, a Republican, announced his candidacy last week, and his filings show he’s got more than $50,000 to spend. He’ll be challenging former council member Cecil Thomas, a Democrat. Thomas hasn’t filed a finance report this time around but had $1,500 going into the Democratic primary. He looks to have an advantage, though, due to the ninth district’s highly Democratic tilt. The district stretches across most of Cincinnati and other urban parts of Hamilton County. All statewide candidates filed Friday, and the results are fairly predictable, with Republican candidates getting large contributions and widening fundraising leads over their Democratic opponents. Gov. John Kasich doubled up on Democratic opponent Ed FitzGerald, gaining $1.7 million in contributions this period to FitzGerald’s $800,000. That puts Kasich with more than $9 million overall to spend in the race, compared to FitzGerald’s less than $2 million.
• On the subject of Republicans, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be in town today. He’s promoting his new solo rap mixtape, which doubles as a campaign tool for his presidential bid. No, actually, that’s completely made up. He’s here to raise money for the Republican National Committee, and you can hear him talk for just $1,000. For that price, he better at least drop a couple freestyle rhymes about his economic policy ideas, though. Bush's name has been floated as a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, though he's a ways down the list.
• On a sad note, Casey Kasem passed away Sunday. He was most famous for his radio show, American Top 40, which millions of people listened to for decades. Closer to my heart, he was also the voice of Shaggy. No, not that Shaggy. Shaggy of Scooby Doo fame, which for you youngsters out there was kind of like Adventure Time before there was Adventure Time. I was a big fan.
Ready for your Friday the 13th morning news? Let’s do this.
As we’ve reported a couple times already, Cincinnati is in a hard spot when it comes to affordable housing. So Rep. Steve Chabot, Republican representing part of the city, did the logical thing recently and tried to push through an amendment to a House bill that would cut $3 billion in funding for Section 8 vouchers. Wait, that doesn't seem logical at all. Keep in mind the Republican-authored bill he was amending already cut $1.8 billion from transportation and HUD programs. But Chabot thinks folks are hanging out in subsidized housing too long, calling the system that keeps people from homelessness “a way of life for too many in this country.” Luckily, even the heavily Republican House said “nah” to Chabot’s cuts. The amendment failed yesterday.
A $2,500 reward offered by Brogan Dulle’s family when the 21-year-old UC student went missing May 19 will be given to the woman whose 911 call lead authorities to his body a week later. The woman, who hasn’t been identified in reports, said she came upon Dulle’s body in the basement of building she works in on East McMillan next door to where he lived. The woman apparently didn’t know he was dead and called 911 reporting an intruder. Authorities found Dulle hanged in the basement, and the Hamilton County coroner later ruled his death a suicide. In total, $20,000 was offered for information about Dulle’s whereabouts. UC offered $10,000, and is still mulling what to do with the money. Local restaurant owner Jeff Ruby gave another $7,500, which he’ll be contributing to tuition at UC for Dulle’s younger brother Tim.
A new Pew research project released yesterday tracks the increasing partisanship among American voters. Though hardly surprising, the study quantifies the fact that people are hunkering down in their ideological biases, with more folks crowding to the far left and far right ideologically over the past few years and fewer holding a mix of views in the middle.
Pope Francis just keeps spitting hot fire. The pope said yesterday in an interview with a Spanish-language newspaper that the world’s economic system causes war and imperialism and that it squashes peoples’ individuality. Francis has made a name for himself pushing a relatively more inclusive vision of the Catholic Church and emphasizing its social justice tenets, and his recent eyebrow-raising remarks continue that trend.
Finally, yesterday was National Jerky Day. I know. I missed it, too. But apparently a major jerky company constructed a large model of Mount Rushmore made from a glorious 1,600 pound mix of dried meats. Really gross, but also kind of amazing. The company displayed it in New York yesterday and will now ship it back to headquarters in Wisconsin. It’s probably en route right now, actually. It will have to pass through the Midwest at some point. If you hear about someone hijacking three quarters of a ton of jerky as it makes its way across the Brent Spence Bridge, it totally wasn’t me.